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FIC: Vigil (4/12)

Title: Vigil
Fandom: Watchmen
Characters: Dan, Rorschach, Hollis cameo, misc bad guys.
Date written: 2010-2014 hahaha wow I SUCK
Summary: The most important skill a masked vigilante can cultivate is how to fall and come right back up. When Nite Owl and Rorschach run into a trigger-happy gang, Nite Owl finds he's able to push that skill to the extreme--even if he has no idea how or why. AKA, the one where Dan just won't stay dead and Rorschach is Freaking Out.
Notes: Originally for a KM prompt asking for 'Highlander-style immortality', though I didn't actually make it a crossover. No swords and shit here, just a very confused owl.
Ratings/Warnings: PG-13 I think. A lot of blood and injuries and deaaaattthhhhhh. Some of it's temporary, some of it's not. Language, some offensive dialogue.

Chapter 4: Periculous mortum



*

Rorschach's hand falls on his wrist, clamping it and the blade to the table. "You said analysis first."

The clock ticks. On the legal pad: Bullets carried home from crime scene. No entry or exit wounds or signs of internal trauma. Healed? How?

Daniel turns to look him in the face, square-on. His eyes are bright with some unidentifiable need, beyond human instinct for food and shelter or the baser drives for physical satisfaction. He doesn't fight Rorschach's grip, but he seems willing to.

"I have to know," he says, and it's in his voice, too, that desperation.

"You can't just—"

"I promise you," Daniel says, forceful, and it disgusts Rorschach how willing he is to believe whatever comes next. "It'll be okay. I won't... it won't go deep. Just enough to tell."

Rorschach tightens his grip; isn't even sure why.

"I'm not crazy." Daniel's blood is still on those bullets, is still on Rorschach's own clothes, the smell making him want to choke. "And neither are you, and you saw what you saw. I believe you."

He closes his eyes for a moment. Fear should not override procedure, and experimentation is in Daniel's nature, an obscene urge to poke and prod incomprehensible things until he comprehends them. It's won them busts, and Rorschach knows full well that his reluctance this time is based solely on emotions run out of control. Not good.

Eyes open, and he lifts his hand away.

Daniel holds the knife up, turns it until it catches the light; then drags the serrated edge over the back of his forearm, faster than he can possibly think better of it, fast enough that he hisses in pain and drops the knife to the floor with a clatter and draws the arm in against his chest. He's swearing under his breath as a thin trail of blood starts to run from the wound, to drip to the tabletop. Deeper than he intended, or the blade was too dull.

But the stream gets no thicker. Under both of their eyes and Rorschach's white-knuckled grip (when did he move, when did he—) the skin knits cleanly back together in realtime, not even leaving a scar.

Daniel shudders, stares. Rubs the rivulet away with his thumb, leans in to the light to get a better look. "Did you..."

"Saw it, yes," and Rorschach hears an echo of Daniel's stunned voice in his own. The kitchen seems very quiet around them.

"That's never happened before."

"Aware of that, Daniel. Usually the one to—"

"No," Daniel says, voice rising in pitch, and he's still too white. Shock. "That's never happened before. That doesn't happen."

"Does now," Rorschach says simply, sharply, with all the verbal sting of a slap to the face; his patience for this entire situation has abruptly run out. He squares his hands on the table, leans into Daniel's personal space. "Insisted on knowing, now you know. Going to face facts, or sit there stunned like vermin about to be run over by a car?"

There's something alarmingly hypocritical about the words, and it flickers there like candlefire. He ignores it.

And they seem to work anyway, snap Daniel out of it; he slumps back into the chair, reaching to rub his eyes with the bloodied hand. "Yeah. Yeah, sorry. God, this just— it changes a lot."

"Maybe."

A long moment of quiet after, and eventually Rorschach feels an unaccountable need to be in motion, to be doing something useful. He stands up in a rush, chairlegs scraping the floor, moves to replace the coffee and find Daniel something to eat. To pick up the knife and put it safely out of reach, because— because this is—

He sets a box of dry cereal and the fresh coffee on the table, forcing focus before he loses himself to the same headlight-stunned panic. "Eat something. No more experimenting until I come back."

"Sure, I guess." Daniel doesn't move, still blocking out the light, and it's not convincing.

Rorschach knows his partner well by now; knows how likely he is to want test this further, push it harder, and it is not something he will allow. He catches Daniel by both wrists, forces his attention. Tries to infuse his voice with all the fury of the street, to winnow out the fear. "No. More. Experimenting. Mean it, Daniel."

Daniel breathes out, loud, and nods. "Okay, yeah. You're right, that's probably smart. It could be a temporary thing, wouldn't want to—" His eyes track Rorschach across the kitchen. "Where are you going?"

"Mundane obligations. Not important," he says, pulling the mask from his pocket and disappearing back inside of it. "Will be back before patrol."

He's gone before Daniel can argue, and closes the stairwell door on the sound of pouring cereal. When he passes by the bloodstains in the basement on his way to the tunnel, he doesn't even blink.

*

'Mundane obligations,' god. If Dan didn't know how close to the line of abject poverty his partner habitually hovered, hadn't seen him steal sugar and cola and chocolate just to keep himself going when food money'd obviously gone to rent instead, he'd be laughing right now. Calling Rorschach back up the stairs and telling him to call in to work, and his voice would be a little hysterical but he's not afraid, Rorschach, of course not, he just needs the company.

Dan is terrified.

He eyes the knife across the kitchen, but there's really nothing he wants less than the steady heft of it in his hand. There are uses it could have, ways to use it to form and test hypotheses, but any one of them could end with Rorschach coming up the stairs tonight to find a corpse in the kitchen, one that doesn't suddenly start breathing again. Something in his chest burns, and it's only halfway the harsh violence of that first breath, breaching dead lungs.

God, he remembers that—remembers an inrush of breath that hurt, badly, and not really knowing why it hurt except that it reminded him of bronchitis, that tickling urge to suck deep even knowing how bad it'll feel. A numbness subsiding to tingling pins and needles, like his entire body'd had its circulation cut off and was regaining it all at once.

Which. Makes sense, inasmuch as any of this makes sense. Then what?

Then Rorschach, passed out and bleeding (there'd been so much of it, everywhere) with a burning candle tipping out of his hands and every indication pointing to sudden-onset suicidal insanity.

Yeah, hell of a stone to throw, with blood still drying on that knife. Dan buries his face in his hands, making some helpless noise he can barely hear, just feel, a choking tightness in his throat.

This changes everything.

*

This doesn't change anything, he decides two hours later, breakfast down him and the knife put away and the basement door defiantly shut. They only know what did happen, not what will, and so the only sane course of action is to continue as always.

Dan is still restless, picking through his bookshelves for mythology, religion, superstition—history too, some of the more off-the-beaten-path accounts, written off by scholars as drunken memoirs. But he's read all of these before, cover to cover, and if there were anything here to explain this he'd know before he turned the first page. He's going through motions.

Three cups of coffee and a second meal he can't quite call lunch yet and it still hasn't hit him but it's about to, standing over the sink with a mug in his hand. From the window frame, the other mug stares back, waxy with drippings.

He died last night.

For a moment, there's nothing; no impact, no baggage, because this is not a thought any sentient being is wired up to process. Then he thinks about Rorschach, dragging his body through the streets, the madness he'd had in his eyes come morning and what it would have blossomed into unchecked. Thinks about the funeral, Hollis and maybe a few other masks and on the periphery, a rough-faced redheaded gargoyle of a man, afraid to come too close.

Thinks about the hail of bullets and the moment of impact and how easily it'd happened, how easily it could happen to either of them, and he suddenly can't breathe.

He'll clean up the shards of ceramic later; for now Dan just tries not to land in them when he slides gracelessly to the floor, back a hard curve against the cabinets. He stays there for a long time, eyes closed, counting seconds.

*

The fear is new.

He contemplates walking to the corner store for a jug of milk and is blindsided by the image of a man with a shotgun robbing the register, turning the muzzle on him as he walks in, doorchime ringing cheerfully. Considers an early lunch at the Chinese place across the street and is treated to thoughts of busy traffic, the sanctity of crosswalks ignored, pedestrians run down like so much roadkill.

Somewhere in the city, Rorschach is doing his job, whatever it is. Is it dangerous work? He's never asked; never mind that he wouldn't get an answer. Have there ever been nights when he'd almost not shown up for patrol, near-misses Dan never even knew about?

How many near-misses have there been that Dan does know about?

He's going to go to the store, he decides resolutely, dumping the dustpan full of shards into the trashcan. Then the library. He won't become a shut-in over this, and it's not like he's never had a close call before. Not like hundreds of people haven't had near-death experiences and continued to function in society. Renewed lease on life, that's what he's supposed to be feeling.

He still half expects to dissolve in the sunlight when he steps outside, like all restless dreams do, break apart and scatter until there's nothing left but the vaguest memory and something that tastes like regret.

*

The store is quiet, his trip in and out of it quick and uneventful. He drops the bags back home—milk, canned coffee, sugar, some produce he always buys hopefully, knowing full well most of it will rot before he ever uses it—and heads on foot to the library, intending on using the long trip to clear his head and convince himself that no, a grown man is not afraid of crossing one street or a dozen, that death is not in fact lurking behind every clock tick.

He knows this, but he can't hold back a long, shaky sigh of relief when he reaches the stairs, climbing flanked by patience and fortitude: the lady and lord of knowledge, their cold marble eyes unjudging. Inside, he does his time in the catalogue room, long familiarity of the place settling him. Submits his requests, settles down in the reading room until they arrive.

While he's waiting, Dan fiddles with a safety pin he's found in his pocket, scraping the pointed end of it over the heel of his hand and even these scratches, shallow and nowhere near drawing blood, still knit together as he watches. It feels stranger, somehow; stranger than the bullets or his mangled costume, stranger than the knife in the kitchen. Maybe because he's out here, in the world, surrounded by presumably normal people who have to heal their cuts and scrapes over days and weeks.

Watching each scratch heal also feels, on some deep instinctual level, inevitable. He wonders how long he's been like this.

When the stack arrives and is set next to him (physiology and anatomy, occult history, historical mysteries, resurrection legends of every stripe) it's almost taller than his head. Rorschach needn't have worried. He won't have any time for experimenting, by the looks of this.

His stomach gives a disagreeable gurgle; it's only half past noon, and he's already eaten twice.

Dan sighs, and digs in.

*

--->Chapter 5

*