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The Penetrating Neck Wound Bereavement

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If he had the bad luck to outlive Dubbie, The Middleman expected to lose her forever. When he realized she was merely undergoing the vampire's transformative death, he cried another tear and hid her in the trunk of his car.

Subterfuge wasn't really necessary. Ida knew he'd have to make her body disappear. She offered to do it for him. He declined, and asked to be alone for a while. The android's semblance of sympathy made her nod and sit quietly at her desk. He knew she would try to contain any small emergencies until he had to deal with them in person.

He took Wendy to a longterm interrogation room, fitted with a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. He stripped them both and washed with bleach before propping her in the tub and decontaminating her. She was starting to look dead. Her skin was four shades paler than in life, and her limbs stiffened with each moment that passed.

“I'm so sorry, Wendy,” he told her. “I'm so sorry I didn't protect you. I know you've lost a lot, but I can make this bearable. I'll take care of you.”

Four hours later, when she woke up snapping her teeth and mindless with hunger, he had stolen from the Middle blood bank. The pragmatist in him said any blood would do, but he couldn't bring himself to take her stored blood and feed her with it. He ran his own blood into her arm and waited for the hunger to subside. She whimpered and pink tears rolled down her face. Her tied hands strained to clutch her stomach.

“Please, I'm so hungry. I'm hungry, I'm dying. Don't let me die,” she whispered weakly.

He held the blood bag to her face as she gnawed it open and sucked it dry. He didn't even need to hide his disgust. There was something of Wendy gone; her ability to look at him and see he was a man. He let her have too much, more than she needed, but she would have taken more and bitten him as well if he let her loose.

It was weeks before he could talk to her and know she heard him. Her voice was lighter than it had once been and some of her tones were lost. She could sound concerned but it echoed falsely. She offered her body for more of his blood, and when he refused she offered her own blood. She offered her love in a thin whisper utterly unlike the way Wendy Watson had loved people.

She tried telling him she loved him absolutely last, like an afterthought.

Her physical needs weren't much, and she didn't seem to care when she was dirty, but The Middleman sedated and bathed her every few days. One day she woke up lying on the bed in a towel, her hair wet and his sleeping form helpless next to her.

He woke up amazed and a little disappointed Wendy hadn't killed him. He looked around the bedroom and stepped out into the wrecked living room. She was pounding on the metal plates concealed in the walls, looking as exhausted as he felt.

“I died! I DIED! Why didn't you let me?!”

He had lost track months ago why he did anything. He didn't even really know whether he was trapped in there with her, or she was trapped with him. Whatever action he took was a failure. No matter how many others he saved, Wendy Watson wasn't going home to her loft or calling her mother.

“I can't let you go,” he told her. “I can't let you hurt other people. But I think – I hope – we can work on a way for you live more comfortably. I believe you can control yourself in a way I'd never be able to match with chains and locks.”

Wendy had put on one of his shirts, only the shirt. She stood up and held out her hand.

“I can't control everything I want, Boss.”

She hadn't called him that in months. It was no excuse for his weakness. The Middleman took her hand, pulled her into his arms and backed them toward the bedroom. He pushed her underneath him and fumbled her naked before curling his fingers into her body. Her cold eyes closed and he could finally, finally stop his own wary observation. They slid and tumbled against each other, fighting at points to get hands and mouths on and around each other. He let her nip at his cock, and in that instant of superficial joy he knew Wendy Watson could talk him into anything.

She didn't kill him. Her teeth nicked his skin a few times he thought were accidents. She held on to him as he pulled out and moved to sit up.

“Are you mad?”

She could sound so much like herself at moments. He knew he would try his best to keep her undead as he had tried to keep her alive. The Middleman turned back and kissed her, fast but not too fast. A goodbye kiss. The end.

“I'm not mad at you. I love you, Wendy. I couldn't be mad at you. There's blood in the fridge. I have to go,” he said, pausing. “To work.”

She smiled. “Fighting comic book evil. Saving the world. You're good at that.”

His world had not been saved. She was not there anymore, just the body he'd refused to let go peacefully.

“I'll be back when I can,” he mumbled. “I don't know when that will be. Ida is getting suspicious.”

Her eyes had the Wendy Watson spark of insight, and she stopped smiling. “It's okay, Boss. I know you have to do what you do.”

He dressed sloppily, locked up as he left, and walked directly to the main office. His new apprentice, Harold, looked at him strangely. The earnest young man never made jokes that were funny, and his upper body strength needed to be developed, but he was a good worker. He never tried to weasel out of the archiving.

Ida stood up, her face set in concern. “What happened to you?”

“Secure room Theta 82,” he said flatly. “Quickly, before I . . . Please, Ida, I can't.”

She tapped keys and the video feed he had suppressed filled her screen. Wendy was sitting on the kitchen counter, draining a plastic bag of a dark liquid a full-colour image would show as ruby red.

“Oh, Boss, I . . . Right away.” Her voice went from softly pained surprise to certainty. Ida pointed at Harold. “Shrimp, you should go home. No work today. Death in the family.”

His new apprentice gaped and tried to ask questions, but Ida was leaving swiftly down labyrinthine corridors and The Middleman turned his back.

Ida would take care of it. He trusted her to make Wendy's passing humane. Perhaps he had imagined that moment of resignation. She might not even have enough time to realize she was dying.

He drank down the lies like Dubbie tipped the blood bag steeply to get every drop of him.

“I will see you bright and early tomorrow, Harold. Get some rest.”

The Middleman reached down to turn off the image of Wendy falling to the floor, Ida's bulk standing over her with a saw. He didn't see the android kneel down to brush thick brown hair away from a pale, fine-boned face. He sank down on the stairs and waited.