A/N: Hello again, guys! I finally got this next chapter up and going, sorry for the long wait for those of you who have been following it. Please review and let me know! Danny joins us with some very familiar faces in this chapter.
The illegal sublet Wendy shares with another young, photogenic artist.
"Really? It was covered in eyes?"
"Eyes, arms, and everything else. Smelled like a city dumpster too."
"So what happened? How did you escape?"
"I stabbed the thing with a letter opener, and then he showed up and blasted it."
Danny had been listening to Wendy recall the first moment she encountered The Middle-Organization on the ride over to what The Middleman called his "newer, safer apartment". As it turns out, Danny was finding many similarities between his story and hers. Both of them had been attacked, both rescued by The Middleman, and both had apparently demonstrated a quality that whatever organization The Middleman belonged to wanted.
Now, standing outside the building that Wendy had driven them to, he was even more confused about where this new turn in life was going to take him next.
"This is the building?" Danny asked. "Doesn't look like much for apartments."
Wendy shifted on the other foot uncomfortably, beginning her next sentence slowly, admitting the truth.
"They're more along the lines of illegal sublets."
Danny snapped his neck toward her.
"As in, you guys are squatting here?"
"Squatting is such a harsh term…"
"Do I get to squat too?"
Wendy turned to Danny and smirked. She knew there was something about this guy she liked. They were most likely going to get along just fine.
"Well you'll be 'squatting' in a different sublet, but on the same floor as me and my friends. I just have the key at my place, so we'll stop by there first."
The two of them entered the building, clambering into a rickety old elevator that Danny was certain was unsafe in some way. When the glorified wooden box finally gave a jolt and started ascending, he kept looking up like the line which was pulling them was going to snap at any moment.
Finally, the box began to slow and stopped on the floor of their destination. Danny watched Wendy move forward and push the wooden grate-door up and over their heads.
"Yo, Wendy Watson. Yo, new dude."
Danny turned to look at the guy who had called out to them. He was sitting in the hall, leaning against the wall, with his guitar slung over his shoulder as if waiting to be played. He was a dark-skinned young man with a large black afro. One black, scribbled skull and crossbones adorned the surface of his instrument. He was wearing a grungy green T-shirt and really faded blue jeans with one hole at the right knee.
The man seemed to study Wendy carefully before his smooth voice asked his question.
"I wanna go dancing tonight. How should I do it?"
Danny furrowed his brow. What a weird question to randomly ask out of the blue. But at his side, Wendy already broke out her answers.
"Cheek to cheek? Like there's no tomorrow? With yourself? With the lady in red?"
"Into the light?"
Both Wendy and Noser turned toward Danny, who just looked back and forth at both of them, nervously fidgeting at first.
"I…thought that's what we were playing….Phil Collins…"
The Noser pointed at him.
"Yeah, into the light. That's how I wanna go dancing."
Noser then leaned forward, placing his elbows on the guitar.
"I don't know you."
Wendy started in, gesturing toward Danny.
"Noser, this is Danny Dixon. He's the new guy at my office and I offered to show him around town after hours."
Danny arched en eyebrow, confused.
"The office? You mean the Middle…."
Seemingly in the blink of an eye, Wendy stepped closer to Danny and sharply kicked him in the back of his thigh. Danny grunted, hopped on that leg once, and realized again how secretive he was supposed to be about all of this, even though he still never signed on to anything.
"Right….the office. My mistake."
Noser looked puzzled, but his face then melted back into the clam mask it was assuming before.
"Welcome to the other side, Danny Dixon."
Danny nodded albeit uneasily at his new acquaintance.
"Erm, thanks, uh…Noser."
"See ya around, Noser. Gotta give the new guy the tour."
"See ya around, Wendy Watson."
Wendy guided Danny down the long, thin hallway of that floor until they reached a large blue door, which Wendy quickly unlocked and opened. The two of them stepped into the sublet. Danny took a minute to look around. The place was practically plastered with assorted paintings, half of which looked more like nonsensical letters and numbers painted on canvasses. Beyond the door, the walls were an earthly brown.
The whole place looked very cluttered as it was full of objects lying around, like paintbrushes soaking in water-filled soup cans and, strangely enough, stuffed animals.
"So this is Chateau Watson, eh? Very….filled." It was Danny's best attempt to both describe and try to compliment his host at the same time.
Wendy scoffed, giving him a push on the shoulder. "Well, not entirely. Half of it is Chateau Watson. The other would be Chateau Thornfield. I share this place with my roommate, Lacey."
As if on cue, Danny heard a girl's voice calling down from the second landing in the sublet, which he saw stairs leading up to on his right.
"Is that you, Dub-Dub?"
Wendy smiled and stepped past Danny to call up to her roommate.
"Yeah, Lace, it's me! Come on down! We've got company!"
"So do you, Little Miss Popular. Tyler's here!"
Danny saw Wendy perk up slightly before calling back.
"Thanks, Lace! I'll be right up!"
When she turned around, Danny noticed a much larger smile on her face.
"I'll be right back down. Have to go check up on my boy."
Danny chuckled and nodded.
"Sure thing. I'm a big boy. I can just chill here."
"I'll be down in a minute."
Danny watched her almost scurry through the door and up the stairs, rounding the corner and disappearing from view. Whoever this Tyler was, he clearly meant quite a bit to Wendy, Danny thought. He couldn't help but smile again as he took another look around the place. Sure, it was cluttered, but it also was stuffed full of personality. Even if you weren't a fan of messes, Danny knew there was a vibrant energy to the sublet. It really felt like a place for people who really lived.
Danny slowly took a few steps around the main living area, turning around and walking backwards to admire the full view of the place. What he failed to see was the yet unopened paint can lying just behind his right foot. That is, until he stepped on it and it rolled underneath his foot.
The next thing Danny knew he was smashed face-down on the wooden floor. Pain shot throughout his face as he saw stars for a brief moment. It was like an electric shock from his nose down to his neck. He picked himself up off the ground a little in a push-up position, shaking his head to try to clear the buzzing that now adorned his ears.
The buzzing was quickly replaced by the same voice he heard calling down to him and Wendy earlier. This time it sounded clearer, not muffled by another wall.
"Dub-Dub doesn't lie. Thought I heard two sets of steps…y'know, before I heard the really loud bang. You OK down there?"
Danny smiled ruefully and shook his head again. If there was one thing he could always count on, it would be his constantly making a fool out of himself in front of total strangers. It seemed to be a recurring theme over the last few days since Monster Amy.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Danny replied, chuckling bitterly before pushing himself up off the floor and standing back up. "In my…infinite grace….I guess I tripped on a p…"
When Danny looked up toward the voice, his last word immediately caught in his throat. He couldn't even get it out. The girl that stood at the bottom of the stairs across from him was shockingly pretty.
Danny had no idea why he was so blown away in that moment, but he couldn't help himself. He was looking up at one of the most beautiful faces he had ever seen framed by flowing blonde hair and deep blue eyes. He saw one of her eyebrows cock upwards.
"Like I said…you OK?"
Danny was jolted back into reailty, and he cursed himself in his mind. He knew he must have been staring. His next words came out stammered as he attempted to recover from his temporary dumbness.
"Th-the…uh…p-p…paint can! Yes, paint can!"
He gestured back toward it.
"That was what I tripped on."
Lacey looked behind him and sighed, shaking her head.
"Sorry about that. Dub-Dub and I get caught up with our art a lot of nights and sometimes we leave stuff lying around."
"Oh…no problem. None at all."
Danny cleared his throat and worked up the courage to take a few steps toward her and hold out his hand.
"My name's Daniel. Daniel Dixon."
He tried his best to make his voice sound deeper than earlier and used the formal style of his name that he hadn't asked to be called by since the 6th grade. Apparently the formality had caught on to Lacey as well, who took his outstretched hand in her own and pretended to curtsy, changing her voice to match his deep, formal one.
"A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Dixon!"
She giggled, her blue eyes brightening while she did so, which drew Danny's eyes to them once again before she spoke next.
"Can I just call you Danny?"
Danny hung his head a little while he laughed himself. If it was possible to slap himself on the forehead without her seeing, he would be doing it right now. He must have looked so stupid trying to seem more impressive.
"Yeah, Danny. Danny's great."
It was in that moment, when Danny hung his head, that he got his first conscious look at exactly what Lacey was wearing, and he almost jumped at the sight of it. How he missed it right off the bat was a mystery to him, but now it was standing before him in all its glory….and significant scent.
"Uh….is that a dress made out of….raw bacon?"
Lacey looked down at the outfit she had knit and sown together last night, and bore a mischievous grin and glint in her eye when she looked back up at him.
"Yep! Sowed the strips together last night for my performance today."
"Don't you mean protest, Lace?"
Danny saw Wendy reappear at the top of the stairs, with an arm draped across her shoulders belonging to a tall, thin man with short curly black hair standing by her side. Danny assumed that was Tyler.
"Protest?" Danny asked Lacey. "What for?"
After shooting an angry glare up at Wendy, Lacey returned her attention to Danny.
"I'm a spoken performance artist. This dress helps me to visualize my message for the less-trained eyes. I'm wearing it to the Sausage Social at town hall tonight."
Wendy laughed leaning her head on Tyler's chest as they walked down the stairs together.
"I'm pretty sure that dress isn't going to stop them from enjoying their breakfasts, Lace."
Lacey rolled her eyes and shook her head. Danny chimed in.
"Yeah, but I sure wouldn't like it if a bunch of suits stood around and ate little pieces of me on toothpicks."
Lacey smiled at him.
"Thank you! That's exactly my point! Did you know that pigs are actually so intelligent that they're used to find truffles in some parts of Europe?"
"Well, Lace, you're larger than my average breakfast," Tyler snuck in as he and Wendy reached the bottom floor with the rest. "But all we need is a really big skillet and I'll manage."
"Not to mention that dress will draw every canine in town," Wendy added. "You might spend more time running from hungry dogs than protesting."
This drew laughs from the both of them and Danny, despite his best efforts to be polite. Lacey was just left smiling and rolling her eyes.
"Philistines, all of you!"
The four of them kept laughing until Lacey playfully huffed and made her way to the stairs, stopping at the bottom to address everyone else in the room.
"Now, if you culture-challenged masses will excuse me, I still have to finish the hat!"
Lacey waved at them all in a mockingly queen-like way before running up the steps and disappearing around the corner. Wendy and Tyler turned around to face Danny, and Wendy saw his eyes were still looking up at the second floor after her roommate, and she stifled another snicker.
"Hey champ, eyes down here," she chided him.
Danny quickly tore his eyes off the second floor and back to the two smirking people in front of him.
"Sorry, I was just….admiring the place."
"Well, don't get stuck that way too long," Tyler said, holding out his hand. "Tyler Ford."
"Danny Dixon," Danny replied, shaking the man's hand.
"Well, now that introductions to all the important people in this place are in order, here's your key!" Wendy held out her fist, dropping a key into Danny's empty palm. Danny looked down at the tiny bronze key. There was the number 214 on it.
"You'll find your room at the end of the hall," she continued. "You should probably think about getting some rest soon. The boss wants us back in the office bright and early tomorrow morning."
Danny paused and looked at her quizzically. "What for?"
Wendy shot a cautious look over at Tyler before slowly continuing.
"You know….we have to make sure the….project….doesn't get out of hand," she tried.
Danny still had no idea what she could mean by that. She and The Middleman had saved him and then just asked him to join them. Was there more to the situation that he didn't know? Was this same incident still unsolved? He would have thought Monster Amy going down would have been the end of it.
Tyler was the one to break the awkward silence.
"Awww, early day in the morning? Does that mean you have to go to bed early….or…."
Wendy playfully smacked him on his chest, stood up on her tiptoes and kissed him.
"Don't push your luck, flyboy," but she was smiling the whole time.
Danny pocketed the key and gave the two a two-fingered salute.
"Alright, you two. Too much PDA for my taste. I'll see you in the morning, then, Wendy."
Danny laughed as Wendy shot him a dirty look. He went for the door, paused and turned once more to look up at the second landing, as if maybe he'd see her again. Seeing nothing but empty space, he then exited the room closing the door behind him.
The Middleman wasn't lying, Danny found out. When he opened Room 214 and looked inside, he saw a carbon copy of his old apartment. Everything was in its exact same place as it was in the other building, down to the slightest detail, and Danny found himself staring, mouth agape, aghast at how identical it was.
Even every last comic book he had ever collected was in the exact same order, arranged in the exact same manner. Danny didn't quite know who or what The Middleman was, but he was definitely a man of his word. He had to be supernatural in some way in order to accomplish something like this.
That thought made Danny wonder exactly what he had gotten himself into. What sort of world was he truly entering, and where would it take him if he accepted The Middleman's offer? For the moment, though, he was happy to have an apartment again, and he knew he could use some sleep to think about where his life was going, and whether or not this was a way he'd want to travel.
A/N: Aaaaand that's the end of this chapter! Only one more and we will complete this three-part opening to this series of adventures. The next chapter will reveal the dark forces that will soon define this entire series, so look forward to that. As always, please review and tell me if I should either keep going with this or go jump off as building. I would much rather prefer the first option as I enjoy living.