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FIC: Mirrors to Windows

Title: Mirrors to Windows
Fandom: Watchmen
Characters/Pairings: Rorschach, Dan(kind of?)
Date Written: 2009
Summary: Turning mirrors to windows, we stop seeing ourselves and see other people instead. What if there's nothing there?
Rating/Warnings: PG.
Notes: For the kinkmeme, prompt was that Dan was a figment of someone's imagination. AU. Edited slightly. Thought I was all out of sad, but I guess not.

*

They meet in 1965. He is lying spread-eagle across a fire escape’s wire mesh grating, arm broken in two places and bleeding, badly. He may be delusional in that moment, pain clouding his vision and the fever of quickly-settling shock distorting his perception and swinging the world out around him in a wide, dizzying arc, but one thought is clear: this is a two-man job, this deep into the thick of things, this far into the blood and filth. He needs someone at his back.

Blood drips to patter onto the pavement below, abnormally loud and distinct against the backdrop of city noise. He really should get up, move. The ability is there but the will is not; if he can just rest for a moment –

Then there is a face hanging in his field of vision, mouth turned down in worry even though he has never seen its owner before, given him any particular cause to be concerned. It doesn’t matter; he’s part of the brotherhood and that invokes its own loyalties. More than that, really, he’s an injured man down and that’s enough, enough for a good man who is in this for the right reasons, who is here to help.

Rorschach doesn’t quite remember the man in the owl suit helping him to his feet and guiding him to the street, but he must have; there’s no way he could have managed it alone.

*

Their patrols coincide and cross paths more and more as the months go on, to the point that it seems beyond the possibility of coincidence. It’s possible their territories just overlap but the timing is just too good, too perfect. They take it as a sign and start arranging the meetings ahead of time, sweep out the city’s darkest places, together, with a ferocity that blisters like the sun.

‘Nite Owl’, the man calls himself, and it’s not very original, but it’s exactly what Rorschach had thought he would be called, remembering the way the streetlights had glowed around the black silhouette of his face that first night, casting him as a thing that belonged in the shadows, belonged to the night. Just like him.

They are an untouchable whirlwind of justice, dancing in the space between the blows in a way that he never managed to alone. It is as if having an ally in these things, someone who fights the same fights and spurns the same wicked, weak excuses for humanity and the city to be the way it is, has freed him to become himself.

They fight and they win and he only ever feels the bruises later, curled into his bed, black and blue and sore in more places than he remembers being struck.

*

The other crimefighters in the city look at him oddly, at that first failed meeting and later, whenever he and Nite Owl cross their path on patrol. He is sure it is because of his mask; it’s terrifying to criminals but still unnerving even to good, civil men. It’s meant to be. He takes their awkward, sideways glances in stride, and lets Nite Owl do most of the talking.

One morning, an achey miserable bruised pastiche of sunrise and pain and gratification, Nite Owl takes off his goggles and his cowl, calls himself Daniel. For a moment, Rorschach is too busy remembering another Daniel he’d known – a shy, quiet boy at the home who’d always seemed more in need of a friend than even Walter himself – to realize that Daniel is waiting expectantly, hand out, hoping for a return gesture of trust.

And he almost does it – because he does trust Nite Owl, trusts him with his life, so it follows that he trusts Daniel as well, but when his fingers catch the edge of the mask he panics; gets the jumbled and nonsensical impression of an endless corridor of mirrors reflecting in mirrors reflecting in mirrors reflecting in mirrors, back and back and back, and the sudden upswell of terror is enough to choke him.

So he lifts it above his nose instead, coughing; accepts the hand on his back, bracing him against the fit until it’s worked itself free. That is as high as the mask will ever go, because he cannot bear the thought of revealing his eyes to the eyes across from him, and he doesn’t know why. But the fear feels like falling, like tumbling into himself, like going deeper and deeper and finding out there’s nothing there.

*

When he is tired or injured Daniel tells him to stay in his basement, on a cot he has set up; the cot is uncomfortable, lumpy, like it’s stuffed with newspapers and wood chips, but he doesn’t complain. It’s warm and dry and safe and when Daniel disappears into what must be the upper stories of the house, he doesn’t wonder where he’s gone or have any inclination to follow. It’s irrelevant; out of his mind almost as soon as Daniel’s out of his sight.

Sometimes he wakes in the middle of the night and he cannot remember where he is; the shadows lurch and leer as cars go by outside and the surroundings keep trying to become warehouses, tenement basements, flophouses – the places he used to stay, hurt and cold and miserable, before Daniel. Before Daniel.

Then it all comes back and the shadows rearrange themselves until the friendly shape of Archie’s windows sit glinting nearby, and the slow arch of the basement stairs, and the hollow blackness of the tunnel, leading off into the dark, unwelcoming city.

And if he wakes up damp and shivering like he’s spent the night under a cold leaking roof, he has no explanation, but it’s not important.

*

They hover over the city, whipping through its airways and down over boulevards, skimming traffic, and Daniel laughs. The view through these curved windows is more than he’s ever seen, more than he ever hoped he would see, the city spinning out under them for miles like a field of incandescent poppies. And the ship makes patrol much simpler; they fly in low and easy, drop from its belly, take care of the disturbance – giftwrap the offenders for the police and get back on their way.

His feet are still inexplicably sore in the light of every morning, as if he’s walked miles and miles, as he perches on the edge of his bed and works the blisters and calluses and deep bruises under his fingers. The wallpaper curls and the ceiling is cracked and the smell of ripe filth is thick in his nostrils. He is back in the dirt where he should be, and that clean and sharp and brilliant spangled nightscape is someone else’s rightful domain, belongs to someone who deserves it.

Somewhere else in the complex, a child is shrieking, and a mother is screaming, and it feels familiar. He should do something about it.

But he’s tired.

*

His coat bleeds, and the fire climbs into the sky, and he will never be tired again. He will never be hungry again. He will never need anything again.

The city howls. He understands its language, now.

Daniel doesn't, and stops meeting him for patrols, and he knows that it is because the other man has grown squeamish, has grown afraid of what they have bec– of what Rorschach has become. Justice falters in the face of compromise. No staying power. No dedication. Nothing.

Worthless.

Watching through a maze of glass, Nite Owl begins to fade.

*

Some nights, he feels like he should be remembering something, something important, as if his attention is required to keep whatever it is whole and real. He catches a glimpse of a crescent moon low over a line of buildings, reflecting in cracked and broken windows, and it almost connects.

*

When the Keene Act is announced, Rorschach finds him on a rooftop – the roof of the building where they had first met, and he hadn’t had to search. He’d known.

Nite Owl – Daniel – says exactly what Rorschach knows he will say, always knew he would eventually say. It feels like betrayal but it also feels like they’re acting out a play, running from a script somewhere up in his head; he hears the lines almost before they hit the air. Legality. Consequences. A normal life, and something in the phrase stings, cuts him somewhere familiar and resonating. The words sound like they are trying to convince themselves. Rorschach has no time for them.

*

Daniel disappears, evaporates like fog through graven glass, and Rorschach continues on alone – and somehow, it does not feel as though anything has changed.

*

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Comments

( 36 comments — Leave a comment )
biliousneko
Sep. 11th, 2009 06:24 pm (UTC)
Awww I love how slightly Fight Clubish this is. Sad at the end, I was hoping to see a bit more of a reality-check moment but I really love how you handled this. The other vigilantes giving him funny looks while he lets NiteOwl do the talking... makes me wonder if he is just standing there staring at them while they glance back and then leave when he's not saying anything or whatnot XD
etherati
Sep. 11th, 2009 06:27 pm (UTC)
I haven't decided if it's that or if he IS doing all the talking, basically becoming bizarrely confident and verbose at random moments and they have no idea what to make of it. Which would be sort of fightclub-ish, yes, but i still like the idea of it.

And, I dono, I didn't want to go over-the-top angst with it, which I think discovering your bestest friend of the last ten years is not real, has never been real, would probably result in; and Ror's so broken that I could see him just honestly never QUITE figuring it out.
acidicfog
Sep. 11th, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
The plausibility is the most painful part. Damn it, Ror, why do you have do be so psycho- WHAT DO YOU MEAN "I was abused mercilessly"?!
But seriously great. Whenever you post something my world lights up. Now I'm going to leave before I use more love note-style sentences. xD
etherati
Sep. 11th, 2009 07:00 pm (UTC)
It is totally plausible, and that's what drew me to the prompt heh. Poor Ror. :(

Thank you!
jack_infinitude
Sep. 11th, 2009 06:47 pm (UTC)
Rorschach, my poor baby. D: If you could imagine Dan, then why couldn't you also keep him? (SNIFFLe, I say.)
etherati
Sep. 11th, 2009 07:01 pm (UTC)
The joke answer is: he can't have nice things, because he always breaks them.

The real answer is: Roche changed him so much that he basically 'outgrew' Dan, or his need for him, in much the same way kids outgrow their imaginary friends. And in much the same way Ror actually did in canon. :(
(no subject) - jack_infinitude - Sep. 11th, 2009 07:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - etherati - Sep. 11th, 2009 07:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jack_infinitude - Sep. 11th, 2009 07:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - etherati - Sep. 11th, 2009 07:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jack_infinitude - Sep. 11th, 2009 07:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - etherati - Sep. 11th, 2009 07:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
unimagine
Sep. 11th, 2009 08:24 pm (UTC)
D:
D:
D:

*sad*

What makes this the most depressing is the fact that it has more than a grain of truth in it.

And argh, the last line. Are you trying to kill me with all this angst recently?

(but srsly, I love it)
etherati
Sep. 11th, 2009 08:30 pm (UTC)
I'm not *trying* D: this thing wrote itself in like, an hour. Certain things want to come out right now. Dono. I'm not in a particularly angsty mood?

But yeah. Could have been true; so much could be explained away. Thank you!
(no subject) - unimagine - Sep. 11th, 2009 08:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - etherati - Sep. 11th, 2009 09:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
etherati
Sep. 11th, 2009 10:57 pm (UTC)
Thank you! It seemed very 'him', to me, to not even ever realize, to just drift away so naturally that it never even occurs to him that he's always been alone. :(
misachan
Sep. 12th, 2009 03:20 am (UTC)
Good God, woman. Dan is the only good thing that happens to Rorschach his entire life and this world doesn't even give him that. This is brutal and icy, icy cold. Absolutely fantastic and heartbreaking.
etherati
Sep. 12th, 2009 03:40 am (UTC)
In a way, it does - it's like, if they give you a sugar pill and the placebo effect makes the pain go away, does it matter that it was just a sugar pill? The delusion has exactly the same effect of his life that the reality did - which is to say, it was good for a while, and then he fucked it all up. From Ror's perspective, there's not a lot of difference.

Still a brutal concept though, I totally agree. And thank you. :)
streetcake
Sep. 12th, 2009 04:27 am (UTC)
Gawwwd, I don't remember feeling such a heavy painful lump in my stomach since I saw the end of Fight Club. D: But this story is sadder, because it makes it seem more like some sort of concious illusion, like part of Rorschach knows the entire time that Daniel's not there. And how it seems lonlier, because even the things like sleeping in Dan's basement or flying in Archie, are cold and sad and pathetic and in comparison to how much better it would be if Dan really existed, it just seems pitiful.

In that sense, the ending is probably the happiest part of the story :(
etherati
Sep. 12th, 2009 04:53 am (UTC)
You know, that's a really interesting angle - that walking away from the illusion is the healthiest thing he's done. Because, yeah, all these beautiful brilliant things that he wants and thinks he's getting but isn't really, and keeps having to plaster over the cracks of reality to keep believing in -

:'( Ror, you just keep getting sadder and sadder.
(Anonymous)
Sep. 12th, 2009 05:08 am (UTC)
*sob* Dan... Dan's not real? I... I... Coherency decimated. System failure.

This anon is slowly coming to the rather logical realization that I will never be as good at writing as you. Really, I should set my sights on a more achievable goal because you and your themes are just like - shwoo! - right over my head with their awesome. All I manage to do is outfit plot events with fluffy filler and keep the characters consistent. Oh, and grammar. I'm pretty good at that.

I think I need to go write fanfiction of your fanfiction where a man Rorschach has never seen before, in a lumpy suit betraying a wealthy sedentary lifestyle, meets him pounding the pavement and refuses to let Rorschach go on this way. And takes him to a brownstone he has never before seen the *outside* of and lets him eat up all his sugar cubes. Y'know, post-comedian's death and mask-killer investigations wearing him down to the bone.

But without Archie, how does he get to Antarctica to die in the snow? Perhaps, he doesn't? But, hell, it's almost unkinder to this manifestation of Rorschach to let him live. Maybe he imagines the whole Antarctica thing and he just... dies... alone in the snow? It's November, it'd be snowy. And he would be imagining Daniel watch him die (Does Jon even exist?), so that he could prove to him that he is doing the right thing, dying for some abstract concept of justice... And hell, I can totally see him doing that, and I'm almost sobbing again and now I have to go to sleep and I'm gonna have really sad dreams and I really should stop reading things that make me b'awww, but it's like a fucking drug and I just should absolutely stay away from hallucinogens because obviously, I wouldn't be able to control myself.

And this is why unknown-author-anons should not be allowed access to the Interwebs at 1am on Fridays. This public service announcement brought to you by Captcha, who says, sourly David. Dunno what that means, but hey. It's all meaningless anyway, isn't it? Worse than Daniel being dead, he was never there. D': (And he was my favorite character, too.)
etherati
Sep. 12th, 2009 11:38 pm (UTC)
Wow, you've just managed to make the sad THAT MUCH SADDER. D:

Thank you so much and, please, do keep writing; I have no idea if I've ever read any of your stuff but, really, I get discouraged by people's skills constantly and it's really a useless thing. Just keep writing. :D
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Sep. 13th, 2009 01:52 am (UTC) - Expand
daylilymoon
Sep. 12th, 2009 06:10 pm (UTC)
YES I was really, really hoping this one would be filled; I'm such a ginormous sucker for "X is all in Y's head" stories, and this is filled exactly how I hoped it would be. Awesome, awesome.

You've done buildup just right again. The denial is handled so well, with the truth always being at the edge of his consciousness but he always veers away at the last second, right up until the part where he lifts up his mask and almost falls over that edge.

I like the very small mention of the boy at Charlton--that he spun all of this out of that possibly missed chance.

Sad of course, but--would it have been sadder for him to really know all along that he was completely alone? The illusion seems like a small mercy here.
etherati
Sep. 12th, 2009 11:35 pm (UTC)
I get the feeling in this 'verse that if he ever did take his mask off completely in front of Dan, Dan would just vanish. I don't know why, it doesn't make sense particularly, but it's just a feeling I have.

Yeah, the building and the subtlety were the most important things I thought. And I agree that the illusion was definitely better than nothing, even if it was violently unhealthy.

I hadn't thought of that, with the boy at Charlton - I was mostly just coming up with an excuse for why his brain came up with that name specifically when Dan introduced himself - but you're right, yeah, that mighta been something significant. As usual, your commentary makes me think deeper than I otherwise might have! :3

Thank you so much. <3
(no subject) - daylilymoon - Sep. 13th, 2009 08:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - etherati - Sep. 13th, 2009 08:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - daylilymoon - Sep. 15th, 2009 12:26 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
etherati
Sep. 13th, 2009 08:07 pm (UTC)
Thank you, really. After the last thing I wrote, I don't think I could have stood to delve into the sloppy emotional aftermath of Rorschach actually finding out he was alone in that way, after thinking he wasn't for so long, so I ended up deciding that he wouldn't figure it out - and I kind of like the result, where the end result is very much the same as it was in canon, and not much is really materially different. It seemed cleaner and, in its own way, sadder. :\
midnite_vision
Sep. 16th, 2009 01:09 pm (UTC)
Damn, what a horribly sad perspective. I'm glad that he never figured it out, though. That would've been too much for the poor guy.
etherati
Sep. 16th, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC)
It's hard to say which is worse - really being alone, or just thinking you're not alone because you're a delusional crazypants :|
crow821
Sep. 24th, 2010 10:18 pm (UTC)
Ohhhh this is wiggy and I loooveee it!!
etherati
Nov. 19th, 2010 03:58 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much!
isarn
Nov. 19th, 2010 03:46 pm (UTC)
Ow. This last phrase -"it does not feel as though anything has changed"-, well... it just made me feel all the loneliness Ror has to feel. Love it.
etherati
Nov. 19th, 2010 03:57 pm (UTC)
Thank you - I remember this piece happening in the aftermath of an even sadder piece, like the last dregs that had to be gotten out of my system, and that line really does sum up why the scenario is so tragic. Poor ror. :(
( 36 comments — Leave a comment )

what this is.


This is a fic journal for the most part, with some art on the side and a sprinkling of personal posts here and there. I don't write as much as I used to, but I try.

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