Characters/Pairings: Daniel, Rorschach, Adrian, Manhattan in pt 1, Dan/Ror (gee you think?) later on.
Date Written: 2009
Summary: A lot happens in the in-between spaces; in the tiny intervals of time in which no one watching, we are free. Dan and Rorschach face the future more head-on than they expected; Adrian learns about regret and what happens when you're wrong.
Rating/Warnings: PG-13, some language. Philosophy, violence, twilight zone bullshit, time travel, pretentious metaphors, and Waffle House.
Notes: Yet ANOTHER kinkmeme prompt. Post-GN fixit. In progress.
"It's about what you'd expect." Dan pulls the letter from its sleeve and tosses it carelessly onto a tarp-covered pile of scrapwood. This is the fifth address they'd tried, after the first four had proved to be demolished, renovated and leased out, replaced by a shopping center, and demolished again, respectively. It's getting on towards evening, and the sun is slanting in sideways through the bubble-riddled cheap industrial glass of the building's windows, dusk-yellow and sharp, catching swirling dust motes with freezeframe precision.
Rorschach plucks the sheaf up, stirring yet more dust from the plastic sheeting with the violence of the motion. Skims the first page, turns to the second; Dan's not even paying attention, rifling through the envelope for something else. "Only read the beginning," and it sounds like a rebuttal, but there's no venom. The second page is flipped aside.
"That's all I had to. Trust me, I've read enough corporate buzzword posturing to know where it's going. Don't need to wade through seven-"
"Eight," Rorschach corrects in a muttering growl, a vocal trick no one else Dan's ever known has been capable of, flipping the corners of the pages down in a shuffle too fast to have possibly counted.
Dan nods, distracted, pulling a slip of paper free from the bottom of the otherwise empty envelope. "Okay, eight. Not really the point. We're threats to the security of his... system, and therefore the world; some kind of reminder about the virtue of discretion or something. Probably wants to meet with us?"
Rorschach doesn't answer for a long moment, pacing as he reads in and out of the cross-hatched rectangles of light – and the fading sun is doing strange things to his hair, catching and igniting the unfamiliar color. The new coat is thinner and lighter and doesn't bulk his form up as much, and for a second Dan gets a creeping self-conscious déjà-vu of being abandoned alone in his parent's living room with a family friend or a professional connection, a complete stranger he's somehow still expected to interact with and impress despite never having met them before in his life...
Then the pacing figure grumbles and hurms and everything snaps back into focus, crates and garbage and high, bare-raftered ceiling and all. "In two days. Noon. Provides an address. Good. Gives us time to investigate, to consider best method of public exposure."
(He's not saying it, but he's still saying it: come up with a plan other than 'walk in and pick a fight'. Because that didn't work so well the last time, and you have the bruises to prove it.)
An irritated noise, somewhere on page six. "Manhattan told him where he sent us. That's how he knew. Seemingly no end to the treachery."
(And is that all this comes down to, after surviving the end of everything – continuing the same fight like nothing's changed?
But - you only walked away from it three hours ago. Those bruises haven't even purpled yet.)
The world has passed their vengeance by in a heartbeat, and Dan would say it out loud if he didn't think it would get him punched, or snubbed for the duration, or break Rorschach's fragile sense of purpose, hanging as it has been on a the gut-level idea that it's not too late not too late never too late - or all three. Strangers, strange land, all of that; it's no time to be at odds. He fingers the slip of paper restlessly. "Thing is, I think there's more going on than just Adrian and his maneuvering. Something outside his control. Look at this."
A rough snap of the pages flipping sharply back together, and Rorschach takes the paper from his hand. The confusion that spreads across his face is recognizable even in the poor light, and for a moment Dan wonders if he's gotten out of the habit of controlling his expressions after so long under the mask, or if he's just choosing to let his guard down. "That was stuck between the first two pages."
Rorschach turns it over, looking for some kind of explanation, some elusive fine print. There's nothing; Just a handwritten scrawl on one side, and they both recognize Adrian's elegant and precise script, but there's something desperate and shaking in the loops and whorls.
It's gotten away from me.
"It," Rorschach mutters, holding the paper up into what's left of the light, probably looking for a watermark or erased writing. "What 'it'? Secret crime, utopia, the world? Too many possible interpretations."
The rickety pile of wood and tarp sways a little when Dan settles onto it, sending a few stray, loose pieces skittering out onto the cement floor, but ultimately holds. "It could also be a trick. Expecting us-"
"Expecting us to take a handwritten note's inconsistency with the remainder of the letter as a sign of its sincerity. Yes. Had thought of that."
Dan rubs his temples absently; ponders the wisdom of inviting a known paranoid to indulge their paranoia. Asks anyway. "Do you think it is?"
A short huff of breath, a moment of consideration. Then, surprisingly, Rorschach shakes his head in the negative. "No. Handwriting's leaning."
Rorschach crosses the distance to where Dan is attempting to stretch the walking-compounded soreness out of one leg, and every movement is wired up and tense and ready for a fight. Shows Dan the sheet again, as if that explains everything, is enough on its own, is the most obvious smoking gun in the world.
It isn't. A glance down, a glance up, questioning. "What, I don't get it."
The light on the floor is shifting even as they speak, the sun making its last headlong dive for the horizon, subtlety abandoned in favor of a speedy conclusion to the day's labors. Rorschach makes an irritated, impatient noise somewhere in the back of his throat; Dan's struck again by how strange those inarticulate sounds seem coming from an actual face. "Veidt's trained ambidextrous. Still right-biased for most things. Wrote this with his left hand."
Dan takes the sheet now, narrowing his eyes in the uneven light to study the delicate script. "You sure?"
There's a scrabbling sound and Rorschach fishes a broken-off stub of a pencil from one pocket, a handful of folded sheets of paper, a flashlight. Hands the light to Dan preemptively, then scrawls a similar message onto one of the papers. Offers it mutely.
And it's illegible for the most part, jagged and horrible, but he's right – both samples show the same unique cant back to the left. "Okay, so he usually writes right-handed but wrote this with his left. I'm still not-"
"Not usually. Always." Rorschach takes the paper back abruptly, shoving it and pencil back into his pocket; because of course he would never leave something as vaguely and indistinctly personal as a writing sample lying around for prying eyes that don't precisely exist, in the conventional sense of the word. "Heard of split-brain syndrome?"
Dan rubs at his eyes, pressing back on a knotty, spreading ache behind them. "One hand doesn't know what the other's doing, right?"
"Hnk. Perfect way to betray your own intentions."
A long stretch of silence, while Dan pinches the bridge of his nose and studies the note; the light's nearly gone now, but he doesn't feel like trying to balance the flashlight and not fumble the letter at the same time. Folds it between two fingers, looking up; Rorschach's looming in front of him, hands in his pockets.
"Rorschach... that was a surgical procedure, wasn't it? To separate the brain like that. Would Adrian really go that far?"
"Depends on his motivation. Discussed insanity before, in the snow. Could also be some other factor causing the same effect. Either way, conscious and subconscious have differing goals." A beat of silence, and even in the stifling grey darkness, the sudden concerned pinching of his expression is visible. "Daniel. Something's wrong with your eyes?"
Daniel lifts his fingers from where they'd been rubbing slow circles into his tearducts, blinks owlishly; and no, the irony isn't lost on him. "Not really, just kind of sore-"
Without any warning, the flashlight's switched on and pointed straight into his right eye; Dan flinches back from it, trying to escape from the beam because it's startling and unexpected and god but the light's only making the tight throbbing worse. Ends up leaning halfway back against the improvised chair, unwilling to sacrifice his balance any further. A thumb and finger clad in grubby glove leather press the eyelid back, and Dan tries not to think of where they've been. "Should have said something sooner," Rorschach growls, peering along the flashlight beam. "Could be anything, chemical weapon, toxin from Veidt's fortress, aftereffect of the transport process..."
And he's going on and on, one conspiracy-minded theory after another, and he's saying things about being in unknown territory and how they can't afford to have him incapacitated and somewhere in there, Dan reads the actual, sincere concern loud and clear – and then he's not hearing anything, because the day's just caught up, all of it, and he's laughing too hard. Hysterical, unhinged. Unhealthy, maybe, but fuck it.
Rorschach huffs, pulling the flashlight beam back up to the ceiling, hand solidly in place. "Isn't funny, Daniel."
But it is, it really is, and as Dan fights to get himself under control, Rorschach takes a step back and away from him, switching off the flashlight. Eyes him like he's gone crazy, and that only makes control harder to find.
"Look, it's just... haggh, sorry. It's just eyestrain. Haven't had my glasses for a few hours, and it hurts after a while."
A long silence, considering – then a shuffling as Rorschach wanders towards the wall, poking around for a suitable place to bed down for the duration. It's barely eight, but with no light source beyond one piddling flashlight, the hours are best spent resting, recovering, making ready to face tomorrow's problems – and all of tomorrow's realizations and realities, put off from today out of sheer necessity but still looming. The matter seems summarily dropped, conversation over for the night.
Dan eyes the amorphous shape of the tarp-covered woodpile he's still perched on, picking out its sharp, uncomfortable corners against the greater grey of the floor and walls. Considers pulling the tarp free and wadding it up to use as a pillow. Gives it an experimental tug; it doesn't budge, and he admits defeat and drops to the bare floor with no more preamble. They've long since passed second wind and are into the territory of the third, and even that's fading fast, evaporated away with the sunlight. He props his head on one arm; muscles protest, and are ignored.
It's silent, but not silent, dark but not dark. Streetlights, breathing, the creak of beams settling in old and rotting concrete, the odd muffled flutter of wings, faraway up in the rafters. It'll be hours before the moon's high enough to hit those windows, hours more before the sun replaces it. Outside, the city goes on, and if it seems quieter than they're used to, murmuring compliant and inoffensive nothings to the space between the streetlights and rooftops, it could be that the city really has been broken, somehow – neutered, pacified, stripped of its driving sense of life and purpose – or it could be that the warehouse is just more insulated than they realize, drowning everything down to a baseline hum.
"Should get you new glasses." Quiet and rough and winding a jagged path across the empty room.
Dan shrugs, a wasted gesture against the cold floor; closes weary eyes, and hopes the headache will be gone by morning. "Don't really have enough cash on-hand."
"Diminished capacity. Increased likelihood of injury."
A grin into the darkness, and even Dan isn't sure where it's coming from. "I have the goggles if it gets too bad. Don't worry."
An indistinct muttering, something about how of course he isn't worrying – then silence.