Roommates - Ch. 48 (Safe)

May 19th, 2017
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  1. Roommates has moved! You can now read it at Archive of Our Own:
  3. Roommates - Ch. 48 (Safe):
  4. Inspired by Weaver's Five Nights at Freddy's Apartment AU:
  5. Part of an ongoing series written for the /5N@F/ General Discussion Thread at /vg/.
  6. Sincerest thanks to Weaver ( 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
  9. ---
  11. You've had some uncomfortable silences in your time, but this one may take the cake.
  13. Sitting across from Faz, Bonworth, and Cheeky, you feel like you've come before some sort of review board. In a way, you suppose it might be both, considering the three of them are lined up watching in their easy chairs, looking somber as they mull over the case you've laid out for them. For a long time, all you can do is wait for them to chew on what they've just been given.
  15. "You know, Mike," Cheeky finally says, breaking the silence, "last time you were here, you said you'd 'given up on trying to understand that place'."
  17. "You know me," you reply with an apologetic smile. "I never have been able to leave well enough alone."
  19. "Ain't that the truth," she grumbles.
  21. "Sure as shootin'," Bonworth adds quietly, eyes to the ground.
  23. Cheeky leans forward to look over to Faz, evidently eager to complete the hat trick. Though you're more than ready for his rejoinder, however, the great wounded bear just sniffs thoughtfully, eyeing you.
  25. "Maybe not every time," he quietly rasps.
  27. She doesn't seem to read into it, instead turning back to the topic at hand. "Mike, you remember when Nisha came by after dinner?"
  29. "I do."
  31. "Yeah, well, turns out serving Beanie her paperwork was just to get her foot in the door. She came by to inform us that our monthly stipends were getting docked. And if we ever violated the terms of our non-disclosure agreements again -- which I guess would include this -- they'd be stopped flat."
  33. "What do you mean by 'violated'?" you ask, befuddled. "Did you guys do something you shouldn't have?"
  35. "The security office tablet records every phone call," Faz answers staidly. "...even when the restaurant's closed."
  37. "...the tablet? What are you--" The words die on your tongue as it suddenly clicks in your head. "Oh, OH. That day when, uh -- me and Beanie, right...?"
  39. Bonworth flinches visibly, but remains quiet.
  41. "Yeah. Turns out giving out access codes is frowned upon in that establishment. Even if it's to save the life of an employee," Cheeky spits, fidgeting with the frayed hem of her camisole.
  43. Sighing, you pinch the bridge of your nose. You had a feeling there was more to Nisha's little "surprise visit" -- such a minor errand seemed beneath her, even then. Turns out she really just wanted an excuse to come strongarm them in person.
  45. "Goldie never woulda let shit get this bad," the portly hen grunts, tossing one of the newspaper clippings in her wing onto the table.
  47. To your surprise, Bonworth doesn't even bother telling her to mind her language.
  49. "Listen, Mike -- I'm sure I don't gotta tell you that these sortsa accusations are REAL serious," he says, clasping his stiff fingers together. "I ain't saying that you haven't done your homework, but how sure are you an' Ms. April about all this?"
  51. "I'm not going to lie to you and tell you I've got a smoking gun. Everything we have on her is admittedly circumstantial," you reply, running your hands through your stubbly hair. "But at the same time, we can't just sit back and wait for Nisha to hang herself, either. Nothing prevents her from, y'know, liquidating April's half of the company and skipping town."
  53. "I can see how that'd be an issue, yes sir," Bonworth sighs.
  55. "That's not what he asked," Faz interjects, sitting up straight with some effort. His voice comes labored, almost whispered without his electrolarynx. "He didn't ask how much proof you have. He asked how sure YOU are."
  57. "Faz--"
  59. "Michael," he stops you, his tone as quiet as it is intense. "Are. You. Sure."
  61. Looking up from the portfolio you've spent the better part of the last two days assembling, you take a deep breath, pausing to choose your words carefully. Somewhere amid the commotion, Haddock's come plodding out of his room. The pitiful fox sits on the floor by the sofa, his head tilted at an odd angle, watching you with quiet curiosity, almost as if he too is awaiting your answer.
  63. Looking the bear straight in the eye, you nod the affirmative.
  65. "Yes. I'm sure. Something evil is going on at Jeremy Human's, and I want to put a stop to it before anyone else gets hurt," you reply, decisively. "Peanut said Nisha scheduled a special stop-in at the restaurant this evening, and the new night guard got taken off-duty, so we figure she's up to something. We have a chance to get the jump on her, but it's got to be tonight."
  67. Faz locks eyes with you for a long moment, then gives you a quiet, subtle tilt of his head. You nod back to him. He sets the paperwork aside and presses his index finger to the thick of his neck.
  69. "Then let's not waste any more time," he thrums.
  71. As you help Faz to his feet, Cheeky pushes herself out of her chair, waddling over to her bedroom door.
  73. "Well then, sounds like my decision's been made for me," she says, kicking her door open and heading straight for her closet.
  75. "Decision?" you ask, walking alongside Faz to the front of the apartment.
  77. "You two are out of your damn minds if you think you're just going to up and haul ass down to Jeremy's alone in the middle of the night," she shouts, her voice muffled. "If Faz so much as steps off a curb the wrong way, he's gonna tear half his sutures out!"
  79. "Coming along as a field nurse, then?" you call back as you help Faz button up his overcoat.
  81. "Try 'combat medic'," Cheeky scoffs, re-emerging from her room in a pair of jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, and a puffy jacket. Slung over her left shoulder is a first-aid kit, and in her wings is a solid wrench the size of a baseball bat. "You're gonna need someone who can bandage a wound as well as inflict one."
  83. "You realize we're not going to KILL Nisha, right?" you warily venture, ducking as she nearly takes out one of the light sconces by the front door with a test swing.
  85. "No promises."
  87. "Chica," Faz grunts.
  89. "...fffiiiiiine," she whines, following him outside. "But I reserve the right to smack her around a little if I feel like she needs it."
  91. As you pull your own jacket on, you glance over your shoulder at Bonworth, who's still sitting where you left him in the living room. Walking back over to him, you extend a hand to help him up.
  93. "What about you, Bonworth? You're coming too, aren't you?"
  95. The jittery rabbit fidgets, hesitating, and Foxy pulls himself up onto Faz's chair next to him, shaking his head rapidly.
  97. "...naw, better someone stays an' watches out for Foxy," he replies, his voice strained. "Besides, I think I'd just slow you fellas down."
  99. "In Cheeky's case that might be a good thing," you quip, jerking a thumb over your shoulder at the boisterous hen as she helps Faz descend the staircase to the lower level. You can't make out what she's saying from the living room, but you can hear her squawking indignantly about something. "You know what they say about a girl with a big wrench--"
  101. "Mike," Bonworth blurts, smiling uneasily. "J-just bring my pals back home safe, okay?"
  103. Your expression softens. "Don't worry, Bonworth. I promise I will."
  105. "...yeah, I know," he says, eyes brimming. "What'm I sayin'. You've done it before, ain't you."
  107. As you turn to leave, you're stopped by a sudden tug at your shirt. This time, it's not Bonworth, but Foxy, who stands shakily upright beside you with no small amount of effort. He's so often crouched, slouched, or hunched on all fours that seeing him at his full height is quite a surprise.
  109. "Y-y-you're gonna sail right into the storm," he stammers, not quite able to make eye contact. It's hard to tell if that was a question or a statement.
  111. "Well, we have to do something, sailor."
  113. He cringes, rubbing his metal hook with his good paw. Given the constriction in his voice, he's working hard just to get the words out. "Cloudy. No land for miles that far out. Sail at fullll c-caution. Keep yer c-crew car core call cl-cl-close."
  115. "I will, Foxy." You reach out tentatively, putting your hand on his shoulder. He startles, but doesn't pull away, and suddenly leans against you.
  117. His ears flick about as he speaks, and his snout twitches. "Keep keen for the dread pirate. Her sails, they're staunched in blood. Blood and metal. The dread pirate sails, aye, but the reef, she be full of sharks. An' Bonnie, she keeps the last hatch below William's keel. She keeps it secret for the bootleggers! But ol' Foxy knows. The sirens sang it to me."
  119. You turn to Bonworth for help translating, but with a shrug he makes it clear he's as lost as you. Nonetheless, you give Foxy a reassuring pat on the shoulder. "I'll be careful, Foxy. Thank you."
  121. "The sharks," he repeats. "The sharks are in the reef, and there's blood in the water again. Find ye safe port, sailor. And if y'see that blistered barnacle what took me paw, you damn well send him to Davy Jones for me."
  123. "You got it."
  125. Foxy returns a light smile, and, evidently satisfied with your response, he turns to stumble back to his room. "Then sail safe, me hearty! And mind William!"
  127. Not sure of what else to say, you finally head out the door to hook up with your allies. The sun's long since set and a blistering cold wind begins to blow through the parking lot, bringing with it a volley of snow and slush. You kind of wish you were conducting a nighttime raid in the middle of summer, but you suppose it is what it is.
  129. "I heard some chatter. Sounds like Foxy had a lot to say. He must be worried about you," Cheeky smiles. "We all set?"
  131. "Yeah. April and Freddy should be done bringing Fred Fazbear up to speed by now," you announce, checking your watch. "Say, you know a 'William'?"
  133. "Doesn't sound familiar," she sniffs.
  135. "Huh. Well, I just realized, with all of us together, I think that's gonna be six -- and Fred's car seats four, tops."
  137. "Got any ideas on where we'll get a second set of wheels, then?" she replies. "I don't have a car, but I do have a driver's license at least."
  139. "Then you're a leg up on me," you answer, instinctively pausing a beat for her to follow up the joke with innuendo of her own. She doesn't. "Right, well, Marion has a van. Chichi borrows it sometimes to do baking deliveries. Maybe he'll let us use it if we tell him it's for an emergency?"
  141. "All right. I'll head down to the front desk and fill Marion in on the bottom line," she responds. "Faz, stay with Mike until we're all ready to leave."
  143. As Cheeky takes off through the parking lot, you turn to Faz. He looks more alive than you've ever seen him; his eyes twinkle as he looks out into the snow-covered courtyard, his paws clenching and unclenching at his sides. If you didn't know better, you'd almost assume he was excited.
  145. "When this is all over," you comment, hefting the folder of evidence you've collected, "what do you say to another cookout?"
  147. "I'd like that. You bring the fish this time."
  149. "I was planning on it," you reply. "Let's go see how the others are doing."
  153. "You," April growls with surprising intensity, one finger outstretched in accusation, "are INCAPABLE of reason!"
  155. "Oh, really! I'M the one who's being unreasonable! Will you LISTEN to yourself?!" Fred practically screams back at her, furiously gesticulating with each word. "You're talking about potentially destroying a woman's livelihood on a HUNCH, April!"
  157. You exchange a wide-eyed, awkward look with Faz as you close the door behind yourselves.
  159. What little of April's face you can make out from the foyer is flushed bright red with anger. Her lone visible eye is nearly bulging out of its socket as she stares Fred down from the other side of the living room. Frederick's hovering behind her, paws clasped in front of himself passively as she and Fred heatedly argue with each other; while he's doing an excellent job of seeming neutral, you can tell from the way his eyes are flicking back and forth between them that he's ready to intervene at the drop of a hat.
  161. "'Hunch'?! She STOLE my half!" she retorts, panting heavily. "Take yours too... if not for your brother's trust!"
  163. "No, I refuse to believe that's the case. There MUST be some mistake," Fred snaps, waving her off dismissively. "It's got to be a clerical error or something."
  165. "And if it is true?" April argues. "You're so worried... about what? Offending her?"
  167. "Nisha Marigold is one of the hardest and most diligent workers that Humanimatronics Limited has EVER employed, and I'll be damned if I'm going to just sit here and let you slander her without CONCRETE proof of wrongdoing." Shaking his head, Fred paces back and forth in the living room like a caged animal. "If she'd been trying to pull strings behind the scenes to take over our company, don't you think someone would've informed me by now? I'm the regional manager, for crying out loud!"
  169. You know better than to call him out on that one. Clearly, April feels the same way, since she doesn't seize upon the opportunity either.
  171. "She's a fraud! Embezzling! Plotting! Scheming! What about... checks getting smaller?"
  173. "Tough economy. We've all had to tighten our belts," Fred shrugs. "It's hit everyone. My own paycheck went from bi-weekly to the first of each month."
  175. "Fred. Business is booming," you interrupt, dipping your head respectfully as you help Faz into the living room. "I was there with you at Jeremy's the other day, remember? There was a line just to get in."
  177. "Mike? How long have you been eaves--" Fred growls, stopping short when he sees you've brought company. "Oh, Faz, not you too."
  179. "Fred," Faz drones, tipping his hat. "I respectfully advise you listen to what they have to say."
  181. "Didn't believe it myself at first," April adds, looking genuinely relieved to see backup's arrived. "Mike convinced me."
  183. "So you're the one to blame for putting these ideas in her head, Mike? Ohhh, I should have known I'd find a busybody like you behind all this," Fred sighs, folding his arms. "So much for 'summer arts and crafts' -- this was your plan from the start, wasn't it?"
  185. "Fred, I'm sorry I had to keep the truth from you." You tap your fingers together; you weren't expecting to have to make this sale yet again. You figured if Fred would have listened to anyone, it'd be his brother's business partner. "I didn't want to, y'know, say anything -- until I was absolutely sure, but uh... Fred, there's something crazy going on at Jeremy's and I think Nisha's behind it all."
  187. The sharply-dressed bear rolls his eyes so hard his whole body moves with the motion. Turning, he storms off toward the kitchen. "Oh spare us ALL your revelations. You've been poking at this since you got here, weaving your little conspiracy theories into everything you see! You've been a malcontent since day one, Mike."
  189. "A malcontent who also saved my life," comes a familiar voice.
  191. Fred stops cold, his back to you, clenching his fists. With a slow, reluctant turn, he faces the purple bunny leaning on the darkened door to the apartment's hall. Rackham stands quietly beside her, and his expression is a kind of stern glare you've never seen him level at anyone but yourself.
  193. "So, you know," Beanie continues with a shrug, "that might count for something."
  195. Quickly running out of places to hide, Fred returns his attention fully to you and April, his frown curling back into a tight-lipped snarl. "You come into my home, you intrude on my family's business, and all this, for what? To accuse my associates? To desecrate my brother's legacy?"
  197. "What happened to him being 'family'? Or does that only apply when it's convenient for--"
  199. A vicious glare from the irate bear silences Beanie mid-rant, but still she stands defiant.
  201. "At first I thought you were just trying to get back at me for the way I treated you early on, but I was under the impression we'd made good," Fred continues. "So why in the world are you so dead-set against me? Haven't I shown you every possible consideration? Haven't I been fair?"
  203. "'Fair'?!" Beanie coughs, stepping into the room. "Fred, that's not even--"
  205. Rackham follows suit, looking just as angry and talking at the same time. "Look, don't act like the company's ever been--"
  208. "I ASKED HIM!!" Fred roars at the top of his lungs, punching one of the nearby walls hard enough to put a hole the size of your head in the plaster.
  211. Beanie's ears lay flat against the back of her head, her eyes wide. Rackham's jaw hangs slack. You notice Frederick has since moved in front of an ashen-faced April. Fred spreads his arms far apart, palms outstretched to command silence. His brows are furrowed, eyes squeezed shut.
  213. "I don't get you, Mike." His voice is whisper-quiet -- even more strained and dry than Faz's unassisted speech. Opening his eyes, he looks at you pleadingly. "I don't understand you at all. What do you get out of this?"
  215. For once, you can't argue with the patriarchal bear -- he's got a point.
  218. It just so happens that his point is the same as yours.
  221. "That's just what I'm trying to tell you, Fred: I don't get anything out of making this up." Rather than pull away, you appeal directly to his own convictions, in the hopes of plying his momentum against him. "There's no scam here that benefits me. I don't have a stake or a claim to any of this, or some pending lawsuit. I'm on unemployment, not payouts from the restaurant. So honestly, what DO I get out of this?"
  223. "You know something, you're right," he says with exaggerated thoughtfulness, twisting his face into a sardonic smile. "It's so much more likely you're just crazy! I mean, look at you -- anyone can see something's wrong with you. You're just another conspiracy nutjob who can't mind his own business."
  225. You sigh, looking back to April for support, but she offers only a shrug. She seems to have backed off a little since you showed up, probably to keep Fred from feeling like he's being ganged up on. After that outburst, you can't possibly blame her.
  227. "Mike's not crazy."
  229. A heavy paw clamps your shoulder as Faz steps up beside you. Sneaking a peek at his face, his eyes are locked onto Fred, who sighs in response.
  231. Frederick flanks your other side, nodding subtly. "Je suis avec lui."
  233. "Faz, please." His shoulders drop, and he rubs his temples in addle-minded frustration. You can see him beginning to crack under the pressure. "I thought you of all people would know better."
  235. "I do know better," Faz bear-rumbles back, pacing towards Fred with such intensity that he instinctively takes a step back. Faz presses a finger to Fred's chest, causing the smaller bear to turn away in shame. "There was a time when you recognized that."
  237. "He's got a point. You always said Faz was the voice of reason, Fred," Rackham deadpans. "You're not going back on that, are you?"
  239. "Look at this from my perspective, okay?" Fred gestures plaintively about the room. "You all march in here with our very own wannabe private detective, ranting about how Jeremy's is twisted up in some--"
  241. "The company IS twisted!" Beanie shouts, bounding forward, wild-eyed. "Wake the FUCK up, Fred! One of your stupid 'stage performers' almost skinned me alive! You think THAT shit's normal?! You REALLY want to fucking argue that this is all just -- just, fuckin', business as usual?! You don't need to be some 'conspiracy nutjob' to see the writing on the FUCKING wall!"
  243. "Now you watch your language in this household, young lady," Fred sighs. His missing her point would be almost comical if it weren't so tragic. "I'm not going to tell you again. And as for the company--"
  245. "FUCK 'the company'!!" she spits back.
  247. "After all they've done for us--"
  249. "Oh, right! All they've done for us, like THIS?" she demands, grabbing Rackham by his crippled wrist and wagging his prosthetic hook at Fred. For his part, the fox doesn't seem to mind being used as a prop at all; in fact, his intent glowering at Fred suggests he's fully on Beanie's side for this one.
  251. "They've done so much for me," Faz says through his tinny electrolarynx, flexing his scarred paw for emphasis.
  253. April coughs roughly through her bandages, so on-cue you're not even sure if it was intentional.
  255. "Don't you put all that off on me," Fred says. "I didn't do this to any of you. I did everything I possibly could to make sure you were comfortable--"
  257. Beanie scoffs, letting Rackham's hook fall from her paws as she waves Fred off. "There's no getting through that thick head. He's as oblivious as ever."
  259. "Always someone else's fault, Freddy." April shakes her head, clearly repulsed. "You haven't grown at all."
  261. "Someone's to blame for this, Fred," Rackham seethes.
  263. "It's NOT me!" Fred screeches, nearly coming unhinged. "Foxy, I am SORRY about what happened to you and Caroline! Honest, I am! You don't think I've had to live with that hanging over my head every single day of my life?!"
  265. "Then why don't you do something about it?!"
  267. "What am I supposed to do, change fate?" the bear returns as he whirls from one accuser to the next. "I do my best! I do everything I can!"
  269. Fred's resistance isn't wavering, and it's becoming increasingly clear the multi-pronged attack isn't going to get him to relent. If anything, the accusatory tone and meandering back-and-forth is only making him more defensive. Beanie's made it clear exactly how stubborn Fred can be, and you can personally attest that butting heads with him like this will get you nowhere.
  271. Time for a different approach.
  273. "Fred," you begin calmly, stepping forward to join the others while surreptitiously motioning for them to ease off, "I know you trust Nisha, and I know you trust the company."
  275. "Of course I trust the company," he agrees immediately, looking almost relieved. "There's nothing that matters more to me. That's why I take these wild accusations so seriously."
  277. You have to push on. Without Fred on your side -- without a united front to push against Nisha -- you'll have lost before you even reach the restaurant.
  279. "I understand that," you reply. "That's why I have to ask: do you think this is how Goldie would have wanted you to handle this situation?"
  281. And just like that, he suddenly stiffens up again, every muscle in his face tightening. "What did you just say to me?" he asks through clenched teeth.
  283. "I think you heard me."
  285. "Whoa, Mike," Beanie starts, waving her paw back and forth in front of her throat in a "nix it" gesture.
  287. Fred bristles, thrusting an accusatory finger at you. "How DARE you try to use my late brother against me? You didn't even know him!"
  289. Boy, this is a familiar scene. Treading on thin ice, speaking on sensitive personal matters. It didn't end well last time, but now, you're not in this to satisfy your own curiosity, or your sense of pride, or anything else so selfish. You're here purely for your friends, and for those who can't defend themselves. Cautiously, but firmly, you press forward.
  291. "No. No, I didn't know him. And I wish I had, because from everything I've heard, I'm sure I missed a great man. Cheeky and Bonworth both had nothing but wonderful things to say about him," you offer. "But while I didn't know him personally, I do know he put his blood, sweat, and tears into his work."
  293. Fred huffs, nodding hesitantly and straightening his buttoned sleeves. You notice he's doing everything he can to avoid making eye contact with anyone in the room right now. "You're damn right he did."
  295. "I also know that as much as he loved the company, he loved you too, Fred," you continue. "He trusted you more than you know. You say there's nothing that matters more to you than your company, but Goldie knew then what I know now, and what I think everyone in this room knows deep down."
  297. "And what's that, Mike?" Fred murmurs, poorly feigning disinterest. You watch as he fastens and unfastens the same cufflink on his sleeve.
  299. "That you'll always put your friends first. And whatever you think of me, whatever you think of yourself -- I know if he could see you now, he would be proud of you."
  301. Fred finally, finally looks up at you, his brows arched high, mouth hanging open like he's just been punched in the gut. A glistening sheen comes to his blue eyes, and he doesn't make a sound.
  303. No one in the room does.
  305. Your heart's pounding so loud that you're convinced you're going to pass out, but you soldier on.
  307. "That's why, even when you were a hooligan, he chose to make you his heir in the event of his death -- not just because you're family, but because he knew you had it in you to be a truly good man." You motion to April, gently taking hold of her paw. "That's why he entrusted his legacy to you and April. And that's why, right now, I need you to be the man Goldie always knew you could be."
  309. With great discomfort, Fred coughs, and as he sets his jaw, you can see him struggling to find the words. "I-- look, if you're implying--"
  311. "Fred, I'm not trying to imply anything. I'm telling you that your friends and your employees need you. And whether or not you count me among them, I need you. Your company is more than the bricks and mortar the buildings are made of, more than the shares and the profits and the products it sells."
  313. You tilt your head slowly to April, then to Beanie, then Rackham, then Faz.
  315. "These people are your business, Fred. Everything your brother, and April, and their employees have worked for is in danger. We need to save them -- I can't. I can't stop it. I'm not strong enough." You hang your head slightly, the truth of it gripping you as the words come out. "But you are."
  317. Opening and closing his mouth, Fred lets out a kind of uneasy murmur, his paw nails clicking as he fumbles with his cufflinks. His eyes are darting around the room, and you can tell it's all he can do to keep it together. Something in his demeanor's changed -- the defiant, unbreakable, incorrigible spirit's gone. He bites his trembling lower lip, just quietly nodding.
  319. "So please, Fred. Help me make sure nobody ever gets hurt again."
  321. He exhales heavily through his nose, letting go of his sleeve and covering his face in both paws. His shoulders convulse a few times as he draws a deep, ragged breath -- and then, at once, he straightens up. Uncovering his face, he looks completely and wholly transformed. His expression is calm, his eyes are quiet and placid. Like a light switch that's just been flipped, he dips his head to you in a curt nod, clearing his throat and brushing off his vest.
  323. "It's my duty as the regional manager to make sure everything is in order," he states plainly, fixing his bow tie. "Matters tonight have been brought to my attention which require me to make a trip downtown. I'm going to check in on Nisha, make sure everything's copacetic, and handle some due diligence while I'm there."
  325. You speechlessly look over to Beanie and Rackham, who return the same gobsmacked expression you're no doubt wearing yourself.
  327. "April, Faz, I'd like you to come with me," he instructs, clearly spearheading the operation. Grabbing his work jacket, he directs them over to the door. "Mike, you'll be joining us as well. If you need to use the bathroom before we leave, then go take care of that now, since it's a thirty minute ride over."
  329. He realizes that you're not a little kid, right? You stumble forward, hurrying to keep pace with him. "Hey, Fred, I just wanted to tell you--"
  331. "No, no -- I won't hear any arguments otherwise," he warns, shaking his head. "This is a matter of some urgency now, and you're coming, Mike, so I can show you once and for all just how wrong you really are about your baseless suspicions. Then we can put this nonsense behind us and get on with our lives as one big, happy family."
  333. Well, at least you've got him on board now. Nodding, you glance over your shoulder at your compatriots. Faz adjusts his own hat, ready to leave without further banter. April, on the other hand, shoots you a knowing smile that makes itself clear even behind the gauze.
  335. Even Frederick seems excited, glancing sideways to you. "Il semble que grand ours a rejoint le combat."
  337. "Right then. Let's get going," Fred says.
  339. As the four of you make it to the front door, Rackham suddenly takes a step forward.
  341. "I'm coming, too," he declares, reaching for his leather jacket off of the rack by the front door.
  343. "Really?" Fred asks, clearly skeptical. You're surprised to see him not putting his foot down, but you also know better than to push him after the act of congress it took just to get him to this point. "YOU want to tag along."
  345. "You're damn right I do," Rackham retorts. "You benched me last time when Bonnie was in dire straits. I'm not gonna let you shove me off in the corner again while you guys go have all the fun."
  347. "And what happens if I say no?" Fred inquires.
  349. "Then you find alternate means of transportation," the rust-colored fox replies, reaching into the pocket of his baggy shorts and producing a set of car keys.
  351. "Oh, shit," Beanie grins.
  353. "...did you pick my pocket?" Fred says, eyebrows raised as he pats his trousers.
  355. "Le renard typique," Frederick adds.
  357. "Not now, Freddy." You gently pat his arm, shaking your head.
  359. "Well, I-- wow. I'm actually just impressed. When did you manage that trick?!" Fred gawks, holding his paw out expectantly.
  361. "Right around the time you were saying Mike was crazy," Rackham chuckles, tossing Fred his keys. "You were practically spinning like a top there for a few minutes, so I figured I better not miss my chance. Besides, I didn't want to run the risk of you storming out on us and leaving the rest of us stranded."
  363. "Someone that quick COULD be useful," April comments.
  365. "She thinks I'm useful!" the fox beams with a goofy whisper to Beanie, puffing up his scrawny chest.
  367. "Well then, I suppose there's always room for one more," Fred sighs. "You can come too, I guess. Some of you are going to have to stay behind, though -- we can't ALL fit in my car."
  369. "Well, you don't have to worry about me. I'm sitting this one out," Beanie announces, turning down the hall back to her room. "No offense, but I'd rather lovingly slam my head in a car door a few dozen times than ever go back to that place. Let me know how it goes, though."
  371. "Actually, Fred, we've already got a second ride sorted out," you interject. "Cheeky's procuring Marion's van as we--"
  373. The sound of a horn blaring outside cuts you off mid-sentence, causing both Beanie and April to jump and Faz to let out a dry chuckle.
  375. "--speak," you finish lamely. "Seems someone's raring to go."
  377. "Well then, what the hell're we waiting for?" Rackham whoops, throwing the door open. He eagerly rushes out ahead of the pack only to stop literally cold as soon as his feet hit the snow outside. "Oh, shoot. Uhh -- how do we wanna split this up?"
  379. "Mike," Fred barks without hesitation, pulling his own coat on. "you and April are with me. Foxy, Frederick -- I want you two with Faz and Cheeky in case anything happens to them."
  381. "Got it, boss," Rackham says, heading around the back of Marion's van.
  383. You pull Frederick aside, tapping his arm and then motioning to the van. He looks to you somewhat questioningly, then to April. You give him a confident nod in return, patting your chest -- and that seems to be enough to assuage his concerns. He holds the van door open for Faz, helping him into the cab before climbing into the cargo hold with Rackham.
  385. After cramming yourself into the cramped backseat of Fred's car, you lean forward and help April buckle herself in.
  387. "You two ready?" Fred asks, turning the engine over.
  389. "For this to be over with," April mumbles, staring impatiently out the passenger side window.
  391. "Couldn't have said it better myself," you add. "C'mon, guys. Let's go get your company back."
  395. Frederick slowly walks up to the building, staring at it almost reverently. Fred and Faz stand beside the car, discussing something, while Rackham disembarks behind them.
  397. "Uuuggghhh. I see what you were talking about, riding around in the back of that thing, Mike," he groans, shaking out his arms and legs as he limps forward. "Ow ow ow. I'm gonna need to go home and soak in a tub full of hot water and Epsom salt after this."
  399. "Les portes de l'enfer... sont bordées de lumières violettes et jaunes," Frederick murmurs, his feet crunching in the slush as he gingerly approaches the restaurant.
  401. "Like a kid in a candy store," Rackham mutters, elbowing you with a dismissive shake of his head. "It only LOOKS like it's all fun and games here until you get to know it."
  403. "I don't know, Rackham. I think he might have a better idea of what goes on here than you think," you reply, Frederick's bleak illustrations hanging heavy in your head.
  405. The expansive, darkened lot surrounding the pizzeria stands desolate, a total of four cars parked near the front: the two your group brought, a luxury sedan, and a freshly-waxed banana yellow sports car with a vanity plate reading "N1SHMAR". No prizes for guessing who that one belongs to.
  407. A sudden voice pulls your attention back to the building's grand facade, where Rackham is uselessly tugging at Frederick's coattails to stop the bear pacing toward the entrance.
  409. "Hey, hey! What are you doing? You can't come in, we need you to watch the front!"
  411. Stepping in front of them, you try to explain to a confused Frederick.
  413. "Freddy, I know you're trying to help, but Rackham's right -- we need someone out by the entrance in case--"
  415. The bear moves past you without trouble. Only when you grab him by the wrist does he stop and turn, his brow knitted.
  417. "Freddy, please, we brought you along -- but you really shouldn't go in. It's complicated. You might not understand everything that happens in there. Just wait for us here, okay?"
  419. He frowns, gesturing to the door insistently. "Je dois."
  421. "It's all right," comes a sudden, tinny voice from directly behind you, causing you to startle. You've forgotten how quickly and quietly Faz can move. "Let him go. I'll wait out here with Chica. We'll watch the place. She'll be happy I'm not running around, at least."
  423. "Only if you're sure," you relent, helping him back to the van where Cheeky does, at least, look relieved to see him returning to safety. "Thanks, Faz."
  425. Rapping at the lowered driver's side window of the cargo van, Fred inclines his head to her.
  427. "All right. For now, you stay out here with Faz," he instructs. "Make yourselves comfortable -- I'm sure this'll be over in just a few minutes."
  429. "Believe me, I'm in no hurry to head inside." Slouching back in the driver's seat chair, Cheeky grunts, rubbing her stomach. "Nnnghh. But if you need me, give me a holler, and I'll come in swinging."
  431. "She's not kidding about that last part," Faz adds as you help him climb back into the passenger's seat.
  433. "Duly noted," Fred comments with a raised eyebrow.
  435. "Fred, April, do you guys have a way around the lock?" you ask, stretching your achy legs as you rejoin the group at the front of the building. "When we started gathering everyone up, I just assumed someone would have a key or something." Actually, the truth is you couldn't figure out where to procure a tablet computer on short notice, let alone codebreaking software and a bag full of high-tech spy gear -- but he doesn't need to know that.
  437. "...apparently it doesn't matter. Seems Nisha already made a special consideration for us," Fred groans.
  439. "Oh, you have GOT to be kidding," Rackham snickers, pressing the flat of his good paw to his forehead.
  441. Casting an exasperated finger in the direction of the restaurant's front door, Fred motions to where a set of keys are dangling limply from the handle, clearly forgotten by their previous owner. Adorning the ring are a cutesy bee-shaped keychain with the words "Bestest Boss in the Bizzness" etched across its surface, and a complicated-looking electronic key fob with a digital readout.
  443. "See what I mean?" April seethes, jostling your arm. "Too stupid... to make coffee."
  445. "She left company property to where anyone could get it, and here you two alarmists were trying to paint her as some kind of villainous mastermind," Fred grumbles as he collects the keyring, stowing it in the pocket of his coat. "God's sake. Let's get this farce over with."
  447. "Whoa, hey, Fred -- hang on a second," you blurt as he pushes the front door open, "if you go in now--"
  449. "...yes?" he asks, turning around to look at you. "What, Mike? What happens if we go in now? You're not getting cold feet, are you?"
  451. "No, Fred, the animatronics!" Your hands are pressed to the sides of your head in your very best Edvard Munch impression. "They're vicious, they're deadly, they're--"
  453. "--deactivated," Fred says as he turns the dining room lights on, pointing towards the show stage. Even from the entrance of the building, you can barely make out Jeremy, Fritzine, and Darky standing atop their usual stage, staring blankly ahead like lifeless puppets.
  455. "Nisha deactivated them," April adds, tapping a blinking red light on the front desk. "Manual override's been engaged."
  457. "Wait, wait, you can DO that?! Are you -- wait, are you for real right now?" you hiss. "THAT would've been nice to know about BEFORE I busted a few ribs!"
  459. Fred grits his teeth, avoiding eye contact. "Mike, I didn't have the override. Who do you think I was trying to call?"
  461. Your indignant rage is quickly tempered, fizzling out with a bitter grumble. "Well, let's just be DAMN sure this time, okay?"
  463. "Go on, go have a look for yourself. I won't blame you if you need to get some closure here," Fred gestures, his tone uncharacteristically gentle. "I understand you and Bonnie both went through a terrible ordeal."
  465. You cautiously pad forward into the dining hall, peering at the stage from behind the relative safety of the tables. As creepy as they are when they're moving, they're somehow even more unnerving motionless.
  467. "We probably shouldn't waste time here," Rackham prods. "Let's get going before Nisha catches wind that we've arrived."
  469. "Fine. The executive office is in the Speakeasy," Fred says with all the air and authority of a tour guide as he motions for your group to follow him in. "Right this way, if you'd please."
  471. If Fred's the tour guide, Frederick's the eager tourist, treating the pizzeria as if he were in a fine art museum. The gentle giant wanders forward past you, looking around the children's restaurant inquisitively, drinking the atmosphere in. He picks up one of the party hats off of a nearby table, turning it over in his enormous paws curiously as if he's never seen one before.
  473. Then again, maybe he hasn't. There's so much about him you still don't understand.
  475. "So I guess now's as good a time to ask as any," you venture. "Why IS there an office inside an arcade -- and for that matter, why does the building have a second arcade to begin with?"
  477. "This is the oldest location in the chain, our flagship restaurant. My brother spent most of his time here. He wanted to have a suite put in so when he'd work long nights, he'd have a place to stay without having to drive home from downtown. Someplace off the official floorplan, to boot, so the humanimatronic prototypes wouldn't wander in and bother him while he was trying to work." Fred smiles wistfully. "Of course, I think I ended up crashing there more often than he did during 'long nights' of my own."
  479. "I still can't believe you were a hellraiser when you were young, Fred," you chuckle as he leads your group through the tunnel to the Speakeasy. "You seem so straight-laced now."
  481. "I'm glad... you outgrew that foolishness," April tuts.
  483. "Well anyhow -- he decided to build it directly off of the main hallway, just above the security office," Fred continues, blushing. "So that we didn't have a staircase jutting out randomly in the middle of the restaurant, he also had a smaller room built around it, and he decided to stock it with some of the more violent arcade games that the parents would complain about."
  485. "That explains why there's a bar back here too," you muse.
  487. "Well, I might've petitioned for that," Fred admits with a smirk, pushing the double doors open. "After you."
  489. "The folly of youth." Shaking her head, April makes her way inside towards the staircase.
  491. With some small amount of smugness, you congratulate yourself on so accurately imagining the Speakeasy's interior. A smooth black bartop with cool blue strip lighting takes up the far wall, an impressive stock lined up behind it, while small tables with modern stools dot the floor and arcade cabinets cover the walls.
  493. Rackham's gaze lingers on the various machines as you pass through the moodlit room, scratching his scruffy neck with his hook. "Hey Fred, I always wondered, can you win tickets in here, too? Is there like, an adult prize corner?"
  495. "That's... stupidest thing I've ever heard," April gripes from the staircase.
  497. Fred rubs his chin. "Something to think about."
  499. The landing above is barely wide enough for two people, so Fred takes point at the imposing, glass-framed door immediately beyond. With the rest of the group (yourself included) lined up single-file behind him down the length of the stairs, he makes one final pause.
  501. "All right then, this is it. Are we all ready?" he asks, voice lowered to a conspiratorial whisper.
  503. Despite how much more easily this whole thing is going down tonight than it did in your pre-planning, every muscle in your body feels tense. If your suspicions prove true, you're stepping into potentially greater danger than you've ever faced in your life -- or at least, the parts of it you can remember. But so many have been hurt, and so many may yet be. All it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing. Whatever happens tonight, whatever danger or harm may come to you, it will be a price worth paying.
  505. And so, although you can't stop shaking, you take a deep breath -- and steady on.
  507. "I'm ready to be proved wrong," you nod. "Hopeful, even."
  509. April nods. "Mhm."
  511. "Allons-y."
  513. "I think we're ready as we'll ever be," Rackham adds. "Let's not stay here any longer than we have to."
  515. Fred straightens his tie. "I intend to be quick."
  517. "I intend to be brutal," you hear April mutter under her breath.
  521. With a reverberating slam, the heavy door is flung open. So much for needing a lockpick. With Fred at the fore, your makeshift party pours into the office with all the speed of a SWAT team, fanning out to stand on either side of him to block the sole exit.
  523. For as close as your mental image of the Speakeasy was, you couldn't have been more wrong about the office. It's cramped, not spacious, with a ceiling so low that Frederick and April have to hunch down a little as they step inside. Its design is ramshackle, not modern, with a mish-mash of walls in bare poured concrete, rough tiles, and exposed, unfinished wood beams.
  525. The decor is hardly palatial: the floor is uncarpeted, the walls are adorned with cheesy, mass-printed posters instead of fine art, and Nisha's desk at the far end -- a squared-off plywood piece straight out of a kit -- is cluttered with a clunky gray computer, an old-fashioned landline phone, a Newton's Cradle, a dollar store stationery pad with a bee design, and a model ship-in-a-bottle. A standing floor lamp rests in the corner, illuminating the desk.
  527. No lavish statues, no opulent columns, no high tech indulgences. No fanciful imported rugs or display cases full of knick-knacks or memorabilia. The most impressive feature of the room, taking up a considerable chunk of its already limited real estate, is a large, rusty, dented fire safe. You glare at it with no small level of contempt; you're sure it's the behemoth that ruined Bonworth's life, and now it's being used as a table for a fax machine.
  529. It seems there is one detail you got right, though: standing at an open wall safe mounted near her desk, wearing the only gold in the entire room in the form of a gaudy business dress, is the black bear you've all come to see. She's frozen in place, staring at your group like a deer in headlights. She's also clutching a wad of cash in one paw and a lumpy burlap sack in the other. For a long time, both sides just gawk at each other, not quite sure what to make of what they're seeing.
  531. "What is this?!" Nisha and Fred finally demand, in perfect simultaneous stereo sound.
  533. "Mr. Fazbear! So, ahhh...! He-hello, um. Sir." Nisha cinches her money sack shut, shoving it off the table with a nervous titter. "I wasn't, ahn... expecting you to bring so many... friends?"
  535. "Cut the crap, Nisha!" you blurt out from off to Fred's side, only to have him thrust a massive paw in front of your face.
  537. "Let him do his thing, Mike," Rackham advises.
  539. "Right. Sorry, Fred," you mutter.
  541. "Ms. Marigold," Fred rumbles, brow furrowed as his eyes sweep the room, "some of my associates, including Ms. May, have come to me tonight with some very troubling allegations concerning you. I'd hoped we could have a rational discussion to sort things out and perhaps put their fears at ease."
  543. "Ahhn, is -- is that all? Oh! Well, that sounds good, yes," she answers, smoothing her blouse out and buttoning up her vest. "So, ahhh, what can I do for you then?"
  545. "Well, I'm going to cut right to the chase. Ms. Marigold, did you authorize the transfer or redistribution of Ms. May's holdings?"
  547. "The -- the what?" Nisha asks sweetly, taking a seat in her chair. "Authorize...?"
  549. Fred closes his eyes, raising a paw to his muzzle and exhaling heavily. It's obvious from his expression alone that he's already beginning to lose his patience with this entire affair and you haven't even gotten started yet.
  551. "Obviously I'm not making myself clear," he says at length. "Did you STEAL April May's shares of Humanimatronics Limited?"
  553. "Steal...! N-no, of cour-- of course not," she stammers, reeling visibly. "That's -- I, well I can't believe you'd go and say a thing like that!"
  555. Frederick's begun aimlessly wandering the office, stopping occasionally to place his paw softly against one of the walls, quietly soaking in every small detail. Nisha side-eyes him with a strange look, but never turns away from your group.
  557. "Checked with corporate. All my shares... are in your name," April insists forcefully, her already hoarse voice cracking under the exertion.
  559. "Oh! Oh, goodness -- well, that much is true, yes, but that's not 'stealing' at all, Mr. Fazbear!" Fretting, Nisha clasps her paws, sitting up straight in her desk chair. "She came into my office and proposed the idea herself in July. Don't you remember, Ms. May? Oh my, you'd said so much about the stress of the company getting to you and being bad for your health..."
  561. "Liar," April fumes, balling up her fists. "I did no such thing."
  563. "Really? Oh, dear me, but you must have. After all, I've got your signature in triplicate, so, if not you, Ms. May, then clearly they had to come from somewhere, right?" She raises a pinky finger to her mouth, which curls into a smile.
  565. "Thief. Transfer was under new notary. Not mine!" April storms over, slamming her paws on the desk. Everyone jumps.
  567. Except Nisha. The black bear bats her long lashes, shrugging. "Clerical error, maybe?"
  569. "A clerical error? You must be joking," Fred snorts, clearly having already forgotten he said the very same thing earlier. April and Rackham give the back of his head a withering glare, but both of them wisely choose to stay silent for now. You're right there with them -- at this point, none of you want to be standing in front of the train that is Fred Fazbear once he gets going.
  571. "Then FIX it." April raps the computer monitor with one of her bandaged knuckles. "No problem. You're an accountant."
  573. "Oh gosh, well, I'd love to," Nisha responds. "But really, is that in the company's best interests? I mean, what with your declining health and even Mr. Fazbear's future being all muddled, what with his -- well, goodness, let's not beat around the bush here -- his 'condition'..."
  575. "What 'condition'?" Fred grunts as April and Rackham both visibly bristle at the new topic. "What are you talking about?"
  577. "Oh, you have nothing to be ashamed of, Mr. Fazbear -- we all know you're not a well man," Nisha says, eyes narrowing. "This company would've floundered without the proper management you and Ms. May are unable to provide. I'm just doing my job as its CEO."
  579. "Temporary CEO," April clarifies.
  581. "Well," Nisha purrs, leaning back at her desk, "'majority shareholder' also has a nice ring to it."
  583. Seething, April swats the notepad off the desk, sending a flutter of bee-shaped notes across the already cluttered room. Frederick stops his idle pacing and turns quickly to the source of the noise. Again, the black bear doesn't so much as flinch. "Don't make us... get the lawyers!"
  585. "I believe the saying is 'your word against mine'," Nisha replies dismissively. "But sure, if you want to drag it out in a bitter legal battle, I'm willing to do what I must to protect the integrity of this company."
  587. Despite the silence from your own side and the mock affability emanating from Nisha, the tension in the room is so palpable you could scoop it with a melon baller. You feel woozy -- and more importantly, you feel defeated.
  589. April turns desperately to Fred, who's been silent for a while, and makes a sweeping wave at the desk -- the universal gesture for "are you going to let this bitch get away with it".
  591. "You do realize, I hope, that I'll fight you on this," he replies in a remarkably calm tone.
  593. "Oh dear," she gasps, putting a paw to her mouth. "Well gosh, Mr. Fazbear, I was worried it might come to that. Especially with your own shares in jeopardy."
  595. "My shares," he repeats blankly.
  597. "Well yes, sir. You see, the trust isn't... QUITE as airtight as you might think. I mean, gracious me," she titters, "they're not your shares yet, now, are they? And if for some reason, you were, ahn... out of the way..."
  599. Your blood boils at her words. You were right about this snake. About everything. You stamp forward towards her, but Fred simply puts his arm out to the side, stopping you mid-stride.
  601. "I'm perfectly healthy. Nothing is going to happen to me."
  603. "PHYSICALLY healthy," Nisha corrects, her tone suddenly sharper and colder -- but a moment later, she giggles, and her voice returns to its bubbly state. "I mean, my goodness sir, I have a half-dozen employees who could fill a warehouse with stories of the delusional old bear who comes in thinking he's a manager. And my MY! That's to say nothing of the poor girl you harassed the other day."
  605. By now, everyone in the room is staring uncomfortably at her.
  607. "So that's it then," Fred murmurs, straightening his coat out.
  609. It can't end here -- not like this. Your stomach's in knots.
  611. "Yes, Mr. Fazbear, that's it," she agrees condescendingly. "I certainly am sorry you came all this way out here and put together such a show of force only to meet with bad news, but, ahhn, I'm hopeful you've seen reason. You seem to be handling it quite well!"
  613. "Bad news, right," he says. "Tell me -- on the documents signing over her shares, you said you have Ms. May's signature. Her genuine signature, no doubt."
  615. Nisha nods.
  617. "Mmm. And I'm assuming then that you have my signature as well," Fred continues, tapping the Newton's cradle with interest. "For the transfer, I mean."
  619. "Why would I need YOURS?" she scoffs, smiling sweetly. "They're HER shares. You get that, right?"
  621. Walking across the room, passing Frederick, Fred takes a seat on top of the iron safe in the corner, tilting his head to her. "Well, it's something that my brother insisted on when he founded the company. Goldie was always the overly trusting type, rest his soul, and it bit him hard during his first few business ventures before he met Ms. May."
  623. " unfortunate," Nisha offers, clearly wary.
  625. "See, in the company's charter, he specified that ownership between either of the founding partners would go into a trust if anything happened to them. Hence why I don't technically own my shares, like you said."
  627. "Thus making me the majority shareholder." She's quick on the follow-up. "I think you'll find the paperwork says so, anyway."
  629. "Well, that would be the case, but with all the seed money my family pumped into this little endeavor, we took a few precautions. To make sure that Goldie and Ms. May didn't do anything too impulsive, we had written and notarized an agreement between them, to the effect that either founding partner's claim to ownership -- including shares of stock as well as legal and licensing rights -- could only be transferred with both parties co-signing."
  631. "Both. Parties." Nisha slowly repeats. Her smile's gradually fading into a tight-lipped frown.
  633. "I don't quite follow," Rackham mumbles to you, still sitting back patiently.
  635. Fred clasps his paws calmly in his lap, his unfazed demeanor slowly becoming more clear. "As Goldie's next of kin, that responsibility passes to me in his absence, even if I'm not on the payroll."
  637. "Wait, it does?" April asks breathlessly.
  639. Nisha's breathing harder, clutching her chair. She's staring daggers at Fred.
  641. "It's in the same stipulation," Fred says in reply to April. "So you see, Ms. Marigold, it's impossible for Ms. May to have signed over her half of the company to you -- since I wasn't there for it."
  643. "YOU," is all Nisha can manage, practically chewing on her lip.
  645. "And even in the event she DID sign, that transfer isn't legally binding. Her shares will be rightfully restored as soon as I bring this to light." Fred folds his arms with a pleasant, businesslike smile. "And if there's any discrepancy in the review, I'm sure they'll want to hear your explanation."
  647. Nisha straightens up, clearing her throat with a deepening frown. "I've been up and down the company's inner workings and I've never seen a magical safety net document like that. I'm assuming, of course, you can prove it exists."
  649. "Easily. But first, another question. Might I ask -- when did you have that wall safe installed, Nisha?"
  651. The black bear stops in her tracks. Frederick pauses by the wall, with perfect timing, tapping a broad finger on the face of the cheaply-made panel. All eyes in the room are on the wall safe, save Nisha's; she's still got her gaze laser-focused on Mr. Fred Fazbear.
  653. "It seems so strange to me you'd have a flimsy thing like that installed in an unfinished room, especially as stingy as you are about renovations. I mean, you've got a perfectly good safe right here already. Been here for years." Giving it a gentle kick with the heel of his foot, Fred smiles. "Even a bomb wouldn't get this thing open."
  655. Nisha remains frozen to the spot, looking up at him with wide eyes and a shaky smile. Her claws rake at the armrests of her chair, slowly shredding them inch by inch and spilling foam padding onto the floor.
  657. "Feels like a waste of resources. I mean, it's already in here. Unless, of course... you never found the combination."
  659. And like that, all eyes are back on Nisha. Rackham mutters something unintelligible in breathy awe, and April folds her arms sternly in front of herself.
  661. "That's fine -- fortunately, I happen to know it by heart," Fred clarifies.
  663. You can see Nisha's lips quivering like gelatin as Fred slides off of the safe, kneeling to spin the dial. She hisses through her teeth, sweat dripping visibly down her forehead.
  666. "Bastard."
  669. "You're going up the river, you bleach-bottle bimbo," Rackham sneers, grin a mile wide.
  671. "Way to drag out a reveal, Fred," you chuckle, wiping your forehead with your sleeve.
  673. April reaches her bandaged paws out menacingly, shaking with righteous rage. "Ought to wring your neck. Traitor. Usurper."
  675. "That's ENOUGH!"
  677. A loud slam stops Fred halfway through the combination, and Frederick again whirls, instinctively pulling April away from the desk. You're frozen in place, not daring to move, staring at the spectacle unfolding.
  679. Nisha's brandishing a shiny silver revolver at April, both women backing to opposite sides of the room. With a swinging gesture, she then points it at Fred.
  681. "Step away from the safe, Fred," Nisha growls. Her tone is unsteady, chilling and intense, without a hint of the girlish sweetness you've come to know from her. Fred doesn't move, paw still on the safe's dial.
  683. "Nisha--"
  685. "I SAID GET AWAY FROM THE SAFE!" she snarls, pointing the gun straight at him.
  687. Slowly, calmly, Fred rises to his feet and backs away, paws in the air.
  689. "That's it, that's it, easy now." she stammers. "All of you. Against the wall there. Move!"
  691. You and Rackham join the others against the side wall of the office, while Nisha circles around, the pistol shaking in her paw.
  693. "What the fuck is this," Rackham breathes in disbelief. "You gotta be kidding me -- a holdup? Really?!"
  695. "I knew you were rotten, but this takes the cake, Nisha," you spit.
  697. "Oh, shut the hell up," Nisha growls, not bothering to take her eyes off Fred and April long enough to spare you a glance.
  699. You don't relent. "So what is this, if you go down, you're taking us with you? Haven't you spilled enough blood?"
  701. "Spare me the melodramatics, Mr. Schmidt." Nisha circles over to her desk. "You've watched way too many movies."
  703. Frederick holds April close, and Rackham flinches every time Nisha wags the gun in his direction. Seething quietly, Fred's heavy brow is set low, but he seems remarkably calm despite everything.
  705. "All the lives you've ruined, you're as much a villain as any two-bit movie bad guy," you grumble.
  707. THAT gets her attention. She turns to you, waving her gun at her side and rolling her rose-colored eyes. "Oh will you LISTEN to yourself? 'All the lives' I've ruined? What, TWO? Give me a BREAK -- you can all get another job. You're not DEAD."
  709. "Not for lack of trying," you scowl.
  711. "This isn't some personal vendetta! It's just business!"
  713. You step forward indignantly, stopping only when she aims the gun straight at you. "Arson seems pretty damn personal. Attempted MURDER seems pretty damn personal!"
  715. "Arson -- attempted murder?! What on EARTH are you talking about? I haven't hurt anyone!"
  717. "If you're not going to hurt anyone, then put the gun down!" Fred booms.
  719. She flicks back to him with a curt smile, clutching the phone on her desk with her free paw. "Maybe I feel safer with it."
  721. "You're the one with the gun," you mutter bitterly. "This is your show."
  723. "And don't you forget it," Nisha adds. "AFTON!!"
  725. "Who?" Rackham asks.
  727. "We're all going to just sit tight for now. Kilroy will be in soon; I figured I might need a little backup tonight."
  729. In hindsight, you suppose that explains the presence of the sedan outside.
  731. "Who?!" Rackham repeats.
  733. "Nice guy. Eager to get his fingers in the pie, though. Crooked as a fish hook." Nisha smirks, a faint echo of that giggly personal assistant slipping back into her voice.
  735. April shoots you a blasé look. "Told you."
  737. Thanks, April! Really the time for that. Glad you found a chance to squeeze that one in!
  739. "A little shortsighted, though, but hey, every good plan needs a fallback. Or a fall guy," Nisha titters, tapping her chin with the barrel of the revolver in a move that would make gun safety advocates scream. "Anyways, I figured you idiots might try something. So it couldn't hurt to have someone on-hand as a witness. That is, if he hasn't gotten to distracting himself with the bar again."
  741. You glance to Frederick. He looks conflicted -- it's clear that even he grasps what's going on, but you can't possibly picture him hitting a woman. For now, he holds back, one heavy arm held out in front of April, defensively. Your villainous captor cups the old phone against her ear with her shoulder, dialing awkwardly.
  743. "Who are you calling?" Fred asks.
  745. "The police, who do you think?"
  747. "What?!" you, Fred, April, and Rackham all blurt in such perfect unison that Frederick startles and Nisha nearly drops the phone.
  749. "Don't act so surprised," Nisha murmurs in surprise, clicking the switchhook a few times. "Actions DO have consequences."
  751. "You're calling the POLICE?" Rackham gawks, dumbfounded. "YOU'RE calling the police."
  753. "What, did you think you'd just get off Scott-free?"
  755. "YOU'RE THE ONE WITH THE GUN!" you nearly scream, as if she's stupid. 'As if'.
  757. "You're the one with the MOB!" she shouts back, slamming the receiver down in frustration. "Did you cut my phone line?!"
  759. Fred blinks. "Mob?"
  761. Nisha grumbles, shoving the phone off her desk. She levels the gun at your group again, backing cautiously to the office's only door. "Yes, MOB! If you think you and your goons can take this away from me, after everything I've worked for, after everything I've sacrificed--"
  763. Fred glances to the rest of the group. The rest of the group glances to Fred. "That's not why--" he starts.
  765. "Yeah, right! You just HAPPENED to set up a meeting in the middle of the night, in a secluded location, and just HAPPENED to have brought along your biggest, toughest friends because you wanted to talk?! Well, I won't be intimidated!" The black bear turns and shouts over her shoulder, making for the exit. "KILROY! Where the HELL are you?!"
  767. You scratch your head in confusion, which is apparently enough motion to get Nisha pointing the gun at you once more. "What are you talking about? We didn't set this up."
  769. Nisha cocks her head to one side, making an odd face. "...huh?"
  771. Rackham nods to corroborate your story, so you continue. "We showed up because Peanut said you scheduled a stop here tonight. But we didn't set this up."
  773. "What? Why would-- then who--"
  775. An echoing creak cuts Nisha off, as the door to the office slowly swings open behind her. Two large, white mouse ears peek into the light from beyond the darkened doorway.
  777. Nisha's voice goes cold. "Kilroy. You -- you set me up?! YOU were behind all this?!"
  779. You glance to April, ready for another 'I told you so' at the new reveal, but from behind her gauze, she only shakes her head, slowly. Her eye is wide, and what little of her expression you can see sends a chill running up your spine. Storming over to the door, Nisha shakily points her gun at the newcomer.
  781. "Kilroy, you rat bastard, come out and get your..."
  783. She trails off as a thick, oily voice comes from the darkness, speaking in a lilting sing-song tone.
  786. "Oh no, not me, I'm far too small.
  787. One mouse could never fix it all."
  790. The mouse ears suddenly drop from their spot on the doorway, fluttering through the air and hitting the ground with a soft, wet plop. A dark red liquid begins to stain the spot where they land.
  792. No one moves.
  794. The darkness in the doorway shifts, and suddenly the light of the office glints in reflection, caught in a pair of pitch-black sunglasses. There stands a skeletal visage with a lipless grin, clad in crimson, topped with a band-leader's shako. The towering figure clutches a strange device resembling a cranked music box. The box bulges, its hinges groaning and lid deformed, dripping with some dark fluid. As the organ grinder forces the crank, cracking and straining, a crunching, wet sound faintly drifts through the silence of the room in place of music.
  797. "Mr. Schmidt," Jeremy Human's voice smolders from the doorway, fixing his robotic grin in your direction. "I told you I'd see you again."
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