I want to start this epilogue off with something very simple, something I think a lot of people take for granted.
Thank you. All of you. You longtime readers, you readers who joined in partway, even you readers who read a single chapter and never touched this story again. I've checked the stats - as of this writing, not only does this story have over 550 reviews over more than forty chapters, it is also the third most favorited and fourth most followed FNaF story on this site. I doubt the me of two years ago would have ever imagined getting such popularity on a game he never played.
I credit every single one of you with that success. So from the bottom of my heart, as many times as it takes, thank you.
More acknowledgements to come after the actual story. All of you, enjoy the finale.
It Never Ends
For the first time in what felt like a very long time, Mike did not wake up to the screeches of an alarm. In the now foreign silence, he awoke slowly, feeling himself come back to life over many long moments. He blinked, and it dawned upon him that he was awake. He twitched, but until his energy built back up his limbs, heavy as they felt, would not move for him.
As Mike came to, the events of the previous night returned to him. He still remembered the feeling of the animatronics' embrace, and it brought tears to his eyes once again. He let them fall for a while before wiping them away; while there was no harm in proper grieving, Mike didn't want to spend too much time dwelling on what he'd now lost. Freddy and the gang had told him to press on, and although he wasn't sure how to begin, he felt certain that it would come to him in time.
He slung his legs off the bed and stood up. Now that he was fully awake, Mike realized just how much more rested he felt now than for quite a while. He moved more smoothly as he dressed, wasting less time. He reached for Freddy's hat, then stopped with his fingertips brushing the material, before picking it up and placing it on top of his head. It felt right, resting there.
An enticing aroma tickled Mike's nose as he entered the kitchen. Both of his parents were there as well – his father standing near the oven and his mother sitting at the table.
Miles beamed at the sight of his son and walked toward him. "He's finally up! See, babe? I told you the coroner would be disappointed!" Miles said with a laugh. He gave Mike a playful punch on the shoulder. "Still wearing that hat, bud?"
Mike shrugged. "Sure. I like it."
"It does lend a certain dapper air," Erika agreed. She brushed away a lock of ginger hair to look at her son without impediment. "You look different today, Mike. A little older and more mature," she noted. "Thoughts?"
Mike thought for a moment. "Well… I did get some nice sleep last night. First night in a while."
His mother still didn't know about the pizzeria and what her son had gotten up to over his term of employment. Mike had made something of a mental promise to tell her – and his father, for that matter – everything within the next couple of days. He'd be in the doghouse for a while, he was sure, but at least he'd be an honest man again. Plus, his dad would probably be there with him, since they'd shared the secret. It was a helpful thought.
"What time is it anyway?" Mike asked as the thought crossed his mind again. It was Friday, wasn't it? Yes, that was right. If both of his parents were home, then either they'd each taken the day off or the day was not as young as he'd thought.
Miles laughed. "We were wondering when you'd get to that. Six-fifteen, sharp!" He patted Mike on the back. "And you were out like the dead, I swear! I was starting to think you'd miss the entire day."
Perhaps it was a testament to all he'd been through that that didn't bother Mike like it might have. Instead of getting surprised or even being caught off-guard, he simply replied with, "So, dinner's in the oven?"
His mother gave him an amused look. "Yes, lasagna. We figured with you being unemployed now, you might as well have one of your favorite meals to soften the blow."
Mike knew lasagna wouldn't soften what he'd had to give up, not all of it, but he smiled. "That sounds nice. Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Dad."
He'd take what he could get.
The noise of the doorbell cut off anybody who'd been intending to speak. "Got it," Mike said, already on his way over. He pulled the door open.
"Hey, Mike," said the girl standing on the porch.
"Grace?" Mike answered, eyes widening. "What are you doing here?"
"I tried texting you a few times today, but you didn't send me anything back so I figured I'd come over," Grace admitted. Suddenly, she looked worried. "Is everything okay with you? And hang on, is that Freddy's hat?"
Oh, right. He was wearing Freddy's hat. Mike had forgotten it was even there. "Sorry to worry you. I've been asleep for most of the day," Mike said, apologetic. "And yeah, Freddy gave it to me as a memento, and…" He sighed. "I think I'll be okay, Grace. Not sure how, exactly, but it's what they'd want."
Grace nodded and placed a hand on Mike's arm. "Did you have a nice night with them?"
Slowly, Mike smiled. "No regrets. I can say that much."
"Hey, who's at the door, Mike?" Miles called from the kitchen.
Mike looked back over his shoulder. "It's Grace! She was just saying hi!" He shouted back.
A moment later, Miles spoke up again, interrupting Mike just as he was starting to say something else. "Can she stay for dinner? Your mother and I have been hoping to meet her!"
Mike blanched. "Dad, come on!"
"You guys wanna see me?" Grace shouted into the house. "What's cooking?"
"Lasagna! Is that alright with you?" Erika chimed in.
"That's cool! Gimme a second!" She focused back on Mike. "You okay with me staying around for dinner? I wouldn't wanna pass up an open invitation."
Mike could almost hear the animatronics in his head cheering him on. "Sounds like fun." He stepped aside to let her in. "May I take your coat, miss?"
"I think that's everything," Grace said, recounting the boxes laying around the apartment. "Should we get started on unpacking?"
"In a little while," Mike groaned, collapsing onto the couch nearby. "I need to rest for a little while."
Grace shook her head in amusement. "I can't believe you're tired, Mike. I carried in at least as many boxes as you, and I'm more than ready to keep going."
"Your boxes must have been the lighter ones, then," Mike said, sinking into the couch with a sigh. "Seriously, I think I could go for a nap right now. How much did we pack in those things anyway?"
"You're so hopeless." But Grace settled onto the couch next to her boyfriend regardless.
"Yeah, but I'm your hopeless," Mike chuckled. He looked over at her, at the great woman next to him. "Hard to believe we've already spent two years together."
"It is pretty big," Grace agreed. "You ever thought about settling down with someone besides me?"
Mike looked affronted. "Not even once."
"That's what I like to hear. Any thoughts on your new job?" Grace asked.
Mike pondered the question for a while. "I guess I'm a little nervous, but it's nice to know I'm moving forward." He smiled at Grace. "And with such a wonderful woman, too."
"Oh, staaahhp," Grace laughed, and Mike laughed with her.
It had been an eventful couple of years since the closing of Freddy Fazbear's Pizzeria. Mike and Grace both continued to work wherever they could find employment until the economy finally stabilized, and they'd stayed together the whole time. They wouldn't pretend it hadn't been all flowers and sunshine; they had their fights and petty disagreements, like any real couple did. But they always made sure to not go to bed angry. That was their rule, and it had served them well thus far.
Eventually, Mike had landed an interview with an automobile plant – a place he where could finally put his ME degree to recognized use – and when he'd admitted he used to work at Freddy Fazbear's, he'd been concerned. He didn't want to be lumped in with all the other night guards who'd been written off as crazy. As it turned out, however, they'd heard of the place and thought him tenacious for staying employed as long as he had… and they wanted that tenacity on their payroll.
Mike's enthusiasm had waned upon learning that they were expecting him to relocate a couple states and a few hundred miles, but his family couldn't have been more supportive, and at their and Grace's urging he'd accepted the job and asked Grace to come with him while he was at it.
He wouldn't admit it, but he hadn't been expecting her to agree.
"What are you smiling about?" Grace asked.
"Just… counting my blessings," Mike replied. He clapped and rose to his feet. "Anyway, these boxes won't unpack themselves. Let's get to it."
No one was promising them a happy ending, but Mike didn't plan to sit still and collect dust. Grace was already hunting for a job of her own in their new city, and once they'd gotten a comfortable nest egg set up, Mike intended to show her the vacation brochures he'd found online. Evidently, a museum in a town out west had procured a few relics off of a company Mike and Grace both used to work for. Four of them, to be specific, all fixed up and put on display. Mike wasn't sure if they'd respond to him or Grace, but he didn't see any harm in going anyway. Surely they could find some way to get in after dark.
But that was a thought for another time. Mike walked over to a small stack of boxes and opened up the one on top. A familiar hat awaited him.
Like he could ever leave it behind.
Alright, a little story: I started writing After Hours in September of my freshman year of college, after wondering what would happen if Mike simply befriended his monsters, the animatronics. I couldn't find any stories on here with that premise that met my desires, so I decided to bite the bullet and write the damn thing myself.
I'm near the end of my sophomore year of college, and now it's finally concluding - and it's by far my most successful and popular story. There's a sort of rightness to that, I feel. A fitting end.
I've done a lot of growing over this year, both in writing and in life, and I think with this story ending as it is, I can put my fanfiction career to rest with no regrets. Writing fanfiction has been a wonderful hobby for the past two-and-a-half years of my life, but now I want more - I think I'm ready for more. I want to bring my own worlds to life, not just my dreams for existing ones. I can't do that here, so it's time I move on.
Will I ever come back? Maybe - a very hard maybe. I've been content writing fanfiction for a while now, but I'm not satisfied with it; I haven't been for a while now. It's been an excellent first step, one that's refined me into what I hope is a worthy writer, but it's time that I moved on to bigger and better things. Perhaps in between books I could come back part-time, but if you really want to read more of my work I'd recommend you go to a bookstore instead.
Look in the fantasy/sci-fi aisles for Jacob Biggs. That's me - maybe. There might be others.
One final time, thank you all so very much. I'd still be nothing if not for you all - I certainly don't think I'd be able to take this next step if you hadn't been there. I don't know when I'll be on bookstore shelves, but it'll happen, I promise.
When it does, give my books a try, if you can find them. I hope to see some of you again.
And for the last time...
Tomorrow's Hero, signing out.