Disclaim or Die: Read Or Die (R.O.D) is copyrighted by and the property of Hideyuki Kurata, Akitaro Yamada, Studio Deen/SME, Sony, and currently licensed to Manga Entertainment.
Post TV series, introspective Wendy. Spoilers for the TV series and the OVA.
It was not always like this.
It was not always like she had given up on smiling, her dulled sense of coordination, and the small comfort of afternoon tea. She drank coffee now, lots and lots of it, to keep herself sharp and precise. To gain and keep one's edge, one could not look like a simpleton, so she rarely smiled, unless it was a pleased and cunning sort of smile. She had also shorn her goldilocks, keeping a severe looking bob instead.
No, she did not look like a simpleton at all.
She had to give up a lot of things to make him happy, because, really, if it made him happy, then ultimately, she was happy.
It was motivation enough to ignore the whispers that she was taken advantage of by a man who saw her admiration and respect for him as a tool for advancing his own agenda.
To hell with the possibility that it might be true.
This was not what she knew or cared to know.
The Joker she knows appreciates all that she has done so far, and trusts her completely to never fail him. Maybe he has gone so far to hold some affection for her, but that is a silly dream, and that is something that must be banished. Instead, maybe he has gone so far to consider her with some small fraction of emotional attachment. Not patronizing like a pet, but with the mutual respect and admiration offered to a dedicated subordinate.
As much as something like that would mean to her, it was irrelevant compared to what was at hand.
For all she knew, to make him happy was to make her happy. She made that her sole burden until they had achieved what he wanted.
But on days when the way her desk became cluttered with papers - or the faint hint of tea and cookies filled the air, or how the lamplight almost tricked her eyes into mistaking it for sunlight - the burden felt a little too heavy and she would reminisce.
It had not always been like this.
Wendy could remember the day that it began: her fall from grace.
She had stumbled into his office, a silver tray laden with the finest china tea cups and pot. She could remember the way the light hit the tray and the porcelain, the reflected rays scattered and illuminated their blond hair, granting them a golden sheen. It must have been ungodly bright that day.
Every time she blushed at each misstep and forced her eyes upon the delicate china, hoping that the force of her stare would will the jittering cups to stay in their place. The pattern glazed onto the material was of leafy green vines winding around the circumference of the cup rims, while the design bordered the lid, base, handle, and spout of the pot. She could remember the painted foliage was lush with a variety of fruits. Among them she could spy grapes, apples, pears, and lemons. It was funny, the last three did not grow on a vine, but that was the manufacturer's error for the sake of aesthetic pleasantry.
She must have been distracted enough by the intricacy of the design that it caused her to fall. She must have faltered, since she could remember that he had reached out towards her.
The sequence of motion played slowly, time had stilled enough for her to memorize and relive each detail.
Mr. Joker's green sleeved arms coiled back and then sprung forth to capture her as she began her descent. One arm snugly wound itself around her waist while the other grabbed for the teapot. He caught the teapot, long tapered fingers wrapping themselves like a serpent around the handle of the warm vessel.
He righted her back onto her feet, and she was embarrassed that she had the opportunity of being held so close to him.
Wasn't that how it was with her?
She would end up by his side, and not for the reasons that she had fantasized about. Her blush of girlish admiration could have been easily mistaken for the flush of sheepishness, for Mr. Joker had wordlessly helped her set the tray down.
She inspected the contents of the tray, inwardly bristling at her clumsiness. Nothing was chipped nor cracked, nary a drop was spilt nor a single cookie lost underfoot and crumbled.
This was how it always went with them.
Four o'clock, traditional tea time. Or a noontime tea. Or an early morning post-breakfast tea. Or an hourly tea break. Really, whenever she arrived with a tray of liquid warmth and baked comfort, he was always ready to receive her. Nonetheless, some dreadful slip awaited her, whether her heel had slipped out from under her or the glare of the sunlight hit the tray and into her eyes or her foot had caught onto the rug. But she would always recover, with minimal loss of tea and cookies, and finish the trip to his cluttered desk.
At some times, she could swear she saw an amused smirk fading from his lips, or his amused eyes quickly averting away from her.
Then there were the rare times such as this, when he would rescue her, and she would curse that such contact as this lasted much too shortly for her liking, and (she assumed) was probably much too long for his.
So she had stood before his desk, embarrassed yet again that he had to prompt her to take a seat. She was so absorbed, she did not see him settle back behind his desk.
As a fine lady and good employee would do, and out of habit, she then reached to pour the tea for both of them. She was surprised to find that the pot was still in his grasp and he had already poured the cups for them.
She recalled berating herself for being so absentminded as to force her boss to do her job. She just sat there and stared, inwardly glaring at the mettlesome porcelain.
Another pale, beautiful (she considered it beautiful) hand took the small saucer lined with cookies and held it out to her. She looked at that slender hand, attached to that long green-clad arm, held in place from his stoic shoulders, with a handsome face resting atop said shoulders.
"Apple cinnamon thins?" he offered. "Or will you have the lemony ones?"
Without hesitation, she had taken a lemon wafer.
Wendy hated the flavour, she would have much rather had a delicious apple cinnamon thin, but she never really knew why she kept on buying and laying out the same two flavours and delivering them as she did. It was a force of habit, she guessed; not that she minded, really.
Mr. Joker enjoyed the apple ones, as much as she could tell. He never was the kind to relish the frivolities of cookies, only the basic necessity of tea to his daily routine. But there was the way he had approved of this kind, and he would finish all the apple thins every time they had tea.
If she filled the plate entirely with just one flavour, he'd probably eat them all like some greedy school boy and leave none for her! The thought had filled her with the urge to giggle. She probably had to put out those awful tasting lemon wafers just to keep him humble, and she probably choked them down to save him and herself from embarrassment.
They sat there together, amidst his cluttered sunlit office, quietly enjoying their tea time. It was an idyllic scene, a moment she was so engrossed in cherishing, that it came to such a disappointing surprise when it ended.
It was then at that time she noticed the clouds passed over the sun outside, still leaving everything dully bright, but removing the shine from their heads.
She had been ready to take the tray back and retreat from his office when she noticed one last apple thin on the saucer.
Still seated, she looked at him in surprise. A look that was not lost to him.
"Yes, Mr. Joker?"
"You've worked for me for a very long time, haven't you?"
"And in all that time, I've asked you to do some questionable things, haven't I?"
Wendy was almost ashamed to say yes. To admit so would mean that he was second-guessing himself, wasn't he? All she could give him was an honest, encouraging answer. He would value an honest answer anyway, and encouragement would be an unneeded luxury for someone like himself.
"Yes, Mr. Joker... but they were for the right reasons."
"Oh, they were?" His tone warranted explain.
She replied. "If you didn't tell me to dig deeper and use some dirty tricks to dig up information on Nancy Makuhari, we wouldn't have been able to find out she was a traitor. We could have barely stopped the I-jin."
"So it did."
He nodded, digesting her words; she hoped he was verifying their weight and significance to him. It would have meant so much to herself then to know that she held some influence to keep Mr. Joker grounded that he was in the right.
It would mean the world to herself now with the way circumstances closed around them.
"Mr. Joker, I know it's not my place to question what you ask me to do. I follow your orders because I know that whatever you have in mind, each action will lead to the best result."
"So you believe that the ends justify the means?"
"I believe in the goals of the Library. Just as you do, Mr. Joker."
"Thank you, Wendy."
He lowered his head, and she had expected him to dismiss her. Instead, he picked up the saucer again and offered her the last cookie. "Would you care for an apple cinnamon thin?"
To refuse him then would have been an insult.
She gingerly took the token and broke it in half, taking the smaller portion of the circular biscuit.
To take it all would have been inappropriate.
Wendy remembered walking out of his dim office, munching on that sweet baked good, and back to the centre of the vast library. Massive shelves of books surrounded her on all sides, the light had found its way back inside again and reflected off the pure white pages and golden foil. She basked in the glow and swore that day she could have found herself in paradise.
She was unaware that a few days later, she would be driven from it by fire and The Paper.
It was funny how, looking back on it now, Wendy had accepted the proverbial apple from the symbolic serpent. She was not a religious person, but it was only ironically right that she be driven from her haven by flaming swords and a white paper winged angel, someone she was once good friends with.
It was useless to express regret.
But it was not always like this.
They were not always isolated in this little house in the middle of some godforsaken- no, not godforsaken. In the middle of the idyllically pastoral countryside. It was a setting of beauty where they were surrounded by the trees and the rolling plains. There was a river to the east and an orchard far off to the south.
It was a veritable garden of earthly delights.
So here she was today, looking for him for he had run off again. Their exercise had taken them as far as the orchard.
Wendy was exhausted.
The wrenching gurgle of her stomach alerted her that she was also hungry.
She didn't groan, though.
A hand ran itself along a growing golden mane. It had been months since she last had a hair cut, but she couldn't afford to maintain this short bob. She was better off letting it grow.
She looked up at the trees, the sunlight dancing through them as the leafy shadows shifted and danced over her face. She spied a low hanging branch and reached out to grasp the dangling fruit from it. The flickering shadows and sun in her eyes made it hard for her to get a hold of the fruit, but when she did have it, it yielded from the branch to her grip.
She looked at her snack.
A plump, red apple.
The irony of it all.
Wendy was beginning to smile again.
Her knees and shins hurt from tripping over exposed tree roots. She promised herself that when she found Mr. Carpenter and took him back to their home, she would make tea and set out cookies for them again. Just like the way she used to.
His far off voice and approaching footsteps alerted her that he had regained his senses and was now looking for her.
"I'm right here, Mr. Carpenter."
"You didn't get lost now, did you?"
He emerged from the foliage, the slight limp in his leg the only reminder of their casting out. The far run must have aggravated such an old injury, and he probably needed to be taken care of. But he would not admit something like that to her, and she would grant him the dignity of not bringing it up.
Pride called that she deny it, even if he was the one who led her astray in the first place.
So Wendy sat down, the plucked fruit resting on her lap. She shifted on her seat to face him, the direction where her home was.
No words, no cue, needed to beckon him to sit beside her. Wordlessly, he just did so.
He watched her as she polished the apple on the fabric of her shirt, its round shape rubbing against the curve of her waist.
She did not let on that she knew he was watching her. He was just a man with an appetite. Whether it was out of hunger for the fruit or for her feminine charms, she did not know; it would be just as equally difficult and pleasing if it were either one.
She would not care to know right now.
Pleased that she had disinfected the fruit as best as she could, she broke it in two.
Wendy offered him the larger half. It was her habit, these little gestures that spoke of how much she was willing to give for him.
So they sat under the tree in the garden, relishing the sweet tang of apples and chewing thoughtfully, or pensively. Fragments of sunlight danced on their blonde heads and created dull, shattered halos.
She glanced sidelong at him, assuming that he hadn't caught her when she did.
There was always tomorrow.
He would pursue something, and she would follow. Whether the chase ended successfully or not, she would follow him, and she would offer him some nourishment. She would continue to prepare the food, he would continue to accept, and they would continue to have their silent communions together. This companionship they shared, where she provided and he took, to be his helper and companion.
Another tomorrow in paradise. If they kept themselves well hidden. Which she assumed they were.
Flaming swords would seek them out soon enough.
It was not always like this.
Ah, some introspective Wendy. I first posted this on the Read Or Die LiveJournal community, and I've changed and tweaked it since its original incarnation. There's not a lot of difference, save for the odd grammar correction, new paragraph, and new sentence.
This story was a chance for me to play with imagery and parallels, and I'm pretty pleased with the way I was able to weave it all together. The changing and shifting flow of time was was another thing to play with; whether it was Wendy during the TV series, before the TV series, or after, it felt more meaningful to make the moments blend together.
It as fun holding up Joker and Wendy to Adam and Eve. They are each helpers to their men, and they will be the ones to bring forth new worlds; together, they are a means towards a beginning.
The part about the cookies and the two flavours. Apple was an obvious choice, but why did I put in lemon? I recalled something that I had read off an old Sunday School pamphlet about how the forbidden fruit must have been a lemon, for it made Adam and Eve's life sour. It was something interesting to put into the story.
I have to thank Rhianwen for inspiring this fic and for providing some insight into the Joker/Wendy relationship, and for her story, "After the Inferno," which did lend a hand in nudging me towards the introspective Wendy direction.
Please review, and let me know what you think.