I don't know. This ended up coming out tonight. There's very little angst in this fandom! I've read through some of middlefic! All my abstract imagery has flown out the window! This is generally light-hearted! I don't know what to do with it! I don't even know if I want to post it!
title: The Juice Box (Truth Bomb) Debacle.
fandom/pairing: The Middleman; WW/MM.
words: Just over 3,500.
The first time a truth bomb is accidentally set off in the locker room, the circumstances are these:
Ida is bug-bombing the office.
Bombing not for mutant, razor-toothed tyrannoroaches – impervious to anything but the acidic properties of blackberry jam – but for ants. Picnic-ruining, marching, little, black ants. Everything susceptible to ruin by the fumes gets put in the locker room, which apparently used to be the panic room, sealed and fireproof and oddly quaint. Lined with that airplane black box material, which almost vindicates a joke Pip told once. Not that Wendy is ever going to tell him that, for so many reasons.
The Middleman tried explaining why the panic room is now the locker room, something about a cleansing reorganization coupled with the the Even Greater, Yet Silent, Depression of 1994, but Wendy was too busy playing Food or Not Food with the contents of cupboards to notice. Trying to figure everything out wasn't a high priority anymore. If it were, there would be nothing to figure out, what, with the world would having been overrun in the meantime with sentient first-edition Mark Twain books. Disenfranchised and angry-about-it gummi bears. Something like that, anyway.
So, there's the locker room, packed tight with ridiculous technology, a ton of swords and 26 cases of Hi-C Ecto-Cooler, which Wendy finds out is actually a discontinued flavor – who knew? What a waste – and is also the only known antidote to a bite from vampire unicorns. Not to be confused with unicorn vampires. And in the middle of it all, sipping on a juice box (just boring, orange-flavored – "Wouldn't want to waste precious materials, Dubbie!") stand Wendy and the Middleman, without a juice box of his own.
If this were any other job, Wendy would have lobbied to stay home for the day, maybe have even said something about not wanting flipper babies from possibly inhaling noxious fumes. But this is obviously not Any Other Job (with flipper babies a potential reality) and so when her boss says they needed to work through the group slaughter of ants, Wendy relents. And says a silent apology to Lacey for not herding them one-by-one out of the building.
Ida tells them she'll count to ten and then set off the first of the bug bombs. She goes on four, but the Middleman shuts the door right after the countdown begins.
"All right, Dubbie, let's get down to business!" So earnest, so enthusiastic.
He starts moving swords around and says they need to be categorized by the alien metal in the blade. That explains why they're here and not braving the insecticide smoke with the rest of the weaponry.
Once she figures out the trick to it – the gemstone on the handle is almost the same on swords of similar metals – they work in silence for a little while. Silence is relative with her boss, who hums what can only be described as a jaunty tune, every five minutes, for twenty seconds, like clockwork. Occasionally, he does a kind of mumble-sing thing instead, but always at the same time, always for the same duration. So maybe not only jaunty. Maybe maddening, too.
When the security camera in the locker room shows the smoke is just starting to dissipate outside the door and Wendy turns around to tell the Middleman, she knocks over a box. Or maybe the Middleman hits it with a purple sword that's glowing green. Maybe that's what startled Wendy. Whatever it was, whoever it was, the box is on the ground, top open, little orbs rolling into a pile of precariously stacked Zelda swords ("Did you think popular video games relied on imagination for ideas, Dubbie?") and in a confluence of events she would've once found unbelievable, a tip of one of the swords strikes the ball and then it's all truth, all the time. Well, almost.
The things revealed in the first several moments are:
Wendy is wearing the same underwear today that she wore yesterday.
This has nothing to do with sex.
Lacey has taken the plastic tubing from the back of the dryer for a robot costume to protest the automation of apple-picking.
The Middleman does not launder his own underwear.
Boxers. White or blue.
The Middleman's dry cleaner, an older man named Tsung, starches The Middleman's underwear.
Wendy thinks this explains things.
She knows he's holding back some, in a way that only he can do, telling the truth, but getting away without telling all of it and it's infuriating because she's just blurting things out.
"Ben refused to have sex from behind because it dehumanizes the experience."
The Middleman just nods.
"My left tit is bigger than my right."
Nods again. Glances down at her chest a little, quickly.
"Sometimes I wish Lacey left the house more."
An arched eyebrow, subtle.
It goes on like this: Wendy says something, semi-frenzied thoughts she's always having, but that have to be spilled out now because she can't stop them, she feels like she has to say them and then the Middleman reacts in a tiny, perfunctory way.
"I don't understand why this isn't affecting you more."
"It is, Dubbie, but you have to reign in yourself in the presence of a detonated truth bomb. It needs to be fulfilled on a very basic level. Think of it as doing the bare minimum to pass a course."
"Once Lacey didn't even pass a course, she just wore a slutty sundress to the final."
He just half-smiles at her, maybe a little indulgent.
She tries sitting in silence, not saying anything ("I actually wish you would start up that humming again, I really do."), but her lips start to tingle, her tongue itching and she says anything just to stop the feeling.
"You know, I hate Joanna Newsom. AND Bjork, I think I could knock them both out. And I've never even listened to Exile in Guyville. Not once."
That's, oddly, the thing that does it, makes everything click. Because when the Middleman doesn't blink, doesn't do anything at all, she figures it out: If you don't have anything to say, if you don't have anything to respond with or a frame of reference to respond to, there's no potency to the bomb. If you're blank, you're not talking. She traipses after the thought all the way to meditation. If she were meditating, she wouldn't be thinking in a normal way. Maybe that'll work.
"If I meditate, will I stop talking?"
"If you've mastered meditation. Unfortunately, Sensei Ping teaches that next-to-last."
"But that's what you're doing over there though, right?"
"On one level, Dubbie, yes. But when you ask questions or say something that elicits a response in me, I am no less impervious to the bomb's powers."
For the week that Lacey bought into conventional yoga, before she labeled her classmates as perverters of a righteous pursuit, she insisted Wendy twist herself into ridiculous positions and meditate with her. Muscles burning and her balance way off, Wendy never really cleared her mind much, except for that one position where you just lie there. She was pretty good at that – just lying there, disinterested.
"Not as good as Ben."
She winces and glances over at the Middleman. From the lack of response, she figures he didn't hear. If he did, she completely misread a situation a little while back.
As she shoves aside ten pounds of hyper-sweetened fruit juice, the Middleman blinks – figuratively – for the first time since the bomb went off.
"What is it you're doing?"
"Clearing space to lay down and meditate."
"Oh. OK, Dubbie, if you think that'll help."
"Look, I have to do something, right? Who knows what I'm going to say next?"
"Well, if you're truly honest with yourself, you know you're going to say next. It's all in your mind. You just have to be in control." He's so annoyingly calm.
"And that," a grunt and one last shove, "is what I'm doing. Getting control."
Floor cleared, Wendy stretches herself down on it. There. Just concentrate on not concentrating. Breathe. Concentrate on that. Concentrate on what? It wasn't working. She was laying down, she could see the Middleman above her, just at the corner of her eye. Then, the urge to comment on the situation. The situation where she felt weirdly even more exposed than before.
"I don't think this is fair."
"No. Not at all. I'm flipping out over here and you're fine. I think truth bombs and how to deal should have been Day One stuff, bossman."
"Day One was a pretty full day, I'm not sure we could've squeezed it in."
He was crouching down by her head now, like an umpire squatting behind home plate.
"All right, fine, I'm just going to drag you down with me then, chief."
Now he looks almost hurt and maybe just a little worried.
She pushes herself up off the ground, turns around and puts her hands on his shoulders, urging him downward into a sitting position before sitting down herself. It's getting hot in the room, it being all sealed up and everything, and the Middleman is sweating a little bit, so's she. But she doesn't smell Old Spice and shoe polish on herself, that's for sure.
"I'm not sure where you want to go, Dubbie, we have at least half an hour left before the rest of the building is safe for anyone but Ida."
"I meant let's go, let's play. I've already said some things that are maybe, perhaps, questionable. I'm going to get you to do the same. That way we're even and no one'll say anything."
"Now, now, I wouldn't ever use anything you've said under the influence of a truth bomb against you. That would be wrong."
She sighs, frustrated.
"Yeah, it would be. But this'll make me feel better. You can get on board with making me more comfortable in my position, right?"
The Middleman blushes.
"And we're off!"
"What's the hardest part about being you, with your – our – job?"
"I take every day in this position as a challenge. Things do get hard, but what we're doing is the right thing to do."
"That was such a bullshit answer."
"I'm sorry, Dubbie." He looks like he means it.
"Are you going to spout the party line on every question or are you just protecting the sanctity of the job?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"Fine, we'll just get personal then. Did you ever have a dog?"
A look of genuine relief crosses his face before, "Yes."
For a second she thinks maybe he had some sort of mutant dog, which isn't so hard to believe, but then she figures he meant dog years, which maybe makes a little bit more sense.
"OK, but I meant your age when you had the dog."
She tries to imagine the Middleman at 14, but struggles to come up with even the most basic of images and all of them involve the Middle Uniform, which he probably wasn't wearing at 14. Only probably, though.
"There! That wasn't so hard. A genuine, normal conversation under the influence of a truth bomb. I feel better already."
They have a few more similar conversations, terse, but friendly, her doing all the asking. She finds out very little, but feels better knowing that his favorite smell is fresh-cut grass, he golfs left-handed and that his mother's sister's second husband was named Ken.
Her watch is moving practically backward, the smoke outside is still lingering and she's getting even hotter. When she strips off her Middle jacket and tosses it off to the side, over a pile of swords (maybe not the best place for it), the Middleman shifts a little in his position. This could be interesting. Especially since she spent most of the conversation about his favorite vegetable ("I've always been keen on greens, Dubbie!") watching a bead of sweat roll from his brow, trickle down his nose, off the side of his nose, skirt the side of his lips, down his chin, onto his neck and then disappear into his shirt.
Plus, and she'll place this one firmly in the hands of the truth bomb, she knows Lacey's not entirely remiss in her Middleman nickname.
"Does this make you uncomfortable?" She can't be sure if she suppressed the accompanying leer. Probably not.
"I'll admit the situation is not ideal, but I've found I can trust you implicitly."
"So, it's not even a little weird for you here? Knowing at any minute you could reveal something you didn't want to reveal?"
"I'm practically an open book, Dubbie. Plus, I am entirely in control. Well, as much as one can be at a time like this."
"You are far, far from an open book, ace. I'm just saying, it doesn't worry you that I could ask, oh, say, about girls? You wouldn't flinch?"
"If these girls were a part of the San Dimas Junior High Student Council Spirit Death Squad, I may very well flinch a little. They are tougher than they look."
"Ha. No, I meant. All right, did you ever have a Ben?"
"No." Answered quickly and firmly.
It's immediately apparent that that was not the best way to phrase that question. If he hadn't actually had a Ben, a literal person named Ben in his life, he wouldn't even need to try and slide around answering fully.
"Have you ever had a romantic relationship?"
"When's the last time you kissed someone?"
"I am not comfortable answering that question, Dubbie. It could compromise our working relationship."
That, in the twisted rules of the truth bomb, was an acceptable and true answer, but she still groaned.
"Come ON. Let's make things interesting. It's already clear we're going to be spending a lot of time together in our 'working relationship,' so we might as well know about each other. You know, in case it comes up on a case or something."
"I can think of only four instances where it would be relevant for you to know when the last time I shared lip contact with another human was."
"Is it embarrassing? Has it been that long? 'Cause, you know, I've been there, boss, before Ben I..."
He cuts her off.
"I am at peace with it. We have a very demanding line of work and I..."
She returns the favor.
"Listen, I'm just saying, you're an attractive guy, maybe a little too whitebread for some girls, but there are ones that are into that. Lacey sure is and you could have a. Um."
For the first time since she took the reigns of all this truth bomb madness, she regrets not she just fucking figuring out how to meditate. In a really backward way, he now looks more comfortable. A little like he's enjoying himself, even. As much as he'll let himself anyway.
"I could have a, "um," what?"
"Nothing." But that answer doesn't do the trick and more comes spilling out. "A girl. Somebody to make out with, somebody to drink a glass of 'cow squirt' with, two bendy straws, staring at each other moonily over a diner checkered tablecloth. All that garbage."
It's only then that she wonders if the truth bomb is affecting her tone, too, letting on that it kind of, a little, just a tiny bit, pisses her off that she's probably not his type. Not that he's hers.
"In the interest of lifting your spirits, Dubbie, I'll tell you that my last relationship involved a level of lactose intolerance."
She appreciates that, sort of, but this is all just getting a very specific kind of bullshit stupid. She's insanely hot now and he's still all buttoned up in his uniform, smelling even more intensely like a Good Man Sweating. She's not immune to the charms of a clean cut, well-spoken, well-built guy that can save her life (and has), hell, she's not immune to the charms of a pretentious, wimpy, trust fund, film school blowhard. Maybe more than she wants to admit – although she's admitting it now, thanks, job! – she's almost as not immune to guys as Lacey is. Isn't. Whatever.
And with that, she chooses her path. Like Darth Vader choosing the dark side. She thinks briefly about whether there's a light saber somewhere in the building before jumping. Before falling. Before being pushed by a technology that should not be in the hands of anybody but maybe the President, although not this one.
"So, uh, what would you think of moving up the time on that last human lip contact?"
She did not just say that. It didn't happen.
"I think, Dubbie, that you probably aren't thinking clearly. You're dehydrated! I can't believe I didn't think of that! You must be dehydrated! Here, have a juice box."
He reaches over and rips open a case of vampire unicorn antidote, pulling out a shiny Slimer-emblazoned box.
"I don't want a juice box. I'm tired, I'm hot and I'm just full of it with all the truth today."
Not to mention, if she's put it out there, she's at least going to get something out of it. Maybe a little making out will scratch the gum-crawling feel of the last embers of a truth bomb exposure.
The Middleman just sits there, face more expressionless than it's been the whole time.
A half-formed thought about whether the effects extend to actions, as well as words, crosses her mind and she almost immediately decides they do. She leans forward to close the distance between where she's sitting and where the Middleman is. He's not so big sitting Indian-style on the floor.
She stops just short of his face, out of an irrepressible urge to see what he's going to do. He looks at her mouth for a quick second before glancing past her head, squinting a little. He gives a quick, almost imperceptible nod and ducks forward an inch, oddly graceful in the tiny movement.
It's going to have to be her. And if (when) she thinks about it later, she'll realize that it was always going to have to be her. Her move. He would never cross that line first. He can't have her back from in front of her.
She moves what little distance is left and if time was dragging before, it's not moving at all now and when she makes contact with his mouth, the rise and fall of the Marching Crayon Navy happened faster than his response.
Turns out, it's actually the Middleman who was dehydrated, as his dry lips stutter into enveloping her bottom one. He doesn't move beyond that, so she gives a little more, sucking his top lip and then he takes a turn. They go back and forth, lips tugging at each other's in a regimented dance more than a kiss and then there's Ida's bellowing voice from far away or just down the hall.
"All clear! Those ants have completed their last march, ha! I'm coming to release the door seal now!"
That, for reasons known only to the Middleman, sets him off and his hands glide up from nowhere to land one on her neck (warm and large and nearly cupping it all the way around) and one on her cheek, fingers splaying out over her ear and into her hair. He uses the grip to tilt her head to the side and opens his mouth more, just barely moving his tongue in. She goes for it, too, then, hands on his chest, rising up to her knees to lean further into everything. She slides her tongue into his mouth and he chases it back to her own and it's just like when they're on a case and it should feel like one thing (scary, dangerous, surreal) and it feels instead just like fun, even if there will be consequences.
She's inching forward on her knees – intent on straddling him – as his hands beeline to her ass, helpfully lifting her up the little bit it'll take to get her into his lap while moving his mouth to her neck. She grabs his tie near the knot.
The door clicks and lets out a long hiss. Ida barks out something unintelligible and does her Ida-walk into the room. Although Wendy practically launched herself backward off his lap, Ida takes one look at the both of them (doesn't even bother to use any scans), turns on a dime and Ida-walks right back out of the room, flinging the door shut behind her.
"No, this is cool, because I definitely don't want to talk about it and if it went further, we would want to talk about it. You would, at least."
"I...still think we should talk about it."
"All right, boss, I'll make you a promise, next time we're under the influence of a truth bomb, I promise to answer honestly every question you can th.."
The door hisses again and re-clicks.
"It's either this or I'm coming in there to hose you both off!" Ida's voice echoing, booming, through the room. "Figure it out and get it over with!"
The first time a truth bomb is intentionally set off in the locker room, the circumstances are these: