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FIC: Captcha ficlets

Fandom: Watchmen
Date Written: 2009
Summary: Ficlets written to various randomly generated two-word captcha prompts
Rating/Warnings: PG-13, language in the first one, some vaguely slashy implications in the last one.

Prompt:
'pickiest DT'


'No drinking at meetings', the bastard says, all clean-cut and collegiate under the sharp beak of his mask, sucking up to the goddamned teacher like this were some game, some popularity contest. Sucking up or just trying to get a dig in, but he doubts it; doubts the kid even understands the value of a well-placed verbal boot-to-the-ribs in this world of grab what's yours and what's the other guy's too, if you can. Too young, too soft, so he laughs; same way he laughs at everything.

No way in hell does he expect anyone to follow up on it; to keep the jabs coming and, when they fail to elicit a response other than more barking laughter and a flash of silver as the flask tipped up again, to start in with the pity. Whispered asides: he's sick, he can't help it. Sideways glances. Shifting silences. It’s a goddamned conspiracy, some stupid social engineering bullshit cooked up by Ozy the great, he’s sure of it. He roped them all in and it’s like amateur psychiatric theater and they’re making way bigger fools of themselves than they’re making of him, by a long shot.

That’s it. That settles it.

So he isn't entirely sure why the sharp reflection off of the flask gives him pause finally, flashing in the overhead lights. Maybe he’s coming down with something, some nasty bug he picked up from the shitscum he put his fists through last night, and his body knows even if his brain doesn't that cheap gin isn't the best addition to the equation right now. Maybe it’s because it’s eight in the goddamned morning, and that actually is just a little screwed-up.

Doesn’t matter, because he isn't a weak, sick, poor victim of society, drinking away the hours because his mommy didn't love him enough. He drinks and smokes and swears and fucks anyone he feels like because he wants to, because it’s good and fun and it makes people uncomfortable, makes people start to see the absurdity of taking anything seriously, through the cracks he puts in their worldview. They're like stupid kids peeking through their fingers at the monsters on the screen; put it in front of them and they'll always look.

No, he can stop whenever he wants to; he just doesn't particularly want to.

But for some reason, at eight AM on some random Tuesday - he thinks it’s a Tuesday, anyway - well. He doesn't exactly want to. But he’s curious about what’ll happen.

He doesn't have anything to prove.

But he's curious.

*

Four days. Four goddamned days, and he’s almost willing to admit it - admit that the shit has its claws into him, if it’ll just make the fucking shakes stop, the shakes and the sweats and the nausea and the stupid owl fucker is standing over him, blood spattered up his arm. It’s swimming like some dark cloud of vengeance and any minute, it’s going to detach from the other man and leap onto him and start crawling down his throat. The back of his head hurts; feels like he's been bashing it into the asphalt over and over again.

The owl shouts something indistinct over his shoulder. He can feel the impact through the ground when the last body hits, and then the blotfaced kid is there too, at Owly's shoulder like a goddamned lapdog. There’s more blood on the kid, and he started to feel outnumbered, overwhelmed. It’s something like drowning, but thicker and uglier, more helpless.

Owlface crouches down, confusion and disgust all over his face, under that sharp beak that could probably devour him but he isn’t sure and you have to be sure about these things. The words make sense this time: "What the hell is wrong with you?"

Drugs, he’s probably thinking, with that sweet-faced boyscout outrage. Some fucked-up cocktail, hallucinations and delusions and shakes and the whole package. Be nice if it were, then it'd actually wear off.

"S'a matter?" he finally drawls out, and he can feel the idiotic grin across his face, like fingers tugging at rubber sheeting, catching and dragging. "Thought you wanted me sober."

The disgust breaks up into shock, and this, he realizes triumphantly through the haze, is why he did this. This reaction. This is the punchline: the self-righteous indignation dissolving into something that hurts the bastard to feel. It’s like breaking something precious and it feels wonderful.

"Picky bastard," he mutters, still grinning, before he finally passes out.

*

Prompt: '17,000 queued'


Another early morning, another cold morning – breath freezes midair and frost rimes along the graceful arcs of electrical cables where they hang, heavy and tired and useless, between buildings.

It's Dan who squints up through the web of them, tracing the track of airplanes cutting through the predawn sky – bypassing them, all flights redirected to Logan and Newark and Buffalo – Dan who pulls his coat more tightly around himself, fighting off a chill that sits hard in the bones.

It's Nite Owl, though – what’s left of the hero, inside the man who chose to give in – who feels righteously enraged that Adrian chose the early days of another unforgiving New York winter to pull off his plot. If killing half the city isn't bad enough – and it is, Veidt overshot as far as he's concerned, it's as bad as it needs to be and even that’s a grotesque understatement – stranding the other half without electricity or heat or a source of regular meals in the middle of November is just gratuitously cruel.

The line wanders over the landscape, easily over four miles long, weaving in and out of city blocks like a tremendous suffocating snake – edging forward on its belly by inches at a time. It's November 28th, fourth Thursday of the month, but that means nothing special this year; these people will be lucky to walk away with enough food to keep them going until tomorrow, never mind anything to be thankful for. The city is now defined not by tradition or independence or personal accountability but by waiting, endless waiting, more time spent standing in food lines and clothing lines and kerosene lines and medicine lines than doing anything else.

Waiting.

Dan's waiting for all of this to start making sense, for an epiphany to come and show him how to live with the secrets he's chosen to keep.

Laurie is waiting for a chance to leave the city, to head west, to put the whole mess behind them, because this has never been and never will be her real home.

Adrian, he imagines, is simply waiting to see how it will all end.

The millions of dead, and the particular one he claims for his own, riding unrelentingly on his conscience – well, they aren't waiting for anything.

And the people left alive, these teeming masses camped out on street corners to hold their place in the line, children running in screaming circles to try to keep warm, pockets patted down for spare change or a match or a scrap of food that never turns up, are waiting to get their city back.

It's been reported that this line – just this one, in just this precinct – has been topping out at 17,000 for the last few days. That's a lot of hard rolls, a lot of pots of soup.

Dan shutters Nite Owl away again, back in the dark where dignity can't protest – rubs his hands together against the cold, and steps into position 17,001. His supplies ran out two days ago and for all the money he has there's nothing left to buy with it within city limits, and with half of lower downtown still covered in rubble, it's going to be another long and demanding day.

*

Prompt: 'standing supping'


The crowd flows, its own kind of organism, cash for blood and sin for sustenance and a bristling and impenetrable wall of concealed knives and guns and handmade explosives for skin, keeping out what doesn't belong; Nite Owl shakes his head and grins tightly against the edges of the cowl. This place always makes him think like goddamned Rorschach.

The stakeout's been going on for three days, breaks taken in turn to fetch food or supplies. They're in full costume and stay that way; this deep into the underbelly of the city, gang bosses and masks mingle more freely than anywhere else in their hijacked jurisdiction. He imagines it feels, to the criminals swarming en masse here, like being one of a thousand mice in the field when the hungry old hunter up above screeches out his murderous intent – they know the target's already been chosen, and the odds of it being any one of them in particular are so far against that it's not really worth startling over.

The food cart owner eyes him suspiciously, sliding two bowls of noodles across the counter, palming the offered bills into his pocket; sweaty from the heat of his cooking flames, and nervous. His health inspection notice is creased and folded under a jar of pepper paste on the counter inside, stained and faded and four years out of date. Nite Owl gives him a sly half-smile, picks up the bowls and two bound sets of chopsticks, and wanders away with the air of a man with far, far bigger fish to fry.

When he finds Rorschach still patrolling the path they'd laid out, intimidating and left well alone despite being a full head shorter and fifty pounds lighter than the thugs he's watching and waiting for and moving through, he doesn't say a word – just hands over a bowl and the sticks and laughs quietly to himself when Rorschach grumbles about foreign garbage and inefficient implements and Dan's own questionable parentage and digs in anyway, mask slipped up haphazardly, hunger clear in his every motion. It's been a long three days, food and sleep grabbed at inconsistent moments and in limited quantities, weariness starting to shake apart their insides.

Dan slips the cord off of his chopsticks, fishes up some of the red-crusted noodles, and it's a rare, fascinating moment – guard down in a way it never is here, just standing together and sharing a meal, rushed and practical but so very human in a basic way that resonates. From here they can see into the heart of all of this darkness, the bustling and shouting and jockeying and it's like the city's laid out its entrails for them to read, tossed its bones, a glimpse of some dark and unfathomable future visible in the pattern of its desperate writhing.

Lights shift and dance through the late evening mist, settling in around them, and Dan finds himself watching in something akin to mesmerism as the neon slides over the lines of his partner's face, diffusing around the edges of the latex and lending the leather of his trench coat a surreal glow – bending in his vision as it filters through the diffusion glass of his goggles.

This place renders everything more animalistic, Dan knows. More dangerous, more coiled, more predatory. It still makes something inside of him jump, complicated and restless, to see the transformation firsthand.

The food is heavily spiced, burning in his mouth, delicate and harsh all at once – as likely to choke him or sear the tongue out of his head as it is to warm and ignite his senses. He considers going back to the stall for some water, but Rorschach glances up then, catches his eyes somewhere between the goggles and the mask and lets them linger for a moment too long, and Dan knows: You don't show weakness in this sort of game.

And hell – he's always been up for a challenge.

*




Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
por_queeee
Jun. 8th, 2009 10:03 pm (UTC)
I cannot possibly fathom why this doesn't have a ton of comments, because it is beautiful in it's pace tone and brevity. It's good that you posted this because although I do read the kinkmeme on a regular basis I tend to avoid the Captcha ficlets unless they catch my eye, and therefore end up missing gems like this.

Thought you should know that you're one of my favorite writers in the fandom.
etherati
Jun. 8th, 2009 10:12 pm (UTC)
Wow. :O Thank you!

Yeah I tend to read all of them because I'm OCD like that XD but I can totally see how they're a little bit tedious to comb through when you have NO IDEA what they're each going to be about.

I'm glad the pacing works; the thing I love about these is how it lets you play with a brief scene or mental image - very bladerunner-inspired in this case - without having to wrap a plot around it.
jack_infinitude
Jun. 9th, 2009 03:25 am (UTC)
Loved all of them; the Comedian is all sorts of screwed up, but I love seeing him giving that verbal punch-to-the-face to Dan. The second prompt was also evocative; it reminded me of the pictures of food lines that you see from the Great Depression.

But this is my favorite line: From here they can see into the heart of all of this darkness, the bustling and shouting and jockeying and it's like the city's laid out its entrails for them to read, tossed its bones, a glimpse of some dark and unfathomable future visible in the pattern of its desperate writhing.

It reminds me of Rorschach's line in the GN, when he waits in the Gunga Diner for Moloch to drop him a line in his "mailbox." Dan seems to have imprinted on him a little....
etherati
Jun. 9th, 2009 04:28 am (UTC)
Yeah heh that's a reference to the bit in the beginning where he observed that that section of the city always makes him think like Ror. XD

And yeah, was definitely going for a 1930's-ish sort of feel for the second one, writing in black and white if that makes any sense, or at least picturing it all that way.

Thank you so much! I'm glad you liked them. :)
midnite_vision
Jun. 10th, 2009 04:57 am (UTC)
You definitely nailed the Comedian in that first one. I have to say I like the second one the best. I've never read something that focuses on what it's like for the people left alive in the city. Sure, it's from Dan's point of view, but everyone's still sharing the experience.
etherati
Jun. 10th, 2009 06:07 am (UTC)
Thank you so much :D These are such fun to write heh.
snake_easing
Jun. 10th, 2009 05:37 am (UTC)
just hands over a bowl and the sticks and laughs quietly to himself when Rorschach grumbles about foreign garbage and inefficient implements and Dan's own questionable parentage and digs in anyway, mask slipped up haphazardly, hunger clear in his every motion.

That's poetry, that is. I love that sentence. And the one about the neon slipping over R's latex mask. The whole ficlet is very sweet.
etherati
Jun. 10th, 2009 06:08 am (UTC)
Thank you! It was very visually-driven, so I'm glad the imagery came across well. :D
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )