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Within Yellow Walls

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It wasn’t the first time that Todd’s water had stopped working, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. It happened once every two months at least, at one point leaving him naked and shivering in the middle of a shower.

                He’d stopped bothering to go and complain to the landlord, finding that he was much more likely to receive a black eye than an actual solution for his problem. He soon realized that it was usually back on after a couple days, and it wasn’t much of a hassle as long as he didn’t mind showering elsewhere for a while.

                This instance, however, turned out to be much more inconvenient than usual. Todd had been extremely caught up in a recent series of cases, so he hadn’t had enough time to wash clothes in almost a month. He was down to his last t-shirt and pair of pants when the water suddenly decided to stop working. While he might have been okay with wearing the same outfit for days on end back when he was in the Mexican Funeral, Todd considered himself to have matured a bit since then.

                Todd silently reviewed his options concerning places to wash his clothes. He couldn’t go to Amanda’s place because she was doing the thing where she went off with the Rowdy three and didn’t tell anyone where they were going (While he knew that she was safe with them it did get a little tiring after a while). Farah was out of town visiting Lydia, and she would be gone long after Todd’s one remaining outfit would start to stink.

                This left Todd with one remaining option; Dirk’s apartment.

                At any other point in their relationship Todd would’ve been totally fine with asking Dirk to let him use his washing machine. I mean, it’s not that big a deal. It’s just a load of laundry.

                Except this time. This time was different, all because of a single moment inside a diner a couple weeks before.

~~~

                They’d been to the diner at least twice before, but this time something about seemed… different, to Dirk’s eyes. Everything seemed more sepia toned and nostalgic.

The two were eating out to celebrate a case that involved reuniting a woman with her three different spouses, all of whom had been kidnapped coincidentally under totally different sets of circumstances.

                Be it the slurry of rom coms he’d watched the night before, the amorous nature of the case they’d just solved, or the fact that Todd had decided to wear one of his nicer shirts that day, but some variable had given Dirk a particularly romantic feeling. He was seeing the world through rose-colored goggles, and he wasn’t even bothering to hide the starry-eyed looks he was giving Todd over their disappointing food orders (A hamburger and a bowl of chocolate ice cream with multicolored sprinkles respectively, because according to Dirk; “It’s never too early for ice cream, and anyway I’m celebrating solving the case!”).

                While usually Todd was dreadfully ambivalent to Dirk’s awestruck looks and lackluster attempts at flirting (although they were just that; attempts) there was a limit to his ignorance. After taking a bite of his burger and making an expression like he was struggling not to spit it out, he looked up to find Dirk staring at him, a slight smile on his face.

                “What is it?”

                Dirk finally snapped out of it, and he had to think fast to explain himself. He wiped his hands on his jacket distractedly, staring into his bowl of ice cream—which was now closer to soup.

                “Nothing.” He said dreamily. “I was just thinking about how well you did on the case. You really…helped.” For some reason, Dirk wanted nothing more than to sink into a puddle just like his meal. He could feel Todd’s skeptical gaze upon him.

                Todd shrugged, looking down. “I wouldn’t be so sure. You did most of the work this time, to be honest.” Suddenly his eyes were back on Dirk—he couldn’t see, he was too busy examining his knuckles, but he could feel them.

                “Don’t sell yourself short.” Todd concluded.

                Dirk scoffed. “I should be telling that to you. You do a lot of the heavy lifting with these cases, and you’re an important part of the agency. Don’t put yourself dow…”

                Dirk trailed off when he saw how Todd was looking at him, as if astonished by Dirk’s sudden surge of emotional intelligence. It was an uncomfortable expression, but Dirk thought he wore it well.

                Dirk tried to brush off the moment like you might with sand, but instead it stuck to him like glue. The entire rest of the meal was dispersed with this same feeling of intimate awkwardness. Suddenly Dirk was no longer content with admiring Todd from afar. He didn’t want something like this to happen again. If he was going to tell Todd how he felt, he wanted it to be his choice and not in the heat of another moment, most likely when they were both in mortal peril.

                Dirk stared back down at his hands, which were now gripping each other so hard that his already pale knuckles had become even paler.

                “Hey, uh, Todd.” He blurted, interrupting the other man in a story that Dirk had wholeheartedly not been listening to.

                “Yeah, Dirk?”

                Dirk gulped. “I, uh, wanted to tell you something. It’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you for a while, but I haven’t really had the courage, but I wanted to tell you it now so it doesn’t ruin our relationship later on…” as usual, it took Dirk a moment to realize that he was rambling.

                Dirk splayed his hands out on the splotchy and suspiciously sticky table, finally plucking up the courage to look Todd right in the eyes.

                “I have feelings for you. Like, FEELINGS feelings.”

                Dirk had always known deep down about the butterfly effect, the idea that one sentence or deed or example of happenstance could so deeply effect the future, but he’d never seen it in action until this one moment. It was like he’d flipped a switch that had sent him down a path he couldn’t leave or redirect.

                There was the initial shock, followed by Dirk trying and failing to deny it ever happened, and Todd trying to pretend that it was nothing when it was very, very much something.

                It felt entirely unfair that this one single moment could have such a huge impact on such an important relationship in Dirk’s life, how it seemed to spread it’s feelers out to touch everything he did (Amanda wouldn’t stop whispering about it until Todd almost yelled at her out of embarrassment).

                When they were on a case it seemed fine, their momentum kept them from thinking about it, but as soon as things slowed down again that one moment, those few words seemed to brick up a barrier between them.

~~~       

               

                                It took thirty minutes of loitering around his apartment for Todd to finally convince himself to go see if Dirk’s water was working. It wasn’t until he was standing right outside of Dirk’s door that he realized that he hadn’t called or anything and was arriving totally unannounced.

He considered that Dirk might not have even been home, but this was just an optimistic lie. He had seen Dirk’s most recent choice in cars—a hideous yellow-orange Toyota Prius—sitting out in the lot earlier that day.

                Todd dropped his pile of laundry between his feet, sighing, and reached out to knock on the door. However, his knuckles had merely brushed the wood when it was pulled out from under his fingers.

                Dirk was standing in the doorway, looking down at his assistant with a dark expression (or at least, as dark an expression as Dirk could give). He didn’t seem the least bit surprised to find Todd loitering outside his door.

                “How did you know I was here?”

                Dirk paused. “I could see your shadow under the door.” It was a blatant lie, but Todd didn’t call him out on it. He’d pretty much given up on trying to get Dirk to admit to his psychic-ness, and besides it definitely wasn’t a good time to make Dirk angry.

                Todd tried his best to smile and motioned down at his basket of laundry. “I, uh, my water is out. I wanted to know if yours was working, if I could use it?”

                Suddenly, the slightly angry face fell off of Dirk’s face and was replaced by a beaming smile. “Yeah, sure! Come in,” He stepped out of the way to let Todd into the apartment.

                Entering the apartment, Todd was at a loss for what to look at first. He had been to Dirk’s apartment before, and he was sure it hadn’t looked like this. At least, he thought he hadn’t (he’d always been pretty preoccupied with other matters when there).

Now, however, the place was a cacophony of color, distracting and beautiful and a bit blinding. There were posters and artworks papering the walls, two of which were painted a bright, fluorescent yellow. Todd opened and closed his mouth a couple times before actually thinking of something to say.

                “Dirk, what happened to your apartment?”

                Dirk looked around confusedly, as if he was unsure what Todd was referring to, before recognition dawned on his face. “Well the first time you were here I had only just moved in. Obviously,” he motioned generally at spastically decorated apartment “I’ve redecorated since then. Amanda helped me.”

                Todd pinched the bridge of his nose exasperatedly. “Of course she did.” he mumbled.

                Dirk pretended not to hear this and wandered into a hallway off of the living room. “I’ll go take the current load out of the washing machine. You make yourself at home, okay?” He said as his voice got progressively more distant.

                Todd stood looking around at the moment before turning around to sit on the couch, only to find yet another thing to be amazed by.

                On the main wall in the room, surrounding a gigantic flat screen television, were hundreds—perhaps thousands—of post it notes in a variety of neon shades, all written on in Dirk’s distinctive handwriting.

                Todd squinted at them, before standing and walking closer to the wall, reading each note that caught his eye individually. Some of them were notes about cases they’d had (‘chimpanzee’s favorite food is pumpkin; possible murder weapon?’ ‘Father died on day of car crash—correlation or causation?’) Others were simply notes that Todd assumed were Dirk’s thoughts (‘orange jacket + green pants NOT a good idea’ ‘cat doesn’t like Ritz Crackers, maybe saltines next time?’).

                One specific post it happened to catch Todd’s eye;

‘Stupid!!!

Let unrequited feelings stay unrequited!!’

                It didn’t take a lot of detective work for Todd to figure out what the note was referring to.

 

                The worst part about it was that Todd had known, he’d always known—deep down at least. It wasn’t as if Dirk was very good at hiding his feelings. Lucky for Todd, he himself was much more talented in this aspect.

                Todd hadn’t been in a relationship for a long time. He didn’t think he deserved a relationship, either, not from anyone but definitely not from someone like Dirk. He thought it was best, then, too keep his feelings hidden. If only Dirk had been able to do the same.

                Todd was sitting on the couch staring up at the wall of post-it’s when Dirk arrived back in the room.

                “Hey, uh, do you want some tea?”

                Todd turned, not having realized that Dirk was back in the room. “Uh, sure.”

                Dirk rattled off the name of each type of tea that populated his cupboard as he pulled the boxes out and place them onto the counter; “Earl Grey, Peppermint, Chamomile, Cranberry, Chai,”-he listed, before reaching the more eclectic flavors- “Chocolate, gummy bear, pistachio...”       Todd soon realized that if he didn’t interrupt Dirk might keep on going forever.

                “Hey, uh,” Todd motioned to the gargantuan collection of sticky notes. “What’s all this?”

                Dirk whipped around and looked hurriedly from Todd’s face to the wall behind him. “Oh, right. That’s nothing, really. It just… helps me organize my thoughts about cases sometimes.” He shrugged as if it was nothing when Todd thought it was very much something.

                Dirk motioned to the mountain of tea boxes- “So about that tea…”

                “Right, just Earl Grey for me.”

                “Okay, well, the washer is empty, so you can put your stuff in there.” Todd had seemingly forgotten why he was in Dirk’s apartment in the first place until this moment.

                Todd walked down Dirk’s hallway with his clothes basket under his arm, passing ten different antique posters for movies that he’d never heard of.

                Dirk’s washing machine was smaller than Todd’s, so he would have to do it in more than one load. If the tense atmosphere so far had been any indication, Todd would not be happy about the fact that he might be trapped in an apartment with Dirk for the next hour.

                When Todd returned to the living room he managed to find yet another thing to be surprised by—despite having learned at this point that being surprised by anything involving Dirk was a totally useless action.

                What he had just thought was a cluster of houseplants when he had walked in was, in fact, a whole flower shop worth of exotic plants. They were every shape and size and were climbing like sentient beings through Dirk’s window. Todd hadn’t noticed when he’d first walked in because Dirk had simultaneously shoved both a cabinet and a leather chair up against them, almost in an attempt to hide them.

                Todd walked over and stuck his head outside the window to find that Dirk’s window box was also spilling over with different types of greenery, climbing up the outside wall of the apartment building. For someone standing outside it must’ve looked like a giant monster made of vegetation was trying to escape from Dirk’s apartment through the window.

                Todd pulled himself back into the apartment, sighing. He turned towards the sound of Dirk preparing tea in the kitchen.

                “Dirk, what’s with all the plants?” he said, pointing his thumb at the gathering of flora.

                Dirk stuck his head out of the kitchen, his usually orderly hair a bit frizzy from steam. “What is what?”

                Todd waved again at the mountain of assorted plants.

                “Oh! Right. Well, remember a few weeks back when we solved the case of the murder of that flower-shop owner?” Todd did, vividly. He still had lasting scars from the wombat attack.

                “Well, since the daughter wouldn’t be able to take care of the plants for obvious reasons, I thought I might take some in. There’s a little crowding, but I think they really brighten up the room. Don’t worry, though, I’m just keeping them until I can find a proper home for them.”

                Todd didn’t even bother to comment. He might even have smiled if he had been in a better mood.

                Todd finally made his way over to the couch. Dirk soon came in with two steaming hot cups of tea in Novelty Disney mugs. They two sat and sipped their scalding hot tea in silence.

                The tea was very dark and strong and very, very sweet. Todd liked it a lot, although he never really knew in the first place what good tea was supposed to taste like.

                “This is good.” He mumbled, not really knowing whether Dirk had heard him or not.

                The two men had already realized that this was the first time that just the two of them had been alone together doing non-case-related things since that fateful day in the diner. This wasn’t an accident; Todd had been avoiding Dirk ever since then, and he was pretty sure that Dirk had been avoiding him, too.

                The shark-kitten seemed to appear out of nowhere to jump up onto Dirk’s lap—as if sensing his owner’s uneasiness. Todd watched Dirk’s hands as he absentmindedly stroked behind the ears of the cat. The air was thick with almost palpable awkwardness.

                Finally, Dirk set his empty mug down with a slam that was so loud compared to the quiet of the past couple minutes that it made a Todd’s ears pop.

                Dirk put his hand down on the couch, painfully close to Todd’s. Whether this move was intentional or not Todd didn’t know, and the not knowing was killing him.

                “Look, Todd, I…”

                Todd desperately wanted to stop him, to say something, but he didn’t. Of course he didn’t.

                “I’m sorry. I never should have told you. It was idiotic of me to develop feelings in the first place.”

                ‘You don’t have to feel sorry!’ thoughts swirled in Todd’s head but nothing came out. Instead, all that he said was; “It’s fine, Dirk.”

                This felt wrong.

                Dirk pulled his hand away, and Todd felt the moment between them slipping away, most likely never to return. It was going, going…

                Tod reached out and gripped Dirk’s tie, pulling him in close. The kiss, like the tea, was strong and sweet and totally perfect in every way. It was, it turned out, all that Todd had needed.

                When they finally pulled away Dirk looked predictably awestruck. That’s how Todd had known that he had done the right thing, and if he hadn’t it probably never would’ve happened at all. Todd attempted to make eye contact with Dirk’s disoriented stare.

                “I’m the one who should be sorry, Dirk. Sorry I didn’t tell you how I felt right then and there in that diner. I never should have left you hanging for all those weeks.”

                Dirk didn’t say anything as he straightened out his tie and ran his fingers through his hair. A look that expressed wholly; ‘I can’t believe this’ crossed his face.

                “Well-um-Thank you Todd, but you can’t just do that to someone.”

                “I-What?”

                Dirk cleared his throat. “You’re supposed to talk through these things, you know, you can’t just go around making brash decisions like this.” Dirk wouldn’t meet his eyes. Todd didn’t know whether to frown or laugh, and it didn’t help that half his mind was focused on watching Dirk’s lips as he spoke.

                “Right, well…sorry.”

                Dirk finally let his eyes fall back on Todd’s face, looking utterly conflicted and unfocused.

                “Oh, bugger.” He mumbled before almost pouncing on Todd, gripping him by the collar of his dirty button-down. This time their kiss was full of smiles and roughness, from both of them.

                And just like that, one whole moment can change, or forgive, everything.