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Children of Mammon

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CHAPTER TWENTY

Once the fireworks inside the restaurant fizzled out, there was nothing to distract Foxy from making plans for Ana’s impending visit, when she’d come to settle on the prize for their duel. Not that they needed to be terribly detailed plans. He knew what she wanted—access to the parts room—and he had no intention of giving it to her, so it was just a matter of how to wiggle off her hook.

Foxy was made to be a pirate and over the years, he had found that the pirate attitude had a lot of useful applications in his day to day life. For example, a proper pirate never left his cabin without a cutlass on his hip and he didn’t just draw it for a serious fight. Roar through town with your blades out at every opportunity was the pirate way. Can’t catch the waiter’s eye to pay your check? Wave a cutlass. Forgot your keys and the missus locked the door? Open it with your cutlass. Can’t decide whose turn it is to carve the turkey at Thanksgiving? The honor goes to the bloke who brought the cutlass.

In short, the more the enemy saw you as a cutlass-waving brute, the less effectively she was able to defend against the hidden dagger, which in this case was Foxy’s rarely-wielded yet finely-honed power of persuasion. Another duel, one fought with words instead of swords. And if that didn’t work, he’d bring out the swords again. That had been fun.

So Foxy played out his last hours, telling all his old stories and singing all his old songs, while mentally rehearsing quite a different role. At long last, the more conventional fireworks started going off outside, the usual harbinger of the end of Ana’s work-day. This time, she kept going, using up every ray of sunlight while she had it, although she cut back on the hammering.

Restless as he was, Foxy found himself wondering what she looked like up there…sunlight all glowing red and gold in her dark hair…sweat making her skin shiny and her clothes sticky-tight…

It didn’t make the time go by any faster, but it passed a damn sight pleasanter.

The sun went down. The restaurant closed. Foxy stood in the bow of his ship for fifty-eight minutes more and listened to boots thumping back and forth on the roof. At ten, Foxy’s joints unlocked, but Ana, bless her steadfast little heart, kept working, so Foxy settled himself in the bow of his ship to wait.

The silence snuck up on him. It occurred to him only after he’d heard it, or hadn’t heard it, for a while that Ana might be done working at last. Foxy sat up at once, only to settle reluctantly back again. Wouldn’t do to have her walk in and find him listening for her at the door. Disinterest could be a potent lure. He’d learned that watching the Purple Man, but that didn’t make it less true.

And before much longer, the door to the East Hall creaked open.

Foxy rotated an ear in that direction, but didn’t hear Freddy’s footsteps. “WHO GOES THERE?” he called, smiling because he already knew.

“It’s me,” said Ana.

“Expected ye sooner.”

“Oh, am I keeping you up past your bedtime, Captain?”

“Might b-b-be I’m keeping ye up past yers.”

“Let me worry about that. We had a deal, you and me. You owe me some answers. But we need to make it quick,” she said, pulling the curtain open and climbing onto the stage. “Bonnie thinks I’m in the shower. Where are you?”

“On d-d-deck. Come aboard.”

She didn’t move, not right away, but after a moment or two, he heard her mutter, “Better than his cabin,” and then he heard her on the gangplank. Not the thump of her boots, though; the pad-pad-pad of little bare feet. She’d had the shower first, he thought, and turned his head just as she stepped onto the deck, her wet hair hanging loose all down her back and past her hips, wearing a shirt with a bat clutching a bottle of rum on it and some underbritches cut high on the thigh and not a blessed thing more.

“My eyes are up here, Captain,” she said dryly.

“Hold-d-d the rigging, luv, I’m getting there.”

She laughed and sat, putting her back to the door of his cabin and leaving him tucked up in the bow with the whole of the deck between them.

Foxy made a point of eyeing the distance, then heaved himself up, clanked over one deliberate step at a time, and sat down again beside her, close enough to knock his knee against hers when he drew his leg up for an armrest. “Anyone would-d-d think ye didn’t trust me.”

“Shiny hook,” she reminded him and wrapped her fingers around his, giving it a little shake before releasing it. “So.”

“So,” he agreed. He opened his thigh-casing and brought out the beer he’d lifted from her the other night. He dug out the cork he’d used to cap it, took a swig and offered the bottle.

“Trying to get me drunk?”

“Pirate.”

“Well, if that’s my flat, day-old, warm beer that you stole the other night, I’ll pass.”

“Aye, black—MANE, ME MORTAL ENEMY—business such as ours should-d-d be done over a BOTTLE O’ RUM, but some scurvy dog’s g-g-gone and drunk mine.”

“I’ll pick you up some more,” she said without apology. “I think I’m developing a taste for it.”

“Are ye now?”

“Not a good thing, Captain. I’ve done way too much drinking lately. Hell, I’ve done too much of everything lately and if you tell Freddy I said that, I will deny it with my hand on the Bible. But yeah…this last week or so has really taken it out of me. No wonder I feel like shit.”

“Yer working t-t-too hard.”

“Probably,” she said without concern. “But it’s only for a few more days, so I can just deal with it. And speaking of deals, we had one, you and me. You know. After I whipped your plastic ass in that duel.”

He growled a warning, but he did it through a smile. “What’ll ye have of me, lass?”

“Tell me how to get backstage.”

“Done. Just ask Freddy. Me oath’s fulfilled-d-d. Ye can see yerself out.” He poured a little more beer in him and eyed her legs appreciatively. “Walk-k-k slow.”

“Damn it, Foxy—”

“Ye asked. That’s how.”

“Don’t give me that piratey double-talk. I beat you in a damn duel. Where’s your honor?”

“Honor? Where the hell are ye g-g-getting yer information on pirates? Closest I got to honor b-b-be taking it—” He tickled under her chin with his hook. “—from blushing lasses like ye.”

She snorted and muttered, “So many things wrong with that sentence.”

“But ye did-d-d get me in that duel,” he admitted. “Even if ye did have to cheat-t-t to do it, so I reckon I do owe ye something. What say ye to this: I’ll give ye an honest answer to one quest-t—QUEST FOR THE MERMAID’S CROWN—question, whatsoever it be, p-p-provided ye let me talk at ye a bit first.”

“This sounds suspiciously like a stalling tactic.”

“Them’s me t-t-terms.”

She sighed loudly, tipping her head back to let it softly bang on the cabin door. “All right. Talk.”

She wasn’t in the most receptive mood, clearly, but Foxy had charmed better out of worse. Mentally sheathing his sword and drawing his dagger, he began, “Freddy.”

“Oh God.”

Undaunted, Foxy went on, “I don’t know what yer fight’s about-t-t and I don’t much care. We’re pirates, ye and I. Pirates fight. Page six o’ the hand-b-b-book. But the fact-t-t o’ the matter be, Fred’s in charge here. It’s how it’s alway-way-ways been and all he knows to be-eeeeeeee—shut it,” he snapped, smacking at his speaker. “Getting worse by the bloody d-d-day, that is.”

“Gee, if only there was a place, say a room,” said Ana, not looking at him, “where I could find the parts to fix that. Like a…a ‘parts room.’ What a wild idea.”

“Aye, if only-ly-ly, but there ain’t. Now hush yer loving lips and listen.” Foxy took a moment to regather his thoughts, still rubbing absently at his throat, and said, “Ye know we’re machines, don’t-t- ye?”

Ana’s brows knit slightly. She didn’t answer.

“Don’t ye?” he pressed.

With obvious reluctance, she nodded. Then, rubbing her own throat, she quietly said, “It’s kind of unsettling that you know it.”

“Aye, well, me suspicions were first-t-t aroused when I were born in a workshop-p-p with me head beside me and a man’s arm up to the elbow in me ribcage. Never mind that-t-t. P-P—POINT O’ ME SWORD—is, we’re machines. Ye g-g-got choices, we got subroutines. Ye k-k-ken?”

“Yeah.”

“Nobody’s keeping ye out-t-t o’ that room,” Foxy lied, ‘thumbing’ at the cabin behind them with his hook. “But ACCESS IS RESTRICTED TO AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY and Fred’s in charge of what-t-t that means. We c-c-can cross swords as many t-t-t—TIME TO SAIL—times as ye like, but I c-c-can’t help ye. And to be p-p-perfectly honest with ye—savor this moment, luv, for lord-d-d knows when it’ll come ‘round again—I only has to duel with them what challenges me. Nothing in me p-p-programming says I has to grant yer wishes. It’s genies ye be thinking of.”

She smiled, but it was a poor effort. Her thoughts turned behind her eyes, clouded and unreadable.

“There ain’t no p-p-parts in there anyhow,” said Foxy, taking another drink. “But it ain’t-t-t clean, it ain’t safe, and it’ll rack-k-k Freddy over right proper if ye should-d-d worry yer way in, so leave it be.”

“I just don’t know if I can do that, Foxy.”

“Why not? Give, g-g-girl.” Gesturing at the cabin behind them with his bottle, he said, “What is it ye really think is b-b-back there?”

“I don’t know.”

“Come on.”

“No, that’s just it.” She looked at him then, her face pale in the glow of his eyes and her own shining like haunt-lights behind her hair. “I don’t know. I need to see it.”

“I’m t-t-telling ye—”

“Yeah, yeah, everyone tells me, but everyone lies. I need to see it!”

Call him crazy, but he was starting to think this wasn’t just about the parts room.

“I don’t take that personal,” he said, studying her as she went back to staring at the bow of the ship. “I be a proper p-p-pirate and pirates lie.”

“Page two of the handbook.”

“Aye, just so. But I ain’t-t-t the only one here. Ask yer loverbunny-ny-ny. Ask Fred.”

She stuck her tongue out like a toddler, then sighed and rubbed her face.

“Thought ye b-b-buried—TREASURE!—the hatchet.”

“We did. We’re fine. It’s just, you know, he’ll never really like me.” The fire surged in her eye…flickered…and died. She looked away. “None of you really like me,” she said, not entirely to him. “You know, Captain, sometimes…sometimes I really wonder about me.”

“Eh, ye know what-t-t they say, lass. If’n yer worried ye might b-b-be crazy, ye ain’t. The real crazies never quest-t—QUEST FOR NEPTUNE’S CROWN—question it.”

She glanced at him. “You don’t think it’s weird that I talk to you?”

“I were made to be talked at,” he reminded her. “Can’t be that weird-d-d. Probably for the best ye don’t ask me what I think-k-k of ye snoodling on Bon, though.”

“Or swearing at Freddy.”

“I can’t b-bl-blame ye for that one, lass. Many’s the night I whiled away thinking of the things I’d t-t-tell him if I only had the power. We all g-g-gets on each other’s nerves here from t-t-time to—TIME TO SAIL.” He gave her a friendly nudge. “Just means yer p-p-part o’ the family.”

“Good God, not this again.”

He raised an eyebrow; the spring snapped and it dropped back down. “Pretty sure I ain’t-t-t said that before.”

“Freddy did.”

“Hell, girl, ye think-k-k he says that to everyone?”

She shrugged.

Foxy put his hook against her jaw and turned her firmly to face him. “There’s things we has to say-ay-ay when we’re on stage, things we has t-t-to say when certain things are said to us, but that ain’t-t-t one o’ them. I only ever heard him say such to one other in all my d-d-damn life. Don’t ye roll yer fine shoulders at it or I’ll put-t-t a sword in yer hands right now and have at-t-t ye on his honor, and that one I will win.”

“He doesn’t like me,” she said, not arguing, but stating as clear a fact as the sky was blue or blood was red.

“He likes ye fine. More to the p-p—POINT O’ ME SWORD—point, he trusts ye. Ye think yer the first what ever b-b-broke in here? Ye think he couldn’t-t-t keep ye out if he had a mind to? Aye, I saw that,” he said, pointing at the thought that flickered through her eyes. “Ye think-k-k Fred’s only keeping ye around to put a smile on Bon’s ugly mug? Ha. Fred-d-d don’t give a damn if we’re happy, what matters to him is we’re safe. He’d put ye right-t-t out and let Bon hate him for a hundred years, and if’n we slept, he wouldn’t lose a wink-k-k. Instead, he took ye into his d-d-damn house and just betwixt ye and me and the wide, rolling sea, ye’ve g-g-given him plenty o’ reasons to regret it, but yer still here.”

She didn’t insult him by asking what he meant by that. Neither did she drop her eyes. Her arguments were all the more infuriating for being made in silence.

Foxy lowered his hook and just looked at her for a while. At length, he pretended to turn his attention back to the bottle in his good hand, reading the label like it had something to say. “There’s some folk for whom trust is a word-d-d, no more solid than breath. It means nothing to say it, nothing to hear it said-d-d. Fred ain’t like that.”

“But I am, is that what you’re saying?”

“Ain’t what-t-t I’m saying a’tall. Yer another sort entirely, lass. The kind for whom trust be like rum.” He raised his beer and gave it a gentle shake. “They’ve only so much in the b-b-bottle and once it’s poured out, if it ain’t returned, it’s gone.”

“Is that so?” she said coolly.

“Aye, just so. But Fred? For Fred, trust is like a p-p-p—PIECES OF EIGHT!—piece of his own self. He don’t breathe it out nor p-p-pour it out, he carves it out. It hurts every time and it always leaves a hole.”

“Him telling me where and where not to go doesn’t really feel like trust.”

“Ye going wherever ye’ve a mind-d-d to go, whether or not he wants ye there, ain’t no b-b-better.”

She rolled her eyes, but he could tell that one left a mark.

“Well, yer loverbunny’s waiting on ye,” Foxy said announced in his sail-on-little-hearties voice. “And I g-g-got no more to say, so what’ll ye have of me, lass? Let’s hear it.”

He figured he knew what she’d say at that point and he was ready with a lie, but she didn’t ask. In fact, she didn’t say anything at all for quite a while. When she did finally speak, she started with a sigh and a muttered, “Fuck me.”

“Coo.”

“In your dreams, Captain,” she said. “But you win. Forget the parts room. Here’s my question.”

“All ears, luv,” he said, waggling them.

She glanced at the top of his head. “Bonnie does that joke better,” she remarked, then looked him in the eye. “What were you doing in the ceiling maze?”

Ah shit.

“Eh?” he stalled.

She pointed up, frowning at him in equal parts frustration and confusion. “You left scratches up there everywhere. That was you, wasn’t it? You’re the only one who could fit and I saw the scratches your hook made. It had to be you.”

“Aye,” he said calmly as his mind raced. “It was me.”

“Well, what were you doing up there?”

He should have known this was coming and had a lie ready. Caught unprepared, Foxy said the first thing that came to mind: “Got b-b-bored one night and climbed up for a look-around. Weren’t pathed-d-d for it. Got lost. And got a mite concerned for a few hours there, I d-d-don’t mind admitting to ye. Started to think I’d-d-d still be there come opening hour, and what that would-d-d do to me, I don’t know. But I found me way out and I never went-t-t back.”

“What is it? For real now. Freddy says he doesn’t know, but—”

“He might-t-t not. It never got that far,” said Foxy, all his lie-making wheels burning at full speed. “Only reason I know is b-b-because I were in the room when they were t-t-talking it out.”

“Talking what out? What possible function could that thing serve? It’s not an air duct, it’s not a—”

“It’s a maze.”

“For who?”

“Hell, what were the names?” Foxy scratched his hook over the top of his head, thinking back to the last time he’d seen the Freddyland poster in the employee’s lounge, the one with all the names. The trick to successful lying was to stay as close to the truth as possible. “Cheddar, Monteray-ay-ay, Feta and Brie, I think.”

She blinked, then squinted. “Who?”

“For the Rat Races. Little t-t-toy models of the animatronics from the race track-k-k in the midway at Freddyland. There was supposed to b-b-be one o’ them special games in the arcade that lets k-k-kids control the rats like slot-cars, and run ‘em through the maze while the kiddies watched on a screen. Well, hell,” he said, knowing this was a risk, “surely ye saw the g-g-game when ye cleaned out the arcade?”

“I…don’t…” She shook her head as if to clear it. “A maze in the ceiling?”

“Why not? It was out of the way and the k-k-kiddies couldn’t climb in or throw their soda pop at the t-t-toys, eh? Just a few hatches here and th-th—THERE SHE BLOWS!—there so’s the techies could get in and keep-p-p it all running smooth…but like I says, it never g-g-got that far. Rats still weren’t working right-t-t when the restaurant opened and then, well, the restaurant closed-d-d.”

God, that was terrible. But Ana leaned back and looked at him with her eyes wide and wondering and her mouth a dumbfounded O of perfect understanding. Then she laughed, head thrown back and face upturned to heaven, all but glowing with the kind of happiness that comes only from the darkest places. She laughed a long, long time, and when she was done, she sagged forward and raked her hands through the tangled mess of her hair and said, “Okay.”

“All right?”

“Yup. All is well,” she said, putting an audible pin in each word, still smiling. Gathering her legs under her, she stood and stretched out the day’s troubles. A gentlemen would never steal a peek up her loose shirt as she arched that limber back, but thank God, Foxy was made to be a pirate. “I’m going to bed,” she announced, stepping over him and heading down the gangplank. “See you.”

“FAIR WINDS AND FOLLOWING SEAS, luv,” he said with a wave she didn’t see, leaning out to watch the pleasant jubble of her hind-end until she was gone. He drank off the last of the beer, tossed the empty over the side of the ship into the ball pit and waited, listening until he heard the East Hall door open and close.

And then, not entirely unexpectedly, he heard Freddy say, “THAT. WAS. A. GOOD. ONE.”

“Eh, ye t-t-tell stories for fifty years, ye get good-d-d at guessing which ones they want to hear.” Foxy pushed himself off the deck and went down the gangplank himself, going to the curtain and pulling it aside. “Where are ye?”

Freddy’s eyes came on in the black at the back of the room, bobbing slightly as he walked forward and stopped at the rails of the amphitheater.

“How long have ye b-b-been there?”

“LONG. ENOUGH.”

Foxy nodded, but said, “Kind o’ wish ye hadn’t-t-t heard some o’ that.”

“SO. DO. I. BUT. THANK. YOU. ANYWAY.” Freddy looked over at the East Hall door. “I. THOUGHT. SHE. WAS. GOING. TO. ASK. YOU. WHY. THE. RESTAURANT. CLOSED. THAT. COULD. HAVE. BEEN. BAD.”

“Why?” Foxy asked, surprised. “I’d have c-c-come up with something.”

“SHE. ALREADY. ASKED. ME.”

Foxy’s jaw dropped and went crooked. He snapped it back into place. “What’d ye tell her?”

“OH,” said Freddy with a careless wave. “YOU. REMEMBER. THAT. BOY. THE. FIRST. YEAR. WHO. BROKE. HIS. HEAD. OPEN. ON. THE. CAROUSEL.”

“Aye,” said Foxy without having to stop and think about it. The boy, along with his two friends, had climbed up the gym wall and into the crawlway. God alone knew what they were looking for, but they found Mangle. The boy Freddy spoke of had been the only one to make it out of the crawlway, either jumping in a blind panic or deliberately choosing a thirty-foot leap into a cluttered playground full of hard angular surfaces over getting caught in Mangle’s snapping jaws. He’d hit the outer edge of the carousel’s canopy face-first, breaking the front of his skull into six pieces. When he’d slid off onto the floor, his face had fallen open like a meat-flower. Foxy had seen a lot of dying, but that one really stuck out. “Ye told her about-t-t that?”

“MORE. OR. LESS,” said Freddy. “IN. MY. STORY. THAT. WAS. OPENING. NIGHT. HE. BROKE. IN. GOT. HI! DID. SOME. DAMAGE. AND. GOT. HURT. I. PUT. HIM. IN. THE. PARTS. ROOM. WHERE. HE. DIED. A. FEW. DAYS. LATER. BECAUSE. NO. ONE. KNEW. HE. WAS. THERE.”

“Coo, Fred,” said Foxy, impressed by the liar as much as the lie. “Ye c-c-come up with that on the spur of the moment-t-t?”

“YES.”

“It’s a good story.” And it was, combining the death of a trespasser with the deliberate act of an animatronic that added some substance to the idea of a Fazbear curse, but cast doubt over the legend of scores of corpses attributed to murderous animatronics, all wrapped up in a plausible reason why the gym had been blocked off and tied with a don’t-do-drugs ribbon. “A d-d-damn good story,” Foxy amplified. “Gold star for ye, mate.”

“HEY. I’VE. BEEN. TELLING. FAIRY-TALES. FOR. FIFTY. YEARS. TOO. BESIDES. I. THOUGHT. IT. WOULD.” He paused, tapping his chest case absently as he clicked through soundfiles. “REASON. ATE,” he said with a scowl. “WITH. HER. AFTER. SHE’S. BEEN. IN. THE. CRAWLWAY. HERSELF.”

“Aye,” said Foxy, so casually. “When d-d-do ye reckon she managed that?”

“PROBABLY. THE. NIGHT. YOU. FOUND. HER. IN. THE. MAZE.”

Freddy’s manner of clipping words and patching them together made it difficult to tell sometimes, but he didn’t appear to be saying that with any extra irony. And if he knew of Foxy’s own part in Ana’s adventures that night, he’d surely say so. Foxy had, after all, lied right to Freddy’s face and Freddy was not one to let even the palest acts of mutiny go unchallenged.

“So,” he said, eyeing Freddy with carefully concealed caution. “What do ye reckon she was d-d-doing up there?”

“SHE. WAS. LOOKING. FOR. THE. PLACE. MEANT,” Freddy replied with that same baffling indifference. “THAT’S. WHY. YOU. FOUND. HER. IN. THE. MAZE.”

“Ah, no, mate,” Foxy said at once, laughing just like there wasn’t a cold vise gripping at his insides. “Yer p-p-paranoia’s showing again. She don’t-t-t even know there is a b-basement.”

“OH. YES. SHE. DOES.”

“I’m sure she were j-j-just looking for a way to get backstage.”

Freddy nodded. “THAT. MIGHT. BE. WHY. SHE. WENT. UP. THERE. BUT. THEN. SHE. DROPPED. SOMETHING.”

“Eh? In the crawlway-way-way?” But even as he said it, he realized that made no sense. There was only one possible connection between the two lines of Freddy’s curiously calm suspicions. “Are ye t-t-telling me she found a dropshaft that g-g-goes all the way-ay-ay to the bloody basement?”

“A. SMALL. ONE.”

“‘A small one?’” Foxy echoed incredulously. “That’s all ye-e-eeeeeeee—shut it, damn ye! All ye got-t-t to say?”

“THAT’S. WHAT. MATTERS. ISN’T. IT,” Freddy replied, maddeningly calm. “SHE. COULDN’T. FIT. THROUGH. IT. OR. I’M. SURE. SHE. WOULD. HAVE. TRIED. AND. IF. SHE. COULDN’T. KNEE. THERE. COULD. ANYONE. ELSE. BESIDES. IT. DIDN’T. GO. TO. THE. PLACE. MEANT. AFTER. ALL. IT. WENT. TO. THE. MERMAID’S GROTTO.”

“Bloody hell, me heart,” muttered Foxy, clutching at his plastic chest. “Ye need-d-d to start at the beginning, mate.”

“THERE’S. NOT. MUCH. ELSE. TO. TELL,” said Freddy, glancing back at the corridor to the West Hall now, restless to get on about his patrol. “SHE. TOLD. ME. TO. TAKE. HER. TO. THE. PLACE. MEANT. I. HAD. TO. SHOW. HER. SOMETHING.”

“So ye took her to the Grotto. And she was happy-py-py with that?”

“I. TOOK. HER. TO. THE. MAINTENANCE ROOM. SHE. WENT. INTO. THE. GROTTO. FROM. THERE. AND. NO. SHE. WASN’T. HAPPY. AT. FIRST. BUT. THEN. SHE. FOUND. HER. TOY.”

“All the way in, eh?” Foxy said, then recoiled as he remembered what was in that room. “Oh sh–SHIVER ME TIMBERS—shit, man! Did she see the c-c-condenser?”

“OF COURSE.”

“What did she do?”

“NOTHING. YET. BUT. I’M. SURE. SHE’LL. GO. BACK. FOR. A. BETTER. LOOK.” Freddy punctuated that with a growl, but followed up with a sigh. “I’M. TRYING. TO. LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE. ONCE. SHE. GETS. THE. POWER. ON. I. CAN. CLEAN. OUT. THE. PARTS. ROOM. AND. SHOW. HER. IT’S. EMPTY. ALTHOUGH. I. DON’T. KNOW. HOW. I’LL. DO. THAT. BETWEEN. THE. KIDS. OUTSIDE. ALL. DAY. AND. AN-N-A. AROUND. ALL. NIGHT.”

“Gets the p-p-power on?”

“OH. PLEASE. YOU. THINK. SHE. WON’T.” Freddy rubbed his muzzle, looking away at nothing and grumbling to himself. “ONCE. SCHOOL. STARTS. THE. KIDS. WILL. BE. GONE. DO. YOU. THINK. SHE’LL. WAIT. THAT. LONG.”

“And yer just-t-t going to show her backstage?”

“IT’S. IMPORTANT. TO. HER.” Freddy raised his arms and dropped them. “I’D. SHOW. HER. RIGHT. NOW. IF. I. COULD. AND. IF. I. WASN’T. SO. SURE. THERE. WAS. A. MESS. BACK. THERE. I. DON’T. THINK. SHE’LL. GIVE. UP. ON. THE. PLACE. MEANT. FOR. GOOD. UNTIL. SHE. SEES. IT. FOR. HERSELF.”

“What is she looking for?”

“I DON’T KNOW. I. WAS. HOPING. SHE’D. TELL. YOU.”

“But ye d-d-don’t think it’s him,” Foxy pressed, knowing perfectly well that if Freddy did, Ana would be dead right now.

Freddy said, “I DON’T KNOW.”

“Fred, if ever-r-r—ARR!—there was a t-t-time for plain talking…” Foxy shook his head and said, “I know ye d-d-don’t know. Just tell me what ye think, mate.”

“I. THINK. NO. ONE. GETS. THAT. UPSET. OVER. A.” Again, Freddy was reduced to miming, but Foxy couldn’t make sense of the shape he indicated and Freddy soon abandoned the attempt. “SHE. WASN’T. LOOKING. FOR. THE. TOY. SHE. DROPPED. SHE. WAS. LOOKING. FOR. THE. ROOM. SHE. DROPPED. IT. INTO. AND. JUST. BECAUSE. SHE. FOUND. THE. TOY. DOESN’T. MEAN. SHE’LL. STOP. LOOKING. FOR. THAT. ROOM.”

Foxy could only stare. “Right-t-t,” he said finally. “Ye are being way t-t-too bloody calm about all this. Why?”

Freddy dismissed the question with a grunt and turned away to resume his patrol.

“No, I am d-d-d—DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES—dead serious, Fred. This is it, ain’t-t-t it? This is the worst it gets without letting him out o’ his cage, so what the hell more c-c-could ye possibly be waiting for? Don’t,” he said suddenly, jumping down off the stage and up the amphitheater steps so he could say it right to Freddy’s face. “Don’t d-d-do this to me, mate. If yer going to k-k-kill her, if all yer waiting on is how best-t-t to get her away from Bon or, hell, her to get-t-t the roof on first, then tell me that. I can hear it. I c-c-can even help ye, damn me, but d-d-don’t pat me head and tell me I’ll see her t-t-tomorrow if I won’t. This ain’t softening the blow. This is twisting the fucking knife.”

Freddy silenced him with an upraised hand, then rested that hand briefly on Foxy’s shoulder. “I. GAVE. MY. WORD.”

“To Bonnie,” said Foxy, telling himself he was not annoyed. He had no claim on the girl, none at all, and surely Bonnie’s lovesick heart deserved the strongest assurances when it came to Ana’s safety. All the same, his ears swiveled and lay flat and there was nothing at all Foxy could do about it.

But Freddy shook his head and said, “TO. GOD.”

Foxy kept a neutral expression with some small difficulty. “Ye what.”

Freddy did not repeat himself.

“Don’t tell me ye b-b-believe that b-b-bilge. Pearly gates in the c-cl-clouds and harp-playing angels? Ye can’t mean it.”

“I. DO.”

“How long has this b-b-been going on?”

“FIFTY. YEARS.” Freddy’s ears shifted on their pins, too slightly to be read. “OFF. AND. ON.”

“Well, this is the first-t-t I’m hearing of it.”

“I. DON’T. LIKE. TO. TALK. ABOUT. IT.” Freddy glanced back toward the mouth of the Treasure Cave. “IT’S. NOT. ALWAYS. A. COMFORT. TO. ME.”

Foxy was not surprised. He’d never seen it comfort anyone, not a single poor fool who’d wasted their last breath on prayer, and he’d seen many. But no bearded bloke had ever popped up to lob a lightning bolt at the Purple Man or untie a single restraint, or even grant a swifter death than the Purple Man intended to measure out. Still, he said nothing, letting his silence do the sniggering for him.

“I KNOW,” said Freddy, hearing it. “BUT. I. BELIEVE. I. HAVE. A. SOUL. AND. THAT. SOUL. WILL. BE. CALLED. UP. ON. TO. STAND. ONE. DAY. TO. ANSWER. FOR. THE. LIVES. I. HAVE. TAKEN.”

“At least-t-t ye got a prize-winning defense, mate.”

“DO. YOU. THINK. SO.” Freddy shook his head. “I. HAVE. NOT. ONLY. K-K-KILLED. AS. PART. OF. HIS. GAME. BUT. I. COULD. ALWAYS. SAY. I. DID. WHAT. I. HAD. TO. DO. IN. THE. FENCE. OF. MY. FAMILY. OR. TO. PREVENT. THE. RELEASE. OF. A. GREATER. EVIL. THAN. I. AM.” Freddy lifted his chin slightly, unblinking. “I. KNOW. I. AM. NOT. INNOCENT. BUT. I. HAVE. NEVER. BEEN. AFRAID. TO. MEET. MY. GOD.” Now Freddy’s eyes dimmed. “UNTIL. TODAY. WHEN. I. TOLD. HER. EVERYTHING. WAS. ALL. RIGHT. AND. I. TOOK. HER. DOWN. INTO. THE. DARK. AND. THERE. DECIDED. I. HAD. TO. K-K-KILL. HER. THAT. TRUSTING. CHILD.”

“Ye couldn’t do it,” said Foxy and he guessed he could believe that well enough. He knew the feeling.

But Freddy said, “OH. YES. I. COULD. I. NEARLY. DID. MY. HAND. WAS. NEARLY. ON. HER. WHEN. SHE. FOUND. HER. TOY. ON. THE. FLOOR. OF. THE GROTTO. AND. SAVED. US. BOTH.”

Foxy snorted. “So the g-g-girl finds her lost whatsis in the Grotto and ye think it’s a sign from God-d-d. That’s great this go-round, but what about-t-t the next time? Ye said yerself she’ll tinker with them machines. What do ye think that means?”

“IT. MEANS. SHE’LL. FIX. THEM. AND. TURN. THEM. ON.”

“Ye can’t be okay with that.”

“OKAY. NO. BUT. I. AM. AT. PEACE.”

“Peace?” Foxy sputtered. “P-P-P—PIECES OF EIGHT!—Peace?! How can ye be, man? She can’t j-j-just turn the lights and the water on! She’ll g-g-give him his eyes back!”

“I KNOW. AND. HE’LL. SEE. HER. BUT. IT’S. GONE. TOO. FAR. FOXY. I. CAN. ONLY. STOP. HER. NOW. BY. K-K-KILLING. HER. AND. I. WON’T.”

“Fred—”

“BONNIE. CALLS. HER. HIS. LAST. P-P-POSSIBILITY-TY-TY,” Freddy interrupted. “SHE’S. MY. LAST. LINE. I. WON’T. CROSS. IT.”

Foxy nodded, but felt surprisingly little relief. “Well, good on ye, mate, b-b-but how can that possibly-ly-ly end?”

“I DON’T KNOW. BUT. I. BELIEVE. IN. GOD,” Freddy reminded him, turning away from the rail and limping off into the dark. “I. LEAVE. IT. IN. HIS. HANDS.”