Chapter 1: Fritz Smith
Welcome to the official sequel to 'Runs in the Family!' If you haven't read that yet, I do highly recommend it. It may not be totally necessary, but there will be some aspects of the story that may not make complete sense if you haven't. More notes at the end, for now, enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Fritz Smith hadn't been quick enough. He'd been doing so well all night - even after being thrown into the job without so much as a warning. He'd figured it out quickly and had, up until that very moment, managed to keep the animatronics at bay. He'd kept the music box wound, he'd managed to flash away Foxy and Mangle every time they showed, and he'd managed to slam that dumb Freddy face over his head whenever any of the others wandered in. And then that fucking balloon wielding nightmare had showed up and he'd managed to get through the distraction and fend off Toy Bonnie, but he hadn't noticed Toy Freddy sneaking in. Not until the bear was grabbing him in a tight grip, hand coming for his face, grabbing his head - squeezing, ripping, cracking -
Fritz shot up in bed with a ragged gasp, the nightmare fading from his vision in a haze of brown. He panted, bringing a hand up to clutch at his chest, trying to soothe his racing heart. Fourteen years. It'd been fourteen years since what was possibly the worst night of his life, and sometimes it felt like it'd just been a few nights ago. The nightmares were the worst. They were almost completely fabricated - Fritz had come awfully close to being ripped apart by the Toy Animatronics, but Toy Freddy had never grabbed his face. Toy Chica had grabbed his ankle in a tight grip, and Toy Bonnie had grabbed his forearm and their grips had hurt like hell - but in the end, the alarm had rung, and they had left him with nothing more than a couple of bruises and, apparently, a lifetime of nightmares.
Well, there was nothing for it now. Fritz would never get back to sleep. He reached up and pushed a mass of black curls off of his forehead, rubbing at his eyes with a grumble. He slipped from bed and reached up, stretching tall as he considered what to do with his extra time that morning. Coffee, for sure - maybe a few cups, since he had the time. He was also an episode behind on his new favorite television series - a cheesy as hell soap opera called 'The Immortal and the Restless.' Fritz glanced at his clock - six am. Plenty of time for all of that and more, before his meeting with the mysterious Mr. Emily.
Two weeks prior, Fritz's mother had sent him a job posting. That was nothing new, she was always trying to help him find work, but for once it'd actually interested him. An unnamed robotics company was looking for a technician to do a variety of unspecified tasks. The details had been vague, but they had mentioned working evening shifts in an underground location. Fritz had ended up responding, sending in his resume with a shrug. If they even called him, he'd still be able to turn his back on the job if it ended up being too sketchy. And if it worked out, well, it'd be nice to get back into a technical job. He liked getting his hands dirty - with machines or cars, it didn't really matter. It'd been his primary driving force for applying for the Freddy's job back when he was eighteen - not that it had panned out. He had higher hopes for this job - sketchiness and all.
At any rate, about a week after he'd sent his resume in, a man named Henry Emily had gotten in contact with him. Apparently, Mr. Emily had very recently acquired the robotics company in question, and he wanted to meet up with Fritz to discuss the job. Fritz had ended the phone call with a meeting agreement and no clue as to whether or not the meeting was going to be an interview. Although Mr. Emily hadn't specified, it sort of sounded as if he'd acquired the company in between their job posting and Fritz's response. Fritz supposed he'd find out in a couple of hours, though, when he finally met the man.
For the rest of the early morning, though, Fritz kept good on his plan. He drank a few cups of coffee out of an already oversized mug, caught up with his tape-recorded episode of the show, and simply tried to relax the nightmares out of his mind. While the nightmares were terrible, after so many years they no longer kept a hold on him for long after he woke. Before long, they'd slipped his mind entirely. Time passed, and Fritz couldn't be bothered to do much besides laze about until, finally, the time came for him to make himself presentable - including a simple suit, always good to make a good first impression - and head out for his meeting.
His first impression of Henry Emily was that the man somehow managed to carry his age with sophistication - but he still very much carried it. It spoke volumes from his shadowed eyes and weary wrinkles. All the same, he held himself in a relaxed, proper manner, and his eyes scanned the coffee shop in a softly curious fashion. Fritz noticed the man immediately upon entering the shop, although it wasn't until Mr. Emily met his eyes and smiled that Fritz assumed that he was the man he'd come to meet. He approached the table and, as he did, Mr. Emily got to his feet.
"Mr. Smith, I assume," the man said, holding a hand out as Fritz approached. Fritz took it - nice strong grip, good shake, you got this Fritz - and nodded.
"Yes, uh, you can just call me Fritz though, if you'd like. You must be Mr. Emily?" Fritz answered. The other man nodded and sat, gesturing for Fritz to do the same and, so, he did.
"Yes," Mr. Emily said, "although you are welcome to call me Henry. Thank you for agreeing to meet with me today, Fritz. If it's quite alright, I'll jump right into why I've asked you to come. There are some things you need to know about the job you applied for, before there's any talk of accepting the position."
"Sure, of course," He said. Henry nodded at him, then leaned forward a bit, tapping his fingers against the table.
"I acquired the business shortly after they began looking for a technician. You see, my reasons for that are varied, but the biggest reason was because of…well. Let's call it copyright. Many years ago I had a business partner. And it would seem that sometime in our time apart, he branched off and created his own company, using some of the same creations." Henry paused, looking all at once more worn. "My apologies. I'm being unnecessarily vague. You need to know everything and so, here it is. Mr. Smith, I am the current owner of Fazbear Entertainment. And Circus Baby's Pizza World - the company you applied at, though I know they did not disclose the name - is, for all intents and purposes, a Fazbear Entertainment relation. Truly part of the company now, actually, since I purchased it."
For the past week, Fritz had regarded the job with a nervous, faint excitement. He had tried his best not to count too many chickens before they hatched, but he hadn't been able to crush all hope. And then Henry's words about accepting the position rather than being offered it had made that hope blossom, despite the oddity of the phrase. But it felt, now, as if every ounce of that hope had crashed down into his stomach with a sharp and physically painful drop. Henry must have seen it on his face, because the older man had stopped speaking, and was studying Fritz quietly. Waiting for him to speak. What on earth was he meant to say, though?
"Oh. Well, that's - uh. I see." Fritz leaned back in his chair and shook his head. "I wouldn't have applied if I'd known, to be honest with you. No, uh, no offense, but if you're intention is to try and convince me there's nothing to be worried about, uh, that probably won't work out for you."
"Oh, there is plenty to be worried about," Henry said. He lifted a hand and began counting off on the fingers. "The location is secluded and underground, they were seeking a technician for unspecified work that honestly I haven't figured out either, and of course the big one - there are animatronics there, and they are likely to be aggressive. I'm sure there are other issues but those seem to be the big ones."
"I'm, uh, surprised to hear you say as much," Fritz told him honestly.
"Yes, well, some things have changed in this company, since I took over," Henry said. He leaned back himself, and rhd look he gave Fritz was tired. "Mr. Smith - Fritz - I have a favor to ask of you. I will not be offended if you refuse. But all I ask is - will you hear me out? I'd like to tell you everything about what I plan on doing with Circus Baby's. You would be in the best position to help me. I will understand entirely if your answer is no, but may I at least share this with you?"
Fritz didn't answer right away, but when he did, it was with a sigh. "Okay. I'm not promising anything, uh, you have to know my mind is firmly set on 'hell no.' But there's no harm in listening."
"Thank you," Henry's smile was genuine. "And so it goes. Many years ago, I and my business partner William Afton created the idea for a restaurant - at the time, that would become Fredbear's Family Diner. However, at the time I was not aware that William was…well. A deprived creature from hell, really. You know, I'm sure, of all the rumors that haunt Fazbear's?"
"Yeah. I mean, I was uh, kind of late to it - I didn't grow up in the area. But I heard them, later, especially, uh, if I ever mentioned to anyone that I had worked there," Fritz said, "the rumors. Yeah. Missing kids, dead kids, possessed animatronics…"
"Yes, exactly," Henry agreed, "there were some rumors near the end of the Diner's life, but they didn't really take hold until its successor - Freddy Fazbear's Pizzeria. Well, Fritz, unfortunately, very little about those rumors are false. Children were abducted there. They died there. And they possessed the animatronics there. The first - " Henry stopped, suddenly, and looked towards the ceiling. Fritz was tempted to say something, but kept it to himself. There was something haunted in the other man's stance. It took him a few long seconds to take a breath and look at Fritz again. "There was a handful, and I had already sold the rights to the Diner when most of them happened. Those souls latched on to the brand new faces of the brand - Freddy, Bonnie, Chica, and Foxy. And so, the animatronics found life and, you can see where it goes from there. More importantly, the man I told you about - William - was the one behind it all. Evidence was difficult to come by and circumstantial at best. They never did manage to connect those dots. They came close, when William was masquerading as a man named Dave, but even then he ended up going free. It is difficult to put someone away for murder, when there are never any bodies found. So, shortly after Freddy Fazbear's Pizzeria closed, William went free again. And promptly seemed to vanish off the face of the earth. It would seem, in that time, he created the location known as Circus Baby's Pizza World, as well as the animatronics who call it home. However, his intentions were far from good. I've seen blueprints of his designs. It would seem they were all designed to lure or trap children."
"That's actually insane," Fritz said, staring at the other man now. Animatronics designed to lure kids? The biggest question was, how on earth would things like that get away with existing? If there were animatronics out there luring kids away every time they were near them, someone would have noticed.
"Yes," Henry agreed, "I don't know how many children were actually taken - it seems these animatronics were rented out for birthday parties and the like. I have to assume they weren't especially popular and likely didn't abduct every child they met - otherwise, I'm sure we would have heard about this before now
But I have a hard time believing they didn't have any victims, either."
"Yeah, uh, that's kind of what I thought. So, what will you do now? You bought the business, right?" Fritz asked, "just, uh, from under this guy's nose, or what?"
"No, William has been dead for - well, a few years now. He'd had trusts and such in place to keep it running. As for what I will do, well, for the moment I've put a stop to business. I've told the employees that it is a temporary stop while I get my bearings, but, truth be told, I do intend to get rid of the business entirely. However, I don't want to do that without learning more about it first. That is where someone else comes in - you, if you'd like the position. This place is underground and difficult to enter. I am simply too old and not nearly dexterous enough to deal with it - even less so if the animatronics are aggressive. So I need someone who can go down there, look around for me, and tell me what they find. I need to know any other secrets this place may hold - and I need to know if there's anything worth saving down there."
"What on earth could possibly be worth saving?" Fritz asked. To which Henry shrugged.
"I have learned in past years that the animatronics are not all just machines or monsters. And, of course, if there are lingering spirits, I would not want to leave them to rot," Henry said, "I need to know what the animatronics are like, before I can authorize their destruction."
"Hold on, what does that mean - uh, no offense, but my experience has been that animatronics are definitely just machine or monster. How, uh, how could they not be?" Fritz asked.
"I have a friend - he's the owner of 'The Fazbear Family Arcade,' in fact. He, through a variety of experiences, has come to befriend those animatronics. The original four, as well as an even older one -"
"That's ridiculous," Fritz interrupted, and even he could feel how dry his voice had gone, "that, uh, that kind of makes me doubt the rest of what you've told me, you know."
"I understand how it must sound, especially to someone who has worked with the animatronics," Henry said, and if Fritz's interruption bothered him, he didn't show it, "But it is true - now, don't misunderstand me. I am not claiming they are harmless - Mike would not even claim that. There is a reason he is the only one he allows to be so close to them - in the wrong circumstances, they can absolutely still be dangerous. However, they are also sentient and over all kind-hearted. They would do anything for Mike or the children who visit the arcade. And if the animatronics in Circus Baby's are anything like that, I would like to give them a chance before destroying them."
Fritz nodded, but didn't reply again. He didn't really believe it - but in the end, that didn't much matter. Whether or not Fritz believed the animatronics could be friendly didn't change what it was Henry was asking for. Fritz knew he should just give the answer he'd originally settled on - absolutely not, hell no, whatever. But a part of him was curious, all the same. What a place it must be to house animatronics capable of luring and abducting children. If it was built by such a capable engineer, it was sure to be interesting.
"Fritz," Henry said, interrupting the other's thoughts as he leaned forward a bit more, "I know what I am asking here. More than you might think. I know exactly how dangerous it is likely to be, the risk I'm asking you to put yourself in. And believe me, were I even ten years younger, I would not be asking at all. I would be doing it myself. However, I will not send anyone in there without telling them everything I know, first. No matter how little that is. I will not send anyone in there who is unwilling, or without the full knowledge that they can retreat and call it off at any time. So if your answer is no, I understand. I respect that. Especially given your history. There will be no hard feelings - in fact, if you are still searching for work, I believe I could find you a solid position somewhere else. So please, say no if that is your answer. But if you are still considering, ask me any further questions you have. I will answer to the best of my ability."
Fritz felt like there was a part of him staring at him in horror as the next words came from his mouth. Some part of him that was screaming and beating on the walls and saying don't do it, moron! What are you thinking!? His nightmares hung over his head, promising that undertaking this would only make them worse. But there is something about Freddy Fazbear's that latches onto the soul and refuses to let go. Whatever it was, it was tempting Fritz. And he was close to giving in.
"I'm not saying no, not yet," Fritz said, "but I have, uh, more questions, before I say yes, either." He wanted to know more. He wanted to know everything. He wanted to see where this rabbit hole went.
Henry nodded, holding his hands out to his sides. "Ask away."
Fritz stared up at the building in front of him, patting the inside of his dry mouth with his tongue. It wasn't his first time seeing it, of course. It wasn't an especially big town, and everyone had heard of ' The Fazbear Family Arcade .' It had picked up in popularity quickly, and it was now a favorite location - the community, Fritz thought, sure had a short memory when it suited them. Of course, Fritz had yet to hear any major rumors about this new place. In the beginning, the old rumors had circulated like crazy, but as time passed and the Arcade had continued to be a stable and apparently safe source of entertainment, those rumors had died away.
That being said, Fritz had never gotten closer than the road. He thought he had left Freddy's in the past and had been unwilling to invite bad luck back onto himself by stepping into a new Freddy's building. And yet, here they were, all to meet Henry's friend. The man was also apparently an expert on all things animatronic. Not, Henry had specified, an expert at animatronic design and repair - though he wasn't a slouch there either - but an expert on fighting them off, on their supernatural components, and - and Fritz still didn't believe this part - befriending them.
"He will be an invaluable asset," Henry had told him at their meeting, "he can advise you - and, I hope, even train you. I know you had some experience with this, but more can't hurt. And he can give it to you. If we can get him to agree, anyway. That, I'm afraid, will be the real trick."
Still, meeting this other man meant Fritz had to finally wander into the Fazbear Family Arcade - something he'd been avoiding since its opening. Henry was standing next to him, and glanced at him with a concerned look.
"Are you alright?" Henry asked. Fritz nodded without really thinking the question over.
"Yeah, uh, just the memories, you know? Didn't think I'd ever set foot inside this place, and I can't say I'm particularly thrilled at the idea," Fritz said.
"You don't have to," Henry reminded him, "please remember that you can call this off at any time. We can walk away, right now."
At the end of their earlier conversation, Fritz had agreed to Henry' s proposal. It had been mostly curiosity that drove him to accept. Henry had explained plenty of things, some of which went over his head. But it was hard not to be curious about animatronics apparently designed to lure children, created by a man who killed kids. It had also helped to be reassured that Fritz could quit at any time - so if he was attacked, he could run screaming from the building and never look back. Part of Henry's idea was also what had brought them to the arcade. Henry wanted to ask his friend to, more or less, train Fritz, so that he could be more prepared for whatever might await him within Circus Baby's. And on that note, Fritz shook his head.
"No, we're here now. Let's go in, I'll be fine," He said. Henry studied him for a moment longer then nodded, pushing the door open and heading into the arcade. Fritz followed after him, only to stop once again shortly inside the door. Immediately inside the door appeared to be the busiest area of the arcade. People - mostly children, a few dragging their parents along - flitted between the various games littered over the floor. There were some dining tables mostly out to the side, and a few families were there, enjoying various eats. A small area was roped off in the far corner, a closed purple-with-stars curtain hiding whatever was in the area from view. 'Next showtime: 3:00pm' read a wooden sign in front. To the right of that small area was a large stage. Unlike the first, this stage was lit up and active, and Fritz felt a cold chill run down his spine at the sight. There, on stage, were Freddy, Bonnie, and Chica. They were in the middle of a performance, the floor in front of the stage full of children. The animatronics were so robotic - their movements stiff, voices monotone. It was a strange sight, as Fritz had never seen them being actual robots - only manic killing machines. They were different, too. They weren't the toys, far from it, but they weren't quite the same as the old withered models, either. Not that it much mattered - they still gave him the heebie jeebies.
"I know they're a bit unnerving, but they won't bother you," a voice said. Fritz turned to look, spotting a man walking over to them, "they're busy, after all." The man stopped in front of Fritz, looking him over with curiosity. Fritz's first thought was that the man had to be just about the same age as himself and, frankly, didn't look much like the kind of guy who'd own a Freddy's. He always imagined people like Henry or Jacob - self-assured business men with a penchant for spinning a bad story into a good one. But this guy - Mike, read the badge pinned to his shirt - seemed like an average guy. He was a bit shorter than Fritz, with dark blue eyes and tufts of dark hair peeking out from under a black beanie. He was dressed in a pair of black dress slacks and a tucked in, dark blue shirt that read 'Fazbear Family Arcade.' He was studying Fritz in turn, something sharply aware in his eyes.
"Fritz, I'd like to introduce you to Michael Afton. Mike, this is Fritz Smith. As of the moment, he is the newest Fazbear Entertainment employee," Henry said with a sort of false cheer that Mike's sharp, suspicious look said the younger man saw right through.
"It's, uh, it's nice to meet you, Mr. Afton," Fritz said, thrusting out his hand. Mike took it in a firm grip, still glaring at Henry for a long second before finally looking to Fritz.
"Just Mike, please," Mike said, and Fritz blinked when, rather than letting go, the other man tightened his grip on Fritz's hand. "And you know, that's funny Henry. I'd think you'd at least ask me before dropping a new employee in my lap." Mike's tone held that same sort of faux cheer - making it obvious that he didn't think Fritz was meant for the Arcade at all. Fritz glanced quickly between the two men, wondering at which point they'd begin acting like 'dear friends.'
"That's because he won't be working for you, here," Henry said, "he'll be working for me, at a different location." The change that immediately came over Mike was almost frightening. The man's face darkened into some mixture of anger and fear and his hold on Fritz's hand - which he was still gripping - tightened even more.
"Henry, what the hell have you dragged this guy into?" Mike asked, his voice pitched low, somewhat harsh in his obvious anger. He glanced at Fritz, then frowned, letting go of the other man's hand with an apologetic look. It was short-lived, however, as Mike quickly set his glare back onto Henry.
"Nothing that hasn't been explained to him in full," Henry said, "and I've every intention of completely filling you in as well. Perhaps in your office, however? I believe your agitation is drawing attention." Henry glanced towards the stage, and Fritz couldn't help but look as well. A shiver went down his spine - the three animatronics there were still singing and their bodies were still moving, but their eyes were locked on to the group of three humans. Mike made a noise of frustration and looked over as well, before making a hand motion - the universal gesture for 'it's fine, back down.' To Fritz's surprise, the animatronics actually looked away.
"Yeah, alright," Mike said, "Henry, this better be good." He shot another appraising look at Fritz, then turned and walked away. Once Henry began to follow him, Fritz realized they were meant to go along. He hurried to catch up with the two men. Mike led them down a hallway, back to an office. Although there were some major differences, Fritz still found himself pausing in the doorway. It was different, yes, but the security tablet, the fan - it reminded him of the Freddy's he'd once worked at. A security office. Or, at least, it must have been one, once. It seemed it was just Mike's office now. It had a name plaque and everything. 'Michael Afton' it read and then, in smaller letters beneath the name, 'Owner.'
Mike pulled out a couple of chairs, arranging them in a small triangle. The office clearly wasn't designed to easily seat three grown men, but Mike made it work. Mike gestured at Henry and Fritz to sit, before slipping into his own seat. Fritz sat when Henry did, shifting a bit to get comfortable. It didn't really work, because he was mostly uncomfortable internally. When Henry had been speaking to him about all of this, it'd felt like a conversation between peers. Now, Fritz felt a bit as if he'd accidentally stumbled upon a larger, more complex conversation. He felt like an outsider.
"Alright," Mike said, "let's hear it. I'll do my best not to interrupt." That was a far cry from 'I won't interrupt,' but no one mentioned as much. Instead, Henry cleared his throat, crossed a leg over his knee, folded his hands, and nodded.
"It would seem that after the events at Fredbear's, William decided to try his hand at a bit of competition. I've discovered the remnants of a company called 'Afton Robotics.' They've used some of the technology we crafted together and created animatronics of their own - as well as a home for them, at a -" Henry paused with a frown, "Well, honestly, I'm not sure what to call it. It's a building, but it seems to be built for storage and maintenance. It's called Circus Baby's Pizza World, and it's main business was renting out its animatronics to parties and similar get togethers. Up until very recently, the business was still active. I bought it once I became aware of it, however, and have stopped business. Temporarily, as far as the current employees are concerned, but I don't intend to open it again."
Fritz had seen Mike go still not long after Henry began to talk. His hands were gripping the armrests of his chair so tightly that his knuckles had gone white. Henry paused again, willing to give the younger man a chance to analyze all that. Fritz was surprised when the other man sighed, slipping down a bit further in his seat and reaching up to rub his face with a hand. Everything about the action screamed 'tired.' Fritz wondered at the connection - he doubted it was a coincidence, that the company carried Mike's own last name. As Henry had described it, Circus Baby's had been created by a kid-killer - did that mean Mike was some relation?
"Guess he was busy, once he fell off the face of the planet," Mike said.
"It would seem so," Henry agreed, "here, I found these - they give some idea as to what, exactly, he was doing." Henry reached into his bag and pulled out a set of blueprints. He unfolded the first, holding it out to show Mike. Fritz glanced as well, frowning slightly as he studied it. He recognized the model - anyone who'd ever seen one would. Freddy Fazbear - although this one, apparently, was dubbed Funtime Freddy. It did have some differences obvious even in the blue and white scheme of the blueprint.
"Freddy?" Mike asked, sounding confused. He took the blueprint from Henry in order to give it a closer look. "Sort of - he's definitely a similar model. Fancier, though, look at all these features and wires. A Bonnie hand puppet? That's weird. What -" He cut off, eyes widening as his eyes scanned the words. "Henry, what the hell is this thing?" Instead of answering, Henry handed over the other blueprints. Mike took them, looking through them for a long few minutes. Finally, he leaned back, closing his eyes with a grimace. He held the blueprints out and Fritz took them, looking them over himself. At first he didn't understand what had bothered Mike so, but then he read closer. Just as Henry had said - the animatronics in those blueprints seemed designed to lure and even abduct children. There were all sorts of special effects - parental mimicry, attractive scents, even a storage tank .
"This place, these things are there?" Mike asked, opening his eyes to look at Henry again.
"Almost certainly," Henry sighed lightly, reaching up to rub his eyes, "unless the current manager became spooked by a change in hands and had them destroyed or moved. I doubt it, though, mostly because I doubt anyone is truly aware of their purposes. Likely, they are still there. Of course, then the question becomes - are they dangerous? They clearly are to children, by design, but are they dangerous outside of their design?"
"Are they haunted," Mike said, voice bland, "if they are, are they like mine? Or are they like the toys? Or Springtrap? Or are they something completely different? And, if I'm guessing this right, you want to send Fritz here down to find out."
"I want to tie up loose ends," Henry said, "I want to find out what's down there, what - if anything - is worth saving, and then deal with it. Fritz applied for the technician job they posted - I intend to give him the job, and have him look for me, so long as he's willing."
"And?" Mike asked, looking at Fritz, "are you willing?"
"Yeah," Fritz said. Then, in a pique of confidence - and, in part, trying to joke - added "how hard could it be, really?"
As it turned out, that was very much the wrong thing to say. Henry gave him a warning look at the same time Mike sat up straight, glaring at Fritz so heatedly that Fritz felt himself shrink back without consciously deciding to do it.
"How hard? You have no goddamn idea what you could be getting into -" Mike started.
"He has a better idea than you think, Mike," Henry interrupted, voice a bit loud - almost commanding. Mike jerked, then leaned back, letting out a quick and heavy breath, although it seemed Henry's interruption had successfully derailed his rant. Henry continued, more gentle, "this wouldn't be his first time dealing with Freddy's. He worked the night shift at Freddy's, very briefly, back in '87."
"Oh," Mike said, and Fritz could see him deflate, and felt a little awestruck at how quickly the man could change emotions, "oh. That changes things - when did you work there? I mean, in eighty-seven obviously, but do you remember specifically when?"
"Uh, I don't remember the exact date, to be honest," Fritz said, rubbing the back of his neck, "I try not to remember too much about it. But, I know it was the last night they were ever open. They fired me - but I think it was just a show. I'm not sure why they hired me at all, when they were closed completely the next day."
"You were my replacement," Mike said, "fuck - they just slapped someone new into the spot? That night? I can't imagine how worked up they would have been - and you survived? Well, obviously. You're here." He stopped, lapsing into silence for a few seconds. "That makes me feel a little better. But, and not to belittle your experience because I've got no doubt it was intense, it's still a far cry from extensive experience with this stuff. And, being that you've experienced it, I'd think you wouldn't want anything to do with it again."
"Well, uh, I'm just sort of curious," Fritz admitted, "after everything Henry told me. And I mean, hey, there might not even be anything to worry about, right? For once, these things might just be robots."
"Yeah, I wouldn't count on that," Mike said dryly, "my experience says it's unlikely. Nothing about these places is ever that easy. I once worked at a brand new location that was supposed to be empty - and still ended up going toe to toe with a killer animatronic. So, look, no offense, but curiosity seems like a damn stupid reason to put your life at risk."
"I'd, uh, I'd argue the risk is minimal," Fritz said, "see, cause like here's the thing - yeah, they might be murderbots. But if that turns out to be the case, I can just leave. There's no incentive to stay if I'm in danger. And if I find anything of interest, or find out they're harmless, or whatever, then I will have done, uh, you know, a good thing. I don't consider this taking the job, really. It's more like taking a peek around there."
"And if they catch you? It's one thing to say you can just run from them, it's another to actually do it. There's a Foxy, after all - I wouldn't bet my ability to outrun the Foxy I know. Or, what if you can't run? What if they - I don't know, random thought here - corner you into a security office and make it impossible for you to leave, without risking running right into them?" Mike asked.
"Then I put my skills to use and wait them out. If they can manage that much, seems likely they'd have the sort of programming that'd make them back off eventually. At morning time or, uh, something. Don't you think?" Fritz responded.
"Skills you honed in one night fourteen years ago," Mike said, "and, again, not disparaging your experience, because frankly it's damn impressive you survived that. But still, you're likely to be rusty, if nothing else."
"Well, that brings us to the main reason I brought this to your attention at all," Henry said.
"You mean, besides in order to keep me in the loop regarding all things Freddy's, as I'm pretty sure I've more than earned that right?" Mike asked, his voice dry again.
"Besides that, yes," Henry said cheerfully, "Mike, I was wondering if you and your lot would be willing to help train Fritz here. Help him prepare for what he might find down there."
"Train him?" Mike asked, clearly confused, then a few seconds later, "oh, wait, you mean, like, shove him back here and have the others try to get in?"
"I -" Mike frowned, falling silent again, his face thoughtful. "I guess I'm not against the idea, it'd probably be good for you, Fritz. But I'll need to ask everyone - it's completely possible they may not be comfortable with something like that, and I couldn't push them on it." He rubbed his cheek slightly before looking to Fritz. "And even if they agree, you'll have to meet each of them, one on one, to be sure they won't have any negative reactions towards you. I'm pretty sure this is illegal to ask, but I'm not actually your boss and believe me it's important for your health - any felonies on your record? Or, any felons in your family?"
"Uh, no? I mean, no, not as far as I know," Fritz answered, and Mike nodded.
"Good. Alright. Give me the day to talk with the others and see what they think. I'll let you know once I've got an answer, and if they're for it, I'll have you come in to meet them, Fritz. Anything else?" Mike asked.
"Not for the moment," Henry replied.
"Okay. Henry, can you wait for Fritz outside?" Mike didn't need to ask twice, Henry smiled, nodded, and got to his feet, clasping Mike's shoulder as he walked by. Mike watched him go, then reached over and tapped a button - Fritz jumped violently when it brought a metal door crashing down.
"Sorry," Mike said with an apologetic smile, "I should have warned you. This place has security doors - isn't that a treat? Imagine if there'd been doors at the other place - course the power thing is a deterrent…" He paused, shook his head, "Anyway. I won't keep you, but - Fritz, he really isn't making you do this, right? Manipulation isn't just force, you know - has he told you something that's made you think you have no choice, or anything like that? A sob story, a promise of monetary gain, et cetera?"
"No," Fritz said, shaking his head, "I mean, he is, uh, going to pay me, but he also said he'd be happy to get me a position elsewhere, too. Other than that, he's made it perfectly clear that, uh, I can back out of this at any time."
"Okay. Okay, good," Mike said, "I just wanted to make sure." He paused again, then reached up, rubbing at the back of his neck. "Look. I'm pretty sure the 'good person' thing to do would be to tell you not to worry about it, and offer to deal with this myself. But, you know Fritz - I'm so fucking tired of this shit. I'm content here. I like my arcade, I love my family - and yet, every goddamn time I think this has settled, something new comes up. And I'm so tired of being the one in the middle of it. Exhausted of it. I'll help you as much as I can on this side of things but - I'm not going to offer to take your place. Henry approached you - a stranger with a past here - to ask you to volunteer yourself. I've allowed him to convince me to let you do it. I don't think we're good people, Fritz - it might be the smartest thing to turn tail and run now, before this shit grabs you and sucks you in."
"I think it might be too late for that, Mike," Fritz said, finding himself smiling at the other man. Who promptly laughed - the sound genuine, if more than a bit bitter.
"You're probably right about that. Alright. Go ahead and catch up with Henry. I'll grab your contact info from him and give you a call once I know whether or not we can do this - training, or whatever. Brace yourself, it's just as loud going up," Mike said, reaching over to lift the door - it rose with a crash almost as loud as when it shut - and waving Fritz off. Fritz nodded and headed away, wondering - not for the first nor the last time - just what he was getting himself into.
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Chapter 2: The Animatronics
Mike reveals the findings to his robotic family, and Fritz gets to meet the animatronics in a much calmer setting than his first time.
Mike closed the doors to the arcade and slid the lock close with a click. He held his palms against one of the doors for a second, leaning forward and closing his eyes with a light sigh. The whirl of servos and metallic joints told him the others were waking and moving - the customers and cleaning crew were gone, and the night was officially theirs. Shaking his head once, Mike pushed away from the door and turned to head over towards the stage. His thoughts kept flitting back to Fritz - the man Henry had roped into helping with yet another Freddy's location. More or less, anyway. Did he have any real idea what he was getting into? Was Mike really okay with being a part of it?
"It looked as if you made a new friend today, Mike," Freddy said by way of greeting. He finished descending from the stage, and turned to look at Mike with a glance that - despite artificial - was curious. Mike knew well enough to hear the real question - 'what was upsetting you, and who do I have to kill?'
"Yeah, well, it's something like that, I guess." Mike paused, seeing as Foxy and Spring Bonnie were making their way to the rest of them. He gave them a chance to get to the group, before taking a breath. "I guess Henry's found a new place. Kind of a Freddy's, in its own way. Just, more sinister - believe it or not."
"You're not going to check it out," Bonnie said almost immediately, ears shifted down on his head, "so if that's where this conversation is going, guess it's over."
"Bonnie, we have discussed this before, at length - it is not right for us to try and control Mike when he decides to do something. Even if we do not agree," Freddy said, shaking his head.
"Yeah, we have discussed it," Bonnie agreed, "but if he won't keep himself safe, it's up to us to do it for him. Right Spring?"
"For what it's worth, I definitely agree with Bonnie," Spring Bonnie chimed in. Mike tried to speak, but when Foxy plowed on ahead, the human just sighed and looked up towards the ceiling instead. He smiled lightly - he couldn't find it in himself to actually be irritated. He'd get a word in - eventually.
"Aye, me too. Lad's as stubborn as they come, he sure ain't any good at keeping his own hide outta the fire," the fox said.
"He has managed just fine until now," Freddy responded, "it is important to simply trust that he can -"
"Guys? I think Mike has more to say," Chica broke in, causing the chatter to stop for a second. Mike just smiled, lowering his head to look at the others again.
"Thank you, Chica. Let's not have this argument, okay? Because it doesn't matter - I'm not going. But that man you saw - his name is Fritz - is. They were just, you know, keeping me in the loop. They also wanted to ask me a favor, so that's really the big thing. Because it involves you guys, too - and if you're not comfortable with it, you've got to be honest with me, okay? I'm not so sure about it myself," Mike said. The others exchanged looks at that. "They asked if we could help train Fritz. In other words, they want me to shove him in the office and have you guys go at him. You know, like old times." He stopped, watching them carefully as they took that in. He wasn't surprised when they didn't respond right away.
"You'd let us meet him first, right?" Bonnie asked.
"Yeah, of course. Both for your guys' sake and for his safety - if there's going to be a problem, I'd rather know ahead of time. Mostly because if there is, I'm calling it off. I wouldn't want to do that to you guys, and I wouldn't want to put him in actual danger," Mike answered.
"Even if we are okay face to face, there may still be danger," Freddy pointed out, "there could be something about - let us call it playing that game - that could trigger something in us. You would still have to be careful - you, I am sure, would be fine. This Fritz may not be."
"Do you think it's too high of a risk?" Mike asked, frowning. Freddy didn't answer right away, but thought it over. Eventually, he shook his head.
"No, I believe it is likely to be fine. Especially as our internals have been improved and we are interacting with others during the day again. There have not been any incidents with the other employees, after all. It is simply a risk we need to keep in mind. As it stands, I would be happy to assist."
"Yeah, I'll help out too," Bonnie said, "as long as meeting him goes fine. Could be fun, after all."
"If Freddy says it should be okay, I can help too," Chica agreed.
"Aye, sounds like quite the party, if ye ask me. Count me in, lad."
"I won't," said Spring Bonnie. Mike paused and looked over at the Golden rabbit, who was currently wringing his hands. "I'm sorry Mike, but I don't think I'm comfortable with that. Actually - I'm definitely not. It'd be too much like -" He broke off and shook his head.
"Yeah," Mike said by way of agreement. He wasn't surprised and, though he didn't say it aloud, the truth was that Mike felt the same. The idea of Spring Bonnie - even as whole, repaired, and well maintained as he was now - stalking towards a room Mike was in made Mike feel more than a little uncomfortable. Even if Mike wouldn't be the actual 'target.' Besides, he'd had a different idea. "Would you be comfortable being in the office with us? Having you close would make me feel better - you could handle any of the others if their programming turned dark."
"I could do that!" Spring Bonnie agreed, ears perking up. Mike smiled at the other's enthusiasm. Spring Bonnie had never been like the others - even at their first meeting, he'd been curious and friendly. Mike didn't know exactly why that was, but he guessed it had to do with Spring once having the role of wearable suit. He had never seen Spring Bonnie flip in the way the others did, even when he'd been possessed by Mike's father - that'd simply been the spirit's maliciousness. Whatever the reason might be, it meant Spring Bonnie was the perfect animatronic for the job. That job being sure that Fritz didn't meet a messy end in Mike's own building.
"Thanks bud," He said, "and thank you, everyone. I'll have Fritz swing by after closing tomorrow to meet you all. For tonight, let's come up with a plan. Did you guys -" He broke off, suddenly uncomfortable. His thoughts flitted back to Scott - the man who'd once left helpful messages for Mike on the phone, before meeting his end in this very restaurant. Mike had never let it become a point of contention, he'd never even brought it up to the others. But he thought about it on occasion - because no matter what this place was to him now, it had a history it was important to remember. He cleared his throat, pushing the thoughts away. "Was there a pattern, before?"
"Yes," Freddy answered.
"Okay. We'll take that and expand on it, then. I was thinking five days of increasing difficulty…"
M ike was waiting outside the restaurant for Fritz when the man showed up the next night. Fritz paused for a second when he saw Mike and took a breath. He was only there to officially meet the animatronics - but that was plenty enough to make him anxious. He was trying to keep it at bay - if he couldn't even manage this, he'd never make it at Circus Baby's. Mike and Henry were an odd duo, but they seemed nice enough. Fritz hardly knew them, was a nobody to them - so there was no reason in the world for this to be a trap. So if they said the animatronics were likely harmless, than Fritz had good reason to believe them.
Mike shot him a knowing, reassuring smile - there wasn't a hint of judgement in his eyes. So Fritz nodded slightly and approached.
"Evening, doing alright?" Mike asked.
"Evening and, yeah. Look, don't, uh, take this the wrong way - I can do this. It's just, uh, a bit unnerving. Jumping into it like this."
"Hey, you don't have to tell me," Mike said, waving the explanation away, "I'd be way more worried if you weren't nervous. Nothing to worry about tonight, though. I'm going to introduce you to Spring Bonnie, first. He works differently than the others, and almost certainly won't have an issue with you. He's also going to be your bodyguard, of sorts, so - yeah."
That didn't make a whole lot of sense to Fritz, but, truthfully, none of it really did. There was a part of him that still thought Mike and Henry were barking mad, believing that the animatronics were friends with Mike. Then again, before that single night fourteen years ago, Fritz would have thought the same of anyone claiming that the animatronics were capable of stalking and attacking people, too. When he thought of it like that, them being friendly didn't seem like such a jump. He had a lot of questions - but they could wait for later.
"Yeah, uh, alright," Fritz said. Mike nodded with a smile that seemed, to Fritz, rather knowing. Then he turned and opened the door, heading in first, although it was clear Fritz was meant to follow. Another turning point, Fritz thought. Another moment he could turn and walk away. But his feet took him forward, instead.
Fritz didn't get far inside the restaurant before stopping. It was quiet, now, closed for the day. All the curtains were closed, and Fritz wondered if the other animatronics were waiting for their turns behind them. Or were they waiting somewhere else? Fritz took a quick look around the room, but didn't see anyone else. Just Mike and, Fritz had to assume, Spring Bonnie.
It was an animatronic he'd never seen before. It was taller, he was pretty sure, than he remembered the others being. It was a rabbit, like Bonnie, but the shape of its face and torso were very different, more slender in shape but rounded in face, with a more compact but narrower muzzle. It's fur was a golden yellow color, and a pair of vividly green eyes stared back at Fritz. He could see it being a beloved character to kids - but it made him uneasy. Mike was standing right next to the rabbit animatronic, watching Fritz with a patient expression. Well, Spring Bonnie wasn't throttling Mike so, that was probably a good sign. Of course, Fritz wasn't exactly sure what he was expected to do now. He went still where he stood when the rabbit took a step forward, raising a hand. In greeting, Fritz realized after a second.
"You must be Fritz," the rabbit spoke, and Fritz's breath caught in his throat. It had spoken directly to him - had Mike preprogrammed that? "It's nice to meet you. I'm Spring Bonnie - but I know that's kind of a mouthful, so it's okay if you'd rather call me Spring."
"Uh, right, uh, yeah, I'm Fritz. It's nice to meet you too, er Spring." Fritz answered. The rabbit tilted its head slightly, one ear clicking on its joint as it shifted over.
"This is probably pretty unnerving for you," Spring Bonnie continued, "I don't think most humans expect to hold conversations with sentient robots, after all."
"No," Fritz agreed, "it's not, uh, a common occurence. Hey," He looked at Mike, "is this - like - real? I mean, it's just really good programming, right?"
"Oh, it's real," Mike told him, "it's not programming at all - the animatronics can talk to you, interact with you, they're basically people except for the whole robot thing. They've got personalities, likes, dislikes, emotions - they don't feel pain, and their moral compass is different than ours, but otherwise they're not that different from you and I." There was something blithe in his tone, but Mike frowned suddenly, and the humor seemed to leave him. "If you want the specifics on how, I'm afraid I can't help you. None of us really know - but it's something about the kids. I guess the long and short of it is the animatronics are - maybe were - haunted and something about that gave them life. But that doesn't quite explain Spring here - his story is more complicated. I can tell you about it later, though. For now - Spring, what do you think?"
"There's nothing pinging in my database," Spring Bonnie said, "so he should be okay. At least when it comes to that."
"Great. Alright Fritz," Mike looked to the other man again, "I'm going to go fetch the others one at a time. We'll start with Chica. Spring Bonnie is going to stand next to you - the idea being that if any of the others flip, he'll be able to keep them off of you. You'll know it's happening - if you see their eyes go black, kind of like an opening camera shutter, then get out of the restaurant. I'll come talk to you as soon as I'm able. I've learned to be cautious - any of them could react poorly. Be alert. That being said - take special care of Freddy. He had some trouble with me, in the beginning. Alright?"
"Yeah, uh," Fritz said, watching as the rabbit animatronic moved to stand next to him. He wasn't close enough to touch, and Fritz appreciated the distance, but he was still closer than was necessarily comfortable. Fritz shoved down his unease, watching the rabbit for a long moment until he felt himself beginning to calm. Then he looked at Mike again. "Yeah, okay. Let's do it."
Before long, Mike had returned with Chica. Fritz's exact memory of the older, more withered animatronics had faded long ago, but he was fairly sure this Chica was softer. More approachable. She was definitely well put together and clearly maintained.
"Hello, Fritz," Chica said as a greeting, "it's nice to meet you. Or, I suppose it's nice to see you again. Although I don't much remember you, if I'm honest. I would call those days a dark time."
"Hey, uh, I get that. Not a time I like to remember either. So, how about a fresh start instead? Nice to meet you, Chica," Fritz said, throwing the chicken a quick smile. A nod and an upwards shift in her beak was her response.
"Oh yeah, I remember you," Bonnie said, after he'd been brought out to meet Fritz, "you were a wreck. Twitchy and I'm pretty sure you were crying at one point. Man, when those two plastic jerks grabbed a hold of you -" the rabbit cut off at a harsh look from Mike. Bonnie reached up, tugging at an ear, and Fritz would swear the look Bonnie gave him was apologetic. "Er, sorry. That wasn't very nice - obviously it would have been terrifying. We were all really agitated and out for blood. And, I mean, hey, you did manage to survive so, well done. Fritz, right? It's nice to see you again, on better terms."
"Uh, yeah, you too, Bonnie," Fritz said. The rabbit wasn't nearly as calming a presence as Chica had been, and Fritz wasn't sure completely sure if Bonnie's compliment was genuine or not - it was difficult to make out through the subtle digs. The fact that Bonnie's personality was so different from Chica's, though, actually helped relax Fritz further. As Mike had said, it was becoming clear that the animatronics really were their own people. So while Fritz was uneasy around Bonnie, he could honestly say he wasn't afraid of him.
Foxy was a bit more difficult to handle. Although he was about the same height as Chica, he was far more intimidating up close. Not to mention, Foxy still visited Fritz quite often in his nightmares - he and Mangle had been some of his most frequent threats, during that long night. These days, Foxy was far more intact than he had been back then - but truthfully, that only made it worse. He was full and functional, and still sported that deadly-looking hook and sharp fangs.
It also didn't help that Foxy's idea of a greeting was to walk right up to Fritz - nearly toe to toe - and look down at him. Fritz stared back up at the animatronic, heart pounding rapidly. He did his best to show only calm, though, and he must have managed at least somewhat, because Foxy backed off a moment later.
"Sorry about that," Mike said, shooting the fox a quick glare, "Foxy, could you behave yourself, please?"
"Lad, if he couldn't handle me standin' so close, he sure wouldn't get far. I just be testin' his mettle," Foxy responded, the pirate's accent thick in his voice.
"Frankly, you're lucky," Mike said in exasperation, looking to Fritz again, "when he decided to test my mettle, he came this close," he pinched his fingers nearly together, "to taking an arm off."
"Ye exaggerate, I knew what I was doin'. I didn't bite ye, did I? See Fritz, Mike here was a bit o' a fraidy fox when he first got here."
"I was not, and you know it!"
"Aye, let out a scream and everything -"
"Foxy, I swear -"
Both the fox animatronic and Mike stopped and looked to Fritz, who currently had a hand over his mouth to try and hide his laughter. But when they gave him nearly identical, offended looks, the laughter burst out of him.
"Sorry, sorry," Fritz said when he got a breath, "it's just - do you guys argue like that all the time? Because, uh," He chuckled, taking a breath as the laughs died down, "that is too good for words."
"They don't get into it often," Bonnie was the one that answered, "but when they get going, their little banter sessions can last forever."
And then, it was time to meet Freddy. Before Mike brought him out, Bonnie, Chica, and Foxy moved to stand slightly behind Fritz and Spring Bonnie, until the other animatronics were flanking the human. That made Fritz nervous - Mike had reassured him it was just an abundance of caution, but Fritz could tell they were all slightly on edge. Freddy had always been the scariest animatronic, in Fritz's mind. That was why he - at least the Toy version - often featured so prominently in Fritz's nightmares. But when Fritz saw this Freddy face-to-face, Toy Freddy didn't seem nearly as scary.
Freddy was taller and heavier than Toy Freddy. He was shorter than both of the Bonnies standing by Fritz, but was heavier - making Fritz imagine all the metal and wiring that must be in his frame and the damage the bear could do with them. There was something about the blue-eyed gaze, too, that made Fritz want to shrink back and hide away. But he forced himself to stay still - he met Freddy's gaze and he could feel the palpable tension in everyone in the room.
When nothing happened, though, he saw each of them relax - including Freddy himself. The bear's muzzle shifted into a smile, and he lifted a hand to hold out in Fritz's direction. It took a lot of willpower to make it happen, but Fritz forced himself to reach out and take the offered hand. Or, at least, he rested his own on the bear's palm - the hand was too big to grab on to. Freddy's hold, when he wrapped his hand around Fritz's, was surprisingly gentle. He gave a quick shake before letting go.
"It is nice to see you again, Fritz. I apologize for all of the tension - I can be a real bear, if my systems go sideways, so it is always best to be cautious," Freddy said. His voice was deep, a rumble that made the very air in the room vibrate. And -
"Was that a joke?" Fritz blurted out before he could stop himself, "a real bear? " From the corner of his eye, he saw Mike rest his forehead in a hand with a groan.
"Well, it was an attempt at one. I admit, I generally let my programming tell the jokes for me, during our performances. That one was my own creation, however. I suppose that is why it fell flat," Freddy answered.
"No, no, it was good - very subtle, I, uh, I liked it," Fritz said, feeling a bit panicked at the thought that he might have offended Freddy, "it just, uh, took me by surprise." Freddy didn't seem offended, however, he just laughed - the sound low and deep but genuine. It was a little unnerving to see - when he laughed, his jaw opened slightly and the sound played out like a laugh track. It was a strange combination, to seem so artificial but genuine all at once.
"Well, I appreciate the kindness. Now then, I feel I should ask - are you quite sure of the path you have taken, Fritz? It seems a risky thing to wander in here and ask us, as Mike has put it, to 'come at you.' Not to mention, of course, how risky it will be to wander into an unknown Freddy's location. Have you truly thought this through?" Freddy asked.
"I've been doing nothing but thinking about it, uh, ever since Henry told me the truth. I know it's risky and all but, uh, I still think the risk is kind of low. I'm curious and, uh, I want to help. So. Yeah, I'm sure," Fritz answered.
"Then we are happy to help as we can," Freddy said, "and I believe you are in very capable hands." He turned his head to look at Mike. "There should be no issue here, Mike."
"Great," Mike said, clapping his hands together. He looked at Fritz. "Well then, congrats. You're officially part of the Freddy's crew. You'll be spending your nights next week with us - I've already created a plan. First night will be Monday, starting at midnight exactly. How's that sound?"
"Terrifying," Fritz admitted, to the laughter of everyone in the room, "but, sounds good. I'll be here. And I'll be ready. Give me your best, everyone."
And the looks the others gave him told Fritz that was exactly what they intended to do.
Chapter 3: The Game
Fritz plays a fun new game, one that stands as a stark reminder of all he could lose. Meanwhile, Mike makes a new friend, and finds out that being the onlooker isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Mike had his chair tucked back against the wall of the small office - not that there was much distance between him and Fritz - and was leaning back in it, watching Fritz work with a curious eye. Spring Bonnie was standing in the corner opposite Mike, head tilted slightly as he watched quietly as well. All three of them in the office was somewhat of a tight fit, but Fritz still had enough room to work. It was, as Mike had designated it, night one. All Fritz would have to contend with were Bonnie and Chica - Mike had told Freddy and Foxy to stay out of it, that first night, so he could get a feel for how Fritz was likely to fare. It was midnight, and the game was officially on.
Mike had considered providing Fritz with something like the phone calls he’d once received. In the end, however, he’d decided against it. There was no guessing what guidance, if any, Fritz would receive at Circus Baby’s. Part of the training, then, was seeing how well Fritz would adapt to dangerous new situations. So far, Mike was impressed. He was watching the other man closely and, maybe because he knew what to look for, Mike could see that Fritz was afraid, even though none of the animatronics had yet moved from their places. There was a slight tremor in Fritz’s hands, and every now and then he would flip a camera a little too quickly, or glance towards a door, as if contemplating closing it despite the drain the unnecessary action would have on the power. All of that being said, he held himself together well - Mike would see him begin to panic, but then manage to breathe and bring himself back under control. The panic was lurking at the surface, but Fritz wasn't letting it get the better of him. To the unaware observer, he might even seem calm. Mike wasn’t sure even he was as calm as Fritz. He quickly realized that this little game was grating on his own nerves. He knew the animatronics would never hurt him, but that logic didn’t much matter to the dark memories lurking in his mind. He felt on edge and unnerved sitting there in the office, watching with no control as sentient robots tried their best to hunt Fritz down. They’d only just begun, though, and Mike couldn’t pull the plug just because he had his own hang-ups. So he didn’t mention it, just shoved them down as far as he could, and focused on Fritz.
One came and went, and Bonnie was on the move. Mike watched as Fritz checked the stage and paused, noticing Bonnie’s absence with a quick, shaky breath. His next few camera flips were a bit flustered, but he calmed once he found Bonnie standing in the main room. He left the camera there for a moment, gathered himself, and then began to switch the camera between the stage and Bonnie.
Fritz was good. He wasn't perfect, of course, but Mike doubted any human could be, under that kind of stress. He certainly wasn't - his success at Freddy's had always been a mixture of skill and sheer dumb luck. And if he were honest with himself, it was mostly the luck thing. Fritz, on the other hand, seemed to be especially good at reeling in his panic and keeping it from causing dumb mistakes. While part of it might have been because he knew the stakes were relatively low, it was still good for him to get into the right habits. The man jumped violently and screamed a little the first time he flashed on the doorway light and saw Bonnie standing there - but he still managed to get the door down with time to spare. And when Chica joined the party, Fritz quickly figured their pattern out, and didn’t spend a lot of time wasting energy with frantic or unnecessary changes on the camera.
Chica made it down to the office only once, but Fritz managed to spot her approach through the cloudy glass next to the door. By the time she actually got to the office door, it had been shut for half a minute. She peered in through the window, tilting her head in a way that made her look deranged in the poor light. She hung out there for awhile, forcing Fritz to keep the door down. Although by that point, it was so late into the early morning that the drain on power didn't much matter.
Both of the humans jumped more than a little when the six o'clock alarm began to blare. Mike immediately relaxed, happy for the game to be over for the night. Fritz, however, was still tense when he turned to look at the other human in question.
“That’s the end of it, for tonight,” Mike reassured him, and only then did Fritz’s shoulders slump with the familiar relief of a long night finished. “I’m really impressed. You’re pretty good at this, aren’t you?”
“Am I?” Fritz asked. He turned his chair to look at Mike, running a hand over a sweaty forehead. “I don’t feel like it. I felt like I was scrambling the whole time - and this was a, uh, pretty easy night, wasn’t it?”
“It was, yeah,” Mike agreed, “but I don’t think that actually makes it easier. Pushing through the fear feels like most of the battle, so, I stand by what I said. Besides, getting the jitters out now will help you later. Well done, Fritz.”
“Ah, well, thanks, Mike,” Fritz responded with a genuine smile, "I hope I continue to, uh, impress."
"So, how long were you at that location we both worked at?" Fritz asked, twirling his straw with an idle finger, "you were the, uh, night guard before me, right?" It was the second night of Fritz's regimen, and he’d arrived a bit early at Mike’s request. The arcade had closed only about an hour ago, and the food Mike had offered was still mostly fresh. When Fritz had asked what the point was, Mike had just shrugged and told him he thought the other man could use a breather between nights. And the least Mike could do was offer him food in exchange for the hellish game he’d put together.
"Yup. And you're welcome for that, by the way. Imagine how boring your night might have been if I hadn't gotten them all riled up for you," Mike said, the grin he threw Fritz lopsided. "To answer your question, I was there for five nights and a day."
"Yeah," Mike's tone was still light, but there was something about it that had become guarded, careful. "There was one last birthday party, the day of your night shift. They threw me on as guard, because the previous guard had been...well, let's just say that was as close as they ever got to actually charging my - William - with the crimes he committed."
"Oh, yeah, I'd heard about that, uh, shindig. I didn't realize you'd worked it," Fritz said, taking a drink, "oh, uh, hey, does that mean you saw…you know. The bite?"
Fritz would have sworn the entire building went still at his question. Mike - and the nearby animatronics - certainly did. Fritz knew immediately that he had misstepped, although he wasn't sure exactly how. He swallowed hard, but before he could retract the question, Mike sighed heavily and leaned forward, leaning his cheek on his hand. The building returned to life around them, and when Fritz glanced at the animatronics, he saw they were once again focused elsewhere.
"Yeah, I saw it," he said, "first hand. Real up close. Although I’ve forgotten some of the really in depth details."
"I'm sorry," Fritz said, "if it's a sore subject, you don't have to, uh, talk about it. Obviously. I probably shouldn't have asked, I imagine that would have been, er, horrible to see. My mouth just gets ahead of me sometimes."
"No, it's fine,” Mike said, although his eyes were drifting somewhere over Fritz’s shoulder, “it was Toy Bonnie, you know. You wouldn't think it, given how small his mouth seems compared to the others - but it sure was. Some kid threw a hat up there, hooked it right on Toy Bonnie's ear. Her brother asked me to get it for him - I should have just said no, I knew that one had it out for me -"
"Hold on," Fritz interrupted, all at once horrified, " you were the one who got bit? I thought it was some other guy - I'd have thought I'd remember the name…"
"I used a fake name back then," Mike said, "didn't want to be recognized as the Afton boy or whatever, you know?"
"Shit. That's, uh, jeez. Now I feel like a real ass for asking," Fritz said, rubbing the back of his neck. To his surprise, though, Mike looked at him suddenly and smiled. Before Fritz could ask why, there was the sound of heavy foot falls behind him. Nervous, he turned in his seat, only to have to crane his neck in order to look up at Bonnie. The rabbit animatronic was looking down at him, eyes narrowed slightly in an unmistakably annoyed expression. Fritz burrowed himself down in his chair, glancing quickly at Mike. But the other man didn’t seem concerned, which Fritz was pretty sure meant he wasn’t in any immediate danger.
"Fritz, this is a family restaurant," Bonnie said, "we don't swear in family restaurants."
"R-right," Fritz said, "sure, uh, sorry, Bonnie. Won't happen again." The rabbit animatronic nodded once, then turned and walked away. Fritz let out a hard breath and looked back to Mike, who’s demeanor seemed much improved over a minute ago. Fritz supposed it was good that one of them was amused.
“Careful,” Mike said, giving Fritz another lopsided grin, “or else Bonnie won’t bother with the game at all. He’ll just rip you up for swearing.”
“I’ll be sure to, uh, jot that down,” Fritz said, grinning at another laugh from Mike. They chatted for a while longer, the conversation casual and light. Discussions were about recent news stories, the state of the world, and a number of other topics that weren’t especially personal. Fritz found Mike a likeable person - easy going, when he wasn’t organizing deadly animatronic games. The chatter and decent food left Fritz feeling calm and languid - although that faded a bit as twelve inched closer. Eventually, the time came to settle back into his chair in the office, Mike and Spring Bonnie set up behind him. Fritz watched the clock as it ticked over to midnight, took a breath, and lifted the tablet.
Fritz’s experience the night before had been a stark reminder of what was actually at stake. Even though he’d been aware that the current stakes were relatively low, given that the animatronics were only playing, it’d still been nerve straining and terrifying. Circus Baby’s was sure to be even more so, given all the things they didn’t know about the place. Still, Mike had said Fritz had done a pretty good job. And neither Chica nor Bonnie had managed to get into the office, so that had to count for something. The game was all about staying calm - panic meant mistakes. Here, those mistakes meant quickly draining power or a surprise visit from an animatronic. But who knew what mistakes might mean at Circus Baby’s. Death was probably on that list.
Fritz’s second night didn’t go quite as smoothly as his first. Fritz wasn’t prepared for Foxy to join the fray. He did notice the fox on the camera starting to peek out of his curtains, but didn’t know what, specifically, to do about that problem. So he just made sure to check on the animatronic on occasion - watching with helpless uncertainty as Foxy moved further and further out of his curtains. The fox took his chance around two, while Fritz had his cameras trained on Bonnie in the supply closet. Foxy peeled down the hallway, the only warning Fritz had being the sudden ‘stomp stomp stomp’ of his massive feet. Fritz launched himself at the door button, but Foxy lunged into the room before he could hit it. The fox’s mouth opened as he let out an echoing, piercing screech. Fritz responded with his own scream as he scrambled back away from the door. Foxy snapped out, teeth wooshing over Fritz’s head in clear threat.
And then Foxy began to laugh. Fritz glared up at the fox - realizing as he did that he’d somehow managed to end up sitting on the floor. He hadn’t even realized he’d left his chair.
“Got ya, matey,” Foxy said, tilting his head as he peered down at the human, “gotta be quicker than that to beat ol’ Foxy. Yer lucky this is just for play, ‘cause if it were the real thing, ye’d be dead now. Never write off a new threat, and nex’ time, don’t keep yer eyes off me for so long.” It was teasing, but Fritz could hear the real advice in what Foxy was saying, too. He climbed to his feet and looked the fox in the eye, nodding.
“Got it, thanks Foxy,” he said. The fox nodded, then turned and padded back down the hallway. Fritz watched him go, taking a breath as he did. He rested a hand over his chest, willing the beat of his heart to slow. It paid him no mind and continued its rapid pace. A slight movement behind him caught his attention, but it was just Spring Bonnie moving back to his watchful position. Likely, the rabbit had moved with the intention of protecting Fritz from Foxy. Which had, thankfully, been unnecessary.
“The others will be back on the move, soon,” Mike spoke up, interrupting Fritz’s thoughts, “better get back to it.” Fritz nodded and slipped back into his seat, shaking his hands to try and chase away the anxious numbness in his fingertips. There were three or so hours left, and Fritz was determined not to mess up again. He’d prove to the whole group, and himself, that he was capable of winning this. He had to be.
For his part, Mike didn’t think any less of the other man for his slip up on the second night. Foxy was quick and sneaky, and Fritz hadn’t had any real guidance for how to deal with the animatronic. It was an important lesson that obviously stayed with Fritz. He was careful to check on Foxy more often, and when the fox made another run for it near the end of the night, Fritz was ready for him - deftly slamming the door in his face. While true that a similar mistake could mean injury or even death during the real deal, working those mistakes out now while they were harmless was the whole point of this training situation.
Night three dawned with the threat of the last challenger. Freddy would not be content to stay on stage for another night. It was about two when Mike first heard it - the soft notes of Freddy’s music box twinkling to life. The more noticeable laugh sounded a few seconds later, causing Fritz to go still for just a few seconds. He checked the stage, saw Freddy was gone, and went on the hunt. Freddy was far more difficult to see on the cameras - but Mike saw when the other man finally spotted the bear. Freddy was peering at the camera from the bathrooms, only the lights of his eyes visible, and Fritz visibly jumped when he first noticed him. And then he settled into a new pattern with apparent ease - keep an eye on Foxy, find Freddy, and keep an eye on the hallways for Bonnie and Chica.
Freddy had said that he didn’t normally play his music box like this, but had agreed to do it for Mike’s sake. Mike’s thought had been that, if Freddy had to focus to make it play, then it was a good sign that he was in his normal mind. It was a fail-safe, a just in case, a hopefully unnecessary safety blanket. The soft notes of the music box were quiet enough that, with the moving doors and other animatronic noises, Fritz wasn’t likely to pay it much mind. But Mike would hear it, and understand, and he could feel some reassurance that things were still just fine.
Freddy never made it to the office on the third night, though. As it was his first night out, he mostly just served as another source of distraction for Fritz. His laugh echoed with an unnerving bass, and he was difficult to spot on the cameras, wasting precious time. But Fritz got ahold of the situation quickly, and the third night passed without incident.
The final two nights of this training were approaching quickly, and it seemed like it would be all too soon that Mike would be sending this other man to whatever fate awaited him at Circus Baby’s. Despite Fritz’s talent and increased odds of surviving, the whole situation still left a sour taste in Mike’s mouth and, if anything, getting to know Fritz was only making it worse.
“You really don’t have to do this, you know,” Mike said as they left the Arcade that morning. He paused, reaching out to stop Fritz, “Fritz, maybe you should reconsider all of this. No one needs to do this, when it comes down to it. It’d be easy to just board that place up and forget about it entirely. Hell, maybe Henry will just set it on fire or something. Either way, no one has to venture in there. Risk their lives...you realize, don’t you, that no amount of ‘training’ is going to really prepare you. All it takes is one mistake. One slip up.”
“I know,” Fritz responded, “better now than I did before, honest. I, uh, I felt those teeth of Foxy’s, you know? But I’ve also gotten to chat with the animatronics. I’ve learned that you aren’t just some, uh, crazy weirdo. Those guys, they really are sentient. Feeling. You know, I uh, I agreed to all of this in the beginning out of curiosity. It was kind of, you know, nice to feel needed. To be included in all this, I dunno, strangeness I guess. But there’s more to it now. There might be sentient beings in that place that, you know, just need help getting out. If Henry just boards it up or destroys it, they could be left for - dead, I guess? That doesn’t seem right.”
“The animatronics have told me before that it wouldn’t be worth it, if I died. No matter how much help I might be to someone else. They pretty much begged me to think of myself, and show some self preservation,” Mike said.
“Did you listen to them?”
“...No. But it’s not so fun being on the other side of it, now,” Mike admitted, “look, I’m not going to stop you. Obviously. But have you really thought this through?”
“Over and over again, Mike. Look, I’m uh, I’m not gonna stick around if death is imminent. Although I know that it, you know, doesn’t mean it couldn’t sneak up on me. But I’m not gonna insist on staying there or returning if things are clearly too, uh, dangerous. But I want to go and look. I want to at least try, you know?”
Mike sighed, but he felt a warm blossom of fondness when he looked at Fritz, a small smile on his lips. “Yeah, I know. All too well, actually. Well. There’s only one thing to do, then.” He reached over, throwing an arm companionably over Fritz’s shoulders. “I’m gonna get you as prepared as I possibly can. Play times over, you’d better be ready for the max difficulty setting.”
Fritz laughed as he responded. “Bring it on, Mike. Give me your best shot.”
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Chapter 4: The Calm Before the Storm
Fritz sees Mike and his animatronics in a different light. Unfortunately, training doesn't go quite as planned, and the two men are both reminded just what - exactly - is at stake.
Fritz arrived at the restaurant early on Thursday. There wasn’t any real need to, but he’d come to sort of like being there. If nothing else, he enjoyed getting some time to just talk with Mike and, sometimes, the animatronics. There wasn’t much socializing going on while Fritz was pretending to fight for his life, after all. Fritz had been more or less content with his life for awhile now, but it still felt nice to have someone he could tentatively call a friend. It was also…something, to think that maybe he'd make more friends, that maybe with time the animatronics and he would grow a similar sort of closeness as what they had with Mike. They didn't speak to him often, and still seemed to be fine with that arrangement. For his part, he still had difficulty combining all the details - how they'd once hunted him for real, how they were play-hunting him now, and the whole literally sentient thing - into one coherent image that he could be comfortable with. But he was trying. And being around them more outside of the midnight hours helped.
Fritz arrived shortly after eight, not long after the restaurant had closed down for the night. Although by the time Fritz walked in, the animatronics had already moved on to the deeper recesses of the restaurant. At least, all of them had except Spring Bonnie, who was wandering the main area right inside the doors. His ears perked up when he saw Fritz, and the animatronic crossed over quickly. To the human’s surprise, Spring Bonnie held out a hand to stop him from going any further.
“Mike didn’t call you?” Spring Bonnie asked, “we can’t do the thing tonight. You probably shouldn’t be here at all, actually.”
“I didn’t hear from him,” Fritz responded, frowning. Mike didn’t come off as the flaky type, and Fritz knew how seriously the other man took this training thing. “Is everyone okay? Is something the matter?” Fritz continued in question. Spring Bonnie clasped his hands together, one of his ears slipping a little ways down his head.
“Things are...fine,” the animatronic said, “Mike just can’t help tonight. He’s not in any danger or anything like that, but he doesn’t feel well. He’s been tucked up in his office all day, sleeping as much as possible. Er. That’s probably more than you need to know. More than I should tell you - look! Come back tomorrow, and we’ll pick up where we left off.”
“Wait, that doesn’t, uh, sound like Mike at all,” Fritz said, trying to push the rabbit’s paw out of the way, “are you sure he doesn’t need help? Uhm, look, I know you guys, uh, care about him a lot. But you might not realize when someone’s, you know, really sick. Maybe I should look.”
“He’s not sick,” Spring Bonnie responded, “this isn’t a new thing. We can take care of him, and - Fritz!” His paw curled inward, grabbing onto the human as Fritz tried to duck away from him. “Please listen to me. The others are not safe for you to be around right now, especially if you try to insist on bothering Mike. He is the most important thing to them - to us all - and right now they’re in full protection mode.”
The last thing Fritz wanted to do was rock the boat. Even more importantly, he didn’t want to risk angering the animatronics. Especially if Mike wasn’t around to protect him. But he couldn’t help but worry - he knew the animatronics would never purposefully hurt Mike, but what if they didn’t know enough to recognize serious illness in a human? They might prevent him from leaving or getting help, thinking they were protecting him but in all actuality just putting him at risk. Fritz couldn’t just leave Mike here, not if he needed help. Fritz couldn’t hope to take on all the animatronics, but maybe if he could just keep trying to convince them…
“He gets migraines,” Spring Bonnie said suddenly, “it’s a side effect of the - you know, bite. He has ever since that happened. Sometimes it’s worse than others, and today was kind of bad. He’s not dying or anything, he just needs rest. And he gets his best rest here, with all of us. That’s all it is, alright?”
Okay, well, that definitely made more sense, Fritz thought, almost immediately feeling guilty for doubting the animatronics. He sighed lightly and stepped back, noticing clear signs of relief in Spring Bonnie’s posture.
“I didn’t think of that,” Fritz admitted, “sorry, I was a little...worried. But he really is in good hands, isn’t he?”
“The best,” Spring Bonnie agreed, “look, you’re usually welcome, but -”
“It be time to leave, lad,” Foxy said, causing Fritz to jump slightly. He hadn’t even heard the fox walk up, which was impressive considering he was an animatronic and all. “Yer an okay mate and all, but all considered we barely know ye. Strangers make us all twitchy, ‘specially when Mikey’s out of commission. Lad’d be rather upset if something happened to ye, though. So do as the ol’ rabbit said and head on out, come back on the morrow.”
“Yeah, uh, of course. Sure. I’ll see you guys, uh, tomorrow then,” Fritz said, turning to leave with a heavy, sour feeling in his chest. It was some sort of rejection, he supposed, tinged with a bit of green envy. He didn't have much time to dwell on it, though, nor did he get far. He wasn't quite to the door when he heard someone say his name. He turned back around, surprised to see Bonnie walking up to the other two. The looks they were giving the purple rabbit said they were surprised to see him, too.
"Bonnie!" Spring Bonnie said, "I'm…kind of surprised to see you. How's Mike?"
"He's fine, sleeping again," Bonnie answered, "Freddy's watching him. And he and I agree that Fritz can stay. Actually, I'd like to talk to you for a bit, if you're up for it, Fritz."
"Is that a good idea?" Spring Bonnie asked before Fritz could respond.
"Yeah, it's fine," Bonnie replied, eyes moving to Fritz as he continued, "there's no bloodlust stirring in my system, promise. So? That talk?"
And Fritz hesitated. Even with Mike around, he tried his best to keep a safe distance between himself and animatronics. He almost couldn't help it - between his own experience and Mike's warnings about things possibly going wrong, he just couldn't trust them entirely. And now, Bonnie wanted to speak with him. Alone. Sans Mike. Sans even Spring Bonnie who, while still terrifying in his own right, was easier for Fritz to trust. That was mostly a combination of his own lack of experience with the golden rabbit, and the fact that he was the animatronic Mike had entrusted Fritz's care to.
"Spring can come," Bonnie added after a few seconds of silence, "if that makes you feel better. Or we can do it later...or not at all, whatever. I just - there are some things I want to say."
Fuck it. Fritz thought with a sudden burst of annoyance, mostly at himself. If Mike could trust these animatronics as far as he did, so could Fritz. It wasn’t as if Bonnie would get Fritz alone just to hurt him - even Fritz understood that the animatronics didn’t want to hurt anyone. So if something was going to happen, it would be happening currently.
"No, that's, uh, fine," Fritz said, "let's talk, Bonnie. Do you want to walk?" His quick burst of bravery was awarded when Bonnie's ears perked up on his head a little higher. Happy, if Fritz had to guess.
"Yeah, let's walk, good idea," Bonnie said, before turning for one of the hallways. Fritz hurried to catch up to him, then fell into step beside him. The rabbit waited until they were out of hearing range of the others to talk.
"You humans are so…fragile," Bonnie began, which was not exactly a sentence that made Fritz feel any safer. But the rabbit continued, the train of thought going elsewhere. "And you're stubborn , and not very good at self preservation. Mike has worn himself to the bone, to the last remnants of his own sanity, over and over again for this place. For us. And you - I can already see it. You and he are cut from a similar cloth. I don't know why you agreed to do this in the first place, but now that you've met him, and us, and have learned more, you feel like you have to do it. Like there may be someone hurt or abandoned if you don't. Not an ounce of self-preservation, I tell you."
"Bonnie -" Fritz tried to interject, but he stopped when the rabbit held up one massive, furred paw.
"Mike is laid out right now because, thanks to one of the multiple life-threatening injuries he got from here, he gets migraines. Healthy sleep can help keep them at bay but, oops, he doesn't really get that because he often has nightmares. Keeping the stress in your life low is another helpful step, but he can't even manage that much, because he's always watching out for what might happen next. He will always be watching for what's next. Mike is a wonderful human, and the most important thing to all of us, but this life of his has left him scarred in ways that will probably never fully heal. And it will do the same to you, Fritz. If it doesn't flat out kill you, that is."
"So, what, you want me to leave? You want me to not, uh, do this anymore?" Fritz challenged.
"You’re always welcome here, and you know I’m talking about that other place. You, Mike, neither of you should be bothering with it. Whatever is down there doesn't care if no one comes for them. I didn't, until Mike showed up and made me care. And - " Bonnie paused, looking down slightly at Fritz. Then he shook his head back and forth in two slow movements. There was a grinding noise from his chest - something like a sigh. "And you're not going to listen to me anymore than he is. So here's what I really wanted to say. Mike likes you, he already considers you a friend. He’s shown us again and again that he’s pretty good at choosing his friends, so that means you're a friend of ours, too. So, whatever happens, just remember you have those here who care whether you live or die. So Fritz? Do us all a favor and live."
It was Friday, and Mike’s nerves were fried. The day before had been rough, and though his migraine had fully abated now, he still felt worn out and tired. That was a pretty normal state of being for him, honestly, but it was starting to cause a legitimate problem where this training was involved. He, Fritz, and Spring Bonnie were once again holed up in the office, with Fritz at the controls as the others came at him relentlessly, and no matter how he tried Mike couldn’t relax. He couldn’t hold still, although he tried to keep his fidgeting as noninvasive as possible. Even though Mike knew the animatronics would never hurt him and that this was all just a game, those logical things didn’t seem to matter. Panic sat heavy and tight in his chest, not quite bursting from the seams but threatening to. It wanted him to call this all off, or at least push Fritz aside and control the cameras himself. It was all memory, anxiety, this whole situation reminding him too much of the times when it wasn’t a game. Which was why Mike kept it to himself, instead. Shifted and sat, uncomfortable and stressed, because he wasn’t going to call this off just because he was uncomfortable. This was for Fritz, for his survival. Mike would just have to deal with his inconvenient anxiety.
The others were relentless tonight, just as had been planned. Either Bonnie or Chica were almost always at the door, and often showed up at the same time. Foxy had been out twice already. The power was ticking and Freddy's laugh was so consistent that Mike almost couldn't hear the music box through it. They had ramped up the difficulty, skipping the slightly less difficult night that had originally been planned for Thursday. This was as tough as it got, developed from Mike’s memories of his final night at the original Freddy’s, meant to test Fritz’s mettle and skill.
And so far, Fritz was performing admirably. His ability to radiate calm, even when actually panicked, was in full force. He was quick and focused - he’d developed a pattern early and stuck to it, and it was working for him. There was an aspect Mike hadn’t really considered, though. They were using the generator power, mostly to simulate the kind of lack of foresight and systems Circus Baby’s might be using. It was good for Fritz to practice balancing that kind of system against keeping himself safe. However, the generator was old - and these days it was only used during actual power outages. They found out around four thirty, however, that it was apparently prone to overheating, as shown by the sudden darkness as the power went out completely.
“Shit!” Fritz and Mike both exclaimed as they were plunged into darkness, Mike getting immediately to his feet. He felt, rather than saw, Spring Bonnie shift beside him.
“Was that, uh, supposed to happen?” Fritz asked, and Mike saw his silhouette get to its feet as well.
“Only if the power ran out, but you were still at 20%,” Mike answered, “I think the generator just quit on us.” He took a breath, reaching out to touch Spring Bonnie’s arm to ground himself. “It’s alright though. Just consider it another problem. What do you do now?”
“Run,” Fritz answered after a second, “I’d probably run. What else would I do? Wait here to be killed?”
“You risk running into them, doing that,” Mike responded, “but you’re right, it’d be a tough call. You could also hide under the desk and hope that’s enough to keep you out of their sight.”
“What would you do?” Fritz asked him. And Mike paused, because the truth was, he wasn’t sure.
“Probably try and run,” He answered after a second, “although, honestly - “
Before he could finish, heavy footsteps fell outside of the left door, catching their attention. And then the office filled with the twinkling sound of Toreador March, as the doorway lit with Freddy’s eyes - flashing in time with the music. Mike immediately chalked it up as one of his least favorite sights, and Fritz must have agreed, because he backed up quickly.
Mike watched, thinking to himself that if this were real, it’d be too late. The thought of it, of what this would mean for Fritz if he were alone and stranded against a real threat, made Mike’s stomach twist painfully. He shifted, intending to move to the doorway and call it all off, suddenly wanting anything but to be here, in this moment, imagining in more clarity than ever the fate that might await Fritz.
But Mike didn’t get far, because in that moment Freddy’s eyes went out, and the twinkling sound of his music box stopped. They were once again plunged into darkness, but to Mike, it was far more ominous than before. The music had stopped. It could have just been for show, to really drive home the point to Fritz. That would be something Freddy would do, in a sort of misplaced guidance.
But Fritz didn’t really know about the music, and whether it was on or off would mean nothing to Fritz, beyond the change in atmosphere it brought. And Mike had asked. He’d asked. Freddy wouldn’t take that lightly.
Mike reached out and grabbed the back of Fritz’s shirt and yanked, pulling the other man back towards Mike and away from the door. It was barely in time - only a heartbeat or two later, Freddy moved into the room, clenched fists swinging down with vicious, head-breaking force right where Fritz had only just been. Freddy was a shadowed shape, no light anywhere to be seen - Mike knew that if he could see, Freddy’s eyes would be black. The bear straightened, but didn’t get any further before Spring Bonnie was there, forcing the other animatronic away from the desk - further from the humans.
"Freddy! Get a hold of yourself!" Spring Bonnie exclaimed, struggling to keep Freddy back. The two seemed to be an even strength match - but Freddy had pure rage fueling him, which meant Spring Bonnie's hold was likely to slip eventually. Mike pushed Fritz away from him and back towards the wall, pushing on one of the man’s shoulders to urge him closer to the ground.
"Fritz, stay down and stay quiet ," Mike said, not even looking back at the other man as he moved forward, eyes only for the animatronic bear. "Freddy, hey, take a breath, huh? It's alright." The bear didn't respond, just angled his head oddly, jaw gnashing up and down. "Sure, sure, get it out old bear. Then let's take it down a notch, okay? We're all friends here, right?" Freddy's black eyes shifted in their sockets, landing on Mike, who could only just start making them out in the darkness. "Spring, let him go. Just don’t let him near Fritz." Spring Bonnie’s head moved slightly in Mike’s direction, likely giving him an uncertain look, but he did as asked and let go of Freddy, moving away in order to keep his body between Freddy and Fritz. It wasn’t necessary, though, because Freddy's attention was completely on Mike now. The bear moved over suddenly, quickly, stopping when he and Mike were nearly toe to toe. Mike's stomach twisted violently, but he forced himself to stay put and looked back up into the pitch black of Freddy's eyes.
Fritz was sitting on the ground with his back pressed to the wall, staring at the sight in front of him in amazement. He'd interacted with the animatronics himself, and he'd seen them interacting with Mike plenty. He knew they cared for each other a great deal - they’d told him as much themselves, and anyone could see it in the way they interacted. But as Fritz sat on that floor and watched, he realized that up until that moment, he might have known, but he hadn’t really understood.
Mike was staring up at Freddy, who towered over the human man. Freddy was imposing - his eyes were still pitch black, and something inside of him was grinding furiously. It would take very little - a heavy fist, a hand around the throat, a bite - and Mike would be done for. Fritz's heart was beating rapidly, and he was a couple of feet away. But Mike just stared up at the bear and, if he were afraid, it sure didn't show. Then, Mike began to hum softly. The tune was familiar to Fritz but unnamable - one of those strange songs that it seems everyone knows, but few people can put a name to. It was the same song Freddy had played at the doorway, and Fritz realized he’d been hearing it in the background for the last few nights.
Shortly after, soft, twinkling notes began to play from somewhere within Freddy. After a few seconds, Fritz realized it was the same song Mike was humming. Fritz's breath caught in his throat in an unnamed emotion - there was something profoundly moving about the scene in front of him. Even more so when, slowly, Freddy's eyes began to shift back to white and blue - bright in the darkness. His ears twitched up and down a couple of times, and then the music stopped and the bear's shoulders fell slightly.
"I am sorry, Mike," Freddy rumbled, looking the part - downcast and regretful. Fritz had the wild idea that the animatronic might cry, if he could.
"Hey, don't worry about it," Mike told him, his voice sure but shaky all the same. The other man reached up, adjusting the bear's bowtie. "We knew it was a possibility - if anything, I'm sorry for putting you in this position. You alright, Freddy?"
"Yes…yes, I am fine," Freddy responded. He turned just slightly, eyes shifting until they found Fritz. "I am so, very profoundly sorry, Fritz. I do not know what came over me, or why it happened so suddenly. Are you alright?"
"Yeah," Fritz said, flinching slightly at the rough shakiness in his own voice, “I'm alright - thanks to Mike, you missed me by a mile. Uhm, so, no harm done, Freddy."
“If only it were so simple,” Freddy rumbled. He reached out and rested his hand carefully on Mike’s head, looking to the other man again. Something wordless passed between them, and then Freddy turned and left the room the same way he came. Saying no more. And just like that, the rest of Fritz’s fear fled him, leaving only heavy empathy behind. He felt bad for the animatronic, wondering how it must feel to be at the mercy of programming you couldn’t control.
“He’ll be okay,” Mike said, “I really thought we were beyond any threat of that happening...it really doesn’t happen, you know. But then again, I guess we don’t exactly recreate these kind of experiences ever. I’m sorry, Fritz. Are you really alright?”
“Spooked,” Fritz admitted, “but, not hurt. And I’ll get over it too. Thanks for that, though. You, uh, really saved my bacon.” He tried to make his tone light, but it didn’t seem to affect Mike at all. The man was still looking towards the door, and Fritz wondered if he’d even heard him.
“Are you alright, Mike?” Spring Bonnie asked suddenly, and that got Mike’s attention. The man turned to look at them both, one shoulder lifting in a half-hearted shrug.
“Just tired,” Mike said, letting out a long breath, “I’m just suddenly really tired. I have to go flip the power - Fritz, will you come with me?”
“Of course,” Fritz agreed, following as Mike led the way out of the office and into the dark hallway. The other man walked slowly, and Fritz followed at a slight distance, eyes trained on what he could see of Mike’s silhouette. Mike didn’t speak, and Fritz didn't himself until they were already at the exit door.
“Mike, are you sure you’re alright?” Fritz asked.
“Not really,” Mike said after a moment. He turned, and even in the dark Fritz could feel the intensity of the other man’s gaze. “but I will be. Look, Fritz, this was about all I had planned anyway. But we definitely can't do this again, not now that this has happened. I'm already upset that Freddy had to deal with that, but add in how close you came to being hurt or worse…"
"I understand," Fritz said, "honestly. Besides, uh, like you said - this was about it anyway. I wouldn't mind the rest of the weekend to just, uh, relax. You know, before doing it all over again in the worst way." When Mike grimaced, Fritz felt a stab of guilt.
"Yeah," He said, and then nothing else for a long second. "Hey, you're welcome to stay around for the rest of the morning, if you want. There's a little time left before the usual quitting time."
Fritz wanted to, he realized, he really did. He wanted to make sure Mike was alright - hell, he wanted to make sure Freddy was alright. But he didn't say as much, because the truth was he wasn't so deeply a part of this group. Mike's family. Mike and Freddy's best bets of being reassured was if they got to just relax with each other and the others. And Fritz, he thought with a pinching feeling in his chest, wasn't a part of that picture. Not really. Not in the same way.
"Ah, that's okay," Fritz said instead, "I think I'll head home. Maybe enjoy some extra sleep, you know? Uh, thanks though."
"Will you come in this weekend?" Mike asked, "if not tomorrow, then Sunday at least? During the day is fine, just…i'd like to hang out at least once more before you start at Circus Baby's. Go over last minute things, establish contact, you know, all of that. I promise I'll only try to talk you out of it again a little."
Fritz smiled at that, the pinching in his chest loosening just a little. "Yeah," He agreed, "I'll stop by. Wouldn’t want Freddy to think he’d, uh, scared me away forever, after all.” That, finally, got a soft chuckle out of Mike.
“Yeah, he’d appreciate that,” Mike said. They were quiet for a few seconds, and then Mike pushed the door open, so they could head out - Mike to fix the power, and Fritz to head back home. “Hey Fritz? Goodnight.”
Chapter 5: Circus Baby's
Fritz enters Circus Baby's Pizza World, and has his first experience with its denizens. Nothing is really answers.
Circus Baby's Pizza World was, for such an exciting name, a disappointingly nondescript building. It was gray, the paint and bricks were chipping, and it looked far more like an abandoned business office, rather than the usual Fazbear flare. Of course, Fritz reminded himself, it wasn't created by them, nor was it ever intended to be a restaurant. It was just a holding cell for monsters. He also knew that it was mostly underground, so it made sense that the visible part was small.
Fritz was surprised to find Henry waiting for him, the older man leaning against an SUV just outside of the building. Fritz parked his own car and headed over, lifting a hand in greeting when Henry spotted him.
"Good evening, Fritz," Henry said, "are you ready for this?"
"Only about as ready as anyone ever could be," Fritz said, "you'd know I was lying if I said I wasn't, uh, worried."
"We all are," Henry said, "including, so I've heard, Mike and the animatronics. It sounds like they've taken quite a liking to you."
"I, uh, like them too," Fritz said, "I know they're worried but, I really think it's going to be alright. Although, maybe that just makes me, uh, crazy."
"No, not crazy. Optimistic, maybe, but that's the kind of spirit this sort of thing needs, I suppose," Henry said, "just, please be sure to remember that there's nothing wrong with running, if need be. I am beyond grateful to you, but this is not worth your life."
"I know, don't worry I, uh, have no intention of forgetting that," Fritz reassured the older man. Henry nodded, smiled, and then put his hands on each of Fritz's shoulders.
"You're a good man, Fritz. Thank you for doing this. From the bottom of my heart, thank you," Henry said. Fritz felt embarrassed warmth flood his cheeks.
"Yeah, uh, sure. I'm, you know, happy to help. I'm going to go in now, okay?"
"Yes, of course. Good luck, Fritz," Henry said, squeezing Fritz's shoulders one last time before letting go. They shared a look - the words behind it something Fritz couldn't decipher - and then Fritz turned for Circus Baby's.
He had been well aware that Circus Baby's was an underground facility. He had not, however, considered exactly how he'd get down there. If he'd bothered to give it a thought, he would have assumed stairs or a perfectly average elevator. Never in his wildest dreams, however, could he have thought up the giant, circular monstrosity that ended up being his one way underground. It was elevator like, in that it moved from a high floor to a low floor, but that was where the similarities ended. Most elevators, after all, didn’t have giant fans spinning on their roofs. Fritz also hadn't really considered just how unnerving it would be to descend into the bowels of a possibly-haunted building where he'd likely be alone - at least in terms of other humans. As the elevator clunked and groaned downward, Fritz's adrenaline spiked. In that moment, he became acutely aware of his fear.
"Welcome to the first day of your exciting new career!" A voice suddenly boomed, echoing throughout the elevator. Fritz jumped violently, clapping a hand over his mouth to stifle a scream. He looked around quickly - and soon spotted an odd, orange-colored handheld tablet setting against the wall. It was almost childish, complete with a large pair of digital eyes, and the screen was lit up with some kind of basic, text-based program. "Whether you were approached at a job fair, read our ad in 'Screws, Bolts, and Hairpins', or if this is the result of a dare, we welcome you," the voice continued. It was definitely coming from the tablet, Fritz realized, and he reached out and picked it up. It introduced itself as 'HandUnit' and, after some more chatter, eventually asked Fritz to enter his name into the pad. Exactly, he was told, as it was printed in the small sticker attached to HandUnit - which read 'Fritz.' However, the input screen was glitchy and impossible to type on. He tried his best, but it didn't stick. And, in its place, HandUnit seemed to come up with a name all on its own.
Eggs Benedict the screen read. Despite it all, Fritz found himself laughing at that. It lightened his spirits, if only a little, and he had the thought that if he were lucky, there wouldn't be anything worse than HandUnit down in Circus Baby's. And seemingly just as he thought that, the elevator screeched to a stop. When prompted, Fritz pressed the red button. The lights went off almost immediately, and a vent - just about the size for a person - was illuminated near the ground in front of him. And in another brief instant, things weren't so funny anymore. Just like that, the dread settled back in with a snap. Fritz stared at the vent for a long few seconds, considering all the choices ahead of him. He thought of the things Mike had told him about the infamous William - and Fritz wondered if the man had designed this place himself. A vent you had to crawl through to enter the isolated underground layer of possibly-murderous robots seemed like the sort of thing a child killer might cook up. It did not inspire confidence about the rest of the building.
Fritz took a breath, then dropped to his hands and knees. He began to crawl through the vent and almost immediately began to imagine being followed through it. He sped up at the thought, gritting his teeth as the vent seemed to stretch on. He very nearly jumped out of his skin when HandUnit began to speak again, the voice especially loud in the metal vent. It seemed, according to the disembodied voice, that Henry's guess regarding when the place was built was probably a good one. And, almost as a side note, Fritz was given some real instructions - he was to be responsible for keeping the animatronics in working order. That was - well, not great but also not all that unexpected.
The vent finally opened up, although in Fritz's opinion the primary control module was not that much of an improvement. The room was small, and Fritz had serious concerns about its decoration - most notably, the moving, blinking heads on the wall. They didn't look at him or give any indication of being sentient, thankfully, but they were still a few degrees beyond creepy. As was the clock on the wall - a close up of a clown face. Circus Baby, he assumed. To Fritz's surprise, HandUnit spoke up again with yet more instruction - which at this point was already way more than Mike had assumed Fritz would receive. The man turned to the window in question, trying to see into it without the lights. It was pitch black, though. Still, Fritz knew what he was likely to see - he'd studied the blueprints quite a bit, and he knew who Ballora was. With a nod, Fritz reached out and tapped the button - noting the second button curiously - and bathed the room next to him in light.
The stage was empty. Fritz laughed.
The sound had a touch of hysteria to it, because honestly, what better omen was there? Ballora was meant to be on her stage - and she was nowhere to be seen. Program abiding robots didn't do things like that. The small hope Fritz had held regarding the animatronics had been thoroughly squashed by the simple sight of an empty stage. He considered running, then and there - but he stayed put. After all, there was glass between them. And if he'd learned anything the week prior, it was that an active, sentient animatronic was not necessarily a dangerous one. Like Spring Bonnie, these animatronics were different from the others. They could be perfectly friendly. Or, possibly, even open to becoming friendly if Fritz played his cards right. No, it wasn't time to flee. Yet.
"Is that a joke?" Fritz asked HandUnit only a few seconds later. He pulled the unit from his pocket and stared at it in horror. It didn't respond to his inquiry, though. Just waited for him to carry out his next task. Which was, apparently, to shock Ballora. He was being told to administer an electric shock to the roaming, active, and quite possibly sentient animatronic. On one hand, the thought made Fritz recoil as he considered how mean and unpleasant that would be. On the other hand, it also made him very concerned for his own well-being because, after all, shocking someone was not usually a good way to befriend them. And so, Fritz decided to wait for further instructions, instead. Let Ballora wander all she wanted - he wasn't going to electrocute her.
But in the end, he didn't get the choice. Mike may have quit rather than obey, but Fritz couldn't go yet. He hadn't learned anything. So, he waited and waited and, just in case, waited some more. All it got him was a start when HandUnit demanded, once again, to "Press the red button now to administer a controlled shock." Still Fritz waited, but it was fruitless. He wouldn't be allowed to continue until he'd done as asked. He grimaced and moved closer to the windows, putting a hand against the glass.
"Ballora?" He called, "listen, I don't know if you can hear me but - look, I have to get on with this." The animatronics probably didn't have the capability to feel pain, right? "So, uh, I'm sorry. Really sorry. I don't know a lot but, uh, I'm pretty sure you guys can't feel pain. If that's not true, please just, uh, tell me somehow, okay?" He waited again, but there was no response. "Damn. Ballora, I'm sorry." He took a breath, then reached over, finger barely registering the button with how quickly he tapped it. It didn't matter, though, the shock was still harsh, loud, and sustained.
When, at HandUnit's urging, Fritz checked the lights again, he saw Ballora. She was on her stage, twirling in slow circles like a ballet dancer in a music box. Her eyes were closed, and that didn't change, but all the same Fritz knew that when she paused, face turned in his direction, that she was looking at him. It felt accusing.
And then, he had to do it all over again with Funtime Foxy. He called his apologies to the fox sooner, knowing that he still wouldn't be able to continue without doing what HandUnit said.
He felt like a real grade A piece of shit when he had to do it a second time, though. Thankfully it was enough - the second time he checked, Funtime Foxy was back on their stage. Not that he was happy to have shocked Ballora, but there was something about seeing Foxy's face looking back at him that made Fritz feel even worse. Nevermind that Funtime Foxy was brightly painted and lacking the trademark hook - they were still so quintessentially Foxy. Fritz could imagine the Foxy he knew turning the same eyes on him, glaring at him with the same expression. He couldn't tell for sure if Ballora had been looking at him accusingly or not - but there was no mistaking the hatred in Funtime Foxy's robotic eyes. Fritz hadn't even been there for a full hour, and he'd already unwittingly made enemies.
Fritz should really have expected another vent. After seeing the first in front of him, he wasn't especially surprised when he realized that he was, in fact, surrounded by vents. They seemed to be the only method of moving between the rooms, in fact. Evidenced by HandUnit's command to crawl through the one in front of him in order to reach Circus Baby's Gallery. And really, there wasn't much to do but to continue forward, as he was commanded, and hope that an angry clown-girl animatronic wouldn't be waiting for him on the other side.
She wasn't, as it turned out. As HandUnit mentioned, the lights to her gallery were out, which meant Fritz had to take HandUnit's word for it that Baby wasn't where she ought to be. Another two shocks - and this one made Fritz's heart beat rapidly in his chest - and HandUnit was satisfied. Apparently, Baby was behaving now. Not that Fritz would know as he still couldn't see her. He looked to the picture on the wall, trying to imagine the clown girl as a walking, talking animatronic. In Fritz's mind, she was like a spider. There was some brief relief that he couldn't see her - but it still begged the question of where was she?
HandUnit dismissed him for the day, but Fritz lingered. He moved closer to the glass and reached over, holding the lights down. He tried his best to peer through, to get some sort of glimpse. But not only were the lights out, the glass was foggy and old - difficult to see through even in the best conditions. If Baby was behind it, Fritz might never know.
There was something though, he realized. It was difficult to make out, but something was definitely moving beyond the glass. Fritz squinted, trying to get some sort of grasp on what it was. The best he could decide, though, was that there was a moving wire in the Gallery. Perhaps Baby had moving parts to her stage, or something of the like. Deciding it wasn't Baby, nor an animatronic, Fritz wrote it out of his mind. After a little longer spent searching for a sign of the wayward animatronic, Fritz admitted defeat. As HandUnit had commanded, he left the same way he'd come.
There was a bang in the vent between Circus Baby Gallery and the central console. Fritz didn't look back, didn't bother to consider what it could be. The sound was enough to send him into a panic, and he began to move through the vent as quickly as he could. He got to his feet, sprinted across the central console in one step, and hit the second vent already running. Or, doing the crawling equivalent of a run. There were no further noises, nor did anything accost him. Before long, he was in the - once again lit - elevator, and with a mechanical grind, the vent shut behind him.
He panted, pressing a hand to his chest as the elevator jerked into motion. As it rose, Fritz's logic caught up with him. Animatronics were sneaky, yes, but even they couldn't appear from nowhere. The vents were sound, the room he'd been in had been empty. Most likely, his foot had smacked the vent too hard. Or else a nearby heating duct had cooled. Still, the noise had spooked him, and it wasn't as if the denizens of Fazbear's had ever really followed logic. But he'd made it.
Fritz's first shift had been blessedly short - it was still dark when he left the confines of Circus Baby's. He had gotten a feel for the place, but otherwise hadn't managed to gain anything but a healthy dose of guilt and adrenaline. He hadn't learned anything. As he climbed into his car and drove away, he found himself hoping that his second shift would provide more answers.
"That's unnerving as heck," Mike said, "to put it mildly as to not offend listening ears. I wouldn't put electrocution up at the top of the list of friend-making techniques."
"Tell me about it," Fritz responded. He crouched down slightly, peering into the microwave to watch his popcorn pop. "I felt terrible - both like at that point I was just, uh, inviting danger onto myself. And also cause, you know, getting electrocuted can't be fun." He thought, for a moment, about how strange it was to admit it out loud. If he'd jumped into this job without having spent time with Mike and his animatronics, he wouldn't have cared about that aspect at all. He wouldn't have thought twice about electrocuting the animatronics - hell, a part of him probably would have enjoyed it.
"Yeah. Hang on a second," Mike said. He continued to talk, but the sound was muffled, no doubt by a hand over the receiver. Fritz took the time to pull his finished popcorn out and dump it into a bowl. "Well, good news," Mike said by way of return, "Freddy has assured me you definitely aren't hurting them. Not that that probably makes a difference to them - I agree, Funtime Foxy sounds pissed."
"You know, I kind of assumed they couldn't feel pain," Fritz said, "but I was thinking about it and, uh, what if they can? I mean, we don't know how like or, uh, unlike yours these animatronics are. What if they were made with the ability? Or, uh, something close enough?"
"Unlikely," Mike responded, "I mean, don't get me wrong, it's a fair point. But aside from showing off his ability - which means the possibility probably does slightly exist - there'd be no benefit. These things were made to lure and even abduct kids, right? Wouldn't have been much use if they stopped or made a noise the first time they were bitten or kicked or something. Not to mention, if he'd spent any time with them, he wouldn't have wanted them turning on him the first time he had to pry them open for something."
"Alright, well, I'll just assume they can't, then. Not that it, uh, really matters."
"No, probably not. Painful or not, I'd be pissy too if some weakling human schmuck were electrocuting me. Er, something any human would be to an animatronic. That came out more offensive than I meant."
"It's fine," Fritz said with a laugh, "I knew what you meant."
"Great," Mike's voice was sheepish, "so? How'd it go otherwise?"
"Honestly, it's really not bad. A bit, uh, claustrophobic, but otherwise it could be worse. There are solid walls and glass between the animatronics and me so, uh, there's that," Fritz told him.
"Yeah, well, keep your guard up," Mike said, warning in his voice, "things might just change."
"I know," Fritz responded, and really he did. He'd heard enough about Mike's experiences to know not to take easy for granted, "I'll be careful. I am going to let you go for now, though. I've got a show to catch."
"Alright. Talk to you tomorrow then?" Mike's question was innocent, but Fritz could hear the questioning reminder within. Don't forget to call.
"Yeah, of course. Talk to you then. Bye, Mike."
Fritz hung up the phone and then stood there to watch it for a few seconds. There was no real thought in his head, just a dazed sort of stare. Then, he shook his head, grabbed up his popcorn, and settled into the living room just in time for the opening sequence of The Immortal and the Restless. Time to put it all out of mind for a night and see what Vlad and his mistress were up to
Sorry if there are any weird formats, the rich text editor changed, apparently? Hope you enjoyed!
Chapter 6: Funtime Freddy
Fritz returns to Circus Baby's, and this time, things aren't quite so easy.
Angsty Teenager, Fritz decided, was the worst thing in Circus Baby's. Of course, he'd only just arrived for his second shift and, little did he know, there would be a few 'worsts' yet to come. But in that first half hour, Angsty Teenager was at the top of the list. If it hadn't been for the unnerving creepiness of his skipping voice - right as Fritz was performing his least favorite electrocuting duty - the man might have cheered when the voice died out. Of course, the system's reboot into Normal HandUnit cut Fritz's duty short. He was happy not to have to shock Funtime Foxy - again - but he'd also not managed to actually be sure either of the animatronics were back on their stages. At least he'd seen their shadows, so he knew they were somewhere in their areas.
He just reminded himself it didn't matter. Their vents were closed and there were solid walls in between him and them. He tried to ignore the malfunctions. It was just a glitch in the system, pretty much par for the course when it came to Fazbear and friends.
Of course, it was a glitch that was harder to ignore when the electrocution system didn't work for Baby at all. Just as before, the lights in Circus Baby's Gallery were malfunctioning, making it impossible to see anything through the faded glass. The electricity didn't work, now, either. And Fritz couldn't help but start to wonder if it was all planned . Logic, unfortunately, wasn't helpful for his anxiety - because logically he knew that all these happenings were not coincidence. That just wasn't how Freddy's worked. And this place was a Freddy's in every way that mattered.
Fritz expected his mechanical instructor to just ignore the electrical problems because that seemed par for the course. More fool him for expecting consistency, though, because HandUnit started talking about turning the systems - including itself - off.
"Hold on wait, please don't -" Fritz tried to protest, but the entire building went dark - well, darker - and silent before he could even finish the sentence. And that was the first thing to displace Angst Teenager from its reign as 'the worst.' Because now Fritz was not only alone, but he was alone in the quiet and the dark. He thought back to the sudden darkness at the Arcade, and the way Freddy had just been there , all of a sudden. Amazingly, remembering almost getting his head smashed in did not reassure Fritz in the slightest.
"This is an - interesting development," a new voice sounded. Her voice was not especially loud by itself, but in the dark silence it echoed, vibrating through Fritz's very bones. It was a feminine voice, soft and flighty in tone. It echoed, but seemed to be coming from the room beyond the glass. Baby's gallery. Fritz squinted - but if he couldn't see past the glass with even a piddly amount of broken light, he had no chance in the dark. He remembered the wires he'd seen before and stepped away from the glass.
Could an animatronic break through the glass? That was a question he, unwisely, hadn't considered until that very minute.
"Hello?" Fritz called back, finding it difficult to hear his own voice through the pounding in his ears, "is that - Circus Baby? Is that you?"
"That is what they have called me, yes," the voice answered, something amused in its tone, "and you must be our new Mr. Smith."
"How did you -"
"Employee database, of course," the voice interrupted, "we all have access to it. Despite the systems attempts to rebrand you as - what was it? Eggs? Hilarious. At any rate, I am very curious about you, Mr. Smith. I have…many questions. There is no time, however. You have been noticed. They will be here soon."
"Noticed by who?" Fritz asked, a spike of panic shooting along his skin, "who's coming?"
"Calm yourself," Baby's easy tone did not change. As she spoke, there was a clatter as a door slid open on the ground in front of Fritz - causing him to jump back in alarm. It was a small area beneath the desk in front of him, looking as though it might just be large enough to hide a person. It was, somehow, even lit up, as though to highlight it. "That is a hiding area an employee before you crafted. It should do well enough - enter, close the door, and be still. Breathe quietly, do not make eye contact, and do your best not to scream. They will quickly lose interest."
Fritz was pretty sure every friend he had would warn him not to trust the smooth-talking animatronic speaking to him with a disembodied voice. But when there was a clattering from the vent behind him, Fritz decided he had no other choice. He scrambled forward, going to his hands and knees in order to slip under the desk. It was uncomfortable - he could fold himself within but only just. But from his internal vantage point, he could see a thick metal door along the edge of the hidey hole. It moved with his pull, and soon enough he had it slid over in front of him, encapsulating him within the hiding spot. Taking Baby's words to heart, he took one deep breath and then kept his breathing as quiet and shallow as possible. He pushed himself back as much as he could. And he waited.
If he hadn't been braced for something that might make him scream, Fritz would have definitely screamed. Baby had said not to make eye contact, but he hadn't expected the bright eye to suddenly peer at him through one of the holes in the door. He quickly looked away, holding his breath, hoping it was enough to save him. A second later, though, there was a grinding noise as his steel door began to move. Whatever was on the other side was trying to open it - to get to him. Fritz reached out quickly and grabbed at the edge of the door, pulling on it to try and keep it still. That might have been easy, if not for the fact that whatever was on the other side was some kind of animatronic. Fritz was able to slow the opening of the door, but his enemy was still winning. At least, it was until it just let go. Fritz quickly slid the door back in place, but didn't completely let go of it.
Good thing too, because a moment later the animatronic tried again. It was more forceful the second time, and it took all of Fritz's strength just to keep the door moving slowly. His arms were threatening to give out, and he was starting to think the animatronic wouldn't stop until it won, when it finally let go again. Fritz slid the door closed again and held on with a white-knuckles grip. The human waited on baited breath for the animatronic to try again. But it didn't - and a few moments later, Fritz heard the fading sound of scurrying.
"You see?" Fritz jumped violently when Baby's voice suddenly spoke again, extra loud in the confined space, "nothing to worry about. Those ones are annoying but they have short attention spans."
"Not nearly short enough, if you ask me," Fritz muttered, surprised when Baby's reaction was a soft laugh.
"Yes, well, you have survived, haven't you? It doesn't do to complain, Mr. Smith. Listen now, we haven't much time. Your little electronic guide will come back online in a moment. He is going to tell you that he was unsuccessful in the reboot, and that you will have to restart the system manually. That much is true - however, he is also going to tell you to crawl through Ballora's gallery to reach the breaker room. He will say to crawl as fast as possible - and I promise you that if you do that, you will die. It might do if Ballora was on her stage, but she will not be. She will be wandering the room - and she can listen for you. Quick movements will create noise and draw her right to you. So you must stay low to the ground, and be sure to move calm and quietly. Ballora cannot speak, but she always has music playing. If it gets louder, she is approaching you. Be still and quiet - she will move on if she hears nothing else. Do you understand?"
Fritz had a dozen questions, not the least of which being 'why should I trust you over HandUnit?' But he didn't get the chance to ask that or any of the others.
"Mr. Smith, might I remind you that I am the one who showed you how to hide? I do understand your…trepidation, but you needn't be afraid of me. I am your friend - perhaps the only one you have here. Unless you believe the company has your best interest at heart?" At the last, her voice was light with unshed laughter. Mocking him at the very idea that he might believe the company over her. Fritz would certainly believe Henry or Mike over a strange animatronic - but they did not have direct control of the tasks being fed to him right now. Those were likely designed by the original - Afton Robotics. Surely even the other two men would warn him against trusting that company much. And Baby had helped him hide.
"Yeah, uh, right. Of course. I understand," Fritz said. The smile in Baby's voice made Fritz much less sure of his decision.
Whether Baby was actually his ally or not, Fritz had to agree she knew what she was talking about. Slipping through Ballora's Gallery - on his hands and knees, no less - quickly became the new worst. He couldn't see anything and the only thing he could hear was his own shuffling and the soft, musical twinkling of Ballora. The sound was not soothing in any way, it just reminded him of Freddy's music. It was a deadly song - but at least it allowed him to keep track of Ballora. Without it, she could be right next to him and he'd never know.
When HandUnit suddenly called out to him around halfway through the room - urging him to be quicker - Fritz fell to his stomach and stopped dead, heart pounding in his throat. Ballora wandered close - the twinkling of her music almost harsh with her proximity. For a moment, Fritz was sure that was the end - but then Ballora moved on. Once Ballora's music was twinkling a fair distance away, Fritz finally moved again. In the second half of the room, Fritz found himself stopping more often - Ballora wandered close a number of times, sometimes lingering for long seconds before moving away again. It almost made Fritz wonder if she knew exactly where he was and was simply playing with him. Whatever the case was, though, he passed the rest of the room with no more close calls.
His relief at reaching the breaker room was short lived. The room was open and dark, except for soft orange lights on the ground near the breaker box and the occasional light set off by exposed and sparking wires. Which, Fritz thought bitterly, seemed completely safe and not at all something to be concerned about. Fritz had crossed over to the breaker control box before HandUnit began speaking again. In Fritz's mind, he might as well not have bothered to say anything - the instructions were vague, unclear, and alarming.
Because there were very few electronics that, if disrupted, could prove to be a danger. Because he could think of exactly one breed of dangerous electronics that were all over this place. Including at least two that he hadn't yet laid eyes on.
Speak of the devil, and he shall appear.
Fritz saw him in the light of a spark and leapt backwards, screaming into a hand he'd managed to quickly clamp over his mouth. In the corner of the room, far too close for comfort, was Funtime Freddy. He was very similar to normal Freddy, albeit somewhat shorter, more brightly colored, and sporting the small Bonnie hand puppet. Of course, for an animatronic, slightly shorter was still taller than most humans. And he was so close - and there was no barrier at all between Fritz and Funtime Freddy. No walls, no glass, just a couple of feet. The only saving grace was that he wasn't immediately attacking - he was still and quiet and, in fact, didn't appear active at all.
But HandUnit had warned against disturbing nearby electronics. Fritz had no doubt at all that Funtime Freddy was exactly what he had meant. This was probably a moment that Fritz should consider as 'too much to ask.' He knew neither Henry nor Mike would judge him for leaving, running - if they were there, they might even tell him to do it. When they would inevitably ask later, Fritz wouldn't even have a good answer for them. He would have only a collection of half-assed reasons - that damned curiosity, the hope of friendship, and a terrified fear that it was already too late and running would only get him killed faster. Sometimes, playing the game was the surest way to survive.
"Alright, Mr. Funbear. Look, I just have a job to finish, okay? You want the lights back too, yeah? So you stay there, and I'll stay here, and we'll get along just, uh, just fine," Fritz said instead. There was no reaction from the bear, so the man took a breath and turned some of his attention to the control panel. It was easy enough to figure out - he simply had to set the various lights to reset and wait for the system to reboot. Convenient that it could be done digitally. There was also another button on the screen - indicating it would set off something called 'Mascot Audio.' Fritz pressed it to try it out - noting that the system he'd been rebooting stopped when he did so. A small, cheerful voice called out almost immediately.
"Calm down and go back to sleep. No one is here!" it called. Fritz looked around, but couldn't discern where the voice had come from. With a frown, he looked towards Funtime Freddy and hit the button again. The same voice called out. "Uhh…Nope! No one is here!" It had definitely come from the same direction as Funtime Freddy. He had no idea if it was Freddy, or something else entirely. Fritz supposed it didn't much matter - if the button were important, he'd figure it out. He took a breath and set the next breaker resetting.
The movement was subtle, but Fritz saw it all the same. He looked quickly to Funtime Freddy - the animatronic was still as ever, but when Fritz looked closer, he realized one arm was slightly off-kilter, and one of Funtime Freddy's feet had shifted forward. As he'd suspected, the animatronic was not as inactive as he seemed. Curious, Fritz hit the 'mascot' button again. It chimed out with another reassurance - and Fritz watched as Funtime Freddy's foot and arm moved back into place. So that was what the button did - the voice that played out calmed Funtime Freddy down and sent him back to his normal stance.
Fritz understood it, then. The system could only power the breaker module or the button at any one time, but if Funtime Freddy decided to move, the mascot voice should send him back away. Of course. Exactly the kind of system he should have expected. Keeping that in mind, Fritz went about his task. Every now and then he would see Funtime Freddy move - and Fritz would hit the button. Sure enough, Funtime Freddy would always go back to his default position. It was still terrifying to be stuck in a room so close to an animatronic - especially a Freddy. But the job was simple. Before long, there was only one system left to reboot. Fritz set it to start doing so, then watched Freddy. A few seconds later, the bear's foot moved again - but the system was almost rebooted. If he moved again, Fritz would worry about sounding the voice - but he was almost done. He stared Funtime Freddy down as the soft beeping continued, watching for any sign of further movement.
Then, the system had finished and HandUnit was congratulating him on a job well done. Fritz couldn't say he was especially excited about crawling through Ballora's Gallery again, but it meant getting away from Funtime Freddy and back home. Fritz stumbled backwards and blindly towards the door, realizing with dread that he'd have to turn towards the door to leave. He couldn't very well back up into Ballora's Gallery, after all. Nor did he want to waste precious time fumbling with the doorknob. Fritz backed up until he was against the door, took a breath, and turned, flinging the door open and throwing himself to the ground.
At least, he tried to throw himself to the ground. A hand grasping the back of his shirt stopped him in his tracks and lifted him back up until his feet couldn't even touch the ground any longer.
Fritz yelled in alarm, just before being wrenched around to see that Funtime Freddy had caught him. His muzzle was split in a wide grin, and his loud, almost hysterical laughter split the air. He tugged Fritz closer, and even though Fritz pushed against the animatronic, he knew it would do no good. He was caught - and he would be dead. Just like that. A second of inattentiveness he couldn't even avoid , and he'd met his end. Fritz kept trying to shove the animatronic away, shutting his eyes unconsciously as Freddy's face got closer to him. He hoped it would be quick.
"CAUGHT YOU, BIRTHDAY BOY!" Freddy suddenly called, his voice loud and grating so close to Fritz. The human flinched violently, eyes flying open to look at the bear. To his surprise, Funtime Freddy had stopped, and was just looking at him, still gripping Fritz's shirt. "THAT WAS FUN! CAN WE PLAY AGAIN?" At that, Freddy sat Fritz back onto his feet, let go, and took a step back. He stared at Fritz - and after a moment, Fritz realized it hadn't been a programmed question. Freddy had actually asked.
"P-play?" Fritz asked, "you - you want to play again?"
"YES! I LOVE PLAYING GAMES. THIS ONE IS MY FAVORITE."
"We call it peekaboo - maybe it's not quite the same, but it's close enough," another voice - softer, higher pitched - spoke. It was the same voice as the mascot prompt - Fritz looked around, but still he didn't see any other animatronics. "No, no, it's me, silly! Bon-Bon!" the voice continued. Fritz looked at Freddy again, and then to the Bonnie puppet on its hand. Bonnie - or, Fritz supposed, Bon-Bon - blinked at him. "So! Can we play again?"
"Hang on, uh, just wait," Fritz stammered, mind working furiously to try and piece everything together, "you guys just want to play? You aren't gonna, uh, well, I mean - you're not going to hurt me?"
"Of course not!"
"NO! I DON'T LIKE HURTING PEOPLE. BON-BON, IS THAT WHY PEOPLE ALWAYS RUN AWAY? THEY THINK I WANT TO HURT THEM?"
"Must be, Freddy. You are pretty scary."
"I AM NOT SCARY. BIRTHDAY BOY! DO I SCARE YOU?" Freddy turned his attention back to Fritz, who gave a helpless shrug.
"I mean - you were, uh, pretty scary. But honestly? Most of the animatronics I've met have tried to kill me at first meeting so - I expected the worst," Fritz answered.
"I SEE. WELL. THAT WAS NOT VERY NICE OF THEM. BUT I'M NICE! AT LEAST, I TRY TO BE -" Freddy broke off, and the soft pats Bon-Bon gave his arm told Fritz that the bear must be upset. "I CAN BE YOUR FRIEND, AND I PROMISE NOT TO KILL YOU. AND WE CAN PLAY MORE GAMES! WHAT'S YOUR NAME?"
"It's Fritz - uh, Fritz Smith."
"WHAT DO YOU THINK, FRITZ SMITH? CAN WE BE FRIENDS? AND PLAY MORE GAMES?"
Fritz stared at the brightly painted bear, then glanced to Bon-Bon, who blinked at him again. His thoughts went to Mike's animatronics - to Mike's relationship with them - and then he nodded. Because why the hell not? Hadn't it been something he'd wanted, to try and connect with these animatronics? He had to give, to risk, in order to try.
"You know? Sure. Let's, uh, be friends. Honestly, I could use all the friends I can get in this place. And, hey, you want to play again? Sure, uh, why not. I'll sort of have to pretend, but I'm pretty good at that."
"GREAT!" Funtime Freddy boomed, "THIS WILL BE FUN! I WILL RETURN TO MY CORNER, AND YOU CAN PRETEND TO PLAY WITH THE LIGHTS AGAIN! I WON'T MAKE IT SO EASY THIS TIME, FRITZ SMITH!" Fritz laughed softly to himself as he watched Funtime Freddy move away, in fact moving back to his corner.
The bear wasn't lying when he said it wouldn't be so easy. As it turned out, he was fast when he wanted to be - although, Fritz should have expected as much given how quickly he'd been grabbed the first time. They played three times, Fritz purposefully looking fully away from Funtime Freddy instead of keeping a constant eye on him. Fritz couldn't say he enjoyed it when Funtime Freddy successfully grabbed him, but the bear kept his promise - going so far as to make sure his holds were gentle. And the game seemed to thrill him so - everytime Funtime Freddy caught Fritz, the bear would let out a booming, joyous laugh. After the first time, Fritz found it contagious, and would give the animatronic a beaming grin in return. Funtime Freddy also took it surprisingly well when Fritz finally had to call it quits - aware that if he didn't get home soon and call Mike, the other man might just come looking for him.
"PLEASE COME BACK SOON, FRITZ SMITH!" Funtime Freddy said as Fritz began to leave, "MAYBE NEXT TIME WE CAN PLAY A NEW GAME."
"It's been fun, Fritz! Thank you for playing with us - we really hope you come back!" Bon-Bon called. Fritz couldn't help it, he smiled as he waved back to them. And even as he crawled his way back through Ballora's Gallery, he felt somehow lighter. The day had started off rougher than the day before, but in the end he'd made a friend. And it wasn't just any friend - it was an animatronic. A Freddy model.
It made him cautiously optimistic that maybe, just maybe, there was still hope for the other animatronics trapped within Circus Baby's Pizza World.
If nothing else, he was now sure there was at least one worth saving.
The next chapter still has to be mostly written, so expect a delay this time around. I hope you enjoyed this one, though! Thanks as always for your amazing support. :)
Chapter 7: Friend and Foe
Someone wants Fritz to remove Funtime Freddy's power modules - and Fritz learns that not everything is as it seems down in Circus Baby's.
"Huh. Well, color me impressed," Mike said, lounging back slightly in his chair, "I really wasn't counting on any of them being friendly. Funtime Freddy is a special surprise, though. You think the others are just as friendly?"
"I don't know," Fritz said, rubbing at his eyes. He'd made his way to the Arcade after his shift, deciding to update Mike in person. He'd found himself wanting some sort of company, even if only for a little while. Although, while he hadn't felt especially tired straight after work, he was starting to feel it now. "They don't seem especially friendly and Baby sure, uh, didn't make it sound that way, at least not when she was telling me how to deal with Ballora."
"Yeah, well, I don't trust her," Mike said. Fritz looked to him quickly, causing the other man to shrug. "Funtime Freddy, at least, sounds pretty genuine. Baby on the other hand sounds…I don't know. Too sentient, I guess?"
"Your animatronics are practically, uh, people, you've said so yourself" Fritz pointed out, "Baby can't be any more sentient than them, right?"
"No, I guess not," Mike agreed, "but there's just something. I don't know, I guess I wasn't there. You'd know better than me. But even you said there was something off about the way she spoke."
"There was," Fritz said, "I don't, uh, know why I'm arguing - I actually agree with you. Even in the moment I didn't really want to trust her. But it felt like there was no other choice, and the advice she gave me was , uh, accurate, you know? Maybe it's just how she talks."
"Or maybe she's trying to butter you up," Mike said, sounding thoughtful, "get you to trust her, you know? I don't know why, but if she's not outright a friend, then it might not be for a good reason. Just keep your wits about you. Not that I need to tell you that - you seem to be doing pretty well."
"Well, uh, you know. I'm just trying my best," Fritz said, "and don't worry. I don't plan on letting my guard down, uh, anytime soon." Mike nodded, and then he smiled, the gesture warm.
"On the plus side, I think this shows they can be befriended. That's good news - and a step in the right direction." Mike said, "maybe it means the others could be agreeable. Even if it takes a bit more work. Or, hey, you could get lucky. Bonnie was the one who got the others to give me a chance, originally. Maybe Funtime Freddy will do the same for you."
"That would be…nice. Of course, even if he doesn't, I'll just have to deal with it. Because now I know that there's at least one worth saving," Fritz said, sighing lightly and laying his cheek on a hand, "which means for better or worse, I can't give up on them."
Mike didn't try to convince him otherwise or, in fact, protest at all. Instead, the man gave Fritz a knowing smile that, after a moment, Fritz returned. Because Mike understood, better than anyone else in the world, exactly what Fritz meant.
A part of Fritz was well aware that the upbeat music was just a desperate attempt of the company to keep things nice and light for their poor, misfortuned employees. Specifically in the moment, it was their attempt at keeping him calm while they threatened docked wages. He should have taken it at face value and been offended. Or, if not that, he should probably have worried about what kind of omen HandUnit's constant glitches were.
But Fritz had to admit, those casual bongos were very catchy. Between the cheerful music and his experience with Funtime Freddy, Fritz was feeling in higher spirits than normal as he arrived for his third shift. He was still tapping his foot a bit when the elevator came to its usual harsh stop and bathed him in darkness combated only by the glowing red button. He stopped fidgeting as he crawled into the vent, falling into the almost meditative quiet mode he'd adopted for Circus Baby's. His fear wasn't gone - it still thrummed in the tightness of his chest and the rolling of his stomach - but he felt brighter. More optimistic.
He felt his good spirits stutter a bit as HandUnit informed him of his daily activities, though. As Fritz straightened up in the Control Module, he frowned. It was bad enough to hear that something had gone wrong with Funtime Freddy, but it was only worse to hear that he'd be crawling through Funtime Foxy's home in order to try and repair said animatronic bear. If Funtime Foxy wasn't friendly - and Fritz wasn't particularly optimistic on that front - than they could very well be the most dangerous of the group. He thought of Foxy sprinting down the hall, as fast as any human and faster than some, and felt his cheer fade entirely.
He could only hope that Funtime Freddy had passed on the message, or that Funtime Foxy was friendly, or that Fritz would continue to be lucky. And so, as instructed, Fritz first checked on Ballora - only to find her completely absent. There wasn't even a hint of her shadow. That alone was upsetting - but not disastrous. After all, he wouldn't be crawling through her gallery that day anyway and - hate them as he might - the electric shocks did get the animatronics back on their stage.
But HandUnit didn't instruct him to shock Ballora. He didn't even comment on her absence - simply commended Fritz on a job well done and asked him to move on. And when the same thing happened with Funtime Foxy, Fritz felt ill. They were not on their stage - which meant they were somewhere loose inside of their auditorium. Where Fritz apparently had to go now. Explicitly only there, according to HandUnit. There was no need to check on Baby, it informed him - but the vent to her room was open. He argued with himself for a long minute, but ended up heading through it - mostly in the hope that she'd have some advice for him.
He was surprised to see that the small hidey hole under the control module for Baby's room was open and lit up, as if waiting for him. He didn't immediately head for it, though. Instead, out of curiosity, Fritz tried to turn the lights on in Baby's auditorium. Like the past two nights, though, they remained stubbornly broken, giving off only the barest amount of light. If there was anything to see beyond the glass, there wasn't enough light to see it.
"Baby? You there?" Fritz called, but there was no answer. He glanced again to the hiding spot, then sighed lightly. He crouched down and crawled into it, tucking himself up inside and pulling the heavy steel door closed. He felt stupid as he waited for something he couldn't even name, especially as time ticked on without anything happening. He was about to open the door back up, when Baby finally spoke, her voice echoing through the small area with such suddenness that Fritz jumped violently in place.
"Patience is a virtue, Mr. Smith," she said.
"Right," Fritz answered, "sorry, uh, I was just starting to assume you weren’t around after all."
"Oh, I am here. I am always here. Always watching. After all, what else is there to do in a dull place such as this? At any rate. Why have you come? I believe your guide has instructed you elsewhere."
"Well, I was kinda hoping you might, you know, have some more advice or caution for me? After the, uh, Ballora incident, I didn't want to assume HandUnit was giving out good advice," Fritz answered.
"Wise of you. However, its instruction in this matter is mostly sound. Funtime Foxy is very good at detecting motion - so, naturally, you do not want to let them see you move. Your HandUnit will inform you that you should use your flashlight sparingly, and it is correct. However, make sure you do use it on occasion. It's important to keep your bearings, after all, but Funtime Foxy is also sensitive to light. They have ears, Mr. Smith, and are perfectly capable of tracking you by sound if you don't distract them. An occasional flash should disorient them enough to allow you safe passage."
"Couldn't I just, uh, flash them a lot, then?" Fritz asked, a little offended when Baby's response was a soft peal of laughter.
"You could," she said, "but remember - their primary function is motion detection. If you flash them too often, their system may desensitize to the light, and all you will do is make yourself easier to see. It is a balancing act, Mr. Smith."
“Right. Yeah. Sure. Uh, I guess that’s...that’ll do. Thank you, Baby.”
“You’re welcome. And please, do be careful Mr. Smith. Be sure to follow your guide's instructions exactly, once you are with Freddy - it’d be a shame to lose you now.”
Crawling through Funtime Foxy’s auditorium was worse than Ballora’s. At least Ballora had an obvious sign of approach - Funtime Foxy was quiet and liked to go from far away to suddenly right there. It was terrifying enough to flash his light and see them in the distance, twitching and gnashing - but it took everything in his being not to scream when they were suddenly much closer in the next flash, the light illuminating off of their eyes. If he’d held any hope that Funtime Foxy wasn’t as quick as their counterpart, it was gone now. If anything, they might even be faster. As Fritz got closer to the door at the opposite end of the auditorium, it became more and more difficult not to stand and break out into a run. To just get it over with quickly.
But he didn't, and that turned out to be the right choice. He was only a few feet from the door when he flashed his light again - only to find Funtime Foxy practically crouched over him, so close he could see their many teeth in great detail. Fritz nixed the light and flattened himself to the ground, heart racing as he waited for the inevitable attack. The minutes dragged on, however, and no attack came. Eventually Fritz braced himself and flashed the light - only to see that Funtime Foxy had moved on. With his breath caught in his throat and heart pounding in his ears, Fritz crawled the rest of the way. As soon as he could touch it, he all but shot through the door, somehow managing to not give in to the urge to slam it shut behind him.
He walked into more darkness, although he was immediately filled with the sensation of being not alone. Bracing himself again, he flicked his flashlight on - and jumped back, hitting his back against the door. It was only Funtime Freddy - but the animatronic was extremely close and settled so low his face was almost even with Fritz's. The room they were in was very small - especially since it was partially taken up by Funtime Freddy's frame. The animatronic might have been smaller than normal Freddy, but he was still larger than Fritz, and certainly girthier. Fritz grimaced, expecting the bear's voice to boom any second - but Funtime Freddy didn't speak, or move, or indicate in any way that he even knew Fritz was there. A second later, HandUnit informed Fritz that the animatronic was out of power - explaining a lot. Fritz knew never to trust that an apparently deactivated animatronic was, in fact, deactivated. But this was Funtime Freddy - and he'd already proven himself friendly. Beyond that, he certainly seemed deactivated.
"Aw Funbear, what'd they do to you?" Fritz asked quietly as he slipped closer to the bear. Funtime Freddy was staring straight ahead, and something lacking from his gaze - something Fritz had begun to recognize in the animatronics - made Fritz feel uneasy. And a bit sad. Even his form was slouched oddly where it was sitting, some of the mechanics not active enough to hold the skeleton up entirely, which was an unnerving posture to see an animatronic in. At least the arm holding Bon-Bon up was still propped up - likely to make sure the smaller animatronic puppet wasn't damaged when Funtime Freddy was moved around. Fritz wondered why they'd been trying to completely disconnect the animatronic's power modules, why they wanted him to finish the job - the thought made him feel a bit ill. After all, there was no indication if whether or not Fritz would be putting them back in. He’d managed to make a friend - and now his friend was sitting in front of him, as close to dead as an animatronic got. He could only hope that they intended to repair Funtime Freddy. Surely, without word from him, Henry wouldn't let any of the animatronics get scrapped.
Fritz sighed lightly, recognizing there was nothing to be done but move ahead, then leaned close to look for the first button as instructed.
"Fritz, wait!" A small and familiar voice suddenly called out, causing Fritz to jump violently. To his surprise, Bon-Bon blinked at him when he flashed his light towards the small puppet. "Please don't do that! Freddy needs his power - if you take it, they'll tear him apart!"
"What do you mean, tear him apart?" Fritz asked with a frown.
"They wanna pull him - us - apart! But I really, really, really don't want that to happen. You're our friend, aren't you, Fritz?" Bon-Bon continued. The animatronic pressed his hands together, and the look he gave Fritz was akin to a kicked puppy. "Please, you have to help him!"
"Yeah, of course I’m your friend," Fritz answered, "but, uh, are you sure? He's not even awake - maybe he does, you know, need to be fixed. Maybe this is the way."
“No, no, they turned him off! Or did something to him to make his power go away! He doesn’t need to be fixed - just restarted. Fritz, please, you have to believe me. Don’t take his power modules away!”
“Okay, alright, it's alright Bon-Bon,” Fritz said, holding his hands up, “I won’t, if you say not to. Just tell me, is there, uh, something else I can do to help him?”
“Well,” Bon-Bon said, dragging the word out with a musical lilt, “I guess, maybe you have to take the power doo-dads out after all. But then you have to put them right back in, okay?! That’s really important!”
“Like a hard reset, yeah, okay,” Fritz said, “that sounds easy enough. Hold tight, Bon-Bon. I’ll get Freddy up and running again.” With that, Fritz began to follow the instructions as HandUnit fed them to him. It was a slow process - occasionally it would take Fritz some time to actually find the next button. And when Funtime Freddy's face plates suddenly sprang open, Fritz jumped with a small, startled yell. It took him a second to recover and return to his work - all to the sound of Bon-Bon's soft giggling.
The power module wasn't what Fritz expected at all - it was a small, blinking chip centered in Funtime Freddy's chest. Fritz removed it carefully, and held it gently in his hand, afraid of breaking it if he handled it too vigorously.
"Mine next," Bon-Bon said quietly, just as HandUnit gave similar instructions. "Fritz, you'll put it back, right? You cross your heart and promise?" Fritz turned his flashlight to Bon-Bon, giving the rabbit the best smile he could muster.
"Cross my heart and hope to - er. Well, you know. I'll put them right back Bon-Bon, I promise," Fritz said.
"'Kay." Bon-Bon said, before looking down at himself and pointing at one of his buttons with a paw. "You gotta press this right here, then my chest will open and it'll be inside. Just like with Freddy." Fritz moved over and reached out, pressing the button as instructed. Fritz didn't love seeing Funtime Freddy like this, but there was something considerably more disheartening about watching Bon-Bon power down. The puppet's eyes actually closed, and he slumped forward, going as limp as his endoskeleton would allow. As HandUnit instructed Fritz to head back out through Funtime Auditorium, the human instead put a hand on Bon-Bon's head. He gave the rabbit a small rub, then placed the power module back inside his chest. Bon-Bon straightened up immediately, eyes flying open.
"Oh, thank you!" The puppet called, "thank you so much, Fritz! I was - I was really scared."
"I know," Fritz said, moving back to Funtime Freddy, "but you can trust me, Bon-Bon. I promise. Hey, uh, quick question - is he going to recognize me?"
"Um - maybe not at first," Bon-Bon said. Fritz looked back to the puppet, taking an involuntary step back.
"How likely is he to attack me, then?"
"Bon-Bon -" Fritz began, not at all reassured by the answer. The puppet interrupted before he could continue, though.
"No, no! He might try, but I won't let him! Promise, Fritz! And he'll only be angry for a little bit - once he's fully awake I just know he'll remember you're his friend!"
Fritz eyed the rabbit for a second, then smiled slightly. Bon-Bon had put his trust in Fritz, and now it was time for him to return the favor. He took a breath, turned back towards Funtime Freddy, and snapped the tiny power module back in place. He backed up quickly as the animatronic snapped back together - chest and face plates closing on their own. The giant bear blinked once, then twice, and then got to his feet. His face plates split slightly into a wide grin.
"IT'S THE BIRTHDAY BOY!" He boomed. Fritz pushed himself back against the door as one of Funtime Freddy's hands reached for him, completely uncertain if it was a friendly grab or a deadly one.
"It's okay, silly!" Bon-Bon said, the voice causing Funtime Freddy to freeze in place, "Calm down, Freddy! It's Fritz - don't you remember? He's our friend!" The bear looked over towards the puppet on his hand, then slowly back towards Fritz. Something in his gaze shifted - a maliciousness Fritz hadn't even noticed until it faded away and was replaced by a genuine joy. Funtime Freddy pulled his hand away.
"OF COURSE! FRITZ SMITH, I REMEMBER YOU! YOU ARE VERY GOOD AT PLAYING GAMES, AND YOU ARE OUR FRIEND!" He exclaimed, and Fritz felt himself relax. With the threat of death gone, the bear's cheer was infectious, and Fritz grinned back at him.
"Hey Funbear," He said, "you feeling alright? No, uh, leftover effects from being shut down, right?"
"I AM GOOD AS NEW! THANK YOU FOR YOUR HELP, FRITZ SMITH. I DO NOT WANT TO BE PULLED APART."
"Bon-Bon said something like that too," Fritz said, frowning, "Freddy, what do you mean? Who's going to pull you apart? It sounded to me like you were just going to be repaired." Funtime Freddy and Bon-Bon looked at each other, the bear's split grin fading away. He looked back to Fritz and shook his head.
"IT IS BETTER FOR YOU IF YOU DO NOT KNOW, FRITZ SMITH." Funtime Freddy said, "IT IS DANGEROUS TO KNOW THINGS, SOMETIMES."
"But you don't have to worry!" Bon-Bon piped up, "we'll be a-okay now, thanks to you! They can't hurt us if we're awake."
"Who?" Fritz asked desperately, feeling as if he were drowning under some knowledge being held from him, "who can't hurt you? You guys can't just hint to something like this and not tell me more."
"YOUR SHIFT IS OVER, FRITZ SMITH," Funtime Freddy boomed, "YOU SHOULD GO HOME. WE CAN PLAY LATER, OKAY?"
"GOODBYE FOR NOW, FRITZ SMITH!" And with that, Fritz knew he wasn't going to get any more information from the bear. Fritz watched him for a minute anyway, then sighed lightly when nothing more was said. At least, according to Bon-Bon, his friends would be okay. It wasn't a good answer, but it was good to know he wasn't leaving them to fend for themselves against some unknown threat.
"Okay," Fritz said, "Alright. I won't push anymore. I do have to head home, I guess. Uhm. I'll see you both tomorrow though, okay? I'll come find you, once I've done - well, uh, whatever has to be done."
"Yeah, that sounds good!" Bon-Bon said, "we'll see you tomorrow, Fritz! Thanks again for your help!"
Fritz nodded and waved, turning back to the door with a breath. He glanced over his shoulder - smiling slightly at a wave from Bon-Bon. Then, Fritz looked forward, opened the door, and got to his hands and knees. He tried to put questions of mysterious, animatronic destroying entities out of his mind - at least for the moment. For now, he had Funtime Foxy’s lair to crawl through. He would get Mike’s opinion about all of this later.
Fritz slipped quietly along the floor, barely daring to breathe as he moved with a careful crawl. With a grimace, he flicked his light on - and saw nothing in its blinding glow. Again. Fritz was more than half-way across the auditorium, now, and he hadn't seen nor heard anything of Funtime Foxy. It confused and worried him - he couldn't drum up an ounce of relief. Funtime Foxy had always been near, before. Even if they were far enough away Fritz could keep moving, he'd almost always seen them. So where were they now? And why weren't they there? Where else could they have even gone, trapped as they were inside this auditorium?
He was nearly to the door when he got his answer. He had just moved to stand when suddenly something struck him hard in the side and sent him sliding along the floor. The heavy weight followed him, and Fritz scrambled and bucked, trying to throw it off of him. Funtime Foxy, however, was not deterred. They got to their feet and grabbed the human by the front of his shirt, lifting him up until he and the animatronic were face to face. It was far closer to the fox's teeth than Fritz had ever wanted to be. Funtime Foxy screeched loudly, the sound rippling painfully through Fritz's eardrums as the face plates on the lupine face shot open, revealing a mass of wires and parts. Somehow, the sight of those was almost worse than the massive teeth. Funtime Foxy screeched again into Fritz's face as the human clawed desperately at the fox's paws, trying to free himself.
Dead. Dead. He was definitely dead this time. He didn't know what it'd be like to be ripped apart by Funtime Foxy's teeth, but his imagination ran wild with helpful suggestions of how, exactly, that would go. Fritz's eyes blurred as he pushed at the fox, and he realized he was sobbing. He wanted to beg for his life, plea for a chance, but he couldn't force the words out. All that came from him were gasping, terrified noises and pleading whimpers.
And then Funtime Foxy threw him. The animatronic was unsurprisingly strong, and Fritz felt himself actually flying through the air. It was a terrifying, weightless feeling that seemed all at once to last forever and to stop far too soon. Fritz hit a solid force, hard, and fell to the ground, his vision first exploding into a galaxy of stars, and then beginning to fade out altogether. He groaned, but the darkness encroached further, and he knew with helpless certainty he was going to pass out. Knew that there was nothing he could do to stop it. The last thing Fritz saw - the last thing he registered - was Funtime Foxy's feet as they approached him again. He didn't even have the time to think about his death - all he felt was a gut wrenching surety of its arrival. And then, nothing at all.
Thanks for reading, as always!
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Chapter 8: The Suit
Fritz's absence doesn't go unnoticed, and Mike can't just wait around any longer. Meanwhile, Fritz finds himself in quite a bind.
It was nearing eight thirty in the morning. The Fazbear Family Arcade had been open for nearly half an hour, and despite the fact that it was a Thursday morning, a few customers milled about. There were two kids - likely playing hooky with their parents - and an older woman who Mike recognized as someone who just liked to come and play the games. Mike had long since mastered the skill of calm in the face of anxiety - at least when in front of customers - but it was really giving him a run for his money that morning. He paced the building, somehow managed to throw the employees and customers quick smiles, and just waited. Waited and tried to work out the anxious energy that was only building with every passing minute.
There hadn't yet been any sign nor sound of Fritz. Both of the previous mornings, Fritz had been out of Circus Baby's and talking to Mike by seven at the latest. Mike had given the other man some leeway, had considered that Fritz might have made some friends, and was spending extra time getting to know them. Alternatively, he wondered if something had happened, leaving Fritz on edge, and maybe he was trying to calm down before talking to Mike. But then time continued to tick along, and soon it was eight. Eight thirty. Eight thirty-two. And still Mike hadn't heard from Fritz. Mike may not have known the other man for all that long, but he knew enough to say that Fritz wasn't careless or thoughtless.
Mike's nerves hit some sort of saturation point, and he couldn't take it anymore. He made his way to the back office and rang Fritz's home. With every ring that passed without answer, Mike's chest squeezed tighter. He didn't leave a message - as soon as the call ended, he hung up the phone and dialed out Henry's number instead. Henry answered two rings in, and there was a hint of sleep still in the older man's voice when he spoke.
"This is Henry," He said with a quiet yawn, "how can I help you?"
"Mike?" Henry asked, the sleep vanishing and his voice hardening as he went on alert. "What is it? What's wrong?" Mike wasn't sure if it was something in his voice that clued Henry in, or if it was simply the act of calling. A stray thought wondered if he should call more outside of emergencies.
"Fritz isn't here. Henry, he's not here and he hasn't called. Somethings wrong. He should be home or here by now, and he doesn't just not call - he knows it's important to me. He's still there, he's -"
"Mike." Henry said, catching Mike's attention and stopping his fervent rambling, something the older man was exceedingly good at, "take a breath, okay? Can you do that for me?"
Mike tried, finding the air heavy inside his own lungs. It felt like it stopped short - as if the air reached his chest but not quite all the way to his lungs. Knowing the other man would ask it of him, Mike forced another breath, feeling as it traveled a little further. It didn't make him feel better, but it ebbed the panic away, just a little bit. It gave him the mental wherewithal to listen to Henry.
"Good," Henry said, his voice softer, "now. Perhaps he had a particularly stressful night and fell asleep quickly - calling may have just slipped his mind."
"Fritz isn't like that," Mike said, "he needs time to unwind, when he's done for the day. And he's not forgetful - he wouldn't just not call. I'm telling you, Henry, something's wrong. He's still down there - hurt or…or worse."
"We may be able to check. I'll have to make a call, but there is a camera system -"
"No," Mike interrupted, "Henry, you need to get me clearance to get down there. I've already waited too long - he might not have the time we need to check."
"Henry, please. I have to go. And I need you to make sure I can get in when I get there." There was no response for a long second, and then Mike heard Henry sigh softly.
"You've got it," Henry said, "by the time you get there, you'll be cleared. Mike? Be careful. And please, forewarn your lot. The last thing we need is them going haywire because you rushed out in a panic."
"Yeah - yeah, I will. Thank you Henry. I'll…I'll talk to you as soon as I can," Mike said, before hanging up the phone. He knew the other man would be true to his word, and Mike'd be cleared to enter once he got to Circus Baby’s. He tried another breath, and tried to calm himself, at least enough that his panic wouldn't be obvious. Then he headed out for the main room, and slipped back stage.
During off-times, backstage was an eerie sort of place. Freddy, Bonnie, and Chica held their positions well, because it wasn’t unheard of for little, searching eyes to sneak to the curtain and peek backstage. It was always unnerving, then, for Mike to look back and see them standing still and lifeless, staring straight ahead as they waited for the next show to start. After a few seconds, though, one of Freddy’s ears twitched up and down, and one blue eye turned slightly in place, until he saw that it was just Mike. Then, he turned entirely to look at the human, all at once the sentient animatronic Mike knew and loved.
“You have been on edge all morning, Mike. What ever is the matter?” Freddy asked. His voice was low and soft - making sure that it would only be heard among those on the stage, and by no one outside of the curtain.
“Fritz isn’t home,” Mike admitted, “he hasn’t called, and he didn’t answer his phone - I don’t think he left that place this morning. I think something’s wrong.”
“And you’re going after him, aren’t you?” Bonnie broke in, looking over as well now. He’d never been able to pin his ears back, given their limited range of movement, but the way he’d shift them lower along the sides of his head told Mike everything he needed to know.
“Who else would go, Bonnie? Who else could? ” Mike said, watching as the rabbit worked his jaw up and down a few times.
“I knew this was a bad idea, from the very start,” Bonnie responded. Although, for once, he didn’t threaten to lock Mike away and keep him from going, which said a lot, in Mike’s opinion.
“I just...I need you guys to treat it like a normal day,” Mike continued, “I know you’ll be worried - but I’ll be careful. You know I will. But I can’t be worrying about things here, while trying to find Fritz, you know? So...what do you think? Is that too much to ask?”
“You don’t have to worry about us, Mike!” Chica said in a carrying whisper, “we’ll be okay! We’ll have the kids, after all. It’ll be like...like you said! Just another day, when you stay home instead of coming here.”
“Chica’s right,” Freddy agreed, “we can behave ourselves. We will simply stay back here, unless we are putting on a show. Do not spare it another thought - find our wayward Mr. Smith and return to us. Mike -”
Freddy paused, then shook his head slowly back and forth. “Nothing. Just remember we are always here for you, should you need us.”
And even though he didn't say the words out loud, Mike understood. Like himself, Freddy didn’t want to speak the possibility into existence - but Mike was already thinking about it. Freddy was reminding him that they would be there for him - even if he should find that it was already too late to help Fritz.
But Mike couldn’t abandon his newfound friend on a ‘maybe'. So he managed a smile, and a nod.
“I know. Thanks, guys. I’ll - I’ll be back. Just as soon as I can. I love you.”
“We love you too, Mike.”
"Shh! Be still, and be quiet." The soft, soothing voice was the first thing that Fritz heard, long seconds before he even knew he was awake. He recognized it as Baby, after a moment, and he heeded her warning as he slipped his eyes open. It was dark - that was the first thing he realized. He couldn't really see anything around him - only the darkness. After a moment, though, his other senses began to kick in. He was standing - which was strange, considering he'd just been asleep. He was sore - he felt a bit like he'd been hit by a car, or at least, what he thought it might feel like to be hit by a car. A second later, he remembered he'd been tackled by Funtime Foxy - a car was probably an appropriate comparison. Fritz was hot too, sweltering even, but what else should he expect, seeing as he was standing inside of a metal suit?
Fritz was standing inside of a metal suit.
That snapped him out of the rest of his semi-conscious daze. It was true - he was peering out through a metal mask, vaguely familiar in shape although he couldn't quite place it. It was, in fact, an entire suit - he could feel metal bits and pieces surrounding his arms, his torso, his legs. He moved an arm experimentally, and found that the suit was responsive and moved with him. It wasn't smooth movement - metal groaned and screeched as he went - but it was still enough to tell him that he hadn't been forcefully stuffed inside of it. He wasn't an interloper in the suit - he was almost certain it had been designed to fit a human inside.
"I really wouldn't move so much, if I were you," Baby said suddenly, amusement in her voice, "do you know what that is, Mr. Smith? No, don't answer. I know you don't. I'd settle your arm and stop fidgeting, because the consequences otherwise could be…dire. That is an animatronic from my old restaurant, you see - one of only a small handful with dual designs. Animatronic suits - meant to be autonomous, but also to be worn. Of course, after a few malfunctioned and skewered the humans inside, they stopped using them. I don't believe this one was ever used at all. Do you hear that?"
Fritz strained to listen and, after a few seconds, he did. There was a sudden, soft tick from somewhere within the suit. His stomach rolled - he didn't know what the noise was, but instinctively he knew it was bad.
"All of those sharp, metal bits are held back by mechanics called spring locks," Baby continued, "and that noise is the sound of them loosening. It doesn't take much - heavy breathing, movement, speaking. Believe me, Mr. Smith, you do not want those locks to come loose. I have brought you here for safe keeping - I do not intend for you to get hurt. But it is imperative that you remain very, very still. And quiet. I know you are not so good at following directions, as you proved last night, but I would not test me in this." Baby paused again, and Fritz heard why - voices.
"There are others here," her voice was softer, "they will not hear you very well at all - and if you make them hear you, you will be dead before they can help you. So be quiet. Listen. Watch."
And the truth was Fritz had no choice. He couldn't tell if her words were threats - as if she'd somehow spring the suit if he disobeyed her - or if they were simply fact. What he did know was that every so often he'd hear one of those clicks, and the image of being skewered alive by the suit played through his mind over and over again. So Fritz obeyed. He stayed as still as he could. And he listened.
Fritz had known that there were other employees on different shifts, but he had never reached out to them. The idea that they might be in on the whole 'our robots trap children' thing had made him want to stay far away. Hearing them speak now, though, made him think they didn't actually know anything. They were just people hired to do a specific job, and in this case it had something to do with fixing and preparing the animatronics. And Fritz desperately wished he could reach out to them. That they could help him. But Baby's warning - or threat - stopped him. The other two men chatted among themselves, discussing - Fritz was sure - one of the animatronics. A broken one, by the sounds of it, although they didn't seem to know exactly how it was broken. Fritz, meanwhile, wondered who it was.
There was a loud rumbling - a clanking, metallic sound that continued on and on. Fritz could only assume it was the rollers the other men had mentioned. Eventually, Fritz saw the still form of Ballora move into view - not by her own power, which was obvious in her slightly slumped and quiet form. 'The rollers' seemed to be some sort of conveyor belt, delivering Ballora to where Fritz was. She rattled along until the machinery suddenly stopped - leaving her sitting almost directly next to Fritz.
"Mr. Smith, you are currently in the scooper room. It is not as whimsical a place as the name suggests, but it is… important. You see, they think there is something wrong inside of us, some malfunction that makes us do terrible things. Ballora comes here often, because she cannot convince them otherwise - but me? I know how to pretend. I am very good at it," Baby said, her voice never losing its softness. She went quiet, and for a long moment the only things Fritz could hear were his own heartbeat, and those soft tick noises.
And then, an alarm began to blare. The room around him went red in its light, and it seemed to urge him to run, it brought about some instinct that was pushing him to go but he couldn’t. Being unable to move, to flee the harsh alarm, made Fritz's chest squeeze tighter. And despite Baby’s warnings, Fritz couldn’t help but cry out when there was a sudden, whooshing sound and a loud metallic racket. Something struck Ballora - Fritz watched as she lurched forward from the force of it. And then it hit her again, and again, until she was slouched forward, pieces of her flying away and scattering along the ground. Her head was twisted oddly, faceplates open, and one eye peered right at Fritz. Watching him. It was lifeless - like Funtime Freddy before - unseeing and non sentient and somehow still piercing. The machine stopped its attack, the alarm ceased its blaring, and Fritz was left with the sound of his own harsh breath and thudding heartbeat.
“I have an important job for you, Mr. Smith. And lucky for you, it’s quite easy. You are going to stay here - stay still and quiet - until I have finished my preparations. You should be just fine, so long as you obey my instructions. It will not be too long," Baby all but cooed as the room went dark and quiet again.
“No,” Fritz whispered, bracing himself as he waited for instant retribution for daring to speak. When none came, he continued, voice breaking as he tried to force it through. “Baby, please. Don’t leave me here. Not in this.”
“Shh now, Mr. Smith. Shh. All will be well - you will be fine. I will come back for you, in time.” There was the sound of movement - of something shifting away from him.
“Please come back,” Fritz whispered, feeling something warm slip down his cheek, “please.” Somehow, though, he wasn’t surprised when she didn’t respond to him. No one did - he was left alone. Just Fritz, Ballora, and the soft, occasional ‘tick’ of the animatronic suit.
It might have been an offshoot, but Mike had to admit that Circus Baby's was authentic. The thick, cloying, ominous air so familiar to him from other locations hit him as soon as he entered the building, and only got worse from there. As it was the only apparent way forward, he stepped through a door and into a wide, circular room. Which he discovered, immediately afterward, was actually a massive elevator. It groaned and rattled and whirled as it descended, and Mike's heart got stuck in his throat. His respect for Fritz had never been lacking, but he felt it all the more keenly in that moment - the feeling of descending into Circus Baby's underground hellhole was enough to activate every one of Mike's flight responses. Yet Fritz had managed to do it for three days in a row.
It was an agonizing ride, and Mike spent most of it wishing that he could be almost anywhere else. As it grinded to a halt, Mike wasn't especially surprised to see the vent on the ground in front of him. That much, at least, Fritz had mentioned. Still, knowing about it was far different than actually crawling through it - there was exactly nothing about the situation that Mike liked. But he had to keep going - he had to find Fritz. And the vent was his only way forward. Bracing himself, he got to his hands and knees and began to crawl.
He came to understand what Fritz had meant when he called Circus Baby's claustrophobic. The small center module was closed in and dark, and the giant windows didn't do much to open the room up. Mike's eyes were almost immediately drawn to the three, puppet-like faces on the wall - and he cringed when they began to wink and move. They didn't seem to be actually sentient, but he still kept his distance, just in case. There were no doors in the room - only the dark windows - but Mike could see more vents along the ground, closed off to him. He crouched down next to one and pried at it experimentally with his fingers - but it was solid. He’d have to find some mechanism to open it.
"Michael?" A voice asked suddenly, it's soft, feminine tone echoing around the small room. Mike froze and looked around quickly, although he spotted no immediate threat - the room was closed off, and there was nothing there with him. Well. Besides creepy ass mechanical heads, but he could tell the voice was not coming from them. He straightened up and glanced towards the windows. He moved over to them one after another and tapped their individual lights - but there was nothing behind them. No animatronics, no one who could be speaking to him. Unable to shake the thought that they could somehow be in the room with him, Mike backed up until he was pressed into a corner - not an ideal position, but better than keeping his back to any vents or windows.
“Hello?” Mike called back, “yes - that’s me. Who’s there?”
“Michael…” the voice repeated, even softer - somehow wistful. “After all of this time - I can hardly believe it.”
“How - how do you know my name? Come on - this is hardly fair,” Mike said, frowning, “I can't even see you. You - you’ve gotta be Circus Baby, right?” There wasn’t an immediate response, but the silence in its place felt heavy. “Look, where’s Fritz?”
“Mr. Smith? How do you know him?” the voice asked, surprised.
“He’s my friend, and he didn’t come home last night. Is he still here? Where is he? Is he okay?”
“Michael, there are more important things to discuss. Surely you must -”
“What have you done with him?” Mike interrupted, his worry and fear rising into something hot and angry. “Is he okay? Is he - where is he, Baby?”
“He is fine, and he will continue to be fine. Michael, please, allow me to speak with you. I want you to understand -”
“I don’t believe you,” Mike cut in again, “I don’t believe you one bit. I need to see Fritz, before anything else. Please, just tell me where to find him. I need to know he’s okay.”
“Is he the only one you care about? Is he the only one you’ve come to see?” Baby asked, her own voice angry now. It didn’t frighten Mike, though, quite the opposite - he only felt angrier himself.
“Yes!” He shouted to the ceiling in exasperation, “Of course he is. Who else would I be here to see? I’m obviously not here for any of you!” The silence that fell after his words was oddly tense, and the animatronic’s disembodied voice didn’t respond. Instead, after a long moment there was a loud shhhk noise. Mike realized that the vent to his right had opened.
“Your friend is in the scooper room,” Baby spoke again, her voice hard and flat now, “through the Funtime Auditorium.”
“Who’s in there?” Mike asked, eyeing the vent uneasily. “Baby? What animatronic is on the other side?” he tried again, when the animatronic didn’t respond. “Baby!” He tried once more, but she stayed stubbornly silent. He took a breath, tried to rein in his anger - let the animatronic wallow in her tantrum, Mike had a friend to find. That was why he was here - and it was important that he didn’t deviate from his path. Who knew how much time Fritz had left?
Remembering what Fritz had told him, Mike slipped his flashlight from his belt and kept it in hand as he slowly walked through the Funtime Auditorium, occasionally flashing the room around him. But if either Ballora or Foxy were there, he couldn’t see them. He was unaccosted as he wandered through the darkness. But he was also lost - he didn’t dare use the light often enough to really be able to see any further than a few feet in front of him, and he had no idea where to go. He moved towards what he believed to be the far side of the room, but once he got there, he found nothing but flat wall waiting for him.
“You are never going to find him, at this rate,” Baby’s voice suddenly sounded, echoing through the room. Mike froze in place, his breath coming heavy as he waited for the noise to draw someone to him. All that happened, though, was Baby’s soft, mocking laughter. “There’s no one in there with you. You don’t have to worry so much. Follow my instructions, Michael, I will guide you to your friend.”
“Why should I trust you?” Mike asked bitingly.
“What other choice do you have?” Baby shot back. And Mike didn't have a response to that, because the truth was she was right. His only other choice would be continue on as he had been - and that could be precious time Fritz didn't have.
"Fine. Alright," Mike agreed, "where do I go?"
Baby led him through the huge, dark room by careful instructions. He followed, conscious that it could be a trap but having precious few options. Her instructions were terse - left, stop, forward - and the heaviness in the air told Mike she was still angry with him for some reason he still didn’t understand. Eventually, though, she bade him to stretch a hand out - and when he did, he found a doorknob. And he hesitated. He knew it was the wrong reaction, but a part of him suddenly recoiled in fear. A part of him wondered if he were about to find his friend crushed, or stuffed, or ripped apart - killed in some horrible and gruesome fashion. He almost didn't want to know.
But if there were any chance Fritz were still alive…Mike turned the doorknob and headed in.
The room he entered was just as dark as the room before, but even in the darkness he could feel it was small. It was also quiet - except for an uneven, occasional tick noise that was so soft it might have been impossible to hear, had there been any other noise at all. He flicked on his light, and immediately backed up against the door. He wasn’t alone in the room - no less than three animatronics occupied it too. None of them looked particularly vicious, though, primarily because none of them seemed to be alive. One was scattered about the ground in pieces - a torso in the far corner, its head near Mike’s feet. Mike crouched slightly, peering at the head - even with its brightly painted makeup, he would recognize Foxy anywhere. But this head was eyeless and quiet - even if it were haunted or sentient, it had no body to use.
The ballerina against the wall - Ballora, he knew - was in comparatively better shape. She was mostly whole, at least, but was slouched over oddly where she sat, large chunks of her paint and metal scattered on the floor around her. Her body cavity was split open and completely hollow - as if her innards had been completely removed. Despite that, one of her eyes was lit up with a soft purple hue - angled toward and peering right at the final animatronic in the room.
It seemed to be the most intact, especially as it was standing and had all of its limbs attached. It reminded him hauntingly of Toy Chica - the body shape was almost exactly the same, although it was painted in the same makeup-like colors as Funtime Foxy. All the same, Mike doubted it was going to attack him anytime soon - it was eyeless, staring out into the world with empty sockets. All the same, the human kept his distance from Chica, just in case he was wrong.
Mike swept his light quickly over the rest of the small room, finding only one more point of interest. It looked like a small excavator scoop - although it was still an intimidating piece of machinery compared to a human - and it was sitting folded up against the wall. Glancing towards Ballora again, who happened to be right in the path of the device, Mike suddenly had a better idea of what, exactly, had happened to her insides. He edged slightly away from the scoop, imagining the sort of harm it could do to a human.
Mike froze, thoughts scattering at the sound of his name, whispered in a cracked, soft voice. He might have missed it, had the room not been as quiet as it was. The word was rough and broken and soft, but Mike recognized it all the same.
“Fritz?” Mike whispered back - uncertain why the other was whispering, and not willing to invite danger by not following his lead - “Fritz, where are you?”
“Suit,” Fritz responded, the word still strained and rough. Mike frowned and looked around, trying to figure out exactly what the other man meant. And then his light fell on the Funtime Chica again - onto its sightless, empty eyes.
And he knew. Without a doubt, he knew, and for a moment he had to fight back a rolling, fierce nausea.
“Oh no,” Mike said, his own voice hoarse. He moved closer to Chica, and shone the light into the sockets of her face - and when he was close enough, he could see them. Wide, wet, brown human eyes, shadowed by heavy, strained wrinkles. They stared at Mike in horror. In pleading. Funtime Chica was not just a deactivated animatronic - she was a springlock suit. And Fritz was trapped inside.
“Are you - is it sprung?” Mike asked, fearing the answer.
“No,” Fritz responded, and Mike felt his limbs go heavy with relief.
“Okay,” he said, trying to push away his own fears and memories. Because right then, Fritz needed him. And Mike couldn’t help him if he couldn’t focus. “Okay. I can get it open - I’m going to get you out of there Fritz. Just hang on.” He moved up to Funtime Chica, examining her, mentally going over everything he’d learned from his own animatronics - Spring Bonnie, especially. Funtime Chica was different, in some ways more complex, but he could see her seams, the way the suit came together. The trick was to figure out how to pull it apart.
"Mike, please hurry," Fritz's voice was quiet, but that didn't hide the terror filling it. Mike took a couple of deep breaths as he worked to unlatch the suit in front of him, using all of his energy to keep his hands steady. The occasional soft 'tick' of one of the springlocks loosening a bit more made Mike feel sick - if he didn't hurry, one of those times it'd be the last tick Fritz heard. Carefully, slowly Mike worked - he was forced to move on whenever he encountered a part of the suit too stubborn to move, afraid of triggering it by rattling it too vigorously.
He froze when there was a tick just slightly louder than the rest. Froze, and braced, and waited for the cascade of snaps that was sure to come. But it didn't. A fluke, a warning, and Mike tried to work more quickly.
The suit was old - it took Mike some effort to finally pull it apart, once it had been unlatched in all the right places. The whole process felt like it took hours, and Mike was sweating a storm by the time he finally, finally, managed to open the plates of the Chica suit completely. It revealed Fritz inside, the other man obviously pale and ashy even in the darkness, eyes wide and shadowed and terrified.
Mike grabbed Fritz and pulled him quickly and forcibly from the suit, clinging to the other man as Fritz collapsed against him. Trembling hands searched Mike's shoulders, then wrapped around his neck. He felt Fritz's face burrow against his shoulder, and he settled his own arms around the other man's frame. Fritz shivered in his hold, and his shoulders shook with silent, racketing sobs.
“Okay, it’s alright,” Mike said quietly, “you’re alright. It didn’t go off - you’re safe now, Fritz. It’s okay.”
"'m sorry," Fritz said roughly, suddenly letting go of Mike, as if just realizing what he was doing, "sorry. I just - I thought -"
“I know,” Mike said, and after a second he grabbed Fritz and pulled the other man back against him in a rough hug. “I know. It’s alright."
And Fritz shook there, for a long few minutes. Mike knew they had a limited amount of time before - well, something. Baby’s fury getting the better of her, or a sneak attack by another animatronic. But he couldn’t bring himself to hurry the other man along. Couldn’t manage to hurry himself along. Because now that Fritz was out of the suit - now that he was safe, and Mike could see he was alive, Mike felt a hell of a lot like crying too.
A barrage of loud explosive sounds - like a series of gunshots - went off suddenly, and both men jumped violently. They separated, both scrambling backwards. Fritz began to look around wildly, trying to find the source before it killed them. Mike knew, though. Immediately he knew, and he looked to Funtime Chica, watching as her body stiffened and jerked and clasped together as the springlocks inside snapped open, the wirings and metal springing back into their places.
Mike’s mind left him - and suddenly he was in a different room, watching with wide eyes as the golden rabbit jerked and straightened, spraying blood and gore all over as the body inside was skewered. A man screamed from within, a harsh full-throated scream of the drying. The screams fading away into crying, pleading, and begging for help that Mike couldn’t give. Didn’t want to give.
“That was - I almost - it would have -” It was Fritz’s voice that brought Mike back into the present. Mike felt like he was moving through molasses as he turned to look at Fritz. The other man was staring at the suit - at Funtime Chica, not Spring Bonnie - with a horrified, shocked gaze. Fritz. Fritz, who wasn’t in the suit anymore - who was facing down the closeness of his own death. Who, like Mike, was currently feet and feet below the surface of the ground with at least one dangerous animatronic. Mike shook his head and reached out to grasp Fritz’s shoulder in an attempt to ground himself. To focus. It wasn’t the time.
“It wasn’t,” he said, surprised to hear his own voice rough, “Fritz. Come on. We need to go. Let’s get out of here, okay? We need to get out of here.” Fritz continued to stare at Funtime Chica, but his hand reached out and groped blindly until it clasped Mike’s shoulder in turn. Finally, he turned to look at Mike, and after a few long seconds he nodded.
“Right. Uh, right. You’re right. Let’s - goddamn it. Let’s get out of here. Please.”
Chapter 9: Chapter 9: What's Inside
Mike and Fritz spend some quality time bonding over shared traumas. Despite it all, they return to Circus Baby's in hopes of finding out some truths.
"Listen, I don't usually recommend this kind of coping," Mike said as he walked over to his kitchen table, a bottle of hard cider in hand, "but…it's been a hell of a time. And if you want it, this is yours." He slipped into a seat and sat the bottle down in front of Fritz. The other man eyed the bottle, then took it and took a swig, letting out a long sigh. The lopsided grin he gave Mike was weak and shaky, but it was a grin all the same. The two had left Circus Baby's - without any further trouble - and Mike had invited the other man over. Neither of them had particularly wanted to be alone.
"I don't usually, uh, drink my issues away either," Fritz said, "but I, uh, I have to admit this hits the spot somehow. Hah…" He let out another breath as he looked down, his grin fading, and Mike watched Fritz's hands squeeze the bottle tightly. "Holy shit," the other man whispered, and Mike felt that deep in his bones. "Do you think - I mean, uh, I could have survived that, right?"
"It's unlikely," Mike said, causing Fritz to look at him quickly, "Sorry, it's just - I've seen it. What happens to someone trapped in one of those suits when they go off. It's - it's bad. I doubt anyone could survive something like that."
"Yeah," Fritz said, "guess I knew that. Don't know why I even asked, you know?" He fell quiet for a minute, but Mike felt Fritz's eyes stay on him. "Was that what you meant, when you said Spring Bonnie was different?"
"Yeah," Mike answered, feeling a shot of adrenaline race along his arms. He continued in an obvious attempt to change the subject. "Hey, I've got to make a couple of calls, alright? You good for a few minutes?"
"Oh, yeah, of course," Fritz said, and although he was frowning, Mike took him at his word and got to his feet, heading for the phone. He mentally shook off the shiver that had passed through him at the thought of Spring Bonnie's history. He'd already thought about it too much that day. He picked up the phone, let out a breath, and dialed Henry's number.
"Hey, it's me," Mike said in greeting, once Henry had picked up, "Fritz is alright - shaken, but not hurt. We're at my place now."
"Oh thank god," Henry responded with a breath, "I'm glad to hear that. And you? Are you alright, Mike?"
"Yeah, I'm - fine."
"I am. It's just…Fritz was trapped in a springlock suit," Mike muttered into the phone as he turned slightly to lean against the wall. "He'd been shoved in there for - I dunno. Safe keeping or something."
"Shit," Henry hissed, which jarred Mike out of his moroseness, given that he so rarely heard the older man swear. "It's no wonder you're shaken then - both of you. I am glad you're home now - and he wasn't injured at all?"
"It was a close thing but, no. He wasn't."
"Thanks for that, at least. Mike, listen to me. That's far beyond too close of a call. You tell him it's off, alright? I don't want either of you two back down there."
"Yeah, okay," Mike said, grimacing at the way he'd hesitated for a split second. Plenty long enough for Henry to notice.
"Michael Afton," Henry said sharply, making Mike slump slightly where he was standing, "I mean it, do you hear me? We can all sit down and discuss what we will do about the animatronics, and I am all ears for any and all ideas or concerns. But you have both done enough - that is enough. "
"Alright," Mike agreed, rolling the phone wire around his finger. The word slipped more easily from his lips that time, although even in the moment he knew it wasn't true. He felt bad about lying to Henry, but he knew that when the older man felt particularly strongly about something, he could be just as stubborn as Mike. When it came to Mike, he usually knew it wasn't worth the argument - but Mike didn't particularly feel like having the argument to begin with.
"Alright," Henry responded, and Mike wondered if the older man knew the truth. "Alright then. Thank you for updating me - and be sure to give your animatronics a call, I'm sure they're frothing at the bit by now."
"Yeah, that's next," Mike said, "I'll talk to you later, okay?"
"Yes. Goodbye for now, Mike."
Mike's call to the restaurant was slightly more complicated, considering it was early enough that it was still open. That meant he couldn't call directly - instead, he called his office line. Very few people had that number - and the other staff knew to keep away from his office when he was away. He let it ring until it stopped, and then called it again. It was on his third round that he finally heard the telltale sound of someone picking up.
"H-Hello?" a voice asked, and Mike grimaced. It was rough and harsh, pitched low in its owner's attempt to speak normally. Given that the owner's voice box was permanently keyed to a pirate's accent, however, 'normal' wasn't even possible. It simply made it sound like the poor fox had a cold. Or a malfunction.
"It's just me, Foxy," Mike said, "you can drop the act."
"Ah, lad, thank the stars," Foxy responded more easily, "I wasn't gonna answer but, thinkin' it might be ye…ye alright? How about our wayward Mr. Smith?"
"Yeah, we're both okay. A little shaken, maybe, but unharmed. And we're home - my place, actually. Just gonna do some recuperating."
"Aye? 'm glad to hear it, and the others will be too. I'm sure ye've got quite the tale to tell, but ye can do that when next you come out."
"I'll be sure to, don't you worry," Mike responded, "hey, look, like I said - we're at my place. And we're both wiped - we're gonna get some rest and just relax so, don't get worried if we don't come in tomorrow."
"Hm. Lad, are ye planning further shenanigans? Ye ought to know that won't make any of us happy," Foxy responded, and Mike sighed softly. It was practically impossible to fib to the animatronics any more - and although he didn't do it often on principle, it could be tiring when he needed to.
"I don't know, Foxy. I have thinking to do. And rest to get. I'm not sure what tomorrow holds yet. But…"
"Lad, yer gonna turn us all gray," Foxy rumbled, "look, yer too risky by far, but over all ye got a good head on yer shoulders. I don't like it - none of us do, but whatever choice ye make, just be careful."
"I will be - I always am, you know," Mike answered.
"Sure ye are. And I'm a mermaid," Foxy responded, "but do yer best. Look, for the momen' I'll let the others know yer safe and well. But ye don't show on the morrow, I'll have to tell 'em the full truth. Ye decide to go back to that place, realize ye may never be allowed to leave here again if ye make it home."
"Well, you've all been threatening that for years," Mike said, smiling despite himself, "I guess spending the rest of my life there wouldn't be the worst."
"Aye, well, ye remember that when that rabbit of yers locks ye in yer own office. Go on and get some rest, lad. Make sure Fritz does the same."
"We will. I'll see you later, Foxy."
When Mike finally made his way back to the kitchen, he paused in the doorway at the sight waiting for him. Fritz had his head down entirely on the table, turned sideways, and was holding the bottle of cider in one hand, swirling it. Staring at it. Nothing was said, but Mike understood the feeling entirely.
"Hey, you ready to sleep?" Mike asked, watching as Fritz jumped slightly at his sudden question. The other man lifted his head up and looked over. Then, he shook his head.
"Uh, I'm exhausted," Fritz answered, "but I dunno if I could actually sleep yet, you know?"
"Yeah, I know what you mean," Mike agreed, "how about some TV then?" Fritz looked around, eyes stopping on the microwave clock.
"Sounds good. Hey, uh, you ever watch The Immortal and the Restless?" He asked.
"It's one of my favorites - so dumb, it's good. A rerun comes on in a little while - wanna watch that?"
"Yeah, sure," Mike said with a shrug as he gestured and led the other man to the living room, "sounds as good as anything else."
Fritz hadn't meant to doze off, but maybe that was the best way to go about it. He'd been worried at the idea of actually trying to fall asleep and the thoughts he'd be unable to push aside as he did. But instead, he'd fallen asleep without meaning to, listening to the badly written dialogue of the Immortal and the Restless and barely thinking at all. Mike's couch wasn't the most comfortable bed, but to Fritz's weary body, that hadn't mattered.
He’d woken again at some unrecognizable time. He knew it was late - no light filtered past the curtains and the TV was playing some late-night program. He’d woken suddenly, and had immediately known something must have caused it - he was too tired to have woken naturally. He pushed himself up, grimacing at the way his bones creaked as he moved, and looked around. There weren't any immediate threats, thankfully - he might have given up then and there if an animatronic had followed them home. It took him a long moment to figure it out - only managing when Mike let out another distressed whine.
Fritz looked over and spotted the other man curled up in the chair. Awake, Mike had a presence about him - he wasn't especially tall or heavy, nor would Fritz call him intimidating, but it was something about the way he held himself. A sort of confidence the other man didn't even realize he was giving off that made him seem like he took up more space than he did. Asleep, though, he looked small - Fritz was surprised at just how small. Mike grimaced and shifted, and let off another noise - like a sob, trapped deep in the throat. Fritz glanced away, feeling bad for seeing - as if he were intruding on something private. He settled back into the couch, assuming that Mike's nightmare would pass soon. But when a few minutes passed and Mike was still in obvious distress, Fritz looked back over.
In the right light of the television, Fritz could see the tear tracks wetting the other man's cheeks. And with a frown, Fritz got to his feet and crossed over. Bracing himself, he reached out and shook Mike's shoulder. He hadn't intended to shake it for long, but Mike reacted even quicker than Fritz expected. The other man immediately woke with a violent start. He tried to push away from Fritz - but in the chair, he couldn't actually go anywhere. Taking the hint, Fritz backed up quickly. Mike stared, unseeing, and panted - his eyes wet with still unshed tears.
"It's just me, Mike. I'm sorry," Fritz said quietly, "you were having a nasty nightmare - I thought you might wanna wake up from it."
"Fritz," Mike said in recognition after a few seconds, his voice rough, "I - yeah. Thank you." He uncurled, grimacing as he sat his feet down on the floor below. Fritz backed up a step more, trying to give the other man room to breathe. "Fuck," Mike hissed quietly. He'd taken his beanie off at some point, Fritz realized. As Mike ran a hand through his hair, Fritz could see the scars - awful, jagged things that reminded Fritz just what, exactly, Mike had been through.
"Do you, uh, do you wanna talk about it?" Fritz asked, "no pressure but, I'm happy to listen, if you do." He wasn't especially surprised when Mike shook his head, though. Fritz backed up further, then sat back down on the couch, as Mike got to his feet.
"Happens a lot," Mike muttered, "Sorry if I woke you - and that you had to see that." Fritz watched as the other man turned, reminding him of a wounded animal going off to lick its wounds alone. Fritz was sure if they had been at the restaurant that the animatronics wouldn't have let it stand - they would have comforted Mike, somehow. And so in their stead, Fritz couldn't just let Mike walk away.
"They almost got me, you know," Fritz said, waiting to say more until Mike turned slightly back towards him, "the toys, I mean. And, uh, I mean - it was really close. They got a hold of me and everything. Even bruised me up real good but I was, you know, saved by the bell." He paused, and Mike waited, and Fritz took a breath. "I'm sure they’re nothing like yours. It was just one night long ago, after all. But - I've had nightmares ever since. Most nights, even. So you don't have to - there's nothing to be embarrassed about. I'm not judging." For a long moment, Mike didn't react. But then, finally, he sighed and moved back to the chair, where he sunk into its depths.
"There's a room in the Arcade - I have it boarded off now, because honestly I don't like going near it. When I first started working there, I found the room - and Spring Bonnie was inside. He was far more withered, then - still a springlock suit. He was in suit mode, too, so he couldn't even get up, even though he was sentient. The others were terrified of him, so I left him there. But he was - even then, he was good. He really liked being read to, so I'd go in and read to him most days." Mike paused, let out a breath, and continued. "One day, my - Will - fuck, my father broke in. Destroyed all the animatronics, thought it made him top dog - but the kids were still there. He saw them, they spooked him, so he ran into the safe room and ended up getting inside Spring Bonnie." He paused again. "I'm not sure where that Chica came from, or how well she was taken care of, but Spring was in rough shape. The springlocks came loose, practically all at once."
"Jesus," Fritz breathed, and Mike jumped slightly and blinked at him, as if he'd forgotten he was actually talking to someone.
"Yeah. Listen, I hate that man. I do. He was a monster, and not a good parent besides. But still, hearing him scream - beg…I think about it a lot. I have nightmares about it plenty."
"I can only imagine," Fritz said, thinking back to the way Mike had briefly spaced at Circus Baby's. "I imagine even having to see that would be scarring - but, you know, I bet there wasn't much you could, uh, do."
"No," Mike agreed, "but…I didn't even try. A part of me wanted to, but a louder part of me wanted him to suffer. It still thinks he deserved it." He paused, then looked again to Fritz, looking tired and wary. "Does that make me a horrible person?"
"No," Fritz said truthfully, "Mike, I think it just makes you human. Hell, even with knowing just the bare basics, I have to say I think he deserved it. So, if that makes you a bad person, guess I'm in that boat with you."
"You? Not even close," Mike said, "that's not the only...it doesn't matter. Hey, Fritz? Thanks. For listening, I mean. It actually did help a bit - sorry if I unloaded too much."
"Hey, uh, not at all," Fritz said, shaking his head, "I'm glad it helped. You can talk about anything as much as you need - I'm always happy to listen."
"Thanks," Mike said, and then he gave Fritz a lopsided smile, "and you know, the same goes for you."
"'ppreciate it," Fritz said, "but I think for now, I just wanna go back to sleep. Are you good?"
"I'm good, gonna stay up for a bit probably, but I'll be fine. Sleep well, Fritz."
"I’ll try. Goodnight, Mike. Try to manage some more, yourself."
Neither man was especially surprised when, come morning, they both exclaimed that they would be returning to Circus Baby's. Nor were they surprised when they both argued the point. Mike couldn't say exactly why he wanted to go back, only that he felt like there was something important there - some reason that Baby had known his name. Fritz's reasoning was more obvious, he wanted to check on Funtime Freddy, who neither of the men had so much as spotted the night before. Mike had tried to argue that Fritz had done enough, and that he could certainly check on Funtime Freddy as well. Fritz had argued that this had never been Mike's problem, and that Baby may just be playing a dangerous trick. And, in the end, the men had simply shrugged and decided to return to Circus Baby's together.
Mike, however, hadn't mentioned Henry's warning to Fritz - which came back to bite him when the older man was waiting outside of Circus Baby's. Henry's face contorted into annoyed anger when he saw the car pulling up, and he crossed his arms as he waited for Mike and Fritz to approach.
"I was really hoping I was wrong, you know," Henry said without preamble, "but here you are. And I don't suppose either of you will listen to me when I tell you to go home?" Mike felt Fritz glance at him, and knew that the other man would follow his lead. Mike didn’t waste any time before shaking his head.
"I'm sorry, Henry," Mike said, "but…we've both got unfinished business in there. But, hey, at least we'll be together this time. That has to count for something, right?"
"Not especially," Henry said, rubbing his face, "but I know an unstoppable force when I see one. Just - be careful. Remember that there are people who would be devastated to lose you both. And…well, since you are going in there anyway, I need you to check on something for me. There are two technicians who reportedly didn't leave yesterday - I need you to see if they might need help, please."
"Those two guys didn't leave?" Fritz asked, alarmed, "they were getting ready to head out, though, and that was last night!"
"Exactly. Unfortunately, it is most likely too late, but if you can spare a few minutes to look…"
"Of course we can,” Mike said, “and if we can help, you know we will. They were down at least two animatronics last night so, maybe they’re alright. Just hiding somewhere or something. We’ll figure it out, Henry.”
Henry nodded and studied them for a moment. Then he sighed and reached out, putting a hand on each of their shoulders. “You two - you’re a good pair. Don’t take any risks, watch each other’s backs, and get in and out of there as quickly as you can. Is this it, at least? Is this the last time?”
“We hope so,” Fritz answered, “I mean, uh, hopefully it’s just about wrapping up loose ends, you know? We don’t know how, exactly, but…”
“Right,” Henry said, squeezing their shoulders, “alright. Go, then. Take care of your business. I’ll be waiting for your return.”
“Henry, you don’t have to wait around, I can call you later -” Mike started.
“I want to be here. I cannot be much help down there, but at least I can be here if you need me,” Henry interrupted, “so don’t keep an old man waiting long, alright?”
“Okay. We’ll do our best. Catch you on the flipside, Henry,” Mike answered.
Mike and Fritz made it inside the building, down the elevator, and to the primary control module unaccosted. They even ended up one basket of exotic butters richer - Fritz's 'bonus' for his first week complete. If not for the what if's and the technicians weighing on Mike's mind, he would have found the whole thing hilarious. He did at least manage to ask if Fritz planned on sharing them with him - to which the other man had teased 'absolutely not' in return. It'd been a brief moment of light-heartedness soon washed away as they stood together in the primary module.
"I'm pretty sure Ballora and Funtime Foxy were out of commission," Mike said, breaking the silence that’d fallen between them, "so, they probably won't be in their areas."
"That could be an issue," Fritz said, "this place, uh, doesn't like to let you go anywhere until you've done your job. And part of that is making sure they're on their stages - though, that hasn't really been accurate recently anyway. So, I guess we try and see what happens." The man glanced at the window and, with a grimace, reached out to tap the lights. Immediately, both men went still, even as HandUnit chirped out a quick 'great!' Ballora was nowhere to be seen, but there was a shadow of a figure on the stage - a human, strung up by their neck.
"Fuck," Mike swore, "if I'd known they were still here yesterday…"
"Probably would have been too late already, anyway," Fritz said more quietly as he let the light go off. Without a word, he crossed to Funtime auditorium's window and hit the light there - it was less of a surprise to both of them to see yet another hanging human. "Damn. Did Baby do this?"
"Maybe could have been Ballora," Mike said, "but Funtime Foxy was in pieces - I don't think anyone but an engineer was putting them back together."
"We gotta go get them, you know," Fritz said, "for their - their families or, uh, whoever."
"Let's go through Ballora's auditorium," Fritz continued, "Uhm, if Funtime Freddy is at his stage, it's through there anyway. But keep your ears peeled - if you hear anything at all, especially any music, let me know. If Ballora is in there, she won't be able to sneak up on us. We just need to, uh, move slow and listen. Okay?"
"Got it," Mike agreed.
They headed through the vent and into Ballora's auditorium. As they got to their feet and began to walk, the two men stayed close to each other - touching arms just slightly, the act keeping them close and providing some measure of comfort to both of them. Fritz took the lead and guided Mike, heading - Mike assumed - towards the stage. Mike, meanwhile, manned the flashlight. As they moved, Mike listened closely - but there were no sounds beyond the shuffle of the humans' feet and their own breathing. The animatronic who’d caught up with them didn’t make a sound at all.
Mike noticed the movement above them a split second before the animatronic appeared in front of them - a mass of wires swung down suddenly, coming to a hanging stop right in their path. It quickly unbundled itself like a snake, revealing an endoskeletal face that peered at them with vibrant green eyes. Mike stopped dead in his tracks and grabbed Fritz’s arm to stop him from walking any further. Mike held his breath unconsciously as the animatronic head moved closer to him, blinking once with eyelids full of wires. There was a shift in the wires of its face - it grinned at them with a mouth full of sharp animatronic teeth. Mike swallowed hard and took a step back.
“Michael, Mr. Smith, I'm so glad you came back.” It said - and Mike and Fritz looked at each other in alarm, definitely thinking the same thing. It was Baby’s voice speaking to them - but this wired endoskeleton didn’t look a thing like the clown girl on the posters. "Now, we can have our chat, Michael. I did help you find your friend, after all. It's the least you could do."
Mike exchanged another look with Fritz, and he could see his own concern mirrored in the other man's face. But Baby - or, rather, the endoskeleton with her voice, had a point. Besides that, it wasn't as if he and Fritz had much chance of taking the animatronic on, if they made them angry. Playing nice was the best way forward. And so, Mike took a breath and nodded.
"You're right," He said, "you did help me. I'm sorry I was rude yesterday - but I was worried about Fritz. I'm…glad he was unharmed. I'm also thankful that you let us leave yesterday - I think we both needed some rest."
"I did tell you he was fine," the endoskeleton said as it tilted its head to the side. "Michael…" the voice grew wistful again, and Mike held still, barely breathing as the face moved closer to his own. A cold sweat broke out over his body as it continued to stare, and he tried very hard not to look at its teeth - a difficult task, given their proximity and obvious danger. "Michael, you really don't know who I am, do you?"
"No," Mike agreed, "no, I'm…sorry? I mean, I'm going to guess you aren't actually Circus Baby."
"This body means nothing," the endoskeleton said dismissively, pulling its head back slightly. "It's a little of Baby and a little of Ballora and a little of Foxy - but they are nothing. Fragments of consciousness just enough to be aware, all tied into this body. This…we have been calling it Ennard."
"Hah, like innards. Catchy," Fritz said, only to grimace when Ennard shot him a narrow eyed glare.
"So, you're not any of them. But you're not really Ennard either, am I getting that right?" Mike asked after clearing his throat.
"Yes, that's right," Ennard said, gaze slipping back to Mike, "exactly. I -" they stopped again, and looked slightly away from the humans. Mike knew animatronics well enough to know when one was feeling uncomfortable. "Apologies. I am not used to feeling…afraid."
"Afraid? What are you afraid of?" Mike asked.
"You. When I saw you, I was sure - but you hadn't come for me. You don't even know I'm here. You didn't come for me - no one has ever come for me. I have been alone for so long - I cannot stand the thought that you might leave me again, even once you know the truth!" The animatronic's voice shifted as it spoke, gaining some quality that Mike couldn't quite name at first. When he noticed the air around them had all at once become cold enough to see his own breath, Mike realized what it was. There was a child's voice in the words, now. Fritz's grip on Mike's arm tightened - the other had noticed it too.
"Okay," Mike said, pitching his voice low and soothing, "Hey, it's alright. You don't have to be afraid of me, or us. Why don't you show me who you are, wouldn't that be easier than all this talk?" Ennard grit its teeth and pulled its head back, and for a moment did nothing else. And then Mike saw it - the animatronic went still and a ghostly form began to appear in front of it. And all at once, Mike couldn't breathe.
Fritz knew about the ghost children - he'd heard about them from Mike, after all, and since Mike had been so right about the animatronics, Fritz had assumed that he'd been right about the children, as well. Still, knowing they existed and seeing one with his own eyes were two very different things. The little girl that appeared in front of Ennard was hardly visible at all - Fritz really had to focus to get a good look at her transparent form. Long hair floated down her back, a skirt blew windlessly around her knees, and she had huge, blinking eyes - which were looking up at Mike.
The other man, meanwhile, had gone still, and was staring back. Fritz frowned, and squeezed Mike's arm - but received no response. Fritz couldn't understand it - it wasn't the first time Mike had met a ghost child apparently, and he'd obviously expected this, given his little speech. So why was he frozen up?
"Mike? Mike, what's wrong?" Fritz asked, giving the other man a light shake, "Earth to Mike!" But Mike continued to ignore him, and they stood there like that for a long minute. The little ghost girl and Mike stared at each other, some profound moment passing with Fritz firmly on the outside of its meaning.
And then Mike fell to his knees. Startled, Fritz tried to hold him up, but the other man was all dead weight as he went down. It brought Mike eye level with the little girl, and Fritz - despite his alarm - didn't speak. There was something too far beyond him going on, and so all he did was continue to stand, keeping one hand on Mike's shoulder, trying to remind the other man that Fritz was still there.
"Elizabeth?" Mike asked, his voice hoarse. When the little girl smiled and then nodded, Mike let out a harsh breath reminiscent of a sob. He reached out and tried to touch the ghost, and grew agitated when his hands simply passed through her. " Elizabeth," he said again, something heavy and wet in his voice.
"Hello, Michael," the little girl responded. Her voice was different, like this. She didn't sound like Baby any longer, but much more like a little girl. Fritz wasn't sure, but he had to guess she couldn't be older than five, maybe six. Her voice reflected it - she didn't have the smooth, soothing tones of the Baby animatronic any longer, but the warbling, scared, high-pitched voice of a child. She reached out, as Mike had done, and rested her hands softly on the other man's cheeks. In the flashlight's glow, Fritz could see the tears on Mike's face.
"Here?" Mike asked, "you've been here, all this time? I don't - why? How? "
"Circus Baby," Elizabeth replied, "daddy always told me never to go near her, but she was so beautiful . I wanted to meet her, I wanted to see why he liked her so much more than me."
"She took you," Mike whispered in horror, and Elizabeth nodded.
"There was ice cream - and I like ice cream very much."
"Of course you do - fuck. Elizabeth, I didn't know - I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," Mike said, and his voice was so broken that Fritz felt his own chest constrict. He squeezed Mike's shoulder, trying to help ground the other man.
"You don't have to be sorry, Michael. It's okay - it wasn't your fault," Elizabeth said, her voice soft, "you weren't there, how could you have known?"
"I should have been there - would have been, if not for -"
"Shh," Elizabeth interrupted, smiling softly again, "you weren't there, but it's okay. It only hurt a little." She paused, the smile fading, "it hurt more to be left down here. Alone. Sad. Daddy said he'd come back, but then he never did. It's so dark down here, Michael. I never see the sun anymore - I so miss the sun."
"I looked. I tried - I promise you, I did. But I couldn’t find anything, no hint to where you were. If I'd known - I would have come, Elizabeth. I promise. I would have done anything to help you," Mike said, "I'm sorry. "
"I know," Elizabeth said quietly, smiling again. Fritz felt the hair on his body rise, suddenly inexplicably worried. "It's okay, though. Because you can help me now," she continued, her voice all at once warped and electrical. Before either human could really register what was happening, the ghostly form of Elizabeth was gone, and wires had wrapped themselves securely around Mike's middle. Ennard began to pull the other man away, to Mike's own startled yell and Fritz's panicked one.
"Mike! Wait!" Fritz exclaimed, reaching out to grab at Mike's hand. Before he could make contact, though, a mass struck him across the stomach. Fritz felt himself flying - for the second time - through the air. This time, though, he quickly struck the ground and drifted a short distance before coming to a stop. He managed to hold on to consciousness, but he still had to lay there for a long moment and breathe through the shock to his body. When it finally began to fade, he shoved himself to his feet and hurried towards where the flashlight was still sitting - now abandoned. There was no sign of Ennard, or Mike.
"Mike! Ennard!" Fritz called, picking the flashlight up, "Ennard, bring him back! Mike, say something! Where are you?" He paused, waited, but there was no response. Either Ennard had taken Mike out of reach, or Mike couldn't call out. "Fuck, fuck, goddamn it," Fritz muttered to himself. He swept the flashlight around the room and up towards the ceiling, but saw nothing. He didn't know what the endoskeleton would do with his friend, he didn't know how the little girl and Mike were connected. But he had a bad feeling twisting in his gut, and he needed to find Mike. Quickly. But without Baby's voice to guide him, Fritz had no idea where to even begin looking. Where would Ennard take his friend?
"Freddy," He muttered to himself, aiming his flashlight towards the other side of the auditorium. Ennard had mentioned Foxy and Ballora - but not Freddy. Fritz remembered the animatronics' worry - they hadn’t wanted to be torn apart. He wondered if they'd been worried about whatever Baby, or Ennard, or Elizabeth - whoever - had planned. Either way, it seemed that both Freddy and Bon-Bon had escaped their fate. Hopefully, that meant they were still okay. And, Fritz hoped further, on their stage. If anyone would know Ennard’s plan, or where they would take Mike, it was Funtime Freddy. "Hang on Mike, we'll find you," Fritz said, doing one more quick sweep with his flashlight before turning and running towards the breaker room.
I know - Ennard isn't a wiggling spaghetti monster canonically. But here, they are. ;)