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Two of Hearts

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Lord Boxman stood among the ashes and debris littering the Plaza, staring up at the entity floating before him.

“Don’t do this,” he said. He was way past begging, bargaining, or even threats. He knew that the monster wasn’t Venomous, couldn’t be. If Fink was to be believed, he was something akin to TKO; the physical manifestation of Venomous’s darker side that took over him, possessing his body like some parasite while the host himself was helpless to resist it.

Still, with everyone else either gone or busy fighting off TKO, he just had to try.

“Don’t do this,” he repeated, noticing Shadowy’s hands tightening into fists.

“And why shouldn’t I, Boxy?” the being spat the last word like it was poison, its voice a distorted mockery of Venomous’s. “Are you going to try to stop me? Send your robots after me? Don’t make me laugh.” Its hands burst into flames, bright purple and emanating a sickeningly cold aura, like the inside of a desecrated grave.

Boxman shrugged tiredly. “I’m not going to do anything,” he replied, sitting down on the concrete. “In fact, I’m just going to talk if that’s alright with you.”

Shadowy raised an eyebrow, but made no further movements. “And why should I listen?”

Another shrug. “The world is about to end and a few minutes aren’t going to spare it. Besides, you never listened to me, so why don’t you humour me now? Before you kill me, that is. You owe it to me.”

It chuckled, the sound sending a nasty shiver down Boxman’s spine. “I don’t owe you anything, you imbecile. In fact, there is nothing stopping me from ending you here and now.” Suddenly, it winced, sharp teeth grit, before its expression smoothened out into a smirk of sadistic amusement. “But you know what? I’m going to humour you, just for a short while.” It then sat down opposite him, legs crossed. “Both Venomous and I are all ears.”

“Is he listening to us?” Boxman asked, carefully keeping his voice neutral, like dealing with a difficult client. Inside, however, his brilliant mind was rapidly running through the possible implications of the revelation. Was Venomous still “alive”? If he were able to stop Shadowy all on his own, he surely would have done so, so the entity was most likely keeping him prisoner in his own mind. Was there a way to get to him? Apparently, KO’s friends were able to pull him from under TKO’s influence by reassuring him that he’s loved and appreciated. Would that work for Venomous? What were his demons like? Why was he unable to fight them off? What could be done to make that fight easier? Was he really listening to them, or was it nothing but a trick on Shadowy’s part?

As if to answer the last question, Shadowy glitched, his form dissolving for a split second, revealing a pale and wide-eyed Venomous.

“B-Boxm-!” he started, reaching out for him before the darkness swallowed him up again and his voice became Shadowy’s. “Does that answer your question?”

Boxman nodded quickly, then took a deep breath to calm himself – seeing Ven’s clearly terrified face once more shook him to the core. How much was he aware of? Could he see all the terrible things Shadowy was doing? The way he was reaching out for him was so different from Shadowy’s dismissive treatment of him; there was no way that Venomous was the one who sent him away! Not after everything they’ve gone through together! They were Two of Hearts, cobdamnit!

Reassured that his suspicions were correct, he cleared his throat and began to speak.

“Venomous, I know that you can hear me in there. Listen to me now, alright? This, the thing that I’m talking to right now, I know that this isn’t you. I don’t fully understand what it is and why it’s keeping you from me, but I do not blame you for its actions.” It wasn’t completely true; he needed more information to make a proper judgement, but if this was what Venomous needed to hear, that’s what he was going to say. “I’m not angry. At all. I just miss you.” His voice quivered towards the end before he cleared his throat to steady it.

Now, a less perceptive person would have likely missed it, but Shadowy twitched ever so slightly.

“Boxmore hasn’t been the same without you, you know,” Boxman chuckled, running his fingers through his hair. “I miss your presence and your input in my – in our – schemes. You’re such an intelligent and perceptive guy, with a knack for investments and picking out things I would have missed without your help. Besides, I liked working alongside you; we clicked really well, I think; you did your thing, I did my thing, and together we worked like a well-oiled machine that I never wanted to turn off. You are the most amazing person I’ve ever met in my life.”

Another twitch, less subtle this time.

“And I don’t just mean at work.” A slight blush spread over Boxman’s face. “I… I really miss you as a person, Professor. The robots do, too. And Fink, though I haven’t seen much of her as of late.” He looked around just in case, searching for the trademark green hair. Speaking of which… “You know, someone once mistook me for her father because we kind of look alike, what with the green hair and skin and whatnot. She definitely has your teeth, though. And eyes.”

Shadowy smiled slightly. It wasn’t his usual sardonic smile. In fact, it was rather fond. A blink, and it was gone, leaving Boxman wondering if he imagined it.

“Anyway,” he carried on quickly, making use of every passing second. “You have no idea how much I miss you, and the time we spent together. Remember the beach? Or the farm? Or that time when we sent Fink and Darrel to destroy the Plaza so that they would stop jumping to each other’s throats? It was your idea to give them gifts, remember? Or the time when we blew up an ice cream factory and it was raining raspberry sherbet?”

“Blackberry,” Shadowy corrected him instantly. He was leaning forward now, dark eyes drilling into Boxman’s very soul. It would have been unnerving if not for the fact that its voice didn’t sound shadowy at all.

Emboldened, Boxman brought out the big guns. “My life has been so much more interesting since you came through my door that one fateful day.” He smiled to the memory. “I’ve never met anyone like you, Professor…”

“Don’t call me that,” Shadowy growled, but his voice faltered towards the end. He was breathing heavily now, fists tightened so that his nails dug into his palms. “J…Just…” He seemed to have difficulty forming words. “Jussssssssssssst… Just Venomous.”

“Venomous,” Boxman repeated obediently, his heart rate picking up at the sound of the familiar hiss, as well as the request to simply call him by his name. Slowly but surely, he was getting there. “I’ve never met anyone like you, and I don’t just mean as a partner in crime. I have genuinely grown to respect and cherish you as a person, as a friend. It doesn’t matter to me that you don’t technically have any powers; you never needed those to impress me. I never wanted power from you. I just…” He bit his lip, wondering how to phrase what he was about to say. “Alright, I wanted power at first, but then I got to meet you. I got to see how you interact with Fink, with my robots, with me. I got to hear your laughter, see you asleep by your desk, watch you slither across the kitchen with your eyes half-glued shut by sleep-gunk in search of coffee. I got to see what a great person you are, how excited you get when your plan works out. I got to see you carrying Fink to bed, see you raging when something goes wrong in your favourite TV show, see you babbling excitedly about your newest invention with your eyes so full of passion and joy… Venomous, I wouldn’t trade it for all the money and weapons of mass destruction in the world.”

Shadowy’s eyes widened. Its hand flew up to its head, brows furrowed in concentration.

“I’m not letting you-“ it growled, squeezing its eyes shut. Boxman could see beads of sweat on its temples.

“And you know why that is?” his voice was rising. He grabbed its free hand, making Shadowy look at him in shock. “Because you matter to me, Venomous! I care about you and appreciate your presence in my life regardless of whether we are friends, partners in crime, or…” he broke off, feeling his face heat up. “Or…”

Damnit, he couldn’t chicken out now! (No pun intended.) It was all or nothing; if he managed to get through to Venomous, great. If not, well, at least he’d finally get it off his chest.

“Or more, I guess. I never thought that I could develop such a deep attachment to someone, and I don’t even know if you feel the same,  or if you ever cared about me as much as I care about you, but I’ve been meaning to tell this to you for so long…”

Swallowing back the emotions that were blocking up his throat and with unshed tears glittering in his one good eye, Lord Boxman looked the monster straight into the eyes and said:

“I love you, Venomous.”

For a moment, time stood completely still.

Then, Shadowy fell back, gripping its head with a cry of agony.

“NO!” it roared, its form flickering. “I WILL NOT LET YOU- BOXMAN, GET AWAY!” a different voice this time, crying out a warning a split second before Shadowy sent a ball of fire in Boxman’s direction.

He dodged, narrowly, feeling the heat of the missile burn the skin of his shoulder even through the layers of his suit. Yes, the voice was unmistakable. Somehow, for the first time in who knew how long, Venomous – the real Venomous – was fighting back.

Then, there was a blur of green and a small figure latched on to Shadowy’s back, throwing her arms around its throat.

“Let my boss go!” Fink shrieked, kicking as the being tried to grab her. “Boss, it’s me! Can you hear me in there?!”

“GET OFF, YO- Fink!” Two voices once more; one full of hatred, the other of fear. “It’s not safe! Please, geT OFF OF ME, YOU FILTHY RODENT.”

As if to spite both of them, Fink had no plans of loosening her grip as she chattered incessantly straight into Shadowy’s ear, her high-pitched voice ringing with desperation.

“Boss! You have to snap out of it! You have to come back! I need you! Who will tuck me into bed even as I’m kicking and screaming that I’m not tired? Who will try to bake cupcakes with me even though he was no idea how to cook? Who will lose in video games against me? Who will read me coding manuals before bedtime?” There were tears streaming down her cheeks. “Who will hug me after a nightmare? Who will tickle me until I can’t breathe? Who will pick me up and spin me around after I blow up something I was actually supposed to? Who will make me feel safe in this giant, stupidly complicated world?” She cried out as Shadowy grabbed her by the leg and tore her off of its back, throwing her unceremoniously aside. She landed not far away from Boxman, lying on her stomach as sobs shook her small body.

“I NEED YOU, DAD!” she wailed.

Shadowy froze, its head whipping to look at her.

“W-what did you just call me?...” the other voice was barely above a whisper now, its whole body shaking as it fell to its knees, its eyes locked on hers.

Fink sniffled, getting up unsteadily to her feet. Her right knee was bleeding – a shallow scrape, but it made Shadowy reach out towards her, seemingly out of pure instinct.

“I said,” she took a step towards it, “that I need my dad back,” She wiped her tears off with a clenched fist, “so give.”

Another step.

“Him.”

Shadowy shrieked, both voices full of pain.

“Back.”

An explosion of black and purple tore through the Plaza, the shockwave knocking Fink off her feet and straight into Boxman’s waiting arms. He turned, shielding her with his own body as they both heard the two voices scream in unison, louder even than the explosion. It felt like an eternity before of the voices faded away so that only the other remained, gradually falling quieter as the light surrounding them dimmed, until it fell quiet and all was normal again.

Slowly, hesitantly, Boxman turned around.

There, kneeling in the middle of a sizeable crater, was Venomous. His clothes were torn and singed, his skin littered with cuts and burns. He was breathing heavily, his eyes locked on the two of them like he was seeing them for the first time.

“F…” he tried to utter, reaching out towards Fink with a trembling hand before his eyes fluttered shut and he collapsed.

“Venomous!” they were at his side in an instant, Boxman gently lifting him up into a sitting position, head resting against his shoulder. Just a moment ago his breathing was hard and laboured. Now, it was so shallow that for a moment Boxman couldn’t tell if he was breathing. “Venomous, come on. Look at me.”

Distantly, they could hear sounds of battle, of someone crying out KO’s name, of TKO’s screaming, but Boxman’s brain tuned it right out as soon as Venomous’s eyes cracked open – just a little, barely enough to show his vertical pupils, but the sheer relief of finally having him back almost made him sob.

“Box…” Venomous wheezed, his lips dry and cracked. “You…”

“I’m here,” Boxman choked out, bringing one of his hands to his cheek. “And so is Fink. We’re safe. You’re safe.”

“Boxman, I…” a tear cut through the dirt clinging to Venomous’s cheek. “I’m so sorry…” His voice was growing quieter with every word, and judging from the rattling coming from his chest, he was having difficulties breathing.

“No, no, it’s all good.” Boxman’s own voice was slowly giving out as the horrifying reality of the situation was slowly dawning on him. “Listen, we’re going to get you to a hospital now, alright? I don’t care what TKO is doing right now, we’re going to get you help right now, just hang on…”

A small, pained chuckle made him break off. Venomous just silently shook his head before coughing, blood dripping from his lips.

“N…no, ‘s too late,” he managed to choke out. “I’m sorry for… for ruining everything. You were the best thing to ever happen to me, Boxman. T-“ He was interrupted by another coughing fit that shook his entire body. “Take care of Fink for me…”

“No, no nonononononononononono!” Boxman could feel tears falling from his eye as he clutched Venomous's hand. It was cold, even colder than his usual body temperature. Somewhere in his periphery, he thought that he could hear Fink wailing. “No, you’re staying with us! You’re gonna be okay! You have to! I can’t lose you now, not again! Not after everything!”

The way Venomous smiled up at him made his heart break into a thousand little pieces. It was a warm smile, warm and incredibly fond. Full of love.

“Despite everything,” he said, lifting his head weakly to rest his forehead against Boxman’s, “I’m so glad to have met you, Boxy. I just wish….” Another tremor shook his body. This time, it was a sob. “I just wish I had told you how much you meant to me.”

Then, something incredible happened. Gathering all the remaining strength left in his body, Venomous closed the distance between them with a kiss. That kiss was a lot of things: a confession, an apology, a thousand of regrets and hopes that would never come true. It was a eulogy for a future that would never be.

“I love you too, Boxman.”

With those words, Venomous’s eyes fell shut and he said nothing more.

Chapter Text

Venomous awoke with a scream, chest heaving and eyes scanning his surroundings like those of a feral animal. There was a sheen of sweat all over his body, making his pyjamas cling to his skin.

He was at home.

His and Fink’s home.

In his room.

In his bed.

Alone.

Or was he?

He looked down at his hands, trembling with tension, and searched his mindscape for any traces of Shadowy. He thought that he could remember defeating him once and for all, but one could never be too careful with the likes of him.

No, nothing. Not even a smudge of black tar. Even ventures into the darkest depths of his consciousness brought up nothing.

Venomous was, once and for all, himself.

Exhaling a shaky sigh, he got out of bed and examined himself in the mirror. His injuries were gone, and so was the pain that he thought would overwhelm his entire being.

Was he dead? The last thing he could remember was seeing Boxman’s and Fink’s tear-streaked faces, the darkness rising to swallow him for good this time. And the cold. The ever-present cold that seemed to radiate from his chest and slowly spread all over the rest of his body until it drowned out the pain as well.

Then, light.

And an echo of KO’s voice.

“I wish everybody else could live their best life too.”

And then there he was. Alive. In bed. With a headache the size of a planet and about five years’ worth of PTSD. Yaaaaay!

“Alright,” Venomous muttered, dragging his fingers through his hair. He'll have to find out what that crazy kid of his did later. Now that his situation was more or less clear, he had to take care of his other charge.

“Fink!” he shouted, all but sprinting out of the room in search of his… His…

“I need you, dad!”

There was a loud crash from the direction of Fink’s room before she rounded the corner opposite him, eyes wide and reddened, her whole face covered in tears.

For a moment, they just stared at one another, neither of them sure which one should be the first to have a breakdown. In the end, Venomous rushed up to her, fell to his knees and pulled her into his arms. And since a family bonds by doing things together, they started crying at the same time.

“Oh, Fink,” he mouthed, burying his face in her hair. It smelled like grilled cheese, as always. He had no idea how she did that.

Positioning himself so that he was leaning against a wall, he set her on his lap and curled up around her as if to protect her from everything and everyone in the universe, himself included. She was so small; he almost couldn't remember the last time he held her like this, that's how busy he and Shadowy were with slowly and systematically ruining his life. “I am a terrible father, aren't I?”

Fink didn't reply. She was too busy burrowing into his shirt and crying her eyes out, her small arms wrapped around him so tightly that it hurt.

Venomous hated himself for being the one who made her cry. He had broken his promise to her. He had lost the battle of wills against Shadowy. He wasn't strong enough to keep her safe from himself. He had let her down time and time again, as both a boss and a parent. He had failed to convince Shadowy to send her away just like they did with Boxman so that he wouldn't run a risk of hurting either of them further. But no, Shadowy kept her around as a hostage of sorts, just in case Venomous ever tried to regain control in any way.

“Try to oppose me one more time,” he had growled one evening, “and I will end that rat of yours once and for all, with your own hands, right in front of your eyes.”

He should have fought harder. Should have loved more fiercely. Should have held on to the good memories while the bad ones were swarming all around him. Should have done this. Should have been that. Hindsight’s 20/20, but shame he was a complete idiot. 

“I'm so sorry, Fink,” he sighed, his chest tight and his eyes burning. “I should have been stronger for you.” Not strong enough. He was never strong enough.

“Shut up!” the shout made him jump. Fink pulled away, sniffing and with the most adorable fierce expression on her face. “Stop saying that! You always want to be more than you are and look at where that got you!” She shook her head. “You are enough, boss, you always were! You don't have to change, or… or have any weird powers or anything. You don't need them. You never did!”

“I only wanted to protect y-” he tried to explain, but she didn't let him, the feisty little thing.

“I did not need to be protected until Shadowy came along!” she cried, stomping her foot. “He took you away from me, and that's when I started to need protection. See? You don't need powers to protect me. You don't need powers to make me feel safe. And loved. And… and… “

He hugged her again as soon as the sobbing began anew, rubbing her back in slow, comforting circles like he always did after she crawled into his bed after a nightmare. All this time, he was so busy chasing after what he thought that he needed that he completely forgot about what he already had. Fink was right - before Shadowy, they had a pretty comfortable life, with his money keeping her warm and fed and their regular trips to the Plaza with Boxman to cause some mayhem keeping them all entertained.

Boxman…

Yet another relationship ruined by his stupidity.

Venomous laughed to himself. As soon as he found someone who genuinely seemed to like him for who he was, he just had to throw it all away. It happened with Trillia in the senior year of high school, with Erik in college, with Carol, and now with Boxman.

Kicking him out of Boxmore hurt more than anything he ever experienced, but that was the price that had to be paid for keeping him safe from Shadowy's schemes. Venomous had quickly whipped up some lie about there no longer being a need for neither him nor his robots, and convinced his alter ego to send them away in hopes that they would hole up somewhere safe and as far away from him as possible.

It was a shame that it didn't work with Fink.

Speaking of whom, he realised that she was no longer crying and instead sitting on his lap, arms crossed and glaring daggers at him. She was waiting for something.

Wiping his face with his sleeve, Venomous took a deep breath to calm his nerves. Nope, there was no running away from this one, and thank Corn Jesus for that - who knows where he would've run and how that would have further ruined their situation. 

“I genuinely am sorry,” he told her, “for all the misery you had to go through before I learned what was really important in life. I'm sorry that I didn't spend enough time with you, and that I couldn't keep you safe from Shadowy. I thought that it was my job to be strong, but in the pursuit of that strength, I became weaker than ever before.”

Taking her small hands into his, he carried on. “I've made you in a lab by mixing my DNA with a rat's and accidentally spilling Mountain Dew into the beaker. Thus, by all rights, you are my daughter, even though I was too terrified of and inexperienced with the concept of parenthood to accept you as such.”

“Is that why I've always called you boss?” she asked.

He nodded, his gaze wandering away, embarrassed, before he brought it back on her. “But, in the back of my mind, I always thought of you as mine. I tried to do everything in my might to give you everything you needed, but I forgot to give you what you needed the most: me. I don't know what that brother of yours did to warp us back here, but I swear to you right now that I will use this as an opportunity to start anew. To start better.”

“Without secrets?” Fink raised a sceptical eyebrow.

He chuckled, ruffling her hair. “Without secrets.”

“Without Shadowy?”

“Without Shadowy.”

“Without the 8pm curfew?”

“I can make it 7 if you want.”

To his unending relief, Fink laughed and threw her arms around him again.

“I'm so happy to have you back, dad,” she sniffled, her tail curling up happily.

Venomous smiled, feeling every single molecule of his body screaming with joy. “As am I. Now come on.” He lifted her up. “Let's get you some breakfast. How does grilled cheese sound?”

~~~

“So,” Fink hummed, chewing on her breakfast. “Are you going to talk to them?”

“Talk to who?” Venomous asked as he sipped his coffee, cherishing how silent his brain was.

She gestured with a piece of toast. “You know, KO, Carol, Boxman…”

He nearly dropped the cup at the sound of the last name. “KO and Carol, yes. Boxman?" He bit his lip. "I don't know…”

“You can't run away from that one again,” she reminded him pointedly.

He sighed. “I know, I know. I just… I don't know how to approach him after everything.”

“With flowers, chocolates, on your knees and begging for forgiveness?”

“No, I know that. I mean, emotionally. I've hurt him so much, then kicked him out of his own firm, then tried to kill him, and then had the audacity to die in his arms like some sort of diva.”

Fink raised her eyebrows. “Wow, when you put it that way…”

“I think that I need therapy.”

“And I think that the sky is really blue today. Say, why don't you talk to KO and Carol first? They could recommend you someone - they're the good guys, after all.”

“Yeah,” Venomous sighed, emptying his cup, “and I owe them a few years’ worth of child support.”

“We can go after breakfast.”

“Are you this eager because you genuinely want me to make up with them or because you want to beat your step-brother up?”

“A bit of both, actually. Pass the ketchup?”

He obliged, pondering the matter. On one hand, it would give him more time to think about what on earth he would say to Boxman, but on the other…

He knew that he would be simply putting off the inevitable. Running away like he always did.

Plus hey, he really missed him, for Cob’s sake, and not going to him right away could send the wrong message, especially since Venomous was kiiiiiiiiind of dying the last time they saw each other, so…

“Boxman first.”

~~~

Lord Boxman sat on the edge of his bed, looking down at his hands as if he was seeing them for the first time.

“V-Venomous?” he stuttered out into the empty room. The memory of holding him in those very arms was so real that his skin still crawled at the memory of blood that covered it what felt like mere seconds ago.

How did he get back home, anyway? The last thing he remembered was that kiss, Venomous going limp in his arms, and then-

Light.

Warmth, washing all over him, mending his clothes and drying his tears.

A voice, sounding just like KO’s, saying:

“I wish everybody else could live their best life too.”

And then there he was, in his own bed at Boxmore, with the sun shining merrily behind the windows. By the way, why was he trembling so badly? The room wasn't chilly and he was still warm after seemingly having spent a whole night underneath the covers.

And then it hit.

The battle against Shadowy.

His speech.

Fink.

The explosion.

The kiss.

Venomous's voice saying something he would have killed to hear literally any other time.

His body going limp. 

The way he just wouldn't open his eyes no matter how hard Boxman shook him.

Fink’s uncontrollable sobbing.

Venomous was…

No.

No!

Boxman threw on the first clothes he could find, not even caring if they matched or if the shirt was buttoned up all the way to the top, and ran out of his room.

As he ran, he bumped into something cold, metal, and red.

“Daddy!”

Suddenly, he found himself all but buried under a pile of robots, all blabbering about different things at different speeds and volumes. They were also crying, each and every single one.

Boxman found that he was crying, too, and before he realised what was going on, he was hugging them one by one, telling them how proud he was of them, how much he loved them all to the tiniest screw even though he sucked at showing it, and how happy he was to see them all safe and well.

It was a cute scene, very sweet and heartwarming and all that jazz, something you wouldn't expect from a villain and a bunch of equally villainous robots. And it would have lasted a lot longer if not for Boxman finally managing to unglue Darrell from his leg and reach the door.

It was time to find Venomous.

Provided that he was actually alive, of course.

Boxman waved that thought away, forcing himself to be calm. Whatever KO did, he seemed to have reset their world to a relatively convincing illusion of normality. If Boxmore and the robots were intact, and the world outside the windows was as bright as sunny as usual (no Shadows in sight) then why should Venomous not be okay?

His and Fink's place was a bit of a walk away, something he took advantage of to survey his surroundings and, more importantly, think about everything that happened in more detail.

~~~

Venomous blinked rather owlishly at the gaggle of robots.

“He’s… out?” he repeated.

“Out,” Ernesto replied, folding his arms on his chest. “He didn't tell us where to or when he will be back, so either you fill out the appropriate form to stay here and wait, or leave.” His eye narrowed. “The latter is strongly encouraged.”

“Mikayla!” Mikayla agreed, glaring daggers at Venomous's knees.

“Yeah, get lost!” Shannon stuck her tongue out at him. “We don't need ya around here, stirring up trouble again. You've hurt our daddy, and we won't let you do it again!”

Behind her, Darrell cracked his steel knuckles in an unusually threatening manner. It looked strange on him.

Venomous sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. The robots were right; he had a lot to answer for, not only to Boxman but to them as well.

“I agree,” he said eventually. “I've done some bad things in the past, but that wasn't really me. Believe me that it was never my intention to hurt either you or your father.”

“Too late now,” Shannon interjected.

He held up his hands. “I know, and I'm trying to remedy that, alright? Let me at least explain myself before you kick me out.”

They all looked at each other, then at him, then back at each other. Then, they turned their backs to him and began to whisper among themselves for a couple of moments before Raymond finally blessed him with his attention.

“Make it quick, cur.”

Venomous graciously ignored the insult, not fully certain whether it was genuine or just part of Ray’s dramatic bitch personality.

“Alright,” he ran his fingers through his hair. “Think of it this way: your brains are electronic chips, right?”

They nodded.

“They were programmed, correct?”

“Well, duh,” Shannon rolled her eyes.

“What if the program became corrupted?” Venomous’s hand twitched a little; he was itching to draw it out for them. “Suppose that the chip got a virus that made the program go all haywire. It would cause you to act strangely, wouldn't it?”

They all nodded cautiously.

“And I take it that you would be unable to do anything about it?”

“Where are you going with this?” Shannon demanded, hands on her hips.

“I am Jethro!” Jethro growled impatiently.

Fink rolled her eyes. “Because that's what happened to him, you tinbrains!” she politely informed her step-siblings. ”Think about it, have you seen him acting weird before he turned all spooky and shadowy?”

The robots fell quiet, casting hesitant glances at one another. Darrell shook his head before Shannon elbowed him in where his ribs would've been if he had them.

“Sooooooo…” she gave Venomous a big ol’ stink eye, “you were… corrupted?”

He nodded. “You could say that.”

“And there was aaaaabsolutely nothing you could have done to… not be corrupted?”

“Do you think I would have allowed all that misery and destruction to happen if there was something I could've done to prevent it? Come on, you know me. Would the past, non-Shadowy me have done that?"

She shrugged, and was pushed out of the way by Raymond.

“Do you regret hurting us and our father?” he asked dramatically. “Are you prepared to fall on your knees and beg for forgiveness like the worthless piece of refuse you are - unworthy of our father's affections?”

“This is what he's here for, dummy!” Fink pointed out.

Venomous rolled his eyes. “That's right. Thank you, Fink. Look, I know that an apology won't magically fix everything, but I really want to make things right, to both your dad and you. Whatever it takes.”

The siblings shared a look before Raymond nodded ever so slightly.

Then, they heard the sound of a door opening

Chapter Text

Boxman has never been an anxious person. He tried not to worry too much about things that were beyond his control and just took the life in stride, sometimes even striding all over it if it proved too bothersome. He also tried to be an optimist (perks of finding inner peace) and get all the facts before freaking out properly.

Now, though? After he knocked on Ven’s door and received no response, after he called up the Bodega and politely inquired about his whereabouts only to be met with shaking heads, after fifteen calls being sent to voicemail, and the creeping suspicion that the reason Venomous was so unreachable was that he was…

…he wasn’t in a good place mentally, was all he would say if someone were to ask him.

He still couldn’t get Venomous out of his mind. The way he looked at him as Boxman poured his heart out to him, the desperation in his voice as he begged him to stay away, or the weight of his broken and exhausted body, his smile and the feeling of their lips connecting.

“I love you too, Boxman.”

And then, a silence that seemed louder than a thousand sheets of glass shattering all at once. It didn’t sound like anything, and yet at the same time, it sounded like his whole world falling apart.

“I love you too, Boxman.”

He had been waiting for these words for months now, months full of silent pining that he could have only hoped wasn’t unrequited. Months of glances and sighs, of lying awake at night and wondering what it would feel like to curl up against Venomous’s side and feel him wrap an arm around his back and rest his cheek on the top of his head, what it would feel like to wake up next to him, see his usually immaculately styled black hair spread on the pillow in a messy halo, to see Venomous open his eyes and smile at him like he was the best thing in the world, to hop on a go-kart together and terrorise the Plaza while laughing maniacally - one hand on the wheel and the other holding Ven’s.

Boxman used to daydream about what kissing him would feel like, too.

He wished that he could have found out some other way.

“I love you too, Boxman.”

He wished that he could have heard those words under any other circumstances.

Venomous didn’t really mean to hurt him. Sure, he wasn’t entirely guiltless, but Boxman refused to believe that the Venomous he had fallen in love with and the one who kicked him out like he was less than dirt were the same person, and the confrontation with Shadowy had only confirmed his suspicion that the professor had little to no control over his actions, and thus blaming him for them would be illogical. Sure, the fact that he was the one who created Shadowy in the first place and gave him enough control to take over was a different matter entirely, but for now, all Boxman wanted was to see Venomous safe and alive.

But the more he thought about it, the less he believed in such a wonderful outcome.

Dejected, he finally reached Boxmore again and pushed the door open, ready to call out for one of his kids to pour him a glass of something strong; he had to make a plan, look for proper evidence, talk to Fink if he somehow managed to get in touch with her…

All that, however, went out the window immediately as soon as he shut the door behind him and locked eye(s) with none other than

“Venomous,” he gasped.

~~~

Venomous thought that he would be able to keep his cool upon finally meeting with Boxman. He thought that they could have a seat, maybe drink a coffee together, and he would just explain everything and then beg Boxman on his knees to take him back.

He thought that he would be able to maintain a straight face, or at least not burst out crying like he did with Fink.

Yeah, no such luck.

As soon as their eyes met, he was just hit, and I mean absolutely smacked by just how overwhelmingly and hopelessly in love he was with that wild, quirky man who turned his life upside down, blew it up, and put it back together like the weirdest but most wonderful robot in existence.

“Boxy,” he choked out, his throat immediately closing up as tears flooded his cheeks, ruining the mascara he had so meticulously applied that very morning. His legs gave out from under him and he fell to his knees, eyes not leaving Boxman’s even as he blurred into nothing but a vaguely round, pale green blur on legs. “Boxman, I…”

“You’re alive,” he heard Boxman say in that wonderful, wonderful voice that pulled him out of the darkness and lit up every corner of his being like an exploding supernova. “Venomous, you…” He sounded like he was crying too, though it was a little difficult to determine whether it was the good or bad kind of crying. “Is that really you?”

A perfectly reasonable question. After everything that has happened, Venomous wasn’t really surprised that he had to prove his identity. Was he still the man Box had fallen in love with? Was that love still there? Did he deserve it?

“Oh my cob, he loves me back,” the realisation hit him like a ton of bricks. Hearing it was one thing, but the fact actually sinking in as he gazed at the man he loved more than anyone he’s ever met was something completely different. “All that pining, denial and second-guessing, and he’s been in love with me the whole time.”

Everything he wanted to say immediately fled his brain, so he did the only rational thing:

“When we walk down the street,
Other villains wish that they could meet us,”

Boxman froze at the sound of the familiar words. Venomous’s voice was choked up and ragged, but somehow it was absolutely and utterly perfect for the song. He was even smiling a little; a tearful, hopeful smile that made his heart flutter. Taking one step forward, he joined in until they were singing together.

“But they can't,
No they can't because we're two of hearts,”

Venomous jumped slightly. He didn’t expect him to join in, didn’t expect him not throwing him out, sending his kids to beat the corn out of him, and then slam the door for the good measure. Did that mean that there was still hope for them?


“Two of hearts!
We're two of hearts,
I don't know if I've mentioned this but,
We are two hearts!”

Venomous laughed through the tears as Boxman rushed up to him, wrapping him in a tight embrace and effectively making him fall apart. He reciprocated, burying his face in the crook of his neck (and probably ruining his shirt with smudged makeup) and sputtering out incomprehensible nothings that did not resemble his pre-planned speech in the slightest. He thought that he would never get to be held like this, that he would never get to rest his cheek on the top of Boxman’s head, the metal of his head plate pleasantly cool against his skin.

And yet, there they were.

“B-Box… Box, I…” he was absolutely incoherent, sobs shaking his whole frame as he felt Boxman actually tighten the hug in response, crying quietly into his shoulder. He didn’t want to let go. Ever. If one of the robots chose to (rightfully) kill him then and there, he would have died as the happiest man in the universe.

“I was so worried,” Boxman whimpered out. There he was, Venomous. The real one. His Venomous. The one who took him in after the League of Villains took Boxmore from him, the one who gave it back to him and asked for nothing but a place by his side, the one who hummed lullabies for Fink even as she insisted that she was too old for them, the one who taught Shannon to wing her eyeliner that would stay flawless even on metal, the one who laughed at dad jokes and drew out his “s” sounds as he mumbled incomprehensible things in his sleep.

He was back, safe and alive.

And… currently restricting Boxman’s oxygen intake.

He pulled away, just enough to catch a breath and get another look at the idiot who stole his heart. Venomous was, to put it plainly, a mess. His face was flushed and damp from snot and tears, his ruined makeup was making him look like an emo raccoon, and his puffy and reddened eyes were looking at Boxman like he was the best thing in the world.

He’s never, in his entire life, seen anything more beautiful than this disaster of a man kneeling in front of him.

Their kids, in the meanwhile, grew bored of the display and wandered off, Fink rolling her eyes at the adults and wondering if they had “Minecraft.”

“Give them some time,” she advised her step-siblings.

“Boxman, Boxman,” Venomous was repeating the name over and over, clinging to it as if it was a lighthouse among a sea of blackness that threatened to swarm him once more. “Boxman, Boxy, dear cob, Boxman, I am so sorry for everything, I didn’t mean… It was never supposed to… Box, I never wanted to hurt you. I never wanted anything of that to happen. I only wanted to… oh, Boxman, you have no idea how sorry I am. For everything. For hurting you. For leaving you. For… For…” he paused for a shaky intake of breath, placing his hands on Boxman’s shoulders to make sure he wouldn’t go anywhere, just in case. “You mean so much to me, more than I can describe. I love you, Boxman. I love you so much. More than anything. More than money. More than coffee. More than power.”

That last bit made Boxman raise his eyebrows.

“I… I just wanted to be stronger,” Venomous shook his head. “I thought that it would make me better, more worthy of you. I wanted to protect you and the kids. I wanted so badly to be good enough, Box. I wanted you to be safe and happy and… It was never supposed to be like that.” He looked away, ashamed. “When I made a pact with Shadowy, he took over me, deprived me of any control I had over my body. He… He made me do things I would have never done.”

“Like kicking me out of Boxmore?”

He nodded. “Well, that part was kind of me?” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I wanted you to be safe – I didn’t know what plans Shadowy had for you, but he had already threatened to hurt Fink if I tried anything funny. I… I wasn’t able to protect her from danger, Boxman, but I tried to protect you and your kids.”

Boxman sat down on the floor opposite him, wiping at his eye with his sleeve. So, the whole point of kicking them all out was to keep them safe? It made sense, sort of; before Shadowy, Venomous had no interest in running the factory by himself, more than happy to be part of the duo the two of them made. Such a radical change could have been Shadowy’s doing, and Venomous was intelligent enough to take advantage of that, putting Boxman and the robots out of harm’s way. Shadowy was a powerful being, after all.

It was a lousy thing to do, but hey, he was doing his best.

“So,” Boxman said, glad that his voice was more or less back to normal after all the crying they did, “you’ve made a pact with a stupidly powerful, warped version of yourself, got screwed over, went on a rampage, needed me and Fink to put you back in control, died, and came back to beg me to take you back?”

Venomous nodded immediately. “I wanted to grab cake and flowers on the way but I left my wallet and phone at home.”

“So that’s why you weren’t answering calls.”

“You tried to call me?”

“Fifteen times.”

“Really?”

Boxman threw his hand in the air. “Yes, really! I watched you die, for cob’s sake! Of course I was worried about you! Did you not catch the whole ‘I love and cherish you and want you back in my life, so please stop destroying everything and turn back to normal so I can either kiss or punch you in the face’ thing I’ve been doing?”

Ven blinked at him, opened his mouth to say something, faltered, closed it, opened it again, and eventually said:

“I am an idiot.”

“Absolutely correct.”

“And I need therapy.”

“Even more correct.”

“Boxy, how in the Hell did you fall in love with me?”

Boxman shrugged tiredly. “We’re two of hearts, aren’t we? Guess you just can’t get rid of me no matter how hard you try.”

“So wait,” Venomous looked at him incredulously. “You… you still want me?” There was so much disbelief in his eyes. Disbelief and hope, and a fair amount of yet unshed tears rising with every second. “You still want me in your life?”

“You don’t?”

“No, no!” he almost shouted, panic rising suddenly in his voice. “No, Boxman, I mean… Of course I want you in my life. I love you so much and genuinely want to build my life with you, but after everything, I just can’t believe…” He ran a hand through his hair, sighing. “I…”

“You don’t think you deserve it,” Boxman finished.

“Yeah,” he nodded, shoulders slumping. “Listen, if you don’t want me romantically, I will be happy to be your friend. If you don’t want me as your friend, I will be happy as your business partner. If you don’t want me as that, I will be your accomplice, or an acquaintance, or nothing but a regular customer. I don't care. No matter what, I want you in my life, Boxman, and I will do whatever it takes to be worthy of you again. I promise you.” There was still fear in his voice – crippling, overwhelming fear of failure, of not being good enough, but there was also determination. Hope. A promise to build the life he had never thought they would have together, with his own bare hands if need be.

Boxman pondered him for a moment.

“Boxman, please. I swear that I will never let any harm come to you or the kids.”

Boxman kept pondering him.

“I am literally begging you. Here. On my knees.”

So he was. No expensive gifts, no charismatic confidence. Just Venomous baring his heart to him and begging him not to pull it out and crush it under his heel. He was offering the most precious, most fragile thing in his possession, something he had only regained recently but was already offering it to Boxman: himself.

“Tell you what, if I ever did anything hurtful or upsetting to you, you would be allowed to stuff me into a cannon and fire me straight into the sun.”

Poor guy. So desperate. It was flattering, though; nobody except the robots was so eager to get into Boxman’s good graces. And look, he was about to start crying again.

Deciding to spare him the dehydration, Boxman just grabbed him by the lapels of his coat and finally pulled him into a proper cobdamn kiss.

Venomous froze immediately, eyes wide like saucers. A blush darkened his face as his brain pulled the emergency brake to process what in the blazes was happening.

Oh.

Oh.

Alright then.

It switched into gear again, and Venomous positively melted into the kiss, eyes fluttering shut as his arms snaked around Boxman’s neck and he reciprocated – hesitantly at first, then, as soon as it became clear that Boxman had no plans to pull away, more boldly.

It felt… indescribable, like all of his bones suddenly turned into jelly and his blood into liquid electricity. It was so, so much better than any high he ever got from Shadowy’s power. To think that he almost threw this away for some purple shadow magics… Venomous laughed into the kiss, feeling like a weight was lifted from his shoulders. Boxman was kissing him! In real life! Not in a daydream he tended to indulge in when filling out boring paperwork! And now he was laughing as well! Dear cob, he had a wonderful laugh, how has Venomous never noticed that before? Such an amazing, adorable man, destructive like a volcanic eruption and twice as beautiful. And he wanted him back in his life! Honestly, he was ready to let KO and his friends beat him into the dirt for a week straight as a thank you for making this reality happen.

Boxman stopped laughing and kissed him again. Two weeks. No, three. Maybe even an entire month as long as Boxman would allow him to crawl back to him afterwards.

“I love you, Boxman,” he mumbled into the kiss. Now, Ven was pretty sure that he said it before, but it was just so, so nice to be able to say it and know that it would be reciprocated. And there was no Shadowy to ruin the moment! He still couldn’t get used to that. It really was the best reality possible for him – well, it will be once he fixes things with KO and co., takes Fink to the upcoming video game convention, and gets himself a therapist with a strong stomach.

All that could wait, though. For now, he was kissing Boxman, Boxman was kissing him, and they had all the time in the world to build their happily ever after.

“Hey, P.V.” Boxman pulled away for a moment.

"Mhm?" Venomous looked at him with a wobbly smile.

"If you ever do something like that again, I will personally kill you."

"Understandable."

"Can I do something real quick?"

"Anything you want." The professor looked like there should be little cartoony hearts floating around his head.

“Thank you.”

Boxman then rolled up his sleeves, pulled his arm back, and decked him straight in the face.

Understandable.