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Arm's Length

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It was a quiet workday, and both Wendys were enjoying The Middleman's company. The original Dubbie was sketching an evil lair from memory, though hopefully their actions had run off The Troubadour for good. There was nothing more annoying than egomaniacal ramblings about world domination set to a lute. The Troubadour hadn't really achieved any of his plans yet, but she thought the inclusion of lute music in his methods qualified him as highly to extremely evil.

“Fuh boo me,” WWII told her father, her hands gripping a playing card he'd given her. She gave it back and he smiled warmly.

“Thank you. Now, if you ever play Shaboomie, you have to remember the mannequins. You always bet no mannequins. No mannequins, right? No way, no how.”

In her evergreen overalls and pink shirt, a plausible future where her baby was pouring herself into a leather catsuit and playing a life or death card game involving strip poker bets seemed out of reach to Wendy. She supposed her own mother had even less of a notion Middle apprenticeship was a career choice, so maybe Boss instilling morality based on Shaboomie wasn't far-fetched. It was completely adorable, regardless.

He was supporting their wobbly child with one hand behind her back as she sat on his knees facing him. The tiredness of fatherhood had even taught him a thing or two about slouching. Between his recline back and his long legs, they were nearly as far apart as Wendy was from them on the other side of the sofa.

His approach to new responsibility wasn't overly sentimental, and Wendy knew men were less apt to cuddle than women. He was obvious about his love for them, and maybe it meant nothing. It just bothered her when she spent every waking moment craving a hug from her daughter's tiny arms. She finished her drawing and sighed.

“Why do you – no, never mind.”

Wendy crossed the room and started fixing up the equipment on the counter. The Middleman frowned. He pulled his little Dubbie close and stood to follow his Dubbie. She had her back turned and her shoulders tense.

“Wendy? What were you going to say? It seems important to you,” he said gently. “Do you want me to give the baby to Ida so we can discuss it?”

“No, it's nothing.” She glanced at their two beloved faces and the little hand on his chin. Her eyes welled up and she despaired of ever being her non-hormonal self again. “I just need to hold her for hours every day or I feel broken, and you don't seem to be the same. You're great with her and she loves it when you play, but you keep her at arm's length.”

The tears weren't going to stop, so she sniffled and laughed at herself to show she wasn't going crazy. “I'm just weird right now. Don't mind me.”

Her blurry vision made Wendy close her eyes, and a firm arm came around her with a little figure sitting on it. He hugged them both and sighed silently.

“Dubbie, that's not weird. I do hold her for hours every night, between three and six. I've stopped wearing aftershave so she can put her face on my neck without sneezing. She usually doesn't cry, just hangs on and relaxes until she can go back to sleep. Sometimes I bring your shirt and put it over my shoulder so she can smell you,” he said softly.

Her chest ached in a good way, and Wendy kissed her daughter's forehead. “I didn't know that.”

The Middleman had been enjoying fatherhood in the beginning stages, but he'd been aware of a slight emptiness. Dubbie was essential and he was just a novelty to little Wendy. He got to watch feedings, baths and playtime, but he knew he wasn't the person their daughter needed the most. It was a normal stage and he didn't resent it. He was also glad when that stage ended and he could let Dubbie sleep while he tended to the baby.

Bottle feedings meant he could pluck the fussing girl from her crib, quiet her, and guarantee a solid six hours of rest for his girlfriend. It was as important a task as any he could think of, and he was proud to be good enough to do it.

“You can't do that all the time,” Dubbie protested. “You work too hard.”

He shrugged and let her take the baby so she could turn to face him. “I'd let you know if I couldn't manage it,” he told her. “But I don't want you to ignore your worries. I don't cuddle her a lot during the day because I like looking at her being like you. She's fascinating to watch. You're both fascinating, and I never dreamed I'd have either one of you.”

Wendy pressed her face to his shoulder and moaned. “You have to stop being perfect or I'm going to get both of us soggy. You take WWII and I'm going to go wash my face before Ida comes in and makes fun of me. We're ridiculous, you know.”

He tucked her hair behind her ear and took the baby. “We're tough when it counts. Hurry back and we'll get Ida in here to help teach Wendy to be a Shaboomie sharp.”

All of a sudden, worrying about their daughter seemed like a waste of time and energy. They would take care of her in whichever way was needed. Wendy left father and daughter swaying together as he explained the HEYDAR.