It was almost 90 minutes before The Spine was ‘okay’ again. His limbs were still slightly stiff as e walked out of the Hall of Wires. He pulled out his phone and made the call he was dreading. “Peter, can we talk?”
“Study 27.” Was Peter’s clipped response, before hanging up the phone.
The Spine tucked his phone back into his pocket and made his way down the hall. He dreaded the conversation to come.
Outside the study, ignoring the urge to walk away without a word, he knocked on the wall next to the empty doorway. “Peter?”
“Enter.” The Spine walked into the room quietly. Peter sat back in his chair and gestured for The Spine to sit as well. “You wanted to talk?”
“I wanted to apologize for this morning. For Holly.”
Peter tipped his head to the side slightly, “Is there something more you’d like to tell me Spine?” He asked, skeptical that he had asked only to deliver an apology.
The Spine debated telling Peter about his altercation with Norman. “No… I just wanted to apologize. I’m sorry, I should have told you.”
Peter VI looked at The Spine for a moment as if expecting something more. “Anything else?”
“That’s all.” He stood up taking that as his cue to leave. He tipped his fedora to Peter and turned away.
“So you mean to tell me Wanda came in here raving about the other ‘silver son of a bitch’?” A slight bemusement slipped into his tone as he quoted Wanda.
The Spine stopped dead in his tracks.
“You do realize we have to talk about this.” Peter stated calmly.
The Spine turned and sat down in front of Peter once again.
“Were you going to tell me about today?” Peter asked, knowing The Spine would know exactly what he meant.
“Yes, I was just trying to figure out how.” He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, feeling much like a boy being scolded, despite the fact that he had helped to raise Peter.
“And so that’s what you’ve spent the last,” Peter paused to look at his watch for a moment. “Hour and a half doing?”
The Spine gritted his teeth slightly in annoyance. “No I spent the last hour and a half in paralyzing pain.” He said with an edge of spite creeping into his voice.
“And why is that?”
“Because…. Wanda punched me in the reactor…” He half said, half mumbled.
“She punched you in the what?” Peter asked in surprise.
“The blue matter reactor.” The Spine said louder.
“Vest and shirt off.” Peter VI said simply in response.
“What?” The Spine asked, confused.
“You heard me.” He looked at The Spine’s quizzical expression and let out a small huff. “I have to check you for damages.” He said as though it was the most obvious thing in the world as he pulled on his gloves.
The Spine complied, his reactor cast a soft blue light on Peter and the room surrounding them.
Peter gently removed the plates around The Spine’s core. Judging by the muffled sounds the Spine made, he was still rather sore. He didn’t protest or complain so Peter continued his work. His fingers danced gently around checking the connections and wiring, nothing was strained or broken.
Wanda had punched his most fragile piece, a vital part of his functions, knowing exactly what she could have done to him. A fraction of the inch to the left and The Spine could have been disabled for good. The warfare had to end before somebody was hurt. He reattached the plates to The Spine’s chest.
“I’m going to talk to Wanda about this later.”
The Spine nodded hollowly, just enough to show he understood what Peter was saying.
Peter looked at The Spine, “Are you okay?” He asked with honest concern.
The Spine buried his head in his hands, a drop of oil fell to the floor, “I nearly killed someone today.”
“But you didn’t.”
“I had him in the air, my fist was clenched, I could see the fear in his eyes. If Rabbit and Hatchworth hadn’t been there-“
“But they were.” Peter cut him off quickly. “You didn’t kill him. That’s what matters.”
The oil dripping from The Spine’s eyes started to form a small puddle on the floor. “You don’t understand Peter. I could see them. All of them.”
“Spine, who could you see?”
He looked up into Peter’s eyes, there was no mistaking the pain and agony trapped within. “I could see their faces, the faces of every soldier I let die and every man I’ve ever killed. That’s what I saw when I looked into his eyes, and what I see every time I close mine.”
“How long has this been going on?”
“Since the end of the first war.”
Peter grasped The Spine’s hands and looked deep into The Spine’s eyes. “Why did you never tell me? Maybe I can help you.”
“Peter Walter I and II both tried already, it’s not a mechanical issue. I haven’t told anyone else, I never wanted people to worry.”
It only made sense that The Spin was the one to hold one to it all. Rabbit was too worry free, The John was too whimsical, and Hatchworth couldn’t remember. Only The Spine could carry the burden for them all.
“You don’t have to do this alone anymore. I’m going to help you.” Before he could protest, Peter hugged him as tightly as he could. The Spine smiled slightly and hugged back, he didn’t feel so alone anymore.
Holly smiled. “Well thank you Nathaniel. I hate to ask, but would you mind telling me your last name? The last guy I met tried to convince me his name was Roy Batty.”
“Nathaniel Joseph Gregory VIII, Ma’am. May I ask yours?” He was perfectly polite and courteous as he spoke.
“Lovett. Thank you for the honesty, it’s something you don’t come across much of these days.” She smiled a little wider. “Do you happen to have the time?”
Nathaniel took out his pocket watch and opened it to check. “About half past 10. Damn, I have to go to a meeting soon. I dont get much time to go get coffee like I enjoy so much these days”
“Aaron is going to kill me.” She muttered before saying, “I’m sorry you don’t get to do it as much as you like, but I’m glad you did today.” She liked Nathaniel, but she wasn’t quite sure what to do, there was still The Spine to deal with.
“Hmm, Aaron is your…boss?” He asked.
“My brother, you’d think he was my boss by the way he acts. We had an argument last night, so I stayed with a friend.” She neglected to mention that the ‘friend she had stayed with had also been her date. She had argued with him that morning and walked away.
“What was the argument about, if you don’t mind me asking.”He felt wary about protruding into someone’s business but felt an odd amount concern for her.
“I met somebody, a robot, and he didn’t approve. He brought up our father. He only said it because he knew it would hurt, but I couldn’t stay there, not last night.” She looked down at the table and sighed. “Every time I’ve ever left I’ve always been home the next morning, 8 am sharp I’m at the door apologizing for what I said, even though I don’t mean it.”
“A robot? You don’t see a girl who goes for the metal that often. Did you need a ride or anything?”
“No, I just… I have to go apologize to someone.”
“For what? finding a boyfriend? How old are you anyway?…and where is the COFFEE I ORDERED?”
“I’m 25 thank you very much, and I’m not apologizing to Aaron, not this time. I have to apologize to someone else.” She frowned slightly. “Of course I wouldn’t have to apologize if he would have left well enough alone.” She was stubborn, while she felt bad about leaving The Spine behind this morning, she felt like she did no wrong.
He thought of what to say next, and waited for the coffee he ordered for Holly, wanting to help, he felt almost distressed himself. “If it were up to me, you wouldn’t be apologizing for anything. You seem more of a victim in this…can you make time? This place isnt worth the wait, I want to treat you to a good coffee”
She smiled at him, “Where did you have in mind?” She couldn’t help but feel at least a little bad for leaving the Spine, but he shouldn’t have asked after she said she didn’t want to answer.
“There’s a small hole in the wall cafe about 15-20 minutes away from here, no one knows about it, its never crowded, and they make the best coffee. If your car is outside I could drive you back no problem. That meeting isn’t anything too important anyway” His almost unsure smile showed that he had almost no intention to commit on taking Holly out, but that he wont go back on his offer.
“I actually don’t have my car with me…” She said nervously, hating to admit it. “I took the bus here.” She felt like an idiot saying it, knowing she was just messing up her chances further.
“Well that wont do. I can’t have a lady in such a nice dress on the bus. I really don’t mind giving you that ride”
“You really don’t have to, I only wore this because I went dancing last night.” She rolled her eyes slightly, “The guy i was with LOVED dancing, it just wasn’t all that amazing, the music was terrible, and he was just too… stiff” She smiled slightly, “To dance, really dance, you have to be fluid, and let the music take you away… if you know what I mean.” She internally smacked herself, way to mess it up even more, she thought to herself.
“The robot? Yeah, most of them look like they were built with 2 left feet. I remember when I could dance. I used to be the best dancer in my family until my…accident.” He instantly regretted bring it up. “…so, what’s your plan now?”
“I don’t really know yet, and I’m sure you’re dancing can’t be that bad at dancing, you at least have to be better than him. I mean really, who ever heard of a singer that can’t dance?” She disregarded the remark about the accident, it was obvious he didn’t want to talk about it and she was okay with that.
“A singing robot who cant dance? Ive heard of a few, although the ones I know cant sing either.”
She let out a small giggle. “Oh so you’re a comedian now?” She teased. He didn’t follow she reminded herself when she almost defended The Spine, and it was only a joke she reminded herself. At least, she thought it was. “Honest and funny, now that, is a very rare combination.”
“Well I could say the same about you and your love for aluminum.”
“And how do you know it was The Spine? It could have been Rabbit, or Hatchworth, or my coffee maker for all you know. I could be crazy.” She smiled at him.
“I never said a name, I said aluminum.” He smiled right back at her until he realized what she said. “…Did you say The Spine?” Nathaniel hid his surprise well.
Yes, and I also said Rabbit, Hatchworth, and coffee maker. I guess we’ll never know which one.” She tried to keep her cool, but she couldn’t help but feel like and idiot for letting it slip.
“…So…who would think I would be buying coffee for The Spines girlfriend?”
“I never said he was my boyfriend, I’m certainly not his girlfriend. We’ve gone on all of one date, and it was made abundantly clear to me that I’m not welcome in their home anyway.” She protested, perhaps a little too much, he had introduced her to them as his girlfriend, but they broke up when she ran away. We are broken up, right? She asked herself. She pushed the thoughts away, even if we aren’t, it’s just coffee, it’s not like this is cheating on him.
“I am sorry to hear you were so mistreated, such a pretty young lady too.” He realized he was coming on too strong but wanted to keep the conversation going. “So, what about that coffee. From what ive gathered, you deserve a little treat and some polite company after all that”
“I’d like that. I’d like that a lot.” She smiled at him, he was everything she had thought The Spine to be and yet, somehow he was better. He wasn’t lying to her, the way The Spine had with the makeup,not that she could tell anyway. There was no awkward sneaking in, or elaborate dancing dates, just two people getting coffee, it was so normal. It was nice.