Foxy heard a loud crash during the two o’clock set. It startled him, although he supposed there was no real cause for alarm. It was plausible enough that a carload of kids had pulled up while Foxy was killing time in his cabin between shows, but Freddy never let his guard down and since he hadn’t called Foxy out to defend the restaurant, it couldn’t be anyone inside smashing the place up.
That raised the question of just what it could be, though. After all, it had been a loud enough noise to reach all the way to Pirate Cove, which ruled out something as simple as Chica taking a tumble, and it hadn’t shaken the timbers or anything, so it couldn’t have been the roof dropping in. Maybe a firework, although Foxy would have sworn it was a bangy sort of noise, rather than a boomy one. Nothing as little as a bottle smashing up against a window and nothing as big as a car crashing through one. He would have asked Freddy to settle his curiosity, except that Freddy didn’t come. Not at the end of his set, not at the end of the next one, not all the rest of that long day.
The longer Foxy went without seeing him, the more ominous that crash got. Maybe it hadn’t been Chica taking a tumble after all. Maybe it had been Fred himself, and if he’d managed to fall hard enough to pop his chest open (or crack his battery case…but no, that was too awful a thought for even Foxy to consider), there was nothing any of them could do to wake him up again.
But hours later, long after closing, he heard the East Hall door open and Freddy’s distinctive footsteps enter the room at last.
“SORRY,” Freddy grumbled, while Foxy stood frozen in the bow of his ship, head down and eyes shut. “I. MEANT. TO. COME. SOONER. I. COULDN’T. GET. AWAY. SHE’S.” A pause, filled with clicking. “SLEEPY. AND.” More clicking, this time with growls threaded through it, before Freddy settled with obvious annoyance on, “SUNG. OVER. AND. SHE’S. KEPT. ME. CHASING. AFTER. HER. ALL. BEAVER DAM. DAY. OH. SORRY. WAKE UP. FOXY.”
Foxy broke from his paralysis with convulsions, digging his hook blindly into the bow of his ship to keep him on his feet until the moment passed. “A-A-Ana’s here?” he asked, shaking his head like that could dislodge the exceptions that came from terminating his closing protocol two minutes too soon.
“I never heard-d-d her truck pull in,” Foxy muttered, hopping down from his ship and then from the stage. “I need to be c-c-coming out more. So that was her I heard-d-d banging around?”
“YOU. HEARD. HER. ALL. THE. WAY. IN. HERE,” Freddy asked and fell into step beside Foxy, walking together to the door. “WHY. AM. I. SURPRISED. EVERY. TIME. I. TURN. AROUND. SHE’S. BUMPING. THINGS. DROPPING. THINGS. AND. CLIMBING. THINGS. IT’S. LIKE. TRYING. TO. WATCH. OVER. TEN. TODDLERS. AT. A BIRTHDAY PARTY. AFTER THE. GIFTS. ARE. OPEN. AND. THE. CAKE. IS. GONE.”
“Ha. Listen t-t-to yer bitching. Tell the truth and shame the D-D-Devil, Fred. Yer glad she’s back.” Foxy surprised himself with a laugh. “I’m d-d-damned glad of it meself. She did not look-k-k—OFF THE PORT BOW—good last time she were here.”
“NO,” Freddy agreed, and put out his hand to catch the door as Foxy opened it and pull it shut again. “AND. SHE’S. STILL. NOT. GOOD. LISTEN. TO. ME. SOMETHING. IS. VERY. WRONG. WE. NEED. TO. BE. CAREFUL.” Freddy grumbled to himself, adding, “YOU. AND. I. ESPECIALLY. BECAUSE. GOD. KNOWS. BONNIE. WON’T. BE.”
“I DON’T KNOW. SHE. HASN’T. SAID. MUCH. BUT. I. DON’T. LIKE. THE. WAY. SHE’S. LOOKING. AT. US.”
Foxy pulled in a sigh and blew static rudely through his speaker. “Yer paranoid-d-d, mate. It’s served ye well all these years, aye, but this is Ana we’re talking about-t-t.”
“THAT. ONLY. MAKES. HER. MORE. DANGEROUS,” Freddy insisted. “AN-N-A. LIVES. HERE. I. CAN’T. CONTROL. EVERYTHING. SHE. SEES. AND. HEARS.”
“Lord knows how that-t-t must gnaw at ye,” Foxy said, rolling his eyes. “Look, Fred, we ain’t-t-t always as careful as we ought-t-t to be around her, but we ain’t but b-b-broke-down toys to her. So we lets an odd word-d-d slip in her c-c—COMPANY OF ROGUES AND SINNERS—company, what of it? We animatronics. We’re old and we’re worn out-t-t and she pays us no more mind-d-d than that. Ye think she’d say half the things she tells us if she thought we was listening?”
Freddy laughed—a great booming laugh, absent all humor—and followed it with a sigh. “NO,” he said, rubbing at his muzzle. “BUT. SOMETHING. IS. WRONG. SOMETHING. HAS. CHANGED. AND. SOMEONE. IS. IN. DANGER. IF. IT’S. NOT. US. IT’S. HER. SO. WATCH. HER.”
Foxy acquiesced with a shrug and a nod. “I’ll k-k-keep a weather eye out, mate. But ye can’t-t-t really think Ana—”
“IT. DOESN’T. MATTER. WHAT. I. THINK,” Freddy interrupted. “I. HAVE. TO. BELIEVE. THE. DANGER. IS. REAL. WHETHER. I. CAN. SEE. IT. OR. NOT.” Again, he stopped to check his sound-files, standing motionless with his head bent and his eyes skipping side to side. Note by note, the Toreador March began to play, and suddenly, Freddy shuddered and said, “I-I-I hate t-t-t-talking-ing like this.”
Foxy, restlessly scanning the hall ahead, spun around in shock. “Hell, man,” he sputtered. “How long…? Why are ye still c-c—CUTTHROATS AND THEIVES—cutting and pasting yer damn words t-t-together if ye broke through yer speech restrictions?”
“Because any b-b-br-broken word-d-d could be the one that-t-t p-p-puts me in the black-k-k for g-g-good-d-d. And I have t-t-to live. I-I-I have to k-k-keep him.”
“That-t-t ain’t only yer job, mate,” Foxy said warily. “Yer not alone here.”
Freddy’s muzzle opened, showing his teeth. It was not a smile. “I will b-b-be.”
“I w-w-will be,” Freddy said again, his lenses shivering open even wider. “B-B-Bonnie’s g-g-going-ing-ing. He won’t-t-t last-t-t another five—NIGHTS AT—five years. Then you-you-you. Maybe-be-be sooner-er-er, if you c-c-can’t stop-p-p cutting-ing-ing yourself apart-t-t.”
Foxy recoiled, feeling impossible heat in his face and scratching at it—damn him—with his hook.
“Chica-ca-ca’s saving-ing her v-v-voice, and I know she’s d-d-doing it for me, but-t-t she d-d-doesn’t have the heart-t-t for what-t-t I d-d-do. She’ll walk-k-k out-t-t into the desert-t-t one-one—ONE FOR THE MASTER, ONE FOR HIS DAME—one night-t-t and never-never-never c-c-come back-k-k. I-I-I’ll be alone. With-th-th him. Him.” Freddy shuddered, his hands cracking as he closed them into fists. “He-He-He took-k-k everything from me. My life. My-My-My past. My future. My v-v-voice. I-I-I hate h-h-him-im-im.” He looked at Foxy, showing him eyes that were nearly full black. “I hate-ate-ate him s-so—SO MUCH FUN AT FREDDY’S!—so much-ch-ch that-t-t some—SOMEONE’S HAVING A BIRTHDAY—days, I-I-I hate every-ry-ry-thing.”
Foxy reached out a cautious hand and patted Freddy’s twitching shoulder, very aware that Freddy was not blinking. Blinking was one of those involuntary habits held over from their long-lost human origins, but when they were in the black, all the way in, they couldn’t close their eyes.
Freddy turned his head to look at him. One ear twitched, then one shoulder, but no other part of him moved, not even his mouth when he said, “It’s not-t-t a g-g-good idea to t-t-t—DON’T TOUCH FREDDY—touch me right-t-t now.”
“Take a walk-k-k, mate,” Foxy said, speaking slow and quiet, the tone he used to use with Mangle when he was trying to reach Foxanne. “Ye’ll feel better if ye get-t-t out and look around.”
Freddy stared at him, just stared, his eyes nothing but a ring of pale blue no wider than a thread around his dilated lenses, and finally nodded. “That’s a g—g-good-d-d…GOOD. IDEA.” He took a breath, fans working slow and too hard, then took another, then closed his eyes and finally opened them with the lenses small. “WATCH. HER. FOR. ME,” he said, turning around. His first step away was shaky, but he steadied the further he went. “TAKE. CARE. OF. HER. IF. YOU. CAN. BUT. WATCH. HER. EVERY. MINUTE.”
“Aye,” said Foxy, but he was talking to an empty room. He lifted his arm, realized he was about to scratch at his chest, and forced his hook down again. Five years, eh? Maybe sooner? Be easier to scoff at that if this body hadn’t been brand-bleeding-new when this restaurant was built and it already looked worse than it had when Circle Drive shut down.
Why did he do it? What did he think was going to happen when he’d cut all his skin away? All his life support systems exposed and unsupported…it was just a matter of time before his joints failed and he was reduced, like Mangle, to pulling himself along by his teeth and toenails. Or would he? Mangle’s programming had been refactored so she couldn’t go to sleep when her chest was open, but his wasn’t. He’d just be gone, shut off from all sense of self or place or time, but still alive.
Foxy scratched at his chest, looked at his hook, then opened the door and went to find Ana.
She’d be in the dining room. She’d left a light on there anyway; he could see it at the far end of the hall, glowing grey and dim through the plastic she’d hung. It was early yet, but she’d been quiet all this time and if she’d really been running ragged all afternoon as Freddy had said, there was at least a chance she’d tuckered herself out. That’d make watching her easier, although it was a fair bet Bonnie would try to muscle him out at least once.
Well, Foxy wouldn’t push it. He’d just ask Chica to keep an eye on the girl instead. Chica had a soft spot for old Bon, but it was in her heart, not her head. Even if Bon gave her grief for it, she’d hold fast and keep a strong watch.
But Bonnie didn’t say anything when Foxy came through the plastic curtain. He didn’t even look up from where he sat on ‘his’ side of the show stage, back to the wall, one leg up and the other resting on the floor, playing his stringless guitar. His ears were at a funny angle, though. Not flat, but only turned backward. If that was saying something in ear-talk, it was a new one on Foxy.
“Evening, mates,” said Foxy, sweeping his gaze across the rest of the room. Chica was over by the old cashier’s station, now unbarricaded, swaying as she shifted her weight leg to leg and tapping her fingers together. Nervous. Why? The girl’s duffel bag was on her table next to her lit lantern, so she was probably under it.
“We g-g-got company?” Foxy asked unnecessarily, heading for the table. Bonnie didn’t answer, so he lifted the curtain the girl had hung and had a peek for himself. Empty.
When he straightened, Chica lifted one hand and pivoted to point at the lobby.
Glancing at Bonnie—Bonnie ignored him—Foxy went over and leaned around the corner. He didn’t see her, but when he swept his ears around, his mics picked up a soft, shuddery sound. Tears? The sound was not repeated; he couldn’t be sure.
Foxy looked at Chica, who spread her hands slightly before she went back to tapping them. Hmm. If Ana was crying and Bonnie was just sitting there and listening to it, she must have told him to leave her alone. And if she didn’t want to see Bonnie, she sure didn’t want to see him.
Too bad for her.
Foxy squared his shoulders, put his jaw on straight, and strolled on into the lobby. “AHOY, LASS!” he boomed, for there she sat beside Brewster on the plastic haybale with a heap of photos, posters and papers she’d taken off the wall strewn around her feet. She still had one of them in her hand, but he couldn’t see which before she bent and scraped them all together. “What ar—ARR, ME HEARTIES!—are ye hiding in here for?”
She didn’t look at him, didn’t offer so much a halfhearted smile, just said, “I’m not hiding,” and picked up her papers.
“Thought I heard-d-d ye banging around earlier.” Foxy found a leaning spot on the cashier’s countertop and pretended to examine the newly-bared wall. “What was that-t-t all about, eh?”
“Lot o’ noise for nothing.”
“Oh for God’s sake.” Ana gathered her feet under her, ignored Foxy’s outstretched hand, and got up. “It’s nothing. I was moving some stuff I’m going to need into the gift shop, but I wasn’t…quite at my best yet.”
“Tired, were ye?” said Foxy, following her into the dining room.
“No, I wasn’t ‘tired,’ I just kept dropping stuff. If you heard a really big one, that was me hitting that one saggy light fixture with the ladder, and then it kind of fell and I don’t care what Freddy told you, it missed me by a mile.”
Still no smile. No eye contact. She walked away from him and pretended she was a sea urchin, all prickles and poison.
Well, now. In Foxy’s not-inconsiderable experience, there were two ways to handle a sulk. Sometimes the right way was to soothe it, to offer a shoulder and a gentle voice, coax out the words and then the tears and finally the smiles. Aye. And sometimes the right way was to snap them prickles off and stab back.
“Serves ye right, ye blighter. I hope the next-t-t one hits ye in the ass.”
For someone who was going out of her way to make it plain she didn’t want sympathy, she seemed awfully surprised not to get it, wheeling around with an indignant, “Oh yeah? Well, fuck you very much, Captain Friendly!”
“Whatever.” Ana slapped the stack of photos and papers on her table and turned to face him. “What’s up your butt, anyway? What the hell did I do to you?”
“Ye left me hanging—FROM THE YARDARM!—is what-t-t ye did, with that b-b—BOTTLE O’ RUM. Ye know. The one ye t-t-told me to fetch for ye. I were waiting up for ye all d-d-day, all night and then some.”
“As opposed to what? Getting a full night’s sleep?”
Across the room, pretending not to be listening, Bonnie snorted.
Foxy glanced that way, but Bonnie just kept tickling his guitar and ignoring him. “Fair point,” he admitted, sliding his gaze back to Ana. “But just-t-t because I got time on me hand don’t make it yers to waste.”
“If you want to wait up all night, that’s all on you. I said I was going home.”
“Aye, and who’d ye say it t-t-to?” he countered. While she thought that over, he struck a scowling pose and loudly muttered, “Don’t know why I expects ye to g-g-give me a goodbye when ye never says hello.”
“I left my sword at home.”
“Har har,” Foxy said dryly, triggering Bonnie and Chica to laugh along. “When did ye reach port, lass?”
“I don’t know. Around noon, maybe one o’clock.”
“Aye, and here it is, nine hours later and ye still ain’t-t-t come to see me. Ye see the problem yet?”
She looked at the ceiling and sighed. “I still haven’t done a lot of stuff.”
“That yer idea of an apology? ‘I blew everything off, not just ye?’”
“Since when do your guests have to apologize for going home?”
“Oh, yer a guest now, are ye? Well, the restaurant’s closed-d-d, lass. T-T-T—TIME TO SAIL—Time for ye to leave.”
Ana put both hands on the table behind her and leaned on them, glaring.
“Aye, that’s what I thought-t-t,” growled Foxy good-humoredly. “So let’s hear that sorry and make it a g-g-good one.”
Ana thought it over and said, “Want to take a shower with me?”
Foxy raised his eyepatch, as if to get a better look at the question. “Got to admit-t-t, that’s a better one than I were fishing for.”
“Don’t flatter yourself, Captain. It’s still not an apology. You stink, so you’re getting a shower.”
Ana shrugged and lifted the curtain on the other side of the table, exploring the cardboard cubbyholes she’d built there. “I stink, too. Damn it, I know I brought more shirts than this…And besides, water is a luxury resource around here. Got to conserve it any way I can.”
“So.” Foxy turned all the way around and stared at Bonnie as he asked, “Just the t-t-two of us, or…?”
Bonnie watched his hand on the neck of his guitar and said nothing.
“Just the two of us,” said Ana, tucking her folded clothes into the crook of her arm and taking her lantern. “Come on, Captain.”
Foxy followed, slow enough to let her get a good head-start, but stopped at the plastic sheets and looked back at Bonnie again. “Ye sure yer all right-t-t with this?”
Bonnie banged his guitar down on the padded stage beside him and got up, ears flat, hissing through his speaker, “No, I’m not-t-t all right, you jackass! Just d-d-do it and get it over with!”
Foxy held up his good hand in a peacemaking gesture, perfectly well aware that this reaction was, at least in part, his own fault. “Look, mate, what-t-t I said before, about…I didn’t mean it. I were just-t-t getting into yer head. I ain’t going to enjoy this.”
Bonnie snorted and sat back down, fussing with his guitar without actually picking it up. “Yeah, right, I’m sure it’ll b-b-be hell for you. Hey,” he said as Foxy turned away. His ears, still flat, sagged on their pins, betraying a helplessness stronger than his frustration. “You like her, right-t-t? I mean, we don’t have to like each other, but-t-t we’re on the same side here where she’s c-c-concerned. Aren’t we?”
“Something happened-d-d. She won’t t-t-tell me what it was, but if she tells you…I want-t-t to know. I need to know.”
Foxy nodded, frowning.
“All right, so…g-g-go have your shower.” Bonnie pulled his guitar onto his lap and resumed ‘playing’. “And keep your g-g-goddamned eyes shut.”
That was as close as they were ever going to get to a fond farewell, so Foxy left it at that, heading up the hall at a quick trot to the employee’s lounge. Ana was already there, just taking down a folded towel from the cupboard. It wasn’t a room Foxy often passed through, unless he were chasing someone down, and she’d made a lot of changes to it, most notably in the kitchen area. She’d taken out the sink so she could use its drain and the shower-box that replaced it wasn’t a hell of a lot wider. There was no way the two of them were going to use it together unless she sat on his shoulders, so that obviously wasn’t what she’d had in mind.
“How do ye want-t-t it, luv?” Foxy asked, meaning, ‘Where do I stand?’
She looked at him, and maybe it was just a little of Freddy’s paranoia and Bonnie’s general Bonnie-ness rubbing off on him, but something in that look put Foxy without warning right back in Mulholland’s party room, waiting for the customer to quit their giggling and start the real show. The feeling was so strong, that Foxy took a step back without thinking, just to take himself out of that submissive stance and that much further away from her, from Ana, who meant him no harm and had never even been in Mulholland.
And she looked at him like she knew why he’d done that, too.
Imagining things, Foxy told himself brusquely, taking back the space he’d put between them and then some.
She didn’t retreat. Not nervously, not laughing, not at all. She let him step right up close and did not give an inch, but after a moment, she looked at the shower. She bent to take off one of her boots, saying, “I’ll go first. I’ll try to save you as much water as I can.”
Foxy glanced at the box in the window, running an assessing eye over the bulging rubber bag she kept there. Three gallons at most. “Not a lot to share,” he observed.
“I’ve done worse, believe me. I once spent three months bathing out of a coffee pot and still had enough water left over to fix a cup of coffee. We’ll be fine.” She took her socks off, tucked them into her boots, and set them on the counter next to her clean clothes. “You going to leer at me when I get naked?”
“Well, I am now.”
She started to smile, but didn’t get very far along with it. “Then stand there,” she ordered, pointing at the narrow space between the shower-box and the lockers. “And wait.”
Foxy obediently took his appointed place where he could see nothing but the far end of the room while she rustled out of her clothes and stepped into the stall. He heard the overloud patter of those first drops of water falling on a dry plastic floor and then that slippery-soft sound of skin on skin as she wet herself down. He found that with a little imagination, he could tell exactly what parts she was touching and how, just by the sound. He also found that he could be a damned imaginative fellow, with the proper motivation.
“I want to talk to you.”
“I’m listening,” said Foxy and he was. Oh, he was. Shaking his head, he made an effort to put the pirate in him at arm’s reach and said, “What’s on yer mind-d-d, luv?”
“Thing is…I need to know that you’ll tell me the truth. Can you do that?”
Foxy snorted, intrigued in spite of himself. “I oughtn’t to be yer first-t-t choice, that’s for sure.”
“You’re not, but Freddy doesn’t trust me, Chica doesn’t talk, and Bonnie…Bonnie doesn’t want to hurt me.”
“So I be yer last-t-t choice.” Foxy chuckled and shrugged. “Aye, all right. Truth it is. A-A—ANCHORS AWEIGH!—Ask away.”
“How old are you?”
He wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but it wasn’t that. And since his internal clock did not keep count of the months or years, he genuinely did not know the answer, making him take the time to come up with a next-best guess, which was time enough to realize what an odd question it really was. Freddy was right; something was wrong.
“Weren’t g-g-given an age, lass,” he replied, putting a friendly growl in his voice to cover the caution. “Reckon I’m old enough.”
She didn’t ask the obvious question, giving him the chance to steer the conversation safely into ribald humor. Instead, she said, “Where were you before you came here?”
And what was that about?
“Sailing the sev-v-ven seas,” he replied without hesitation. “Pillaging, d-d-drinking and wenching. SAY HEY FOR THE LIFE OF A PIRATE.”
That quieted her, but it was an unnerving sort of quiet. When she shut the water off, it got quieter still. Foxy’s notion of what people did in the shower was limited to washing off and maybe fucking, but Ana wasn’t moving. She just stood there in her little plastic box, facing the wall like a child waiting for the knife, dripping.
After a moment, Foxy hooked her towel and offered it out where she could see it, giving the thin wall between them a knock so she’d know to look. She didn’t take it right away, but she did take it. He heard her bump around some as she dried herself off in that small space. She made no other sound. He couldn’t even hear her breathing.
“Got to b-b-be honest with ye, luv,” Foxy remarked, running his gaze around the room in search of something to look at. “This ain’t as much fun as I thought it was g-g-going to be.”
“What kind of fun did you think we’d be having?”
“Don’t know. More’n this.”
“Sorry to hear that. I guess I’m not in the mood to have fun.”
“Shouldn’t have c-c-come to Freddy’s then. FUN IS ALWAYS ON THE MENU.”
“Yeah. That’s what they tell me.” With a final rustle-thump, Ana appeared, wrapped in her towel and holding the ends together as high to her neck as she could get it. This was fine with Foxy, as, given the limited size of the towel, pulling at the top brought the bottom to within an inch of her nethers. He tried not to look, since an animatronic wouldn’t look, but bare from her toes to her thighs—aye, and Foxy was a leg-man from long back—with her hair tumbling in wet curls all the way to her hips, every damn inch of her pulled at the eye. Foxy managed to keep his gaze fixed on the far wall, but his mind sure wandered, and mostly what he thought as he watched Ana’s shadow drop her towel and rub lotion over her smooth, strong, curvy shadow-body was that Bonnie was one lucky son of a bunny.
“You about ready?” Ana asked, wiping her shadow-hands off by running them over her breasts and belly.
“Oh aye,” said Foxy, just thinking his thoughts and watching the wall. “Ye?”
“Just about.” Ana stepped into a pair of panties, then pulled on a fresh shirt. She picked up her jeans only to put them down again after a brief pause. Reclaiming her discarded towel, she folded it lengthwise twice, then draped it over her arm and gestured at the shower-box. “Okay. Hop in. What are you doing?”
Foxy paused in the act of picking loose the knot of the rope holding his breeches on. “Taking me keks off,” he said, puzzled. “I’d ask ye t-t-to wash ‘em for me, but they’d just fall to threads. It ain’t-t-t but the dirt holding ‘em together now. Why?” he asked and winked. “Ye going to leer at me if I gets naked?”
She didn’t leer, or smile, but she might have blushed, just a little. Hard to tell in this light.
“Funny, ain’t it?” Foxy drawled, pushing his breeches all the way down so he could step out of them with the least chance of catching the ragged fabric on his metal toe-claws. “None o’ the others c-c-cover their hind ends, and I’d wager ye ain’t-t-t noticed nor much cared. But yer going to look at this ass when I g-g-gets in that shower.”
“Just get in,” she said coolly, but aye, she was definitely blushing.
Chuckling, Foxy obeyed, standing toe to toe with her, close enough to hold, if he were so inclined.
Ana lay her folded towel on the floor right against the shower, to catch any spillage, he guessed, and stood on it.
“You nervous?” she asked, pulling the hose over his shoulder and readying her sponge-ball with a few squirts of soap.
“Nerves of steel, luv. Literal-like. Why do ye ask?”
“You’ve got more of an open-air design than the others.” Ana ran her fingers along the widest crack in his chest-casing. “You’re not going to short out, are you?”
“They used to swab-b-b—THE DECK—us down at the end of each day with a p-pr-pressure hose, lass, inside and out. Ye c-c-could chuck me in the ocean and do me no harm.”
“Wouldn’t do you much good.” She sprinkled him with a little water, just to wet him down. Stray drops inevitably splashed back on her, making her pale shirt transparent where wet. She had some more ink under there, dark shapes in long patches just above her breasts, but if Foxy could look, he sure wouldn’t be looking at that. He kept his eyes on hers, like a bleeding gentleman, as she stepped right up close to start the scrubbing with his ears. She said something he couldn’t hear through the pop and crackle of soap on his microphones, but after a moment, she glanced at him, rinsed him off and said again, “You can’t swim.”
“Yer forgetting that rogue, Blackmane, walked-d-d me off the plank when he led the mutiny what made him captain o’ the Pride.”
“Mm-hmm. And you swam all the way to Albatross Island. Except you’re an animatronic and you don’t have the buoyancy or the surface resistance to stay afloat, so you can’t swim.” She washed his eyes, vanishing behind a curtain of white suds, then rinsed him off. With her arms raised up, water sluiced along her skin to wet even more of her t-shirt for Foxy to not notice. “The stories you tell about yourself…are they who you really are?”
Foxy could feel the bite in those words even if he couldn’t see the teeth. He looked at her, her serious face distorted through drops and runnels of water on his lenses, and said, “The stories ye t-t-tell about yerself, are they who ye really ar—ARR!”
“You’re dodging the question.”
“I answered it,” said Foxy. “Ye d-d-don’t like the answer, ask me another.”
“How many times have you been washed?”
Another way of asking how old he was. Like her t-shirt said, clever girl.
“Every night this pl-pl-place were open. Plus one.” He nodded at the nozzle in her hand. “How many t-t-t—TIME TO SAIL—times is that?”
“Not so many that you shouldn’t be able to count them.”
“Me memory space be limited-d-d. Had to pick the things I wanted t-t-to remember. Hosing off ain’t high—SEAS!—on the list.” He dropped his eyepatch in a wink and left it down while she wiped it. “I’ll b-b-be remembering this one for a while, if that’s any c-c-consolation to ye.”
“You do a lot of consoling in the pirate biz, Captain?”
“More than ye’d think-k-k. Kids cry.” Foxy rolled one shoulder. “I scare ‘em.”
“Pirates are supposed to be scary.” Ana lifted his eyepatch for him, dried his lens with her thumb, and then just looked at him for a while, eye to eye.
Foxy kept quiet and waited, but it wasn’t an easy wait nor an easy quiet.
“Open your mouth,” said Ana.
The hinges in his jaw creaked on an upward lilt, like a question.
Ana washed his muzzle in a few broad strokes, then his fore-teeth, and then put her hand all the way inside his mouth to get at his back-teeth. Those sensors were working just fine, unfortunately, and it took a lot of internal effort to override his bite reflex as she triggered it over and over with each nudge of her fingers, each drop of water.
At last, she withdrew her arm, swabbed out the interior cavities of his muzzle, and sprayed him down. The sound of water pouring away down his throat into his empty stomach was very loud, especially after Ana shut off the nozzle to listen.
“Where’s that going?” she asked, eyeing the cracks in his chest.
“C-Collection pouch in me gut,” Foxy replied, his even tone belying his frantic thoughts as he tried to remember if he was empty down there.
“So you can eat,” Ana said, but softly, as if to herself. Her next words were a little louder. “What do you eat, Captain?”
“Don’t know. Pizza, most-t-t like. Don’t recollect if I ever did-d-d.”
“Hold these,” said Ana, giving over the hose and sponge. When he had them, she dug her fingers under the edge of his loin-casing.
Foxy dropped the hose and caught her wrist before the nozzle could hit the wall. “Not th-there,” he said, trying to sound casual as he directed her to his abdomen-casing instead. He still couldn’t remember if his stomach was empty or not, but he could explain a few finger-bones a hell of a lot easier than he could explain his dick. “Here.”
She opened him up. He didn’t look, but he felt the tug and all the little vibrations as she fished around in there.
“Where’s the…? There it is,” she murmured, then took her hose back, stuck it down his throat and flushed a few chunks of gunk out of him on a stream of water. She seemed to study those chunks fairly close as they swirled around their feet, but they broke up on the drain, just dust matted up with congealed blood or machine grease, and if he couldn’t tell the difference, neither could she.
“Not a d-d-drop o’ rum,” Foxy said, because he knew damned well that wasn’t what she was looking for. “Ain’t that-t-t a pity?”
Ana took the hose out of him, capped off his stomach again, closed him up, and proceeded to scrub off his arms, all in silence. She did his chest the same way, then not so surprisingly opened it, dashing Foxy into nothingness. He came back two minutes later, cleared the discrepancy between his internal clock and activity log, and watched her rinse him off. Had she opened his groin while he was out? Didn’t seem like a lot of time, but it didn’t take much, did it? He couldn’t tell by looking at her and he’d been reading inflexible faces his whole life.
“D-Doubloon for yer thoughts, luv,” he said at last.
“No deal. Your treasure’s cursed.”
“So ye give it b-b-back and I gives ye a dip in the birthday booty chest-t-t. Get ye some shiny swag as fair—WINDS AND FOLLOWING—price for yer fretful thoughts.”
“What makes you think they’re fretful?”
After a short internal debate (very short; Foxy wasn’t one to wrestle over matters of conscience), he put his good hand over hers to stop her cleaning, then touched a metal finger to her cheek, just under her eye. “Ain’t much about me that-t-t still works like it should,” he said. “But me facial scanners do. And they t-t—TELL NO TALES—tells me yer sad.”
She lifted her chin slightly, not blinking, not shying away. “Do they tell you why?”
“No. I reckon that-t-t were one o’ those things I was supposed to get better at the more I d-d-did it,” Foxy added with another seemingly careless shrug. “But this place c-cl-closed and I never had-d-d but them few days to practice. So ye’ll just have t-t-to tell me.”
For a second, he thought she might. He could see it, whatever ‘it’ was, close behind those brilliantly blue eyes, but then she blinked and it was gone.
“Turn around,” she said.
Ana held up her sponge, as if to remind him why they were here; he had, in fact, forgotten. “I want to get your back.”
Foxy turned around, nose right up to the plastic wall, and listened as she scrubbed. Now and then, he could feel it—intermittent sensations of pressure and weight passed on by his functioning sensor plates and the phantom impressions of warm water and soft skin for which he had no frame of reference at all. It felt good, on the outside anyway. On the inside, not so much, which was a bit off-putting to his enjoyment of the outside-parts, although not so much that he didn’t notice when she got down on her knees.
“Can I ask you a question?” she said, as his sensor-plates between his legs unemotionally registered the slow back and forth motion of her hand.
Eyes fixed on the wall, Foxy said, “Ye have me full attention.”
“Do you remember telling me about the night you lost your hat?”
He did, but it took a second. “Aye, but it-t-t weren’t lost—AT SEA. It were stolen.”
“Right.” Her hand moved slightly down the inside of his thigh and back up again. She put her other hand on his hip, for balance. “And then what happened?”
“The guy took your hat.” She turned the hose on, directing its little spray into her palm and rinsing him that way, with her bare hand. “What did you do about it?”
“Ran after him,” said Foxy, which was the truth, adding, “He got-t-t away with it,” which was not.
“I think you’re lying to me.”
“Do ye? That’s a shame, for I used to b-b-be a fair dab hand at lying and ye shouldn’t have p-p-picked up on it so soon.”
“You told me you scuttled him. That you could have, and I’m quoting you directly here, buried what pieces of eight you left of him in that damn hat. End quote. Turn around.”
He turned, keeping his eyes fixed on the far wall well behind her and not on the girl herself, on her knees before him. “I don’t recall saying that-t-t, but if that’s what ye say I said-d-d, I won’t argue. I only got-t-t so much memory space. Reckon I can trust to yers…unless ye c-c-can think o’ some reason I shouldn’t.”
She laughed, low and throaty, and looked up at him through her hair. “Is that your subtle way of reminding me I was high?”
“Subtlety is not your strong suit, Captain.”
“So ye’ve told me.”
“And that, you remember, huh?”
“Weren’t as long ago. And I thin-k-k I want to hold on to that night awhile, if’n I c-c-can.”
“I liked the way ye looked.”
She looked up at him, unsmiling, wary. “Why?”
“Don’t know,” he said, almost honestly. “I shouldn’t, I know that-t-t. Maybe it were yer wet t-t-togs or the fact that ye left half of ‘em at home. Maybe…just-t-t because ye came at all. Because ye thought-t-t we needed ye. Because…” Her hand was still on his hip, distracting him. He looked at it, fascinated by the juxtaposition of metal bones and living skin and by the glints of red—his reflection—in all those tiny beads of water caught up in her hair. “…Because when ye’ve b-b-been forgotten as long as we have…anyone’s beautiful who remembers ye.”
Her brows pinched slightly. She did not speak.
“So,” he said. “I’ve answered yer qu-qu—QUEST FOR THE—questions. Time for ye to answer one o’ mine.”
She still didn’t speak, but the thin skin around her eyes tightened.
He wanted to ask what had happened to her on Friday night, but he could see it was what she was expecting. Foxy didn’t like being predictable. More than that, it wasn’t the sort of question an animatronic ought to ask, so the fact that she was expecting it felt Freddy-level dangerous.
“What is it ye really-ly-ly want to know?” he asked instead.
Her stare held a moment, then wavered and finally fell. She touched her sponge to his knee and made a few lackluster passes before she let it drop. She knelt in silence, her head bent and hands in her lap, while Foxy waited her out and at last, she brushed at her face and stood up.
She rinsed him off with the last of the water, patted him dry, then hung her towel over the side of the shower-box while avoiding his eyes. “You’re done. Hop out.”
Foxy stepped out of the shower-box, disturbing pockets of water inside him that then washed down his legs and formed greyish-brown puddles around his metal feet. Despite this proof that his innards were still fairly grungy, his outsides looked good. Still cracked, still worn, but clean and that made all the difference. Motioning toward her folded jeans, he casually said, “Ye going t-t-to wear those?”
“I was,” she said, also looking at them. “But then I realized I’d just get them wet and now there doesn’t seem much point in wearing them just to go down the hall, except that if I don’t, I’m dead-sure to bump into Freddy, and he’ll bitch me out for not having enough clothes on.” She looked back at him. “Why? You want them?”
“Don’t need-d-d ‘em,” he said, which was not quite an answer. “Just used to ‘em, that’s all.”
“Like Freddy and his hat.” She passed them over. “Yeah, sure. Tell you what, I’ll see if I can find you a new costume. Hat, coat, pants, boots—the works.”
“Ye mean that?”
“Sure. It doesn’t pay to lie to pirates.”
“That it don’t,” Foxy agreed, rolling up the leg sleeves to make working his metal parts and jagged plastic through it easier. “As many a rogue has learned-d-d to his cost. But it don’t p-p-pay to be too honest neither.”
“Why not?” Ana asked, watching him dress. She smiled, sort of, with nothing but her mouth. “Would you ever hurt me, Captain?”
“Course I would-d-d.”
Her smile faded, then came back true, like it was a comfort.
“How d-d-do I look?” he asked, zipping himself up.
“Aye.” But it covered his bones all the way to his feet, so as silly as he looked, he was grateful. Foxy retrieved the length of rope he’d been using for a belt and threaded it through the loops. His new keks had been designed for hips a great deal rounder than his own. “Speaking o’ the ceiling—”
Ana sighed. “Yeah, I know. But if I can keep Freddy from hovering over me all damn day, I’ll get up on the roof tomorrow and, with luck, start pulling it down.”
“Anything we c-c-can do to help?”
“Stay out of my way.”
Foxy nodded, unsurprised. “Can’t be easy to do a job-b-b like that on yer own.”
“I’m used to it.”
She was being stupid and stubborn and he thought they both knew it, but he also knew he wasn’t going to change her mind with facts, so he dropped it and simply said, “Yer on track, then?”
“Hardly. But it is what it is.” Ana pushed her hair back, combing through it several times with her fingers before she started to braid it. “It is what it is,” she said again, scarcely above a whisper. “Whatever happened, happened and I can’t change it by feeling bad now. Right?”
She wasn’t talking to him, he knew that, but she was talking, which gave him a good reason to finally ask, “What happened?”
She shook her head, shook it again, and suddenly said, “That guy I met on Friday…he…”
Foxy’s hand found his hip, where no sword presently hung. “He what?”
Ana just shook her head again. “I tried to talk to someone about it yesterday and that was…a mistake. A bad mistake. So I went home…to my cousin’s house, I mean. I found something there that belonged to someone else. It’s not a good place anymore.” She wiped her eyes, looked at her fingers, and kept her back to Foxy. “Maybe it was never a good place.”
“It doesn’t matter now,” she said. “Everyone who ever lived there is dead. Can I tell you something?”
“There’s this thing called an Egg Minder. It’s a tray you put your eggs in and it scans them or something and lets you know how fresh they are every minute of every day. That’s a real thing. That really exists.” She looked at him. “Do you believe that?”
Foxy shrugged. “Don’t-t-t matter. Whether it be real or not-t-t, that don’t mean ye have to buy it and spend-d-d the rest o’ yer life looking at eggs, do it?”
Her brows lifted slightly, then drew together.
Surprised, Foxy blurted, “G-G—GREAT NEPTUNE’S GHOST—girl, did that help?”
“Yeah.” She puffed out a short laugh. “Yeah, I think it actually did.”
“Well, that’s going in me d-d-diary, that is.” He flexed his fingers to break their hold on his absent sword and gave her a careful clap to the shoulder. “Come on with ye, lass. C-C-C—COME ON IN TO PIRATE COVE—and pass a b-b-bottle with me.”
“I don’t want to get drunk,” she said, then sighed again and looked over her shoulder in the general direction of the kitchen. “I want to get high.”
“Whatever floats yer b-b-boat, luv, long as yer sailing. Ye coming?” he called, heading for the door.
“You promise not to take advantage of me?”
She laughed again, as Foxy hoped she would, and then, as Foxy knew she would, she followed him.