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Surprising

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The first time it happens, they’re working in one of Lord Boxman’s labs.

The bots and Fink are elsewhere, and Professor Venomous tries not to think about what they could be up to. He and Boxman are tinkering with their own projects, but that doesn’t stop Boxman from chatting up a storm about what he’s working on or anything else that pops into his mind. Venomous had found it a bit annoying at first, but he had grown used to it in the recent weeks and occasionally gives short answers when he can spare enough of his attention to listen. Boxman’s lab is unorganized, with sporadic ideas and mechanical parts strewn haphazardly around, but Venomous has learned how to maneuver through the chaos when necessary and keeps his own workspace as neat as he can manage. He attention is so held by observing a reaction inside a test tube that he doesn’t notice for a moment that the lab has gone silent.

Something clatters to the floor and metal resounds against tile. Venomous’s gaze snaps to Boxman.

His red eye is flickering like a broken traffic light while his other is clenched shut. His claw is cluthing the edge of the desk desperately while his organic hand is shaking. His entire body shakes with each breath that is short, quick, and panicked.

It takes Venomous a moment to realize what’s happening, and in the next he recalls events in a life that died long ago. It makes his stomach turn, but that doesn’t stop him from approaching Boxman with slow, steady steps.

“Boxman, take a deep breath,” he says evenly, steadily approaching until he is almost at his side. “You aren’t in any danger. You’re having a panic attack. Do you want to go somewhere else?”

There’s a small shake of his head.

Venomous reaches for his shaking hand but stops himself. “Is it alright if I hold your hand?”

Boxman is quiet, though his breathing has improved slightly. His head gives a barely perceivable nod.

Venomous intertwines their fingers and slowly pulls Boxman’s hand to rest against Venomous’s black shirt. “This feeling will pass. I’m here to help. Try to breathe like I do.”

It’s a slow process, but Boxman is finally looking at him. Venomous doesn’t stop talking.

“I know you’re upset, but that’s ok. You’re safe. I’m right here.”

The minutes pass in this manner, though Venomous doesn’t notice. He focuses strictly on Boxman and what little he can do to help. He doesn’t pull away when Boxman leans against him. He seems drained from the ordeal, but the stiffness in his shoulders is gone and his red eye now glows steadily, as if nothing ever happened.

“I… I didn’t want you to see me like that,” Boxman mutters, and he sounds so different from his usually over-confident, talkative self.

“I don’t care,” Venomous says harshly, but quickly softens his tone. “I would rather be here to help than you have to suffer it alone.”

Now Boxman pulls away and stares at Venomous quizzically. “How did you kno-”

“Personal experience,” he answers and leaves it at that. Boxman doesn’t question it, and not for the first time is Venomous glad that the other villain doesn’t pry into the past. Boxman is too busy looking ahead, for better or for worse. “Let’s call it a day.”

“We don’t have to.”

“I know,” Venomous says as he walks towards the door. “But it’s been a while since I’ve heard anything out of Fink and the robots, so we should probably make sure they haven’t made too much of a mess.”

Now that gets Boxman talking. He rambles on about his robots and their behavior as he and Venomous walk down the halls. He only pauses for a moment when Venomous interlaces their fingers, but in the next breath he picks up right where he left off.

They find Fink and the bots in the kitchen. Though Fink is peacefully asleep on the counter, the scene around her is a disaster. The smell of something burnt lingers in the air, flour and a variety of other messy food products are scattered around, and the oven appears to be filled with the foam from a fire extinguisher. Mikayla is hiding on top of the fridge, swatting at one Ernesto while two others are trying to clean. Raymond keeps trying to find leverage to stand, but keeps slipping on the spill of a broken pickle jar now grossly mingling with other substances on the floor. Nearby, Jethro is on his side, spinning his tracks as if the movement will eventually right his position so that he can move again. Shannon, covered in nearly as much foam as the oven, is arguing with Darrel, who is holding half of a busted fire extinguisher. The room holds its breath when the bots notice Lord Boxman and Professor Venomous standing in the doorway.

“Dad!” Shannon cries. “We can explain!”

Darrel adds in, “Fink was teaching us to cook and-”

“Oh dear,” the Ernestos fret.

“Could I get a little help, Coach?” Raymond asks, desperately clinging to the edge of an open drawer.

“I AM JETHRO!”

Looking at the mess, Venomous doubts there was any actual teaching and more of Fink convincing the bots to make a mess. He picks her up and glances at Boxman as he hovers near the door. “I’ll order pizza while you see to this.” There’s an uproar of voices behind him as he exits.

As Venomous walks away, he considers that Boxman and the events at Boxmore never cease to surprise him.