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FIC: Between the Brushstrokes - [4/?]

Title: Between the Brushstrokes
Fandom: Watchmen
Characters/Pairings: Daniel, Rorschach, Adrian, Manhattan in pt 1, Dan/Ror (gee you think?) later on.
Date Written: 2009
Summary: A lot happens in the in-between spaces; in the tiny intervals of time in which no one watching, we are free. Dan and Rorschach face the future more head-on than they expected; Adrian learns about regret and what happens when you're wrong.
Rating/Warnings: PG-13, some language. Philosophy, violence, twilight zone bullshit, time travel, pretentious metaphors, and Waffle House.
Notes: Yet ANOTHER kinkmeme prompt. Post-GN fixit. In progress.


*

[Dan steps out of his front door, makes his way down the stairs. There's snow: falling, swirling, piled up in drifts against the windows. It isn't winter, but there's still snow because his house is in Antarctica, and that is fine, that makes perfectly good sense. His house has always been in Antarctica.

He's walking out of his front door in the Nite Owl costume, and Rorschach is telling him that he shouldn't, because it will make it very easy for the criminals to find out where he goes every day, where he eats and works, and once they know that, they'll know what color his hair is and then it's all as good as over.

Rorschach is in full costume too, though, and Dan points this out. By his logic, he shouldn't be masked right now either, because these are dangerous times.

Rorschach hesitates, then reaches up and peels his hat and mask off with a defiant flourish. His face underneath is as white as the latex and a symmetric blossoming of dark blood is welling up through his skin, shifting and morphing like ink blots, surrounding dead and empty eyes and growing growing covering every inch of skin it can find and spilling over onto fabric and Dan wants to scream but something is blocking it it's caught in his throat and

and Rorschach's voice is saying "If you'd cared from the start-"

and once the blood has joined itself and sealed Rorschach up completely it's like it eats him out from inside because the figure suddenly has no form and the blood is falling heavy and hot into the snow and it's violently beautiful and horrible the way it sinks in, mirrored and perfect and there are children, all the same, blonde and blue-eyed and draped in violet rags pawing at the snow, taking away bits of what little is left of him

and now Dan really is screaming, screaming and screaming and

what are children doing in his backyard anyway, clambering through the bitten grass and hard packed dirt and there's a terrible heat somewhere nearby and they look up at him from the bones they're fighting over,

'if you'd cared-'

faces smeared in soil and soot and blunt teeth running with red and he shouts and they're excusing themselves and apologizing, voices all singsong and reedy, but they're smiling smiling smiling and they don't mean it at all and

if he'd cared and

and he's screaming and-]


Dan lurches up from the concrete floor, the scream his mind's trying to loose transmuted into a quiet, sucking gasp. The warehouse is softly illuminated by moonlight, diffracted into waning grids. It only takes him a moment to delve through the fog, remember himself and his situation - to smooth out his breath and reach one hand up to wipe away a thin layer of clinging, cold sweat from his hairline.

Even with the moonlight, his eyes are too poor at this distance to make out the shadow-blanketed figure against the far wall, but he can hear breathing, fainter and deeper and more even than his own, and that's eventually enough to ease him back into fitful but needed sleep.

When he's poked and prodded awake that morning, only the earliest curling rays of dawn making their way in through the mottled glass, his eyes will expect for a moment to see the rough and bruised face hanging over him running with blood; even if his brain won't precisely remember why, it will still allow him to feel an unaccountable flood of relief.

*

His sleep was anything but restful and that might be why the day passes, to Dan, in a sequence of disjointed snapshots, all the connecting moments fading out of focus.

*

He's insisting they stop for food – no, really, insisting. They've put nothing in their stomachs since the endless cups of coffee Archie'd provided during the trek to Karnak and that doesn't even have nutritional value aside from the sugar and cream. They're going to fall over before Adrian's 'appointment' ever rolls around at this rate.

It's arguable whether that would be a good or bad thing.

Rorschach grumbles, hands fisted in his pockets, and mutters something indistinct concerning waffles and chemical contaminants in orange juice and his sincere desire for more coffee and really, he doesn't look any more rested than Dan feels, but he knows this from their years as partners: Rorschach doesn't sleep well in unfamiliar territory.

So. Waffles and coffee.

And that's how they came to be sitting at this grubby diner counter, all yellow-orange Formica and yellow-orange vinyl, pitted linoleum floor, guttered and stained yellow sign outside the window - just a sequence of squares, scrabble-style, a no-frills declaration of purpose. Some things never change no matter how happily braindead people get, and breakfast dives seem to be one of them.

Rorschach has pocketed his gloves, is idly tracing patterns in spilt water on the counter with one fingertip, and when his plate of waffles arrives with a extra flagon of syrup and a knowing smile, there's a tiny, fleeting moment where his mouth falls slightly open and there's something horrifically childlike on his face – then it's gone, and it's just food, just nutrition, just a meal to be gotten through so the body can fight another day.

Dan smiles to himself – forks his bacon over onto Rorschach's plate without a word, and eats.

*

"I should get my costume," Dan muses aloud from their watching-post, which is actually just the shadow of a spreading chestnut on the corner across from the Grand Central terminal. He had argued in favor of something more secluded, more secretive, but Rorschach had made the very valid point that their quarry is not exactly going to notice or care that it's being watched, and it's getting disturbingly easy to view these people as slightly clever, talking sheep – complete with opposable thumbs. "Take it back to the warehouse."

Across the street, two people nearly collide. Neither asks what the hell the other thought they were doing. Neither tells the other to watch where they're fucking going. They are obsequious; they are unbearably polite.

Rorschach shifts next to him, jotting something down on a scrap of paper. He's been missing his journal since Karnak and Dan's not sure what to make of that. "Safer where it is," he replies, narrowing his eyes at the subway exit; it's not the presence of anything that he's noticing, but its absence. The walls visible through the mouth of the stairwell are spotlessly clean.

Dan fingers the strap of his goggles, hanging loosely around his neck. "It's in an alley – a clean alley – covered in old newspapers. You really think no one's going to come along and say, 'oh, gee, don't know what it is, but it sure looks expensive...'"

There's something sharp and censuring in Rorschach's eyes when he turns them on Dan, pale in the bright sunlight. "Have done this before, Daniel."

Dan studies those eyes for perhaps a moment too long, searching for what feels like a key but he isn't even sure what lock he needs it for, and it's a strained metaphor to begin with. He nods.

*

The library is just about empty, and somehow, that's the most frightening thing Dan's seen since they arrived. Take away people's fire, that's bad enough. Their individuality, a crime. Their sense of purpose, their perception of life as something other than a mind-numbing sequence of days after days after days of chasing their own insecurities in rings around each other and trying desperately to keep up with some vaguely and arbitrarily defined standard – that's getting into really ugly territory, yes. But for goodness' sake, leave them their drive to learn.

Dan's footsteps echo sharply against the clay tile, follow the curve of stone arches and walls, disappear into the delicate woodwork above. It doesn't feel abandoned – everything is in pristine condition – more just that it exists between clock ticks, a delicate and frozen moment they've somehow elbowed their way into.

Rorschach is in the corner, threading film through a microfiche machine, the only record the library keeps of publications as old as what he's looking for. The Times may get bound into archival volumes, but the New Frontiersman isn't granted that level of respect. Dan traces his fingers over a familiar shallow groove in the surface of the next table down – remembers, all at once, that he'd composed the majority of an article here, working late into the night.

Nothing's changed – except for the emptiness. And the silence.

Rorschach makes an irritated sound that would probably be an oath if he were inclined to them. Changes out the film.

"What's wrong?" Dan asks, coming up behind him to lean in and look.

The film wheel turns, articles scanned through with barely a glance. "Gave them information to expose Veidt, before we left. One piece published, on November 16th."

Dan narrows his eyes, taking in the professional layout and composition of the pages shifting in front of them. The Frontiersman, from what he'd seen over Rorschach's shoulder over the years, was never this polished an operation. "This is..."

"Gazette. November 17th. No more Frontiersman after the 16th." He twists the wheel, expression blank, all his irritation and the beginnings of rage filtering out into his hands. Overshoots. Turns the wheel back. A grainy black and white photograph – fire trucks and police and a plume of water, arcing through the air.

"Local publishing office destroyed in fire..." Dan reads from the screen, and he gets the distinct, crawling feeling that there's more than just a business going up in smoke there, in that moment pressed onto the page.

Somewhere, there's the sound of a stack of books hitting the circulation desk, booming ominously in the stillness.

A fist hits the table, hard. Dan turns the machine off to save the bulb and takes off after Rorschach, who doesn't speak another word aloud for almost two hours.

*

Adrian's face is staring out of the news rack at them. He's aged ten years gracefully but he has still aged, and there's something in his smile that seems more fake than usual.

"Nothing new," and Rorschach is pressing the pages back, tracking down the block of text with one finger. "Nothing changes. Nothing new, ever."

And he's right – it's another pointlessly self-indulgent interview, could have been lifted from the '75 Nova Express; New York's golden boy, always game for a feel-good piece. There's just something about charity and vanity and the warm, squishy mess the two make when they roll themselves together.

Wordlessly fishing two singles from his pocket, Dan hands them to the newsvendor. "Are we rethinking his motives for..." he trails off, eyebrows jumping pointedly but not saying it aloud. Discretion and valor and everything in between.

Rorschach shakes his head, digging for that same stubby pencil to make a note in the article's margin. Dan makes a mental note to stop into a drugstore, pick up a pack of disposable pens. "Split motivations. One leads to this," and he snaps the magazine closed in one hand, rifling through his pocket with the other; produces the note from the day before. "One to this. Very different things."

Dan takes the letter, suddenly wanting to see it in daylight, without the bias of fading dusk and exhaustion. He's almost hoping it's fake, a trap, predictable – because if they can just be angry at Adrian, if they can just call him enemy and make plans accordingly, then it's familiar ground.

But the fear is still there, folded into the wavering graphite – and at this point, after last night and the day before and the days before that, Dan knows from fear. And regret. And desperation. And it's a terrifying idea, that someone like Adrian Veidt is elbow deep in all three of them.

*

It's going dark again by the time they get back to the warehouse, and tomorrow they will walk willingly into the steel trap-jaw that has the city in its grip and try to reason with it, and it's a grey sort of chill creeping over Dan when he sits down against the woodpile and makes some vague gesture to the man standing a dozen feet away. "Come here a minute?"

Rorschach freezes, hands halfway to his pockets – then nods, seemingly more to himself than to Dan. Paces over and settles awkwardly to the floor alongside him, sharp eyes questioning in the fading light.

There are no answers. They just sit, for a long time, and Dan's seeing snarl-toothed blonde demon-children behind his eyes, awash in purple silk – and he wants to tell Rorschach not to do anything stupid tomorrow. Wants to tell him that he won't be able to fix any of this without him, stranded in a strange future with all the world against him. Wants to say 'I need you,' and mean it, and not have to worry about how it's taken, but there are too many years between them now.

He settles instead for shifting an arm over his partner's shoulders, and warming himself with the fact that the wiry frame beside him doesn't flinch or buck off the contact, doesn't grumble or grouse – just leans slightly, and lets out a deep and weary sigh.

They should be resting. Tomorrow is not likely going to be anything they expect and they will need to be in their best form if they expect to survive another sundown. But Dan suspects that sleep is not a very welcoming country for either of them right now, so they sit, and they don't talk, and they count seconds in the dark, tracking this non-moment with precision and care – because it is these spaces in between the beats, soft-focus and strange, that often end up mattering the most.

*

-----> Chapter 5

*


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Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
sandoz_iscariot
Jun. 8th, 2009 04:07 am (UTC)
when his plate of waffles arrives with a extra flagon of syrup and a knowing smile, there's a tiny, fleeting moment where his mouth falls slightly open and there's something horrifically childlike on his face

Oh wow, just the other day I was thinking, "I want a fic where Dan and Rorschach go to IHOP or something, and eat waffles, because I bet Rorschach fucking loves waffles" and then there's this! :D

Love this fic, looking forward to seeing how it'll unravel.
etherati
Jun. 8th, 2009 04:42 am (UTC)
Haha. Yes. ROR LOVES WAFFLES. this is part of my headcanon and I've been wanting to work it into a fic for a while. XD Because I mean seriously they're the perfect vehicle for syrup which is 100% sugary goodness.

Thank you so much :D
acidicfog
Aug. 10th, 2009 09:53 am (UTC)
The nightmare sequence made me jump and I don't know why. D:
etherati
Aug. 10th, 2009 03:04 pm (UTC)
The nightmare is TOTALLY THERE FOR A REASON. REALLY. D:
archelongirl
Jul. 11th, 2011 04:49 am (UTC)
BACON BUDDIES. I am so happy I've gotten to this scene now <3

ALSO. Dream, woah!
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )