You'd think Todd would be used to the life-threatening situations. He is, after all, the best friend and detective partner of Dirk Gently. Who conducts most- if not all- of his business in the liminal spaces he stumbles across round every other street corner, where real-world logic doesn't apply and even the drain covers want to kill you. Death, if it manifests in any form capable of feeling emotions and forming opinions, must be getting pretty sick of the near-Todd experiences by now.
Thing is though, no matter how many times you've been held hostage over the edge of a building, nothing but a bad guy's fist clenched in your shirt holding you back from a long fall to a short, messy landing... well, it's really not the kind of thing that gets easier with practice. The roll-your-eyes, 'real fucking original' bravado act drops pretty much the second your stomach does, and falls along with it down through your feet and off the edge and then seventeen storeys to the ground. Which, being the fucking ground and pretty confident in that knowledge, doesn't even flinch at the impact as your stomach and the last shreds of your heroism splatter on the sidewalk. Just like your body's going to once this meathead decides he's bored of holding you hostage.
Todd really doesn't get paid enough for this shit.
"Please!" He can hear Dirk babbling, hear the panic in his voice. It sounds like it's coming from miles away. Everything that isn't the bad guy's hand and the narrow ledge beneath his feet feels so far away- when you’re hovering so inappropriately close to death you could be liable for a harassment suit, anything that doesn’t offer immediate salvation may as well be on another planet. "Please, we'll- we'll stop investigating! Promise! We'll leave you be, you can smuggle to your heart’s content, just- just please let him go!"
Todd's heart goes the way of his stomach, and plummets. Because if there's one thing most of the bad guys they chase have in common, it's a tendency to talk in painful clichés like knock-off Bond villains.
And Dirk- stupid, naïve Dirk- just gave him the perfect set-up.
"Oh," the guy says, loading the single syllable with so much hammy malice it’s actually kind of hilarious. Except Todd’s pretty sure the joke’s about to be on him, so it’s hard to see the funny side. "I'll let him go."
Fuck. Was really hoping he wouldn't rise to that.
Suddenly the pressure's gone from his throat, allowing him to greedily gulp down his first unhindered breath in what feels like an age.
Which would have been great, if he wasn't also falling to his death.
The guy's corny evil laughter and Dirk's incoherent cries fade away behind the wall of rushing air as it roars in his ears, whipping past at breakneck speed. Fitting, seeing as he's about five seconds from actually breaking his neck- along with every other bone in his body. Probably a few he's never even heard of.
He always kinda hoped that his last thoughts would be something nice, or profound. Quiet contentment as he passed away at the ripe old age of ninety six, surrounded by grandkids. Or music awards, but preferably both. Maybe he'd think about his sister, how he hurt her, how he did everything he could to make amends to her and wonder if it was ever truly enough. Maybe he'd have a last thought so brilliant, so clever and profound that the real tragedy was gonna be dying before he had a chance to write it down and make a song out of it.
Maybe, just maybe, he'd think about Dirk, and all the things he never said to him. Things he should have said, goddammit. Things he’d never get the chance to say again.
In the end, the last conscious thought he registers as the ground charges up to meet him is a very flat and underwhelming: Oh, no. Not again.
He blacks out.
"Todd? Todd! I-I think he's waking up, I'll call you back- Todd!"
Todd blinks up at Dirk's worried face, confused. Not confused about the worry- he'd be pretty fucking worried too if he saw his best friend take a nosedive off a skyscraper. Confused that he's alive to see Dirk's face, worried or not. Yeah, that's more like it. "Dirk? What- what happened?"
"That maniac dropped you," says Dirk, patting Todd down- ostensibly to check him for injuries, but he probably just doesn't know what to do with his hands.
Todd glowers. But he was already squinting with the sun in his eyes, so it probably isn't even noticeable. "Yeah, great, I got that. What I mean is what- why am I- how am I... here?" Jesus, where even is here? Once his eyes are accustomed to the glare he thinks he can make out... grey. Quite a lot of it. Grey and blue. It takes him longer than he'd like to admit to realise the blue is the sky, and the grey is- "Are we- are we back on the roof?"
"...Yes, that's exactly where we are. Why don't you lie down a mo, catch you're breath and I'll just-"
"No, this... something's weird," says Todd, peering round. Off to the left, three scuffed lawn chairs huddle round a rickety-looking table like slouching college students round a D&D board. To the right, an eclectic selection of clothes ripple in the breeze from a slightly slack clothesline. A row of potted plants at varying stages in their slow, weary shuffle out of the mortal coil sit by the fire escape. Someone lives here. He can't even begin to guess who, but this building is someone's home. Probably lots of people's home.
So why, then, does he remember the roof he just fell off of belonging to some generic office block? He may have been pretty distracted at the time, but nothing on that roof stood out to him as signs of life. Either he's completely misremembering, or...
This is a different roof.
"Did you...do something? Somehow?"
Dirk finally stops patting Todd down, snatching his hands away. "No. Well... Yes. Sort of. A bit."
Now Todd's confused, and Dirk's acting shifty. Which usually means he's hiding something big that's gonna give Todd a stress ulcer if he doesn't get to the bottom of it. "What did you-?"
"What matters is you're safe," Dirk cuts him off, with a jerky nod and a grin that's just a little too forcefully bright. "And Farah's got our man, so everything's great!"
The sickeningly poppy sound of S Club 7 blaring from Dirk's phone cuts him off. "Ah!" Dirk exclaims, fumbling it back into his hand. "That'll be Farah again, checking in. Worried about you, no doubt- understandable, I suppose, I mean, you did just fall rather dramatically off a roof. So, yes, I'd better just-" he hits accept, holding the phone to his ear and using it as a convenient barrier against any further questions. "Farah, hiiiiiiiiii!"
If there's one thing Dirk's real good at, it's avoiding difficult questions.
Todd sighs, sits up, and thinks about ways to get off this rooftop. Preferably ones that don’t involve appealing to whatever strangely-dressed serial plant killer lives here to open the fire escape.
At least it’s not the first time.
...Seriously, what is his life?
When someone knocks on his door that evening, Todd approaches it with caution. The only person who ever comes to see him is Dirk, and he doesn't bother with social niceties like 'knocking' or 'not breaking in', so Todd thinks it's only fair to treat the anomaly with suspicion.
So he breathes a sigh of relief when he peers through the spyhole and finds Farah waiting on the other side. Not another formless, twisting mass in a trench coat chanting ominously about his sins on the welcome mat, then. Thank god, that is not an incident he wants a repeat of. "Hey," he says, opening the door to invite her in.
"Hey, Todd," she says, patting his shoulder on her way through. She makes a beeline for the kitchen, holding aloft a six pack of beer with one hand. Like a concert-goer waving a lighter in the air for the customary slow ballad, the motion is as somber as it is full of conviction. "Figured you could use a drink."
"Bottle opener's by the microwave," he says, closing the door with a bewildered frown. Post-case drinks were a pretty common occurrence, but it wasn't like her to show up alone. "Where's Dirk? And Amanda?"
"She's with the Rowdies-“ she pops the caps off a couple of bottles with a degree of anxious zest that she usually tries not to bring to social gatherings- “and Dirk... Well, actually, I was kinda hoping you and I could talk. About Dirk."
"Did he set fire to something again? 'Cause he's gonna keep doing that unless we lose the toaster in the break room."
"No, he didn't- no." She shakes her head as she slides his beer across the counter. "No, I wanted to talk about today. Earlier, what- what happened on the roof."
"Oh, yeah." He grabs the bottle and takes a swig. "Yeah, I was gonna ask- what did happen? Dirk got pretty weird about it, wouldn't tell me. You wanna fill me in?"
"Oh, I..." She wrinkles her brow, looking confused and not a little disappointed. "I, uh, actually, I was gonna ask you the same thing."
"You didn't see what happened?"
"I saw... something. But I was kinda hoping you'd prove me wrong. Or right, I-I don't even know. How can you not know what happened?"
"I fell off a building! I thought I was gonna die, I blacked out!" He puts down his beer and crosses his arms. "Farah, this- this is just too weird right now, can you just tell me what you saw? Or what you think you saw? 'Cause Dirk isn't telling me shit, and not to look a gift horse in the mouth but I'd kinda like to know how it's possible I'm even alive right now."
Farah fiddles with the label on her bottle, eyes darting back and forth as she mentally maps out escape routes from this conversation. But Todd's not gonna let her duck and roll out of the window. Not again. Fool him once. "Farah. Please."
"I thought I saw..." She curses under her breath, shaking her head. "No, forget it, it's stupid."
She sighs, and takes a fortifying chug of beer. "After the guy dropped you, Dirk bolted. I thought he was gonna deck the guy, he had that kinda look in his eyes, but he ignored him and he- he just dove. Right off of the building! I was so shocked I almost let the damn guy go! But I got him- he was distracted too, I guess- and while I was cuffing him I looked over the edge. I-I w-was freaking out, I thought for sure I was gonna see both of you spread out across the sidewalk, but instead I saw..."
"What?" Todd presses as she trails off, leaning towards her across the counter. "Farah, what did you see?"
"Dirk... Dirk was holding you," she says quietly, brow furrowed. "And you were both, like... suspended. In mid-air, 'bout halfway down the tower block. And, and then I had to look away a moment, 'cause the guy was struggling, and when I looked back you were both gone, and I looked around and I found you, you were sort of, h-hovering over another roof and Dirk was putting you down and it took a while for his feet to touch the ground and..."
She looks at Todd, wide-eyed. "And I was just really hoping you had some kind of logical explanation, so that I don't have to get used to the fact that Dirk can apparently... y'know."
Todd can feel a headache coming on. "...Fly?"
It’s absurd. It’s stupid. It’s completely and utterly batshit crazy.
Possibly just crazy enough to be true.
"...Yeah, okay, I'm gonna need another beer."
"Hm?" Dirk barely looks up from the Rubik's Cube he’s been clicking away at for the last half hour.
"Why did the CIA call you Icarus?"
That stops the clicking. Todd feels a little bad for bringing it up like that- he knows Dirk hates talking about his time at Blackwing. But any other attempts to bring up the incident had been met with avoidance tactics and he was done beating about the bush.
After a moment the clicking returns, a little slower and more considered this time. "Not sure. Riggins came up with the names. Probably some outlandish symbolism- he had a lot of unrealistic expectations."
"Right," says Todd, watching him carefully. "So you don't think it was more... literal?"
"I've no idea."
"Icarus," Todd muses aloud, leaning back in his office chair. "That's, uh, the flying guy, right?"
"Dirk," Todd says slowly, waiting for Dirk to look up and meet his eyes. "Can you fly?"
Silence falls over the room, neither of them break eye contact.
Todd throws up his hands. "And you didn't think to, I don't know, mention this sometime?"
Dirk looks vaguely offended. "It never came up."
Todd gapes at him. "It's been coming up all week since you- you plucked me out of mid-air! Farah saw you- she thought she was having a stroke!"
"Oh, bloody hell, she saw?"
"Her and half of Seattle, probably," says Todd, rolling his eyes. Superman-ing your friend to safety in the middle of a crowded city wasn't exactly subtle. "Honestly, I'll bet we have the damn CIA to thank for there not being any photos. Dirk, what the hell, how long’s this been a- a thing? That you can do?"
Dirk shrugs, frowning contemplatively at his Rubik's cube as if he can find the solution written in fine print on one of its many facets "As long as all the other stuff, I suppose."
"How does it work?" Todd asks, leaning in. It’s hard to stay annoyed for long with actual legit superpowers on the table- this, this is fucking cool. "Do you just, like, fly with your mind somehow?"
"Well, not exactly," says Dirk. "The wings don't seem that interested in what my mind has to tell them."
"You have wings?!"
Dirk stares at him, startled and impressed. "Oh, wow. Well done, Todd- it's difficult to vocalise punctuation but you managed it."
"Dirk, how can you have wings 'sometimes'? That doesn't make any sense."
"Well, they're not exactly wings in the conventional sense. They're not exactly... there."
"Dirk." Todd is about to have a fucking aneurysm. "Just... say what you mean. Please. It's too early for this shit."
Dirk sighs over the frenetic cacophony of clicks- his fiddling has reached new heights of agitation. "They're like... an extension. Of me, of my mind. No one else can see them- even I can't see them, sometimes. They work a bit like my other thing- they're unpredictable and uncontrollable and, honestly, not always all that helpful. To me. More trouble than they're worth, most of the time."
"So they're like, psy-" Dirk glares, and Todd backtracks- "not-psychic, like your interconnectedness thing?"
"Yes, more or less."
"What d'you mean you can't control them? Do they just... pick you up sometimes?"
"It's…” Dirk looks pained. “Very inconvenient."
"But, I mean, they work when you need them, right? I mean, I'm still here."
Dirk's expression softens a little. "Hm. Yes, occasionally they come through for me. Well, for other people, at any rate."
Todd sighs, shaking his head. "This... this is fucking crazy. Even for you."
Todd stares at the space behind Dirk's shoulders. Still looks very much like empty space to him. "What do they look like?"
"Ugh, you know what I mean. Like bat wings, bird wings...?"
"They have feathers."
"That's a little bit trickier to answer."
"What does that mean?"
"It means-" Dirk frowns, brow furrowing in frustration. "...what it means."
"That's- that's helpful, thank you."
“Well, it’s irrelevant, anyway,” says Dirk dismissively with a few more jittery clicks. “Like I said, no one else can see them, so…”
Dirk seems… genuinely upset by this line of questioning. “Are you-?”
“Oh, think I heard the doorbell!”
“I didn’t hear anythi-“
“Nope, definitely heard it.” Dirk is already out of his chair and across the room, making for the staircase. “Ears like a bat. Might be a case! I’d better let them in. Or not. Maybe I’ll chat to them outside, it is a rather nice day.”
And with that he’s gone, jacket forgotten on the hook by the door. Todd frowns after him in confusion, before letting his gaze wonder back to Dirk’s desk, and the perfectly solved Rubik’s cube lying abandoned on a stack of files.
He sure wishes he could puzzle out his friend that easily.
Strangely, knowing Dirk has another superpower doesn’t change life all that much. Although, quite a lot of little things do finally start to make sense.
Like the way sometimes Dirk stretches out his entire body to relieve a crick in his back, and somehow knocks over an object (or several) that isn’t even within arms’ reach of him. Todd always used to attribute that sort of thing to his supposedly physics-defying clumsiness, but now he knows that arms and legs aren't the only limbs Dirk's stretching he finds himself watching the action intently. Possibly a little too intently, if the loaded and knowing looks Farah gives him are anything to go by.
What? He’s curious! It has nothing to do with… that. That Thing, that he doesn’t talk about. It’s just innocent observation. Nothing to do with Dirk’s body or Todd’s hormones or… shut up.
He also starts to notice that despite the aforementioned clumsiness and a general knack for attracting trouble, Dirk is shockingly lucky. Sure, he gets his fair share of bumps and scrapes (and occasional arrows to the limbs) in the line of duty. But he never... well. Dies. And for a person with such an incredible magnetism for trouble, that's pretty impressive.
But now that Todd's looking at it from this new perspective, he can think of several lucky escapes that actually had very little to do with luck. Times when Dirk had saved himself from serious stumbles by seemingly defying gravity, times when he'd fallen from dangerous heights and come out surprisingly unscathed. Times when he'd narrowly dodged swords, axes and numerous other deadly (and improbable) weapons in insane bursts of speed that Todd had always just put down to sheer adrenaline. It all makes sense- it isn't dumb luck at all, it's him, him and his... wings.
Nope. Still weird.
Honestly, it's the kind of thing that needs to be seen to be believed.
And if even Dirk can't see the things most of the time, well… what kind of chance does Todd have?
Every fucking chance, as it turns out.
It isn't exactly a bad attack. And Todd really doesn't like what it says about his attacks that hallucinating the stabbing pain of a dozen rusty nails puncturing his palms and impaling his hands can be considered 'a mild episode'.
But no matter how relatively moderate it is on the flare-up scale, it's still more than enough to distract him from the very important job of fending off a mace-wielding maniac. Not like spray-mace, either, an actual, spiky medieval mace. God, don't people just... shoot each other with guns anymore?
The unexpectedness of the attack is enough to make him drop his own weapon, the pain enough to keep him from immediately picking it up again. He barely looks up in time to see the mace- somehow even more spiky and evil-looking than the last time he'd seen it- sail towards his head with deadly precision and brutal force.
But suddenly something else is knocking him off of his feet, and the mace isn't there anymore. Neither is the mace-wielder.
Or the ground.
"What the fuck?!” he yells, clinging onto the something for dear life because holy shit he's suspended in mid-air what the fuck is happening holy shi- and then wincing because holding on is just driving the nails further into his palms.
He can vaguely hear mace-guy's shouting, and Farah's voice somewhere in the distance, but mostly all he hears is air, rushing past his ears.
And something rhythmically beating it.
It's too much, the sensory overload. He closes his eyes, whimpers against the searing pain in his hands, and prays for the entire world to just slow the fuck down a moment.
He sighs, a little of the tension in his shoulders releasing. He knows that voice. He likes that voice (mostly).
Doesn't explain why he's hearing it when he's apparently being whisked through the air by some strange supernatural entity, though.
His eyes snap open, and there's Dirk. Or rather, there's Dirk's neck- Todd's face is tucked into it, Dirk's arms round his waist holding him tight. And below Dirk's neck is his shoulder, and behind his shoulder...
His breath rushes out of him all over again.
Because right there, behind Dirk's shoulders, keeping them aloft beat by mighty beat, are his wings.
They are real. And Todd can see them for himself.
He stares, gobsmacked, at the plush feathers as they beat the air back, propelling them upwards seemingly effortlessly. They're white, but sort of translucent, barely there, not even highlights or shadows from the sun to pin them in the physical world. And looking again, they aren't completely white, either. They fade to something else at the edges, is that... green? Blue? It kind of looks like it's shifting, the colour never constant.
Todd grips Dirk's shoulders so hard he drives the nails deeper into his own hands. "Dirk..."
"Don't worry, Todd, I'll get us down," says Dirk, obviously fighting to keep his voice steady. His jostling and cursing isn't super reassuring, though. "If these bloody things will just-!"
"I can see them."
Dirk's entire body freezes. Todd is scared his wings might, too, but they seem to have a mind of their own. "What?"
"Dirk, I- I can see them!" Todd laughs, a little deliriously. He wants to reach out to touch them, but he isn't sure how that would work- his hands are still in agony, anyway.
"Todd, I think maybe you're just having a bad attack- don't worry, well get you down and get you your-"
Dirk falls silent. His wings still beat, but slower now, measured- hovering rather than soaring. Todd wonders how far up they are. He can't even look down, his attention riveted on the feathers and their shifting tones. "And- and at the edges they're... orange? I, I don't know, they keep changing-"
"Yes, they-" Dirk sounds... embarrassed? The feathers take on a muted red tinge. "They do that. Sometimes. Let's- let's get you down."
Nothing happens a moment. Dirk clears his throat. "Now, please."
Finally, the wings obey and they begin their descent, Todd watching them every step of the way.
Even when they make it safely back to ground (roof, veranda, whatever, Todd doesn't fucking know) level, he still can't really believe they're actually there.
"Todd," says Dirk, hurriedly patting him down and fumbling in his pockets. "Come on, you need to take your- a-ha!" He snatches the pill bottle triumphantly from Todd's hoodie, shaking a couple out into his palm.
Todd wordlessly opens his mouth, letting Dirk put the pills on his tongue- they do this, sometimes, when Todd can’t move or his hands are in too much pain. And all the while he stares at the wings, still shifting colours, nervously twitching at Dirk’s back as they flicker pale purple, fading back to soft blue as Todd swallows the pills.
Changing at the exact same moment as Dirk's face shifts from worry to relief.
They're his emotions. Dirk's feelings, written on his wings in colours. No wonder he couldn't tell Todd what colour they were- Dirk flips between extreme emotions like most people flip between beats of their heart, he probably can't keep up! Every single day he’s wearing his heart on his sleeve, almost literally.
But no one can ever see it. No one even has a chance.
Except... except for Todd.
Todd knows he should probably look at Dirk's face again now. But he can feel the medication kicking in, feel the pain in his hands fading to a memory.
And with it, Dirk's wings, slipping slowly back into invisibility with every breath.
He wants to say something before they disappear. Tell Dirk just how fucking cool they are. How amazing. How grateful he is for them saving both their necks on so many occasions, how fucking awesome and insane this entire goddamn situation is.
He finally manages to tear his gaze from the fading feathers long enough to look at Dirk's face- which looks like it's bracing itself for rejection. And all of those words pretty much fall out of his brain.
Dirk blinks. And then he blushes.
And for the briefest moment before they fade entirely from view, his wingtips mirror that rosy pink into the world for Todd's eyes only.
Todd never thought in a million years he'd have a reason to enjoy to his pararibulitis attacks.
... Okay, maybe ‘enjoy’ was too strong a word. They still hurt like hell and he has no guarantee between one and the next that Dirk's wings will even be visible, fickle things that they are. Still. Now every time he feels the tell-tale tingle in his nerves that tells him life is about to get real ugly for a while, he looks at Dirk.
And honestly, he should've started doing that sooner- wings or no wings, Dirk is just comforting to look at.
But sometimes he's treated to the sight of Dirk's feathers, fluffed up like a distressed pigeon's as he fusses about getting Todd his meds. He distracts himself from whatever horrifying hallucination is tearing into him by trying to name every colour that flits across Dirk’s wingtips as he goes through every conceivable stage of panic.
Sometimes, when the pain is fading, Todd is just dazed enough that he imagines he can reach out and touch them. He usually remembers they're just on the wrong side of corporeal before he does something embarrassing like try to run his hands through the silky feathers. That part's always disappointing, but probably for the best. You're probably supposed to ask people before stroking their wings. Or any body part. Not that he’s thinking of stroking any- god, shut up.
Corporeal or not- visible or not- those wings become a fixture in his life. He imagines them hunching up and drawing in tight as Dirk shivers with cold. He imagines them shaking out droplets when a case has them taking a dive into a lake, even though they haven’t enough physical presence for the water to gain purchase. He knows they shake themselves out anyway, he can sense it. Just like he can sense them stretching out when Dirk does, their invisible expanse all but filling whatever room they're in, gaining the slightest tangible influence on the world only when it's most inconvenient. They've learned by now that anything breakable in the office or apartment needs to be nailed down.
And sometimes he doesn't even need to imagine them.
Sometimes he just feels them.
He doesn't know if it's a new thing. Maybe now he's open to the idea of them they're making their presence known. Maybe they always were and he just explained it away to himself. But sometimes he'll be sitting in the office- which he knows for a fact he fixed the draughty window in weeks ago- and he'll feel the lightest gust on his face as Dirk's wings unfurl and flap once or twice to shake themselves out. Sometimes he feels a slight tickle on his cheek when Dirk walks too close and his wingtips trace lightly over him.
Maybe it's partly wishful thinking, but Todd isn't complaining.
Besides, there are just some things he doesn't think he's imaginative enough to make up.
Like the feeling of so many soft, delicate feathers, wrapping around him tenderly like a blanket one night in the chill winter air. Holding him tight as he presses cold lips to Dirk's, tingling up his back as their owner trembles. Cradling him like he's something rare and precious as Dirk's hands alight on his face and do the same.
Yeah. You can't make this shit up.