Actions

Work Header

Crestfallen

Work Text:

"OH NO!"

Even the MAVO members backed away from Grubby as the cry tore through him. The octopede leaned over the rail of the Eclipse as far as he could, which, for an octopede was quite far, shouting into the cold wind that felt icy against his back. He could see Teddy's form briefly outlined against the clouds before it vanished into the mist.

"Teddy! It can't be!" Gimmick closed his eyes and covered his face. His absurdly logical mind was running through the options, but nothing came back that made it any better. Their own Airship was still behind them, still within sight, so no help there. And they were just too far up. Even if, by some miracle, Teddy tumbled into the water below, and Gimmick's brain helpfully supplied the chance of that at less than 7%, he could easily be killed on the rocks in the river. But an impact from this height would render him unconscious at the very least, so even if he missed every rock in the rapids, he'd drown. For once, Gimmick could see no way out of this problem, no result but the worst possible.

"Teddy!" Grubby called out again brokenly. He was shaking his head back and forth as if he could clear his eyes and change what they showed him.

"So, the Illiop is gone," Quellor said altogether smugly. "Perhaps now you will give me what I want, before I do the same to you!"

At once Grubby was back fully on the deck of the Eclipse, his first four feet fisted tightly and holding himself taller than usual. His face, usually so gentle and open, had contorted in grief and rage.

"You…you…you monster!" and he charged.

"Grubby, no!" Gimmick found himself moving, throwing his arms around the shoulders of his friend and putting all his weight into the hold. "Don't!"

"Why not, Gimmick? When Teddy's…" the fire spilled from his voice and his throat closed on the word he couldn't quite say.

"By all means, come at me," Quellor taunted. "I will be happy to send you after your friend."

"Grubby, think!" Gimmick pleaded. "Please! You can't…Teddy wouldn't want…I don't want to lose anyone else!" The words tumbled out of him around so much stutter only one who knew him well could quite understand. Gimmick's glasses were wet and smudged and his eyes were bright behind them. He closed his arms even more tightly around Grubby and the octopede seemed to deflate into the hug, dropping two more feet to the ground and burying his face in Gimmick's neck. For a moment they shuddered together.

"How touching," Quellor sneered.

Gimmick's head shot up as his tears dried in a sudden flash of anger and he levied a glare of pure fury at the villain before him. But he didn't budge from where he stood, even as Grubby wrapped his two front feet around Gimmick and held on as though the inventor could keep the torrent inside at bay. And, after a moment, a terrible, low sound, muffled by Gimmick's shoulder, proved that the cheerful, loyal octopede was weeping.

"Take them below and lock them up," Quellor ordered. "We'll take them back to MAVO to deal with them, now that they know how serious we are."

Monsters came forward to herd Gimmick and Grubby, but neither moved. Only when the point of a spear poked sharply into Gimmick's arm did he turn his gaze back towards the friend clinging to him.

"Come on, Grubby," he whispered. After a moment, Grubby lifted his head, his face horribly screwed up in suppressed despair. He obeyed the orders given with no heart, no resistance, not even fear, as though any spark had been frozen within him. But he moved in lock-step with Gimmick, pressing his shoulder against the inventor's.

In a small, dark room below, with the tiniest of windows and barely space for both of them to lie down, they were finally alone. As soon as the door slammed shut behind them, Grubby sank down onto his many knees, clutching his head and feeling his tears come again. Gimmick kneeled beside him.

"Gimmick…I can't believe he's really gone," he choked out painfully. "Teddy is…was…my best friend. He's always been here. He's always been the brave one. I don't know…how am I going to…?"

"Oh, my boy," Gimmick felt his own tears return as well as he put an arm around Grubby's shaking shoulders. "I understand. I didn't know him as long as you, but I've never known anyone like Teddy. I've never had a friend like him…" he trailed off into half-stuttering grief for a few moments. He leaned his forehead into the crook of his elbow and, for untold minutes, let the pain thunder through him.

Images crossed his mind so quickly, so hauntingly – images of Teddy at breakfast, or singing while doing chores, or rescuing their friends in times of trouble. Teddy's warm smile, his quick friendship, his uncommon courage, his infectious joy and optimism. It seemed to open a chasm within, a gulf so deep that all those good things he associated with Teddy were gone forever now that his friend was lost. To never hear Teddy laugh again, to never spend quiet evenings on the porch counting the stars again, to never be able to tell him how important his friendship was, how much a difference he had made in the lives around him – it hurt more than Gimmick had ever imagined he could hurt.

But a while later, as he pulled himself out of his own grief, Gimmick became aware of Grubby still suffering beside him. And all at once Gimmick remembered how very, very young Grubby was. Grubby and Teddy had both been young, not even yet sixteen years of age, but they had seen so much in their short lives it caused him to forget sometimes that difference between them. They had taken on responsibilities beyond their years, had experienced many dangers, and, tellingly, had done it all far from the lands of their birth and their families.

And now Grubby really and truly was alone.

Gimmick could almost hear Teddy's voice urging Grubby to stop crying, to sit up, to not give up. Gimmick pulled off his glasses and wiped them shakily. Teddy wouldn't want Grubby to hurt this way. He owed it to his friend's memory to try to be the friend Grubby had lost, the friend he needed now.

"Grubby," he said softly, his voice raw and rasping after his own display of grief. "Grubby, take a deep breath. You have to pull your heart together, my boy," and he wished so for Teddy's almost instinctive sense for what to say. But he swallowed and tried again, "I know how much it hurts, Grubby. I know. But…Teddy wouldn't want this…we can't let him down, Grubby."

"Teddy's gone!" Grubby shouted, the sudden fury back and blazing eyes met Gimmick's sad ones. "Who cares what happens now?"

"Teddy cares, my boy," Gimmick managed, taking courage from the fact that Grubby was now watching him closely, even if in anger. "I miss him too, Grubby. I miss him already, and I know how it feels. But we can't give up. If we forget everything we learned from Teddy, we'll lose him, and then he'll really be gone."

"But…who will drag us to adventures now? Who will keep us both from being unreasonable when one of us gets into a mood? Who will make us laugh when everything seems to go wrong? I don't…he's been with me so long, Gimmick…" and new tears, not the violent ones of sudden grief but the slower ones of true loss, began to fall.

Gimmick shifted a bit so he was facing Grubby and put his hands on the octopede's shoulders. He had to fight past the lump in his own throat, but he couldn't let his emotions run away with him, not now. Teddy needed him to be strong and sure for the sake of his best friend.

"I don't know exactly what will happen next," Gimmick admitted. "But whatever it is, we'll face it together. And we'll do whatever we think Teddy would have done if he were here. His life…we'll make it mean something, Grubby. I promise you. Teddy is gone," and a tiny sound crept out from his chest as he gulped, "but we can't let ourselves go with him. We've got to finish what we started together…or we'll really leave him behind."

"Gimmick…" Grubby wiped his eyes and looked at the inventor with sudden, desperate trust, "do you think he could have been okay? Maybe…"

"No, Grubby," he interrupted gently, but firmly. "Teddy is gone where even we can't find him now. But he's still here," and he pointed at Grubby's chest. "He's in everything he changed in us. You've got to keep it alive now, Grubby. You've got to keep his spirit alive in you, or we'll really lose him forever."

Grubby ducked his head and sucked in a deep, shaky breath. He would have given anything, his arms, every meal he'd ever eaten and every one that would come, every song he'd ever sung and every one he hadn't sung yet – but who wanted to sing without Teddy anyway? – to see his lifelong best friend again. But he felt the truth of Gimmick's words all the same. And, looking up into the inventor's face, he understood how much Gimmick was trying to help him. He could see the battle inside between that logical scientist and the friend who had taken them into his home so long ago, every inch of that formidable spirit focused not on his own pain, but on Grubby's.

And all in a flash, he understood what Gimmick was saying. It was Teddy who had taught them both to be this kind and caring, Teddy who had drawn them together. That was Teddy looking at him through Gimmick's eyes. What kind of friend would he be if he didn't answer him?

"Okay, Gimmick," Grubby tried to breathe more calmly. "I'll try."

"Good lad," Gimmick said, giving him an attempted smile. It looked broken and forced, but the effort was felt all the same.

It still took Grubby a long time to calm himself completely, but when the MAVO members came to hustle them from the Eclipse airship and into the dungeons under their headquarters in the dead mountains, both Grubby and Gimmick could stand to face them squarely. Even without having said a word about it, they both knew Teddy had died to protect the crystals, and if it came to it, so would they. It was the least they could do for him. It was all they could do for him now, except look after one another.

And they had plenty of time to practice at that.

For the next several days, they languished in a MAVO cell, sometimes taunted by guards, sometimes visited by Quellor himself, but mainly left alone otherwise. It was true that Gimmick and Grubby didn't actually know where Teddy had hidden the crystals so they didn't have to try lying to the monsters. And every time someone returned to demand the location of the crystals from them, they had to fight back their rather wretched pride at Teddy's cleverness. If MAVO never found the crystals, even if Grubby and Gimmick remained in the prison cell forever, their work was still done.

But Teddy's memory haunted them both like a ghost, appearing unexpectedly.

When they slept at all they slept in shifts, just in case. Grubby made excuses, got into the habit of sitting in the coldest, most uncomfortable spots, offered to take extra shifts watching, all so he would not risk trying to sleep and meeting Teddy's loss behind his eyes. Whenever Grubby did manage to fall asleep, he had no choice but to rest silently and soundly – he was pushing his body to its limits because he couldn't quite calm himself enough for sleep, couldn't close his eyes without seeing Teddy fall again and again. On the other hand, it was Gimmick who had to be shaken from rest before shouting loud enough to rouse the guards, Gimmick who woke fumbling for glasses so Grubby wouldn't see the tears, Gimmick who cried out in his nightmares for Teddy Ruxpin.

They didn't talk about it. They maintained spirited and defiant attitudes when visited by Quellor or the guards, and they occasionally threw around ideas of escaping or breaking free, but a piece of them had been lost, and without that piece they were both adrift.

And if Grubby tended to go silent, staring at walls or the floor or his hands, Gimmick understood and left him alone. If Gimmick woke shaking and feeling not just loss and pain but guilt flood through him at the life he had failed to save, Grubby didn't ask him about it. They endured the MAVO members, not to mention the other prisoners who were almost as bad as the guards, and they buried their pain behind their refusal to help Quellor find the crystals. They hadn't said it aloud, but they both could feel it. To give in, to show the monsters how keenly they felt their loss, to become despondent and helpless in the face of that danger, it would have been as much a betrayal of all Teddy had stood for as if they had just handed the crystals over. They couldn't help what they felt, but they endured it in silence and hid it behind their pride, a last testament to the friend they honored and mourned.

They were both paralyzed by grief for now, but it couldn't possibly last forever. And both Gimmick and Grubby knew that sometime a night would pass without the nightmares, a day would come without the terrible silence, and on that day they would oppose MAVO in earnest, find the crystals and escape with them, and keep Teddy's will alive, no matter what it took. They knew he wouldn't have blamed them for needing time to gather their courage. They knew he would have understood. There was nothing to look forward to, not yet, but when the pain abated enough, just enough, then they'd raise their heads and put their brains to work and do what they would have done at once had Teddy remained. They'd get free, they'd save the crystals, and they'd find their way home.

But even knowing all that, neither Gimmick nor Grubby dared think any farther ahead to a life without Teddy beside them because it would crumble what remained of their resolve, and they needed all they could get to best MAVO while trying to survive the loss of Teddy Ruxpin from their lives.

-==OOO==-

Far away, Teddy floated between worlds.

His whole life seemed to have reduced itself to a series of flashes. Images, splinters of feelings, moments of lucidity and then the crushing weight of the something that overwhelmed him and cast his mind asunder. It all ran together and split apart and reformed and he could hold none of it, like trying to anchor himself to a handful of sand.

He was wet, cold, shaking, his lungs burning as he coughed.

He was falling, his stomach clenched with fear so tight he thought it might split him in two.

He was hot, his body burning with thirst and fire and his limbs seemed to fight their very attachments to his body.

He was frightened, images of people he loved in danger flashing before him as he fell farther and farther away from them.

He was safe, a soothing voice and a kind hand offering him water for his parched throat.

He was trapped, locked in blankets that felt like shackles as he tried to flee the villain that was coming for him.

Time lost its meaning. Had it ever flowed in one direction? It seemed to double-back, to wrap around itself until the past and present were indistinguishable and unidentifiable. Teddy couldn't understand how he could be simultaneously falling and drowning and burning with fever and lost to nightmares and chills, but he was, with no pattern or rhyme to them. A hundred times he fell from the Eclipse, a thousand times he was dashed against rocks until stars filled his vision.

Only once did he remember or dream of remembering a steady hand catching his collar and hauling him from frigid waters to a painfully bright world of coughing and helplessness.

Nothing made any sense at all, and Teddy was sure he would have been lost in the chaos of his mind and memories if not for two things. The first was his two closest friends, just the thought of Gimmick and Grubby. With both of them in his mind every moment, seeing their faces, frightened, lost, defiant, defeated, whether he was beside them or falling away from them, they anchored him to himself in a way he could not have done alone. No matter the fire that threatened to break from his very veins or the cold that bit to the bone or the memories of terror that pulled at his soul, Gimmick and Grubby would appear in his mind and their very presence steadied him and drove his fears away. No matter how the whirlpool sent him reeling, he was tethered by the strength of his friends.

And the other saving grace in that sea of lostness was the owner of the kind hands that nursed him. In brief moments of clarity, Teddy saw or thought he saw a gentle face, warm dark eyes, a hesitant smile. Those hands became familiar, lifting water or broth to his mouth, pulling up blankets against the cold, resting cool cloths on his forehead in a fever. The low voice was soothing, comforting, and although it creaked from disuse at times, its quiet litany of reassurance lulled his dazed and overwhelmed mind and senses. While his friends anchored his heart, this gentle stranger steadily led him back to himself.

And when Teddy's mind finally snapped awake and aware, whole again, and he peered up into the faces of Leota and Wooly, there were only two certainties that came with that long-absent clarity: that he must rescue his friends, and that he must find and thank the mysterious, kind soul who had saved his life.

-==OOO==-

It was the first time in his life Grubby felt completely and totally beyond speech, beyond feeling, beyond even having a clue as to what to say or do.

Teddy was alive!

Alive!

A million things seemed to stop mattering as he sat, numbly clutching the sack he'd hidden in between shaking fingers as he stared at his best friend. Teddy looked a bit thin and worn, and though his Illiop fur hid it well Grubby could make out the bruises and bumps that littered his body, but his eyes were alight in that familiar sparkle of energy and excitement, his face was pulled into the comfortable smile, and his voice held the same warmth Grubby remembered so well. It was as though the last days had never been, that he and Gimmick hadn't been captives in the MAVO dungeon, imprisoned as much by their loss as by the bars, as if the horrific memory of Teddy falling from the Eclipse were the dream.

Finally Grubby felt his voice splutter to life, though he scarcely knew what he said. It didn't matter. It was a tenth, a thousandth of what he wanted to express, and if they hadn't been hiding aboard the Eclipse in the middle of half the bad guys in Grundo he'd have leaped into the air and shouted for joy. But the fact that they were, once again, high in the sky aboard that evil airship and surrounded by villains was more than enough to put a damper on the reunion. On Teddy's other side, Gimmick was openly and profoundly relieved and speechless himself, and Grubby watched as the pain and heartbreak melted from his friend's face. Here was Teddy, right between them, just as he was supposed to be, safe and sound and alive.

"It's good to see you," he managed. But that was the biggest understatement since Gimmick had described Tweeg as having terrible aim with his cannon.

Grubby could have clapped all of his legs for the wonder of it. His best friend was safe. Not crushed and broken on the ground far below (and that image had visited him in his every silent and waking dream). No longer did he have to fight back thoughts of what he would say to Wooly or Leota or Fuzz. No longer did he feel a sharp lump in his throat when he remembered Teddy's mother and what he would have to tell her, somehow, about why her son would never come home. No longer did he dread returning to Gimmick's valley; now he couldn't wait to get off the Eclipse and back to their home and their lives. His mind was no longer filled with painful memories, but rather the beautiful life they all shared and could reclaim. Together. All three of them.

There wasn't a lot of time for rejoicing and reconnecting, as they were, in fact, still hidden on the Eclipse. But their Airship was within sight, and one idle comment and a classic Gimmick-plan later, they were swinging over the empty air to land on the familiar decks and away from MAVO.

Grubby couldn't help but watch Teddy with rather a lot of anxiety as they made the crossing. They'd just gotten him back; they couldn't lose him now! A glance to the other side proved that Gimmick was doing the same, both of them ready to catch him if he fell. But Teddy was confident and capable as ever and he landed as lightly on the Airship as if there weren't fathoms of sky beneath him.

"Don't worry," Teddy said quietly, surprising Grubby; he hadn't realized the Illiop was looking at him. "I'm not going to fall this time." Teddy's smile was gentle and his voice was soft, soft enough that no one could hear what he had seen in his best friend, the fear he had tried to soothe.

"Oh. Well. Yeah. Um, good," he stammered. It was so little, but it was all he could say.

Princess Aruzia and Prince Arin greeted them warmly, Arin clapping Teddy on the back with undisguised joy. The princess seemed a moment from throwing her arms around him, tears standing in her eyes, and only royal decorum keeping her at bay. And Grubby realized all at once how very many lives Teddy had touched, and how deeply, and therefore, how many others would have mourned his loss. He could hardly blame the royal siblings for their open relief at seeing Teddy; he was still fighting to keep from pinching himself to prove that he wasn't dreaming, that this wasn't some lovely vision that would fade and leave him alone with only Gimmick in a MAVO cell. He did put a hand on Teddy's shoulder, and though he could feel a barely-healed swollen bruise there, the fur was the same. It was really real.

Manning the Airship's propeller once more, Grubby followed Prince Arin's instructions and returned to MAVO headquarters, although it was truly the last place he wanted to be, to pick up the hiding Anythings. They waved off Wooly, assuring him that all was well, and Leota left them to keep Wooly company on the long trek back to his house. Then it was just a few hours to the Mushroom Forest to carry the Anythings home.

Grubby noticed, never taking at least one eye from Teddy, that the Anythings were acting even more worried and anxious than usual. From almost the very moment the six of them came aboard, at least one of them always found a way of being near Teddy – in his arms, pressed to his side, leaning against his legs. Teddy, happy to see them safe and grateful for their help, was very proud of them, his admiration and affection clear, and he comforted them willingly. And, really, Grubby felt much the same about the little guys – who would have guessed that their salvation would be in the hands of the most timid and shy creatures he'd ever met? But they had been willing to do anything to save Gimmick and himself from MAVO even knowing what MAVO had done to Teddy. No wonder Teddy had renamed them "Anythings."

Still, when they arrived at the Mushroom Forest, it was with a sigh of comfort that they settled into their familiar places. They had done great and amazing things – flying the Airship alone, befriending Arin and Aruzia, staging the rescue of Grubby and Gimmick – but they were still uncertain in the wide world. All six of the Anythings received a hug or a pat or some gesture of affection as they disembarked, which they all bore shyly but with obvious pleasure. As This made his way off, last of them to go, he turned to Teddy with wide eyes.

"I like your Airship," This said, kicking a bit with his foot, "but I don't think I want to go up in it again unless I have to."

"How come?" Teddy asked politely.

"Because as scared as we were of the Grunges eating us, or of strangers, or of the monsters at MAVO, there was nothing scarier than seeing you fall, Teddy."

The Illiop smiled a little ruefully and squatted to be at eye-level with the timid creature.

"I'm sorry for scaring you like that. I was scared, too!"

This considered his words for a moment before spontaneously leaning forward and nuzzling Teddy's cheek. Almost as quickly, he dashed backwards, shifting from foot to foot as nervously as he'd been the first time they'd met. When he spoke, it was rushed and breathless, as though the words were escaping before he could think too hard about them.

"Don't ever do that again, Teddy. It made us all very sad. You helped us, named us Anythings instead of Nothings, believed we could be friends even though we were scared of you. You taught us to be brave, but we're not really brave yet. So don't fall again, because then we won't see you to learn more about being brave. Okay?"

"I think you are really brave," Teddy said softly. "But it's okay if you don't feel very brave yet. And I am sorry I worried you and made you sad. I'll promise to try never to fall out of an airship again, all right? But," and his eyes took on a slightly distant look, "you'll learn to be brave whether or not I'm there if you keep being what you really are. You're anything you want to be, right? So just like you can be a trash can or a mushroom, you can also be brave. You don't need me for that."

This was looking even more nervous and seemed ready to raise a complaint, until Teddy smiled. "But don't worry. I'll be here anyway. You're my friends!"

"Indeed you are," Gimmick echoed softly.

"Yeah," Grubby nodded.

This looked at them and seemed to relax a bit at that. With a last shy smile he made his way down to the forest floor where the other Anythings waited and turned back in time to wave. As the Airship rose up into the sky, they could hear the small voices of the Anythings fading away behind them.

"We're not a Nothing, we are all Anythings. How high we learn to fly is how wide we spread our wings. The world is out there waiting now to hear the song we sing…"

-==OOO==-

"Teddy?"

"Yes?" Teddy turned, surprised to see Princess Aruzia at his elbow. He'd been so caught up in watching the Mushroom Forest fade away behind them he hadn't realized anyone had joined him at the rail.

"My brother and I would like to invite you and Gimmick and Grubby to stay at the palace for a few days to recover. You are always welcome to refuse if you'd prefer to go straight home, of course, but if you'll forgive my saying so, I believe you three could use the rest and looking after for once."

"What do you mean?" Teddy asked, tipping his head in confusion. He noticed for the first time that her gentle voice was pitched rather softly, such that Gimmick at the boiler and Grubby at the propeller could not hear them.

"Well, you're obviously far from well yourself," she said, her eyes warm in concern, "and even if you don't need our help, I'm sure having someone to cook for you and clean for you would be good for your recovery."

"Well, maybe. I have been sick recently," Teddy conceded. He took a breath and felt the tightness in his chest that had not quite let up yet. Whatever the hermit had done for him to save his life had been just short of miraculous, but it was by no means finished. Now that there was time to think about it, his body was reminding him of every ache and his energy was less than usual, too.

"Indeed," she replied. "And I believe Gimmick and Grubby could use the rest as well."

"Yes, I think you're right," Teddy nodded. He looked over at his two friends and felt his chest constrict for a different reason entirely.

Poor Grubby and Gimmick. Neither of them was really focused on their tasks, both of their gazes wandering back to Teddy every few minutes. Teddy wasn't the genius Gimmick was, but no one could have missed the intense looks of relief in their faces when they'd found one another. And their anxiety now, keeping track of him, fear and a touch of pain ghosting across their expressions – Teddy couldn't have missed it. He didn't know exactly what had happened to them yet, but he could guess. And they'd thought they had lost him forever. Those wounds would not be quick to heal, he was sure of it.

"When we reach the castle," Aruzia spoke into his thoughts, "Arin will make sure you have a place to rest and a chance to talk together for a while."

"Thank you, princess," Teddy said gratefully. He smiled at her a bit wearily. "I think you're exactly right that rest and time is what we need now. I want to go home soon, but this is more important."

And looking at Grubby out of the corner of his eye and seeing Grubby's face twisted in fear and sadness and hesitance, Teddy realized his words were truer than he'd thought.

-==OOO==-

"These are some of the royal guest rooms," Arin unlocked a door midway down one of the many grand hallways in the Illiper palace. The room he opened was wide and high-ceilinged, with many tables and chairs and sofas scattered around in an artful arrangements, and doors to either side revealed warm-looking bedrooms. "They are kept in readiness for visitors, and as you can see, they're quite comfortable. You can rest here until supper if you would like to join us. Or I can have something sent up."

The prince's face was so earnest and obviously a bit worried it pulled a smile from Grubby in spite of his unhappy mood. He smiled, or at least he tried to, meeting Arin's eyes determinedly.

"Thanks, Prince Arin. Supper sounds great." It came out a bit flat, but it seemed to reassure his friend.

As Grubby turned away to find a comfy spot to curl up, he noticed Arin lean close to Teddy and whisper something, and Teddy nodded solemnly before thanking him politely and closing the door. Grubby settled onto a cushy couch and shook his head to clear it. Why was he so upset still? Teddy was safe! He'd been so happy before. Why was he so unhappy now?

A moment later, he looked up to realize that his best friend was standing over him, looking at him carefully.

"What is it, Teddy?"

"Grubby…are you all right?" His face was full of concern.

"Sure. Nothing to complain about," Grubby shrugged.

"I believe," Gimmick put in before Teddy could point out the obvious, "that we are both suffering from post-traumatic uneasiness along with sentiments of guilt and hysterical reprieve."

"You mean you're both still processing all your emotions and it's causing you to hurt?" Teddy asked. Grubby looked at his feet and nodded. Who'd asked Gimmick to explain his feelings anyway?

"It's okay, you know," came Teddy's voice, and Grubby looked up again in spite of himself. The Illiop was watching him closely. "I can only imagine what it was like for you in the last few days. It's okay to still feel sad or scared about it."

"Teddy, my boy," Gimmick said, and there was something funny in his voice as he put a hand on the Illiop's shoulder, "I don't know if you will ever understand how glad I am to hear you say that. I didn't honestly know if I'd ever…well, I didn't think I'd ever experience your kindness again."

"Oh Gimmick," Teddy smiled a little helplessly, a little fondly, and a little sadly at his friend.

"But it's okay now!" Grubby found his voice coming out much more loudly than he'd intended. "You're here and it's all okay! So why do I feel so lousy?" he ended quietly, feeling his eyes fill up with tears.

"I don't know, Grubby, but…" Teddy's face turned sorrowful and he opened his arms, "Grubby, I'm here."

And something in his friend's face or his stance or just the fact that they were finally safe and it was quiet and there were no villains watching and only Gimmick besides them in the room came together and Grubby felt his heart well up in his chest. Without knowing he was going to do it, he launched himself off the couch and gripped Teddy fiercely with half of his legs.

Teddy, seemingly expecting something like that, closed his warm, fuzzy arms around the distressed octopede in his embrace and held on tightly. Behind him, Gimmick put both hands on his shoulders, not quite hugging the Illiop, but supporting him. And if his hands shook a bit and he had to duck his head to nudge his glasses a bit with his sleeve to keep them clear, well, Teddy wasn't going to mind.

Grubby felt a thousand things pull at him from inside and he didn't even know which to deal with first. His head buried on Teddy's shoulder, he cycled through the pain and shock and loss into the anger and fear and around the violent surprise and relief that had come on the Eclipse. He couldn't have said if he was crying or just shaking or even yelling, but it all spilled out of him and, with Teddy there to protect him from it, he just let it all go.

"It's okay, Grubby. It's all over now. We're all safe again." Teddy's words repeated themselves over and over, a comforting litany until at last Grubby could feel their truth as the furious chaos inside him abated.

"You're right, Teddy…" he said, beginning to breathe more calmly at last. "It is all right. You're here." And he gave the Illiop a tight, grateful squeeze.

"Yes, my boy. We're all together again," Gimmick stuttered a bit as he reached over Teddy's shoulder to put a hand on Grubby's arm. "Do you feel more yourself now?"

"Yeah, I think I do." Grubby carefully extricated himself from the hug and backed up. He would have felt embarrassed if it had been anyone but Teddy and Gimmick in the room, but he didn't mind so much crying in front of them. They were his friends.

"I really am sorry I worried you both so much," and the regret and sadness in Teddy's voice was so poignant as to make it almost comical.

"It certainly wasn't your fault, my friend," Gimmick said, going so far as to ruffle the fur on Teddy's head. "And I, for one, do not want you blaming yourself for what happened. We all did the best we could. And it came out right in the end. That's all that matters."

"Yeah. You already did the most important thing, you know." At Teddy's quizzical look, Grubby continued, "You came back."

"Well, you did something important, too," Teddy said, smiling. "You not only kept the crystals safe from MAVO, but you led me back to myself, too."

"Why, what do you mean?" Gimmick asked, adjusting his glasses and finally looking like he always had, the last of his tension and sorrow melting from his face as he leaned in to listen to Teddy's story. Grubby settled back on his couch while Gimmick took a chair nearby.

"Yeah. What did happen after you fell?" Grubby asked, distressed no longer and instead curious.

Teddy, standing before them, opened his hands and began to tell a story, settling back into the comfortable rhythms he had shared for so long with these two dear friends.

"You see, after I fell into the river, I was sick for a long time…"