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objects in mirror may be closer than they appear

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You don’t know what time it is but you cannot sleep.

 

You are lying uncomfortably, across the back two seats of a red jeep that’s not even yours, technically. Your jacket is rolled up and stuffed under your head as a makeshift pillow, your covers abandoned because god if it isn’t muggy tonight, the air thick and humid and far too hot for sleeping bags. Or, it seems, sleeping.

For you, at least. Todd seems to be doing just fine, having dropped off to sleep what must’ve been hours ago; or at least it feels like hours.

You’ve spent the whole time watching the clouds slowly clear from the sky. The dome of the stars stretches over you as far as you can see, framed like a painting by the trees but reaching out further than you can imagine. You can’t imagine it, but you can feel it. It goes on forever and ever and ever, and you feel every bit of it at once, and yet here you are under it with mud on your clothes, and the uncomfortable hard cushion of the car seat sticking into your back, and a black kitten curled up in the footwell, and your assistant -

 

Your assistant.

 

Yes, you think. He is very much here. Very much still here, despite it being very dangerous indeed, and despite not being, as he calls it, your Watson, and even despite you breaking into his apartment. (Which was evidently, entirely necessary, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it, you think, or been able to do it. You can see how it might have come off on the wrong foot, you admit that much. But he’s here, that’s the matter of the thing.)

You sit up, legs aching from the day’s work as you move them, sitting cross legged. You look across at him, a hoodie on his chest, draped over his bare shoulders, wearing the shirt you bought for him (which brings a twang of guilt at what’s yet to come, but you push that away quickly enough).

Todd, you have found, rarely looks entirely peaceful. He is not the most relaxed of men by a long shot, high strung and tense and grumpy, and while that’s endearing in it’s own way, sleep has certainly softened him in a way that even the little smile on his face playing guitar with his sister couldn’t. He seems- you hesitate to say happy, but he seems... Content, to be with you.

To be with you. That’s new.

Your heart does a little flip. That’s new, too.

Oh fuck, you think.

You’re really up a creek without a paddle on this one.

 

-----

 

After It happens you try your level best not to think about It. Hence only referring to It as It. You imagine It capitalised, and with italics too, just to specify the whole mess of the thing and all that It encompasses. But It cannot be avoided, so this is how It goes:

There is a diner, there is a very tasty lunch, and there is happiness. There are friends. For one brief half hour, there is peace, for one bloody second, in this universe that never ever stops ticking away and pushing you left and right and up and down, you’re allowed to sit down and enjoy it. Enjoy being with people. It’s absolutely fantastic! Amazing, just wonderful, brilliant even -  words that never quite do it justice. It is probably the best you’ve felt so far in your long long history of feeling things.

But that doesn’t last, because of course it doesn’t. This is your life we’re talking about here, nothing ever lasts. What happens next is that feeling you can never put a proper word to, deep in your stomach, and then there is a piece of paper being more obnoxiously ominous than it has a right to be, and couldn’t things have lasted just a little longer this time?

What happens next is a hand over your mouth and the slam of metal on your back, and then there is the taste of blood in your mouth, and there is electricity coursing through you, and there are no stars anymore no domed canopy and all you can see is white tile alternating with the red behind your eyes as you screw them shut -

This; this is the main section of It you are trying not to think about.

 

The part you do try and think about, (and, in the future, will think of often and actively,) is the feel of Todd’s hand in yours as he helps you from the floor. You think of squinting into the daylight, cold fresh air on your face bringing goosebumps on your bare arms, sitting slumped in the front seat of a car. You think about the grey block of a building, all metal doors and concrete, standing out like a sore thumb in the desert, getting smaller and smaller and smaller in the wing mirror, shrinking into a tiny speck before disappearing completely.

And when you get out, really truly do get out, directed by Farah all the way to a wooden-looking cabin surrounded by thick looming forests, when you half-fall out of the beat-up car - you keep thinking about that hand in yours and you can’t get it out of your head. You’re not quite sure why yet.

 

You also think about the little sticker on the aforementioned wing mirror that read “objects in mirror may be closer than they appear.” And that’s so true, really, isn’t it? Annoyingly so.

Perhaps not literally, not physically - no, physically, you are pacing up and down in the kitchen of a safehouse Farah has known about for years (and has been stocking with canned food and weapons for nearly as long), and you’re trying to be quiet because you’re pretty sure everyone else is asleep at this point anyway -  you know, like you should be, you deride yourself.

But It is still close by.

Your brain has this occasional habit of catastrophising, with terrible, terrible timing, thinking yourself into a circle.  Which would be fine, and something you could deal with, at a later point, if it weren’t for the damnable way it tries to pass off your anxiety as a hunch, which is a very, very different thing indeed.

Generally you can tell the difference between the actual hunch itself, and the way the nervousness sits high in your throat, but  - not always. Not being able to tell which is which is not a feeling that comes particularly often, but it’s definitely happening here, and you hate it. You really really hate your brain sometimes. Or the universe. Or both. Either way, it’s incredibly frustrating. The uncertainty sits uncomfortably in the back of your mind, a quiet but constant little thread of worry, scratching away at the inside of your head and making your hands shake and your shoulders twitch. God, you really are shaking, aren’t you?

 

And you’re trying to put it out of your mind, you really are, but there’s only so much a man can do when your brain is going into overdrive like this and your vision is blurring and your mind is spinning spinning spinning and constantly supplying the memory of -

- cold metal on your wrists and upper arms.

There’s a bright white light shining directly into your eyes, and you squint into it, patterns dancing across your burnt retinas, make out the shape of a person threading a long thin wire hooked up to something you haven’t seen since you were a child.

You tense, knowing what’s to come, shut your eyes - but someone murmurs “He’s awake,” anyway. Shit. You can feel yourself trembling as the wire is run along your wrist, held in place by a gloved hand, another swiping a cotton pad across the vein on your inner elbow, you’re shaking your head and every part of you is screaming RUN RUN RUN and then there is a sharp, sharp stabbing pain and someone is saying

 

“Dirk? Are you okay?”

You jump, your head snapping up, the voice bringing you back into the moment again. Todd is standing in the kitchen doorway, in boxers and grey t-shirt and messy hair, looking at you with wide, concerned eyes.

“Todd. Yes, I - “ You fumble for words, looking down at your arm.

There is a distinct lack of wire. Of course there is, of course it’s not there. You had ripped the damn thing out, remember? There had been rather a lot of blood to show for it as well, and an awful raw pain under the layers of adrenaline - on second thoughts, perhaps try not to remember. But beneath the bandage Farah had hurriedly tied in the car, you know there will be a scar, and it still aches as if it were there - you still feel the fierce stab of the needle and the steady aching tension all the way up your arm, and the panic and adrenaline still flutters uncomfortably in you, like a trapped bird.

 

You’re telling yourself that that’s over and done with now, you’re in the safehouse; it’s literally called a Safe House, a House that is safe, that’s the whole point , you will be fine - but part of your brain is wondering if it’s another test and another experiment and it’s just another thing they’re going to take from you. Another way to get your hopes up, a new and inventive way to mess with you, but you don’t want to let yourself think like that - can’t allow yourself to think like that, so you do what you’ve wanted to do ever since he took your hand and helped you up from the floor, and you stride over and pull him into a tight, tight hug.

He is real and he is there -  and your hands are trembling, and for a second he doesn’t react and you think oh god he hates me now he’s seen what I am but then his hands come to rest on your shaking back. You notice suddenly your eyes are wet - when did that happen? You’re going to get his shirt wet but you don’t care. Oh gosh, you think, you are so wonderful to me.

 

“It’s okay,” he murmurs into your shoulder, voice muffled, and you feel yourself shudder, an involuntary and terribly pathetic-sounding noise escaping your lips, and his hand starts to run up and down your back. Just a slight movement, but enough to take your mind off the constant internal monologue of what if what if what if just a little bit, enough to bring you back to yourself.

And you want to say something, want to say a lot of things, want to do your usual routine of rambling and making bad jokes and just outpour affection at him, but it doesn’t seem like your brain will let you do that anytime soon. So instead you slowly, carefully, breathe out, pull him a little bit closer and make the hug a little bit tighter and hope he knows it means thank you. For everything.

You close your eyes and breathe in cheap deodorant and smoke and mint chewing gum and something you can’t put your finger on that is inherently Todd, and it feels like home again. It feels like home even when you pull away from him, wiping your face and wishing perhaps you could stay a little closer to him for just a little longer, and it especially feels like home when he says, quietly, “If you can’t sleep, I’ll stay up with you.”

A pause. That was… unexpected.

 

You think about saying “yes.”  ...think being the operative word, because it’s never quite as simple as that, is it? Now the feeling of dread has mostly been replaced by the complete exhaustion, flooding over you like a wave, threatening to bowl you over entirely. Frankly you feel a little dead behind the eyes, which you hate, because you like being full of energy, (you’re used to it, it’s who you are) -  but there’s no helping it, not now, you suppose.

“I think maybe weeks of barely sleeping has finally caught up to me,” you say instead. (Your voice is much weaker than you would like, still hoarse and still some shaky undercurrent to it that you can’t stand. Sleep will help.)

Todd nods in that slightly awkward little way he does when there’s something you’ve missed along the line, something you’ve not quite picked up on that’s left unsaid. He shuffles away from his spot blocking the kitchen door, with a “Sure,” and a smile on his face that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “You should get to bed.”

It’s only been a minute since his chest was pressed to yours and his arms around you and you already miss it.

So, in a mix of exhaustion and impulse you just go ahead and and say, “But you could stay with me anyway?”

You’ve already got his shirt wet. Hopefully he won’t mind this. Hopefully. Although you can’t help but feel like you really are asking a lot of him, perhaps you’ve finally taken that step over the line - oh, and there goes that brain of yours again, whirring away -

He looks at you a bit like he’s not sure what you’ve just asked.

“If you want, of course.” you add. “I mean, I’m tired but...”

You’re not sure of the words. Actually, you are. The words are I missed you so much and I don’t want it to happen again and maybe something else, something more, that you’re not going to think about yet because you don’t want to jinx it. “It would be very much appreciated. If you don’t mind, obviously.”

It might just be wishful thinking but Todd looks like a little light’s just turned on in his brain again. Just a little bit, something he’s not quite letting reach the surface, maybe. “Of course,” he says, “Sure.” He pauses, (and you think for one terrible second he might change his mind,) gives a little shrug. “Do you wanna go back to your room, or... “

 

He trails off as you shake your head. It’s not the room that’s the problem, you know that much. It’s the emptiness of it. It’s not even a particularly big room, it’s not big and spacious, nor small and claustrophobic - it’s just quiet. A smothering kind of quietness. A terrible, chronic emptiness that seems to ooze from the walls in the middle of the night, and a cold, cold spot in the bed beside you. And, there it is. The problem with sleeping in your own room is the distinct lack of Todd in it.

(You wonder if he’s going to offer his room. That might be different. In a good way. A very good way, and you make a little mental note for later to think about why that is such a nice idea. You don’t have to wonder for long.)

“Couch?” he asks.

“It’s a bit small for the both of us. Your legs will fall asleep before we do,” you say, but evidently Todd knows you well enough to clock that you’re not against the idea.

“I’ve fallen asleep in worse places.”

You think back to his face, unlined and calm, lit by moonlight in the back of a red jeep under the stars.

 

He’s not wrong. And besides, you must’ve nodded without even noticing, because now you’re following him into the living room, and before you know it you are flopping onto the sofa, all sleep-heavy limbs and half-open eyes. He fiddles with the dials of the radio on the side table, setting it to some talk station or other, filling the silence, and you lean your head on his shoulder without even having to think about it. It’s not exactly an intuition in the way that the hunches are, not the same demand from the heavens that something must happen exactly this way, but more in the sense that it feels completely natural. You lean on him because of course you do, why on earth would you not? Of course you do.

This is right, you think. Just you and him and the muffled mumbling sounds of the radio, and everything is quiet for once. It’s a nice change, really. To have a rest. Even if you do feel delicate and breakable and exhausted, a rest is a rest, and you refuse to take it for granted.

It’s not an ideal sleeping position, though. “Lie back,” you mumble, without opening your eyes - too heavy.

Todd responds with a “mmph?” (Just as sleepy as you, then.)

“Lie back,” you repeat, “on the sofa. I need leg room.”

“I can’t believe you sometimes,” he says, but moves anyway, his shoulder slipping out from beneath your head as he shifts awkwardly to one side, and you smile. You smile less when his legs bump you in the stomach and you have to shuffle around him as well, but you can’t help but grin a little, still - and then he laughs, and then you’re lying with your head on his chest shaking in a quiet chuckle, your legs tangled together comfortably, and a little part of your heart feels at peace again. For the moment, at least, it all feels like it might be okay.

“Thanks,” you murmur, barely audible under the radio host’s quiet babbling.

Todd’s fingers rub circles into your back, deliberate and soothing, and you try not to lean into the touch too much. “Anytime.” He replies. You feel the sound resonate through his chest, warm and deep. “Any time you need.”

 

-----

 

The next morning you make the unexpected discovery that the tiny window in the living room is perfectly placed to stream sunlight directly into your eyes. You discover this when it wakes you up around 6am, unceremoniously yanking you by the ankles back into the waking world.

You also discover pretty sharpish that Todd is still here.

His hand is still resting on your back, drawing you in, his chest still rising and falling under you. In the night, unconsciously or not, you realise the other hand has found yours, gripping it tightly.

He’s here.

You missed him so much it ached in every bone in your body. Feeling his steady heartbeat in your ear like the ebb of the tide, it still aches now, but in a different way.

God, does it ache. Not in a painful way, not quite in a sad way, not really. It’s warm and glowing and golden and something else, something that flares and glitters with the slightest twitch of Todd’s fingers and the tiniest flutter of his eyelashes.

 

This is definitely too much for your brain to handle at 6am, bloody hell. Enough of that, goodness.

Tuning out your thoughts in favour of focusing on the static-y mumble of the morning’s radio, you close your eyes and pretend to be asleep for another hour or so, the soft sounds of a thick Texan accent droning figures and fahrenheit. You keep your eyes closed and say nothing when Todd stirs, slowly tries to slip out from where you’re curled half on-top-of, half beside him - without an awful lot of finesse, but he tries, which is sweet of him. His footsteps vanish in the direction of the kitchen and you try not to think about the sudden coldness where his body used to be.

When you open your eyes 20 minutes later, there is a rapidly cooling cup of tea on the coffee table. You know before you take a sip that it’s made just the way you like it.

 

-----

 

The next time it happens you are alone.

You are alone in a little tiny white room, except you’re not really alone, technically, because you know the mirror affixed to the wall in front of you is actually a two-way one.

And that blonde man is behind it. He is there and you can feel his eyes boring into you even through the wall, but you look up and all you see is your own red-rimmed and tired eyes blinking back at you, and the empty room behind. Your hands are bound to the desk in front of you. You should have known not to fidget so much this time, really, should have known better.

You feel him watching you.

His voice crackles slightly over the intercom and your hand twitches.

“Can’t you just co-operate?” says the American voice with a sigh. Your hand twitches, tenses.

You try to speak, try to say, “It doesn’t work that way,” but your voice comes out weak and muffled, garbled like you’re underwater, and the voice gives an annoyed little huff.

“It would be so much easier if you did. For both of us.”

You know what is coming. You are still hooked up to that awful machine and you know what is coming, and you know he knows, too, knows he is watching you as you squirm and ball your hands into fists and shake like a fucking leaf, the stream of creation flowing straight into the polluted bloody ocean. His eyes are on you and on you and you feel every bit of it.

“I guess I have to push this button again.”

No, no, no no nonononono you think -

There’s a flash of white-hot electric pain and you try to scream but nothing comes out, and he is watching you and watching you and you can’t do what they ask of you make it stop make it stop it hurts

“No one is coming to find you, Icarus. You’re alone.”

 

You’re alone with your arms wrapped tight around a pillow at god knows what time in the night and there are tears running down your face because you can’t seem to stop thinking about it, not even in your dreams.

You are awake now, of course. You hope. Oh god what if you’re not? What if you’re still there, you’re not sure if you could do that, if you could find out this was all in your head, what if -

You sink your fingernails into your palms. Okay, that hurt. Probably not a dream then. It hurt in your dream too, but in the way only dreams hurt, that’s distant and muffled and yet somehow so much worse. You don’t think he is watching you. You hope not - fuck, he can’t be watching you. Okay. There is no mirror but you know you probably look just as awful as you did in your dream, bags under your eyes and the blood drained from your face, battered and bruised, and-

...you are still very much alone. That voice rings in your ears over and over and over. All alone. Again. You should really be used to it by now, the emptiness that chases you from place to place, but it doesn’t seem like it will get any easier any time soon.

And then clutching your covers you get an idea. A very desperate idea, but he had offered, kind of, and you just need something real, you need to be with someone, you need to be with him -

You’re getting ahead of yourself there, but either way you’re going through with the plan anyway and suddenly you have shuffled out of bed and you’re knocking on Todd’s bedroom door. It can only be a few seconds but it feels like an age before he opens it, rubbing sleep from his eyes, hair sticking in odd directions, and it’s such a domestic little moment you almost smile beside yourself, but then this look of concern washes over him - is it that obvious you’ve been crying?

“I can’t sleep.” you blurt out. “Well - I tried. It…” You’re not sure of the words. “...Didn’t go well.” A bit of an understatement, but not false. “Could I just stay with you for a while?”

He nods, “Of course, of course,” opens the door. Somehow in the two days you’ve spent in the safehouse he’s already managed to strew clothes across the floor, kicking the covers that have been dumped unceremoniously at the foot of the bed out of the way before perching on the edge. You sit cross legged at the other end.

 

“Do you want to talk about it?” Todd asks, softly. You hadn’t quite thought that far. You think perhaps whether you want to and whether you are able to are two different things.

“Maybe not right now.” You pause a second, huff out a very weak laugh, “I just want to be able to sleep for once.” (You want a lot of things.) He smiles a little at that. Both of you know it’s not a real joke, not really, but it’s all you’ve got, and either way it’s the best way you’ve found of dealing with it so far, so it works.

He leans back, shuffles his back off the pillows and down into the mattress, gives the space beside him a little pat. “It’s only a single bed, but…” he trails off, with a little shrug that you think might just mean as long as you’re here. (And god, you hope you’re right, because if you’re not then the way your heart stirs is probably going to kill you.)

Scooching up to him, you settle down to lie on your side, wiping your still-wet eyes with the back of your hand, hoping you’re not sniffling too loudly. Todd looks over to you and you can’t quite place the look in his eyes. Somehow hurt and kind and confused and a billion things all at once, like even he doesn’t know how to react, a searching, desperate warmth to it.

He’s a little higher than you on the bed, as if he were taller, and you are the perfect height to move a little closer and tuck your head against the slope of his neck. So you do, a little tentatively perhaps, and he wraps his arm tightly around you, pulling you in, keeping you near.

 

A part of you still can’t believe that this is him. Well; that’s not strictly true. You can believe it. You are a detective after all, and you have more than enough evidence; consisting mainly of the slight, soft brush of his breath over your skin, and the press of his chest against yours.

You can believe he is here, but fuck if you aren’t amazed by it. Pleasantly surprised. More like stunned. And -  this is the really stupefying part - he’s not going to leave.

You decide to let yourself be dramatic, because you are literally crying in this beautiful, wonderful man’s arms right now, and you think -

For once in your life someone is not going to leave you.

That thought comes with another shake, another pang in your chest, but not in the same way as the others. If the others were a punch to the gut, this is - well, still a pretty hard punch, but with something soft, like -  a pillow. It knocks you back, but you don’t mind in the slightest. You just wrap your arms around him in return, feel the soft skin where his t-shirt has ridden up, breathe in a shaky breath and breathe out a less shaky one.

He’s not going to leave. You’re not alone. The feeling is so strong it threatens to spill out of you at the seams.

“You came back,” you mumble into his collarbone, because you can’t hold it in any longer - it hardly matters if he even hears it or not, you just need to get it out there.

It takes him a moment to reply, making you wonder at first if he even heard, but then he exhales softly and pulls you closer.

“I did,” he replies. You feel the movement of his lips against your temple in an almost-kiss, another little corporeal detail. “And I’m staying around.”

 

-----

 

Despite the persistent boredom and paranoia that threatens to take you over during the months you spend in the safehouse, you do eventually move on.

These days it sits behind you hazily, a chaos of dreams and images, knowing looks and burnt toast in the morning when you forgot where you were. There is waiting, lots of waiting, and even more cups of tea, and eventually the universe decides it’s had enough of this game now, boooooooooring, tosses it’s chew toy aside, and you go back to Seattle. Simple as that. Which is not particularly simple in the larger scheme of things, but at this point you’ll take what you can get.

It all happens very strangely. But strange things happen to you all the time, so you let It be what It was, or at least do your best.

You keep taking cases - you have an agency now, with business cards remade and everything, and soon an actual office - Farah insists you all lay low a little longer, and she’s probably right, but you can’t wait! It’s happening. Not It, obviously, something good, something really good is happening to you, and it’s definitely meant to be happening too, which is even better.

One particular night on one particular case - an absolute corker of a thing involving an aeroplane, an egg whisk, and an alarming quantity of expensive whiskey- you’ve been kept up late waiting for a phone call. You knew it would come, and you knew if you tried to do something else it wouldn’t work out. The universe, nasty bugger that it can be, had sat you down in a corner and told you to stop fidgeting, dammit, so you did so, without too much complaining.

A little complaining is in order, though: seeing as how the concept of Dirk Gently’s Reasonable Sleep Cycle™ is not exactly favoured by the universe, said phone call came at four in the bloody morning, and you have now absolutely conked out into the welcoming arms of Todd’s ratty sofa.

Your lovely assistant’s apartment has taken the place of interim Agency Headquarters while you work on getting an office. Well, Farah does. You help, a bit, only it’s just that getting an office apparently involves an awful lot of paperwork, which you frankly hadn’t considered. But it all worked out, because you needed to be near Todd anyway, for very important assisting and detecting purposes!  

...And so, long story short; you have taken over the place by slowly migrating your collection of newspaper clippings, maps, and the odd houseplant, onto his floor. Most of the contents of your own apartment has found it’s way in here somehow, a cosy little home from home. You and this sofa are practically old mates by now.

Annoyingly enough, your level of friendliness with said sofa, no matter what it may be, has absolutely no effect on the whirlpool your mind likes to whip up at this sort of time of night. That’s assuming it’s the time of night that does it, of course. There are memories that lurk quietly at the back of your mind most of the time, including in the middle of the bloody day, generally taking the opportunity to pounce at night when you’re distracted and alone and vulnerable. You have gotten better at blocking them out, though. While you’re awake you can count the ticks of the clock, spot patterns like constellations on the cracked apartment ceiling.

 

You know it is behind you. Perhaps it doesn’t always feel that way, but you repeat it to yourself like a mantra. You are in Todd’s apartment with its cracked paint on the walls and the guitar leaning against the wall and you are even wearing the Mexican Funeral shirt, and the worst is behind you, and it’s not coming back. It’s not. It can’t. Mustn’t.

This strategy does not work nearly so well when you’re unconscious, though.

Sleep tends to open a lot of doors that you would rather have closed. Metaphorical ones, of course; the kind that have thoughts behind them rather than neon-lit corridors, the kind that you would like to stay shut and locked and far away from you, as opposed to the door -

- you sit and watch with your back against the wall.

It dominates the room. Everything else here is blank and white and grey, just how you remember it - the walls, the floor, the bedsheets, your shirt - but the door is deep, deep grey. Looming, metallic grey, the only thing in the room that catches your eye, a little red light that flashes green when it’s about to open. The little light burns into the back of your eye. You can’t help but watch it.

This always goes the same way. You always sit and stare and jump at every muffled voice from the corridor, twitch at every slight creak and thump, even the ones you think might be in your head, because that could mean the door’s going to open. You always let yourself think at first that when the door opens it’s going to be Todd, or Farah, or Amanda, or you’d even take the Rowdy Three at this point, really, it’d be better than all this terrible, terrible waiting. You always start off thinking that way.

And then you wait, and you wait, and you wait, and none of them are coming to get you out. You were stupid to think anyone would come, that you’d see any of them again, why can’t you just listen to someone, they were right when they told you you will always be alone. You should have listened. They were right, and now the walls are starting to close in on you and you can’t breathe and the smell of disinfectant is overwhelmingly strong -  

And oh god, there’s the light. The little red light just turned green.

There’s the light and the beep and the whirr of the electric lock and the door is opening, and you feel your chest tighten as you curl in on yourself, grabbing at your own legs with white knuckles, burying your head into your knees - they’re right outside you don’t want to answer their questions anymore but they are right outside -

 

You bolt upright, gasping for air. You look around anxiously, see Todd’s guitar, his bookcases, records and abandoned mugs. You’re here, you’re out, you’re not going back there. You’re not. You wipe the tears from your eyes with the back of your hand.

The front door. You jump, twisting yourself backwards to look at it, anxiously, desperately, not sure what you’re expecting to see.

It’s closed. Closed and locked.

They’re outside the door.

No, no no no they’re not, they can’t be, you’re in Todd’s apartment in Seattle and they’re gone and it’s fine.

They’re right outside and they’re waiting for you.

You tell yourself to shut up.

They’re listening, and they know you’re here,

Shut up, be quiet, just shut up - 

and they’re not going to let you go this time.

You fumble with the hem of your shirt, twist it between thumb and finger nervously, terror bubbling in you and horribly, horribly close to escaping in a quiet scream but that would be worse, because they’d hear you, oh god, they can hear you -  And there’s another thing, isn’t there?

Now you remember. It was gone four when you drifted off, Todd will still be asleep, and there he is in your peripheral vision - you can’t quite look entirely away from the front door just yet. Either way you can make out his shape amongst the faded blue sheets, just enough moonlight spilling through the window to see the apartment in all its messy, lived-in, Todd-having glory. And he would hear you.

 

They weren’t right, you think.

You told them they were wrong at the time, of course, repeated it to them over and over again until they would force your mouth closed. But telling them they were wrong is one thing. Knowing that they were wrong is another.

 

On shaking legs you stand up, slowly, no sudden movements, and edge over to the mattress by the window where Todd sleeps. Sitting sheepishly on the edge, you look away from the door long enough to pat Todd’s shoulder, give him a soft shake. “Todd,” you whisper.

He stirs, mumbles a quiet “mmph,” pulls his face out of the pillow he’s had it pressed into. “Yeah?” he replies.

“It happened again,” you say, softly. He sits up in bed, clocks the way your eyes are flicking between him and the door, places a hand softly on your arm. “It happened again, and - ” Your voice is shaking almost as much as you are. “And I know it’s only a dream, but it feels real, and I’m -”

Todd leans in and pulls you into a tight embrace, and you break off mid sentence, huffing a broken sigh into his shoulder. His hands splay across your back, tracing comforting shapes against your skin through the fabric of the shirt, anchoring you back into the present. “It’s alright,” he breathes, “I’m here.” He gives your tense, stiff shoulders a little squeeze, and you try to focus on the pressure of his fingertips trailing back and forth.

“I know it’s - it’s not a hunch or anything,” you rush, pulling back a little to look him in the eye, your words almost blending into each other with the speed you’re talking at. “It’s not like that, but - it feels like, it feels real, like they’re outside.”

Now you’ve said it out loud, you can’t seem to stop. “They’re outside - they’re not, I know they’re not,” you hurriedly justify in a trembling voice. “But they’re right there, they’re back, Todd, what if they’re - behind the door, they’ve come for me,” and oh, god, it all spills out at once, the verge of a sob about to break like a wave onto the beach, imminent and unavoidable and terrible.

“Dirk.” he says, stops the wave at its peak.

The ocean pauses, tension keeping the water hanging in mid air, impossibly still yet so close to crashing down. You blink wet eyes back at him.

“They’re not outside,” he says. It feels a bit more real coming from him. “They’re not here. Nowhere near here, or you. They’re not coming to take you.” He pauses a second, something fierce and unmoving in his eyes. He looks beautiful. “I wouldn’t let them.”

The wave crashes in slow motion. Quietly, softly, drops edging their way down onto the sand, the tension starting to trickle away little by little. Your eyes start to prick again, but it’s not so bad, this time. Goodness, he is - he’s really wonderful to you, isn’t he?

You give him a little smile, overcome with something you daren’t put a name to. That, and still mostly anxiety.

He smiles back, a tiny, bittersweet half smile, the sort you’ve seen him give Amanda when they catch up every now and then. It’s almost the same smile he gives bereaved clients, but a billion times more intense, more soft, more - caring, you suppose. Which is nice. He’s nice.

 

Evidently he clocks that you’re still shaking a little, because his eyes flick to the door, too. “Look,” he says, “I’ll show you,” and then oh cripes, he’s pulling the sheets off and standing up and walking to the door. You jump up, panic starting to build again. You can’t step towards it, you can’t, you can’t risk it.

Todd puts his hand on the doorknob and looks back at you, only a few steps away. “You don’t have to come closer if you don’t want. But I’m going to open this door and show you there’s no one there.” His voice is assured, speaking slowly and steadily. You’re still not sure if you can move closer, chest tightening once again, but you give him a little nod. They’re not going to be there. They are not. It’s all fine. Fine, fine, fine.

Oh fuck, it’s opening, you think, oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck here we go -

Nothing happens.

“See?” Todd says, and you take the tiniest, tentative step closer, peer out.

The corridor is completely empty, crisp packets and the fly buzzing quietly by the window notwithstanding. You breathe a sigh of relief, feeling some of the fear start to drain from your body already, thank god.

“Thank you, Todd.” you say, your voice a little louder, a little more sure of yourself, and mean it. He gives you that odd little smile again, shuts the door quietly, and - pauses.

“Do you want to go back to sleep?” he asks.

Bit of a mixed bag, that one. Sleep means that room again, probably, or if not that, then something worse. But lord if you don’t need it. There’s only so much tea a man can drink in a day, and it’s just impractical for you to crash out in the middle of a case. The universe would certainly not be a happy bunny about that.

But increasingly you’ve been sleeping curled up beside Todd, and that makes things an awful lot easier. It doesn’t stop your brain, of course, doesn’t make the dreams go away - you’re not sure if they’ll ever completely go away. But every time you do this, you fall asleep with his arms around you, his heartbeat next to yours, and it helps. He helps. And when - or rather if - you dream again, you wake up with a protective arm draped over your stomach, or a pair of legs entwined with yours, or your fingers laced together, and he’ll hold you and stroke your hair until you stop shaking so violently. It doesn’t seem quite so bad after all that.

“Yes,” you nod. “Busy day tomorrow.”

 

It’s an unspoken truth that you, of course, climb into bed beside him, not even discussed beyond a knowing look. It’s only natural, at this point. Why wouldn’t you?

You both lie on your side, facing into each other, the few centimeters of shared air between you heavy with the kind of fondness that settles over you like a warm blanket. Todd’s hand slowly moves to your face to brush a stray lock of hair away from your eyes. These are the moments that make you think time is definitely fake. The moment stretches on forever, somehow achingly slow and yet over far, far too quickly. You shuffle inwards, moving closer and sliding your arm around his waist, tuck your head under his chin, back to the warm feeling of light and gold and peace that, by now, is synonymous with him.

“You’re safe.” He whispers almost too quiet for you to hear, low, and soft, and ardent. “You’re okay, you’re safe here.”

You are safe. And what’s more, for once, you feel it. A hand runs through your hair, tenderly. “I’m not letting them take you,” Todd says, “never again,” repeats it, “never, never, never.” You think perhaps he’s saying it just as much for himself as he is for you, but even so -

He is wonderful. You think maybe you might start crying again, but not in a bad way.  In an oh-god-he-is-incredible way. Because he is. Todd is incredible and wonderful and kind and loving and you love him.

- Well, you love Farah and Amanda too. You do love them, they’re fantastic! But Todd is - this is different.

Perhaps you had taken a touch too long to realise that this is not what just friends do.

 

...You love him.

 

Oh.

That certainly explains a lot.

 

-----

 

You two dance around each other. Not in the literal way, though; not in the cool way. No, in the way that involves lots of looking at him for a bit too long, and maybe touching his shoulders a little more when you’re leading him some place or other, and definitely far, far too much thinking about what kissing him would be like. Far too much of that. And far too much nervousness as well, you silly man, what is there to be nervous about? Oh, wait. There’s an awful lot to be nervous about. An awful, awful lot to lose.

He’s still here - or rather, you are, and he hasn’t kicked you out yet. You’re still sleeping on his couch, partly because it’s not quite time to move into the office you’ve picked out just yet and , and partly because -

Partly because you don’t want to. The universe doesn’t want you to, either, but that’s not the point. The point is you are really, truly happy here. It’s brought you a series of cases, each more exciting than the last and it’s brought you a home.

Yes, you think. A home. A proper one, this time, not a cell with a white ceiling and the little black camera in the corner they thought you couldn’t see.  And it’s a miracle you’re allowed one at all, frankly. The things you want and the things the universe wants for you rarely align, so you’ll be damned if you’re going to risk this by pushing it too far, not again. Not a chance in hell you’re letting this get snatched away from you. For once in your life, you can live without poking the beast.

And you’re happy. You really are, you have cases and friends (you have friends! Plural and everything!) and that’s enough for you.  

Except.

Except sometimes you end up dwelling on It again. Which is stupid, really, stupid man, entirely defeating the object, you’re giving in to what they want by thinking about it, really - stop it , you tell yourself, tell the universe, stop it for crying out loud.

 

You’re on a case and it’s only one little thing really.

It’s a book of Greek mythology. And it’s open to a certain page, about a certain myth, and a certain story involving wings and wax and the sun etc etc and god, you know the drill by now, you really do. But you see it and it’s like you never left. A part of your mind, the part that isn’t blaring klaxons and the sound of a thrumming generator and that idiotic blonde man with blood on his hands (your blood oh god oh god they’ll never let you go ), yes, that part, that part looks up at the universe and thinks -

Really?

Are you kidding me right now?

And then you’re bolting out of the library, and you’re stumbling and falling to your knees in the courtyard, and your brain is thinking of too many things at once and there is too much going on and you cannot breathe, you cannot breathe because you are holding your breath trying to stop the hyperventilating that you know is going to happen anyway, and your chest is tight and your head is spinning, and your hands are bleeding from falling onto the gravel and wait, wait there is - there is something -

Todd is sitting opposite you on the ground and you can feel him looking at you and you can just about register him saying your name through the mental fog, and he is telling you to “Breathe, Dirk, stop holding your breath - can you do that for me?” he asks, and you try, you really do, suck in a gulp of air but it’s too much too much; and then you’re holding it again, and he’s saying “It’s okay, you’re okay,” but your brain is screaming and your every muscle is tense to the point of immobility, oh shit, oh shit, you are going to die here,

“Is it okay if I - ” his voice trails off and his hand moves towards your pocket, towards the fidget toy you always keep there, and you nod frantically and keep nodding as he presses the familiar pink plastic into your hands. You grip it tightly, let the plastic dig into your skin, keep your hands moving at the same pace of your brain, and you feel your head start to quiet a little, let out a shuddering, pathetic breath - except it’s not pathetic because he’s saying “you’re doing so well,” and counting steadily, his voice a constant, like the ticking of a clock, and slowly, you start to take longer breaths, to breathe in time with him. Slowly the feeling comes back in your palms. You notice the scrapes on your knuckles and the wetness on your cheeks.

You hate him seeing you like this. He’s meant to see you as  - as someone happy and cool and great, and this is so - so not. You try so, so hard, and you're doing your best, but his shouldn’t be you. This isn’t even the first time this has happened. Every time, every time is just as bad.

He is so very, very nice to you. You don’t deserve this. You don’t deserve him.

You grip your fiddle toy tighter.

Todd’s hands twitch, and slowly, waiting for you to react, he puts his hand on yours. Your heart does that little flip again, despite everything. You don’t think it’s stopped doing that since you met.

 

-----

 

It is late when you get home. Well, not late, but December is drawing in, and it gets so dark so early these days, there’s not really any point trying to guess at what the time might be. By the time you get back to the apartment, the sun’s already sunk below the horizon, and what little light is left casts everything with a sort of blue tint, like those old noir films you used to watch on the telly all the way on the other side of the pond, aeons ago.

You are exhausted and bleeding, again, albeit for very different reasons than the last time; and your brain has settled, sure, but you are exhausted and not thinking straight - really, really not thinking straight in the slightest, but one thought shines through, and that’s that you love him. You love him, you have loved him, you still love him, and you continue to love him.

In fact, you’re in love with him. You are in love with Todd Brotzman. Astoundingly, flounderingly, mind-bogglingly so, and that’s an entirely different kettle of fish.

And maybe you’re still panicking a little bit, or maybe it’s because all your energy has drained out of you after earlier and your brain is not in any position for even the faintest idea of a rational thought, or maybe it’s because he’s barely let go of your hand since you left the library, but you turn to him.

“Todd.”

You pause.

You would like to be smooth about this.

“Like”  being the operative word. As much as you would like to be the hardboiled cool guy, like in those films, where they turn their jacket collar up and tilt their hat down and take a long, dramatic drag on a cigarette, at this moment you’ve just returned from having a panic attack outside a college library. And you’re not even wearing a hat, let alone smoking, so that’s that plan buggered. Although it’s not like you had a plan in the first place.

“Could I - would it maybe be alright if - ”

Get on with it you silly man, you tell yourself.

“Can I kiss you?” you say, and there it is, out in the open.

 

Please don’t go wrong, this time, universe, you think, please don’t, please just let me have this, please.

 

“Yes,” he says, almost breathless, and it’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard.

He says yes, and suddenly his eyes are shutting and he is leaning in - which completely defeats the point of you asking to kiss him, really, but it’s not like you’re complaining, because his lips are on yours and you think you might implode out of sheer, sheer - something, and you have thought about this for so long you can barely believe it’s actually happening.

And here he is, very much still here.  Your brain takes note of as much detail as it can possibly take in while doing the excited backflips it’s currently preoccupied with. The tiniest scrape of his stubble around your mouth and the slight taste of mint, the soft material of his shirt as your hand rests on his side, the warmth of his body from under his clothes, the way his tongue runs across your lips - but most of all you take note of the way his eyes are lidded when you pull apart, relaxed and peaceful and you think, goodness. He seems happy. You certainly are. More so, now, as a little smile plays across Todd’s lips, content and peaceful and everything good that he deserves.

He catches your eye. You beam, and kiss him again.