Rating: T

Characters: Middleman, Wendy Watson

Word Count: 956

Disclaimer: I do not under any circumstances own the rights to these characters, the show or the comic and I'm not getting paid.

Summary: The man in Wendy's life she can't live without. Takes place an unspecified time after Doomsday.

Spoilers: Refers to some information in the Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse.

Song: (since this began as a song drabble) Wild Horses, Indigo Girls cover

Author's Note: I've had a bunch of spinoff standalones while working on a longer story. This is one of them. I realize some of this has a similar theme to Boy Named Sue, but that's not intentional. Also, no humor this time. This is one of the pieces which was intended to be a song drabble, but which just...grew. Also, country fans, I love you; I'm not personally cracking on you.

Note also: Thank you to RockerGirl for the original beta read. I've scrambled it up six ways from Sunday since then and it has not received a second beta read, so fair warning. The one thing of which I am certain is that 'sneaked' is correct, thanks to the GrammarGirl. Comments always appreciated.

The Middlemobile
Always 1 mile below the speed limit
9 a.m.

Wendy looked up at the roof of the Middlemobile, took a deep breath and counted to ten. Twice.

"I know the agreement is, whoever's driving gets to pick the music. But if we have to listen to twang today, can we at least skip any songs about breakups, crying and dying from grief?"

The Middleman glanced at her, his eyebrow raised. "Any other requests?"

"I'd say cut out all the ones having to do with pickup trucks, prison and dogs, too, but I don't think that would leave you with anything to play."

"I do have a Bryan Adams collection in here which you might like."

"Do you want me to leave?"

He snapped off the CD player. Blessed silence. A few minutes passed before he spoke again.

"I noticed you didn't engage Ida in your usual banter this morning before we left, either. Is something troubling you?"

Crossing her arms, Wendy slouched in her seat. "I'll manage."

"Do you need to talk about it? I've always said you should feel free to confide in me as if I were one of your woman friends."

"Okay. That is just wrong. Fair warning, Boss. If you ever say that again, I'm going to whip out a curling iron and some lipstick and ask to trade makeovers."

"War paint of the Glamazons, Dubbie! I simply referred to being emotionally available. I realize that is not my strong point, so I thought I would be proactive and..." He broke off, smiling, when she snickered. "I see. You're teasing me."

"Yeah. Well. You started it." Somewhat to her surprise, she found she was smiling back at him. Her gray mood hadn't vanished, but it was thinning from a pea-soup fog to a mist. "Tyler and I had a nasty fight last night, that's all."

"I know you called for a Code 86 last night, but I assumed..."

"Nope. Wasn't for fun and games. Unless by games, you mean the emotional version of Gut Wrencher 3."

"He wasn't unpleasant to you, was he? I'll be glad to...speak...to him, if he was." How did he manage to keep his voice so level and yet project such menace?

"Hey, Rule Two, remember? Don't crack my boyfriend's skull."

At one time she would have said that as a threat; this time, it was a joke. A joke she forced past a clog in her throat. Maybe some of what Tyler said last night— kind of flung at her head in lieu of an object, really—was right. She had changed, if she could see her boss's offer to commit mayhem for her as a touching gesture of affection instead of as a sign of being less than fully evolved. But it felt like a change for the better, not for the worse, even if Tyler would disagree.

"So he is still your boyfriend."

"For now, anyway. Actually, I was the doorknob. He had a really great evening planned and I sort of spoiled it. But he did kind of put me on the spot." Unable to look at him, she pretended to be absorbed in scratching a paint stain off the back of her knuckle. "He asked me to marry him. And...he wants me to quit my job so I can go around on tour with him. Between his schedule and mine, we're not seeing much of each other, and he'd like that to change."

The words thudded between them like chunks of rock. She sneaked a sidewise glance. A professional poker player's expression would have been more revealing.

"I said no, in case you're wondering."

Still no change of expression, though she thought his hands relaxed slightly on the steering wheel. "To what? His proposal or quitting your job?"

"To both."

"Are you sure this is what you want?" His tone was as carefully flat as his expression. "I promised after your recruitment I'd never frame you again. I almost feel as if I should have promised full disclosure as well."

"What, like a Surgeon General's warning on a pack of cigarettes? Scooter, the only way I couldn't have figured it out myself after the first week would be if I'd burned out as many synapses as Ida thinks I have."

His mouth almost twitched. "That's quite a few."

"No kidding. It's not just about the job, either. Tyler's a great guy, but I don't want to get married. Not now, anyway. I really don't want to drop everything I'm doing and get dragged around the country, either. I put in my time when Dad was in service."

"Understandable." He hesitated. "You must know I'm glad you chose to stay. However, you know your job will likely continue to be a source of conflict in your relationship . Perhaps you should re-evaluate your position."

"Nope. Not happening. I couldn't just go back to being blind and normal, even if I wanted to. Wild horses couldn't drag me away now." She wasn't about to tell him job satisfaction was only half the reason. Not now, not when he had to be emotionally raw from seeing Raveena again and giving up Lacey. Someday, she'd figure out how to tell him he was what she couldn't leave behind. Someday when he might be happy to hear it. Maybe by then, she'd figure out a way to break the news to Tyler, too.

Then another, horrible possibility struck her. "Unless...you're hinting that you want me to quit for some reason."

Every now and then, he did something which let her glimpse the boy he must have been, a tree-climbing, frog-catching, irrepressible kid with unruly hair and an instinct for trouble. It showed now, in his rare, swift grin.

"Not a goshdarn chance in heck."