etherati (etherati) wrote,

FIC: Between the Brushstrokes - [9/?]

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.
ART NOTE: Art here is by simshocking , NOT ME.

THIS PART IS VERY THINKY. And long. Not much happens, until the very end. My apologies. If it sucks, please please please tell me so. :\


It doesn't take him long. He's in a library, for god's sake – and if there's one thing Dan always brought to their partnership that it would otherwise have been void of, it was the patience to paw through books, references, newspapers – to run searches, to dig, the all tedious and unexciting work that still needed doing. Without research, hunches are just hunches and the man on the corner barstool will tell you he shot Kennedy himself if he loses enough fingers.

So he sits in a pool of afternoon light, the heels of his boots scraping across the clay tiled floor, and he lets it sink in: he's still free for a reason. He has a job to do; a binfull of legal and scientific documents and financial sheets to dig through, to cross-reference with the resources he's surrounded by, while Rorschach looks to the practical concerns of where and who and how to find them and-

And Dan isn't actually self-deluding enough to believe that for a second, but if he just keeps repeating it, reminding himself that long games can be won and that that is what this is, really – his brain might start working properly again.

He reaches for one of the oddly bulky packages, wrapped in what looks like butcher's paper but which feels, under nerves still shot up on flight, far too fine and smooth and grainless. Vellum, maybe, but he doubts vegetarian Adrian would use something like that as packing paper. Inside, there is a hinged eyeglasses case, shining brown leather and unfamiliar.

The note inside, nestled under the bridge of a perfectly brand-new pair of glasses, just says:

'Took the liberty of looking up your prescription. Hope you don't mind.'

The goggles feel heavy around his neck. Dan swears under his breath, shoving the case back into the bin. Moves on.


The papers are spread out in front of him in a broad fan, each overlapping the next in a way that he hopes will encourage connections, ideas. Excellent researcher he may be, he's realized that he still needs the hunch to start with, and without Rorschach here, it's down to him.

This isn't something he usually does – even when they worked together, he never... he pats his pockets down, searching, but he doesn't have a pen. Does he need a pen? Rorschach always used a pen, a red one, and –

Dan shakes his head sharply as if to clear it. Leans over the papers, scanning through them. He focuses in on the nearest document; runs a finger under the title line, then down the page, until a name jumps out: Paul Warren. The name leads the tracing fingertip nearly across the entire fan, landing on a newspaper clipping detailing the man's run for public office in 1988. More shuffling turns up the minutes of a meeting in the early part of '89, between Adrian and the heads of his scientific think-tank, and this man, now Senator Warren, had been present, and asking some very interesting questions.

The connections seem to be begging for ink, for circles and arrows and margin notes too cramped to read, his fingertips itching over the paper. He pushes down the urge; he will find his own way. Leaves of paper shuffle and fold together, stack and fan, corners folded and split and torn. Out of the disorder, a picture begins to emerge.


By the time the light is slanting in through the nearby windows too obliquely to land on his workspace, orange and violet and useless, he's pieced together something that feels like a timeline.

Adrian's utopia held its own for a surprisingly long time – a year and a half, and yes, he's being cynical, but there's little call for anything else in the face of the facts – before starting to break down in the summer of 1987. Upswing in violent crimes, nearly back to their old levels. Unrest; civil disobedience. Rumors of conspiracy, because Rorschach's friends in the publishing industry had managed to get one entry out before mysteriously burning down in the early, shifting grey hours before dawn.

Paper ash is so much finer than wood ash, and it clings. He can only imagine what sunrise had looked like that day, clotted over in a swirling grey-white mist – and suspicion and distrust hang on in human minds in a way that love and adoration never quite manage to.

Politics shifted as they always do, with an election year drawing up – charges of 'soft on communism' shifted to 'soft on crime', and Paul Warren rode to victory in his Senate race over the bodies of thousands of accused felons, their cases accelerated through the courts until even the jurors were unsure just which case they were trying at any given moment. The ACLU had been in an uproar. The voters disagreed.

And then he met with Adrian – many times, many meetings.

("We were supposed to make the world a better place...")

And Adrian brought his scientists. The scientists brought their spoils. The covercloth came off, with a flourish.

("That's what I'm doing.")

The goal was to treat violent offenders only – to relieve stress on the prisons by rehabilitating those dangerous human animals in the only way they seemed able to respond to. Take away that which made them such lost and violent souls –

(Red means stop, green means go.)

–hollow them out. There was talk of human rights violations. It was ignored. Dan feels something unpleasantly like understanding, like seeing how the story ends in the second before the page is turned, settling heavily into his stomach.

The program went into effect, with little to no protest, in late 1989. There, the paper trail abruptly stops; like a picture with a chunk cut away, the absence is obvious for the way it covers up something that really ought to be there. He reaches for the box, digging through the discarded folders, hoping he's just missed something. All the binders hang open and empty.

This is where the hunches come in; the wild conjecture, scattershot and random. This is the part he's terrible at. He settles his chin over folded hands.

Limited use in '89, criminals with past histories of violent crimes only. Six years later, 99.5% of the population is enslaved to a system so intricate, so painstakingly choreographed, that even through his horror, Dan can't help but admire the clicking and whirring clockwork brilliance of it. It could not have been an accident, and it doesn't feel like an organic evolution.

So how did they get here from there?

There's a piece missing, and he knows it, and that itch isn't just in his fingers anymore; it's in his brain and in his sinuses, scratching at the backs of his eyes. It feels like intuition, but stranger and more sharp-edged, more insistent, like the clawing twitch of obsession. He keeps looking back at that first report and the name on it, and wondering what about it set him off in the first place.

Senator Warren. It sounds familiar. He has no idea why it should.

Twenty minutes later, halfway to the microfiche machine, he remembers. Turns back, changes out the film in his hand for a different one entirely.

Paul Warren – no, not Paul. His son, James. James Warren, seven years old. Killed during the police riots, though not actually in any of the riots, not by hands wielding signs or broken bottles or improvised firebombs. Killed in the park by a man who lured him from his sitter's side, and if there'd been police patrolling that day...

The film threads into the holder, shoved into its clamp by hands shaking ever so subtley.

Warren had claimed, in his campaign bid in '88 – there's ad copy in the pile of paperwork, and like everything else, he knows now that it's there for a reason – that his boy had been killed by a recently freed convict, a man who should never have been released without considerably more rehabilitation. He promised to not let another parent know the hell that he had, having to identify his own child's body, having to put that body in the ground.

But the police report under the machine's magnifier is clear on this: The killer, arrested within a week, was not a repeat offender – he had no record whatsoever aside from the odd traffic violation. As far as the legal system was concerned, he was invisible before the attack; a law-abiding citizen no more distinctive under the blind gaze of justice than the sitter or the trash collector who found the body or the boy himself.

The promise rings strangely. No other parent-

If killers can be anyone, can be everyone, if the potential for such evil exists in every heart, then every heart must be carved out, and weighed, and the darkness cut away. Burned clean. Every single one.

Dan leans back in the chair, letting his eyes go middle-distance and unfocused. The image on the reader's screen – a school photograph of the boy, all brightly striped shirt and shining hair, blotted and stripped of its life by the black ink and grainy grey paper, a meaningless freezeframe with no context – blurs and shifts and becomes something else entirely.

Children don't die, anymore. They aren't killed in parks, blood staining the leaf litter; they aren't sold into prostitution between dank tenement walls. They aren't butchered and fed to creatures too dull and mindless to understand the gravity of what they do, leaving behind a trail of human wreckage too long see the ultimate end of, disappearing over the horizon. People are no longer capable of that level of sickness. Of viciousness. Of violence.


The image comes back unbidden: A man who never surrendered, who never gave up or went quietly, surrounded by the enemy like he'd been so many times before – unable to raise a hand in his own defense.

Better, or worse?

And the thing is – the real problem with this picture – he knows that Rorschach's coat is brown, that his hair is red and wiry, that his eyes blaze like blue-hot stars. But when he turns back to the memory, those last few minutes in the warehouse, trying to parse it for some meaning or implication he might have missed, all he sees is grey and grey and clotted ink in the shadows, the details muddied out of existence, all the sharp immediacy pared away. They've rendered his dreams into black and white, and he can remember fingertips on his face but not their rough warmth, and he can't help but wonder what else they've taken from him.

He presses his eyes closed, rubbing them with fingers and thumb, trying to banish the techpan impression of endless words and graphs and flow-charts from behind his eyes, burned in like an old, old television screen.


When the sun goes down, finally, he has everything he came in with stacked neatly in the box. He's hung magazines over the sides, covering the bank logos, and has loaded the haul down with every newspaper, periodical, and research rag that seems even vaguely related to the problem at hand.

There are a lot of psychology journals, in that box. A lot of biotechnical magazines and medical volumes on neurology and brain science. He hopes they won't be necessary; that he won't be sitting with them long into the night, flashlight held flat against the pages, following one faulty lead after another into the dark – trying to fix the unfixable.

He slips out as the first streetlights start to flicker on, and the light is white and intense and coming from everywhere at once, slipping intangible fingers into his mind to twitch and tug along the puppetstrings – and it's all he can do to get the goggles switched to infrared-only before he starts glazing over underneath them.


(Still no one back there. Good.)

It takes him three hours to reach the warehouse, distracted by all this business of glancing over his shoulder every three steps without being obvious about it. The unfamiliar address is unmarked on the peeling plaster-coated outer walls – all of the wood and paint and the rust curling up in broad strips, aching in the salt-drenched air. He took a circuitous route to get here. He's not underestimating them this time.

There's an old payphone – it still reads 'New York Telephone Company' across its placard, outdated in '85, even more outdated now – just outside the building, housing rusted, cables black with age and disuse. But it has a dial tone when he picks it up.

He takes the phonebook. It isn't tied down.


It's only when he pulls the creaking door shut behind him and looks around the empty space, infrared readings making it clearer than it needs to be just exactly how alone he is and painting the surroundings in a cold black fog, that the warm brainbuzz of a puzzle halfway put together and a long day of fruitful research done with drops away, and the reality sinks in: this is it, now, today, tonight, from here on out. It's only him. There will be no shoulder to look over or clap a hand onto or just lean against in the dark, propping his resolve up as surely as his tired, out-of-shape body, no quiet breath across the room to keep the silence from settling over him completely. No hand shining a flashlight square into his goddamned eyes, panic bubbling up around the practical motivations. No–

It isn't a game. He hadn't thought it was one – every breath in the last thirty-six hours has drawn itself with the quaking reverence of the last second before the hammer drops – and he's done well enough alone for years. But he hasn't generally been facing odds this overwhelming, and there are games that are also not games, that are tactics, that are their own kind of war. He lost his knight today, his brilliantly unpredictable vanguard of destruction, and he has no idea what he is but he feels heavy and old and slow and he just hopes to god that he isn't the pawn he thinks he is, or this is all as good as over.

It might be already. The outdated medical journals peek out from under the phonebook: Breakthroughs in sub-cognitive learning. Neurology and the modern age. A study on the permanence of nonphysical brain damage.

He thinks about the waffle house, and in his memory: the sign is grey, the counter is grey, the sleeve of the waitress's dress, across his view for a moment as she sets the extra syrup down in front of Rorschach, is grey. All is grey.

He drops the box, shuffles it under a pair of sawhorses draped with a tarp. Pulls a sheet of paper from his pocket; every address he could find amongst the documentation that was in any way associated with the criminal rehabilitation program that had evolved into... this. Many will be defunct. Some may not be.

It's a long list. He needs to hit them all tonight and narrow it down some so that tomorrow's efforts during business hours will be efficient; he won't have time to waste then and he doesn't have time to waste now, not on sleeping or brooding or carrying on dialogues with his useless monochrome memories.

Adjusting his goggles, Dan scans the rafters for even the tiny blossoming red-hot glow of pigeons – there's nothing, this time – and leaves the echoing silence to its own devices.


It's been a fruitless night. Dan sits inside the warehouse door, digging knuckles into his tearducts until his vision blisters into a bright geometry – fighting down frustration.

("Will have at least 24 hours to escape before-")

Every address – every single one – is now under new management, office parks and storefronts and loft apartments, unrelated to the biomedical and technological corporations that had sat in their places six years before. It's possible that any number of them are fronts, but there's no pattern, no way to cut away half or more of the list, and he's running out of time.

("Do you really think you could escape from anywhere, like this?")

It's six in the morning, dawn light curling through the cracks around the doorframe. This building has no windows, and only two ways in or out, and is conveniently close to the waterfront, an old dock weaving its rickety and snaggletoothed path into the harbor. He has a feeling Rorschach identified this one last because it's the most tactical space he's ever seen, laid out as if its only purpose is to be an efficient and safe hideaway; easily held, easily defended. A secret to guard closely, until there is no other choice.

And damn it, if he'd just brought them here to start with-

No. A useless line of thought, for all that it ignites a thread of anger, a long and delicate fuse coiled around the frustration and fear. The situation is what it is, and he can only allow himself these few minutes to regather his wits and revise his plan; there's no time whatsoever for idle speculation. He digs for a pen and the sheet of addresses.

None of the buildings seemed secure or well-surveilled enough to serve as a prison, to hold someone like Rorschach against his will, dazed and rendered docile or not. It would be easy to write it off as they had the phonebooks and the safety deposit box, that this world is not used to coexisting with people that resourceful and deadly determined much less imprisoning them, but Rorschach would have shown up here and he hasn't, and Adrian's half-a-percent is nagging. The library's latest census report gave the city's population at seven million give or take, which implies a good 35,000 people immune; where are they, and how welcome could they possibly be on these streets? How long could they evade capture in a city full of puppets, waiting happily for their next set of instructions?

Where are they being held, without trial, without anyone on the outside to worry or care?

Not at a new Gunga franchise, he's fairly sure of that, and not at an upscale antique shop. He scans down the annotated list, frowning at how loose and poorly formed his handwriting's become all of a sudden; prescribed apathy, whether it rides on the surface or is scuttled somewhere deeper, leaks out in the strangest ways. He crosses off about five that he's sure of and together or alone, what's left on the list could never house that volume of people.

There's a technical journal open across from him, facedown and dated back to early 1990, reporting on the rehabilitation program now going into use in every prison in the country. Most of Europe is looking at picking it up as well, and a good portion of Asia. 'Now', 'is', all anachronisms, but the language is less important than the content, technology stepping in where society has failed.

One flash, it says. One complete, uninterrupted exposure to the reshaping tech, and the key really does break off at its turning, because that's when the state becomes permanent. Not the background programming or a daze that pressing the right memory buttons will dissipate, but a locked-in restructuring of brain patterns into something passive and agreeable and manageable.

Permanent. It's possible that it was unfamiliar technology back then, untested and not well understood, but the word is twisting and ugly and he hasn't read any further, hasn't tried to unearth any further details. He will if he has to, later, but fear is a good motivator, keeps the senses sharp and the mind alive and if he believes it – really believes in the worst possible outcome –

His eyes drift to the journal's cover again; stick and stutter over the word 'prisoner'.

And he suddenly feels more stupid than he ever has in his life.

Of course. Where else would they incarcerate thousands of uncontrollable, unpredictable, potentially violent citizens, away from prying eyes and ears pressed to walls? The country's jails and prisons have no conventional use in this world, but they have bars and high fences and small grey rooms that seditious voices can't escape from, and it makes perfect sense.

Doesn't necessarily mean that that is where they've taken Rorschach; a captive they want to program would have no place in the holding pens for the unprogrammable. The list is still his best lead for now, but he'll have to remember that for later; they'll need all the allies they can get. He flips through the phone book, starts tracking down the remaining businesses on the list, digging for phone numbers to go with the names. Maybe he can save some time by screening out some obvious false leads without leaving the area-


His fingers hesitate over the yellow pages; turn back to the white,

(God. Stupid.)

running down the list of J's. If (when) he manages to find Rorschach, if they figure out what's behind this and how to counteract it – and oh, but that's a traitorous idea, because that means it can be counteracted and right now he needs that useful terror, that end-of-the-world feeling of dread as noon draws closer – then they can track down old friends and allies and give them their minds back and build a strength of numbers that stands just the slightest chance at success –

But Hollis is dead, Blake is dead, Adrian is at worst their enemy and at best utterly useless, lost in his catatonic dreamscape where everything turned out exactly as he planned, and there is no L. Juspeczyk listed in all of New York City.

Dan leans his head back against the door.

Because she's gone with Jon. Not because she's in Iowa or Florida or California or even just upstate a ways, living a blissful life as one of Adrian's utopia-friendly wind-up dolls. His sense of loss is already cresting high and ugly against the cliffs, threatening to overwhelm him – and Laurie is with Jon, is safe, because his mind can't afford to process anything else.

(In denial, Daniel), the voice in his head accuses, and it doesn't sound like his own.

Probably right.

Either way, there will be no allies in this save who they can free from Riker's Island and the smaller municipal holding cells, and that's assuming his theory on that bears out – is assuming he manages to get Rorschach back whole. No allies and no friends and he's halfway gone to the damn thing himself, aware of his strings and able to jerk back on them when he feels them fingered from somewhere high above, but still strung up, still vulnerable, and there's no one else left. And the world is spinning and spinning and going about its business and it's almost enough to make him give up right here; is enough to make him laugh, dark and broken, into his hands.

No matter what happens today, he has a choice. They have a choice. They can walk away.

Or they can keep fighting.

He doubts it will make the slightest difference to the world at large either way; there was something self-satisfied in the set of Jon's blank face in the seconds before his hand came down, before time split open around them. He thinks, inexplicably, of a dog he had when he was young, and how he would chase even if you didn't actually throw the ball, and how much sadistic glee his cousin had taken in sending the dog off to hunt down shadows and invisible things in the tall grass behind his house. The dog was a well-programmed object-retrieving machine, predictable and determined, easy to send off on a fool's errand; he would have run straight into oncoming traffic if he thought that was where the ball had gone.

Not many forces are actually unstoppable, but there are plenty of immovable objects, and the mess is never any fun to clean up, no matter what metaphor is being spun.

It would be easy to give up, easy to justify it; he knows, in a moment of shattering lucidity, that they cannot win this. That it's too big; that it will break them both, blood and bone, and reshape the dissociative tragedy of their struggle, almost comedic for its futility, into something that cannot recognize itself. Because really, without adversity, without suffering-

What on earth do you call a story that isn't a story?

It's 6:17, and there are five hours and 43 minutes until this is over, one way or another; until he knows whether he is fighting the impossible odds of one-against-the-world or the equally impossible odds of two-against-the-world, and whether that makes a difference in the choices he's making right now.

Rorschach would never have given up.

(But he did.)

And it may not make a difference. They may be doomed to failure, to eventually be dragged down into the tearing and toothy gears of the machine with everyone else, but if he ever thought he could transcend what he is – one man – and save the entire world just by dressing up in a costume and running around at night like a madman, that idea had been crushed into the asphalt like so much shattered bottleglass a very, very long time ago.

(Not just in the warehouse, either. He was ready to die out there in the snow, and do you remember the pattern the blood would have made, burning in with its heat? He would have called it beautiful once the cold blackened it, and meant it, and he doesn't say things like that.)

He supposes the question is an old one: die free, or live a life that is lie and prison and denial all prettied up with complacency?

(And maybe it was for his ideals and maybe he saw no choices besides compromise and oblivion but he still gave up. Quit.)

Because if they try to save this world they will likely die in the effort, and he's almost – not quite, but almost – ready to say that yes, that really would be better than the alternative.

(He took off the mask first, and what the hell did that mean? Such a deliberate, obvious gesture, lost on the swirling white wasteland but it had to have meant something, with the way the storm had held its breath and he'd almost heard something snap in the wind, like a willow switch pulled taut and let go, as the latex sliced through the air and hit the ground.)

They cannot live quietly in this time, this place. Cannot run off to some cabin somewhere, even if the thought has occurred to him; cannot bury their heads and live off the grid and ignore the state of things as if fingers plugged in ears make it all go away – as if either of them has ever been that childish. Even before Karnak, before the jailbreak, before Rorschach broke-and-entered his way back into Dan's kitchen and his life and into that familiar wriggling place under his skin, he could never have accepted a crime on this scale: humanity not just tricked, not just culled, but stripped of its essential nature and purpose, lobotomized, destroyed more utterly than any science-fiction monster could have dreamed.

(There is a face, angled in the doorway, dropping and glancing back in a tiny motion that is both a goodbye and an apology and something that is trying hard not to be disappointment.)

("That's always been the difference between us.")

(And, as if from a dream: "If you'd cared from the start-")

So they will fight, and it will probably undo them, touch them with a shocking and beautiful violence. Dan will do whatever he can to prevent it – fatalism will never take him that fully – but he knows: Jon's mercy will be as wasted as Antarctic snowflakes in the spring heat, boiling away as soon as they hit ground, because this place cannot bear their existence any more than they can bear its.

(...and what did he pull out from under the swirling fabric, from that place that was supposed to be empty? What is he now? What is the name of power for a man who isn't a man, for a mask without a face?)

(He hasn't been the same.)

Dan should be terrified. For some reason, he isn't.

(Neither have you.)

It's 6:23, and time is still moving onward; He carries the book outside and starts making calls.


By the time ten o'clock rolls around, he's out of leads and getting desperate and straw-grasping, and none of the locations he's checked seem to have anything going on behind closed doors that isn't a part of their regular operations. No false walls, no secret basements, and really – did he think it would be that easy? Six years past, and he thinks they haven't done so much as rent out a new building somewhere, just one?

But that's getting into needle and haystack territory, and this sheet of paper is all he has – where his leads start and end, and they've ended, leaving him blinking through the goggles at an obscenely bright March morning, standing on a streetcorner in a neighborhood he's only ever been to at night, and even so - it'd be unrecognizable now.

Waiting for the light to change.

The prisons, then. It's the only idea he has left.

Somewhere, he knows, Rorschach is unconscious or raging or plotting – or sitting in mild complacency, but he can't picture that very well so he stops trying – tied to a chair or strapped to a table or free to prowl the length and breadth of a cold cell like some wild animal waiting to be broken and tamed. He imagines a plan unfurling, a carefully choreographed series of feints and misdirections; imagines an unexpected moment of opportunity, taken advantage of. Imagines that Rorschach will be waiting for him at the warehouse when he gets back, impatient and shuddering apart from exhaustion but wanting to move, to fight, to strike while they still can-

He knows it for the lie it is, but he still holds onto the image with a grip so white-knuckled as to be frightening, setting off down the street.


Dan's not sure what he expected to find here, on the outskirts of a high security prison's perimeter – the yards are empty, the watch towers unmanned. The building looks to have been maintained even if the fencing has not, and there are guards by the entrances in the same gear as those who'd exploded through shattering industrial glass yesterday, who'd taken-

That's encouraging. The very heavy rifles they're holding are not.

Dan takes a breath, wishes he'd thought to retrieve his armor, hardened as it is against a lot of standard ammunition types – he'd still be knocked flat on his ass, but it wouldn't be fatal – and walks straight towards them.


"Agreeable," he mutters, stalking back towards the street, echoing other encounters. When they're not laboring under immediate instructions, the people in this world are goddamned agreeable. Civil. Helpful. Even when it makes no sense whatsoever for them to be so, leaving a creeping chill to wrap around the back of his neck.

And it's useless, because Rorschach isn't here. This is not that kind of holding facility, they have told him. It's likely that these walls do hold some subset of those elusive regressives, and that may be important later, but 'later' is starting to peel off into the distance, narrowing to a point, swallowed by something dark and raw.

Because it's 11:20 now, and he is out of places to look, and Rorschach is just about out of time.



Dan's standing in the doorway of the warehouse, casting around the large inner room. He has no reason to expect a response; the dust is undisturbed, the bin under the tarp where he left it. He switches the goggles to infrared, because he could be unconscious, or unwilling to respond aloud for whatever reason, or-

Or more likely, just not here, but it's minutes to noon and this is the only hope he's holding out on, the only option he has left, and he's been running and running and is out of breath, gasping for air, banking on this slim possibility because as long as it isn't noon yet there's a chance-

(As long as you don't see the blood-)

The lenses whir and rotate into place, electronics tripping over, and there are no life-red shapes huddled in the darkness, here or through any of the walls – anywhere nearby.


Dan swears, sharp and loud, and he's still standing in the doorway, fingers going numb around the knob on his goggles. He's not sure he can feel the threshold under his feet. His watch is ticking.

Outside, the payphone rings. The noise cuts through like glass grit rubbed into a wound.

His watch reads 11:59 and thirteen seconds. He steps back out, dazed, and picks up the phone. He's hoping to hear a growling monotone, reminding him – with just the faintest edge of humor – to cover his own eyes, this time.

He's expecting to hear Adrian.

"Hello?" he says, voice rough with something unidentifiable.

"I'm so sorry, Dan," the handset speaks, and expectation wins out over hope, and Dan can feel the floor really dropping away now, leaving him to hang in space for a moment before plummeting, fast and hard. He slips to the pavement, just barely leaned against the phone kiosk's support post.

"Where is he?" he asks, unsure if he'll even be able to register the response, vision sparking, sounds drowning out in the sudden rush of blood behind his ears, thundering in time with the dancing black. (Weak,) he thinks, and he isn't sure whose voice it is.

The ghost on the line gives him an address, and Dan nods against the telephone, plastic digging into his cheek.

He glances at his watch, wills his vision to clear. Five seconds to noon.

"I'm sorry," the voice says again, and the line goes silent, and Dan lets the handset fall, swinging on its cord like a thing dead and limp. He buries his face in his palms, fingers clawing, just before the glow rises up around the skyline, through the water, through the air, into every crack and every hidden pocket of shadow-

His eyes are closed and covered, and he is safe, this time. But that is not enough.


-----> Chapter 10.



Tags: fic, slash, watchmen
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