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FIC: Underestimated

Title: Underestimated
Fandom: Watchmen
Characters/Pairings: Nite Owl, Rorschach
Date Written: 2015
Summary: The fledgling Rorschach-Nite Owl Team make a rookie mistake that comes very close to being the death of them. Being underestimated is a terrible feeling, but it's important to know when to use it instead of fighting it.
Rating/Warnings: PG, nothing even shippy here, they are just protective best buds fighting crime.
Notes: Written in response to one of dr_oil's pchat doodles from a year or so ago. Written entirely into the reply textbox; editted only slightly since. Man I am just glad to be writing ANY fanfiction again, so I don't wanna hear that this is unoriginal rescue fic, I am too happy to be writing.


*

The sound of Nite Owl’s boots slamming into the hollow wooden floors is deafening to him–a reverberating, booming cacophony that blooms into something louder and more terrifying with every step. The hallway seems endless in the dark, with too many junctions for him to know where he is or where he’s going, much less be able to find the way out.

Or find his partner.

This is so, so bad. It’s like a broken record in his head that he can’t get off of repeat: This is bad, this is so bad, you’re so fucked you fucked up so bad this is so bad–

He skids to a halt at the next junction, operating on some unknowable instinct, and listens. There’s nothing, but he still changes direction, stalks down the side hallway, quieter now but the noise in his head is drowning everything else out.

They should have known better than this.

*

They’d only been working together a few months when they got their first opportunity for a crack at something bigger than muggers and kids selling eachother drugs and sex and rebellion in alleyways. Nothing as big-time as the Underboss, who they have their eye on too, but something with the satisfying weight of real justice that’ll let them both get their feet wet.

Dan will wonder, later, if he thought this was all a game.

They came in low to the ground, under the radar. The advantage of surprise wasn’t something Rorschach the rookie tactician had figured out yet, and Nite Owl would never find strategy to be among his strengths–so there were no dramatic explosions to throw their targets off balance, no grand entrances.They just crept in, like common thieves themselves, figuring they’d make up the rest as they went along.

“Which one do you think is in charge?” Nite Owl whispered, goggles sweeping out across the room. They were crouched in the shadow of some shipping crates; this place used to be a warehouse, and they hadn’t been expecting the level of subdividing and flooring and maze-building that had gone into it; weren’t expecting it to feel so much like a lair.

But that’s what it was, and they’d had to drill deep into the rats’ nest to get here, following the sound of voices with no visual markers to show them the way back out. It had Nite Owl feeling disoriented and off-kilter, nervous. If it was affecting Rorschach, he wasn’t showing it.

A quiet throat-noise, and Rorschach gestured toward the edges of the group, hand staying in the shadows where Nite Owl could see but the targets couldn’t. “I would suspect,” he said, voice pitched just as low, “that it’s one of the men on the edges, trying not to be noticed.”

Nite Owl furrowed his brow above the goggles, peered out at the swaggering, self-important man in the midst of the group that he’d been suspecting. “What about the guy in the middle? He’s acting more like–”

“Obvious decoy, Nite Owl.”

“Obvious? I don’t get it.”

A quiet huff of breath that could almost be a laugh. “Look at the others’ reactions to him.”

Nite Owl frowned, looked again, and Rorschach was right; the others were uneasy, uncertain how to respond, unfamiliar with the man they were supposed to have allegiance to. It could have been rationalized away in a million ways, but if he deliberately shut off the rational part of his brain, Nite Owl could feel it: an offness that vibrated through the group's dynamic like fingernails scraping down a chalkboard.

“But,” he said, still whispering, “why would he need to hide in his own group?”

Rorschach made the noise again, the low hrm in the back of his throat. “Maybe he perceives a threat, from within the group or outside of it. Maybe he–” he cut off, horror suddenly evident in the tautness of his posture.

Nite Owl was in the same boat, in the same instant. “Maybe he knows–”

“That you’re here?” A brash, taunting voice from somewhere above them; Nite Owl looked up, and Rorschach slammed to his feet, and he was rearing back to throw a punch and Nite Owl was reaching for his throwing crescent and then–

A sharp impact, and darkness, with the same mocking voice threading through the fade: “Nah, couldn’t possibly be that.”

*

Eventually he’d woken up alone in a small, featureless room, all wood panels and iron piping holding the walls and floor together, somewhere high in the scaffolding. It’d been trivial to get out of his ropes, and he can only hope that this isn’t a further trap, that he’s just been underestimated.

Now he’s at another junction, and when he stops and listens, he expects to hear nothing–expects to have to rely on instinct for this decision as he has half a dozen times already. The back of his head throbs and his face stings where blood has crusted on; the pulse in his ears and the litany of you fucked up isn’t making things easier.

But he does hear something: two voices, in low, urgent conversation.

"...should we do with him, now that we have him?"

"...think of something… mething interesting. You know?"

Laughter at the implications of his tone, and Nite Owl is suddenly furious. He wants to run out there and wring their necks, bring down the hunting owl’s fury on them, but.

But that kind of lack of planning is what got them into this. Nite Owl stays where he is, and listens.

"...t about... owl guy? What should we…"

"Ah, hell...on’t care. He’s not the real threat here."

"...robably still...ied up, crying into his swimming goggles…"

Laughter again; these guys are a pretty lighthearted gang, for being a bunch of murderers and thieves. Nite Owl bounces lightly in his crouch, muscles begging to be used, to move, to show them who’s going to be crying soon.

"...nyway, just make sure...stays knocked out until we’re ready...make an example of him. Don’t want him running away before we’ve had some fun."

"Sure thing, boss."

The voices are getting closer, more coherent, footfalls echoing towards Nite Owl’s hiding place. His fingers flex and fold in his gauntlets, itching for a face to slam into.

The two men clear the edge of the hallway, still talking–and Rorschach was right, it’s the guy from the edge of the crowd and Rorschach saw right through it, how had he missed it?–totally oblivious to his presence.

Dan rears back to throw a punch from the shadows, a little shaky from adrenaline and nerves, because what happens if he nails one of them but not the other, how will they escape then, and oh god he’s never done anything like this, never been behind enemy lines like this and–

The men are past and out of reach before his fist can launch.

Dan freezes, arm pulled back, watching their disappearing backs. Lets out a shuddery breath, and puts his fool hand back down.

Right. To hell with those guys; he has to find his partner.

After a few seconds to really let that thought sink in–it’s okay that he let them go because they have to get out first, get back to a position of advantage–he creeps along the corridor the two had come from, supposing that the way they were talking about Rorschach, he might well be in a room right here.

There are a few doors. He tries each of them carefully, easing them open as silently as he can until there’s the finest slit he can see through. The first two are empty. The third is occupied–by what looks like a relief guard, who’s not exactly asleep on the job but not exactly awake either. He keeps nodding forward and jerking himself back awake, and Dan remembers that, from college. He almost wants to laugh, but from somewhere inside Nite Owl slaps him around a bit and he moves on.

The fourth door, eased open on nerve-riddled fingertips, reveals a swath of brown and purple and black and write, lashed to a workbench with far more rope than Nite Owl had had to struggle out of.

Nite Owl wants to let a breath out, a ragged sigh of relief, but he holds it in, creeps over quietly.

He's out cold, with the edges of a purpling bruise creeping out from under the edge of the mask and a sharp line of blood, rendered red-black and the dim light, running from his mouth. No other injuries Dan can see. They’ve pulled his mask up but not off, and Dan wonders at this for a moment; dumping him here unconscious, he guesses it’s possible they didn’t want him to vomit and then choke on it. But why leave it on at all?

He fights the urge to either pull it back down out of respect or rip it all the way off, an impulse egged on by a damning wave of curiosity. “Rorschach?” he asks instead, barely above a whisper. He lays his hand on Rorschach’s shoulder, gives it an experimental shake. Nothing.

Panic flares. He wants to assume that Rorschach has to be alive, from the way their captors were talking about it, but concussions can go south faster than most people realize. Can mask nasty things like subdural hematomas, too. Fuck.

“Come on,” he says, shaking the still body by the shoulder again, alarmed at how laxly Rorschach’s head rolls around. “Wake up.”

Still nothing, and Nite Owl fingers the ropes holding him down. Sets his hand there, where his partner is bound, tells himself he’s assessing how secure the ropes are. Really he’s just hoping to feel a breath rise and fall and, after a moment, he’s rewarded.

“Okay,” he says. “Okay.”

He pulls out the crescent he had almost gotten a grip on earlier, starts slicing the ropes apart. Talks all the while, quietly, hoping to get through out of sheer repetition. “Rorschach,” he says, more sternly, stripping the panic out of his voice. “Come on, man. Talk to me.”

It seems to work; as the ropes fall away in a curling mess of hemp fibers, Rorschach groans lowly, moves his head from side to side, searching. Dan winces in mingled relief and pity; he’s going to have a hell of a headache later.


Later will have to come later, though. “We have to get out of here,” Dan says, moving the hand on Rorschach’s shoulder to the back of his head, subtly lifting, encouraging him to wake up and get up, to be his crazy indomitable self for just another hour, just long enough for them to find their way out of this maze, with all of its menace and grotesque threats, to get home–whatever that means to either of them.

“…m’up,” Rorschach slurs, struggling, and Nite Owl slips an arm under his shoulders, lifts him to sit upright, and it’s like all the bastard has to do is shake his head sharply once, twice, pull his mask back down, and he’s fine. He drops to the floor with only a moment's unsteadiness, saying nothing when Dan presses his hand to Rorschach's shoulder again, bracing.

"Okay?" Nite Owl asks, careful.

"Fine, Nite Owl," comes the response, coherent, no longer slurring, and it'll have to do.

He stops them on their way for the door, still a little seasick-dizzy, to pick up his fedora where it’d come loose and rolled to the floor.

“Can’t leave that,” Nite Owl says, a little bit teasing.

“A great tragedy,” Rorschach confirms, rolling the brim through his hands for a moment before settling it back in place.

Then they’re out into the maze, and they have a long haul ahead of them before they’re safe–but they will not be alone, and they will not be underestimated.

*
Art by dr_oil
*

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
leaper182
Jul. 18th, 2015 11:45 pm (UTC)
Hey, any kind of writing is good writing, and yay! The boys are at it again, and rescue fics are fun! I liked this one, and I like the art included too. :D
orockthro
Jul. 20th, 2015 12:48 am (UTC)
OH that was some good h/c :3
And poshhhhh to your "unoriginal rescue" moaning. Good fic is good fic. It's all about how it's written and how it connects with people. Nuff said. (And for what its worth, 'derivative' stuff can be the best stuff sometimes)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )