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Bring The Colour To My Life

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Dimension: 1. Present Day.

Ken cuts the call with a satisfying bleep, and settles comfortably back into his chair. It’s been what he would term a thoughtful kind of day – long, quiet, and mildly intellectually interesting. On the surface, he’s been checking the accounts and ticking off his list of otherwise mundane administrative tasks. Behind the eyes, he’s been deep in thought.

Principal Wilson had seemed pleased with the progress being made in the release of the evidence for the existence of Wendimoor: meetings scheduled, statements written, the wheels set in motion for notifying the major sectors of Central and Federal Government. The lightbulb flickers erratically above his desk as he scribbles a final signature on what feels like the hundredth document, eyes lifting every few minutes to scan the screens displaying CCTV footage from across the facility.

When the knock on the door echoes through the room, it comes of little surprise, prompting only a slow turn of Ken’s head.

‘Yes?’

The heavy door is cranked open to reveal the thin, perpetually anxious face of Lieutenant Assistent.

‘Mr Priest for you, Director Adams.’

Ken gives a curt nod, and the door swings further open so that Priest can saunter into the room, hands clasped behind his back and a thin leer on his face. He’s head-to-toe in the uniform usually reserved for the most extreme of threats, but Ken has never seen him wear anything else. He swings a heavy, black bag almost lazily from his shoulder and deposits it on the desk in front of Ken.

‘One time machine for you, Ma’am.’

‘You got it,’ Ken unzips the bag in a fluid motion, and surveys the mess inside: shards of glass and metal, a vague approximation of a frame filled with untidy wires and broken computer parts. ‘Is this all of it?’

‘As much as we could find. Smashed to pieces, along with the rest of the Spring Mansion.’

‘All I need is the basics,’ Ken carefully extracts a sliver of metal and holds it between his fingers, examining it. ‘It can be copied.’

‘You’ve got yourself a rather sudden enthusiasm for re-building a time machine, Kenzo. What about gettin’ the truth out about magical fairyland? Thought you and Wilson were all over that.’

‘Oh, that’s just the beginning. Just another thing in the pipeline. I’ll have plenty of time for that.’

‘What’s your game, Ken?’

Ken can almost feel  the gleam in his eye betraying the excitement he’s been quietly nursing for the past three days.

‘We can use the materials from Wendimoor in more ways than just proving it all exists,’ he explains. ‘What if we had the support of the Projects, had them on our side? What if they wanted to help us? We could predict attacks, violence, war; we could kill terrorists, or tyrants, or prisoners. We could change everything.’

Ken isn’t a bad person – at least, he doesn’t think so. The world can’t be divided into good and bad; it all just depends on your perspective. If morality as a concept is subjective, then the boundaries must be entirely arbitrary. He wants to do right, after all; he fully intends to use the Projects for good, to make the world a better place. If the end justifies the means, well. It’s a small price to pay.

Priest raises his eyebrows at Ken, scrutinising, leonine. ‘What are you saying?’

‘What I’ve always been saying. Somebody dropped the ball. Somebody made it “us” against “them”, made the projects feel like we were the bad guys, but we need to persuade them we’re not, and that they can trust us. I made Bart trust me. Look.’ Ken gestures towards one of the CCTV displays, a small, square screen on which there is a girl, in a black and blue jumpsuit, sitting in semi-darkness. Her grizzled hair falls over her face, fingers tapping on the table in front of her. Ken studies her for a moment. ‘No walls could hold her if she didn’t want to be held. But here she is.’

‘And you wanna go back in time to when they were all brought in so you can make ‘em work for you.’

‘So I can show them they can trust me,’ Ken corrects him. ‘Think of what we could do if we had a good relationship with all of them.’ He straightens up, surveying the mess of parts on the table. ‘The time machine would need to be fixed up, or a new one made, but the new metals from Wendimoor, the new tools, they can help with that.’

‘I read the files on that machine. You can’t change the past. It can only create a time loop.’

‘The version Patrick Spring made, maybe. But I know how it works, and I can build on that. I’ve already fixed it once before. If we could alter it somehow, rectify it, we could change the past.’

Priest smirks, arms folded. ‘And you think you can do that, do you, Kenny Boy?’

Ken grins.

‘Yes. Yes, I think I can.’

***

Step, step, step, step, step.

A pause. A button pushed. A shiver; a curling cloud of cold breath, even though in the daytime it is still pretending to be August. The red man changes to green, glowing bright through the dark of the chilly evening. A hand grasps the handle of a small suitcase, and the woman hurries across the road with it trundling along behind her, ducking her head in gratitude to the cars that glare coldly back as they wait with impatience.

Stepstepstepstepstepstep-

She pauses, on the unchartered territory of a new pavement, and checks her phone again, frowning at the pulsing blue dot that marks her current place in the world, and the wind tangles at the blonde hair that falls around her face, getting in her eyes and pissing her off.

Step-

No. wrong way.

Step, step, step.

A disgruntled little yap from a darkened doorway compels her to lift her head, eyes searching out and resting upon the expectant face of a small dog: a corgi, tongue lolling dopily out of her mouth, brown eyes watching her curiously as she stands and stares back. Suddenly, the dog lets out a bark, and sets off at a run, little legs taking her past the woman on the pavement. She turns, whipping around to follow the dog, who has no owner in sight, but when she looks around, she finds that the dog is no longer there. She has simply… vanished.

Probably found another quiet hiding place in a shop doorway where she can shelter from the drizzle, or trotted off down a side street.

Strange.

The woman frowns again.

Step, step, step, step. Step.

Step.

The doorway that had produced the little dog is dark, hidden away, the red paint, though probably a brilliant crimson in daylight, barely visible under the sickly yellow streetlamp that flickers apathetically nearby. There is a brass plaque just to the right of the doorframe.

“Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency”.

Stevie Mander reaches out to twist the polished doorknob, and pushes inside.

***

Farah closes her eyes, and counts to ten. She can’t usually complain; not everyone is blessed with the opportunity to be a founding member and self-appointed patron of (probably) the world’s first Holistic Detective Agency. But, today, when the ugly Agency clock hands have lethargically dragged themselves past ten o’clock on a Friday evening and she’s still sitting in front of a computer, flanked by a gangling holistic detective who can’t last two minutes without dramatically announcing his impatience, and his long-suffering but newly-appointed business partner, she has decided she deserves a raise.

‘All I’m saying,’ she tries again, ‘is we need a way of explaining why we needed to be underground in the first place, in a way that doesn’t mention the Tsuliwaënsis.’

‘Okay.’ Dirk squints in thought. ‘How about this: we were accosted by a small but friendly gathering of… of aliens, who pushed us into a hole, and-’

‘Dirk, how is that more plausible than an ancient race of dirt-burrowing, underground dog people?’ Todd asks as he leans against Farah’s desk with his arms folded, and Dirk gives him a reproachful look.

‘You really need to stop calling them “dog people”, Todd, it’s highly offensive-’

‘It's not my fault they have an unpronounceable name!’

‘Tsuliwaënsis,’ Dirk repeats for him.

‘Tsoowee-’

Tsoo-

Tsoo-

Lee-

Lee-

Cali-’

‘Cali?’

‘Fragilistic-’

‘Wait-’

‘Expialidocious!’

Dirk is grinning cheekily, and Todd rolls his eyes despite clearly biting back a smile.

‘Asshole.’

‘Guys,’ Farah interjects. ‘The sooner we figure this out, the sooner we can all go home.’

Dirk bristles. ‘Well, I still don’t know why I have to be here in the first place. We all know I’m awful at paperwork, and it’s already after ten o'clock, which is, quite frankly-’

‘We’re here because you didn’t show up to work until midday today,’ Farah cuts in flatly.

‘If I hadn’t been kept up all night by Todd’s evil juice-

‘Dirk, you drank my energy drink,’ Todd raises an amused eyebrow. ‘That’s not my fault.’

Dirk opens his mouth to respond, but Farah interrupts him before he can speak, pinching the bridge of her nose. ‘Guys. Please.’

‘Okay, okay,’ Todd sighs. ‘Any advance on aliens?’

‘Todd, I am not calling up the insurance company and telling them it was aliens!’

‘Fine. What about moles?’

Farah just stares at him.

‘“What about moles”?’

‘Aliens aren’t looking so bad now, are they?’

‘Todd, I swear to God-’

Something. Something is coming. Something is here.

Dirk feels the cool wash of the feeling trickling down his back, like cold fingers on his shoulder, a phantom in the corner of his eye, a flutter in his chest. A hunch.

Something.

He sits in silence while Todd and Farah bicker beside him, the feeling settling uncomfortably in his stomach, a sense of foreboding cold in his chest, something he doesn’t yet understand, but will in about three… two… one…

The bell on the reception desk lets out a single, shrill ding!

‘Hello?’ calls a tentative voice, a female voice, and Dirk is standing up before he even knows he’s pushed back his chair and leapt to his feet. The voice sets his heart hammering, memories clamouring for attention like ghosts of half-forgotten songs, swirling in his brain.

‘We’re closed!’ Todd yells, barely bothering to raise his head from the computer screen.

‘Er. I’m just visiting Dirk?’

It’s unmistakeable. Dirk is out of the office in a flash, tripping over an inconvenient rogue pot plant on the way, body almost unable to catch up with the speed of his feet. There’s a girl behind the reception desk, or a woman now, he supposes, hair cropped shorter than it was when she was a student, in a long coat and clutching the handle of a suitcase. She breaks into a smile when she sees him enter.

‘Hey, Dirk!’

Dirk feels all the colour drain from his face.

No. No, no, no… how…?

‘Dirk?’ Todd is at his shoulder, voice apprehensive, cautious, hand warm through Dirk's shirt sleeve as it suddenly grips his arm, and this might be what shocks Dirk out of his stunned silence. Farah comes slowly up behind them. Three detectives, staring stupidly at a young woman whose smile is rapidly faltering.

‘Is that you?’ Dirk whispers.

‘Erm.’ The woman chews her lip nervously. ‘I think so?’

And Dirk’s feet are moving of their own volition again, taking him numbly towards her before he lurches forwards and throws his arms around her shoulders, which tense up in surprise. She relaxes into his arms and brings up her own to rest at his back, chuckling softly as he holds her tight, face pressed into the crook of her neck to hide his frozen expression of panic-stricken shock, brain whirring at a mile a minute.

‘Wow,’ she teases. ‘You never usually miss me this much.’

Dirk pulls back, gripping her tightly by the upper arms and fixing her with an urgent stare. He’s vaguely aware of Todd and Farah exchanging a look of concern and bafflement over his shoulder.

‘Stevie. What are you doing here?’

‘What do you mean, what am I doing here?’ she laughs. ‘What are you doing here? So much for meeting me at the hotel!’

Dirk’s frown deepens, heart still hammering in his chest. Something is wrong, wrong, wrong… ‘Wh- what hotel?’

‘The Perryman Grand? You said you were staying there, but the concierge said no one under the name of “Gently” was in the current records, so I just assumed you were using an alias or something, you know? And you weren’t answering my calls or texts so I had to borrow the phonebook, and, lo and behold, apparently you’re running a detective agency now, which is pretty amazing and I’m really happy for you, even if it would have been nice if you’d maybe told me about it-’

‘Wait,’ Todd finally speaks, eyebrows confusedly creased in the middle in the way that would, were it not for the alarming nature of the situation, make Dirk’s stomach flip. ‘The Perryman Grand?’

‘Stevie,’ Dirk turns back to the woman, who is giving him a funny look, ‘I haven’t spoken to you in years. I didn’t say any of that. I didn’t say I’d meet you at the Perryman Grand.’

‘What are you talking about?’ she rolls her eyes. ‘You invited me to Seattle. You’d better not be fucking with me because that flight from Heathrow is an absolute bitch-’

Farah is stepping forward before Dirk can open his mouth to speak, addressing the woman like she might do a witness to a particularly brutal murder, or else a small child. ‘Okay. Stevie, is it? You’re saying Dirk invited you here?’

Stevie is rifling through her handbag, pulling out a wad of documents with a flourish and thrusting it towards Farah.

‘Yes. He paid half my airfare, look!’

Farah frowns at her, and carefully takes the documents, eyes flicking down to scan them as Dirk and Todd flutter to her shoulders to peer down at the first page, which is clearly a printed email confirmation of a flight booking.

From: Dirk Gently <dirk.gently@outlook.com>

Date: 12 August 2017 12:44:25 BST

To: Stevie Mander <slmander@gmail.com>

Subject: Fwd: Your e-ticket receipt ZIAM5Y: LHR-SEA 27 Aug 2017 14:30

Forwarded email: Your E-Ticket Receipt

Dear Mr Gently,

Thank you for Booking with American Airlines.

Passenger name: Stephanie Mander...

Farah glances to her right, to exchange a Look with Dirk, and then to her left, to exchange a Look with Todd. Dirk catches Todd’s eye so that they can also exchange a Look, to make it fair.

‘Uh.’ Farah gives Stevie her well-practised reassuring smile, and gestures to the plush sofa in front of the reception desk. ‘Stevie, why don’t you take a seat? We’ll be with you in just a minute.’ With that, she grabs both Dirk and Todd by the arm, and drags them roughly out of the room and into the office.

‘Ow,’ Dirk complains at the pressing of her thumb into his sinews as Todd silently closes the door between them and the bewildered woman standing dumbly in the adjacent room. He rounds on Dirk, an expression of concern gracing his furrowed brow. Despite his state of near-hysteria, Dirk feels very slightly comforted by Todd’s care, a pleasant warmth somewhere in his stomach.

‘What is it?’ Todd asks urgently. ‘You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.’

Ah, yes, there it is. The reason to panic.

‘Nope,’ Dirk shakes his head jerkily, feeling his chest tightening, ‘no, no, she is absolutely, definitely not a ghost, because that would imply something I very much do not want to unpack right now-’

‘Okay, take a breath,’ Todd instructs, and Farah cuts in to maintain whatever professionalism they manage to cling onto roughly twenty percent of the time.

‘Dirk, who is she?’

Dirk closes his eyes for a second. When he opens them, Farah and Todd are looking at him with rapt attention, brown eyes and blue, and he tentatively tries to take a deep breath. His chest begrudgingly allows it.

‘Steve, or Stevie, Mander,’ he explains. ‘She was my best friend and roommate when I was at Cambridge.’

‘You…’ Todd frowns, ‘you said you’d never had a friend before.’

Farah is quick to step in. ‘Todd, that is not the most important-’

‘Okay, okay. Uh, lots to unpack here, so back up a sec. You… you went to college?’

‘Yes, Todd, a sparkling natural intellect can only get one so far,’ Dirk replies impatiently.

‘And… she was your roommate? Like… you had mixed dorms?’

Farah glares. ‘Again, Todd-’

‘Well, not exactly,’ Dirk admits. ‘It wasn’t really a formal arrangement.’

Todd gives him an odd look. ‘What the hell does that mean?’

‘Jesus, Todd, does that really matter at the moment?’ Dirk cries out in frustration. ‘I’m trying to tell you that there is no way she can be here at this moment, in the Agency, in America, in this universe, in this anything.’

Why?

‘Because she died over a decade ago.’

There’s a moment of open-mouthed, staring silence while Todd and Farah digest this information. Dirk is breathing heavily, aware that his eyes are probably a little wild. Farah is beginning to look how he feels.

‘Right!’ she nods a little manically. ‘Okay! Okay, that’s new!’

‘Panicking a little bit here-’

‘Yeah, I see that-’

‘You know, because she’s dead-’

‘How dead are we talking, exactly?’ Todd interjects.

‘Very.’

‘And yet,’ Farah adds, ‘she’s walking, talking, breathing…’

Dirk flaps his hands. ‘I mean, she could be-’

‘-A ghost,’ Farah finishes, at the same time as Todd says, ‘a zombie’, and Dirk offers, ‘a clone’.

Dirk opens his mouth, and then abruptly closes it again. Todd gives him a look.

‘Dirk, did you just say, “a clone”?’

‘We have to be open to all possibilities, Todd!’ Dirk says defensively. ‘And it’s a much better guess than a zombie, honestly-’

‘Okay, focus,’ Farah interrupts. ‘We need to assess the level of threat. So, Dirk, as far as you know: malicious?’

‘Not in the slightest.’

‘On good terms?’

‘Excellent.’

‘Uh. Evidence of… delusions? Hallucinations? Thinking she’s talking to you when you’re not there?’

‘I’m pretty sure that’s all new,’ Dirk replies doubtfully.

‘Okay, so.’ Farah spreads her hands. ‘Threat level is relatively low.’

‘Literally any of that could have changed,’ Todd points out.

Farah nods. ‘Right. We should stay cautious. Agreed?’

Dirk and Todd mumble their approval.

‘So, what do we do next?’ Todd addresses Dirk, who falters uncomfortably.

‘Er. Well, as head of the Detective Agency, I strategically delegate the decision-making in this instance to our most competent member. So… Farah?’

Farah appraises the two expectant faces turned towards her like flowers to the sun, and sighs internally. A raise. A raise is definitely needed.

‘We should question her.’

‘Do we have any… evidence?’ Todd raises an eyebrow. ‘Of anything? Like. Can we actually question her?’

‘Not, like, officially,’ Farah clarifies. I just mean we should ask her some questions. An informal interview. Flash my badge. I am a Deputy.’

‘In Montana,’ Todd reminds her, and she glares at him.

‘Look, just because the optimal method in a situation isn’t a hundred percent legitimate doesn’t mean-‘

‘Let’s go and talk to her,’ Dirk suggests hastily, and Todd and Farah turn to fix him with matching irritated expressions.

‘Right,’ Farah folds her arms. ‘Just what I was saying.’

They troop back out of the office to find Stevie standing by the window, fidgeting agitatedly with a sliver of loose nail on her thumb. She whirls around to face them when they re-enter, fixing wide, pleading eyes on Dirk. She looks like a lost child.

‘Dirk, what’s going on?’

Dirk feels a pang of sympathy in his chest, and he moves across the room to give her a reassuring pat on the shoulder.

‘I don’t know, Steve,’ he admits. ‘But we’re going to find out. Please sit down, I promise you we’re mostly good people.’

After slight hesitation, Stevie obediently takes a seat on the sofa, Dirk settling down beside her, and Farah perching precariously on the coffee table in front. Todd stays well back, arms folded, making no move to sit down or otherwise coax his features into something other than a distrustful scowl.

‘Okay,’ Dirk smiles slightly at Stevie, who looks worriedly back. ‘To start with, we’d just like to ask-’

‘Who the hell are you?’ Todd asks bluntly. Dirk shoots him a betrayed look.

‘Todd! Be nice!’

‘What he means,’ Farah interjects, ‘is that something weird is clearly going on here, and that’s kind of our specialty. The three of us make up the members of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: you’ve already met Dirk, my name’s Farah, and the little angry one is Todd.’

‘Hey!’

Farah calmly and steadfastly ignores him. ‘We use holistic methodology, based on the fundamental interconnectedness of the universe, to deal with cases that are usually unbelievable, often supernatural, and always weird. And we think, given the bizarre nature of this situation, that you might be part of a new case. We’re not accusing you of anything, but we’ve decided our next step should be to ask you a few questions in order to ascertain exactly what’s going on here.’

‘What?’ Stevie looks entirely at a loss. ‘“Holistic”? “Supernatural”? Are you just a group of… of…’ Stevie censors herself with little grace, and changes tack. ‘Dirk, I thought you worked for the government.’

‘I have literally never worked for the government.’

‘It was some kind of… thing,’ Stevie frowns. ‘Blackbird?’

‘Blackwing,’ Todd corrects quickly, and Dirk feels his pulse quicken. No. No, surely…

‘That’s the one,’ Stevie nods.

Dirk’s jaw is clenched tightly shut. He feels a little ill. ‘Well. That’s… new.’

‘Okay, let’s start at the beginning,’ Farah says. ‘All we know at this point is that Stevie says Dirk invited her here, or else somebody using Dirk’s name, and Dirk has no recollection of ever doing so.’

‘It wasn’t just the name,’ Stevie shakes her head. ‘We spoke on the phone multiple times; we always have. If it was someone pretending to be you, it was also someone willing to pay hundreds of pounds to get me here, and who can hold hour-long phone conversations using your voice without me suspecting anything.’

‘Well,’ Dirk says fairly, ‘it may not necessarily be a simple question of “me” or “not me”. You know what we were saying about the supernatural-’

‘Stevie,’ Farah tries again to bring them back to their chosen path. ‘Are you happy to answer some questions for us?’

‘Er. Okay.’

‘Okay. How do you know Dirk? How did you meet?’

Stevie sighs. ‘I met him at Cambridge when I knocked on his door and asked if I could sleep in his room. We became good friends after that.’

Farah glances over at Dirk, who nods once in confirmation. Todd glowers to himself sullenly.

‘Did you stay friends throughout university?’ Farah asks.

‘Yes.’

‘And after graduating?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Wait,’ Dirk holds up a finger suddenly. ‘That’s not right. I didn’t graduate.’

Todd is taken by such surprise that he entirely forgets to be grumpy. ‘What?’

Dirk sheepishly refuses to meet his gaze. ‘I was sent down during my second year for predicting the upcoming exam questions in an absolutely not psychic manner. For money. Um. And they were all correct, down to the last comma, so the University Board thought I’d stolen them. I was actually, er. Sent to prison, briefly.’

A silence falls that’s just on the wrong side of awkward, Farah raising a delicate eyebrow in Dirk’s direction as he stares determinedly at an unfortunate tea stain in the carpet.

Stevie clears her throat.

‘Well. In my experience, that never happened at all. We graduated together, and you went back to working for Blackwing in the States. Obviously, you never told me much about what that involved, so I can’t help much with that part. We’ve visited each other a few times, stayed in touch; we email, and talk on the phone, all that. And a couple of weeks ago, you said you’d just been stationed in Seattle, and asked if I wanted to come and visit for a holiday. And I agreed.’

Dirk can almost hear Farah’s brain clacking and whirring from where she sits on the table, listening to Stevie with rapt attention, but his own is startlingly quiet. All he can hear is the cold echo of something wrong in his head, like someone step, step, step-ping back and forth within the walls of his skull, the nauseous sense of foreboding setting every hair on end like his skin is crawling with an electric current. He can hear the cry, feel the metallic stinging of the scent of blood in his nostrils…

‘Is it possible,’ Stevie begins slowly, ‘that it’s got something to do with memory? You know, being tampered with? If we both remember things completely differently-’

‘No,’ Dirk says quietly, and feels three faces turn to look at him in anticipation. He swallows against the swirling sensation in his stomach, trying desperately to breathe evenly. ‘No, it’s not that. It’s not memory that’s been changed, it’s reality.’ He looks up, meeting Stevie’s wide eyes, barely able to raise his voice above a whisper. ‘I didn’t work for Blackwing. They kept me in a cell, against my will, from when I was a young child. I’ve been living in their shadow all my life. I was thrown out of university, and bailed out of prison by Riggins, the old Director of Blackwing. I lived in London, not America. And… and you died fifteen years ago.’

A mixture of emotions cloud Stevie’s face as she stares back at Dirk. Even Todd has the grace to look away.

‘No,’ she shakes her head quickly. ‘No, I didn’t, because I’m here-’

‘Look, don’t panic,’ Farah soothes. ‘We don’t know the facts yet. There are clearly two different stories happening here, and it’s obvious that you’re not dead, because you’re here and talking to us right now. But… but there are a million reasons why that could be, and another million why you might actually be dead, after all. We just… we just don’t know.’

Dirk watches Stevie carefully as she takes a deep, shuddering breath. She turns to face him.

‘How did I die?’

‘We were in a café when a bomb went off,’ Dirk replies softly. ‘Some attack against a man who worked there. You were killed instantly.’

Stevie blinks rapidly, nods, and visibly pulls herself back together, like a puppet’s strings being delicately pulled, bringing her to life.

‘Okay. Okay. But we’ll figure it out? That’s your thing?’

‘It is,’ Farah confirms.

‘So, you can fix it?’

‘We’ll try,’ Dirk smiles softly, and takes her hand in his own. Todd shifts a little where he stands, but remains silent.

Farah stands like the rising tide, and glances at the clock’s hands as they pass eleven, before looking around at them all. ‘It’s late. I vote we all go get some sleep, and come back to this in the morning.’

Todd lets out a grunt of assent, and Dirk nods in relief.

‘I’ll, er.’ Stevie glances up. ‘Come back here when you open tomorrow, then? Nine o’clock?’

‘Don’t be silly, Stevie,’ Dirk shakes his head. ‘You can sleep in my spare room.’

Todd’s wary, ‘What?’ is twisted with Stevie’s own flat reply of, ‘No.’

Dirk looks between them.

‘As far as you’re concerned, I just showed up out of nowhere after fifteen years,’ Stevie points out. ‘I’ll go back to the hotel.’

‘Absolutely not,’ Dirk stands up and holds his hand out to her, eyes sparkling as he allows himself to feel a grain of excitement at the prospect of a new case, enough to push his nagging sense of foreboding to one side for the time being. ‘If it helps, pretend I’m doing it so I can keep an eye on you.’

After a moment of hesitation, Stevie rolls her eyes in fond exasperation, and takes Dirk’s hand so that he can pull her up off the sofa.

‘Great,’ he grins. ‘Let me just fetch my jacket.’

When he flits into the office to retrieve his jacket from the peg, Todd is hot on his heels and looking decidedly glare-y.

‘You’re taking her back to the Ridgely?’ he demands.

‘She’s a friend, Todd, albeit one I haven’t seen in a long time. I wouldn’t dream of doing otherwise. Why should I?’

Todd stares at him in disbelief. ‘She’s literally a dead person.’

‘Well, apparently dead people need sleep, too!’ Dirk replies a little irritably. ‘Honestly, Todd, I didn’t have you down as someone prone to such close-minded prejudices.’

‘Prejudice? Seriously? She could be a Blackwing agent, or a ghost, or… okay, a clone! Or just… part of some plan to fuck with us. You have no idea who she is.’

Dirk feels defensive annoyance prickle under his skin as he narrows his eyes at Todd.

‘What on earth has got into you today? You’re even grumpier than usual – no, don’t deny it. You did this with Mona, too. Is it that hard for you to accept that I had a life before all this?’

‘Hey!’ Todd glares at him, raising an affronted finger, and that is the last straw. ‘You don’t have to be an asshole just because-’

‘Just because you are?’ Dirk finishes hotly.

Todd stares at him mouth hanging slightly open in indignance and confusion and… some other kind of emotion that Dirk isn’t quite able to decipher. Dirk’s heart is hammering in his chest, regretting the outburst almost as soon as it has left his mouth. He averts his gaze and tries to remain composed.

‘Do you want a lift home or not?’ he asks loftily.

‘Uh.’ Todd’s mouth twists in sheepish defeat. ‘Yeah.’

‘Right. Well. We need to get going.’

This time, when Dirk abruptly opens the door and disappears into the next room, Todd is several steps behind.