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Roommates - Ch. 15 (Take a Load Off)

Dec 22nd, 2015
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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. 15 (Take a Load Off): http://i.imgur.com/f8FkUOz.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. "Spent the whole of the summer on the waters, but we couldn't find hide nor hair of him. Hare hide, aye, hare hide fetches three copper a pelt, finest quality too. From her majesty's own surplus, see?"
  12.  
  13. "Good to know I've got solid resale value on the black market," Bonworth jokes.
  14.  
  15. "You sure? What's the exchange rate of copper to the dollar, Foxy?" you inquire.
  16.  
  17. "Hush, you two," Cheeky hisses, but it's already too late. Foxy stops his narration, slamming the handle of the broom down on the carpet. What was his cutlass just moments ago is now apparently a walking stick. He eyes you carefully, pondering your question.
  18.  
  19. "Copper pieces to the dollar? Aye, four pieces o' eight for just one dollar -- ride any of the rides an' play any of the games, me little buckos."
  20.  
  21. Bonworth's face falls slightly and even Cheeky seems dismayed.
  22.  
  23. "Go on with your story, Foxy," she hastily urges.
  24.  
  25. "Aye, lass," Foxy answers cheerfully. "So the midshipman comes wide at us, actin' as if HE be the admiral. Skipper put up with none of that talk, he didn't. Knocked the wind right out of his sails. Had 'im port the swab deck!"
  26.  
  27. He roars with laughter, catching the broom handle with his hook and swinging around on it before scrabbling onto the armrest of the sofa. Wiping a tear from his eye, he continues on.
  28.  
  29. "Hours, hours, hours took us t'get all the gunpowder out of our fur and furs, but it was a small price t'pay. From that day forward, we'd be known as the fiercest in the royal fleet. Boat."
  30.  
  31. Foxy grins toothily, seemingly pleased with himself. Cheeky and Bonworth clap politely, causing you to quickly follow along. Satisfied with a job well done, Foxy lays the broom on the sofa next to you with such reverence you'd think he was putting a baby to sleep in a crib.
  32.  
  33. "G'night, lad," he murmurs, gently arranging the bristles in a random pattern. "Ye're lookin' a might gaunt these days. Get a big breakfast at Hogan's tavern in the morn' before we set sail."
  34.  
  35. Wincing slightly, Bonworth fidgets with the ice pack on his arm.
  36.  
  37. "Bonnie, you took a pretty nasty fall today," Cheeky says, patting his shoulder with one of her wings. "Why don't you head to bed early tonight?"
  38.  
  39. "Not yet," he tiredly protests. "Too many things to take care of before I can grab shuteye. Don't worry your pretty little head about me, though, I'm still full of zip!"
  40.  
  41. "I dunno, Bonworth -- you look less zippy and more zapped," you reply, feeling more than a little guilty about what happened earlier. "Cheeky and I can close down shop for the night. Get some sleep, dude."
  42.  
  43. "Whillikers, Mike, I'm not that tired!" he says. You glance at Cheeky who nods vigorously behind his head.
  44.  
  45. "You sure?" you challenge, opening your mouth as if to yawn.
  46.  
  47. Bonworth, as if on cue, immediately yawns back right as you snap your mouth shut with a smirk.
  48.  
  49. "Wh-- Mike! Yawns are contagious! That's cheatin'!" he moans.
  50.  
  51. "And you'd know all about cheating, Bonworth 'Aces High' Rabbinson," you return with a smirk, quote fingers and all. "Seriously, go get some rest."
  52.  
  53. "Consarn it, you know you got me there," he concedes, raising his paws in the air like he's being robbed. "Well, maybe I will tuck in early. You sure it's not too much to ask?"
  54.  
  55. "I was a real jackass today," you murmur, helping him to his "feet". "Let me make up for it. You've got my word I'll come running if anybody catches fire in the middle of the night."
  56.  
  57. "Hey, don't even joke about that, Mike," Cheeky interjects. "I left my curling iron plugged in a month ago. Know those warning labels on the cords? Yeah, those aren't just a suggestion."
  58.  
  59. You nervously eye her feathers, pondering what possible use she could ever have for a curling iron.
  60.  
  61. "Oh, don't remind me. I never thought I'd get the smell of burnt plastic out of my clothes," Bonworth mopes. "Well, if I'm shuttlin' out early, can I give you a list of couple chores to take care of before bed?"
  62.  
  63. "Whatever you need me to do," you answer, shaking the bizarre mental image loose from your head.
  64.  
  65. As he hobbles over to the kitchen counter to begin jotting down a list, you grimly realize you still haven't met Faz, and you've got no idea just how bad of shape he's in. Whatever's wrong with him must be pretty serious if Bonworth had to spend almost two hours with him this morning, though. You fervently hope Bonworth's list doesn't involve changing bedpans or something.
  66.  
  67. "Mostly common sense stuff," he says, handing it to you.
  68.  
  69. Skimming the list, you breathe an inward sigh of relief. Wash and dry Foxy's blanket, some light chores like vacuuming and neatening up the common area, carry the trash out, take Faz his medication -- nothing you can't handle.
  70.  
  71. "Got it," you affirm, folding the chore list up and tucking it into your pocket. "Hit the hay, I'll see you in the morning."
  72.  
  73. "Appreciate it, fella," Bonworth says with a genuine smile. "G'night, all."
  74.  
  75. "Night, Bon," Cheeky calls out.
  76.  
  77. Foxy waves from his perch atop the sofa's armrest. "Safe sailin', bosun."
  78.  
  79. "Whiskers." Bonworth awkwardly rubs the back of his head, looking around the room like he's lost. "Not used to bein' the first to bed. Almost feels like back when I was a kit and my mama would get flustered if I hadn't done my homework."
  80.  
  81. After he reluctantly closes the door to his room, you decide to go ahead and get everything taken care of now. The last thing you want to do is procrastinate, especially after the day's events -- after all, there are some things you'll never forget seeing.
  82.  
  83.  
  84. The sight of Bonworth slamming into the pavement is one of them.
  85.  
  86.  
  87. Biting your lower lip, you try to push the guilt to the back of your mind for now, choosing instead to make yourself useful by focusing on the task at hand. Might as well get the loudest chore out of the way first before Bonworth's asleep.
  88.  
  89. As you pull the vacuum out from the foyer closet, Cheeky moans audibly, rubbing her stomach a little.
  90.  
  91. "Food didn't agree with you?" you ask.
  92.  
  93. "Nah, just a cramp," Cheeky replies. You raise an eyebrow which in turn elicits a smirk. "Don't worry, though, not that kind of cramp."
  94.  
  95. With a shrug you plug the vacuum in and begin cleaning the floor. As soon as you start it up, Foxy's tail fluffs out and he hops off the sofa, scampering off in the direction of his bedroom. You look up at Cheeky with an incredulous smile.
  96.  
  97. "I know," she says with a sad shake of her head. "I thought the same thing the first time I saw it too."
  98.  
  99. "Oh man, that's adorable -- he really is like a little kid. Hey, lift your legs real quick." She grins wickedly. Looking down, you roll your eyes, fighting and failing to hide your smirk. "I said LIFT your legs."
  100.  
  101. "Sorry, couldn't quite hear you over the vacuum!" she giggles.
  102.  
  103. "My ass," you mutter before realizing your mistake as soon as she gets up from her chair. "No, NO. I know you heard me right that time!"
  104.  
  105. "Oh, Mike, you're no fun," she pouts, zipping her fly back up.
  106.  
  107. After you're done vacuuming, you gather up the empty drink cans and takeout containers from the living room. One upside to eating fast food and frozen dinners is that there's not much in the way of dishes or kitchen cleaning to take care of, so you're finished fairly quickly. Setting the bags by the front door to take to the dumpster, you detour and head to your borrowed bedroom. After verifying that Foxy's not inside, you quickly collect his starry purple blanket from the closet. It still looks clean to you, but Bonworth specifically requested that you wash and dry it, so you put the washer on the fastest setting so that it'll be ready before bedtime.
  108.  
  109. As you start gathering up the trash sacks, Cheeky stops you on her way to the kitchen.
  110.  
  111. "Hey, don't head outside just yet. You want to see a trick? It's a good one, I promise."
  112.  
  113. You pause. "All right, I'll bite."
  114.  
  115. "Open the dining room window next to the bookcase, and toss the bag out," she snickers. "The dumpster's directly underneath our apartment AND the lid's missing."
  116.  
  117. "You're kidding! Do you guys do this all the time?"
  118.  
  119. "Well, Bon doesn't really do stairs well and Foxy's not exactly the chore type. Faz is usually cooped up in bed, so that kind of thing would ordinarily fall to me." She cracks a smile. "Work smarter, not harder, I say."
  120.  
  121. Hefting the trash bag, you drag it over to the window and open it up. Sure enough, there's a dumpster underneath. You shove the trash bag out the window and watch it tumble into the dumpster with a satisfying thump.
  122.  
  123. "Hot damn," you declare with glee. "I could get used to that! I have to drag the trash all the way down the stairs back at Chiclet's -- that's going to suck when the snow kicks in."
  124.  
  125. "No kidding! Last winter there was a horrible freeze that came through -- I slipped on my way down the stairs and ended up riding the last three down on my ass," Cheeky shivers. "I saw the dumpster when I picked myself out of the snow out front, realized I could've saved myself the embarrassment and said 'never again'."
  126.  
  127. "Ah, yeah, the 'big freeze'. I think you're the third or fourth to mention it to me," you reply. "Sounds like it was all kinds of miserable for everybody."
  128.  
  129. "Y'know, the weather's not usually that bad here." She finishes the last of her drink and tosses the empty can out the window before shutting it. "Last year was kind of a freak exception. I'm hoping this winter's much drier."
  130.  
  131. "Speaking of 'dryer', I just need to dry Foxy's blanket when it's finished washing and then take Faz his medicine so I can be done. Does he have pills, or...?"
  132.  
  133. She glances at the paper in your hand with a surprised expression, shaking her head slightly.
  134.  
  135. "You know what, I'll take care of that one for you."
  136.  
  137. "You sure? I don't mind, I'll have to meet him sooner or later anyway, right?" you ask.
  138.  
  139. "It's all right, Mike," Cheeky says, patting your head with a smile as she wades into the kitchen. "I've got it."
  140.  
  141. Deciding you've had enough of challenging the system for one day, you concede and let Cheeky do her thing. Clearly she's got a better handle on it than you do.
  142.  
  143. You watch idly as the hen rummages around in the kitchen cupboards, pulling pill bottles and tubes of ointments. She lines them up in a careful, yet seemingly random order on a plastic tray. Satisfied they're to whatever exacting standards Faz's care requires, she picks the tray up and trudges past you down the hallway.
  144.  
  145.  
  146.  
  147. With nothing else to do, you decide to kill a little time by browsing the shelves of movies in the bookcase. This apartment appears to have much better taste in films -- most of the movies on the shelf appear to be award-winners or major blockbusters. While the titles and actors are every bit as alien to you as they were with Chiclet's eclectic selection of bargain bin DVDs, film is film no matter where you are. Your trained eye can still tell the difference between a chintzy low-budget mockbuster and something more suited to your discerning taste.
  148.  
  149. You squint at the bookcase in disgust. Now that's just stupid -- they've got four movies with similar titles spread across three different shelves. Wouldn't it make more sense to group them together? And for that matter, why aren't the other discs in order? You begrudgingly admit it's unreasonable to expect them to sort by genre, but come on -- nobody could find anything in this mess.
  150.  
  151. "Are you seriously alphabetizing our DVDs, Mike?" Cheeky inquires, folding Foxy's blanket neatly over the sofa.
  152.  
  153. You glance up at the clock, then down at the twenty-something stacks of disc cases you've been building on the floor. You've been at this for over thirty minutes. Pretending to jerk your head up, you stare at her as if having been snapped from a reverie.
  154.  
  155. "Oh nooo, I did it agaaain," you drone.
  156.  
  157. "Well gee, I'd NEVER have guessed you for a neat freak after, you know, reorganizing and cleaning out our refrigerator this morning," she laughs.
  158.  
  159. "Hey, I'm not a neat freak, I'm a cinema snob," you argue with a good-natured grin. "There's a big difference. Besides, cleaning out your refrigerator was just practical application of my knowledge."
  160.  
  161. "Really, now." Cheeky props herself on the back of the sofa with an amused smirk. "How do you figure?"
  162.  
  163. "I've seen enough schlock horror movies to know that you don't leave stuff in the fridge too long unless you want to create a sentient, radioactive monster made of goulash and moldy cheese," you state matter-of-factly.
  164.  
  165. "Of course," she chuckles. "Gotta watch out for those goulash monsters. They're serious shit."
  166.  
  167. "Damn right they are."
  168.  
  169. "Well, Foxy was in Faz's room hiding under the bed, so I calmed him down and made him go brush his teeth." She hefts the blanket from off of the back of the sofa. "Back in a sec, I'm going to go tuck him in."
  170.  
  171. You nod and resume sorting the movies back into the bookcase. Convinced that they'll be much easier to pick through now, you dust your hands off, proud of a job well done.
  172.  
  173. The only thing you see out of place is the broom, still propped across the sofa from where Foxy left it earlier, so you return it to the closet alongside the vacuum before finally taking a seat.
  174.  
  175. As you kick off your shoes and rub your feet, you can't help but feel physically and emotionally drained after the day's events. At the forefront of your mind is the entire deal with Chica and April, and the frustration you've felt at having been shoved out. Then today there was the marathon game session that started out frustrating and quickly escalated, and then of course you had the confrontation with Bonworth...
  176.  
  177.  
  178. You grimace. That guilty feeling in the pit of your stomach isn't going away anytime soon.
  179.  
  180.  
  181. After a few minutes of silently wallowing in self-loathing, Cheeky trots back into the living room.
  182.  
  183. "Foxy all squared away?" you ask, grateful for the distraction.
  184.  
  185. "Yup. The pirate's in his cove and all's right with the world," she responds. "So -- tell me all about what happened with Bonnie today, Mike."
  186.  
  187. Her blunt request hits you out of left field so hard that you visibly stiffen.
  188.  
  189. "Mike, I'm not upset, I just want to know what happened," she says, her face softening slightly. "He just -- seemed a little off during dinner, and I've never seen him go to bed before any of us even ONCE in the entire time I've been in this apartment. I figured something was up."
  190.  
  191. "I felt kind of like he was picking on me all day," you begin, feeling just a bit claustrophobic, "and I lost my temper and shoved him when he kept trying to get in my face. It was just a gentle push, I didn't swing at him or anything, but, uh... it happened."
  192.  
  193. "I guess I'm kind of surprised at your self control. There've been times when I've wanted to bop him myself," she jokes. "Really, though, his hokey mannerisms might take a lot of getting used to -- but Bonnie's a really good guy."
  194.  
  195. "I'm realizing that now," you sigh. "I still feel like shit over it, though."
  196.  
  197. "Accidents happen, Mike. Don't beat yourself up over it, just, y'know, learn from it and move on," Cheeky says. "But hey, if you need someone to talk to, I'm here."
  198.  
  199. "I appreciate the offer, but right now, I think I could use some sleep more than anything else," you reply, getting up from the sofa.
  200.  
  201. "Well then, g'night, Mike," Cheeky says, opening her bedroom door.
  202.  
  203. "Good night, Cheeky."
  204.  
  205.  
  206.  
  207. The digital clock reads half past eleven and you're no closer to sleep than you were two hours ago.
  208.  
  209. Foxy doesn't sound quite ready for bed either tonight, as you can hear him in the closet playing with the pirate toys in his treasure chest. The sound of plastic coins stacking and clattering is beginning to wear a little thin. You contemplate asking him if he's planning on going to bed, but the last thing you want to do is come across like you're scolding him especially when you're a guest in his room.
  210.  
  211. Not only that, you know that Foxy's ultimately not what's bothering you -- you've slept in a cardboard box near train tracks, for crying out loud. No, the weight of life on your shoulders is what's finally getting to be a bit too much. The turmoil and drama from the last couple of days is clouding your mind, stealing your joy.
  212.  
  213.  
  214. Maybe it's time to finally call in a favor.
  215.  
  216.  
  217. You sigh and gently pull the blanket aside, sliding out of bed. The closet door creaks open and a tiny red muzzle wrapped in purple cloth pokes out.
  218.  
  219. "Ye all right, lad?" Foxy asks.
  220.  
  221. "Sorry, Foxy -- didn't mean to disturb you," you reply with a smile. "I'm, er, going portside for, uh -- some grog."
  222.  
  223. "A worthy cause." He sniffs authoritatively. "We got some good cherry fizz in the icebox."
  224.  
  225. "So I hear," you chuckle. "I might have to have one then. G'night, Foxy."
  226.  
  227. Foxy tucks his snout back into the closet and resumes his sorting.
  228.  
  229. "Aye."
  230.  
  231. Not surprisingly, there's nobody in the common area -- Bonworth and Cheeky already went to bed, and as far as you know Faz has had no reason to leave his room. With the living room dark and empty, you can't help but be reminded of your initial impression of the house when you came in last night -- very sterile and devoid of character.
  232.  
  233. Back in 87-B, the furniture is clearly second-hand and the decorations are simple, but they perform their function well. The house is lived-in and comfortable, even if it isn't overwhelmingly glamorous -- like a favorite shirt or pair of shoes. It's cozy, warm, and inviting.
  234.  
  235. Bonbon's pad might be tacky and messy, but beneath the layers of neon paint and yoga mats is a sense of liveliness as well. It's obvious that whoever was in charge of their decor has a passion for arts and crafts (even if they might very well be stuck in the 80s). It's cheerful and enthusiastic.
  236.  
  237. There's something off about this apartment, though. It feels like it's sort of tucked away, almost forgotten-about. Everything's very plain -- there aren't any cute throw pillows on the seating, or any worthless knick-knacks piled on top of the shelves (outside of Foxy's room, anyway). No paintings adorn the walls, no vases to hold colorful fake floral arrangements designed to gather dust. The room's little more than a few comfortable chairs and a sofa arranged around a huge plasma television.
  238.  
  239. You've seen waiting rooms in automotive repair shops that had better feng shui than this place.
  240.  
  241. Surveying Cheeky's bedroom, seems the light's still on inside. You very hesitantly knock twice at the door.
  242.  
  243. "Hang on, Bonnie," you hear her call.
  244.  
  245. Looking down at your flannel pajama top, the mental image of a little boy in his PJs stumbling bleary-eyed into mommy's room flashes through your mind. You hurriedly pull it off your chest and toss it over the sofa right as Cheeky opens the door.
  246.  
  247. "Oh now, this is a pleasant surprise," she says, eyes lighting up. "A half-naked stud being delivered straight to my door?"
  248.  
  249. "Actually, I figured I'd take you up on that offer to talk if it was still good," you answer, smiling hesitantly.
  250.  
  251. "Of course! Step into my parlor, said the chicken to the -- hmm, doesn't quite sound as catchy that way." She waves you in eagerly. "Eh, you get the gist."
  252.  
  253. True to her word, Cheeky's room is indeed the master suite. There's an enormous king-sized waterbed parked right in the middle of the room, covered with comfy-looking high-threadcount sheets and no less than five overstuffed pillows at the headboard. Her dresser's cluttered with boxes of makeup, mostly containers of mascara and eyeshadow. Dirty clothes are piled in a laundry basket that looks about a week overdue, and her towel's still on the floor from this morning's shower.
  254.  
  255. "What's up, Mike?" she asks, walking into her closet. You look around the room, realize there's nowhere to sit, and reluctantly park yourself on the edge of the bed.
  256.  
  257. "Oh, wow, you weren't kidding," you comment. "This thing's really comfortable."
  258.  
  259. "It's unbeatable," she boasts. "And best part is, there's plenty of room for two. Wink wink."
  260.  
  261. "Sorry, did you just audibly say 'wink wink' aloud?" you chuckle.
  262.  
  263. "Sure, why not? My back's turned, so you can't see me winking," Cheeky replies as she lifts her top off. Blushing, you turn your head, engrossing yourself in her collection of makeup containers.
  264.  
  265. "So spill, Mike. What's on your mind?" she asks.
  266.  
  267. "I'm not even sure I know," you begin, running a shaky hand through your hair. "Going at it with Bonworth today really kind of did a number on me. On both of us, I'd imagine."
  268.  
  269. "Still a little worked up over it?" she asks sympathetically.
  270.  
  271. "I feel like an asshole. I guess I misinterpreted his joking, and... just kind of flew off the handle. It's been a rough few days for me. Hell, probably longer than that, now that I think about it."
  272.  
  273. "Don't mind me," she says. You hear her unzip, and seconds later the sound of more fabric hitting the floor. You squeeze your eyes shut, doing your best to chase your rapidly-departing train of thought. "I guess it started when I lost my job after a workplace accident a couple years ago. I ended up having to sell nearly everything to make ends meet because nobody would hire me, and eventually I couldn't afford the utilities, then rent..."
  274.  
  275. The sound of elastic snapping startles you, and you glance over without thinking. Cheeky's holding two faded, threadbare nightshirts in front of herself, pondering which she wants to wear.
  276.  
  277. "Er -- the pink looks nice and soft," you offer. She nods approvingly, pleased with your choice.
  278.  
  279. "That's what I thought as well," she replies, letting the green shirt drop. "Oh, please, continue."
  280.  
  281. As you turn away, out of the corner of your eye you notice severe discoloration on her skin -- several large white and purple stretchmarks on her stomach and sides as she begins to pull the shirt over herself.
  282.  
  283. No, wait, those aren't stretchmarks, they're... scars?
  284.  
  285. Sure enough -- two large, precise scars run the length of her belly from just below her bust to right above her waistline.
  286.  
  287. "I guess to make a long story short," you continue while trying not to stare, "I eventually found my way here, and things seemed like they were finally beginning to look up for me. Then I kind of overstepped my bounds with Mangle, and never was able to make amends before Chiclet shoved me out the door."
  288.  
  289. "Because of the new tenant, right," Cheeky says, clicking the closet light off and crawling into the bed next to you.
  290.  
  291. "Exactly. And it's like, I know these apartments are kind of packed right now, and the landlord gave me the same spiel that I guess he must've fed April about having to move in with roommates until a furnished apartment was ready."
  292.  
  293. "I mean, most of the apartments here are designed for co-ed living anyway, and a lot of the ones that aren't completely occupied already tend to sublet or solicit roommates," Cheeky says. "If you haven't figured it out yet, this isn't exactly a complex full of trust fund babies."
  294.  
  295. "I'm actually really fine with living with roommates and even prefer it," you admit. "I've grown spoiled to having people in my life again, and it's so much easier if everyone helps with the load. I just -- I don't know. I wish Chica hadn't put her foot down and kicked me out."
  296.  
  297. "Did she really kick you out, though? It's just a temporary thing, y'know? You're not THAT miserable here, are you?" she grins.
  298.  
  299. "No, not at all. You guys have been great. Even Bonworth, when he's not busy pushing my buttons. And I get that's sort of his routine. I just--" You let out a heavy sigh. "I just guess I just kind of miss 'home'. Whatever 'home' is."
  300.  
  301. She winces a little.
  302.  
  303. "I'm sorry, that probably sounded ungrateful, didn't it," you mutter.
  304.  
  305. "No, no, not you, you're fine," she hastily replies. "Just -- a cramp, is all."
  306.  
  307. "Oh. Um, if you don't mind my asking, what's going on here...?" you gently ask, waving your hand in a circular motion over her belly.
  308.  
  309. "I don't mind," she answers, rolling onto her back a little. "Nerve damage. It's pretty... rough."
  310.  
  311. "...sounds rough. How long does it take to heal?" you inquire.
  312.  
  313. She doesn't answer immediately, instead lifting her shirt a little. Gently, she takes your right hand in her wing and places it on her ample stomach. You study the pattern of the scars as she drags your finger across them.
  314.  
  315. "It doesn't."
  316.  
  317. "Come on now," you smile crookedly, hoping she's playing with you, but your words come out like a dry croak.
  318.  
  319. "There was a chance. The doc said years, but it's been years. So realistically, I'm dealing with this for the rest of my life."
  320.  
  321. You look at her, eyes widening. "Wait, what? It's -- it's really permanent? That's -- does it, I mean, does it hurt, or...?"
  322.  
  323. "Some days it's not so bad."
  324.  
  325. The whole "up days" and "down days" routine comes surging back to the forefront of your mind again. You're beginning to sense a trend, and it's not one you like.
  326.  
  327. "There's nothing that sets it off, specifically, it just comes and goes. Usually out of the blue. When I can feel it, and that's pretty often, it's like..." she pauses, her drifting eyes refocusing on you. "Well, it sucks. But then, like, right where your hand is right now? I can't feel anything there. You could jab me with a fork and I probably wouldn't be able to feel it."
  328.  
  329. "That's... oh my god, Cheeky." You carefully pull your hand away as she lowers her shirt. "It sounds excruciating. How the -- how'd it happen?"
  330.  
  331. "Cancer," she replies, far too quickly and easily for your comfort -- as if she was answering what day of the week it is, or what she'd like to drink.
  332.  
  333. You blink. "Cancer? L-like cancer, cancer?"
  334.  
  335. "And a few dozen surgeries as follow-up," she shrugs, looking herself over.
  336.  
  337. "Yeah, but..." you return hesitantly, "You're better now, right?"
  338.  
  339. "I'm in remission if that's what you mean." Cheeky snorts, shaking her head a little. She continues looking down at her stomach, now tracing her scars herself. "So even though it might come back someday, I guess I'm better than that. Sure left its mark, though."
  340.  
  341. You just sort of deflate.
  342.  
  343. "That's horrible," you finally manage after a long silence. "Cheeky, I'm so sorry."
  344.  
  345. She inhales deeply, then exhales. "Eh, don't be. I didn't mean to get so gloomy on you. Honestly, Mikey, I've made my peace with it. I mean, I'm alive, right? And thankfully, they didn't get my boobs." She pats her chest, brightly. "So there's still plenty of chicken to go around."
  346.  
  347. You lean over and place your hand on her wing and squeeze gently. "I'm really, really sorry. I don't even know what to say, it's..."
  348.  
  349. Her eyes drift to your hand, then make contact with yours, and she gives you a wan smile.
  350.  
  351. "Hey, I appreciate the sentiment, but I swear, I didn't bring it up just to start a pity party. I don't want to see you worrying about me. All right?"
  352.  
  353. You grimly nod, forcing yourself to smile back. She seems to be having an easier time of it.
  354.  
  355. "So c'mon, enough about me. What about you? You were talking about being homesick, right?" she asks.
  356.  
  357. You can't help it. The realization of how self-centered you are just kind of hits you like a ton of bricks, and you cover your face with both hands, groaning. Your face is burning with shame, and all at once you feel on the verge of tears. You hurriedly rub your eyes in an attempt to stem the flow.
  358.  
  359. "You know, it seems kind of silly right now," you choke, trying to swallow down the lump in your throat.
  360.  
  361. She hugs you tightly to her chest. "Ah, hell, I killed the mood, didn't I." She groans melodramatically, ruffling the hair on the back of your head.
  362.  
  363. "Nope," you reply, rubbing the tears out of your eyes. "...just reminded me that I've got a lot to be grateful for."
  364.  
  365. "For a hairless monkey, I'd say you've got it okay," she playfully returns.
  366.  
  367. That "monkey" bit has gotten stale as of late, yet somehow, this time, you find yourself grinning. "You know, I wouldn't be teasing you if you got plucked clean."
  368.  
  369. "Please, I could rock that look if I wanted. You think you're the only one who can manage the smooth-and-soft style?"
  370.  
  371. "I do all right," you kick back with an exaggeratedly confident sigh.
  372.  
  373. "You should have seen Bonnie after his last full checkup. I don't even remember why, but they half-shaved the poor goofball. He looked pretty ridiculous. He's a lot smaller under all that fluff."
  374.  
  375. You chuckle, staring up at the darkness, imagining the cornball bunny with a buzz-cut and big hairless stripes. Next time he gets on your nerves, you'll just try to imagine that.
  376.  
  377. "So, tell me about your world, Cheeky."
  378.  
  379. "Well," she sighs, "I'm just a girl trying to get by in an apartment surrounded by three men, none of whom are eligible bachelors."
  380.  
  381. "Might explain a few things," you joke.
  382.  
  383. "Oh, am I that transparent?" she shoots back with a playful huff, bouncing the bed. "No one even really comes to visit and I'm sure you noticed we don't get out much, so it's a dry little island I'm trapped on."
  384.  
  385. You tilt your head. "Well, I'm in an apartment where Freddy and I kind of feel outnumbered, and if I move back in and April's still there, that's..." You grimace. "Well, the estrogen levels are probably going to be through the roof. But I guess I haven't really had time to, uh, consider my options."
  386.  
  387. "I have. I mean, it's -- okay, who exactly am I going to, you know, work with here? Foxy's like my little brother, and Faz... poor guy's a wreck, Mike. I don't think he even wants to be touched in a platonic way."
  388.  
  389. "How about Bonworth?" you ask before instantly scrunching your face up. "I'm sorry. That probably --"
  390.  
  391. "Yeah, believe me, Mike, I've tried." she sighs exasperatedly.
  392.  
  393. "What, he doesn't... swing that way?" you ask curiously.
  394.  
  395. "More like he doesn't even swing at all. He's just so busy and tired taking care of the household that I don't think he even remembers romance exists."
  396.  
  397. You sigh. "If it's any consolation, between Chiclet and Mangle I've got kind of my own issues going on. The constant flirting over there --" Cheeky interrupts you with a cough, blushing and glancing away, before you continue, "-- is just out of control and there's no privacy at all."
  398.  
  399. "Goodness," she exclaims. "You don't have any time to yourself? So, you don't even... get to let off steam, huh?"
  400.  
  401. You lie back with a sigh, staring at the dimly-lit ceiling. "It has been a while."
  402.  
  403. "I heard guys start having wet dreams if they don't get off enough," Cheeky whispers almost conspiratorially.
  404.  
  405. "Nothing yet," you retort. "Should I keep you posted?"
  406.  
  407. "Yeah, call me if anything comes up," she winks.
  408.  
  409. You share a laugh, but in the silence that follows you can't really think of anything to say. For a long moment, there's only the quiet of the night, and the warmth of the covers.
  410.  
  411. The waterbed shifts as she rolls onto her side, and you're suddenly aware of how close you two are. Her chest is nearly pressed against your arm and you can almost feel her breath.
  412.  
  413. "So look..." she begins, in an open, careful tone that feels somehow exploratory. It's nothing like the voice she used for all those earlier pick-up lines. "It's late. I'm having a good time. And... I think you're having a good time, too. So uh, Mike, if you're going to sleep anyway, you're more than welcome to spend the night with me."
  414.  
  415. You look at her, not even bothering to hide your expression. She's a chicken, you're a human -- even if nobody's buying it. How would that work? It has been a while, but most of the equipment looks the same, right? It would be pretty much plug-and-play, right?
  416.  
  417. The bed feels so good. You haven't been this relaxed in days. Plus, she's right, it certainly has been a while. And when you touched her... well, all you'd have to do is say yes, right?
  418.  
  419. You realize presently you're seriously considering it.
  420.  
  421. ...and somehow, it just doesn't feel right. Not yet, anyway.
  422.  
  423. "I... I think I'm all right for now," you finally gulp.
  424.  
  425. She nods, sighing. It looks like she was literally holding her breath. She seems understandably disappointed, but otherwise not too upset.
  426.  
  427. "Well, didn't hurt to ask," she smiles, pulling herself to a sitting position as you carefully stand up from her bed.
  428.  
  429. "Thanks for letting me vent, Cheeky," you murmur. "I've been keyed up, and it's nice to have someone to talk to."
  430.  
  431. "Yeah. Same here. I can't always be completely open with Bonworth, myself. I'm sorry it kind of turned into an 'all about me' there at the end," she laments.
  432.  
  433. "Not at all," you insist. "I appreciate you letting me know what's going on."
  434.  
  435. Still...
  436.  
  437. You pause at the door, glancing over your shoulder with a sheepish expression. "Hey, uh, no promises or anything, but just in case... think I could get a raincheck on that offer?"
  438.  
  439. She grins back, reclining. "Hey, you know where to find me."
  440.  
  441. You chuckle awkwardly. "All right then. I think... I'm going to go to bed for real this time, now."
  442.  
  443. "All righty," Cheeky says easily. As your hand twists the knob to her bedroom door, she stops you. "Hey, before you go?"
  444.  
  445. "Yeah?" you ask.
  446.  
  447. She reaches into her nightstand drawer and pulls out a sealed box of tissues, tossing them to you with a wink. You blush, tucking them under your arm.
  448.  
  449. "You might need these. G'night, Mike."
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