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you can break a thing, but you cannot always afterward guide it into the shape you want

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He does not think about home.

The memories feel like they burn holes in his mind.

 

He tries not to think about the moment they captured him, either, the way their iron nets bit into his skin and made him scream, the way he managed to claw at one of his captors and make them bleed and scream. They’d pushed the net closer to his skin and he’d screamed louder.

It was his fault. He shouldn’t have been out on the hills alone, shouldn’t have gone without his family or his friends. It’s his fault, he tells himself as they shove him into a bag that mercifully contains no iron on the inside but must have a layer on the outside, because he feels remarkably weak, and so so helpless, but he thinks perhaps that last part may be due to the situation.

But he tries not to think about it.

 

The walls of his cell are not completely made of iron. It’s just enough that they make him feel vaguely itchy, on the border of too uncomfortable. His clothes are not as soft as he’s used to, a gray shirt with short sleeves and gray pants that pillow slightly at his feet. He’s on the smaller side, for now. He pulls at them.

They keep delivering different food to see what he’ll eat. The first day he won’t eat anything they give him. Just because the rules are different in this world doesn’t mean there’s not an image of acquiescence given if he plays by them. The second day he still won’t eat anything. The third day he thinks he may pass out from how hungry he is, so he eats only what will keep him surviving. He is also wary of poison.

On the fourth day, when he is curled on his bed in a ball, as is his habit now, the door opens. A man walks through in a black pair of pants and a black tee shirt. He has a mustache.

“Hi,” he tells him, sitting in the chair opposite the bed in this tiny, tiny room. “I’m Scott. Do you have a name?”

He doesn’t answer Scott, instead glaring at him as powerfully as possible. Names have power. If they knew how to kidnap him, they no doubt know this.

“Do you have any questions? I can answer them for you if you want.”

Say nothing. Don’t give him the satisfaction.

“I’m glad you ate the food. I was worried there for a little while. I don’t want you to starve.”

Why not? he wants to snarl. What do you want me for? Why not just let me die? What do you want to do with me?

He says none of this.

“You can talk to me if you want, you know. It’s okay.”

He sets his jaw and keeps glowering, his finger lightly tracing over one of the burns from the nets on his hand. They’ve started fading. He doesn’t feel them as a severe pain anymore, just a light sort of ache, and they’ll be gone soon, but they’re fully visible all over him. They sit in silence for maybe another hour. Then Scott stands up.

“I have to go,” he tells him. “But I’ll be back tomorrow. I hope we can talk properly then.”     

Scott leaves. He curls back up into his little ball.

 

“You’re special, you know that?”

He doesn’t answer. He won’t even look at Scott.

“We have other people sort of like you. But not someone exactly like you. Lots of the people here didn’t even really believe you would exist until we found you.”

This doesn’t surprise him. Humans are stupid.

“I’m so glad I get to meet you.”

He glances up at him. Scott looks at him too much like a specimen for him to be comfortable with. He turns so he’s facing the wall, hoping to make it clear that he is done even entertaining Scott’s presence.

“They’re calling you Icarus. You know, to differentiate you from the others.”

He doesn’t know what an Icarus is. He doesn’t care. He won’t even think his real name anymore. Just in case.

“I wish you’d tell me your name. I’d call you by that.”

Icarus.

He will accept the moniker for now.

 

He starts to think of himself as Icarus. This way if they ever get inside his head, it will be a new name he is using and it might be harder to get to the old one.

Scott comes in day after day. He seems kindly, but he’s still working in this prison, which means he can’t be trusted, not really. Then it occurs to him. Maybe Scott is just a worker of  some kind. Maybe he doesn’t want to be here either, not really. Maybe he’s only here to try and help. Maybe he’s trying to protect him from his captors.

He starts to warm to the idea of Scott.

 

Icarus loses track of how many visits it is before he gives in to what he’s been wanting to do for a while now.

Scott sits across from him in his chair (and he is certain at this point, that this chair was placed in his room only for Scott) and before he can say anything other than “hello, Icarus”, he starts.

“Where am I?” His voice is hoarse. Scott looks startled. Icarus waits.

Scott recovers. “It’s nice to hear your voice.”

“That is not an answer.”

“That’s true.” Scott leans forwards slightly. “This place is called Blackwing. They want to help people like you.”

“Kidnapping me is not helping me.”

“They just want to understand you.” Scott looks earnest. “They don’t have any ill intent. They don’t want to harm you, I promise.”

Icarus doesn’t say anything. “Can you tell me your name?”

“No.”

“I’d really appreciate it.”

“I would appreciate being back home.” The words tear out of his throat.

“I’m sorry. They can’t do that.”

Icarus’s fists clench. He says nothing.

“What do you want me to call you?”

“Icarus will do.”

“How old are you, Icarus?”

He hesitates. It feels like a trick somehow, a trap. Like if he answers honestly, it will be used it against him, even if he doesn’t know how.

But he wants to answer. He wants to trust Scott more than anything. So he takes the plunge, and he does.

“Ten.”

“Is there a difference in human years and fae years?”

“I don’t know.”

“You want to tell me about home?”

Icarus shakes his head. “I’m not thinking about home.”

“That’s all right.”

Icarus shoves his hands into his armpits, feeling vulnerable. “Tell me about the human world.”

Scott tells him about the cities. Great buildings of glass and metal, cars and highways. It sounds intimidating but also vaguely beautiful.

Scott stands to leave eventually and smiles at him. “I’m glad you started talking to me, Icarus. Thank you for trusting me.”

Icarus nods awkwardly. Scott leaves and Icarus smiles a little.

He has a friend here, who doesn’t want to be here either.

 

Icarus confides in Scott little things each day, like how he doesn’t want to eat more than he needs to, how the traces of iron itches, how his mattress is uncomfortable.

“I can look into getting you a better mattress,” he says. “But I can’t do anything about the iron. And you should really eat more than you just have to.”

Icarus shakes his head. “I don’t trust them. Just because I can’t taste drugs yet doesn’t mean they’re not going to put them in my food.”

“You can taste things like that?”

“My senses are better than yours. I can taste the corn syrup in your artificial foods. It’s disgusting.” He tries to avoid the processed foods. They have a small amount of meat, cheese, vegetables, fruits, bread. But the bread is spread with peanut butter and he can taste remnants of the sliminess that it contains, no matter thoroughly he attempts to wipe it off.

“I can ask people if you can get unprocessed food.”

Icarus smiles. He does that sometimes around Scott. “That would be nice.”

 

He gets entirely unprocessed food the next day. He can’t help it. He eats until he’s full. The next day he goes back to routine, eating only what he needs.

 

“What did you mean by differentiate me from the others?” Icarus asks. “Who are the others?”

“Changelings.”

Icarus is startled. “Really?”

“You know what they are, then?”

“Of course.” Humans believe the fae exchange their children because they’re mischievous. It’s not. It’s because sometimes parents think they might be better off in the human world, where they can always breathe the air. Human children, they think, are easier to raise. The human children are usually surprisingly well adjusted, bearing some faint trace of fae powers. Changeling children, what little contact they have sometimes with his world has led the fae to believe, don’t have all of the powers they would if they were raised fae. But just like the human children have traces of fae powers without being born to them, changelings don’t lose their abilities. They manifest just as strangely as the fae’s can sometimes, but they’re there.

“They’re living in a world where they didn’t know what they were until very recently, with powers they don’t understand. Blackwing just want to help them so they feel less alone.”

“Are they treated like I am?”

“You’re special, Icarus.”

It’s a non-answer. Icarus is wary of Scott suddenly in a way he hasn’t been since early on.

 

Icarus estimates it’s been about a year that he’s been inside Blackwing when he suddenly starts going to white rooms with tables and people in white coats sitting across from him. Scientists, he’s informed. He’s always escorted by two large guards who make him feel nervous.

“How do your powers work?” they ask him sometimes.

“I don’t know,” he answers, honestly but not telling the full truth. He can’t even explain what it feels like properly to himself, and he has no inclination to do his best to explain it to them, either. There’s no human he could ever imagine wanting to try for.

 

Sometimes they make him run on what they say are treadmills with sticky things on his body that have wires attached to them. Sometimes they take his blood. Sometimes they ask him questions. He tries to answer politely. He doesn’t know if he’s going to be punished for not doing so.

 

Scott comes to visit him one morning when Icarus can’t stop his hands from shaking. “Are you all right?”

“Nightmares.” They happen often enough, their actual subject matter varying from time to time.

“Do you want to tell me about them?”

Icarus rubs his hands over and over, feeling the phantom burn of strings no longer there. “I dream about the nets,” he mutters. “How they burned. And I scream and I scream but it’s just like last time, the people using them, they hear, but they don’t do anything, and I know they wouldn’t because they’re using them in the first place, why would they care if I was being hurt when they know that’s what the nets would do, but I’m still alone and defenseless, and the people around me know, and they don’t do anything about it.”

Scott listens, face soft.

“I’m sorry about that, Icarus,” he says. Icarus swallows, feeling a little heartened, as he does sometimes, that he’s got someone on his side, and nods. They don’t speak again for the rest of the visit.

 

He hears them talk about Colonel Riggins sometimes (it did have to be explained to him what a colonel was when he asked after figuring out it was a title but that was to be expected). He’s the one who runs the base, who keeps them all here under his thumb, for whatever purpose he’s got. Icarus can’t believe that he’s here for good anymore, that any of them are, no matter what Scott tells him when he confides in him his suspicions. Whatever Riggins wants him for, it can’t be good.

Icarus hates him more than any of the scientists who prod him or run tests and experiments.

 

Scott asks Icarus when his birthday is, two years after he was brought to the base. He tells him he doesn’t know by human calendars. This is true. Humans have different names for their months, although theirs revolve around the moon, too.

What’s scarier is he can’t quite remember all the names of all their months.

 

Icarus’s too weak, eventually.

Eating the bare minimum of food still isn’t enough to keep him strong. Finally, he’s sick enough that they take him to the medical wing.

“Look, kid,” Doctor Chu tells him. None of the doctors are kind, really, but Doctor Chu is a little brusquer. “We can’t get rid of you, cause you’re the only one of your kind that we got. But we can make your life pretty unpleasant. So start eating, or things will get unpleasant.”

 

Icarus starts eating.

 

They don’t let him see the others. They take him through halls at times that normally don’t have any other subjects. But he sees them, sometimes. In glimpses. Occasionally they see him, too.

They look at him with various expressions. The girl with the tangled hair who can’t be that much older than him doesn’t seem to care one way or the other. The other one he sees the most often is older than she is, large and blond with glasses. Sometimes there are others around him, two who look about his age, one who looks closer to Icarus’s. They all look at him with mistrust or anger or both.

Fullblood,” they say, venom in their tones. Icarus flinches every time.

He doesn’t like being held here. But being held away from them is a small blessing.

 

Four years since his kidnapping passes, all days seeming the same after the other, until the one where it all changes.

Icarus is trying to explain as politely to Doctor Fairchild as he can that no, he doesn’t know how they travel from town to state to country to continent if they’re not using human transportation (and this one is true, he doesn’t know how, only that they do). Doctor Fairchild is getting increasingly irritated, which Icarus doesn’t feel is necessary, but he’s not going to feel bad for doing so.

“It’s so annoying that you’re Riggins’s favorite,” she mutters as she waves security in. “You’re the more valuable subject, I get that, but we can barely even complain about you to him. Even Marzanna’s easier to deal with than you are.”

This is brand new information to Icarus.

“Why would I be his favorite?” he asks, as he stands up to go with the guards. He doesn’t like it when they drag him up out of his chair.

“Fucked if I know,” she huffs. “You see him more than the rest of us, just ask him on one of the occasions he comes into your room like he does every goddamn day.”

She waves them along, which is good, Icarus thinks dimly, quite good, because she can’t see his face, and neither can the guards, and he doesn’t want them to as he feels the world he’s feebly built up for himself in the wake of losing everything come crashing down, not at all.

He makes it to his room. When he hears the doors to his cell slam behind him, his knees don’t seem to want to work anymore, and he hits the floor.

 

Scott lied to him.

Icarus’s nails scratch against the floor, making him wish that he could leave marks in the ground. There is a hurricane inside him, and it won’t leave any permanent scars on this prison, and he wants it to, wants the walls to suffer for what they’ve done to him, wants the inside of his head to stop screaming so much.

Scott lied to him, every day he was in here, every time he referred to Blackwing as “they”, every word, every line, every lie, said to him.

Icarus is crying. He’s never cried like this, not even when they brought him in, not brought him in, brought him in suggests choice, he had no choice in this place, not once, except he chose to trust Riggins, and look how that turned out?

His hands have moved to his hair, tight, clutching, ripping. He can feel strands of hair coming undone. It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t care. It makes him feel better, that he has something to grip onto. He wants to grip onto something to destroy things with. All he has in the room is Riggins’s chair (he can’t even look at that now, is avoiding seeing it at all costs) and his bed, but he wants to smash something, damage something, end something.

Icarus remembers, suddenly, when Scott asked him if he wanted to tell him about home. He hadn’t asked out of gentility, out of a desire to help ease Icarus’s pain, because he’d cared about his loneliness. He’d wanted information about what life had been like for him. What it was like where he came from.

Riggins asked questions that he could use against people like him.

Icarus’s crying ramps up, turning into sobbing, gasping for breath.

How much did he tell Riggins? How much did he tell them? How much do they know to weaponize him and the changelings now?

How many myths did he prove simply by existing? What did he give away that he can’t even remember?

What does it say that he was that desperate for the smallest shred of kindness?

What has he done that will hurt himself and the people like him in this base, just because he wanted a friend?

Icarus has moved his hands back to where they were and his nails are worn down from scratching against the floor, so when his hands curl into fists that he shoves hard against the floor like he can make any kind of indentation in them, they don’t dig into his palms. He bows his head, his spine curving until he is half of a ball on the floor, face hovering inches from the cold metal beneath him.

Icarus screams. He screams and he screams and he screams until he’s hoarse. Then he starts whispering rapidly, unable to control it, over and over again, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to, I didn’t want to, I’m so sorry…

 

The next morning, Icarus sits on his bed, looking at the wall opposite him, stonefaced. His arms are crossed. He’s still as a tree. He misses trees.

Riggins comes in and sits in his chair. He smiles at Icarus, and now that he’s looking, he can see all the tells. How Riggins’s smile is a little too perfect, how he’s a little too sympathetic. How could he have not seen it before?

“What happened to your nails?” he asks, in that overly friendly voice. Icarus shrugs.

“Wore them down,” he answers evenly.

“That’s too bad.”

“It is.”

Riggins frowns. “Are you okay, Icarus?”

Icarus feels his lips twist into a bitter, angry smirk. Riggins looks a little startled. He has good reason to be. He’s never seen that expression on his face before. “I’m doing just fine, Colonel. How are you?”

There’s a silence where Icarus and Riggins stare at each other. Riggins looks stunned. Icarus feels a savage lick of satisfaction, a taste of harsh and angry pleasure that he’s managed to knock Riggins off his game, that for once he has the upper hand.

“Who told you?” Riggins asks, and maybe under any other circumstance, he would rat out who it was, but he wants to cling to his advantage here, doesn’t want Riggins to know where he gets his information.

“You don’t need to know how I know it,” he answers. “You don’t need to know how I know anything.”

“Icarus-“

“No.” The fury is cold. Like maybe he was never a living breathing creature, only ever ice. “No, I don’t think you get to try and make excuses. You lied to me. Every time you came in here, every time you spoke to me like you were my friend, you were lying to me.”

“It’s not my fault that you assumed I was someone else,” Riggins says quietly.

“Maybe not, but it’s your fault that you never corrected me. It’s your fault that you said ‘they’ every time you referenced Blackwing. It’s your fault that you’re keeping me here against my will.” Icarus shakes his head. “Everything is your fault.”

Riggins doesn’t say anything. So Icarus continues.

“You asked questions again and again. Like you cared about me. But you didn’t. You just wanted to find out more about me. About us.”

“I do care about you, Icarus.” Riggins’s voice is soft. Icarus has no time for it.

“Bullshit!” he shouts. He’s picked up curse words from the scientists and the guards, rarely used them, but it feels appropriate. “Bullshit. If you cared about me, you wouldn’t have kept me here. You wouldn’t have captured me. You wouldn’t have pretended to be my friend. I don’t know what you care about, but it’s not me, or any of the changelings. I trusted you.” His voice breaks and it only serves to make him angrier, this betrayal of his body displaying weakness. “And everything I told you went into some, some log of theirs, everything I ever told you they know.”

“That’s not true.”

Icarus can’t talk  to him anymore. Can’t keep fighting him about whether or not he’s lying.

“This is the last time you’ll ever hear me talk to you.” His voice is steady now. “We won’t talk again. Until I die or until you throw me into a fight or what. You can come in every day until then. We’re not going to talk again.”

“Icarus, please.”

He lies down and turns over to face the wall.

“Icarus. Just hear me out.”

Icarus grabs his pillow and shoves it over his ears. His hearing is better than Riggins, too good to be stopped by the pillow. It’s the gesture that’s important.

Riggins says his name a few more times. Not his name, his real one, the one he won’t even think because of the man trying to win him back over behind him. The one he’s had to adopt because of him.

Eventually he leaves. Icarus's control breaks. He cries.

 

Riggins comes in every day. Cajoling, wheedling. Icarus doesn’t go to the usual discussions with the scientists or the experiments every day he does. He suspects because Riggins is attempting to show good faith. Too bad Icarus doesn’t believe in good faith from Riggins, or that he ever had any at all.

Because he knows this. He knows so many things now. Things he should have known before, if he hadn’t been blinded by his own loneliness, his own unbelievable stupidity.

He knows that what Riggins had told him and he’d desperately tried to believe is wrong. That Riggins just wanted to help him. Understand him. Not true. He knew Blackwing wanted to do something bad with him, to his kind, to other humans, he doesn’t know. But he’d thought, hoped, wished, that Riggins would stop them. He obviously won’t, now. Now he’ll just let it all happen, enforce it happening, Icarus hurting other people.

Riggins comes in every day for a week.

Icarus remains lying in the bed with his back to him, silent as the grave each time.

 

Icarus wants a new name.

The one he’s got now, that he’s laid over his real one so carefully, it’s still one they’ve given him. He can’t choose fae words. There’s a lot of overlap between their tongue and human tongues. They can speak many of them as a result. But any words that are expressly fae, those are off the table, because he doesn’t want to tip his hand here. So he’s got to pick a human one, most likely from the area he’s in at the moment.

The last name comes first, when he’s lying facing the wall, tuning out Riggins’s constant pleas for attention. He’s rifling through words, ones ending in -ly today. Quickly, harshly, swiftly, lightly, daily, gently-

It’s like his brain sticks on the last one. The way the universe runs within him reaching a finger out to point at the word.

Gently.

Icarus Gently.

The first name will come later. For now, he has something that doesn’t belong to them.

 

Riggins stops coming in after about a week.

After that week, Icarus is brought back to being questioned by the scientists.

They ask him the same questions about how traveling works as they did last week.

“How am I supposed to know?” he snaps. “Honestly, you ask me these questions and you ask me these questions, how do you expect me to have any answers, when you took me away from the environment I would have learned the answers in?”

Doctor Laghari blinks at his tone. He’s been polite with them for four years. She looks startled. Good. He hopes she’s startled. He hopes they all are. He’s not going to be nice anymore. He’s not going to play around. Let them punish him. Let them hurt him. Fuck them.

Fuck them.

From then on, all Icarus’s words are barbs, all his tones snarling and wild.

 

He never sees Doctor Fairchild again.

He suspects he knows why, but refuses to think about it.

 

The first name comes in a fit of anger, like Icarus has started having. He’s tired and he’s frustrated. He wants to leave. He wants to punch them. He doesn’t want their names anymore. Their words are meaningless. They give their names freely to each other, like they’re nothing.

Why should he even put any thought into this? Why should he, when they don’t even put thought into who they hand their names out to.

Icarus starts smashing letters together, letting the words they create crash around him until one sticks, just like Gently did.

Dirk.

It’s the right word. It’s who he’s going to be now, unfettered by their control and rules and the way they force him to live his life.

Dirk Gently.

 

He thinks the name with determination over and over again. It’s his mantra for two years, the drum he beats in his head, his curse that he internally spits at every scientist and security guard he sees. Dirk Gently, Dirk Gently, Dirk Gently, Dirk Gently.

 

Dirk does this for two years because one day, things change again.

He’s being escorted back to his cell when there’s suddenly a clatter of sound. The two security members doing so look up sharply, raise their guns, and are suddenly knocked out. Dirk freezes to see the four changelings he’s seen around, the blond one, the other two, the younger one, holding lengths of pipe. Dirk wonders a little dimly if they ripped them from the walls.

These are the ones who don’t like him, who spit “Fullblood” when they see him. This isn’t going to go well for him.

They approach and he flinches, cowering a little, wondering if this is how he dies. It isn’t, because they sort of breathe in.

Dirk can’t describe it. All he knows is he gets very weak very quick, feeling drained and out of sorts. When he comes back to himself a little, there are alarms going off in the base, and people rushing around him.

Oh, he realizes suddenly, the discovery ringing with the call of the cosmos. We’re breaking out.

Dirk does what they’d trained him to do on all those treadmills. He runs.

 

Dirk won’t remember the state he was in when he got out, later. He won’t remember walking to the nearest town, either, not really. He remembers his feet aching, stumbling along. Eventually he makes it to the town, relatively small, he thinks, for humans. A woman at a diner immediately gives him a meal for free and directs him to a motel with her name (Skylar) to give to the man behind the desk. He does so, and he gets the hotel room for free, with a change of clothes, a pair of jeans, a black tee shirt, and a hoodie. He doesn’t realize why until he catches sight of himself in a full length mirror in the room. He’s got no shoes, his clothes tattered, feet dirty. That explains that. But it’s not the most surprising part.

No, the most surprising part is that he hasn’t seen himself in a mirror in six years, and does not know what he looks like.

Dirk had known he was relatively tall, but it’s strange to feel the way your body has shifted and actually be confronted with it, to see that he is no longer the size he was when he was ten years old. He’s lean enough that it’s surprising, but he knows even if he wasn’t stronger than any human, he’d be well muscled enough from all the years of treadmills and rowing machines, any gym equipment they’d wanted to test their results on. He can’t tell if his dark blue eyes are actually wide, or if they’re just wide now at the sight of himself. His hair shifted colors when he was in there, having been flat brown before, where now it’s got red highlights. He can’t imagine how that might have happened. He pokes at it tentatively. They didn’t cut it very often, and it had been a while before breaking out, so it’s shoulder length now. He doesn’t have anything to tie it back, so he pulls it behind him in a fist to poke at his face with the other hand, like maybe poking at it will make it ripple and change into the face he remembers. He yanks it back a little further to inspect it a bit more, when he notices.

His ears aren’t as sharp as they once were. There are points. But they’ve settled down a  little, blending a bit more into the rest of the shell of his ear.

Dirk swallows back a lump, drops his hair, and goes to take a shower.

 

Dirk stumbles across a man’s wallet that has $600 in it the next day when he’s walking around the town aimlessly, just enjoying the freedom.

He contemplates turning it in only very briefly.

He doesn’t have anything to his name and humanity owes him, anyway.

He goes to the thrift store in town. He buys a few more changes of clothes, some shoes, a backpack. He buys a pack of ponytail holders. He saves the rest for bus tickets, and starts moving.

 

Being on the move seems like Dirk’s smartest choice, and he thinks he has to stay in the human world. It’s probably what’s safest.

Years ago, when he’d still believed Riggins was a friend, he’d hoped when he got out (when they’d let him out? he feels like he can’t even remember these thoughts of being free that well anymore), he could go back. Not to his parents. The fae can be extremely fickle, or extremely loyal, and the fact that no one came burning the world down around them to get him back tells him what side his parents are. But he’d thought he might find a community, try to return to a sort of normal. But how can he now? Now, when they would always be suspicious of him, question his loyalties, because who knows what he’d told the humans in their base? And they’d be right, too, because even Dirk doesn’t know what he’d told them at this point.

Better to stay in the human world, where they don’t know what he is, than in the fae one, where they will despise him.

So Dirk keeps hopping from hotel room to hotel room, stumbling across money that plucks notes of rightness every time he picks the amount up. He assumes the stream of creation wants him ready for something else. He’s not so foolish as to believe it cares about him.

 

The four from the base keep finding him.

They do the same thing every time that they did in the base, whatever it is, whatever their changeling powers manifest as, making Dirk feel exhausted and dizzy.

He doesn’t ask why they keep coming after him.

He knows.

 

When Dirk turns eighteen, he thinks about maybe buying his own apartment as he’s squatting in one that’s within an abandoned building. How it might be nice to have some permanence.

The next day, when he’s not in it, the apartment building burns down and he finds another wallet. He takes it as a sign, cuts his hair with the Swiss Army Knife he’d picked up somewhere while he’s sitting at the bus stop so it’s just long enough to go in a ponytail holder, and moves on.

 

Over the next ten years, Dirk lives from city to city, run in with the Rowdy Three (as the four-member gang of changelings renames themselves, or perhaps had already been named that in Blackwing before they all left, like Dirk had been Dirk) to run in. He spends lots of time in lots of restaurants and parks and bus stops and curbs on streets. He learns to deal with the itchiness in his skin of all the diluted iron in these cities until it’s a vague discomfort, barely noticeable. He’s all over the country, and spends a lot of time observing humanity. He comes to two conclusions, the second connected to the first.

The first is that yes, humanity is full of bastards, from the downright evil to the just sort of assholes. But there’s also something magnificent about them. They pay forwards the next person's meal behind them at a restaurant, they help each other up when one falls down on the sidewalk, they fall in love whether they stay together or not. He feels caught between two worlds, whenever he sees a fae on the sidewalk who winks, or whenever he sees a spot between two buildings that the other humans glide right by, a club or a restaurant or anything. But this is the world he’s staying in, and he’s been watching closely. And they might have their ugliness, but there is a flip side of beauty, too. This conclusion leads into the second.

Dirk wants to help them.

They stumble and fall and suffer, and he wants to help them. Part of it is a need to be useful, true. He hasn’t felt useful in a long time. But part of how he’s been getting money is people rewarding him for the song of the world guiding him to finding their pets when they’re lost. Cats, mostly, the occasional dog. A boa constrictor that he hadn’t particularly enjoyed coaching into a cardboard box. And he glows with it, not just from the money and the certainty that he can get another hotel room, but from the looks on their faces. The joy, to the point of tears, sometimes. It’s truly remarkable, the way it makes him happy.

Maybe a faction of humanity had kept Dirk locked away from his people for six long cold unhappy years, some of the wickedest you could get. And maybe he shouldn’t feel like this. Maybe he shouldn’t want to make them feel better, after what they’ve done to him. But he does. He knows enough to know that not all of them are evil. And he wants to help them, as best he can.

Dirk sneaks into movie theaters sometimes, so he has some entertainment from that area, but a lot of the way he spends his time when he’s actually in the cities and towns, not on the move, is in libraries. He’s read all of the Sherlock Holmes stories. He loves them, although he thinks maybe they could use more women and less cocaine.

Dirk is twenty-eight years old, and he thinks he would perhaps like to be a detective.

 

Cases are admittedly hard to come by.

People don’t want to hire young men in jeans and black tee shirts that are generally too tight (it’s his misfortune to always find clothes that don’t quite fit right, either too baggy or too tight, and he feels the baggy gives more of the wrong impression), jaggedly cut hair back in a loose ponytail occasionally obscured by the hoods of his sweatshirts to solve their problems for them. These things make him look younger than he is, but certainly just as ragtag as he feels.

Dirk still moves from city to city, then, still gets fed on by the Rowdy Three (because by now he’s figured out exactly what they do), still survives off the money thrown his way. But he introduces himself to all of them as a detective. There’s a certain power there. It’s not the power of names, and he can’t explain it even to himself, but it makes him feel good.

 

Dirk dares to go into a fae bar when he’s twenty-nine, tired and restless and wanting to see places that are closer to his than the ones he lives in now.

They all seem to know who he is on sight, and look at him warily. Dirk leaves.

He doesn’t look back, walking down the streets in silence to his hotel.

When he gets there, he throws up, crawls into bed, and falls asleep with a pillow over his head.

 

When Dirk’s thirty-one years old, he meets a Thunder God who, upon their first meeting, terrifies him.

He says “a” because while he’s fairly certain there’s only the one, he’s not going to make any assumptions, just in case.

Thor’s rather tall, taller than Dirk. He’s also really very well muscled. His golden hair’s a little longer than Dirk’s, just past his shoulders. There’s a lot to his armor, quite a bit of shining metal and a red cape. A large hammer that only the man himself can wield. None of these things aren’t the things that frighten Dirk, though.

No, what frightens Dirk is that the second Thor sees him, he knows what he is, and Dirk knows this.

He spends the next hour where he is around both Thor and the humans in terror that Thor’s going to say something. Dirk’s never thought he’d have to reveal his identity or have it revealed for him to humans before. He doesn’t know what to do.

Thor only raises a brow on meeting him, and doesn’t say a word as to his true nature. After that hour, it is just the two of them. They are silent for a minute.

“How do you know?” Dirk asks finally. Thor looks a little amused.

“Little fae, I have been alive much longer than you, and will continue to be so long after you have died. It would make less sense that I would not know what you are.”

Dirk swallows. “Are you going to tell anyone?”

“Why would I? Your identity is yours alone, friend. I have no right to disclose it.”

Dirk gapes at him for a moment. Then he realizes his mouth is open and closes it, shoving some of his hair behind his ear.

“You need to wear human clothes if you’re going to be around here,” he says abruptly. “You’re rather large and reasonably attractive, so it’s not like they won’t notice you, but the armor’s a bit… much.”

Thor’s eyes are twinkling. “Reasonably attractive? This feels like a slander upon my person. I am aware of my appearance. Perhaps your eyesight is poor.”

Someone is joking with him. For the first time in Dirk can’t remember how long. It takes work to keep the smile off his face.

“You’re all right,” he says dismissively, reaching behind him to twist his hair into a round bun at the back of his head, ponytail dancing around his fingers. Strands leak out to hang on the side of his face. It’s the hazards of cutting your hair yourself with a knife. Thank god hotels have shampoo and soap bottles. Otherwise, his hair would look a lot greasier and smell a lot worse. “Focus on getting those clothes. I’ll focus on the case.”

 

Thor trades in his armor for jeans and gray tee shirts that threaten to rip every time he moves, muscles straining against the thin fabric. He wears a reddish leather jacket that contains a few pockets, his hammer strapped across his back. He looks closer to human, and if Dirk was pressed to admit it, very good.

Dirk is staring at a board he’s built in his hotel room with every scrap of evidence or information about the case. He’s done his hair up in a bun again, his hoodie tossed casually aside on one of the beds, wearing only his tee shirt (again one of his tighter ones; it’s just Thor but he’s still working on the case and this means he still only wears the looser ones when he’s sleeping or on his own time) and his jeans (same principle with the tighter ones for him). There is as always bits of his hair falling around his face.

“Do you exercise oft, little fae?” Thor asks from the bed he’s sitting on. He calls him “Dirk Gently” (not “Dirk” or “Gently”, but his full name, without fail, every time) around other humans, but when it’s just the two of them, he calls him “little fae”. Dirk wonders if he should feel vaguely insulted, but he kind of likes it. “You are obviously not as muscled as myself, but you are fit enough that you may perhaps run in a situation that required it and run well.”

“I have to walk a lot, because of all the moving from one place to another and whatnot.” Dirk peers at one of the pieces of paper that just says “bees?”, like if he scrutinizes it more, he may get an insight. “And before that, the scientists were making me run and work out and things for studying purposes, you know.”

Thor sighs softly behind him. “Ah, little fae. What was done to you?”

Dirk pauses. There’s some gentleness there that he’s unaccustomed to in a voice that’s speaking to him. He turns around. Thor’s feet are planted on the ground from where he’s sitting on the bed, arms resting on his knees as he looks inquisitively at Dirk.

“Enough,” he answers.

“By humans or fae?”

“Humans.”

Thor shakes his head sadly. “Their nature is frequently brutal and violent. I am sorry these things were inflicted upon you.”

Dirk shrugs a little awkwardly and folds his arms, tightening them across his chest. Thor tracks the movement with his eyes. “Thank you.”

“Surely your brethren can assist you in your struggles?”

Dirk feels his mouth twist into a bitter smile. “I gave some things away while I was… where I was. They don’t like me. Remotely, I would imagine.”

Thor looks entirely too compassionate for Dirk to be comfortable. “Did you ask them about these assumptions?”

“No. But I’ve been in their spaces. I know enough.” He squares his jaw. “I don’t want to keep talking about this.”

Thor sighs again. “Aye, if that is your wish, than we shall speak of it no more. Perhaps you would enjoy going for sustenance, as you have been staring at this board for some time and it has revealed unto you no further answers?”

Dirk considers it. “All right.” He absently goes to tug his hair back into a more reasonable bun, then frowns. “Did you put a pen in my hair?”

Thor breaks into a wide grin. “Indeed, little fae. I wished to see how long it would have taken you, seeing as your hair seems to be in a perpetually messy state. Truly, it took longer than I had expected. I placed the writing instrument within it an hour and one half ago.”

Dirk rolls his eyes. “Yes, all right, point made.”

 

The case goes on for approximately seven days. Thor hangs around for all of them, staying almost exclusively with Dirk, seemingly wanting to be as helpful as possible. It’s nice. Dirk’s never had an assistant before.

At the end of the week, when the Dachshund has been retrieved and the pouch on his collar handed over to the authorities, Dirk waits for Thor to get back from returning the dog. Thor’s already said goodbye to the young women they’d been working with, kissing their hands and thanking them for their felicitousness, so it’s only Dirk waiting.

Thor bounds up to the bench Dirk had been sitting on. He rises from his sitting position.

“Did Snarly go back to the Jeffersons?” he asks.

“Indeed!” Thor holds out a thick stack of money. “They delivered unto me the recompense owed after your hard labor.”

Dirk smiles. This’ll keep him going for a little longer than his other sums. He slides it into his favorite of the wallets provided to him, simple brown leather. “Thank you for being the one to give it back.” He thought the Jeffersons might take Thor returning the Dachshund better than Dirk, because the case had gone on longer than expected and involved him accidentally breaking two of their windows, and Thor was very hard to be upset with. “Did they give you any trouble?”

“Nay, they seemed a trifle irked, but then I smiled at them, and they seemed greatly mollified.”

Dirk sniffs. “I can’t see why. Your smile is only pleasant in the most average sense.” It’s become an in joke between the two of them over the course of the week. At any  opportunity Dirk will inform Thor that he isn’t all that good looking, and Thor will delightedly find any chance to let Dirk know just how good looking he is. Thor’s returning smile is blinding.

“Your continued forcible ignorance is charming as always.” Thor’s smile dims in wattage slightly. “Where will you go from here?”

Dirk shrugs. “Wherever the world takes me next.”

Thor’s understanding of the way his intuitions work is different than Dirk’s. He feels it differently than he does. But he still knows what Dirk means.

“You speak of what sounds like a lonely life.”

He shrugs again. “I like it better this way,” he lies bluntly. “This way I don’t get too attached to anyone before I have to leave again.”

Thor’s face turns wistful. “If that is the way that makes you happy, little fae, than that is the way it must be.” He takes Dirk’s hand like he did the others, and kisses it, lips lingering a little before he straightens. “May all your stars shine bright, Dirk Gently, and may our paths cross once more, in this realm or any others.”

Dirk smiles back. “I hope we see each other again too, Thor.”

Thor adjusts the hammer on his back, smiles softly at Dirk, and turns, disappearing into the crowds on the sidewalks. Dirk watches where the first supernatural creature to show him any favorable reactions in roughly twenty years was for a minute, then shoulders his backpack and puts his hood up, walking to find the nearest bus station.

 

Two years later, the cell phone Dirk had purchased specifically for clients to call him rings without him having a case for the first time ever. He yelps and almost drops it. He manages to catch the call just in time.

“Hello?” he says, a little breathlessly after juggling the phone.

“Is this Dirk Gently?” A man asks.

“Um, yes?”

“My name is Patrick Spring. I’d like to hire you. It’s about my murder.”

“I, yes, of course, er, why not?” He berates himself. “Yes. Definite yes. Let’s do it.”

 

Dirk meets with Patrick Spring, a relatively attractive man a little older than he is, who offers him two million dollars for the case.

Dirk doesn’t cry, or faint, or have any of the other reactions he feels inclined to displaying, but somewhat weakly says “yes, that sounds good”.

 

The first thing Dirk does is go out and buy seven suits that fit. Enough hoodies and clothes that are a little too big or a little too small.

Then, brightly colored leather jackets. Enough monochromatic colors.

After that, he goes to get his hair cut. Enough of it always being in his face when he’s trying to focus. The hairdresser, a woman who looks like she may be in her early to mid sixties, thoroughly washes and conditions it, and cuts it into something manageable. Then she turns the chair so Dirk can face her.

“You seem like a nice young man,” she says sternly. “So I’m going to tell you this nicely. I don’t know what the hell you’ve been doing to your hair, but you have to promise me not to do it again, because that was a lot of work, and even if you don’t come see me again, I will not wish that on anyone else.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Dirk says weakly.

 

Dirk is exhausted, but makes sure to check the full length mirror in his hotel room properly, looking at his reflection in something other than glimpses for the first time in a long time. It’s important. He needs to know if he looks professional.

His hair is cut, revealing his only somewhat but still noticeably pointed ears. He’s in clothes that fit him. He looks more fae than he ever has, and yet also more human than he can remember.

He shakes his head. Pulls on a black jacket and lies on the covers of the bed, too tired to crawl into it properly, and falls asleep where he is.

 

The phone rings.

Dirk doesn’t even remember to change into one of his new brightly colored jackets before he hustles on his way.

 

The future version of himself is in one of those jackets he’d forgotten. This is not the first thing Dirk notices.

The first thing Dirk notices is that he looks alive. He looks excited and happy. He can’t remember the last time he was any of those things. He can’t remember if he was ever those things.

There are two people there. One seems to be a suit of armor that walks. This is somehow less interesting to Dirk than the other man there, in a large and terrible coat, looking a little beat up, gaping at the two of them.

 

Best friend.

Dirk’s never had a best friend before.

Not a real one, anyway, and if he can now tell the difference, he imagines his future self must be able to, too.

 

Scaling the building into his new assistant’s apartment isn’t particularly hard. Dirk’s not a graceful person in most ways. He’s naturally prone to flailing in the face of danger, or really flailing any time. But climbing is something he can do.

Dodging the projectiles that are thrown at him is not.

 

The best friend locks him out of his apartment.

The next step, as far as Dirk is concerned, is clearly to move into the one above him.

 

Things happen one right after the other after that.

And it’s sort of remarkable, isn’t it? That things can happen like that? Dirk knows logically that this is how things have happened his whole life, but the six years he spent in Blackwing and the roughly fifteen years he’s been on his own, they’ve never felt like this. Only a colorless run of time, many days just like the one before them, many minutes feeling duller than the one before, the ones that weren’t only affecting the world around him and, it felt like, never him personally.

This isn’t like those years and days and minutes. There is vividness in every second. He sees colors where he didn’t.

Todd seems a little trepidatious when it comes to friendship, but Farah admits he’s a good detective and seems to enjoy his company, and Amanda is enthusiastic and whole hearted in this, in everything she does, Dirk suspects.

 

Riggins is a colorless splotch of panic in this sea of new hues.

He wouldn’t think about Riggins, even seconds after he can no longer see him, walking out the door after standing up to him for the second time in his life.

The experience would feel like it burns holes in his mind, if not for ten minutes or so afterwards, while Dirk was sitting on a park bench, teeth clenched and eyes screwed shut tight, fists pressing against his knees. He doesn’t feel as much like a twister he did that day he found out the truth of Riggins, but his thoughts are still going so fast he almost can’t catch up with them. He wishes he couldn’t.

“Hey.”

Dirk opens his eyes, quickly blinking. He’s not quite crying, but his eyes feel a little wet. Todd’s standing in front of him, a sweater pulled on, looking a little uncomfortable. Dirk quickly plasters on a smile. He hopes it’s sufficient.

“Ah. Hello! Has something new occurred to you or Farah or Amanda?”

From the look on Todd’s face, the smile was not sufficient. “No. You were… gone for a while. We’ve got people pointing weapons at us. It seemed smart to come make sure you were okay.”

Dirk’s blink is of surprise now. It has been a very long time since anyone thought to make sure he was okay.

“I’m. Yes. Well.” Something occurs to Dirk that’s entirely too upsetting for him not to blurt out. “When you were coming down, did you run into anyone on the stairs?”

Todd raises his eyebrows. “Should I have?”

“I. No. No, of course not. Everything’s fine. I’m fine.”

Todd’s eyebrows go even higher. He sits next to Dirk on the bench. Dirk doesn’t look at  him.

“I might… not be fine,” he admits.

“No shit.”

“And there wasn’t supposed to be people there, but it would have been possible you would have seen them anyway.”

“No shit to that, too.”

Dirk manages to unclench his fists, only to drum his fingers on his knees. “I don’t really want to talk about it.”

“Yeah, okay.”

“Do you think we might just.” Dirk looks sideways at Todd, who still has that hesitantly uncomfortable sort of air around him. “I don’t really want to go back in there yet. Do you think we could just stay here for a moment?”

“Um, yeah.”

Dirk’s smile is weaker this time. “Thank you.” Todd nods.

They sit quietly for a few seconds.

“Your ears,” Todd says suddenly. “They’re a little pointed.” He goes a little red at his sudden outburst. “I just. Hadn’t noticed.”

Dirk looks ahead. “Yes,” he answers, tone carefully neutral. “So I’ve heard.”

 

The experience hurts.

But it burns less, knowing someone came to check.

 

The colors resume.

 

They get to go to a forest.

They get to go to a forest.

Dirk is vibrating with it, with how clean it feels. He’s been in the base or a city for twenty years. There are traces of iron, of course. There are bridges and roads and obviously the car around. But right here, right now? There are trees. Things are green.

“It’s weird,” Todd observes as they settle in to sleep for the night. “But you seem more… energetic out here? I didn’t know it was possible for you to get more energetic. I don’t know. More vibrant, I guess.”

“Yes,” Dirk says happily, lying in the car, gazing up at stars that he can actually see, without having to survive on just knowing that they’re there. “So I’ve heard.”

 

Todd’s talking a lot about the people who tried to come for the shark kitten. Dirk’s only vaguely engaged, mostly making sure that the kitten is all right in the backseat. He’d known something wasn't quite right about the kitten, but he hadn’t been able to put his finger on it. It was less an intuition and more just knowing creatures. Animals and Dirk tend to have an understanding.

“I mean, maybe it wasn’t even Rimmer’s guys, maybe it was those guys you were worried about on the stairs the other night.”

Dirk is abruptly, sickeningly jolted back to the conversation. “What? No.”

“But it could have been, right, it could-“

“No. They’re not after the kitten.”

“How do you know?”

“Because…” Dirk’s grip on the wheel tightens. “They’re after me.”

Silence.

“They’re… after you?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t get it. If they were after you, why didn’t they take you back wherever they wanted to take you or whatever?”

Dirk looks out the side window. “They asked this time.”

“And they’re not connected to Rimmer?”

“No.”

“Or Lydia Spring?”

Dirk snorts. “Certainly not. They were around before she was born.”

“Dirk, come on, so who are they?”

Dirk sighs. “The one I knew was named Colonel Scott Riggins. I don’t know who the bigger gentleman was, the blond one. He was with Riggins, though, so it seems safe to assume that he’s with the CIA, too.”

“The- the CIA?”

“I told you.” Dirk had hoped in the years since becoming a detective that it wasn’t the intervention of the CIA that kept him out of police stations for very long, had always said it was them like maybe acknowledging his fears would keep them at bay. He was, as it turns out, wrong.

“You used to work for the CIA?”

No.” The word snaps like a whip. He starts a little at the ferocity in his own tone, clears his throat. “No. I was… a resident. Of one of their bases for a while. In a program called Blackwing. It was…” he drums his fingers on the wheel. “Designed to study people who were. Like me.”

“Psychic?”

Dirk feels his mouth tighten. He gives an aborted shrug, looking out the window again. Todd’s only just said he’s Dirk’s friend. Dirk’s not going to scare him away with the truth. “If you like.”

“Is that where you met the Rowdy Three?”

“They weren’t called that when I knew them, but yes.”

“What were they called when you knew them?”

“Incubus.” Dirk didn’t learn that until much later, until he’d heard Gripps mention it to Vogel once when they’d stopped by to feed on him. He’s learned all their names by now, too.

“Why?”

“I’ve never asked.”

“Huh.” Todd’s quiet. “Weird name to pick, I’m just saying. Although, I guess ‘the Rowdy Three’ and some guy whose main comment on Thor is ‘not as hot as people say’ is just as-“

“We didn’t pick them,” Dirk interrupts. He doesn’t even dwell on what he’d told Todd about Thor, how smug he’d felt that he was carrying on the joke even knowing that Thor would probably never hear about it. “They weren’t names we chose ourselves. Blackwing gave them to us. They were Incubus, I was Icarus. I don’t know about the others. I didn’t see them very often.”

“You had codenames?”

“No. We had project names.”

“What’s the difference?”

“People have codenames. Experiments have project names.”

There’s another one of those silences again, sort of like when Dirk said that Riggins and the other one were after him, except not quite the same, the confusion still in the air but something a little weightier there too. Perhaps some idea of what Blackwing was like is starting to dawn on Todd. He hopes not the full scope of it. He would like really no one to understand what the full scope of Blackwing was, but especially not Todd, and he hopes he never does.

“You were experiments?”

“Perhaps not in the traditional sense. They didn’t make us… the way we are. This is the way we were born. But they tested us, certainly.”

“Tested?”

“I can’t speak for the others, of course, I never saw them. But they tested me on, you know, exercise equipment and the like, occasionally they drew some blood, although I don’t know why they did it more than once, you think they would have already had it, unless they lost it, but the CIA would probably have been quick to fire them if they had. Anyway, they also would bring you in and have the scientists question you as to how exactly everything you can do works, those happened most every day. They tended to recycle the same questions, so they would get tedious, but it was nice to be out of your room sometimes.”

“They… wouldn’t let you out of your room?”

“Well, they couldn’t have us roaming the base. Can you imagine? We would have broken out much sooner if they let the Rowdy Three certainly prowl the corridors.”

“Oh.”

A silence again. Probably another musing one. It goes on long enough that Dirk thinks they’re done with the subject, and wonders if he should bring up another, lighter one.

“You said ‘they asked this time’,” Todd says slowly. “Did they ask the first time?”

Dirk thinks of crisscross burns on his body and his hands tighten on the steering wheel. “No. They didn’t.”

The silence this time lasts all the way back to the Ridgely as Dirk feels the scratching of iron return under his skin.

 

Dirk isn’t sure how he doesn’t recognize the woman with the gun and the hair tied back in odd places for what she is right away. Perhaps it’s harder to tell with changelings. He can always tell with other supernatural creatures. Dirk isn’t sure. He was never given the chance to learn the rules.

She realizes it, after they say that they’re nothing like each other. Her eyes get even wider, and she gapes at him, the arm with the gun going a little slack.

“You’re him,” she breathes. “It’s you.”

Dirk’s stomach churns, and keeps churning, even after he and Farah have left her behind.

 

Going back in time and being unable to fix things hurts.

Losing the only person he’s come close to giving any detail on Blackwing to hurts worse.

 

Dirk discovers that arrows also hurt. But he solves it.

When the woman from before shows up with a friend she calls Ken in bellhop uniforms (Dirk doesn’t understand why they have those outfits, but he’s losing blood and it feels a little fuzzy trying to figure it out) and saves their lives, she nods at Dirk before the two of them leave.

“See you round, Fullblood,” she says. Dirk flinches a little even though it hurts to do so.

“See you round, changeling,” he mumbles. She grins a little and then vanishes.

He drifts a little after that.

 

Amanda comes to visit Dirk in hospital in a jacket he would assume the Rowdy Three gave her.

“You look like shit,” she says cheerfully.

“I was shot twice,” he points out.

“Yeah, which is probably why you look like shit.” She pats his legs near his feet. “Move  them.”

He adjusts his legs so Amanda can sit at the foot of his bed.

“Farah told me what happened,” she says. “This is some crazy shit, I gotta tell you.”

“Todd didn’t tell you?” Thinking about Todd aches a little.

“Todd’s still passed out on his couch, probably. He got electrocuted so I guess that’s the kinda thing you’ll do after that happens.”

“He did it saving me.” And that’s what Dirk’s been puzzling out in all this. Because why would Todd do that, if he’d given up on him? The only conclusion he can draw is that he was right, and Todd wasn’t as big an asshole as he said he was.

“He fucked up pretty badly with me and my parents, you know.” Amanda looks very serious.

“I had heard that, yes.”

“Are you the one who told him to tell me the truth?”

“I might have suggested it rather strongly.”

“He fucked up with you too, didn’t he?”

“I…” Dirk thinks on it. “I think I may have fucked up worse than he did.”

“He should talk to you again. Cause honestly, I think he’s a much better person with you.”

Dirk would shrug, if he could. As it is, he twitches a shoulder as noncommittally as possible.

“Are you going to stay in Seattle?

“No. I imagine after I get out of here I’ll get a bus ticket to, well, anywhere really.”

“Really? You’ve got an apartment here and everything.”

“Having an apartment was nice,” Dirk admits. “I always thought it might be. But I’ve got to leave, I’m sure.”

“You don’t want to stay?”

“What I want rarely enters into things.” It’s true. From when he first was abducted into Blackwing, he’s had a lack of choice about what goes in his life. He changes the subject. “Are you going to ride around with the Rowdy Three now?”

“That was the plan.”

“That’s good. They can always find me, so at least I’ll see you again.” He might have lost Todd. But he made two friends that aren’t him, and while he’s not sure he’ll get to see Farah again, perhaps he’ll get to keep one of them. Amanda is exuberant about all she encounters, and he’d like to maybe continue to join her in her exuberance.

“I hope so.” She stands up and scrambles over so she’s standing in front of Dirk over his hospital bed. Dirk looks up at her. She reaches out and puts the very edge of her finger on Dirk’s ears.

“I’m gonna guess that you knew your ears a little pointed.”

“I did. They used to be more so, but things changed.”

There’s no possible way Amanda can know what that means. But she still smiles at him, slightly sad but without pity, and Dirk feels maybe not necessarily understood, but sympathized with, even if she has no idea what she is giving him sympathy for.

She leans over and very quickly kisses him on the top of his head.

“Farah’s working stuff out for Lydia right now,” she tells him. “But she says she wants to meet you at a diner when you’re out, so you should call her when they let you go.”

“I will.”

Amanda takes several steps backwards, grinning wide at Dirk. The sadness and the softness is gone now, the expression entirely devil-may-care.

“I’ll see you, Dirk,” she says, and then she’s gone.

 

Outside the hospital is someone holding a yellow leather jacket that Dirk had left behind in his apartment and a tee shirt representing a group of people that hated that someone.

They’re the best presents he’s ever gotten.

 

“What did that mean, what that woman called you in the basement?” Todd asks Dirk as they walk to the diner Farah had directed Dirk to. “And what you called her? Fullblood, changeling? Farah said you didn’t know her, so I just. It was surprising that you two had names for each other, I guess.”

“Ah.” Dirk blows all the air out of his cheeks, thinking about it. He doesn’t want to lie to Todd. Especially after what happened at the pier. But he doesn’t really want to tell him the full truth, either. Not yet. “I didn’t know her, not really. But she was. She’s like me. She was Blackwing. And as for the name thing that’s… there’s a lot of history behind everything that goes on there, and I don’t think I really want to talk about it.”

Todd nods. “Yeah, okay.”

That’s nice, Dirk thinks, that he won’t have to talk about Blackwing, or even think about them, until he wants to.

 

One would think that by now, Dirk would have grown accustomed to being wrong.

“Not now,” he whispers, because not ever, of course not ever, but not now, not when he has two friends waiting for him back in that diner, another in a van somehow hurtling around the country, not when he has people who care about him. “Where’s Riggins?”

The blond man who’s now in better clothes grins widely. “I’m Riggins now.” He switches quickly to a frown. “I mean. Not literally. Which you probably can tell cause I don’t have a mustache.”

Dirk stares at him, trying to fathom the purpose of this blithering idiot. The man nods at something behind him. Dirk turns to briefly see a man in riot gear before he hits Dirk on the head with something and everything goes dark.

 

When Dirk wakes up, the only difference between the room he was in as a child and this one is that the bed is longer.

It’s the only sign he’s got that everything else from breakout to here wasn’t a dream he’s waking up from.

 

The walls itch more than they used to.

 

When they put him in one of the interrogation rooms they used to put him in with doctors and scientists, there’s a woman sitting there in much nicer clothes than any of them used to wear. Dirk looks at her warily, back in the gray tee shirt and pants, pulling slightly at the fabric of the pants once more.

“Sit down, Icarus.”

He takes his place at the table, still watching her. “My name is Dirk.”

“Icarus was your name back when you were here sixteen years ago.”

“No. It wasn’t then, either.”

“So what was?”

It was a trap, designed to remind him how much power they have over him. He should be used to those by now. He doesn’t answer. She smiles.

“The man who kidnapped me,” Dirk says instead. “He claimed to be the new Riggins. He doesn’t seem particularly intelligent to me. What exactly is his purpose here?”

“Exactly what he said.” The woman steeples her fingers. “Director Friedkin has assumed Colonel Riggins’s former position.”

“Where’s Riggins?” He’s not sure why he asks. He’s not sure if he cares.

“Classified information, I’m afraid.” She leans forwards with that same smile from before, the one that screams of the cat that caught the canary. He’d always thought it was one of the slightly more brutal expressions of humanity, but he’s never known how accurate it could be until now. “Colonel Riggins couldn’t stay here. Mostly because of you.”

Dirk’s able to identify who gloats at this point, and this woman just screams of it, so he  waits.

“Colonel Riggins became attached to you. He developed something of a conscience, you see.”

“Riggins might have realized what he was doing here was wrong,” Dirk replies. “But that doesn’t mean he has a conscience.”

She ignores that. “So steps had to be taken to bring you back where you belonged.”

“Where I belonged was home.” Dirk hasn’t felt this sort of fiery anger in years, but there it is. “You people abducted me and I’ve been paying for your cruelty ever since. And when I finally found a place where I belonged, you took me all over again. You don’t get to talk to me about belonging.”

Her smile, somehow, becomes even more cruel.

“And remember, Icarus,” she answers. “That we can extinguish everyone in that place if we want.”

The statement has the intended effect. Cold and hot fear wash over him. He slumps in his chair slightly.

Because of course they can. That’s this new disadvantage he’s been dragged in with, the best part of his new life now utterly entangled with the worst. Blackwing knows where his friends are. They can kill them any time Dirk doesn’t comply. If Dirk isn’t good, Dirk will lose them.

And he knows that for Todd, Farah, and Amanda, he will go to great lengths not to lose them.

The woman motions towards the two way mirror behind Dirk and guards enter to escort him back to his cell.

“You’ll intermingle with the others here, Icarus,” she tells him. “What a waste it was, leaving you all on your own.”

This is another wave of fear, although not as bad as the one connected to his friends. The others do not like him. This could prove… dangerous for him.

Dirk tries not to show it on his face as he is guided through the halls between two men who might kill him if he steps out of line, or perhaps will even be the one to kill those he holds dear.

 

The very first day Dirk is out with the others, all of them milling about in gray, given unsupervised time merely, he suspects, to see what happens when they interact (and what they do on their own time; there are puzzles and games all about, all logic based), he sits on the ground in the corner of the room, and the changeling woman from earlier drops down next to her.

“Hey,” she says. “I’m Bart.”

“Hello,” he answers, startled. “I’m Dirk.”

“I know that, stupid, I was supposed to kill you.”

“Oh. Yes.” He tilts his head. “Not to imply that I want you to leave or anything, but why are you sitting next to me? I was under the impression that all of you didn’t like me very much.”

“Well, to be honest, most of ‘em are pretty indifferent to you, on the whole, cause you got dragged back here with the rest of us. You already know how those spiky looking guys feel, the ones who inhale energy. But there are some, that, wow.” She laughs. It sounds almost like a cross between barking and screaming. “They do not like you.”

“Wonderful,” Dirk mutters.

“So that’s why I’m here.”

“…why is why you’re here?”

“Cause they don’t like you, and they might show how much they don’t like you in ways that would suck for you. So I’m here.”

“Um. Thank you. But why?”

Bart shrugs. “You know why you do the shit you’re supposed to do?”

“I…” Dirk considers it. “No. I suppose not.”

“There you go. Call it a hunch.”

 

The Rowdy Three approach Dirk a couple days later, looking to bear all kinds of ill intent. Bart, sitting next to him, grins at them.

“Wanna take another step?” she asks. She sounds friendly and frightening at the same time. They stare each other down for a minute. Then they step away.

That is when Dirk is sure he likes Bart.

 

Dirk still is put through the physical exercises, pushed to his limits further than he was as a child. He returns to his cell those days exhausted, body aching, feeling like a limp noodle. They’re tiring, but he falls asleep quickly, so he supposes at least they end well.

 

“Did they take blood from you, too?” Bart asks. “Like they did when we were kids?”

“They did.”

She grins at him. It’s not the one she gave the Rowdy Three. “Like they expect it to have changed or something?”

Dirk laughs. He doesn’t get to laugh very much here, but it’s always Bart that does it. “I don’t understand it, either! I complained to Todd about it briefly, perhaps they just keep losing it.”

“Which one’s Todd?”

“He’s the one who was in the basement with me.”

“Ah. Did you tell him about-“ Bart flicks him at the tip of his pointed ear. Dirk jumps.

Ow. You could have just asked me, you know.”

“Coulda, but this is more fun.” She flicks him again. He smacks her hand, knowing full well that there’s no one else on this base who could get away with doing so.

“Quit doing that and I’ll tell you.”

Bart crosses her arms, puts her hands in her armpits, and looks at him pointedly.

“No, I didn’t. Because he didn’t like me very much for a while, and then when he did I didn’t want to tell him anything that would scare him off and mean I wouldn’t have friends anymore, and then he didn’t like me again and didn’t want to see me anymore after the case was over, and I didn’t want to tell him because if I didn’t know him for much longer after that I didn’t want to tell him because it’s so personal, and then he did like me again, I suppose, but I wasn’t really ready to talk about it. And now I’ve disappeared, and he probably thinks I ran off or something and is pissed at me, so he probably wouldn’t want to see me anyway, even if I ever got out of here, which I won’t.”

Bart gives Dirk an appraising look while he catches his breath. “You’re a real jittery kinda guy, aren’t you?”

“You asked.”

“Yeah, I know what I did. Don’t change the fact that you’re real jittery.”

“Did you tell Ken?” he asks, counting on it being not enough of a subject change that she’ll call him on it.

“Yeah. I don’t care who knows what about me like you do. Seems like a waste of brain space. Don’t think he believed me. About the-“ she mimes stabbing someone. “All that, sure. Not about the changeling thing, though.”

Dirk hesitates. “That woman told me they’d kill Todd and Farah and Amanda if I didn’t play along,” he whispers.

Bart’s face flickers like a candle struggling to stay lit. “Yeah, They threatened to get Ken,  too.”

They’re quiet for a moment.

“Why would you go for the stabbing motion?” Dirk asks, trying to pull off an abrupt 180 in tone. “Haven’t you shot more people?”

Bart shrugs. “Depends on what I’ve got close by. I’ve stabbed people with all kinds of things. Even a dirk once, ha.” She pokes him with a grin.

Dirk stares. “A what?”

“A dirk. You don’t know what a dirk is?”

“No.”

“Long dagger. Good to stab with. You know that it’s gonna get where you need it to. How do you not know what a dirk is? Didn’t you pick your name out or something?”

“I just…” he shakes his head. “I started shoving letters together. Dirk was what stuck.”

“Huh.”

Dirk looks off into the distance, not really seeing whatever’s in front of him.

“Are you all right? You don’t look so hot.”

“I just. I wasn’t aware I shared a name with a weapon.”

“Are you gonna freak out now?” Bart sounds concerned. He’d like to think it’s for him, but it might just be about having to deal with him.

“I’m…no. They might want me to be a weapon, but I picked my name. It’s mine.” Slowly, Dirk grins. It feels like the ones Bart wears sometimes, when she’s trying to scare the guards, or the Rowdy Three. One of the frightening ones. “I rather like being a weapon that’s mine and not theirs.”

Bart grins back. He thinks it might be a mirror of his own. “That’s the spirit.”

 

Friedkin likes to loom sometimes over the subjects, sometimes, but especially Dirk, watching as he’s pushed to run as fast as he can or interrogated.

“What did Riggins see in you?” he asks once.

“The only fae on the base,” Dirk answers, breaking his rule of ignoring Friedkin. “And a desire to find out more about him, and no misgivings about convincing him that he had a friend to do so.”

 

“You never ask me any questions about the differences between…me and you and all the others,” Dirk observes. Bart glances up at him from where she’s drawing patterns he can’t understand on her leg, clad in the same pants as him, her shirt baggier on her than his is on him.

“You want me to?”

“I don’t think so. I just didn’t anticipate it. The others probably would.”

“Yeah, well, the others suck, so fuck ‘em.” She doesn’t quite smile, but she manages to convey cheerfulness none the less. “That’s why I’m sitting here with you.”

The others don’t suck. Not all of them, anyway. And maybe Bart’s only sitting with him because the stream of creation has pulled her in his direction, but she likes sitting here with him, has just said as much. As opposed to last time, when he only had a false friend, he has someone who genuinely wants to hang around him.

Bart might not be smiling, but Dirk beams wide at her.

 

And then, one day, about a month in, she isn’t there.

Dirk’s not entirely surprised, nor concerned. Bart had been sniffling a little yesterday, so no doubt she’s caught a cold and they won’t let her out in case she infects the others. They’re  not going to hurt her in any way, either. She’s one of the most dangerous subjects, and therefore one of their most valuable.

So Dirk just sits at a table and plays with a Rubik’s Cube. He’s close to getting one side done when he sees movement he recognizes out of the corner of his eye and skitters to his feet.

No,” he warns, pointing at them. Martin, Gripps, and Cross all instantly raise their hands.

“Easy, Fullblood,” Martin says. “We just want to talk to you.”

Bullshit you do.” He wishes he had pockets to shove his hands into so he could disguise that his hands are shaking. Can’t have pockets, though, when you could hide weapons inside of them. “You never want to talk, not once in sixteen years.”

“Things change,” Gripps tells him.

“Give us a shot, Fullblood,” Cross appeals.

“Call me Fullblood again, see how that works out for you,” Dirk snaps back. All three of them could very easily take him, but things are bad enough without the Rowdy Three feeding on him here, so he wants to make a stand. The guards won’t intervene unless they’re genuinely about to kill each other (there’s been a few fights among other inmates), but they’ll let them beat on each other, so he accepts his soon to be status of a bruised and bloody lump on the floor. He grips the Rubik’s Cube. It’s not a very effective weapon, but he can throw it at one of them and maybe buy him a few more seconds. Or maybe he should hold onto it and use it to try and bludgeon one of them? He doesn’t know. He’s not very good at this. He would wish Todd was here because he’s much better at this sort of thing, except he doesn’t at all, because that would mean Todd was here, and that’s unacceptable.

“Icarus.” Martin looks determined, but not in the way that Dirk’s used to, which usually signifies unpleasantness for him. “We just want to ask you a question.”

“Do you?” Definitely hold onto it and keep hitting one of them with it. At least leave them with some bruises. That’ll feel like a little bit of an accomplishment. “Coincidental, on the day Bart’s not here.”

“We would’ve asked you a week ago, but she’d have been on us like a hawk,” Cross counters.

“A really stabby hawk,” Gripps adds. “Don’t know where she’d have gotten something to stab us with, but she’d have done it.”

Dirk hesitates. It’s true Bart would have jumped at them the closer they would have gotten. She’s glared balefully at enough subjects who looked at him askance for him to know that’s true.

“Ask your question from where you are,” he orders. “Or I’m not interested.”

Dirk is suddenly shown a rare sight. The Rowdy Three shuffle slightly, all glancing at each other. They’re hesitant.

“We heard a rumor,” Martin says.

“What rumor?”

More shuffling.

“Were you asked?” Martin asks. “To come here? Did they ask you?”

Dirk stares at him. He’s dimly aware the fist holding the Rubik’s Cube is lowering. “Were-“ and he’s aware of how uncertain he sounds, too, but he can’t do anything about  that anymore than he can do anything about getting out of here. “Were you?”

Martin’s face is inscrutable. Gripps and Cross less so, looking at each other in surprise. “Yeah,” he answers.

“All… all of you? Everyone here?”

They don’t answer, but they don’t have to. Their faces are enough.

“Oh,” he hears himself say.

Dirk sits on the ground. He’d rather do it of his own volition, than have his knees buckle under him. The Rowdy Three sit, too, still in where he’d told them to stay.

“We thought you’d been asked here,” Martin tells him. “Like the rest of us, and you’d deigned to come here. And, look, you ain’t that much older than Vogel, and you got treated better than the rest of us, and he was just a kid, and we all kinda figured you looked down on us cause you didn’t get beat with a stick as bad, so, y’know.” He shrugs awkwardly. “We didn’t like you very much.”

“I was ten.”

“Vogel was eight when he came,” Gripps says. “He came of his own will. Didn’t seem out of the realm of possibility.”

Dirk swallows. He’s coming back to himself a little. “Why did you come and ask me?” Another uncomfortable shrug from Martin.

“Like I said,” he answers. “You ain’t that much older than Vogel. And capturing an honest to God fae… that can’t have been an easy time for you.”

Dirk looks down at his hands, almost expecting to see burns that intersect in squares.

“No,” he whispers. “It wasn’t.”

He raises his head in time to see the three of them on the tail end of giving each other a brief look.

“See,” Gripps says. “When you were just some asshole who’d reveled in his position over us, we felt pretty justified, cause you’d done better for yourself than our younger one, and you didn’t seem to care about how good you had it, and it felt right, that you’d have to pay every once in a while.”

“But if you weren’t here cause they asked and you said yes, well, then you were just some scared ten year old kid who never wanted to be here in the first place,” Cross continues. “And we’d imagine you’d had a family, and a home, and a life, and they took you from that, so.”

“We’re sorry, Icarus,” Martin tells him. “Isn’t right what we did.”

Any other time, he would never have believed them. He would have waited for that shoe to drop, for them to spring the trap and catch him off guard.

Now, well. Things feel different.

“Thank you,” Dirk answers. It’s not forgiveness. But going by the nods he receives from them, he doesn’t think they expected any.

 

The next day, they sit next to him in his corner.

“In case you didn’t notice, Marzanna’s not here, Icarus,” Martin tells Dirk at his startled face. “And there’s still plenty of people round here who are just as violent as us but aren’t as enlightened or friendly.”

“Friendly’s not the word I’d use to describe you three,” Dirk mutters before he can catch himself. To his surprise, the three of them grin at him.

“Thanks for the compliment,” Gripps says. “Much obliged.”

 

“Did Amanda get away?” Dirk asks later in the day. The three tense slightly, but nod.

“Far as we know,” Cross answers. “Drummer girl and Vogel bolted. Vogel’s not here, so that’s the best news we’ve got.”

“Good. That’s good.” He’ll take uncertainty over cold, unfeeling facts.

 

When Bart approaches them two days after the Rowdy Three came to Dirk, a little pale but steady on her feet, she stops dead at the sight of Gripps, Cross, and Martin sprawled next to Dirk, narrowing her eyes.

“It’s all right,” he tells her. “We had a talk. They’re not interested in hurting either of us.”

Bart slowly starts walking towards them again, sitting on Dirk’s right. She and the three of them stare at each other for a moment.

“If I wanted to,” she says abruptly. “I could take my shirt off and strangle all of you.”

“We know,” Martin replies.

Bart nods thoughtfully. “Good.”

 

“So then the shark, right,” Dirk tells Bart. “He comes back and starts to ram his head into the boat and he starts breaking it apart, because, again, he’s a rather large shark and he can throw his head about and make such a thing happen. Is it a head if your entire body is one long thing? Admittedly, everything I know about sharks comes from this movie and the shark inside of my kitten, although I have heard that they’re much gentler creatures than movies suggest.”

“You’re doing this wrong, Icarus,” Martin tells him. Gripps is lying flat on his back on the floor. Cross is playing with the ball in a cup (is that to test their dexterity or to remind them that Blackwing thinks of them as nothing more than children? Dirk’s not sure). He and Gripps have been doing it competitively somehow, and it’s his turn. Martin’s sitting cross legged, fingers drumming a nervous rhythm on his knee. Dirk suspects it’s because he doesn’t have access to cigarettes. He still has his glasses, which proves he actually needs them. It’s sort of neat because Dirk had always wondered if they were required or a fashion statement. Dirk’s leaning against the wall. Bart is propped up on her elbows, legs strewn across Dirk’s outstretched ones. “You keep getting distracted. Have you even paid attention to this movie?”

Dirk feels vaguely affronted. “I’ve seen this movie a million times. They played it a lot on TV when I was in hotel rooms. I love this movie, how dare you.”

Martin rolls his eyes in the face of Dirk’s indignation. “All right, all right.”

“You remember the song they sing in it?” Cross asks, eyes focused on the ball he keeps trying to swing accurately.

“Which one?” Dirk asks. “The sea shanty or the drinking song?”

“What’s a sea shanty?” Bart interjects.

“It’s a song sailors sing. Or maybe pirates? Definitely people who muck about on the  water.”

“The drinking song.” Cross gets the ball in the cup and makes a triumphant noise. “Your move, you prick.”

Gripps groans and sits up, motioning for the toy. “I’ll beat your score.”

“Of course I remember the drinking song. What am I, an amateur?”

Show me the way to go home,” Martin sings softly. “I’m tired and I want to go to bed…

I had a little drink about an hour ago,” Dirk continues. “And it’s gone right to my head.

Wherever I may roam,” Cross chimes in. “On land or sea or foam!

You can hear me singing this song,” Gripps joins.

“Show me the way to go home!” they all complete.

They all repeat the song, their volume growing. Bart doesn’t know the words, but she slaps her hands on her thighs along to the tune. Dirk sees out of the corner of his eye the other subjects looking their way. He hears them beginning to join in until they’re all shouting, even Bart once they’ve repeated the words enough that she can get some of it down, bellowing demands to go home.

Dirk’s not surprised when the guards suddenly rush in to escort them back to their cells. He’s also not surprised when the inmates aren’t allowed to mingle for three days afterwards, confined to their cells, not even leaving for the tests.

It’s worth it, though.

 

One morning, Dirk wakes up sore to his bones from them pushing him on the physical tests the previous day. When he makes it to their corner, he slowly lowers his body so he’s lying down.

Abruptly he’s lifted so suddenly his head’s leaning against Bart’s knees. She pats his head softly and repeatedly.

“They got you on the bike, Icarus?” Martin asks.

“Oh god, don’t say the word ‘bike’ to me,” he mumbles, thinking of the exercise bike in the testing room that they push and push him on, until he can’t actually walk, and has to be carried back to his cell.

“The bike sucks.” Gripps sounds sympathetic. “I think about destroying it a lot. With multiple weapons. I prefer the crowbar.”

“I like the bat,” Cross counters. “The thickness of it just feels right for the task somehow.”

“None of you are creative enough to think of a forklift to squash it down,” Martin points out. “Not that innovative of you, kids.”

“You can’t use a forklift,” Bart says. “It would take forever.”

They all start bantering over it, Bart’s hand never ceasing it’s gentle patting. Dirk looks up at her, then at Martin and Gripps and Cross.

Dirk’s found another piece of the family puzzle, the form of a sister perhaps being taken by Bart. Admittedly, a murdery irritable sister, but beggars can’t be choosers, and Dirk thinks he’d have chosen this one anyway. The Rowdy Three are a little more complicated. Dirk’s not sure if he’ll ever be able to forgive them or not. But he thinks they might be family too, roughly three months down the line since they apologized, in the way this place will do to you, bond you to each other in ways only Blackwing subjects can understand.

He is away from the friends he loves dearly, but he has people here, too.

Dirk closes his eyes and smiles, letting himself glide to sleep so quickly that he doesn’t even have time to acknowledge his exhaustion.

 

It’s five months on while Bart’s working on a Tower of Hanoi, studying the rings like they hold the secrets of the universe. Dirk’s never played; the rings have a high enough iron concentration that they’d hurt. Martin’s having a thumb war with Gripps while Cross eggs them on. Dirk’s squinting at a book of logic puzzles.

“You know they’re gonna take that book to see how you did,” Martin tells him, staring at Gripps like he’s trying to intimidate him into giving in. Gripps is doing the same thing, which means they’re just kind of glaring aggressively at each other.

“I do,” Dirk mutters. It’s the only way they’re allowed to have pencils, using these things.

“You know you’re the worst out of any of the five of us.”

Dirk flicks his eyes up to do some of his own glaring. Martin just grins a little bit.

“I know that, too,” he says frostily. “There’s always a chance I can get this one even if I can’t get the others.”

“You know that’s the one you’ve worked on for the past three days you’ve had access to it.”

Dirk grits his teeth. “Martin, will you do me a favor and shut your eyes for fifteen seconds?”

“Why?”

“Just do it.”

Martin rolls his eyes and then closes them.

AHA.” Gripps shoves his thumb over Martin’s and holds it down. “NICE MOVE.

Martin opens his eyes. Dirk looks down, smirking.

“Liked it better when you were frightened of us,” he tells Dirk.

“I liked that, too, then we weren't here,” Dirk shoots back. Everyone makes “decent point” faces, even Bart, who Dirk hadn’t known was listening.

“First thing I’d want to eat if we ever got out,” Bart says, poking at a ring. “Is pork.”

“Yeah?” Maybe the gardener doesn’t live on Adams Lane? That could be it. “Any  reason?”

“I had it with Ken. Maybe if I eat pork he’ll come back.”

It’s sound logic. Dirk nods.

“Three Hershey’s chocolate bars.” Martin’s bending his thumb slightly to adjust from Gripps’s grasp. “With almonds.”

“Two Oranginas and a bacon cheeseburger.” Gripps is making a show of flexing his  hands.

“Whipped cream.”

“And?” Dirk feels compelled to ask.

Cross shakes his head. “That’s it. Just a can of whipped cream.”

“What about you, Dirk?” It’s a surprise sometimes to hear his name from Bart, on account of her being the only one who uses it, hearing Icarus from all the scientists and doctors and Friedkin and the Rowdy Three. It’s completely different when the latter use it, however. They don’t have the superior disdain the others do. “What’d you eat?”

“An apple,” he says immediately. “Honest to God apple.”

“La ti da.” Martin’s now supervising Gripps and Cross’s thumb war. “Look who gets the fancy healthy food.”

“I can taste the gross things they put in your food,” he points out. “My senses are evidently better than yours.” He’d always wondered what they were like compared to the others. Better enough that they evidently can’t taste that garbage they eat.

“No shit.” Martin looks away from Gripps and Cross to raise his eyebrows at Dirk. “We’ve seen you eat cold pizza before.”

“Some things I like enough to ignore it.” It’s not been realistic for him to solely eat the food he’d like, so he’s had to eat a lot of the foods where he can taste every artificial thing in them. He’s found some that still manage to taste good regardless, so when he can get those, he does.

“They drugging us at all?” Cross asks.

“No.” Dirk would have thought they might, but he supposes they’re concerned that their abilities will work poorer under their influence.

“That’s something, at le-“

The ring in Bart’s hand clatters to the wood of the board. They all look to see her frozen, staring off into the distance, hand still hovering where she was holding the part of the toy.

“Bart?” Dirk whispers, approaching her hesitantly, fully aware that doing so might lose him a digit or a limb. “Are you all right?”

“I’ve got a whole bunch of new people to kill,” she mumbles. Dirk and the Rowdy Three glance at each other.

“Who?” Gripps asks. They’ve all transitioned to serious lightning fast.

“Dunno. Just names. There’s just a whole lot at once. It hasn’t happened like that for years. Not since-“ she breaks off, her eyes snapping to focus before she looks at them. “Not since the last one.”

“Last what?” Martin asks. It clicks immediately for Dirk.

Oh,” he breathes. “Yes, I see. That must be… yes. That could be good.”

“What could be good?”

Dirk looks at the Three, mind reeling. “We’re going to make an attempt at escape again.”

“When?”

There’s a rumbling noise in the base somewhere in the distance, the walls and floor around them trembling.

“Dirk,” Bart whispers. “Gimme your pencil.”

Dirk hands it over. He doesn’t need to question why. She conceals it by shoving it in the waistband of her pants and hastily pulling her tee shirt over it, snatching a ring for the game and looping it through her finger.

Guards rush into the room. “Back to your cells!” they roar. “Back to your cells, quickly and quietly or you will get tased!”

Bart flings a ring at the head of one of the guards that approach them. It startles him and she takes the opportunity to stab him in the arm with the pencil. He screams as she grabs his gun. She chucks Dirk his baton and shoots the guards around them.

“Nothing for us?” Martin asks with a grin as the room around them breaks out into chaos, the subjects fighting back against every guard who’s been dragging them from place to place for five months.

“You don’t need anything. Follow me.”

They stay behind Bart as she shoots a path for them, jumping from gun to gun as she picks it off dead men as she goes along. Martin, Gripps, or Cross will toss people out of the way. Eventually they hurtle out of the room, suddenly standing in the empty corridor, red alarm lights flashing ominously and sirens blaring.

“What now?” Gripps asks.

“I dunno,” Bart admits. “I just know who I’ve gotta kill, I don’t know where to find them.”

Dirk isn’t sure what’s going on, what the tremors and boom just were. But he can feel  the call once more. For the past five months it’s only told him when Friedkin was going to be present, which equipment they would test him on, little things like that, only lightly whispering. Now it hums like a live wire through him, speaking to him just like it used to.

“Left,” he says.

“You sure?” Cross asks.

“More than I’ve ever been sure of anything.” It’s a rush through his veins. He knows this. He has the intuitions again like he’s supposed to.

They take the directions Dirk gives, Bart shooting people, the Rowdy Three punching them, Dirk clubbing with his baton.

“We’re going towards our cells,” Martin observes. “Feels like it should be the opposite of where we need to be headed.”

“I’m telling you, it’s-“ Dirk pauses at the corridor that leads to their rooms. “It’s down here. It’s definitely down here.”

They pad quietly past the hall, the intense feeling building in Dirk’s chest until they’re at the cell before his, and his heart slams hard. Whatever he’s being pointed at, it’s in his room. He can hear someone shifting a little inside. It’s people. Who on Earth would it be?

As always, Dirk disregards safety, and walks until he’s facing into his room, door open. It looks like all the cell doors were opened. Someone probably worked their way into the computer system to do so.

When Dirk sees inside his room, the intense feeling explodes into something almost numb throughout his entire body, shock anesthetizing him.

Dimly, he’s a little surprised that Todd, Farah, and Amanda all fit comfortably in his cell. It’s very small.

“Oh,” Dirk says. “It’s you.”

Dude.” Amanda collides with him in a hug. Dazedly, Dirk puts an arm around her, his hand flat on her back. “We were so fucking worried about you.”

“Were you?” He feels almost faint. “That’s nice of you.”

Amanda squeezes him a little tighter then lets go so she can move around him. He can hear her and the Rowdy Three having some kind of huddle hug behind him. Farah hugs him too and he can’t believe this, can’t believe how smooth her leather jacket is under his hands, how she smells like coconut and ginger, how she’s here.

“It’s good to see you,” she tells him when she pulls back.

“It’s good to see you, too.”

She slips out, too, presumably to see if there’s anyone coming their way. She’s remarkably pragmatic like that.

That leaves Todd, standing in his tiny cell, wearing his Mexican Funeral shirt (and Dirk misses that, wishes he knew what they did with his) and a messenger bag. The two of them gaze at each other, and it’s so strange to Dirk, to see Todd here, a part of the kaleidoscopic whirlwind of a life that he had and missed for so long now, in this monochromatic hellhole he has been living in for six years and then five months and living with since he was ten years old. The juxtaposition is almost unnerving and he wonders if he should tell Todd.

“This is your room?” Todd asks as Farah and Bart talk in low voices in the doorway behind Dirk.

“Yes.” They must have gone into Blackwing’s systems somehow. There’s nothing to indicate Dirk’s been staying in here.

“This is where they kept you?”

Kept. It’s such an apt word that had never occurred to Dirk. He truly did make a good choice in appointing Todd his assistant. “Yes, that’s a rather good way to put it.”

Todd stares at him a little more. Then he slowly approaches Dirk, looking up at him slightly. His expression reminds Dirk a little of that silence on the ride back to Seattle, the one where he’d felt Todd’s confusion at what Blackwing was, the gravity of beginning to understand what this place meant. It aches a little.

Wordlessly, Todd unzips his bag. He pulls out Dirk’s green leather jacket and holds it out to him.

“I thought you might like it,” he says. “I didn't know if they’d let you keep the yellow  one.”

They didn’t, and it’s that other possession he wishes he knew the location of. He takes the jacket and pulls it on.

“Thank you,” he answers, wanting to thank him for everything ever, including things he hasn’t actually done.

Todd doesn’t smile back, but there is none of that cloud of irritability that Dirk had come to know from him present in his face, and Dirk wonders if this might be what a smile looks like on him, when he feels the urge but not particularly inclined to do so. “You’re welcome.”

They go into the corridor. Bart’s eyes are shining, Dirk thinks with what might be actual  tears.

“Are you all right?” he asks.

“Ken’s here.” Her naturally raspy voice breaks. “He came back for me.”

“So’s Vogel,” Martin says. “Can you find him?”

“Of course.” Already he’s buzzing again, the song having found a new direction to pull him in. “Follow me.”

 

“Can you actually find them?” Todd asks, the familiar skepticism in his voice. “Or are you just guessing?”

“Yeah, I’m going to need you to be able to find your way out of a paper bag on this one, Dirk,” Farah says, gun held in front of her.

“I know what I’m doing.” He hears all the snorts and huffs even if he can’t see them. “Right now. I know what I’m doing right now.”

Dirk turns a corner sharply to almost run into someone who gives him the impression of both yellow and punk at all. He skids to a halt and fully comprehends the image of Vogel also stopping in from of them, wearing his yellow jacket, Ken on his heels.

Bart leaps at Ken, almost knocking him over with her hug. He grins, one hand coming up to rest on matted hair, the other pressing her tight with on her back. Vogel rejoins the Rowdy Three with a wordless yell of delight.

“That’s my jacket,” Dirk says. Vogel frowns even as Cross pulls him in to give him noogies.

“Mine now.”

“Give the jacket back to Icarus, Vogel,” Martin instructs. Vogel groans but complies and Dirk hands the jacket to Todd.

“Can you put this in your bag?”

“Don’t you want to put that one on?”

“No. You brought me this one.”

Todd doesn’t seem to understand the magnitude of that statement and what it means to Dirk that someone thought of him enough to bring him something he thought he’d like, so he simply shakes his head and takes the jacket, stuffing it into his bag.

“We’ve got to get out of here,” Farah says.

“Where are you parked?” Bart asks.

 

They’re all running through the corridors that Farah directs them to so they can get back to their vans when Dirk takes a turn and stops abruptly. The Blackwing subjects behind him stop, too, which probably causes the rest to halt, too. The blond woman and Friedkin are in front of them.

“Friedkin-“ the woman starts.

Bart raises her gun and shoots her in the head. Friedkin yelps.

“Maria Wilson,” she says. “Next on the list.”

“What about him?” Cross asks, nodding towards the quaking Friedkin.

“I’m not supposed to kill him.”

“He’s not supposed to die?”

“I dunno if he’s supposed to die, I just know I ain’t supposed to kill him.”

“Can we beat him up?” Vogel asks excitedly, taking a step forwards. Martin holds an arm out, watching Dirk.

“Nah, little one,” Martin answers. “Let Icarus do it, if he wants.”

Dirk looks at Martin, surprised, then at Friedkin. They stare at each other for what feels like a long time.

“Leave him,” he says finally. “The CIA will need to blame someone.”

Friedkin’s eyes widen. “N-no,” he stutters. “You can’t do that. That’s not fair.”

Dirk had still felt a little numb, on the whole. Now he abruptly isn’t. Fury rips through his body and he feels his hand tighten around the baton.

Fair?” he demands incredulously. “You want to talk to us about fair? You? Sometimes life isn’t fair. Ours isn’t! Our hasn’t been fair for a very long time! Mine hasn’t been fair for a very long time! Perhaps what this is you finally getting a dose of fair, because honestly you have a lot to do with our lack of it lately.”

Dirk flips the baton around so he’s holding the blunter end and proffers it to Martin.

“Sure you don’t want honors?” he asks.

“Positive.”

Martin shrugs. “Give it to Vogel, then.”

Dirk turns to Vogel. “Just knock him out so we have a head start.”

Vogel eagerly takes the baton and swiftly gives chase to Friedkin. It doesn’t take long to catch up and whack him on the head, what looks like as hard as he possibly can.

“You want your smacking stick back, Icarus?” Vogel asks as they walk up to meet him.

“Not particularly.”

“Good, cause I’m keeping this one.”

“Vans are this way,” Ken says.

 

“Amanda’s taking that one with the Rowdy Three,” Farah tells them as they approach two gray vans. “The rest of us are getting in this one. We’re all meeting at the same place. See you when we get there.”

Amanda gives her a salute before she climbs into the driver’s seat of her van as Todd drags open the back door of theirs, motioning for the others.

“I’ll drive,” Ken says. “Bart can sit up here with me.” Bart beams and scrambles to do so. Farah, Todd, and Dirk get into the back.

“We’re out,” Todd tells Farah. “Follow through on your promise.”

“What promise?” Dirk asks.

“Farah’s been awake for twenty-four hours. She promised after we got you out, she’d  sleep.”

Dirk blinks. “Why on Earth wouldn’t you sleep?”

She already looks like she’s drooping. “Because there was a plan. Had to make sure everything was right. And you were in trouble.”

Dirk is still confused when Todd throws a blanket at her from a backpack in the corner. She manages to catch that. The pillow hits her in the face.

“I’ve killed men for less,” she mumbles.

“No, you haven’t,” Todd replies, unrepentant. “And you’re not going to kill me. Sleep.”

Farah lies down and curls up on the floor, tugging the blanket over her and shoving the  pillow under her head.

“Why wouldn’t she sleep just because I was in trouble?” he asks Todd.

“Because she was worried about you. All the triple and quadruple checking thing, that…  might be kind of a Farah thing, but she was definitely worried about you.”

“Oh.” Dirk’s at something of a loss when it comes to what to say to that.

“I’m sorry.” Todd’s fidgeting a little. “That it took us so long to come and get you. We couldn’t find you for a while, and then it took a little while longer to plan.”

“You came to get us at all. You don’t have anything to apologize for.” Nothing makes any of this worth it, but having friends that cared enough to attack a CIA base in his name? That’s pretty amazing.

“We were always going to. Just took us a while.”

Dirk smiles. They ride in silence for a little bit, Bart occasionally laughing at something Ken says that Dirk can’t hear.

“I missed you,” he says suddenly. “When I was in there. The one good thing about Blackwing was that you weren’t in it because they shouldn’t have gotten your hands on any of you, but I still missed you.”

Todd looks startled. “Oh.”

Dirk settles in and looks at the ceiling of the van serenely. He doesn’t really expect anything back, so he’s not-

“I missed you, too.”

Dirk’s head snaps to Todd, who immediately goes red.

“Just. Weird, not having a pain in the ass around all the time. I’d gotten used to it.”

Dirk knows him well enough to know that this means he’s covering for accidentally saying something he means and beams. Todd goes redder, but grins as he looks ahead at the wall of the car in front of them.

“Shut up.”

I didn’t say anything, you’re the one who’s talking.”

Todd shakes his head. “So are you and the Rowdy Three friends now?”

“We were in there, certainly. I assume we are out here, too, although we haven’t actually discussed it, no time, you see. They…” Dirk considers. “Had a fundamental misunderstanding on how I came to be in Blackwing. We talked it out, I believe we’re all good now. I’m certainly Bart’s friend. I think.” He raises his voice a little. “Bart?”

Bart looks behind her. “Yeah?”

“Are you still my friend?”

“Why? You got too many?”

“No.”

“That’s good.” Bart goes back to looking out the windshield. “I didn’t want to have to kill any of the ones you got now.” 

Dirk looks at Todd happily. “There you are, then. Bart’s still my friend.”

“She was kidding, right?”

“…hopefully?” Todd looks a little unnerved so Dirk hastily makes his way to a question of his own. “Are you and Amanda friends again?”

“I’m- not sure. Somedays we are, somedays we aren’t. We probably wouldn’t have been if we hadn’t all had to come together for this, but we’re better than we were five months ago, I guess.”

“That’s good!”

“Yeah.” Something seems to occur to him. “Oh. Vogel said I should tell you this.”

“Hm?”

“We had help getting you out.”

“Help? From who?”

Todd hesitates. “Colonel Riggins.”

The bottom drops out of Dirk’s stomach. “Did you?”

“Yeah. He told us where to find you and the best way to get in.”

“What did he want?”

“Nothing. He came to us willingly and told us what to do. He says he’ll come see us when it’s safe to leave our safehouse. He even gave us the safehouse.”

“Ah.” That Riggins didn’t ask for anything is… curious, but he still doesn’t like it. It doesn’t set off any alarm bells in an intuition sense, but even if it’s true he has no motives, it still doesn’t do anything towards trusting the man, so he still feels a little anxious.

“I, uh. I don’t know what exactly went down between the two of you, but he seemed to care about you a lot.”

“Yes.” Dirk’s voice is as neutral as he can get it. “He does that.”

 

“This is not a safehouse,” Dirk says in awe, gazing up at the building before him. “This is a safemansion.”

The house is huge, which Dirk supposes isn’t that surprising, considering that Riggins is the one who provided it and Dirk assumes being high ranking enough in the CIA to be given a base of people you’re experimenting on including children pays rather well. But even thinking of Riggins right now can’t bring him down, because he’s not in Blackwing, and they are going to be staying in a safemansion with forest as far as the eye can see.

“That’s not a word,” Todd tells him.

“It is now that I’ve said it.”

Todd rolls his eyes but then returns his gaze to Dirk. “Your hair’s kind of…” he gestures a little wildly.

“Makes sense, it does that sometimes.” Dirk had fallen asleep on the way back and only just woke up when Todd had shaken him to say they were close.

Martin hops out of their van next to him. “Jesus,” he comments, staring up at the house. “That’s a lot of fucking space.” He looks at Dirk’s hair. “Got some crazy shit going on up there, Icarus.”

“Yes, so I’ve been told, but: safemansion.”

Martin reaches out and rapidly messes up Dirk’s hair even further.

“Thank you for making it, I’m certain, so much better.”

“Aw, no problem, Icarus.” Martin thumps him on the back. “Happy to help.”

 

“Todd and I are going to run down to get provisions,” Farah says a little later in the day. “Is there anything in particular anyone wants?”

“Something with pork in it, three Hershey’s bars with almonds in them, two Oranginas, the means to make a bacon cheeseburger, and a can of whipped cream,” Dirk answers. All the Blackwing subjects just released look at him in surprise and those who aren’t do so in confusion.

“That’s a lot of food for you to eat on your own, dude,” Amanda points out.

“Those aren’t for me, it’s what the others want.”

Martin’s looking at him over his glasses. “Wouldn’t have thought you’d remember all  that.”

“It was just today.”

“Been a hell of a day.”

Dirk shrugs. Martin looks at Todd and Farah.

“Icarus wants an apple.” He grins. “Just an apple. Maybe if you’re hungrier, you’ll be quieter.”

Dirk glares.

“If you don’t rectify that statement,” he tells him. “I will not be quieter, as a matter of fact, I will do nothing but talk, starting from now until whenever I feel like stopping, and I think you should know that I will not feel like stopping so long as I know it is irritating you, except to breathe, and if I didn’t have to do that, then-“

“All right, all right, Jesus. Icarus wants two apples.”

 

They get Dirk a plethora of vegetables and fruit. Dirk sneaks an apple and goes to sit on the grass outside of the safemansion. He lies down, and stares up at the darkening sky, feels the grass underneath him on his skin, can smell it, really feel it deep in his bones. He bites into the apple. It tastes fresher than anything he’s eaten for nearly half a year, and he feels close to tears.

He falls asleep on the grass, breathing deep and even.

 

“You’re stained all green,” Vogel observes when Dirk staggers in the next morning. The other members of the Rowdy Three must have filled him in on what had happened between the rest of them in the base, because he doesn’t seem to bear him any antagonism. Or maybe Dirk’s still got goodwill from letting Vogel hit Friedkin, who knows.

“Yes, I imagine,” Dirk mumbles. He’s always hated mornings. “Grass does that.”

“I told ‘em to let you sleep out there,” Martin says, watching him. “Thought it might make you happier.”

Dirk musters up a grateful smile that he didn't add anything about why it might make him happier on the end of it in front of the others and heads for the kitchen. Belatedly, he realizes he didn’t ask for any beverages.

“Hey.”

Dirk blinks blearily at Todd, who also, he knows for a fact, hates mornings, but there’s a still steaming mug not too far from his hand, so he’s probably had a little more coffee and that’s why he looks more alive than Dirk feels.

“We got you some tea. I didn’t know what to… do, really, so Farah picked it out, and she actually drinks the stuff, so it’s not like I stumbled in blindly here, whatever it is it’s probably pretty good.”

Dirk stares at him. Todd’s giving him that look that indicates he’s being weird, and when he opens his mouth it’s probably with the intention of asking him about it, but at that point Dirk’s shuffled towards him and hugged him, so all that comes out is a choked off noise.

“Thank you for the tea.”

“Farah picked it out,” Todd repeats, sounding a little strangled. Dirk releases him, shambles towards Farah, and hugs her.

“Thank you both for the tea.”

“You’re welcome, Dirk.” Farah sounds amused. And awake. She's probably a morning person. She seems like she has her life together the most out of any of them. Somehow he associates life togetherness with being a morning person.

Dirk lets her go. “Can you show me tea now please?”

 

“I’m sorry if the clothes don’t fit that well,” Todd tells him a day or two later. “I just pulled stuff from mine.”

“That’s all right.” Dirk’s wearing a London Calling tee shirt and jeans. “Back when I got out of Blackwing, I wore clothes that didn’t fit all the time.”

“Yeah, but you must have started wearing stuff that did at some point.”

“Well, yes, the Patrick Spring case.”

Todd gives him a funny look. “You only started wearing clothes that fit you five months ago?”

“I could never quite find clothes that were perfect in thrift stores and I couldn’t afford to go anywhere else.”

“Oh.”

Dirk goes back to his salad happily. A salad that doesn’t come from McDonald’s and taste like whatever they pump their vegetables with. Wonders will never cease.

“Hey, um.”

He looks up at Todd. “What?” he asks through a mouthful of lettuce.

“You, uh. You know you can go wherever you want, right?”

Dirk feels his brow furrow. “Well, no. We’re in the safemansion. I can’t go anywhere until we know we’ll be all right.”

“That’s still not a word.”

“I told you, you recognizing what it means now means that it’s a word.”

“That’s-“ he shakes his head. “That’s not what I’m trying to tell you here.”

Dirk spears a piece of tomato. “So what is?”

“You’re not. You don’t have to stay with us. Because we sprung you. If you want to keep doing… whatever it is you did between last time with Blackwing and the Patrick Spring case, you can. You shouldn’t feel like you have to stay.”

“Of course I do. I’ve been a detective without an agency for a few years, you know, and I didn’t enjoy it very much. I’d much rather stay to make one, especially if it’s with you. And Farah, even if she won’t admit she’s part of my agency, although I’m sure we can get her to do so eventually.”

Todd stares. Then he grins. He grins a lot more here than he did during the week or so Dirk had known him before. It always makes him grin in response, his heart doing a stuttery sort of thing he doesn’t understand.

“Good luck getting Farah to admit anything, she’s tougher than anyone except maybe the Rowdy Three.”

“And Bart,” Dirk points out.

“And Bart,” he concedes. “They’re all equally tough and tougher than us.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that.” Dirk pops the tomato bit in his mouth. “I’ve got all of you now, which I think indicates that I’m having a terrific run of luck.”

 

After about a week in the safehouse, Dirk is waken from his very soft bed by Todd gently shaking him.

“Nyuh.” Dirk looks up at him sleepily. “What?” He glances at the window. The sunlight poking through is only on the edge of no longer being dawn sunlight. “Whyyyyy.” He turns to go back to sleep.

“Dirk.” Todd’s voice is quiet and serious. “Riggins is back.”

That wakes Dirk up like a bucket of cold water. He sits upright. “Ah.”

“He’s talking to Farah. The Rowdy Three and Bart don’t, uh, they don’t seem too pleased that he’s here.”

“No. I don’t imagine they would be.”

“I didn’t know if you wanted to see him.”

“I…” Want isn’t the right word. He doesn’t want to see Riggins ever again. But he thinks he might need to. For a sense of closure, maybe? He isn’t sure. “Yes. I think so.”

“I thought…” Todd looks more uncertain than Dirk’s seen him yet. “Maybe I could come down there with you. For moral support.”

“Yes.” That one’s more immediate. “Thank you, Todd.”

They walk down the stairs together. Dirk can hear the low buzz of Riggins’s voice talking to Farah and even though he can’t quite make out the words, it throws him back to being eleven years old and locked in a cell, Riggins telling him human fairy tales in a quiet voice that had been so reassuring at the time.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Todd asks before they go into the living room. Dirk hesitates because no, he’s not, he’s not sure at all, he wants to run back upstairs into his bed and shove the pillow over his head and pretend none of this is happening. He looks at Todd, who appears ready to lock the door to the bedroom and guard it if he chose the option he wants so badly. It’s that look that bolsters him.

Dirk’s not alone anymore, like he was at eleven. He’s not on his own. He has someone at his side.

“Yes. I am.”

They walk into the room together. The Rowdy Three are all protectively close to Amanda, who’s glaring daggers at Riggins as he and Farah talk quietly in the kitchen, his back to Dirk. Bart’s standing by Ken and holding a salad fork, looking ready to use it. Riggins and Farah don’t notice the sound of Todd and Dirk entering, but the Rowdy Three and Bart get even more tense at the sight of Dirk, and shuffle slightly closer, like they’re ready to block if he decided to charge him, and Farah notices that.

Oh, Dirk thinks dimly, in the split second before Farah figures out what they’re reacting to and she looks at him. I’m one of them.

Her eyes widen. “Dirk.”

Riggins turns around, and that’s harder than Dirk expected, to see that face again. Even if he only saw it five months ago, he still sees a flash of it like it was when he was a child, smiling in a way that had seemed so kind. Now, guilt flickers across it before it’s schooled into a blank expression.

“Dirk,” he says. Dirk had thought he hated hearing Riggins call him Icarus five months ago, but this almost feels worse, that his name comes out of the mouth of someone who had only ever known how to lie to him.

I am not their weapon, he reminds himself. I am a dirk. I am a weapon that is mine and  not his.

He straightens, chin lifting a bit. “Colonel,” he answers, voice cool.

“Riggins says we can go home,” Farah tells them, watching Dirk’s face carefully. “He’s taken care of things.”

“How?”

“Friedkin took the fall. I was called in to clean up his mess. I ensured that there’ll be no more Blackwing.”

“There wasn’t supposed to be another Blackwing last time, either.”

“There was always supposed to be another Blackwing last time. It just took a while to get off the ground.”

Farah’s still watching him closely. Amanda’s got an eye on him, too. The Rowdy Three and Bart look ready to jump on Riggins if Dirk gives any indication that they should. The thunderous realization crashes into him that he has the support of every single person in this room other than Riggins. It eases a little of his tension.

Dirk looks at Farah and nods slightly.

“Okay,” Farah says. “Everyone start packing up your stuff.”

Riggins makes his way to Dirk as everybody starts moving. “Can I talk to you in private?”

Dirk pauses, then makes a quick decision. “You can talk to me with just Todd present.” It’s the right choice. Dirk’s felt stronger for having Todd by his side since they met. It appears that this applies to Riggins as well as guns.

Riggins frowns. “I’d rather talk to you on your own.”

“That must be hard for you to deal with.” It’s the first time Todd’s spoken since he came down with Dirk. His tone is unflinching and Dirk feels a rush of affection for him.

“You can come with me and Todd outside or you can leave,” he tells Riggins. “Those are your choices.”

He makes his way outside with Todd by his side. Riggins closes the door behind them and faces Dirk.

“I wanted to apologize. For…” he glances at Todd and then focuses back on Dirk. “What I did, all those years ago. It was wrong and I shouldn’t have done it. Any of it.”

“Yes.” Dirk doesn’t really feel like thanking him for the apology.

“I’m going to ground in Europe after this. But if you ever need me, I can give you my number so you can call me.”

“I won’t need it.” There’s not a lot Dirk can imagine worse right now than owing him a  favor.

Riggins looks sad, in a way. Properly guilty, now, and a little forlorn.

“I’m sorry, Dirk.”

Dirk is suddenly, briefly possessed by the urge to forgive him. He doesn’t know if he can ever forgive Riggins for what he did but he wants to tell him he does. Like somehow it’ll change all the shit that’s happened in Dirk’s life, like maybe he owes the man for what he did with getting his friends into the base to save him.

Then Dirk remembers that they wouldn’t have to have gotten in the base if Riggins hadn’t put him in one in the first place.

Dirk remembers that he doesn’t owe Riggins shit.

He squares his shoulders. “Have a good time in Europe, Colonel.”

Riggins either doesn’t recognize it as the dismissal it is or doesn’t care, because he opens his mouth to speak again.

“I hope you have a good time in Europe too, Colonel,” Todd says, sounding like he hopes nothing of the sort. Riggins hesitates in the face of two dismissals, the latter a little more aggressive than the first. Then nods tightly.

“Good luck with the detective agency.”

Dirk nods, just as sharp. Riggins gets into his car and drives away. Dirk stands and watches him go.

“Do you want to talk about anything?” Todd asks hesitantly.

“No. Not right now, anyway.” Dirk’s chest hurts. He looks up at the sky. “Do you think we could just lie here and… not have our shit together for a couple minutes?”

“Yeah. We could do that.”

Dirk and Todd lie in the cool grass, and Dirk feels his breathing start to return to normal, the Earth below him and a friend at his side.

 

“Is people naming inanimate objects a thing?” Bart asks while Ken says goodbye to the others. The subjects are sitting on the pavement outside of the Ridgely, watching the others interact. “Like, in real life?”

“I don’t know. Did you ever name a weapon?”

“Why? Weapons are disposable. People are usually disposable enough on their own.”

Dirk nods in agreement. He may not like this fact, but people come and go out of his life,  so in general yes, they tend to be.

“Why d’you want to know?” Cross asks.

“Ken wants to name the van.”

“He’d probably know.” Gripps’s legs are outstretched on the pavement, ankles crossed. “He’s real life.”

Dirk scratches the top of Lawnmower’s head. They’d decided against using the shark kitten in the breakout, but they’d kept him and Rapunzel at the safemansion. Rapunzel is unquestionably Bart and Ken’s (hence Bart’s arms being full of dog at the moment, her chin resting on top of Rapunzel’s head), but he had cottoned to the shark kitten quickly upon learning that Todd had been taking care of him for Dirk. He’d also tried to tell him that he could not actually name the cat Lawnmower, but if he’d wanted a name he liked better, than he should have named the kitten somewhere in those five months he’d been his sole owner and not just called him Kitten.

“Icarus,” Vogel whispers. “I’ve gotta tell you something, I almost forgot.” Dirk leans over from where he’s sitting next to Bart, Vogel on her opposite side. “When we were looking for you, Ken did something weird with the computers in the CIA. He got access to a ton of files from the first Blackwing. They all know about us.”

Dirk’s heart stutters. “What? About- about me, too?”

“They talked a long time about looking through the individual ones. They thought they might help find you guys but kept saying a lot about invasion of privacy.” Vogel looks tentative for the first time Dirk’s known him. “I told ‘em it was okay. Was that…”

“No, you’re right, it was the right decision.” They know. They know. “Why haven’t they said anything?” Maybe they think he’s a freak? They haven’t acted like they think he’s a freak. Maybe they’re really good actors?

“I think they don’t want to make you feel cornered.”

That… is better. Much better.

“Thank you for telling me.”

Vogel shrugs. “Can I pet Lawnmower?”

Dirk edges closer to Bart so Vogel can reach over and scratch Lawnmower, who purrs. Rapunzel, who Dirk is fairly certain possesses the title of Calmest Dog in the Galaxy, doesn’t seem to mind much.

Ken approaches them and they all look up at him.

“You all done?” Bart asks.

“Yeah. Let’s go.”

“Cool.” Bart stands up and goes down the line of sitting Rowdy Three members, patting them each on the head. She circles back around and stands over Dirk. “Stand up and give Lawnmower to Ken. Martin, hold Rapunzel.”

“Why?” He asks as Martin takes the dog.

Bart raises her eyebrows. Dirk sighs, hands the kitten over to Ken, and stands. Immediately, he’s tackled in a hug by her, teetering for a moment before getting his balance back and hugging her back just as tightly.

“I hope the next time I see you I’m not supposed to kill you,” she whispers.

“I hope so, too,” he whispers back.

Bart pulls back. “Okay, you can take your cat back now.”

Dirk does. “Good to see you, Ken.”

“See you around, Dirk.”

Bart scoops Rapunzel back up, and she and Ken get into their van and drive off.

“Sure you won’t let us take your cat on the road?” Martin asks as the Rowdy Three  stand. “He’s a rock and rolling kind of animal, he’d fit right in.”

Dirk pulls Lawnmower close to his chest. “Don’t touch my cat.”

Martin grins. He puts a hand on Dirk’s shoulder. “Take care, Icarus.”

“You all as well. Don’t come destroy my apartment or Todd’s apartment or I’m going to let Lawnmower attack you.”

Now they all grin and salute him.

“Drummer girl!” Martin calls. “You ready to go?”

Amanda breezes up with a backpack. She kisses Dirk on the cheek.

“Make sure to text me, or I’m gonna drive outside your apartment and lean on the horn until you acknowledge me in the next week if I don’t hear from you.”

Dirk smiles. “I promise I will.”

“Cool. Let’s go, boys.” Amanda hops into the Rowdy Three’s van. The others follow. Dirk watches them go, then turns to Farah and Todd, who have hung back to let him say his goodbyes.

“Come on,” he says. “Home again.”

 

Dirk doesn’t bring up exactly why it was that he was in Blackwing. Neither do Farah and Todd. Instead they work on finding an office for the agency. They find one that’s cheap enough to be afforded within decent distance from Todd and Dirk’s apartments and not too far from Farah’s. Dirk stands in the empty office, smiling at the wall.

“I didn’t think I’d ever get to have this,” he tells Todd, who’s standing next to him.

“Have what?”

“Friends. A job. An office. This is…” Dirk shakes his head. “Marvelous.”

Todd smiles at him softly, one of those that has been making Dirk’s insides twitch as of  late.

“Well,” he says. “Now you get them.”

“Yes. Now I do.”

 

Roughly a month after the breakout, Dirk is carefully washing carrots in Todd’s sink. He spends more time in Todd’s apartment than he does in his own, often coming down with Lawnmower under an arm to discuss a case or just to hang out.

Lawnmower creeps closer to the sink, staring at the carrot in Dirk’s hand.

“If you come for this carrot,” Dirk tells him flatly. “When I have been nothing but generous with carrots when it comes to you in the past, then you will receive no more from me ever again, and we both know that they’re not just better for you cooked, but you like them better cooked, so I think taking this one will be a distinct disadvantage for you.”

Lawnmower moves his stare from the carrot to Dirk. Dirk stares back.

His nose twitches and he leaps off the counter, no doubt to go purr and convince Todd to pet him, which is often his recourse when Dirk has won an argument. He’s proven right when Todd snorts from the couch in the living room.

“I swear to God, you’re some kind of cat whisperer.”

“I don’t always whisper to Lawnmower. Animals and I have an understanding.”

“Oh.”

Dirk hears the hesitancy in Todd’s tone and know why it’s there. He pauses. Sighs a little. He turns the water off and puts the carrot he’d been washing on the paper towel all the others are drying on, wiping his hands off with another. He walks into the living room, not bothering to roll his sleeves back down, and leans against the door to the apartment, looking at Todd, who’s stroking Lawnmower in his lap.

Todd glances up. “What?”

“Vogel told me Ken got into the files from Blackwing and read them.”

Todd’s hand stills. “Oh.”

“I was waiting to see if you would bring it up, but you haven’t, which is thoughtful of you, but I’m sure you have questions, and really, I see no sense in dancing around this any longer.”

“I… do have some questions. But I don’t know what to ask.”

“Ask what you want.” Dirk moves so he’s across from Todd and sits cross legged on the floor, looking up at him.

Todd’s quiet while he thinks. Lawnmower pushes impatiently against his hand and he resumes petting him.

“On your file,” he evidently decides on. “We only knew for sure it was yours because I remembered you said your project name was Icarus. There wasn’t Dirk Gently on there. Why?”

It’s not the question Dirk might have expected, but easily answerable. “Dirk Gently isn’t my real name and I never told them what it was, so they only ever called me Icarus. I haven’t said or really thought my name in over twenty years.”

“Why?”

“Names have power. You all give your names away so freely, so easily. Other humans can’t use each other’s the way that my name could and quite frankly would have been used against me. I couldn’t give that power to them and once I got out I couldn’t risk anyone hearing it.”

“Why not think it?”

“I didn’t know if they could get inside my head and I didn't want to chance it, and then I just got out of the habit.” Dirk wonders if Todd’s going to ask what his given name is. He doesn’t think he’s ready to tell him.

Todd’s face twitches. “Were you really ten?”

“Yes.” Dirk drums his fingers against his thigh a little anxiously. “I don’t remember where I was when they took me. It must have been America. I wasn’t born here, but we… got here, some way or another. I don’t remember how. That was one of the questions they’d ask me, how we got around, but they didn’t leave me with them long enough for me to have the answer. That was something of a recurring theme.”

“Did you ever try and find your parents?”

“No. If they didn’t come looking, they don’t want to find me. And the fae don’t… I’m not liked among them. They’ll never know, you see, how much I gave up to Blackwing. They don’t trust me or like me. I stay out of their spaces when I can. Maybe humanity doesn’t know what I am, but they don’t hate me for it.”

Todd has an odd look on his face. Dirk decides to ask a question of his own, genuinely curious.

“What was it like, finding out?”

“I…” Todd leans back into the couch a little. “A few days before Ken hacked in, Vogel was falling asleep, and he told me not to worry about you, he said you’d get treated better, and  when I asked why, he mumbled ‘because he’s the Fullblood’ before he fell asleep and I knew it meant something.”

Dirk feels a chill go up his spine. Something in his expression must suggest how he feels, and if there’s anything Todd’s doing, it’s studying him.

“That’s bad?”

“It always felt bad. Changelings and fae are different. Fae are. I don’t know how to.” He doesn’t know what to say.

“You don’t have to-“

“I want to.” He takes a deep breath. “Changelings are fae, yes, but being removed from that world at birth sort of… dulls their senses. They’re not quite what I am. And they noted that difference by referring to me as ‘Fullblood’. They assumed that I’d come willingly. I hadn’t, but they assumed because the rest of them had, which I didn’t know until this time. So the Rowdy Three in particular hated me, and that’s why they, you know. All of that. So when they said ‘Fullblood’ it reminded me that there was yet another world where I didn’t belong.” Dirk shakes his head a little. “So you knew it meant something.”

“Um. Yeah. And then Ken got his hands on the information. We’d just wanted base specs but somehow we pulled everything. And we talked for a while about whether or not it was an invasion of-“

“Vogel told me. It’s all right, by the way. You did what you had to do to get us out.”

Todd’s face becomes a shade lighter. “Thank you. So then we read the files.”

Dirk adjusts so he’s no longer cross legged, drawing his legs up to his chest so he can rest his chin on his knees. “Did you believe them?”

“I…”

“You can answer honestly.”

Todd sighs. “Amanda did. Farah and I were… skeptical, even after Vogel confirmed. We grew to believe them, especially after Riggins came into the picture and independently confirmed it.”

Dirk tenses slightly at Riggins’s name. Todd notices.

“What exactly went down between you and Riggins?”

Dirk hunches in on himself a little more.

“On the fourth day they held me, a man came in to talk to me. He told me to call him Scott. And I wouldn’t talk to him for a while, but eventually I did. I’d thought he might have not wanted to be there, you know? That he was only hanging around to keep an eye on us. I was  just projecting. That’s all that ever was. But he knew this, and he never made any effort to discourage this hope. I thought he was my friend. He acted like he was.” Dirk smiles a little bitterly. “Right up until I was fourteen and I found out he was in charge. I’ll never know what I revealed to him just because I was so… desperate for attention and for a friend, what I betrayed of my kind to him. I talked to him every day. I’ll never be able to remember. So I shouted at him, and then I didn’t say another word to him until he showed up here during the case.”

Todd’s still watching him closely. He doesn’t say anything for a few seconds, but takes Lawnmower off his lap and puts him on the couch. He gets up and sits next to Dirk.

“You were a kid,” he tells Dirk. “Who’d been kidnapped and put in a room with someone who was offering you kindness. You’re, Dirk, holy shit, you’re so not at fault here. That asshole is.”

Dirk looks at Todd in surprise. His jaw is clenched, eyes blazing.

He’s angry.

On Dirk’s behalf.

“It doesn’t change what happened,” he points out, even around the small candle that’s lit in his chest. “It doesn’t change what I did.”

“What you did was what any scared kid would have done, and it’s probably good that I didn’t know this shit when I was face to face with him, because then I would have punched him, and that probably wouldn’t have helped anybody.”

The candle turns into a campfire. Dirk looks at the floor with a small smile, and allows his body to go back into a cross legged position, mirroring Todd. They sit in silence for a moment.

“Can I ask another question?” Todd asks suddenly.

“You can ask as many as often as you want.”

“What does it feel like? The, the stream of creation thing?”

Dirk considers, trying to figure out how best to explain it. He’s never been successful even with himself.

“Give me your hand,” he settles on. Todd hesitates, then holds it out. Dirk takes it and puts Todd’s pointer and middle finger over his outstretched wrist, resting lightly on his pulse. Once he’s confident that Todd will keep it there, he takes his hand away.

“Do you feel that?” His voice has lowered a little. He’s not sure why, or sure why Todd’s fingers against his wrist has made his skin feel warmer.

“Yeah.” Todd’s voice is quieter, too.

“It’s… like that, in a way. It’s…” Dirk searches for the words. “The universe sings to me, to us, the fae and changelings. I can feel this singing all around. I feel it in the ground, and in the sky, and in the stars and planets, and just… everywhere. I don’t hear it, not really. I feel it. Like a pulse, all through my body. It vibrates and it reverberates right to the tips of my fingers. I can feel it… thrumming. And sometimes it sings louder than others, and it sings something specific. It sings to something within me, too. Something different to what’s within the Rowdy Three, and to Bart, and to all the others. It tells me something other than what it tells them.

“It’s never clear, exactly. The notes don’t line up right. They just point me in a direction and I go that way, because I’ve got no choice. The one time everything did line up, it was kneeling in front of Gordon Rimmer, and knowing I’d solved it. It was… clarion. I understood the song for the first time, really properly understood it. The thrumming made sense. I knew what the pulse meant. That’s what it’s like.”

“I think I understood that.”

“I know it’s a lot. You don’t have to… you can take some time to yourself. You don’t have to deal with all this and me at the same time.”

Todd doesn’t move his fingers. “I’m good. Someone’s got to make sure the universe doesn’t sing at you to wander in front of some idiot with a gun.”

That campfire grows yet again to a bonfire and Dirk grins again. “I don’t think I can promise that you’ll be enough to stand in the way of that.”

 

Todd must tell Farah that it’s all out in the open now, because a couple days later she and Dirk are walking through a sewer, he with a flashlight and she with a gun, Dirk trying to breathe through his nose as little as possible, when she suddenly says “you know it doesn’t matter to me, right?”

Dirk looks at her in confusion. “Being in a sewer? Because I’m pretty sure this should matter to you, it’s rather unpleasant.”

“No, I meant the, the-“ she reaches up with one hand and taps the point of her ears. “The thing.”

He’s startled. “Oh.”

“I mean, not that it doesn’t matter. It’s not weird. It is weird.” Farah shakes her head sharply. “It was something that took adjusting to, but you’re my friend, and you are who you are. So I’ve still got you covered, in whatever you need, and you’re still one of my best friends.”

Dirk’s touched. She stumbled on her way through it, but she’s sincere, and it means the world. “Thank you, Farah.”

She smiles a little shyly. “You’re welcome, Dirk.”

It is at that point, of course, that something that Dirk is reasonably confident is a sewer monster (but will actually turn out to be the young woman who’s been strangling people that they’ve been looking for) lurches out of the darkness, meaning Dirk screams and drops his flashlight and Farah does her best to shout and aim at something she can’t see properly.

He apologizes for the flashlight afterwards.

 

“Farah says that we can talk about the fact that you’re a goddamn faerie now,” Amanda says without preamble when Dirk picks up the phone just after feeding Lawnmower for the evening. “Is she right or should we go back to tiptoeing around it?”

Dirk grins. Sometimes it’s positively delightful how blunt Amanda can be. “We can talk about it.”

Awesome.” She sounds excited. “Is that why your eyes are pointed? How about why you eat like only healthy shit and give me a look every time I’m eating a bag of Funyuns? Do you have any other powers than a danger magnet?”

Dirk manages to tug his sweatpants on with the phone pressed to his ear. It’s odd. Now that he has the money to afford clothes that fit, he still has work clothes that fit, and even casual clothes that fit now for when he’s not on the clock. But he’s purchased baggy clothes once more to sleep in, and somehow it doesn’t feel like a step backwards, but a part of his new life. It’s marvelous.

“Yes, yes, and I’m not sure what you would define as powers.” Dirk lays on his bed.

“Can you really talk to animals?”

“Anyone can talk to animals, I caught your brother whispering to Lawnmower the other day about something or other, really I’m just disappointed I didn’t catch it on camera-“

Dirrrrrk.”

“Not really. Animals and I just… grasp each other.”

Cool.” He can hear her grinning. “Tell me more about my brother talking to cats, I want blackmail material.”

Dirk laughs.

He likes having friends.

 

There’s a plant in the office on the desk.

Dirk sort of wants to poke at it.

As it is, he’s kneeling in front of it, staring so up close that it’s more of a fuzzy green blur. The door opens and closes.

“Hello, Todd,” Dirk says without moving, assuming that he has returned from most likely the bathroom, as he had noticed Todd’s jacket on the chair in the corner before the mystery plant. Usually they walk in to work together, but today Todd had left a little earlier.

“Hi, Dirk. Why are you so close to the bonsai tree?”

“Is that what it’s called?”

“Yeah.”

“Interesting.”

“So?”

“I’m trying to divine the meaning behind it’s sudden arrival and who might have committed such an act.”

Todd sighs. “Get up, Dirk.”

Dirk hauls himself to his feet, still studying what he now knows is called a bonsai tree.

“It’s kind of… I just might… I could know who committed the, uh, bonsai act.”

“Really? Who is it?” He narrows his eyes at the plant. “It didn’t fly here, did it?”

“No. I, uh, I bought it.”

Dirk looks at Todd, startled. “You did?”

Todd goes red. “You told me a couple days ago that the air kind of feels cleaner when there’s plants around, right? There was this florist on the way to work and I just thought I’d stop in and. Look, I know it’s not going to help a lot, but I thought it might do something, and. It’s called a Golden Gate Ficus, I guess, and you can google how to take care of it and shit, unless you have an understanding with plants, too, I don’t know. Yeah.”

Dirk sort of feels like singing. He resists the impulse, instead beaming. “Thank you,  Todd.”

Todd goes even redder and shrugs awkwardly. Dirk pulls up his chair and sits in front of the tree. He delicately takes one of the leaves and rubs it between his fingers lightly enough that he doesn’t have to worry about it coming off the trees. It’s only one plant in a building made of the metal that quietly crawls underneath his skin, but he can still taste it, the whiff of something clean in a sea of stale air. He smiles softly at the plant.

“I’m going to name you Clementine,” he whispers.

“Not even a name that isn’t associated with another kind of plant?” Todd sounds resigned, but almost fond. He likes those types of friend things.

“No. Definitely Clementine.” It’s so green against his fingers. “Remember, you’ve got to call the Madisons and ask them about their dog.”

Todd groans a little. “I’m terrible at talking to people. Why do I have to be the one out of the two of us to do this?”

“Because you told me that I might be a good detective and able to make the grand connections-“ and that’s a memory Dirk’s going to hold tight until the day he dies, Todd offhandedly telling a client that he’s a good detective, like it was just a fact that could be tossed over one’s shoulder. “But I piss them off sometimes and that’s generally a bad tactic to employ with the people paying us.”

Todd makes a harrumphing noise that means he knows this but doesn’t wish to acknowledge it.

“And anyway, you’re not terrible at talking to people, you talk to me just fine.”

“Well yeah, you’re Dirk, that’s completely different.”

Dirk looks up from Clementine to see Todd flushing even redder than before.

“I mean, you’re more than a person, fuck, no, I didn’t really mean that either, hang on.”

“You know, humans don’t make sense, I’ve learned this over twenty years,” Dirk observes. “But this is weird by even your standards.”

“Fuck off, hang on.” He squeezes his eyes shut. “Other people can be hard to talk to. But you’re not, because you’re Dirk, and you don’t make sense all the time either, by the way, this isn’t just a humanity thing, but you’re a lot easier to talk to, and you’re just, you know, Dirk. So I can talk to you.” He opens his eyes. “Did that make sense?”

“I’m not sure,” Dirk admits. “I think whatever you were trying to say, it was nice of you, though.”

Todd sighs quietly. “Okay.” He heads into the other room to call the Madisons. Dirk rolls his chair back enough that he can rest his arms and his chin on the desk, gazing at the tree.

Todd had gotten him something that he’d thought might make him feel better.

Dirk leaves from the same building as he does, and he knows for a fact there’s no florists on the way.

Dirk smiles.

 

Affection is something Dirk has understood as a concept for a long time.

His memories of honest affection are faint, as all his memories before the first Blackwing are. He’s observed humans being affectionate with each other in the twenty years since. He knows what it’s like in principle. For a long time, his only real understanding was the false affection displayed by Riggins.

Now, however, he’s got a few different kinds of affection as examples to measure against  those.

Amanda’s type is boisterous and cheerful. She’ll throw her arms around Dirk when they see each other, kiss him on the cheek, excitedly tell him stories about what they've been up to. He’ll do the same, their time together often resulting in the two of them driving the Rowdy Three’s van around and stumbling across some kind of adventure.

Farah is brisk and tough but her fondnesses are soft. Sometimes her hands will flutter and her face will twitch when she’s trying to express her emotions, but she’ll mean every word that’s supposed to come out of her mouth. She’ll watch movies with Dirk and then have in depth discussions about them with him later.

Todd…

Todd’s affection is rough around the edges. He performs fond actions and then sometimes acts as though he is embarrassed by them, when in reality he is only embarrassed by showing feelings, being warm somehow hard for him to convey, even occasionally in private. But it’s there. It’s there so vastly in the actions he executes, even when he struggles to explain why he did them.

Riggins’s overtures of friendship were too smooth, Dirk can see in retrospect. Too oily. He’d never realized this before, that genuine fondness and caring could be so awkward and stilted, so varied in ways of being displayed, but there. So overwhelmingly there.

When Riggins had asked deeply personal questions about Dirk’s life, they had started with “do you want to tell me about”.

Todd’s start with “you don’t have to tell me”.

He know why he keeps circling around to Todd. It’s the same reason he always circles around to Todd, that he feels like he glows stronger around him than Amanda or Farah. That he feels a singing other than the one he’s grown accustomed to, that he feels that odd fire, candle to inferno, sometimes when Todd smiles at him or mentions things he likes about Dirk.

He knows this reason, but he doesn’t say it out loud, or even try to think about it very much.

Dirk has friends now, and he likes it, likes Todd. Much more than he should, really. He’d much prefer Todd’s friendship to that likelihood that Todd wouldn’t feel similarly. It’s not an option he has to weigh.

 

“How’d you pick Dirk Gently, anyway?” Todd asks as Dirk waters Clementine. “Where did that come from?”

“Well, Gently came first, I just sort of rifled through ‘ly’ words until I got an intuition about one and it stuck. And then I was frustrated one day, so I started throwing letters together and then Dirk came out of that.”

“Huh. Hey, did you know that a dirk is also a weapon?”

“I did, Bart mentioned it. I’d never heard it before, and then-“ Dirk hears how his voice changes, something a little steelier and sharper. “I thought I rather liked being a weapon that was mine and not theirs.”

Todd stares as Dirk puts the small watering can in a cabinet, then seems to mentally shake himself out of whatever he was thinking. “I’m glad that’s the weapon you landed on. There’s a lot of other ones you could have chosen that would be so much clunkier. Semi-Automatic Gently or something.”

“Mace Gently might have worked,” Dirk suggests.

“Trebuchet Gently less so.”

“Trebuchet Gently would have been an excellent detective name.”

“It’s okay.” Todd ignores that last very valid point. “I’d still- be friends with you, if you were Bazooka Gently.”

He stumbles over it slightly after “I’d still”, but Dirk doesn’t dwell on this, having abruptly realized that the gentleman they’re pursuing blew the building up with a bazooka. There are more important things to deal with, and Todd stumbles over his words often enough around him anyway.

 

“You do know what goes into those?” Dirk asks distastefully as Todd eats a Baconator from Wendy’s in the seat next to him.

“Nope,” Todd answers, unrepentant. “But I assume it’s not good.”

“Ugh.” Dirk takes another bite of pizza from the organic pizza he’d gone to while Todd picked up his fast food. Food from organic places taste less fucked with than others. “I can’t tell if this complete and remorseless willful blindness to whatever’s being put in your food is a human thing or an American thing.”

“Probably some from column A, some from column B.” Todd takes a sip of his Frosty and Dirk rolls his eyes.

They’re on a stakeout in front of the office of the woman they’re investigating in their beat up station wagon. Todd had picked it up once they had the money, going to a used car lot and getting it for cheap on account of it having quite a few dents in it and being a little over ten years old. The woman’s working late nights these days, so the two of them are propped up in their car, waiting.

“Listen, I’m not denying that certain foods that have been treated all to hell can be tasty time and again, but that is saturated with chemicals you know nothing about.”

“And never will know, because I can’t taste them the same way you do.”

Ugh.”

They’re quiet for a moment, Todd somehow assuming that Dirk doesn’t see the grin he’s directing out his window, Dirk pretending it doesn’t make him ache a little.

“You don’t have to answer this,” he says abruptly.

“I know,” Dirk replies just as swiftly. It’s their ritual at this point, Todd always making it clear he doesn’t need to show any parts of himself that he wouldn’t rather be private, Dirk always assuring him that he knows what’s his is his, unless he wants it to be Todd’s, too.

“Is there stuff you can do other than the intuitions and I guess the animals thing?”

“I…” Dirk had been waiting for this question, but still doesn’t know if he has an answer. “Yes.”

“Do you do it?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Because…” Dirk taps his fingers on the steering wheel. “Because that’s what they wanted me for, primarily, I think, back at Blackwing. So I just sort of… kept it buried. And I’ve kept it buried ever since. Not even in the face of using it to get out either times. Because I don’t want to tap into something other people want for me if I can help it. I can’t think of any situation that I would.”

The quiet that follows feels long, where Dirk can’t really look at Todd. Will he be upset that he might have been able to get out of Blackwing on his own, without the others having to figure out a way to get him free? He’s going to stick to his guns on this, but he doesn’t want to fight.

“Well,” Todd says, just flippantly enough that it sounds a little deliberate. “Not to worry. I can fight back against assholes you’d need to use that shit on for you. I’m a good shining knight.”

The quip loosens the knot tight in Dirk’s stomach and he smiles at Todd. “I know.”

“I wasn’t being serious about that last part.”

“I was.”

Once more Todd grins at his window, and Dirk grins at the windshield, feeling a lot happier than he had a couple minutes ago.

 

“I don’t like this,” Farah tells Amanda a couple weeks later as the four of them approach the empty building. “You’re not trained in anything that could protect you if something bad happens in there.”

“Yeah, but neither are they, and I have a baseball bat, while they are generally useless,” Amanda points out.

“That’s… true. Okay.”

Amanda’s visiting for a little while, the Rowdy Three off doing something else. Dirk didn’t ask, only said hello and allowed Martin to ruffle his hair as usual, having this time come prepared with a comb. She’d asked if she could come with them on their investigative work to this large abandoned factory building, and Dirk had enthusiastically agreed, thinking it sounded like fun.

“We’re not useless,” Dirk objects. “Todd has brass knuckles in his pocket. And he’s punched more people than I have.”

Amanda and Farah both give him an identical unimpressed look.

“Exactly how many people have you punched, Dirk?” Farah sounds like she already knows the answer.

Dirk hesitates. “None,” he confesses. “That I can remember, of course, there’s a possibility I might have hit someone and can’t remember it.”

“Cool. So that means my brother’s punched more than a guy who might have walloped one guy, but he’s pretty sure he hasn’t, and Todd’s punched like, four guys, three of whom while he was drunk.”

“That leaves me with one I still punched sober,” Todd mutters.

“All right, let’s split up.” Farah takes her gun out. “I’ll go with Amanda, you go with Todd, call me if you find anything interesting.”

They part, Dirk cheerfully taking his standard position of flashlight wielder. He and Todd wander through the rooms, surveying the papers strewn across the floors, the empty beer cans, the graffiti on the walls.

“This is almost nostalgic, in a way,” Dirk comments, looking around.

“How?”

“Well, I didn’t always have enough money for a hotel, sometimes it came down to a hotel or food and it was about fifty/fifty, which I’d choose, so from time to time I saw places like this.”

Todd’s got that expression on his face that Dirk’s come to associate with him being unhappy about the way Dirk’s life has been, at one point or another in time.

“Oh, don’t worry, it wasn’t that often, it was only just when I was hungrier than I wanted a  bed.”

The look gets worse.

Really-“

Dirk doesn’t get to continue, because someone rushes out of the shadows at them, knocking Dirk over with a shout. Todd takes a swing, but the guy punches Todd and sends him sprawling. The man pulls out a gun and points it at Dirk. He can see Todd shaking his head to clear it and trying to stagger back to his feet, but even though he’s not that far off, he won’t be able to get here in the time to stop this man from pulling the trigger-

A blur charges out of nowhere and it’s this man’s time to get hit in the face. He staggers back, landing against the wall. He stares, then bolts.

Dirk, meanwhile, is gaping at the blur that is no longer blurry as Todd approaches them. “Who the fuck are you?” Todd pants as Farah and Amanda come running up, rubbing his  jaw a little and wincing.

Dirk recovers his tongue.

Thor?” he demands. Thor, who is wearing the same human clothes he’d had on the last time Dirk saw him and had been glaring angrily after the man with the gun, looks down at Dirk, face brightening.

“Dirk Gently! Hello again! Would you like some assistance up?”

“I would, thank you.”

Thor holds out his hand. Dirk takes it, and is promptly lifted to his feet with no help needed from himself to get there.

“May I hug you, Dirk Gently?”

“Yes, of course.”

Thor immediately lifts Dirk up in a hug. Dirk returns the embrace, grinning. It’s been some years, but he’s thought of him often enough over that time, and he’s delighted that he gets to see him again.

Thor sets him down gently.

“It is good to see you once more, my friend.”

“And you, Thor.”

“When you say Thor,” Amanda says carefully. “Do you mean some giant hunky blond dude with a hammer on his back you know named Thor, or Thunder God Thor?”

“The second one.” Dirk picks up his flashlight and shines it on Todd’s jaw. “Are you all  right?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you sure? He hit you rather hard.”

“Don’t worry about it, I’m fine.”

You know the Thunder-

“Can we get out of this building containing shadows I can’t see people coming at us in first?” Farah interrupts.

“This makes a great deal of sense, madam,” Thor agrees. They walk out of the building into bright sunlight again. Dirk squints.

“Since when do you know a god?” Todd asks, looking vaguely dismayed, no doubt thanks to the crack on the jaw he'd just received.

“I told you that I did.”

“Yeah,” he mutters. “You also told me that he wasn’t as hot as people say he is.”

Thor laughs uproariously. Dirk sees the slap to the back coming and tightens his legs for it in time so he doesn’t fall over. “Ah, our little joke! Well met, Dirk Gently.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he answers loftily, unable to keep the laugh fully out of his voice. “You’re not unattractive, I suppose, but you’re certainly nothing noteworthy, I keep trying to tell you. Why are you even here, how did you find us?”

“I am seeking a matter of vital interest to myself, and thought I would investigate this factory, much as you did. I stumbled across these two young ladies, who mentioned they had come with friends. I came upon the sound of your shout, and then it turned out that it had been yourself! Perhaps we seek the same wrongdoer once more.”

“Two supernatural creatures.” Amanda looks awed, although it might have something to do with Thor’s arms, which she has been staring at unashamedly since they left the factory. “What a team up. Fucking amazing.”

Thor blinks at Dirk. “These humans know of what you are?”

“They do. This is Farah, Amanda, and Todd, we all work together at my detective agency, well, except for Amanda, she’s more of a tourist than anything, owwww.” Dirk rubs his shoulder and gives Amanda a look as she withdraws her fist. “That was unnecessary.”

“Yeah, well, tourist my ass.”

“You have your detective agency!” Thor looks delighted. “This is splendid news, little  fae!”

Dirk beams. “It is, isn’t it?”

“Would you permit me to again accompany you on your adventure, little fae?”

“Of course.”

“Delightful! I am glad to spend more time in your company, for it could not have been more than seven days I was with you last.”

Todd still looks unhappy. Dirk’s thinking about asking him why, when Thor gives him one of those widely affectionate smiles he has.

“In truth, my friend, I did not recognize you! Your hair was of a much greater length when last we met.”

Dirk feels his eyes bulge and he hits Thor repeatedly in one of his large arms. “Whatever you want in exchange for this information going no further,” he hisses. “I will pay it.”

“You had long hair?” Todd looks a little startled as well as dejected now.

“It was not long-“

“It could not have been too much longer than mine, could it not?”

“It was…” Dirk flounders. “A little shorter, actually, thank you for that.”

“Indeed, his ties to hold the locks sure were of the brightest colors one had ever laid eyes upon. He would oft twist them into a bun at the back of his head with those same ties to keep them out of his way, and strands would come undone and hang about his face when he was trying to focus.”

“When did this stop?” Todd looks less surprised now and more something Dirk can’t define, but isn’t the unhappiness that it’s mixed with.

“The Patrick Spring case, of course, when I had the money to actually get it cut shorter.”

“One time I placed one of your inked writing utensils, I believe you call them ‘ballpoints’, into his bun to see how long it would be until the little fae noticed. It was hours before he observed it.”

An hour and a half,” Dirk says loudly, wishing Thor would stop making him sound like such a mess. “Does not constitute hours.”

“Were you adorable?” Amanda asks.

“How should I know whether or not I was-“

“He was!” Thor answers cheerfully. “He did not wear these clothes he currently sports, either. He wore these black shorts with the short sleeves and those same blue pants that you three all wear that were really…” Thor seems to get lost in thought for a moment. “Very tight.”

“Jeans.” Todd sounds a little strangled. “They’re called jeans.”

“Aye, them.”

“This is the best day of my life,” Amanda whispers.

“There is no need to continue this line of discussion,” Dirk says.

 

“Your kitten is mighty,” Thor tells Dirk as he lies on his floor, Lawnmower on his chest. Dirk had offered him the couch to sleep on but he had declined, saying it was easier to sprawl this way.

“Yes,” Dirk agrees, lying on his bed. “He’s also a shark.”

“This cat is a shark? Are they not traditionally speaking two different animals?”

“It’s a complicated story involving our first case.”

Thor looks Lawnmower in the eye. “Be what you wish, friend. You shall face no judgement from me.” He scratches the cat’s head. “You are no longer adrift in the universe with none to tie you down, little fae.”

“I know. There’s others you haven’t met, too, they’ve had similar things done to them like I had done to me, I have them, too.”

“Farah seems like an excellent ally in combat and a true friend, as does Amanda. Todd seems… cantankerous.”

“He was a little cranky today,” Dirk admits. “But he isn’t always. I mean, he is, sort of, actually, he’s a naturally irritable person. But he’s less so, usually.” Dirk’s still not sure what’s up with him. Thor’s giving him this thoughtful look. “What?”

“The one you call Todd. You seem extremely fond of him.”

“Well, I’m fond of all my friends, you know, it’s-“

“Come now, little fae. Let us not lie to one another.”

Dirk sighs. “Yes.”

“Would it be safe to assume that perhaps you are extremely fond of him in a way that a man would not feel for another they considered a brother, but perhaps in a way one man might feel should he wish to take another as a partner?”

Dirk takes a moment to replay the sentence in his head and make sure he understands it, then nods. “Yes, I think it would be fair to make that assumption.”

“I have known of human/fae relationships in my time. It can work out favorably, but oft there are humans who do not understand their companion’s powers, or can be jealous-“

“Todd’s not like that,” Dirk interrupts, a little sharply. “He doesn’t want what I can do. He thinks it’s weird, yes, but he knows it’s part of me. He doesn’t understand, but he knows he doesn’t have to. He cares about me, and he knows that’s enough.” Todd might not feel the same way as Dirk, and Dirk might be a churning mass of insecurities at time, but if he knows anything, he knows this.

Thor’s gaze seems to be a mixture of sad and compassionate. “You have fallen deep, little fae.”

Dirk’s shoulders slump even though he’s lying down. “I know.”

“In truth, he seems so greatly irascible that I cannot picture the two of you together, as you are one of the most cheerful and warm people I have come to know in my travels. But you have worked together for some time now, and you would know him better than I, and as always, I defer to your judgement.” Thor’s voice turns a little sadder somehow. “All our acquaintance, the only thing I have wanted is to ensure your happiness, little fae.”

Dirk smiles a little sadly himself. “I know. Thank you, Thor.”

 

“Where did the small yet noble tree come from, perchance?” Thor asks a couple days later when they’re still working the case. Todd and Farah are investigating a lead, so it’s just the two of them in the office at the moment.

Dirk brightens, looking up from his phone. There is at this point nothing to be done until the two of them get back, so Dirk’s trying to beat Amanda at Words With Friends. “That’s Clementine! Todd bought her for me. He knows the air feels a little cleaner to me when I’ve got plants in the room.”

“He did?”

“Yes, and he helped me pick out both Daisy and Laurel back at my apartment and paid for the second one.” The two of them had gone to the florist together recently to look at their options. They’d bickered about who was letting who pay for what. Eventually they’d agreed that Todd would take the gardenia and Dirk the moth orchid.

Thor looks a little surprised. “That was mighty kind of him.”

Dirk smiles fondly. “It was.”

Todd and Farah come in. Todd glances at Thor and gives him a short nod. Thor does the same. The two of them seem wary and uncertain around each other. Dirk pegs it down to Thor not enjoying how abrasive Todd’s nature can be sometimes, and Todd being a little unnerved by the presence of a god.

Dirk walks up to Todd while he’s hanging his jacket. “Are you all right?” he asks in a low voice. “You’ve been a little off lately. Is it the pararibulitis? Can I do anything?”

“No, it’s fine. I’ve just been… tired.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

“We were just admiring Clementine.”

The sort of curt expression on Todd’s face turns into a smile. “Yeah?”

“Yes. She’s doing very well.” Dirk’s face, he knows, mirrors Todd’s. “The air tastes a little more like sunshine.”

Todd’s face softens a little, looking at him with that quiet warmth he gets sometimes. It does funny things to Dirk’s chest. “I’m glad.”

“So we have stuff on Masterson,” Farah says, having dumped her bag in the corner and conferred quietly with Thor. Todd and Dirk go back to them, Dirk hopping on the desk to sit. Thor leans against it next to him, folding his arms. Todd immediately does the same on his other side.

“Excellent.” Dirk beams at her. “Do tell.”

 

“You and Thor are close for having known each other only a week in the past,” Todd comments while he and Dirk are going through the papers he and Farah obtained. Thor, Farah, and Amanda have gone to get everyone takeout for the long night.

“Well, yes.” Dirk sorts another into the “this looks boring and is therefore probably important” pile. “He knew what I was on sight, you know, he was the first person to know who I was and not want anything in return for knowing since Blackwing. My first assistant, you see. Not my favorite assistant, of course, but certainly my first.”

“Oh.” Todd’s got that blank look on his face he wears when he doesn’t like something and is trying to hide it. It’s a pity he and Thor have rubbed each other the wrong way. “Who’s your favorite?”

“You, of course.”

Todd pauses in sorting his stack of the papers. “Really?”

“Obviously. You’re my best friend and you know me better than anyone. Quite frankly, you’re my favorite person to spend time with. Why wouldn’t it be you?”

For a moment, Dirk’s scared he’s tipped his hand, that everything he’s said has made it too clear how he feels when it comes to Todd. Then Todd grins and the feeling melts away.

“You’re my best friend, too, asshole.” He pushes Dirk’s messy stack of papers away from his neat one. “Don’t get any spillover.”

 

Dirk’s not sure if he imagines it or not, but somehow things seem to become slightly easier after that between Todd and Thor.

 

A week and a half later, they have wrapped the case, and no one even got shot this time, which is always nice. The five of them stand on a street corner together.

“It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance, friends,” Thor says, kissing Farah and Amanda’s hands and shaking Todd’s.

“Thank you for all your help,” Farah says.

“Same to you,” Todd answers, maybe a little stiffly still.

“It was totally awesome to meet you,” Amanda answers. “If you ever want to text me a picture of your muscles, I’d be cool with that.”

Thor turns to Dirk and, as before, kisses his hand. “May the sun smile on all your ventures, Dirk Gently, and may all you wish for be yours. Let us discover each other in the future once more.”

Dirk smiles. “It was good to see you, too.”

Thor straightens and walks off into the crowds.

“That was nice,” Dirk says, turning to the others. “It’s been a few years since I’d seen  him.”

“Dude,” Amanda tells him. “He was totally into you.”

“What? Nonsense. He just enjoys my company.”

“No.” Farah shakes her head. “Definitely into you. Right, Todd?”

“Yes,” Todd agrees shortly.

“Preposterous.”

“Are you into him, too?” Todd’s voice has an edge to it, Dirk presumes due to protectiveness.

“Of course not. He’s a very nice man, but only my friend. And he feels the same, I assure you.”

Amanda rolls her eyes. Farah shakes her head. Todd looks, inexplicably, relieved.

 

The nets bite

The loss

Everything is culminating

Biting biting biting

Pressing into his skin

Burning

Burning all over

He keeps screaming but they won’t stop they won’t let him go why won’t they let him go he’s about to lose everything and the burning won’t stop

Dirk wakes up with a gasp, grasping at the sheets. He can’t remember where he is. He can’t remember what is happening.

“…you okay?”

Dirk turns his head. Todd’s sitting on his couch, files spread over his coffee table, looking concerned.

He’s in Todd’s apartment. They are working a case. Dirk was exhausted from a late night last night. He took a short nap on Todd’s bed so he could keep going for this case. He is not wearing Blackwing gray. He is wearing a heathered blue tee shirt with “The Beatles” in their band logo on it and heathered gray sweatpants, which is a different kind of gray than Blackwing gray. His name is Dirk Gently. He’s not there anymore. He’s here.

Todd’s still waiting on an answer.

“I. Um. Well. Not quite.” Dirk presses the heels of his palms into his eyes like maybe he can push the thoughts so far back into his brain that he’ll never be able to find them again. “It’s not very. I don’t know.”

“You can tell me if you want.”

Dirk pulls his hands away to look at Todd in vague surprise.

“I mean.” Todd gets all stuttery like he does sometimes. “I obviously don’t know whatever it is you’re dealing with here, but, uh, I can at least listen, if nothing else.”

Dirk thinks about it, then slowly moves so he’s sitting up on the edge of the bed, feet resting on the floor, palms down on the edge as well.

“I had a nightmare.”

He doesn’t even get a no shit from Todd, who’s put the files on the table and is watching him, the picture of patience and attentiveness. Seeing that is enough to bolster Dirk to continue.

“My people, we’re… I suppose you’d call it allergic to iron. Being in cities can make it tricky, because there’s so much here, but it’s also so diluted with other things that it’s just sort of… an itch under your skin, easily ignored, once you’ve had the practice. But real 100% iron, it’s bad for us. It burns us pretty badly if there’s direct contact. If there’s too much contact, it’ll scar. And when they captured me, they used iron nets.

“When I have the nightmares, it’s not just the nets. I gained a lot coming here, I have my the agency and Bart and Ken and the Rowdy Three and Farah and Amanda and you, and they’re all wonderful. But I also lost a great deal. A world I can’t even recall right anymore. I can’t remember what my parents looked like, and I may not care for them that much, but I would still like that memory. I don’t remember my home, and I’ve forgotten all the names of the months of my people. I lost an entire world, and I didn’t grasp it at the time, not really, but I know in the nightmare, I know it so acutely. But the nets…” Dirk looks down at his hands, unblemished by burn scars. “Those are what I come back to. How they burned and they bit. Every time.” He smiles mirthlessly. “I remember I had a nightmare about them once at Blackwing not long before one of Riggins’s visits. I told him about it. I can’t imagine he cared, but he pretended to.”

He looks back up at Todd, expecting pity. What he sees instead is anger, anger for what’s been done to Dirk, and it takes him off guard every time, always surprises him. But there’s something else there, too, lurking behind his eyes, and he gets an intuition abruptly. Todd knows something more than he’s telling.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“Liar, I know. What is it?”

Todd’s lips thin. Dirk waits.

“In the files we read when we were about to get you out,” he finally says. “They mentioned the nets. We didn’t know what they meant and it didn’t occur to us to ask Vogel.”

Dirk forgets sometimes that Todd might not have the experiences he does, but when it comes to basic facts, Todd knows a lot of his life as well as he does. But that’s not all, so he’s quiet still.

“We found the authorization form to allow the nets to be used.” Todd’s nails are digging into his thighs. “Riggins is the one who signed off on them.”

The world drops and twists and spins.

“Oh,” he can barely hear himself say vaguely. “Yes. I suppose he would have been.”

The world stops spinning, only to crack, splinter, and shatter.

Dirk’s not sure why this is hitting him so hard. He must have known this somewhere. It makes sense. Of course Riggins would have been the one to approve the use of the nets. Who else would have? And yet he thinks he might be close to tears, and his world is lost to him right now.

Dirk remembers running his fingers absentmindedly over the burns on his hands that first meeting with Riggins. They had still been there. He can’t remember if Riggins had commented on them at all. It was a very long time ago, but he feels like he should. He can’t recall if he’d given anything resembling an apology. He’s fairly certain he didn’t. He remembers telling Riggins about the nightmare he’d had about the nets. He’d said he was sorry about the nightmares, but never about what had caused them.

Riggins kidnapped him. Authorized something that made him scream in agony. And he still came to Dirk to be his friend. Listened to the nightmares he'd had, sympathizing like he wasn’t the cause, said he was sorry that they existed. He asked Dirk his name, like he’d had any right to it. There’s only one person Dirk’s considered telling his name to, still considering. And Riggins had asked it of him.

Riggins never interacted with Dirk unless he wanted anything. He’d come to see him every day, true. Sometimes it was to harvest facts to aid the research in Blackwing from the only fae there. But other times it was because he thought treating Dirk more like a person than he did with the others might ease his guilt about what he was doing, perhaps cure him of it. He’d realized that some time ago. Like if he treated Dirk as well as he thought he could while still keeping him captive, everything he was doing was okay.

He doesn’t care if it worked or not. It’s not his job to make someone feel better about doing the wrong thing. It’s not in his thirties. It wasn’t in his tens and teens.

Dirk thinks about how he told Riggins that the iron in the walls made him uncomfortable, and him saying that he couldn’t do anything about that, when in reality he knew what he was doing constructing the base.

Dirk remembers telling him about the processed food making him sick and Riggins changing his food, acting like it was some generous thing he’d been doing, how grateful he was to him for it.

He thought he had known everything Riggins had done to him. This means he didn’t. Which means there might be more stuff he doesn’t know. More stuff he’ll never know. The scope of what has been inflicted on him is vaster than he might ever comprehend.

Dirk doesn’t want to know these things anymore. He doesn’t want these experiences, he doesn’t want to do any of this anymore. He wants his detective agency, and his friendships with Farah and Amanda, and he wants Todd, always, and he doesn't want anything else, just wants to let it sail on down a river until he can't see it anymore and then maybe all his shit will leave him the fuck alone for the rest of his life.

Fuck being defined by his past. He doesn’t want to even remember these things. He wants that time machine back, so he can go back and rescue that lonely child he was in a cell with someone claiming to be a friend and using him for information and absolution. Dirk's clung to the idea that he may not like his experiences, but without them he doesn't have his friends or Todd, so he wouldn't get rid of them, if he had the choice. He knows maybe he'll have that idea again, later. But right now? He wants all of it gone. He'd use that goddamn time machine into infinity, knowing he couldn't change a thing, continuing to try just in case.

All these stupid, wonderful things he can do, things that don’t belong in the world he lives in, and Dirk can’t even fix what’s been done to him.

He has Todd, which is more than he ever could have dreamed of.

But.

Dirk can't do this anymore. He can't do this anymore, and he won't do this anymore, and if he keeps doing this, keeps dragging this shit behind him like he's hauling more weights than he can count, he's going to scream and he's never going to stop and he won't ever be able to fix these things. Not a damn one.

Dirk vaguely knows his hands are resting on top of the bed and shaking. Not just his hands but his whole body. He knows sort of that his teeth are grit tight.

He’s suddenly aware that Todd is standing, no doubt because he wants to leave Dirk in privacy to fall apart on his own, thinking it’s the kind thing to do. But it’s not. He doesn’t know  almost anything anymore, but he knows that he needs him here. He needs someone else in this room who will see him, observe him, know he’s a real person who exists. It’s not like when he was observed in his cell at the second Blackwing. It’s knowing that even though he’s still broken, he is cared for and about. In his own right, as a person, not as a fae who has forgotten what he knew about his own people.

Blackwing knew what he was.

Todd knows who he is.

“Don’t,” he croaks. “Please.”

Todd stops. He stands awkwardly for a moment, then sits next to Dirk. “What can I do?” he asks eventually.

“I don’t know,” Dirk whispers, choked with all the tears that somehow refuse to come out. “I can’t make decisions anymore.”

He hasn’t spiraled like this since finding out who Riggins truly was, sitting on the floor of his cell scratching at the floors, feeling suffocated by a world he wasn’t supposed to always live in, and by people he should have known better than to trust. He's had panic attacks. But this isn't that. This is profound and deep loss and rage and hurt and fear, all swirling at once, all slamming on every door in his mind with a battering ram, every single door perilously close to breaking.

They sit quietly for a moment.

Then suddenly, there’s a hand covering his. Dirk starts a little, both at being reminded he has a physical body, but also because it’s Todd doing it. He’s not a man who’s given to physical displays of affection. Dirk will hug everyone, would cheerfully hold hands with his friends if it wasn’t considered odd, but Todd’s body is kept to himself, almost tightly sometimes. He’s not sure the two of them have ever hugged, the most notable example of physical contact he can think of being Todd putting bandaids on him in the woods during the Patrick Spring case close to a year ago. It’s never bothered Dirk; people are what they are and he has no right to police them just because they react to something differently than he does when it’s not going to hurt anybody.

It’s warm. It’s grounding.

Dirk moves his hand up so that the back of it is pressed slightly against Todd’s palm. Todd’s hand is still for maybe a minute. Then his fingers slowly curl a little around Dirk’s hand. Another minute, and Todd’s almost hesitantly moving his thumb back and forth just a bit on his palm.

"I might not get it," he says quietly, the first time anyone has spoken since he told Dirk about the nets. "And I might not ever get it, and I might disagree with you on some things, but I have your back. I always have your back.”

Dirk feels those words suddenly. Names have power. These aren't names. But Todd has just made an oath with every inch of himself, all the way through. Oaths have a certain power, too. Dirk can feel that power resonate, ripple out and ring within him. Todd is not just signing himself on to protect him even from his memories, but to do it as long as he could. He had meant every word. He can sense it just as clearly as the song of the cosmos. He’s not sure what he would have done if Todd hadn’t meant it. Perhaps he wouldn’t even be able to tell. He’s never had an oath sworn to him before.

It’s a tether. It doesn't pull him back all the way. Just a few inches. But that he can feel what this means, the power behind it. This means he doesn't resent his abilities anymore, not for right now. Because he wouldn’t have known this if he didn’t have them.

Dirk pushes his hand up a little further. He doesn’t know if letting Todd know what he had just done would scare him at all, isn’t sure how much he could put it into words anyway, isn’t sure he can even speak yet, other emotions clogging his throat now. But he wants him to somehow know that he is moved, or at least that he appreciates it. Todd’s hand tightens around his and his thumb is still moving, so he thinks he might get the message.

There’s been people he could save or help. He’s had an abundance of cases in the past few months, and he could save Lydia Spring. Blackwing broke him in a lot of ways, but he’s been putting himself back together.

Dirk has things that matter. He has people that matter. He has one person in particular that matters most of all, who is still holding his hand, even though he never initiates bodily contact, because he thought it might make Dirk feel better.

It’s dangerous, fae knowing what they’re capable of. And admittedly, Dirk isn’t sure he could, but he knows for Todd, if he wanted the world, he’d try and give it to him. All he’d have to do is ask.

Isn’t it lucky, then, that he loves someone who’d never ask? What a blessing it is that it was Todd that was the one he found, and not anyone else.

(And yes, he thinks he can think that now, what he’s been resolutely pushing away for a long time, sitting next to this man who has sworn to stay by his side like it was just a fact and nothing at all)

Dirk swallows.

“I’m really glad I didn’t forgive him the last time we saw him,” he whispers, not sure how that’s the first thing that comes out of his mouth.

“I’m kind of disappointed I didn’t know this shit when we saw him, cause then I would have tried to kick his ass.”

Dirk knows Todd isn’t joking, but he laughs a little wetly anyway. He tentatively puts his head on Todd’s shoulder. He doesn’t shrug it off.

They don’t get any more work done that night.

 

Dirk made the decision that night, really, even if he hadn’t been aware of it consciously, right when Todd said he had his back. He recognizes it in the morning, when he wakes up in Todd’s bed to Todd asleep on the couch, turned towards him still. Dirk remembers lying drowsy in the bed, teetering on the edge of sleep, but still aware of Todd’s gaze, watching him, like maybe he was making sure that he would see if Dirk has another nightmare or breakdown, so he could beat either one off all on his own somehow. He looks at Todd, and he knows. It’s almost like the decision has been made for him. He doesn’t mind.

Dirk doesn’t do it right then. He’s vacillating about how and when he wants to do it, how he wants to sit Todd down to do it, how he wants to say it, what sort of speech he should give. It takes three days to figure it out. Todd, Farah, and Dirk had all had dinner together at Todd’s apartment while discussing a case, Todd making tacos for them. Farah had gone home, but Dirk stayed to help with the dishes. He is suddenly, blindingly convinced that this is the right moment. It’s not an intuition. It doesn’t have to be. He almost wants to whisper, but instead he decides to say it out loud. There is no one else here to whisper for.

“Svlad Cjelli,” he says, into the companionable quiet.

“Pardon?” Todd asks a little absentmindedly, scrubbing hard at a piece of food from a dish he’d used the night before that had dried on and evidently didn’t want to leave.

“My name. My real one, the given one. Svlad Cjelli.”

Todd’s hands stop. He looks at Dirk. It’s clear that he knows what this means. That he’s the most trusted out of anyone Dirk’s ever known. He doesn’t seem able to speak for a moment.

He clears his throat. “I like it,” he tells him. “I mean, I don’t know anything about, you know, the names you could have had that your people would have given you. But it’s still a nice name, and I like it.” He smiles at Dirk, a little shakily. “Thank you.”

Dirk smiles back. “You’re welcome,” he answers, and turns his head to go back to drying his dish and hide that he feels a little teary.

Todd’s a mess a lot of the time. He has trouble expressing emotions, and sometimes he says them wrong, and he gets angry quickly. He missteps then and again.

But sometimes he knows exactly what to say.

He’s having a good run.

 

“You deal with the freakiest shit,” Bart observes after Dirk’s done telling her about one of their cases involving a box of dandelion heads that didn’t die and bubble wrap.

“That’s true,” Dirk agrees. “But in all fairness, I have seen you kill people in very strange and roundabout ways, so in a way, so do you.”

“Hm. I can give you that.”

Bart and Dirk don’t see each other much, but they text often (Bart having taken a little while getting into the swing of it) and she and Ken have popped up in Seattle a few times. Today is one such occasion. Ken, Farah, and Todd have disappeared to do “normal people things that don’t involve the will of the universe and dead people”.

Dirk and Bart are lying in the grass in a park together. Bart doesn’t feel the itch of these cities the way he does, being in some form of nature not as cleansing for her as it is for him. But she feels both these things enough that she is relaxed here. There are still buildings all around them, but he can still feel the grass and the trees scattered through the park seeping into his bones. It’s good.

They’re quiet for a bit, just enjoying each other’s company. “I told Todd my name,” he says suddenly.

“Really? It’s been a year, you kinda think he’d have learned it by now.”

“No, not that one. My birth one.”

Bart sits up on her elbows a little, looking down at him. “Wait. Seriously?”

“Mm-hm.”

“Jesus.” Bart flops back down. “Speaking of crazy shit.”

“It’s not that crazy. Wouldn’t you tell Ken yours, if your situation was like mine?”

She thinks about it, then grins a little. “Yeah, I would.”

“There you go.”

“Still, though. Lotta power to hand over to someone.”

“He won’t use it in any way he shouldn’t.”

Bart turns her head towards him. “Do you really love this guy? The one with the music shirts?”

“I know you know his name, you would have even if I hadn’t just said it.”

Bart waves it off, looking at him expectantly.

“Yes, I do.”

“Huh.” She thinks about it, then turns her head back up to gaze at the sky. “Well, he seems like a nice guy, so I guess it’s all right.”

Dirk bumps his foot into hers. “Thank you for looking out for me.”

“Yeah, yeah. Tell anyone and I’ll deny it and also say you stole shit from me.”

“Seems like a good arrangement.”

 

It is honestly incredible, the amount to which Dirk does not want to do this.

“We don’t have to,” Todd tells him as they walk down the street.

“He’s got the intelligence we need for the case and he told us to meet him here,” he mutters. “We’ve got no choice.”

Dirk stops in front of a bar lit up in neon. He looks up at the sign, a little forlorn and nervous.

“The last fae bar I went to didn’t look like this,” he says. “It was a little more tavern like. Probably a little dirtier, too.”

“I didn’t know you’d been to one.”

“Mm, maybe six years ago or so. They all looked at me trepidatiously so I went back to my hotel room, threw up a bit, and went to bed. Don’t try and fight everyone in here,” he adds, knowing by now Todd’s default reaction to hearing something upsetting from his past, vaguely or otherwise. “Yes, they won’t like me, but they are quite a bit more powerful than you are and I won’t have you getting your ass kicked.”

Todd makes a slightly disgruntled noise. “How come I can see this? Other humans can’t,  right?”

“No, but you’re with me. Things change.” Dirk holds his hand out. “Give me your hand.”

“What? Why?”

“Because you’re a human going into a fae bar, and you’re going to be the only one in there. They’re going to be fascinated by you, and they already don’t like me so they’d be looking for a reason to get back at me, and they would do that by spiriting you away somewhere, so I’d like to ensure that you’ll be by my side. I know physical contact isn’t your favorite thing in the world, but quite frankly, I still don’t think you should come with me because it could be a little dangerous, and you’ve insisted, so this is what you have to do.”

Todd sighs and takes Dirk’s hand. He tries to pretend it’s not nice, which normally at this point he might not do, but there are more important things to focus on and he’s jittery enough.

“Come on.”

The bar is modern, cast in purple and blue neon hues, packed with fae. He doesn’t attract too much attention like he did last time. People look interestedly at Todd, glance at who’s holding onto him, look vaguely disappointed, and go back to what they were doing. Some look at Dirk apprehensively. He does his best to ignore them and the uncomfortable feeling in his stomach, instead guiding Todd through.

He makes his way to the back of the bar, where the fae who owns it has his office. Dirk knocks.

“Come in.”

The two of them enter the office. It’s a sharp contrast to the rest of the bar, elegant and wood paneled. The fae in question is wearing a deep purple three piece suit, has dark hair and sharp blue eyes, and is lounging behind a large oak desk. Dirk wants to tell him that he thinks it’s overkill, but he’s acutely aware that not just he is here, but Todd, and decides not to provoke him. He lets go of Todd’s hand when the door closes behind them and they walk up to stand in front of the desk a little side by side.

“Good evening,” Dirk says, deciding to go with polite.

The fae smiles widely up at him. “So, this is the famous Icarus.”

He sees Todd stiffen beside him, and gives him a warning look to remind him of what he said outside the bar. The use of his Blackwing name for once doesn’t bother him that much. There’s worse things he could be called right now. He returns his attention to the fae. “Sometimes. And what should I call you?”

Fae tend to pick alternative names for themselves, out in the human world especially. Dirk had heard the name Chiron suggested for this one, but he feels like perhaps he should ask anyway.

“You are Icarus, and I am giving you what you need? Perhaps then you should call me Daedalus.”

Todd doesn’t seem too happy with that, either, but Dirk is once more unimpressed. “If that’s what you like.”

Todd wanders off from his side slightly as Daedalus begins speaking. “You know, I have heard tell of you. It is a wonder to meet you, finally.”

That does make Dirk’s stomach clench a little. He hopes he’s doing a good job to keep it off his face. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, as well.”

“So you seek a changeling? I had been under the impression that you already knew many, from your time… away.”

He should have expected Blackwing would be continually thrown in his face. He moves past it. “I don’t know all of them.”

“I see.” His eyes flit to Dirk’s side, and amusement flickers across his face. Dirk looks to see Todd by a table with a fruit bowl. He’s holding a pink fruit that he distantly remembers from his childhood, unable to recall the name, as it tends to go with fae things.

There’s a bite out of it.

Dirk’s world spins in a way that almost feels familiar to the breakdown he’d had. Of course. One of the few things he clearly remembers and it shows up in the most nightmarish way possible.

“What?” Todd asks, looking between Dirk and Daedalus.

“Humans who partake of fae food,” Daedalus informs him. “Must go into the fae world for as long as they live. These are our laws, old as time and incontestable.”

The blood drains from Todd’s face. He looks at Dirk, like he’s seeking confirmation. He must find it, because he slowly puts the fruit down on the table. He looks both lost and frightened.

The expression on his face, the scenario they’re in, that it’s Todd, slams into him. Something in him breaks, but constructs instantly into something else. Something determined and a little cold and abruptly, earthshakingly furious.

Dirk doesn’t care if these rules are unbreakable in the way so much of the fae world is. He will do it, and he will mold them back so this does not happen.

“No,” he says, looking back at Daedalus.

He looks startled. “No?”

For the first time in as long as he can remember, Dirk is suddenly tapping into something buried. He lets himself do it.

The shadows in the room suddenly grow longer and sharper. The air gets colder. A breeze seems to blow in the completely enclosed room, ruffling the papers on Daedalus’s desk and his hair, while curiously missing Todd completely. The walls feel a little like they are closing in. Dirk feels too big for his skin in a way that is somehow not uncomfortable, like he is growing and spreading through the room. There is a muted sound that echoes again and again through the room like ice crackling.

“No,” he repeats. His voice sounds strange, something deeper and darker and haunting lurking within it. It feels almost like a fire, threatening to reach out and consume this man if Dirk would let it.

Todd is staring at him like he’s never seen him before. Something flashes across Daedalus’s face. It looks like fear. It is both surprising and satisfying to Dirk. Then it turns into boredom, but he is almost certain that it’s an act.

“Rein yourself in a little, Icarus,” he says disinterestedly. “Your friend goes nowhere.”

Dirk is fully surprised now. “What?” he asks, his voice back to normal. The shadows retreat, the air to room temperature. The breeze vanishes and the walls resettle. The sound of the ice vanishes. He fits into his body again.

“Your friend goes nowhere. I wished merely to put a little fear in him. I thought perhaps it would be funny. I had no intention of doing the same to you.”

“I-“ Dirk glances at Todd, who looks as confused as he feels, the color returning to his face. “I don’t understand. The rules-“

“Are different, when applied to you and yours.”

If he thought he was surprised before, he is floored now. “I don’t understand,” he says again.

Daedalus tilts his head. “No, you really don’t, do you? I thought perhaps you would by  now.”

Dirk feels a little like he’s going to be tricked into losing Todd somehow, so he doesn’t say anything, just stares at Daedalus.

He sighs. “You must have noticed by this point how we react to you.”

“Yes.” He’s still watching Daedalus. “You all hate me.”

“Ah. That explains a few things, at least. You are incorrect.”

“Incor-“ Dirk’s at a loss for words. “I don’t know what’s going on.”

“We don’t hate you. We are, as a whole, impressed by you, and some a little frightened.” He says some lightly, as though he didn’t just prove himself to be one of those who are.

Dirk’s jaw drops. “What?” he stammers. “But, but I was, you don’t know what I might have told the, the people who took me, what I might have given up.”

Daedalus raises his eyebrows. “You were a child. We are aware that the rules are different for little ones.”

Dirk wants a little bit to sit down. “Oh.”

“Icarus, in all our history, you are one of the few of our kind to be captured. You were raised within a hostile environment for six years, and proceeded to escape it. You have learned how to live in human cities for an extended period of time, your whole life since you fled your captors, by suppressing the push of iron on your skin, which no other fae to our knowledge has been able to do. You still have your powers, even if you have refused to acknowledge. Or so we had theorized, anyway, perhaps tonight suggests different?”

“No,” he answers faintly. “No, tonight was the first time ever.”

“I see. You are, to us, practically a legend. You have survived everything thrown at you. The humans experimented on and imprisoned you, the human cities you have lived in, all the terrible things you are led to by the singing of the stream of creation. Your abilities are stronger, for all you have survived, and you pushed them down so insistently until they became, I suppose, concentrated and more powerful than the rest of us. It has been known to happen rarely, to those who have sustained some kind of mental or physical pain that causes them to do what you have done. You could take any of us apart if you wished it. We are awed by and afraid of you.

“This means the rules are… navigated slightly. The humans you run with, the women, this one-“ Daedalus nods at Todd. “They are not to be touched by any of our kind. This is a law. Those that make the attempt will be forsaken by all of us. The man in particular seems to be close to you differently, so there will be only isolation in the future for those who near him malevolently. He has eaten of our fruit, but he returns to your sphere of company, and therefore your world. No laws are broken. Your friend is free to leave with you.”

Dirk swallows. “Ah.” He clears his throat. “Do you think I might have that contact information for that changeling? Only it’s been something of a evening and I think perhaps I’d like to go now.”

Daedalus reaches inside his blazer and pulls out a folded up piece of paper. He proffers it to Dirk, who takes it.

“Thank you. I’m going to leave now. Thanks for… all the knowledge you just imparted.”

“Pleasure doing business with you.”

Dirk dips his head a little. He holds his hand out to Todd, who wordlessly takes it. He leads Todd once more. Once they’re out of the door, Dirk walks straight to the park bench directly opposite the bar and collapses onto it.

Todd sits next to him. “Are you okay?”

“I’m not sure,” he mutters. “I’ll get back to you.”

“What was that?”

Dirk takes a deep breath. Now that they’re out of there, the realization he has to talk about what just happened with Todd is hitting him, mixed with anxiety and dread. “You asked once what else I could do. That was the what else.”

“Oh.”

Dirk looks up at the sky. The lights are too bright to see the stars. He can feel Todd’s eyes on him and thinks of the way he looked at him when he was ready to fight for him.

“You don’t have to stay here, with me,” he says, still gazing at the sky.

“What?”

“Back there, when I was. Well. You didn’t look… you seemed upset, by what was happening. So you can go, if you want. I would never hold it against you.”

Todd sighs and hits Dirk on the arm lightly until he looks at him.

“I was upset in general because of what I thought was going to happen,” he tells him clearly. “And it was something I had never seen from you before. I was surprised. I’m not going to leave.”

“You weren’t…” Dirk trails off, a little apprehensive of saying the word “afraid”.

“You weren't going to hurt me. I wasn’t worried about that. I’m not going anywhere.” Todd is bathed in purple and pink and blue from the sign across from them. Dirk swallows and nods.

“You said you couldn't think of any situation where you’d tap into whatever that was back there. What makes this different?”

“It was you.”

“Sorry?”

“You don’t get to be taken from your sister and from Farah and from your job and your life just because you invoked a law by accident. I wouldn’t allow it if I could help it. And unless you want to leave, I don’t want you to, either,” he adds quietly. He knows Todd hears. They’re both silent for a bit.

“So, your people don’t hate you.”

“Mm.” Dirk stares at the bar thoughtfully. “I must admit, I didn’t see that coming.”

“Are you going to go live there now?” Todd asks, almost tentatively. “With them?”

“No. I have a life here. I’m finally happy. I don’t want to let either of those things go.”

“Good.”

Dirk smiles a little. There’s another pause in the conversation.

“What would have happened? If this didn’t work out the way it did and you couldn’t change his mind?”

Dirk shakes his head. “Not a question of changing his mind. Question of changing ancient laws that cannot be broken.”

“Then why did you try?”

“It was you,” he repeats. “And I would have stayed long enough to tell Amanda and Farah what had happened, say my goodbyes to them and the Rowdy Three and Bart, and then I would have followed you.”

“What? But. I thought you didn't want to live with them. You just said that you’re happy here.”

“I’m not happy if you’re not here. I don’t want to lose you, so I go where you go.” It’s a little too revealing, he thinks, possibly a little too obvious, but he tries not to lie to Todd anymore.

Todd’s quiet. Processing, Dirk supposes.

Then he turns Dirk’s head to the side and kisses him.

Dirk feels for a moment like flailing. He’s certainly flailing internally. He has a split second where his body is thinking about it, before he turns so his body faces Todd more and reaches out, grabbing onto his shirt to pull him closer. The angle is still awkward from the way they’re both sitting. It doesn’t matter and he doesn’t care. He just tries to get a little nearer, Todd's hands warm on either side of his face, the fabric of his shirt bunched tightly in his hands.

Dirk only pulls back when he needs to breathe. Todd’s eyes are still closed and Dirk can’t stop staring at his face, unable to understand and completely fine with that.

Todd opens his eyes.

“I wasn’t thinking,” he says. “If I’d been thinking, that might not have happened.”

“I’m rather pleased that you weren’t, then.”

He grins a little. His hands slide down to Dirk’s shoulders. “I never thought… I never thought.”

Dirk has to raise his eyebrows at that one. “I stopped pretending after that night you told me about the nets and I wasn’t that subtle before then, either.”

“I didn’t notice.”

“I told you I had abilities outside of my intuitions.”

“I thought you trusted me as your best friend and nothing else.”

“I told you my name.”

I thought you trusted me as your best friend and nothing else.

“I just tried to break an immutable law of my people for you.”

“Oh my god.” Todd shakes his head even though he’s still grinning. “You don’t get to give me anywhere near this amount of shit, considering you didn’t notice anything, either.”

“Hey, there.”

Hey, there yourself! I walked an extra block to buy you a plant on the off chance it made your life easier!”

It’s Dirk’s turn to go on the defensive. “I thought you were just a good person!”

“I grinned whenever you complimented me!”

“Maybe you just liked being complimented!”

“My brain stuck on you wearing tight clothing before I met you and I sounded weird!”

“You sounding weird is not an irregularity!”

I was jealous of Thor.”

“Ohhh, is that what that was?”

Todd groans. “You’re driving me crazy.”

“Yes, I do that.”

Todd grins at him, sunny in a way Dirk never gets to see from him, shiny and wonderful. “I might be kind of okay with that, though. Not much. But some.”

Dirk wants to kiss him again, so he does.

 

“To be honest, when you consider it,” Dirk says, about four months after the night at the fae bar, tying his tie. “There’s nothing really all that dangerous about this case.”

“These guys have actual broadswords and seem to know how to use them,” Todd replies, toweling off his hair as he leaves the bathroom. “But sure, nothing dangerous.”

“I said all that dangerous, not that it wasn’t dangerous at all. And besides, it’ll be fine. Farah’s got guns.”

“Guns don’t help if someone sneaks up behind you and runs you through with, again, a real, literal broadsword.” He tosses the towel in the hamper. “You’re doing that wrong.”

Dirk shoots Todd a vaguely offended look. “You never wear ties and I always wear one when I’m working on a case. I think I would know better than you if I was tying it wrong.”

“Yeah, except where you don’t. Check the mirror.”

Dirk huffs, heads into the bathroom, and is quiet for a few seconds.

“Damn,” he finally mutters. He looks over his shoulder, operating on a non-universe related hunch. “I see that smug expression and I’m not enjoying it.”

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t sure you’d be able to see it, over how much better you know ties over  me.”

“That doesn’t make sense.” Dirk unties the cursed clothing item so he can start over.

“Our lives usually don’t make sense, I’m following the pattern.” Todd walks up to Dirk and bats his hands away from the tie. “Stop that.” He starts working on it.

“I could have done it on the second try.”

“I doubt it.”

“The last job you worked that required a tie was a bowtie.”

“You know, I’ve had other jobs than the bellhop one.”

“Nonetheless. Please don’t get confused.”

“I won’t if you promise not to get run through with an archaic weapon.”

“How can I promise that when I cannot in fact predict the future?” Dirk scoffs. “Ridiculous.”

Todd raises an eyebrow. Dirk rolls his eyes.

“I promise I won’t get run through with an archaic weapon.”

“Good.” Todd finishes. “Done.”

Dirk inspects it in the mirror. “Thank you. I look rather dashing today, no doubt thanks to your skills, which are better than mine for today only.”

“Thank you for the glowing review.”

Dirk kisses him, slow and deep, one hand on his neck and the other on his hip to draw him tighter. When he pulls back, Todd looks a little dazed.

“Thank you,” he says sweetly. “For your excellent job tying my tie.”

“Um.”

He grins. Todd’s eyes abruptly narrow. “That’s cheating.”

“It can’t be cheating if we weren’t actually playing a game.”

Cheating. And I hate you.”

“Oh, well. I’ll persevere somehow.”

“Hey, assholes!” They hear through the open window. Dirk pokes his head out of it. Farah and Amanda are waiting below, Amanda holding her baseball bat.

“I don’t care what you’re doing up there and I don’t want to know if it involves making out or anything further,” Amanda hollers. “You set a time for us to meet you here, so get your shit together!”

Dirk straightens slightly so he can look at Todd. “Did you hear that?”

“Yeah, tell my sister she’s an asshole and if I decide I want to make out with you right here and now, then I will do so for as long as we would like.”

Dirk sticks his head back through the window. “He says we’ll be right down and sorry to make you wait!”

Amanda grins up at him. “Bullshit!”

Dirk moves away from the window. Todd grabs his black leather jacket and tosses Dirk his yellow one. Dirk is fairly certain that it almost hits his face before he catches it on purpose. “Persevere somehow. Yeah, good luck. Your thing is running headlong into danger and my thing is following you to try and make sure that danger doesn’t kill you. You’d be dead within a week.”

Dirk closes the door behind him. “Of course I wouldn’t.” He locks the door and puts the key in his pocket. “Farah would take care of the danger.”

They start walking down the stairs. “You can’t use Farah as a fallback.”

“Can, have, will continue to do so, take your pick, really, all true.” Dirk is fairly confident that Todd's rolling his eyes even if he can’t see him doing it. “You too, by the way.”

“Me too what?”

“This irrational and nonsensical promise you’ve had me make. You too.”

Todd takes Dirk’s hand. He’s still not big on casual physical affection, but it seems to be growing on him. He’s more likely to do it when it’s just the two of them in their apartment, the uncomfortableness of showing genuinely fond feeling in public still lingering. Sometimes, though, he’ll hold Dirk’s hand. Dirk beams every time. Now is no exception. “I make the irrational and nonsensical promise that I will not get run through with an archaic weapon.”

“Splendid. Just so we’re both on the same absurd page, you understand.”

“Of course.”

They walk out of the doors to Amanda and Farah.

“Good,” Amanda says. “About damn time.”

“We were one minute late when you shouted for us,” Dirk points out.

“Yeah, which is exactly when Farah said I could start yelling at you.”

“You guys are making me need a nap and it’s only ten a.m.” Farah holds up a piece of paper. “Who should I give the directions to?”

“Dirk,” Todd answers instantly. “He’s gonna be navigator.”

“I could drive, you know,” Dirk tells him as they approach the car. “I know how.”

“Yeah, I’m not sure you do.” Todd slides into the driver’s seat while Dirk sits next to him, Farah and Amanda getting into the back. “That’s kind of the problem.”

“I drive with Amanda.”

“He drives even faster than normal with me,” she says brightly. “I’m a bad influence.”

“And we never crash, we don’t even get pulled over, so I’m sure it would be fine.”

“Amanda, please don’t get my boyfriend killed. Dirk, please don’t get my sister killed.”

“Please. If I kill Dirk it’s going to be on purpose.”

Dirk takes the directions from Farah. “This isn’t encouraging me to wish to spend more time with you.”

“So where am I going?” Todd asks before Amanda can reply. “Dirk, you’ve got the directions.”

“Well, you go straight down the street here, which I hope won’t be a problem for you, considering that really nothing you do is straight, if you wished to think about it.”

Todd makes that odd choking noise that comes out when he is about to laugh but catches himself. He grins in the direction of his window.

“Sick burn,” Amanda observes.

“We’ve been over this,” Farah says. “You say that too often and you’re forbidden from saying it again until I give you the go ahead. I will put you in a headlock.”

“Please do it when I’m around so I can take pictures.”

“Fuck off, Todd, or I’m kicking your seat.”

He listens to the bickering of his friends and boyfriend in the car he and the latter share, on their way to work on a case for the job they all share, thinks on how this is something he never would have imagined in a million years up until not too long ago. He looks out the windshield, adjusting into his seat, settling in for the long haul.

The long haul doesn’t seem the slightest bit frightening or depressing, only intriguing and exciting.

Dirk smiles.