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Roommates - Ch. 29 (The Threshold)

May 27th, 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. 29 (The Threshold): http://i.imgur.com/oEMSRjU.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. Questions or comments? Drop me an ask at http://roommatesau.tumblr.com/
  8.  
  9. ---
  10.  
  11. You feel like you've been hit by a truck.
  12.  
  13. You open your eyes and immediately regret the decision to do so. The sunlight filtering in through the window might as well be a spotlight aimed at your face, exacerbating your already intense headache. You roll over onto your side in an attempt to get away from the offending solar rays, only to discover that you're suspended in what feels like a pool full of water. Startled, you begin to panic, flailing and flopping around atop your gelatin prison. Before you can get too worked up, however, something soft and warm presses firmly against your chest.
  14.  
  15. "Whoa there cowboy, settle down!" Cheeky orders, pinning you in place with one of her wings. "You're gonna buck both of us off the bed if you're not careful."
  16.  
  17. "Wh-- Cheeky?" you slur, tilting your head slightly towards the sound of her voice. "Where'm I...?"
  18.  
  19. She releases you as you relax your body. "Hey now, you don't mean to tell me you forgot all that stuff about getting married, right?" she says. "We're on our honeymoon, Mike!"
  20.  
  21. Your eyes snap open as you lean upright to look at her. She's got the biggest shit-eating grin plastered all over her face as she basks in your surprised reaction.
  22.  
  23. "Relax, I'm just messing with you," she chortles. "You crashed here last night after all those quesadillas and drinks didn't sit well with you, remember?"
  24.  
  25. "Ugh, don't remind me," you groan as you collapse against her pillow. Laying back, your hungover brain catches up to the information that you're actually in bed with someone. Panic returns anew as you lift the cover to see if you're dressed or not. You have your boxers and shirt, but your jeans are nowhere to be found.
  26.  
  27. "Hey, um, Cheeky?" you ask as delicately as you can manage. "Please don't take this the wrong way, but--"
  28.  
  29. "Nope," she interjects. "You passed out across my lap while we were on the sofa, but after an hour or so you looked uncomfortable so I brought you in here and laid you out on my bed. That said, I would just like to point out that you did ask to take me up on my previous offer last night while you were plastered."
  30.  
  31. You study her face for a few seconds before giving her a sleepy half-smile.
  32.  
  33. "It's too bad," you manage, relief nevertheless setting in. If you were going to do anything with anyone, you'd at least want to be coherent for it. Cheeky shifts a little on the waterbed to face you better, her usual coquettish smirk back in place.
  34.  
  35. "What, that you needed beer goggles?" she asks.
  36.  
  37. "Nah," you reply, pressing a hand against your forehead to try to stem the pain. "It's too bad that I needed liquid courage."
  38.  
  39. Chuckling, she ruffles your hair. "Hah! Well, I'll remember that next time you show up reeking of microwave Mexican food and alcohol," she says. "So, you ready to get up and face the day or do you want to loll out here a little longer?"
  40.  
  41. "What time is it?"
  42.  
  43. "Little after six, looks like."
  44.  
  45. The truth is you could stand to lay here for a lot longer -- the waterbed is surprisingly comfortable. Still, you don't want to throw your sleep schedule out of whack any more than it already is.
  46.  
  47. "I guess I'll go ahead and get it in gear," you answer. "Oh, uh, Cheeky?"
  48.  
  49. "Yeah, Mike?"
  50.  
  51. Carefully, you reach a hand behind her back, pulling her toward you. She doesn't resist as you gently work your way closer to her side, enveloping her in an awkward half-hug.
  52.  
  53. "I really appreciate everything you guys have done for me," you murmur, lightly pressing your lips to her cheek. "I needed to be around friends after the last couple of days I've had."
  54.  
  55. She's visibly taken aback for a split second, but she recovers quickly. "Well, Mike, I have something real important to tell you too," she says. "And I want you to take this to heart, because it's very important to me."
  56.  
  57. You nod, leaning in closely as she works up the nerve to tell you what she has to say. Pulling you into her generous bosom, she presses the tip of her beak to your right ear. The hairs on the back of your neck bristle in anticipation of her confession, your face flushing with excitement.
  58.  
  59. "Dude, go brush your teeth," she whispers. "Your breath's kinda ripe."
  60.  
  61. "Ugh, you're horrible," you mutter as she giggles to herself, rolling out of bed with ease. "Here I was thinking we were having a moment!"
  62.  
  63. "We were," she laughs. "And there's no saying we can't have that moment another time because you KNOW I'd love to -- but maybe our first real kiss shouldn't taste like cheap beer and stale nacho cheese sauce."
  64.  
  65. "Is that a promise?" you ask.
  66.  
  67. Cheeky runs her tongue along the ridges of her beak, smirking at you. "It can be."
  68.  
  69. "Well then, that's good enough for me." You attempt to mimic her exit from the waterbed only to flop off the side, awkwardly thumping into the carpet with all the grace of a brick falling out a window. "Oof!"
  70.  
  71. "Nice disembark," she snarks, trotting around the side of the bed. "The little ballerina twirl you did with your feet at the end, too? Ten out of ten."
  72.  
  73. "Clearly I'm better in bed than out of it," you groan as she helps you up off the floor.
  74.  
  75. "I'll be the judge of that," Cheeky says. "Alright, alright. All this half-assed innuendo's making me hungry. Why don't you clean up so we can go see about breakfast?"
  76.  
  77. You stumble forward with a thumbs-up. "On it," you reply before pausing to look around her bedroom in bewilderment. "Oh, have you seen my jeans? I seem to, uh, be making a habit of losing them lately."
  78.  
  79. "They're probably in the washer," she replies with a raised eyebrow. "I'd have let you sleep in them, but your shoes were in the way and I didn't want them to puncture the waterbed."
  80.  
  81. "Oh, alright," you reply. Hand on the doorknob, something clicks in your brain as you turn back to look at her. "Wait, why'd you have to take my pants off if the problem was just my shoes--"
  82.  
  83. "Oops!" she interrupts, ushering you outside. "Oh well, too late now! I'll get you some fresh clothes from downstairs while you shower. Off you go then!"
  84.  
  85. Rolling your eyes as you realize you've been played, you reluctantly pad out into the living room. "You're the worst, Cheeky."
  86.  
  87. "Don't I know it!"
  88.  
  89.  
  90.  
  91. After showering, you feel better than you did when you first woke up -- not enough to go running a marathon, but you're at least semi-functional. While this isn't your first hangover, you're not much of a stiff drinker; the occasional beer or social drink every now and then is about all you normally need. Of course, the aftermath of yesterday was an exception.
  92.  
  93. You're not thrilled about the headache, but you are grateful that you were able to get out with some friends and relax even though you almost ended up in a bar fight. Fortunately, thanks to timely intervention from Faz, everyone made it home unscathed.
  94.  
  95. As you begin brushing your teeth, there's a series of gentle taps at the door. Hastily making sure you're wrapped in a towel with nothing embarrassing hanging out, you peek outside. To your surprise, Haddock's standing in the hall with a fresh change of clothes for you in his arms.
  96.  
  97. "Mornin', lad. Good t'see ye lookin' more ship-shape t'day," he says, smiling toothily. "Last night ye were greener than seaweed after imbibin' all that bad grog."
  98.  
  99. "Morning, sailor," you reply as you accept your clothing from him. "You bet I was. I think I'll be sticking to the cherry stuff you recommended."
  100.  
  101. "Aye, that'd be wise. Get kitted up then, don' want to keep th' wench waiting on her breakfast rations."
  102.  
  103. "Good advice, that," you grin before shutting the door to get dressed.
  104.  
  105. By the time you make it out to the "galley" as Foxy might say, he's already drifted off to the living room to watch TV. Cheeky's the only other person awake right now, lazily flipping through a newspaper.
  106.  
  107. "Feeling any better?" she asks.
  108.  
  109. "Yeah, some," you reply, rubbing your temples. "Still got a headache but I figure that'll go away on its own soon enough."
  110.  
  111. Cheeky sets her paper aside as she follows you into the kitchen. "Want a piece of classic Cheeky advice for dealing with a hangover? Charred toast."
  112.  
  113. "How's that supposed to help?" you ask, skeptical. "Wouldn't that just make me MORE nauseated?"
  114.  
  115. She taps the side of her head with a feathertip, winking. "The carbon in the burnt crust filters out the impurities from the alcohol, kind of like how a water filter does."
  116.  
  117. "No kidding?" you reply in awe. "That's so crazy it just might work."
  118.  
  119. "Take it with a can of ginger ale from the fridge and you'll be feeling better in no time," she says. "Hell, if you want to make some pancakes, I'll make you some toast."
  120.  
  121. You shrug, heading for the cupboards. "Hey, I'm willing to try anything as long as it doesn't make it worse."
  122.  
  123. After whipping up pancakes and nuking some frozen sausage links in the microwave for Cheeky and Foxy, you take a seat at the sofa with your own less-than-appetizing meal of charcoal. It tastes about as well as can be expected but you're able to choke the majority of it down with a liberal application of ginger ale.
  124.  
  125. "Ugh. Okay, I think that's about all of that I can take," you grumble after a piece and a half, shoving the remaining crusts aside.
  126.  
  127. "That's fine," Cheeky replies, licking syrup off of her feathers. "It'll take a bit to kick in but I promise you'll be feeling better soon enough."
  128.  
  129. "Do I want to know how you figured this little remedy out?" you ask as you brush some blackened crumbs off of your shirt.
  130.  
  131. "I went to college for mechanical engineering, Mike," she says. "You know how many beer bongs I built out of whatever crap we had lying around our dorms?"
  132.  
  133. "Say no more," you chuckle. "I'll defer to your expertise."
  134.  
  135. The two of you continue to enjoy the morning in relative silence as Foxy restlessly surfs channels, seemingly unable to find anything on the television that catches his interest.
  136.  
  137. "Looks like the weather's getting colder this week," Cheeky remarks as he speeds past the morning news for the fourth time in less than two minutes. "You think you'll be ready for th--"
  138.  
  139. Whatever else she was planning on saying is abandoned as the door to Bonworth's bedroom bursts open. Bonworth himself tumbles out into the common area with a terrific crash, his prosthetics splayed at unnatural (and painful-looking) angles. Foxy jolts up from his spot in front of the TV, scurrying over to Bonworth's side.
  140.  
  141. Cheeky drops her plate as she stands up. "Bonnie, what the hell?"
  142.  
  143. "Man down! Come quickly, lad!" Foxy says, beckoning you over with his good paw.
  144.  
  145. "You okay, Bonworth?" you ask, running over to help. "That looked like a nasty fall, man."
  146.  
  147. "Ohhh, darn these stilts of mine!" he moans. You and Cheeky each take one of his arms to stand him upright on his prosthetic poles. He's clearly distraught, what's left of his legs quivering as he tries to regain his balance.
  148.  
  149. "Is everything okay, Bon?" Cheeky asks, visibly alarmed. "What's going on?"
  150.  
  151. "My sister's in big trouble!" Bonworth blurts out, clearly panicked and making no effort to hide it. Tears and sweat dribble freely down his face, splashing against his shirt. By the looks of him, he's just woken up; his headfur's messy and uncombed, and all he's wearing is an undershirt and boxers. If you weren't preoccupied with concern for his well-being, you'd almost find his unusually disheveled appearance amusing.
  152.  
  153. "Calm down," Cheeky instructs as Foxy tries in vain to reconnect Bonworth's leg braces. "Start from the beginning. What's wrong with Beanie?"
  154.  
  155. Taking a deep breath, the elder of the Rabbinson siblings nods as he tries to collect himself. You crouch to take over for Foxy.
  156.  
  157. "Every mornin' she calls me to let me know she's leaving work," he stammers, nervously looking up at the clock. "It's six thirty an' I don't have any messages on my phone from her at all."
  158.  
  159. "Maybe she just had a long night at work and forgot to call to check in?" Cheeky suggests.
  160.  
  161. "I'm hopin' that's the case, but she and I have a rule," Bonworth says with a flustered wave of one of his hands, nearly slapping you in the face by accident. "Whenever Beanie leaves she's ALWAYS supposed to immediately call me, and she always does -- every single mornin' without fail."
  162.  
  163. "Except today," you clarify.
  164.  
  165. "Yep," he replies. You can hear the metal joints clicking in his fingertips as he gingerly wrings his hands. "What's worse is I just got off the phone with Mr. Fazbear and he said she wasn't supposed to go into work because the restaurant's CLOSED for today!"
  166.  
  167. "Is there a chance she's at home and they just don't realize it?" you ask as you finish buckling the last of the straps back in place. "I know that sounds stupid, but--"
  168.  
  169. Bonworth shakes his head. "No, I thought the same thing," he says, cutting you off. "Mr. Fazbear checked her room personally; her bed's made and her keys and wallet are missin'."
  170.  
  171. A thoroughly unwelcome sense of unease begins to radiate through you. "So then she went to work on a night she wasn't supposed to, and she's still there right now?"
  172.  
  173. "Mike, I don't gotta tell you how dangerous that place can get!" Bonworth cries.
  174.  
  175. "Yeah, I know," you admit. "I've gotten a taste of it first-hand."
  176.  
  177. Cheeky gawks at you. "Wait, what? You went there, Mike?" she asks incredulously.
  178.  
  179. Bonworth nods. "I know. I had that bombshell dropped on me last night too," he says with a frown.
  180.  
  181. "I briefly mentioned it to Bonworth on our way to the bar last night," you reply defensively, feeling like a rebellious teen being grilled by your parents after after a night out joyriding in the family car. "I went with Beanie to see what it was all about; I knew I couldn't really ask you guys for any more answers. It's not like I had any idea of what I was walking into."
  182.  
  183. Cheeky looks at you disapprovingly, wings resting on her hips. You suddenly find it difficult to meet her gaze.
  184.  
  185. "Well, we'll cross that bridge later," she finally says, turning back to Bonworth. "If she didn't call you after leaving, then someone needs to get down there like, yesterday."
  186.  
  187. The thought of going back to Jeremy Human's pizzeria utterly repels you, but you're not about to sit by and watch idly. If Beanie's already been dragged off to one of the back rooms -- no, that's not a thought you even want to finish. She's got to be fine; most likely, her cell phone died.
  188.  
  189. And she just forgot to bring a charger for it. And the office phones just happened to go out, and then she couldn't find a pay phone outside.
  190.  
  191. "You know what, I'll go," you declare, fighting against the dread twisting your stomach into knots. "I can hop the bus and be down there in no time."
  192.  
  193. "No way, Mike. It's a weekday morning and all the commuters going into the city to work are going to be on the bus," Cheeky argues. "You'll hit every single stop on the way there. It might take you an hour and a half to get downtown -- no, you guys'll have to go by car."
  194.  
  195. "That'd be great if any of us HAD a car," you reply. "Can we borrow the van from Marion? What time does the front desk open, Bonworth?"
  196.  
  197. A banging sound from the front door interrupts your diatribe. Bonworth hurriedly staggers over to answer it; Fred's on the other side, looking about as disheveled as Bonworth in his sweatpants and faded tee shirt.
  198.  
  199. "I just got off the phone with one of the supervisors," Fred says by way of greeting. "Nobody's due to be on-site until nine when the painters show up. I'm going to drive down there and check on her myself if you want to join me."
  200.  
  201. "Absolutely," Bonworth says, vaulting as quickly as he can towards his room for some clothes. "Go fire up your runabout and let's get goin'!"
  202.  
  203. Fred nods, turning around and heading out the door for the staircase. Bonworth tumbles past you in hot pursuit of Fred, hopping a little as he fumbles with his belt buckle. His metal feet clank along the floor, not even bothering with shoes.
  204.  
  205. "Fred, I'm coming along too," you call out, grabbing your coat from the rack as you run outside after both of them. Fred looks up at you from halfway down the steps.
  206.  
  207. "Mike? So this is where you went," he says. "I was wondering why you never showed up for dinner last night."
  208.  
  209. "I'm really sorry about not calling to let you know beforehand," you reply, slipping your shoes on. "I was out late."
  210.  
  211. He snorts, clearly disinterested. "Please. You're not beholden to me regarding your social life. The door locks at curfew; I just assumed you'd found some other place to lay your head for the evening. Either way, your 'assistance' won't be necessary," Fred remarks matter-of-factly. "This is family business."
  212.  
  213. "What?" you stammer, taken aback. Bonworth's practically dancing in place as he buttons up his shirt at the bottom of the stairs.
  214.  
  215. "You heard me," he continues. "This doesn't concern an outsider. If you want to be useful, go downstairs and keep Chica and Foxy company until we get back."
  216.  
  217. "Like hell I will," you snap. "I'll ride over in the trunk if I have to, but you two aren't going in without me! I've seen what those monsters are capable of!"
  218.  
  219. The dour grump of a bear's ears twitch at your last comment. His burly chest heaves in frustration as he tries to formulate a rebuttal, but before he can get another word out, the front door to 93-B slams open behind both of you. Cheeky storms out onto the landing, still in her negligee.
  220.  
  221. "Oh my GOD!!" she screeches, banging one of her balled-up wings against a nearby wall with a loud whud. "Why are you all still here?! Quit arguing and DRIVE ALREADY!!"
  222.  
  223. Fred's eyebrows seem to rocket up his forehead at Cheeky's brashness, and even Bonworth seems horrified at her standing up to the behemoth of a bear. You nearly trip over your own feet as the two of you hastily thump down the rest of the steps towards Fred's car.
  224.  
  225. "Was she always that much of a spitfire?" Fred asks once your group's out of earshot.
  226.  
  227. "Only when she's mad," Bonworth replies sheepishly.
  228.  
  229. Fred lets out a nervous bark of a laugh as he reaches into his pocket for his keys. "I guess I never really noticed. You must have done a good job keeping her reined in."
  230.  
  231. You glance up at the overhead railing of Building 9. Cheeky's still standing out in the cold, watching with worry as all of you pile into Fred's car. You nod to her, hoping that your facial expression makes it obvious enough that you don't plan on coming back empty-handed.
  232.  
  233. The vehicle in question is a two-door sedan with two seats in front and an extremely small bench in the back that would be cramped even for a child. You fold up without protest anyway, cramming yourself into the uncomfortable partition so that Bonworth can have the passenger's seat. Despite your bravado earlier, the trunk may very well have been the more comfortable choice, but none of that matters now.
  234.  
  235. "Hold on tight," Fred says. "I know a shortcut that'll cut several minutes off the drive but we're going to have to go down some back roads. It'll be a rough ride."
  236.  
  237. "Whatever gets us to Beanie the fastest," you answer.
  238.  
  239.  
  240.  
  241. Fred wasn't exaggerating when he said the drive over would be rough. Your "breakfast" of burnt toast nearly makes a resurgence at several points along the way, but fortunately you manage to keep it together until you arrive at the restaurant. It's a lot less glamorous during the daytime hours, but you're not here to sightsee this time.
  242.  
  243. "So when is all of this taking place?" Fred asks as he shoves a pawful of coins into one of the meters.
  244.  
  245. "Not quite seven yet," Bonworth answers, flipping his tiny cell phone open.
  246.  
  247. Extricating yourself from the sardine can of a backseat, you sprint towards the restaurant's front door, grabbing the handle and giving it a pull. It doesn't so much as move under your grasp. "Locked," you announce. "Fred, you're the manager here, right? You've got a key to the building, don't you?"
  248.  
  249. "Damn it. I must've left them at home," Fred growls as he pats his pockets.
  250.  
  251. "Of all the rotten luck!" Bonworth groans. He teeters over to the front door, rapping on the glass, but here's no answer from anyone inside and the windows are too heavily tinted to make out much.
  252.  
  253. "Hang on, I've got an idea," you say, walking over to Fred's car. You pop the trunk open and begin digging around inside.
  254.  
  255. "Mike, what the hell are you doing?" Fred asks. Like his office, the luggage compartment of Fred's car is neat and fastidiously organized. A cardboard box packed full of office supplies is nestled safely next to a neatly folded vest and top hat, like a much classier version of what Peanut was wearing at lunch yesterday. A plastic carrying case full of car tools and emergency supplies is fastened to the right wall of the trunk. You rummage through the tool chest, looking for something suitably heavy before deciding on a lug wrench. Hefting your prize, you head back to the front window.
  256.  
  257. "Stand back, guys, I've got this," you declare brazenly as you size up the glass. Satisfied, you raise the weighty instrument over your head before swinging it with all of your strength square at the face of the mascot Jeremy etched onto the pane.
  258.  
  259. "No, you idiot! Don't--" Fred starts, but it's too late; the wrench rebounds off of the surface of the window, sending a shockwave of pain rippling through your arms.
  260.  
  261. "Agggh! What the hell?!" you screech as the tool clatters uselessly to the ground. Adding insult to injury, the window isn't even cracked despite your best efforts.
  262.  
  263. "The windows aren't made out of glass," Fred finishes lamely, pulling an old-fashioned flip cell phone out of his sweatpants pocket. "They're shatter-resistant -- after an accident we had a few years ago."
  264.  
  265. You wince in pain, forcing your fingers to flex one at a time to make sure you didn't just destroy your own wrists. "Well that just sums this place up, doesn't it? Nothing but accidents here."
  266.  
  267. Bonworth hobbles off to the side, pressing his muzzle up against the glass for a better look into the restaurant.
  268.  
  269. "Black as the devil's own heart in there," he mutters. "Fred, do you think we could give a locksmith a holler?"
  270.  
  271. "I'm calling Peanut to see if he can get a hold of the day shift manager to come over and let us in," Fred says as he begins punching buttons on his archaic phone's keypad.
  272.  
  273. "She'll be dead by the time anybody gets here," you growl. Bonworth looks at you in terror, trembling softly.
  274.  
  275. "Mike, please don't say that," he softly pleads. "I'm beggin' you, please don't say anything like that."
  276.  
  277. "Bonworth, I told Chica to call me immediately if your sister shows up at the house," Fred says, glaring at you. "Just to be safe why don't you call her again?"
  278.  
  279. As you look up at the awning in frustration, an idea suddenly strikes you. Leaning down, you pick the wrench up off the ground again.
  280.  
  281. "You just don't learn, do you?" Fred warns. "You're gonna end up in the hospital if you try that move again."
  282.  
  283. "I'm not," you reply, a smile forming on your face. "I've got an idea. Fred, give me a boost real quick."
  284.  
  285. He furrows his brow in confusion, lowering his phone from his ear. "A what?"
  286.  
  287. You point to a thick, square-shaped metal grate just below the awning and a little to the left of the front doors. "Do you see that vent cover? I'm going to pry it loose and climb into the restaurant that way; then I'll let you guys in from the other side."
  288.  
  289. "You're going to climb in through the air vent," he echoes. "Are you serious? You'll never be able to fit inside that thing."
  290.  
  291. "And either of you would?" you fire back. "Look, just boost me up there; we don't have time to sit and argue."
  292.  
  293. With a sigh, Fred looks at Bonworth, who's anxiously watching this scene unfold. "Alright," Fred grumbles, holding his paws out for you to use as a foothold.
  294.  
  295. You hurriedly clamber up onto Fred's shoulders just as if you were scaling a furry, barrel-shaped tree. One of the tips of the cross-shaped wrench is big enough to unscrew the bolts holding the vent cover shut. They've long since rusted over, but you're just barely able to apply enough torque to twist them off. Once that's done you jam the wrench into the small gap between the grate and the brick wall, popping it free and sending it crashing to the ground.
  296.  
  297. "Careful!" Fred shouts as the cover nearly smashes into his foot.
  298.  
  299. "Sorry," you reply, passing the wrench back down to Bonworth. "Alright, I'm going for it. Wish me luck."
  300.  
  301. "This'll never work," Fred sighs.
  302.  
  303. "Relax, I know a professional who does this kind of thing all the time," you reply. Reaching into the vent, you fumble around for a handhold before finding a support strut that seems like it'll hold your weight long enough for you to crawl inside. Carefully, you hoist yourself up into the duct to find that it is indeed a very tight fit. You're suddenly wishing you'd met Bonbon a few months earlier so that you could have lost enough weight by now to make this more viable.
  304.  
  305. "Shove my feet from behind," you call out to Fred. He grips your ankles as you suck in your gut, and with the two of you working together you're able to squeeze in through the narrow opening. A volley of dust floods into your eyes and nostrils and you instantly begin sneezing. You crawl forward, the combination of dust and the lack of lighting in the vent making it impossible to see what you're doing. How Mangle is able to do this on a daily basis, you'll never understand.
  306.  
  307. You begin shimmying along slowly, crawling just a few inches at a time as you attempt to find a room inside that the air shaft can empty out into. A creaking noise underneath you alerts you to the fact that unlike the ducts back home, the ones here aren't exactly rated for the weight of an adult human. You've never considered yourself claustrophobic before now, but the thought of getting stuck in here is putting a serious damper on your already waning enthusiasm to find Beanie.
  308.  
  309. After several minutes of blindly shoving yourself through the duct, your fist bumps into something. You drag your face along your jacket sleeve to try to wipe some of the dust out of your eyes so that you can see what it is you've found, but you only really succeed in smearing it thanks to the sweat dripping down your forehead. Squinting, you manage to make out a small amount of light trickling in through thin slats; you must have located another grate, this one inside the restaurant proper.
  310.  
  311. The creaking underneath your belly is growing louder, and you can hear the frail support struts groaning as they continue to protest your presence. Unlike the one you had to pry loose in order to gain access to the building, this new grate appears to just be a normal plastic cover to keep dust and debris inside the vent and out of the restaurant. You press your palm against it to see if you can pry it open, but in so doing you shift your weight too far forward. The cover pops loose, and with nothing to hold you inside the vent any longer, you tumble out of the vent.
  312.  
  313. You cry out in surprise as you free-fall towards the floor. In an incredible stroke of luck, your pants leg gets caught on the vent at the last possible second, breaking your fall just enough so that you don't slam into the tile head-first. Dangling from the ceiling, you manage to twist yourself loose, falling the last couple of feet onto your side instead of your face.
  314.  
  315. "Uuugh," you groan, rolling over onto your back. Pain rockets through your leg and shoulders as you try to collect yourself. "What is it with me and falling today?"
  316.  
  317. "Mike! You okay?" you hear Bonworth yell from outside, his voice mostly muffled by the thick windows. You pull yourself off the ground, rubbing the excess dirt and sweat out of your eyes so that you can see better. You've landed inside the front entrance -- all of that misery and you only ended up moving a total of about fifteen feet. There's a gash in your left leg but the cut's not too deep; it hurts to put pressure on it, but you don't think you'll need stitches. Your jeans are most definitely ruined and the pain is admittedly a bit of a handicap, but other than that you suppose you could be a lot worse off. Once you're confident you can walk, you hurriedly move towards the door to let the others inside.
  318.  
  319. "Uh oh," you mutter. Fred and Bonworth are both pressed against the glass, watching you as you try to figure out how to open the door. No matter which way you turn the door handle, it doesn't want to budge. You try pushing, pulling, twisting, rattling -- nothing works.
  320.  
  321. "Everything alright?" Bonworth hollers.
  322.  
  323. "It's locked from this side too!" you shout back. "I can't get it open!"
  324.  
  325. Fred slams his fist uselessly against the doorframe, groaning aloud. "I forgot, it's electronic! You'll have to override it at the security room!"
  326.  
  327. "What the hell good does that do us?!" you snap.
  328.  
  329. "It's the best security money can buy," Fred returns. "At least it's good at keeping unwanteds out!"
  330.  
  331. You resist the urge to argue that it was probably designed to keep "unwanteds" IN, not out. The notion of being trapped alone in a facility full of lethal robots with no backup is not sitting well on your already addled mind and queasy stomach.
  332.  
  333. "I'm going to go see if I can find Beanie," you yell. "Call for help if I'm not back in a few minutes!"
  334.  
  335. "We're calling for help anyway," Fred says, holding up his phone. "Be careful, Mike." You're surprised to find that he even seems to genuinely mean it.
  336.  
  337. "No promises," you joke weakly before turning around to face the depths of Jeremy's lair. "Hang on, Beanie. I'm on my way."
  338.  
  339.  
  340.  
  341. Even though you've been here before, the dining hall still awes you with how legitimately huge it is. Without anyone else around, it somehow seems more massive than it already did last time. Signs of a fight or at least some kind of scuffle seem obvious. The room's in complete disarray with upended tables and chairs, party hats and paper plates are carelessly strewn all over the floor. You gingerly step over the piles of damaged product as you slowly drink in the chaos.
  342.  
  343. Shaking your head, you can't risk getting distracted. The first thing you need to do is see if Beanie's still in the building -- you don't want to stay a second longer than you have to if she's not even here. You nervously force yourself to continue moving across the dining hall and towards the long corridor that leads to the security room.
  344.  
  345. "Horses, not zebras," you mutter. Might as well check where she works first before you go gallivanting across the rest of the pizzeria.
  346.  
  347. It's quiet enough in the restaurant that you could probably hear a pin drop three rooms away. You're suddenly wishing you'd brought the lug wrench along so that you'd at least have something to use as a makeshift weapon if necessary. Of course, as far as regrets go you're also wishing you weren't performing a rescue mission with a hangover and a busted-up leg. At least your headache's faded somewhat, possibly in thanks to Cheeky's dubious remedy, but that's little comfort considering that your nausea's much worse than it was before.
  348.  
  349. You press your back to the wall, crab-walking down the long hall to the security office. Your feet seem to have a mind of their own, as if they're trying to convince the rest of your body to turn back and run while you still can. You can't remember the last time you were this gripped by fear; when you were here your first night, you quickly became aware of the dangers of Beanie's job but she was still here to keep you company. Now, you're flying solo through enemy territory without anyone to watch your six.
  350.  
  351. Eventually you make it to the dingy guard room. Unsurprisingly, Beanie's not in the office at all, but there is at least evidence that she was. A half-eaten fast food meal adorns the desk next to the tablet, and a cheaply-made wallet with a carrot-print design lays forgotten beside a small flashlight. Underneath the desk is one of the plastic masks of Jeremy you used to hide yourselves from the robots, crushed and mangled beyond usability as if someone tossed it inside a trash compactor.
  352.  
  353. "Uh oh," you whisper. "This can't be a good sign."
  354.  
  355. You reach for the flashlight first, giving it a test click. Fortunately, it still works and it even seems brighter than before; the batteries must have been recently replaced. You pocket it as well as Beanie's wallet to return to her later. Since there were two masks, you hastily search the office for its twin so that you have some kind of shield in case one of the robots decides to wander in. It won't protect you from Darky, but you've at least got the flashlight if he shows up. This time you're not going to be nearly as merciful in using it on him.
  356.  
  357. After a cursory examination of the security office, you locate the second mask in a cardboard box full of knick-knacks and useless junk. Slipping the elastic band on over the back of your head, you push it up onto your hair for now before taking a seat at the desk to use the camera system.
  358.  
  359. As you turn the monitor on, a loud ringing noise pierces the silence, causing you to nearly rocket out of your seat. It takes you another ring to realize it's just the tablet's phone system and two more consecutive rings to figure out how to actually answer it, but you manage to turn it on as soon as your heartrate slows back down to acceptable levels. It's likely another pre-recorded message; you silently listen in anticipation of the voice as you load the security camera application.
  360.  
  361. "Hello? Hello?" a mechanical, tinny voice anxiously splutters. "What on earth are you doing there?"
  362.  
  363. Your eyes widen as you recognize the speaker instantly. "Faz?" you blurt, leaning close to the tablet.
  364.  
  365. "Mike, is that you? Is Bonita with you?" he asks. So much for it being pre-recorded, but a familiar entity is at least welcome right now.
  366.  
  367. You shake your head before realizing there's no reason to do so since he can't actually see you. "No, she's not," you answer, trying to puzzle out what you need to do to pull up the camera feeds. "I'm here trying to find her."
  368.  
  369. "I just woke up," Faz says. "Chica's been filling me in. Put Bonworth on the line."
  370.  
  371. "He's not with me right now," you reply distractedly, fumbling with the security app. "Long story short, it's just me. I'm trying to figure out the camera system."
  372.  
  373. As you continue to wade through the needlessly complex menus, a screen of a dimly-lit, empty stage with a colorful backsplash flashes onto the screen.
  374.  
  375. "Wait, I think I've got it," you announce.
  376.  
  377. "What do you see?" Faz asks.
  378.  
  379. "Uh, I think it's the show stage," you explain. "None of the characters are there, though."
  380.  
  381. "Seriously?!" Cheeky's voice blurts. "The Humanimatronics are programmed to return to the stage at six sharp, every single morning! Did someone not reset their internal clocks for Daylight saving time?"
  382.  
  383. "Hi, Cheeky," you reply. "Um, I don't think that's the deal -- Jeremy got in the other night when, uh, when Beanie and I were here. He took off as soon as her shift ended. Hey, how do I change screens to look at the other rooms?"
  384.  
  385. "Arrows at the lower right corner of the screen," Faz replies. "On the blueprint of the building."
  386.  
  387. You do as instructed, flicking the camera quickly through the other rooms. Most of the lights are out so you're having to operate on the very faint natural light that's filtering in through the dark windows, but you eventually spot Darky in the secondary arcade room, hiding obviously behind one of the video game consoles. You make a mental note of his location before continuing through the system, clicking through each room in order. After you're sure you've double-checked every single camera angle available to you, you come to the determination that you can't find Jeremy or Fritzine anywhere -- let alone Beanie.
  388.  
  389. "Well?" Faz asks.
  390.  
  391. "I can only find one of the mascots," you announce, worry creeping into your voice. "Darky, he-- he's inside the arcade. I don't see the other two, and I also can't find Beanie anywhere in the building."
  392.  
  393. "Other two?" Cheeky asks. "Mike, there are supposed to be four characters at that location."
  394.  
  395. "Yeah, but one went missing recently," you reply. "It sounds like it was stolen. I don't know much about it, though. The only two besides Darky I'm familiar with are Fritzine and Jeremy."
  396.  
  397. "Safety, Schmidt," Cheeky says.
  398.  
  399. You chuckle humorlessly. "Believe me, you don't have to tell me twice."
  400.  
  401. "Huh?"
  402.  
  403. "Never mind," you mumble. Looking up from your tablet, you flash your light down the camera blind spot of the hallway just to make sure Jeremy or someone else isn't creeping on you. So far, you're in the clear.
  404.  
  405. "Listen carefully, Mike. Disconnect the tablet. Take it with you," Faz orders. "I think I know where Bonita is, but you'll need the tablet."
  406.  
  407. "Oh god, not there," Cheeky moans. "Mike, do I understand correctly that you're by yourself right now?"
  408.  
  409. "Yeah," you reply. "Fred and Bonworth got locked out."
  410.  
  411. "Faz, you're sending him to the lab on his own? Are you trying to get him killed?!" Cheeky screeches. "Mike, no -- don't listen to him! Grab the tablet and find a safe place to hide. I'm going to call the police and send them over."
  412.  
  413. "Cheeky, it's already been over an hour since Beanie's shift ended," you argue. "I'm not crazy about being here either, but we can't wait any longer! If Faz has a lead or something then I've gotta follow it up. Faz, where do I need to go?"
  414.  
  415. You hear both of them quietly bickering with each other, but they're too far away from the phone to be heard clearly. After a few seconds Faz's voice comes back on the line.
  416.  
  417. "Past the party rooms," Faz says. "There's a room at the end of the hall labeled Bot Bay. It should be cordoned off."
  418.  
  419. You cringe. "Sounds like a happy place. Hang on," you reply as you disconnect the tablet from the power source. It immediately pops up an alert letting you know it's switching to battery power, which you hastily clear off of the screen. "Sorry. You still there?"
  420.  
  421. "Yes," Faz replies. "Hurry."
  422.  
  423. You gather up the tablet and its power cable, adding them to your growing inventory of Beanie's personal effects. Making sure your mask is still snugly tethered to your head, you quickly begin moving down the hallway towards the dining room.
  424.  
  425. "Can you guys still hear me?" you ask, holding the tablet close to your chest as you run. A cell phone would be nice right about now instead of a bulky monitor, but you've got no real choice if you want some inside help.
  426.  
  427. "We're fine," Faz says dismissively. "She's not. Go."
  428.  
  429. You exit the main hall, emptying out into the dining room. "I'm hauling ass, Faz," you insist, tossing a look over your shoulder to make sure Darky didn't follow you out of the auxiliary arcade at the end of the tunnel. For the time being, at least, he seems content to stay out of the way, which suits you just fine.
  430.  
  431. Branching paths lead off of the dining hall to small rooms for private parties. The walls and doors are adorned with colorful posters of inane "fun" buzzwords such as "Consume!", "Create!", and "Craft!" -- all of which are superimposed over pictures of the restaurant's various mascots. You jump a little upon seeing a life-sized cardboard standee of Jeremy Human himself inside one of the party rooms before realizing it's not the real thing. Just to be on the safe side, you reach a shaky hand up to your mask, ready to don it at a moment's notice.
  432.  
  433. At the very end of the hall, you come across an extremely out-of-place door that resembles an airlock on a spaceship. Bright, colorful lights surround the frame with caution tape threaded around stanchions to keep customers away. "Bot Bay" is painted on the door's metal surface in neon yellow letters. A scrap of construction paper is taped to one of the door panels with "Out of order" written on it in magic marker.
  434.  
  435. "I think I found it," you whisper to the tablet's speakers. "And you think Beanie's in here?"
  436.  
  437. "Hopefully she's not," Faz thrums. "There's a panel on the right side. See it?"
  438.  
  439. "Yeah," you reply, lifting the tape over your head as you pass under the barrier. "It looks like an elevator call button, but there's no button."
  440.  
  441. "Good," Faz says. "Underneath it there's a small port. Hook the tablet up to it."
  442.  
  443. You work the plastic panel cover loose from the door frame. Contrary to his advice there are actually multiple small ports present in the access panel, but only one looks like it's the correct size for the end of the tablet cable. With a shrug, you connect both ends of the cable to their appropriate sockets. Instantly the tablet screen fades to black.
  444.  
  445. "Uh, Faz?" you ask. "Can you still hear me?"
  446.  
  447. "I'm still here," he replies. "Did the screen change?"
  448.  
  449. You nod again before silently kicking yourself for repeating the meaningless habit. "Yeah. It's blank now."
  450.  
  451. "That means it's loading," Cheeky interrupts. "In a few seconds you'll see something that looks like a combination lock for a bike or gym locker."
  452.  
  453. You watch as a progress meter fills before being replaced with a digitized version of the Jeremy Human's corporate logo. The logo hovers on screen for a few seconds before disappearing, an elaborate menu with input fields taking its place. In the middle of the screen are four portraits featuring photos of the animatronic mascots. You recognize Jeremy, Fritzine, and Darky, but there's a fourth character you haven't seen yet -- a bright green robot with a lantern jaw, probably intended to be a police officer?
  454.  
  455. "It says 'Customize Night' at the top." You run your hands through your hair as you attempt to describe what you're looking at to Cheeky. "There are like these boxes with pictures of the characters, and uh, underneath them are -- sort of number boxes, I guess. And left and right arrows; it looks like they're all set to ten each right now. What's the combination?"
  456.  
  457. "Ten?! Oh god," Cheeky says. "Poor Beanie -- uh, Mike, that's not the screen you want. Hit the X in the upper corner."
  458.  
  459. You backtrack through the system as instructed. "Employee access?" you venture, reading off the list of possible options. "It's either that or something to do with inventory."
  460.  
  461. "No, you're right. 'Employee access' is what you're looking for," Cheeky replies. "When the dialog box comes up, the code is eight-eight-one-four. Unless they changed it, but this is Jeremy Human's we're talking about here. That'd require actual effort on corporate's part." She sounds bitter. Somehow you can't find it in yourself to blame her.
  462.  
  463. Sure enough, this screen actually resembles an old-fashioned tumbler lock, though you don't suppose you could be faulted for believing the customization menu was an abstract interpretation of such. You hastily punch in the combination before pressing the validation button.
  464.  
  465. "ACCESS GRANTED," the tablet says in a voice almost as artificial as Faz's.
  466.  
  467. "Now what?" you ask, sizing the door up. As if responding to your question directly, loud industrial motors begin to churn within the walls as pressurized air hisses out from the slits in the door. You lower the tablet, instinctively covering your face with the mask as you step away from the airlock.
  468.  
  469. "--ke? Mike? Be --ful goin-- --side. Mi-- --hear me? Mike?!" You can hear Cheeky trying to say something, but her voice is too garbled to make out.
  470.  
  471. "Cheeky?" you respond. "Are you there? Can you hear me?"
  472.  
  473. "--ine, Mike! Watch for Fr--"
  474.  
  475. The tablet's connection goes dead, "no signal" flickering across the middle of the screen as if you couldn't figure that out on your own. With a grimace, you turn your attention fully to the door as the panels finish retracting into the walls. This entire operation is unbelievably over-the-top for a children's pizzeria, so you can only guess this must be some kind of futuristic attraction or ride. You disconnect the tablet from the door, stashing it in your coat pocket for now; it's a snug fit but you've got nowhere else else to stow the thing at the moment and you're certain you'll need it again before long.
  476.  
  477. The inside of Bot Bay is pitch-black, the only light in the room coming from LED readouts and tiny lights. Machines softly click, beep, and whirr as you poke your head inside; if you didn't know better you would assume it was a server farm or some kind of photography darkroom. Carefully, you reach for your flashlight only to stop as you realize it'd probably give your position away, assuming the door opening hasn't already. After a brief internal debate, you reluctantly hold onto it for now, choosing not to turn it on just yet. Any surprise advantage you have now might be the difference in getting out alive, so you try to get your eyes to adjust to the dark as you make your way further inside.
  478.  
  479. You move along at a snail's pace, hands outstretched to help ensure that you don't trip over anything. The mask is obscuring what precious little you can see, but you don't dare take it off for fear of running into one of the animatronics back here accidentally.
  480.  
  481. After what seems like an eternity of shuffling through the unknown terrain, your foot bumps into something soft. Dropping instantly to the floor, you bury every voice screaming in your head to run back out the door and never come back, instead carefully extending a hesitant fingertip towards the object in question. You silently hope against hope that whatever it is isn't a corpse.
  482.  
  483. Your index finger brushes against a warm, fuzzy texture. Hesitantly you, gently press your hands against the rest of it, recognizing the sensation of fur and skin. You hear a muffled moan, and that's enough to get you to break out your flashlight. Flicking it on quickly, elation rushes through every fiber of your being as you make out a patch of lavender fur concealed behind a thick hooded sweatshirt.
  484.  
  485. "Beanie!" you softly whisper. "Beanie, are you okay?"
  486.  
  487. "Mmmrgh..." She's laying face-down on the floor, her arms wrapped behind her with electrical tape. You recoil in empathy; that's going to sting like hell when she goes to remove it later. You take great care in rolling her onto her back in case she's wounded. Slipping a hand behind the small of her back, you help her lithe form into a sitting position. She appears to be semi-conscious, the only signs of injury you can immediately identify being her left eye swollen shut and some blood smeared on her muzzle from a cut on her lower lip.
  488.  
  489. "Beanie?" you ask again, a little louder this time.
  490.  
  491. All of a sudden, she lunges forward viciously, knocking you onto your back. You cry out in surprise as you drop the flashlight, fighting to pull her away from your body. The flashlight makes a cracking noise as it bounces off the floor, plunging the room back into darkness again.
  492.  
  493. "Beanie, stop!" you respond, holding her back as she tries to headbutt you. "It's Mike! I'm here to help!"
  494.  
  495. At once, she goes limp.
  496.  
  497. "Mike?!" she gasps in surprise. "Oh god -- I'm so sorry! Did I hurt you?"
  498.  
  499. "No, I'm fine," you reply. "More importantly, are you okay? Did they, did they do anything to you?"
  500.  
  501. She sounds like she's on the verge of tears as she replies. "I'm okay! I'm okay, I just -- I didn't know the restaurant was closed, and -- and the robots were, they -- they were..." She trails off, coughing a little. It's genuinely upsetting to see the normally calm and dry Beanie reduced to a sobbing wreck, and right now you want nothing more than to torch the whole building and run like hell. She rolls off of your chest and onto her side with a grunt.
  502.  
  503. "Mike, w-we have to get out before Fff-fritzine comes back," Beanie warns. "S-she caught me b-before my, um -- my shift ended and brought me back here to her lab but one of her 'instruments' is broken and she w-was talking about 'aftermarket parts', and--"
  504.  
  505. "Shhh. We're leaving," you reply, shushing her. "We're -- nobody's, nobody's getting chopped up. Let's just get the hell out of here." You extend a hand to Beanie, helping her to her feet as well.
  506.  
  507. "Can you untie me?" she asks, leaning against you for support due to her center of balance being thrown off.
  508.  
  509. "Outside," you reply. "Your paws are all taped up and I don't have anything like a knife or whatever to cut it loose with. Let's just get out and we'll take care of it."
  510.  
  511. You feel her ears flapping as she nods vigorously. You wrap your arm around her waist, half-shoving her towards the exit which is surprisingly much further away than you would have estimated -- Bot Bay must be a long, narrow room that runs the entire length of the already massive building.
  512.  
  513. As you and Beanie drag yourselves towards the exit, the airlock door lights begin to flicker and flash. Hydraulic components and heavy metallic thumping outside serve to signal the approach of one of the animatronics. Thinking quickly, you hurriedly rip your mask from your head and shove it against Beanie's face. You force her down under a table before turning to the door, heart pounding in your chest.
  514.  
  515. "What are you doing?!" Beanie asks, voice muted by the plastic mask. "Mike, no! She'll kill you!"
  516.  
  517. "I've got a better chance than you do," you reply, voice cracking as you frantically grope around in the dark for anything in the room that might be usable as a weapon. All you manage to turn up is a screwdriver on a nearby table. Hopefully you can at least jam it into a pressure point and maybe short one of the robots out as you die a horrible, painful death.
  518.  
  519. To nobody's surprise, the returning special guest is Fritzine. The rotund muskmelon of a robot trundles into the room, pausing to scan her surroundings for any available targets to interact with. Locating Beanie, Fritzine tilts her head in confusion.
  520.  
  521. "Now what in tarnation are y'all doin' under my drawin' table, Jeremy Human?" she asks.
  522.  
  523. "Just, uh, l-looking for my music box," Beanie replies, not even trying to fake the robot's sinister voice. It's obvious she's too rattled.
  524.  
  525. "Alright then, y'silly lugnut," Fritzine mutters as she reaches up onto the wall by the airlock frame, flipping a switch. Rows of fluorescent bars overhead bathe the entire room in a sickly blue glow, causing you and Beanie to stick out like sore thumbs -- not that it would have done you any good even in the dark, since she was able to spot Beanie immediately even without light. Your muscles tense as Fritzine slowly turns her gaze on you, retracting her eyeballs into her skull as she begins her second scan. Without the mask, you realize you're instantly a dead man. With no other moves, you hunker down into a running position, waiting for the right moment to strike.
  526.  
  527. "Well I'll be," Fritzine's voice box coos. Her toolbox clatters to the ground, forgotten as she excitedly tromps forward towards you. It's now or never; you jump forward into her arms, swinging the screwdriver down at her face. It snaps in two as it collides with her metal hide. If she notices, she sure doesn't seem fazed by it.
  528.  
  529. You squeeze your eyes shut as she envelops you in her arms, squeezing you like a tube of toothpaste. You'd cry out in pain, but the wind's been knocked out of you. You're pretty sure the cracking noises you're hearing are a couple of your ribs, or perhaps your spine. It's too hard to tell -- it all feels like mush at this point.
  530.  
  531. "The dang ol' prodigal son's back at last," the construction worker booms enthusiastically as she gives you a crushing hug. Turning to Beanie on the floor, she beams as she releases you with a big slap on your back. You crumple to the ground, gasping aloud as you try to force air back into your lungs through whatever means possible.
  532.  
  533. "I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it with my own darned optics," Fritzine joyfully declares. "Sure as shootin', our boy Schmidt's finally come home!"
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