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there's not a word yet (for old friends who've just met)

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Beaker had slowly progressed from the good part of town to the bad part of town to the downright weird part of town. Now, he looked down at the ad he'd circled in the paper, then back at the old brick theater standing in front of him. Admittedly, he didn't have a lot of experience, but this didn't look much like a laboratory. An old marquee said THE MUPPET SHOW in big letters, which was close to "Muppet Labs", but with enough of a key difference that his palms started to sweat where they were clutched around the newsprint. Still, he wasn't filling an ad in the newspaper because he had a lot of options. He took a deep breath, drew himself up as tall as he could, and knocked on the stage door.

He could hear instant chaos on the other side of the door, assorted shouting and bangs that had him shrinking back into his neatly ironed shirt. Still, before he could think twice about what he was doing and hit the bricks, the door opened a crack to reveal a scattered-looking guy with big glasses and bigger stress levels. "Can I help you?" he asked.

Beaker took half a second to pump himself up, and then said, "I'm here about the job opening."

The other guy's face screwed up as he tried to parse that.

"The job opening," Beaker repeated.

A blank look. Well, it wasn't the first time that someone hadn't been able to understand his particular dialect.

With a sigh, Beaker shook out the newspaper and pointed to the ad that he'd circled in the paper that morning. The guy pushed the glasses up his face and leaned in to get a better look. And then leaned in a little closer. Beaker couldn't really blame him; the cramped little ad was sandwiched in between IGUANA HANDLER NEEDED and HELP WANTED: DON'T ASK QUESTIONS, and the font was well-nigh illegible.

"Oh! You're here about Dr. Honeydew's job ad!" the guy said, pulling back and opening the door a little wider. "Sorry, I don't think we were really expecting anybody to see that, much less show up. I'll take you to Kermit."

The guy turned around and led the way inside, and Beaker was momentarily stunned by the sheer amount of activity inside. It didn't look that different from a typical office building inside, but the doors said things like GONZO'S EXPLOSIVES (KEEP OUT!) and FUR AND MAKEUP, and he had to duck around at least two rat fights and a flying fish (literally!) just to keep up. He was so caught up in staring at his surroundings that he almost didn't hear his guide's steady stream of conversation. "My name is Scooter, and I'm the stage manager around here. Kermit's in charge of everything, but I keep things going smoothly backstage. That on your left is the props room, and the chickens' dressing room is over there..."

It was almost too much to take in. A lemon and an apple were on the desk next to them casually discussing how to dress for best ap-peel on stage, and there was a small army of penguins that were either gearing up for a lunch break or planning a revolution. Neither seemed particularly out of place in the chaos. It was almost a relief when Scooter stopped abruptly in front of a door and gave it a brisk knock.

"Come in!"

Beaker hung back a little as Scooter poked his head in. "Sorry to bother you, boss, but there's a guy out here who says he's answering Dr. Honeydew's ad. Or at least, that's what I think he's saying."

Beaker didn't catch all of the reply, but it sounded suspiciously like "Who'd be crazy enough to do that?"

Scooter peeked back over his shoulder at him. "Uhhhh..."

A sigh from inside the office. "Good grief. Well, send him in."

Beaker wasn't sure what he expected to see sitting at the desk, but it certainly wasn't the small, mild-looking frog. It made sense, though, in a way, that the one in charge of all this madness would be so unassuming. It was like looking into the tiny, green eye of the storm.

Scooter shooed him inside, and then, with a quiet "good luck", shut the door behind him. At the squeaky click of the door, Beaker had the strangest sense of a fate being sealed.

Kermit smiled a sort of tired half-smile and gestured towards a chair in front of his desk. "Please, sit down, Mr...?"

"Beaker," he replied, and mentally prepared himself for another back and forth.

Kermit's face did something complicated before smoothing itself out again. "Let me get you a piece of paper."

He handed Beaker a piece of clean white paper and a pen, and pushed some of his papers to the side so Beaker could nudge his own chair up to the desk and use it to write a reply. A recalcitrant part of him wanted to write "meep meep" one of these days, just to see what kind of reaction he'd get, but he quickly squashed it. Instead, he just wrote his name as neatly as possible and turned it so Kermit could read it.

"Beaker, huh?" Kermit scribbled something down, and Beaker fought the urge to fidget. "And what exactly do you know about this job?"

Beaker gave a half shrug and produced the ad, which Kermit took from him. Kermit squinted at it, and then rummaged around in the drawer of his desk to produce a magnifying glass. He gave Beaker a wry smile. "Best ad that five dollars can buy," he said, then fixed the magnifying glass on the ad. "Lab assistant wanted... Flexibility and curiosity is a plus... No experience--no experience necessary?!" Kermit looked up at Beaker with a new wariness. "Please tell me you actually have some lab experience."

Beaker meeped something noncommittal. He scribbled down his qualifications on the sheet of paper between them and pushed it back towards Kermit. He might not have spent as much time in a lab as some scientists, but he'd definitely done some grunt work in college. He did have some experience.

Kermit picked up the sheet and looked it over. "Huh. College. That's better than I was hoping." He handed the sheet back to Beaker and cocked his head to the side. "How are you in front of an audience, Beaker?" he asked.

"Audience?" And Beaker knew very well that even if he'd had normal speech patterns, that squeak still would have been nearly incomprehensible. By the look on Kermit's face, that fact hadn't escaped him either.

"Well, you see, Beaker, Muppet Labs is part of The Muppet Show. We let Dr. Honeydew do whatever experiments he wants to do down in the lab, and he shows off the results on our show. Some of the experiments are pretty big, though, so I know he's been looking for a lab ra--um. Assistant. A lab assistant." Kermit's voice was kind, perhaps because it probably looked like Beaker was about two breaths away from hyperventilating.

The fact of the matter was that he'd put in his time during school, but there just weren't that many available technician positions in the area, especially not for someone of his skill and experience level. And he really did need a job... But this? This was insanity.

"It's a little crazy around here," Kermit told him, and his sentence was punctuated with a small explosion from outside the office. Kermit didn't even blink. "It's a little crazy around here," he repeated, "But there are a lot of good people here who are just trying to put on a good show."

There was something in Kermit's voice that soothed him, that rubbed off the edges of the hysteria threatening to well up inside him at the thought of being part of all this craziness--and in front of an audience--and left him feeling almost calm. That is, until Kermit pushed his chair back from his desk and told him to sit tight and he'd go get Dr. Honeydew.

It wasn't that Beaker had never met real scientists before. It was just that he was relatively certain that not one of them had ever learned his name, much less forgotten it. He'd never been the only assistant in a lab before, especially not one as unconventional as what he was facing here. He really didn't know what to expect.

It felt like a thousand years had gone by before they got back, but still somehow not time enough by half. When Kermit finally walked in the door, he was trembling all over, giving a whole new meaning to leaf green, and his companion (also green) was chatting amicably at him. "That run really showed promise, though, Mr. Kermit! Just another adjustment to the main release valve and maybe a slight change of acidity, and I really think we'll have something! Those pigeons won't know what hit them!"

"Neither did I..." Kermit mumbled, before training his eyes on Beaker and visibly trying to compose himself. "Beaker, this is Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, the head scientist at Muppet Labs. The only scientist, at that. Dr. Honeydew, this is Beaker. He's come about the uh. The job." He sank into his chair and clutched at the armrests in a way that really did not make Beaker feel any less anxious.

"Mr. Beaker, oh, it is wonderful to meet you!" Dr. Honeydew told him, and that was all the warning he was given before his hand was being shaken very enthusiastically. His hand and his arm and all the rest of him, for that matter. "Mr. Kermit has told me all about you already, and I'm very eager to get started with our interview."

Dr. Honeydew looked nothing but genial, but Kermit looked like he'd like something rather strong to drink. There was nothing for it, though, and Beaker allowed himself to be led by the hand that Dr. Honeydew still had not managed to let go of. "Come now, Beaker, and I'll show you the lab!"

Kermit waved as they slipped out the door, his expression some combination of worry and relief, and that was the last thing he saw before he was dragged down a series of twisting hallways into what seemed to be the very bowels of the building.

"Welcome to Muppet Labs!" Dr. Honeydew announced, finally letting go of his death grip on Beaker's hand. "We'll be using a smaller version for our set on stage, of course, but this is where we'll be doing most of our work."

It was not lost on Beaker that Dr. Honeydew was speaking as if he'd already been offered and had accepted the job. He rubbed at his hand absently as he took in his surroundings. The lab was every bit as chaotic as the backstage area had been, but in a way that was a seductive mixture of familiar and bizarre. Some of the tools scattered about on worktables were things that he'd been working with for years, but the machines set up to and fro in the workshop were like nothing he'd ever seen. Despite himself, he found himself drifting towards the nearest device, and stopped just short of touching it.

"Oh, I see you've found my Monster Detector! What a good eye!" Dr. Honeydew said, coming up behind him.

"A Monster Detector?"

"Why yes, it was designed to detect any uninvited monsters that may have slipped into closets, under-the-beds, bathrooms--you know, the usual. Unfortunately, The Muppet Show pays host to many monstrous actors and custodial workers. The darn thing never stopped going off!" Dr. Honeydew stopped himself, and looked as if he were mentally rewinding the conversation. "I'm sorry, could you repeat what you just said?"

Beaker sighed and repeated himself, knowing that it wouldn't do much good.

"My goodness! What an interesting dialect! I'm afraid I don't quite follow you, but I've always liked a challenge." Dr. Honeydew patted Beaker's arm companionably. "We'll be swapping witty anecdotes in no time fast!"

Beaker blinked at him, the words catching in his throat. He wasn't sure he'd ever had someone offer to learn how to understand him before. Usually someone already got him or they had no interest in starting. He looked away and down at the Monster Detector. Crazy or not, maybe Kermit was right. Dr. Honeydew was a good person.

* * *

No. No. Beaker had been wrong. Beaker had been so wrong. Dr. Honeydew was not a good person. Dr. Honeydew was a terrible devil of a person that chased after scientific discovery with fire in his eyes and in Beaker's hair.

The Automatic Frying Pan had not been a success. Neither had the Thermochromatic Tea Cozy, though it had proven itself to be remarkably good at spontaneous combustion. By the time Beaker fled upstairs for his lunch break, he was battered, singed, and more than a little traumatized.

He found an abandoned desk shoved unceremoniously against a wall backstage, and he sat down to eat the sandwich he'd packed that morning. Through some miracle of fate and ballistic patterns, it had escaped the morning's explosions, and he was grateful for it. A little comfort food and some alone time was exactly what he needed to pull himself back together in time for the rest of his work day.

Which is, of course, when he was joined by someone else. The being that was standing just off to the left, examining him with something akin to awe, was gangly and purple and just generally unfortunate looking. Beaker was relatively certain that if he'd been a little less stressed, his sense of scientific curiosity would have sat up to attention, but as it was, he simply made a mental note to ask Dr. Honeydew about it later. Much later. Maybe.

His jumbled mental workings were soon interrupted by a breathless little "gosh", however, and he looked up from his sandwich with a sort of wary resignation. Clearly, the purple thing was not about to leave him in peace.

At his acknowledgement, the creature took a few steps closer. "You look like you've had an amazing morning!" it stated, and Beaker couldn't help but blink owlishly at him. "Amazing" was one word for it. "Just look at that soot!"

Beaker looked down at his shirt self-consciously. He'd ironed it meticulously this morning, nervous about his first night on the job, but it was now a wrinkled mess. And yes, there were a few streaks of soot. Probably from the Ever-Burning Candles.

The creature must have picked up on his discomfort, because he quickly put his hands up in a placating gesture. "No, no, you look great! What a fashion statement!"

The bizarre part, Beaker thought, was that the weird little thing looked completely genuine about this. Crazy, but good, he reminded himself, and instead of edging away from the creature the way he actually wanted to, he asked, "Are you one of the performers here?"

The creature's bug eyes widened even further. "And a poet, too!" he exclaimed. "It's a real pleasure to meet you! People call me The Great Gonzo!" He paused. "Well. Sometimes. Anyway, are you part of a new act here?" he asked, taking a step closer to lean against the desk.

"My name is Beaker," he replied, and before there could be any more misunderstandings, he pulled out his newly laminated ID card and showed it to him.

"Oooh, Muppet Labs!" Gonzo exclaimed, holding the card up in the dim backstage light. "I didn't know Dr. Honeydew was looking for a new assistant! You sure are lucky, Beaker. The explosions, the corrosive chemicals... Gee, that lab seems like a real gas."

Gas. Beaker shuddered. He did not particularly want to be reminded about that right now. He sat back in his seat a little and eyed Gonzo cautiously. This one had odd tastes even for this crowd, but he seemed nice enough. "It's a little overwhelming," he admitted. It wasn't a particularly risky move. It wasn't as if Gonzo could really understand what he was saying.

Gonzo must have gathered the gist of it from his tone, though, because he gave him a sympathetic look. "Yeah," he said, though Beaker wasn't sure what he was agreeing with. "But you're working with a really great guy! Dr. Honeydew is gonna change the world one day, you just wait!"

"That's what I'm afraid of..." Beaker mumbled.

Gonzo nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah, his inventions are great! He even told me that he was working on a nose warmer for the winter." He rubbed his long, hooked nose. "This baby needs a lot of tender loving care when it gets cold outside."

"I imagine so," Beaker said. He eyed that nose critically and thought of all the ways that could go wrong. He rubbed his own nose in prescient sympathy.

Gonzo just nodded again, and Beaker felt the growing suspicion that Gonzo had a tendency to hear what he wanted to. "Well, I'll let you get back to your lunch, pal. I have a date with three chickens and a cannon. Maybe I'll even get some cool gunpowder residue of my own!" he said, looking far too excited about the prospect.

Beaker could only watch him go, mouth slightly open. Were they all like this? Was this a performer thing? He'd never been especially fond of the spotlight, so he admittedly hadn't met very many actors, but he didn't think it was possible that they were all this crazy. Maybe it was a brand of weirdness exclusive to the Muppets.

* * *

Beaker gave the metal plate one last rub with a rag, just to see it gleam, then stood back to admire his work. He'd followed all of Dr. Honeydew's instructions to the letter, had calibrated and recalibrated the controls, and now the machine sat before him, glossy and set to test.

He had absolutely no idea what it did, but his boss seemed to, and hopefully that would be good enough.

Speaking of which, Dr. Honeydew was bustling up behind him, surveying his work with a critical eye. Then he clapped his hands, that worrisome shine back in his eyes, and said, "Good work, Beaker! It looks like we've finished just in time for today's show!"

"Today's show?" Beaker echoed.

"Of course, Beaker! The audience is hungry for the latest scientific breakthrough from Muppet Labs!" Dr. Honeydew said, picking up the device and placing it on a little cart. "Come along now."

"Me?" Beaker squeaked, stopping midstep.

Dr. Honeydew turned to look at him with raised eyebrows. "Well, you didn't think I'd let you hide backstage every week, did you?" he asked.

Beaker gulped. "N-no..." Yes. He'd been hoping for exactly that. Since he'd started work, he'd seen Dr. Honeydew disappear to the stage a couple times, but he'd never been asked to join him. He should have known better than to think that it was anything other than a matter of time.

Dr. Honeydew beckoned him over and gestured towards the cart. "Come, Beaker, don't be shy. You'll be a natural, I know it. Don't you want to show the world the Butter Repelling Plate?"

The what now? "What is the--"

"Oh, enough with idle chit-chat, Beaker. We'll miss our cue!"

And all Beaker could do at that point was follow him upstairs to the stage and try not too shake too much in his leaden shoes.

* * *

The stage lights were blindingly bright above them, and Beaker felt as if his mouth were made of sandpaper. What was he doing up here? He was a scientist, not an actor.

Next to him, Dr. Honeydew was smiling beatifically at the audience. Off to the side, Scooter was doing--well, he was doing something with his hands that Beaker was relatively sure was some kind of signal. It must have meant something to Dr. Honeydew, though, because he was off like a shot, giving his spiel to a mildly apprehensive audience.

"Hello, and welcome to Muppet Labs, where the future is being made today! I'm Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and this is my brand new assistant, Beaker!" He leaned towards the audience and said sotto voce, "He's a little nervous today, but if you're just a bit patient, I'm sure you'll be richly rewarded."

"Patient? If we sit here much longer, we'll be dead!"

"That's the reward! Dohohoho!"

A small meep slipped out of his mouth unbidden as he cringed away from the cackles coming somewhere above them. His eyes had to strain against the strong lights, but he could just barely make out two old men in one of the old theater's side boxes.

Dr. Honeydew's hand gently covering his was enough to make him pull his eyes from the box, however, and the doctor gave him a kind smile. "Don't mind them, Beaker. No scientist is ever truly understood in their time."

"Yeah! I don't understand how you two bozos still have a job! Dohohoho!"

Beaker pulled his hand from Dr. Honeydew's so he could cover his eyes. And he'd thought this was a nightmare before.

"Well, then. On to our newest invention, the Butter Repelling Plate. Have you ever made yourself a delicious slice of toast for breakfast, only to ruin it after dropping it butter-side down on your plate?"

Beaker nodded next to him, and Dr. Honeydew tittered. "Yes, Beaker dear, you can be a bit of a butterfingers sometimes. Now go ahead and turn on the machine."

Beaker huffed a bit under his breath, but he followed instructions. He flicked the switches that had really only been installed a couple hours ago and hoped for the best.

"Well, our newest machine will make that early morning sorrow a thing of the past. This plate uses special anti-gravity rays to repel butter and only butter, so instead of your toast being ruined, it will levitate safely above the plate, leaving your toast--and your appetite--intact."

The metal plate in front of them started to hum and shake. Honestly, it all seemed a bit ominous to Beaker, but Dr. Honeydew just moved blithely along, pushing a loaf of bread and a butter dish his way.

"My assistant will now demonstrate this marvelous invention--go on, Beaker," Dr. Honeydew prodded, nodding towards the butter.

If he'd been anywhere but on stage, Beaker would have sighed heavily, but as it was, he just buttered the bread as evenly as he could with the hot lights melting it beneath his knife.

"And now Beaker will place this slice of bread on the Butter Repelling Plate, butter side down of course."

It did not escape Beaker's notice that the good doctor had taken a rather large step back after saying this. Still, there wasn't anything to do but place the toast down on the plate and pray. He breathed a sigh of pure relief when the toast simply hovered harmlessly above the plate. Very few of their inventions had harmlessly done anything up to this point.

Just as Dr. Honeydew was stepping forward to continue his spiel, however, a stray drop of melted butter started to drip towards the plate. Beaker wasn't even given a chance to step backwards before the toast was flung backwards towards them. Dr. Honeydew managed to dodge it, but as per usual, Beaker was less lucky.

"Oh, Beaker! Get that toast out of your hair and turn off the machine!"

But despite his PhD and his years of experience, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew was not smart enough (or at least not observant enough) to notice the melted butter all over his assistant's hands. If he had, maybe he would have anticipated that this order would not go as planned. As it was, the plate instantly flung itself away from his hands and skittered across the counter that served as the front of their set.

"Oh dear," Dr. Honeydew said, just barely dodging the humming metal projectile as it whizzed past. "Don't worry, everyone! We definitely have this under control, and we'll have this experiment back to rights in a jiffy. But, um, in the meantime, it might be best if you all duck!"

"Duck?" Beaker heard floating down from the box. "Sounds more like a turkey to me!"

And then, almost as if in reaction to the chortling up above them, the plate took a hard right away from a puddle on the counter and shot up, up, up, high into the air, and--

"Ow!"

"Well, what do you know? Dinner and a show! Eheheheh..."

Beaker meeped sadly to himself as he buried his face in his hands, and Dr. Honeydew cleared his throat loudly. "That's all today for Muppet Labs. Tune in next week for the Perfect Vacuum Cleaner! You'll never use a normal vacuum cleaner again, not after trying the Muppet Labs Perfect Vacuum Cleaner. Only Muppet Labs puts a perfect vacuum in your appliances!" he announced, and even as the lights went dark and their mics were cut, Beaker was sure that his despairing little sound could be heard loud and clear by the audience.

Dr. Honeydew clapped a hand around his shoulder and squeezed before using his grip to steer Beaker off set. "That was very good, Beaker! You're a natural!" he said as they reached the wings.

"A natural? What do you mean? That was a disaster!" Beaker replied, and he was sure that his tone was frantic enough to be clearer than his words were.

Dr. Honeydew just patted his shoulder again, more gently this time. "The Butter Repelling Plate repelled butter just fine. Maybe even too well... And you kept your head about you even when things got tough!" He smiled at Beaker, and despite the slightly manic edge to it, it actually did soothe him just a bit. "Yes, I think you'll do just fine."

* * *

Despite himself, Beaker found himself falling into a rhythm. The workshop "incidents" had been decreasing as he'd gotten more used to Dr. Honeydew's habits, and vice-versa. He was getting better at anticipating exactly what tool Honeydew was grasping around for when he was too deep in an equation to use words at him, and Honeydew, well, his aim was getting a little better.

The work itself was surprisingly interesting. Though the concepts were bizarre, the implementations were fresh and--dare he say it--fun. Trying to follow Honeydew's thought processes was like trying to follow the most dizzying gymnastics available. It was full of seemingly random twists and turns, flying leaps of logic executed with a technical proficiency he couldn't hope to follow, and all he could do was run around with a mat. Despite that, Honeydew without exception referred to it as "their" work, like Beaker's status as resident gopher and lab rat was just as useful as his own scientific know-how. Honestly, Beaker wasn't always sure why exactly some of these concepts worked out (after all, they seemed to fly in the face of everything he'd ever learned in school), but he was getting better at figuring out when they would... and when he should be prepared to duck.

Maybe it was this newfound rhythm that made him feel comfortable enough to engage in some of his own bad habits, or maybe it was just being around so many performers all the time. Either way, when he was left alone in the lab to clean out equipment or order the tools that Honeydew would need for his next harebrained scheme, he found himself singing under his breath or talking to himself about any subject under the sun. He'd caught the habit from his mother, who always used to sing and chatter as she worked in the kitchen when he was a little boy, and now sometimes the words would just well up inside him unless he kept them very well squashed. It had driven his previous coworkers crazy, which gave him a good incentive to do exactly that. But it couldn't bother anyone if no one was in the lab with him.

He was fiddling with some screws on the Pretzel Unlooper's casing and humming his way through Cheek to Cheek, which had been stuck in his head all week after stumbling across Miss Piggy's rehearsals, when he heard a quiet clatter behind him. He jumped about a foot into the air, crashing into the machine and very narrowly avoiding getting thoroughly unlooped himself. It was only because of a solid pair of hands on his shoulders yanking him backwards out of the machine and onto the floor that he managed to escape that fate.

"I'm sorry, Beaky! I didn't mean to frighten you," Honeydew was saying above him, and it was lucky that he was too dazed to wince at that new nickname. "You just looked so content that I didn't want to interrupt."

It took Beaker a second to place what he meant, and then he was sitting straight up on the floor, ignoring the sudden dizzy spell in favor of the embarrassment and unfortunate surety that he was flushing. He started to stutter out some kind of apology, not that the words would have been worth much anyway, but Honeydew just shushed him and gave him a smile that he could only describe as merry. (Which was a bit odd when your assistant had just escaped certain death, but Bunsen Honeydew was an odd man.)

"Oh, don't worry about that, Beaky. I always work better with a bit of noise, and you have such a melodious voice!" Honeydew told him, and patted him on the shoulder before wandering off back to whatever it was he'd been doing.

Beaker sighed and rubbed a hand over his face, desperately trying to ignore the way that his face probably matched his hair right about now. There was work to be done, and he didn't have time to be blushing over his weird habits being found out or his overly gregarious employer's response to them.

He did wonder, though, as he went back to the Unlooper, how Honeydew had known so quickly exactly what had him so flustered. Now that he thought about it, it wasn't outside the realm of possibility that Honeydew hadn't exactly fit in at other labs, either. He certainly seemed to fit in a lot better with the other Muppets than the other scientists Beaker had met before.

He cast a sideways look at where Honeydew was scribbling something in one of his many notebooks. Beaker still wasn't sure how well he fit in in a crazy place like this, but maybe he could at least find a place for himself at Muppet Labs.

He started humming again.

* * *

The one problem with getting blanket permission to hum, sing, or talk in the lab was that now it was very hard to stop himself. His mutterings and musings started to take on the air of a one-sided conversation with the appearance of a willing audience. When faced with mindless grunt work, he found that he was more often than not talking to, or rather at, an uncomprehending Honeydew as he worked. He talked about how surprised his family had been that he'd come to work in a place like this, and he told him about the terrible joke that he'd heard from Fozzie Bear the previous afternoon, and he told him things that he hadn't told anyone else before. It was a relatively low-risk venture; it was clear that Honeydew still mostly understood him by tone alone. With the why nots taken care of, however, Beaker still found himself unable to answer the why. He might have said loneliness or stress a month ago, but though his stress levels were still going through the roof (because so had his head last Tuesday, and there was a certain gleam in Honeydew's eyes that still inspired panic) he was surprised to realize that he was feeling less lonely now than he ever had before. There was a strange kind of companionship on this ship of fools, and he was starting to wonder if he was really so different from the rest of them after all.

And so, he talked.

"I keep hearing about Miss Piggy, but I haven't met her yet. Kermit says that she's a really talented performer, but he always gets that look on his face like he swallowed a bug when he says that. Well. A bug that a frog wouldn't usually swallow. I heard her screaming once, but Rizzo said she was just practicing her number. He wasn't sure if it was supposed to be singing or karate, though. Come to think of it, maybe I don't want to meet her..."

and

"I saw the Swedish Chef running after some lettuce with a mallet the other day. None of the other Muppets can understand what he's saying either, but the vegetables seem to understand him just fine."

and

"I remember when I saw my first rainbow. I remember wanting to know why there were colors in the sky, and my mother told me that it was what happened after the sky stops raining and starts to smile again. That wasn't really a satisfying answer, though, so I went to the library and looked up what exactly a rainbow was, and why they happen. I went to the library a lot after that..."

He paused, remembering the way that the clouds had been limned with color, and the occasional patter of slowing rain had sparkled like jewels. He'd felt a burning inside in the face of all that water, and the knowledge he'd thrown on the fire in an attempt to quench it had only made it burn all the brighter. He'd wanted to explore everything everywhere, and when he'd gotten a microscope for Christmas that year, everything seemed possible. In his child's mind everything was open, and nothing could be hidden any longer. Knowledge was like light peeking through the clouds, shining through dark water and creating true beauty. There was nothing like it in the world.

"I think that was what got me so interested in science," he said slowly as he carefully checked water levels in their graduated cylinders. "For the first time, I realized how wonderful the world was, and I wanted to know how all of that wonder was made. And then I realized that if I knew how these wonderful things happened, I could make them happen, too. There was a whole world out there that I could explore, and that world could teach us to do amazing things."

The quiet in the wake of this confession was abruptly broken by Honeydew, who sighed deeply, almost wistfully, and Beaker turned around to look at him. But Honeydew was only leaning his chin on one hand and paging through Scientific American like he often did when he was absently brainstorming.

Beaker sighed, too, and went back to work.

* * *

Beaker and Honeydew were wheeling the smoldering remains of the Muppet Memory Recorder off the stage when something akin to panic broke out backstage.

"What do you mean, Piggy refuses to go onstage?"

Scooter cowered a little in the face of Kermit's flailing limbs. "Well, boss, she says that after that argument you two had earlier, she's feeling a little hoarse..."

"Sounds more like she wants a frog in her throat, if you ask me," Fozzie cut in behind them. He started to laugh a bit at his own joke, but the chuckles died in his throat at Kermit's quelling glare. "Sorry, boss."

Kermit sighed and shook his head. "Good grief. Now we've got a piano on stage and no one to sing," he said.

"If I may, Mr. Kermit," Honeydew said, stepping forward, "I know of a suitable replacement."

"You do?" Beaker said, turning to look at him.

"Right you are, Beaker. Mr. Kermit, we at Muppet Labs truly believe in that old adage, 'whistle while you work', so I can personally vouch for my assistant's singing ability."

"What?" Beaker demanded. "No, no, no." He put his hands up in front of himself and waved them somewhat frantically. "No."

"Yes, Beaky here has quite the voice! It soothes even the worst headache."

Beaker stopped and peered at Honeydew. "It does?"

"You have got to be joking," Kermit said flatly, looking between the two of them.

"Oh no, Mr. Kermit. I would never joke about Beaky's dulcet tones!" Honeydew said, looking put out at the very idea.

Before Beaker could make his thoughts known on this subject clearly and vociferously, Rowlf poked his head backstage. "Hey chief, the crowd's getting a little unruly. Am I getting a chanteuse or not?" he asked.

Despite Beaker strenuously shaking his head no behind Honeydew, Kermit sighed and nodded his head. "I guess we haven't got much of a choice, huh? Okay, Beaker. You're up," he said, pointing towards the stage.

Rowlf stared at Beaker for a second before looking back to Kermit. "Uhhh... I'm not so sure that's a good idea, Kermit."

"Well, he's all we got, Rowlf. So either you sing a duet by yourself, or Beaker has to give you a hand. So why don't you two go on out there and I'll go introduce you."

He hurried out on stage, leaving Beaker and Rowlf staring at each other. "So uh," Rowlf started, and Beaker was not comforted by the look on his face. "Do you know 'Let's Call The Whole Thing Off'?"

* * *

"Potato!"

"Mee mee meep!"

"Tomato!"

"Mee mee meep!"

"Let's call the whole thing off!"

"Please do! Dohohohoho!"

* * *

The day after the general disaster that had been Beaker's first foray into singing, he took off during his lunch break the second the clock ticked over. It wasn't that he hated eating down in the lab; in fact he'd started to feel a quiet companionship during their lunch hours that led to him spending most of them down there. It was just that he could not take even one more sly allusion to the previous day's debacle. As much as he knew Honeydew meant well, he was driving him crazy.

"Beaker! I wasn't expecting to see you up here!"

Beaker choked on a carrot and coughed somewhat dramatically as huge, furry paws smacked at his back but always seemed to end up missing. After a minute of full body contact assistance (or perhaps despite it), Beaker took in a deep breath and yanked himself back so he could figure out who'd been looming behind him. And then internally groaned. He'd been so busy focusing on not focusing on Honeydew's teasing that he hadn't noticed Fozzie Bear sneaking up behind him.

Big eyes leaned in close. "Hey, Beaker, are you okay?"

Beaker nodded, shakily pushing away his half-eaten lunch for now. It seemed he was in danger whether he was playing with highly flammable inventions or not.

"Boy, you don't look so good." Fozzie contemplated him for a minute. "I know! Why don't I tell you my new joke?"

Beaker barely restrained a moan, and thumped his head on the table.

Fozzie beamed, clearly taking that as a yes. "What do you get from a pampered cow?"

"I don't know," Beaker murmured into the table.

"Spoiled milk!" Fozzie said, and chortled at his own joke. Beaker did not join in. "Not doing it for you, huh? How about this one? What do you call a boomerang that doesn't work?" He paused for effect. "A stick!"

"Fozzie..."

"Okay, okay, last one. Why do bees hum?"

Beaker just turned his head on the table so he could look up at him.

"Because they don't know the words!"

At that, Beaker flinched, and his mouth dropped open. After a moment of silently gaping, he sat up from the table. "That's not funny!"

Fozzie wrinkled his nose, obviously not understanding. "What's wrong?"

Beaker fumed for a moment, then pointed to himself and mimed the singing he'd done on stage. "It's not funny, Fozzie!"

Fozzie just looked confused for a moment, and then the proverbial light bulb came on. "Oh no, Beaker, I didn't mean that! Why would I make fun of you? You did a great job yesterday!" he said. His befuddled expression was instantly hangdog, and Beaker could swear that even his tie was drooping.

He would not be swayed by an expression that pitiful. He crossed his arms. "Lying isn't nice, either."

"I'm serious!" Fozzie insisted. "That was really good for your first time! And no one could understand what you were saying, so no one knew if you remembered all the words!"

Beaker made a mournful little sound and covered his face with his hands. "They threw tomatoes at me! And potatoes!" he reminded him, and then mimed throwing so Fozzie would know what he meant.

"Well, yeah," Fozzie said, "But those guys are always like that. I don't think I've ever made it through an entire performance with those jerks up there!"

Beaker peeked between his fingers at a very earnest Fozzie Bear. Come to think of it, that was right. Statler and Waldorf's running commentary, not to mention that of the rest of the audience, was becoming a very regular thing during his performances with Honeydew. It just felt much worse when it was directed at him personally, and not just the mishaps that always seemed to happen on stage with their inventions. But that happened to Fozzie nearly every night. He got booed off the stage with stunning regularity. "How do you do it?"

"Pardon?"

Beaker scrabbled around in the remains of his lunch for a clean bit of wrapper and then scribbled his question down for Fozzie to read.

"How...do...you--oh. How do I do it?" That seemed to stump him for a moment. And then, "How could I not? I'm a bear of comedy. Performing is in my blood."

His thick skin sure wasn't, though. In all the time that Beaker had been with The Muppet Show, he'd never once heard a good joke come out of Fozzie's mouth. Moreover, he'd never once seen anyone respond positively to him. Any sane person would have given up by now.

Beaker's unconvinced expression must have been easily readable, because Fozzie sighed. "I guess--I guess it's not that hard to keep trying if at least one person believes in you," he said.

Beaker blinked at him. He wasn't aware that anyone believed in Fozzie.

"Y'see, when I first met Kermit, my shows were even worse than they are now. No one liked me. But Kermit believed in me, and he brought me back to do this show with him. And even if my jokes aren't funny, or the audience doesn't like my act, he's always there backstage to say 'better luck next time, Fozzie'. And he means it! There's always a next time here, and I can only get better." He smiled, more to himself than for Beaker's benefit. "One day I just know I'm gonna nail it, and that audience won't know what hit them. Even those two old sourpusses up in the box."

Beaker looked down at his hands. "That sounds nice."

Fozzie came a little closer, patted him a little awkwardly on the shoulder. "What about you? Doesn't someone believe in you?"

Beaker looked away. "Maybe. I don't know."

The look Fozzie gave him was almost knowing, and Beaker was forced to amend some of his preconceptions about the bear. "So what did Dr. Honeydew have to say about your performance? He seemed to think you were pretty good."

Beaker gave a half shrug, remembering all the teasing he'd endured today. But then he also remembered what Honeydew had said to him as soon as he'd gotten off the stage... He straightened up so he could mime Honeydew's professional presence. "Oh Beaky, that was fantastic! What a showing from Muppet Labs!" he mimicked, letting his hands flail around just a little, just like Honeydew had the day before.

"Heyyy, that was pretty good!" Fozzie said. "Next time, you should do impressions!"

Beaker abruptly fell silent. He wasn't sure he wanted to think about a next time.

Fozzie leaned against his elbow on the table. "You know, even if the audience didn't exactly get it, you looked like you were having a lot of fun out there. Scared out of your wits! But like you were having fun, too." Fozzie grinned at him. "I know your secret."

Beaker stiffened. He didn't have any secrets, as far as he knew, but his meep was still a little distressed as he tried to think of one.

Fozzie shook his head. "Nothing bad! Just--you actually like singing, don't you?"

"Me?" Beaker asked, pointing to himself. "No, I just..."

"Yeees?" Fozzie asked, leaning forward.

Beaker, to his great embarrassment, felt himself blushing. "I'm no good at singing," he muttered.

"I don't know what you just said!" Fozzie replied, not looking the least bit bothered by this. "But I think that you should keep performing. Audiences like seeing people enjoying themselves on stage. I think--I think that's what The Muppets are all about, don't you? Most of us aren't very good. But I like telling jokes! And the Swedish Chef likes cooking things. And you like singing songs. Even if none of us are very good at it, we have a lot of fun here. If people having fun wasn't fun to watch, too, we wouldn't have an audience."

Beaker tilted his head to show he was listening. He hadn't really thought about it that way before. There had to be some reason the audience kept coming back week after week, and it definitely wasn't for the class.

"Besides," Fozzie continued, "It's okay even if you mess up on stage. No one here's going to be mad. We're kind of like a family here. We yell at each other a lot, and we fight some, and sometimes Miss Piggy throws somebody through a wall, but we love each other, too. We have fun together. And if Kermit hasn't fired me or the chef or Gonzo, he's definitely not going to fire you. And obviously Dr. Honeydew doesn't mind lending you out to us. So there's nothing stopping you from performing if you want to!"

"And if I don't want to?"

"That's okay, too!" Fozzie patted him on the shoulder again. "You shouldn't worry so much, Beaker! You're one of us now!"

Beaker gaped at him, and he had a nasty suspicion that he was still blushing. "Well, I mean..."

Fozzie's gaze turned a little calculating. "And since we're all friends here... Are you gonna finish that sandwich?"

* * *

Family. Friends. The Muppets. He thought about what Fozzie had told him a lot lately, especially when mending seared holes in his shirts and reaffixing his nose at a rate that was frankly worrying. The thing was, he found himself telling an unhearing lab, the thing was he should hate it. He should hate all of the explosions and dismemberment and humiliation. But he didn't. The quiet bubbling of caustic substances was simultaneously terrifying and exciting, and he was honestly starting to become worried that the two emotions were starting to become one and the same for him. As eager as he was to stay out of the blast radii of Honeydew's inventions, he was just as eager to see what they did. He couldn't really get his head around it. Maybe he was secretly an adrenaline junkie. Or a masochist.

"I've gone through four first aid kits and an industrial sized box of bandages since I started working here, but I don't think I've ever had this much fun," he admitted.

Honeydew was working across the room from him, as usual, scribbling bits of math and god knew what else across their whiteboard. He hummed in acknowledgement every so often, more out of habit than anything.

"The things we make here are insane, but I feel like I'm actually doing something for the first time in a long time. When I first started to take science in school, everything was interesting. Every experiment was an adventure. But soon, there wasn't as much of that... This isn't my first time being a lab technician, you know. I did this in college, too. There were white, empty labs with professors who didn't know my name and didn't care to ask. I always ran odd jobs along with the other technicians; I don't think I ever got to see a single experiment from start to finish. I didn't feel like I was changing anything at all."

He remembered it well, that creeping hopelessness a constant at the back of his head for longer than he really wanted to recount. It was curiosity being ground out of him with every new thankless, unexplained task, and the detached ennui of a mindless cog unaware of the purpose of its clockwork. He'd been worked to the bone every day to facilitate someone else's discovery. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd investigated one of his own interests before he started at Muppet Labs.

He blew out a breath, not worrying overly when it mussed a few papers. It was always organized chaos in their lab anyway. "Before I came here, working in the lab was almost a chore. I was so tired that I just didn't care anymore."

"That's terrible," Honeydew said behind him, hushed, and Beaker jumped forward into his desk. When on earth had he gotten so close?

And then the penny dropped. Beaker whirled around to face his boss. "Wait, you understood that?" he asked.

Honeydew's brow creased slightly, just above the ridge of his glasses. "Of course I understood you, Beaky. You know that I've been making a study of your particular dialect. And you've given me so much experience! It's all been very illuminating."

Beaker felt his heart go double time. Most of it was panic. A good 95%, maybe. He didn't care to examine what the last 5% was.

"Did you really think that I couldn't understand anything you've been saying?" Honeydew asked, cocking his head to the side. "That would explain why you've been so open down here when you're so darn reticent with everyone upstairs. I thought you just felt more at home down here in the lab."

"I do." The words were out of his mouth before he'd given them permission to leave, and he silently cursed himself for getting so used to speaking his mind. Dangerously used to it, maybe.

"Oh, that is good to hear, Beaky. I so hoped that you were feeling welcome here. You were just so shy when you first came here!"

Beaker made a protesting sound at that. "Shy" wasn't exactly the word he'd use. "Scared witless", maybe. Or perhaps "singed".

"Don't be embarrassed, Beaky! I know that it's a bit much to get used to here, especially if your old lab was so dull." And then, for the first time since he'd met him, Honeydew looked a bit unsure. He fiddled with his shirt cuff a little, seemingly measuring his words before he said them. "I could tell from the moment you walked in here that you had a spark to you. Every scientist could use an extra pair of hands in the lab, but that wasn't all I wanted. I wanted an assistant who would be willing to go on adventures with me. You're a brave lad, Beaky, and a curious one. I knew that we could create great things together." He paused. "And for what it's worth, I think we have."

Beaker thought back to the inventions that had come out of Muppet Labs since he had arrived. The Thermochromatic Tea Cozy... The Laser Umbrella... The Nuclear Nail Trimmer... He must have looked a bit skeptical, because Honeydew huffed at him.

"Oh, don't look at me like that, Beaky dear. Muppet Labs' methods might be a bit unorthodox, but just think of the strides we've made! We're giving people the ability to take control over their own lives! Our inventions help people deal with the little, every day problems that plague them." He paused. "You were right, you know, when you said that the world can teach us how to do amazing things. But it's our responsibility to give amazing things back to the world. If we can help even one person, then our efforts won't have been wasted. I truly believe that."

During the months Beaker had been working at Muppet Labs, he'd become somewhat used to Honeydew's slightly vacant expression. After a little while, he'd come to realize that it wasn't that Honeydew was mad (well, no more than a little) or that he was disinterested. It was more that there were usually a dozen things holding his attention inside that wild and weird mind of his, and he had difficulty focusing on just one. But now he was completely focused, and the center of that was Beaker. He shifted beneath the scrutiny, completely at a loss as to what to do with it.

"You have a brightness about you, Beaker, when you're about to embark on your next great scientific endeavor, and I hate to think about that being dimmed," Honeydew continued. "As much as it distresses me to think about you wasting away in a place you weren't appreciated, though, I am pleased as punch that Muppet Labs has allowed you to grow back into the scientist that you were always meant to be."

Honeydew smiled then, that same merry, convivial smile he'd worn when they'd first met, and Beaker had to fight down a strange, wild flutter in his chest. He was halfway sure that the brightness that Honeydew was talking about was really just sheer, mortal terror, but it was hard to pin that flutter down as just fear. This felt more like the accompanying rush of anticipation that came every time he turned on one of their creations for the first time. It was a little bit like joy and a little bit like electricity, and he quickly ducked his head just in case any of it was showing on his face.

Misunderstanding, or perhaps understanding a bit too much, Honeydew pulled back and turned off that intense concentration, allowing Beaker to finally breathe a bit more easily.

"I know that your job seems a bit thankless some days," he said, and Beaker couldn't help but nod. Acid burns had a way of getting a person down. "But I just want you to know that your work here at Muppet Labs is very much appreciated--as is your company. Things have been so productive around here since you came, not to mention more entertaining."

Beaker nodded somewhat breathlessly and meeped out something akin to a thank you. This seemed to satisfy Honeydew, though, and he finally moved to go back to his incomprehensible equations, leaving Beaker worn, bewildered, and slightly flushed.

* * *

Toward the end of their lunch break, Honeydew pulled a small package out of his desk and handed it to Beaker along with orders to deliver it to their fearless leader, aka Mr. The Frog. Beaker pushed aside the remnants of the sandwich they'd been sharing and took the package gingerly. One could never be too careful when it came to unidentified parcels in Muppet Labs. Honeydew had only laughed, though, and told him that it was completely harmless.

Which was how Beaker ended up outside the illustrious Mr. The Frog's door, listening to what was either a wrestling match or something quite a bit more intimate. Then again, considering that it was Miss Piggy in there with him, it was entirely likely that it was both.

Eventually, Beaker worked up the nerve to knock on the door, but ended up frozen halfway there as a great "HIIIYAH!" filtered out through the door and ended with a resounding thump. Before he could decide whether to finish the arc to the door or withdraw entirely, the door swung open beneath his hand and Miss Piggy swept out. He'd seen her here and there since he'd started working at The Muppet Show, and he'd certainly heard her (and of her), but this was his first time seeing her up close and personal. He didn't get much of a look, though, before she'd shoved him out of the way with an "Out of my way, pipsqueak!" and flounced off.

A sigh came from inside the office. "Come in, Beaker."

Hesitantly, Beaker peered inside the door. Kermit was there on his desk in an ungainly tangle of limbs, and he looked less than pleased.

"Please excuse me," Kermit's mouth said, down near his toes. "I'm a bit tied up at the moment."

"No, no--" Beaker said, hands fluttering as he rushed forward to help straighten his boss out. "Are you okay?"

Once freed from Piggy's knots, Kermit rolled his neck with a sickening crack and shook his head. "I'm fine, Beaker. Miss Piggy and I were just having a little disagreement about our duet in tonight's show."

"Your duet?" Beaker asked. Surely the schedule had said... He exaggerated the confusion on his face so Kermit would catch his drift. "I thought you were performing a duet with Miss Mousey tonight."

"Exactly," Kermit said, making a face.

Beaker winced in sympathy. If he did know anything about Miss Piggy, it was that she was a jealous pig. He'd never exactly made any inquiries about Kermit and Piggy's romantic relationship, but anyone could gather that it was... tempestuous.

"Anyway," Kermit said, going back to sit at his desk. "Is there something I can help you with, Beaker? Is everything all right downstairs?"

Beaker nodded quickly. It wasn't often that everything was running smoothly in Muppet Labs, so it was really something to be proud of. "I have a package for you," he said, brandishing Honeydew's parcel with some trepidation.

"Oh, these must be the new and improved walkie-talkies Dr. Honeydew promised me. Can you thank him for me, Beaker?" Kermit asked, taking the package with a small, grateful smile.

Beaker smiled, too, remembering what Honeydew had told him not so long ago down in the lab. This is what their job was. Helping people. He ignored the rogue butterfly setting up shop in his stomach and nodded. "Of course."

"Actually," Kermit said, putting the package down. "Can you do me another favor?"

"Um..." Beaker tried for a moment to think up something, anything pressing in the lab that he would be needed for. Nothing immediately came to mind, however, and he nodded his head. (It was only after he did that he remembered that he could have said anything and Kermit wouldn't have known the difference.)

Kermit smiled, but that didn't exactly quell Beaker's nerves. "Great. I wrote up this alternate schedule for tonight just in case Miss Piggy threw one of her fits, and I was hoping you could take it to her for me? I don't thinks she wants to talk to me right now."

"Miss Piggy?!" Beaker asked, half in protest, half in terror.

"Yeah..." Kermit replied, and looked down at the schedule with what Beaker could only describe as exasperated fondness. "Piggy's a handful, but she's really not so bad. As long as you make her feel special, she's good as gold."

Beaker was suddenly struck with the knowledge that this alternate schedule had already been drawn up, and he wondered just how much of this fight had been entirely orchestrated. It seemed a little weird to him, but maybe the fighting was part of the fun for them. Kept things interesting. He thought back to scorched ties, melted shoes, and well, eaten cufflinks. He thought of the annoying double-beat his heart had been prone to lately. Maybe he didn't have a lot of room to talk about Kermit and Piggy's relationship.

He ducked his head in a nod.

Kermit grinned at him and pushed the schedule across the deck. "Hey, thanks, Beaker."

"No problem, boss," he responded, and even if Kermit couldn't understand them, the words felt right in his mouth.

* * *

The trepidation he felt knocking on Miss Piggy's door was usually only reserved for Honeydew's most terrifying inventions. Still, though. He had promised that he would deliver this schedule, and deliver it he would.

"Come in!" Miss Piggy sang out, and the words were syrupy sweet in a way that was somehow even scarier than the yelling.

Beaker opened the door carefully and stuck his head in. "Um. Mr. Kermit sent me..." he said, vaguely aware that his head was slowly disappearing inside his collar like some kind of scared turtle's.

Miss Piggy turned around in her chair, a swirl of heavy perfume and rouge, and paused when she saw him. Her face immediately fell. "Oh, it's you. What do you want?" she asked.

He crept into the room and held the schedule out in front of him like it could somehow shield himself from her wrath. "W-well," he stammered out, doing his level best to persevere despite her unimpressed look, "Mr. Kermit sent me with this new schedule..."

He could tell from her expression that she couldn't understand a word he was saying, but the moment her eyes lit upon the sheet of paper in his hands, she was on him like a particularly well-groomed hawk on its dinner. "Oh, is that for me? Is it from my Kermie? Oh, I knew he would see it my way!" she said, a bounce in her voice and her step immediately coming out to play.

Beaker nodded frantically, hoping she would just take it and let him leave. Instead, bursting with her newfound good spirits, she led him further into her dressing room. It was filled to the brim with flowers and stuffed toys, and he tried very hard not to notice how many of the stuffed toys were starting to be a little less stuffed.

"Now. I've seen you around the theater, but I don't know who you are," she said, taking the schedule from his limp grip and batting her lashes at him.

He shifted uncomfortably, reasonably certain that she did not actually care. Despite that, he pulled his ID card from where it was clipped to his pocket and showed it to her.

"Hmm. Muppet Labs. Those weirdos," he heard her mutter under her breath, and he tried not to bristle. It was true, after all. When she looked back up at him, though, she was once again all smiles. "Now, Beakykins, are you and my Kermie very close?" she asked.

There it was. He'd never been so grateful to be a little socially awkward, because it meant that he could shake his head in all honesty.

"Oh." Her eyelashes instantly stopped fluttering and she sat back in her chair. "Well then." She turned back towards her mirror, then, in a clear dismissal.

And Beaker really should have taken it as one. Heaven knew that he wanted to get out of there. But something was niggling at him, and he suspected that it was those butterflies that seemed to have taken up permanent residence in his stomach. "Excuse me..."

She turned around again and gave him a flat look. "Are you still here?"

He flailed helplessly, both inside and out. Even if he'd had the loquational skills to make his thoughts understood, he wasn't sure that he had the words even inside his own mind. There was something about the way that she was so sure of her own feelings and the way that she dove into them without pretension that made something inside him ache, terrifying as it was. Maybe that was finally why he cast around for a piece of paper until he found some old notes in one of his pockets. Then, after pausing for just a moment too long, he wrote, How did you know that you were in love with Mr. Kermit?

She took the note from him with the air of someone who was about to chuck it in the garbage, but then she glanced at what it actually said and her eyes lit up. Clearly, this was a subject that she was passionate about. "Oh, well, that is a long story!" she said, and the coy softness around her eyes demanded that he ask all about it.

As it was, though, he already had, so he just made a "go on" gesture with his hands and sat down on a chair she had haphazardly leaned against one wall.

"Well, Bieber--"

"Beaker."

"Whatever. From the very first moment I saw him, I knew. I had never seen any man so handsome or so suave, and it was like a string quartet followed me around whenever I thought about his cute little face. I was floating on air! And I still am whenever he's near," she said, her voice taking on a wistful tone even though she'd clearly been with him not a half hour before.

Beaker made a skeptical noise and mimed one of her punches. That didn't exactly sound like what he'd seen of their relationship.

"Well, ahem," Piggy replied, looking slightly discomfited, "No relationship is perfect. Sometimes Kermie needs to be reminded how right we are for each other."

"And you?" he asked, gesturing towards her.

"Moi?" she asked. "I never forget." And to Beaker's surprise, she sounded 100% genuine. He made a prodding noise, and she preened, happy to be prodded. "He makes me feel like the most beautiful woman on earth," she began, and Beaker mentally filled in "when I don't already feel that way." "More importantly, I feel like he will always love me, warts and all."

"Warts?" he asked, looking her over.

She gave him a flat look. "It's an expression, kid. I just mean--well, clearly I am tres magnifique."

"Some pig," he added.

She ignored him and went on, "But even when I do not feel my best, I feel at home with my Kermie. I just feel so warm and safe when he is around that I know we must be meant for each other!"

Beaker wasn't exactly sure that Kermit offered Piggy any protection that she couldn't already provide herself, but he supposed that anyone could feel vulnerable sometimes. He certainly did often enough. Just about every second of every day, in fact. Especially when he was around Bunsen Honeydew. He most certainly did not feel safe. But he did feel at home...

He sighed. He was pretty sure that he was more confused than he had been when he'd come in. "Thank you," he said, and then moved to go.

Miss Piggy gave him a critical once over, and then reached forward to pat his hand. "Don't worry. Even the ugliest duckling can find someone!"

He blinked. Well, at least Dr. Honeydew never made him feel like that.

* * *

"Forgive me for saying this, but--Beaky, you seem a bit peaky. Are you sleeping all right? You know, I have been brainstorming internal mechanics for the Muppet Labs Milking Machine, and I think a warming mechanism might do wonders for those suffering from insomnia."

Beaker waved off Honeyd--("No, Beaky, you must call me Bunsen. It's only the two of us down here, after all.")--Bunsen's worry. "I've been sleeping fine." It was a lie, of course, but Bunsen didn't need to worry about his assistant's neuroses. Truthfully, Beaker had been sleeping very poorly of late. He didn't like it when he didn't understand what his body and mind were telling him, and he liked it even less when he suspected they were telling him something he didn't like.

Every scientist had had a hypothesis they'd liked very much proven false, and just as often, rotten hypotheses had turned out to be sound. Beaker was finding himself in exactly that situation. Most of his more optimistic hypotheses, like food poisoning or waking dreams, were being proven false. The scariest hypothesis he could think of was gaining ground, though.

He didn't like to think about it.

Still, though, he couldn't help the whirlwind of thoughts that chased him to bed every night. He was finding it hard to find his footing nowadays. He'd never thought that he could fit in somewhere like The Muppet Show, but here he was, adapting to things he'd previously thought to be untenable. More worryingly, he was even starting to like them. And more--well, he didn't want to think about that.

Especially not when they were about to test something that sounded as frankly alarming as "Exploding Rain Drops". Beaker gave Bunsen's pail a mistrustful look and adjusted the edge of his yellow rain slicker. The raindrops rolled around inside the pail, looking for all the world like enormous, translucent water balloons.

Bunsen sighed, not missing that look for a second. "If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, Beaky. The Exploding Rain Drops are perfectly safe. You simply throw them up in the air and they burst into little, portable rain clouds. We'll revolutionize indoor farming!" he said, thrusting the handle of the pail towards Beaker.

Beaker looked around at the empty room that they'd found in order to test out their rain drops. At least none of their equipment would be damaged in here. Now he only had to worry about them. With a heavy sigh, he picked up the two nearest rain drops and hurled them into the air above them.

With a heavy crack, both rain drops exploded into a thousand smaller ones. Beaker, to his dismay, was instantly soaked even beneath his slicker. Soon enough, though, what had started as a torrential downpour evened out to a gentle rain as heavy storm clouds coalesced above them.

Beaker stared up at them in amazement. Against all possible odds, it looked like... they'd been successful? A sort of blank shock welled up in him, pressing up against all the soft, squishy emotions he'd been keeping locked up and pushing them outward. For a brief moment, all he could do was blink into the pattering rain.

Next to him, Bunsen was clutching at his arm in slippery triumph. "We've done it, Beaker! I told you this one would work! Oh, and look! I've even managed to find a way to make you a rainbow!" he said gleefully.

Dutifully, Beaker turned to look where Bunsen was, and realized that Bunsen was speaking completely literally. Up above the clouds, well-insulated against the moisture, the old electric lights shone through the clouds and refracted through their raindrops, creating a shower of color that Beaker had never seen inside before.

And that was it, that was the detail that finally pushed all of that carefully-hidden emotion up and out. Suddenly that hypothesis he'd refused to think about bobbed to the forefront of his brain and all he could think to do was test it. He turned towards Bunsen and leaned in to be heard against the rain, but whatever explanation or apology he'd meant to give ended up mumbled against the corner of Bunsen's delighted smile. And perhaps he should have worried about what it meant, kissing your boss, or how things had to change from now on, but it was hard to think about any of that because Bunsen was shifting closer to him and threading their wet fingers together below.

"Why, Beaky, you cheeky thing," Bunsen said, and Beaker was happy to finally feel that stupid, silly laugh pressed up against his own. "I did wonder if you were ever going to say anything."

Beaker pulled back a bit at that, so he could look down at Bunsen's face and see exactly how much longer Bunsen had known about this than he had. Judging by the mischievous look on his face, it had been quite awhile. Beaker could have reacted with dismay to this, or maybe even anger, but all he felt was that same sort of exasperated fondness that he'd seen on a frog's face not too long ago. There was something clicking into place inside him, and even though he figured that he would never stop being frightened of Miss Piggy, or annoyed by Fozzie Bear, or weirded out by Gonzo the Great, or habitually maimed by his boss, all of those things sounded a little rosier then, like the sun peeking around the clouds to create something beautiful and delicate and his.