pokemaniacal

Roommates - Ch. 25 (Chica's Chocolate Cheer)

Mar 16th, 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. 25 (Chica's Chocolate Cheer): http://i.imgur.com/pntxzjj.png
  4. Inspired by Weaver's Five Nights at Freddy's Apartment AU: http://i.imgur.com/LnDJVNL.png
  5. Part of an ongoing series written for the /5N@F/ General Discussion Thread at /vg/.
  6. Sincerest thanks to Weaver (http://tgweaver.tumblr.com/) for all of the invaluable assistance in writing, proofreading, and editing this story as well as for illustrating the chapter title cards.
  7. Questions or comments? Drop me an ask at http://roommatesau.tumblr.com/
  8.  
  9. ---
  10.  
  11. "I'm home," Beanie declares from the foyer. "Anybody up yet?"
  12.  
  13. "Nope, we're all still asleep," Rackham sarcastically hollers back from his seat at the kitchen counter. Poking at the remnants of his scrambled eggs, he watches with interest as Chichi nervously frets behind you.
  14.  
  15. "Careful with that death grip, Mike," she urges. "You don't want to cover the kitchen in cake frosting!"
  16.  
  17. Without tearing your gaze away from the cake, you nod slowly while easing your grip on the icing bag. Gently, you move it up and down around the edges of the cake using the rhythmic pattern Chichi showed you.
  18.  
  19. "See? Just like a sewing needle. Oh, that's perfect!" she cheers.
  20.  
  21. "I can't thank you enough for walking me through this," you reply, wiping the excess cake frosting off of your hands with a paper towel. "I was hoping to go a bit slower so that I could really learn about the baking process, but after Fred's ultimatum for me to go upstairs last night, I didn't want to walk in empty-handed."
  22.  
  23. Chichi shakes a little flour loose from one of her wings. "When we're not as pressed for time, I'll gladly teach you how to bake the right way. I can already tell you're a natural."
  24.  
  25. "High praise, too." Rackham tops his mug up with the last of the coffee. "I made the mistake of trying to bake a cake for her birthday last year. I'd watched her do it so many times I was sure I could handle it on my own without a recipe."
  26.  
  27. You screw the cap back onto the icing bag, handling it gently so you don't accidentally pepper the ceiling with a shotgun blast of milk chocolate frosting. "Uh oh. Miss an ingredient or something?" you ask.
  28.  
  29. "Sort of. I confused baking soda and baking powder," he replies, cringing a little. "And I miiight have also assumed the cake could be done faster if the temperature was higher."
  30.  
  31. "Yikes. If it's any consolation, I'm positive I couldn't have done any better on my own. The most complicated cakes I make are pancakes."
  32.  
  33. "We all start somewhere," Chichi says encouragingly. "And just think how excited Bonworth and Cheeky will be when you show up with something you made all by yourself!"
  34.  
  35. You walk back and forth around the counter, examining the cake to make sure you didn't miss any spots with the frosting. "'Made all by myself' might be a bit of a stretch," you admit. "I'd say it's more like I just did exactly what you told me to do. I hardly deserve any kind of credit."
  36.  
  37. Nevertheless, you DO feel just a twinge of pride as you admire your finished dessert. Even if you were raptly following Chichi's instructions, you still managed to make, with your own hands, something that isn't a flapjack or a boiled egg.
  38.  
  39. "Thinking about it, I'd never even heard of this kind of cake before today," you muse. "What'd you say the name of it was again?"
  40.  
  41. "I call it 'Chica's Chocolate Cheer' since it uses three different kinds of chocolate; milk, dark, and white, each in their own layer from top to bottom," she says. "It's my own recipe, and it was the very first one I took home a blue ribbon with a few years ago. I still sell quite a few of them to this day."
  42.  
  43. You carefully hand over the icing bag, nodding in approval. "I never would have guessed that my first cake would be something so complicated."
  44.  
  45. Chichi cocks her head at you. "Oh, I don't know, it's not all that complicated when you think about it. Now if it was like a super-duper ornate wedding cake with a ton of sculpted fondant pieces, that'd be complicated. This is really just a triple-layer cake with a fancy name."
  46.  
  47. "Plus it all eats the same," Rackham muses. "I'd rather have a plain-looking cake that tastes good than a pretty one that's more decoration than dessert."
  48.  
  49. "Absolutely. Now as for this leftover frosting, we'll use the rest of it later on another treat so that it doesn't go to waste," Chichi says, setting aside the first bag and pulling out a second, smaller frosting bag. "Right now, let's take care of the piping."
  50.  
  51. "Piping?" you echo.
  52.  
  53. Beanie pushes the swinging kitchen doors open before unceremoniously plopping into one of the barstools next to Rackham. "It's the gel frosting that they do writing and stuff on cakes with, like 'Happy Birthday'," Beanie replies. "Chocolate Cheer, huh? Nice, save me a piece."
  54.  
  55. "I'm afraid you'll have to ask your brother for one," you chuckle as Chichi begins mixing up a batch of pink-colored icing. "This cake's going upstairs."
  56.  
  57. "Bummer. Is this an 'I'm sorry' cake?" she asks, shaking the empty coffee carafe over her mug with disdain as Rackham innocently sips from his own.
  58.  
  59. "It is," you sigh. "Hopefully it goes over well."
  60.  
  61. Getting up from her seat, Beanie crosses around the counter and begins fiddling with the coffee pot. "It will," she says, tossing the used filter into the trash. "My brother and his friends aren't the type to hold grudges, Mike. Besides, you were the one that left, right? It's not like they tossed you out."
  62.  
  63. "I suppose that's true," you admit. "In all honesty? I was so embarrassed and ashamed that I just kind of took off out of there, which I guess only made it worse."
  64.  
  65. "So what happened, exactly?" Rackham asks. "I was, uh, busy when you came in the other night."
  66.  
  67. "The whole damn thing was stupid," you groan. "A commercial for that Jeremy's place came on and they made a big fuss of trying to shut the TV off, and when I started asking about it things got heated. And apparently I'm the bad guy because I think it's bullshit that a corporation can get away with crapping on its workers and not be held responsible."
  68.  
  69. "Story of our lives right there," Beanie somberly interjects. "I don't really see what's so bad about that, but they are kind of under an NDA as part of the terms of their settlement."
  70.  
  71. "Why didn't they just say so in the first place, then? At the time it looked like they were dodging the question, and then Bonworth and Faz started getting frustrated with me and I just..." Your words catch in your throat. "I was just trying, you know, to make a point about how unfair it is because I felt sorry for them, but I ended up saying something really dumb and mean about Cheeky that sounded nicer in my head."
  72.  
  73. "Which was?" Rackham pointedly asks.
  74.  
  75. Beanie nods, pouring a couple of scoops of coffee grounds into a fresh filter. "Yeah, spill," she adds. "What, did you make fun of her weight or something?"
  76.  
  77. You force a smile, but based on the reactions of everyone surrounding you, it probably looks more like a pained grimace. "Let's just say that I accidentally insulted her looks," you mumble.
  78.  
  79. Chichi gasps while Rackham bursts out laughing.
  80.  
  81. "Well done, pal. You really nailed it," he chortles. "If that's your way of wooing over the ladies, then Fred's worried over nothing."
  82.  
  83. "Yeesh, Mike. So maybe Cheeky's not a model or anything, but it's not like she's got a high opinion of herself to start with," Beanie adds. "You don't have to go kicking someone while they're down."
  84.  
  85. "I wasn't TRYING to kick her while she was down. I was referring to the, you know..." Your voice lowers to a whisper, as if you're about to say something taboo. "Her... cancer. The scars and all, and y'know -- it just came out wrong."
  86.  
  87. Beanie starts the coffee pot before turning back to you. "Ah. I can kind of see where you're coming from, but still, wow."
  88.  
  89. "And now you know why I got up at six and begged Chichi to teach me how to make an 'I'm sorry' cake, as you put it," you add with a wry laugh. "Anything to hopefully help dig me out of the pit I'm in."
  90.  
  91. "Well, it's a very noble gesture, Mike. We all make mistakes, but it's the rare person who owns up to it," Chichi says as she readies a tube of pink icing. "So what do you want this to say? If you want, I'll handle the lettering since it's a little tricky."
  92.  
  93. You rub your chin, considering what you want to put on the surface of the cake. It's tempting to just leave it blank, but you agree that it could use a personal touch -- something friendly instead of morose... something personal, upbeat.
  94.  
  95. Ah, of course. That's it.
  96.  
  97. "How about 'Let's Eat'?" you offer. "It's like, Cheeky's catchphrase, something she'd say whenever we'd sit down for a meal." You think back to her being genuinely flustered by Bonworth hijacking her favorite saying at your seafood dinner.
  98.  
  99. "Oooh, I like it. We'll use two colors for the writing to make them 'pop'. I'll outline the letters in pink and then fill them in with another color like yellow or something. Do you want it to be written kind of formally, or in more of a fun style?"
  100.  
  101. "Fun, definitely," you reply. "Ooh. How about we put a few sprinkles on top as well, to make it look like confetti?"
  102.  
  103. "Sure, we can do that! Let's take care of the piping first and then the sprinkles can go on so the lettering's nice and even."
  104.  
  105. With dexterous wingtips, Chichi begins neatly applying the piping, nimbly painting the words onto the surface of the cake with nothing but a bag of liquid sugar and a tiny nozzle. While she works, you busy yourself by resealing all of the extra cake ingredients in their containers to return to the pantry.
  106.  
  107. "What do you think?" she asks, sprinkling a small wingful of colored confetti-like sprinkles around the cake.
  108.  
  109. Leaning over Chichi's shoulder to admire her handiwork, you take one look at the finished product and immediately reel as a sudden wave of dizziness washes over you. Your legs buckle, causing you to hurriedly grab onto something in an attempt to break your fall before you careen face-first into your project. The something you grab onto just happens to be Chichi as you snake an arm around her shoulders. She squawks in surprise, quickly gripping the counter to support both her weight and your own.
  110.  
  111. "Oh my! All you had to do was say you liked it," she giggles nervously.
  112.  
  113. Rackham squints at you with his good eye, and you quickly remove your hand from Chichi's shoulders.
  114.  
  115. "You, uh, you all right, Mike?" Beanie asks with furrowed brows as you ease your weight onto the kitchen to steady yourself.
  116.  
  117. "I'm fine," you gulp. "Just got kind of -- wow, I just got really dizzy all of a sudden. I don't know what the hell that was all about."
  118.  
  119. "You ARE looking kinda dazed," Rackham says as he carries his dishes to the sink. "Well, moreso than usual."
  120.  
  121. "Gee, thanks."
  122.  
  123. Chichi presses the back of her wing to your forehead. "Hmm, you don't feel hot. Low blood sugar? Did you get enough to eat at breakfast?"
  124.  
  125. "N-no, I ate plenty. I guess I'm just a little anxious," you insist, turning your attention back to the cake. "The lettering is... beautiful, it's really lovely. You did a great job."
  126.  
  127. Trotting over to the pantry, Chichi unfastens her apron and hangs it up on a hook inside. "I'm glad to hear it. I'll wrap it up in a nice box to go if you want to go wash up real fast."
  128.  
  129. "Um, thank you. And yeah, good idea. Maybe a shower will help clear my head."
  130.  
  131. "Hey, no need to be nervous, Mike," Beanie says. "If you want I'll go up with you. I've got a few hours before I have to hit the hay, anyway."
  132.  
  133. "I think I'll be okay, Beanie, but thanks for the offer."
  134.  
  135. She huffs, rubbing the back of one of her ears. "Damn it, Mike, quit cake-blocking me! I need my chocolate fix!"
  136.  
  137. "And the truth will out," Rackham piously quips.
  138.  
  139. "Work sucked and the ice cream machine was broken, pirate boy," she snaps, playfully socking him in the arm. At least, you think it was intended to be playful.
  140.  
  141. "All right, you can come," you laugh. "I wouldn't want to stand in the way of your pastry aspirations."
  142.  
  143. Smirking, Beanie pours herself a cup of coffee. "I knew you'd see reason."
  144.  
  145. You turn to Chichi, extending a hand to her. "Thank you again for helping me out with this. I really appreciate you bending over backwards to help me out with something that wasn't even your problem."
  146.  
  147. Chichi pauses midway through folding a large cake box. "What, like you did for me yesterday?" she replies jovially, ignoring your handshake to hug you instead, much to Rackham's chagrin.
  148.  
  149. "That was nothing," you try to insist to a faceful of her bright yellow headfeathers, but she's not having any of it. Releasing you, she pulls herself to her full height, chest puffed up with no small amount of pride.
  150.  
  151. "No it wasn't! You pulled me out of a fix by wrapping all those cupcakes for me so I could meet my deadline, so you'd better believe I'd do the same for you." Waving a wing towards the kitchen doors, Chichi puts on a mock serious face. "Now go get dressed, you've got a delivery of your own to go make!"
  152.  
  153. With a hesitant smile, you push the kitchen doors open and step out into the hallway towards the bathroom. Time to go get ready to face the music.
  154.  
  155.  
  156.  
  157. Scuffing her feet on the doormat outside Bonworth's apartment, Beanie nods to you. "Ready to get this over with?"
  158.  
  159. You draw a deep breath, mustering as much of your confidence as you're able to. "About as ready as I'll ever be."
  160.  
  161. "You've come this far," Beanie says, pounding at the entrance to 93-B with a balled-up paw. You wait with bated breath as the latch rattles for several seconds before the door finally opens a crack to reveal a sleepy-looking Cheeky.
  162.  
  163. "Hey, Beanie," she says before peering past the rabbit and seeing you standing behind her. Her expression shifts just a touch as the two of you make eye contact, and the door widens so that she can get a better look at you.
  164.  
  165. Cheeky looks much the same as usual, albeit having obviously just stepped out of the shower if the towel slung over her shoulders and the terrycloth housecoat is anything to go by. Her usual globbed-on, days-old makeup is notably absent from her face from where she's just washed up, and her normally unruly, messy headfeathers are slicked-back by still dripping water.
  166.  
  167. "Hey, Cheeky," you comment with a timid tilt of your head. "You look nice today."
  168.  
  169. "Mike, I'm damn near butt-ass naked with just a flimsy robe wrapped around myself," she jokes half-heartedly. "Of course I look nice."
  170.  
  171. You chuckle wryly, the nervousness in the pit of your stomach easing a little as she motions for the two of you to step inside the apartment. Beanie carefully but firmly pries the cake box loose from your grasp as you move into the foyer across from Cheeky. You're still trying to formulate what you want to say.
  172.  
  173. "I, uh, just wanted to come upstairs and address... um, well, about the other night, I just -- I didn't mean to get so riled up, and..." You look back at Beanie pleadingly as if she's got the magic words to make this whole situation go away. She raises an eyebrow as she leans against the wall with the cake, pushing the door shut with her heel.
  174.  
  175. "Mike's trying to say he's sorry, I think," she deadpans.
  176.  
  177. "I gathered," Cheeky comments with a measure of equally dry wit. You nod fervently like a bobblehead.
  178.  
  179. "I AM sorry, Cheeky. I got worked up and shot off my mouth like an idiot, which I guess is something I'm developing a bit of a habit of."
  180.  
  181. "It's fine, Mike," Cheeky quietly responds, not putting up any resistance as you lean in and carefully wrap your arms around her shoulders for a gentle hug. You take great care to arch your back in such a way that you put minimal pressure on her stomach so that you don't irritate her damaged nerves. Looking up at your awkward stance, she frowns.
  182.  
  183. "What, you trying to hide your excitement to see me?" she jokes, wiggling her hips mockingly.
  184.  
  185. "No, that's -- that's not it at all," you choke, red-faced. "I just, uh -- well, your stomach? I didn't want to put too much on you--"
  186.  
  187. "Pfft! It's not like that. Believe it or not, I ain't as fragile as you seem to think. I can handle a hug, Mike," she replies, squeezing you close. Choking back an elated sob, you hug her tightly as she rubs the small of your back with her feathertips.
  188.  
  189. "I really AM sorry," you mumble in her ear. "Truly, I can't apologize enough. God, I'm the biggest dick in the world."
  190.  
  191. "Mike?" Cheeky whispers back, expression suddenly emotional as her beak quivers. You pay rapt attention, hanging on her every word.
  192.  
  193. "Yes, Cheeky?" you reply, reaching a hand up to wipe the tears from your eyes.
  194.  
  195. "I'll be the judge of that claim," she says, instantly shifting back to her usual coquettish demeanor. Pushing away, she gives you a wink as you roll your eyes. Even as you sniffle openly, you can't wipe the wobbly smile off your face.
  196.  
  197. "Really?" you laugh. "You had to go there?"
  198.  
  199. "I'm only chicken," she replies. It takes you a moment to realize what she means, but you try not to let your initial confusion at her choice of idiom show. "Really, though, I'm glad to see you too. I, uh... you know, I didn't think you were coming back after the other night."
  200.  
  201. "...didn't really think I'd be welcome," you manage as you rub your nose and eyes on the back of your jacket sleeve. You'd do anything for that box of tissues Cheeky gave you right about now.
  202.  
  203. "Mike, you were the one that left," she replies adamantly, using her towel to dab at your face. "The three of us were up half the night trying to figure out whether we should come get you or not, and to be honest, we were all feeling kind of shitty ourselves over the whole deal. It wasn't until we got a call from Beanie that we were able to go to sleep."
  204.  
  205. "Told you," Beanie says with a smirk.
  206.  
  207. "Yeah, yeah, rub it in." You wave her off, embarrassed. "But... you guys were worried about me?"
  208.  
  209. Cheeky steps forward and jabs you in the gut with a feather. "Sure. You were put in our care as a guest, and considering you were homeless until just recently? We didn't want to be responsible for a relapse or anything."
  210.  
  211. "I'm not a user," you mutter. "Never have been. I was evicted because I couldn't find employment, not because of drugs or anything like that."
  212.  
  213. Folding her wings, Cheeky shakes her head. "No judgment even if you were, Mike. We've all got our own problems and histories. You could have come into our little community strung-out and we'd still have welcomed you with open arms. Immediately put your butt in a program, sure, but we'd have welcomed you just the same."
  214.  
  215. You rub the bridge of your nose. "I suppose that's a relief..."
  216.  
  217. "Honestly, I COULD kick your pasty ass for coming in here and getting us all riled up over you and then leaving so abruptly. We'd all started to get kind of attached to you, ya weird little monkey." She points in the direction of a pair of bedrooms at the end of the hall -- the ones you recognize as Foxy's and Faz's. "And I do mean ALL of us."
  218.  
  219. "I was in the wrong, Cheeky, not you guys. It's just... the thought of a whole bunch of greedy corporate assholes using you all up and then tossing you aside?" You bite your lower lip, trying to suppress your indignation. "It's not my business, and I know that, and I understand now that you guys are under... uh, contract to not talk about it. But I got mad and I said stupid stuff, and I never ever should have taken it out on you guys."
  220.  
  221. She lowers her head as you take one of her wings in your hand. "And I never meant to imply that you weren't beautiful. I do think you're pretty, Cheeky."
  222.  
  223. "Tell you what," she murmurs back. "Let me go get my leather boots on and you can start kissing them."
  224.  
  225. "Cheeky, c'mon. I'm being serious."
  226.  
  227. Pressing a feathertip to her beak, she grins wildly. "And then you can call me 'Mistress Chica'."
  228.  
  229. You playfully cut your eyes at her. "No, please, mistress -- you're scaring me," you reply, fighting off a laugh.
  230.  
  231. "Oooh, good boy. We'll get you broken in fast," Cheeky purrs.
  232.  
  233. Shifting the conversation back, you try to return to your original point. "Look, all I'm saying is, I swear to god all I meant the other night was, was your... well, the scars. Not your face, not your body, and I never ever wanted to insult your honor as a lady or pry where I--"
  234.  
  235. Cheeky tugs your collar with a seductive expression, cutting off your train of thought with a feathertip pressed to your lips. "Mike?"
  236.  
  237. "Y-yes?" you ask, suddenly nervous. She yanks you close, her breath hot on your neck as she nudges her beak close to your ear.
  238.  
  239. "Shhhhh."
  240.  
  241. Frowning, you try to continue. "All I meant was you--"
  242.  
  243. "Shhhhhuuuut the hell up. Hush. Shhh. You're doing that thing where you're talking in circles," she says. "Look, I get it -- you didn't mean it. I forgive you."
  244.  
  245. "All right, all right, I'll drop it," you reply, raising your hands in defeat. "But if you want to 'kick my pasty ass', you'd totally be in the right to do so."
  246.  
  247. Cheeky teasingly makes a show of considering doing so, but you can tell her heart isn't in it to be upset with you. "Nah, Mike. Might pinch your cheeks, though. That stays on the table," she jokes.
  248.  
  249. "...which set of cheeks?" you reply suspiciously, raising an eyebrow.
  250.  
  251. Huffing, she puts both of her wings on her hips. "Well, I'm not gonna do it NOW since you've taken all the fun out of it," she says as you and Beanie exchange knowing smirks.
  252.  
  253. The sound of metal clanking across the floor draws your attention as Bonworth limps around the corner and toward the entryway. He's not yet fully dressed, wearing only a sleeveless undershirt and a pair of pajama pants that expose his metallic prosthetics from the calves down.
  254.  
  255. "Lookit who it is," he murmurs with a tired smile, noticeably lacking in his usual energy -- though he perks a little upon seeing Beanie, who waves back. "Mornin', lil bunny."
  256.  
  257. "Hey, Bonworth."
  258.  
  259. Bonworth yawns, scratching his side. "Good to see y'made it through another night at the office job from heck," he chuckles. You can't help but notice that the bags under his eyes that had been beginning to lift have returned with a vengeance. "So, Mike, I take it you've spoken with ol' Fred...?"
  260.  
  261. "I did. He sat me down last night before dinner and basically told me to get my ass up here and straighten things out with you guys."
  262.  
  263. "Ah, shoot," Bonworth sighs, snapping his fingers. "I was hopin' he wouldn't have read you the riot act. I'm awful sorry for the trouble, Mike."
  264.  
  265. "No, I'm the one that's sorry. You didn't do anything wrong, Bonworth. I'll take full responsibility for it."
  266.  
  267. "We could've -- no, should've been honest about things, Mike, but there's only so much we can say and do," Cheeky laments as Bonworth wraps one of his arms around her shoulders. "You understand why it's not exactly something we want to just flaunt out there."
  268.  
  269. "You're a good guy, Mike. I'm awful sorry things got so heated the other night," he says, moping. "Tell the truth, Marion sent me home early yesterday, I was such a shambles. Couldn't tell my ears from my tail while I was filin'."
  270.  
  271. "I'm sorry I poked my nose where it didn't belong," you mumble, scuffing one of your feet on the floor awkwardly. "I promise, it won't happen again. We've all got things we'd just as soon not talk about."
  272.  
  273. Bonworth smiles as the two of you shake hands. "No hard feelings, pal. I think we'll all feel better for it if we just put it behind us."
  274.  
  275. "FINALLY. I've been standing here with this damn thing for like, two hours," Beanie groans, pushing forward past you and thrusting the cake into Cheeky's arms. "I was starting to think I'd have to pitch a tent here."
  276.  
  277. "I was gonna ask, actually," Cheeky says excitedly, peering down at the box. "I see you come bearing gifts!"
  278.  
  279. "Well, I wanted to show up with more than just words. I made you guys something," you answer. "Well, with a LOT of help from Chichi."
  280.  
  281. The portly hen waddles into the kitchen with a curious Bonworth at her side. You and Beanie stand back as she eagerly unwraps the ribbon from the cake box like a toddler opening a Christmas present.
  282.  
  283. "Shit, Mike, this looks amazing!" Cheeky giddily declares, licking her beak. "You made this?"
  284.  
  285. For once, it's your turn to swell with pride. "Under Chichi's direct supervision and adhering to a strict recipe, but yes -- I baked you a cake."
  286.  
  287. "I'm telling you, you ought to run a restaurant, Mike. You sure got the chops for it, fella. What a swell-lookin' treat!" Bonworth says, setting the box lid aside. "I know it's still mornin', but it's never too early for a good cake. Lil bunny, would you be a peach and fetch us some paper plates from the cupboard?"
  288.  
  289. "Oh god yes," Beanie cheers, pumping her fist. "I thought you'd never ask."
  290.  
  291. Cheeky leans in closely, studying Chichi's lettering job with delight. "Man, I love the design! I oughta have this put on a tee-shirt or something!"
  292.  
  293. "How about a bib?" Bonworth jokes. "I've seen the way you eat cake, and you'll probably be wearin' more of it than makes it in your gullet."
  294.  
  295. "I can't help it, Bonnie! Beaks aren't engineered for baked goods," she snaps. "Now get the camera. I want a picture before we cut into it."
  296.  
  297. "Already on it," he says, rummaging around in one of the kitchen drawers before pulling out a vintage instant camera. "Chica, Mike, can you both squeeze in a little so I can get both of you in the shot?" he asks, peering through the camera's lens.
  298.  
  299. "Oh, let me take the picture," Beanie says. "You deserve to be in it too."
  300.  
  301. "I've been in enough pic--" Bonworth starts to reply before Beanie snatches the camera from his hands.
  302.  
  303. "Take your places and say cheesecake," she says as you heft the dessert, tilting it slightly so that the surface can be easily seen in the photo. Bonworth hurriedly leans in from your right as Cheeky sidles in from your left.
  304.  
  305. "Cheesecake!" your group cheers in unison as the flashbulb goes off.
  306.  
  307.  
  308.  
  309. In the end, your quartet manages to nearly eradicate the cake in a single sitting. Cheeky and Beanie polish off well over half of it themselves, forcing you and Bonworth to settle for slimmer portions so that there'll still be some leftover for Faz and Foxy later when they wake up.
  310.  
  311. At Bonworth's insistence of "no tricks this time," your group indulges in another game, opting for a simple team-based board game this time. Working together with Beanie, you fight hard and put in a significantly better showing than you did at the rigged poker match before Cheeky and Bonworth are ultimately declared victorious in a surprise upset.
  312.  
  313. "I'm so glad we weren't playing strip poker rules," you joke as Beanie begins putting the game pieces back in the box.
  314.  
  315. "Damn it," Cheeky sniffs, looking genuinely disappointed. "I'd have played for REAL if that was the case."
  316.  
  317. Bonworth blushes, tugging at his collar as he rises from the couch. "So Mike, do you need me to go downstairs and help you with your bags, or...?"
  318.  
  319. "Nah, that's not necessary," you reply. "I'm going to stay with Fred and Beanie for a while until things get straightened up back home. I really do appreciate the fact you'd still be open to letting me come back, though."
  320.  
  321. "Of course we're open," Cheeky says. "You're always welcome here, Mike. Just because we had one spat doesn't mean you've been blackballed."
  322.  
  323. Pushing himself to his feet, Bonworth nods. "Absolutely. Any time you need a place to stay, we've got an open door and a warm bed waiting for you. I suppose on that note, though, I'd best get ready for work, and you should probably go tuck yourself in for some shuteye too, sis."
  324.  
  325. Beanie yawns before hefting herself from the living room floor. "Yeah, I am pretty whipped. I guess I'll go ahead and shove off here, then."
  326.  
  327. "Sounds good, actually. I think I could do with a nap myself," you agree as the two of you say your goodbyes and head for the entrance. You open the door for Beanie before grabbing your coat from the rack by the door. As you start to leave, Cheeky grabs you by your wrist.
  328.  
  329. "You forgot something last time you were here," she says.
  330.  
  331. "I did?" you ask in befuddlement, running through a mental checklist of your valuables -- wallet, ID, your luggage, shaving kit, clothes, shoes, coat. What could you have forgotten? You don't carry a phone anymore, nor do you have a computer or anything else of real value. Maybe your toothbrush or something?
  332.  
  333. After a minute or two of waiting, Cheeky shuffles back into view with a colorful box of her own tucked under a wing. "Here you go," she says with a wicked grin, thrusting the still-sealed tissue box from a few nights ago into your hands. She cackles as you tuck it under your coat with an embarrassed groan.
  334.  
  335. You shake your head as you turn to leave. "So nice of you to notice."
  336.  
  337. "Oh, and one more thing," she says. You feel a pair of sharp pinches in both of your buttocks, nearly causing you to trip as you stumble out the doorway.
  338.  
  339. "Well, that answers THAT question," you begrudgingly admit as she shuts the door behind you, still laughing to herself.
  340.  
  341.  
  342.  
  343. "What was all that about?" Beanie asks as you join her outside, eyeing the tissue box under your arm. "Oh, for your nose?"
  344.  
  345. "Sure," you answer evasively, following her down the upper level hall to the staircase. Pausing midway down the stairs, Beanie stops to consider something.
  346.  
  347. "Hey Mike, if you're gonna sleep in the afternoon anyway..."
  348.  
  349. "Hold up a second. I may already be in a relationship, so you'll have to ask my mistress for permission," you joke, jerking a thumb back at the door to 93-B.
  350.  
  351. Beanie gives you a long, cryptic stare, looking you up and down, like she's trying to puzzle something out. She squints further, then scratches the messy fur on her head.
  352.  
  353. "...say, Mike, been a while since you had some, huh," she asks, pointing to the tissue box under your arm.
  354.  
  355. You narrow your eyes. "Hey c'mon, I was just making a joke, you don't have to get personal."
  356.  
  357. "Plus, that was the first game I've played with Cheeky where someone ELSE suggested strip poker rules," she continues.
  358.  
  359. "I wasn't suggesting them, I just--"
  360.  
  361. "Uh huh."
  362.  
  363. By now your cheeks are redder than Rackham's fur, and she's grinning like the freaking Cheshire Cat. "Look, Beanie--"
  364.  
  365. "All right, Mike," she offers in a patronizing tone. You resist the temptation to chuck the tissue box at her smug head. "Look, all I was gonna ask is if you wanted a ride in to work tonight. As long as your sleep schedule's gonna be off and all, you know?"
  366.  
  367. You start to fire off a snappy comeback about "riding" before it dawns on you what she actually said wasn't an innuendo.
  368.  
  369. Huh... maybe she's right.
  370.  
  371. "Wait, what?" you ask, tone hopeful. "As in -- to go see the arcade?"
  372.  
  373. "Sure. It's getting late in the week," Beanie replies, thrusting her paws in the pockets of her hoodie. "I wouldn't mind an extra set of eyes helping me out."
  374.  
  375. "Living for the weekend, huh?" you ask, folding your arms to insulate yourself a little from the cold.
  376.  
  377. "...yeah, something like that," she says, distracted. "We'll head out a little early tonight, so probably around nine or ten. I've got a couple errands to run before work, and we might as well grab snacks to carry us through before the shift starts -- if you're up to it, of course."
  378.  
  379. "Yeah, I'm totally game," you instantly answer. "I really want to check this place out for myself. See what it's all about."
  380.  
  381. She nods and resumes walking down the steps.
  382.  
  383. "Well, let's go get some rest, then. We're both gonna need it."
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