Characters: Wendy Watson, the Middleman
Disclaimer: I'd love to own The Middleman, but I don't.
Summary: Something essential inside her shifts.
Author's Note: Written after being spoiled for the thirteenth episode/table read. I haven't heard it yet, so any canon mistakes are my fault. This is also unbetaed, but I've gone over it about a thousand times so hopefully it looks okay.
Wendy has been less enthusiastic about expressing it lately, but she hates the notion that there’s one true love you’re supposed to end up with, happily ever after. No one believes that unless they write trashy romance novels, direct chick flicks, or animate cartoon deer or Cinderella or something. She’s always thought that it’d be enough to find someone to rely on, someone to trust and smile with and lust over without worry of sudden and mysterious disappearances.
Hallmark doesn’t make cards with zombies printed on the front, entrails in one hand, brains in the other, and she isn’t sure it would help if they did.
Soulmate is an overused word, anyway.
In the way that people experienced with emotional pain envy those who manage to avoid it, Wendy thinks that Lacey is privileged. A flare of guilt works it way into her throat, and she excuses herself from another game of Stump the Band with Noser, her roommate, and Lacey’s Mister Perfect, vegan enthusiast, new boyfriend.
Her feet clunk heavily on the floor and she sits before her canvas, new and white, ready to receive paint, the fantastical, and the semi-abstract, but there’s a giant grey wall in her mind and she can only see whole pictures. For the first time since summer break in middle school, she has too much time and not enough creativity.
A thrum of sadness makes a counter rhythm to her pulse and her fists clench. She forgets how much everyone else has had to give up. She forgets that Sensei Ping didn’t teach her a move to defeat the crushing weight of lost promise and acceptance.
Loose lips, he thinks, then banishes the thought. No one’s fault that they all lost focus, forgot to remember that the life of a Middleman and his loved ones is never really safe.
There are names on brass memorials for a reason.
Tyler was –
Everything had been done to fix the situation, everything to try had been done, and it’s not his fault that it didn’t help. He swallows unsteadily.
Ida tells Wendy Greenland, but sends an amnesiac to Iceland.
Wendy hears vaguely that Tyler is making a name for himself in the music business.
The worst part of it all is that the wonderfully psychotic world of the juxta-terrestrial has become quiet. It’s become greyer, stifling, and her fists shake, needing something to drag them out of the hell hole they leapt blindly into. The Middleman aches for two futures he’ll never have and stares at her as if it’ll fix everything, and it’s not fair. The android brings up drugs like no one’s changed.
She just wants to cry or punch the table so he can do something, and she can begin to feel normal again. Cl – the Boss notices, lighting from darkened to dim. “Want to spar?”
“Only if you promise not to hold back.”
He blinks and stands, and an offer she didn’t even realize she was making is accepted. He seems taller, more imposing than she’s used to, and recalls the defined muscle he carried to battle not all that long ago. A muscle in his jaw jumps. “If you’re sure.”
They leave and Ida rolls her eyes, listening to the number one up-and-coming musician in England relate his song writing experience.
For an hour she’s only worried about surviving in a purely primal manner. She thinks kill, maim, destroy, and sees sweat and respect and strong muscle beneath her hands.
She doesn’t cry, but she does paint a Bugbear on the ice, wrist protesting at every brush stroke.
Bruises line her arms and legs, one aching on her shoulder, and another already green on her side. Lacey watched her walk up the stairs with wide, worried eyes.
The morning is hell, but being clearheaded again is worth it.
“Dubby,” he says, watching her zip up her boots. He watched her change too, mostly turning around, but neither of them mind much anymore, not after the scrubbing incident. And she knows he doesn’t have some strange foot fetish, so the look he’s directing her heel must be in preparation for a “talk.”
“Please, don’t,” she interrupts, when he takes a breath.
He meets her eyes. “Don’t?”
“Don’t turn this into some ridiculous heart-to-heart situation where we bare our souls and you attempt to make everything better by comparing our losses. Don’t make me punch you again.”
Her last bruise has left a purple and green shadow across her forearm. She rubs it absently and continues. “Don’t test this rediscovered normality on something that can’t be fixed with a truth bomb while we put off telling a Mole Person that he’s digging too close to the surface.” She frowns at the folder he’d laid on the bench beside her foot. “Mole Person?”
The Middleman stares at her like he’s grateful and disappointed in some messed up way that probably makes perfect sense in his mind.
A week ago she punched his jaw before limbs collapsed underneath sore, exhausted bodies, and the only evidence left is a row of splotches where her knuckles collided with skin and bone.
Her hand still hurts, sending reminders with her wrist to her brain with fiery shocks of pain. Not broken – he’d made sure, had checked before she went home, but the muscle was strained. She’s already itching to fight again, ready for the odd emotional catharsis and the focused stare of an opponent.
“Well, we all can’t be fairies and unicorns, can we, Dubby?”
Her wrist burns when she tries to sketch a Mole Person contractor as Lacey prepares to go to the vegan place on Second Street with Perfect Guy and Noser. And she likes the guy, but not enough to sacrifice what should be a normal meal; what should be many normal meals. So for the next few days, she either mopes through the galleries of other abstract painters or heads to work early and stays long after Ida finishes the paperwork for another new Interri-Droid, the last one having been smashed by drunken frat boys with baseball bats as it was trying to clean the front windows.
Ida shoots her another glare and leaves the room, as if wondering why being the metaphorical third wheel to a group of well loved friends is so awkward. And if Wendy had an answer she wouldn’t be reading a book on the nineteen hundred languages of the Milky Way alone in the library of HQ she never spent enough time in to get used to.
Her boss finds her, still in uniform at almost ten thirty, acknowledging her new “interest” with a nod. She looks up at him silently and he frowns a little, like he’s uncertain how to continue because she didn’t respond with a witty verbal jab. “While I’m thrilled you’ve taken an interest in the phonetics of the races living on the dwarf planets near Pluto,” he starts, “it makes me wonder why the pronunciation of ‘azszx’ is more appealing to you than Thursday Night Drunk with Lacey and your friends.”
He can say her name without wincing or flinching or falling into the unsettling version of himself his alternate would be proud of. For a cruel second she wants to point it out. She bites her tongue, testing her wrist; it still aches. “I guess I’m just not up for a night of inebriated confessions and a pounding headache in the morning. Why?”
He actually fidgets. “Because I’m going home now and, since the morning will rise early, whether or not you’re intoxicated, perhaps you should too.”
She’s positive she feels her jaw drop. He’s going home? The whirlwind of questions she couldn’t ask because his name was an unknown variable shoves any thought of tequila and a fuzzy tongue out of her mind. House or apartment? Paint or wallpaper or framed pictures hanging from the walls? Couch or armchair? What kind of healthy (or unhealthy) food would she find if she opened his refrigerator? When did he have time to do laundry for the normal clothing he must have?
An image shimmers before her eyes, and she sees the Middleman – Clarence – in well worn jeans and a more casual button up than the job allows sitting on an overstuffed love seat, watching some baseball game with stockinged feet resting on a coffee table next to a bottle of beer (glass of milk). It slides into place so effortlessly that she wonders what kind of a game she was playing before.
“Yeah,” she says, and her mouth clicks shut.
So maybe Pip is still the chum sucking asshole that stole her paintings and threatened to throw everyone out, but he sees her in one of Noser’s usual spots, sans instrument, and invites her into his sublet. She’s half tempted to turn him down and go back to her emo when he sort of raises his hand and she notices that he’s got a huge bag of what smells like Chinese food.
Nice sleuthing, Watson, she chastises internally, and of course she ends up agreeing to help him eat his accidental double order of kung pow and low mein. Free food is free food whether or not it comes from a semi-creep.
His flat is surprisingly sporty, which is not at all an image she associated with Pip of all people, with a couple bikes hanging from their wall hooks and an occasional photograph of a mountain or river.
“All taken by me,” he says without any of his usual infliction, and she realizes how much of Pip she missed by focusing on his annoying tendencies.
He turns on the television, flips the channel to something normal, like crime solving novelists and chows down.
And she’s not sure how it happens, but sometime between the local news repeating itself and Conan O’Brian, she doesn’t quite cry and Pip doesn’t quite comfort her. There’s a tear and he puts his hand on her shoulder and asks, “Do you want to ride bikes sometime?”
It’s been two weeks since Clarence snapped into place in her head and they haven’t sparred again. She hasn’t told him about riding bikes in the early morning with Pip either, though she figures she should because he – Clarence, the Middleman, Boss – is as close to Sensei Ping levels of irritation as she ever wants to see, and this is weighty enough to be the straw that crushes the camel's back.
So she does.
“I ride bikes with Pip now. We’ve reached an agreement.”
“Early morning exercise is a great way to sharpen the mind for the day.” He sounds unsurprised and false, his tone missing the enthusiasm his words used to carry so effortlessly.
“Ben and the lead actress of his movie were dating. They broke up when she discovered him cheating on her with the actor who was supposed to play his role in the film. She got it all on camera and put it on the internet.”
He nearly smiles.
Hard, slick muscle remains unmoved beneath her palm; she quickly sidesteps to avoid his kick and sweat runs down her back, tiny individual drops of annoyance that are destroying her concentration and defense. He’s sweating too, breathing heavily under his shirt, but he doesn’t pause for air, just pushes on.
She wants to smack him, to really hit him and get a response because this isn’t helping anymore. His frustration and pain aren’t helping, and she doesn’t know how to tell him without punching his face again.
He tricks her into taking a step back, then another, which isn’t fair, and he keeps darting out of her range only to reach in for the hit. Her left hook collides with the mass of his forearm and he brushes her off. Her back smacks into the paneled wall.
She grits her teeth and waits for his attack.
His shoulders drop. He steps into her space, hands flat against the wall on both sides of her shoulders and every inch of her whispers now, or it’ll be too late. But she looks at his jaw and his eyes and something essential shifts inside her and –
He kisses her.
Their teeth click against each other, tongues already striving for dominance, and one of them growls, low, and she shivers.
“Dubby,” he says.
Sun streams into her open eyes like a sudden and icy shower, her watch speaking with his voice in metallic tones. “There’s a small leprechaun problem in Cleveland.”
She doesn’t know how to tell him that most of her aggression at her bizarrely screwed up life works itself out while she pumps bicycle pedals over miles in the morning chill. She doesn’t know how to tell him that he’s really the only unresolved factor in a rather large equation.
“How long will we be gone?”
Lacey watches her drop her bags onto the floor from the couch and states in a decided voice, “We’re going to sit down for the weekend and hang out. You, me, and whatever takeout we can get delivered, and you can tell that boss of yours that he needs to learn how to share. Now, would you rather watch Star Trek or the original Battlestar Galactica?”
Wendy really, really loves her best friend.
He kisses her again, then nips at her pulse and she arches into him, hands grasping at broad shoulders.
She’s reclining on one of the benches in the dressing room, hands stretched behind her so she won’t fall and loose sight of the span of his shoulders. He turns, halfway through an anecdote about his days as a Middle-sidekick.
She decides it’s time to be blunt. “I have sex dreams about you.”
They’re at the duck pond, his duck pond, and the sun is setting, painting everything amber in the dying light, and it would be beautiful if Ida wasn’t reminding her every twelve seconds to be scanning the water foul for signs of alien intelligence.
He keeps saying, “I don’t know how this got by me,” but she sees it easily. He gently lifts another duck from the ground to scan it and it’s like he’s found some internal scale that perfectly balances everything she knows about him. For whatever stupid reason, this duck pond that he brings innocent though misused birds to softens him or maybe it’s just the light, but it really doesn’t matter.
She’s laughing when a Mallard bobs up from the depths of the pond, laser in tow because she loves him. Not in an uncontrollable, desperate way, but steadily and the force of it curls her toes, makes her grin helplessly.
He won’t catch on for a while.
She still misses the Tyler she knew, the zombie watching, wing eating guy who fell in love with her wit and smile and Hruk Bugbear, but it doesn’t ache.
She will always miss her father, even though she got to say goodbye this time.
She ends up watching a lot of Westerns, but things don’t change much beyond that.