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FIC: One Thing I Can Tell You

Title: One Thing I Can Tell You
Fandom: Watchmen
Characters/Pairings: Dan/Ror, some OCs
Date Written: 2009
Summary: Cages come in many shapes, but so do freedom and the boundaries we break to get there.
Rating/Warnings: PG-13, vague imagery/concepts.
Notes: Pre-Roche. Written for sandoz-iscariot (sorry for the lack of link, LJ is STILL eating my lj user tags) for the  wm_secretsanta project. :D

*

"Sorry, buddy, no in-flight movie tonight," Nite Owl says, rapping hollowly on the Owlship's hull as he strides past it. There's purpose in his step – Rorschach's barely out of the mouth of the tunnel and Nite Owl's already suited up and ready to head out. On foot, it looks like. That's a change, a deviation in routine that feels unsettling.

Rorschach slips his hands into his pockets to hide them clenching. "A new lead?" he asks, head cocking curiously to one side.

"Oh yeah." Nite Owl grins, clearly pleased with himself, but there's a cynicism there too because in their line of work a good lead usually translates to people being particularly horrible to one another. "One I'd never forgive myself for ignoring. It's underground, out-of-use subway tunnel. Gang dealings. Game?"

"Of course," Rorschach says, and he wonders, for a strange moment, if he has ever said no to that question.

[The first time Nite Owl takes him up in the ship he thinks it indulgent, feels the separation between them and the dirty, honest lives playing out below in hundreds of miles rather than hundreds of feet, feels sick to his stomach. Then the engines open up and they're as maneuverable through shadows and alleyways and the valleys between warehouse roof and darkened spire as any city-grown pigeon, skimming the skyline. There's something on Nite Owl's face that night that says he's not just a man encased in a flying machine, hidden away inside a construction of steel and girders; that he is the flying machine, that he's raw and naked in the air and a slave only to its eddies and currents, that he is the one diving and climbing and slipping gravity's hold.

And Rorschach, his passenger, impossibly close in this expanded concept of self, lodged deep inside those borders. He's gripping his chair like grim death but entrails are a slippery, prophetic thing to cling to, and Daniel is laughing and laughing like it doesn't even hurt.]


In the far corner of the basement, Archimedes' eyes gleam in voyeuristic anticipation. They leave him behind; practical or not, he will be missed tonight.

*

Under the city, the air is thicker, the space narrowing. There's a very real awareness of the thousands of pounds of earth and water and the thick thatch of grass roots and the pacing, restless creatures toeing at soil not their own, all pressing down and in.

The radio is tuned to an underground station deep in the far edges of the AM band, Motown drifting into pre-breakup Beatles from a year or two back and then into the first jangling strains of a genre that hasn't been named yet, all exuberance and noise and directionless anger. The sound from the speaker is tinny, a small transistor model, bent antenna receiving poorly this far under the earth. It's turned low, all but lost in the hissing spray of one layer of paint going down after another.

There was supposed to be an arms deal, in this derelict subway tunnel under the pawing tread of the city zoo. Supposed to be a right side and a wrong side clearly defined, and justice dealt without hesitation to those who would supply the city's lost children with the means to slaughter one another. It was supposed to be swift and sweet, like so little else is.

Instead, they're standing quietly in the shadows, watching one of the tunnel rats vandalize a bare patch of wall. Daniel's hand is still splayed across his chest even though it could never actually stop him if he wasn't willing to be stopped; thumbing over leather and silk, it lingers, as they watch the image appear in broad sweeps of color and the delicate touch of brushes.

It's a scene, that much is obvious before long, though when Daniel had reached out to stop him from apprehending the vandal it'd been nothing more than a few blocks of color and Daniel's intuition. Now there are cages, open air mockeries of the menagerie above them, and the exhibits cling to the bars with all the tenacity of howler monkeys no matter their business suits and finery and ragged street clothes and topknots. The landscape bulges and bucks, filtered through an impossible fisheye, and in the foreground the boy is carefully detailing two figures. The symbolism is simple and obvious – one is the past, the other the future, and they are mirror images of each other, leering smiles and temptress's eyes and shapeless robes through which press the distortions of a dozen faces, shrouded mouths locked in screams.

Hovering between them, there's a blank area of abstract color and shadow and shape, and that might be the present, might be now – but in this surreal space and to the sound of staticky music and the hiss of paint and the rumbling of nearby trains, it feels more like a question, a burning uncertainty nestled into the curve and hollow of the city's bared throat.

[The real bust will happen here two nights later, and in its aftermath Nite Owl will press him against the wall, in that in-between space, reclaim the question for himself and for Rorschach and for all the scattered loose-change answers in search of a place to settle. It will be someone not Daniel(the son of a Jewish banker, firstborn in a respected family) and not the vigilante Nite Owl(heroic beacon of all things decent left in the world) who will work a knee between his, will rock against him in the calm that never fails to follow all the violence; it will be someone freer than either of them.

He never knows what to make of these moments of insane carelessness except that they don’t feel as much like a degradation of something ideal and beautiful as he expects them to. They feel as much a part of living as breath.]


The music clicks off with a self-conscious stutter and the boy’s packing up, spraypaints and brushes and everything else tossed into a thick black trash bag. His bravado's faded with the soundtrack and he's skittish now, furtive, jumping just about out of his skin when they finally step forward to intercept his escape. They're an intimidating sight, more so together than apart, and Daniel has to keep his hands out in front of him to make the approach, has to reassure again and again, steel under all the soothing, that they aren't going to hurt him, that they just want to talk.

It’s not much of a conversation, and Rorschach doesn’t listen to the words; is studying the graffiti, blots masking the way the lines pull his eyes along like a seduction. He has to push down an urge to reach out, run fingertips over the still-drying paint, carry a piece of this home with him on the leather of his gloves, because up close the past and future figures are picked out with so much more precision, nuance layered over nuance, and every detail screams out what liars they both are. It’s perfect in its honesty; it’s beautiful.

Daniel is pressing two twenties into the boy’s hand, telling him to go buy canvas, make some art that won’t just get painted over when the city commission gets around to noticing it. It’s not the kind of offer either of them expects a kid like this to take him up on – no track marks but he stinks like dope and even if he were clean, there’s always food to worry about – but he just thanks them more politely than they're used to and wanders off, paint cans clanging together in the bag slung over one shoulder.

From the wall, the caged civilians watch with their glazed, limpid eyes. They do not scream.

*

“…was criminal activity.”

“Yeah,” Daniel says, giving the mural a last look as they start back towards the entrance, the gang lead obviously bad. They both know when to acknowledge that, cut their losses for the night; work on a better one for tomorrow. “I know. He also had more talent in one finger than most ‘real’ painters have in both hands. You know one way you can judge a civilization, man?”

A dissatisfied, disapproving grunt, but there’s the hint of a question in it.

“By whether they lock up their artists.” Dan shrugs, a gesture made larger by the bulk of his costume. “Anyway, it’s not like we don’t have bigger things to worry about.”

“Took the law into your own hands.”

“And we don’t do that every night anyway?”

Rorschach stops short; the echoing of their footfalls in the tunnel die off. He reaches up to adjust the collar of his coat, trying to hunch it up closer around him. “…take enforcement for ourselves. Not interpretation.”

“Rorschach,” and Daniel’s almost laughing, almost, expression lit up with that same breezy, careless freedom that usually accompanies the visceral intimacy of flight and the thrill of justice served and all these illicit things in secret places; that lives somewhere between the two masks of his life. “Do you really think we have a right to either?”

[The night they meet in 1965, he asks Nite Owl if he thinks they are above the law; he tells himself he's just making conversation, but it's really a test.

"Of course not," Nite Owl says, even as he cuffs the man to a drainpipe and the bruising on the sagging, unconscious face starts to darken. "Just because they turn a blind eye doesn't mean we have any legal right to do any of this. But it still has to be done."

The same question asked of Daniel, out of costume and years down the road, will receive the same answer – though after longer thought and more careful consideration, eyes pinching slightly under his glasses. They're really not that different, and a question is just a question, in the end.]


Rorschach doesn't answer – rolls his shoulders under his coat and heads for the subway exit, stairs eaten up two at a time.

*

On the sidewalk up above, a congregation has gathered by lamplight, shouting and whooping in response to one man's calls. He stands only just slightly above them, unstable feet navigating the edge of a concrete planter, balance found all along the length of the nearby lamppost. He's very probably drunk or high, or both. Around him, mutterings lift the air: about the zoo, about the animals there and the animals here; about the many forms that prisons can take.

“Yo, birdman!” the man shouts as they pass, voice heavy with laughter.

And there was a time when Nite Owl would have turned, asked what the problem was, how he could be of assistance, but now he just smiles under the cowl and keeps walking and Rorschach huffs in approval because he’s learned: if they don’t even make the effort to get your name right, they’re probably not taking you seriously.

“Nite Owl!” the man calls again, and the levity's reigned in.

This time Nite Owl stops, turns his head back toward the crowd. The headlights of a passing taxi catch in the glass of his goggles, probably light up the white in Rorschach’s mask like a death’s head because the mob quiets, a shuddering hush that passes through them in a wave as they take in exactly which passing faces their figurehead has singled out tonight.

The man leans against the lamp post, playing it casual, but his voice is quieter too, more cautious. “Dressed for the part, even. How you enjoyin’ life inna birdcage, man? Newspapers at the bottom enough to keep y’occupied?”

The sidewalk feels miles wide; the crowd waits, breathless, for a new sound bite, a new testimonial to bay and crow: Vigilante admits to feeling trapped by city’s soulless cage, by perversity of the urban spirit but that’s wrong because Rorschach has seen the way he moves through the city spaces, seen what the night air does to him, seen what they become lurking in each other's shadows, he’s seen

“He’s freer than any of you,” he growls before Nite Owl can even open his mouth to respond, and the people nearest to him shrink back, a single step or two in pure spinal reflex. He takes no notice; just turns on his heel, hands in pockets, and stalks off.

*

Dan grins, lopsided and indulgent – touches the brim of an imaginary hat in farewell to the spectacle and turns to follow, laughing and laughing.

*
*

AN: from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoo_York :
"The Central Park Zoo at that time was a classical 19th-century menagerie, populated by wild animals displayed in open-air cages, who paced the bars back and forth neurotically -- always hoping for an escape, yet paradoxically blind to the world beyond their cramped quarters. ALI noted that by contrast, here were these feral teenagers, himself included, living in a free society, who sought nothing more wholeheartedly than to crowd together in a deep, dark hole in the ground. Marvelling at their perverse urban psychologies, ALI decided that all city people were insane for seeking imprisonment in tiny apartments, offices, subway cars and the like, and declared that New York City itself was "not New, but a Zoo!" He named the tunnel itself "Zoo York" -- a perfect symbol, in his mind, of the dark psyche of the inner city itself."

Comments

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
automatongeisha
Dec. 24th, 2009 02:46 am (UTC)
Ah, so I'm not the only one experiencing formatting problems!

To make an LJ-cut from scratch, use < lj-cut text = "Link Text"> Body of text < /lj-cut>. Just remove the spaces between "lj-cut text", the "=" sign, and the text for the link's title; as well as the "<" and the "/".

Brb, going back to reread! I need more time to absorb this. :)
etherati
Dec. 24th, 2009 03:30 am (UTC)
The issue isn't LJ-cuts ALTHOUGH AHAH I DID FORGET TO DO A CUT DIDN'T I oh man too much scotch tonight

the issue is lj user tags, which eat themselves all up nom nom

brb to put a cut in
daylilymoon
Dec. 24th, 2009 03:40 am (UTC)
You know my thoughts on this already :D but I think i forgot to say how much I love what a different side of dan's character this shows. Especially the very end part, so awesome!
etherati
Dec. 24th, 2009 03:44 am (UTC)
I love playing with Dan's character; he's very much not as simple a character as people think he is sometimes. <3 Thank you for helping with this, it made me feel so much better.
daylilymoon
Dec. 24th, 2009 04:01 am (UTC)
He really is complex! I've been thinking lately he's more complex than ror even, IMHO.

And you're welcome, of course!
etherati
Dec. 24th, 2009 04:07 am (UTC)
Ror's more screwed-up, that doesn't always mean more complicated. I dono which of them is more, i'm pretty tipsy right now BUT Dan is definitely pretty damned complex.
robinnevermore
Dec. 24th, 2009 04:49 am (UTC)
"You know one way you can judge a civilization, man?”

A dissatisfied, disapproving grunt, but there’s the hint of a question in it.

“By whether they lock up their artists.”

I really liked this quote, because i'm an artist first and foremost. Also, that's an interesting way to look at NYC...but I don't agree.

See I live in a small town and I know, just because you have open spaces dosen't mean you aren't trapped. You're simply trapped by isolation. A cage is a cage no matter what size or form.

I fell like big cities are more freeing. You have more contact with many different ideas and cultures. You can reach out and touch more pieces of the world in one block of NYC than in ten miles of rural community.

All in all this was utterly lovely, as always. I loved how Daniel voiced his opinion about what they do in this, it felt really in-character and honsest. And i loved it when Rorschach stepped in and took up for Dan.

Your updates never fail to make my day. :)
etherati
Dec. 24th, 2009 04:57 am (UTC)
That was actually the entire point of the fic, that there's nothing about the city itself that's inherently caging, that you can find freedom in all sorts of ways. There WAS a social movement in the early 70s that espoused these ideas, but I don't actually agree with them either; was just using them as a point of contrast for dan and ror.

Thank you as always :)
tuff_ghost
Dec. 24th, 2009 06:18 am (UTC)
Rorschach has seen the way he moves through the city spaces, seen what the night air does to him

awww yeah

This rocks! I like that it's Rorschach watching Dan for the most part, that feels novel. The notion that vigilantism excites Dan in ways that are sexy and otherwise isn't new, but that Rorschach might've been aware of it is not discussed, barely even implied in the GN. But it makes solid obvious sense, and that makes it such a perfect subject for fanfic. So good eye!

Also when would I have ever heard of this Zoo York thing if not for this fic? Maybe never!
etherati
Dec. 24th, 2009 06:29 am (UTC)
I think Rorschach is observant enough to have noticed the change in him even if he didn't specifically recognize the full scope of it(though given that there's SOME kind of est. relationship here, I'd guess he does in this case) especially once Dan had unmasked at some point and he got to know the differences (and sameness) between them.

And I dono, but it's a fascinating social philosophy that I didn't know about before the fic either!
sandoz_iscariot
Dec. 25th, 2009 05:58 am (UTC)
OMG yay, a present from Etherati!

I really like all the depth and detail put into this. It's always interesting to see Nite Owl and Rorschach interacting with civilians, and that last moment between the pair is really nice. Thank you!
etherati
Dec. 25th, 2009 04:38 pm (UTC)
<3 I'm so glad you like it! I tried to do something period-specific but that was also relevant to them on a larger, more thematic level; NO IDEA if it worked but I tried.

And yes, there needs to be a lot more of the interacting with civilians, very much agreed.

Thank you again, if you like it then I can count the whole thing as a success. :3
quietprofanity
Dec. 25th, 2009 09:12 pm (UTC)
I had to read a second time to understand/absorb this as well, but I love the idea -- very neat. The description of Dan flying the Owlship as seen by Rorschach and Rorschach's defense of Dan were highlights as well. :)
etherati
Dec. 27th, 2009 04:28 am (UTC)
Yeeeah I know it's kind of a weird narrative style and not straightforward like most of my stuff tends to be, but the idea wouldn't leave me alone. And thank you!
lampsh4de
Dec. 26th, 2009 03:59 pm (UTC)
Oof, I love how your fics can always surprise me. C:
I was thinking the italicized bits were my favorites, then Ror's last line made me smile. x)
etherati
Dec. 27th, 2009 04:27 am (UTC)
I love Ror's last line, that was a large part of what the rest was built around. Thank you so much :)
i_am_your_spy
Jan. 22nd, 2010 01:45 am (UTC)
This is amazing. I love the way you write Dan in particular.
etherati
Jan. 22nd, 2010 04:13 am (UTC)
Thank you! I was so unsure of this piece, because it was so far outside the... I dono, narrative structure I guess, that I usually use. I'm so glad you like it. :3
( 18 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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