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Roommates - Ch. 41 (Bell Pepper Night)

Oct 12th, 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. 41 (Bell Pepper Night): http://i.imgur.com/dFQ1g6Y.png
  4. Inspired by Weaver's Five Nights at Freddy's Apartment AU: http://i.imgur.com/LnDJVNL.png
  5. Part of an ongoing series written for the /5N@F/ General Discussion Thread at /vg/.
  6. Sincerest thanks to Weaver (http://tgweaver.tumblr.com/) for all of the invaluable assistance in writing, proofreading, and editing this story as well as for illustrating the chapter title cards.
  7. Additionally, thanks to Systemeth (http://pastebin.com/u/Systemeth) for proofreading and editing this chapter.
  8. Questions or comments? Drop me an ask at http://roommatesau.tumblr.com/
  9.  
  10. ---
  11.  
  12. As you hover over the kitchen sink washing vegetables for the evening's dinner, you're almost disturbed at how well your psyche is handling everything that happened back at 93-A. If you had to put it into words, the fact that you're feeling alright doesn't really feel alright, if that even makes sense.
  13.  
  14. You decide to hold off on mentioning anything about your newest Goldie encounter to anyone, especially Beanie. Not because you're afraid you'll have another episode that'll end with you ostracizing more friends and swilling down another dose of Mangle's Special Naptime Blend, but rather you just don't see what you have to gain by bringing it up. Ever since you brought her back to Bonbon's a couple of hours ago, Beanie's general mood has been improving substantially. The last thing the poor girl needs to hear about is another "sighting"; Bonworth and Cheeky made that point VERY clear.
  15.  
  16. As for telling any of the others, there's not much they can do for you apart from maybe providing comfort, which wouldn't do you much good anyway. While a hug and some kind words sound nice, the initial shock of seeing Goldie again has since passed. Plus, you run the risk of your potential confidants not being so understanding this time around, and you're not in the market for a one-way trip to see a head doctor. Similarly to Beanie, everyone's starting to act normal around you again after your meltdown last month, so you might as well let sleeping dogs (and bears, bunnies, chickens, etc.) lie.
  17.  
  18. While it seems illogical to try and approach this logically, the Goldie Dilemma is obviously a localized problem. Whatever the hell he may be -- a vengeful ghost, a familiar spirit, or just a very persuasive hallucination caused by poor ventilation that somehow only affects you and Beanie -- he doesn't show up outside of Fred Fazbear's apartment. He can't get you while you're here, and if it's the same for Beanie, she should be fine for a while too. And while you're not sure you believe in phantoms and the like, this IS a world where seven-foot tall chickens and neon blue rabbits are standard-issue. Anything's possible, as they say.
  19.  
  20. As for the content of his "message" to you, "you have to stop it"? There are numerous things he could be referencing. For instance, something going on in that household, maybe with one of the tenants? It's not impossible, but he sure didn't give you much to go off of, if that happens to be the case. It could also be interpreted literally: something YOU specifically are doing wrong that YOU have to stop. But no, he seemed too panic-stricken, too pleading, almost as if he was begging you to intervene. If it was a fault of your own, surely he'd be sternly reprimanding you instead.
  21.  
  22. No, it's got to have something to do with Jeremy Human's. Fred mentioned that the pizzeria chain is what's left of his late brother's legacy, and that makes it the most likely choice -- but then, that's its own can of worms entirely. Where would you even start with trying to decipher what Goldie could be referring to?
  23.  
  24. Fritzine's brutal dismemberment of unfortunate employees?
  25. Dangerous "humanimatronic" performers not only being allowed near children, but also being marketed towards them?
  26. The restaurant's history of faulty equipment and "accidents"?
  27. The corporate cover-ups and shady NDA silencing of anyone fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to survive said "accidents"?
  28.  
  29. And just what makes Goldie think YOU specifically have any pull there? If anything, wouldn't Fred be a better choice considering his "favored status" with the company in spite of his condition? Then again, you don't get the feeling Fred's been dealt into Goldie's game. Maybe that's exactly why it's you instead -- Fred's so close to the goings-on at Jeremy's, he can't see the forest for the trees.
  30.  
  31. Wait a minute. Are you seriously trying to make sense of a hallucination?
  32.  
  33. "Now I know I'm losing it," you mutter, shaking your head. What a thoroughly insane twist to what started off as such a pleasant day.
  34.  
  35. You shut the faucet off and set the last of the bell peppers aside in a bowl to be cut and stuffed. With the convention in less than three days and the holidays soon to follow, you've got little choice but to back-burner Goldie's cryptic bullshit for the moment. Right now, you need your mind clear of distractions so that you can focus on more pressing concerns -- such as making sure Beanie stays in good spirits, keeping this household from devolving into a landfill again, and most importantly psyching yourself up to squeeze into a pair of superhero tights.
  36.  
  37. "Mmmm. Somethin' smells good. I'm going to guess we're having tacos...?"
  38.  
  39. You look up from the sink to see Goose lazily propped against the refrigerator, fumbling with her crescent moon magnets as she marks off one of her chores.
  40.  
  41. "Stuffed bell peppers, actually," you respond quietly with an upbeat smile, grateful for the diversion. Even though she can't see it, you know she'll hear it in your voice. "That alright with you?"
  42.  
  43. "Hella alright. I'm all about those peppers," she quips, placing a crescent moon upside-down on the board. Clicking her beak in absent frustration, she can tell something's not quite right. Pressing a feather against the magnet, she spins it counter-clockwise a few times before pulling away, deciding she's satisfied with its placement on the chore chart.
  44.  
  45. And yet, the magnet's still upside-down.
  46.  
  47. Stifling an amused giggle, you lean around the counter into the living room to check up on Beanie. She still asleep on the couch, having passed out while waiting for everyone to get home from work. Her face is the most peaceful and content you think you've ever seen her, a half-smile on her lips as she gently dozes.
  48.  
  49. "Beanie's going to be staying over for a few days because of the con. She's sleeping in the living room right now," you murmur to Goose as you begin chopping the peppers in half.
  50.  
  51. "Ooh, okay. I'll try to be quiet then," the hen remarks. "Anything I can do to help with dinner?"
  52.  
  53. Casting a glance around the kitchen, you quickly rule out just about every task that remains, considering her disability. Goose waits patiently for your reply, wings clasped and head tilted to one angle as you struggle to think of something for her to do that isn't too difficult, yet won't be so easy it's patronizing.
  54.  
  55. "Actually, I think I've got dinner under control, but there is something else I could use your help with." You grab a clean washcloth and lightly dampen it in the sink before pressing it into her wings. "Can you wipe down the table? Looks like it didn't get cleaned off after lunch."
  56.  
  57. "Sure," Goose whispers, taking the rag from you and slowly moving over to the table. She walks very deliberately, lifting her feet a little higher with each step than they really need to be -- probably because until just recently she had to wade through trash and laundry to get anywhere without stubbing her toes. Must be force of habit.
  58.  
  59. Once she's made it to the table, she gently runs a wing across the tabletop to ensure there isn't anything she'll be knocking over before clumsily dragging the cloth across the surface. Her movements are stiff and jerky, and there are a few times in which she looks like she's second-guessing her work -- it's apparent this isn't a task she regularly performs, so she's taking something that would otherwise be simple very seriously.
  60.  
  61. "All finished," Goose announces with a twinge of pride, tossing the rag into one of the hall laundry baskets. "Anything else?"
  62.  
  63. "Nah, we're good for now," you reply, eyeing the recipe book in front of you. While you'll admit you aren't much of a cook, Chichi and Frederick have inspired you to step up your culinary game so that you'll have more non-pancake dishes to prepare next time you visit Cheeky and Faz. Speaking of the big bear, you need to figure out a salmon recipe as well. He'd probably appreciate a nice home-cooked dinner for a change.
  64.  
  65. "Hey Goose, you want me to put you on some tea or coffee or something?"
  66.  
  67. "Oh, no thanks. I'll wait until after dinner. Besides, Mangle'll be home soon anyway and she'll want a cup too, I'm sure."
  68.  
  69. "Alrighty."
  70.  
  71. "So how's your con prep coming along?" she asks, plopping down at the kitchen table. "You ready to be poked and prodded for two days straight?"
  72.  
  73. You jerk your head up from the recipe book. "Poked and prodded?" That's something you've been trying to avoid, actually.
  74.  
  75. "Mmmm, so I've heard. Bonnie says those humie types can be REAL touchy-feely." Goose raises both wings to her face, drowsily massaging her temples. "Seems like every year there's always some story or another 'bout them getting too close to one of the costumed folks and, you know."
  76.  
  77. "N-no, I don't know," you return, alarm creeping into your voice. "I figured it'd probably be like your usual geek convention, maybe some real eccentric people there, but, uh..."
  78.  
  79. Mostly you've been imagining HumieCon as an auditorium full of Bonbons, which in and of itself brings its own sense of dread -- one Bonbon's more than enough. An auditorium full of grabby, aggressive Bonbons is another story entirely.
  80.  
  81. "Ohhhh, shit. So she hasn't warned you. Yeah, last year she was telling me about how there was this big blow-up about a couple of monkeys who'd waxed their fur and gotten some cosmetic surgery done to look all 'humanoid' or whatever. Real fanatics, you know." Surgery? Yeah, no kidding. "Anyway, I guess the crowd decided they wanted to cop a feel. Like, all at once."
  82.  
  83. "Wow," you manage, suddenly very self-conscious as you examine the bare skin on your arms. "I guess that didn't go over well."
  84.  
  85. "Not really. Apparently the convention organizers had to be shut down due to sexual harassment and assault suits. Made the nightly news." Shrugging, Goose leans back in her seat, wings clasped over her belly. "But hey, creepers gonna creep, right?"
  86.  
  87. You cough awkwardly, making a mental note to pick up some pepper spray or something before wading into the fray. Maybe it's not too late to buy a ticket for Frederick and ask him to be your bodyguard.
  88.  
  89. "So how's the costume comin' along?" she asks.
  90.  
  91. "It's darn close, I think. Could probably use more sequins for your taste, though," you chuckle.
  92.  
  93. "Everything ALWAYS needs more sequins."
  94.  
  95. "Well, so far, what little I've seen of it looks really impressive. Both my Mangle and yours have really worked hard to get it done." Turning the heat on the stove up, you begin browning the ground beef. "Which I realize is a sacrifice for both of them, seeing how they can't seem to stand each other."
  96.  
  97. "Hah. Yeah, those two and their blood feud. Whole thing's silly if you ask me, but whatever," she giggles, tracing her wingertips around the edge of the table. "I get along with everybody; life's too short to spend fighting over stupid stuff. I think it'd do them both some good just to kiss and make up already."
  98.  
  99. With everything you know about Mangle as well as everything you've been told about Mango, you're not sure how much of a stretch 'kiss and make up' would be. You allow yourself to indulge in THAT particular mental image for just a few seconds too long before realizing the ground beef in the skillet's starting to overcook. Blushing, you grab a spatula and quickly resume stirring it.
  100.  
  101. Speaking of Mangles, the front door swings open and in shuffles this apartment's resident half of the drama duo. She kicks some snow loose from her pumps with a pleasant smile.
  102.  
  103. "I'm home, everyone," she announces, taking her jacket off while locking the door behind herself. The vixen deftly flicks her coat onto the rack by the door before ambling into the hallway. "My, something smells delicious!"
  104.  
  105. "Yep," Goose whispers, turning her head in Mango's vague direction. "Be quiet though, Mangle. Beanie's asleep in the living room."
  106.  
  107. Mango clamps both paws over her muzzle in alarm. "Oh no! Sorry, I didn't realize!" she mumbles.
  108.  
  109. "Nah, it's alright. I needed to get up anyway," Beanie sleepily groans from the couch before rolling off of it and onto her feet. Standing up, she collects her hoodie from the armrest and slips it back on over her babydoll tee. "Oh shit, Mike, did you make stuffed bell peppers? Is that what I've been smelling?"
  110.  
  111. "I did. Hope you're hungry." You slide two cookie sheets loaded down with food into the oven before wiping your hands on a towel. You probably made too much food for everyone, but nobody here seems opposed to leftovers at all and Peanut IS a pretty big eater. On second thought, you might not have made enough.
  112.  
  113. "You're damn right I'm hungry, Mike. Hungry enough to fight everyone at the table for theirs," Beanie replies enthusiastically, sliding into one of the kitchen table's empty seats. "Sorry, Goose, that means you too."
  114.  
  115. "Beanie, you're a darling, but you lay a paw on my dinner and I'll kick your cotton-covered ass," Goose returns with a devilish smile, puffing up her feathers. You get that it's something birds do to look intimidating, but all it really serves to do is make her look like an admittedly adorable blowfish.
  116.  
  117. "Now now, girls, I know you're both in a jovial mood, but there's no need for that kind of language," Mango says sternly as she trots into the the kitchen to begin preparing a fresh pot of coffee for after dinner.
  118.  
  119. "Yes ma'am," Beanie and Goose echo in perfect unison, looking suitably cowed. Ah, the power only a teacher used to dealing with rowdy kids can wield. You're not even part of this scolding and you involuntarily feel the need to stand up straighter and look more studious. Fortunately, Bonbon chooses this exact moment to pop into the house with a lethargic Peanut in tow, sparing all of you from having to write out "I will not say swears" on the blackboard a hundred times.
  120.  
  121. "Hi everyone, we're back from work! Oh, hey, Beanie! What're you doin' here?" Bonbon asks as she and Peanut begin shedding their extra layers by the door.
  122.  
  123. "Uh, Mike invited me over," Beanie remarks. "I hope that's okay."
  124.  
  125. "Beanie's really been looking forward to the convention, so I assumed it'd be easier for everyone if she stayed over for the next few days," you kick in, winking at Beanie. No need to bring up the fact that she tried to give you back her ticket and skip out of the con.
  126.  
  127. "Yup, that's exactly it." Clearly catching your meaning, Beanie gives you an appreciative nod for covering for her.
  128.  
  129. "Hey, awesome! The more the merrier!" Bonbon delicately wraps both arms around her friend's shoulders, excitedly nuzzling Beanie's face. While she pretends to look put out by the unnecessary public display of affection, the faintest hint of a smile on Beanie's mouth betrays her true feelings.
  130.  
  131. "Agreed. I for one welcome it," Mango enthuses, tail wagging. "Having guests over is so much fun, and it's been wonderful having Mike here. We've both gotten to do all sorts of... favors for each other."
  132.  
  133. Beanie whistles, casting her gaze around the apartment before offering an approving nod. "Yeah, no kidding. This place looks like a showroom compared to the last time I saw it. This has to feel better than the way it did before."
  134.  
  135. "It's pretty sweet, not gonna lie," Goose proudly boasts. "Been pretty cozy, too. I'm finding all sorts of great snoozing spots that I never knew about."
  136.  
  137. "Oh, man, I didn't even think of that...! Some serious napping real estate's opened up!" Peanut eagerly adds, trundling over to the oven and peering in through the window. "Mmm, stuffed bell peppers? They look great."
  138.  
  139. Chuckling, you nod an affirmative. "Thanks. They seem to be a hit with everyone already, so I hope they live up to the hype."
  140.  
  141. "So many, too," the pudgy bear continues as he washes his paws in the sink. "We'll have leftovers for sure."
  142.  
  143. "Yeah, well, I figured we'd have a big crowd, so more seemed better than less. The recipe looked simple enough and we had almost all of the ingredients on-hand. Well, minus the actual peppers."
  144.  
  145. "Yes, only Mike would look through a cookbook and go 'this is it, this is the one' in spite of missing LITERALLY the main ingredient," Beanie snorts.
  146.  
  147. "I'll take that as you complimenting my innovativeness," you retort, theatrically puffing your chest up. "Besides, I had to run to the corner store to grab some stuff for my travel bag while you were asleep anyway, so I went to pick up what we needed to finish the dinner. Figured I might as well kill two birds with one stone, y'know."
  148.  
  149. The levity in the room deflates like a punctured hot air balloon. Goose's beak suddenly hangs slack in shock, and Mango suppresses a gasp while both rabbits and Peanut look at you with a mixture of confusion and disgust. Clearly nobody's amused at all.
  150.  
  151. "Wow, Mike," Goose coughs, fanning her face with a wing. "That's a pretty harsh, um..."
  152.  
  153. "Yeah," Peanut adds, visibly cringing. "What an, uh, inappropriate statement to make. C'mon now, Mike. You're better than that."
  154.  
  155. You dip your head apologetically, realizing your mistake far too late. And to think, you even made the conscious thought to try to avoid animal-related idioms and slurs after overhearing the rabbit family's conversation about Ruth back at Jeremy Human's.
  156.  
  157. "Oh gosh, I'm sorry," you stammer, hands raised as you back up a half-step. "I didn't -- it's -- I wasn't trying to -- look, it's a stupid saying from where I'm from."
  158.  
  159. "From where you're from?" Bonbon asks, face scrunched up. "Yikes. They must really hate birds there."
  160.  
  161. "I never would've pegged you for a specist at all, Mike," Mango says, shaking her head in sad disapproval.
  162.  
  163. "I didn't mean anything by it at all, Goose, I promise. I love birds," you insist, backpedalling.
  164.  
  165. "Uh huh," Beanie adds, propping her face up on one arm with a smirk as you squirm. "And I'm sure you've got friends who are birds too, right, Mike?"
  166.  
  167. Cutting your eyes at her, you fold your arms in a huff. "Of course I have friends that are birds, you smartass. Literally all of us do."
  168.  
  169. "Well, I know he's got at least one," Goose says benevolently, clumsily patting Beanie with one of her wings.
  170.  
  171. "Thanks, Goose," you reply, glad she's at least downplaying your gaffe. "It really was just a stupid joke."
  172.  
  173. Beanie bobs her head up and down, ears swaying as she plasters on only the fakest of smiles. "Yeah, and Mike can't help being stupid, you know. Seeing as how he's a monkey and all."
  174.  
  175. Groaning, you shake your head as the room erupts into snickering and giggles at your expense. Even Mango who seems like she'd frown on this kind of behavior can't help but laugh along with the rest of them. Still, you can't bring yourself to really be much more than slightly annoyed -- seeing Beanie back to her usual wisecracking, snarky self is a very welcome change from watching her spiral into depression. Your initial assessment was right; she really did need to get out of that apartment and into safer territory for a while.
  176.  
  177. After several minutes have passed and everyone's settled down, a quick glance at the oven informs you that dinner's ready. Sliding the trays out with a pair of potholders, you quickly get to plating food, taking great care to make sure that everyone gets their fair share. Well, almost everyone.
  178.  
  179. "Wait a minute," Beanie says as she looks at her snack-sized portion of half a stuffed bell pepper compared to everyone else's three full-sized peppers. "They all got more than I did."
  180.  
  181. "Oh, really?" you ask, playing dumb as you slide into your seat at the table, innocently cracking open a can of orange soda. "You sure? I mean, all the plates look the same to me."
  182.  
  183. "Like fu-- uh, fun they do!" Jabbing her finger towards Peanut's plate first, Beanie goes clockwise around the table. "Peanut got three, Mango got three, three for Goose, Bonbon, YOU... and one for me. And waitaminute -- this isn't even a whole pepper! You cut it in half!"
  184.  
  185. "Wow." You shrug, taking a sip of your soda as Bonbon and Goose visibly fight to keep straight faces. "Man, could've sworn everyone got the same portion. But hey, what do I know? I'm just a stupid monkey after all."
  186.  
  187. "Eh, looks pf-pretty fair to me," Bonbon says as casually as she can manage without breaking out into a fit of laughter at Beanie's frustration. "Besides, you k-kinda need to work off some of that -- pffffft, pu-pudge -- now that you've quit your job, Be-beanie!" Unable to contain herself, Bonbon buries her face in her placemat, wrapping an arm around her head to smother her amusement.
  188.  
  189. Her face souring, Beanie stands up with a loud, pronounced sigh. "There'd better be more of these in the kitchen or I'm eating yours."
  190.  
  191. "Whose? Bonbon's or Mike's?" Mango asks as you maintain an innocent smile.
  192.  
  193. "YES."
  194.  
  195.  
  196.  
  197. One very lively dinner later, Peanut begs off for an early bedtime due to torpor and work leaving him exhausted.
  198.  
  199. "Thanks for the great dinner, Mike!" Bonbon blithely carries a stack of dishes to the sink to rinse and run through the dishwasher. "After I'm done cleaning up the kitchen, do you want to finish getting caught up on Legend of Bob? I don't think we have that many episodes left!"
  200.  
  201. "Yeah, sounds good," you respond, wiping the table down. "Beanie, you in?"
  202.  
  203. Looking up from her game in the living room, Beanie gives you a passive shrug. "Sure, why not."
  204.  
  205. A rattling sound announces the arrival of Mango's rolling supply cart as she shoves it out of her bedroom and into the living room. You inwardly cringe, half-expecting for her to dump her art supplies out onto the floor again, but she pleasantly surprises you, pushing it over to the table and setting up a neat work area to minimize the mess. You politely pull her seat out for her, causing her to blush and smile.
  206.  
  207. "Oh, I knew you were a gentleman, Mike. Say, as long as I'm troubling you, can you start the coffee maker?" the vixen asks as she starts to unpack the bits and pieces of the Bobulator onto the table, laying them out in neat rows atop a strip of discarded newspaper.
  208.  
  209. "No problem," you reply, walking over to the coffee pot and flipping it on.
  210.  
  211. "Thanks. I have a busy schedule over the next week so I'd really like to get the accessories for your costume finished tonight, and I'll confess I'll need a little liquid motivation to get the last of the kinks worked out. Chica, you want to join me for a cup?"
  212.  
  213. "Um, I'll pass tonight," Goose yawns, feeling her way over to the front door. She runs her wings across the coat rack before finding her thick wool overcoat. "I was actually thinking about heading upstairs to go catch up with Chiclet."
  214.  
  215. "I... understand. No no, that's alright," Mango huffs, failing to fully conceal her genuine disappointment. Seems she really does take her coffee and teatime bonding ritual with Goose very seriously.
  216.  
  217. Smirking, Goose carefully fumbles with her coat's wooden buttons. "Don't pout, Mangle. Maybe if you're still up when I get back, we can have some peppermint chamomile tea to celebrate."
  218.  
  219. "Hmmph."
  220.  
  221. Coughing, Goose raises a wing, still hovering in the foyer. "Hey, uh, does someone mind walking me up the stairs?" she asks with an apologetic smile. "It's, um, I think it's snowing out, so..."
  222.  
  223. "Sure, I'll run you up there real fast, Goose," you offer, slipping your shoes on and grabbing your coat.
  224.  
  225. "Go ahead and send for Foxglove while you're up there, Mike," Mango dourly says, shaking a container of fabric paint. "Loathe as I am to admit it, I'm going to need the little imp's help making sure this thing attaches properly to the sleeve of your suit. We've been avoiding having to meet in person as much as possible, but I might as well quit stalling the inevitable."
  226.  
  227. Slipping your jacket on, you tilt your head at her. "You sure, Mango?"
  228.  
  229. Sighing, Mango nods. "Before I change my mind, if you would please."
  230.  
  231. "Alright then. Let's go, Goose."
  232.  
  233. Sure enough, the snow's really beginning to come down outside. You're going to need a heavier coat and fast if the winter freezes are as bad as they've been made out to be, because your current garb isn't doing much to insulate you from the cold. Maybe you can get Foxglove to make you a scarf or something in the meantime. Your monthly stipend should be coming up soon, and even then you can't imagine the fashionista would charge you too much for a simple muffler.
  234.  
  235. Fortunately, the staircase leading to the upper level is well-covered, so there's only snow on the bottom step. You carefully help Goose over the hazard, supporting her as she slowly ascends the stairs. She clutches the handrail with one wing, lifting her legs and setting them down one-at-a-time to avoid slipping and falling. It takes a couple of minutes to make it up just one flight of stairs due to Goose's steady pace.
  236.  
  237. "Thanks, Mike. S-sorry about the trouble," she says, shivering a little as she walks out onto the upper landing. "It's not so bad in the summer, but with the snow and the ice, you know..."
  238.  
  239. "You don't have anything to apologize for." You reach around her head to give her shoulder a gentle squeeze. "We're almost there."
  240.  
  241. Instead of walking forward with you, Goose stops in place as if she's frozen in time. She doesn't move from her spot on the landing, head pointed straight ahead but her glassy eyes unfocused on anything. You turn to look at her, wrapping your arms around yourself.
  242.  
  243. "Goose? Everything okay?" you prod gently.
  244.  
  245. "Why, Mike?"
  246.  
  247. "Why what, Goose?" you venture, teeth chattering slightly. She leans into your chest for warmth, burying her head against your shoulder.
  248.  
  249. "What is it about you that's so different, Mike?" she mumbles.
  250.  
  251. "W-what do you mean?"
  252.  
  253. Closing her eyes, she exhales through her beak's nostrils, sending twin plumes of warm breath skyward.
  254.  
  255. "Everyone around here just, it's like -- like you're..." She seems to be struggling to find the words she wants to say. "I haven't ever witnessed anything like it, but you just -- whenever someone needs something, you're right there helping out. Whether it's something simple like making dinner or something like helping clean and organize an entire apartment full of adults. Or carrying an overweight blind girl up a flight of stairs in the middle of winter."
  256.  
  257. "Goose, I--"
  258.  
  259. Looking up near your face, Goose sighs aloud. "I just want to know why you give so much of a shit about a bunch of complete strangers."
  260.  
  261. A blast of cold wind blows through the hallway of the upper level, ruffling your own hair and knocking one of her feathers loose. It tumbles through the night sky, riding the current like a tiny golden kite without a string. You take her wing and gently ease her aside out of the direct path of the wind and into the doorway of one of the nearby apartments.
  262.  
  263. "I don't really know how to describe it, Goose," you begin carefully. "But my memories are like -- well, it's like a puzzle that I've only got maybe a tenth of the pieces to. I have little bits and pieces to get the gist, but I don't have the full picture."
  264.  
  265. "Not sure I understand. What's that got to do with anything?"
  266.  
  267. "Somehow or another -- haaahhh, this is going to sound REALLY weird, and I don't imagine you'll understand it at all, but..." You close your own eyes. "You're not a bunch of 'strangers'. In my mind, it's like I've known all of you guys for a long time now. Even though I only just started meeting everyone a month or so ago -- I feel like we've known each other for longer than that."
  268.  
  269. "...like reincarnation or something? We knew each other in a past life?"
  270.  
  271. "Maybe, I guess? I'm not usually the type to believe in mystic stuff." Although that's really been put to the test lately. "This is gonna sound really arrogant, but, I feel like maybe coming here was fate, for me. Maybe I was put here to, you know -- look out for everyone."
  272.  
  273. "Like a caretaker?" she asks skeptically.
  274.  
  275. "N-not, no, not exactly. More like, um -- well, like a guard."
  276.  
  277. "...so we're a burden to you then," Goose says.
  278.  
  279. "Absolutely not," you reply firmly, stomping your foot on the landing. "You, and everyone else here, you guys aren't a burden to me. You're my friends."
  280.  
  281. "Mike, you don't have to--"
  282.  
  283. "No, Goose. Not a single one of you is a burden, and certainly not you." Chuckling a little, you soften your voice to allay her fears. "And believe me, I know all about being a burden. They had to dope me and drag my ass out of Fred's in the middle of the night."
  284.  
  285. She laughs softly to herself, her familiar easygoing smile settling right back in place. "Hey, you got spooked is all. Jeremy's got that effect on people."
  286.  
  287. "Man, you aren't kidding. That he most CERTAINLY does."
  288.  
  289. Running a wing through her headfeathers, she begins waddling down the upper hall with you towards 87-B. "Well, for whatever it's worth, Mike, I can't speak for the others but I know what I really appreciate about you," she says as you reach up and knock at the door to Chiclet's apartment.
  290.  
  291. "And what's that, Goose?" you ask with an earnest smile. Something soft grazes the right side of your leg, quickly working its way up your thigh before terminating in a brief, sharp pain in your right buttock just as the front door opens.
  292.  
  293. "Ah, right on time! Good evening," Mangle grins as you struggle to keep your face from contorting due to the hen's surprise attack on your posterior. "Oh my. That's certainly a most interesting face you're making, Bonnie."
  294.  
  295. "Let's just say I see where she got the name 'Goose' from," you mutter good-naturedly.
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