Later that night, with two Vicodin in her bloodstream to make her extra-introspective, Ana sat on the cracked tiles beside her 'bedroom' in the dining room and contemplated the ductwork by the best light possible—moonlight reflected off a beer bottle made shiny by icewater, with chips of actual ice still clinging to the label and trickling like sweat down the long, sexy neck. Mmm, mysterious ductwork.
The Vicodin kept her feeling pretty good right now, but even in its soothing embrace, she looked up at those ducts through a very dark lens. She did not like it. It made her curious and curiosity had always come with a sense of adventure for Ana, but not this time. Like the wiring-that-wasn't, it was so far outside her considerable range of experience that she could feel nothing when looking at it that was not tinged with apprehension. It was too big to be a mistake. It served a purpose, but she could not look at it and see that purpose, not with her physical eyes and not with that 'other-vision' that had always served her so flawlessly. So it was a mystery, but she didn't want to solve it; she wanted to get rid of it.
Unfortunately, she couldn't do that until she knew two things: what it was supporting and what was supporting it. To that end, following her shady yet successful acquisition of an empty dump trailer, Ana had continued pulling down the roof. The next eight hours passed in a sweaty blur of demolition and cleaning with lots of trips up and down the ladder in-between, but as the sun set, she'd only managed to open up the top of the dining room and the gym. All things considered, that was decent progress for one person to make, but she had only managed to expose enough of the ductwork to know it went a whole lot deeper.
She'd been tempted to keep at it even after dark, but then—surprise, surprise—a couple cars came roaring down the road on the way to the quarry to blow shit up. She couldn't work in the dark and couldn't risk letting her headlamp be seen, so she guessed she was done. And apart from leaving her to stare in rankled dissatisfaction up at the intact and still largely concealed ductwork, that also left her the entire rest of the roof to take down tomorrow if she was going to stay on track. Ana was good at math; it had taken eight hours to demolish perhaps twenty percent of the total roof area. In addition to the remaining eighty percent, she had the new beams to lay, and the new ventilation materials in strategically-placed stacks around the building, all of which had to be installed by tomorrow night at the latest so she was ready for the weekend, and she still didn't know what the hell to do about the lighting situation. Before she'd actually carved into the walls and discovered the electrical insanity hidden within, she'd purchased a number of light fixtures and now they were just cluttering up the shelves in the store room, with no way to install them and no power supply even if she could. She ought to just take them back, get her money refunded and put it to some other use. Her finances were not infinite; she was going to need every penny before the end.
That thought only reminded her of the four hundred dollars she'd paid out to have her trailer emptied and the five hundred dollars she had yet to pay.
But that was tomorrow. Tonight, all she had left to finish was this beer.
Footsteps in the East Hall. She knew without looking it was Bonnie, but she looked anyway, just to prove herself right.
There he was—a blob of purple with glowing eyes staring in at her through the plastic sheets.
Ana didn't have the energy either to call out or lift an arm for a wave, but she managed to get her foot off the ground and give the cooler an inviting nudge toward him.
His ears went up. He glanced behind him, then ducked through the plastic and limped over. "OH YEAH," he said, gripping the wall for balance as he stiffly bent and fished himself out a beer. He bit the cap off, opened his mouth to let it drop, then tipped his head back and poured half the beer away. She could hear it fizzing and falling down his silicone throat, foaming up in the sac that was his stomach. His schtick, Mike had called that. Wasn't supposed to do it, but did it anyway. Bad Boy Bonnie, who stole sips of beer. Had to remember to clean that out or she'd never get the smell out of him.
Tomorrow, she decided. Tomorrow was soon enough. God knew, he already stank to high heaven. A little sour beer could only help.
"Thought you were going to play skee-ball?" she said, watching Bonnie mimic a sigh of satisfaction with a beverage he couldn't taste.
"Yeah, well, Ch-Ch—CHICA THE LITTLE CHICKEN!—kicked my ass enough for one night. Foxy's in—PIRATE COVE—in there with her now."
"Don't 'ah' me," he said with a mock-glower and an accompanying grin. "I d-d-didn't walk out because he walked in, I escaped by the sk-sk-skin of my bunny teeth because she got another victim."
"Well, that's different." Ana wiggled herself over an inch, patting the floor next to her. "Have a seat, my man."
"Don't mind-d-d if I do." Handing her his beer, Bonnie put his back up against the wall and leaned. His legs stiffened. He dropped with just a tremendous whump, his legs going straight out and padded ass hitting the tiles hard enough to break most of them. Whatever, they weren't the only broken tiles in here. "No id-d-dea how I'm getting-ing up again," he remarked, taking his bottle back and pouring its contents down his throat.
"No problem. You can stay at my place tonight."
He glanced aside at the table as she gave it an inviting pat. "I don't think-k-k I'll fit."
"It'll be tight, but I'm sure I can squeeze you in," she said innocently.
His lower jaw dropped an inch or so to expose his bottom teeth. "You're c-c-cute."
"And you're very handsome when you smile. Hit me."
The instant the words were out of her mouth, she regretted them, but Bonnie merely leaned out and got her another beer. He passed it over and said, "You m-mind-d-d?" even as he reached for the cooler again.
"Help yourself, my man. Me Equis es su Equis."
"Thanks. I know it-t-t's a waste, but-t-t I love it."
"Can you taste it?" she asked curiously.
"Nope." He bit the cap off, this time picking it out from between his teeth and flicking it toward the stage. He drank. "You d-d-drink it for the t-t-taste?"
"I have to admit, I do not." But she did drink it and proved it. Shouldn't have opened a fresh bottle. She'd bagged her limit for the night and with an early morning ahead of her, the last thing she wanted to get was even a little bit tipsy. So she thought and, thinking it, drank.
"How are you feeling-ing-ing?" Bonnie asked, reaching a hand toward—but not quite touching—her cheek.
"Fine," she replied, leaning out of his easy reach. "Bruised, but fine. I'll be hurting tomorrow, but you know how it is. It always hurts worse the second day. I'll live. I just hope it doesn't slow me down too much."
"Sure d-d-didn't slow you down today," Bonnie commented, running his gaze over the colossal mess she'd made of the dining room.
"Ugh. Don't tease me, man."
His ears went up. "I'm not."
"I suck and I know it." Scowling around the neck of her bottle, Ana took a consoling swallow and made herself put the bottle down. "I'm so far behind, it's not even funny, and yet I took a two-hour break today just like that was a thing I could do."
"The h-h-h—HI THERE! I'M YOUR B-B-BEST—hell you did," said Bonnie, now looking annoyed as well as surprised. "Two hours? When?"
"I don't know. When was that?" Ana asked herself, rubbing gingerly at her brow and touching a scabby scrape. "Five or six? Maybe? You and Chica were dancing when I started, I remember that."
"Okay, yeah, that's what I thought-t-t, but you were working-ing-ing in the bathrooms."
His head cocked. "Um, yeah, really. You were working all d-d-d—DISECTION ALONG THE ENKEPHALOTIC FISSURE," he blatted suddenly, right in her frigging face. As she laughed and swatted at the beer she'd startled down the front of her shirt, his ears drooped. "Sh-Shit, sorry. You okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." Ana leaned out to drag her day-pack over and get a dry shirt. "Avert your eyes, my man."
"Uh…no? Is…Is no an op-p-p—OPERATIONAL PARAMETERS—option? I vote no."
She laughed again and took her beer-soaked shirt off, tossing it indiscriminately to the floor, and put the fresh one on under Bonnie's extremely watchful stare. "Anyway, I know it looks like I was working in there, but you get really good at looking like you're working when you're in construction. You only saw me moving shit around and avoiding my actual downtime job for the day, which was to disassemble the stalls and sinks and stuff. Two hours," she groaned, flopping back against the wall and reclaiming what was left of her beer. "I can't keep putting it off like this. I have got to get at least one of them cleaned out."
"Yeah, yeah, I know there's no water or anything, but…" Ana grimaced elaborately and then laughed. "Not to gross you out or anything, my man, but I need to get a camping stool set up inside somewhere. Of the many, many things I could be arrested for if I'm caught here, pissing in a parking lot is just the worst."
"Well, can I help? WE CAN DO ANYTHING IF WE ALL WORK TOGETHER!"
"You sure? I'm pretty s-st-strong."
"I remember, but it's really not an issue of strength."
"What's the p-p-problem?"
"I don't know. It's complicated." She thought about it, snorted. "I don't want to. Doesn't get more complicated than that, does it? It's so nasty in there. You can't smell anything, so you'll have to take my word for it when I say that even with the pipes capped, it's like a Bible story in those bathrooms. Which," she sighed, "doesn't change the fact that the ceilings have to come down, the stalls have to come out, and at least three inches of baked-on shit has to be scraped off the floor in places. I'd literally rather work on the roof when it's a hundred degrees in the Utah desert than deal with those fucking bathrooms, and you want to know what bothers me the most?"
"Fucking Cinnamon and fucking Brewster and especially fucking Lala on those doors."
Bonnie laughed and poured some beer into himself. "They're just-t-t pictures."
"They've got no business here. Brewster's bad enough, but Lala and Cinnamon don't even fucking live here."
"I th-th-think the idea was, once F-F-Fr—FREDDY FAZBEAR'S PIZZERIA!" he cheered suddenly and clapped a hand to his muzzle, pinching it shut even as his hyucking laugh came out his speaker anyway. He shuddered himself under control, cautiously released his muzzle and tried again. "Once F-F-F…Fuck me."
"Yeah, that p-pl-place. Once it opened-d-d, he'd swap them in and out."
"What, like Brewster and Peggy one month and…I don't know…Chipper and Miss Kitty the next?"
"Well, that's…wait a minute, what about you guys?"
"Swapped out," said Bonnie nonchalantly and drank his beer.
"Oh fuck that! Who the hell would come to Freddy's if Freddy isn't even there? I mean," she said lamely, "unless you guys wanted a vacation or whatever. I guess that really ought to be a factor, before I get all worked up on your behalf."
"But do you? Want to go to Freddyland, I mean?"
"And do what?" he laughed, waving his beer. "Ride the rides? Play the g-g-games? Win a plushie Foxy?"
"Or, you know, just get out. Fresh air and all that."
"I d-d-don't breathe."
"Blue skies, then."
"It's j-j-just as blue here, isn't it?"
"The Grand Pavilion Hotel has a bigger stage. You could see your name in lights, my man. Maybe finally get that album."
"Don't-t-t take this the wrong way, baby girl, because you know I love-ve—PEPPERONI PIZZA—playing that guitar, but if I never sing-ing-ing another word of the Hokey P-P-Pokey, that's just fine with me."
"And miss out on that hot Fazbear Band groupie action? Think about it. You could catch some room keys, start building Milf Panty Mountain, or maybe just mingle with the other new faces." She gave him a nudge in his hard, plastic side. "Wouldn't you like to see Lala up close and extremely personal?"
Bonnie shrugged. "I n-n-never really thought about it."
"You never thought about all those hot, curvy bunnygirls down in the Bunny Patch, all draped sensuously over giant fucking zucchini and sucking on carrots? Hell, I've thought about it and I don't even like them."
"What kind of name is Lala anyway?" Ana asked disgustedly and not at all drunk. "Fucking…Lala!"
"The hell it is. What, like Oo-la-la?" Ana considered that with a curled lip. "That's even worse, somehow. Makes her sound like a stripper." She looked at him. "How do you know it's French?"
He shrugged, fishing out his third beer and shaking clinging chunks of ice free. "He never had a lot of im-m—IMAGINATION!—when it came to naming-ing-ing us. He d-d-designed and named most of them in one weekend, so, yeah, she's a F-French lop and he g-g-gave her the first French name he could think of. Angie's an ang-g-gora, Harley's a Harlequin, Missy's a messa…mues…uh, Moooossen…newer?"
"Better slow down on those brews, Bon."
"Ha ha, but seriously. It's Mess-something. I can't-t-t remember and prob-b-bably couldn't pronounce it, but it's another lop and it already sounds sort of like Missy. Then there's Pearl the English perlfee, and…and there's more I'm forgetting-ing-ing."
"Dutch, Checkers, Rex and…Martin, I think," she supplied. "Martin or Marvin. I'm pretty sure it's Martin."
"Yeah, it'd-d-d have to be. There's a silver marten rabbit, but no m-mar-marvin I'm aware of. All the b-b-bunnies from the Bunny Patch are b-b-based off real rabbits, and they're all named after their b-b-breed."
"Interesting that you remembered all the girls and forgot all the boys," Ana remarked, studying the label on her beer. Still Dos Equis. "So if they're all real bunny breeds, why aren't you?"
"Yeah? What are you?"
"P-P-Purebred lapine lavender badass, b-b-baby."
She laughed. As she did so, Bonnie suddenly tipped his head back and pantomimed the most ridiculously over-the-top yawn she'd ever seen outside of a cartoon, capping it all off with a stretch that brought his free arm down around Ana's shoulders. She snorted beer up her nose and choked it down again, laughing. "Holy shit, Bon, seriously?! That's got to be the oldest move in the book!"
"Worked, didn't it?" His hand smoothed down over the top of her short sleeve and came up again on her bare skin to cup her shoulder. "Look at th-th-those stars."
She looked obediently, amused and a little startled to think she had been sitting here two hours at least, but had only seen the mysterious ductwork and not the sky beyond it. "Pretty amazing, all right. You know, I got used to thinking of the sky over Oxtongue as being 'full of stars' just because you can see some. I forgot what a starry night really looks like." She studied it thoughtfully, countless chips of light, suspended in the dark, so still and so full of movement. "Like a fire, when it's burned down to embers," she murmured, smiling.
"Nothing." She shifted, trying to make his arm more comfortable without letting him know how uncomfortable it really was. "You ever see stars before?"
"Sure, all the t-t—TIME TO ROCK!—time." He had another swig of beer, then added, "Windows haven't-t-t always been b-b-boarded up. We used-d-d to—"
He was interrupted by a chain of tea-kettle whistles and explosions, each one followed by its own colossal scrape and groan of thunder, and each goddamn one made her jump. She tried to defuse her own tension with a laugh when it was finally over and settled with determination even more awkwardly against Bonnie's arm.
"You okay?" he asked, his eyes slanting downward just a little.
"I'm fine, I just hate that fucking noise."
"Those aren't fireworks. Fireworks are sparkly. I love fireworks. That's just fucking noise and it's too fucking close." She stopped to listen as a rapid series of pops went off, indistinguishable from a gatling gun in some old movie about Nazis…or a new one about zombies, she guessed. Monsters changed, but the movies didn't. "I could hear them whooping it up the whole time I was on the roof, which means they could hear me if I started hammering."
"So? Wouldn't-t-t they just think you were setting off fireworks too?"
"Yeah, they probably would. Specifically, they'd think I was setting off fireworks here. And they might think, 'Hey, we're down here and they're up there and we'll just do our own thing,' or they might think, 'Hey, those guys are blowing up animatronics! Why are we just blowing up rocks?'"
"I've been waiting for them to run out of toys and go the fuck home, but they're still there. Fireworks aren't cheap these days, for Christ's sake, how many could they possibly have?" Another round of zombie Nazis went down, with victory celebrated by rebel yells rendered scratchy by distance that was by no means distant enough. "Bunch of drunken assholes."
"C-C-Come on now. How do you know th-they're drunk?"
"Because that—" Ana held up a finger and waited for the obligatory ka-boom. It wasn't long in coming. "—is the kind of thing that only entertains drunken assholes. And I should be grateful, I guess, because sober assholes would be up here blowing the shit out of you instead. Seriously, now, what would you do if one of them came through that door right now?"
Bonnie shrugged. "I usually start with something like, IT'S TIME TO ROCK, and see where it leads, b-b-but I'm going to have trouble getting off the d-d-damn floor tonight." His head cocked as if he were really thinking it over. "We'd do better just to offer him a b-b-beer."
"I'm not sharing my damn beer with some low-rent Utah redneck fuckwaffle."
"F-F-Fuckwaffle," Bonnie mused. "Shitbiscuits. Hellcake. You kind of g-g-got a thing against bread, don't y-y-you? Let me guess. You used to work-k-k in a bakery and it was the worst-t-t job you've ever had."
"Worst job I ever had was in a so-called steakhouse called Cowgirls. Had to wear this super-tight t-shirt and let the bartender squirt me with beer whenever he wanted. Had to smile when drunken assholes were feeling me up. Worst of all, I had to stop what I was doing every twenty minutes to do this stupid clod-hopping country line-dancing horseshit. But yeah, I did work in a bakery once." She looked at the tattoo on her wrist that proved it, then let her arm drop and her head fall back. "When did we lose this holiday, my man?" she wondered, looking back up at the stars. "The Fourth of July is supposed to be about celebrating our nation's independence and all the freedoms we have and shit. People should be showing their respect for this country, not blowing the shit out of it and getting hammered."
"You know, you s-s-say that, but you're pretty-eeeee—" He casually whapped himself in the throat with his beer bottle, coughed up static, and finished, "—drunk yourself right now."
"You ever see fireworks, Bonnie?" she asked, sticking stubbornly to what she saw as the point. "Real ones?"
"Not at this place, but at Cir-Cir—CIRCUMJACENT TO THE MEDULLA—Circle Drive, son of a b-b-bitch." He shook his head, muttering static through his speakers, then went on, "It was always a pop-p-pular place for kids after d-d-dark. They'd set 'em off in the parking-ing-ing lot and we used to watch until they saw us or the c-c-cops saw them." He cocked his head at another shriek and explosion. "But no, not here."
"Why not? This place is nice and isolated, with a good flat parking lot and a building—Jesus!" she sputtered at the end as a fucking sonic boom went off in the quarry, loud enough to rattle the plastic sheets hanging over the doorways. Only when it was over did she realize she'd been sitting stiffly forward the whole time, straining to hear or perhaps poised to leap up and run. Trying to laugh it off, she settled back against the scratchy pillow of Bonnie's hard arm and finished, "A building between them and the road. This would be a great place to set off fireworks. Why are those idiots down in the quarry and not blowing shit up right here in the parking lot? Or—"
She broke off there, blushing, but Bonnie calmly said, "Or in the d-d-dining room?"
"People break in here all the time. It's dark, it's secluded, it's full of bustable objects. It can only attract the very worst kind of person."
He glanced at her, plastic eyes moving beneath plastic lids while the rest of his head remained perfectly immobile.
She held up a warning finger. "This is not a story about me, but for the record, I swear, I steal, I trespass, I smoke pot and yes, I swallow. I am, without a doubt, the very worst kind of person."
He chuckled and tipped his bottle.
"And I broke in. So why didn't they?" Ana asked as yet another barrage of explosions set themselves off. "Why aren't they here right now?"
Bonnie shrugged, rocking the arm behind her neck, which wedged it in at a different, even more painful angle. He said, "This p-p-place is supposed to be haunted."
"By what, the ghost of pizza past?"
He looked at her, his eyelids lowered but level, and said, "Boo," in a flat, unironic tone.
She thought of Mike Schmidt, then stubbornly slung an arm around his neck and shifted so she sat up a little straighter and could get a little closer. "Should I be scared of you?" she asked in her sultriest voice.
His expression did not change. "Not g-g-gonna lie to you, baby girl, yeah. Yeah, you p-p-probably should."
"You'd never hurt me."
"No." His hand rubbed on her shoulder some more, then pulled her awkwardly against his side. "No, I never would-d-d."
"You'd never hurt anyone."
He drank his beer and watched the stars.
Ana petted one of his ears—it flicked against her hand—then stroked his shellac-smooth face. "Did you hurt the guy who hit you?"
"No," he said after a moment. "And it was a g-g-girl anyway."
"A girl?" Inappropriate as she knew it was, she had to laugh. Beer and Vicodin together could make a lot of unfunny things funny. "You got beat up by a girl?"
"She had a b-b-bat!"
"Uh oh. Trouble with the ex?" She leaned close again, her mouth brushing at his muzzle with every whispered word: "Did she break your heart, Bonnie?"
"Just my face," he assured her.
"And then she ran away."
"Well…" Bonnie rolled one shoulder and drank his beer, muttering, "She ran," through his speaker. When he'd downed the last swallow of foam, he shook the bottle dry into his mouth and put it aside, saying, "Anyway, she's g-g-gone now."
"She's gone," Ana agreed, losing her smile as more bombs went off at the quarry. "But those assholes are still out there. And you're in here." She tried to drink, but her throat was closing up. Her voice was too tight when she said, "What if they come inside?"
"No, you're not getting it. What if they come…and I can't stop them?"
He laughed. "You're c-cu-cute."
And that's what she got for thinking she could have a conversation with an animatronic. Sooner or later, he was always going to cross a wire or just spit out the wrong response. He made it so easy to pretend he was real, but in the end, he was just a neat toy with buggy software.
Outside, the quarry boomed.
Ana pushed herself forward and rocked onto her knees.
"Aw, hey! D-D-Don't go!"
"Relax, I'm not, but your arm is killing me." She grabbed onto his neck, feeling a hundred years older and five hundred pounds heavier than she was, and shifted herself from the floor at his left side to sit on his right thigh. "Is this okay?" she asked, settling herself gingerly.
"Hell yeah, it is," he said, ears up and quivering.
"I'm not too heavy? Am I hurting you?"
"Naw, you're g-g-g—GREAT JOB!—good, baby."
"I don't want to break your knee again."
"My knee's fine. Solid-d-d as a—TIME TO—rock." He gave it a slap as if to demonstrate, then hooked it from below and pulled it up in a slightly bent position, which tilted her against him, but at an angle that fought gravity more than aided it.
"Can you tip back?" she asked, trying to adjust herself.
"Yeah, sh-sh-sure, hold this."
She took his beer and he put both hands on the floor and scooted himself forward a few inches, then leaned back into the wall again. This put his head at an obviously awkward angle, which could not help but be apparent, especially when he tried to drink again.
"Are you comfortable?" she asked guiltily, knowing he couldn't possibly be.
He laughed again. "Comfort-t-t isn't really a th-thing for me," he told her dryly and patted his chest. "C-C-Cuddle up, baby."
She did, nervous as a cat and slow to relax, but he was weirdly made for it. When he tucked his arm around her and braced it on his bent knee, he formed so flawless a cradle for her that it was impossible to stay tense. Her cheek fit perfectly against his chest; his chin rested perfectly on the crown of her head.
"I've never done this before," she blurted, fighting laughter and tears together.
"I'll b-b-be gentle," he replied, reminding her yet again of all the furtive fumbling sex that had surely gone down within these walls while the animatronics took notes and added fun new phrases to their ever expanding vocabularies.
Another firework went off, the kind that didn't jump up and send out sparks, but just boomed. The quarry caught the sound, throwing it out bigger and bigger. It sounded like a war zone out there. She could remember being small, running with David along the rocks with nothing but sparklers, trying to write their names in the air with the flashes. She could do it, but he never could, quite. Later, when it got a little darker and they were full up on soda pop and burgers, they'd sit together, she and David on either side of Aunt Easter with her arms warm around them both and watch the fireworks, real ones, the kind that spit colors or jumped up in the air and burst open. And that was what the Fourth of July was supposed to be. Barbeque and fireworks and family.
And just like that, she was crying. Bonnie couldn't see it, so he didn't know. He watched the stars and listened to bombs go off in the quarry, and his hand just stroked gently up and down on her bare arm—cold metal and worn fur, abrasive and unpleasant, welcome.
Footsteps. Freddy's. They came all the way to the plastic sheets that hung over the doorway and stood there at least a minute while Bonnie and Ana pretended not to know he was there. At last, he grunted—he had ten thousand grunts, did Freddy, and that one said he knew damned well they knew he was there—and walked heavily away through the kitchen to the store room and back through the hall to the employee's lounge.
When he was gone, Bonnie's speakers emitted a low scuff of sound, neither a grunt nor a chuckle, but something deliberate, not just a crossed wire. He drank some beer.
"I thought he was going to tell us to leave room for the Holy Ghost," muttered Ana, pretending to scratch her nose so she could wipe her eyes dry.
Now he snorted.
"He doesn't like me. He'll never like me."
Bonnie shifted, trying to look down at her, but he couldn't bend that way and Ana wasn't budging to allow it. "You're k-k-kidding, right? You're part of the f-f-f—FAZBEAR BAND—family."
She shook her head. "I swear too much and I smoke pot—"
"Yeah, yeah. You're the worst-t-t. I remember."
"You can't deny I do highly inappropriate things with the animatronics when I get drunk."
"You wish. I'd never t-t-take advantage of a drunk woman." He started to tip his bottle, then gave her a narrow glance as his ears lowered. "You meant-t-t me, right?"
"Sorry-ry-ry. I just…never mind. Go on. I'm a jealous dick, but I'm listening-ing-ing."
"I'm a bad influence," she insisted. "If this place wasn't shut down, he'd be throwing me out. He's just looking for one good reason…and he always will be. And you know, he's the one—don't take this the wrong way—but he's the one I needed, when I was little. He's the one I've been waiting my whole life for. Now I'm here and he doesn't like me."
"He loves you."
"No, he doesn't. You heard him today. I don't care about anyone or anything. Everything's just one big joke to me. The only times he's not actively annoyed with me, he's just quietly disgusted."
"It's true. Every single time he tells me what to do, he's really telling me what I'm doing wrong. I've been taking care of myself longer than you guys have been around—"
"Yeah, well, I d-d-doubt that. I mean," he said, awkwardly interrupting his own chuckle. "I mean, um…you couldn't-t-t have because, uh…you're t-t-too young."
"I have," she insisted. "My mom died when I was fifteen. Rider gave me a place to sleep and money when I needed it, or at least a way to earn it, but he didn't take care of me. I raised myself. You ever hear the expression, 'pulled himself up by his bootstraps'? That's me. By my fucking bootstraps, Bon. You have no idea what my life has been like or how easily I might have ended up dead, but here I am, and all Freddy sees is a fuck-up who has to be watched like a fucking toddler. He doesn't trust me, he doesn't like me, and he doesn't want me around."
"He loves you," Bonnie said, stroking her arm. "He just-t-t doesn't know how to say it."
She had to laugh. "He says it fifty fucking times a day to an empty fucking room, Bon!"
"Trust me, that's why it's hard-d-der to say when you mean it." Bonnie shrugged with his ears alone. "It's not what-t-t Freddy says anyway, it's what he does. Yeah, he g-g-gets on my nerves. I get on his. But he still b-b-bosses me around, because that's what love is for Freddy. It's taking-ing-ing care of the people you love, even when they p-p-piss you off. And as b-b-big of a jerk as he can be, there's nothing he wouldn't do for his family-ly-ly. He'd kill to keep you safe."
"Pfft. Freddy wouldn't hurt a flea to scratch it."
His stroking hand stopped moving, then started again. "Fun-n-ny way to put that."
Something in his too-casual tone made her rewind her words as best she could, only to discover they were, in fact, Mike Schmidt's words.
"You never heard that one before?" she asked, feigning surprise like it was right up there with 'gentle as a lamb' or 'wouldn't say shit if he had a mouthful'.
"Yeah, act-t-t-ually, I think I have. I'm just-t-t not sure where…"
Was this bad? It seemed like it ought to be bad, but the pills were thick in her brain and she couldn't drum up much feeling for it. She held her bottle up, shaking the last few inches to get Bonnie's attention and mumbling, "Want the rest? I'm over my limit."
He took it, swallowed it off, and set the empty bottle aside. "You want-t-t to go to b-b-bed?" he asked, making absolutely no effort to move her.
"Think I might just sleep here. You mind?"
"Do I mind-d-d if we cuddle all night? You're kidding-ing-ing, right? Who the hell would mind that?" He looked around suddenly, frowning in his plastic way. "Is…Is it cold? You okay? You need a b-b-blanket or anything-ing?"
"No. You're warm enough."
She watched the stars for a while. Her eyes had a way of staying shut just a little longer each time she blinked until, try as she might, she couldn't get them open again until another boom from the quarry slapped the sleep right out of her. She couldn't bolt up, but she flinched kind of all over and clutched at the stiff bristles that used to be a thick ruff on Bonnie's chest. Once again, and for no reason, tears threatened, but Bonnie's hand just kept moving the whole time, up and down, up and down, shoulder to elbow and back. Cool metal. Bare skin. She was not a snuggler and never had been, but it was strangely comforting to have Bonnie's arm around her and to feel the heat emanating from his works. His cooling system ran in steady cycles, like breathing; his internal mechanisms included a pump, like a heartbeat. He held her and for the first time in her entire life, that was nice.
Her eyelids grew heavier and heavier and finally closed. "Bonnie?"
"Which…Which bunnygirl do you think is the hottest?"
He chuckled through his speaker, a strange sound to hear when the 'breath' cycling through his body never interrupted its steady rhythm. "None of 'em."
"Who, then? I guess it doesn't have to be a bunny. Cleocatra? Amelia Owlheart?" She thought back to the poster, groping through impending sleep for names. "Peggy? She's all about the bass."
"She sure is and I d-d-do like bass, but to tell you the t-tr-truth, I could never g-g-get into furries. God knows, I'm in no position to judge, but that shit's just-t-t weird."
She couldn't open her eyes for that either, but she laughed. He laughed with her, then just sat quiet, humming and clicking beneath his skin, holding her until she slept.