Michael stretched as he awoke, sending a sudden shock of pain through his ankle. As his body jolted at the pain, his head swung back, connecting with The Spine’s chassis. Michael ducked his head forward with a slight hiss.
The Spine looked down at Michael in alarm. “Are you alright?”
Michael rubbed the back of his head gently, “Ugh.” Was all he responded with, still tired and fighting back the building tears. He didn’t remember falling asleep with The Spine, not that he really minded. He sat up slowly and stretched again, careful to only stretch his arms and chest. He placed his feet on the ground right before The Spine stopped him.
“Where do you think you’re going?” The Spine asked.
“...I gotta... I gotta pee...” He mumbled, trying to stand.
“You aren’t going anywhere without these.” The Spine said, handing Michael a pair of crutches.
Michael grumbled slightly as he took them, positioning them in a way that allowed him to stand. He cast a glare at The Spine who was following as he went along. “ ‘M not a baby. I can go by myself.”
“I’m sure you can.” The Spine said calmly, but continued to follow.
Michael stumbled several times but didn’t fall. The Spine stepped around the corner as Michael entered the bathroom, opting to give him some privacy.
Can you make Michael some breakfast? He’s probably going to be hungry soon.
No desserts for breakfast.
The Spine could almost see Rabbit’s pout as he responded, Fine. No desserts for breakfast.
Nothing with too much sugar either.
You’re just trying to take all the fun out of it, aren’t you?
The Spine ignored Rabbit as he heard a light thud from around the corner as Michael hit the floor with a groan. The Spine came around the corner to the collapsed Michael, to see that he had both crutches on one side of him. The Spine sighed, picking up Michael and cradling him to his chest with one arm, the other holding the crutches. He looked at Michael, “You tried to walk, didn’t you?”
Michael didn’t look the automaton in the eye, “Maybe...” He said quietly.
“You should really use the crutches, we don’t want you getting hurt. It’s not forever, only while your ankle heals.”
Michael frowned slightly, feeling bad. “I’m sorry Mr. Spine.”
The Spine chuckled quietly, “It’s alright Michael. Let’s head back. Rabbit’s making you breakfast. Do you want to try the crutches again, or do you want to be carried?”
Michael respond by curling closer against The Spine’s silk vest. The Spine chuckled again, taking long strides as he carried the boy back to the living room. Michael smiled into The Spine’s vest, maybe being taken care of for a day wasn’t so bad after all.
Rabbit came into the room with Michael’s ‘breakfast’. Sitting on the large serving platter was a hefty lump of mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, tater tots, french fries, and potato chips. All the delicious, starchy, definitely not for breakfast but not sweets a young boy could ask for. Michael cheered as he saw all his favorite foods brought out in one tray. Not a vegetable in sight. The Spine couldn't help but raise an eyebrow, that was definitely not what he had asked for.
“Hey M-m-m-mikey! Howya doin’?”
Michael smiled, clambering off the couch, he took the few good steps he could, and wrapped his arms around the automaton, hugging him. Rabbit wrapped his free arm around the boy. Shooting The Spine a questioning look, Michael was rarely this openly loving. The Spine shrugged.
He’s been rather... affectionate this morning.
I can tell.
Rabbit scooped him up with his open arm, depositing him back onto the couch. he handed him the platter and the biggest bottle of ketchup you could imagine, ignoring the disapproving look from The Spine. Yet that glare didn’t last long as Spine could see just how happy Michael was, shoveling the mashed potatoes into his mouth. The two robots couldn’t help but smile as they watched the boy eat. At least in this moment he wasn’t in pain.
I’m going after that bully today, Rabbit
Rabbit’s eyes widened as he glanced at The Spine.
But you don’t even know what he looks like.
Easy enough to figure out, he’ll probably be terrorizing some other defenseless kids.
What are you gonna do when you find him?
Talk some sense into him. He’s never going to hurt Michael, or Peter, or anyone else ever again.
Just be careful, okay Spine? Humans are squishy... bullies or not.
I always am, Rabbit. I always am.
Michael watched Rabbit’s facial expressions and knew he was conversing with The Spine. He had learned a long time ago that the two could talk silently over the Wi-Fi and was always trying to see if he could figure out what they were talking about. “Is Peter okay?” He asked when he saw the worried expression on Rabbit’s face.
The Spine patted Michael on the shoulder gently, “Of course he is. I have something I have to take care of, do you mind staying with Michael?” He asked Rabbit.
“Course I don’t mind.” Rabbit said with a grin.
The Spine took Michael’s now empty plate, save for a few fries. “I’ll be back in a little while. Don’t do anything strenuous.”
Michael nodded enthusiastically as The Spine left the room. “Rabbit, what does strenuous mean?”
“I-I think it m-m-m-means to strain your peas.”
“Why would I do that? I hate peas!” He stuck his tongue out in disgust.
“I d-don’t know.”
Michael shrugged, “Wanna watch cartoons?”
“Sure M-mikey, anythin’ you w-w-want.”
The two of them drifted off into their own world together. Watching cartoons and coloring. That was one of the many perks of being part of such a large, and truly unique, family. There was always someone to spend the time with. And as they were happily enjoying each others company, Peter VI was stirring upstairs.
Young Peter awoke. Rubbing the sleep from one eye, careful not to touch the other. It was still sore, but was healing. After stretching and sliding off his bed, he walked to the mirror. Much like the way his father would, he examined his eye carefully. An angry shade of bluish purple had spread all around it, causing it to swell and nearly block his vision. Remnants of bruising peeked through his pajama shirt, hiding the many new colors to his skin just below the collar..
Michael was strong, he always protected Peter when he was attacked. The bullies hadn’t started with the attacks on Michael. Michael got himself hurt helping him more than anything.
“Why can’t I be strong?” He sighed to himself, running his small fingers over his reflection in the mirror. The bullies started their threats with him, but Michael got himself involved. If Peter was stronger he wouldn’t need Michael to protect him, to get hurt for him. To take the punches and the beatings. “Michael wouldn’t be hurt if I was strong. Then I could protect him, instead of him protecting me.” His hand dropping from the mirror, unable to bare his own reflection anymore. He closed his eyes as the tears began to swell up. The aching pain was back, along with the memories.
The first beating. Michael wasn’t there when the bully attacked. Michael had never been the target. Peter had been alone, waiting for Michael, but he hadn’t shown up yet. Suddenly he was pulled beside the building and pushed to the ground. He tried to get up, only to be kicked back down. The bully sneered down at him. “Nerd.” He accentuated the word with a kick.
“Stop..” Peter said quietly, not quite understanding what was happening.
“Why should I?” The bully asked, hauling Peter up by the collar of his shirt, and slamming his back against the wall. “You’re a freak, just like the rest of your family.”
Peter tried to put up his hands to protect himself, only to see Michael come running up to the bully, beating at his arm. “Let my brother go!” He shouted.
The bully looked at Peter and scoffed, “You got lucky. Your brother’s just a freak too.” He dropped Peter unceremoniously and walked away.
Peter crumpled to the ground as Michael knelt beside him. “Hey, are you okay?”
Peter was alive but shaken. “I’m okay. Can we just go home?” He already knew these wouldn’t be over so easily, but he dreamed they would.
He went to his dresser to get another shirt, one to cover the ugly reminders. and caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. it angered him. He grabbed the item closest to him, a book that he had stopped reading long ago, and threw it at the mirror.
The mirror splintered with a loud crack, fragments scattering on the ground. Peter glared at the pieces, all they did was show him reminders of the past, things he wanted to forget. He thought of Michael, his one defender, his one true friend. He looked at his own reflection and whispered to the reflection, “I will never let you hurt him again,” before walking out of the room and slamming the door behind him. (set up for something larger? Not immediate but could leave an interesting storyline open)
The Spine walked along the near empty street, school would be out soon, and one of the kids among the flood would be the bully. The one who hurt Michael and Peter. He had already found out who, a fifth grader by the name of Jackson Howe. He had bribed a shopkeeper who had seen the bullying take place. The Spine was more than a little bit angry that the man had stood idly by as Peter and Michael were beaten, but he held back his anger.
He followed as Jackson walked down the street, he ducked into an alleyway with The Spine quick to follow. He watched as Jackson scouted a group of small kids, his next victims. The Spine snatched at the bully’s arm, dragging him back into the alley.
“You’re a bully.” The Spine stated, pressing the bully to the wall. He towered over the boy, his piercing green eyes staring straight into the boy’s. “I don’t like bullies.”
The boy whimpered, not quite understanding what was happening. “I didn’t do anything!”
“Really? So you’re telling me you never hurt people? You weren’t going to hurt those kids?” He brought the boy up to eye level, “You’re going to try to tell me that you didn’t hurt my Michael?”
Jackson’s feet and arms flailed, tears streaming down his cheeks.
“How’s it feel to be scared Jackson? To be terrified, to know I’m going to hurt you, and do you want to know why? Because I’m bigger than you.” He whispered in the boy’s ear.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I won't do it again. I PROMISE!” The boy shrieked.
He held the boy in the air for another moment before dropping him. “Let that be a warning to you. If you touch Peter, or Michael, or anyone else EVER again, I WILL hurt you, and you WILL be sorry. I’ll be watching you Jackson, I know where you live, where you sleep, where you go to school. Do NOT test me.” He walked away leaving the boy quivering. He doubted that Jackson would ever harm Peter or Michael again.