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FIC: Between the Brushstrokes - [6/?]

Title: Between the Brushstrokes
Fandom: Watchmen
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 is 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.


*

"Killed three million people," Rorschach mutters, monotone rough under exertion. He hadn't trusted the elevators, had staggered them both down endless flights of stairs, half-tripping far too many times. It's remarkable that they weren't intercepted on the way out, that there'd been no surprise noose waiting to tighten. The guard from before, though – he'd maintained focus for longer this time, watching them cross the lobby. Easily thirty seconds. Not good. "Asking us for help. Doesn't deserve it. Miscarriage of justice that we didn't kill him where he stood."

A pause at the corner, considering his route. If they're being tailed, and they almost certainly are...

No matter. It's a long walk back and he can divert at any point. "Hmf. Regrettably, more valuable alive. Source of information and possible assistance," Rorschach muses, barely audible over the traffic. It's the loss of his journal triggering this, he's sure of it; he can't write any of it down, and so the facts have to be scrawled into the air, juggled and examined out loud. If it also distracts him from other realities, it's a necessary concession for the time being. "Dangerous ally to carry, but we have no delusions as to his nature. Won't trust him not to bite."

Daniel's head lolls loosely against his shoulder in a motion that feels almost like burrowing. "...s'nice..."

Across the intersection, the light changes; the pedestrian signal cycles, and Rorschach drags them both into the street. He ignores the interjection, because if he lets himself hear it, really absorb it and put his mind around the implications, there may end up being civilian losses before it's all over – and even like this, every nerve in his body shaking with rage and wired up to kill, he knows that indulging it would be counterproductive at best.

*

After a few turns, Rorschach stops and looks back, trying to pick their inevitable tail out of the crowd. Can swear he's seen some of these faces before, repeats of repeats of repeats, carbon-copied complacency. Contentment does that – rubs away the corners, makes everything soft and round and exactly the same, writes white across the ledger of history; and white on white is as good as nothing at all. Only in suffering do the years erode away the soft sediment and expose the sharpness underneath, all the jagged and blackened edges – the broken jigsaw pieces that will never, ever fit together.

Daniel leans in against him, the arm over his shoulder curling around to rest his hand limply across Rorschach's chest, and there's not even the suggestion of a gap between them. The proximity should be horrifying – would be, he thinks, if it weren't Daniel, and in such desperate straits. If there weren't more important things on his mind.

If it weren't- if. If it were-

(Still should be. You'd ignore it for his sake, but that creeping, twisting sickness shouldn't just be absent.)

The sidewalk used to be split here, he's certain of it; a drug dealer fell from the top floor of the building in 1976 and hit ground with enough force to pull a hairline crack out of cement, spidering out over the ensuing years. The fall was not accidental. The building is now an office park. Like every other building here, its windows are broad and clear and very, very open, the figures inside spinning like windup toys.

If.

A short noise, shifting the body pressed to his shoulder; Daniel's mold against him only gets closer for his efforts, but it's the exertion of bearing another's weight along and the merciless, beating midday sun that are conspiring to trap so much warmth under his coat. Nothing else.

"Heavy, Daniel," he mutters, resuming his steady and careful pace down the sidewalk.

*

"Small percentage of the population immune to control."

It's been twenty minutes. Rorschach thinks he knows who their follower is, now; it's hard to be certain in the crowd, but he hasn't seen anyone else here capable of enough focus or clarity to be trailing them like this. "Clearly not dependant on intelligence or will. What are their motivations, loyalties?"

Daniel mutters from next to him: "S'a nice day. Warm." He blinks a few times, and Rorschach can feel it, the lax face rolled in against his neck. "Nice."

(...'nice'.)

It's not 'nice'. It's too warm. Rorschach's now willing to entertain the notion that it isn't just effort and the unseasonal balminess of the day doing it. It's also fury, bubbling up under the skin, breaking for the surface. The last time he'd had to just about carry Daniel this way, the last time the other man's need for him had been this complete, there'd been red running in thick streams down the lines of his costume – a knife handle stuck in the shoulder seam of his armor, jarring painfully with every step. He'd almost lost too much blood; they almost hadn't made it back to the Nest, and there'd been a horrible, rib-constricting moment when Daniel had sunk to his knees and taken too long to get back up and all Rorschach could see through the swirling black and white was red red red and-

This is, somehow, worse.

*

Halfway back to the warehouse, and their tail is the guard from Veidt's building; Rorschach's sure of it now. "Being followed, Daniel."

He waits a moment, times it with the passing of a van through the intersection; then turns them both just inside the lip of an alley. "Can't lose him like this, not mobile enough." The body hanging boneless against him falls easily onto the ground, guided to sit against the brick wall between them and their pursuer. "Will have to figure this out here. Hopefully intent is surveillance and not cutting off of loose ends..."

Veidt had only been concerned with their silence, an old argument from a dead world, out of step with the years that have passed. But there's something here that wants them blind and compliant and stupid, too – that isn't content with assurances and well-meaning lies, wants to empty the truth out of their heads and everything else along with it. The job's only half done; is their tail an agent of whatever regime is behind all of this, come to finish it – or one of Veidt's regressives, infiltrating his office from some kind of underground resistance, following them with intent to recruit-

Rorschach shakes his head, self-deprecating without words. Fanciful notions. Most likely Veidt just wants to know where they've been sleeping, defenseless and open to attack. Hollowed out or not, he's still an intelligent puppet, obviously capable of plying at his own strings in small ways. Rorschach takes one step towards the mouth of the alley, to scout for the guard–

"...that's good," Daniel mumbles, head rolling onto his chest, the timing off – too long since the last thing spoken, too spacey to be a specific response.

–and that step never lands. Rorschach turns his head back to look at Daniel – to really look, finally, and see something other than a precious and broken possession or a piece of crime scene evidence – to face this, and not shrink from it, because Daniel deserves no denial, no immature self-coddling.

[They've been in the river for too long, waiting and waiting, and for once his temper isn't the only one running high; Daniel is shouting and waving his hands and saying words like 'lunatic' and it actually hurts – he didn't think anyone could wield that weapon against him anymore, much less draw blood – but it's honest and real and in that moment, he respects Daniel more than he respects the ghost of Nite Owl that he carries with him, tucked in the back of his brain for the very loneliest patrols and...]

[It's a rough fight and the thugs are stupid enough to assume he's the only real threat, ganging up on him until there are just too many limbs to block or duck under all of them and he drops under the pile – and they learn very quickly that he is not the only threat, because Nite Owl can be a thing of horrible and efficient fury when given the right motivation and...]

[The boy, Kevin, is finally coaxed free from Nite Owl's hand and the policeman swings him up onto his shoulders to walk him to the patrol car and in this moment he cannot hate the police as he usually does – in this matter, they are all on the same side – and Daniel is smiling and smiling and it is the only real smile he has ever seen, the only smile he has ever trusted in its intents and sincerity.]

Daniel makes a small, confused noise, casting around the alley with eyes that still refuse to focus, and Rorschach feels his resolve crack.

He crouches down; there is no garbage here, no piles of detritus, no fine-ground crust of old broken glass. Spotless, in a way that feels artificial and wrong. Life forced to view itself on perfection's terms. The other man won't meet his eyes, doesn't seem able to; Rorschach works his mouth open around something that won't come out. Manages Daniel's name, rough and questioning.

Daniel blinks. Somewhere above, there's the sound of a window sliding closed on its sill. "...hm?"

Another window; not slammed, simply closed. They're not speaking loudly enough to be classed as a disturbance. Maybe there's something in their programming about eavesdropping. "Do you know who I am?"

There's color back in his skin now at least, and the facial twitches have subsided; the smile's still there, listless and pale, but Daniel's eyes narrow. "Rorschach?" he asks, and it's confusion, or near enough. One hand comes up towards his face; Rorschach weaves to the side to avoid it, snapping up Daniel's arm by the wrist, holding his hand just out of reach. He's not being ungentle, but he's not letting go, either. "Where's... where's your mask? We can't patrol without... uh, without..."

Rorschach narrows his eyes, forces a breath. "Daniel. Where do you think we are?"

The alley wall is nondescript, lacking any graffiti or signage or garbage bins overflowing with telltale takeout cartons; studying it as closely as he's capable of clearly does Daniel no good, but at least he's trying. "...alley?"

"Alley where?" Rorschach asks, but Daniel's gaze has drifted up to where his hand is pinned in midair, distracted by the sight of it. Rorschach releases it; puts his hand square on Daniel's chin instead, gloved thumb and fingers digging roughly into the skin as he turns that face back to him. "Alley where?"

"Off 54th," Daniel spits out, almost instantly, like something rote memorized. "Near Madison."

(Hm. Doesn't wipe associations; doesn't wipe ability to navigate.)


Doesn't take away the base functional ability to live, the surface contentment of another day another day another day, each exactly as they should be. Just takes what's under the surface, the emotional response to the life being lived, the hatred and anger and the discontentment – the ability to smile and mean it. A tragedy where Daniel's concerned.

Daniel shifts restlessly in his grip; Rorschach holds on firmly. "Think we're patrolling?"

(The ability to put reality in context; to face what is instead of what you wish still was.)

"Of... of course, we're always patrolling. Helping people. Right... righting the wrongs?"

(To understand it when the world puts justice beyond your means to exact.)


Rorschach nods slightly, focus inward, releasing Daniel's chin; his eyes don't rove away this time. Another window slides shut. That one listened for a while. Curious.

"Wrongs," Daniel mutters lightly, as if getting the feel for a strange new word, slithering and alien over his tongue. "Shouldn't be any wrongs, what..."

"Always wrongs, Daniel," and there's something obsessive and venomous creeping into Rorschach's tone, tempered by exhaustion. Something glinting behind his eyes, as he recognizes the beginnings of cracks starting to form, fault lines snaking through the pristine cement. "Deception and lies if not murder and rape. Comedian. Manhattan cancer scare. Karnak. Veidt murdered half the city. Do you remember?"

Daniel licks his lips in concentration, smile starting to fade by degrees. "Kind of...? Like... like a dream, almost."

"Not a dream," Rorschach grates out, and somewhere out in the street, their tail has either radioed in their position for backup or has given up. Rorschach can't seem to care, no matter how recent and stinging the memory of captivity is; he can see the cracks spreading, and they hold his attention like nothing else can at this moment. "Sent here, to a city of lunatics. Chances of long-term survival very low. Veidt still scheming; exact nature of plot uncertain but-"

A harsh breath out, held for too long, explosive in the narrow space. When Daniel looks up again, he's blinking hard, as if coming up from underwater or out of a dense fog, clearing stinging mist from his eyes. "...Rorschach?"

Nothing to punctuate the silence this time, but it still feels like something with heft and meaning, solid as it stretches. Rorschach pushes himself up to his feet, silently offers a hand up.

"…welcome back," he mutters, dry as dust, before turning back to the mouth of the alley to determine their best way out of the trap he's gotten them stuck in.

*

"Only one other usable warehouse, don't want to waste it if not strictly necessary."

The man remains in the street outside, fifty yards away, neither retreating nor approaching closer; a study in dull robotic patience. They can't spend the night in an alley, can't stay awake indefinitely, and the guard knows it.

Dan nods, still working on coming back to himself but it's happening, bit by bit. Things like 'headaches' and 'bruised knees' have never felt so amazing. "He just wants to know where we're hiding out, right?"

A quiet grunt, Rorschach shifting silently on the balls of his feet. "Would seem so. Would have attacked by now if he meant to."

"Why don't we just… I don't know, grab a hotel or something?"

The gears are visibly turning when Rorschach turns to look back at him, a slow and deliberate motion, sharp edges of sunlight catching on all the angles of his face. "…will think that's where we've been."

"And go to report it," Dan finishes, scrunching his eyes shut against a sudden swell of fresh pain, a headache layered over the headache. He rubs thumbs into the sides of his head, hard; one hand still clenched into a fist. "Then we leave in the morning and never go back."

Rorschach turns to look back out at the street. "Simplistic. Assumes poor surveillance technique…"

In the crowd, the guard's eyes are wandering, following the track of a bird traversing one stretch of grassy front yard for another.

"…but probably best option, yes. What did he give you?"

Dan blinks at the conversational shift, still feeling a bit like he's forcing his thoughts through cold mud. Looks down at his hand – uncurls it painfully, because it's been locked stiff for almost an hour now, and every joint is protesting. Resting in his palm is a small silver key; 'VCB' engraved on its head, enclosed by a stylized padlock. He nudges it over with his thumbnail, finds '3482' on the other side.

"Safety deposit box," Rorschach observes, and his tone is unusual; drawn-out and thoughtful and almost pleased, it reminds Dan of long hours spent poring over newspaper clippings and disjointed clues, nights that bled into early mornings over coffee and endless sugar and the exhilaration of the hunt, lost and locked away now in the irretrievable past.

A large chunk of himself had just almost gone the same route.

The silver catches a stray beam of sunlight, glinting in the shadows like a beacon.

"Tomorrow," Dan insists, pocketing the key, continuing to rub broadening circles into his temples, wincing in the light filtering in from the street.

Rorschach nods. "Tomorrow."

*

The sun sets on today very quickly, hounded at the heels by too many realizations and too many unanswered questions and too much trauma – running with a self-indulgent cowardice neither has the luxury to give in to. But it sets the same on everyone, and that is a comfort.

*

"…thank you."

It's quiet, hesitant to break apart the darkness. It's barely there. It's asking to not have to explain itself.

From across the room, bedsprings creak uncomfortably. There's no response for a long while; Dan's almost drifted off when even quieter words settle around him. "…couldn't let you go off and buy a house and a dog, Daniel. Wouldn't suit you."

Dan smiles to himself, curled facing the door. It's so close to a joke – a real joke, not like that forced and cynical attempt with the bean juice that feels like a million years ago just at this moment – that he's almost questioning whether he heard it correctly.

"No more talking," the words continue, grumbling. "Sleep. Lot to do tomorrow."

And there is, so he does. And if he almost surfaces briefly, high in the dead of night, to the sound of breathing closer than it should be and something like the feel of fingertips tracing along the side of his face, and if he thinks he remembers the breath catching in some distant cousin to grief, well – it's probably just a dream.

*

----->Chapter 7

*



Tags:

Comments

( 48 comments — Leave a comment )
midnite_vision
Jun. 10th, 2009 02:55 am (UTC)
I'm happy that Dan wasn't brainwashed for very long. I love how you had Rorschach handle the situation. It was rather heartbreaking, but so in character.
etherati
Jun. 10th, 2009 03:01 am (UTC)
Dan getting hit was basically a shot across the bow, a way for them both to realize how goddamned REAL the situation is. The serious casualties don't come this early in the narrative.

By the way. I don't write dream sequences that have no purpose. *coughs*
(no subject) - midnite_vision - Jun. 10th, 2009 03:16 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - etherati - Jun. 10th, 2009 03:29 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - etherati - Jun. 10th, 2009 08:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
sandoz_iscariot
Jun. 10th, 2009 03:56 am (UTC)
I love Dan the burrowing owl. *g*

Another wonderful chapter. I love Rorschach reflecting on his partnership with Dan, and how Dan is the one person who can get under Rorschach's skin and stay there.
etherati
Jun. 10th, 2009 04:28 am (UTC)
*grins stupidly* Thank you so much.

He tries so hard, too, to keep it from happening, but it's been a lost cause for years.
jack_infinitude
Jun. 10th, 2009 05:08 am (UTC)
Mwaahhh, mah babies! The brainwashing might be wearing off, but that kind of thing never NOT comes back to bite you in the ass. Poor Rorschach, poor Dan.
etherati
Jun. 10th, 2009 06:09 am (UTC)
The question is, HOW will it come back? :O

Thanks for the comment :)
Re - (Anonymous) - Jun. 10th, 2009 06:17 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Re - etherati - Jun. 10th, 2009 06:48 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Re - liodain - Jun. 10th, 2009 09:31 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Re - etherati - Jun. 10th, 2009 03:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
roachpatrol
Jun. 10th, 2009 07:08 am (UTC)
eeeeeeee this is so GOOD!
etherati
Jun. 10th, 2009 03:08 pm (UTC)
Thank you!:D :D
snake_easing
Jun. 10th, 2009 09:00 pm (UTC)
This is really, extraordinarily good. I'll be watching, to see where it goes.
etherati
Jun. 10th, 2009 09:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much!
(no subject) - snake_easing - Jun. 11th, 2009 03:45 am (UTC) - Expand
por_queeee
Jun. 10th, 2009 11:09 pm (UTC)
I feel like I may not have commented on this series yet, but believe me, I've been watching it like a hawk. Or an owl.

I think I've mentioned it before but your pacing and characterization is really beautiful. You've definitely got a lot of talent, (more than me at least,) and I hope you keep writing for a long time!

This. Fic. I. Need. MORE.
etherati
Jun. 11th, 2009 12:29 am (UTC)
WATCH IT LIKE AN OWL LIKE AN OWL LIKE AN OWL

Thank you, seriously. I always say 'I'm really worried about X' where X can be characterization, plot, descriptions, etc etc, because I'm usually worried about *everything*, but pacing is seriously my biggest worry because it's something I've always struggled with. Seems sometimes like I'll just ramble on for goddamned pages and it's hard to tell if it's paced well or not.

So, again: thank you! And as for MOAR I'm trying to manage an update every two days, less time if I'm productive, more if it starts fighting me again.
des_pudels_kern
Jun. 11th, 2009 08:55 pm (UTC)
I'm glad to see that Dan did snap out of the mind-whammie.

Mh, a handful of people immune for a reason we don't know yet (and Veidt cannot know yet either, or he'd have done something by now), a, well, "schizophrenic" Veidt, a key to a mysterious safety deposit box, and this: And if he almost surfaces briefly, high in the dead of night, to the sound of breathing closer than it should be and something like the feel of fingertips tracing along the side of his face, and if he thinks he remembers the breath catching in some distant cousin to grief, well – it's probably just a dream.

Well-written, plotty (oh my god, plot, how I love it), and what looks like the beginnings of a slowly and believably developing relationship. I really like this!
etherati
Jun. 11th, 2009 09:32 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank you so much. I always feel like I'm pushing them too hard/fast when I even so much as hint at anything between them(because, of course, anything at all is too fast for Ror heh) but I'm really glad to hear it seems believable to you. There will be further catalysts, but I'm not saying just what, because it's tied into the plot. :)

Which, again, thank you. I'm specifically trying to avoid the kind of typical 'Veidt is the bad guy LOOK HE'S THE BAD GUY and he's trying to kill them so everyone boo at the screen now' interpretation of post-GN Veidt which, while VERY VALID and certainly likely under normal circumstances, would probably not hold up under THESE circumstances. He may have been unwilling to give humanity the right to choose whether to annihilate itself or not but I don't think he wants to see them reduced to brainless sheep. The surface Veidt is something of an antagonist(who knows if he's the main one, at this point) but the part of him trapped inside is trying very hard for redemption.

Which okay I JUST RAMBLED EXCESSIVELY about goddamned Adrian, he's not even the focus of the story gdrhsjgdsjg.

I talk too much.
(no subject) - des_pudels_kern - Jun. 11th, 2009 09:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - etherati - Jun. 11th, 2009 10:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
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ereshkigal2
Aug. 4th, 2009 04:25 am (UTC)
This reminds me of a Wrinkle in Time.
".....Two times two is four..."
etherati
Aug. 4th, 2009 04:30 am (UTC)
I read that, ages and ages ago, but I can't remember enough of it to get the reference?
(no subject) - ereshkigal2 - Aug. 4th, 2009 07:10 am (UTC) - Expand
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( 48 comments — Leave a comment )

what this is.


This is a fic journal for the most part, with some art on the side and a sprinkling of personal posts here and there. I don't write as much as I used to, but I try.

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