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FIC: Vigil (8/?)

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 8: Haunting



*

It is from here, some indeterminate place between the top of the staircase and the bottom, that they begin to make their stand. It's appropriate, really. There are parts of this that ride along with coffee in the kitchen, candles in mugs and morning sun rising on them both— and there are parts of it that will always belong to the basement's blood-stained concrete.

"Rumors will be harder to fight, now," Rorschach says, leaning against the wall, because tactics are safe, are innocuous, and the wall is safe too. "Shouldn't have gone out."

"I thought we were dispelling the rumors."

Rorschach waves his hand, dismissive. Hours have passed since they came down here, and the kitchen light above is casting their shadows jagged and severe down the stairs. "Could have written off one recovery as the witnesses being faulty. Not two."

"Instead of proving that they'd made a mistake, we just proved that they didn't."

"Right."

“What if no one saw?”

An annoyed huff of breath. “Dragged you two blocks through gang territory. Only made it unmolested because they were afraid of what I would do. With just cause.”

Daniel sighs, a long, breathy exhale that lifts the sleep-mussed hair from his forehead. Rumors are ugly, sticky, persistent things, and they tend to spill their boundaries, end up in the wrong ears. "Damn it."

"Nothing to be done for it," Rorschach says, straightening. "Will have to use the idea instead of fighting it." He says it like a proclamation, because as amusing as the idea of frightening all of their targets into gibbering piles of terror and superstition and proffered wrists had been, they'd both known it for what it was at the time: a joke, with perhaps too serious a turn.

There is no reason it has to be a joke.

"What do you suggest?" Daniel asks, more resignation than curiosity, but it will have to do.

*

The casual conversation on patrol stops, each night now a carefully choreographed production. There is no room for flippancy or comfort in the space they are creating for him. It feels like a loss, after years of carefully earned camaraderie, but it's far from the worst they've suffered.

The costume is overhauled as quickly as they can manage, and they opt for paler rather than darker, a sickly grey-tan that moonglows faintly in the uneven streetlight like a smoky wisp of memory or regret. Nite Owl digs up some theatrical paint for the exposed part of his face, spreads it so thinly it’s barely there—just enough give the skin that same opalescent shine, keep the eyes from locking onto him. The lenses of his goggles are two black pits in the phantom he's becoming, and it works better than they could have hoped.

The more cynical criminals do, of course, see right through it—sling insults, at him and at Rorschach and at their own brethren for being such idiots, that they could be so terrified by a stupid mask faking his own stupid death. It’s almost good; it keeps Rorschach from falling too far into the act, keeps him from falling head over feet into the miserable depths of being keeper of his own partner’s shade.

Nite Owl always washes the facepaint off as soon as they get back from patrol, hunched over the shop sink in the laundry room in the basement, and Rorschach watches from a distance, watches the man emerge from the owl phantom, the strix, the tengu. The name varies, depending on what part of town they’d been patrolling that night; the terror is always the same, bloody talons in the moonlight and the paleness of churchyard stone.

The first part of his real face that Rorschach ever sees is his smile, wide and self-satisfied and always laughing a little even when he isn’t, rivulets of greasy water running over it to pool in the neckline of his costume like pale blood—

(Rorschach always looks away, then, something hot and strange blooming in his gut.)

—and then they are just Rorschach and Daniel again, and it is time for coffee and conversation and all the horrible things they’ve had to stay stoic in the face of and all the hilarious things they’ve wanted all night to laugh at. They can have that here; this dawn-lit space is theirs.

Still— there are times when they are up on a rooftop, surveying their city, and the act is dropped for a few precious moments and it’s just them, and Daniel is standing too close to the edge, teetering, and his laughter has too many jagged sharp edges and Rorschach wonders just how long it will be before he has to reach out and pull him back.

*

Nite Owl.” It’s a low hiss, made noisy by the darkness.

Nite Owl doesn’t immediately respond; when he does, it’s just to lift his goggled eyes, regard Rorschach with a flat, black-hole ponderousness.

There’s never been a literal fall—Rorschach extracted that shaky promise weeks ago, that Nite Owl would treat his borrowed life with care, would not throw it away unless he had absolutely no choice, and Nite Owl has been diligent—but maybe there are worse things than a few hours’ breathless sleep on the pavement, worse sinking arcs a good man can trace out than that of a body given over to gravity.

“What?” the shadow finally asks, sounding distant, detached.

Rorschach jerks his head over his shoulder. Behind him, a woman and her child, freshly mugged and freshly rescued, jittering along the knife edge between panic and relief.

He has the distinct impression that Nite Owl is blinking at him, slow and confused, under the goggles. He wonders if his own mask is this disconcerting, to the people around him, to Daniel.

He’s tired, Rorschach thinks, hasn’t been sleeping, and that’s it’s own special problem, but.

But Rorschach’s tired, too— tired of having to pretend to a fury too great for the world to contain, all for the loss of his partner; his partner who is right next to him most nights, who is here. Most of the time, anyway.

There’s a little blood on the ground, a little on Nite Owl’s gauntlets. What’s on the ground is a little bit the mugger’s and a little bit Rorschach’s; only the mugger’s is on their fingers.

“All right,” he says, a growling resignation. He turns to face the civilians. “Police will be here soon. Nothing to worry about.”

“Are you going to hurt us too?” the little girl asks, because Rorschach has always been too frightening by himself, and who is more alone than a man who keeps company with ghosts? The girl’s mother covers her mouth, pulls her up close, but the question is on her face, too.

Assistance would be appreciated, he grouses in his head. From the street, he can hear the sweep of cloth as Nite Owl rights himself, the quiet tread of his retreat.

“No,” he growls, though listening to himself, he hardly blames them. Nite Owl used to do this so effortlessly; he does not know why it is beyond him. “Just stay here, wait for the police.” Normally they would have waited with the victims, calmed them until help arrived, but Rorschach feels like he is drowning. “Shout if you need further help. Won’t be far.”

*

“I wonder what it feels like,” Nite Owl muses a few minutes later; they are on a fire escape, Rorschach crouched, Nite Owl’s legs dangling free like hanged men. A few streets over, red and blue strobes fill out the night, the occasional chirp of sirens breaking the quiet.

Rorschach ignores him. He thinks that maybe he isn’t speaking to Nite Owl at just this moment, though he couldn’t really articulate the reason. Maybe later.

“I know I used to know, but I can’t remember. To bleed like that and just keep bleeding. You know? And have to worry about whether it’ll stop.”

Rorschach took a long, shallow knife wound to the ribs three days ago, brass knuckles to the temple last week. He’d had to remind Daniel where he kept his own first aid kit. The irritation feels immature, but he lets it bubble over anyway. “Not some ancient, world-weary immortal from a bad novel,” he says. “Has only been a month.”

Nite Owl laughs, like this is a joke and Rorschach is in on it. “I know! But it’s like, when someone dies, and the first thing you forget is their voice. It doesn’t take very long.”

Or maybe the sound of it just changes too much. Maybe the dead really do live on in the minds of the living, but without a body they just change and change.

“Sun coming up soon,” Rorschach finally offers. The last car blips its sirens off and crawls away into the darkness; the victims have been taken care of. They can move on. “Should get back.”

Nite Owl laughs again, and this time it’s a little sick-sounding, desperate. It doesn’t expect Rorschach to laugh with it. He reaches up, pushes the cowl back, and the border between pale and ruddy skin isn’t as distinct as it should be. “The sun’s always coming up.”

“Happens every morning.”

“Every twenty four hours, I know.”

“Give or take.”

“Just.” Daniel presses his face into his hands, smears the greasepaint back through his hair. It makes him look grey, makes him look old. “Really don’t want to go to sleep.”

Rorschach regards him for a long moment; unfolds out of his crouch, and offers one gloved hand down to pull Daniel up, pull him back.

*

Comments

orockthro
Jul. 17th, 2015 02:28 am (UTC)
Well I didn't know I still had feelings about this, but SURPRISE I do. O___O
Oh boys... .___.
etherati
Jul. 17th, 2015 05:32 am (UTC)
I find it a little frightening how the feelings I have for these two refuses to fade away after all this time.