A Friend After All
Title: A Friend After All
Fandom: Steam Powered Giraffe
Characters: Michael Reed (age five), The Jon, The Spine, Rabbit, Mister Luke (Sam’s father)
Summary: Young Michael isn’t the biggest fan of Rabbit, but spending a night in Walter Manor without his parents may change that…
Notes: Oh look, another unbeta’d fanfic from me. Have some widdle Michael Reed and cuddles.
It wasn’t a very good day for five-year-old Michael Reed. Not very good at all.
For starters, his parents were going on a trip without him. They told him it was some sort of engineer convention that they had been invited to, and they told him that it would be very boring. He still wanted to go, just so they wouldn’t leave him alone, but they denied him, saying he would have to stay in a hotel room by himself all day long even if he went with them. They smothered him in kisses and hugs and promised to bring back presents, but that did not make him feel any better.
Because the second thing was that he was going to be spending the next two nights at Walter Manor. Sure, he liked playing with the robots and Mr. and Mrs. Walter were very kind, but he didn’t really like the idea of being stuck in a mostly-unfamiliar place without his parents.
The robots, however, were delighted with the idea.
“It’s like we’re having a really long slumber party!” exclaimed The Jon, waving his hands around excitedly. “We can stay up for hours and hours and eat cake and ice cream and watch movies and tell ghost stories and-”
The Spine put a hand on Jon’s shoulder. “Easy there, Jon, there are only so many hours in a day. Besides, it wouldn’t be good to keep up Michael all night because humans need sleep, especially young ones. His parents wouldn’t be too happy if they found out he’d been up all night. You can go play for now, though.”
The Jon frowned a bit, but he smiled when he looked at Michael again. “I know, let’s go hula-hoop!”
“I’m not good at hula-hooping,” pointed out Michael, still feeling quite sour.
“I’ll teach you how to be great at it! After all, I’m the best!” declared Jon, putting his hands on his hips.
“Really? Can you teach me how to be the best like you!”
“Uh-huh! Then we can play checkers, then watch cartoons, then-”
“Ooh, checkers! I want to play checkers!” piped up Rabbit. “Let’s p-p-play checkers first!”
“No, I wanna hula-hoop first!” said Michael. “Jon said we could hula-hoop first!”
“But that’s bo-o-oring,” complained Rabbit. “Besides, my hips don’t work like his do. I can’t do it right.”
“Too bad, Rabbit, we’re hula-hooping! You just gotta wait,” Jon decided, taking Michael by the hand and leading him to the back yard. Rabbit pouted, but he eventually went off to find the family’s box of board games.
The Jon and Michael played outside for about an hour and a half before Michael got too tired to hula-hoop and was bored of watching The Jon show off, so the two went inside to find Spine and Rabbit to see what they were doing. They found The Spine alone in the living room reading the newspaper.
“After I finish this, we could play cards,” suggested The Spine. “How about Go Fish?”
“I love that game, it’s my favorite! Let’s play!” exclaimed Michael.
The Spine gave him a wide grin. “Sure thing, pal. Just give me a few minutes, okay?”
The bot and the boy nodded vigorously, smiling to each other in anticipation. While they waited for Spine to finish his reading, Jon looked around. “Where’s Rabbit?” he asked.
“Mister Luke took him down to the workshop. He was glitching pretty bad and got stuck in a loop earlier so he’s getting a check-up.”
“Oh,” said Jon, his face falling. “I wanted to play with him. Is he okay?”
“I’m sure he’ll be fine, it wasn’t anything too terrible. He just needs to stop being so stubborn about getting maintenance done. Anyway, how about that card game?” Spine folded up his newspaper and set it aside.
Dinner was mostly uneventful. Mister Luke and Rabbit were late, with Mister Luke explaining that the repairs necessary were “more extensive than I thought, but he should be fine now.” Rabbit grumbled about his new parts but sat down next to Jon and started digging into his food like everyone else.
Michael thought it was pretty funny that the robots could eat, and he raised the question aloud, so The Spine set to work explaining that, while the automatons could taste food thanks to special flavor chips they had installed years ago and could technically swallow it, they were not actually eating like humans did and had to have the food scraped out of them not too long after ingesting it, lest they allow it to sit and rot inside their metal bellies. Spine then recounted a tale of how The Jon had left a taco inside himself for about a week before the smell got so bad that they had to thoroughly wash and scrub his insides out with a ton of soap. Michael thought it was a cool story, though Mister Luke was a little put off by the discussion and excused himself earlier than everyone else.
After dinner, the three bots and Michael sat in the living room again for a while watching cartoons until they noticed that Michael kept yawning more and more frequently.
“Sounds like someone’s pretty tired,” commented The Spine. “You ready for bed, Michael?”
Michael shook his head. “I can stay up a little longer,” he insisted, fighting back another yawn. Jon yawned, too, out of his habit of mimicry. “Really, I’m fine.”
The Spine smirked. “Doesn’t sound like it.”
“Nope, not at all, little guy,” added Rabbit. “I think it’s bed time for you.”
“No!” whined Michael. “Please, let me stay up for a little longer! My mom and dad won’t be mad, we don’t even have to tell them! Please!”
The Spine laughed. “That’s not gonna work, Michael.”
“Don’t worry, Michael, we can play some more in the morning,” offered The Jon, smiling sleepily.
Michael pouted. “You promise?”
“Okay, slugger, let’s get you tucked in. I’ll show you to your bedroom.” The Spine got off the couch and led Michael, Rabbit, and The Jon to the second floor.
Reaching their destination, Michael reluctantly changed into his pajamas and got into bed, said good night to the three bots, then watched as they left. Spine gave him a wink right before he turned off the lights. Michael forced a smile until the bedroom door was shut. He pulled the covers around him more tightly, squinting in the darkness.
Now he was alone.
All alone in a strange house.
He shivered a bit, but he decided that he had to be brave for his mother and father. They wouldn’t want him to be afraid, no sir. Closing his eyes, he drifted off into an uneasy sleep.
Sometime during the night, after much tossing and turning and whining, Michael awoke with a cry, his heart racing as he tried to make sense of the darkness around him and fight off the lingering figments from his nightmare. His dream had felt far too real, much more real than they usually felt, and he reached around for something or someone to hold. But there was no one to comfort him, for he remembered with dismay that his father and mother were gone. He really hated being stuck in such a foreign place. Sure, the family usually spent their time at the manor anyway, but having to spend the night in it without having his parents nearby felt… well, pretty creepy.
He decided he would leave his room and try to find The Jon or The Spine. Surely one of them might be awake, probably The Spine. Michael figured that The Spine would be in one of the manor’s libraries, but since there were so many to choose from, he decided to look for The Jon’s stasis chamber first. Even if Jon wasn’t awake, it probably wouldn’t be too hard to wake him up, and surely he wouldn’t be mad at Michael for wanting a little bit of company.
Getting out of bed, he turned on all the lights in the room that he could find then left the door open as he exited the room, creeping silently into the hallway. Michael felt a little bad for wasting electricity (which his mom and dad said was a bad thing), but he needed at least a tiny bit of light to help him search the halls. Reaching the end of the particular hall that his room was in, he was disappointed when he realized that he’d have to go further into the darkness to keep searching. He decided to head to the right where the hallway intersecting with another, getting further and further away from the waning stream of light from his room. After a few minutes, he found he was in a completely unfamiliar corridor, one that was completely dark save for the moonlight shining through the window.
Michael could feel an overwhelming sense of fear creeping into his heart. How far had he travelled? Suddenly, there was a snapping noise outside the window, and Michael squeaked in surprise. He heard the flapping of wings and figured it was an owl, but his heart was still racing. Every now and then he could hear random creaking sounds coming from the house itself, adding to the overall gloom and terror that was settling upon him.
He couldn’t hold back a sob as he continued his lonely quest to navigate through the dark hallways of the manor. It was no use; without a flashlight, it was practically impossible to see where he was going, and to make things worse, he had no idea how to get back to his bedroom. He could almost feel the darkness swallowing him up like a giant monster, and he fell to his knees, whimpering. He was all alone and no one could help him, no one -
“Michael? Is that y-y-you?”
It was Rabbit. Michael winced but didn’t answer, curling into a ball. Of course it would be Rabbit that found him, and not The Jon or The Spine. He wasn’t too pleased to hear the stuttering automaton, the one who was his least favorite of the three. The Jon was always up for a game or something fun, and The Spine would read him books, but Rabbit kind of scared him with all of his glitching and his loud voice. Sometimes he told funny jokes, though, and he always seemed to be smiling.
Blue and green orbs of light shone through the darkness and grew larger as the robot came closer. “You’re supposed to be in bed, aren’t you?”
Michael still didn’t respond, praying that if he ignored Rabbit he would just go away.
“Your parents would be upset if they knew you were up at thi-this hour,” said the robot matter-of-factly.
“Doesn’t matter, they’re not here,” mumbled Michael under his breath.
“What?” asked Rabbit, confused. “Speak up, I-”
“They’re not here, so it doesn’t matter!” The young boy was now really, truly crying, his sobs echoing through the hallway. Rabbit frowned, feeling a sudden tightness in the gears in his chest. He hated seeing anyone so sad, but it was even worse when the sadness was coming from a child. He also knew that the Reed family would be unhappy to know that their son was feeling so down.
“Hey, don’t cry, Michael,” said Rabbit softly, kneeling next to him. “What’s the matter?” He tried to put a hand on Michael’s shoulder, but the child shrugged it off, curling up more tightly.
“N-n-nothing, just leave me alone,” wailed Michael.
“You don’t sound like you wanna be left alone,” replied Rabbit. “It’s pretty dark in here, too. You sure you want me to leave?”
Michael nodded his head, sobbing again.
Rabbit let out a tiny sigh, steam escaping from his lips and cheeks. “All right, well… I’ll just be go-go-going, then… See ya later.” His joints creaked as he stood up to leave, but a small hand shot out and grabbed onto his before he could fully stand.
“Where are you going?”
Rabbit paused, curious. “To the living room. I’m bored and I want to watch a movie. Say, since no one else is awake, you wanna come watch it with me? It sure beats sitting in a dark hallway by yourself.”
Michael sniffed loudly, but he nodded, and Rabbit pulled him to his feet. Not letting go of the child’s hand, Rabbit led Michael to the living room where he told Michael to sit on the couch and wait while he prepared the movie.
“I l-l-love this one.” Rabbit pulled out a VHS tape of “The Brave Little Toaster”, turned on the TV, then placed the tape in the cassette player. “It’s really good.” He then made his way to the couch, sitting on the end opposite of Michael.
The film was pretty entertaining, Michael had to admit, though he was more than a little frightened by the angry air conditioner, and he jumped when it exploded. Rabbit looked over to make sure the boy was still doing okay and that he wasn’t too alarmed, but he seemed to be fine after that scene, so Rabbit kept silent.
Gradually, Michael scooted closer to the automaton until they were side-by-side. Rabbit noticed this but did not comment, too absorbed in the film to really say anything, though he did take the opportunity to put his hand on Michael’s shoulder and give it a comforting squeeze. Michael didn’t shrug it off this time, instead leaning onto Rabbit and resting his head on the bot’s side.
“You’re warm,” murmured Michael, scooting even closer.
Rabbit smiled. “That’s how ya get when ya got a boiler inside ya. Can you hear it?”
Michael pressed his ear against the automaton’s chest. He could hear the rhythmic ticking, clanking, and grinding of gears and the soft humming and bubbling of water in Rabbit’s boiler. It was oddly comforting.
“It’s like my heartbeat,” explained Rabbit.
“Humans have hearts, but ro-robots don’t. Not the same kind, anyway. Your heart goes ‘ba-dum, ba-dum’ like drums but mine goes ‘tick tock’ like a clock. It means I’m alive.”
“That’s pretty neat,” admitted Michael, continuing to listen to the ticking in Rabbit’s chest with slight awe. “Um, Rabbit?”
“Can I… can I sleep here with you? I don’t know how to get back to my room by myself. And I…”
Rabbit waited patiently for the young boy to finish.
“And I had a nightmare, and I don’t wanna sleep alone. I miss Mommy and Daddy…” he said, a fresh wave of tears rolling down his face.
Rabbit gently ruffled Michael’s hair. “It’s okay, champ. Everyone misses their parents sometimes.”
“Mhhmm. I miss m-my Pappy all the time.”
“Really?” asked Michael, wiping his eyes.
“Yup. But I know he loves me, even if he’s not here. So I’m sure your parents still love you, even if they’re not around all the time.”
“Hmm…” The young boy contemplated Rabbit’s words, sniffling. Rabbit may be weird, but he didn’t seem like the type of robot to lie about something, and what he said made Michael feel a whole lot better. “Okay. I guess you’re right.”
“I sure am.” Rabbit grinned. “Now, let’s keep watching, this part is great.”
Michael nodded, yawning. Rabbit knew the human was getting tired, so he reclined slightly, allowing Michael to climb onto his chest, where the young boy rested his head while he continued to watch the movie.
A few minutes after Michael had gotten comfortable on Rabbit’s chest, he heard the bubbling inside the robot’s body increase momentarily, and seconds later steam puffed out from Rabbit’s cheek vents with a hiss. Michael looked up at him with curious eyes.
“I’m s-s-sorry, did that scare you?” asked Rabbit.
“No, it just surprised me.” Michael readjusted himself on Rabbit’s chest, and Rabbit put an arm around the young boy. “You’re really noisy. But I like it.”
“’Cause it means you’re alive. Like you said.”
Rabbit smiled. “Sure does, kiddo.”
The two continued to watch as the appliances in the movie struggled to find their beloved master, and despite all the trials they faced, it looked like things would turn out all right for the electricity-powered friends. Sometimes Rabbit would comment on the titular toaster, saying he had seen a really swell toaster at Sears that he was thinking about buying. Michael didn’t know why he brought it up, but he listened anyway, finding it kind of funny that Rabbit was so excited about a toaster. Perhaps it could talk like the one in the movie? Maybe it was alive like Rabbit was.
As he thought about toasters and security blankets and mean old modern appliances, Michael felt his eyelids droop, and just before the movie ended, he finally gave in to the beckoning call of sleep. This time, there were no monsters or shadows in his dreams, only vague shapes and strange colors and an overall sense of warmth and comfort.
After the movie was over, Rabbit noticed steady breathing coming from the young Reed, and he took that as a cue to turn off the TV and power off for the night as well. Before he did, he pressed his cold lips against the top of Michael’s head for a tiny kiss then whispered, “Good night, little guy.”
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