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I know what I’m doing

After case parties had become a tradition but this was the first one where The Rowdy 3 had been in attendance, and it was anything but a relaxing night in.

Amanda and the other Rowdies had rolled into town only a few days prior and had been able to help take down the ring of thieves who were trafficking in what could only be described as ‘probably unicorn horns’, but Todd was still unsure of their authenticity. Earth didn’t even have unicorns. Or at least, Todd was 42% sure that Earth didn’t have unicorns. But with the Rowdies being instrumental in completing the case Farah had invited them all over to Todd’s for a celebratory drink.

Telling them to bring some extra alcohol had been the first mistake of the evening.

Amanda had kicked open the door, slightly tipsy before the night had even begun and produced an unhealthy amount of tequila in on hand and an entire bottle of absinthe in the other.

“Dirk! You’re British! I’m sure you can show us how to drink this stuff!” to Todd’s surprise Dirk was more than capable of showing them how to consume absinthe the ‘proper English way’ and then surprised everyone by swiping the bottle from Amanda, a wicked grin on his face.

“But this is how you do it at St. Cedd’s!” he flipped the top off and tipped the bottle back, downing half of it as Amanda and the Rowdies cheered him on.

“Get it Brit!”

“Chug! Chug! Chug!

“Way to go, Dirk!”

“Dirk! Isn’t that like 50% alcohol?” Todd asked as Dirk took the bottle away from his lips to stare down at the label.

“It says 75%. Goodness, I haven’t done that in ages!” Dirk smiled over at Todd who was fairly impressed.

“Come on over and sit down, I’ll get you some water. Amanda pour shots!” Todd said, heading into the kitchen.

“Already ahead of you! Hand that back this way British Boy, you can’t just drink the whole thing and not share!” Todd laughed as the sound of Amanda struggling the bottle away from Dirk followed him into the kitchen. The night was off to a great start.

The addition of much more potent liquor caused the night to blur and before he knew it, Todd was trying to keep a very drunk Dirk upright on the couch. Amanda sat in the chair while the other Rowdies all lounged around the apartment. Beast and Vogel had passed out on the bed, Martin was leaning against and the wall, and Cross and Gripps were sitting on the floor playing some sort of card game that Todd still couldn’t figure out. Farah was curled up on Dirk’s other side and was carefully watching as Dirk slouched into Todd for the third time in as many minutes. All the alcohol had been consumed and the containers were strewn across the coffee table.

“Well, I think we should probably call it a night, yeah?” Farah asked, she hadn’t had nearly as much to drink as the others, nor had Martin. Both had places to drive and knew better than to get too inebriated. Dirk sat up, eyes wide and focused for the first time in hours.

“Wait, no! Les–” hiccup, “ les play a game. Somesing fun. ‘Manda! Ideas! Go.” Amanda sat up, trying to pull her eyes open and only managing one of them.

“A game? I don’t know Dirk. I mean, we could play spin the bottle but that’s awkward for like,” she tried to count quickly, “most of us here. Oh! I know!” she reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out what looked like a stick. Todd frowned, wondering what it could be, as she flipped it over, revealing the blue crystals.

Holy shit.

“Amanda, what the hell? Is that Psycho Suzie’s wand?” Todd asked leaning away from the wand, not wanting to be anywhere near it.

“Maybe. Who died and made you the fun police?” Amanda glared over at him, or at least she tried to glare, it looked more like squinting.

“Amanda, that thing is danger–”

“Todd, shush!” Dirk placed his hand over Todd’s mouth as he leaned forward. “‘Manda. Can you make me taller?” she laughed.

“You’re already like 5’ 9”, why do you want to be taller?”

“Because I could be taller! But no, you’re right that’s silly, what about, oh! I know! Todd is always complaining that I don’t know enough useful things. Can you make my memory better?” Todd pushed Dirk’s hand away and had crossed his arms in annoyance.

“Could we maybe, not play with the incredibly dangerous magic wand while drunk?” Todd asked.

“Yeah, maybe we should do this another time?” Farah joined in, scooting a little further back on the couch. Todd knew that out of the three at the agency, Farah hated magic most. Which didn’t surprise him in the least. Especially when you are magically forced to shoot your friends, that would probably turn him off magic as well. Amanda was waving the hand that didn’t have the wand.

“It’ll be fine! I know what I’m doing. Ready Dirk?” Dirk nodded scooting too far forward and sliding off the couch slightly. He caught himself on the coffee table and began to giggle as he moved back up. Todd had scooted away as well, he didn’t want to be anywhere near the magic if something went wrong. In all fairness, he didn’t want Dirk anywhere near the magic if something went wrong but it would be fine, Amanda had been practicing. Or, at least he hoped she had.

“Okay. Better memory. Here we go.” She placed the crystals on the wand carefully on Dirk’s head. She cleared her throat, quieting everyone in the room and gave the briefest of smiles. “Liberigi memorojn.”

Nothing happened.

Amanda frowned at the wand and rolled her shoulders taking a deep breath before trying again.

“Liberigi memorojn.”

Again nothing.

“Are you saying it right?” Todd asked, watching as Dirk frowned up at the wand still pressed to his head.

“Shut up, Todd. I know what I’m doing.” She took another deep breath, closing her eyes as she did.

“Liberigi memorojn.” The wand glowed and a high pitched ringing filled the apartment. It only lasted a moment and then the light faded and the sound disappeared. Amanda opened her eyes and lowered the wand smiling over at Dirk.

“Anything?” Todd watched as Dirk thought about it for a moment and then shook his head.

“I don’t particularly feel like my memory is better, but I’ll let you know if anything develops.” Dirk smiled as he leaned backward in the couch. Amanda sighed and shoved the wand back in her jacket as she stood, tipping slightly to the side only to be saved by Martin reaching out to stabilize her.

“Well, I guess we’ll head out then. Thank you for the company! And the opportunity to smash a bunch of shit this week. We very much appreciate it, right boys?”

“Sure did!”

“Lots of fun!”

“Smashed stuff real good, like!”

Todd held a hand to his ear to try and block out the rising voices. If he felt bad now, he couldn’t imagine what the morning would be like. Dirk slumped against his side again and he felt almost sorry. If anyone was going to wake up with a bad hangover, it was going to be Dirk. Amanda and the Rowdies had made it to the door, followed closely by Farah who was waving back.

“Have a good night you two! Get some rest!” Todd waved as the group piled out of his apartment and the door closed behind them. Dirk startled up at the sound.

“Todd? When did I get to your apartment?” He was looking around, squinting at the bottles and the plates from the pizza.

“Did we solve a case? Or fall asleep watching movies again?” Todd laughed as he stood, slowly stretching his arms over his head.

“Remind me to never let you near absinthe again.” Todd said as he surveyed the damage to his apartment. Thankfully, the only things that had been broken were the tequila bottle which had already been cleaned up, and unfortunately his alarm clock. Tomorrow. He would clean up the mess tomorrow.

“Absinthe? I haven’t had that in ages.” Dirk said, yawning as he leaned back against the couch. Todd frowned at him but moved forward, grabbing the blanket from behind Dirk.

“Yeah, no more 75% alcohol drinks for you. Come on, you’re falling asleep. Lay down.” Dirk put up no resistance, leaning over into the pillow and letting Todd throw the blanket over him. He tried to open his eyes but only managed to squint.

“We have to find the kitten.” He mumbled as Todd started flipping off lights.

“We can tomorrow. But right now, sleep.” With the lights out Todd climbed into bed, not even bothering to change into pajamas, and electing to lay on top of the sheets. He was just too tired. He couldn’t imagine why he had thought drinking that much had been a good idea and he felt equally sorry for Dirk who would more than likely wake up dead the next morning. Dirk was muttering to himself from the couch, mostly incoherent, and something that didn’t sound exactly English. Todd would have to ask him as tomorrow if he knew any other languages, Dirk had been insistent that he didn’t but his mutterings said otherwise. The stress of the day quickly overwhelmed him and Todd fell into unconsciousness.


You most certainly did not know what you were doing

Todd wasn’t sure what had woken him. Whether it was the sun coming through the window, or the pounding headache, or a combination of both. He was never drinking again. The same thing he told himself everytime he woke up with a hangover. He groaned as he rolled out of bed and stumbled towards the bathroom.

Todd could remember restocking the medicine cabinet, he was sure of it, especially after the last time that Dirk had showed up bleeding from various cuts and scrapes, he was sure to always keep extra first aid supplies around. But finding the the full painkiller bottle was like a gift from above. He popped back far more than he was supposed to, and took a drink straight out of the faucet.

Perfect, that would start working in a little bit, but in the meantime, he could go back to sleep.

He headed back across to his bed casting a quick glance towards the couch and froze mid stride. Todd was fairly certain that he wasn’t hallucinating. He might have been having an attack but what sort of attack would do this?

Laying on the couch, in place of Dirk, was a small, sleeping child.

Todd took a deep breath, closing his eyes, and counted to five, trying to allow his brain time to catch up. That was silly there wasn’t a child. There couldn’t be a child. Why would there be a child?

He opened his eyes and sure enough, the child was still there. What the hell was going on?

There was a soft sigh as the child pulled the blanket closer to his chin, rolling onto his side, his bright auburn hair falling over his eyes and blocking the light from the rising sun. Todd was still standing in the middle of the room gaping, his headache all but forgotten.

There was a kid, a very small kid, asleep on his couch. Todd was sure that the child hadn’t been there the night before, and moreover, where was Dirk? Did Dirk let the kid in? Why would Dirk let a kid in? It’s not like the kid just magically app–

Amanda.

“Fucking magic wand.” Todd hissed to himself as he scanned the apartment for his phone. He was going to kill her. He was going to kill Amanda. He was going to make her fix this and then he was going to kill her. Todd spotted his phone sitting on the counter and snuck over, it was almost a victory until he noticed what was sitting next to his phone.

Amanda’s phone.

“Are you serious?!” He hissed down at the small black screen. Of course she forgot her phone. That was just, perfect.

Who could he call? If he couldn’t call Amanda who else might be able to fix this? Or at the very least, who could he call to hunt down his idiot ‘I know what I’m doing’ sister.

Farah. Farah was smart. She would know what to do. He punched in her number quickly, walking as quietly as he could back into living room to check on the still sleeping kid. The phone was ringing and he found himself bouncing slightly on his toes.

Come on, Farah, pick up. Please pick up. Come on!

“This better be an emergency.” Farah sounded like she was speaking through a wall, and Todd could imagine her face shoved into a pillow growling at the phone.

“Farah! Yes, it’s, definitely, definitely an emergency. I need you to come over here. Dirk is, well, he’s not here. And there’s– a kid? On the couch.” Todd was whispering, keeping an eye on the couch for any sign of movement. Farah groaned and there was a rustling on the other end of the line.

“Are you high right now?”

“Farah. I’m serious. Please just, please come here.” Todd held his breath as the kid shifted, burrowing deeper into the blanket.

“Todd, the sun is barely up yet. I’m sleeping. I’m not coming over for some kind of case until at least nine.”

“I didn’t say there was a case. I said Dirk isn’t here. There’s some kind of… kid on the couch. Like, an actual small child. In his clothes. Can you just, come over please? I think I’m having some sort of breakdown.” There was a sigh from the other end of the line; it sounded like she agreed with him. It didn’t matter if this was some sort of breakdown, there was still a child in his house. How would a kid even get in here?

“Fine. But you’re doing the laundry for the agency for a month.”

Farah hung up before Todd could respond, and he was left holding the phone with a dumbstruck expression. He hadn’t actually known what time it was before he called her, since the clock was broken from last night. He probably could have checked his phone, but the literal six year old in his apartment was a bit distracting. If he had known it was that early, it was doubtful he would have called Farah at all. Only those with a lack of self preservation made Farah come down somewhere at daybreak, especially the day after a long night.

He wasn’t even sure he’d remember to do the laundry.

The child muttered under his breath, turning on the couch. Todd couldn’t understand what he was saying; it didn’t sound like English. It sounded a lot like the mutters that came from Dirk last night, actually. What language was that?

Todd let out a breath as the kid continued sleeping.

He sneaked over to the kitchen, trying to find something to help him stay awake. He felt like he may not be getting much sleep soon, because he’d definitely lied to Farah. Whatever this was, it was most certainly some sort of case. These sort of things only ever happened during cases. He eyed Amanda’s phone on the counter as he passed; the one time she forgets it just had to be the one time he needed to call her. It was just his luck.

He snagged one of Dirk’s energy drinks from the fridge, left there from countless nights of cases, nightmares, and just days where he would hang out around the apartment. Someone else would probably call him clingy, but Todd didn’t mind for the most part. He was probably a more annoying boyfriend than Dirk could ever be, and that included the almost dying twice a week.

He took a drink, staring at the back of the couch as the minutes ticked by. An idea slowly began to form in his head.

No, that was silly.

That was ridiculous.

That– was essentially how he defined his life at this point. He sighed putting the drink down and carefully made his way back over to the couch, making sure not to make too much noise, or block the light currently hitting the boy in the face.

He was curled up under the blanket, the same one from the previous night, along with Dirk’s shirt, which was more like a very large poncho on the boys slight frame. He didn’t look older than six or seven. Todd scrutinized his face, looking for the familiar features.

Pouty bottom lip, slightly wide ears, auburn hair. And Todd was sure if the boy had been awake he would have stormy blue eyes, that were just a little too wild for sanity.

Todd backed away from the couch as his brain short circuited. That was insane. That was completely, and utterly insane, that was–

Magical. Damnit Amanda. Todd was definitely going to kill her. Soon as he saw her.

He had continued to back away from the couch as he thought, not paying attention to where he was going. Someone had moved a chair, most likely from the night before and he suddenly fell backwards, landing awkwardly in the chair and making a very loud crashing sound. Todd swore under his breath as he saw a mop of auburn pop up on the other side of the couch.

“Unde e pisoiul?”

Well that definitely wasn’t English. Todd held his breath as the child glanced over at him, sure enough, stormy blue eyes wide with confusion.

“Cine eşti tu?”

“Um, it’s okay.” Todd went to stand and the child vanished behind the couch. Todd moved forward, trying to see where he had gone but he moved too quickly, and the child startled backward into the coffee table.

“Stai departe de mine. Cine eşti tu? Unde sunt?”

“It’s okay. I’m sorry if I scared you. Do you speak any English?” Todd moved forward again, trying not to seem terrifying and more than likely failing based on how the boy backed up, nearly tripping over the shirt.

“Mama!”

Todd understood that loud and clear, mostly because it was screamed at a very high volume and his head had started to pound from the hangover. Todd panicked watching as the boy bolted for the door. He’d been awake all of two minutes and Todd was already failing at keeping the child from running away.

“Wait! Hey, it’s okay!” The boy had reached the door but was too short to reach the deadbolt and pulled fruitlessly on the handle. Todd sighed, relieved that he wouldn’t have to go running out of the apartment after the kid. The kid spun against the wall next to the door, backing up, eyes wide with terror. And Todd realized he’d seen the expression before. He’d seen it more than once, on Dirk.

Shit.

“Hey, it’s fine, I promise it’s okay.” Todd spoke quietly raising his hands as he inched forward.

“Cine eşti tu? Unde sunt? Unde este mama?” tears were already leaving streaks down his cheeks and Todd felt his heart break. He couldn’t understand him.

“I don’t know what–” The lock on the door clicked, pushing open as Farah appeared in the doorway.

“Okay, Todd this had better be an emergency–”

“Farah, no!” but it was too late. The kid slipped through the opening, around Farah and disappeared down the hall.

“Todd, what the hell?” Farah’s head whipped around, trying to catch sight of the kid as he raced away, nearly falling down the stairs. Todd swore and raced forward, pushing past Farah, praying that she would forgive him just this once.

“Where’d he go? We have to–”

A blood curdling scream came from down the stairs, followed quickly by more screaming in that language that Todd couldn’t understand. Todd grabbed tight to Farah’s wrist and dragged her forward, there was no way he was letting that child get kidnapped before he had a chance to kill his sister, and Farah would be more than capable of fending off would be kidnappers.

“Why was there– whose kid was– what a minute, you weren’t kidding?” Farah stumbled over her words as Todd dragged her down the stairs.

“Not now! We have to–” he rounded the corner and felt his heart relax. Standing in the entrance to the Ridgely was Martin, and in his arms, was a kicking, and screaming child.

“Înceta! Lasa-ma sa plec! Ajutor!” Martin seemed completely unaffected by the screaming and the thrashing. Staring up at Todd and Farah as they appeared.

“Hey did you lose this? It's real loud.” The child looked at Todd as he entered the proximity, pausing for a second before kicking Martin even harder. This didn’t seem to phase him; Martin simply frowned at Todd and Farah as they stood dumbstruck at the screaming child. Todd just barely found it in himself to shrug.

“Yeah, uh. That’s… he’s- he’s ours. I think. I don’t actually know what’s going on. He was on the couch when I, woke up.” Todd’s voice was barely discernible over the racket. Martin narrowed his eyes, glancing down at the boy in his arms.

“Where’s that British one? He might like something like this.” Todd didn’t have anything to say in response. He looked at the boy again, Martin following his gaze.

“Hold on.” Farah backed up a few feet, putting her hands up as she started to think. “That’s a good question. Where is Dirk? He should be here, and that’s his shirt.”

Farah had pointed to the shirt draped like a curtain over the loud boy, who was now trying to bite Martin’s arm so that he would let go. Either Martin had dealt with this sort of behaviour before, or he just didn’t care, because he wasn’t paying any attention to it. Todd sighed; he had an answer, but the answer sounded insane.

“So this is going to sound like, super weird, but I think he’s right here.”

“What?”

The sound of a slamming door came from outside, and Todd saw Amanda’s head poke out from around the corner. She was gawking at the boy that Martin was holding, trying to find it in her to laugh at it. The boy was too distressed for the situation to seem funny, though. Behind her, Todd could see the masses of the other Rowdies.

“Dude?” Amanda approached, but only made it within a few feet of Martin before she stopped. “Why are you holding a fucking kid? Does that like, belong to anyone or something?”

Todd locked eyes with Amanda for a second before remembering exactly how he’d gotten into this situation.

“Amanda, do you want to come in here for a second?” Amanda eyed the child wearily, who had gone back to kicking and yelling in an unknown language. She shrugged, backing into Gripps, who had come up behind her with a gleam in his eye.

“Nah man. I’m good here, thanks. Why don’t you just send Dirk out here to give me my phone or whatever.”

“I’d love to, Amanda, but he seems sort of preoccupied.” Todd gestured wildly to the boy in Martin’s arms, causing Amanda to widen her eyes.

“Dude. That’s a kid.”

“In Dirk’s shirt! With Dirk’s hair! The day after you use that stupid wand on him!”

“What?! What the hell do you mean!” Amanda began yelling at Todd to make her voice heard, a look of anger crossing her face. Gripps stepped up next to her, ignoring the blossoming yelling match in favour of eyeing what was apparently six year old Dirk.

“You turned my boyfriend into a toddler!”

“You’re saying this is my fault-”

“La ce țipi, puștiule?”

Dirk calmed down at once, tears still running down his face as he looked for the source of the voice. Even Martin turned, looking for whoever had said it. Gripps was crouched down, staring at Dirk with a small grin on his face. Dirk took a hysterical breath as he stared at him, the kicking and biting having stopped. Everyone was staring at Gripps with wide eyes.

“Nu înțeleg ce se întâmplă. Cine eşti tu? Unde sunt? Unde este mama?”

“Nu știu, dar acești oameni care țipă te pot ajuta. Iţi promit.” Gripps answered, gesturing towards Todd. Dirk turned his head, eyeing Todd wearily. Martin, pleased with the sudden development, let Dirk go. Dirk backed quickly away from him into Gripps’ direction, but still not within arm’s length of anyone.

“Este înfricoșător. Vreau mama mea.” Gripps nodded.

“Nu știu unde este, dar ne lași să o ajutăm să o găsim.” Amanda opened her mouth a few times at the interaction between Dirk and Gripps, but apparently had failed to find something to say. Everyone was staring at him, dumbstruck; everyone except Farah, who was typing furiously on her phone a few moments before muttering under her breath.

“Romanian.” Todd turned to her, raising his eyebrows.

“What?”

“They’re speaking Romanian. Did Dirk ever mention being able to speak it?” Todd shook his head. Dirk had very adamantly denied being able to speak any other language; the topic made him uncomfortable. They’d in fact had more than one client speaking Romanian, but Dirk had always been quick to leave the room when that happened. He insisted that it distracted him.

Out the door, little Dirk had been inching closer and closer to Gripps, who now had his hand out for the child to take.

“Nu trebuie să fii speriat, puștiule. Îți promit că vei fi bine.” Dirk bit his lip, rocking on his heels.

“Unde sunt?”

“Undeva în siguranță.”

Dirk had finally gotten into arm’s length of Gripps, studying his outstretched hand with a strange intensity. He seemed to be trying to think. Finally, after a moment, he seemed to find an answer. He wiped his tears with one hand, waving to Gripps with the other, earning a wide smile from him.

“Buna. Sunt Svlad. Cine eşti tu?”

Todd’s stomach fell out from under him. He couldn’t understand Romanian, but he could understand that name. Dirk hated that name more than anything else in the world, and besides Blackwing, it was perhaps the only thing he could truly hate. The name got an instant, terrible reaction out of Dirk. Whatever Amanda had done, the child seemed to have the same memories that Dirk would of when he was six years old.

Speaking of Amanda, she was currently gawking helplessly, phone forgotten.

“Numele meu este Gripps. Arăți rece. Vrei să urci sus? Promit că nu voi pleca.” Dirk nodded, finally deciding that he could trust Gripps. Besides Farah, everyone couldn’t help but stare wordlessly as Dirk wrapped his arms around Gripps, who picked him up. Gripps looked around.

“Kid’s cold. Gotta go up.” Gripps went to walk past Martin, but then stopped, staring at Todd. “Also, he says he hates you.”

Todd couldn’t find anything to say. He let Gripps push past him with Dirk in his arms, heading up to his apartment. He knew the way; The Rowdy 3 had been up there many times now, either for celebration or smashing. The group stood by the entrance, silent. Amanda let out a few sounds, but didn’t seem to be able to find the words either.

Farah stood up, stuffing her phone in her pocket. She swept the room, her gaze jumping From Todd to Martin to the Rowdies outside. Amanda still hadn’t come through the doorway. She shrugged, still visibly baffled.

“I’m going to go make sure they don’t break anything. The insurance forms will not accept someone smashing your place three times in a row.” Farah turned and headed back up the stairs, leaving Todd, Martin and Amanda standing in the lobby. Todd turned back towards Amanda, a frown darkening his features.

“Fix this.” She glanced over, matching his annoyance.

“You really think this was what I had in mind last night? Why in the hell would I do this on purpose?”

“I don’t care if it was on purpose, or on accident, or whatever! Fix it!” Todd answered back, his voice rising the angrier he got. Amanda huffed and crossed her arms across her chest.

“You don’t get it. This shouldn’t have happened! Plibonigi memoron should have improved his memory not–” Amanda reached the same conclusion just as Todd and Martin did.

“That’s not what you said.” Todd said.

“That’s not what I said.”

“Shit, Amanda, what did you say last night?” Amanda closed her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose.

“Shit, shit, shit, what did I say?”

“Liberigi memorojn.” Martin supplied, watching as Todd started pacing back and forth in front of the stairs.

“Are you serious? Damn, yeah, no that would not have helped his memory at all. Like the total opposite, or as we’ve seen, something completely different.”

“Amanda!”

“I don’t know how to fix this! Okay? Is that what you wanted to hear? I don’t know how to fix this, and I don’t understand what went wrong, and I broke Dirk. Oh god. What if he’s like this forever?” Todd sighed. Yelling at Amanda wasn’t going to solve the problem. Even if it did make him feel better. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet, finding the card that Farah said he was not allowed to use unless it was an emergency.

“Just. Take this, go buy, I don’t even know. Some human food, cause I can’t feed him energy drinks and twinkies, and probably like a change of clothes and, I have no idea, just something from the kid entertainment isle or something. Can you do that?” Amanda glanced down at the card that Todd was trying to hand her and opened and closed her mouth a few times. Martin sighed and swiped the card away from Todd.

“Can do, Brotzman. Come on, Drummer.” He turned and headed out the door towards the van, leaving Todd and Amanda alone in the lobby. Amanda looked up at Todd, trying to keep her face from breaking too much.

“Todd, I’m sorry.”

“I know. But it’ll all work out. It always does, right?” She nodded apprehensively. Todd wasn’t sure if he had been looking for reassurance or if he had been trying to calm Amanda. He wasn’t sure either had worked. Amanda turned and left, leaving Todd alone. He sank onto the stairs and cradled his head in his hands.

It was going to fine. Just like he had said. Everything would work out. But there was a part of him that feared it might not, and he couldn’t push it down.


The Great Mouse Detective

Upstairs, Todd entered the apartment to find Dirk hanging off of Gripps. The two were huddled in a corner as Gripps muttered what Todd could only assume were soothing things to keep Dirk calm. The boy didn't seem to want to go near Farah. Farah wasn't taking this personally, and in fact seemed to be on the phone from her place on the kitchen counter.

“I know, Tina. I really don't know how they're still alive. I stopped paying attention to them for two seconds-”

“Farah?”

“Oh, Todd's here. I'll talk to you later.” Farah hung up, glancing up at Todd from his place in the doorway. She nodded to him, taking a long sip of what appeared to be coffee. At least he hoped it was coffee. Farah seemed rather stressed, so knowing her it could very well have been something else.

“Hey Todd.”

“Are they good? In- in the corner?” Farah nodded again, taking the pen next to her and scribbling something down in a piece of paper.

“Yeah. Dirk isn't crying anymore and Gripps seems to actually be enjoying himself, which is enough for me. I'm just trying to write down some basic Romanian stuff. So we can talk to Dirk.” Farah gestured at the paper. Todd gave a thumbs up, deciding to leave out the fact that she was just talking to Tina, probably telling her everything that had happened. It was best to just leave another argument out of this. Farah looked up and behind Todd's shoulder.

“Where's the others?”

“I, sent them to the corner store. Get some stuff for… Dirk.”

Over in the corner, Dirk was eyeing Todd wearily. Upon following his gaze, Gripps brushed the hair out of his eyes and started talking to him softly again.

“Nu iti face griji. Nu te va răni. El este inutil.” Gripps smiled as Dirk screwed up his face, trying to look intimidating as Todd looked their way. Dirk stuck out his tongue, and Todd didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. Maybe he would do both; but that would have to be after he fixed this.

“Nu-mi place. Arată rău.” Dirk's voice was whining as he clung to Gripps, who currently had adopted the look of a proud father.

“Nu e vina lui e urâtă.”

“Okay, dude, come on.” Todd crossed his arms at the duo, feeling an edge of frustration creep into his voice. “Literally no one else can understand you right now.”

“He says you're short.”

“Yeah. What's new?” Farah spoke up from her place on the kitchen counter, and Todd got the distinct impression that he was being ganged up on. He glared at Farah, who only flashed him a grin in return. This was what he got for waking her up with a crisis so early in the morning. She shrugged.

“Listen,” Todd started slowly, “I have literally no idea what's going on. But Amanda and the others are going out, and when they get back, they'll know how to fix this. Everything is going to be fine, just. Let's just chill, alright?”

“Chill?” Farah had a slight edge of hysteria to her voice. “Your boyfriend just got turned into a literal child. You're both single and a father.”

Todd doubted the second part, but he wasn't going to tell Farah that. With the way things were looking, Gripps was going to run off and claim Dirk as his new son. There was no way he could let that happen, but he couldn't very well take care of a six year old either. This just wasn't how he had planned for his weekend to go.

It was only eight in the morning.

“De ce are o voce amuzantă?” Todd groaned as Gripps and Dirk continued their conversation. He knew that look in Gripps’ eye, and he didn't have a doubt that, somehow, they were trash talking about him. Great, now he was being slammed by a six year old, coworker, and a maniac vampire.

This was the worst day of his life, and he hadn't even had breakfast yet.

“Hey, kid says you sound funny.”

“I honestly can't tell if you're lying to me at this point.” Gripps shrugged.

“De ce este omul trist?” Dirk looked over at Gripps, glancing at Todd out of the corner of his eye.

“Prietenul lui este pierdut.” Dirk’s head snapped back towards Todd, a sad frown forming on his face. Dirk released Gripps and carefully moved forward, the shirt dragging on the floor.

“Nu fi trist. Vino să te joci cu Gripps, e distractiv.” Dirk held his hand out and Todd stared down at it. Nobody moved, Gripps watched carefully from the corner and Todd could feel Farah’s eyes on him. He wasn’t sure what to do. The only word he had understood was Gripps and there was a part of Todd that was worried that if he went with Dirk, he might die. But he wasn’t going to make him cry again. He carefully took Dirk’s hand and let him drag him over towards Gripps, who was smirking up at him.

He wished he could understand Dirk.

“Sunt Svlad. Care e numele tău?” There it was, that name again. Todd glanced over at Gripps who remained silent. Todd could figure this out. He knew how to use context clues, or at least he thought he did.

“Todd.” He tried. Dirk smiled up at him.

“Mă bucur să te cunosc, Todd.” Gripps remained silent watching as Dirk dragged Todd down next to him. Todd sat carefully, eyeing Gripps as he shrugged gleefully. Next time he had a celebration, Gripps wasn't invited. Neither was Amanda, for that matter. They could both sit outside, and if this couldn't be fixed, they could be in charge of watching the kid.

God. This was so screwed.

Dirk stared at Todd carefully, examining his face with a careful scrutiny that seemed odd on a six year old's face. Dirk apparently decided that something was wrong, because he frowned up at him.

“De ce mai ești trist?”

“Uh. What?”

Todd looked around wildly for an answer; Farah only shrugged, going back to her writing. She wasn't going to be invited either. Todd sighed, putting his head in his hands for a second.

“I don't, really know what you're saying.” Dirk seemed to catch on that whatever Todd was speaking, it wasn't Romanian. This seemed to put him off for a second, but then he looked over at Gripps.

“Îl poți cere de la mine?” Dirk spoke again. Gripps took a second to stare at Todd, but then nodded, seeming to agree with whatever Dirk had said.

“Kid wants to know why you're still sad. Also, he says you smell bad.”

“He didn't say that.” Todd snapped, but then retreated quickly as he saw Dirk's eyes widen. “Uh, tell him… uh. That I, miss someone?”

Gripps nodded, speaking again to Dirk. Dirk nodded thoughtfully, and then nearly made Todd jump out of his skin as he got to his feet and ran to the table. He picked up a pencil, and dragged a loose piece of paper over.

“Vă dau un cadou. Atunci nu vei fi trist că prietenul tău este pierdut.” Dirk smiled up at him, seemingly proud of whatever idea he had come up with. Todd didn't know what was happening, so all he could do was nod. Encouraged, Dirk got to his knees and started to draw.

Todd looked up at Farah, who was staring at the three on the ground. She looked torn between laughter, sadness, frustration, and awe. It was a weird mix of emotions. She met eyes with him for a moment before picking up her phone again, dialing another number.

“Hey Amanda? How far are you exactly?”

Dirk tapped Todd's shoulder. Was he done already? That was fast. Todd glanced back down to have a drawing shaken in his face. Taking it, he moved it away from his face to get a better look at the apparent gift.

It was a bad drawing of a cowboy.

Todd didn't usually like to cry, but this was just too much. It looked so much like that shitty cowboy he himself had drawn when he first met Dirk, and now all he could see was Dirk's panicked face as Todd asked about his “powers”. All he could see was Dirk. Todd hated it, but he couldn't stop himself as the tears started coming down his face.

“Am făcut-o din nou. Universul nebun. Imi pare rau. Nu plânge.”

Gripps frowned, leaning down to Dirk.

“Hei, asta nu e vina ta. Universul este rău. Nu ai făcut asta, pasăre mică.” Dirk pouted, looking like he himself was going to cry now. He looked at the paper in Todd's hand, seeming suddenly dejected.

“Nu plânge, Todd. Vă rog. Universul a spus că trebuie să desenez ceva.” This made Gripps look even more put off, and he nudged Todd.

“Yo. The kid is sad that you're sad, man.”

“I- what?”

“Says the universe told him to draw.”

Todd would have laughed, but instead he felt like crying even more. He'd never thought about the hunches, that Dirk would still have them. He was so small, so young, and yet he was still being pulled around by the wrist at the will of the universe. It wasn't fair; even as a kid, he couldn't seem to get a break. And now he was upset, and it was Todd's fault.

Well, he wasn't going to be the reason that Dirk started crying. Again. At least not two times in a row; then he would just seem cruel. Todd wiped the tears from his face, managing a smile at Dirk.

“Gripps, man, how do I tell him that I'm okay?”

Todd was well aware that Gripps could mess with him, but something about the way Dirk looked like he was about to start crying made him think that he wouldn't. If he didn't want to make Dirk upset, he doubted Gripps did either; the man had practically adopted the kid. Gripps wasn't going to upset Dirk any more than Todd was. He sighed, muttering a sentence to Todd.

“Nu- Nu plânge. Sunt bine. At least, I think that's how you say it?” He looked at Gripps, who shrugged. Dirk looked up at Todd, his face brightening. Farah waved at him, trying to get his attention. All three looked over at her, hovering a safe distance from the party they seemed to be having.

“Your sister says she's around the corner. Something about snacks? Apparently she let Vogel buy some toys, I assume for Dirk.” Farah waved the phone in her hand. Todd took a breath, steadying himself. He needed to calm down; he couldn't cry in front of his sister. He also needed to make sure the other Rowdies weren't too loud around Dirk.

“Yeah, I'll uh… I'm not sure. But I'll do something.” He smiled at Dirk, who gawked at him as he stood up, stretching. Todd glanced down at Gripps.

“I’ll be right back, please don’t get him to hate me in the time I’m gone.”

“No promises.” Gripps said, lightly bumping Dirk’s arm who let out a string of giggles. Todd sighed and headed towards the door, glancing at Farah.

“Same thing to you, I guess.” She smiled at him.

“No promises.” Todd rolled his eyes and headed out of the apartment and down the stairs. He met Amanda and the others at the door, and just like he had assumed they had purchased far more than he actually needed.

“So, we weren’t sure on the size so we got one of everything from 5-12. And then we got some coloring books cause that’s like an activity, and some old Disney movies, ya know, like classic, before 1990 Disney movies. Also we got real food. I hope you know how to cook, cause nothing in here is microwaveable.” Amanda smiled over at him, opting to not mention his red puffy eyes if she had noticed at all. There were far too many bags, and he was afraid to ask the total. Probably best to just cut up the card when they gave it back.

“Thanks guys. Um, let’s take this upstairs, and if possible just like, keep the volume down?” Amanda snorted, bumping up against his shoulder as they walked by.

“No promises.”

“Why does everyone keep saying that to me today?” Todd asked, hooking his arm through a few of the bags. With all six of them they were able to make the trip in one go, and Todd entered the apartment first, followed single file by the rest of the Rowdies. It was honestly the most organized he had ever seen them.

Amanda dumped her bags in the kitchen and headed straight towards Gripps and Dirk.

“Bună! Sunt Amanda.” She crouched down holding out her hand smiling. Dirk giggled and grabbed hold of her hand.

“Svlad.”

“Well, it’s nice to meet you Svlad. I hope my brother hasn’t been giving you too much trouble.” Gripps quickly translated in Dirk’s ear who smiled and shook his head, glancing towards Todd who was busy emptying the grocery bags into his fridge. He didn’t think his fridge had ever looked so adult, ever.

“Nu, a fost bine.”

“He says you’re the worst, Todd.” Gripps hollered into the kitchen. He sighed and grabbed another energy drink from the fridge.

“Gripps, you just told me that ‘bine’ meant fine. I don’t believe you.” Todd said, downing the drink in one go. It was going to be a long day.

“Hey Svlad, we got you some clothes so you don’t have to keep wearing this. The bathroom is that door right there. Do you need any help?” Amanda pointed towards the bags that Vogel was holding as Gripps translated into Dirk’s ear. He shook his head and smiled.

“Pot să o fac singură. Mulțumesc, drăguță doamnă.” Vogel pulled out a couple of the clothes, and handed them to Dirk as he walked by and into the bathroom. Martin watched the small child trot over to the bathroom, and as Dirk closed the door, he turned to Todd.

“Guess you have a kid now, Brotzman.” Todd opened his mouth to speak, but Gripps beat him to it.

“If you don’t wanna, I can do it for you. He’s like, way sweet. I love him.”

“Careful Gripps.” Martin shook his head as he suppressed a grin. “Hope you ain’t going dad on us.”

“Why not? You do.”

“Guys!” Farah raised her voice, getting the attention of everyone in the room. They all went silent, staring at her. “This is serious. Dirk is like, a small child. A very small child. We need to figure out how to fix this.”

Everyone glanced over to Amanda, who put her hands up as soon as she realized where everyone was looking. She shrugged in defeat.

“I don’t know, man. Like, this isn’t what was supposed to happen.” She sighed. “Maybe I could go to Bergsberg and see if Francis knows anything? Farah said that Tina told her that he like, visits them? Sometimes?”

“Good a plan as any. But I don’t think they’d be too happy with, you know.” Farah gestured to the other Rowdies as she spoke. Todd had to admit that Farah was right; Hobbs would have a stroke if he had a van full of insane vampires drive into town, talk to fairytale people, and wreck everything in sight. After all they had done back during the Wendimoor case, Todd felt obligated to cause as little trouble as possible for them. They already had enough on their hands, because according to Farah, they had dealt with several faerie circles since the case had ended.

If Dirk was here, he would probably agree.

“What are they going to do? Kick us out? We’re trying to save Dirk. Besides, can’t you just tell Tina to let us off?”

“Why would I do that?”

“Well you know. You two sorta let off a vibe together.”

“That is- that is not a discussion for right now. We have a child in the bathroom that can’t speak English, and the only one who can translate is a nutcase. No offense, Gripps.” Gripps gave a thumbs up, seemingly unhurt. Farah sighed, meeting eyes with Todd, who looked just as lost as her. What were they supposed to do here? They had solved a lot of weird cases, but this one was shaping up to be the hardest. Without Dirk, solving this just became near impossible.

“Alright this- this is stupid, guys.” Todd spoke up finally finding his voice. “I’ve like, become some wack job single parent overnight. My boyfriend’s gone and trapped in the body of a six year old. Which by the way, is the most uncomfortable sentence I’ve ever had to say. And that includes everything I said from the Lydia Spring case. Amanda’s the one who messed this up, and she’s the one who has to find an answer because I have got like, zero ideas here! And apparently Gripps can speak Romanian, which like, what is even up with that!? It’s weird! I am literally on the verge on an actual breakdown right now and all you can talk about is who Farah is dating!”

Todd was out of breath, leaning against the wall for support. His head was spinning, and it felt like he was going to fall over if he didn’t find someplace to sit. His voice had taken on a slightly hysterical edge. Maybe he wasn’t fine. Todd tried to take a breath as the others continued to watch him, more than likely wondering what they could say to that.

“Can we just, just come up with a plan. Anything at this point. I would take literally anything. Just as long as we, we aren’t doing nothing.” Todd looked around and met Amanda’s eyes. She nodded moving forward and dragging him in for a hug.

“Yeah, it’ll be okay. I promise. I’ll fix this. And it’ll all be okay. The Rowdies and I will go to Bergsberg, Farah will give them a heads up so they’re not surprised when we get there, and then we’ll come right back with a solution. Does that work?” she pushed Todd back to look at him. He wasn’t totally sure, but it was the only plan that had been offered. He nodded, feeling the tension leave his shoulders.

“Okay, perfect. Now here is the downside to this plan. We’re gonna have to take Gripps.”

“No Amanda, he’s the only one who speaks Romanian–”

“And thank god we live in a modern technological age where you can download language apps. It’ll only be a couple days. It’ll be okay. Farah will be here to play backup. Right Farah?” Amanda glanced over at Farah who was nodding.

“But what if–”

“You can call us. I’ll have my phone. This time. I promise I’ll take it this time. And if worse comes to worse you can talk with Gripps over the phone. Does that work?” Todd wanted to say no. He wanted to tell them to come up with another plan. He wanted none of this to be happening in the first place. But he nodded, watching as Amanda smiled over at him. The door to the bathroom clicked open and Dirk reappeared wearing a very bright pink t-shirt and orange shorts.

“Amanda, ce crezi?” Amanda glanced over at Gripps who just held up his thumbs as a response.

“Fantastic, little dude!” she held out her hand for a high which Dirk was more than happy to give. He raced back over to Gripps, taking a seat next to him and surveying the room.

“Este totul în regulă?” he asked looking up at Gripps.

“Da, totul este bine. Everything's good.” Gripps smiled over at Todd as he spoke. Todd took a deep breath, mustering up a smile.

“Asta e bine. Este ceva de mancare?” Dirk glanced around, knowing that Gripps was the only one who had any idea what he was saying.

“Da. There is food. Todd?” Todd rolled his eyes and waved his hand.

“Come on, you can pick something from the fridge.” Todd said. Gripps whispered quickly into Dirk’s ear who smiled and jumped to his feet racing over towards Todd.

This was going to be a long day.


Todd couldn’t remember ever being this tired. Even when they had that case where he hadn’t slept for three days, he had still be able to run for his life. But at this particular moment, he could barely imagine himself standing from the couch. Everyone else, save for Martin, seemed to be feeling the same way. They had been playing all day, and Todd was confused how Dirk still had energy, but he did, hanging off of Gripps’ arm giggling like the small demon that he was.

“Did you give him sugar?” Amanda asked, she was slumped next to Todd on the couch. Todd glanced over at her, too tired to be annoyed.

“You bought the food, I just gave him what you bought. Farah did you give him sugar when I went out earlier?”

“Todd, why would I give him sugar? Why would I give anyone that small something that could ruin my life?” Farah was leaning against Todd’s other side. He groaned.

“Fair enough. So he’s just like this. That’s, that’s super. I’m gonna die before we solve this.” He watched as Gripps picked Dirk up and flipped him upside down, holding him close to his chest so he didn’t drop him.

“No! No! Gripps!” The screams were punctuated with giggles, proving that Dirk was more than likely not in any danger. He caught Dirk’s eye who reached out to him.

“Todd! Ajuta-ma! Todd!” Todd sighed, pushing himself off the couch much to the annoyance of Farah and Amanda who fell together. He walked over to where Gripps was standing and smiled lightly. Dirk reached out and grabbed onto his shirt, small fists scrunching up the fabric.

“Ajuta-ma!”

“Oh really?” Todd asked looking down. He couldn’t understand Dirk and Dirk knew that. Dirk tried to roll his eyes, surely something he had picked up from Todd in the last ten hours.

“Todd! Gripps lasă-mă să plec! Ajuta-ma, Todd!”

“You’re right, I think Gripps is silly.” Todd said smirking up at the Rowdy. Gripps raised his eyebrow, a wicked grin pulling at his lips. In a smooth motion he flipped Dirk back upright and spun Todd around. Small hands clamped around Todd’s neck as Gripps placed Dirk on his back, giving him a soft shove forward.

“You’ve got this, Brotzman.” Gripps laughed as Todd stumbled forward, far too aware of the small child clinging to his back. He caught himself on the chair as Dirk giggled loudly in his ear.

“M-ai salvat! Mare ajutor, Todd.” Dirk said, tightening his grip slightly as Todd righted himself.

“Um, sure thing?” Todd responded. He heard Gripps snort from behind him and watched as Farah and Amanda sat up, making room on the couch for him. He lowered himself to the ground and Dirk got the hint to let go, choosing instead hold tight to Todd’s hand. Todd led him over to the couch where he climbed up next to Amanda who was more than happy to cuddle. Todd sat down next to him watched as Dirk’s eyes unfocused slightly.

“How about a movie? Amanda you said you bought some?” Todd asked, watching as Amanda nodded and glanced over toward the last unopened bag on the counter.

“Martin–”

“Got it Drummer.” he grabbed the bag and handed it over to Amanda who smiled up at him. Dirk glanced down at the bag and smiled as Amanda pulled out a couple of DVDs.

“Which one?” she asked fanning them out so that Dirk could see the options. There were quite a few good classic Disney films to choose from. Black Cauldron, a personal favorite of Amanda’s, The Sword in the Stone, Robin Hood, Peter Pan, but the one that Dirk lit up at was anything but unexpected.

“Mouse!” he smiled pointing at the box. Amanda smiled up at Todd.

“Thought he might like that one.” She pulled the DVD from the pile and passed it back to Martin.

“Can you put this in?” she asked. He nodded, heading over towards the TV and popping the DVD into the tray. Martin tossed the remote to Todd who quickly skipped the previews and went straight to the main menu. He was about to push play when Dirk pushed into his lap, resting his head against Todd’s chest so that he could still see the TV.

Todd heard the sound of a camera and glanced over at Amanda who as smiling at her screen. She glanced up realizing she had been caught and shrugged.

“One day, we’re gonna laugh about this, and this is gonna be the cutest picture that we have.” Todd rolled his eyes and pushed play, the sound of the Disney opener filling the room.

“Mouse.” Dirk whispered, trying to stifle a yawn. Farah carefully draped a blanket over him, a soft smile on her face. They hadn’t even made it to actual dialog before his eyes were closed, his breathing having slowed and his grip on Todd’s shirt loosened.

“And on that note, I think we’ll head out. Got a long way to go to get to Bergsberg.” Amanda said, carefully pushing herself up from the couch and glancing around at the others. Todd felt his chest tighten, he had forgotten they were going to leave. What was he going to do without Gripps, or Amanda, or just anyone who could handle the energy of a six year old without dying?

“Well you–”

“You’ll be fine Todd you got this.” Farah had stood as well, grabbing her phone and waving it at Amanda who nodded patting her jacket pocket. Everyone was leaving, they were leaving Todd alone. Martin had gotten Beast and Vogel off the bed, they had been asleep for the better part of the last hour, Cross had been lounging near them, his eyes drooping closed occasionally. The Rowdies were out the door before Todd could protest, Amanda and Farah idling in the doorway.

“Farah, you–”

“You got this! Bye Todd!” She whispered, giving him the thumbs up as she pushed Amanda out the door.

And then Todd was alone. Dirk sleeping soundly on his chest, the sound of the movie playing in the background. He glanced down at the mess of auburn hair and felt himself fall back into the panic he had felt that morning.

What if they couldn’t fix this? What if Dirk was stuck like this? How long would it take him to learn Romanian? He glanced around his apartment at the mess it had become. Nothing had been broken, thankfully, but there were toys and games spread everywhere. Everything very much screamed ‘there’s a child who lives here’. Todd sighed leaning his head back against the couch.

They would figure this out. He just had to keep telling himself that. They would figure this out, and everything would be okay, and he would definitely clean his apartment, tomorrow. He closed his eyes, the exhaustion pulling him down into sleep.

Everything could wait for tomorrow.


Dogs without horses

Todd awoke to a sharp jab in his shoulder. He couldn’t quite remember falling asleep on the couch but he was fairly certain that’s where he was and there was something else that he knew he was forgetting. He swatted at the pain and heard a sigh.

“Thank goodness, I thought you were dead.”

Oh right.

Todd opened his eyes and was greeted by the smiling face of Dirk, or at least he was pretty sure it was Dirk, this child looked slightly older, skinnier maybe, but still had the same wide, bright eyes.

“I think I accidentally got stuck in your house. Not terribly sure how, but that does appear to be the case. Oh! Perhaps it’s a case. Do you need any sort of assistance? Perhaps a lost pet? Or, is this my new placement? The amount of toys and Disney films would suggest that line of thinking.”

“What?” was all Todd managed as he tried to sit up. There was no doubting this was Dirk, but as of a couple hours ago, Dirk hadn’t been able to speak English, and he had definitely been shorter.

“Terribly sorry, where are my manners. My name is Svlad Cjelli. Pleased to make your acquaintance, mister…?” He had held out his hand, waiting for Todd to shake it. Todd grabbed it carefully.

“Todd.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Todd. That’s awfully funny, I had an imaginary friend named Todd when I was small, well smaller, you wouldn’t happen to be one in the same perchance?” Dirk was still wearing the shirt and shorts, both slightly smaller than they should have been but not seeming to cause him any discomfort. Todd swallowed, rubbing his eyes with his free hand, why was he still holding Dirk’s hand?

“Um, maybe. You, speak English, very well.” Dirk smiled and nodded.

“I should hope so. I moved to England a few years ago and Mum– I learned there. School is rather difficult if you can’t keep up with the teachers.” Todd noticed the dip in energy, a sadness had crossed over Dirk’s face that Todd had seen before, in fleeting moments when he thought no one was looking.

“So tell me Mr. Todd, are you my new placement?”

“Placement?”

“Yes, the nuns said that it would be best if I were to be placed quickly. And seeing as this isn’t where I usually wake up, I’m assuming this is a placement. Correct?” Todd frowned. Placement? Nuns? Why would–

Oh.

“Um, yeah. Yes. That’s, yes, that’s what this, is.” Dirk had never mentioned this part of his childhood, and if the sad look that had yet to leave his face was any indication, it was probably because it upset him. Todd realized he didn’t know all that much about Dirk’s past, it wasn’t something they discussed. The only reason Dirk knew anything about Todd’s childhood was because Amanda liked to supply him with incriminating details.

Dirk was more of a complete and total mystery.

“You wouldn’t happen to have anything to eat would you? I’m simply starved.” Todd laughed and nodded.

“I think I can find something. Do you like pancakes?” Todd pushed himself off the couch and headed toward the kitchen, Dirk close at his heels.

“I’m not sure. You sound American, so I can assume you probably don’t mean crepes, which I suppose are like pancakes but, no I’ve never had American pancakes before. Are they good?”

“We’ll see won’t we.” Todd smiled, pulling out the pancake mix Amanda had picked up yesterday. It had been a while since he made them from scratch but he used to do it all the time for Amanda, so he knew he probably wouldn’t mess them up.

“I’ll trust you.” Dirk said, pulling himself up onto the counter to sit and watch Todd cook, “Besides, I don’t know what they taste like, so they could taste terrible and I probably wouldn’t notice.”

“Your faith in me is astounding.” Todd said dryly as he pulled out the milk and went digging for vanilla. He opened a drawer and found a bag of chocolate chips instead. “Do you like chocolate?”

“That’s a silly question, Mr. Todd. Of course I like chocolate.” Dirk said, crossing his arms. Todd threw his hands up.

“Gotta ask, you know. Can’t just assume you like things.” He pulled out a bowl and some measuring cups, beginning to mix the ingredients. He glanced up at Dirk who was watching him, smiling down at the bowl.

“So, Di– Svlad.” The name sounded wrong. “How old are you?”

“Eight and three-quarters. The nuns tell me it’s boastful to say the three-quarters bit, but it’s the truth. What about you Mr. Todd?” Todd smiled as he whisked the batter.

“Slightly older than that. I’m 36.” Dirk nodded watching as Todd added in the chocolate chips, swiping his hand forward and snagging one as it fell from the bag. Todd laughed and set the bag aside.

“Are the nuns nice?”

“They’re alright. They’re nuns, so they’re a bit stuffy. And they think I’m odd. I heard them talking about it once, they think I’m possessed or something.” Todd frowned. He knew adults were jerks, but adults being jerks to children was absolutely terrible.

“I’m sure you’re not odd. Just, different, special. Ya know?” Dirk got quiet, a sad smile on his face.

“Mum says– said that. That I’m special. I don’t always feel that way, but, she never lied so, it has to be true.” the energy he had had a moment before was gone, replaced with quiet, almost on the verge of tears focus. Todd needed to change the subject.

“Do you like movies?” Dirk glanced up, nodding slowly.

“Perfect. There’s a stack of them over on the table, how about you pick one and I’ll finish these up. Does that sound like a plan?” Dirk nodded smiling at Todd. Todd put the bowl down and carefully lifted Dirk off the counter watching as he raced back into the living room. He had hoped that today would have been easier, but it looked there was a whole new set of issues he was going to have to deal with. He grabbed his phone from the counter and checked for messages while the pan heated up on the stove.

Nothing from Amanda, and nothing from Farah. There was a message from Tina, asking about the ‘literal vampires or figurative vampires’ that were coming into town, but it had been from a few hours ago and he was sure that she would have contacted Farah if it had been an emergency.

He opened a group chat between Farah and Amanda and sent out a quick update.

Update: He’s older today. And speaks English, so, progress.

He placed the phone back on the counter and watched as Dirk opened one of the cases, examining the DVD inside. Todd realized he probably had no idea what it was, they didn’t have DVDs back in the late eighties and early nineties.

“Did you find one?” Todd asked, Dirk turned around, still holding the open box.

“I think so. This will show us Robin Hood right?” Todd smiled and nodded.

“Yeah, it’s um, it’s some cool new American tech, you don’t have it yet in England.” Todd said, carefully checking the heat of the pan before pouring the first pancake. Dirk made an interested noise as he closed the box and set it aside.

“As long as it has the movie, I’m fine with it. Do you play?” Todd glanced up to follow Dirk’s pointed finger. He was looking at the guitar that was propped in its stand, and had been untouched as of late. Todd nodded, flipping the pancake, and smiling that it looked almost perfect.

“Yeah, I do, did. I was in a band, but now I more just play for fun.”

“My friend was in a band once!” Dirk had wandered back into the kitchen and was leaning against the counter, smiling brightly at Todd. “Well, sort of. I'm not convinced we were actual friends per say, nor was it an actual band. They only made it so they could steal all the candy from other kids on Halloween, but thankfully I was able to solve the case!”

Dirk puffed his chest proudly.

“I'm going to be a detective one day, Mr. Todd. I'm going to be the best there is.” Todd grabbed a plate from the counter, left over from the lack of organization the day before. They'd been planning to cook something, but all Dirk had wanted to eat was fun gummy snacks that Vogel had picked out. The plate had been forgotten, and now Todd could put it to use. He flipped the pancake onto it, and slid it over to Dirk while he retrieved the syrup from the fridge.

“You know, I think you'll be a pretty good detective.”

“Really? You're the first one to say so.” Todd shrugged, closing the refrigerator and waving the maple syrup, half of which had fallen victim to Gripps when he had still been here. The sight of Gripps pouring syrup into a cup and drinking it was something Todd would never like to see again.

“Yeah. I think you'll be a great detective one day. Everyone has to start somewhere, right?”

“I suppose that's true, but I have yet to find a good assistant to help me. Every good detective needs one. Everyone that I ask gets a bit weirded out, though. They think I'm strange.”

Todd nodded, sitting across from him as he pulled out some gummy snacks on the side. He could understand why people would think that about Dirk, but he was only eight; they should at least try to cut him a break.

Something about the person Todd knew before he'd been afflicted by a faulty memory spell told him that he may not get any breaks, though.

“I know like, literal energy vampire dudes. However weird you are probably isn't that bad.” Dirk's eyes widened as he listened to Todd, but that very well could also have been because he'd taken his first bite of the pancakes. It seemed that he didn't hate them, because he kept eating. Todd took a breath; he didn't want to psych Dirk out already by talking about the Rowdies.

“I don't know. A lot of weird things happen around me. I have a theory, but I'm not sure it's very believable.”

“A theory?”

“Yes. A very interesting one, involving things like hunches and the universe and a very angry nun. But I'm not sure the last part is important. What is is the universe. Ever since I was smaller I was always getting weird feelings, like I was being pulled to something. They’re always weird things, and it causes people to not like me very much.”

Todd had stopped eating, listening to Dirk talk. It was so utterly surreal to hear Dirk, this eight year old, talk about the universe as though it was something to be admired. His Dirk had always been bitter about the universe pulling him around. This Dirk seemed to find it wonderful; at least, that's what it seemed like.

Dirk finished the pancake, smiling over to Todd as he gave a thumbs up. Todd didn't even notice though; he was too lost in thought.

“That's… that's pretty cool. The universe can be, pretty weird sometimes. Dir- uh, my friend, boyfriend, uh… he was always pretty mad at it. Said it was on his tail too much or something.”

“Did he know the universe? Does he know why it tells me to do things?” Todd shook his head, a lump in his throat.

“No, I uh. He never really figured that out.” Todd glanced over to the windowsill, where he had perched a small collection of awful photo booth strips that he and Dirk had taken on their few successful dates. More often than not, their dates were sabotaged by a case.

Dirk turned in his chair, squinting at the pictures across the room. In the photos, Dirk was wearing his black jacket, the stripes on the side rearranged to look like a rainbow. Younger Dirk tilted his head.

“Is that him? He has a nice jacket.” Todd nodded wordlessly.

“Yeah.”

“Why isn't he here? You said you were dating him. Is he sleeping?” Todd hesitated, not sure how to respond. How was he supposed to explain this? It was impossible.

In the end, he ended up lying, which gave him an awful pang of guilt.

“No he's, visiting some friends. In uh…” Todd looked around for an answer. “Bergsberg. It's a town that we visited a long time ago.”

“Oh.” Dirk looked dejected. “Well, I hope I'll get to meet him.”

“You will, one day. Definitely.”

Dirk sighed, jumping off of the chair and looking around the room. Todd watched as he stepped over the toys on the ground - why hadn't he remembered to clean those up yet? Dirk made it to the middle of the room, and then did a 360 as he surveyed the area.

After a moment, his eyes landed back on Todd, a gleam in them.

“Mr. Todd, I think that we should go outside.”

“What?”

“Outside. I have a very strange feeling that that's where we need to be. We could get ice cream.” Todd raised his eyebrows.

“Is this a hunch, or a ruse to get ice cream?” Dirk smiled guilty, the very image of a child being caught red handed.

“Both, I'm afraid. But I would like to take a look anyway. Can we go?” Todd shrugged; he couldn't see any reason not to. They didn't have any enemies in the area at the moment, and seeing as they were already on a case, he doubted one would pop up.

Dirk was staring at him with what he could have sworn was a puppy face, and Todd made a mental note to tell Dirk off for it after he got back to the right age. Even if he was only eight, playing the puppy face card was just too cruel. Todd stood up, swiping his apartment keys from the wall.

“Yeah, I guess. Don't, run off anywhere though.”

“I won't!” Dirk ducked under Todd's arm as he opened the door and ran out into the hallway. He turned in a circle before deciding to go left; lucky for him, that was the right way to go. Todd was barely able to keep up as Dirk skipped out the main entrance and down the street, away from the direction of the ice cream shop.

Todd sighed. So much for that.

There weren't many people out, which had become common in this part of town. Ever since Todd and Dirk had set up the Agency in the vicinity, the block had gotten a bit of a reputation for being strange. People didn't want to risk anything odd happening to them, and usually took routes that avoided this area. It wasn't too bad; it made things easier in the long run.

Todd supposed, looking at Dirk, that this was fine. That was a lie of course; this was the weirdest thing to ever happen to him, but there wasn't much that could be done until Amanda for back. Dirk had gotten older, and maybe he would keep doing that. Maybe he would keep getting older until he got back to the right age.

Todd could only hope.

Dirk was skipping, almost literally, down the street as he looked at everything around him. He called back to Todd a few feet away, waving wildly.

“America is very advanced! It looks amazing!” Todd didn't have the heart to tell him that this wasn't the best part of town. He also didn't want to tell him that he was about 25 to 30 years into the future. That would be too cruel.

Dirk stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, biting his lip before pointing right.

“This way, Mr. Todd!”

Todd suppressed a sigh as he followed Dirk right, this time headed for the local park. It used to be full of kids at any given time of the day, but ever since the Slide Incident, which had involved Dirk, Thor, and an angry dwarf, people steered clear of it. It was a miracle Blackwing hadn't found them yet with all of the weird cases, but Todd suspected Farah may have had something to do with that.

Even Ken Adams was scared of Farah, and for good reason.

Besides, Farah had made it quite clear to Ken last time they'd met that she would be shooting both him and Priest in the face if she saw them again. There had been something in her eyes that night that scared even the Rowdies. If they were scared, Todd wasn't even going to ask. Maybe she was still bitter about them beating her in a fight.

Dirk had paused in front of a bench, on his hands and knees as he ignored the playground equipment for something under the seat. Todd trudged up, only to stop dead in his tracks as what Dirk was trying to reach came into view.

It was a cat.

It wasn't just any cat, but the cat. It looked suspiciously like a very deadly, very particular cat that Todd hasn't seen in a long time. It even had the same collar that Dirk had bought for it before it went missing. Todd stared at the Shark-Cat with apprehension; how the hell had Dirk found it?

He needed to call Farah.

“Dir- uh, shit, Svlad.” Todd cringed at the name; he was never going to get used it it. “Get away from that.”

“It's only a cat, Mr. Todd. It can't possibly do any harm.”

“Yeah, no, we're not doing this. Don't touch her it's- it's dangerous.” Dirk shrugged, ignoring him. Todd groaned. He didn't want to drag Dirk away - that wouldn't go down well - but he really didn't want Dirk near that cat. Dirk waved him off.

“The universe says so, so I will.” Dirk ignored Todd's cries, diving under the bench and scooping up the cat in his arms. He stood, holding the cat, and looked at Todd with a smile.

“Ice cream can wait. I want to bring her inside.”

“Wait-” But Todd's objections were useless. Dirk had already moved past Todd back toward the apartment; did he even know the way? He took out his phone, texting a picture to Amanda of Dirk running back with the cat, captioned with “this is your fault.” He wasn't letting her live this down, ever.

If the Shark-Cat did any damages, she was the one paying.

Dirk was faster than Todd, and beat him up to the apartment by a good five minutes. By the time he'd climbed the stairs, Dirk had placed the cat on the counter next to the empty pancake plate, examining the creature. Dirk gave a thumbs up to Todd as he entered, acknowledging him as he walked in. The cat looked at him as he entered as well.

“Let's just, not get near that thing please?” Todd was near begging with Dirk; he didn't know what else to do. Dirk gave him a quizzical look, his eyebrows raising.

“You seem upset, Mr. Todd. Did I do something?”

“No. No. It's just, that cat is… not very safe. I think it would be best to leave it alone.” Dirk glanced at the cat, and them back to Todd, frowning.

“You seem very sure.”

“I am.” Dirk exhaled.

“I trust you, but I do hope you aren't lying. I suppose we can admire him from a distance for now.” Dirk stepped towards Todd, turning his back on the cat. Todd nearly had a heart attack as he watched Dirk step on a toy, falling into him and making the toy go off. The cat, startled, jumped in surprise.

There was a flash of blue as the cat leapt forward followed by the beginnings of crashing. He grabbed tight to Dirk’s middle and dragged him over to the couch, clutching his small frame to his chest and getting low, hoping, praying, that the shark wouldn’t swoop down this low.

“What’s happening?” Dirk cried, gripping tightly to Todd’s shirt. Todd glanced up only to duck back down again as the shark flew close to the couch, singeing the blanket draped over the arm. There was a moment more of crashing and then silence, save for the soft patter of paws on the floor, and cries escaping Dirk.

“Hey, it’s okay, come on.” Todd tried to sit up only to have Dirk follow him, clinging tightly to the front of his shirt.

“No! What was that? What happened?” Dirk was shaking uncontrollably, burying his face closer to Todd’s chest. Todd sat back on the ground, leaning against the back of the couch, wrapping his arms around Dirk.

“It’s okay, it’s over. It was, well, it’s kinda hard to explain, but it’s over. You’re safe, I’m not going anywhere, I promise.”

“Liar!” Todd was taken aback by the venom in Dirk’s voice.

“Everyone says that, and they’re always lying. You, the other families, my– my mum. Why do adults always lie?” he was sobbing into Todd’s chest, trying to push back against Todd’s grip but not being able to get away.

“Why did she lie? She said she wouldn’t leave me. She– she said– she said she would always be there. She promised, she promised.” Dirk had curled up tighter, his hand had released Todd’s shirt in favor of gripping his own. Todd didn’t know what to say. He had never been great when it came to real emotions, and nothing was more real than the pain that came with loss. He could understand that, to at least a degree.

“It’ll be okay. It will. I know it doesn’t feel like that right now. And it might not ever get better, but it will be okay. What happened, to your mom, is awful, and it hurts, I know, but, she didn’t mean to lie–”

“She said she’d never leave me! That I wouldn’t be alone!”

“I know, and I can’t imagine how that feels, but, she loved you. Very much. So, so much. And she didn’t have a choice. You trust me right? Trust me when I tell you that she wouldn’t have left if she could. But sometimes, life is mean, and it sucks, and it’s a jerk. But, just because she’s gone doesn’t mean you’re alone. You remember her, and that’s almost like still being there. Because she is, she’s still there, in your head, and no one can take that away from you.” Todd carefully pushed Dirk off his chest so that he could look at his face. His cheeks were tear stained, and he had his eyes closed, trying not to cry.

“You can feel the universe right? It’s always there, pulling you around, and taking you places, right?” Todd asked. Dirk nodded, sniffling lightly as he wiped his eyes.

“Okay, well, your mom loved you, and she knew you were special, and she’s not gone, not really, she’s just somewhere else, and she’s always watching out for you, just like the universe. She’s going to guide you, no matter where you go, and she’s always going to make sure that your safe, and that, you find people who love you, and so, you won’t ever truly be alone. I know it’s hard, and you’re sad, but, it’ll be okay. It will. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow. But if you keep going, you’ll find somewhere wonderful.” Dirk fell back into his chest, gripping tightly to his shirt.

“But it hurts. How do I make it stop hurting?” Todd wrapped his arms back around Dirk and curled in a little.

“I don’t know. Time, but, time takes a while. Just, follow your hunches, they’ll take you where you’re supposed to go, and always be kind. It’ll be hard, and you won’t want to do it all the time, but, it will help, the pain will ease, it won’t go away, but it’ll get easier. Find things that make you happy, and hold them close.” There was a part of Todd that knew no matter what he said it wouldn’t matter, Dirk wouldn’t be able to remember what he said now and have it have any actual affect on how his life had gone. He couldn’t actually change the past. But in the moment, he didn’t care. He just wanted Dirk to be okay.

“Is it going to be hard? Following the hunches.” The crying had stopped, and had been replaced by exhaustion. Todd rested his chin on top of Dirk’s head.

“Sometimes, but, sometimes life is like that. It’s hard. But, there’s always good things. Like friends, and movies, and chocolate chip pancakes.” He heard a soft laugh and Dirk nuzzled closer.

“And songs. Mum always– she used to sing when I was sad. She loved The Beatles, said they made her feel very British.” Todd laughed and nodded his head in agreement.

“Yeah, they are. What’s your favorite song?” Dirk looked up slightly, trying to meet Todd’s eyes.

“Mum would always sing ‘Hey Jude’. She said she liked the way it sounded.” Dirk lowered his head, and started humming slightly as his breathing slowed. Todd sighed, vowing to never tell his sister about this, because she would never let him live it down.

Hey Jude, don't make it bad, take a sad song and make it better.” It had been a while since Todd sang quietly, typically preferring to shout along with the radio, but, this seemed like the perfect time for quiet. He could feel Dirk’s breathing slowing further, his hands beginning to lose their vice like grip on his shirt, and even his humming was starting to teeter off.

Remember to let her into your heart, then you can start to make it better.” He didn’t make it to the next verse. Dirk had gone completely limp against his chest. The cat had made its way around the couch and was inspecting Todd’s shoelaces. He glared down at the cat and carefully pushed himself up, holding tightly to Dirk as to not jostle him too much.

The apartment, was pretty much wrecked, but the bed seemed to be okay. He placed Dirk down, covering him with the blanket and waiting a moment in case he woke up. As crazy as the situation was, Todd couldn’t help but feel heartbroken. Dirk had already gone through this pain, it wasn’t fair that he had to go through it again.

He turned and surveyed the apartment. Most of the stuff would have to be tossed and he’d have to go to the hardware store. Again. They knew him as ‘the guy who always needed plaster’ which, he guessed there were worse things to be known for.

He spotted his phone under the coffee table and grabbed it, calling up Farah as he started to pick up broken pieces of wall and chair.

“Hey Todd, everything going okay?” She sounded chipper, and a part of him wanted to strangle her for leaving him alone, but it was fine.

“Um, sorta. We found the Shark, ya know, that cat that is also sometimes a shark? Anyway, it went off, and now the apartment’s a mess, but, can you come and get it? I mean, it hates people, you hate people, it’s a good combo.” He said, glaring over at his one good blanket that had been completely ruined.

“Wait– the shark? Oh my god, is, is Dirk–”

“He’s fine. He’s stressed, but he’s sleeping. Can you, can you come get the cat? And maybe bring another blanket? Mine kind of got destroyed.” Todd had grabbed a garbage bag and was quietly cleaning, as he spoke, glancing up occasionally to make sure Dirk was still asleep.

“Yeah, I’ll be over in a bit. Do you need anything other than a blanket?”

“I mean, I wouldn’t say no to a drink, but no, it’s fine, just a blanket. Oh, actually, any Beatles CDs if you have them. I’d say I’ve got my records but,” he tossed a large portion of his records into the garbage bag, “the shark thought they tasted good.”

“Can do. I’ll see you in a bit.” He tossed his phone onto the couch and glared down at the cat as it wound around his ankles.

“I hope you’re happy, I’m gonna have to replace all of this you know.” The cat meowed as it wound around his feet before moving off to inspect the remains of the blanket that had fallen to the floor. Todd sighed and continued bagging garbage. He found a box and tossed all of the small toys and art supplies into it, shoving it next to the keyboard. He grabbed the bags and placed them near the door, he’d take them down when Farah arrived, not wanting to leave Dirk alone.

Todd wasn’t sure what to do after that so he continued cleaning, starting with the kitchen and working in towards the living room. He had always been a bit of a stress cleaner, letting his place get to the point of uninhabitable and then cleaning it spotless. The living room hadn’t looked this clean in a while, and that was accounting for the shark bites out of the wall and the chair. He placed the movies up next to the DVD player and turned back, noticing the clothes bags by the chair.

He sat down and started pulling out the larger items, removing the tags as he went and folding them into a pile next to him. He had just finished when Farah walked through the door, holding a rather soft looking blanket and a couple of CDs. He looked up as she glanced over towards Dirk sleeping in the bed, a look of surprise moving across her face.

“It’s one thing to see in text and another in person right?” Todd asked quietly from the couch. She looked over and nodded, walking soundlessly into the apartment and glancing around.

“It doesn’t look too bad in here, well, except for,” she pointed towards the chair and the wall. Todd nodded.

“I stress clean.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, you remember the case a couple months back with the diamonds and the trumpet? And the office was spotless? Yeah, that was me.” Farah laughed, taking a seat next to him on the couch and placing the blanket and CDs down in the chair.

“So you’re the ghost janitor. I was wondering who was actually cleaning the office.” She bumped up against his arm, trying to be positive.

“Is everything going okay?” Todd sighed looking down at his hands.

“I don’t know, I guess. He just, his childhood sucked. And it sucks so much more with the whole Blackwing thing and it’s just...Did you know his mom died?” Farah was silent, pursing her lips slightly.

“Wait, did you know his mom died?”

“Well, I, it’s just that, when you invest in something, you know like a business, you want to know–”

“Oh my god, you looked him up didn’t you?” Todd turned, glaring at her.

“To be fair, I looked you up too. I mean–”

“Oh my god!” He stood, pacing away from her and towards the window. He couldn’t believe this; well, he could, he just couldn’t believe she hadn’t told him, them. Farah had looked them up. She knew all about them. And what did they know about her?

“I just, I can’t even be the right amount of mad at this right now. So just. We’re gonna shelve this for later, and we will be coming back to this later. But right now, please just take the cat. She’s, somewhere, and be careful, don’t spook her, at all.” Farah nodded standing up and spotting the cat poking into the box of toys. She moved around Todd, carefully scooping the cat up and scratching it under its chin, garnering purrs.

“I’m sorry. If that helps. It probably doesn’t, but I am.” She headed towards the door and Todd sighed.

“Wait.” She paused, turning back. Todd glanced towards the bed where Dirk was still asleep.

“Does it, does it get any worse, than, than Blackwing?” She followed his gaze.

“Blackwing is the worst of it. But, he didn’t lead a happy life. Not for a while. It’s gonna get worse before it gets better.” She said, glancing back at him. He nodded and looked down at his feet.

“Alright. I’ll call you if anything comes up. Thanks Farah.” She nodded, still cradling the cat as she headed out the door, closing it quietly behind her. Todd stood there a moment, listening to the soft breaths of the sleeping child and then bent down, grabbing the clothes and walking over to the bed. He put them in plain sight of Dirk for when he woke up. He was more than likely going to literally grow out of the clothes he was wearing.

Todd wandered back to the couch, realizing he had forgotten about the trash. It didn’t matter, he would do it later. He grabbed the blanket and laid down.

It’s going to get worse before it gets better.

This was going to be harder than he had originally thought.


This is a nice dream

When Todd woke up, he had a sticky note staring him in the face. It was bright yellow, and it had a large smiley face on it. Under the drawing were the words “You have good movies”. Todd blanched for a moment before realizing that it must just be Dirk, not an intruder. The sound of what Todd was pretty sure was Peter Pan was quietly playing over the TV.

Todd almost found it funny that he would have chosen Peter Pan; Dirk for some reason hated any version of that story. It was something about “been there” and “done that”, but Dirk had never really explained. Either way, Todd lifted up his head to find, once again, a slightly bigger child on his couch. Dirk looked maybe eleven or twelve now, and he was curled up on the couch, enthralled in the television.

Todd cleared his throat, thick from sleep, and Dirk looked over at him with wide eyes.

“Oh! Did I wake you? I tried not to. You may just be a dream but even in my night adventures, I'm still polite.” Dirk tilted his head at Todd, blinking with a smile. Todd's head was already spinning; it was a new record.

“A dream?”

“Yes, a dream. I've figured it out, see.” Dirk's hand uncurled from his legs, which were pressed up against his chest, so that he may talk with bigger hand gestures. “Me being here. You. This whole place! It's a dream that I only seem to have when big things happen in my life, therefore it must be the universe saying thanks for my hard work!”

“Your… hard work?”

“As a blossoming detective, Mr. Todd! Keep up, I can only explain once.” Todd just nodded. He didn't know how old Dirk was now exactly, but he was already starting to get some of the personality that his own Dirk had. It was even more annoying on this kid than it was on his boyfriend, and that was very hard to do.

Todd untangled himself from his blanket, glancing at the television. Peter Pan was in the middle of convincing the children to fly out the window; Dirk must not have been awake for long. He noticed that Dirk had changed into the clothes that Todd had left out.

“Uh, yeah, cool. Dream guy. That's me.” Todd bit his lip. “Hey, how like, old are you?”

“Me? I'm eleven. I'm quite the grown up now, though Riggins says I'm still quite young.”

Not for the first time in the past forty eight hours, Todd's stomach contracted painfully.

Todd knew that name all too well; it was something that Dirk muttered often when he was in the middle of nightmare induced panic attacks. Todd would sit with him, sometimes for hours, as Dirk cried, screamed, begged, and reasoned with his past. It always made him feel so small, never able to help. The past haunted Dirk, and whoever Riggins was, so did he.

So, this version of Dirk knew Riggins, did he?

“Oh, yeah well, you are pretty young still.” Todd paused. “Who's Riggins?”

Dirk narrowed his eyes at Todd, cracking what almost looked like a grin.

“Riggins. The man from Blackwing. You're part of my dream, you should know this.” Todd shrugged, unsure what to say.

“Yeah well. Still nice to ask, right?” Dirk rolled his eyes, shoving gummy snacks into his mouth. Where had he gotten so many? Had Amanda really purchased that many bags of them?

Todd didn't miss the way Dirk had casually mentioned Blackwing. It was a surreal experience to see him talk about it in that tone of voice, as if it caused him no pain at all. Judging by his age, that might well be the case. Dirk seemed enthusiastic about Riggins, and by extension, about Blackwing.

Todd couldn't possibly be expected to encourage Dirk on that particular fantasy, whatever it was. It was just too much to pretend that Blackwing was good; he might actually break.

“Before you do anything, can I take a picture of you real quick? Weird request, but my sister uh, she wants to see you.”

“I didn't know you had a sister. Is she nice?”

“Yeah. Sort of. I don't know. She's a pain in the ass.” Todd pulled the phone clumsily from his pocket, only to find a text from Amanda that had been sent about an hour ago. It was a photo of Gripps posing with Dracula, which probably had something to do with Francis, and the caption “Haven't found out anything, but we're having a fun time.” Todd sighed, snapping a photo of Dirk and sending it to her.

Todd didn't even blink at the photo Amanda had sent as he put the phone down. It was the least weird picture he'd ever been sent of The Rowdy 3.

Dirk threw a packet of gummy snacks at Todd, who barely managed to catch it. This elicited a small laugh from Dirk, but his attention was quickly drawn back to the television. Todd opened the bag.

Dirk was definitely taller, and his features had slimmed out quite a bit. He was beginning to look less like a child and more like a teenager, but he hadn't quite left the child look yet. His hair was longer, going down to the bottom of his eyes. It seemed almost as if he hadn't been taking care of it.

Why wouldn't he be taking care of his hair?

“So uh, what's… going on? In life?” Todd’s mouth went into a line as he heard his own voice fall flat. This was the most awkward situation of his life; what was he supposed to say? Dirk's head swiveled around, and Todd prayed to any god that was listening that he wouldn't start rambling.

None of the gods particularly liked Todd all that much. Especially not Thor.

Then again, he didn't like Thor very much either. Not after the Spoon Incident.

“I really don't know how to explain it, it's a long story.” Todd internally groaned as Dirk started. “You see, it involved about ten dead cats, three dead birds, a necromancy book, and five very angry men. They all died in the end - necromancy will do that, apparently - but a man named Riggins came up to me afterwards and said he wanted to talk.

“Apparently, he tracked me down with my weird connection to, whatever, and said that he wants to help me. Blackwing, that's where he works, can help me learn how to deal with whatever it is I am, which so far is just an annoying little demon or so I've been told. I don't think I'm a demon though.

“Actually, I have no idea. But still, it doesn't matter. My hunches say not to go, but I'm sort of mad at the universe lately for killing my cat so I've decided not to listen and go anyway. It's either that or another foster home. And trust me when I say that the nuns will not be happy at this new development.”

Dirk paused, gleaming at Todd to see his reaction. All Todd could do was blink.

There was so much wrong about everything Dirk had just said, he didn't even know where to begin. All he did in response was shrug again, a slight hysteria making its way into his throat.

“Uh. Wow.”

“I know. It's very interesting. Riggins is quite nice, I truly think he wants to help me.” Todd just nodded, unresponsive. Had Farah known about the dead bodies and the necromancy? He was definitely going to have a lengthy discussion with her once this was complete.

Jesus Christ. Dirk's life was all kinds of messed up. Had he seriously gone to Blackwing willingly?

Todd could see from the look in Dirk's eyes that, yes, he probably had. And it probably still kept him up at night.

Had Farah known that too?

“Um, wow, okay so uh. You're, really moving onto big things in your life, huh?” Dirk nodded, popping another snack into his mouth. Todd watched him crinkle the wrapper and pull another one out from beside him. He had to get real food into Dirk before he died of a sugar overload.

“Svlad, since you’re going on to, such important things, how about we celebrate? Like, go out and do something? Ya know, outside, with like, fresh air, and trees, and stuff. We could, go to the park, or down to the Sound, or something. What do you say?” Dirk glanced down at the snack wrappers littering the couch.

“Like a going away party?”

“Exactly. With lots of fresh air.” Todd stood up, stumbling over the blanket. “Just, give me a second. I need to, use the bathroom”.

Todd didn't wait for Dirk to respond before heading to the bathroom and closing the door. He honestly thought he was going to break at this, and he didn't want Dirk to see that. He was still so small, and the thought of him suffering what Blackwing was going to do at eleven

Todd wanted to punch every Blackwing operative right in their faces.

Todd turned on the faucet, splashing the water on his face as he took a breath. Whatever he did wouldn't help, he couldn't help him, and it put an immovable pit in Todd's stomach. He wanted to at least give him a nice day outside before he was sent to Blackwing, but he may actually break down if he did.

He needed to, though.

Dirk had awoken him so suddenly, he hadn't even had time to process the fact that he had grown again. The ages would seem random, but thankfully, little Dirk seemed to be onto something. The ages seemed to correlate with important times in his life.

When he got Dirk back, he was going to hold onto him and never let him go. He looked up at his reflection in the mirror; he looked insane in the poor bathroom lighting.

Right.

Todd took another steadying breath before stepping out of the bathroom.

“Right, so, I don't actually have a car, so we can either walk or take the bus. Your pick, I guess.” Todd grabbed the keys, which were sitting next to what looked suspiciously like Mona.

Dirk jumped up, the movie and snacks suddenly forgotten.

“I've never taken a bus before! Well, I have once, but it was for a school trip, so it wasn't a real bus. Can we!?” Todd nodded, earning what could only be described as a squeal of glee from the child. Todd opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Dirk took this as a yes.

“Cool uh, I'll meet you at the door. Don't move. I gotta call my sister real quick.” Dirk nodded, already out the door. Todd didn't know if he trusted Dirk not to wander off or not, but he desperately needed to talk to his sister.

He dialed her number, and the phone rang a few times before a voice that was definitely not Amanda answered.

“Martin?!”

“Hey Brotzman.” Todd gestured wildly to nothing in particular, already frustrated.

“Why do you have Amanda's phone!?” He could almost hear Martin shrug.

“Drummer gave it to me. She's in the weird slide thing. Mighty strange.” Martin sounded pretty nonchalant, and Todd was starting to doubt he had any emotions besides “indifferent” and “smash”. “Said to answer any of your questions if you called. So.”

Todd groaned, cursing the gods - mainly Thor - that this had happened. He needed support, and Martin couldn't give it. He could give Todd a bat maybe, but that wouldn't help.

“Look I- Martin, it's sort of-”

“Relax. It ain't a big deal. I do what Drummer says. What problem you having?” Todd would have flipped Martin the middle finger, but he honestly wasn't in the mood. How would Martin understand this?

Todd was taken down a few pegs when he remembered that Martin had been in Blackwing too. If anything could get him to listen, Amanda and Blackwing were at the top of the list, and he had both on his side.

He sighed.

“Look man, it's- it's weird. Dirk aged again, and apparently he's about to move. To, you know. Blackwing. With some guy named Riggins.” Todd heard Martin growl over the phone.

“That man ain't no good, Brotz-”

“Yeah, I realize that. No shit. But I can't help him, like, at all! Anything I do won't change the past or, whatever!” Todd rubbed his temples, leaning against the wall in the hallway. “I'm taking him out to eat. Surround him with some trees and open space and all that. It's all I can think to do. I don't know what to do.”

Martin was silent on the other end for a second, and he could hear Tina whooping in the background along with the sound of something shattering. When Martin spoke, it was in a different tone of voice than Todd had ever heard him speak in.

“Keep doing that. Open space. Blackwing don't got a lot of it. You can't change what went down, but you can make him feel better. It's what the kid deserves.”

“You don't even like Dirk.”

“Nah, but I like the kid. Big difference.”

“Not really.” Todd looked up to the ceiling, at a loss.

“That's all I got. Sorry. Go and take him to the park or wherever it is you're going. It'll do him some good. I'll tell Drummer you called.” Martin hung up before Todd could answer, and he nearly threw the phone across the hall. This wasn't fair.

Outside, Dirk had stayed true to his word. He was sitting on the steps, humming a tune that Todd didn't know. When he heard Todd approach, he turned.

“Todd! Look! Look at this rock I found! It's all shiny!” Dirk held up the most boring rock Todd had ever seen, but he wasn't about to extinguish his fun. He gave a thumbs up, watching Dirk pocket the stone.

“I like to collect those things. I love having small little pieces of the world with me. It's the best feeling in the world, I think.”

Todd just nodded along, letting Dirk ramble as he pulled him along to the bus stop. After five minutes of nonstop talking, Todd stopped being able to hear him and just ended up zoning out. Even his Dirk wasn't this bad with his rambles, and that was saying something. He felt guilt eat it's way through his stomach; couldn't he help at all? Dirk held up a rock to the sky, examining it.

“You look sad. Is something the matter?” Dirk peered at Todd from the corner of his eye, his head still pointed towards the sky as he looked at the underside of the rock. Todd shook his head.

“Uh no. No I'm cool. Just tired.”

“You really should get more sleep, Mr. Todd. You'll never get anywhere without a good rest.” Dirk smiled, tossing the rock into the air and watching it land. Todd bit his lip to stop himself from responding, from telling Dirk that it will be years before he got a full night's sleep again. It would be decades, even. Just the other week, Dirk was still having trouble sleeping through the night on most days. He had too many nightmares.

“I will.” Todd shifted on his feet. “Hey so uh, Riggins. Can I ask about him?”

“Of course you can! Ask anything!” Dirk jumped to his feet - literally - and turned in a swift motion to face Todd. He was so cheerful; Todd shook his head to clear the darker thoughts in his mind.

“It's just, you know. You said you're going to Blackwing?” Dirk nodded. “So where are you right now exactly?”

Dirk's eyes widened.

“Oh! I thought I told you! Or maybe I didn't. My memory is something, but it's rarely reliable. I'm on a plane! A real, proper, in the sky plane! It's really comfortable. Riggins is there too, but he's reading a very very boring book. I can't wrap my head around it.”

“So, you're already on your way?”

“Yup! I can't wait!”

“Oh.”

Dirk frowned at him. Todd was well aware that he sounded strange, but he really couldn't help it. Dirk was already on his way to Blackwing. Todd took a deep breath before squaring his shoulders. There was no way he was going to upset Dirk right now, knowing what was coming for him. Dirk stood there, waiting.

“Right! Well you know what every good going away party needs? A lot of fun. And food. The aquarium has both, if you want to.” Dirk's mouth rose into a happy smile as he nodded, bouncing up and down a bit.

“Dinner and a show! Brilliant! Let's go!” Dirk went to run towards their destination, but paused before he could even make it one foot.

“Which way is it, exactly?” Todd chuckled under his breath, taking Dirk's hand and leading him left down the street.

“Come on. It's just over here.”


The Aquarium was packed, and it was nearly impossible to keep track of the hyperactive eleven year old in the crowd. Dirk had a hold of Todd's wrist, and was dragging him to each exhibit as they passed them to get a closer look. Todd decided that this was probably what Dirk felt like on most days. He groaned to himself as Dirk nearly dropped the meal they had bought for the third time as he dodged a stroller to get a look at an exhibit of rather beautiful looking fish. Todd smiled to himself as he watched them swim in their tank.

After a moment though, he felt Dirk's hand slip away from his wrist. He glanced over.

Todd noticed that Dirk was staring sadly at the fish, the food in his hand seemingly forgotten. The fish were beautiful, elegant in the way they flower through the water. It reminded him of Dirk's analogy of being, what he called, “a leaf in the stream of creation”. But the fish certainly weren't sad looking; so why did Dirk look so sullen?

“Hey, you okay?” Todd frowned at Dirk as he nodded slowly, not taking his eyes from the fish.

“It's not fair, is it? They're so amazing, look at them, they're destined for so many things. And they're just, trapped there. In a cage. They can't even fight back, it's not their decision.” Todd looked away.

“You don't like that? Them being trapped or, you know.” Dirk shook his head.

“No one should be trapped like that. It's wrong. Very wrong. They're forced to perform tricks for passersby and scientists for whatever reason, and they don't even get anything out of it. They'll die in there.” Dirk was beginning to look unsettled, and Todd didn't know how to pull him away from this.

Todd didn't know how to tell him how ironic what he was saying truly was.

“Hey uh, how about we go outside?” Todd tried on a smile, throwing his finished meal into the nearest can. “They've got like, whales and stuff to watch. That's pretty cool.”

Dirk nodded, finally tearing his gaze away from the fish.

“I've never seen whales before. Are they nice?”

“These guys? Definitely, they’re locals, here’s hoping they’re in a visiting mood.” Todd said, hearing the soft chime that let people know the whales were nearby. Dirk's eyes widened, and Todd gestured him forward.

A few people had gathered around the walkway, clinging to the railing and looking out into the Sound, searching for any sign of dorsal fins or tails. Dirk stood near Todd, avoiding the other people and looking out over the water.

“These whales, are they another exhibit?” Dirk asked, looking up.

“No, this big body of water is called the Puget Sound. It gets all of its water from the ocean on the other side of the mountains over there.” Todd pointed across the Sound. “And there are whales, Killer Whales, that live up in the islands near Canada. I don’t know a ton about them, but I know they’re local, and they like to put on a show.” Dirk seemed pleased with the idea of uncaged animals choosing to interact with people out of nothing more than curiosity.

They didn’t have to wait long. A loud splash sounded just out of sight and Todd heard a few ‘ohs’ from down the pier. Dirk inched closer to the railing, craning to see what the others could. There was a moment of silence and then no more than fifty feet away, a large, black fin sliced out of the water, a patch of white visible as it arched back down into the water.

“Todd! Todd! Did you see that?” Todd smiled.

“Yeah, cool right?” but Dirk wasn’t listening. More whales had appeared, slicing through the water, breathing loudly, and splashing their tails. Towards the back of the group Todd spotted a smaller shape, moving in sync with a larger one. Todd tapped Dirk on the shoulder and pointed just as the calf breached out of the water.

“He’s so small! How do they ever possibly grow to be that big if they start out that small?” Dirk asked, watching the calf surface a few more times as it moved along.

“I don’t know, but the little guy sure is cute.” Todd said, smiling as the whales moved out of sight.

“Will they come back?” Dirk asked, turning. Todd shrugged.

“If they want to, nothing stops them from going where they want, ya know?” Dirk nodded, turning back towards the water and leaning against the railing.

“That sounds nice. No cages.” He paused, frowning slightly. Todd recognized the face. Dirk still made the face even as an adult. It was a hunch. Todd held his breath as he watched Dirk’s shoulders tense and then relax.

“This was a nice dream. Thank you Todd.” Dirk turned back and wrapped Todd in a hug before he knew what was happening. Todd carefully wrapped his arms around him.

“No problem, Svlad.” Todd still hated the name, but he was going to pick his battles, and that wasn’t one he was going to fight at the moment. He heard Dirk yawn. Todd patted his back and pushed him away.

“Hey, don’t go falling asleep on me until we get back to the apartment, yeah?” Dirk nodded and started back towards the road.

Todd made his way back as quickly as he could; if Dirk fell asleep now, there was a large chance that by the time they got back to the apartment, Dirk will have aged again. That wouldn't go down well with the locals, or really anyone. That would disturb even Farah. Todd kept having to push Dirk awake as they made their way. They were barely able to make it back before Dirk finally passed out, and Todd resigned himself to the fact that he would have to carry Dirk up to the apartment.

Upstairs, the television was still playing. He turned it off as he laid Dirk on the couch, putting the new, soft blanket that Farah had brought over him. Everything would be fine. Dirk would wake up, albeit a bit older, and they would just have to work through whatever came next. They could do this.

His phone buzzed, and he looked down to see a text from Amanda. She'd sent a thumbs up emoji. He shook his head, shoving it into his pocket. He might as well get some sleep; it was getting late, somehow.

Todd crawled into his bed, yawning. This was the weirdest, most tiring weekend of his life. It was definitely one for the books.

As he started to drift off, he made eye contact with Mona. She didn't say anything, because stress dolls don't speak. If she could have though, Todd thought that she may have tried to reassure him.

That was good enough for him.


This is why you need to take your medication

The screaming woke him up. He sat bolt upright, not realizing he was laying on the edge of the bed and found himself suddenly staring at the ceiling from the ground. Morning light filtering through the window. Who was screaming?

Shit.

“Dirk? Dir- Svlad?” Todd rolled over, pushing himself off the floor and looking towards the couch. Dirk was sitting up, looking much older and clinging to his knees. He looked like he had lost a lot of weight, which for a child of his size was not good. His head snapped up as Todd spoke, and Todd stopped dead at the utter terror in his eyes.

“No. No. No. No.” Dirk was muttering to himself as Todd moved forward.

“Svlad what’s wrong?”

“You’re not real. You’re not real.” Dirk closed his eyes, burying his face in his knees. He was shaking, and Todd could see that the clothes he had been wearing last night suddenly looked too small. He looked like an absolute wreck. Todd paused, still half on the ground.

Why wasn't he real?

“What? What does that- I'm right here.” Dirk shook his head, not looking up.

“You're not. It's a trick. You're not. It's got to be.” Dirk was whispering, and Todd got the suspicion that he was talking more to himself than anyone else.

“What happened? You look… sick. And like, way underfed. Have you been eating? Shit.” Todd stopped his thought as an obvious answer crossed his mind: Blackwing.

Oh no.

“Svlad. Svlad. Hey. Look at me, alright? There's nothing going on here, I promise. No one's gonna hurt you.” Todd reached forward, but he wasn't able to touch Dirk as he scrambled out of reach, nearly falling off the couch. His eyes were wild.

“You're not real. It's a dream. Dreams are bad.”

“Why would dreams be bad? I'm fine! Everything's fine here, just- just calm down-”

Nightmares. Dirk had nightmares. It was a few times a week that Dirk told Todd that he couldn't trust his dreams; usually after a bad night. Todd swore under his breath.

“Hey.” Todd spoke quieter, softer. “No one's here to hurt you. You're safe.”

Sometimes, Todd could be really stupid.

He reached out again, intending to hold Dirk to make him feel better. As soon as he made contact with Dirk, the boy lashed out at him, screaming he slapped his hand away and toppled over onto the floor.

“No, no, no, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.” Dirk looked like a ragdoll on the floor; he'd curled up into a limp ball. “I'm sorry, I'm sorry.”

“Svlad?”

“I'm sorry! I'm sorry, please, don't– I didn't mean to be rude, I didn't mean, I didn't-”

Todd was staring at Dirk, unable to keep the horrified expression from spreading to his face. Dirk was acting like Todd was going to kick him or hit him or hurt him in some sort of way; why on earth would he think that? Todd had never done anything to insinuate-

God damn it. Priest.

Dirk was afraid he would act like Priest.

All he'd done was touch him. He hadn't raised his voice or jeered at him or even moved fast. He'd just touched him. Todd got a sickening suspicion that the only real contact Dirk was getting was less than healthy.

Was murder legal? It might be, if Priest was the one getting murdered. He definitely knew a few people who wouldn't report it. Screw letting Farah kill him; he was going to do it himself.

Todd moved forward to try and get a word in, but found that it was difficult to speak. In fact, it was near impossible; his lungs had filled with water. He closed his eyes, grabbing the air as if it would somehow help him breathe. Everything around him was submerged in water, in an ocean. He was trapped, and his lungs were burning. He was drowning.

His pills. He needed his pills. He could do this. They were just on the nightstand. He could get there with his eyes closed.

He couldn’t breathe. If he tried he would start to panic. He just needed to get up and get to the bottle. When was the last time he had taken his pills? Had it been before this whole thing with Dirk? He opened his eyes and still saw the blues and the greens of water he knew wasn’t real.

He could do this. He pushed up from the couch and immediately fell forward, hitting his head on the way down and gasping. The pain in his lungs multiplied as he failed to get any air in and he could vaguely hear Dirk crying out beside him.

He was going to die. Because he hadn’t been taking his pills. And Dirk would be alone.

Dirk would be alone.

He needed help. His phone.

Pocket. That’s where he remembered it being. Todd reached into his pocket, and felt the cool of the screen. He could do this, his vision was beginning to get rather spotty, and the pain in his chest was beyond intense.

He tapped the lock button and saw the small emergency button appear.

Please pick up, Farah.

He hit the button and dropped the phone as he tried to breathe again with no luck. If he could just pass out he hoped that the attack would pass and his body would take over, breathing normally, but he wasn’t entirely sure.

A distant sound drew his attention, it sounded a lot like the slamming of a door. Was Farah there already? That was fast.

No. Something was missing. The cries, and shouts, and the panic had left. Dirk had left.

No.

“Hello? Todd?” he had to let her know. He tried to speak and failed, gasping for air again. His vision blurred, he did not have time to think about this. He banged his fist hard against the ground near his phone and gasped again.

“Shit! Todd! Todd?” his vision went blank for a second, as he tried for another breath. The pain was too much. Dirk was gone. And he was going to drown on dry land.

“I’m on my way.”

But he didn’t hear her. His last conscious thought was that he had lied to Dirk, he had left him alone.

Dirk was right. Adults always lie.


Someone was shaking him and calling his name. Todd opened his eyes slowly and found himself staring at his ceiling. Farah was crouched next to him, a look of panic on her face that was quickly erased when she saw his eyes. Was he on the floor?

“Todd? Oh thank god! Todd, are you okay? What year is it? Who’s the president?” Todd groaned pushing Farah away.

“An acceptable answer to the last one, but are you okay?” Todd wasn’t sure. His whole chest felt terrible, and breathing hurt far more than it should. What had happened? Had he had an attack? When did Farah get there?

Dirk.

“Where’s Dirk?” his voice sounded terrible. Farah glanced around the apartment. As she helped Todd up into the chair.

“I don’t know, he wasn’t here when I got here. You need to take these and drink water before we do anything else.” She shoved some pills into Todd’s hand and went to the kitchen to get him water. Todd threw the pills back and tried to stand only to be shoved back down by Farah.

“No, you’re going to drink this first. Then we’ll go find him.” Todd shook his head, remembering the panic he had seen in Dirk.

“No, Farah you don’t understand. He’s– he’s remembering Blackwing. He woke up and had a panic attack. He could be out there having a panic attack right now we have to–”

“You had a pararibulitis attack, because you more than likely haven’t been taking your meds. Am I right?”

“I–”

“You almost died. You’re not going to be any good to him dead. Now, drink that energy drink, take a breath, and for the love of god, put the pill bottle in your pocket. We will find Dirk. But you need to take care of yourself, too. Okay? Do you understand? Todd, say ‘I understand, Farah. Thank you Farah, for making sure I didn’t die.’” Todd swallowed and nodded. Farah’s gaze terrified him, and her death grip on his shoulder told him that she would personally kill him if pararibulitis didn’t kill him first.

“Got it.” she released his shoulder and walked over to sit on the couch as he downed the drink. Every sip burned, but he felt better once the drink was gone.

“Where would he go?” She asked. Todd shook his head, he didn’t know. They had only gone out a couple of times, but the universe could have pulled Dirk anywhere. Todd glanced over at Farah and frowned, there was a bandaid on her hand.

“What happened to your hand?” she glanced down and made a tsk sound.

“The cat. We were playing and she scratched me. It was an accident.”

“The cat.”

“Yes the–”

“No, the cat. Oh! I think I know where he went.” Todd jumped up, swaying slightly but keeping his balance. He moved around the chair, grabbing his phone and keys and snagging the pill bottle off his night stand.

“Thanks Farah. I’ll call you when I find him!” He raced out of the apartment leaving her sitting on the couch. He knew he shouldn’t run but he couldn’t help hurrying down the stairs. How long had he been out? Probably only about twenty minutes but a lot could have happened in that time.

He headed towards the park. It was a long shot but this Dirk had been trapped in Blackwing for at least a couple of years. And he probably hadn’t been allowed outside. Something told Todd that a nice patch of green with some trees was exactly what Dirk would be looking for.

He made it to the park in record time, slightly out of breath and definitely more panicked than someone who just had a pararibulitis attack should be, but he couldn’t help it. He glanced around the park, and was surprised it was empty until he realized it was nine am on a Monday.

Todd glanced toward the bench and felt the tension in his shoulders ease. Sitting, tucked into himself, was Dirk. He didn’t appear to be shaking or crying, but he also didn’t look okay. Dirk spotted Todd and hurried to get up.

“Wait.” Todd called, trying not to be too loud, but hoping his urgency stopped Dirk from moving further. Dirk paused, eyeing him suspiciously, but not standing from the bench. Todd moved forward and got within ten feet before Dirk became distressed.

“No, please, I’m sorry.” Todd stopped moving. Watching as Dirk curled back into himself, trying to make himself small.

“Hey, it’s okay.” Todd kept his voice low. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’ll stay right here. Whatever you want.”

Todd could hear Dirk's breathing from here. It was ragged, and he seemed to having trouble breathing the way someone should without passing out. Not that he didn't look that way. He looked like he'd been crying, and his whole body was tense with anticipation. Todd put his hands up, trying to think of a way to make himself appear anything but threatening.

“Hey, I won't come any closer, okay? Not unless you tell me to.” Todd lowered himself onto the ground. “You're the one in control here. Not me. This is all on you.”

Dirk shook his head, bring his head into his knees.

“I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I won't run away, please don't. Please don't.” Todd stared desperately; how was he supposed to fix this?

He took a shot in the dark.

“Hey, can you look up? Not at me. At the sky. The sky with- with the clouds and the birds and the sun. All of it. You're outside. In a park. No one is going to hurt you here. I promise. This… this is your dream, right? You said it was your dream. You can't get hurt in dreams, not really, right? Right?” Todd's voice was borderline whining; he didn't have any answers. He lowered his hands, leaning back into the playground equipment in defeat.

He was too tired.

Todd closed his eyes for a moment, unsure what to do next. Dirk was too scared to go near Todd, and anyone who might know how to deal with the trauma of Blackwing was nowhere around.

He knew what happened to Dirk in Blackwing was bad, he just never imagined something like this. He couldn't do anything to help him. Until they went to sleep that night, Dirk was stuck in whatever state of terror Blackwing had left him in, and Todd was helpless to stop it. Pushing down a hysterical sort of sound rising in his throat, Todd started to hum a familiar tune.

It wasn't until after he had finished the song that he realized Dirk had stopped crying.

Todd opened his eyes. Dirk was peeking out at him, still pressed away from him as far as he could possibly be. Todd managed a smile in acknowledgement.

“Hey.” Dirk didn't respond, but Todd had expected as much. What did scared children like? There was something, Todd was sure, but he was having trouble remembering.

“I'm sorry. I don't know how to help. I'm exhausted from my attack and you're, curled up on some park bench. It's pretty bad, I know. If I could make you less scared or, I don't know, something, I would. But, I can't. I have no clue how to help here. I wish I could. I'd punch Blackwing right in their stupid faces.” Todd looked up to the trees above him, defeated. “I'm sorry.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Dirk look up.

“I'm outside.” Dirk's voice was plain, so quiet that Todd could barely hear it. It sounded nothing like him; it sounded broken. They sat in silence for a few more minutes as the noise of everyday life echoed through the park, mixed with the birds in the sky and the dogs pulling on their leashes. For a moment, it seemed like a normal day again.

“I'm sorry for running away. Everything is so frightening. I don't understand it. I don't understand you. Or him.” Todd didn't ask who the he was that Dirk was referring to. He already knew; and besides, he was just happy that Dirk was actually talking.

“You don't have to apologize. It's probably all, pretty scary.” He saw Dirk nod slowly.

“I'm sorry,” Dirk whispered. Todd heard him make a small noise, and then Dirk spoke again, even quieter.

“What were you singing?”

“What?”

“You- you were humming something. It sounded nice. I'm sorry.” Dirk paused. “I'm also sorry for apologizing. He says I do it too much.”

“Oh, yeah uh. It's…” Todd was overcome by the image of a younger, happier Dirk from a few nights prior. “Hey Jude. By The Beatles. You know them?”

Dirk seemed to contemplate this for a moment before shaking his head ever so slightly.

“I, can play it for you if you want.” Dirk looked up, finally, at Todd, giving him his attention. Todd reached for the phone in his pocket, he could barely remember putting it there, and searched around his music library.

It had been on a whim, really. Well, that was if you could call Dirk's hunches “whims”. Todd had forgotten about it up until now, but Dirk had purchased on impulse an old Beatles album when they were staying up late for a case. They shared an account, so it had transferred to Todd's phone as well. Todd couldn't help but wonder if it had been less of an impulse and more the workings of the universe.

Todd sighed in relief as he found the right song, and set the phone down on the playground mulch as he pressed play.

Even for a Monday, the street was oddly silent. Luckily, this meant that the song had a beautiful echoing effect on the world around them. They very melody seemed to wrap around the trees, circling around them and wrapping them in a safe, warm dome of soft music.

It felt, for the first time since he'd had his attack, like Todd could fix this. Dirk seemed to like it, too; he had become visibly less tense, if not still on edge. He began to survey the world around him, his eyes lingering on the decorative weeds and trees that surrounded the area.

As the song faded, he saw Dirk slowly unwrap himself from the ball he had been lying in.

“Todd?” He sounded hesitant, and Todd sat up so that he could see him a little bit better. He raised his eyebrows in response.

“Why… are you–” Dirk sighed, seemingly unable to find the right words. “Why are you kind?”

“What? I don't… kind?”

“Dreams aren't kind to me. Neither are real people. All things considered, you should be rather like anyone else I've met. Or him.” Todd shook his head.

“I had a friend. He… taught me that, being kind is what works best. I think you'd like him.”

“He may not like me. Not many people do.” Todd shrugged, grabbing his phone so that he could text Farah that Dirk was still alive.

“Being liked is… subjective.” Todd shivered as he felt a breeze send a chill down his spine. “Do you, need a jacket? Or?”

Dirk shook his head hastily.

To Todd's relief, Dirk was finally sitting normally. He still looked jumpy at Todd's proximity, but he at least wasn't running again. That was a definite improvement. He looked out of place in the clothes he was wearing, like he didn't quite know how to wear them correctly. Honestly, he was the very definition of a squirrelly teenager. Todd wondered if he could get him to eat something.

“Hey, you know. There's an ice cream place across the street over there. You want to get something? I don't think either of us has eaten breakfast.” Dirk narrowed his eyes.

“Breakfast?” Dirk's voice had finally lowered to what Todd assumed was it's usual tone. “You can't have ice cream for- I can't… I'm not allowed to-”

“Nothing wrong with bending the rules a bit.”

“But…” Dirk trailed off, looking forlorn. “I'm not allowed to have breakfast. I did something wrong.”

Todd really didn't want to think of how Dirk had adopted that line of thinking.

“No wrong answers here.” Todd stood to his feet, careful to keep a safe distance from Dirk. “Besides, it's Monday, right? The place will be totally empty.”

For a moment, Todd thought that Dirk wasn't going to get up. He was fine with that; he was prepared to sit here for ten hours if that's what it took to get Dirk moving. He eventually started to move though, slipping onto the ground without making a sound. They stared at each other for a moment, each of them standing there awkwardly.

Dirk suddenly reminded Todd of a frightened animal.

Was it stupid for him to wish The Rowdy 3 were there? It probably was, but they at least would know how to better deal with this. They'd suffered from the hands of Blackwing too; they would know what to say. Todd on the other hand was unanimously speechless. He gestured towards the shop, visible on the other end of the street.

The walk there was one of the more awkward moments of Todd's life. He didn't know what to tell Dirk, so the two had walked in complete silence, at least five feet away from each other. Dirk kept glancing up at Todd as if he expected something to happen.

Inside, the person on duty was more than happy to have customers.

“Hi! Welcome to Salt and Straw! Can I get you two anything good?” The server smiled warmly, leaning against the counter to greet them.

“Um, I'll just, have a plain vanilla cup, thanks. And uh… can you give him a moment? He's never been here before.” The server, who judging by her name tag was named Marlene, nodded.

“Vanilla cup coming up! Give me a few moments.”

She walked away, and Todd could have smiled as he saw Dirk gawking at all the different choices in front of him. There were the usual flavours of ice cream, but there were also things like Honey Lavender and something called The Universe, both sounded absolutely awful. The Honey Lavender was a bright shade of purple, and Todd had an awful feeling that Dirk was going to choose that one. Besides ice cream, there was also an array of cookies, brownies, gummy worms, and any amount of pastry treats that Todd could imagine. They even had PopTarts, none of which looked remotely appetizing.

Whatever they got, Todd was going to put it on the company card. Farah could do her share in taking care of Dirk.

Dirk had been staring at the Honey Lavender flavour for a full minute now, so Todd decided to weigh in.

“You want that one?” Dirk nodded slowly.

“Yes please. I do think I do.”

“Cool. Anything else? We don't have a limit.”

In the end, with a little bit of coaxing from Todd, Dirk ended up getting a medium cup of Honey Lavender, three cookies, two brownies, and one horrible looking poptart. Todd smiled back at the server as she handed them their chosen desserts, and Todd nodded as he walked Dirk to a table.

“Todd?” Dirk sat down, bouncing his leg. “What exactly are PopTarts?”

Todd leaned over to read the flavour. He didn't have the faintest idea if it even qualified as a poptart. Was watermelon even a flavor that went into a pastry? Todd opened his mouth to respond, but all that came out was a confused noise.

“Couldn't say. I've never had that flavour before. But they’re like a pastry.” Dirk frowned.

“It's probably bad,” Dirk said, unwrapping it. “I've been told I'm not really worth wasting anything good on. You can have it if it tastes nice.”

Not for the first time, Todd got an overwhelming urge to slap the first Blackwing agent he saw. Priest or Riggins seemed a good bet. He took a moment to take a breather so that his voice would be steady, and so that he wouldn't scare Dirk off again. He couldn't afford that; not now, when Dirk finally seemed to be settling down a bit.

“That's… Whoever said that was definitely lying to you. You're like, a great kid. You can eat whatever you want. We got money.”

Dirk didn't answer; he didn't quite seem to believe him. Even so, he took a small bite of the poptart before pausing again.

“Actually, it isn't that bad.”

Within a matter of minutes, Dirk had finished the poptart and moved onto the ice cream. Todd felt a sense of pride as, remarkably, Dirk almost seemed to enjoy himself. He still jumped every time someone passed by the door, though. Thankfully, his panic was short lived as he was pulled back to the food they had ordered.

Finally, after what could barely have been half an hour, Dirk finished eating. He looked around at the discarded trash left in their wake, his eyes wide.

“I would be in so much trouble if they found out about this.”

“Good thing it's a dream, huh?” Todd barely suppressed a grin as he saw Dirk, for what seemed like the first time in ages, smile sheepishly.

“I do think so. This has been nice. It's been so long since any of my dreams have gone well for me. They're usually nightmares, and not one of them has ever felt this real before. Well, that's a lie. Usually the ones where He's there feel very real. He's usually in my room or the old house or-” Dirk suddenly paused, staring out the window as his brain caught up to what he was saying. He began to shake again. Todd tried to backtrack, an aimless attempt at damage control.

“Hey, just. Focus on the now, alright? He can't get here. It's impossible. And if he really does I'll just, fight him off. Okay.” Todd wanted to pull Dirk in for a hug, but he knew that it probably wasn't the best idea. Dirk took an unsteady breath.

“Please don't let him get me, Todd.” Dirk closed his eyes. “I don't want him to get me again. I don't want him to get you. He'll kill you. He'll kill you and it will be my fault again. Again, people always- They always get hurt. And it's my fault he always gets them, he always gets me.”

“Hey.” Todd leaned in. “He's not coming here. You're safe I promise. I'm not letting anything happen.”

When Dirk opened his eyes to look at Todd, he looked like he was going to cry.

“Thank you.”

Todd smiled at him, looking around the table to gather up the trash. There was admittedly a lot more than there should have been. He scooped the trash onto a tray to dump into the bin. After successfully discarding of any and all waste, he sighed.

“Well, that was a trip. I think it was actually the most normal ice cream meal I've had.” Todd said.

“What kind of life do you have that would entail an ice cream shop visit to not be qualified as normal? Besides mine, I mean.”

“I'm a detective, sort of. Or, I mean, my boyfriend is a detective. And I work with him, so.” Dirk's eyes seemed to light up.

“A detective!? Like, a real actual detective!?” Todd nodded, earning a gasp out of Dirk. He muttered words of admiration under his breath as Todd smiled. He'd never felt this proud of his job before; this was a first.

“That is… amazing!” Dirk seemed to jump out of his seat.

“It's kind of a weird job actually.”

“Of course it's a weird job! You're solving mysteries! Real mysteries! With clues and friends and people that need help! I've always wanted to be a detective, but I don't think I'd be cut out for it. What's it like, really? Is it fun? Do you help people?” Todd took a second to process everything that Dirk had said, trying to come up with as many answers as he could.

“I… wouldn't say fun. But it's cool. Pretty dangerous, actually. Everyone we help usually is pretty weirded out.” Todd softened as he watched Dirk's expression. “But I think you'd make aj pretty good detective.”

Todd had never seen Dirk look so flattered.

“Thank you, Todd. I think you may be my nicest dream creation yet.” Todd blinked; he'd forgotten that Dirk thought he was a dream.

“Where are we, exactly? It's definitely not Blackwing, but I'm not very sure where this is all taking place. I'm pretty sure it's America, or possibly Canada, though I could be wrong. Am I wrong? I'm very often wrong.”

“Uh, no, it's America. We're in Seattle.” Todd said, smiling lightly.

“Seattle? I'm afraid I haven't heard of it.”

“Yeah well it's, pretty cool here I guess. We have like… water. And trees. And, like, mountains and, stuff.” Dirk grinned.

“That all sounds very interesting, Todd. I mean it. It's been so long since I've seen anything green. Even the clothes I usually wear are just the most dismal shade of gray you have ever seen. I don't like dark colors very much.” Todd snorted before he could stop himself. Dirk glanced up at him, frowning slightly.

“Sorry, my boyfriend, he’s the same way. Hates dark colors. So much in fact that he owns a leather jacket in every shade of the rainbow.” Dirk smiled, his eyes lighting up.

“Every color?”

“Every one.” Todd nodded, walking slowly towards the door. Dirk followed close at his heels as they walked back into the fresh morning air.

“Alright, where to?” Todd asked glancing down at him. Dirk was almost as tall as he was, he would soon be taller. Dirk glanced up and shrugged.

“I don’t know. I don’t know anywhere to go. I mean, of course I know the park, and now this wonderful ice cream shop, and oh, we went to the aquarium once didn’t we? That was quite an adventure. Could we, would it be possible to go back to the park? Or, walk somewhere with trees?” Todd nodded, taking the lead back toward the park.

“I think we can do that.” Dirk kept pace, slightly behind him as they made it back to the park and headed off down the path that wound through the trees. Todd glanced back and smiled as Dirk was lost looking up at the trees.

“They’re so tall.” Dirk muttered.

“Yeah, they’re evergreens. Here,” Todd stopped, making sure to give Dirk enough room to stop without running into him. “Take a deep breath. Can you smell that? Kind of clean, kind of sharp?” Dirk did as he was told, taking several deep breaths through his nose, and nodding.

“It’s the trees. They smell like that all the time. It’s nice right?”

“It smells amazing. I would love to live here. It seems so nice, and peaceful, and green.” Dirk said, glancing around at the trees, walking towards a bush blooming on the side of the path. Dark purple blackberries were scattered in clumps across the bush.

“What are these?”

“Blackberries. You can have some if you want. They’re pretty good.” Todd picked one of the darker ones and popped it in his mouth. He glanced over and noticed too late the berry Dirk had grabbed was a little too pink.

“Oh wait–”

“Oh, it’s sour!” Dirk scrunched up his nose, closing his eyes tight. Todd couldn’t help but laugh as Dirk swallowed the sour berry.

“That one, was not ripe. Here,” He grabbed a darker one, “try this one.” Dirk looked warily at the berry but took it from Todd, popping it into his mouth and biting down carefully. He smiled at the taste.

“That is much better than the other one.” Todd nodded.

“I would think so.” He smiled as Dirk glared up at him. “I’ll have to make you a blackberry tart sometime. My mom always used to make them, and I got pretty good at it. It’s only like four ingredients so that helps.”

Dirk’s glare softened.

“That sounds lovely, Todd, but how can you be sure I’ll have this dream again? This might be the last time we see each other.” Todd shrugged.

“I think the universe will probably put us in each other’s way a couple more times.”

“The universe is rarely on my side. Often times it leaves me in the worst possible situations. I don't know how to, interpret what it says. Usually it leads me right into trouble, and I go straight into his hands. It's not a kind place to be, all of us.” Todd frowned, popping another berry into his mouth.

“You know, this guy doesn't, sound real nice. He kinda sounds like a douche.” Dirk squared his shoulders uncomfortably, looking down at the berries in his hands. He stared at them for what seemed like an uncomfortable amount of time before speaking again.

“I don't think Mr- he, is a bad person. Maybe. I think maybe he's supposed to be, but everything I do or say is always wrong. It's not his fault I can't get things right. If anything, I'm the bad one for messing up. Whatever he does to me is well deserved.”

Todd couldn't help it; he was seeing red.

He wasn't angry with Dirk, not by a long shot. Dirk was just a kid, he had never asked for any of this. He wasn't born with the intention of being pulled on a string by the universe, nor had he asked for anything that had happened during his time at Blackwing. All he ever seemed to want to do was help people, and here was that damned Mr. Priest making him feel like he deserved to be punished for things out of his control. Todd wouldn't mind setting Farah or Bart or The Rowdy 3 on him, though he also wouldn't hate pushing him off a building with his own hands.

Dirk probably wouldn't like that though.

He wouldn't object, he just… wouldn't like it. Dirk rarely liked violence, and if he could avoid it, that's exactly what he would be doing. Even with someone like Priest, Dirk would never be able to bring himself to kill him. Even if he tried, even if he actually succeeded, he'd probably feel guilty even about that.

Todd's boyfriend was much too kind.

“Hey, look, I- I don't know what he did, or anything, but… whatever it is, you definitely didn't deserve it. You're some of the best company I've had all weekend. And it's been a really strange weekend. At least three different children, one who couldn't even speak English and was like, adopted, by some crazy vampire guy. You're a really good kid. It's gonna get better for you.”

“Better?”

“Yeah. Like, way better. Everything you could ever want. Trust me.” Dirk made eye contact with Todd.

“I trust you, Todd.”

Maybe Todd wasn't as bad at this as he thought. He smiled at him, prompting Dirk to give a thumbs up. Dirk gazed up at the tree tops, gawking at the birds flying around from tree to tree.

“Could we stay out here for a bit longer? I don't want this dream to end yet.”

Todd nodded, showing Dirk to one of his favorite spots along the trail. The trees parted in front of a bench that was point out, looking out over the city skyline, the mountains visible in the distance. Todd sat down first letting Dirk sit as far away as he liked. They stayed there for what could have been hours, occasionally talking about the city, or movies, or nothing at all. Dirk started yawning around lunch time and Todd suggested heading back to the apartment. Dirk didn’t argue, following Todd, and making it all the way to the couch before collapsing face first onto the pillow.

Todd carefully placed the blanket over him as he dozed off.

“Better.” Todd heard him mumble as he drifted off. Todd sighed, walking back over to the bed.

He could only hope whatever came next would be better.


Adults always lie

Todd wasn’t sure when he had dozed off, or how many hours had passed. What he was sure of, was that he had just been hit in the face with a pillow. Hard. He blinked awake to see what looked like a rather angry teenager standing in his apartment.

“You liar!” The teenager, who he could assume was Dirk, was brandishing a bright pink pillow.

“What?”

“You're a liar! You said it would get better! You promised! Do you know what it's like there, with that damned man always at my shoulder!? How exactly is that any better?!” Dirk looked livid, but in the type of way that he was on the edge of tears. Todd was at a complete loss; this had come out of absolutely nowhere.

“I– it will– I mean, I can’t imagine, but I’m sure it’ll get better. If you give it time and–” He tried to sit up only to be knocked back again by the pillow.

“Do you know what he does? Do you have any idea!?” Dirk's voice sounded scarily uneven as he pointed to Todd. “Do you know what it's like when he comes into my room!? Almost every night now I'm woken up by him and stupid, stupid guns because I can't get the questions right! I can't get it right it's all wrong, wrong, wrong! All the time I'm wrong and all the time it ends with me in the medical ward. You have no right to tell me to wait through this!”

Dirk threw the pillow at Todd, deciding on the one on the couch instead. It looked much denser, and could probably do much more damage than the soft bed pillow. Todd scrambled off the bed as Dirk turned his back, putting the door at his back if worse came to worse.

“Wait, guns? He comes into your room with guns?”

“Well he can't very well stab me, now can he? Stabbing and kicking counts as damaging the property. That's all I am, a goddamn project. Property of the CIA, that's me. And what are you, Todd? Really?!” Dirk couldn't catch his breath, and had to lean against the wall as he screamed at Todd. He looked like he was about to topple over. Todd noticed that Dirk had grown a good few inches, now closer to his adult height and probably taller than Todd.

“I’m, I’m your friend, Svlad. I just want to help.” Todd held up his hands, trying to seem non-threatening, with little effect.

“Help?” Dirk's eyes seemed to water in the dim light now. “Like Riggins wanted to help? You're an adult. All you do is lie to me so you can get something. That's all you’re good for.”

“I’ve never lied to you.”

“You agreed with me. I said you were a dream and you agreed. That's a lie. I'm sixteen, I'm not stupid. This isn't what dreams feel like-” Dirk paused, his expression darkening as he stared at Todd.

“Are you- are you an experiment?”

Todd hadn’t been expecting that.

“An experiment? No, Svlad, it’s not like that, it’s, it’s complicated.”

Dirk started to back up, his hand blindly searching the wall for the door. The lighting was too dark to see the end of the wall where Dirk was backing up into; he had yet to notice that Todd was standing in front of the only door. At this rate, he was going to trip over something. There were still too many things lying around his apartment to make walking around in the dark safe.

“You are. You're a test. You're a test that they came up with to, I don't know. Get something. You're just another stupid experiment, and now I've failed it.” Dirk's breath caught. “Now he's going to drag me into my room. Again.”

“Look, Svlad, I promise, I’m not an experiment. And, it’s, it’s really complicated, but, he can’t get you as long as you’re here. You’re safe here.” Todd took a couple steps forward, still out of arm’s reach, but trying to get closer.

Dirk put his hand out, holding the pillow in his hand in the most threatening way a pillow could possibly be held. He was gripping the wall for support to stay standing now.

“You are a liar. This whole time it's been some test for me to do or some puzzle to solve so that they can learn how it works. You want answers that I don't have! I know nothing! All I know is that this will end and I'll have to deal with another broken arm!” Dirk’s breathing was audible now.

“Broken– he broke your arm?” Todd was going to kill Priest. Consequences be damned. Dirk laughed; it was a bitter sound.

“Don't tell me a broken arm has got you all twisted. You'd simply faint at the other things he's done. Have you ever had your lower half almost completely shattered? I have, and I can assure you, I wasn't even sure if I would walk again. You'd be surprised what type of healing abilities the other subjects are capable of.”

“No, okay, what the actual fuck? Are you serious? I’m gonna kill him. Farah can get in line.” Todd took a steadying breath. “Svlad, I am so sorry, about everything. But you are safe here. I promise.”

Dirk scowled at him.

“That's what he said too. When I met him, that is. He's a very dramatic person. You'd like him. He lies too.” Dirk was beginning to sound like he was crying, gasping for air in between sentences. He had lowered the pillow just a bit, leaning his whole body on the wall. “Whoever your Farah friend is, she sounds much nicer than you. You're an absolute nightmare.”

Todd couldn’t argue with that at this point. Being awoken by a screaming teenager would make anyone a nightmare. But he needed to focus.

“Look, you’re, you’re upset, and you have every right to be upset. What is happening to you is awful, and unfair, and cruel, and honestly, fuck Priest. But, you, you’re in control here. Whatever you want to do, that’s what we’ll do. You want to keep hitting me, that’s fine. You want to break something, we can do that too. It’s– it’s up to you. You’re in control.” Todd took a step back, moving forward had done little to help the situation. Dirk stared at Todd.

Why was he looking at him like that?

“I- I never told you his name.”

“Um, no, you did, definitely–”

“I never said his name. What– What are you? Why are you trying to talk to me? How do you- how do you-” Dirk was hyperventilating.

“Svlad, hey, whoa, breathe, it’s okay. I’m– I’m your friend. I just– you must have told me at some point, right? I just want to help.” Todd backed up feeling the door handle, he might need to run after all. Dirk shook his head as he slid to the ground along the wall.

“Everyone says. They want to help. How do you know his name? I can't. I can't. I-” Dirk closed his eyes, visibly crying. For someone who looked so willowy, he suddenly looked very very small.

“I–” Todd took a deep breath. “It’s really, really complicated. Like super, weirdly complicated, but you told me his name. I swear. We– we’ve talked about him before. Not like this, and I didn’t know, any of that stuff before, but, I promise, I’m not lying to you, okay?”

“It's so hard to remember.” Dirk glanced at Todd, curling into himself. “My head always hurts. Scientists and guards and Priest and the universe always yelling at me. Tell me to do things that I can't do. I don't know how. I honestly couldn't tell you if I've told you his name before. I couldn't tell you what happened last week. Everything is just a cloud of terror all the time and I don't know how to stop it. The universe feels so broken, and I can't fix it.”

Dirk covered his head with his hands, the pillow lying forgotten on the ground as he dissolved into a ball on the floor. Todd stared for a moment, trying to figure out what to do. He moved forward, not getting too close that Dirk could kick him, but closer than he had been before and crouched down, sitting criss-cross.

“Tell me how I can help. Tell me what you need.” He kept his voice low and even, hoping not to scare him. Dirk barely looked up at him, his face defeated.

“I just want it to stop. I want to feel safe again. Like I did with my mum when she took me to see the stars outside. I want them to stop. I don't-” Dirk's voice caught. “I want him to stop.”

Todd nodded. He wanted to tell him it would be okay, that everything would work. But he knew that was a bad idea. He glanced around the apartment, noticing for the first time the dark sky outside. He could do one of those things.

“You want to see the stars?” He asked, looking back at Dirk. Dirk hesitated for a moment before he nodded. Todd nodded his head, pushing himself back off the floor and grabbing the blanket from the couch.

“Come on then.”

Dirk looked up at him desperately, grabbing at the wall for something to support himself as he stood on wobbly legs. He appeared as though he was going to fall over at any moment.

“I don't know what you are, Todd. But I hope it's not bad.” Dirk straightened himself out. “I hope, I'm not wrong, to still trust you this once. Because if you are bad, then-”

Dirk didn't have an answer.

“If you think I’ve gone bad you are more than welcome to take your anger at Priest out on me and then leave. I won’t stop you. But first, stars. Do you want the roof, or the park?”

“I want something green.”

“Park it is. Come on.” Todd turned heading towards the door. He was half expecting Dirk to hit him over the head and run, but it didn’t happen. He got the door open and waited for Dirk to walk around him into the hall. Todd closed the door and took the lead, heading out the Ridgely and back towards the park. In all the years he had lived there, he didn’t think he had ever visited the park as much as he had over the last few days.

“This place doesn't change. Ever.” Dirk looked around as they stepped outside. He stood a few feet away from Todd. “It looks the same.”

“Well, that’s because it’s only been like ten hours since you saw it last. But, again, it’s complicated.” Todd said, walking slowly down the sidewalk.

“It's been much longer for me. I think. You talk about it like it's some sort of, magic trick or whatever.” Dirk frowned at the ground, wringing his hands. Todd snorted.

“A trick would imply the caster knew what they were doing.” He was still on the fence about killing Amanda. But he’d start with Priest and see how he felt. Dirk gave him a quizzical look.

“And you imply that my magic theory was correct. But I'm not much in the mood for it at the moment.” Dirk glanced nervously behind them. “I don't like the dark. It makes me feel like he's watching me.”

Dirk stretched his wrists a few times, not having much else to do to deal with his nervousness as they walked. Todd pulled out his phone and flipped on the flashlight.

“How’s this?”

“I. Yes. Yes that will do fine.” Dirk’s eyes widened.

“Cool right? Would you believe it’s also a phone and a camera?” Todd asked, holding the phone out in front of him to light the sidewalk. Dirk shook his head.

“Definitely not, but I've met some weird people, and seen even weirder things surrounding them. I suppose it's plausible for now.” Dirk's shoulders loosened up a bit.

“I’ll take plausible.”

“Your world is very strange. So are you. But that just comes with knowing me, I guess. I've been told I do that to people.” Dirk finally sighed, caving and grabbing the phone from Todd's hand. Todd had definitely not been expecting that.

“Svlad, look, those Blackwing people, they tell you all that crap about being dangerous, and like ruining people’s lives. And it’s not true. I know you, you haven’t ruined my life. In fact, you’ve made my life better. In so many crazy amazing ways. I promise.” Todd said. They had reached the park and he headed towards the field, leaving the trees behind.

Dirk stopped in the middle of the field, staring up at the stars. Even for the city, there were a great many of them. Dirks mouth fell open as he stared in quiet awe at the blanket of lights above their heads.

“Is it like you remember?” Todd asked, laying the blanket down and looking up, trying to spot the few constellations he did know. Dirk just stared upwards as he breathed in slowly.

“There are so many. Have there always been that many stars?” Todd smiled.

“Yeah, that and way more. I grew up down in Oregon, and we would go every summer to camp at this place called Crater Lake. You could see the Milky Way with your naked eye. It’s, it’s amazing. I’ll take you, when you’re older.” Todd sat down on the blanket, laying back and staring up. Dirk looked down before seeming to decide something.

“Todd, could I do something?” Todd glanced over, and shrugged, pushing himself into a sitting position.

“Sure. Everything okay?” Todd asked. Dirk's mouth went into a line.

“Well, the thing is, I actually would like to try and hug you right now. But I'm not sure I remember how to correctly. Last time I did, he ended up exploding. Long story, not really important. I'm not allowed to see other subjects anymore though. Except Moloch.” Dirk paused. “Can I?”

Todd wanted to ask about the exploding bit. He did. But that could wait.

“Sure, do you want me to stand up?” Dirk looked away for a second before shaking his head. He bent down, and suddenly Todd was being embraced by a rather wiry teenager. Todd laughed lightly, pushing Dirk’s arms around so he wasn’t choking him and carefully hugging him back.

Dirk’s grip felt like he was holding onto Todd for his life.

“Thank you for being kind to me.” Dirk paused. “Especially after I hit you with a pillow.” Todd laughed.

“It’s fine. We’ll laugh about this one day. I hope. Probably soon.”

“I'm starting to suspect this may have to do with your lost friend. But I don't really have the capacity to wonder at the moment.” Dirk let him go, sitting down next to Todd to stare at the stars. They only seemed to multiply. “It's been a long time since I've seen the night sky like this.”

Todd glanced up, watching the stars twinkle above him and he was suddenly laying in the back of a jeep in the middle of the forest. He sighed looking down.

“Same. Probably not as long, but it’s been a while.” Todd said, resting his hands behind him for support.

They listened to the world around them as the stars smiled at them.

“Can I hear about him?”

“My friend?” Dirk nodded, glancing over at Todd.

“Um, well, he’s, he’s unlike anyone I’ve ever met. He’s so positive about everything, except what he’s doing, he has no clue. But he loves it. Just going with the flow. And he’s kind, and he wants to help everyone, even crazy monster cats. And, he’s brave, probably the bravest person I know, well, besides Farah, she’s a different kind of brave though. And he keeps all this pain inside and he doesn’t tell anyone about it, but he doesn’t let it affect how he treats others. He’s, he’s the reason I am who I am.” Todd took a deep breath.

“But he’s, lost, sort of, and he’s coming back, but it’s going to be hard. I know he’ll make it, but I’m a little worried what will happen when he gets back. I’m worried he’ll feel differently, I guess. It’s, it’s complicated.”

Dirk looked down.

“You sound like he's more than your friend. You must really like him.” Dirk stared at the grass, looking like he was trying to solve some sort of puzzle. Todd was at a loss, almost, as to what he was trying to figure out.

“I do. I love him. Even for all his weird quirks, and crazy rants, and awful cooking skills, he’s my favorite person. I couldn’t imagine my life without him.” Todd smiled lightly.

“Tell him that, when you find him. I'm sure he still feels that way about you. Or will. I guess. I'm not actually sure. You're a rather vague person.” Dirk laid on the ground to get a better look at the sky, sprawling out for once instead of curling into himself. Even with this, he still looked small.

“Something tells me he probably already knows. But I will, I’ll tell him everyday.” Todd leaned back, staring up at the stars wondering how much longer it would be like this. He glanced over at Dirk and smiled.

“Don’t go falling asleep on me though. I can’t carrying you back, not like last time.”

“I'm fine. I-” Dirk failed to stifle a yawn, and a frightened expression crossed his face. “I don't want this dream to end yet. I don't want to go back.”

“I know, but, you’ll be back. It might be a while. But, I’ll be here, waiting, every time.” Todd said, sitting up carefully. Dirk smiled up at him, another yawn crossing his face as he covered his mouth.

“Why do you get to take the shortcuts?” Dirk tilted his head.

“Well, you know how the universe drags you around? It’s kinda like that, the universe is having a laugh at my expense, sort of. It’s just, it seems like you got dragged up alongside it.” Todd said, frowning slightly as he got to his feet, helping Dirk up. Dirk took a moment to steady himself on his feet.

“That seems rather mean of it.” Dirk stretched, yawning again. He was beginning to look tired; it was a shame that he had to fall asleep again right after he'd calmed down. Maybe the next time he woke up, he wouldn't be in such a bad point in his life.

“I like to think of it as a weird little miracle. Can’t always be a pessimist. The glass is always half-full and all that other stuff.” Todd swiped the blanket up and started back towards the Ridgely, making sure to keep Dirk in front of him in case he fell asleep.

“Did your friend teach you that?”

“Yeah, he’s a really smart guy.”

“I hope I can be like him someday. He sounds like a good person.” Dirk smiled tiredly at Todd.

“I’ve got a feeling you and him have quite a bit in common. You’ll meet him one day. Soon, I promise.”

By the time they made it back to the apartment, Dirk was nearly falling over as Todd tried to keep him awake. In the end, he ended up falling back onto the couch. It seemed to be his favorite place to sleep the last few days. Todd couldn't blame him; he seemed exhausted. He stared at Dirk for a few moments, already sound asleep, before sighing.

Todd walked back over to the bed, sitting down and pulling out his phone. He knew it was late, but he hoped Amanda was awake. He sent off a quick request for an update, but after a couple of minutes figured she was either asleep or dimension hopping.

Todd opened up his web browser and with a few clicks he found what he was looking for. He wanted to do something nice and this seemed like a good idea. The hours ticked away, and bled into the morning.


Not-Psychic student jailed for psychically guessing exam questions

By the time eight in the morning had rolled around, Todd still hadn't taken his eyes off of Dirk. As far as he could tell, he was still the same teenager from the night before, which worried him. Wasn't he supposed to age up or something of that sort? Todd put down his phone, yawning. There wasn't any time for sleep now; maybe he could get coffee instead.

Standing, he took a moment to stretch before walking into the kitchen and flashing a grin at Mona, who was still sitting on the counter. He wondered if she had any input on what was happening. He'd have to ask her the next time she decided to talk.

The coffee maker was rather new. Farah had purchased it for him after finding him sneaking into the Agency for the third night in a row to make a cup. Apparently, buying him one was much cheaper than filing claims about breaking-and-entering intruders six times a week. He supposed he could understand that. Besides, he had gotten a free coffee maker out of it.

Well, it was almost free. Todd suspected that she had taken the cost out of that month's paycheck.

He hummed Hey Jude under his breath as he made the coffee; the song was sure to be stuck in his head for awhile. The cup didn't take long, and soon he was able to start drinking it in an attempt to wake himself up. It was the first time he'd been able to take a moment to himself for the past few days. He heard his phone buzz, and his heart jumped in relief as he saw an alarm on his phone going off. He needed to take his medication.

Todd pulled a pill out of his pocket; was it still there? How long had it been? It couldn't have been that long, since he hadn't yet had an attack since he's nearly given Farah a heart attack with the last one. Maybe he should get her an apology gift.

Todd nearly flung his coffee to the side as he registered the very much grown man sleeping on his couch, albeit a young one. He yelled as he took a few steps back before realizing that it had to be Dirk. It certainly looked a lot more like him. It seemed that he's reached his full height, and his face was finally shaping up into the one that Todd knew so well. The clothes he was wearing, however, were far too small. Upon Todd's brief screaming, Dirk woke up with flailing limbs. The next moment, he was groaning on the ground.

“Shit.” Todd swore under his breath as he placed the cup on the table, rushing over to help. Dirk was laying on the ground, looking quite disheveled as he glanced around. Upon seeing Todd, his face lit up.

“Why hello there, Todd! You look quite tired.” Dirk smiled as Todd pulled him up. Dirk patted his clothes before actually registering what he was wearing.

“What… what is-”

“Ah, yeah, shit. You like, need clothes. Yeah, um.” Todd clapped his hands together. “I have like, clothes in the closet or-”

“Oh, I think that will do nicely. You haven't changed at all!” Dirk gave a thumbs up. Turning and heading towards the bathroom.

“That’s the–”

“Right, I’ve got it, he made a sharp left and opened the door near the kitchen. Disappearing inside and closed the door behind him. Todd took a couple of deep breaths. Everything was going to be fine. Dirk was almost Dirk again. Maybe just a few more days, maybe less.

He pulled out his phone. There was a new message from Amanda letting him know that they would be leaving soon and heading back, but that had been sent only a couple minutes prior. He sent a quick reply and then pulled up Farah’s number before pressing call. To his surprise he could hear ringing from somewhere. Had Farah left her phone?

The lock on the door clicked and pushed open, revealing Farah carrying coffees and pastry bags.

“Before you say anything. I felt bad about just ditching you and leaving you to play parent, and then you like, almost died. So I bring coffee and bagels and– oh my god did you lose him again?” Her cheery tone disappeared immediately as she looked around the apartment.

“What? Oh, uh, no, he’s in the closet.” he said as he shoved his phone back in his pocket. She snorted.

“He hasn’t been in the closet a day in his life.” She said. Todd rolled his eyes and pointed.

“No, the literal closet, he’s changing clothes.” Farah nodded and handed him one of the cups. There were three, and he noticed one had a ‘T’ on the side.

“So where are we now?” She asked, putting the cups and bags down onto the coffee table and taking a seat in the chair. Todd shrugged.

“Maybe early twenties. I’m not sure, he just woke up.” Farah nodded.

“Right, so has he told you about being–”

“Todd, does this look alright?” The door to the closet opened up revealing Dirk in an odd combination of Todd’s clothes. He was wearing a Mexican Funeral shirt, with a bright yellow flannel tied around his waist, and light blue, almost white skinny jeans. Todd didn’t even know he owned those pants. He had somehow dug out an old jacket of, well, of Dirk's out of the closet. He must have left it there. It was the most obnoxious shade of purple he had ever seen, and it was clashing horribly with the flannel. Todd sighed.

“The pants are a little big, but I found a belt and– oh, hello!” Dirk looked up noticing Farah for the first time. She sat and stared at him, not saying anything. Todd bumped her shoulder lightly and she took a quick breath.

“Hi, hello, um, I don’t know if you remember, but we met, before, a while ago, I guess. You were smaller, and you didn’t really totally understand– I’m Farah.” She jumped up, holding out her hand. Dirk cast a quick glance at Todd but smiled and shook Farah’s hand.

“Todd’s different kind of brave friend. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Dirk. Dirk Gently.”

Todd hadn’t meant to let out a slightly hysterical laugh, but from the look on Dirk’s face that’s what had happened. It was Dirk. He was calling himself Dirk. He still wasn’t back, but they were so much closer. Dirk eyed him carefully and then looked down at his hand, Farah was still holding it, also a little awestruck.

“Are you two alright? You both seem a little, dazed.” Dirk continued to frown as he carefully pried his hand free of Farah’s grasp. Todd shook his head, and gave a weak smile.

“No, yes, it’s just, you, you changed your name. It’s good, it suits you.” Dirk gleamed.

“Well I should hope so. My birth name is much too… something. Not good feelings there. I'd tell you how I picked the new one but it's a very long story that involves precisely two penguins and a rocking chair. Not that I didn't like the rocking chair of course, but it took nearly two weeks to even find it! And I couldn't even get started on that until I found the diamond. You'd be surprised how much penguins like-”

“Yeah, okay that's, cool Dirk.” Farah put her hands up, stopping Dirk before his ramble could really gain any traction. Dirk frowned, but Todd suspected that it was fake; his eyes were still sparkling.

“How about we like, do something else instead of talk about cases?” Farah gave a meaningful glance at Todd. Oh, so now that Dirk wasn't a child anymore she was suddenly keen on helping?

Todd frowned at her.

“Well I suppose we could. Can't be much harm. Besides I am just dying to get to know you two better.”

Farah rolled her eyes, adjusting the buttons on her coat.

“Well I mean there's a few things near here, and I know you haven't really gotten a chance to explore it yet. There's the movies or the museum or-”

“Movies? What kind? Like actually paying for one, not just sneaking in?” Farah raised her eyebrows.

“No, not sneaking in. You just don't just- you know what, nevermind. It's fine. Movies it is. New or classic?” Neither Todd or Dirk answered, but instead exchanged a quick look. Farah looked like she wanted to slap both of them over the head, but Todd took that as a good sign. That meant that Dirk was already almost back to his normal - or current - self. Besides, she wore that look most of the time anyway.

Todd shrugged.

“Classic it is then. You both really are useless sometimes.” Dirk nodded in agreement.

“Oh I'm definitely useless. Especially lately, as I've sort of, kind of been arrested. But really that's all trivial-”

“Yo, hold on, you've been arrested? Dirk, what did you do?” Todd gawked; what had he done this time? Dirk grinned sheepishly at him. Farah shuffled beside him and Todd glanced over, he had almost forgotten that she more than likely knew why Dirk had been arrested.

“It was really nothing. A misunderstanding really, as it would be completely impossible for what had happened to actually happen, because I’m not, nor have I ever been, psychic.”

“Dirk?” Todd frowned.

“I may have, possibly, accurately made some assumptions about the questions that were to appear on exams, and it would also be possible that I sold them. For money. Because, let’s be honest, food is rather expensive. And–”

“You helped people cheat on tests? Wait, you’re in school?” Todd frowned, he had never realized Dirk had gone to college, it had never come up. A flash from the night of the party crossed through his mind, Dirk right before downing the absinthe, what had he said? St. Cedd’s? Was that a college?

“Was. I was in school. Now I’m in prison.”

Farah was glancing between the two of them, her lips pursed into a fine line. Todd glared over at her. They would definitely be having a long conversation after this whole thing was over and done. Todd shook his head.

“That’s- that's honestly unbelievable. You guessed every exam question?”

“More or less. By accident. Coincidence. All that. Just a, lucky guess you know. Not any psychic abilities involved whatsoever. All of it was done under hypnosis, so really, it’s not even all my fault.” Todd blinked.

“Dirk, man. I say this to you way too much, but like, what the hell?” Todd rubbed his temples; this Dirk was almost more unbelievable than his Dirk. What was he getting up to?

This was by far the strangest conversation he'd had, and he'd said that a lot in the last few days. Dirk shrugged.

“It's really nothing, like I said. Could we go now? I really would like to get some walking in.” Todd turned to Farah, mouthing at her that she was paying as she raised her eyebrows at him. Todd took a second to wonder where the Shark-Cat was, but decided he didn't really want to know. As long as it didn't cause any problems and was out of his apartment, he was fine with whatever she did with it. That's what it got for wrecking his apartment.

The street was much busier today; the last few days had been the longest stretch of time without any blatantly strange or supernatural happenings. Todd supposed that people must finally be working up the nerve to stop avoiding the street. From the looks of Dirk's current age though, the weird stuff would probably start up again soon. Besides, The Rowdy 3 were already on their way back.

Todd decided to enjoy the noise of the city while it lasted.

Farah hung back, instead letting Todd lead. She seemed to be avoiding him. Dirk was pointing out everything he could find and recognized, and wasn't making any attempt to keep his voice down.

“And that! That's the park! With the kitten and that awful breakdown! And there's that wonderful ice cream place! I do hope the lady working there is alright. She seemed rather friendly-”

“Yeah Dirk. She uh, definitely was.” Todd couldn't even remember what her name was. He heard Farah laugh to herself in the background. Todd turned back to glare at her, walking backwards so as to keep up with Dirk.

The only problem was, Dirk was walking awfully fast.

Todd heard Farah start to tell him something, pointing at his feet, but the next moment he had stumbled backwards on a crack in the sidewalk. He braced himself to hit the ground, but after a few moments, Todd took a breath as he realized he'd been caught. Dirk was holding on to him, and they both looked rather strange to passersby. Farah was starting to laugh again.

“Well, I do believe this is awkward.” Dirk smiled wryly at him. “I do believe I've accidentally swept you off your feet, Todd.”

He heard Farah swear under her breath as she tried to contain her quiet laughter.

“Yeah um. I, uh. Yeah.” Todd wobbled a bit as he regained his footing, smoothing his shirt as he tried to find something to say. Dirk tilted his head as if waiting for Todd to say something, and Todd took a moment to really take in exactly how much he was already looking like the actual Dirk. They were so close now.

Farah was never going to let this go.

“You two done playing damsel in distress, or should I give you some space?” She asked, walking by in the direction of the cinema.

“Now now, Farah,” Todd muttered, too quiet for Dirk to hear. She put her hands up, shrugging.

“Hey, at least I can walk backwards without falling for someone.”

“Farah I swear to God.” But Dirk looked happy enough, and Todd decided not to bring in any negative energy. He decided not to mention how clumsy Farah got around very specific police officers, and brushed it off with a quick sigh. He didn't want to fight with her in front of Dirk; that was for later, when Dirk could at least back him up. Dirk wasn't always good at presenting perfect arguments, but he was able to talk so much that Farah would just give up and let Todd win.

He really needed a win right now.

Todd turned to Dirk.

“Sorry about that, man.”

“Oh I don't mind! I'm quite enjoying this dream thing or whatever it is this time around. I wouldn't call it a dream but I don't really have a better word for it yet. That's one case I haven't solved yet. All in a day's work!” Dirk began walking with Todd, following Farah. “I'd ask for your help in it but you don't seem very willing. And you are much too loud. You'd make a terrible assistant.”

“You know what? You got me there.”

The cinema was rather packed for a Tuesday morning, and Todd, Farah, and Dirk were just able to get the last three seats that were next to each other. All the others were spread out. Dirk had pointed to a movie at random, claiming that that was the one they had to see. Todd wasn't surprised; it was an old Sherlock Holmes movie. Dirk had always had a thing for detective stories.

Once they had finally settled into their seats, Todd almost had a stroke as Dirk pulled an entire box of gummy snacks from the inner pocket of his jacket.

“How the hell did you get that here?!” Todd whisper yelled at Dirk, ignoring Farah's attempts to quiet him. Dirk just shrugged.

“I wanted them.”

“That is literally the most vague answer you've ever given me.” Dirk ignored him, opening the box and pulling out a snack bag. He held it out to him, offering it. Todd sighed.

“No, I'm, good. Thanks though.”

“More for me!”

Todd couldn't help but glance at Dirk throughout the movie. He couldn't help it; he wanted to keep reminding himself how close he was to getting Dirk back. His Dirk. Would he remember all this once the spell was over? Todd was torn between hoping he did and hoping he didn't.

On the one hand, Todd now realized that there was a long overdue conversation about Blackwing and, by extension, Priest. It made his chest ache to think about all the awful memories Dirk kept locked away, hidden from prying eyes. It put the nightmares that plagued him into perspective; Todd couldn't get the image of that small boy with his bones shattered out of his mind. It didn't matter if Dirk remembered telling him that or not when this was over. He was going to have that conversation with him, and Dirk wouldn't leave the room without knowing that Todd was there for him.

That just left Farah, who was conveniently not talking to him through the film. How could she learn all this about his life and not try to help in some way? How could she have not tried to at least comfort him? Moreover, how could she not tell Todd that all this awful stuff had happened? He deserved to know how to best help his own boyfriend.

At least now he knew exactly how good she was at keeping secrets. He couldn't even be as mad as he wanted to be; he was just as guilty of keeping secrets like that in the past.

Still, they were going to have quite a few lengthy chats.

Farah would just have to be added to the list of people he was going to talk to. Dirk, Farah, Priest, Amanda… hell, he was going to chew out the universe at this point. It had no right to drag him by the wrist the way it apparently had. If no one else was going to protect Dirk from the world, Todd was more than happy to take up the mantle.

He wondered to himself, that if Dirk really did end up remembering all this, how he would interact with Gripps from now on. Now there was a thought.

The movie ended quicker than Todd would have hoped, and before he could get more than a few words in, Dirk was quite literally dragging him out of the cinema, Farah close at their heels.

“This is the most fun I've had in America in ages! Every time I try I'm either in captivity, or I'm being tailed by that godawful van-”

“Wait, hold on. A van?” Dirk nodded, pouting.

“Yes. A very loud, crude van. With some very rude people inside. It's not my favorite thing in the world. Thankfully they haven't seemed to follow me to England.” Todd laughed, earning a frown from Dirk. He took a second to steady himself.

“Dude, how long have The Rowdy 3 been following you for? That's ridiculous. That takes some serious dedication.”

“How do you know what they're called?” Todd opened his mouth. It took a few false starts to find something to say, and even then it didn't sound believable. Maybe he should just stick with the truth.

“My sister. She uh, kind of travels with them. They love breaking… just about everything I own. I think Farah's the only one who hasn't gotten any personal possessions broken by them yet. I don't blame them.”

“Well yes but, how would you even know they're the same guys? I wasn't exactly very descriptive.”

Shit.

“Yeah, Todd, how do you know?” Farah asked, raising her eyebrow and smirking at him. Todd glared over at her. Maybe he would move her up to the kill list right above Amanda.

“Yeah well, you know. How many insane guys ride around in vans, right?”

Dirk didn't look convinced.

“I suppose, but I get the feeling you're not being entirely truthful with me again.” Dirk paused, getting the face that Todd had been dreading. It was the same face he made when the puzzle pieces started fitting together.

“You know Todd, I remember you mentioning something about magic a long time back. Could that have anything to do with this? These things are always connected, after all.”

Farah opened her mouth. Todd was definitely going to kill her.

“Magic huh? That sounds cool. Maybe it does. Who knows, right?” Farah patted Todd and Dirk on the shoulder, walking promptly ahead of them. Todd was beginning to suspect that she may just hate him at this point. Why else would she be encouraging this? Dirk gawked for a second.

“Todd-”

“Not now, Dirk.” Todd flexed his hands. “Let's just like, get back, yeah? We can talk about this later.”

Dirk didn't seem particularly happy about this, but didn't object. They walked back in silence, following close to Farah who spent most of the walk on her phone. Todd heard her giggle a few times and figured she was more than likely texting Tina.

They reached the stairs and Farah smiled at them.

“Alright, well, I’m gonna head home. Um, it was nice to see you again, Dirk.” Dirk smiled, waving as she walked back towards her car.

“She seemed quite lovely.” Todd nodded, turning up the stairs.

“Yeah, she’s cool. Intense, and rather scary, but very cool.” Dirk followed close at his heels as they climbed the stairs and returned to the apartment. Dirk breezed around him and headed for the stool near the counter.

“So, this magic business. You’ve mentioned it before, and I’m rather curious how it relates, to well everything. Would you care to elaborate?” He didn’t sound annoyed or angry, he just sounded curious and Todd was reminded again of how much more Dirk-like this version was. He sighed and nodded, tossing his keys into the bowl.

“Um sure, so, it’s– shit.” He spotted the garbage bags. How did he keep forgetting? Dirk looked up at him and frowned.

“Is everything alright?” He asked.

“Yeah, no, it’s fine. I just keep forgetting the garbage. Are, are you gonna be okay if I leave you here for a minute?” Dirk snorted.

“Todd, it’s fine, I’m not a child.”

Todd had to bite back a response of ‘not anymore’ but nodded his head. He grabbed his keys and the bags, heading back into the hall.

“True enough. I’ll be right back. Don’t do anything crazy while I’m gone.” He closed the door and headed down the stairs, trying to think of what to say to Dirk once he returned.


Dirk rested his head on the counter, pouting as he listened to Todd walk down the hallway. It was so quiet; what was he supposed to do while he waited? He glanced at the bite marks above him; was that from the cat?

What even was that cat, anyway?

Dirk spun around, looking out at the apartment around him. It looked like it was in a constant state of chaos, even when it was clean. It was nice; Dirk wouldn't mind spending time here one day. That is, if he ever actually moved back to America. He sincerely doubted he would, seeing as both Blackwing and The Rowdy 3 were still roaming around somewhere.

He slipped to his feet, biting his lip as he looked for something to do. He had gotten that feeling again; that godawful tug of the universe, pulling at him to go somewhere. There was something he needed to do.

He wished he could ignore his hunches.

He climbed onto the couch, sighing at the stress doll back on the counter.

“You know, I'm beginning to suspect that whatever is going on is quite the mystery. I mean, I’ve been here many times now, and Todd hasn't changed at all! And then there was that bit about magic, and the way he knew the name of the Three. Oh! And… well, you know. Him. That man. He knew his name! There's something about this that just seems off.”

The stress doll didn't respond. Dirk nodded.

“Exactly what I'm saying. I'm glad you agree. Not that you actually did, but I'm sure if you could you would have. And now here I am, getting a hunch once again. I just can't figure this out. Never in my life have I had a more difficult case to solve. I mean, what's the point of being a Holistic Detective if you can't solve a case-” Dirk stopped, his face lighting up.

“You know, Todd mentioned that his friend was missing. And that he was coming back. He's a detective too, apparently. Maybe it has something to do with him…”

Dirk stood up, glancing around the room. He had a distinct, distant, memory of looking at photos of Todd's friend. Were they by the window?

Bingo.

Dirk approached the hanging photos, leaning down to inspect them. They were rather funny, and completely stereotypical. Todd and his friend, his boyfriend by the looks of it, were in a photo booth at what seemed to be a waterfront. They were posing, smiling, laughing, and even kissing in a few of them. They looked wonderful together.

Dirk would have smiled at them if the man in the photos didn't look like an older version of himself. Dirk reached for one of the photos, pulling it off the wall.

“Is- is this…” Dirk blinked, his mouth wide open. “Is this me?”

Finally, Dirk could feel all of the pieces connecting. Of course that was the answer; why hadn't he seen it before? This was the most important answer he had found in recent memory; this was huge! Dirk yelped as he heard the door open, turning around to find Todd walking in.


“Alright, that’s done, now–” Todd raised his eyebrows as he tossed his keys into the bowl. He looked up just as Dirk spun very quickly the rest of the way around in front of the window. He looked surprised, like Todd had just caught him doing something he wasn’t supposed to.

“Are you okay?” Todd asked, closing the door and moving towards the couch.

“Yes! Absolutely! Nothing, at all, wrong! I’m fine. Fantastic, in fact. How about you?”

Yeah, that was normal.

“Dirk, it’s okay, whatever’s wrong I’m sure it’s not a big deal.” Todd noticed that Dirk was holding his hand behind his back, trying to hide something. Dirk realized that Todd knew something was up and his shoulders sagged, a sigh escaping him.

“It’s just, that, this, all of this, it’s not some weird coping mechanism dream is it? It’s real, like, this is real life, and something is going on, right?” Dirk still hadn’t moved, his arm still tucked behind his back.

“Oh, um, well, yeah sorta. Like I said last time it’s complicated and–”

“And I’m the person in the photos.” Dirk pulled the film strips out from behind his back. Todd’s breath caught in his throat. He honestly hadn’t thought about how to have this conversation. To be fair he hadn’t thought about almost all of the conversations he had had to have over the last several days, but this one had not crossed his mind.

“Right. Those. Um– it’s just that, well you, and him, and– yeah. It’s, that’s you.” Todd said. He had stopped just short of the couch. Dirk looked down at the photos and nodded, moving forward and sitting criss-cross on the couch facing Todd.

“And, how old is he– am I?” Dirk still wasn’t looking up.

“37.” Todd said. He wasn’t sure if Dirk would mind him sitting on the couch, so he waited.

“That’s seventeen years. That’s, that’s so far away. You’re going to have to wait– no, that’s wrong.” Dirk looked up, glancing around the apartment.

“Everything stays the same. I leave and then come back, and everything’s the same, even those garbage bags had been there the last few times. And you said, you said, before, that it had only been a couple hours. It’s, it’s something that’s wrong with me. It’s not like time is broken or something, it’s me. I’m broken.” Dirk glanced back down at the photos in his hands, his voice having gone soft. Todd moved forward slowly, sitting down on the couch and facing Dirk.

“You’re not broken. That’s not what happened. Something was done to you, on accident. What’s happening is the effect of a magic spell. The spell went wrong, and, well you got younger, but then you started aging up. Each time you wake up here, it’s only been a couple hours at most, but for you, it feels like years cause you’re getting your memories back. Does that make sense?” Dirk was still looking down at the photos, carefully moving them to see the different ones.

“So, when you were talking about your friend, your boyfriend, the detective, you were talking about me, the other me.”

“Dirk, there is no other you, you’re you, you’re the only you there is, you just, haven’t become you yet. I mean you have, there’s not two of you. I’m explaining this badly. It’s just like–”

“All that stuff you said. The last time. Last night, I guess? About him– me. Did you mean it?” Dirk looked up, his eyes looked pleading, Todd had never seen that look before.

“Of course I did. You are the single most important thing in my life. No stupid magic spell is going to change that. I mean sure, there was a moment where I was concerned I was gonna have to hire a nanny and like learn about elementary schools, but it all worked out. It always does.” Dirk looked back down at the photos.

“I can’t remember you. When I, I don’t know, relive my memories, I guess? I can’t remember you. I only remember you when I come here. I wake up, and I can remember all of the other times, but up until then I can’t. I just, how, how much longer until I stop forgetting you?”

Todd inched forward until he was just barely brushing knees with Dirk.

“Hey, look at me.” Dirk glanced up, his eyes beginning to water. “I am right here. I’m not going anywhere. So you have to take the long way around. But you know that I’m still here even after getting beaten with a pillow in the middle of the night. I know you can’t take anything I say with you. And there are going to be long stretches where you don’t see me. But I’m here. I’m always going to be here. The universe is a jerk, and it’s cruel, but it will take you where you need to go. And it all leads here, right now, to you and me.”

“But, how long?” He asked, his expression had relaxed.

“It doesn’t matter how long. Me telling you isn’t going to make you feel better right now. And that’s what matters most, how you feel right now. Nothing else, yeah? Like you said, you can’t remember this when you go back. So while you’re here, you’re going to be happy. After all the crap the universe let you go through, you deserve some calm.” Todd wanted to hug him, to never let him go, but he held himself back watching as Dirk placed the images on the coffee table. Dirk looked up at him, he didn’t look like he was going to cry anymore.

“Can you hold out your hand, palm up, if you don’t mind?” Todd did what he was told without asking, moving his right hand forward, palm to the ceiling. Dirk stared down at Todd’s hand for a minute and then placed his hand just over Todd’s, watching carefully to make sure they didn’t touch.

And there they stayed, the seconds stretching into minutes as Dirk just watched their hands hover over each other. Todd watched Dirk’s face and saw the hunch look briefly before it changed to quiet happiness. He pulled his hand back and looked up at Todd.

“I’m glad I know you Todd. Even though this whole thing is rather odd, probably for everyone involved. None more so than you, and I just, I want to say thank you. For everything you’ve done. I’m sure I’ll say it again. I’ll remember to say it again. But, I wanted to say it now. Just to have said it.” Dirk smiled at him, a smile that just barely reached his eyes, but a slight gleam returned. Todd lowered his hand back to his lap and returned the smile.

“You’re more than welcome, Dirk. But in all seriousness, are you going to explain what you just did with your hand?” Dirk laughed and raised one eyebrow.

“Maybe when you’re older, Todd.” Dirk said, laughing lightly. Dirk turned and squinted at the DVD shelf.

“What is Avengers?” He asked, glancing back over at Todd. Todd smiled standing up and grabbing the movie, popping it into the player.

“It is a movie that takes place in something called the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You absolutely love it and have dragged me to every premier that has happened since we met, which, for Marvel, means about three times a year. And– and I just realized that computer generated stuff from where you’re at isn’t great, so this is probably gonna blow your mind.” Todd walked back over to the couch, grabbing the remote and smiling over as the title sequence started playing and Dirk’s eyes went wide.

“It’s a movie about superheroes?” Todd hit play and nodded.

“Yeah, all the movies on that shelf are about the same set of heroes. We can watch as many as you want.” Todd said, watching as Dirk’s attention was drawn back to the screen, a smile forming on his face.

“I’d like that.”


Dirk Gently and the happily ever after

Todd woke up first, the light of the mid morning sun streaming in through the window was blinding him slightly. He went to move when he noticed the weight on his shoulder. With a quick glance, Todd realized that Dirk had fallen asleep leaning into his side. Todd’s breath caught as he realized that Dirk looked back to normal. Was it over? He couldn’t be sure until Dirk woke up, but he didn’t want to wake him, not yet.

Todd carefully shifted Dirk so that he was leaning more against the back of the couch and stood, heading into the kitchen. Dirk had left a box of tea there, for all the nights spent at the apartment, and Todd grabbed a couple of the bags, turning on the kettle and watching as the steam started to escape the spout.

He glanced up and stared at the back of Dirk’s head. This had been an odd week, there were no two ways about it. But it was almost over. And he was going to take a much needed vacation, where he just laid in bed and slept, and did absolutely nothing.

The kettle clicked off and Todd poured the water, grabbing the mugs and heading back towards the couch. He placed the mug down on the table and the noise seemed to stir Dirk who took a deep breath and opened his eyes. Todd held his breath, watching for any trace of the familiar recognition, but none never came.

“Todd, you’re still here.” Dirk smiled lightly as he sat up, glancing down briefly at his clothes and laughing.

“I had terrible fashion sense when I was younger. Why did you let me leave the apartment looking like this?” Dirk glanced up and seemed to notice Todd’s hopeful expression.

“I’m not back yet. I’m sorry.” Dirk said, his voice quiet. Todd shrugged and handed him the mug from the table before taking a seat on the end of the couch, turning to face Dirk.

“It’s fine. And I think you look rather hip.” Dirk snorted as he took a drink of the tea.

“Hip, does that come back in style in the next year? Or is your vocabulary really that dated?” Dirk placed the mug down and wrapped his arms around his knee, turning to face Todd. Todd shrugged and laughed lightly.

“Probably a little bit of both.” He paused. “A year, where–”

“Seattle. Actually. I just got in. I met Farah. Like, actually met her. She’s fantastic, of course she is, but she seems very intense, not like here. That is to say, she is intense here as well, but she seems, more relaxed. Like the weight of the world isn’t on her shoulders here. She’s worried, where I am, about this girl she takes care of, um, Lydia Spring. Farah is her bodyguard or something official like that. And– wait a moment. Farah has experience taking care of children, why didn’t she stay and help you?” Dirk’s eyes had gone wide as he looked over at Todd. Todd laughed and shook his head.

“I have no idea. Probably because she thinks it’s funny to watch me struggle. But she’s watching the cat, so, arguably, she has a harder job.” Todd placed his mug down on the coffee table and looked back up at Dirk.

“So, it’s been a while for you. No big life events happen in the last fifteen years or something?” Dirk shrugged and leaned back into the arms of the couch.

“I think everything just happened all at once. If that makes sense. There was so much going on, I got out of prison, and then there was an incident involving fortune telling, and a thing with a sofa. Oh! I met Thor, he’s not ne–”

“Nearly as good-looking as people say. Yeah, I’ve, had the, unique, pleasure of meeting him as well.” Todd smirked while Dirk smiled at him, raising an eyebrow.

“Todd, are you jealous? It’s not a good idea to anger the gods you know. Plus, green is very much not your color, you’re more of an autumn.” He leaned forward and grabbed the mug. “But, there’s just been quite a bit going on, and, like what’s happening now. I’ve got a case. A real, proper case, with a paying client! He wants me to solve this big mystery, he believes he’s going to be murdered and wants me to, I’m not entirely sure, solve it, I suppose. But, I mean, it’s not like he could predict his own murder, or, well, perhaps he could. I guess we’ll see. Why are you looking at me like that?”

Todd snapped back, he hadn’t realized he had zoned out, watching as Dirk spoke animatedly about the Patrick Spring case. From the sound of it, the case was about to start. Dirk was about to meet him, properly. He was almost back.

“Yes, what? Sorry, I was just, thinking.”

“About me?”

“Well, yeah, I– actually, you know what, I have to apologize.” Todd leaned forward a little and smiled.

“Apologize? Whatever for?” Dirk asked, taking another sip of his tea. Todd couldn’t help the smile that crossed his face.

“I’m sorry, or well, I will be sorry? No it doesn’t matter. I’m sorry for throwing a shoe at your face. And then making you fall, twice. And hitting you, and–”

“Wait, a shoe?”

“Yeah, it’s gonna be, a whole, thing. For you, probably really soon, and I just, I don’t think I ever really apologized for it. Oh, and throwing you out of the apartment, that one seemed like it probably hurt. And, I– I’m sorry.” Dirk was smiling at him as he still held onto the mug.

“I’m going to meet you. Like, really, truly meet you. Soon. That’s, fantastic!” Dirk’s smile slowly faded, his eyes darting down to his mug as a familiar expression crossed his face. He moved, putting the mug on the table and turning to stand.

“Dirk? You okay?” Todd asked, watching as Dirk stood, moving around the couch slowly. He nodded his head.

“Yes, of course, I just, I suddenly felt–” Dirk jerked forward, his knees buckling under him, his hand reaching out and catching the back of the couch as he fell to the ground.

“Dirk!” Todd jumped up and raced around the couch, Dirk was leaning against the back of the couch, his eyes threatening to shut.

“Todd? What happened? Where’s the kitten? Why–” Dirk gasped clutching his head. “Oh, that hurts, why?”

“Dirk, what’s wrong?” Todd went to grab Dirk’s shoulder, pausing for half a moment before trying to steady Dirk from falling to his side.

“My head! What– why–” Dirk clutched his head tighter, curling in on himself and falling into Todd’s chest.

“Dirk, hey, stay with me. You’re going to be okay.” Todd reached in his pocket and pulled his phone out. Who was he going to call? He went to hit the home button when he saw a text from Amanda that read ‘almost back’ from about ten minutes ago. She would be able to help. He just had to keep Dirk alive a little while longer.

“Dirk, hey Dirk, Amanda, she’s almost–”

“That's Amanda. Amanda's fantastic.” Dirk gasped, curling tighter. “Is that why you’re here? We are meant to know each other!”

“Dirk?”

“Don't tell me you're just giving up– I can waste a whole day without even trying– nothing is also connected.” Dirk had started shaking. Todd took a deep breath trying to keep his heart rate down.

“I was trained as a ninja–Patrick Spring–Bad news calendar–Watch this.” Dirk pushed Todd away, falling back into the couch.

“I didn’t lie! You of all people should know what a liar looks like. No wait, I– solved it.” Dirk brought his hands back up to his head crying out.

“Not now!” His whole body went loose, slumping to the side. Todd dove forward and caught him before he could hit the floor, carefully turning him so that he was laying on his back.

“Dirk? Dirk. Hey, come on, wake up. Dirk?” But Dirk remained motionless, his eyes closed and his breathing slowed to a dangerous level.

“Dirk, hey. Come on, you can’t give up. Come on, wake up.” Todd was about to call for help when Dirk’s eyes snapped open and he sat straight up. Todd jumped back slightly as Dirk looked around, his eyes finally landing on him. And there it was. That recognition that had been missing for the last week.

“Todd?”

“Dirk!”

And he didn’t think. He surged forward, dragging Dirk in by the front of his shirt, kissing him. This was where Todd was meant to be, with Dirk, no matter what happened and–

Something was wrong.

Dirk had gone rigid and was holding Todd rather tightly by the shoulders. Todd pulled away and frowned.

“Are you okay? What’s wrong?” Dirk opened and closed his mouth a few times before laughing.

“Um, nothing, no, that was, that was, great! Definitely! Great, we should, we should do that again. Definitely. But, I just, I’m a little confused. How, how did–” Dirk stopped, looking down at Todd’s hands that were still clutching to the front of Dirk’s shirt.

“Oh.” Dirk said, looking around slightly and then landing on Todd again.

“Oh? Dirk what’s wrong? You–” And then it clicked.

“You’re not, you’re not back yet.” Dirk gave a sad smile, his brow creasing.

“I’ve just been captured by Blackwing. I thought, I thought you had gotten me out, but, but I was wrong. I’m sorry, Todd.” Dirk pulled Todd up to his feet.

“Dirk, no it’s not your fault it’s mine, I shouldn’t have– I should have–”

“Hey, that was fantastic! No matter what weird magic is going on, that was, that was everything I’ve wanted since I climbed through your window. You, I, I know me, I wouldn’t have told you this, but I loved you the minute I saw you. I mean, sure, you hit me with a shoe, and you, I’m pretty sure you hated me there for a bit, but you, you changed my life. You stayed, when everyone else ran away.

“And. And I’m not even worried about being trapped, do you know why? Because we’re here, now. I get out. I don’t know when, and I don’t care, but I get out, and I get back to you and, and you were right. The universe is cruel, and mean, and honestly, I think it likes to watch me suffer, but everything led to you. Everything led to you and me, and this moment, and I can wait. I will wait. And I’ll blink and you’ll be there, just like you always are.

“I love you. More than anything. And I’m going to find my way back to you. Even if I have to take the long way around.” Dirk’s grip tightened on Todd’s shoulders as his eyes clamped closed, a pained cry escaping him.

“Dirk? No, wait, here.” Todd wrapped his arm around Dirk’s middle and dragged him back around the couch, carefully lowering him down.

“Todd, I– I can’t– I can’t think. It hurts.” Dirk released his grip on Todd and clung to the sides of his head. Todd sat down, wrapping his arms around Dirk tightly, not caring if it was odd.

“I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be here. Just, come home okay?” Dirk nodded as he let out another cry, burying his head into Todd’s chest.

“Vei–Vei fi bine.” Todd whispered and he heard Dirk let out a strangled laugh. “You and me, remember? Just, come back to me.” Dirk’s grip loosened and Todd felt the shaking stop. He pushed himself backwards carefully to make sure he didn’t pull Dirk with him. And then he waited. If Dirk had been able to do a week in a couple of seconds then a year shouldn’t be much longer.

But the seconds turned into minutes, and then Todd began to panic.

Dirk hadn’t moved, and his breathing was so shallow that Todd wasn’t sure he was. Todd took a steadying breath and grabbed a hold of Dirk’s hand, checking for a pulse, it was there, but it was so painfully slow.

“Dirk?” he tried, but nothing happened.

“Dirk, come on. Wake up. Please. Please wake up.” another minute ticked by.

“You can’t leave, I just got you back. Dirk please, please come back to me.” His voice was barely a whisper, and he gave Dirk’s hand a squeeze. He bent down, touching his forehead to Dirk's. He needed him back.

“Come on Dirk. You can't leave now. I got you. You're safe. You're safe. Please come back.” Todd closed his eyes, his own breathing unsteady as he gripped Dirk tighter.

“Come back.”

“Todd?”

Todd opened his eyes as a hand touched his shoulder. He didn't have to look up to know who it was; he knew that voice. He felt Amanda standing beside him, tapping him again.

“Hey. Hey what's wrong. What-” Amanda paused as Todd saw her register Dirk's body. “What happened?”

Todd shook his head, taking an uneven breath. He couldn't do this. He needed Dirk.

“He came back. Now he's-” Todd’s voice caught. He heard Amanda swear under her breath, and was suddenly facing her as she pulled him up and turned him. Her eyes were on fire.

“Todd, listen to me. Is he still breathing?” Todd didn't answer. “Todd!”

He nodded, trying to swallow. She nodded back, more to herself than anything. He barely registered The Rowdy 3 standing in his doorway, each one with a strange expression on their faces.

“Okay. Okay that's good. Uh, Wakti said- uh. Shit. What did she say?”

“She said he needs to kiss him, Boss!” Vogel piped up from the hallway, ducking under Martin's arm and jumping to her side to watch. Amanda took a breath, grabbing Todd's shoulders in the tightest hold Todd had ever felt Amanda use.

“Right. You have to kiss him. Old school style. True love and all that, right?” Todd nodded again, and she pushed him back.

“Well go save him before he dies, man!”

“Not now, Cross!” Amanda glared at Cross, who smiled guiltily.

Todd brushed the hair out of Dirk's eyes; it was him. It was really him. Todd couldn't lose him now; he couldn't lose him after everything. He needed Dirk in his life, and the universe was going to have to move out of the way for once. The stream of creation could go screw itself.

“I got you Dirk. I won't let you leave.”

Todd leaned down, and as his lips touched Dirk's, for a split second he was afraid that Amanda was wrong. What if this didn't help? What if he couldn't help? What if Dirk was lost?

And then Dirk was kissing him back. If not for the tension of the moment, the applause in the background would have been funny. Todd broke off, and found himself staring right into Dirk's eyes. He was back. He was here.

“Hello Todd.”

“Oh my God.” Todd pulled him in for another kiss, and suddenly he was laying on the couch too, Dirk having pushed him backward and was now hovering over him. He laughed as they broke apart, their noses still touching.

“I feel I must, apologize for some things.” Dirk gave a guilty grin, and Todd almost scoffed at him.

“Dirk, if you apologize for anything, I'm taking away your Disney privileges.” Todd smiled, wrapping Dirk in his arms. “Holy shit man. You're back!”

“It appears I am. You're rather good at child care.”

“I hate you.”

“I really doubt that.”

The Rowdies were whooping in the background, still clapping and cheering at Todd and Dirk. Mona had appeared, in her favorite human form, on the counter smiling. Todd ignored them; they weren't important right now. All that mattered to him was that Dirk was safe. Dirk however seemed to think otherwise as he glanced up and around the apartment.

“Oh dear. We seemed to have attracted quite the crowd. And- oh! Hello Gripps! It’s good to see you again.” Gripps gave a thumbs up.

“Ai inteles.”

“Ah, so you really can speak Romanian.” Dirk smiled at him. “I'm afraid I'm not quite sure what you're saying, though. Not anymore. Sorry.”

Gripps shrugged, and Dirk turned back to wrap his own arms around Todd, pulling them both up slightly. Todd had suddenly started staring at the crowd in the room with the same sort of fire that Amanda had. He looked back to Dirk and smiled.

“Pleaca acum!” Todd shouted without taking his eyes off of Dirk. Gripps raised his hands, backing away with an impressed sort of look.

“We gotta get.” Gripps spoke to the other Rowdies, who nodded with him. Vogel frowned, but upon a glance to Martin didn't object. He waved at Dirk and Todd as Amanda pushed him out. Todd saw Mona flash a smile briefly before disappearing, a teddy bear in her place. It stared at them, unblinking. It didn't watch them, though; Teddy bears can't watch people.

Finally, they were alone. They didn't move, opting instead to stay wrapped in each other's arms. They were together, safe. Todd had finally gotten Dirk back. Dirk laid his head back, glancing at Todd with the softest expression Todd had seen in the past few days.

“Thank you, Todd.”

“For what?”

“For taking care of me.” Dirk propped himself up to get a better look at Todd. “When I couldn't speak English. When I made you have an attack, when I hit you with a pillow. Accused you of, well. Being an experiment. When I compared you to Priest. All of it. And yet you still stayed, even through all that. You helped me. Even after you learned about Blackwing, you-”

Dirk stopped, closing his eyes as he tried to blink away tears. Todd reached up to wipe Dirk's eyes.

“Hey. I told you I'm not leaving, right? Yeah?” Dirk nodded. “I meant it. You're stuck with me. And no offense, but I'm probably going to kill Priest.”

“That's not offensive, Todd.” He shrugged.

“It is to him.” Todd sat up, pulling Dirk up with him. “But I don't care about, any of that. Whatever bad shit you did or didn't do. Have you met me? I literally lied to my entire family about having an illness. That's all kinds of fucked. All I was thinking about was how to help you. I love you. And you're gonna have to deal with having someone around to help you through things, because I'm not leaving. Ever.”

Dirk let out a small chuckle.

“Have I ever told you how brilliant you are?” Todd nodded as he pulled Dirk in for another embrace. Dirk melted into him at his touch.

“You may have mentioned it.” Todd said, burying into Dirk’s neck. They stayed like that, living in the silence and each other’s heartbeats for a few moments before Todd broke the embrace.

“I do have one question though. If, if you’re okay with answering it.” Todd watched as Dirk frowned slightly but nodded.

“Ask away.”

“The project, subject, person. They exploded?” Dirk laughed and smiled up at him.

“Yes, well, that was really more his thing than any fault of mine. And if you don’t mind, I have a question for you.” Todd nodded, still trying to wrap his head around the idea of an exploding person just like, being a thing that happens.

“What happened to the cat?”

“Farah!” Todd tried to push himself off the couch and ended up on the floor. He groaned and pushed himself up, Dirk close behind him.

“I’ve got a list of things to do, and killing Farah is at the top. Lets go.”


Farah was never a particularly happy camper, but the hour they'd spent at her apartment as Todd chewed her out was probably one of her worse moments. Dirk had stood by the door, gawking at Todd as he went off at her for knowing much more than she'd let on, followed by Todd complaining about her leaving him to deal with Dirk alone. The cat wasn't there; it was suspected that it was locked in a bedroom somewhere, which was a smart move. It took awhile, but Todd was finally able to get to the point in the one sided conversation that he was able to talk about Priest.

“And one more thing,” He'd said, pointing at her, “Next time we see that asshole, I'M the one killing him. You can wait your turn.”

Dirk had found it rather sweet, actually. He'd forgotten over the past few days just how angry Todd got when Dirk was in danger, and it was nice to be reminded that he had someone like that. In all honesty, the past few days were more or less a blur with a few clear memories sprinkled in between.

Most of those memories included Todd.

Dirk had dragged Todd back out to the park that night as soon as the stars had started to appear. Dirk was laying on the grass, his own limbs entangled in Todd's as they laid in each other's embrace. The night sky seemed to have even more stars than usual, as if that would somehow make up for what the week had brought to them. Dirk turned his head, looking at Todd.

“You fared rather well for your first case alone. I'm impressed.”

“I didn't do most of the work. Amanda gets the credit for that.” Dirk shook his head.

“You took care of me. I doubt anyone else would have been able to handle it. I've been told I was a difficult child at the best of times.” Todd laughed, holding onto Dirk tighter.

“Yeah well, I've been woken up by worse things than an angry teenager armed with a pillow. You had pretty good aim for such a small kid.”

“Yes well, it comes with the job.” Dirk nuzzled his head onto Todd's chest, looking up at the stars in the sky. The stars smiled at them, laughing and twinkling as they stared back into the vastness above them. It was one of the quieter nights in the city.

“Why do you think the universe did that?”

“Did what?”

“Allowed that to happen. How on earth is a faulty memory spell connected to anything whatsoever.”

“Well,” Todd lifted his hand to run it through Dirk's hair, “I learned like, a lot. About you and Blackwing and all that. And I can firmly say that next time I see any Blackwing agent, I'm taking their head off.”

“Especially Priest.”

Especially Priest.” Todd glanced down at him. “Did he seriously like, do all that stuff to you?”

Dirk grimaced, burying his face into Todd's chest as he turned on his stomach. Todd paused for a moment, waiting to see if he was upset.

“I'm afraid so. I can safely say that it wasn't very enjoyable.” Todd shook his head.

“You don't have to deal with all that stuff alone. You have friends now. You have like, a lot. And me. We're not going to let you go through this without help, man. I don't even think it's possible. Seriously.” Todd lifted Dirk's head so that he was looking into his eyes. “I love you. And I'm not leaving anytime soon.”

Dirk rested his head back on Todd, pulling the man in for an even tighter hug. Todd wrapped his arms around him, closing his eyes for a moment so that all that existed was those two.

“Thank you, Todd.” Todd's eyes snapped open.

“Hey Dirk, I got a present for you.” Dirk's head shot up at those words, his eyes widening.

“A present? What kind? Is it big? Is it dangerous? Are you secretly an alien? Or maybe, your-”

“It's, the listening kind, actually.” Dirk paused, almost frowning before he smiled and laid back down. Todd shook his head; he missed this.

“Well, I am very excited to hear it.” Todd carefully pushed them into a sitting position, holding tightly to Dirk’s hands as Dirk smiled at him. He could look at that smile forever.

Todd took a deep breath. He was sure he could remember the words.

“Hai, Jude, nu strica totul
Găseşte o melodie tristă şi fă-o mai bună

Ţine minte, trebuie s-o laşi să-ţi pătrundă inima
Şi pe urmă poţi începe s-o faci mai bună.

Todd watched as Dirk’s smile widened and he laughed lightly.

“You know, I can’t for the life of me understand what you’re saying.” Dirk said, gripping tighter to Todd’s hand.

“Oh? You can’t understand me? Is it terribly annoying? Do you find yourself wanting to pull your hair out?” Todd laughed back. “Well here, let me continue.”

“Hai, Jude, nu te teme,
Tu eşti menit să o faci cum trebuie
Din clipa în care o laşi să-ţi intre pe sub piele
Vei începe s-o faci mai bună.”

Dirk pulled him in for a kiss, silencing Todd. They stayed there for a moment, before Dirk pulled back, smiling at him.

“It’s wonderful. I love it.” Todd smiled and pulled Dirk back to the ground, holding him tightly as they looked up at the stars. Todd continued to hum as they watched the stars, the minutes ticking by unnoticed.

No matter how hard it tried, this was one thing the universe couldn't take away from them.