Roommates - Ch. 45 (Gathering)

Jan 16th, 2017
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  1. Roommates has moved! You can now read it at Archive of Our Own:
  3. Roommates - Ch. 45 (Gathering):
  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. Additionally, thanks to Systemeth ( for proofreading and editing this chapter.
  8. Questions or comments? Drop me an ask at
  10. ---
  12. Everyone has regrets, and you're certainly no stranger to the concept. Ever since you signed your leasing agreement in Marion's office and moved into this apartment complex back in November, you've found yourself at odds with your various roommates from time to time. Whether it was the unintended trespass with Mangle, shoving Bonworth over in the parking lot, or your trauma-induced meltdown at Fred's -- you've both said and done things that you desperately wish you could take back.
  14. Your decision to sever ties with your old world and fully commit to making a go of it here, however, is not one of them.
  16. That's not to say there aren't aspects of your old life you'll miss. There are plenty of favorite movies you'd love to watch again (this time of year's right about when you'd normally be marathoning Hitchcock's filmography, now that you think about it), certain tastes and flavors this world's lacking in (you haven't quite found a suitable alternative to Dr. Pepper yet, but you're still looking), and you wouldn't mind shoes sized to fit humans as opposed to having to settle for "one-size-fits-some".
  18. Still, pining over what you once had is about as productive as Bonworth sitting around and wishing he still had his legs. And even if there was a way back, no amount of cinema, soda, or footwear would be enough to get you to cross the threshold again.
  20. Certainly not when those THINGS would be waiting for you on the other side of the looking-glass.
  22. More than anything else, you're glad for a chance to get back to normalcy. The last few weeks have made you realize just how much you missed "mellow". A life-or-death rescue mission. Heartstopping ghost visitations. Hell -- even something as seemingly benign as HumieCon was still exhausting. Time to put your feet up and enjoy the rest of the sleepy winter with your friends.
  24. As soon as you've popped a fresh round of pain pills, you finish packing up the last of your laundry into clean plastic shopping bags. Maybe later you can talk someone into going shopping with you so that you can grab a new suitcase to store everything in. For now though, you'll have to make do with what you have, so you tie the bags off neatly and layer them inside a cardboard box to take back to Bonbon's when you leave later tonight. Originally, you'd just swung by to take care of your laundry, but since Bonworth mentioned something about catching up with you when he got home, you've decided to stay for dinner and visit for a while.
  26. While you're loading your clothes up by the front door, you hear a light pitter-pattering of footsteps behind you; seems Haddock's up for the afternoon, trotting into the common area with a spring in his step.
  28. "At that point, it were pretty much smooth sailin' aaall th' way back t' port," he says with a wistful smile, wiping a tear from his eye as he wanders into the room. "Fourteen shillings a piece an' all th' rum we could carry in our hats. Fair wages, best an honest day's work would yield, lad."
  30. "And a good afternoon to you too, sailor."
  32. With his good paw, Haddock points to the kitchen window, inclining his entire frame towards it with an expectant look in his eye. His jaw flaps up and down a few times, but no words come out of his mouth. You follow his gaze, looking outside before turning back to him.
  34. "The, uh -- the weather...?" you guess, eyebrow raised.
  36. "Aye," he answers, twirling his hook around impatiently. "Tha' be wha', whaaat I said. Favorable skies today?"
  38. "I'd say so, yeah. Cold, but no snow yet." Your mind wanders back to the first time you met Haddock when he was with Bonbon, and it suddenly dawns on you that he's probably got an ulterior motive for inquiring. "Ohhh. You feel like going for a walk?"
  40. "Rrrrrriiiiight," he slurs, patting his chest with his hook. "The breeze -- she seems strong and th' waters're calm. Calm, calm, best time for settin' out, if, if our miiiidshipmaaan's word-wa-wer-words can be trusted."
  42. The midshipman? You stop and rack your brain for a few seconds trying to remember everyone's established "title" in his imaginary pirate crew. Bonworth's the "bosun", Cheeky's the "wench", and if he's insistent that Faz is the "captain"...
  44. "Who, uh, who's the 'midshipman' again?" you ask as he stumbles past you into the kitchen.
  46. "Congratulations on movin' up a rank," he says blithely, ferreting around in one of the drawers for his leash and harness before tossing it to you. "Wear it with pride, lad."
  48. You hope he's referring to the title and not the leash, otherwise this is going to get real awkward, real fast. With a wan smile and a gentle shake of your head, you begin buckling the harness on over his shirt, reminding yourself that this is just for his safety. You didn't think all that much of it the first time you saw Haddock in this getup, but upon closer inspection it feels a little awkward walking a grown man -- or fox -- like he's the family dog.
  50. "Well, what do you say we head on out 'to port' and stretch our legs for a little while, then come back and grab some dinner?" you ask, stooping to hook the leash onto his harness.
  52. "Victuals, vittles... arr, we have visual, land ho," he says, grin widening. "Can the captain an' the rest o' the crew be expected in th' mess hall?"
  54. You cast a glance over to a lightly dozing Faz, who's resting in his chair with a thick wool blanket draped over his shoulders. He hasn't bothered to rewrap his mouth since the salmon cookout you had this morning; to your surprise, he even has something resembling a contented smile stretched across his thin lips. While Cheeky's not up and around yet, you recall from past experience that she can be a late riser. As soon as the dinner bell sounds, you imagine she'll be there with bells on, ready to snap off her trademark catchphrase.
  56. "Yeah, something tells me they're not going to miss out," you reply, holding the door open for him.
  60. As soon as the two of you are out of the apartment, it quickly becomes obvious WHY Haddock needs a leash: he's incredibly easily distracted. His movements are like those old motorized "squiggle pen" toys you and your classmates used to doodle with in middle school. You're not even sure Haddock knows what a straight line IS. He must be having a hell of an up day because he's scurrying around from thing to thing, singing sea shanties and carrying on conversations with telephone poles.
  62. The hardest part is that he's not really consistent in his madness -- every now and again he'll stop abruptly, almost as if his batteries have run out. He'll lose focus for minutes at a time -- gazing at the clouds or just slumping down onto the concrete -- only for something to catch his attention and light a spark anew in him. It's proving difficult just keeping him out of the street and on the sidewalk.
  64. No wonder Bonbon was recruited to walk him; she's the only one with enough energy to keep up!
  66. By the time you've made it to the front of the complex, it's been half an hour already and your feet are starting to drag. So much for a leisurely walk -- this has been more like a breakneck game of red light, green light.
  68. "Hey, guys!"
  70. Looking up from the park bench you're both seated at (well, you're sitting; Haddock's just kind of standing on the bench, pantomiming steering a ship's big wheel), you catch sight of Bonbon walking up to you with a grin on her face. She's already changed out of her work uniform and into her street clothes -- apparently she just got home a little while ago. Curiously, her ears are hanging down rather than standing up -- looks she's not wearing her earband today. Haddock silently gives her the faintest of nods, refusing to even make eye contact as he continues his task of steering the bench.
  72. "Hey, Bonbon," you pant as she squeezes between you and Haddock to sit down. "How was work?"
  74. "Ugh. Lame. I had to clean the ball pit today, and boy, THAT was no fun. They wouldn't even let me splash around in it after I was finished," she groans. You raise an eyebrow only for her to break out laughing. "I'm kidding, Mike, I'm not THAT immature."
  76. "I dunno," you reply teasingly. "You eat toaster pastries and watch cartoons while wearing footie pajamas, Bonbon."
  78. "And you say that like it's a bad thing," she replies smugly. "Footie pajamas are where it's at, Mike. It's like, four million degrees below freezing out here. Of course I'm gonna wear warm jammies in the winter."
  80. She's got you there, you suppose.
  82. "So hey, I noticed you left me a 'present'," Bonbon says, sticking her tongue out. "Thanks for that, by the way. I REALLY needed a neon pink and lime Balloon Boy figure in my life."
  84. "Oh, I'm all too happy to oblige."
  86. "Pfft! Well the joke's on you, I don't want that eyesore either. I already listed him for trade on my SkinAffinity journal." She brushes her ears back before reaching into her pocket and pulling out her phone. "Maybe someone out there'll swap it for a character that DOESN'T suck, like that ballerina girl from the new episode."
  88. "Yeah, no kidding. When does the next Legend of Bob air?"
  90. "It's on a midwinter hiatus right now, so it'll be a few weeks," she says, a coy smile stretching the corners of her muzzle. "I'm surprised you're asking. Afraid you'll miss a minute of the action?"
  92. "I'm just not big on cliffhangers, is all," you cough, feigning disinterest.
  94. "Uh huh." Bonbon rubs Haddock's headfur affectionately, flashing him a buck-toothed grin. "So hey, what're you up to today, Foxy?"
  96. "Gotta get this precious cargo delivered," he says with no trace of mirth in his tone, giving the imaginary wheel a spin. "Red sky at night, red sky at mornin'."
  98. "Ahhh," Bonbon says, nodding sagely as if this is the most sensible thing in the world. "Drive safe then, buddy."
  100. "Aye, that be the plan."
  102. "Speaking of plans -- you got any for dinner, Bonbon?" you interject. "I was thinking I might stick around Bonworth's place since they let me use their laundry room today. You wanna join us?"
  104. "Yeah, sounds like a lot of fun! You mind if I invite Beanie, too?" she asks, tapping out a text message. "She seemed kinda mopey when she had to head home after the 'con."
  106. "I don't blame her." You shudder a little, imagining what she has to go through on a routine basis with Goldie sightings. "Yeah, definitely invite her along. Maybe Chichi too? I know Bonworth and Cheeky really seemed to like that cake she helped me with. I'm sure they'd enjoy another dessert by someone who actually understands the art of baking."
  108. "Done and done," Bonbon says before pocketing her phone and leaning into your shoulder. "So Mike, I gotta say -- I had a lot of fun at HumieCon. I'm sorry it was a bust for you, but -- thanks for going with me."
  110. "You know, I guess I had fun too," you reply. "Thanks for inviting me."
  112. "Same time next year?" she asks, staring up at you with hopeful eyes.
  114. You make a show of considering it before quickly caving. "Alright, fine -- but only if you don't make me shave my head again."
  116. "Wouldn't dream of it!"
  118. A sudden twitching of his tail signals to you that Haddock's ready to go again. He jumps off the bench, inadvertently pulling both you and Bonbon to your feet as well.
  120. "Whoops. I guess we're shipping out," you comment to Bonbon as Haddock begins trying to tug you down the sidewalk. "You, uh, mind taking the reins? You're more experienced at this than I am."
  122. "Sure," she chirps, taking the strap from you and settling into Haddock's natural walking pace -- which is to say, a dead run. "C'mon, sailor! Race you to that flagpole over there!"
  124. You grin to yourself in a mix of amusement and relief as you watch the two of them take off, babbling excitedly to each other as they duck and weave their way through the apartment complex. To Bonbon's credit, she genuinely seems to enjoy spending time with him. If she's this good with someone like Haddock, she's probably got to be fantastic at dealing with kids. You idly wonder if that's why she hasn't quit working at the pizzeria yet in spite of everything that's happened there -- maybe she gets more out of the job than just the meager paycheck.
  126. Sucking in a lungful of the chilly winter air, you thrust your hands into your pockets as you leisurely follow Bonbon and Haddock. It's good to be back home.
  130. "Thanks for coming over to help out, everyone." Clapping your hands, you enthusiastically look around the kitchen. "Alright, so anyone have any thoughts on what we should make for dinner?"
  132. "I don't have anything in mind," Beanie says, lolling out on the island with a yawn. "Any ideas, Chica?"
  134. Chichi's in the process of checking the refrigerator and pantry for ingredients, a scowl on her normally pleasant face. "No, this isn't going to work," she huffs, rummaging around inside a cupboard. "I'm not going to be able to get anything done in here."
  136. "Something wrong, Chichi?" you ask.
  138. "No, I'm just saying that I could walk downstairs and put together a four course meal in half the time it would take me to prepare something here." Chichi taps her wingtips together pensively. "This kitchen's just not as equipped as I'd like. I'm missing half of the appliances I normally use."
  140. "Huh." Beanie props her head up with both paws. "Can't say I saw this coming."
  142. "What do you mean?" Chichi asks, gently closing the cabinet doors and turning to look at her roommate.
  144. "Oh, I just assumed you'd rise to the challenge, Chica," Beanie says, a subtle grin creeping across her face.
  146. "That's not what this is about," the hen replies feistily. "I'm a competition baker, of course I'm not going to back down from a challenge. I just like having the proper tools for the job. I mean, this kitchen only has one oven!"
  148. "I know, right? It's practically like living in a third-world country," Beanie whispers as she leans in close to Chichi, her voice taking on a conspiratory edge. "What modern kitchen doesn't have at LEAST two ovens?"
  150. "Hey, no need to pressure her, Beanie. I've got a plan." You pick the phone up off the counter and dial your apartment's number. After two rings, Bonnibel answers the phone with a sleepy lilt to her voice. Must've just woken up from her usual post-medication afternoon nap.
  152. "Hello...?"
  154. "Hi Bonnibel, it's Mike. Sorry to be a bother, but if Frederick isn't busy could you have him come over to 93-B?"
  156. "Sure." You can hear her audibly yawning on the other line, confirming your suspicion. "What do, um, what do you need him for?"
  158. "We're trying to get dinner for a big group sorted out, and we'd brought in Chichi but she doesn't seem up to the task."
  160. "What? No, that's not what I meant at all!" Chichi protests as you twirl the phone cord around your fingers, biting your lower lip to keep from laughing. Beanie and Bonbon, on the other hand, are making no effort to hide their amusement at her frustration.
  162. "No problem, Mike! He's on his way," Bonnibel says, perking up a bit. "Anything else?"
  164. "That's all for now. Thanks, Bon," you reply before hanging up. "There we go, problem solved. Frederick'll know what to do, he's an expert at this kind of stuff."
  166. "Oh, I see how it is!" Chichi puts what's left of her wings on her hips indignantly. Her molting's really taking its toll on her feathers; pretty soon she'll be wearing less down than a Butterball turkey. "You people think I can't hack it, huh?"
  168. "None of us said that at all," Beanie says. "Mike said you didn't SEEM up to the task, which is correct."
  170. "Yeah. You just seemed reluctant, so I called in some support," you add. "No shame in admitting you need help."
  172. "I've had some of Frederick's cooking and it's amazing, even though his kitchen's nowhere near as nice as yours," Bonbon says as she drops down from the counter onto her feet. "I think you've just gotten so spoiled to your fancy chef stuff that you've forgotten what it's like to cook without it."
  174. "Alright, that's it!" Chichi declares, poofing up as she storms over to the rack by the front door to hang up her coat. "I'll show you guys what I'm capable of!"
  176. "I think we might've lit a fire under her," you stage-whisper, nudging a cackling Beanie.
  178. "You're darn right you did! Bonnie, you and Bonbon run downstairs to my pantry and fetch me some ingredients," Chichi barks, grabbing a pen and some paper from the counter and scribbling out a grocery list for the rabbits. "Mike, you're going to be my kitchen helper! Wash up!"
  180. "What about Frederick?" you ask, hurriedly rinsing your hands in the sink as instructed. You feel like you're a doctor being ordered to scrub for surgical prep; you're not sure you've ever seen her quite this animated before.
  182. "He can help too!" Chichi says with a determined look in her eyes, wrestling a food processor out of the cabinet and slamming it down on the counter with a loud enough thump to startle Faz awake in the living room. "Now, let's get going!"
  184. "Yes ma'am," a bewildered Faz rumbles through his electrolarynx, forcing himself out of his chair and to his feet. "...get going where?"
  186. "Don't worry, Chief, she doesn't mean you," Beanie chuckles as she and Bonbon hastily scamper out the door.
  190. It turns out Chichi can be quite bossy when she wants to be.
  192. The sweet, timid little hen that helped you bake an "I'm sorry" cake a few weeks ago is nowhere to be found. In her place now is an excitable, feathery Gordon Ramsay -- clearly she's watched far too many cooking shows for her own good. Apparently, when she said you'd be her "kitchen helper", she really meant "assistant chef". You suppose you can't complain -- you HAVE been wanting to get a little more cooking experience -- but you're definitely wading outside your comfort zone this time.
  194. "This is way more complicated than I'm used to, Chichi," you admit, dumping ingredients into a food processor. "I'm more of a pancakes kind of guy. Are you SURE that Beef Wellington is something we can make in an apartment kitchen?"
  196. "Mike, you don't have nearly enough shallots in there," she says by way of reply, laying out two sizable beef tenderloins atop a cutting board. "It's going to need more garlic, too! This takes a while to cook, so if we want it ready in time for dinner, you need to go faster!"
  198. Faz and Haddock observe from a safe distance outside the kitchen, spectating the evening's dinner preparations with interest. While Bonbon and Beanie work hard on the side dishes, you and Chichi are juggling preparations for the main course. Somehow in all of this, she's even still finding time to mix ingredients for two separate desserts.
  200. At some point, you become dimly aware of polite knocking at the front door. Taking a break from chopping vegetables, Bonbon bounds off to the entryway to let Frederick in. After greeting her, the tall powerhouse of a bear hangs his greatcoat neatly by the front door before walking into the common area with his usual pleasant half-smile.
  202. "Hello," Faz rasps, tearing his attention away from the cooking circus to extend his hand to Frederick for a shake.
  204. "Êtes-vous le survivant?" Frederick asks in reply, gently wrapping him in a hug. "Bonsoir. Vous avez l'air plus sain que je l'imaginais. Ravi de vous rencontrer."
  206. Faz gives you a wide-eyed stare as Frederick rubs his shoulders like he's just reunited with a long-lost friend.
  208. "He's a good guy," you insist. "Just a bit peculiar like the rest of us, but he means well. Bonsoir, Freddy!"
  210. "Bonsoir, Michel," Frederick says, moving past Faz to embrace you, kissing both of your cheeks. Thankfully this time he omits the slaps.
  212. "Okay, so Chichi, what should I be doing with this thing?" you ask, fumbling with the controls on the food processor.
  214. "Pulse it, then get it going in a saucepan on medium heat with the butter and the oil like I told you earlier, Mike! I'm sorry, but I can't hold your hand through this one," Chichi orders, tying off the beef in front of her with cooking twine. "Bonnie, why aren't you finished slicing the prosciutto yet? Don't you remember me showing you how to use the mandolin?"
  216. "Sure don't!" Beanie says, passing Frederick some kind of complicated-looking slicing apparatus. "Cavalry's here, so I'm tagging out. You're on your own, guys."
  218. "Ditto," Bonbon adds, using the opportunity to beat feet out of the kitchen along with Beanie.
  220. Frederick wades in as they rush past, assessing the scene with his ever-present sense of calm. You watch him intently go through a very similar process Chichi did -- peering in cupboards and examining appliances, taking stock of his surroundings before coming to some manner of internal conclusion. He wastes no time in rolling up his sleeves, muscling in beside you to get to work.
  222. "Can you open those cans on the counter behind me, Frederick?" Chichi asks, handing him a can opener. Frederick glances down at the proffered tool with a blank expression before pushing it aside. Hefting a can of vegetables, he turns it over in his paws a couple of times before simply crushing it with his bare hands, popping the lid loose at the seams.
  224. "That's one way of doing it," you murmur in awe as he proceeds to make short, easy work of the remaining cans.
  226. "Um, okay, now -- Frederick, go ahead and--" Chichi looks up in horror as he twists open the containers of puff pastry, pulling it apart with his huge fingers. "Wait, what are you doing? No, that's for dinner -- you can't eat that!"
  228. "Pâte feuilletée en conserve?" he replies, sniffing at it in disgust. "C'est une insulte à la bonne cuisine."
  230. "Frederick! We need that for the meat, how else are you supposed to make Beef Wellington without puff pastry?!" Chichi insists, panic rising. "We don't have time to mess around!"
  232. "Uh oh. Are we about to see a chef battle?" Bonbon says from her spot outside the kitchen next to Faz.
  234. "For their sake I hope not, because I doubt either of them could stand up to her," Beanie replies. "Chica's scary when she's mad."
  236. You shoot her a nervous look -- Frederick just demolished several sealed metal cans with his fingers, and she STILL thinks Chichi's the dangerous one? You make a mental note to never get on the baker's bad side.
  238. "Vous êtes boulanger! C'est inacceptable!" Frederick says, teeth bared and eyes narrowed as he jabs an accusatory finger at the can of dough. It's rare seeing Frederick this emotional, this worked up over anything.
  240. "Yes, I know what puff pastry is," Chichi retorts, wings pressed to the sides of her head in alarm. "Are you upset because it came out of a can? Believe me, I am too! I just don't have time to make it from scratch! Oh, Mike, get him to listen to reason, won't you?"
  242. As one, Frederick and Chichi both look to you for interpretation. You blink, not having expected that you'd have to play the go-between.
  244. "Okay, uh, Freddy..." Slowly, you tap the can, then point to the overhead clock with an apologetic expression. Frederick studies your face for several seconds before resigning himself, handing the can of puff pastry over to Chichi.
  246. "At last, progress," she says excitedly as Frederick takes over operating the food processor from you. "Now, all you have to do is get him to follow my instructions to the letter, and I think this just might work out after all, Mike!"
  248. Yeah, right. Not even close.
  250. For the next half hour of prep, you find yourself stuck in the middle of the two chefs as they bicker with each other over even the most minor of details. Every time Frederick adds something to a pot or a bowl, Chichi swoops in after him and doctors the mixture behind his back. When she goes to taste something and make adjustments, he does the exact same to her the moment her attention's diverted. The two of them second-guess each other's every decision to the point that you're convinced dinner's going to be an inedible mess.
  252. Too many cooks in the kitchen, indeed.
  256. "Jeeeeeepers," Bonworth says in quiet reverence at the spread in front of him. "Can't say I've ever had anything this fancy before, but it looks out of this world! I gotta ask, what's the occasion? Someone's birthday?"
  258. "Let's just say we learned a powerful lesson today about challenging Chica's pride," Beanie replies, taking a seat on the floor next to you and Bonbon. Frederick and Chichi are seated beside each other on the sofa, both of them wearing expectant looks as everyone hungrily surveys their plate.
  260. "Is the lesson you learned to challenge her pride more often?" Cheeky says with a sleepy -- but enthusiastic grin. "Because you need to, if it's going to get us amazing gourmet dinners AND eye candy. You didn't tell me Frederick was a looker, Mike."
  262. "Ah. What was I thinking," you joke as she bats her eyelashes at him. He catches the motion out of the corner of his eye and tips his tiny hat to her in exchange.
  264. "Interesting salad," Faz says as he observes them, a knowing smile on his face. "What is this?"
  266. "Arugula and pear with toasted walnuts and mascarpone," Chichi proudly boasts. "And you'd better save room for dessert since we're having my favorite cheesecake AND avalanche cookies."
  268. "You made cheesecake too?" You give her an incredulous look. "I never saw you bake anything besides the beef, though."
  270. "Not ALL desserts have to be baked," she says with a wink. "It's important to have a variety of recipes -- any experienced baker can make a complicated cake given enough time, but it's just as important to know how to put something tasty together last-minute."
  272. "Cheesecake and cookies? Well hell, now I know I'm dreaming," Cheeky says, licking her beak. "Just don't wake me up till after the threesome's over."
  274. "Alright, girl, reel it in," Bonworth says, tugging at his collar.
  276. "You've outdone yourself, Chichi." Faz nods to her, taking his hat off and unbuttoning his coat before seating himself in his usual chair. "You too, Frederick. Thank you both for the wonderful dinner."
  278. "Yeah, thanks, guys," Bonbon grins.
  280. "Aye," Haddock says, raising his plate. "This be a fine bounty indeed."
  282. Chichi and Frederick blush as a chorus of appreciation circles the room, both of them looking quite pleased with themselves. For their sake, you figure you won't mention the troubled production process that went on behind the scenes.
  284. "Welp! I can't speak for anyone else but I know I for one am sure famished after a long day sortin' files and punchin' numbers into the ten-key," Bonworth says. Rubbing his paws together excitedly, he starts to open his mouth only for Cheeky to furiously clamp a wing on his shoulder, gripping it hard enough to cause him to wince.
  286. "I swear to God, Bonnie," she hisses through her clenched beak. "Don't you ruin this for me."
  288. "By all means, Chica," he nervously squeaks. "What was I thinkin'?"
  290. "Mmmmm." Closing her eyes, Cheeky raises her plate to her nostrils, hungrily breathing in the scent of the dinner. "Right then. Let's eat!!"
  292. Turning the TV on, Faz puts on a black-and-white movie to watch while your group enjoys your feast together. In spite of Frederick and Chichi going at it with each other (or perhaps BECAUSE of it), the food's absolutely delicious. And while the film you're watching is certainly no Citizen Kane, the actors are competent and the plot's decently engaging. Pretty soon you find yourself fully engrossed in it.
  294. "Boy, they surely don't make 'em like they used to," Bonworth muses aloud during a commercial break.
  296. "Amen to that," you reply, leaning against the table and kicking your feet up to ease a little pressure off your ribs from sitting on the floor. "Cinematography's a dying art and Hollywood's holding the smoking gun."
  298. "Hah! You an old movie buff too, Mike?" he asks between bites of his dinner. "I figured I was the only one! Everyone else's all into this newfangled stuff with the computer graphics and explosions."
  300. "Nah, I think old movies are pretty great. Gotta respect the classics."
  302. "I think you two are underestimating the power of a good explosion," Bonbon insists, because of course she would. "Good special effects can save a crappy movie. You know what I'm saying?"
  304. Before you have the chance to educate your ignorant friend on the finer nuances of filmmaking, a familiar music box jingle begins to play on the TV. Without missing a beat you grab the remote from Faz's armrest and mute the volume, rolling your eyes in disgust at the cartoony marching band leader dancing his way across the screen with his other demonic friends.
  306. "Nope," you declare, tossing the animated human a crude gesture. "Not tonight, asshole."
  308. "That's my line," Beanie grins, flipping the TV a bird of her own to Bonbon's amusement and her brother's chagrin.
  310. "Sheesh. You'd think they'd at least know their target audience for ad buys," Cheeky mutters in disgust as almost everyone makes a point of looking away from the screen while the Jeremy Human's commercial plays. Even Haddock seems more repulsed than frightened unlike last time, though that might just be him emulating the mood of the room as he tends to do. "I can't for the life of me imagine anyone watching a 70-year-old movie wanting anything to do with that hellhole."
  312. "Kids and grandkids, maybe. I've given up on trying to understand that place," you reply, glancing over at Frederick. He's set his plate aside, massive paws clasped in his lap as he intently studies the commercial with a laser focus.
  314. "At least the pizza's good," Chichi offers.
  316. "That's true, yeah." Wiping her mouth on a napkin, Beanie sets her finished plate on the coffee table. "Whenever one of us goes postal and torches the place, we'll be sure to bring you the recipe."
  318. As quickly as he arrived, the shako-wearing despot and his cronies disappear. You turn the volume back up, and as one your group of friends goes right back to enjoying dinner and a movie together as if nothing had ever happened.
  322. "Again, that was a real aces supper, everyone," Bonworth says, fidgeting outside the kitchen. "You SURE I can't help out with the cleanin', li'l bunny?"
  324. "For the last time, Bonworth, we're fine," Beanie replies. "We've got this. Go sit down, you've earned the rest. You too, Cheeky."
  326. "Oh, don't worry, I'll get outta your way just as soon as I help myself to another serving of bread," the pudgy chicken cackles as she stoops to root around in the refrigerator's crisper drawer for a beer. While Cheeky deliberates over which brew she wants to consume, there's a series of short, sharp knocks at the front door.
  328. "Curious," Bonworth says, scratching the back of his head as he saunters over to the foyer. "Wonder who's come by to visit at this hour."
  330. Pulling himself to his full height, he peers through the peephole only to turn around with a confused expression on his face.
  332. "Alright, anyone have the foggiest of what corporate might be doin' here?" he asks, worry creeping into his voice.
  334. "Corporate?" Faz murmurs, pushing himself to his feet. "...from the restaurant?"
  336. "The very same," Bonworth quietly replies as Faz and Cheeky gather with him in the foyer. "Seriously, what are they doing sending someone over to my apartment at this time of night?"
  338. "Well, we can stand here and speculate about it, or you can open up and ask 'em yourself," Cheeky mutters, her beer all but forgotten in her wings.
  340. With a reluctant nod, Bonworth undoes the latches and opens the front door. Standing outside on the porch is none other than Nisha, bundled up in an expensive-looking leather trench coat and an ornate, wide-brimmed hat. Smiling, she brushes a bit of snow off of the sleeves of her coat. Apparently it's started coming down since your walk earlier, since she's covered in a light dusting of powder snow.
  342. "The hell is SHE doing here?" Beanie whispers to you.
  344. "I ran into Nisha and Peanut at the convention, remember? She said she'd be stopping by," you reply, loading the dishwasher. "Probably something to do with you having quit your job."
  346. "Ohhh, right, right," Beanie groans, rubbing her forehead. "Shit, yeah. I completely forgot."
  348. "Sorry for the intrusion! I hope everyone's having a wonderful night," she titters. "Aahhh... Mr. Fazbear said Bonita might be here so I came upstairs -- is now a bad time?"
  350. "We just finished supper so I don't suppose it is," Bonworth replies, rubbing the back of his head. "Hang on a sec an' I'll fetch her for ya, Ms. Marigold."
  352. "That's okay, you don't have to," she says, all smiles as she hands a thick manila folder over to Bonworth. "Legal asked me to bring this by for her. If you could just, ahhm -- have her sign these and then fax them over to corporate in the morning?"
  354. "Sure," he says, taking it from her. "Anything we need to be worried about?"
  356. "Oh, no, no -- it's all the standard stuff that was mentioned in her contract, y'know? For making sure she gets her severance pay," Nisha says, giggling softly. She leans past him, smiling and waving politely to the room as Bonworth passes the envelope off to his sister, who looks at it disinterestedly. "Speaking of which, is Ms. Weidlöd in? I actually have something I need to discuss with her."
  358. "Me?" Cheeky asks from behind Faz, looking up in surprise. She sets her beer down on the counter, stepping forward. "What do you need, Nisha?"
  360. "Just a minute of your time, if that's alright," Nisha replies with a nervous laugh. "Legal and Accounting both have me playing errand girl today. There was, ooooh, just a teensy-weensy clerical issue with your monthly dispersements? We'll have it cleared up in a jiff, I promise!"
  362. "Alright. I guess I'll be back in a minute, boys," Cheeky says to Bonworth and Faz.
  364. "Actually, if you gentlemen would like you can join us outside," Nisha gestures to Faz and Bonworth while helping Cheeky into her coat. "This concerns you two as well, so it'll give us all a chance to catch up."
  366. Bonworth and Faz exchange glances before following Cheeky and Nisha out onto the porch, clicking the door shut behind themselves.
  368. "Weird," Beanie mutters, tossing the folder onto the counter. "I'm kind of surprised she's showing up in person for all this. Typically Fred would just handle this sort of thing."
  370. "If it's just papers you had to sign, they could've been faxed over," you reply, scratching your head. "Think there's more to it than that?"
  372. "Probably," she says with a yawn. "Never any telling when it comes to Jeremy's. For all I know they sent her over to give me a slap on the wrist because I defaced company property with my resignation notice."
  374. Shaking your head, you help Beanie finish cleaning the kitchen. The two of you work together in quiet tandem wiping down counters, washing pots and pans, and sealing leftovers into plastic containers for later reheating.
  376. "Wow, is it seriously already 8:30?" Bonbon asks as she steps into the kitchen with the last of the dinner plates from the living room, offloading them into the dishwasher. "Man, I hate to eat and run but I gotta jet. I've got a big session planned with my gaming group tonight. You wanna head out with me now, Mike, or are you going to stick around a while longer?"
  378. "Nah, I probably should get going too. Frederick, you ready to go?"
  380. Hearing his name, Frederick gets up from his seat, turning to Chichi. He gives her his typical hug and cheek kiss combo before adding an unusual twist -- raising his paw for a high-five, which she excitedly returns with a big grin. You smile warmly -- nice to see them engaging in mutual respect after their heated prep session.
  382. "C'était un plaisir de travailler avec vous."
  384. "We sure got it done, didn't we!" Chichi replies as he slips his coat on. "I hope I get a chance to cook with you again soon, Frederick!"
  386. After you thank Chichi for her hard work one last time and wish everyone a good night, you begin loading up your laundry and some of the leftovers to take home. As you're wrapping up in the kitchen, Cheeky and Bonworth slowly walk in from outside. Neither of them say a word as they enter.
  388. "Hey Bonworth," Beanie says. "What was all that about?"
  390. If he hears her, he makes no indication of it as he makes his way to his bedroom, closing and locking the door. Cheeky doesn't stick around long either, stopping by the fridge to pick up a second beer to go with her first before retreating to her own room. Haddock watches timidly from his spot on the living room floor, his ears pressed flat against his head, tail wrapped around himself like a blanket.
  392. "Go on ahead. I'll finish up here," Beanie sighs before picking her folder up and heading over to the living room to sit next to a confused Chichi.
  394. As you reluctantly step outside onto the porch with Frederick and Bonbon, you notice Faz at the end of the upper hall, his back to you as he leans out over the railing contemplatively. He seems deeply engrossed in thought, so much so that he doesn't even seem to hear the three of you pass by. While you're curious about just what rattled Bonworth and Cheeky, you also know that with their non-disclosure agreements keeping them silenced, you can't expect much out of them. With a sigh, you turn away from Faz and head down the stairs after Bonbon.
  396. Once you arrive at ground level, however, you realize that your party's missing someone. Looking up, you spot Frederick lingering at the overhead landing.
  398. "You coming, Freddy?" you shout from the bottom of the stairs.
  400. Nodding curtly at you, he turns and slowly makes his way down the staircase, pulling his collar up as he follows you and Bonbon home.
  404. "We're back," you call out into the dim apartment as Bonbon eagerly sprints off to her bedroom to join her friends online.
  406. "Oh! Welcome home," Mango replies from the living room. She's nestled up on the couch under a blanket, poring over a stack of papers by the light of an end table lamp. A pair of reading glasses are balanced precariously on the end of her muzzle. "How was your day, Mike?"
  408. "Interesting, to put it mildly." You set the cardboard box with your clean laundry outside of the bedroom you're sharing with Peanut. "How about you, Mango? What're you up to?"
  410. The plump vixen lets out a yawn, stretching and setting her work aside. "Not much, I suppose, just grading some tests," she says. "Chica and Freddy are out with friends tonight, so I thought I'd try to be productive."
  412. "Wait, you've been here by yourself all this time? I wish I'd known! You should've come over and had dinner with us!"
  414. "I didn't say that so you'd feel bad, Mike," she says sheepishly. "I really did have a lot of work to do, and some peace and quiet was nice, I suppose."
  416. "Still, though. At least let me put you on some coffee or something," you reply, heading for the kitchen with an armful of plastic containers full of leftover dinner and dessert. "Did you eat yet?"
  418. "I, uh, snacked," she mumbles, clearly self-conscious. You spy a half-empty box of crackers on the kitchen counter. Uh huh.
  420. "Well, good thing I brought home some leftovers then." You pop open the microwave, layering a dinner portion out onto a plate for Mango. "It would've been a lot better fresh, but I think you'll like what Chichi and Frederick whipped up. Those two are incredible."
  422. "I'm certain I will. Thank you," she says, standing up and folding her blanket before taking her seat at the kitchen table. "Um, if you're putting a pot of coffee on -- how about the vanilla hazelnut blend? It's a personal favorite, but Chica's not as big of a fan so I don't get to drink it much. Err, if you don't mind, that is."
  424. "Nah, I don't mind at all," you respond as you begin scooping the aforementioned coffee grounds into a fresh filter. "All coffee tastes the same to me anyway."
  426. "Mike, I'm sorry that it falls to me to tell you this, but you're a heretic," Mango jokes with a wry smile.
  428. "I suppose that's fair. So grading tests, huh? I thought you just did like, private tutoring and babysitting and so on."
  430. "Private tutoring, yes, but a lot of homeschooling as well. I'm actually part of a local, uh -- well, it's not really a union, but it's more like a support group? There are a lot of families around here with kids who either can't or won't enroll them in public education for whatever reason," she says, taking her glasses off. "It's different depending on the child and their background, too. Abusive spouses, disabilities... lots of different circumstances. So for many of these children, I'm the closest thing they'll ever have to a teacher."
  432. "No kidding," you reply, a little awed. "That's pretty cool, Mango. Do you at least enjoy working with kids?"
  434. "I love it," she says without a second's hesitation. "And I love them, too. Children get a bad rap, but I find they're actually really rewarding to work with. Sometimes you just have to think of them as adults -- if you show them a little respect while being firm, you'd be surprised how easy they are to get along with."
  436. "I'm glad to hear you're not stuck doing something you hate, then. I think about Beanie and some of the other folks who've worked at Jeremy's, and..." You trail off, thoughts turning to the restaurant and its many, many victims. "I just can't imagine working a job doing something that you despise."
  438. "I can't speak for the others, but I think that's why so many of us stayed with the restaurant for so long," she says. You open the microwave and pull her plate of food out, handing it to her with along with a fork and a knife. "Because a lot of us genuinely enjoyed the work, I mean. I love kids, and I can tell you that seeing their smiles is what kept me going in day after day."
  440. "What did you do at Jeremy's, if you don't mind me asking?"
  442. "Oh, I used to help run an attraction where children would do little arts and crafts projects," she replies, sniffing at her plate. "That's kind of how I developed a knack for it."
  444. "Ah, that makes sense," you respond, returning to the cabinet and pulling out a pair of coffee mugs.
  446. "We called it Kids' Cove," Mango says, appreciatively spearing a bite of her food with her fork.
  448. "'Kids' Cove?' What was it, nautical themed?"
  450. "A holdover -- from when Mr. Haddock ran the attraction before me," she says. Somehow, you're not the least bit surprised to find this out. "He built the pirate theme himself. It was quite a hobby for him."
  452. "And they just kept it, even without the pirate?" you ask, pouring a cup of coffee for yourself.
  454. "Oh, they do as little updating as possible in that place." She rolls her eyes, fluffing her headfur in a very Foxglove-esque show of annoyance. "Last I heard, it has some of the sea theme elements left, though it has changed a bit since my tenure."
  456. "Really? What is it now, the Sandbar Arcade or something?"
  458. "Bot Bay," she sniffs.
  460. You cough sharply, and with your last ounce of self-control manage to sputter hot coffee up into your nose rather than spit-taking it all over Mango, who's now looking at you in alarm.
  462. "My goodness, Mike," she leans down, inspecting your red-faced visage with concern, "Are you all right?"
  464. "Sorry. Yeah. Just -- caught a sneeze halfway while I was drinking," you assure her, wiping your eyes with a napkin. "You were saying?"
  466. She leans back, giving you a hesitant look before returning to her story. "It was a while ago, and sure, the restaurant had its share of problems. Ah, it was so much fun though, back when it was the Cove. We had all sorts of great, child-friendly activities. Nothing like those violent video games kids are obsessed with now, mind you -- can't stand the things."
  468. "Sure," you reply at length.
  470. "I just think fun should be -- educational, you know? Coloring books, toys, board games -- we even had a take-apart and put-back-together robot set salvaged from one of the old stage performers, though it always struck me as being a little bit dangerous. So many broken parts and sharp pieces -- I'm honestly surprised some poor soul never put an eye out on it." Raising a bite of arugula to her mouth, she smiles blissfully. "Oh, this is really delicious."
  472. You pause halfway through your cup of coffee, setting the mug slowly down on the counter.
  474. "What did you just say?"
  476. "Mmm? Oh, the arugula, it's delicious," she says, taking another bite. "I really didn't expect it be--"
  478. "No -- before that." Visions of your trip through Bot Bay flood your mind. Escaping with Beanie, getting cornered by Fritzine, her "collection" of jars and vials. You run one hand through what's left of your hair, trying to piece together a fleeting memory.
  480. "Broken parts?" she asks, confused. "I mean, it was a robot. Lots of broken bits and wires everywhere. You know how hazardous Jeremy's is; I'm amazed nobody got seriously hurt playing with that thing. It always seemed unsafe to me."
  482. "No, Mango, you just -- you said it's a surprise that someone--"
  484. "--didn't put an eye out on it," Mango repeats, finishing your sentence. "Am I missing something, Mike?"
  486. "Did they?" you ask, tone hollow.
  488. The vixen gives you a puzzled look, straightening up. "I'm sorry?"
  490. "Mango, what's your, uh -- full name again?" you ask, looking at her warily. By now, she's caught onto the fact that something's wrong, having set her silverware aside.
  492. "...Mangifera," she replies at length, as if she's afraid of your reaction. "My real name's Mangifera. But it's, um -- hard to say, so everyone just calls me either Mango or Mangle."
  494. Turning some more lights on, you scrutinize her face from your vantage point in the kitchen. Both of her eyes LOOK real...
  496. "Did anyone ever lose an eye?" you repeat. "...did you?"
  498. She blinks at you before breaking out laughing. "Seriously, Mike? I think I'd have noticed THAT," she says with a nervous grin. "I assure you, I've still got both peepers."
  500. Nodding slowly, you turn to finish refilling the coffee cups as she resumes eating her dinner. Maybe you read the label wrong. You could hardly keep straight what you saw in that horrible place. But the eyeball in Fritzine's collection? You didn't imagine that. She was going on and on about "cheap materials" and "unauthorized parts" that day. But you can't quite put the pieces together.
  502. With a frown, you try to shake the gruesome image loose from your head.
  504. "Everything okay, Mike? You seem kind of shaken up," Mango says, picking at her food. "Did I upset you?"
  506. "Sorry, no -- you're fine," you reply, handing off her mug. "I've just had one of those days. Please, don't worry about it."
  508. She sniffs, pauses, and gives a long, weary sigh. "The restaurant tends to bring down the mood around here."
  510. "So I've noticed," you reply with a pained smile.
  512. Mango cups her mug in her paws, staring into the dark brew. "Tragedy has a way of following that place."
  514. "Isn't that the truth. So many lives damaged."
  516. She quietly taps a claw at her mug, avoiding your gaze. "Or ended."
  518. Your stomach drops a little, remembering Beanie's words when you were staving off the night at the restaurant. "I'd heard -- no one I know about specifically, but--"
  520. "Well I shouldn't gossip," Mango murmurs, taking a shaky sip of her coffee. "BUT after what happened to Mr. Fazbear--"
  522. "Wait, wait, did something happen to Fred? I thought--"
  524. Mango touches her chest, dramatically. "Oh dear me, no! I meant his tragic brother."
  526. You shake your head, blinking and feeling half struck by her very words. "What -- what, Goldie? You mean even that was...?"
  528. She nods grimly, putting a paw on your hand. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you. But yes, rest his soul. He really gave his life for that place." She sits upright, touching a claw to her lips. "Oh! And then after what happened to his partner...!"
  530. "I'd heard a bit about them going into business with someone. Did something happen to them, too?" You lean forward, morbidly invested in Mango's gossip. For her part, she seems enlivened by the chance to gab.
  532. "Oh yes, yes -- just shortly after. Oh, Ms. May, the poor dear! That horrible fire, it was all over the news. It makes my tail frizz just to think about it."
  534. You sit up sharply. "Wait -- wait, Ms. May? As in April May? So they...?"
  536. "His business partner, yes," Mango nods. "Mmm, thick as thieves, those two. I'd heard all the rumors. For fate to hurt them both in such close proximity, it seemed especially cruel."
  538. The two of you sit in silence together at the kitchen table, the only sounds being Mango quietly chewing her food and the occasional sips of coffee. You close your eyes, taking a moment to detox and process the action-packed day you've had. The discovery of the envelope with Faz, the hectic walk with Haddock and Bonbon, the mad rush to prepare dinner with Chichi and Frederick, the Jeremy's ad and then the visit from Nisha, and now this whole bit about April and Goldie...
  540. Mango was right. There's a cloud hanging over that place, and just talking about it is enough to sap your spirits.
  542. The sounds of the front door quietly clicking open stir you from your reverie. Looking up, you see that Mango's long finished her meal and coffee, having moved onto dessert. At some point she's moved a small pile of paperwork beside her, to continue her more serious work in the absence of further gossip.
  544. "Hey, Mangle. Hi, Mike," Peanut says as he walks in. "Sorry I'm late. I got caught up at Mr. Fazbear's."
  546. "Hello, Freddy," Mango says, motioning him over to the table. "Why don't you pull up a seat and have one of these cookies Chichi made before I eat them all?"
  548. Peanut giggles, picking one up off the tray and popping it in his mouth.
  550. "Oh, these are good," he says in between bites. He gives a long, quiet look over the table, and after a moment you realize he's stopped chewing.
  552. "...hey, is something wrong?" The bear tilts his head to one side, looking worried.
  554. "Ah, just... just taking care of some grading for my students," Mango answers, though the somber tone in her voice remains. "Mike and Bonnie just got back a little while ago, but she ducked off to her room to play with her friends online."
  556. "Mike?"
  558. "Yeah, no. No, I'm fine. Spent the evening at Bonworth's with some of the others, we watched a movie and ate dinner. Nisha stopped by, and that was kind of weird." You shrug, feeling mentally and emotionally drained. "The whole day was kind of weird, honestly. I mean, I still had a good time. I just can't stop thinking about it."
  560. "About what?"
  562. You sigh, pushing off from the table and leaning back in your seat. "I don't know. The restaurant, I guess. The people there, the way everyone's been shaped by that place. It always comes back to that. Just -- everything in general, I guess."
  564. He pushes a pudgy paw up his head, scratching at his scruff. "Like what?"
  566. "Well, I just found out about the fire, for one--"
  568. "Ohhhh," he nods in gentle understanding. "Did Nisha tell you about it? That sure was lucky."
  570. "No, I was -- we were talking about how, uh -- sorry, how was it lucky?" you ask, staring at him.
  572. Peanut fidgets, wringing his paws together. "Oh, well, I just mean, imagine if she hadn't been sick that day."
  574. You return a look as confused as his, leaving the both of you staring at each other awkwardly. "Who, April?"
  576. "Oh, uh. No. She wasn't lucky," Peanut covers quickly. "No, no no, uh, I meant Ms. Nisha. 'Cause I mean, think about it. If she wasn't sick, she woulda been there, instead of April."
  578. Mango makes a point of loudly sipping her coffee, which gets Peanut's attention. "It's difficult to be happy about someone dodging a bullet when the bullet ends up hitting someone else."
  580. "Oh, no, it was a fire," Peanut corrects her, obliviously. "At the other location. Remember? It was on the news."
  582. Mango just gives him a half-lidded stare. "Well. I'm very happy for Ms. Marigold."
  584. "Nisha's nice," Peanut defends, detecting her sarcasm (for once). "She's always been good to me. She says I remind her a lot of Mr. Fazbear's brother, before he passed away."
  586. Having "met" Goldie, you're not really sure it's an apt comparison -- especially after your most recent encounter with him.
  588. "So Nisha knew Goldie before he died?"
  590. "Oh, sure," Peanut says. "She's been with the company for years. She knows everybody."
  592. "Huh. What exactly does Nisha do? She's like a secretary or PA or something, right?" you ask, thinking back to when you first met her. "I know she said she works at the corporate office, but like--"
  594. "Well, of course she works at the corporate office, Mike," Peanut chuckles, leaning against the table. "She's the CEO."
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