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No Pressure (Or Maybe Pressure, If You Need It)

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Things aren’t quite how they should be, or maybe they are and he should have learned better than to have expectations by now. Either way, everyone is somehow miraculously intact- or at least, Farah and Amanda and Dirk and Todd are fine. And the Rowdies, but they’re not really on his list because he’s pretty sure they’ll always be able to get out of trouble just as easily as they cause it.

Anyway, the point of the story is that he’s fine and Dirk is fine and they’re all peachy keen, back home- or at least whatever ‘home’ is provided by Todd’s busted-up apartment.

Farah had taken off to meet Lydia for a break, citing ‘no time like now, really- no, I mean really, I might not even make it past the airport security, at this rate’. Amanda went who knows where with the Rowdies, fauxhawk-ponytail swinging as she pulled herself into the rocking van. And- in a very predictable twist of fate- Todd was left with Dirk. Except it was more than just being left with him; he’d been pulled aside by both Farah and Amanda before they’d taken off, both messages equally dire, despite their radically different delivery.

“Will you…look after him, okay?” Farah’s request had turned into a directive, because that’s what she’s used to, and Todd had frowned a little.

“Yeah, of course. I-,”

“No, Todd. I mean, look after him. He…I know he…told you things, a little, over this last case. But…what happened to him when they took him- even before, too- that doesn’t just go away.”

Her expression had been solid. Todd almost wanted to say, yeah, I know, we all went through shit together, but he knows that’s stupid and selfish and not the point, and he’s getting better at not being an asshole. He knows what she means. No matter what, Dirk is not just fine. And maybe now, more than ever, Todd will find that out.

“I’ll look after him,” Todd promises, meaning every word, and then she goes.

Amanda isn’t so kind. Not that he deserves kindness- and from her, least of all.

“You’re a selfish, lying asshole.”

He can’t respond when she starts, the punch hitting low and fast. Part of his masochistic soul accepts it, welcoming the inevitable fallout as much as he wants to mend things.

“You only ever thought about yourself and you lied to me. For years,” Amanda continues, eyes stony. “And I don’t trust you to do this- or anything, really- but I’m telling you because I care about him and I won’t be here. Take care of Dirk.”

“He’s my friend-,” Todd starts, trying to get the point across, because god damn it he means it, now more than ever, but Amanda cuts him off.

“And I was your sister. That doesn’t mean shit to me,” she says, mouth set. “Say what you want; I don’t care. All I’m saying is that if he’s hurting and you just stand by, then we’re more than done. I will beat you.”

And so it goes, in no uncertain terms. Amanda leaves with the Rowdies and Todd watches her go, feeling for all the world like somehow, he got left out of the part where everyone decided to band up against him. I am his friend, he tells himself, as if someone else will hear his indignant claim and back him up. What part of looking for him for three months was not enough to convince people of that?


His tolerance is great, at the beginning. The first night, they eat crappy takeout because they’re both exhausted and then Todd reaches for the TV remote before realizing it’s smashed. There is no TV. Dirk looks…oddly uncomfortable, on one end of the couch.

“Don’t you want to shower?” Todd asks, too tired to care about the technically intimate question.

“What? No. I mean yes. That- maybe…,” Dirk trails off, the initial burst of energy in his response dwindling like a dying battery.

A litany of take care of him-s float through Todd’s mind, varied in wording and force. Todd surveys the living room, contemplating. The sofa is a no-go, just like most of the place. Anyway, it’s not like they haven’t slept in close quarters before- and Todd has honestly shared beds with people he’s hated, in the band.

“If you’re too tired, you can stay here,” Todd says, bowling through it as if it’s fact and not an offer. It only makes him marginally less embarrassed. Why is it so hard for me to just be a good fucking friend? “Not like this place is clean, anyway.”

Unnecessary, he tells himself, the voice in his mind screaming, UNNECESSARY. It’s almost too late, Dirk’s expression showing the tiniest bit of hesitation as he surveys the room. The sparkle in his eyes, before almost-perpetual, flickers. It’s something Todd has come to hate, especially when it’s his fault.

“Well-,”

“Come on. I’m tired,” Todd sighs, already toeing his shoes off as he walks to the bedroom. What is it people say? The best thing you can do for a person is act like everything is normal and okay. He doesn’t believe in it, but maybe Dirk does and maybe Todd trying will be enough on its own.

“I’ll help with renovations. We can start tomorrow,” Dirk chimes brightly, “put things in order and refurnish. I suppose, considering it was technically work-related, I could be convinced to include it in agency expenses if we-,”

“Dirk.”

The man stops, blessedly, although Todd suspects it’s because he’s waiting to be told no or shut up or on second thought, leave. He really doesn’t like those thoughts, so he takes care to unravel the tension in his body, forcing himself to soften. The three second of silence are more than he’s ever afforded anyone before.

“Sleep. Now. We can worry about it in the morning. Or afternoon…,” Todd adds, already yawning as he yanks his shirt off to pull a marginally-cleaner one over his head (they have, again, been mostly-undressed around each other before).

Dirk makes a small noise- kind of a squeak and an oh- but Todd doesn’t care enough to address it. He purposefully takes his time changing, hearing the frantic shuffle of clothes behind him and a telltale bounce when Dirk probably throws himself onto the bed nervously. Todd isn’t in the mood for an awkward dance around the mattress. He climbs into bed without a second thought after changing, twisting the lamp off, sighing as the blessed pillow envelops his head.

“…Todd?”

“…yes, Dirk?”

“Thank you.”

He feels kind of like a dick now. Well, a lot like one. Dirk’s quiet voice is nothing like the boisterous cries Todd is used to. It’s also far more vulnerable than he likes (and he’s not about to consider what it means that he hates Dirk being in any way helpless; he’s been putting that off since the end of the Time Machine Case).

“Yeah. Go to sleep, Dirk.”


He regrets- well, maybe not regrets but very much reconsiders- his choice in the morning. The first day, Dirk practically brings the songbirds in to help clean. He’s all chattering and smiles and high energy, flushed with exertion as he goes about cleaning.

“You probably shouldn’t wear a leather jacket when you clean.”

“I don’t know what you mean- this is a lucky jacket, Todd-,”

“Was the blue one lucky?”

Dirk shoots him a withering look but there’s no pain there, so at least Todd doesn’t feel too bad about bringing up the harpoon incident. He still feels bad, though, and resolves to backtrack as much as possible.

“Just- I don’t want you crying when you destroy another one.”

“It wasn’t destroyed, it has character now,” Dirk exclaims, nearly dropping the toaster as he animatedly moves his arms. Todd shoots him a look and Dirk contritely pulls the object up to his chest as if it’s a kitten shark, voice lowering a half decibel. It’s not much. “It does.”

“Sure.”

They stop cleaning for an early dinner (which is takeout again, considering the state of the kitchen) and Todd makes sure to order Chinese because he knows Dirk likes speculating and making up stories about the fortune cookies. Maybe he has to sit (or clean) through two hours’ worth of a convoluted fairytale centered around Your life will be richer reconnecting, which Todd points out is too vague before Dirk proceeds to prove his point while arguing it.

If Dirk is too tired to go home that night, Todd doesn’t say anything, because he couldn’t have done the work alone, right?


By the third day, Todd is wary.

He suspects that something could be wrong- after all, Dirk is just as sunny and quirky as when they first met and no one should be that way after this much bullshit. Not even if he and Todd had a handful of heart-to-hearts during the last case (and honestly, they were pretty intimate and Todd doesn’t like thinking about them too hard because he gets uncomfortable after the fact). In any case, Todd doesn’t want to push it so soon but Dirk has no clothes and Todd just brought new sheets. The third morning, Todd tries to maneuver an excuse that won’t seem like a rejection.

It’s fucking impossible.

He settles on slipping in an invitation with his request, since there’s no other way than openly saying ‘do you want to stay with me for a while’ (which he won’t say, because maybe nothing is wrong and saying that would be fucking terrible and he’ll screw it up again).

“Dirk- do you have a screwdriver in your apartment?”

“I thought you had one,” Dirk muses, shuffling through instructions for how to set up a bookcase, which Todd bought just because he figured he could use the bottom shelf as shoe storage. And it was cheap. And an agency expense. “Didn’t we use it for-,”

“I don’t think it’s the right size. Do you?”

“…perhaps,” Dirk says, sounding more like he’s asking. “I mean, if I needed one-,”

“The universe would give you one? Look- why don’t you go check? You can get anything else you need, while you’re there.”

He fully expects a quick response or even just the sound of Dirk leaving (which probably says more about his self-centeredness and elevated sense of being smooth) but instead, he hears the clattering of screws and plastic. Todd immediately turns from the kitchen, where he’s rearranging chipped plates and bent cutlery, to see what’s happened. Dirk is floundering. The instructions are on the floor, the tiny plastic bag of parts still taped to the bottom. A mouth opens and closes and Todd really wishes it didn’t have to be this way.

“Are…are you…?”

“Dirk. Screwdriver?” He asks patiently, slowly, hoping he’s communicating what he needs to (he’ll say more, of course, but he really hopes he doesn’t have to).

Dirk looks at him for a moment, hair reddish in the daylight pouring through the windows, and Todd realizes for the first time he kind of missed the color. It had seemed so much…darker, during their last case. As if some of the color had sapped from Dirk while he was with Blackwing.

And he really, really doesn’t want to think about that. He suspects Dirk doesn’t want to, either.

“Be right back,” Dirk says, still a little squeaky-voiced, and then the door shuts and Todd almost bends over the counter in relief, letting out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. ‘

It takes twenty minutes for Dirk to get back, hair still half-wet, a large bag in hand that he bumps several times on his way in (like the true ninja he is). Todd gives him the benefit of space for a moment, letting Dirk shove the suitcase into a corner before he waits for an answer.

“Well?”

“Well…what?” Dirk’s expression is guarded, or as guarded as it can possibly get (because Dirk wears his heart on his face and that’s probably the most difficult thing for Todd to deal with).

“The screwdriver?”

“Oh,” Dirk says, dragging out the vowel as if it’s done something terrible to them, “I…think the universe is trying to tell me yours will work.”

“Uh-huh.”

If he doesn’t roll his eyes at the comment like he usually does, Todd chalks it up to the fact that they’re dry from staring at instructions too long.


It shouldn’t be a surprise that Dirk fits himself so easily into Todd’s life. For one, the man is ridiculously eager to please, and for another, Todd has so many spaces in his life it might as well be swiss cheese.

They somehow get into a routine, showers and bedtime routines working in tandem as they spend most of their days doing actual work. Farah had emailed Todd after she’d made it to Lydia, requesting that the two of them start on documenting their cases and at least trying to ‘set up a database’. Todd manages to get Dirk into a chair with a computer, which works for all of fifteen minutes before the detective’s fidgeting threatens to drive him crazy. Eventually, Todd shoves a phone into Dirk’s hand, pressing audio record and letting the man pace and talk through things while Todd shoves earbuds in and tries to come up with a folder system.

He maybe should have anticipated that literally dragging up old memories was going to be hard but he’s been avoiding that (and lots of things, honestly) so it’s probably karma that makes things worse. Whatever the universe does for Dirk, it seems to like kicking Todd in the ass quite a bit. Which, Todd is beginning to admit, is partially his fault (okay, mostly).

He notices the change in Dirk’s attitude because the shitty apartment floor isn’t shifting under his feet. Todd looks up from his computer, where he’s deciding whether he wants to nest six folders or not, and sees Dirk staring out the window from the far wall, eyes hard and glazed over, mouth pressed into a thin line. Shit.

“Dirk?”

It scares him that it takes Dirk almost a full minute to come back to himself, the black fog sucked away like untidy dust into a vacuum. Wherever the gloom came from (and it’s probably Blackwing or the goddamn universe), Dirk shoves it away with a deftness that is more disturbing than anything else.

“Yes?” The cocked head and pleasant smile are par for the course but Todd knows better, now.

“I want to get lunch from the food trucks at the park.”

That’s a total lie. Todd hates socialization, mostly because he was such an asshole before and now, he’s just nervous and self-loathing. He’d rather stay inside, hopefully away from the machinations of the universe (although he knows better than ever that his home is not safe; nothing is safe).

He says it because Dirk is wearing his yellow jacket and it’s a bright, spring day. The park is probably lush and vibrant and exactly what Dirk would love. It’s the opposite of Blackwing, which, by all accounts, is a prison in nicer terms. And Todd feels a sinking guilt when he realizes that the apartment, despite his best intentions, might be starting to seem a lot like a prison.

“Oh! Really? That sounds fantastic,” Dirk says excitedly, eyes widened exaggeratedly (although by now, Todd suspects it’s not exaggeration at all).

He’s not sure what to feel about being right. Dirk blooms with the roses, face flushed and limbs animated as he awkwardly run-walks down the leaf-strewn path in the park. People thankfully don’t take too much notice of him, despite his nonstop chatter and energetic bounce. It takes a good ten minutes for Todd to get Dirk to settle on what he wants to eat (which ends up being something from all five of the food trucks). They blessedly find an empty table that isn’t being shed on by trees, spreading their fare out in the warm sun.

When Dirk goes to throw away his trash, someone’s unleashed dog tugs at his pant leg with careful teeth, clearly assuming the man has food in his hand.

“Wait- no, I don’t have anything and you can’t eat it anyway, you’re a dog,” Dirk says, trying to extricate himself awkwardly while dragging his occupied leg along toward the trash can. “Unless- you’re not a person, are you? Todd! What if-,”

Dirk never finishes, the dog’s weight too much and his lanky frame too unstable to stay upright. He tumbles onto the grass helplessly, napkins and checkered food trays flying, and the dog barks excitedly before chasing the trash around.

There’s laughter filling up the space between the trees. It bursts suddenly, reaching for the sky, and it takes Todd a second to realize he’s the one that’s laughing. He almost stops right then (he’s trying to be a good friend, and a Good Friend doesn’t laugh when their friend falls down). He almost does but then he doesn’t, too out of breath to consider it. He tries to cover his face with one hand, thinking maybe not looking will help, but he still sees Dirk sprawled on the ground behind his eyelids.

When he finally gets himself under control and opens his eyes, he sees Dirk still on the ground, mouth open soundlessly as he stares.

“Come on, litterbug. Pick up your mess,” Todd says, nudging the man’s leg with one foot as if it’s no big deal (and he tells himself that so many times he almost believes it).

If Dirk wears an oddly pleased smile for the rest of the day, Todd doesn’t comment. Dirk deserves it and Todd promised.


He is wearing down. Paradoxically, frustratingly, frighteningly. His tolerance is working backward, prolonged exposure somehow making his immunity wear away like paint off the ends of chopsticks in his kitchen drawer.

Well, their kitchen drawer.

It’s almost daily, now. Todd looks for excuses to do small things, in or out of the house, and Dirk does something silly (endearing, a voice tells him, but he tells it that it’s not a fucking English professor, so shut up). It always ends up with Todd laughing, or at least smiling, and that only encourages Dirk. All the annoying things Dirk does don’t miraculously go away and some days, Todd is honestly still pissed off by them. It’s just that he’s learning how to cope now, how to recognize that they’re not just eccentricities and quirks and actually just products of Blackwing and never having had a real friend.

So maybe they’re more alike than Todd wanted to admit.

Of course, questions still linger in the back of his mind and it’s only been a month. Todd sets his standards at three months now; he thinks that’s how much time the universe decides to dedicate to each cycle, kind of. He recognizes that they should talk about things- like why Dirk doesn’t want to go home and what happened at Blackwing and where Todd stands with this whole escapade. He knows all these things but he puts them off, ignoring it until (of fucking course) the universe decides to make the choice for him.

It starts off with an inconsequential conversation and a not-really argument.

“…don’t know how you can live without a proper water filter,” Dirk is saying, in the middle of some long-winded explanation, and Todd is already aggravated because of hunger and the way his internet speed has suddenly plummeted.

“Yeah, well, you don’t have to live with it.”

The sudden stop it puts to Dirk’s words is painful. Todd can feel the atmosphere shift, the casual banter they usually share dissipating like so much water from a hot stovetop.

“Is my presence here bothering you?” Dirk asks, rounding on his heel, his words and posture tight. His tone is familiar. Todd should know better. He tells himself to be calm.

“No, I didn’t say that-,”

“You kind of did,” Dirk says, fingers curling over the edges of his jacket, “If I’m such a nuisance-,”

“Dirk, would you stop?”

“No. I’m not going to stay if I’m not wanted!”

“What are you talking about? Dirk-,” Todd can hear his voice rising, almost a yell, and knows they’ve gone too far. He’s gone too far. He should know better than to key up in response to self-defense. And that’s all it is, this pointless argument. Self-defense and an old wound that Dirk has that they’ve both been ignoring (that Todd has been ignoring).

“No, Todd, it’s fine. I have somewhere to go.”

Dirk leaves in a few steps, the door shutting smartly behind him, and Todd is left staring at the empty space that used to be filled by overexuberant arms and a bright smile.

Of fucking course, he tells himself. Of course he would fuck it up the moment it happened. Of course he’d ignore the fact that Dirk is clearly holding something back- some pain he needs to talk about. Whatever he thinks about not being wanted or being in the way, all he needs is reassurance. All he needed was for Todd to say I want you here, or even you can stay.

But all Todd has ever done since they first met is complain about how much Dirk has ruined his life and how much he doesn’t want him around. It doesn’t matter how much Todd wants to be a good friend now, because he hasn’t ever said it, not since they’ve come back.

“Good job. You fucked things up, again,” Todd mutters at the air, slamming his laptop shut.


Dirk does not go back.

He stays away that night, sitting with his legs pulled up to his chest in the bathtub, thinking.

Perhaps his outburst was hasty. Still, how is he to know when he’s being a burden? On cases, it was always so simple- Todd would say something, good or bad, Dirk would respond, and they would hash things out. The quick pace had always kept Dirk on his toes. Even during their last case, when Dirk had confided his fear of hurting the people around him, Todd has said I am your friend. He’d said it so many times. He’d gone after Dirk, for three months and then in the house and again and again after that. So why is it still not enough?

He knows why. He knows it’s a tangled mess- his dreams of rescue in captivity, his guilt for wanting rescue, his desire to finally be together with people he cares about and who care about him back. All the messy threads, pulling at wrists and ankles and his throat. He wants so much to be a part of Todd’s life but he hates what it might mean. That maybe wanting to be around is exactly what will get Todd killed.

He stays in his bathtub and maybe he doesn’t sleep but that’s not because of nightmares (and certainly not because his bed doesn’t smell like Todd’s). It’s because water is safe, and if the universe were to tear him away, it would be just right now.


Todd hates to think about what Dirk is going through. Night comes and there’s still no sign of the detective. Todd wants to go after him but he doesn’t, thinking space is probably needed. They both need to decide whether they’re finally ready to talk. To stop pretending everything can be okay and they don’t have to talk about it.

Todd doesn’t sleep; he rearranges folders like it’s a game and checks the case files for spelling errors manually, as if it’ll do any good. The darkness outside the apartment is all-encompassing and Todd wonders if that’s how Dirk felt, in a tiny room in Blackwing. If it was like floating on a vast, black, ocean in a too-small lifeboat. Morning intrudes before long, then, and Todd leaves his computer screen with dry eyes.

Very dry eyes.

He thinks of taking a nap or maybe looking for eye drops he knows he doen’t have and then the tightness in his chest constricts, the feeling like the electric shock in the underground room with the rhino. Shit.

He falls to the floor screaming, eyes on fire and the pain spiraling around his head. It’s a million times worse than being punched in the eye and his vision is blurry, the world around him clouding. No, no, no, his mind cries, terror gripping him. I want to see. I have to see-

The door slams open but the sound barely registers. Todd thinks he hears his name but all he can do is watch the world fade, thinking he’ll never get to see Amanda again or Farah or-

“Todd!’

Dirk’s voice cuts through everything. There’s a hand at his mouth, pushing, and Todd’s instinct is to fight it. Bite. He nearly does before he feels a dull flicker of thought- medicine- and he opens his mouth. He swallows, the pills dry and heavy in his throat, and he lays curled on the floor in agony for what seems like centuries but is probably only three minutes.

He is breathing heavily when he when he comes back to himself, vision clearing, and the relief that brings is untold. The first thing he sees is blue- dirty, rumpled blue leather and the creases of Dirk’s shirt.

“Did it work? Do I call an ambulance? I should have called an ambulance,” Dirk is saying, voice verging on hysterical, and Todd feels his heart crack a little (and something else, too, but he’s not about to think of it when he’s just coming off an attack).

“I’m fine,” Todd tries, voice hoarse from screaming, and Dirk lets out a relieved and worried sigh.

“Todd. That- was that- I mean, I know it was. What I mean is, do you need something? I mean- clearly, you’re not all right, of course you wouldn’t be, but-,”

“Dirk.” Todd tries to be firmer this time. He waits and sees Dirk bite his tongue (probably physically) and rock back on his heels, waiting. Worried. “Thank you.”

There’s a mixture of confusion and pain and anguish on Dirk’s face. Todd doesn’t even know where to begin untangling it. He waits for the inevitable flood of words and is surprised when instead, he gets a quiet phrase.

“I didn’t do anything.”

“…so…you’re telling me…,” Todd starts, purposefully dragging it out, and Dirk looks worried and resigned to whatever beratement he’s about to hear. “That was a ghost that gave me my pills? I think we have another case.”

It takes a second for Dirk to catch up, confusion and realization and disbelief throwing an absolute party on his face. Todd wants to laugh.

“Todd. Ghosts don’t exist. You know that.”

He does laugh then, slumping back onto the floor. His head is resting by Dirk’s thigh, a hand propping the detective up next to Todd’s ear. It’s close. And maybe there’s only so much he can admit at once, because Todd settles for tilting his head to feel the fingertips on the side of his cheek, the tiniest contact grounding them both.

“Too bad. I guess we’ll have to settle for working on the website today, huh?”

Dirk pauses, consternation and relief crossing his features before he nods vigorously.

“I can’t say that I’ll be much help- I’m not that good with computers- but I can certainly offer cosmetic advice. Oh! What if we designed each case with a color- you know, like-,”

“Like your jackets?”

“I was going to say like Sherlock Holmes,” Dirk says cheekily, “even though that wasn’t really a theme in the stories…”

Dirk continues spouting ideas even after Todd rolls to his feet, making his way to the kitchen to start a late brunch for the both of him. He doesn’t say anything about Todd’s clothes, which are the same ones he’d left in yesterday, and Dirk doesn’t say anything about Todd wearing the same clothes, either. Their mutual pledge to obliviousness is helpful, for the moment being, but Todd resolves to talk about the issue later that evening.

For now, though, he’s content to make bacon pancakes as Dirk watches in fascination.

“I’m sure it’s terrible for your health, but boy, do they smell good!”


It’s late at night before Todd decides to bring anything up. Dirk’s suitcase is still in the corner of the room, propped on its side for easy access. His jackets, of course, are hung neatly in the hall closet (and Todd hadn’t purposely encouraged that by putting Dirk’s green jacket in there the first night they got home).

He made dinner tonight. Despite being bad at life and relationships, Todd is actually not half bad at cooking. He’s had to work to make canned food taste passable; he considers himself an expert in fridge-scraping. It helps, too, that his fridge is now stocked with ‘company-funded food, of course, what kind of employer would let their employees starve, Todd’. He makes his favorite quick meal- pasta with chicken- and before long, he’s sitting at the table with Dirk.

Dirk makes the most of the meal by filling his mouth as often as he fills the air with chatter about making an app (which will never happen, not only because no one knows how but also because Todd doesn’t like the idea of literally being tracked through it). It’s somewhere between discussions of colors- ‘there’s so many, Todd, I know you know this but there are so many’- and possible names that Todd realizes something.

He has fewer holes than before.

He feels a little less like a paper man shot at for target practice, a little less like the cliché swiss cheese, a little less like an overused sponge. Even without Amanda, who he desperately wishes he could reach again, he’s not marked by his gaps anymore.

Dirk is there.

Now, when he reaches across the table for a napkin, Dirk pushes the stupid chicken holder (his choice) closer and continues chattering. Now, the fridge has a water filter and he no longer tastes something bitter after every sip. Now, especially after having a fight, Todd realizes just how much he’s looked forward to Dirk. To what the man will say or do or what he’ll come up with as a plan for the day.

He cares. He cares that Dirk is around, safe, happy, and in his life. Todd cares and sure, it hurts (the fight was enough to guarantee he felt that), but it also feels good. It feels amazing. Like he has someone just on his side, a little, even when Dirk technically isn’t on his side.

“Hey- Dirk?” Todd’s standing over the sink, water hot in the sink, plates stacked by his arm, and Dirk is leaning against a counter.

“Yes?”

What do I even say? His hesitation seems clear and Dirk shifts a little, the rosiness in his countenance receding just a little. The words are heavy on Todd’s tongue, almost reluctant to pour forth. Isn’t it funny how life-or-death situations make us so much more willing to just fucking say what we want? Need? He turns from the sink, deciding to leave the comfort of pretending he’s concentrating on the dishes, and faces Dirk.

“I’m not sure what, exactly, happened- I mean, I know it was shitty to even joke that I didn’t want you around, because I do- but I don’t know what happened yesterday. And I…haven’t wanted to push it, because I know it must have been horrible and shitty and you don’t usually like talking about Blackwing, but I need you to know that you can talk to me. If you ever want to.”

Dirk stays where he is, fingers curled over the edge of the counter, and Todd waits. He gives it a minute, knowing nothing will probably happen, and then starts to turn back to the sink. It isn’t until he picks up a cup that he hears Dirk start to talk.

“It was terrible. I hated it. And I kept telling them- my friends are coming. I used that, for a while- I knew they couldn’t have caught you and I felt some tiny bit of hope, knowing you and Farah were out there somewhere. But…somewhere along the line, I started telling myself that you weren’t coming. That-,”

“Dirk, of course we were looking for you,” Todd says, interrupting despite himself. “I need you to know- we were looking for you since the first day, since-,”

“I know, Todd- I know. But…that’s just it,” Dirk says, the words a little strangled, and it hurts Todd to hear them. “I kept thinking, good. That it was a chance for you to go back to living normally, and Farah, too- that you should both just live your lives-,”

“That’s not true. We had to find-,”

“I know you were looking for Amanda,” Dirk barrels on, the lines on his forehead and shine in his eyes telltale signs that he’s spilling everything out. “She’s your sister. And I dragged her into this by extension, the only thing you really cared about, and I understand that you wanted to find her. You don’t have to keep telling me it was me you were so desperate to find-,”

“Dirk,” Todd says firmly, cutting him off. He waits, watching Dirk trying to look at him without breaking eye contact. As if it’s somehow painful to face Todd. “Yeah, Amanda was the only thing I cared about- but I fucked up. And…it’s just not true anymore.”

“Todd, you may be fighting, but she’ll come around,” Dirk says, shaking his head as if this conversation is going just the way he thought it would.

Well, fuck the universe and whatever it’s telling him, Todd thinks. Fuck plans.

“Amanda isn’t the only thing I care about. I care about you. I cared when you went missing,” Todd rails on, the steam suddenly bursting from his chest, “And I cared that you weren’t there. I kept thinking what would Dirk say about this and what would Dirk think about that and it’s not because I was trying to be like you, it was because I missed you!”

Oh, shit, that felt good to get off my chest.

Well, it felt good, but now he’s acutely aware of how vulnerable he’s just made himself. His immediate response is to negate it- throw in some insults or choice pieces about Dirk being a nuisance that Todd can’t get rid of no matter what- but he doesn’t. He bites his tongue and holds it back, reminding himself that what he needs right now (and what Dirk needs) is not his qualifiers and jibes. They need honesty. Truth.

“…Todd.” The one word, his name, is quiet. Somehow, though, it seems to hold everything in it. As much as Todd needed the rant, maybe Dirk just needs that one name. The realization that comes with it. Todd can see Dirk trying to blink away tears.

“I know you’re scared,” Todd says, slower and less explosive, “and I know you’re not used to this. To having people stick around. But you’re my friend and I want you around. So you’re gonna be stuck with my sad, fucked-up ass, until such time that you decide to get another friend. Okay?”

“I don’t need another friend,” Dirk laughs, the sound broken in half.

“Well, thank God. I’d be broke without you,” Todd grins, a little silly and a lot better.

This time, Dirk laughs, and Todd has to admit, it’s the best thing he’s heard in a long time.