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FIC: Vigil (7/12?)

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 7: Ill of the Dead



*

They pause at the riverside, hovering at the last point of departure, the last place Rorschach can easily walk away to keep his own company for the morning. The question is obvious – go or stay – but that's not what comes out, when Daniel open his mouth.

Instead: "I would have done the same before. Whether I would have come back or not."

"I know."

"And I'm pretty sure you'd do the same," and Rorschach flinches because it's true, of course it's true, but that's different.

It's always different, he hears Daniel respond in his head, chastising.

"Shouldn't be so casual about it," he says instead, and maybe he's being maddeningly vague but maybe Daniel deserves it.

"Does that bother you? Life and death being casual."

"Shouldn't be, not for..." Rorschach shoves his hands in his pockets, grunts in frustration. "Shouldn't just throw– shouldn't be for you."

"You're not making any sense, man." Daniel pinches the bridge of his nose, squeezes his eyes shut. "Or maybe I'm just not receiving. God, I'm starving."

"Should be some supplies under–"

Daniel waves his hand, dismissive. "Don't change the subject. So what you're saying is, it's okay for you to throw your life around, even though it'd be permanent, but it's not okay for me to."

A pause, and Daniel looks up, eyes slipping open to find his, unerring, straight through the mask. "Even though it isn't. Is that what you're saying?"

Rorschach licks his lips, hopes it isn't visible through the latex. Put that way, it does sound unreasonable, but he won't be denied a motivation for his anger.

"If it worked that way," Daniel says, and he's so pale, eyes dark and bruised, “you'd be dead right now. Would that be better?"

"Nnk. Better than–"

"Better than nothing. There's nothing worse that could happen." A pause, as they both stop to process this, and his voice is going hoarse, throat still rough. "Anyway, I said you could yell at me tomorrow."

"After midnight, now."

"Smartass," Daniel says, dropping the ship into neutral with a jolt that shakes the floor under them. He leans back in his seat, boneless, rubbing at his eyes. "Tomorrow. After we've slept."

"Daniel–"

"Come back with me?"

Rorschach blinks under the mask, and looks up, finds Daniel's eyes on him soft and imploring. He could have invoked the excuse of more coffee, or the more obvious – that Rorschach will get a sooner shot at yelling at him if they're both there in the morning – and Daniel has always been fond of excuses.

Instead, he's just asked.

"Suppose..." Rorschach clears his throat, starts over, and this time he's the coward. "Suppose someone needs to keep an eye on you."

Daniel smiles, a little sad, or maybe that's just the weariness. He nods.

*

There's always an intermediary, between the street's evil and the bare vulnerability of sleep. His dress shirt isn't torn or stained and he's washed, so there's no sign of what happened out there except for a phantom ache that he thumbs over, unconscious, in the dark.

It's a little like picking at a scab, he realizes, but without the definite boundaries, without the closure.

He thinks of Rorschach, rushing up the stairs ahead of him, holed up in the living room before Dan had even gotten the coffee going; of the way he'd sat listening to Rorschach listening to him for an hour, through three mugs of the stuff and whatever food he could find.

He thinks of a silhouette, knife-sharp against a bleeding city sky.

The covers are welcoming and he really does try to sleep, but caffeine is a wicked thing and adrenaline even worse, and that little cluster of regenerated nerves and skin keeps him picking for hours before he can calm his mind enough to drift.

Understanding is borne on the backs of strange beasts, sometimes, and sleep is the strangest creature of all.

*

Anger isn't quite the right word, Rorschach realizes somewhere around seven in the morning. He's drifting, narrow body curled on its side on the sofa, feeling like nothing but a collection of old bones. He aches, inside and out. Anger isn't right, and yelling isn't what he wants to do. He wants to leave, to disappear into a bloodstain on the floor and leave Daniel to deal with it for three hours, four, five. He wants these things to be equitable.

He knows they never will be.

It's a childish impulse anyway, and at some point in the morning, Rorschach is pulled half awake by something that sounds like an apology, that knows its own inadequateness and offers itself anyway. But he's too far under to really hear it, the couch an island of calm that he's gotten accustomed to, that he's come to need. A waystation amidst insanity.

He stays there, stubborn, clinging to sleep.

*

When he wakes up (it's almost noon, the sunlight on the floor retreated to slivers), there's a hand in his, limp with sleep and disappearing over the edge of the cushion. He's the one holding on.

He leans, tracks it down with his eyes, finds Daniel sprawled alongside the legs of the couch. The carpet is pressing into the side of his face, and he's out cold, sleeping there with one arm threaded up over the cushion. As Rorschach watches him, a steady, inscrutable gaze, Daniel's eyes open.

A long moment, too quiet. Daniel's eyes struggle to focus without his glasses.

"I'm sorry," he says, eventually. "I wasn't really-- I can't get outside of my head much, after that happens. I'm not sure why, I think it might be... I don't know, some kind of defensive-"

Rorschach just stares, and Daniel pauses, seem to realize he's rambling again. Licks his lips. "I just, I should have realized."

The mask is on the table, and though they've already broken that barrier Rorschach still wants it; craves its obfuscation, the way it puts miles of ambiguity between them. He can feel his face giving him away. "Couldn't be expected," he says, tone harsher than it deserves.

"Yeah, actually, it could. You told me last time, what you went through. So I should have known." Daniel licks his lips, eyes slipping to where Rorschach hasn't pushed his hand away. "I'm sorry."

The hand feels hot in his, like Daniel's running a fever. Rorschach feels his resolve softening, thinks maybe he hates Daniel a little because he feels himself on the verge of actually vocalizing this hurt me and maybe you are all I have and perhaps even there is nothing you have to lose, compared to that, and he doesn't know what new magic Daniel has but it is horrible. He thinks he wants to lash out and shout and say terrible things he won't still believe tomorrow; his hands itch for violence.

Instead, he pulls his hand from Daniel's grip and sits up; steps over Daniel on his way to the kitchen.

The basement door is open. He doesn't linger, turning up his collar and taking the steps two at a time, ignoring the noise of much clumsier feet on the stairs behind him. Every time his foot hits wood he reminds himself why he is angry(it is because Daniel endangered himself, was careless, not because Rorschach is almost Walter now and that is Daniel's fault) and when the hand falls on his arm, twines into his sleeve and pulls back, he isn't surprised.

Daniel is, breath coughing out sharply, as Rorschach rounds on him. His back hits the wall before he has any chance to counter, hands like visegrips on his shoulders.

"What," Rorschach snarls, doing his best to loom from below.

"I understand why you're upset," and Daniel's talking fast, adrenaline-sped like he thinks he's fighting the clock. He might be. "But you have to understand that I didn't do anything I wouldn't have done before. I mean, god, you think a month ago I would have just... what, stood aside and let that asshole kill you? Whoops, guess I've got to get a new partner now?"

"Would have tried to disarm him, not thrown yourself on his knife!" It comes out explosively, louder than he intended, angrier and weaker all at once. Rorschach's voice was not made for shouting, so this is Walter, and he can feel his tenuous position slipping. He shakes Daniel's shoulders, jolting him against the wall, and he knows suddenly that Daniel can break this grip, is strong enough – has twisted out of a thousand similar holds, his own and the scum on the streets. Is allowing himself to be held in place, here. Rorschach feels his stomach turn. "Shown some self-preservation instincts," he shouts, and his voice is even worse now. "Been able to stand and keep fighting instead of rolling over like a dead dog."

"...yeah, okay," Daniel says, after a long moment, eyes dark. "Guilty. What are you gonna do, kill me?"

Silence, for a stretch, between the heaving of breath.

Rorschach closes his eyes, peels his hands carefully from Daniel's person, and he doesn't bother wishing for his mask this time because he can feel the flush of shame rising into his face and the ink doesn't hide that, never has. He steps back; feels suddenly, unaccountably weak.

"Here," Daniel says, one hand on his elbow, guiding him to sit on the step. Daniel settles one step higher, just far enough outside of Rorschach's personal space to feel safe. The hand migrates up to his shoulder, also safe. It feels heavy.

"You were right," Daniel says, and he sounds strange, far away. "About disarming him, I mean. And I'll be careful not to be so careless in the future, okay? But I'm not ever, ever, going to let you die to save my own skin. I wouldn't have done that before and I'm not going to start now."

"Do you understand what you–" Rorschach starts, then stops. Tries again. "What I–"

"Yeah," Daniel says, turns his hand in to knead lightly at Rorschach's neck. "I do."

Rorschach hunches his shoulders up; isn't sure whether that is good or bad.

"I do wish you'd find better ways to express these things, though." Laughter, cautious. "Words would be a start."

Words are hard, sometimes. Rorschach turns his head toward the wall, away from Daniel, because words are hard and they are often betrayers, cutting with hidden edges, making him bleed rage and violence, making Walter just plain bleed.

"Yeah," Daniel says, thumb pressing in under Rorschach's ear, calloused and clean. "I know."

*

--->Chapter 8

*

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
brancher
Dec. 21st, 2014 05:30 am (UTC)
ahhhhhhhhhh
oh man eth. I missed your writing and I somehow forgot how plain GOOD you are. This is so beautiful.
Jae Janie
Feb. 26th, 2015 11:52 pm (UTC)
Yess!
I'm so happy you're back! Excellent addition per usual
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )