Title: we're the umbrella (in a rain of fire)
Spoilers: Makes mention to minor events of 1x11, The Clotharian Contamination Protocol.
Word Count: 3,116
Summary: Five of the more...interesting times Wendy and the Middleman saved the world. (gen)
Notes: First fic in the Middleman fandom, concrit is snuggled, cuttext from REM's ubiquitous "End of the World as we Know It" for no reason whatsoever. This is what happens when I have to pack. Crossposted to _seven_crows, my writing journal.
"What's the plural of 'Apocalypse'?" Wendy wonders, fiddling with the zippers on her boots.
The Middleman stops his pacing and opens his mouth to reply, then pauses. "I...don't actually know. Hmm."
"'Apocalypses' just sounds kind of weird. And like it should have three periods in it somewhere."
"Maybe it's just simpler to say 'Armageddons,'" the Middleman suggests. He looks pallid and scrawny in the dim light of the broken-down elevator, the shadows casting an almost emaciated look on the hollows of his cheeks. Which are actually really pretty hollow, now that Wendy's looking – he needs to eat more.
"You know, my mom said the next time she's in town she's going to make you dinner," she tells him. This is a natural segue to her.
He frowns, but distractedly, and he doesn't look away from the grating at the elevator's entrance. "Really?"
"Yep. And consider yourself warned, she'll probably hug you when she meets you. Just go with it. Trust me. My mom's a force of Cuban-American nature."
"Although I suppose 'Armageddon' carries with it a certain Christian implication," the Middleman muses.
"She'll probably also tell you you need to eat more, which from here is looking kinda true."
"Perhaps 'doomsday' would be more appropriate."
"And you're not even listening to me."
"Hm? I'm sorry, I wasn't paying attention." He looks back at the entrance, and then at Wendy. "I suppose the impending apocalypse – doomsday, rather – and the fact that we're stuck in here and our only hope lies with Lacey and Mister Noser getting us out in time to keep the black-hole generator from sucking the entire solar system into a supermassive point of singularity..." He pauses, and shakes his head. "And now I've lost my train of thought."
"Understandably. Look, just – calm down, okay? Sit down, calm down, take a chill pill, whatever. Deep breaths, be calm like lakewater, just – something. You're kinda starting to freak me out, here."
"I'm used to a certain amount of action at this point," says the Middleman, as he begins again to pace. "Typically in end-of-the-world scenarios such as this one there's at least something I can try to do. Being stuck in here is like – well, like being stuck in a broken-down elevator when you're the Earth's only hope for maintaining the space between all the atoms in the solar system."
Wendy raises an eyebrow. "Wow, that metaphor was like something that was like something else. Very nice. Now will you just chillax? Have a little faith. Lacey and Noser'll pull through."
The Middleman nods absently, still staring at the grate with something akin to anxiety, before his expression changes to one of curiosity and he looks back at Wendy. "I just realized - I never asked - I mean, I know there's a certain demographic, and you've made mentions of your quinceñera, but – are you...religious, at all?"
Wendy frowns, considering. "Well, I was baptized and first-communion-ized and everything. My family's Catholic, definitely – my mom even went to a Catholic high school, for a while."
"Just a while?"
"She got kicked out."
"She called the head nun a liar." There is a definite note of pride in Wendy's voice.
"The nun was totally lying, though."
"But...I dunno, I guess. I haven't been to church in a while."
"Perhaps you'll reconsider after this," suggests the Middleman, but his tone is carefully suggestive, and contains no pressure.
"Probably not," Wendy admits. "What about you?"
"Both of my parents were Presbyterian ministers," he admits, with a crooked half-smile. "I suppose it's somewhat inevitable..."
Wendy smiles a little, but it fades quickly. "Were, huh?"
The Middleman looks at her for a moment, uncomprehending, and then he gets it. "You know, you're very good at getting information out of me," he says.
"Must've been fun, being a preacher's kid twice over."
"Presbyterian preachers," the Middleman reminds her. "Presbyterians are really only a bit stricter than Quakers and Unitarian Universalists."
"Unitarian - aren't those the ones who keep sending me fliers about their solstice bonfires and labyrinth walks?"
"That sounds about right."
Wendy nods. "Lacey loves those guys."
There's a dulled thud from downstairs, then a shuddering jerk as the elevator starts to move again.
"Speaking of your roommate - " begins the Middleman.
"See? What'd I tell you?" Wendy stands up, and elbows the Middleman in the side. "Have a little faith."
"Said the daughter of a Catholic-school dropout to the preachers' son," mutters the Middleman as the ground floor begins to rise into view.
Wendy just pulls out her gun and grins. "Ready to save the world, Boss?"
He pulls out his own, and arms it. "Lock and load, Dubbie."
It really shouldn't surprise Wendy that Middleman HQ has a specific room for pyrokinetic quarantine, and it doesn't. She learned a long time ago not to be surprised by anything, ever.
So the quarantine room specifically for people with the mutant power to control fire with their mind doesn't surprise her, but suddenly having the mutant power to control fire with her mind? Yeah, that part kind of comes out of nowhere.
"This is the most - [bleep]ing bizarre - sheer elegance in its simplicity my ass," Wendy mutters to herself, stripping out of her clothes as quickly as she can. They catch fire anyway, and she maybe shrieks a little as she pulls them off.
"If some bad guy's machine can turn me into Firestarter, why can't it make me immune to my own fire?" she shouts at the mirrored glass.
There's a quiet bzzt of the two-way radio being engaged. "I believe the Baron von Phlegethon's plan was to give everyone in the world the mutant power to create fire, thus ending civilization as we know it in an inevitable ashy vortex of flame," the Middleman reminds her from the observation room. "So I doubt that fire safety was first on his list."
"And could you turn off the mirroring already? I'm not some suspect to be interrodroid-ed."
"Someone's cranky," comes Ida's voice.
"I thought you might like a little privacy, seeing as your clothes are, well, ashes," says the Middleman
Wendy puts her hands on her hips. "All the mirrored glass means is that both of us get to see me naked, since I know it doesn't mirror on your side. Besides, it's nothing you haven't already scrubbed down in decon." Nevertheless, when her reflection is replaced with Ida and a carefully-looking-elsewhere Middleman, she can't help but cross her arms over her - assets. "And I liked that bra," she mutters.
"It was paisley," says Ida. "And pink. Baron von Phlegethon did the fashion world a favor, if you ask me."
"One, nobody did - two, why were you looking? - and three, look who's talking!"
"Ladies," says the Middleman sternly, although his gaze is firmly on Ida and nowhere near Wendy, who is still incredibly naked. "We have a bigger problem. Baron von Phlegethon is going global with his device in just a few hours, and if we can't find a way to stop it, we at least need to find a way to control the effects."
Wendy shakes her head. "That's gonna be a toughie - the only reason I'm not going all Talking Heads and burning down the house right now is that there's nothing flammable in here." She pauses for a moment, then adds, "Except maybe my temper."
"Current states of undress notwithstanding," says Ida, "Boss, you gotta focus on the big picture. We can wait until everyone in the world becomes pyrokinetic, or we can keep it from happening, and I know damn well which one I'd prefer."
The Middleman looks pained, and Wendy makes her decision. "Go on, Boss - I'll be fine. Just call me St. John." She gives him a careful thumbs-up, hands still tucked in the crooks over her elbows, and he gives the floor right in front of her a confused frown. "Allerdyce," she adds, and he just shakes his head and shrugs. "Pyro, of the X-Men. Well, of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, but you get what I - okay, maybe this metaphor is a little flawed."
"Maybe?" says Ida.
"Just - go save the world. Everything else we can figure out later, and in the meantime I'll see if I can singe Ida's hair from here."
"Don't you even try it."
The Middleman still looks conflicted, but he nods. "I'll be back - with a cure."
Wendy grins. "I know you will."
He's halfway out the observation room door when he turns back around and adds, "And Dubbie - remember: Stop, Drop, and Roll."
Wendy closes her eyes briefly. "Yep. Thanks. I'm sure that'll come in handy."
The Middleman looks entirely too cheerful as he plops down a whole pile of folders in front of Wendy.
She almost doesn't ask, as his cheery grin is not only cheery but inherently disturbing, and also it's nine-thirty in the morning on a Thursday, but her curiosity gets the better of her. That, and he won't go away. "So...what's this?"
"Research, Dubbie! The heart and soul of Middlework - the bread and butter of what we do."
"Oh yeah," says Wendy, without feeling. "Books. Hooray."
"I have a feeling you'll like this one," the Middleman says, and he's still smiling. It's making her nervous.
"Oh, she'll love it," Ida says. "It's something so bizarre it could only have been dreamed up in a hotbox."
Wendy opens one of the files, and her heart lifts a little. "Werewolves? Seriously? Is this werewolves?"
"Not werewolves, necessarily, but the were-prefix certainly applies." The Middleman's grinning wider now, if that's possible. "And it's not displaying the tribal or genetic properties we would anticipate if it was simply a normal pack of - "
"If it's wereweasels or werechinchillas, I'm gonna punch you," Wendy informs him.
"Look in the next file," he says.
She does. Then she looks at him. Then back at the file. A look of utter rapture comes over her face.
"Is this - ? It can't be. It's just too awesome."
"The werebrontosauri shouldn't pose much of a problem," says the Middleman, "but I think the werevelociraptors could be an issue."
Wendy carefully puts the files down, walks over to the Middleman, and puts her arms around him.
"This is the best mission ever," she tells his shoulder earnestly.
The Middleman pats her back, a little awkwardly. "Like I said, I thought you'd enjoy it. But we do have work to do."
"Weredinosaurs," says Wendy, letting go of him. "Check. Silver bullets?"
"Well, we have no idea - werewolves are usually genetically predisposed to transformation, along with most werebeings we know of, whereas this...affliction - "
"The weredinosaurs," Wendy prompts.
" - seems to be completely random. This, of course, means that we should consider the possibility of a temporal anomaly - "
"Oh, of course," she agrees.
" - which could mean the end of humanity as we know it," finishes the Middleman. "And of course, that's not taking into account the human race being - well - eaten."
"Wow, she catches on quick," Ida mutters.
"Okay," says Wendy. "Dinosaur apocalypse this time. Got it." She claps her hands and cracks her knuckles. "Bring it on."
The call comes in at the ungodly hour of four-thirty in the morning - an hour made even less appealing by the fact that Wendy was up until three. An hour and a half of sleep, needless to say, did not make Wendy particularly predisposed to patience, and she throws a pillow at the Middlewatch and knocks it off the nightstand, but then feels a little guilty a second later and crawls out of bed to retrieve it.
"Yeah," she says. It comes out as a croak.
"Dubbie! Thank goodness. Have you gone outside today?" The Middleman looks concerned - as well he should, Wendy thinks, because if he wakes her up one more time she's going to come up with the most creative form of punishment she can. It might involve weasels.
"It's four-thirty in the morning," she tells him.
"Yes, but have you gone outside?"
"It's four-thirty," Wendy reiterates. "That doesn't even count as today."
"I'll take that as a 'no,'" the Middleman says. "Good. Don't worry, I'll be coming to you - we need to get this situation under control, ASAP. If you need to let anyone into your building, the fire escapes have an override code of 'eta beta pi' - but don't use it to let anyone out, not in this...weather."
Wendy stares at the Middlewatch. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
The Middleman looks puzzled. "You have a television, don't you? Don't you watch the news?"
"Sometimes," Wendy admits. "And I watched some last night." Which was strictly true; Hillary Clinton's speech had been broadcast on the nightly news, and the Middleman didn't have to know about the drinking game that had gone along with it. "But I also sleep - you know, that thing where you close your eyes and start dreaming about - " Wendy abruptly realizes the direction this conversation is going in, and the ending of the sentence changes dramatically. " - dreams. But that sleep thing."
"Being the Middleman isn't a nine-to-five job," the Middleman reminds her.
"So what's going on?"
The Middleman hesitates. "Just - don't go outside. I'll be right there, once I get the hazmat suits."
"Hazmat?" Wendy rewinds the conversation a few minutes, and adds, "Lockdown?"
"Just a precaution, really - " says the Middleman as Wendy gets out of bed and takes a look at her windows. What she'd mistaken for the dark of night was actually a dark metal shutter, tightly shut over the glass of the window.
"Why does my apartment look like HQ did when it went into lockdown?"
"Because I initiated a similar lockdown procedure for your apartment building?" suggests the Middleman.
"When did you even install all this stuff?" Wendy demands.
"Remember when you had those painters in to redo the hallway outside your apartment? Well, they weren't just painters."
"This is ridiculous." Wendy's getting a little angry now, but angry is good - angry is waking her up. "You just came into my building and installed an entire lockdown system without asking me? Without even telling me?"
"It's entirely possible that the lockdown is the only thing keeping your insides on the inside," he informs her. "There's been some kind of contagion or contaminant that - well. The news stations are calling it 'spontaneous human explosion', which I think is just a little dramatic - "
"Are humans spontaneously exploding?" Wendy asks.
"Not with fire, but - yes. But don't worry - all we need to do is regroup, find an antidote, and distribute it into the city's air supply - I was thinking of modifying the Middlejet into a cropduster, but I'm open to suggestions."
"Is this worldwide?" asks Wendy, strapping her watch to her wrist as she looks for her socks. Or her pants.
"Not yet," says the Middleman grimly. "But at the rate of progression - "
"Right," says Wendy, and rubs her eyes. "So - hazmat suits?"
The Middleman grins widely at her. "I'll be right there."
"So, let me get this straight: an evil government supercomputer derived partly from scraps of technology gathered from failed supervillain plots and partly from salvaged alien technology far beyond our puny human comprehension has gone crazy, created itself a body, developed a random and inexplicable fixation with the samurai bushido code, and vowed to destroy this honorless world and all its insignificant inhabitants. Does that sound about right?"
"Not only does it sound right, Dubbie, but it sounds like some of the best synopsizing I've ever heard," says the Middleman. "Frankly, I'm impressed."
"So am I," says Ida.
Wendy turns to look at her, half-suspicious and half-proud. "Really?"
"Oh, yeah," Ida says immediately. "I didn't think you had the lung capacity for a speech like that."
"Okay, the pot jokes are getting a little old, now," Wendy says. "Seriously, you're practically begging for new material. How about 'shave your legs, you dirty hippie'?"
"Oh, but you always shave your legs," Ida tells her sweetly. " - and God knows you show enough of them that nobody can help but notice."
"'Virtueless slut' is kind of a step down in terms of class, but at least it's something new - I'll take it."
"If we can get back to the matter at hand," says the Middleman.
"Right - samurai death computer. What do you think, Boss - more Ultron or GLaDOS?"
"Although I have no idea what a GLaDOS is, Ultron certainly has enough retooled origin stories to justify a comparison to just about any artificial intelligence," says the Middleman. "I think perhaps straight-up destruction is the way to go with this one - the government specifically made no backups of it, and now that it's created itself a physical body - "
" - albeit one shaped like a metal robot samurai of death - " Wendy adds.
" - albeit," he concedes, "there are very few things in existence that can withstand two Middlemen with the expertise granted by Sensei Ping's training."
"Do you think Pain's River works on robots?" wonders Wendy.
"Robots feel no pain," Ida says. "But if we did, you'd certainly be a pain in my - "
"Neck," interjects the Middleman hurriedly.
"You know, one of these days I might just have to give you a hug to see if it would make your head explode," Wendy says. "Like those androids on Star Trek when faced with something illogical, only for you it'd be love."
Ida just gives her a Look and turns to the Middleman. "Go for the harddrive," she advises. "Metal samurai robot of death or not, nothing can survive a shattered motherboard."
He nods decisively, then turns to Wendy. "Dubbie, get the katanas. I'll find the EM-pulse generator. Between the two of us we should be able to take out that evil samurai robot heck-bent on total world destruction."
"Right," says Wendy, but she looks a little puzzled as she heads over to Weapons Closet 13C (Curved Longswords, 1392-present).
"If you have any reservations about this at all - " the Middleman begins.
"No, I'm good," says Wendy. "It's just - all of a sudden it just really hit me that this job isn't like normal jobs."
The Middleman smiles a little. "And is that a bad thing?"
Wendy unsheathes a katana, imagines it slicing through the evil death samurai robot, and grins. "Oh, [bleep] no."