The Job Description Actuality
Summary: It is no longer possible to keep the truth about Wendy's job from Lacey. Who reacts better to the truth than expected.
Disclaimer: I wish I owned the show. All credit to the incomparable Javi. Even the idea isn't entirely my own. A challenge issued months ago wanted to know what would happen if Lacey started wondering about Wendy's job (sorry, couldn't find it again to cite the challenger), and a ficlet by Brista over at livejournal gave me the idea by having Lacey know when a friend doesn't ask questions. Which got me thinking about how Lacey really never asks questions. Or at least doesn't press the issue when she does.
The Job Description Actuality
Lacey was putting the finishing touches on the last protest-sign when the front door opened.
"There you are, Dub Dub!" she greeted her roommate without looking up. "Where you been?"
"Lacey! I didn't realize… Wendy said you would be out by now," Wendy's boss said, sounding flustered.
She looked up with a smile for him, but it faded as she really took the two in. Wendy's boss was supporting her, one arm around her, holding her weight up without seeming to exert any effort on it. But it was still clear that Wendy would not have been able to stay upright without his help.
"She hurt her ankle," he told Lacey quickly. "It's only twisted, not broken," he assured her as she jumped to her feet. "But if you could help me get her into bed? She hasn't had much sleep the last couple of days."
"Yeah, come on."
Lacey led the way, aware that, if she had been feeling even remotely okay, Wendy would have protested the idea of being half-carried up the stairs by her boss. Any guy, for that matter. Not that Tyler could have managed with the ease of Sexy Bossman, who really did make it look effortless. He looked worried, too, and Lacey doubted that was a good sign.
"I'll get her changed and tucked in. You can wait downstairs," Lacey told him.
He walked to the stairs, but waited there, his eyes averted as Lacey helped Wendy out of her clothes and into a pair of sweat-pants and a t-shirt. Lacey kept watching him out of the corner of her eye, and she was fully aware that he kept stealing glimpses back at Wendy. Nothing he saw seemed to affect him the way that seeing a pretty young woman in just her underwear should affect a guy. He just kept glancing back at her with a deeply troubled expression. If he had been leering, she would have put a stop to it in a second, but his palpable concern made her let it go.
Lacey could see why he was troubled, too. It was hard to ignore the bruises that covered Wendy's torso and stomach. At one point, she went to gently prod one of the bruises to see how bad it was, drawing a sharp intake of breath from Wendy. Her boss was at the bed in a heartbeat, trembling slightly as he locked eyes with her.
"Are you okay?"
"Just a little tender," Wendy answered, shrugging her shirt the rest of the way on. "And very tired, Boss."
"I'll bet you are," he agreed, pushing her back against her pillows with gentle authority. "Get some sleep," he directed, pulling a quilt over her. "I imagine Lacey and I have some things to discuss."
"You don't have to…"
"It's okay, Dubbie," he soothed, lightly touching her forehead. "Just rest now. I'll take care of everything."
She smiled, her eyes drifting shut. "I know you will. You always do."
He smiled back, resettling the quilt over her before turning to face Lacey. "We should go downstairs, let Dubbie get some sleep," he told her in a low voice. "She needs it."
Lacey nodded and tiptoed down the stairs after him. "I had a protest tonight, but I think I'm going to skip it, stay in with Wendy."
"I'm sure she'd appreciate the thought, but I'll be just as happy to stay with her until you return."
"That's nice of you, but no." She shook her head. "I think I'd better stay. I think you should probably stay, too," she added. "We need to talk."
"Yes, I thought you might say that," he agreed quietly.
Lacey pointed to the couch, promised to join him in a minute, and then picked up the phone, speed-dialing her friend at the University.
"Yeah, Willow? I'm not going to be able to make it to the protest tonight. Yeah, I'm sorry, but my roommate's feeling a little under the weather. Yeah, I'll tell her you said so. Thanks. Yeah. Oh, no, the signs are done. Just have someone drop by and pick them up on their way to the lab. Great, I'll be waiting for him. Thanks."
She hung up and turned back to Wendy's boss, sitting stiffly on the couch and watching her with a guarded look.
"So…" he began.
"International consulting," Lacey answered, dropping onto the couch but keeping some space between them. The temptation to curl up against him was strong, but thoughts of Wendy upstairs, battered and exhausted, deterred her. And left her feeling angry.
"I'm sure you have some questions for me," he tried again. "Wendy and I discussed it. We think it's for the best that you get the answers you want."
"I only have one," Lacey told him.
"Really?" He looked confused by this.
"Is it worth it? Someone as special as Wendy, getting forced to face the kinds of danger you face all the time. Is it worth it?"
He looked a little thrown by this.
"No, I'm not going to ask what you do or who you do it for. Wendy'll tell me that when she's ready. Or she won't, and that's okay, too, because we're friends and a bond like ours can survive a few little secrets. So I don't care if you've recruited my Dub Dub into the CIA or Homeland Security or whoever!"
"Lacey, I know how you feel about the Establishment, but…"
She plowed on, pretending not to have heard. "But she comes home all the time, trying not to limp, or not quite covering up the bruises on her face with too much makeup. And I pretend I don't notice, because I don't want her to know how much it scares me to think of her out there doing God knows what, fighting God knows who. I try to tell myself that she'll be okay, because you're there and you have her back because a person can't know her and not love her. So I know that you try to protect her. But she gets hurt anyway. And then I have to wonder how much worse it would be for her without you there. And that scares me."
"It goes without saying that it's never been our intent to frighten or alarm you…"
"No, let me finish. I've been keeping all this in for a long time. If I don't let it out soon, I'm gonna explode. But I'm sure as hell not going to burden her with any of it"
"Then you should tell me what's been on your mind," he answered: reasonably, damn him.
There was pounding on the door. Wendy's boss was on his feet with his weird-looking gun out before the first echo subsided. Lacey waved him down and grabbed her signs, passing them outside and warning her friends the protestors to be careful of the still-wet paint on some of the signs. They thanked her, as always, and tried to get her to come along after all. She declined and saw them off as quickly as she could, then went back to where Wendy's boss waited, watching her with an inscrutable expression.
She sat down again, a little closer to him this time, which made him smile.
"Where was I?"
"You were about to explode because of how much Wendy's job scares you."
"Thanks. I just… I think about how big it all must be, and how small all of us are. Maybe not you, I don't know. You don't seem small to me, but half the time you don't seem real to me, either. You show up at our door wearing a hazmat suit like it's perfectly normal. I follow you into a movie theater and you react like I'm an international assassin. You give my best friend assignments like pretending to be a waitress in some lowbrow sports bar with half-naked waitresses and lucha libre wrestlers spoiling for fights. You take her to fabulous society parties and end up getting her chained up in the boiler-room. You sensing a pattern here?"
"Our work is eclectic," he admitted, his gaze travelling to the stairs up to Wendy's room. "You must think the worst of me."
"You love Wendy. I can't think too badly of any man who loves her."
He smiled faintly. "She's a special woman."
"She is," Lacey agreed, smiling weakly at him. "I just want her to be safe…"
"Of course you do. So do I. But what she does is important."
"I know. It would have to be, for her to care about the work as much as she does. I just… she comes home like this and I wonder if it's worth it. I'm not going to ask you to tell me what it is the two of you do, I'm just not. But I need to know that it's worth it."
He sighed softly, closing his eyes. "I used to ask myself the same thing a lot after I got recruited. If I had never seen the true shape of the world, would I have been better off? Would life have gone on without me? And the answer is 'probably'. Just like the world would probably go on without Wendy Watson putting her neck on the line every day. But I can tell you this much, and say it honestly. The world that you strive to make a better place… it quite literally owes its existence to Wendy Watson's intervention." He shook his head. "That protest your friends are carrying your signs in right now, that's only happening at all because she rushed into the fray this afternoon. Otherwise this city would be a smoldering pile of rubble."
"That doesn't really make me feel any better," she confided.
"No. When she gets hurt, it doesn't make me feel any better, either. But there is one thing it always makes me feel, and that's pride. Your roommate is an amazing woman, Lacey. I think you probably already know that. It's a small comfort, but I want you to know that you can be proud of her."
"I didn't need your permission to be proud of my Dub Dub," she answered with a smile.
He smiled right back. "No, of course not."
"You'll keep her safe, won't you?" she asked hesitantly.
"I'll always try," he promised.
Trust him to be honest instead of comforting. She shook her head.
"How long have you known that Wendy wasn't just another temp?" he asked.
"I'm not stupid," she answered, shrugging. "The night you hired her, you barged into the apartment, beat the crap out of Ben, and then took out a big, hairy mobster with this freaky gun prototype." At his startled look, she continued with a grin, "Second week of work, she called me from the cockpit of a harrier. Should I go on?"
"That's all right. I think I've grasped the pattern. I'm surprised you didn't mention anything earlier."
She shrugged again. "It was kind of fun, trying to guess. And, like I said, when Dub Dub's ready to tell me, she'll tell me."
"You aren't worried that you might not like the truth once you've heard it?" he asked.
"Whatever she does out there won't change things between us because she's still her. Your work is good work or she wouldn't keep doing it."
"Remember, I knew her first. You two may be close, but so are the two of us. I know her well enough to know that she wouldn't do a job if it were immoral or something."
"It's very moral," he assured her. "She makes the world a better place every day she's in it."
"You really do love her, don't you?" she asked, wondering if she should feel jealous. Of course, Wendy had Tyler. She had never expressed an interest in her boss, although it was possible that she had only failed to because she was being considerate of Lacey's feelings.
"Wendy's like a sister to me. And she says I'm like a father to her." He looked almost absurdly proud as he said that, puffing out his chest and squaring his shoulders.
Lacey smiled. "I'm glad she's found someone to fill that role in her life. No wonder you think us dating would be weird."
"It's not just that. You'd be in tremendous danger from any close association with me. I can't allow that." He shook his head, wearing that sad look of his. "It would be wrong."
"Fair enough," she answered reluctantly. "But we can still be friends, right? The three of us. There's nothing to prevent that."
"No, there isn't." He smiled slightly.
"Good. So, now that we're friends, how about I order a vegan pizza and we can watch this movie I just got off eBay."
"Vegan pizza?" he repeated, looking dubious.
Lacey giggled at his clueless expression. "I'll order one with cheese and meat for you and Dub Dub," she promised, walking over to the phone. Ordering was quick; one vegan and one disgustingly not was their standing order. "Thirty-six minutes," she told him, walking back to the couch.
"So, what movie did you have in mind?" he asked, looking leery. "Not one of Dubbie's zombie films?"
"Nope. This one's more of a classic Classic than a cult classic." She handed him the DVD grinning as his face lit up.
His face lit up. "Ride Lonesome?"
"Mmm. No reason we can't sit vigil for Dub Dub and watch a good movie at the same time. You'll love the ending," she promised.
"I can't wait. Let me just go and check on Dubbie for a second."
She wanted to go with him, but gathered that he would rather be alone with Wendy, so she told him, "I'll be waiting."
Wendy opened her eyes at the sound of footsteps on the stairs. "Lace?"
"No, she's downstairs, putting a movie on. She ordered pizza."
"So it went better than we thought it would?" she guessed. Before he could answer, she added, "By the way, do not let her convince you to try the vegan pizza. Cardboard with tomato sauce tastes better."
He smiled at the warning and sat down on the edge of the bed. "She worries about you."
"Don't you have anyone to worry about you?"
"I have you," he answered, smiling warmly down at her. "Wendy, telling your roommate is one thing, but Tyler…"
"Tyler is going to be very upset that I fell down the stairs and will probably encourage me to sue you for not keeping the building up," she answered, shaking her head. "It's easier to hide things from him than from Lacey, at least lately," she assured him. "Don't worry. Your former potential recruit will remain clueless for the time being."
"And you're okay with that?"
"I don't know," she admitted. "He's not as accepting as Lacey. It's harder to say how he might react."
"Hmm. How are you feeling?"
"Little sore. Other than that, I'm just tired."
"Then you should get some rest," he advised, patting her arm.
"How did Lacey react?"
"She didn't want me to tell her anything. She says she'll hear it from you when you're ready."
"No pressure, Dub Dub," she muttered.
"Lacey isn't going to pressure you for answers. She's content that you're doing what you know to be right. The rest honestly doesn't seem to matter to her."
"You know, somehow the fact that she doesn't pressure me for details makes not telling her feel worse."
"You don't need to have secrets from Lacey. She's your best friend."
"That's a change of policy, isn't it?"
He shrugged. "Sometimes it's dangerous for a person to know the truth of what we do. At other times, it's more dangerous to keep the truth from an individual. It varies."
"And you figure Lacey's less dangerous if she doesn't go digging around on her own?"
"I do," he agreed. "She can be somewhat insistent."
Wendy grinned up at the King of All Understatement. "I'll talk to her tomorrow," she promised. "Enjoy your movie. Just remember Rule Number Three, huh?"
"Vegan pizza and Westerns do not a date make," he chuckled, climbing to his feet. "Sleep tight, Dubbie."
"Thanks, boss." Wendy snuggled under her covers again, asleep before he had reached the stairs.
"So, how was your date?" Wendy asked, limping downstairs.
Lacey shushed her with a frantic gesture, pointing to the couch. The Middleman was lying there, his feet sticking over one of the arms. He was sound asleep, covered in the afghan that Wendy's aunt had sent last Christmas. It was too small for him and he looked ridiculously uncomfortable on the little couch, but he was sound asleep, eyes covered with one arm.
He was not in Lacey's bed, so obviously nothing had happened. Probably. Truth was she could have slept through World War Three last night and not been aware of it until she looked out the window and saw the post-apocalyptic landscape.
She smiled and shook her head. "You could have made him crash in your bed and joined me in mine," she pointed out to Lacey.
"He wouldn't hear of that," she answered, shrugging. "Didn't want me disturbing your sleep. Didn't stop him from going up to check on you about ten times. And those were just the times he woke me up tripping over my work-table. How are you feeling?"
"Tons better. Let's take this outside," she suggested. "I don't want to wake him."
It took some doing to climb out the window onto the terrace on an ankle still sore from the night before but, with Lacey's help, she managed. Before long, without waking the Middleman, the two had settled themselves in the morning sun in a pair of collapsible camp chairs with a pot of coffee between them.
"So, your boss tells me that there's some stuff we need to talk about?" Lacey asked finally.
"You could say that," Wendy agreed, taking a long pull of her coffee. "I know you're going to have a lot of questions, but if you could kind of hold them 'til the end, I'll try to make everything as clear as possible."
"Okay," Lacey agreed readily, watching Wendy curiously over the top of her favorite mug, the one that read simply 'pesticides suck'. "Go ahead."
So Wendy told her. Everything. Even about the vampire puppets, although, for the Middleman's sake, she glossed over the evil wedding ritual meant to bring about the Eternal Night of Blood. Varsity Fan Club, Doctor Gil, trout zombies, Mexican wrestlers, alien viruses, the parallel universe, evil Wendy… All of it.
"And that's all true?" Lacey asked, watching her carefully.
"I know it sounds impossible, but…"
If she hadn't already been sitting down, Lacey's response would have floored her.
"I kind of figured it must be something like that."
"Well, maybe not the part with the cursed tuba, but I mean, the rest." She shrugged. "I mean, I know the part about the talking monkeys is true, because it was in the paper that a gorilla was spotted right by one of those mob massacres."
"It was in the paper?" Wendy repeated, staring at Lacey and wondering how the Middleman had let that happen.
"Oh, not in the same story!" Lacey waved a dismissive hand. "And I think the paper said it was a monkey, not an ape but, I mean, after my animal liberation buddies told me that one of the gorillas was painting landscapes and another one did Tai Chi every morning, it doesn't surprise me. I already knew you were doing some kind of super-spy or law-enforcement thing. The ray-guns made it pretty obvious."
"You knew? And you didn't say anything?"
"You didn't seem to want to talk about it." Lacey shrugged. "I mean, the trout-eating zombies are weird, but the thing about the woman with rabies throwing an RV at her husband was in the paper, too."
Wendy looked around the terrace, waiting for the guy with the TV camera to jump out. But Lacey was being perfectly serious.
"So, none of this surprises you?"
"You really need to read the paper more, Dubbie," Lacey informed her, topping off her coffee. "Open your mind up to the possibilities. It's a great, big, wild world!" She laughed. "It's a world worth saving. And, if anyone has to do it, I'm glad it's you."
"How much of this have you mentioned to anyone else?"
"I do know when to keep my mouth shut," Lacey told her. "Unless it's about animal cruelty, then I just can't. But you should know that Noser has his own suspicions."
Lacey nodded, her expression apologetic. "You tore the arms off a ventriloquist dummy made of extremely rare wood imbued with magical properties and sharpened them in front of him, Dub Dub. He kind of figured you had a good reason."
Wendy covered her mouth with both hands, laughing and shaking her head. "You two…"
Lacey's only response was a smug grin. It was almost like being back in Art School when the last thing they would do every night would be to lie in bed and share every detail of their days. It was a good feeling, left Wendy feeling warmer than the bright morning sun.
"I knew you were some kind of spy," Lacey told her when their mutual laughter had subsided. "And I knew that you were my Dub Dub, so it had to be good things you were doing. I never figured you were saving the world quite so literally, but I knew you were helping people."
"So, we're cool?"
"Always," Lacey assured her, leaning over and squeezing Wendy's knee. "I hope you realize, though, that you two saving the world only makes Sexy Bossman seem more sexy to me?"
"I can't argue with that," Wendy told her. "But you know he's not like other guys. Please go easy on him. Because you may be my best friend but, if you break my boss's heart, we'll have words."
"I would hope so. Because if I hurt him, I'd be having words with myself over it. He isn't like most other guys. But he loves you very much."
"It's because we go into battle together. There's a brotherhood that happens there. His word," she clarified at Lacey's look. "Face it, Lace, he's too old-school for you."
"It's still nice to imagine," she answered with an unrepentant grin.
Wendy laughed with her for some minutes before a gentle voice intruded on them.
"Pancakes or French toast, Ladies?"
"Boss!" Wendy greeted him, climbing to her feet and nearly falling over as she put weight on her ankle.
Lacey caught her and held her close. "Wendy's a French toast girl," she told the Middleman.
"The milk substitute's on the second shelf in the fridge and the egg substitute is in the door," she answered.
The Middleman considered this. "And the bacon substitute?"
This sent the two women into fresh gales of laughter and they stood clinging to each other for support. The Middleman muttered something about asking Noser and vanished back into the apartment again.
"Poor Sexy Bossman," Wendy whispered to Lacey. "It could take him some time to get used to breakfast in this household."
Lacey giggled again, swatting Wendy on the shoulder. "It happens to be more healthful than gorging on fat and grease first thing in the morning.
"Yet something tells me the big Neanderthal's used to animal protein."
"Well, he'd have to be to be that size." Lacey gave a pragmatic shrug. "Not his fault."
Wendy chuckled. Lacey had given her and Noser similar excuses not to practice the 'meat is murder' lifestyle: her serotonin levels and Noser's upbringing respectively.
"Come on," she told Lacey, nodding towards the loft. "Let's go help Pillow Lips."
"Don't you dare tell him I call him that!" Lacey whispered.
"Lace, you've said it to the man's face. I think he knows you only love him for his body."
"That and the world-saving," Lacey corrected her with a righteous nod.
"Lacey?" Wendy said, climbing into the loft.
"Yeah?" she asked, following.
"Don't ever change…"
"I won't, Dub Dub," Lacey promised. "I won't…"