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On the Ropes

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The door to your cleaning supply cupboard clicks shut with a satisfying 'thud,' a comforting sound that signals the end of another long, arduous day spent cleaning up parts of Fazbear's Mega Pizzaplex that none of the S.T.A.F.F bots are dexterous enough to get at.

Heaving a weary sigh, you let your forehead bump against the cool metal, listening to the hum of your colleagues shuffling around you, rooting inside their lockers for hats, scarves and coats. Everyone is ready to clock out and leave before the night-shift takes over, hoping to get home before the roads freeze under winter's cruel grasp.

“Rough day, kid?”

You roll your head to the side and let another sigh slip between your teeth, replying, “Rough as a country road, I’m afraid.”

A gruff, old man by the name of Andy traipses up to the locker that sits beside your designated cupboard and he nods to you, touching gnarled fingers to his purple cap in greeting. Approaching his late sixties, and only a year from retirement, the old boy is still just as deft with his hands as the younger mechanics who work under him, as he demonstrates to you every evening by twisting that combination lock of his without even glancing at it, 'skilled in lock-picking and repairing robots,' you’d once joked. And although you're not a mechanic like him, he was one of the few faculty members who had curmudgeonly respect for a humble cleaning lady. Thus, from your first day working at the Plex, Andy was the guy to pull you away from bathroom re-stocks to eat your lunch or rescue you from the clutches of the clingy daycare attendant.

He's a good man, if a touch old-fashioned.

“One of these days,” you huff, pulling out your key and fumbling with your door's antiquated lock, “Can you mechs fix up a S.T.A.F.F bot that knows how to polish those massive bronzes? Freddy's face alone takes me like, half a goddamn hour.”

Andy just chuckles good-naturedly, hauling his winter coat from the locker and slamming it shut with a sigh. “Ain't nothing but a woman's strong touch can keep bronze and brass clean,” he laments, tipping his cap at you again and tossing you a wink from behind his thick, round glasses, “Good thing too. Give's 'em a reason to keep you around, eh, gal?”

“I like to think they keep me around for other reasons, too, Andrew, but thanks.”

The old man pulls a skeptical face, earning himself a scowl in response.

“You're a real gent -” You pause to pull your phone out of your pocket and check the time. “- and as much as I'd love to wait for you to grab your walking stick, I'm afraid I'll miss my bus if I do.”

You easily step aside to avoid the gentle kick he aims at your shins. “I ain't old enough to use a stick yet... brat,” he grumbles.

Tugging on your own coat, you flash him a tired smile.

You'll wait for him, of course.

You know it. He definitely knows it.

You're both on the same bus route, after all, and yours is only a couple of stops down from his own.

Andy shakes his head, stuffing one arm into the sleeve of his coat and tilting his chin towards the staircase leading up and out of the maintenance tunnel. “Shall we?”

“Suppose we shall,” you reply, eager to escape the Megaplex and return to your comfy little apartment on the outskirts of the city, where a microwave carbonara is calling your name.

 

“Hey! You – uh – cleaning lady!”

Well. You certainly wish it was the carbonara.

There’s no doubt she’s addressing you. You’re the only human cleaning staff in the building. 

You have to stifle a groan, plastering on a cheery smile and turning to see one of the young mechanics jogging towards you down the maintenance tunnel, her purple overalls stained with unsightly patches of slick, black oil, no doubt from the numerous repairs she has to make on a day-to-day basis.

You recognise her immediately once you catch sight of the bouncy, auburn hair trying to struggle free of her bun as she bounds right up to you and skids to an unsteady halt.

“Kerry,” you greet her, pocketing the cupboard key and quirking a grin at her, “Where's the fire?”

Silently, she waves a hand through the air, asking you, without words, to wait for her to catch her breath, and you shift your weight onto one leg, happy to oblige.

Eventually, the girl manages to clear her throat, jabbing her thumb over one shoulder and wheezing, “Manager - Mick – He said to come get you. It's urgent. So we need to go, like, now.”

And just like that, she turns to face the way she'd come and starts to jog back up the tunnel, hesitating for barely a second to beckon frantically after you. “Come on, then! Keep up!”

You've always liked Kerry, though you've barely interacted enough for her to learn your name, apparently. Her words are straight from the shoulder and to the point and she never wastes time with idle chatter, even if you wish she sometimes would.

Blowing a noisy exhale through your nose, you spare a glance at Andy, who merely offers his sympathies in the form of a vague shrug before he begins to throw on the rest of his coat, waving you off with a gruff, “I'll tell the driver not to wait for you. Now scram.”

Finding no support in the old mechanic, you shoot him a quick salute and kick up your heels, running after Kerry as she disappears around a corner, wondering what in the world you've done that could warrant attention from the manager of the mechanical department.

----

The pair of you burst out into Rockstar Row minutes later, although you screech to a halt to hold the doors open for two more mechanics coming the other way, both of whom are too busy hauling a S.T.A.F.F bot between them to offer you more than a cursory nod of thanks.

As they pass, your curious gaze lands on the bot. The poor thing looks as though it's been put through a car-crusher. There are scrapes and gouges carved into its metal exterior and the arms hang by mere cables at its sides, fingers twitching rapidly in conjunction with a garbled string of words that crackle out of its speakers. 

“Ple-ple-please r-r-rema-ain c—c-c-c-ca-aaa-alm.

“Sheesh,” you call after the mechanics, “What happened to him?”

Neither of them spare you a second glance, so you simply shrug, letting the doors swing shut behind them before you turn to trail after Kerry once more.

The girl impatiently leads you around a confectionary kiosk and past Freddy Fazbear's show room, until you at last catch sight of the man you have to personally thank for making you miss the seven o'clock bus back to the city's outskirts.

Mick, infamous manager of the Mechanical department, is pacing back and forth in front of Montgomery Gator's show room window, which, you notice with a spark of trepidation, has been cordoned off by blue tape, and the huge, burgundy curtains have been drawn right across it, barring any outside eyes from viewing the interior.

As you draw closer, you begin to hear Mick muttering expletives to himself, sprinkled in amongst complaints about wasted expenses.

“Sir?” Kerry calls out, slowing in front of him and drawing his pacing to a stop, “Got that cleaner you asked for.”

You hesitate to remark that you're the only human cleaner employed by Fazbear Enterprises, but you suppose 'that cleaner' will have to suffice.

Mick's head snaps in your direction and his face lights up instantly, a too-wide grin spreading across his lips. “Hey! You're here! Excellent. I'm sorry to drag you away from clocking out!” Clasping his hands together, he adds, “But, I'm glad Kerry found you, Doll. Need a favour. Huge one.”

Biting your tongue, you tread down the involuntary shudder that threatens to race up your spine at the use of the nickname, instead forcing a smile onto your face. “Shouldn't be a problem,” you tell him pleasantly, “What's up?”

“Uh, Mick?” Kerry chimes in anxiously, shifting her weight and peering over her shoulder towards the maintenance tunnels again, “Am I good to-...”

Giving a brusque flap of his hand, he shoos her away. “Ah, yes. Thank you, Kerry. Go on, Devon and Gordon will need your help, I expect.”

And without needing any more permission than that, she's off once more, racing to the doors at the back of the row and shouldering them open, slipping through and then disappearing from sight. You watch her go, baffled, and more than a little wary when Mick grasps your shoulder and turns you around to face him again.

“It's a problem, alright,” he adds to your previous claim, removing his hand to gesture vaguely behind him at the glass of Montgomery Gator's show room, “Gator's on the warpath again. Something happened at a birthday party today and the damn bot's got itself all worked up.” He heaves a sigh of exasperation and runs a hand mercilessly through his thin, silvery hair. “This is the third time in two weeks. We keep sending S.T.A.F.F in there to clean the place up, so we can actually showcase the room, but he just keeps throwing 'em back out in pieces. Seems we've been spending a fortune on replacements, and my guys can't keep up with the repairs. Poor old Andy damn near collapsed from exhaustion the other day.”

He hadn’t told you about that... “Christ,” you utter, then, more urgently you add, “Was he okay?”

“Mm? Oh yes, yes. He was right as rain after a swig of Fizzy Faz” he replies, waving off your concern, “But I’m afraid we’re all at our wit’s end, dear, our wit’s end indeed. Montgomery is destroying the robots faster than we can fix them.”

“Oh, well. I'm... I'm sorry about that?” It isn't the first time you've heard about the alligator's destructive mood-swings, and while you are sorry to learn that he's having yet another one, you can't help but wonder why on Earth that has anything to do with a cleaning lady who only has bottom-level clearance.

Behind the thick curtains, there's a sudden shattering of something heavy, perhaps made of glass, followed by a low, guttural snarl of frustration.

Moving closer, Mick slides his arm across your shoulders and steers you away from the window for a moment, speaking to you in a hushed tone that instantly raises the hairs on the nape of your neck.

“Look. I'm gonna be straight – and, I'm sorry in advance for this – but we need you to stay behind tonight.”

With your tentative heart sitting in your throat, you summon the courage to ask, “Okay, why?”

“Because the higher-ups have asked me to get Monty's room up to snuff by tomorrow.” Mick raises his hand to card through his hair again, blowing out a rough exhale as he adds, “Some exec's kid is having a birthday party here first thing, and he wants everything to be perfect. Capital 'P.' That means access to all the rooms on Rockstar Row...” He jerks his head backwards, in the direction of Montgomery's room. “Any bot that gets sent in there to clean up the mess is torn to shred. But what I'm thinking is that in theory, Monty's programming won't let it hurt a human, right?”

In that moment, you realise what he's about to ask you to do.

Swallowing thickly, you glance over your shoulder towards the swinging, double doors that lead down to the maintenance tunnels, no doubt where the unfortunate S.T.A.F.F bots are having their servos and wheels reattached as you speak.

Therein lays the problem. Your components don't slot back into place quite so easily as the bots' do.

“But... I'm just a cleaner,” you argue through gritted teeth, hoping he doesn't hear the nervousness seeping from your voice like a bad smell.

“Yeah, the only one we've got who isn't S.T.A.F.F,” he presses, holding his hands up as if he means to soothe any oncoming protests, “Listen, this isn't my call. This is coming from way up high on the food chain. They're getting' sick of replacing bots every time Monty wants to throw his toys out of the pram.”

You can't help but find it a little incredulous that the company would chuck an employee at an animatronic who has done irreparable damage to dozens of their own bots, based on the flimsy theory that he's programmed not to hurt faculty. You know all about the gator's reputation, enough that you're careful to give him a wide berth whenever he stalks across a room you're cleaning. “Come on, Mick,” you try weakly, “Isn't this a little above my pay-grade?”

A bead of sweat dribbles down from the man's hairline and skirts the wrinkles around his eye. He's desperate, and you can understand why. Ultimately, it'll be him who comes under fire if things don't go off without a hitch for the exec's kid.

The man seems just shy of grabbing you as he wrings his hands and sputters, “You go in there, see what you can do about the mess, and I'll... I'll... see what I can do to raise your Christmas bonus, yeah?”

You struggle to keep the disbelieving little scoff from escaping between your teeth.

It's a terrible incentive, to be sure. Money for compliance, with no real guarantee of seeing the former part of the deal.

Besides, what good will a slightly fatter paycheque do if you're neck-deep in hospital bills or bleeding out on the floor of Montgomery Gator's room?

'Should never have signed that stupid liability clause,' you chide yourself, not for the first time.

The only real incentive here is that you’d be doing Andy a favour. If you go in there and if, by some miracle, you survive, he won’t nearly keel over by pushing himself to repair the bots that Monty rips apart.

Besides, Mick is still staring at you with a fervid sort of gleam in his eye that really gives you the impression that if you decline, he might actually try to wring your neck and save Monty the trouble.

You don't feel a lick of shame for the put-upon sigh you heave, letting your shoulders slump to hide their rigidity as you shoot a quick glance back at the cordoned-off windows and huff, “Alright, fine. I'll do it.”

Mick's entire posture goes slack with relief. “Oh, thank Christ!”

-----

Several, tentative steps lead you up to Montgomery Gator’s door where you grind to a halt, staring up at the slab of metal in front of you, thoroughly unnerved by the muffled growls and snarls trickling out from behind it. 

All of a sudden, you're sent reeling back as something heavy slams into the other side of it, tugging an impromptu gasp from your lips. Bewildered, you shoot a glance at Mick and throw your hands up in a silent question, only to find him standing several metres from where he was before, nodding at you encouragingly.

You let your arms fall back to your sides.

It would appear you really don't have much of a choice.

Hesitating to suck down a steadying breath, you fumble at the clearance badge around your neck and lean down, pressing it flat against the door's mechanism.

The damning 'beep' of success sends your heart plummeting into the pit of your stomach.

Then, like a jaw opening to receive you, the door slides up, and just like that, you're standing full view of the Megapizza Plex's most volatile animatronic.

Montgomery gator, the star himself, looms menacingly in the shadows at the furthest corner of the room with his signature glasses askew and his eyes gleaming crimson in the darkness. Overhead, only one, solitary lightbulb still clings to life, swinging back and forth and casting eerie shapes on the walls around you.

The animatronic is staring straight at you through the gloom, his enormous shoulders creaking as they heave with exertion whilst the claws at the tip of each finger quiver at an almost imperceptible pace, scraped blunt from excessive wear and tear.

He's every bit as frightening as you recall. It's hardly any wonder a lot of the children are afraid of him.

You realise with a jolt that neither of you have really moved, excepting Monty, of course, who's elongated head twitches to one side, and it promptly occurs to you that you're most likely being scanned.

It feels very much as though you're treading on sheet-thin ice, and at the risk of plunging into the alligator-infested waters below, you fear you'll have to be the one to break it.

You've never interacted one-on-one with the animatronics before. How in the world are you supposed to address them?

“Hello, um.. Sir?”

The gator's head snaps back to its upright position and you resist the urge to grimace. A fine start.

“Mr Montgomery...” you try again, taking a brave step forwards inside the room, only to freeze in your tracks when a guttural growl travels through the darkness and cuts straight into your chest like the roll of approaching thunder.

“The Hell're you doin' in here, lady?”

Isn't that the million-dollar question.

Another step.

Behind you, the door slides shut once more and seals you inside, helpless as a lamb in a lion's den.

'This is his room', you remind yourself shakily, 'his territory.'

If someone stepped inside your bedroom unannounced, you'd certainly expect a pretty solid explanation for their presence as well.

“Management sent me,” you squeak out with minimal tremors, “I'm the cleaning lady. I'm supposed to... well... clean up your room for you...” Pausing, you swallow past a lump and add, “There's an, uh, an important birthday party going on tomorrow and this place... needs some, uh. TLC?”

Trailing off, you let your eyes dart around the room, rapidly taking stock of the damage you've been sent to deal with. The first thing you notice is a poster sitting on the wall to your left, depicting Montgomery himself, his long chin resting in the palm of one hand and a lazy smile pulling at his features. In the image, his expression is open, playful, even friendly

Suddenly, your focus is brought back to the gator with a start when he drops his jaw and lets out a hollow laugh that's about as far from friendly as one could get. It's bitter, mocking, and you don't much care for it at all.

“So, they finally got sick of me breakin' those S.T.A.F.F dummies, huh?” Monty chuckles, peeling his plastic lips back to reveal rows of sharp, jagged teeth, “Thought they'd send some human instead.”

Frozen in place, you can do little else but shrug noncommittally.

Something sharp abruptly crosses his glare and you don't even have a moment to blink, because in the next second, a four-hundred-pound animatronic is storming across the room towards you, heedless of an upturned table that stands in his way. One of his shins catches the wood, and it's sent skidding sideways to crash against the wall.

Blanching, you immediately try to back up, but your head knocks painfully against the solid door at your spine and you realise, with a sinking sensation in your gut, that you're well and truly trapped as a behemoth of an alligator closes in on you, his motions far more ungainly than those you've witnessed from him while he's on stage, as if movement is a struggle for him at the moment.

The door behind you feels a lot like the bars of an inescapable cage, and although the key is hanging around your neck, it would require you to turn and bear your vulnerable spine to the animatronic. There isn't a chance in Hell you're brave enough to do that.

Instead, you brace your hands against the metal and squeeze your eyes tightly shut, left with little option but to wait for impact.

Just as you're certain that he's going to plough right into you, Montgomery stops and there’s a warm gust of metallic air that washes over your cheeks like a breath. “And what's to stop me from breakin' you, lady?”

For several moments, your ears ring in the unexpected silence that follows his query, until the fear of not being able to see him outweighs your fear of seeing him altogether, so you crack open your eyelids and immediately flinch backwards, flattening yourself even further against the door.

The animatronic's broad chest stands scant inches away from your nose.

“You – You can't-!”

“You don't think I could?” he cuts you off with a snap, hackles raising, and you're suddenly aware that he must think you're insulting his capabilities.

“I – I mean, you definitely could,” you sputter, grasping for words as a drowning man grasps for one last breath, “I just don't think you should!”

A pair of thick, brawny arms lift into your peripheral vision and he slams his palms against the wall on either side of you, each as green as the Amazon rainforest. The gator leans in close until his snout almost brushes the hair on your head. It's all you can do to keep your eyes open, unable to tear them away from the teeth that linger unbearably close to your delicate skin. 

Ever so slowly, Montgomery's jaws part and he hisses out, “Why shouldn't I?”

Everything about him screams intimidation. He's bigger, he's stronger, and he really wants you to know it.

But there's one thing he hasn't taken into account.

You've been intimidated before.

Perhaps not by an eight-foot tall animatronic, but certainly by someone who was just as loud and boisterous as the alligator looming over you is now. You've had your back to a wall for years before tonight, so much so that it's become second-nature to lower your head and stare through bleary eyes at the carpet below you. It takes you a moment to remember that you've managed to fight your way out of this position once before, several months ago. You can do it again.

You're going to have to, because frankly, you're reluctant to let some blustering animatronic alligator drive you into a corner.

“Because,” you rasp and try to bunch your fingers into the fabric of your pencil skirt as if you could steal strength from the fabric itself, “I'm not your enemy, Montgomery. I'm just here to do my job. And the sooner you let me do it, the sooner I can be out of your – er – your scales. Okay?”

You don't meet his eye, but you do notice the gator recoil slightly, his jaws retreating from the top of your vision, even just slightly.

Silence settles thickly over your head once again before he speaks, low and threatening. “One last chance to get out...”

You raise your head, teeth clenched together so hard that they leave an ache behind. “I can't.”

You really can't. Oh, perhaps physically, you can. You could turn tail and flee like a bat out of Hell. But Mick is standing right outside that door, probably waiting to send you back inside if you try to beat a hasty retreat. All it would take is a few words from him - 'She wouldn't do her job!' - and your employers would send you packing with nothing but a cardboard box to carry your mug in.

You've had to give up a lot to get here, to afford a boxy little apartment on the outskirts of town with only your own income to pay the rent, and you're not about to give up what little you have, not without a fight.

So even when Montgomery Gator takes a step away from you, raises to his full height and lifts one, enormous fist into the air, you lock your knees and refuse to budge.

You can take a hit.

'Be tense,' you remind yourself distantly, heart hammering in your chest like it wants to escape the punishment it's about to receive, 'He can't damage internal organs if your muscles are in the way.'

It's an agonising wait, watching the gator's legs as he stands over you, his arm still held aloft.

You don't want to look at him, you don't want to provoke him, so there you stay, rigid and afraid until there's a gentle chuff of air wafting over your face.

You still don't take the bait though, keeping your eyes fixed on the joint of his knee.

Movement at the corner of your eye has you darting them over to see his fists lower gradually back down against his sides. That, at the very least, renders you curious enough to peer up at him through your lashes and gulp down a nervous breath.

He's glaring back down at you, his eyes somehow piercing right through the purple sheen of his sunglasses. Then, without warning, the gator puffs out his chest and snaps his teeth far too close to your face, bellowing, “Fine!” before he spins on his heel and stomps back towards his upturned couch, leaving behind a trembling mess of a human by the entrance.

 

You're not dead...

You take a deep breath and place one hand over your heart, fingers twisting deep into the fabric of your shirt. The legs keeping you upright hardly feel very sturdy at all, and you blink down at them numbly, wondering if your knees have been knocking like this since you walked in here.

“Well?!” The animatronic's snapped question brings you to your senses and you jump, throwing your head up and giving him a dumbfounded stare.

“You gonna start cleaning up, or what?!” he adds gruffly, gesturing to the chaos surrounding you.

Quick as a flash, you appease him with a hasty nod. “Sure. Yeah. Uh huh!”

Sneering your way, the gator rolls his shoulders and turns to grab the edge of his couch, lifting it back onto its stumpy legs with enviable ease. 

You almost start to think that he's actually helping you, but you're soon proved wrong when he slumps down heavily onto the cushions and crosses his arms, glaring at you as you pick your way towards the window, where a large plant pot lays on its side, spilling soil all over the carpet. You'll definitely have to go and get the hoover from storage at some point, but you're reluctant to pause so soon without righting the majority of the room first.

So, all too aware of the crimson eyes burning a hole into the side of your head, you press your lips together and get to work.