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Roommates - Ch. 30 (The Abyss)

Jun 18th, 2016
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  1. Roommates has moved! You can now read it at Archive of Our Own: http://archiveofourown.org/works/11250126/navigate
  2.  
  3. Roommates - Ch. 30 (The Abyss): http://i.imgur.com/rguK2gW.png
  4. Inspired by Weaver's Five Nights at Freddy's Apartment AU: http://i.imgur.com/LnDJVNL.png
  5. Part of an ongoing series written for the /5N@F/ General Discussion Thread at /vg/.
  6. Sincerest thanks to Weaver (http://tgweaver.tumblr.com/) for all of the invaluable assistance in writing, proofreading, and editing this story as well as for illustrating the chapter title cards.
  7. Additionally, thanks to Systemeth (http://pastebin.com/u/Systemeth) for proofreading and editing this chapter.
  8. Questions or comments? Drop me an ask at http://roommatesau.tumblr.com/
  9.  
  10. ---
  11.  
  12. "So Schmidt, not ta make it uncomfortable or anythin', but you know I gotta bring it up -- where in the blue blazes have y'all been, son?" Fritzine asks as she drags you to a standing position. Still suffering from your diaphragm spasm, you can't manage to force the words out of your mouth, not that you'd have a plausible answer even if you could reply.
  13.  
  14. As you lean against one of Bot Bay's many workstations to catch your breath, it finally, FINALLY clicks in your head: the missing fourth mascot's name is "Schmidt". You suppose that explains Cheeky's words from earlier as well as Beanie's minor freakout in the mall's parking lot the other night. Even considering the overabundance of "Bonnies" and "Chicas" and so forth running around, you'd never have guessed there was someone sharing your name in this social circle -- let alone that it would be a machine. You could kick yourself for missing the obvious coincidence if you weren't just trying to get air back into your lungs.
  15.  
  16. "Well? Speak up, Schmidt!" Fritzine orders, her tone a manic cocktail of cheerful aggression. "Somethin' wrong with yer voicebox?"
  17.  
  18. You adamantly shake your head. "N-no, I'm fine," you croak, wiping tears from your eyes. Something in your side hurts just to touch -- you're positive you've got at least a couple cracked ribs, maybe worse.
  19.  
  20. "Aw, shoot. Did I crunch yer innards with that hug just now?" she groans, rapping a fist against her metal head in a childlike imitation of self-punishment. "Darn it all t'heck, I forget m'own strength sometimes. Prob'ly knocked a couple wires loose."
  21.  
  22. "It's okay, r-really. Just gimme a minute," you stammer as you involuntarily gulp down precious oxygen.
  23.  
  24. "I'll have it fixed in no time," Fritzine blithely insists, eyes glowing like lighthouse beacons as she scans you again. "Alright, up you go!"
  25.  
  26. Beanie watches in wordless terror from her spot on the floor as Fritzine effortlessly manhandles you onto a nearby work table, dropping you onto your back with a thump.
  27.  
  28. "Gotta tell you, Schmidt, I didn't think we were ever gonna see you 'round these parts again," she chatters idly as she begins fastening you to the table.
  29.  
  30. You look to Beanie pleadingly, trying to signal with your eyes for her to do something, but she's too frozen with fear to even so much as twitch. The haunting phone call from the first night begins to replay in your head as you realize you're about to be dissected like a biology class frog.
  31.  
  32. "Uh, Fritzine? This really isn't necessary, you know," you beg, panic surging through your voice. "Don't we have a, a show or something? G-gotta go sing for the kids, right?"
  33.  
  34. Fritzine gives you a bemused look, her mechanical jaw bending into the rough shape of a wry smile. "Nonsense! Store's closed for today, so Jeremy told us we got the place to ourselves. Why d'ya think we're not havin' to stand around on the stage like wallflowers? Now quit your bellyachin' an' lemme do my darn job, ya lunk!"
  35.  
  36. Moving with precision and efficiency only a machine could possess, Fritzine fetters you to the platform with an array of vices and clamps likely designed to hold the animatronics in place for maintenance. You're not even close to the same size as Fritzine or any of her companions, so what might normally be a "comfortable" fit for one of them makes you feel like you're being drawn and quartered. Pain erupts anew in your already injured leg, and before your neck is pinned down you're able to catch a glimpse of a dark red stain widening on your tattered pants.
  37.  
  38. As Fritzine fastidiously works to adjust your bonds, the security tablet falls out of your coat pocket, clattering onto the floor.
  39.  
  40. "Well, would you look at that," Fritzine says as she stoops to collect the fallen gadget. "Here y'are, not even home for a full day yet and you're already back to ensurin' the safety of the restaurant again! You're a one-of-a-kind bot, Safety Schmidt."
  41.  
  42. "You know me," you grimace, struggling against your bonds.
  43.  
  44. "So I see you've gotten some design tweaks -- smaller frame, more compact," she comments, scrutinizing you like a jeweler examining a freshly-cut diamond. "That's good, kids'll love havin' someone at eye level."
  45.  
  46. "I'm not THAT short," you mutter. She picks up the screwdriver you attempted to stab her with, experimentally jabbing your elbow with it.
  47.  
  48. "Ow! Fritzine, stop!"
  49.  
  50. "New shell, too," she continues, oblivious to your pain. "Synth skin's too dadgum soft, though. They really safety-rated this for kids?"
  51.  
  52. There's that word again -- 'safety'. Safety-rated. And earlier, she called you Safety Schmidt -- which you realize Cheeky mentioned when you were talking to her on the tablet earlier. Safety...
  53.  
  54. An idea suddenly strikes you -- it's a long shot, but it's the only chance you have of getting out of here in one piece. You're not sure of why you've been mistaken for the missing character, but the inability of these faulty things to tell humanimatronics apart from actual humans could very well be a blessing in disguise. Measuring your words and tone carefully, you watch as she sets the tablet aside before turning her attention back to deciding what tool she wants to gore you with next.
  55.  
  56. "Fritzine, in the interest of security I'm ordering you to stand down," you insist in the most monotonous, robotic drone you can manage. Your fear-addled nerves and pain-wracked torso almost cause your voice to break, but you soldier through it. "I'm not 'safe' right now."
  57.  
  58. She pauses digging through her toolbox. "Yer not safe? Whattya mean?" she asks dangerously. "Schmidt, how'm I s'posed to fix ya if I can't take ya apart to know what's wrong?"
  59.  
  60. "That's exactly my point," you reply, straining your neck to make eye contact with the deranged robot preparing to carve you like a thanksgiving turkey. "You DON'T know what's wrong with me. I just got back from the factory. For new upgrades."
  61.  
  62. "Schmidt, I need you t'level with me," Fritzine says, worry creeping into her digitized voice. "This gonna be a thing for all of us? Our last redesign was bad enough and y'all KNOW how I feel 'bout aftermarket parts!"
  63.  
  64. You swallow. The guy you're supposed to be is like a cop or guard or something, right? Gotta sound official. "I was chosen to be a prototype for a new design. You're not familiar with the new schematics," you insist authoritatively. "Protocol dictates any on-site repair requires extensive familiarity with all related manuals."
  65.  
  66. "M-manuals?!" Fritzine sputters angrily, slamming her fist on the table next to you. "Ya know I hate wastin' valuable work hours with red tape when I could be wrenchin' instead!"
  67.  
  68. "Those are the rules!" you snap back heatedly, getting further into character. "No manual? No maintenance! You cut the wrong wire or even worse, you rupture my power supply because you're more interested in experimenting? You could start an electrical fire and the whole place'll burn to cinders! You said yourself the restaurant's closed today, so corporate wouldn't even know!"
  69.  
  70. "I -- just a quick peek, Schmidt?" she pleads. "You don't even have t'let me adjust anythin', just gimme a chance to pop the hood and get an idea of what I'm lookin' at? I gotta-- I gotta know!"
  71.  
  72. "Not a chance, Fritzine," you demand. "I won't let you put a customer -- or worse, a child in danger! What if you loosen something you shouldn't and I come apart on them while we're trying to pose for a photo op? You want to be responsible for getting a kid's head cleaved in half?"
  73.  
  74. You stare at her icily, hoping she's bought it. She visibly struggles to process the information she's been given, but after several seconds of consideration -- an eternity of thinking for such an advanced computer -- she acquiesces.
  75.  
  76. "No, I suppose we can't risk that," Fritzine finally says at length as she reluctantly begins untethering you from the table. You lower yourself to your feet, wincing slightly as you put weight onto your aching leg. At least the bleeding's stopped for now.
  77.  
  78. Fritzine begins gathering her tools up. "Darn it, Schmidt, I hate it when ya get all logical on me," she huffs.
  79.  
  80. "Logic's what we do," you respond stiffly. "I'm just doing my job and looking out for the safety of the customers."
  81.  
  82. She bucks up a little, wrapping her arm around you -- albeit far more gently than before. "Yeah, yeah. Yer right."
  83.  
  84. "Good," you answer with a mechanical nod. "Now let me and Jeremy here get back to work." You lower a hand to Beanie to help her to her feet, making sure you shield her from Fritzine's view with your own body as much as possible.
  85.  
  86. "Oh no y'don't. Y'still ain't answered my question about modifications," she snaps. "I ain't puttin' any kind of cheap, third-rate vendor trash in me. I've done dealt with enough unauthorized components t'know I want no part of it."
  87.  
  88. "What is it with you and 'parts' anyway?" you testily reply, glancing over your shoulder at Beanie to check on her -- she's huddled up behind you, avoiding eye contact with both you and Fritzine. You take hold of one of her bound wrists, trying to signal that you're ready to bail out. She gives you a shaky nod in response, and the two of you begin moving towards the airlock door to put distance between yourselves and the insane robot.
  89.  
  90. "G-get the tablet," Beanie whispers to you, her body trembling under your grip. You nod, grabbing it and returning it to your coat. You can practically hear Beanie's knees knocking as she hovers behind you.
  91.  
  92. "Y'really want to know? All ya gotta do is take a look for yerself," Fritzine boldly attests in response to your question, jabbing a finger at a metal storage locker near the exit. "They're all categorized nice an' neat in case I ever have to return 'em to corporate."
  93.  
  94. She brushes past you, opening the cabinet door as you and Beanie advance through the lab. Packed tightly inside Fritzine's storage vault are rows of glass vials and jars filled with all sorts of cloudy, murky fluids. Each one is labeled with a name, but several of them have pictures pasted to the sides as well.
  95.  
  96. "See? Cheap, inferior materials, probably outsourced to overseas manufacturers -- can't trust 'em," Fritzine says, producing a jar at random and shaking it like a magic eight ball. You can see something tiny floating inside, but you can't make out what it is. "They break down after just a couple weeks o' use. I've been stockpilin' evidence t'present to the bigwigs overhead, but they don't return my calls."
  97.  
  98. Your stomach flops upon realizing what's inside that cabinet -- the 'unauthorized' parts the phone call mentioned come from flesh-and-blood creatures, not robots. As Fritzine's closing the cabinet door, one of the containers inside catches your attention -- a small, round beaker with a cork lid, filled to the brim with crimson fluid. "MANGIFERA" is printed in all caps on a tag tied to the neck of the vessel. You feel like you've heard that word before, but you can't immediately place what it means.
  99.  
  100. ...wait, was that an eyeball?
  101.  
  102. "Anywho, back to work," she announces, opening the airlock door for you.
  103.  
  104. "Affirmative," you reply, tugging Beanie along through the exit. "Restaurant's not going to secure itself."
  105.  
  106. Fritzine folds her arms as the two of you leave. "Go do yer thing, but as soon as I get my hands on this new manual or whatever your keister's comin' back fer repairs, y'hear?"
  107.  
  108. "Ten-four," you reply, snapping off a rigid salute.
  109.  
  110.  
  111.  
  112. You and Beanie quickly limp through the dining room, stumbling over the mess of decorations and overturned furniture in your haste to get to the restaraunt's entrance.
  113.  
  114. "What happened in here?" you ask Beanie, shoving a chair out of her way as you look around the room for any signs of a potential animatronic ambush.
  115.  
  116. "Fritzine," she replies evasively. "I didn't go along willingly."
  117.  
  118. Satisfied no other animatronics are going to lurch out and tag you, you turn back to Beanie. "Figures. I'm glad you're okay. If something had happened I--"
  119.  
  120. "Mike."
  121.  
  122. You pause mid-sentence, whirling to look at her. She's still wearing the Jeremy Human mask, but you can see her red, tired eyes peering out at you through the holes. "What? What is it?"
  123.  
  124. "You're still doing it. The, um -- the voice. You can stop now," she says, quivering slightly.
  125.  
  126. "What voice? What do you mean?"
  127.  
  128. She draws a heavy breath. "For a minute there I almost forgot you weren't really Schmidt. You even sounded like him, just like one of them," Beanie timidly clarifies. "Fritzine bought it, and in the dark, I almost couldn't tell the difference."
  129.  
  130. Between your hangover, the blood loss from your leg wound, and your adrenaline rush petering out, you feel overwhelmed by a sense of crippling enervation. Her words sink into your spine like an ice pick, slowing your pace to a stagger. Your mind whirls back to the day when you first met Beanie, and her initial reaction upon opening the door to her brother's apartment only to see you instead.
  131.  
  132. "Is that why you slammed the door in my face when we met?" you softly question. "You thought I was one of those -- things?"
  133.  
  134. She doesn't respond. She doesn't need to.
  135.  
  136. Swallowing the lump in your suddenly very parched throat, you turn your focus back to the entrance. You're only vaguely aware of Bonworth and Fred cheering from outside as you pull the tablet from your pocket.
  137.  
  138. "How do I hook this thing up, Jeremy?" you ask as you try to figure out how to connect it to the locking mechanism. Beanie stares at you as you turn to look at her. "Well?"
  139.  
  140. "...Mike?"
  141.  
  142. "What?" you inquire. "Just -- please! Tell me how I get us out of here. Is there a cable or something?"
  143.  
  144. She's shaking like a leaf in the wind right about now. Even Bonnibel would look more together by comparison. "Main menu," she finally manages to spit out. "Door, uh, lock. There's a, um, door lock button." You're not really sure of what she's trying to say, but you're able to puzzle it out after pressing random options on the tablet's menus. After fiddling with it enough the lock audibly clicks open, the red light on the handle turning green as an indicator that you may pass through.
  145.  
  146. As soon as it unlocks Bonworth's already tugging the door open for the two of you. He softly catches Beanie up into his bulky arms before she can even finish walking outside, pulling her from the building and out to safety. She shakes the plastic mask loose from her head as he embraces her fiercely, tears streaming down both of their faces. Bonworth quietly whispers soothing words in her ear as stress and grief finally overwhelm her, sobs wracking her slender frame.
  147.  
  148. You calmly walk out onto the sidewalk next to Fred, who's standing by his car watching the siblings' reunion from a respectful distance. He too seems emotional, though he's doing a far better job of managing his feelings than Bonworth who's openly crying alongside his sister. As you approach, he looks down at you, seemingly struggling to phrase what he wants to say. After a moment's hesitation he finally settles on placing one of his sizable paws on your shoulder, gripping it softly.
  149.  
  150. "You did good," he says, no trace of his usual disapproval or stern demeanor in his tone. It's probably the most earnest you've ever seen him. You draw a ragged breath, silently nodding in acknowledgement as you place the security tablet down on a nearby bench.
  151.  
  152. Eventually, Beanie succeeds in pulling it together, leaning away from her brother. "Wh-what happened to your arms?" Bonworth asks in astonishment. Biting her swollen lip, Beanie wordlessly turns to show him the electrical tape wrapped around her wrists. "Oh, geez -- Fred, you got a pair of scissors handy?"
  153.  
  154. "Yeah. Just a minute." Fred opens the trunk of his car and after rummaging around produces a utility knife from his box of office supplies.
  155.  
  156. "Hang on, I'll cut that loose," he murmurs as Bonworth turns Beanie's back towards him. Fred gently slices through the thick, sticky tape, taking care to not nick her in the process. Once Beanie's hands are free, she staggers forward, retrieving the mask from where she sloughed it off earlier. Clutching it to her chest, she looks up at Fred, her battered face unreadable.
  157.  
  158. "Something to write with?" she rasps.
  159.  
  160. Fred shrugs, tossing the knife back in the trunk. "I've got just about every type of writing implement you could want."
  161.  
  162. "Pen, marker. Whatever," Beanie says. With a curious nod, Fred pulls a black felt-tip marker out of his box and hands it to her. She takes it in an unsteady paw, placing the mask down on the bench next to the tablet. Kneeling to the ground, Beanie begins to write on the surface of the mask. Satisfied, she caps the marker and returns it to Fred.
  163.  
  164. Walking towards the pizzeria's entrance, Beanie rips off one of the pieces of tape still attached to her wrist, hissing as it takes a good chunk of her fur with it. She holds the costume piece up to the restaurant's front door by its elastic strap, affixing the tape to it so that it'll hang just above the company logo etched into the glass. You squint, reading the message scrawled directly across the surface of the mask in shaky handwriting.
  165.  
  166.  
  167. TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN,
  168.  
  169. FUCK YOU. I QUIT.
  170.  
  171. WARMEST REGARDS,
  172. BONITA RABBINSON
  173.  
  174.  
  175. "Lil bunny?" Bonworth cautiously ventures as he looks at her "notice" of resignation. Without even stopping to admire her handiwork, Beanie staggers over to the car. Fred opens the door for her, his face heavy with obviously mixed feelings. She wordlessly climbs into the back seat, sliding over to make room for you.
  176.  
  177. "Let's go," she says, turning to stare out the window. "And let's never come back."
  178.  
  179.  
  180.  
  181. "Ship's come in!" Haddock declares as you file in behind the others.
  182.  
  183. Quite the crowd has accumulated in 93-A's living room by the time your group returns. It almost feels like half the neighborhood's huddled around the common area, each with their own varied expressions of relief and anticipation upon seeing you walk in. Rackham and Bonbon are both seated on the floor by the coffee table, the latter looking uncharacteristically careworn. All of Bonworth's roommates are present and accounted for: Cheeky and Faz are seated on the couch while Haddock peers out through a cardboard tube from the safety of sloppily-constructed pillow fort. Chichi's in the process of nervously overwatering a potted plant as you walk in.
  184.  
  185. "Beanie!" Bonbon and Chichi whoop almost simultaneously, running towards their friend to greet her. Bonworth helps Beanie inside, a protective arm wrapped around her as she drowsily leans against him for support. While Chichi maternally frets over Beanie's wounds with a wingful of first-aid supplies, Bonbon begins peppering both of them with a rapid-fire assault of questions.
  186.  
  187. "What were you thinking?" Bonbon asks, her plush feet anxiously thumping up and down against the carpet like a furry jackhammer. "Why didn't you return any of my texts?! Didn't you know the pizzeria was closed for remodeling? How could you miss the memo? It was in the employees-only corporate newsletter that went out last night, didn't you read it?"
  188.  
  189. "Obviously not," Beanie deadpans, grimacing as Bonbon hovers anxiously around her.
  190.  
  191. "She's had a rough go of it, Bonbon," Bonworth says in an attempt to mediate. "Shoot, we all have. Could y'give her just a little space?"
  192.  
  193. "Obviously not," the hyperactive rabbit echoes. "I called your mom and filled her in on what was going on as soon as we heard from Fred."
  194.  
  195. "You can't be serious," Beanie growls. "Oh god. You are serious, aren't you."
  196.  
  197. "Whiskers, Bonbon! You got our mama involved?" Bonworth drags a paw down his face out of genuine frustration. "Now what the heck'd you go and do that for?!"
  198.  
  199. Bonbon's ears flatten against the back of her head, her cheeks burning with righteous indignance. "Gee, I dunno -- I was thinking maybe she'd have to scrape another one of my friends out of a faulty mascot costume?!" she shrieks before realizing what she's just said. "I-- oh, gosh. Sorry. I'm sorry, Faz!"
  200.  
  201. Faz waves her off, staring at Bonworth pointedly. "She's right to be concerned."
  202.  
  203. "Yeah, she is," Cheeky pipes up, almost as flustered as Bonbon. "If she hadn't called your mother, I would have. You gonna be pissed at me for wanting to keep her in the loop too, Bonnie?"
  204.  
  205. "Chica, don't do this to me," Bonworth mopes, slumping as he walks Beanie through the throng and into the living room. "Not today of all days."
  206.  
  207. Cheeky stands up from the couch to make room for Beanie. "You're her kids! What, you don't think she has a right to know?"
  208.  
  209. "Alright! That'll be enough infighting now," Chichi interjects, fighting back tears as she dabs at Beanie's black eye with a cotton ball. "Oh, your face is a mess. I hope your lip doesn't need stitches -- what exactly happened in there?"
  210.  
  211. Beanie gently shoves Chichi's wing away as she collapses next to Faz. "I really don't want to get into it right now," she says. "I'm already dreading having to go over it with my mom. Thanks again for that, Bonbon."
  212.  
  213. "God, you're the worst," Bonbon grumbles, stalking off to the kitchen with her arms folded.
  214.  
  215. "Hey, Mike," Cheeky whispers, waddling over to you. "You alright? You look like shit, dude."
  216.  
  217. "I'm okay," you lie, shrugging your coat off. It slips out of your grip, plopping onto the floor. You stare at it apathetically, unable to even muster the drive to pick it up off the ground. Cheeky wraps both of her wings around your chest to embrace you, only to pull back with a start when you wince in pain at the pressure placed on your side. Realizing you're hurt, she frowns.
  218.  
  219. "You really don't look okay, Mike," she says loudly enough for the room's benefit.
  220.  
  221. Conversation drops as everyone gathered perhaps just now begins to notice the condition you're in. Seizing his opportunity, Fred pulls his cell phone out of his pocket, muttering an excuse as he heads for his bedroom. All eyes are on you as Haddock lowers his makeshift spyglass, poking his muzzle fully out of his cushion tent. He gently sniffs at the air before climbing out of his fort altogether.
  222.  
  223. "Lad? Is that -- blood?"
  224.  
  225. You start to reply, opening and closing your mouth a few times, as if trying to give your tongue a running start. After multiple failed attempts at formulating a coherent response you simply give up on it altogether. Turning on your heel, you begin slowly walking down the hall towards your borrowed room.
  226.  
  227. "Mike? Mike! You're not going anywhere -- let me take a look at your leg!" Chichi orders, brushing past Cheeky to tend to you. "Mike! I said come back and let me clean that up! You don't want it to get infected!" She hurriedly chases you down with her first aid kit in tow.
  228.  
  229. You don't even look behind you to make eye contact with her or offer any kind of explanation as you trudge down the east hallway, heading towards the sanctity of Fred's office for some peace and quiet. The living room's abuzz with hushed whispers and frantic speculation about just what might have happened at Jeremy's -- but you honestly couldn't care less. There's literally nothing in the world you want more at the moment than to bury your head underneath a pillow and sleep for days.
  230.  
  231. "Mike, don't make this any harder than it has to be," Chichi urges before you close the door in her face. She shifts over to the window, giving you a haunting stare; you can see her breath forming on the glass as she gawks at you.
  232.  
  233. With a tired sigh, you nod to Fred before collapsing on the futon, pulling your blanket over your face as if that'll somehow make her go away. You don't even bother to take your shoes or bloodied jeans off -- you figure you'll apologize to Chichi for both your rudeness and your mess later, but at the moment, getting some sleep is your top priority.
  234.  
  235. Closing your eyes, you exhale heavily, willing yourself to slumber.
  236.  
  237. Wait a sec.
  238.  
  239. Your eyes snap open as it clicks that you're not alone in the office. "Sorry, Fred," you offer, tugging the blanket loose from your head. "I hope I'm not interrupting any..." You trail off, realizing it's not actually Fred you're speaking to. A tall, well-built male bear with vibrant fur the color of sunflower petals reclines in Fred's desk chair, paws clasped in front of himself. He's dressed somewhat plainly, wearing a violet button-up shirt and black slacks.
  240.  
  241. "Rough day?" he asks.
  242.  
  243. "Uh, hi," you respond groggily. "Yeah, it's been a really, uh, rough day. Sorry, I just assumed you were Fred. Have we met?"
  244.  
  245. "People have been known to confuse us," the bear replies. "You can call me Goldie." His voice even sounds similar to Fred's, though he's a bit softer-spoken, lacking Fred's characteristic gruffness.
  246.  
  247. "Hi, Goldie. My name's Mike." You shift to a sitting position to better look at him.
  248.  
  249. Goldie clasps his paws, smiling slightly. "I know."
  250.  
  251. "Yeah. I guess everyone in the complex must have heard of me by now," you mutter. "So, uh, are you dropping by, or...?"
  252.  
  253. "You don't have to make small talk, Mike," Goldie replies. "But you really shouldn't sleep on that leg. At least let Chica take a look at it."
  254.  
  255. Nodding, you reluctantly limp over to the window. Chichi's still lurking outside in the hallway, nervously clutching her first aid kit. She seems to be working up the nerve to barge in on you. With a sigh, you make it easy on her, opening the door up to let her into the room.
  256.  
  257. "Go ahead, Chichi," you offer as you collapse on the futon.
  258.  
  259. "Thanks, Mike," Chichi replies, working your shoes off and setting them aside. "I promise I'll be gentle. Can you, um..." She points to your ripped jeans, and with a grimace you unfasten your belt, sliding your pants off. You suppose she wouldn't be the first chicken to see you in your boxers today. Goldie turns his head politely, pretending to study Fred's collection of polaroid photos as Chichi begins cleaning your leg wound.
  260.  
  261. "Oh, it's just a scrape; this isn't too bad," Chichi declares. "It'll likely scar, but I don't think you're going to need stitches. This will sting a little, though."
  262.  
  263. "Sting? There's no way it can sting as much as being stretched out on a workbench and manhandled by a demented robot," you comment with a humorless laugh as she swabs your leg with alcohol.
  264.  
  265. Chichi looks up at you in horror, setting the alcohol bottle aside. "Are you serious? That's what happened?! We're trying but we can't get anything out of Bonnie -- she won't even talk about it."
  266.  
  267. "Don't forget to put some gauze on it," Goldie says.
  268.  
  269. Satisfied you won't get an infection, Chichi pulls a roll of gauze and some bandages out to finish wrapping your leg. "Mike, is it true that you rescued her from one of those -- monsters?"
  270.  
  271. You wince, elevating your leg as you recline on the futon. "Rescue might be an overstatement."
  272.  
  273. "If you got her out of there, it's a rescue, and that makes you a hero," Chichi softly protests. "Mike, Bonnie's my best friend. I know you're just trying to be humble, but from the absolute bottom of my heart, thank you for bringing her home to us." She leans across your chest, cradling your head in one wing. Pulling you close, she pecks your cheek in as much of a kiss as a beak can manage.
  274.  
  275. At a loss for words, you simply watch as she packs the remainder of her medical supplies up into the plastic box. "Cheeky said you looked like you were in pain when she tried to hug you, so I'm going to ask Bonnie's mom to take a look at you when she gets off of work," Chichi says. "She's a doctor. She'll be able to tell if you need any x-rays or anything."
  276.  
  277. "No doctors," you insist, bolting upright in a panic. If you thought Fritzine's workshop of horrors was bad, you can only imagine what a team of actual scientists would do if they found out a real live human was within their grasp. "I'm fine, Chichi, really -- just let me get some rest, okay?!"
  278.  
  279. "Better let her have this one," Goldie quietly suggests. "Once her mind's made up, she won't change it."
  280.  
  281. "Yeah, not happening," Chichi says, shaking loose a few more feathers. "Dr. Rabbinson is a sweet lady, Mike! She's been our family doctor for years -- you ARE going to let her look you over, and that's final. If it's about insurance, don't worry -- we'll make sure everything's taken care of."
  282.  
  283. You look to Goldie, who winks at you, then back to Chichi. "Fine -- but she'd better not amputate anything."
  284.  
  285. "Agreed. I won't let her have anything sharper than a set of safety scissors," Chichi jokes, but you can tell she's too rattled by both the day's events and your own behavior to really be feeling it. You reward her with a pained smile as she excuses herself from the office.
  286.  
  287. Standing up from the desk, Goldie brushes his shirt off. "Sleep well, Mike. Let's talk again later after you're feeling better."
  288.  
  289. "Oh, um, sure," you reply. "Will you be staying here a while, Goldie?" You're already imagining having to move apartments again if another new guest is going to inadvertently run you off like April did before.
  290.  
  291. "Actually, I've always been here," he replies. "My brother has a place for me, in the back."
  292.  
  293. "No kidding? I'm surprised we haven't run into each other sooner by now. Fred's your brother, I'm guessing?" Process of elimination -- unless he's adopted, you're pretty sure the only other bear under the roof is a safe bet.
  294.  
  295. Nodding, Goldie opens the door to let himself out. "See you later."
  296.  
  297. "Sounds good. Hey, uh, nice meeting you Goldie," you call out over your shoulder. "Sorry it wasn't on better terms."
  298.  
  299. He pauses halfway out the door, stroking his chin softly. "Nice to properly meet you too, Mike," he replies before disappearing down the hallway with a light-hearted chuckle. Properly?
  300.  
  301. With a shrug, you settle back down on the futon, nestling your head in your pillow.
  302.  
  303.  
  304.  
  305.  
  306. But you didn't really escape, did you.
  307.  
  308. You're back in the lab, strapped down on the maintenance workbench. This time you're held in place with chains and padlocks -- they really don't want you getting away. Beanie's still curled up under cover nearby, her Jeremy Human disguise still strapped to her face. Fritzine's learned from her mistake, having gone for backup; Jeremy and Darky stand by, ready to pounce at the slightest sign you're trying to escape.
  309.  
  310. You call out to Beanie, urging her to abandon you and run while she's able. She scrambles to her feet, taking off down the hallway as fast as she can -- but as soon as she moves, Darky outs her with a wave of his hook. Beanie's inherent rabbit agility is no match for Jeremy Human's lightning-fast processing speed. In seconds he outpaces her, grabbing her by her arm and dragging her back to Fritzine who's waiting to begin experimenting, tools in hand.
  311.  
  312. She cries out in pain as his razor-sharp claws slice through her flesh, severing muscle and going straight to the bone. As punishment for running, Jeremy rips her left arm from her body, sending it careening across the room in a spray of dark fluid. The severed extremity clangs as it rebounds off of the ground, ringing out in the inky blackness of the laboratory like a piece of pipe. Beanie's screaming bloody murder as the larger-than-life automatons force her onto the table. Fritzine's foaming at the mouth to begin disassembly. You jerk and fight against your bonds, yelling and swearing as you struggle to break loose, but just like before, you have no chance of freeing yourself let alone Beanie.
  313.  
  314. "Time to see what's underneath that face!" the crazed performers screech as Fritzine yanks Beanie's mask off. The plastic facade tears loose, revealing a hysterically sobbing Beanie. Jeremy Human wraps his knife-like fingers around her skull, tucking the tips of his blades under her chin as Beanie begs them to be merciful and kill her quickly.
  315.  
  316. "Kill ya?" Fritzine asks in an overexaggerated display of confusion. "Shoot, cousin! Why in the heck would we go and do that? We're gonna fix ya!"
  317.  
  318. "You've worn my face for so long, rabbit," Jeremy seethes. "Consider us even."
  319.  
  320. Before you can react, Fritzine wedges a crowbar into Beanie's mouth, stifling her cries. With one powerful swing, Beanie's face ejects off of her head like a pop-tab on a can of soda. Her eyeballs and teeth spill out of her facial cavity, rolling down her chest and across the floor as her tiny frame lurches with pain before finally, finally collapsing.
  321.  
  322. Silence falls as the animatronics step back to assess their handiwork. At a loss for words, you squeeze your eyes shut, but even that proves to be no refuge -- her lifeless body is still there. You can still see it, burned into your mind.
  323.  
  324. "All better!" Fritzine cheerfully declares as Jeremy steps back, the remains of Beanie's face clutched in his claws like a sadistic trophy. You begin to dry heave as you stare in shock at her butchered form.
  325.  
  326. Without provocation, Beanie -- or what's left of her -- begins to convulse. Her body creaks like an unoiled hinge as she slowly forces herself to a sitting position. Shifting her weight off of the table and onto her feet, she haltingly shambles towards you as if she were some undead monster out of a horror movie, one heavy footfall at a time.
  327.  
  328. Even though it's only a distance of less than ten feet, it feels like an eternity watching her plod in your direction. You thrash against the table helplessly trying to pull away, but the locks on your extremities make it impossible to budge even an inch. You're hyperventilating as you're forced to watch her reanimated corpse stutter and falter towards your prone form. Whatever they've done to her, she's beyond saving now, and soon you will be too.
  329.  
  330. Slowly, surely, Beanie lowers her empty head towards your face. No bone, sinew, or even blood is visible -- in fact, it's like looking into a hollowed-out gourd. There's simply a black hole where her visage should be.
  331.  
  332. "Beanie?" you whisper.
  333.  
  334. Her body begins to thrum as two red beacons light up inside her void of a head, bathing you in a sickly crimson radiance. Circuitry and wires run criss-cross throughout the entirety of her skull. Support struts jut out of her torso, penetrating the filthy lavender fabric that's a mockery of her usual fur. Placing her only arm on your chest causes you to shiver uncontrollably -- it's cold to the touch.
  335.  
  336. Cold like steel.
  337.  
  338. "Iᴛ's ʙᴇᴇɴ ᴀ ʟᴏɴɢ ᴛɪᴍᴇ, Mɪᴋᴇ," Beanie's voice crackles. "Cᴏᴍᴇ ʙᴀᴄᴋ ᴛᴏ ᴜs."
  339.  
  340.  
  341.  
  342. You tumble off of the futon in a cold sweat, gasping for breath. Your shirt and boxers are sticky with perspiration, your skin clammy and unpleasant to the touch. Fred's office is getting dark, and the house is much quieter than it was when you went to bed; the clock on the wall indicates you slept far longer than you wanted to. Staggering to your feet, you recoil as a dull, throbbing pain resurges through your wounded leg again.
  343.  
  344. You're half-expecting someone to burst into the room to check on you, but after two or three minutes of reorienting yourself, you realize nobody's coming. You're hoping you didn't piss everyone off earlier, but you've been feeling "wrong" ever since you came back from your first jaunt at Jeremy's.
  345.  
  346. Consider your curiosity sated; you've gotten more than enough of a look at the twisted world of Jeremy Human's to realize it's no place you want to be part of. If they're the only humans your friends have to go off of, it's no wonder Peanut and the others seem so repelled by them. It certainly makes Bonbon's infatuation with them seem all the more unhealthy.
  347.  
  348. After the trauma Beanie endured at Fritzine's maniacal hands -- not to mention whatever else she would have endured had you not shown up when you did -- you can't blame her or anybody else for not wanting anything to do with humans. You especially can't blame her for looking at you and being frightened stiff.
  349.  
  350. "For a minute there I almost forgot you weren't really Schmidt."
  351. "You even sounded like him. Just like one of them."
  352.  
  353. But you ARE one of them. Flesh and blood rather than springs and oil, sure, but despite everything, you're unquestionably a human -- and to these animal people, "human" is the symbol of everything that has caused them pain or misfortune. It's been so long since you really stopped and faced that fact. You haven't truly tried to claim it to anyone but Bonbon, and she's so delusional she probably didn't pay it a second thought. But you're as much of a human as Beanie is a rabbit or Fred is a bear.
  354.  
  355. In a way, you've passed so long as some "hairless monkey", you'd almost forgotten it wasn't true. You'd almost come to believe it yourself.
  356.  
  357. So the question remains -- what are you going to do when they figure out the truth? You shiver, imagining their terror, their disgust. Peanut's words from yesterday come back to mind.
  358.  
  359. "I don't think I'd ever want to meet one."
  360.  
  361. The repulsion, the distaste in his eyes -- it didn't bother you then. You were so far into this lie you didn't even realize the implications. At the time, it didn't seem to even apply to you, but now you know better.
  362.  
  363. What if they knew? What if they were made aware of your nature, if they could see you for what you really are? Would they still welcome you into their homes? Would they still smile at you, pet you, want to learn more about you? Would you be able to share a meal with them? Laugh with them? Would you still be able to enjoy the carefree lifestyle you've become accustomed to?
  364.  
  365. You try to shake the troubling thoughts from your mind. They don't know, not yet. You're going to do everything you can to keep it that way for as long as possible.
  366.  
  367. Dragging yourself over to your suitcase, you rummage around inside it for a clean change of clothes. You've just been stuffing your laundry into your bag without even bothering to fold or organize it. One of these days you need to see about getting some real furniture -- a dresser at the very least -- when you finally land somewhere more permanent. After all, you've been here for, what, over two weeks now? And somehow you still haven't found a solid "home"?
  368.  
  369. Home. Where IS home?
  370.  
  371. 87-B felt like home. Still kind of does, but you've made so many new friends along the way that you at least feel welcome in other apartments. After today, you could bury yourself in the room you shared with Frederick and never come out; if Bonnibel spent any amount of time at Jeremy Human's at all, it's no wonder she's a whackjob. Then again, considering what little torment you endured -- and you and Beanie are the ones that got away relatively unscathed -- it's a wonder you're NOT a whackjob.
  372.  
  373. Or maybe you are. Hell, how would you even know? You're the only human in the world, surrounded by cereal box mascots and Hanna-Barbera cartoon refugees. What basis of comparison do you have to ensure you're not completely stark-raving insane? Bonnibel's diagnosis of you being "broken like the rest of us" doesn't sound so far-fetched anymore.
  374.  
  375. Bonnibel... Bonnibel, Frederick, Chiclet.
  376. When did they stop being Bonnie, Freddy, and Chica to you?
  377.  
  378. Everyone else refers to their rabbit as "Bonnie" or their chicken as "Chica". Every apartment has a bear (two in the case of this one) as well as a bunny, a chicken, and a fox. Nicknames and appearances vary; some bunnies are blue and some are purple. Some foxes have pink makeup and some are pirate-like with red fur. Some bears are soft and cute, some bears are big and strong. At least all the chickens you've met are sociable and outgoing.
  379.  
  380. Thing is, which "set" of animal friends is truly yours? Who do you call "Foxy", who do you call "Bonnie"?
  381.  
  382. Is home where the Chica is?
  383.  
  384. Shaking your head, you exhale heavily. Your mind's running rampant with nonsense, and the only thing you're really sure of is how cripplingly, debilitatingly alone you feel. Earlier you just wanted to be left to yourself; now you want anything but.
  385.  
  386. Oh, and some food that isn't a burnt slice of toast would be nice too, you guess.
  387.  
  388. You strip down and hurriedly change into dry clothes, tossing your soaked underwear in a pile of your other dirty laundry by the corner. It's a little after six PM; hopefully you'll be able to catch dinner if you hurry. Limping down the hallway, you head into the living room fully expecting nobody to be around. To your great surprise, Cheeky and Fred as well as both Bonworth and Beanie are present; the latter two dozing next to each other in Fred's oversized chair, curled up under a shared blanket.
  389.  
  390. "Hey, Mike," Cheeky whispers to you, taking care not to wake the siblings. "Feeling any better?"
  391.  
  392. You shake your head. "No," you answer honestly. "Worse, actually. I'm sorry for barging out earlier, Cheeky; my head's not really in a good place right now."
  393.  
  394. "That's actually a good sign," Fred replies, getting up from the far end of the couch. "You and Bonnie have been through the wringer. We'd be a lot more worried if you were trying to play it up as if everything was fine."
  395.  
  396. Cheeky bobs her head in agreement. "Fred's right. There's absolutely no shame in admitting you're not doing well, Mike."
  397.  
  398. You're not sure you have anything to say, so you just nod quietly. You can't even force a smile or crack a joke -- you've got nothing left in you.
  399.  
  400. "The others went to go get dinner for everybody as well as pick up Dr. Rabbinson from the emergency clinic," Cheeky murmurs. "She's going to swing by and take a look at you and Beanie. And then she's probably going to take both of them back home and chew them out for hours."
  401.  
  402. Nodding again, you look around the room, feeling lost and overwhelmed. Perhaps sensing as much, Cheeky takes your hand and pulls you gently over to the couch next to herself. You fall into the cushions next to her.
  403.  
  404. "There we are," Cheeky soothes as you curl up against her body. She gently strokes your back with her soft down.
  405.  
  406. Fred comes back from the kitchen with a mug of coffee in his paws. He hands it to you, and even though you're not up to drinking it, there's something wholly therapeutic about the warmth of the mug in your hands.
  407.  
  408. "Thanks," you whisper, losing yourself in the inky brown liquid.
  409.  
  410. Retaking his seat, Fred puts his feet up on the ottoman. "Anything for family."
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