“Hey, uh, Sean? How’re things going in there…”
Eric was waiting outside of Sean’s room- he’d said he had something really special he wanted to surprise Eric with, but there was absolutely no peeking allowed. He could hear a lot of noise from inside the room (heck, he’d even heard the sound of Sean’s helmet hitting the floor), but he really couldn’t tell what was going on in the slightest.
“I’m almost ready, Eric! Just wait a couple seconds longer…”
It sounded like Sean was deep in thought, and the noise of Styrofoam squeaking against itself could be heard. That was followed by a short metallic clang, then the sound of a machine whirring as it started up, before that went quiet too, and Sean finally spoke up again.
“Okay! You can come in now.”
It was about time, too- he was dying of curiosity by now to see just what it was that Sean had been so excited about. When he opened the door he noticed a lot of things at once- his helmet still on the floor, a flurry of Styrofoam packing peanuts everywhere, and a gigantic pile of cardboard and plastic- but the thing his eyes snapped to right away was Sean’s head- in that, he actually had one.
“What do you think, Eric? Sigma helped me design it, I wanted to have a face that’d look more like a human. Does it look okay?”
Eric’s first reaction was pure shock: Sean was actually smiling, and not just with his voice. If you ignored the metal ring on his neck, he looked just like a human kid- the way he stood, the way his eyes shone, if you didn’t know better you’d assume he was human for sure. His secondary reaction was anxiety: it wasn’t Sean’s fault, but he’d already reminded Eric of Chris. So seeing Sean looking up at him, with so much expectation and happiness… it only made a knot form in the pit of Eric’s stomach.
“Eric? Are you okay?”
“H-huh? O-Oh, sorry Sean. I think it looks great- it suits you really well.”
Maybe it was because he wasn’t used to having a face, but the disbelief and worry was obvious on Sean’s face. His emotions were fully broadcasted, just like a real kid’s.
“Eric… something’s wrong. You always play with your shirt sleeves like that when something’s wrong.”
He blinked- he hadn’t even realized that he’d been doing it. Did he really have such an obvious nervous tic, or was Sean just that attentive? He forced his hands to stop, one balled into a fist while the other scratched the back of his head nervously.
“You don’t need to tell me if it makes you uncomfortable, but if you don’t like this face, I can change it, or use the helmet-“
“N-No, don’t. That’s… that’s not it.”
It took him a while, but eventually Eric sat down on the bed in Sean’s room, leaving space for the boy to hop up if he so chose. At least for now, Sean seemed to want to stay put, continuing to stand in place and watch Eric. He rolled the wedding band on his finger, focusing on a random spot on the wall while he tried to compose his thoughts.
“Back at Dcom.. I told you a bit about my brother, right?”
Sean’s face immediately fell, shoulders sagging as he recalled memories from timelines Eric would never be able to access. He knew that a lot more had happened than he would ever be aware of, but from Sean’s reaction the timelines he never got to know were really something.
“Yes… about how he’d be around my age, and how he…”
Sean seemed unwilling to complete the sentence, so Eric did it for him.
“He… he died. Our father… killed him.” A look of guilt had wormed its way onto Sean’s face, and it nearly broke Eric’s heart to look at. “Don’t blame yourself, okay? It’s just… it’s going to take a lot of time, for me. It’s not fair to you if I look at you and see him, you’re your own person. If you’re uncomfortable being around me until I know I’m able to make the distinction, then I wouldn’t blame you.”
Sean had hopped up onto the bed beside him while talking, and shook his head.
“Eric, you’ve changed. You’ve grown a lot; I don’t think the you I knew back at Dcom would have been able to say that.” Sean gave him a smile, putting a small hand on Eric’s back in a gesture of comfort. “But, I don’t mind. After all, I chose to stay with you, didn’t I? I had plenty of chances to leave already, but I didn’t.”
Eric laughed a bit, a smile having worked its way onto his face as well. It was really funny just how mature Sean was- he supposed that as a robot, the kid’s body didn’t need to represent his age, but that didn’t change how he looked like he wasn’t much older than ten. There was more to Sean’s words than the kid realized, however. Eric hadn’t just convinced Mira to change, he’d convinced himself as well. With Diana and Sigma’s help he’d managed to find a therapist he could visit regularly without Sean knowing. He’d been going for a good few months now, and even he’d started to notice his own change. He wasn’t perfect- far from it, in fact- but he was trying, and he was improving.
Even his smile wasn’t forced anymore. It was no longer the baseline emotion he kept on his face, a fake smile with no real emotion to it, but an actual genuine grin. He was certain everyone else had noticed, considering the snark comments Junpei had made once or twice, but it didn’t really bother him. He wasn’t going through with this for anyone but himself; so that he could have chance at happiness, just like everyone else.
“Yeah, I guess so, huh? Well, if you don’t mind being stuck with me, then I’d be more than happy to give you a ride to Mira’s prison later- I’m sure she’d be impressed with your new head.”
“Oh, but… do you think they’ll let me in again? Last time, I kinda broke her out of jail…”
Eric crossed his arms and sighed, thinking for a second. He’d been too dumbfounded to actually comprehend what had happened- they hadn’t reached the transporters, Sean and Mira had hardly even made it a block away- Eric had spent many hours apologizing profusely and signing papers to get Sean set free again, while Mira went quietly back to her cell, with a genuinely amused smile on her face. Eric had later had to explain the concepts of parole and sentence length to Sean- it was fully possible for Mira to get parole eventually, but that required good behaviour and proof of rehabilitation- and breaking out of jail showed neither of those.
Sean had apologized to the prison guards and even offered to help rebuild the wall, but in the end he’d been banned from entering the grounds again. Even with a new face, there was no way that they wouldn’t recognize him…
“Hmm… oh, I know. I’ll just do a video chat- You can spend some time over at Crash Keys, and once I get talking with Mira we can get a laptop or something. If I go over it ahead of time with the guards, I’m sure they’ll let us do that.”
“Really? You really think so, Eric?”
Eric tousled Sean’s hair, chuckling a bit more. It was hard not to, when the kid got all excited like this. Sean was always fairly straightforward with how he spoke and held himself, and the effect had been amplified now that he had a genuine face.
“Thank you, Eric!”
He suddenly felt Sean jump forwards and wrap him in a tight hug, the excitement and happiness on his face just overflowing. Then, as quickly as he’d grabbed hold he was up and off, already in the doorway and heading out to the hall.
“I’m gonna call Akane, okay? She hasn’t seen my face yet either, so I’m sure she’ll be super excited!”
Eric nodded as Sean darted out to find the phone, smiling to himself. Maybe, just maybe, this wouldn’t be as hard as he’d thought. Sean was already practically family, after all- they’d made it through much worse together, and the best of times were yet to come.