Weeks had passed. Manfredi, Johnson, and Rico had gotten to know each other considerably. Rico felt a little awkward for the first several days, afraid that Manfredi and Johnson wouldn't accept him after they'd discovered just how deep his secret ability went. But even after he upchucked the pipe wrench, crowbar, clipboard, and an assortment of nuts and bolts that he had managed to get into his gut at the facility, Manfredi and Johnson still treated him like any other penguin. Eventually, he found his comfort zone and started to enjoy his time with his new brothers.

"Go! Go! Go! Go!" Shouted Manfredi and Johnson simultaneously as Rico put another fish in his beak.

"Eleven!" Manfredi counted. "One more and you owe me twenty herring." He told Johnson, grinning deviously. Rico had to refrain from laughing; if he did, he'd spit out his beak-full of fish. He picked up the last fish from the pile and started to push it into his beak. Though with some difficulty, he managed to wedge the fish in.

"Twelve! Yeah! I win!" Manfredi cheered.

Johnson put a flipper on his shoulder to calm him down. "Whoa, whoa, there. Slow your role, there, fishcake." He turned to Rico. "Can he actually close his beak?" He asked slowly, the corners of his beak lifting and a crease forming between his eyes.

Rico took a deep breath through his supraorbital gland and attempted to close his beak. A few moments later, his lower jaw met his upper, concealing the fish. Johnson turned and kicked some snow as Manfredi threw his flippers up in triumph and high fived Rico.

After celebrating, Manfredi stepped behind Johnson and patted his back. "Sorry, my friend. Maybe next time." He was trying to be sympathetic, but he couldn't hide a mild teasing tone in his voice.

"You're really gonna make me do this, aren't you?"

"Yes. Yes I am."

Johnson sighed and cursed under his breath. "Fine."

"Hey, a bets' a bet. Besides, you woulda made me do it." Manfredi pointed out folding his flippers.

"Good point. I'll be back soon." Johnson said making his way for the ocean.

Manfredi turned to Rico-whose cheeks were no longer bulging with fish-waddling over to him. "Hey, pipsqueak, where'd the fish go?"

Rico patted his stomach. "Yum!" He replied happily.

Manfredi chuckled. "Well, if you like that, wait till you try some herring. It's really hard to find in these parts, but it's worth it when you do." He explained.

About eight minutes had passed and Johnson had only surfaced once to lay four herring in the snow, then dove back under to continue his hunt. Manfredi and Rico had busied themselves in a game of Twenty Questions as they tarried.

"Is it hard to find?" Manfredi asked. Rico nodded. "Is it found in the ocean?" Rico shook his head. "Can it be-"

Johnson broke through the surface of the water and hit the snow, belly-sliding between them screaming: "Run!"

For a moment, Manfredi and Rico remained sitting in the snow, processing what had just happened. Though, a microsecond later, they were broken out of their daze when a leopard seal the size of an iceberg broke through the ice and caused the the defenseless penguins to be thrown onto their feet. They turned and belly-slid after Johnson with great speed, the adrenaline in their bodies racing through their veins faster than Halley's Comet. It didn't take long to catch up with Johnson.

"What the hell happened down there?!" Manfredi asked Johnson over the sounds of their bellies scraping along the snow and the hungry growling behind them.

"I was swimming and he just came out of nowhere!" Johnson replied. The leopard seal was just inches from their very feet.

That's when the unthinkable happened.

The leopard seal grabbed Manfredi's legs in his teeth and beg an thrashing him about. Rico and Johnson skidded to a halt and watched in horror for a moment before Rico did the first thing that came to his mind; he regurgitated the crowbar and threw it as hard as he could at the beast attacking his brother. It turned through the air a couple of times before the end buried itself into the leopard seal's neck. The savage creature cried out in pain, causing Manfredi to fall free from his jaws and into the snow. The leopard seal, terrified for his own life, took off in the other direction. Johnson and Rico rushed to Manfredi's side. There was a lot of blood; it pooled into the snow, leaking quickly from the deep bit marks in his side.

"Manfredi! Manfredi! Man, can you hear me?!" He asked in a panic, pulling his head and shoulders onto his lap. Manfredi groaned in response; sweat had began to accumulate and shine on his forehead.

"Whaweonnaoo?" Rico asked, meaning to ask what they were going to do.

"I dunno, pipsqueak. He's losing blood fast. Do you happen to have anything in that wondertum that can soak up some of this blood?"

Rico nodded and regurgitated some sweatrags that he'd collected at the facility long before they'd escaped. Johnson pressed them firmly to Manfredi's side.

"Rico, since Manfredi is incapable of moving, and he doesn't need to be left alone, I'll stay here while you go try to find help, okay?"

Rico nodded.

After around an hour of shuffling through the snow, Rico stumbled upon a village. He could hardly fathom his good luck. He awkwardly waddled through the streets of snow, catching leery glances from other penguins as he made his way through. Finally, he worked up the courage to ask someone where he might find a doctor.

"Doctor?" He asked an elderly woman who was busy chopping up a fish.

"Down the street, go left, third house on the right, dear." The elderly woman instructed kindly, pointing down the street. Rico nodded in understanding and appreciation and did as he was told. He knocked four times then waited for a response. A young female penguin answered; she was about half his age.

"Yes? This is Dr. Mavis's office."

Rico attempted to speak as best as he could. "Friend...hurt...blood..." His voice was very rough, which made a crease form between the girls' eyes.

"Um, is something wrong? You sound hoarse."

Rico shook his head. "Doctor!"

The girl nodded. "Okay! Okay! Come on in. He'll see you momentarily."

She pushed the door open further and gestured inward. Rico stepped in. There were four beds on one side of the room, only one was filled. A penguin about the girls' age laid upon it, sweating and shivering. The sight made a chill run down Rico's spine. He heard the door shut behind him and the girl appeared at his side with a smile.

"I'm Kari. What's your name?" She asked kindly.

"Rico." Rico grunted.

"Well, Rico, I'll go get Dr. Mavis. It was nice meeting you." She turned and went into another room. Rico looked once again at the boy that lay in the bed. He was awake now, and was weakly trying to reach the glass of water on his bedside table. Though hesitant, Rico waddled over, picked up the glass, and handed it to him. The boy accepted the glass and drank gratefully, looking at him through thankful eyes.

"Thank you." He whispered. Rico nodded. Next thing he knew, Kari returned with an older man, presumably Dr. Mavis.

"Hello, young man. I'm Dr. Mavis. I see you've met Tom." Rico glanced at the boy in the bed, then relocked his eyes to Mavis's. "What seems to be the problem?"

"Friend, trouble." He grunted.

"Excuse me?" Dr. Mavis replied, perplexed by Rico's inaudibility.

"I think he was trying to say that his friend is in trouble, and that there's blood. For some reason, he can't seem to speak properly." Kari explained.

Mavis nodded. "And where is this friend of yours?" He asked him in a calming tone. Rico simply just walked over to the door and came to a halt, looking at Mavis with pleading eyes.

"I think he wants you to follow him." Kari suggested.

Mavis nodded. "I'll go get my bag." Mavis turned and entered a room, emerging a moment later with a bag in his grasp. Rico opened the door and lead Mavis out.

It didn't take long to reach Manfredi and Johnson. Johnson had slowed the bleeding enough to get Manfredi to his feet and the two of them were following Rico's trail. "My goodness! What happened?" Mavis asked in shock when his eyes met Manfredi's side.

"A leopard seal attacked." Johnson answered.

Mavis took a quick mental survey of Manfredi's condition, then supported the side that Johnson wasn't. "We'll discuss this further once we get to my office. Come on." He instructed as he lead them to his office.

Once they'd arrived, Mavis immediately set to work, not wanting to waste a single second. He cleaned the wound and bound it tightly. "So, one of you wanna tell me what happened?"

"We told you, sir. We were attacked by a leopard seal." Johnson repeated.

"And how did you three escape said leopard seal?" Rico and Johnson exchanged a glance. "Well?" Mavis urged.

Rico nodded to Johnson, permitting him to reveal his secret. Johnson sighed. "Well, Rico here has somewhat of a gift." Rico demonstrated by regurgitating a pipe wrench without difficulty.

Mavis was speechless for a moment, but quickly recovered. "I'm not even going to ask." He muttered. "Where are your parents?"

"We never knew our parents. We've spent most of our lives in a drug-testing facility run by humans. We only escaped from there a few months ago." Johnson explained. Mavis didn't look convinced. "It's the truth!"

Mavis sighed. "Alright. I'll bite. I'm Dr. Mavis. You two are?"

"Manfredi, and I'm Johnson" He answered gesturing to Manfredi, then himself.

"Well, Manfredi, you're going to need to stay with me for a few days to recover. As for you two, you're going to have to go to foster care, I'm afraid. You can visit from nine to seven."

"Foster care? What's that?" Johnson asked.

"It's where children that have no parents go to live until their either adopted or have reached adulthood."

"We're not children!" Johnson pretested.

Mavis cocked an eye. "Oh? How old are you three?"

"Rico's eight, Manfredi's twelve, and I'm almost thirteen."

"Well, I'm afraid that's considered children. I'm sorry."

"But we can't just leave him. We're like brothers." Johnson said taking Manfredi's flipper in his, who had long since fallen asleep due to how weak he felt.

Mavis looked at them sympathetically. "Alright. You can stay the night. But tomorrow, you're going to have to go to the foster home. Understood?" Rico and Johnson nodded. Mavis sighed and returned to his office. Not ten seconds after he did, a voice was heard from behind.

"Hi."

Rico and Johnson turned their heads toward Kari, who was holding her flippers in front of her and bowing her head slightly, her cheeks a faint shade of pink. "Hi. I'm Johnson. This is-"

"Rico. I know. We've met. I'm Kari. I hope your friend gets better." She replied bashfully.

"Thanks. And you don't have to be shy. We may be different, but we won't bite." Johnson assured her with a kind smile. His attention shifted to Tom, who was in the neighboring bed. "What's wrong with him?" He asked.

"He was a late hatcher. He's lucky he's lasted four years. He recently became ill and we've started an untested therapy to try to save him." Kari explained.

"So he might die?"

There was a long silence. For Kari, it felt like years had passed before she replied. "It's a possibility, yes." Kari answered softly, the words hurting.

Johnson took notice of the pain in her eyes and a twinge of guilt pinched his stomach. "I'm...I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you." He said slowly.

Kari shook her head. "No, you're fine. I just can't stand the thought. He's the only true friend I've ever had." She replied slowly, not taking her gaze away from Tom.

Johnson smiled sympathetically. "I'm sure he'll be fine."

"I hope you're right." Kari said with a sigh, glancing at him, then returning to her place next to Tom's bed, dabbing his forehead with a wet cloth.

There was silence for the rest of the afternoon.

**************************************************************

"Ready, Rico?" Johnson asked.

Since neither of them liked the idea of this 'foster care', they decided that they're best option was to sneak out at the dead of night.

Rico nodded; he had consumed a few of Mavis's supplies that they deemed necessary to keep Manfredi alive. Johnson helped Manfredi out of bed and the three of them started for the door on their tiptoes when they heard a groan. It was Tom.

"Where are you going?" He asked propping himself up in bed.

"We can't end up in foster care. We're getting out of here." Johnson answered.

"But Manfredi might not make it if you go." Tom pointed out.

"No, he'll be fine. Please, just go back to sleep." Johnson insisted.

"Yes, I think we should all go back to sleep."

Johnson, Rico, and Manfredi turned to the voice behind them. Mavis stood there with a dim lantern in his flipper. You could just make out his disappointed expression in the faded yellow.

"Busted." Rico muttered with a sigh.

"Damn, right, you're busted. What were you thinking? Manfredi, out in the cold in his condition? You could have killed him!" Mavis told them. The three penguins looked down with guilty expressions. Mavis sighed. "Look, I know you three don't want to be separated, but I have no choice. You need to be taken care of."

"But we were taking care of ourselves just fine." Johnson protested.

Mavis examined Manfredi with his eyes. "Oh, really? He said sarcastically.

"So? Accidents happen. We're doing just fine on our own." Johnson insisted.

Mavis thought for a minute. "Alright, I'll make you a deal. You two stick around while Manfredi heals, and you can help me out around the office."

Johnson and Rico exchanged another glance, then looked back to Mavis and nodded, agreeing to the terms of the deal.

"Good. Now let's get him back in bed."

After getting Manfredi in bed, Rico and Johnson slept in the other beds for the night. They'd never slept in anything so comfortable, so falling asleep was like falling on a cloud.