If there was one thing the Jon always enjoyed, it was the week before a big show. The entire mansion was busy during those times, with everyone rushing around and getting everything together that they needed. There was music, too, of course. He could hear the Spine as he wandered through the halls, his voice dipped into the low registers as he vocalized and occasionally adjusted his pitch, as though somehow his rich tones could be out of tune. Rabbit ran through skits, though most of them would end up different in the end anyway.
The Jon, however, was usually not involved in any of the preparations. Given his general personality and the “unspeakable pudding incident” the last time he had helped, they mostly just gave him something to occupy his attention while everyone else got things together in the van for the trip. The Rubik's Cube hadn't kept him occupied for too long this time, though, and all the other little distractions were barely entering his peripheral. He'd wandered into the room where they kept their costumes, and there... that was interesting. Rabbit had recently gotten a new hat.
He picked it up mostly because he always enjoyed the style of hats his brothers liked, and though he preferred tall top hats with bright colored feathers, they tended toward shorter, more distinct styles. Sometimes he supposed it was because they were so very tall and he was so very short, but that wasn't important.
Whenever Rabbit got a new hat, it was something of a ritual. He would find a nice, quiet place to sit, far away from anyone else. No one was allowed to come very close when he was working, because he had a great deal to do. Occasionally the Jon would sneak a look at whatever it was he was up to, and there would sit Rabbit, looking surprisingly melancholy. His fingers were surprisingly careful as he unhooked the buckle on his goggles, removing them from the older hat with utmost care and precision. It was odd how he would stop if he felt a twitch or a malfunction coming on, lowering the goggles so that they wouldn't get banged around or dropped.
Those goggles seemed strangely familiar to him, though he couldn't exactly place it. It was more, he supposed, that he just couldn't remember where he had seen them. He always remembered Rabbit's ritual, though, and how careful he was putting the goggles onto the new hat.
This time, he had missed the strange ritual, but he also had the opportunity to get a close look at the hat – and those mysterious goggles. They looked very old, worn around the edges and dulled and weathered from age. The lenses were pretty much useless, though one side lit up like its own little flash light, possibly illuminating whatever one was looking at through them?
The footsteps coming up the hallway didn't particularly occur to him. He wasn't supposed to be around the things that were being packed, but there was nothing wrong with just looking, right? No, nothing at all. Pleased at his own self confirmation, he continued to look over the hat and goggles.
That is, until the door banged open.
In his confusion and haste, the Jon did the only thing he could think of: he flung the hat down and spun around to face the person who'd entered, noting with an oddly sick feeling in his boiler that he heard an unpleasant crack when the thing hit the table. Hats did not make a “crack” sound. Goggles did, and it was Rabbit at the door.
“Jon, what're you d-doin' in here?” He gave his youngest brother a quizzical look. “You know you're not su-su-supposed to be in he-he-...” The malfunction he'd been in the middle of trailed off when he spotted his hat and the broken goggles on the table behind the little brass robot, rushing forward. “M-m-m-m-my goggles! Jon, what did-id you do?!”
The Jon shuffled a bit, clearly worried. It wasn't as though he'd meant to break them. “I... I was only looking, Rabbit, I didn't-”
The eldest automaton spun on him, and his expression was one the Jon had only seen on painfully rare occasions. Rabbit was angry.
Worse, he was angry with him. “Y-y-y-y-y-you know you're not allowed in here, the Jon!” Steam was puffing from his cheek vents, his hands clenched into fists at his sides. “Now look wha-wha-what you've done!”
“Rabbit, they're just goggles-”
“THEY BE-BE-BE-BELONGED TO PAPPY!” Though the Jon jerked back, staring at Rabbit with an expression of distress and fear, the older automaton couldn't stop himself. He loved those goggles. Col. Walter had given him those goggles. The Jon wouldn't have known... he knew he shouldn't be yelling. “An-an-an-and you BROKE them! C-c-c-c-can't you do any-any-anything right?!”
He tried to calm himself down. This was not going to solve anything, and it wasn't like the Jon really had that much comprehension that he'd even done something wrong to start. It was an accident. Accidents like that often just happened around the Jon, without anyone knowing when or how they would start. The look on the youngest robot's face was heartbreaking. To do something that angered one of the humans or the Spine was one thing, but it was quite another to upset Rabbit.
Rabbit did not yell. He laughed off accidents and brushed away insecurities with his jittery laugh and ability to ignore small slights, shortcomings, or silly pranks. This time, though, the Jon had hit a proverbial nerve and Rabbit had snapped at his little brother. He felt miserable, and now the words were out, hanging heavy in the air between them.
They were words he could not take back. The Jon didn't say anything. He didn't try to defend himself, nor did he speak when Rabbit drew back. When his brother reached for his arm, however, he was off like a shot, tearing out of the room. Rabbit was well aware he had no chance of catching him now. Looking down at the broken goggles, he made a face, entirely frustrated with himself. Goggles could be fixed, but the words that fell out of his mouth in a moment of anger could never be patched over.
The Jon did not look back when he tore out of the room, darting up stairways and through hallways until he found an old, unused lab, curling up as tightly as he could in the corner, knees up to his chest and arms wrapped around his head. Anger was an emotion he never truly understood, as he had never truly felt it himself. When others were angry with him, other things hit him more than the fury. Exhaustion from the Spine when the Jon accidentally shredded one of his fedoras, strained patience from Sam when yet another sandwich ended up covering a wall. Disappointment was his least favorite, though he rarely heard it. He rarely messed up to a level that warranted disappointment from one of his companions.
This time, he had. The fury had been clear enough for even him to understand, but worse was that he had broken something very dear to Rabbit and Rabbit was disappointed in him. What if Rabbit hated him now?
He sat in that corner for a very long time, rocking quietly, trying to hum reassuring melodies to himself, but unlike other things which flitted from his mind at any given moment, Rabbit's words continued to ring and echo in his head. Why couldn't he do anything right?
Such a screw-up, he was. He hiccuped a bit. Rabbit malfunctioned sometimes, sure, and he was a bit mischievous, but he usually avoided doing anything that did lasting or serious damage. The Spine was always the well behaved one... no one ever had to scold him.
All too often, he realized, he said and did things that made the others angry. It all made sense now. Angry... that was the most common response to a problem. In this case, the problem was the Jon.
He curled up tighter, flinching away when a pair of arms wrapped around his shoulders, very human fingers patting his springy curls. “Hey there, Jon. Come on, now, stop that. What's the matter?”
It was odd, not feeling any comfort at hearing his best friend's voice. Michael was always a good person and the Jon trusted him without question. No one was a dearer friend to him. It was only when he realized that his silent treatment was not driving the human away that he finally leaned into the hug. “I've made Rabbit very angry. I broke his goggles.”
“It was an accident and you didn't mean to do it,” Michael soothed, glancing down at him. “Rabbit just lost his temper. We're all pretty stressed. This is a really big show. It's nothing I can't fix; I promise.”
The Jon was silent, but he did finally lift his head a little bit. “Am I a nuisance, Michael?”
Startled, Michael blinked at him. “Of course you're not a nuisance, Jon. You're my robro, right? And Rabbit knows you didn't mean any harm.”
Shaking his head, the Jon pulled back a little bit. “Then why didn't he come up?”
“Because he was afraid you would run if you came in to find him. You tend to trust me more.” Michael smiled, gently ruffling the mop of copper curls that composed the Jon's wig. “I promise you're not a nuisance.”
They sat in silence for a moment, Michael still hugging his smaller brass friend close, waiting until the Jon was comfortable again. “...are we still going to do Make Believe at the show?”
The human immediately grinned, sitting back to play cuff the robot across the chin. “Of course! You'll see. No one's got a problem with you at all right now. It was an accident, and nothing we can't fix.”
He gave the metal shoulder a hearty pat, then sprung to his feet and offered a hand. He was not going to reject the offer, of course, and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. He put on a smile, and accepted Rabbit's profuse, stuttering apologies as soon as they'd found him. They played I Spy on the trip to the show, and no one seemed to be the wiser.
But as they stood on stage, singing for the many people who'd come to see the famous Steam Man Band perform, the memories lingered. Everyone always thought the Jon forgot.
No one suspected that the pained melancholy laced in with his words as he sang that night could have meant he never would.