They had ice cream and the sun was shining.
Now, Todd generally wasn't the kind of guy to daydream about picnics in the park with someone special. His fantasies had always veered more towards his significant other standing in front of an adoring crowd rocking out to his music and swooning as he dedicated the next song to them.
But he had to admit this was pretty nice too. Dirk was in his band t-shirt and his bright yellow jacket and he had been so thrilled by the ice cream truck that Todd felt compelled to buy him one. That led to them both wandering past the lake with vanilla cones, each covered in sickly-sweet red sauce with a chocolate wafer stick in them.
“They're not quite 99s, but they'll do. I suppose the ice cream man didn't have the necessary Flakes. Typical America, but the sauce is lovely.”
Todd ate his ice cream, watching Dirk lick his into a sort of ball. All the while he took breaks from licking to continue discussing the case. It was all over with now, but it had been a whirlwind adventure involving life and death escapades, power outlets that were not power outlets, far too many flowers and ultimately an unexpected conspiracy among their local convenience stores. Todd's clothes were still drying over his heater at home after the confrontation with the area manager, who had knocked him down with an industrial hose. He had a badly bruised shoulder. After a tumble down the stairs - “A death-defying escape, you mean” - Dirk had bruises all up his thighs, butt and lower back. Allegedly. Todd had been told rather than shown, much to his disappointment.
He wondered, as he watched Dirk snap off bits of his cone and toss it to the ducks, if Dirk gave much thought to their relationship status or if thoughts like that were just too mundane for him. After all, it was Dirk. The guy needed to be told to his face when he had a friend. Thinking about it, maybe he didn't know what friendship entailed. Maybe he figured this was just hanging out, not realising the romantic implications of two grown men spending all their time together, getting ice cream in the park and going for dinners together and sleeping in each other's apartments and wearing one another's clothes.
Or maybe it wasn't romantic and Todd was overthinking it. There was nothing inherently romantic about any of those things. He had probably just been brainwashed by the mainstream romantic media. Just because Amanda had told Dirk to pass her coldest regards onto his boyfriend last time she called, that didn't mean Todd was overstepping the boundaries of friendship. Dirk had gone through a lot at Blackwing. If Todd's friendship had to be all-encompassing to help him get past that, then so be it.
It would have been nice though, to kiss him on the head where the sun was gleaming off his hair. To know he could do that right there in the park and Dirk would just smile afterwards rather than look at him like he was crazy. But just because Todd felt something, that didn't mean it was two-way. Maybe one day he'd be brave enough for the conversation, but today was too good to spoil.
“I'm starting to wonder if you're hearing a single word of what I'm saying,” Dirk said, sounding a little miffed. He was still crouched by the lake, ducks nearby gobbling up discarded bits of wafer cone.
“Sorry, I'm just tired. We have been doing a lot of running in the past forty-eight hours.”
Dirk nodded sagely. “This is true. Are you okay being out and about like this? I didn't think. I mean, you've just had...” He made a small flailing gesture with his hands, losing blobs of ice cream in the process. The gesture was a very veiled reference to Todd's pararibulitis, which had flared up pretty badly during their last case.
“I'm fine. It's... it's fine.” Dirk looked up at him like he wasn't too sure about that. It sucked. Todd had no interest in being a burden. He wanted to be a useful assistant, the one who helped Dirk solve cases and pulled his ass out of the fire and took care of him when he woke up in the night crying about Blackwing. He didn't need to be taken care of.
Dirk worried at his lip, then pushed himself up from his crouch. “Look, you don't need to feel like--”
A sound like an explosion made Todd's ears ring, but it didn't stop. Instead it turned into a strange, almost static sound that gave him an instant headache. It couldn't be an attack because Dirk had his hands over his ears too and people were screaming. When Dirk's eyes widened, Todd followed his gaze to...
“WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!”
There was a hole in the sky. An honest-to-god hole in the sky. Light sparked around the edge of the circle, inside which Todd could see only darkness freckled with stars. Then there was a flash like a strike of lightning from it, blasting the middle of the basketball court. The hole in the sky retracted, shrinking smaller with a sound like a sharp indrawn breath and soon it was completely gone. The sky was blue again and there was a man crouching in the basketball court.
“Oh.” Dirk lowered his hands. Compared to the panic of a moment before, he looked utterly unworried now. “It's just Thor.”
“Just Thor?” Todd hadn't taken him seriously when he had told him they'd met.
“Yes. Come on, let's see what he wants.”
People were still freaking out and running away as Todd followed Dirk's stride across the park. It was weird to think that months ago he would have been among them. He never could have anticipated the strange path this man would lead him down.
The basketball court was pretty damaged by the blast, the fences all leaning out as if a bomb had gone off in there. When Dirk pushed the gate, it fell completely off its hinges and collapsed inward. The sound drew the attention of their godly guest, who turned with his hammer held. He lowered it when he saw Dirk and beamed brightly.
And this was the guy Dirk had said was less attractive than people said? Holy crap his standards had to be sky-high. Thor looked like one of the dudes Amanda would have had posters of years ago. It looked like his god-forged armour was ready to explode with muscles. His blond hair shone in the sun and his smile was as guileless and bright as Dirk's. When he strode forward and hugged Dirk, the smaller man was lifted fully off of the floor.
“Oof, hello Thor.”
“It is good to see you, friend,” Thor said, letting Dirk back down to the ground. “And who is this?” He nodded in Todd's direction.
“Oh, this is Todd! He's my friend. He's my best friend, in fact. We're very close and he's saved my life more than once.”
“A brother in battle?” Thor bestowed one of his beaming smiles on Todd before reaching and taking his hand in a crushing grip. “This is good to hear. Gently oft finds himself on dangerous quests and I have been concerned for his wellbeing.”
“Dirk's my best friend. I wouldn't let anything happen to him.”
Thor nodded approvingly at that. “Good man.” Then his expression dropped slightly as he looked between the two of them. “I regret to say I bring a dangerous quest of my own to your world.”
Dirk sighs. “Oh, well. The downtime was nice, but I suppose the Universe doesn't want me getting complacent with Todd. What is it, then? It isn't about the goats, is it? They bite.”
“Ha, nay, it is not the goats. This is a far worse threat, something I have been investigating with my Avenger companions. The search took me home to Asgard for a time, where my brother gave me some great insights on how to better locate the Mind Gem.”
“The Mind Gem?” Todd asked at the same time Dirk asked, “How is your brother?”
“He is... managing, I think. You are kind to ask.” Thor squeezed Dirk's shoulder and looked at him with a little more than grateful fondness, if Todd had to honestly give his paranoid opinion.
“Wait,” Todd said, trying to keep up. “You mean Loki? That mad guy who tried to take over the world with an army of aliens?”
“Todd, please,” Dirk said pointedly. “Show a little tact. Loki is Thor's brother and clearly is a little...” He made a face that could have meant insane.
“Your friend's dismay is warranted. My brother caused great harm and distress when he fell to your realm. However, he has been instrumental in advising me on how to proceed in this. It is vital that I locate the Mind Gem before it falls into dangerous hands.”
“What advice has he given you?” Dirk asked.
“Loki spoke much of patterns and discerning the shape of the Universe to see where the gems would fit. I had thought to speak to my other mortal acquaintances who are familiar with Midgardian science, but Loki's words made me think of you. Your abilities are unusual, yet served us well in our previous time together.”
Under the praise, Dirk glowed. “Well, I think it was a team effort, really, but I do have a knack of being in the right place at the right time.”
“And that is precisely what I need.”
Todd wanted to say something about not dragging Dirk into danger, something about how this sounded a little above their paygrade and maybe something about how deranged would-be world conquerors probably weren't the best source of inspiration when it came to day-planning, but when he took a step he felt a searing pain in his right foot. With a sharp cry, he saw sharp wires had come out of the fence and were protruding through his foot, right through the sole and out through the top, bloody and sore.
Instead of speaking his mind, Todd screamed.
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Sleep was slow to let go of him. Todd fought for consciousness through the irritating headache that his medication always left him with. He was used to having a nap after taking his pills, but it wasn't until he startled at the empty bed that he realised just how used he was to Dirk waiting with him. He pushed himself up into a sitting position and tried to get his head together. His feet ached with the memory of his hallucinated pain, but he was fine to stumble out of bed.
He could hear conversation in the front room so he forced himself to head out there, too tired to care about how he looked.
At least he was until he saw the way Dirk was looking at the golden god. Both of them were sat by the window, glowing in the sunlight and cheerfully chatting away with newspapers and files between them. Todd felt like a stormcloud as he slouched over to them. Dirk, who would normally have been sat on the bed with a book or a mind-numbing phone game, didn't even notice his approach until he spoke.
“Todd, hiii!” Then to Thor, “see, I told you he'd be alright.” Then to Todd again, “Thor was worried.”
The Norse god clapped him on the shoulder with such an obvious effort to be careful that Todd hated him a little bit more. “Gently has told me about your malady of mind. I am deeply sorry. 'Tis the sort of thing that would intrigue my brother, but I know little that would be helpful.”
“Yeah, that doesn't surprise me.” Todd bit his tongue at the shocked look Dirk sent him and tacked on, “Uh, it's a very unusual phenomena. Even here on... Midgard.” See, he wasn't making fun of anyone's intelligence. Really.
Dirk reached out and squeezed his arm. “Are you feeling better now? We didn't want to go until you were better.”
Todd cleared his throat, trying to wake up a little. “Where are we going?”
“You need not fear,” Thor said jovially, “you may remain here and rest. Gently and I have many avenues of interest to investigate.”
“I just got done resting in case you didn't notice,” Todd pointed out.
Sometimes Dirk's smiles could be utterly infuriating. The 'fond pity' smile was right up there on that scale next to the 'I was right and now we're going to die but I told you so' smile. He lowered his hand from squeezing Todd's bicep to grasp his hand. “Todd. You look absolutely knackered. Grab a coffee, watch some telly and we'll be back before you know it.”
“What if something happens?”
A blink of confusion was Dirk's only response. But Thor got it. He stood up like some sort of mountain raising from the ground and dropped his hand heavily onto Todd's shoulder. “I swear I will protect him.”
“Oh honestly,” Dirk scoffed. “I hardly think that's necessary. But whatever keeps you sane, Todd.”
“Really, I could go with you.” He couldn't even shrug Thor's heavy hand off.
“Please stay?” Dirk pleaded. Like when he asked Todd to help him and it was just impossible to argue with that tone. Even when it came from a place of pity and undue concern.
Rolling his eyes, Todd relented. “Fine. But keep your tracker on.” They had registered one another's phone locations shortly after Blackwing.
Thor strode to the door while Dirk grabbed bits and pieces from around the apartment to shove in his pockets. When he saw Thor was out of the door, Dirk gave Todd a look of disappointment. “You know, he did carry you all the way home. You should be nicer to him.”
“Am I being not nice?” He hadn't done or said anything rude.
Dirk raised his eyebrows. “You know how you're being. So do I. Lucky for you he's too nice to notice.” He patted his pockets and nodded in satisfaction. “Right. Call me if you need anything.” He patted Todd on the shoulder. There was a moment where they stood there just looking at one another. It was as though Dirk wanted to say something else, but ultimately he just nodded again and dashed off. “Be good!”
“I'm not a—” The door slammed “--child.”
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Dirk brought the car to a sharp stop. Thor steadied himself against the dash.
“No need to apologise, friend. You drive well. Many Midgardians seem content to move slowly, but our quest requires haste.” He looked around. “Why have you brought us here?”
Stepping out of the car, Dirk pointed to the overhead sign protruding from a shop front down the street. It was supposed to say 'Gemma's Mindfulness Emporium' but some letters had fallen, which meant it said 'Gem's Mind Emporium'. Thor did not look convinced of its importance.
“A coincidence, no?”
“Rarely. We were literally going just a street from here and this shows up? No, this is worth looking into.”
Thor smiled and held his hands up. “Very well. I am here to heed your guidance.” He followed Dirk out of the car, picking up his hammer. A passer-by stared until his friend nudged him and said something about cosplayers. Dirk led the way, but Thor soon put a hand on his shoulder to hold him back. “I should go first.”
“What? Why?” Dirk glanced at the store, which had large crystals and Wiccan jewellery in the window underneath paintings of angels. “It doesn't look dangerous.”
“Your friend would be livid if I allowed harm to come to you.”
Dirk laughed at the thought of Todd taking on Thor. He would inevitably be held at bay by one of Thor's hands firmly placed against his face, arms windmilling around as he tried to punch the God. “I really don't think that's anything to worry about. He'd be the first to say it was my fault anyway if anything happened.”
“I'm not sure that's the case. He looks at you with great fondness. You yourself mentioned he is accustomed to waking up with you near.”
“Well yes, but that's just... I mean, I live downstairs. And we're best friends. Of course I'm around all the time. And he's sick, so it's the least I can do. He needs a friend as much as I do and with the way the Universe throws me around all the time I thought it's best I make the most of...” He trailed off, noticing the way Thor was watching him. “I'm protesting too much, aren't I?”
“Verily.” Thor seemed to be trying not to laugh. Charming.
With a groan, Dirk tried to explain again. “Todd is my friend. It was difficult enough to make him my friend, without asking him to be anything else.”
“And if he desires more? Certainly he looks at you with a--”
“Great fondness, yes, you said.” Dirk sighed. “Look, I would be lying if I said the thought didn't appeal. A lot. But I can't just project my own feelings onto him that way. I might be in love with him, but he doesn't need to know that. I'm happy. Happier than I've been in a very... well...” He thought about it. “Than ever, really.”
Thor squeezed his shoulder, smile more wan than it had previously been. “If you say so, my friend. I would usually advise courage, but your choice is your own. Still, I would not be the one to tell your friend I allowed you to wade first into uncertain territory. Let me go first.”
He folded his arms and tried to look put out about having a Norse God for shield. “If you must.”
This proved the sensible choice. When Thor opened the door of the little shop, the bell above the door rang before he was blasted back out of the doorway with a beam of light. Then a couple of black cars down the road erupted with secret agents brandishing guns.
“S.H.I.E.L.D! Get down!”
The gang were going to be so disappointed they missed this one.
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“So... the Thor, from the Avengers? Seriously?”
Todd was glad this was a phone conversation so that Farah couldn't see the face he was making. “After everything I said, you're still stuck on the very first point? This stupidly handsome huge man dragged Dirk off for an adventure to find some relic that apparently is a job worthy of the Avengers. Dirk calls me rambling about SHIELD and alien weapons and I don't see him again for four hours, at which point he's being carried through the door by Thor. I figure he's hurt or something when Thor says he made his ancestors proud, turns out he's just drunk! Dirk! Drunk!”
“I get it.”
“You do?” Todd huffed out a sigh of relief. Good, reliable Farah. He knew she was the right person to call. “Good. It's not cool.”
“Not taking your many insecurities into account. He should know better than to leave you out of these things. Especially when you consider how you feel about him.”
“Sorry, what?” He didn't recall having that conversation with her.
“Well, you're going to be especially sensitive to him ditching you for this... 'stupidly handsome' guy because you're, you know, interested in him. Romantically. Dirk, I mean, obviously, why would you think I meant Thor...” She sighs and Todd is still reeling that he's that obvious when she asks, “does he carry Mjolnir?”
“Yeah. He left it on the coffee table when he stopped to use the bathroom. I'm not worthy, I checked.”
“Shame. That could have come in handy on cases.”
“Assuming Dirk still has cases and doesn't become like, some sort of consultant for the Avengers that he parties with,” Todd grumbles.
“You're being ridiculous.”
Todd ran his ran through his hair. Farah had never steered him wrong before, but she didn't know Dirk like he did. She underestimated him like so many people. Probably because she'd have a breakdown if she admitted to herself how impossible he was. Todd could just imagine him befriending the Avengers, running from Hydra and sitting around a table with Black Widow and Captain America. It would suit him.
It would suit him better than sitting in Todd's bed.
The door to his bedroom opened. “I gotta go, Farah.”
He hung up and turned to see Dirk waving half-heartedly at the phone. “Hi Farah.” He shuffled past Todd bleary-eyed to the kitchen, where he nudged a glass under the tap, filled it with cold water and then drank the whole thing.
“Hungover?” Todd asked dryly.
Dirk blinked then set down the glass and rubbed at his eyes. “Maybe.” He looked around. “I'm in your flat, Todd.”
“Apartment,” Todd corrected. “And yeah, Thor brought you here. Don't know why he didn't dump your unconscious ass in your own place.”
“I wanted to see you, I think. I probably mentioned it. He's a good friend.”
Todd ground his teeth so suddenly he caught his own tongue and winced. “Oh yeah, he's the best. Dragging you out to get attacked by superpowered criminals then getting you so wasted you threw up down the steps outside.”
“Oh, I remember that,” Dirk said, wrinkling his nose in disgust before holding up his index finger at a sudden thought. “Todd, did you know that those little fruity cocktails are actually sometimes more alcoholic than that beer you drink?”
“Yes! How could you not know that?”
He didn't regret his outburst, even when Dirk peered at him curiously and said, “You're upset about something.” After a moment's consideration, he asked, “Did I throw up in here as well?”
“You'd better not have,” Todd said darkly, stomping over to the bedroom to glance inside. He couldn't see any signs of vomit.
“So why are you so annoyed? It was a celebration. We found the Mind Gem and Thor's going to take it back to the Avengers! I can't wait to meet them.”
None of Todd's worrying had prepared him for how the air would rush out of his lungs, like a big cushion being sat on suddenly. “The Avengers?”
“Yes! It's dead exciting. I think I'm most excited to meet...” Dirk pondered. “...Pepper Potts. Wait, will she be there? Technically she's not an Avenger, per se...”
“I can't believe you!”
Dirk blinked. “You're more of a Hawkeye man?”
“This isn't funny, Dirk. You're seriously just... are the Avengers that cool?”
“Well, they're pretty cool. I thought. I mean, I know you're not overkeen on superheroes in general, but you're not overkeen on a good deal many things, so...”
“If you're gonna go, just go.” He couldn't articulate why this felt so unfair. He had no right to Dirk. Maybe Farah could get pissed at him though. After all, she was funding Dirk's whole detective enterprise. But Todd? The 'assistant'? The 'ward'? Oh god, he was going to have to go back to minimum wage work. No more running around the city on bizarre quests. No more waking up to Dirk burning food under the guise of making him breakfast. No more falling asleep on the couch with him watching movies. Life as it was before Dirk. It seemed like a life without colour in retrospect.
“I've got this feeling I've missed something.” Dirk certainly seemed upset. “Todd...”
“Forget it. I just thought... no, forget it.” If Dirk hadn't realised by now then it just proved that this had been in Todd's head all along. That they were just dudes finding clues and Dirk had no intention of sticking around for anything beyond that. Hadn't he always said he was dragged around by the Universe? Maybe it was dragging him to some people who could actually protect him for a change, people like stupid muscular Thor.
“Todd...” Dirk wrung his hands together. “Have I done something to make you grouchy?” He hesitated. “Grouchier.”
Oh right, yeah. Todd forgot he was a stormcloud of negativity in Dirk's sunshine world. He grabbed his jacket and threw it on. He didn't actually know if it was cold enough outside to warrant it, but at least it made him feel a little more badass. “I'm going for a walk. Don't forget to pick up anything you've left in my apartment.”
He stormed out. He would have said for Dirk to lock up after himself, but the damn lock still wasn't fixed. A broken lock, a trashed apartment with Rowdy graffiti on the wall and a dead landlord. That's all he'd have left to show for Dirk's time in his life.
That and the general sense that he could have handled things differently, but he was very familiar with that already.
Dirk wasn't sure how long he sat on the sofa petting the Sharkitten, reassuring her that Todd would be back in no time.
“You know how he gets, of course. I had half a mind to follow him, but he was being such a mardy-bum that I was worried I'd just make it worse.” Sharkitten made a sound somewhere between a purr and a mewl at the way Dirk was scratching her ear. He decided to treat it as deep insight. “You're right, of course. I chickened out. I should have gone after him. I wanted to, I did, but... the last time we fought it was so awful. I'm not ready for another argument like that. I know everyone has their lovers' tiffs, but it honestly was one of the worst things ever.”
He nodded as the cat made further sounds. He knew, in his heart, that she couldn't understand a bloody word he was saying, but that didn't matter. Vocalising it like this, treating it like a chat with the cat, it made it less... serious. He didn't want to sit in silence thinking, wondering if this was somehow his fault. Probably. He had been a little over-cautious of Todd's health since learning of the pararibulitis. That was probably annoying. But Dirk would never dream of embarrassing him in front of the Avengers or anything like... oh, wait, he had spoken to Thor about Todd's condition. Of course.
“Oh, I'm such an insensitive fool!”
There was a knock at the door. Dirk frowned. Why would Todd knock at his own door? “Who is it?”
The door pushed open slowly, the broken lock making it all too easy for Loki of Asgard (or Jotunheim) to step through the doorway. Eyes glowing green with magic and madness, he was no less imposing than his brother despite his slighter frame.
In Dirk's arms Sharkitten twisted and hissed. He slowly set her down on the floor behind the arm of the sofa where she couldn't be agitated by the intruder. Then he stood to greet the new guest.
“If you're looking for Thor, he's--”
When Loki took a step closer, Dirk took a step back. Hunches were inconsistent. Some required close examination to be sure they were actually hunches at all, but sometimes he felt a pull sharp enough that it was like the Universe was actually shouting at him. He rated the current insistence of the Universe a little above that, actually, somewhere more along the lines of GET OUT AND AWAY, a screaming panic in the back of his head that made his heart race but meshed poorly with the composed and regal being before him.
Oh, but that wasn't all Loki was, was it? Dirk had seen the same footage as Todd and most of the world, the raging lunatic at the head of an alien army. Thor still seemed certain he had not been in control and had been gratified when Dirk agreed. He hadn't realised Dirk's real meaning – that a power like Loki's under his own control was far more dangerous than anything they had seen. He didn't need the Universe panicking at him to know that.
“Is there something I can help you with?”
Loki's lips curved into a false, handsome smile. “So obliging. You led my brother directly to the Mind Gem. I thought you would.”
“Thor said it was his idea to... oh.” The pattern unfurled in front of him. “Oh, I see.”
The God tilted his head, examining him. “You do, don't you? Clever boy. And so helpful, with your connections to” - he held out his arms in a grand gesture to the world - “Everything.”
Dirk shrugged, trying to channel a bit of Todd-like bravery in the face of warped divinity. “Well, you know, everything is connected.”
Loki held up an elegant finger. “Not everything. That's why you're here. You and the others. If everything were truly connected, these mortals wouldn't need you.”
“I'm not sure they need--”
“They would see as you do. They would walk through the patterns with their heads held high and the world would be ever so tidy. But they can't see it. They are not connected.” Loki slowly began to walk around Todd's flat, hands clasped loosely behind his back as he appraised various items. “There have always been prophets, Icarus.”
“That's not my name,” Dirk blurted automatically.
He couldn't quite see Loki's face from this angle, but he saw the shift of his cheeks as his smile widened. While the God looked away, Dirk shooed the Sharkitten softly with his foot, breathing a sigh of relief when she went out onto the fire escape. The last thing they needed in the room was a shark soul explosion.
“What's in a name?”
“You tell me, Liesmith.” Ooh, he hoped he lived so that he could tell Todd about that. Todd loved a bit of death-defying banter.
But Loki didn't seem too bothered when he turned back to face him. “You know, I like you. You're unusual and frankly, you have the spirit of chaos.” Dirk opened his mouth to retort but suddenly Loki was in his face, those delicate-seeming hands gripping his jaw as if they were made of immoveable stone. “But this mortal flesh, it's weak. And I need to see what you see.”
Dirk voiced an eloquent and passionate protest, but as he was unable to move his jaw it came out rather garbled. And yet somehow Loki understood.
“What causes your concern? This Universal plan has done nothing but harm you. We are cursed with power, not blessed. You should be grateful I am taking your curse and adding it to my own.”
There was so much to discuss. So much to debate. So much to explain and so much to warn of.
Loki didn't let up his grip and Dirk was unable to say anything as the glow in Loki's eyes grew ever brighter. Hypnotic. Consuming.
Then it vanished and left him in dark oblivion.
Thor had been the one to find Dirk, just to pile on the guilt. Todd had ignored the first call from Dirk's number, but the second had come so soon after that he'd known something was wrong. Expecting a hyperactive rambling about either apologies or hunches, Todd had been thrown by Thor's voice booming down the phone. Especially when he'd said Dirk was hurt.
Not even ten minutes later Todd was sat at the edge of the sofa, fussing futilely over his unconscious friend. Patting his face hadn't woken him up, neither did cold water or shouting. He was breathing steadily with a pulse and everything, but he was somehow... grey. As if the vibrant colour had faded from him, leaving everything muted and wrong.
“My brother's magic. The whole place reeks of it.”
“Your psycho brother Loki? What the hell does he have to gain by hurting Dirk? And how did he find him? Did he come here looking for you?” Farah, he'd need to call Farah. He'd bet on her over a Norse God.
“I should have been more cautious,” Thor said, looking mournfully at Dirk's still body. “Loki spoke of patterns and miracles and the order of the Universe. Gently was the first thought to come to my mind and now it seems to me that may have been intentional on my brother's part. He always was good at manipulating me onto a path of his choosing.”
“That doesn't explain why he's done this.” Todd didn't have time for the brotherly angst of superheroes. “What does he want? Is he after that gem?”
“Perhaps. With Gently's power the Infinity Gems will fall easily into his path if he wills it.”
“No, it doesn't work like that. The Universe decides where Dirk gets to go. He doesn't control it.”
“I'm aware. He is but mortal. My brother is Loki the Liesmith, God of Chaos and Stories. And frequently, God of the changing paths. He already steps between this Universe and others. It will be no trying task at all for him to pull to pieces that force which guides Gently, to decide which parts of it to keep and which to burn.”
“What...” Todd tried to get his head around the allegory, “does that even mean. The 'force' that guides Dirk, he's pretty sure it's the Universe so...”
“You understand then, why this could be devastating on a cosmic level.”
Todd blinked. “Your brother's going to start pulling apart the Universe?”
“Aye, I fear so.”
“Jesus.” Todd looked to Dirk automatically, startled all over again to see him so devoid of life. It was at these moments that he needed Dirk's excitement and enthusiasm for the unusual. “Are you gonna like... call the Avengers?”
Thor winced. He definitely winced, Todd was not imagining it. “I would prefer to locate Loki myself, in case--” A sound in the hallway gave him pause. It was the sound of ruckus getting nearer and nearer. Todd groaned at the familiarity.
“Not now, please...”
The door swung open as though kicked in, slamming into the wall. Dirk still didn't stir, even as the Rowdy 3 howled and stomped into the room. Amanda followed and immediately ran to Dirk's side, dropping to her knees near the sofa. “Oh my god, you guys were right.”
“We're always right!” Vogel chirped. “Except sometimes.”
He went into the kitchen to steal food while Gripps and Cross circled Thor like a pair of stray dogs sizing up a wolf. Thor barely glanced at them, his attention on Martin who was strolling over to join Amanda at Dirk's side. Todd tried to protect the unconscious Dirk from this invasion of his personal space, but pulling him a little closer and saying “hey” did nothing to stop Martin from gripping Dirk's jaw and staring intently at his face. Amanda watched her gang leader like he would say something really profound at any moment. Instead, Martin leaned in and sniffed Dirk. Like, really took a deep, long inhale as though he were trying to snort something off of his collarbone.
After a while of contemplation, he nodded and stood upright again. “It's gone.”
“What's gone?” Todd snapped. He didn't mean to snap, but more comprehensive answers would have been great.
“What he had.”
Todd sighed. “Thanks for that, that's really helpful.”
“Oh shut up, Todd,” Amanda said with a glare. “It's not like you have some great idea of what's going on.”
“We gonna help him?” Gripps asked. Even Vogel had meandered over now, curious about the situation.
“Some things shouldn't be taken,” Martin said, voice gruff. “Ain't no man entitled to take what that boy held in himself.”
“My brother did this,” Thor explained. “He is a god, not a mere man.”
There was a moment of quiet before Martin reiterated, “Ain't no man, or God, entitled to take what that boy held in himself.”
“We need to find Loki,” Amanda said, wringing her hands as she looked at Dirk's helpless body. It was strange seeing him so still. Even when they shared a bed, Todd found him sprawling and twisting and turning all night and mumbling nonsense to himself.
“Loki will not be found until he is ready,” Thor advised. “He is a master of deceit and illusion. I will face him when he chooses to strike for the next gem. Until then, he will undoubtedly remain hidden.”
“Not from u-u-us...” Cross sang. Todd would have called it a 'sing-song voice', if not for the relish for violence in his eyes.
The Rowdy 3 and Todd's sister turned as one and made their way to the door. Amanda turned back as they reached the door, gripping the doorframe to lean over the threshold. “You just hang tight and cuddle your boyfriend, Todd. We'll deal with this.”
“He's not my—” The door slammed shut and promptly fell off the hinges into the apartment. “--damn it.”
Thor made no move to follow them, clearly doubting their abilities as god-hunters. He watched Todd for a while, until Todd realised he was petting Dirk's hair and stopped, his cheeks growing warm.
“He will be glad to know that you have been watching over him,” Thor said solemnly.
Then he went to fix the front door with his godly hammer.
The new sense wavered in and out of Loki's control. An appropriate mortal metaphor would be like blurring vision, or a ringing in the ears. This 'power' would require practise if he was to wield it as effortlessly as he did the rest. But whenever he did align it correctly with his needs... revelation. It was the only word for it. In those moments the Nine Realms did not appear as twisting paths at all. They lay before him instead as easily-constructed furniture with a plan.
Poor Dirk Gently, who had never quite ascended to the level where he could understand such plans. Such was the way that fate toyed with mortals, giving them gifts that they could never fully appreciate. One might as well lay the gifts at Loki's feet for him to pluck from the ground. There had been no resistance at all.
Walking down the quiet street, the roadside lights cast his silhouette in various guises behind him. His magic made it a snake, then horned as if he wore his helmet, then winged... just little illusionary tricks cast as a sort of fidgeting while he meditated. And the Universe fell into place. In this direction the tesseract, in this direction a chain of events that could destroy the Avengers from within. Everything was connected and he could weave it however he wished. Another option led to his rule over Asgard, another option... a van. A loud van painted with tribal markings.
That path grew wider, increasingly difficult to avoid. Every step he took, every plan he made, each brought him back to the pounding beat in the van.
When he blinked it appeared before him, crawling to a stop in the road. The doors opened and some leather-clad men climbed out, wielding bats and crowbars. Their glares made their intentions very clear.
Loki could not help but smile at the courage of mortals. “You think to intimidate me?”
“Nope. We're here to kick your ass.” The girl behind them spoke fiercely, but there was something more to her, something that bore investigating.
He laughed at their audacity. “How delightful.”
But then there were things that Dirk understood about his power that Loki did not.
Warning signs, for example.
“--claims of 'disgraceful conduct' towards the secretary of--”
“--in a high-speed pursuit through a pedestrian zone, leading to--”
“--awards for best album and best single in a stunning--”
“--can you believe that shot, Jimmy?! I can't believe it. I honestly--”
When the channel changed for the fiftieth time, Todd lost his temper and snatched the remote control from Thor's hand before slamming it down on the coffee table. “This is not helping!”
“My brother's move will likely be televised if it involves civilians. As Heimdall could not see him, I would like to exhaust Midgardian options to locate him before I alert the Avengers to his presence. They would not take it well.”
Todd ran a hand back through his hair, if only because hitting out at the God of Thunder would probably be embarrassing. “So this is your plan? You flick through the news and hope that he shows up?”
“Heimdall will alert me--”
“If he sees him, which from the sounds of things, he can't!” Todd stomped back into his room, where they had put Dirk to bed. If he was going to be laid out unconscious it seemed only fair to make him comfortable. It had been hours now and he still showed no signs of waking. When Todd took his hand it felt cool and it was only the visible rise and fall of Dirk's chest that staved off his panic.
He heard Thor's heavy footfall approach and couldn't help a further grumble. “If Dirk were awake, he'd have had an idea by now.” Todd hadn't realised how much he would miss cosmic hunches when they were gone.
“I fear he would not. His ability was stolen and--”
“Shut. Up. Just shut up. Go sit in the other room and watch the news. I'm gonna... I'll call Farah again, see if she's got anything yet.”
“But you're more angry with me than I feel I deserve. In fact, your annoyance has been clear from the moment we met. Have I offended, Man of Brotz?”
“It's Todd, okay? And you can't expect to just walk in here and steal my goddamn best friend without consequences! Emotional ones, anyway.”
“Now I fear you have lost me.”
The apologetic smile that accompanied the comment was really what pissed him off. Todd dropped Dirk's hand and stood from the bed. “Okay, you've got no right trying to look like a kicked puppy when you're the one who brought all this to our door.”
“This is true and I swear to you that I will make it right. But this does not explain why you have despised me since my arrival. I have not mentioned it to Gently, but I see it in your eyes.” He gestured to Todd's face. “So I ask again, beyond the fact that my visit has brought down my brother's wrath, have I offended?”
“Yes. You... you waltzed in here like a God and shut up I know you are one. But look at you.” Todd waved a hand at the man and Thor actually did look over his own physique. “You're like some sort of fantasy action hero, all noble with your golden hair and biceps as big as me. I mean, I never had a damn chance. The second you say, 'come with me and meet the Avengers', Dirk is gone. So yeah, I'm bitter. So sue me. You're stealing my Dirk so I think I'm allowed to be a little bitter.”
“How am I stealing him?”
“Fine, fine,” Todd threw his hands up, “not 'stealing' him then, cordially inviting him to the Avengers. Whatever. The end result's the same, me on my own. Again.” He knew he was being selfish. He didn't deserve Dirk. Maybe he didn't even deserve to feel upset about Dirk moving on.
Thor thought about this for a moment. “He would most likely not visit for long if you refuse to join us, so your time alone will be brief. I must confess, I'm confused. Dirk seemed to think you would enjoy meeting my friends, for all that you're not keen on me.”
….Dirk had never intended to go anywhere.
It took long enough to process the realisation that Thor leaned down to his level and asked seriously, “are you well?”
“I am... a colossal fuck-up.”
Although Thor blinked and looked a little confused, he shrugged. “I couldn't comment. I don't know you very well. I am sure you judge yourself too harshly, however. Many Midgardians seem to and Dirk has sung your praises most vigorously.”
Todd groaned. “Of course he has. He's an inherently praisy person.”
“He is exceedingly fond of you.”
“We're best friends.”
“Perhaps it is just that, but...” Thor looked away. Todd wondered if he was actually being coy on purpose. “He seemed to express that--”
The door crashed open in the main room. Amanda called his name.
“In the bedroom!” She bounded in, the Rowdy Three right behind her. One of them shoved Todd aside. He didn't even see who, he was so focused on the way they were crowding around Dirk. It was freaky enough to see them do this when he was conscious but like this, it turned his stomach. “Amanda...”
She grabbed his hand, her eyes fixed on the scene too. “It's okay,” she said, full of confidence. “They're fixing it.”
The Rowdy Three didn't seem to be inhaling Dirk's power like a drug. They were exhaling, golden mist settling over Dirk's skin. And, unless Todd was imagining it, the colour was already coming back to Dirk's cheeks.
Then he sat up and screamed. Vogel startled. “Whoa!”
Dirk blinked and looked around at them all. When he saw Todd he beamed. “Hi Todd. Hi everyone. Um. I assume the day was... saved?”
Amanda nodded. “Yeah, you missed it. Loki's tied to the van roof like a bundle of camping equipment. I think we did actually put him in a sleeping bag.”
Todd looked at her to try and assess whether she was joking. It didn't look like she was. “You...hog-tied a Norse god?”
“We knocked him out first.”
Thor left the room, probably to go and check on his bad brother.
“Well done!” Dirk swung his legs off of the bed. “And thank you, Rowdy Three. I'm sure that Amanda was pivotal in obtaining your assistance, but I appreciate it nonetheless. A successful world-saving endeavour.”
“You owe us,” Martin said firmly, pointing a finger at Dirk's face.
“Surely not. The very world was at risk and--” Martin prodded him in the forehead. “--Ow! Okay, I owe you.” He pouted as they strolled out of the bedroom, rubbing at the spot. Amanda darted forward and gave him the world's quickest hug before following her gang.
That left the two of them alone. Todd sat on the bed beside Dirk and looked down at the floor. There was a smudge of something on the floorboards. Someone's past dinner, no doubt. He prodded at it with his sock.
“I'm really sorry,” Dirk said suddenly, drawing his attention back.
“What? For what?”
“Um...” Dirk looked hunted. “Whatever made you angry? Well, angrier.”
“It wasn't anything you did. I was being stupid. I'm sorry.”
“Oh.” Dirk smiled. “Well I'm glad we sorted that out.”
“Me too,” Todd replied, unable to avoid smiling back. He nudged Dirk lightly with his shoulder. “And I'm glad you're okay.”
“Yeah?” Dirk's smile took on a smug twist.
“Yeah. I'm 'exceedingly fond of you', as Thor would say.”
Dirk took a sharp little breath. “Are you really?”
It was pretty unusual for the make-or-break moments to appear so obvious, but Todd was used to them happening more since Dirk appeared in his life. He linked his fingers with Dirk's.
“Yeah. Pretty much.”
His hand was squeezed lightly.
“Good. I reciprocate.”
They sat in contented silence for a while until Todd couldn't help but break it.
“We're never going to write for romance films.”
Shaking his head sagely, Dirk agreed. But Todd couldn't say he'd really expected a typical declaration of affection. Hopefully he'd never have a 'typical' anything again in his life.
Dirk followed his guide to a stop back in the main foyer of Stark Tower. He had an arm full of Avengers and Iron Man merchandise.
“And that concludes the tour of...” Pepper sighed. “Pretty much everywhere I know.” Her smile appeared to be straining for some reason. Perhaps she had been on her feet too long? Her heels were impressive. “Mr Gently...”
“Oh please, call me Dirk.”
“Dirk. I'm really... flattered, that I was able to show you around today. Any friend of Thor's is a friend of mine and I have infinite time and patience for world-savers. But I don't really have anything else to show you.”
“That's alright, I was really just super-excited to meet you.”
“Oh yes, you're my favourite Avenger.”
“I'm not... I mean...” She stopped. After a moment, smiled again, not strained this time. “That's very sweet. What about your friend?”
“Todd. Boyfriend, actually.”
“Lucky me, really.”
“Where is he?”
“Uhh...” That was a very good question. “Hang on, I'll ask my phone tracker.”
As he fumbled, Pepper asked, “JARVIS, what is Mr Brotzman's current location?”
“The second training range, Ms Potts.”
“Thank you. Come on, Dirk.”
He followed after her obediently. “You should really meet my friend Farah. It's so fantastic to know people who are so objective-focused and competent. It's quite refreshing because most people are sort of messy in more non-productive ways.”
She made lots of listening noises as she led him to the training range, where they found Todd standing with an apple on his head. Before Dirk could register his complaint, an arrow thunk-ed into it. Todd's eyes widened a little. More awe than fear, Dirk felt. He glared at Hawkeye, who was checking his next arrow.
“I think that's quite enough of that. Todd, we're leaving.”
Todd rushed over. “Dude, did you see that? This is why Hawkeye's my favourite. He doesn't even have superpowers, how badass is that?”
“Yes, yes, he's very impressive.”
Hawkeye waved Todd away when he offered the apple and arrow back. “Keep it, man.”
Todd looked like, well, like Dirk when given a Mexican Funeral t-shirt.
“We really need to leave now, Todd.”
“Yeah? You got a hunch?”
“Yes. That. A very important one.”
And that was that. They thanked Pepper and promised to visit again soon. Her smile strained again. Thor returned to walk them out to their taxi and in no time at all they were on their way home.
“So what's the hunch?”
Dirk jolted from where he had been peacefully resting against Todd's side. “What?”
“The hunch, you said there was...” Todd grinned. “There wasn't a hunch, was there?”
“There was! A really important one!”
“Did it involve me running off with Hawkeye?”
With a chuckle, Todd leaned in and kissed him. Dirk never got tired of kisses and this one ended too soon. Except Todd rested their foreheads together after, which was very nice. “I can promise you the Universe isn't planning that at all. You're the best thing it could give me.”
Another kiss, this one initiated by Dirk. Congratulatory more than anything, because, “You could write for a romance script after all!”
Todd rolled his eyes and leaned back in his seat. “Idiot. We were having a moment.”
Dirk wriggled so that he could lay his head on Todd's lap. “Don't worry. We'll have plenty.”
“That a hunch?”
Todd's hand ran through his hair.
“Okay, that one I'll believe.”