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FIC: Between the Brushstrokes - [10/?]

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: Illustration in this chapter is by wednesday42 , <3


*

Dan goes to the address. He does not bother to disguise his route this time; they obviously already know where he is or the phone call would never have come, would not have split the air with such theatrically precise timing. He should be thinking about that, should be forming contingencies, but they haven’t stormed the fort yet and the deepest his mind is willing to go on the issue is 'they're biding their time.'

Because they want him to see this.

On the street, the lunch crowd is mechanically and methodically slotting its way back into routine. He's been thinking of them as sheep, as obstacles, as annoyances to get around and past as they gape brainlessly at the electronic overlords glaring down at them – because there are too many, and like a newspaper story about a catastrophic plane crash or an earthquake, read with coffee and frowned over indistinctly and moved on from, statistics are cold for a reason. The human brain can't wrap around anything else.

It could also be a blatant trap he's walking into, here. Like the awareness of his hideaway location’s breach and the greater futility of fighting this, any of this, that fact isn't connecting.

None of these blank faces are familiar. He doesn't know what was lighting them before, what expressions have been smoothed flat, what drives and passions have been yanked out by the roots. He can't see what's missing.

(You will.)

He would stop and watch them – acknowledge their tragedy, really feel it deep in his bones for the first time since they've arrived, because he owes them that much – but he can't seem to still his racing feet or his racing mind or the instincts telling him to run and run and hurry, cover distance, make time. They haven't realized yet that there is no need to hurry, that haste will accomplish nothing; that it is already too late.

*

It's an office building, not the most modern or high-tech or by any means the tallest in the immediate vicinity; unremarkable, and with an unfamiliar logo that Dan's sure must be on the outermost edges of the Veidt corporate umbrella, if only he'd had time to look. On the top floor – and he's not even entirely sure how he got there, or how he knew where to go, and it could be something insidious but he's hoping it's just this daze he's in – he expects to find Adrian, gloating and boastful; or rising from another massive desk, dark and luxurious, confused by his appearance and trying valiantly to conjure a convincing smile.

Instead, a sterile upper-management style office, and a stranger: a man on the far side of middle-aged, thinning hair forming a light crown around his bowed head, thin hands bulging with veins where they shuffle and organize paperwork. He reaches for a stapler, and doesn't look up. "Mr. Dreiberg," he offers, squaring the stack, fastening the corner, and his tone is all annoyed boredom. "Come to pick up your pet?"

(...Pet.)

(You unbelievable b-)


And Dan's about to send this all tumbling down, shoot the situation straight to hell – his fists are clenched, and they should be stretching leather that isn't there, and he suddenly understands the violent, uncontrollable bursts of anger Rorschach's always been prone to when someone manages to hit just the right buttons – when the little man, all done up in a dour black suit that an undertaker would be proud of, nods to the dim corner across the room.

There are shadows pooling, away from the windows, and there's a chair, straight-backed and functional, and Dan shoves his goggles up onto his forehead and crosses the room without even feeling the floor on his feet because if he'd thought Rorschach had been blank and inhuman and frightening after the prison break, in that space between the only half-required rescue and the moment the mask slipped back on inside of Archie's quiet humming solitude and under tons of crushing water – he'd really had no idea how deep the fall could go.

"Responded atypically," the man spools out, still audibly overwhelmed by the tedium of all of this, and the packet of papers lands somewhere vaguely near Dan's feet with a rustling thump. "Still nicely docile, but he didn't seem to have much of a happy place to retreat to."

And there aren't even any quotation marks there, as if the idiotic phrase has just passed into common parlance, but Dan isn't hearing, isn't absorbing any of it – is taking Rorschach by the shoulders, ducking to try to catch his gaze. There's nothing there to catch. He drops into a crouch, eyes pressing closed for a moment – slips his hands down to rest on the seat of the chair, and they curl there, into the pinstripes.

"Rorschach?" he asks, quietly, but 'Rorschach' is vengeance and fury and justice, is violence, is all the darkness a man can have crusted on his heart without being completely subsumed, and he knows already that there is nothing and no one called Rorschach inside of this shell. He doubts there's a Walter Kovacs in there, either, the name still shaped strangely where it sits on the tip of his brain. He lets out a shuddery breath, like steam escaping through a thousand rent seams and burst fittings, rattling the pipes.

(What is the name of power for-)

But there must be some old and deeply trained-in response to the sound of that word, that name, and Rorschach lifts his head fractionally – looks in Dan's direction, unfocused, with something on his face that is not familiarity with any of its warmth or recognition with any of its surprise, but some kind of dim consciousness of the figure in front of him as a non-threat, as something that does not need to be flinched away from or avoided, and that is apparently enough for him.

The man is talking again, something about how they have no plans to come after Dan himself, that they don't expect him to be any further trouble and that he should take this as a lesson, but Dan is zoning him out, stomping down on any awareness he has of the slithering grey weasel of a human being before the physical ache to pummel him into something unrecognizable becomes a need, something that burns in his veins like obsession. He flattens his hands over the fabric, palms against either thigh, and holds the staring, empty eyes for as long as he can, almost expecting this to happen like it does in movies and books – eye-to-eye and intent and he'll be the one person that can break through the haze and elicit a tiny spark of something, back there behind the slate-grey blue, struggling to break free –

(No, idiot, it's never the friend or the partner that manages that, has to be someone deeper, it's always someone they lov-)

But that's a pretty useless proposition, right there. And there's nothing – just a bottomless stare that doesn't end at fifty yards or a hundred. Goes on and on.

"Can you walk?" He asks, quietly, pushing down on a lurching swell of nausea.

A nod – just one, efficient and precise, and the shell is pulling itself to its feet, leaving Dan to roll back onto his own. He doesn't even notice himself grabbing the stack of papers, shoving them under one arm, some tactical instinct acting on a level lower and more automatic than the dull shock that's otherwise rising up, roaring, around his ears – and though he seems to need no support, seems physically functional, Dan still presses one hand between Rorschach's shoulderblades, maneuvering him towards the door. He can't really believe they're just being let go like this – it's almost anticlimactic, after the SWAT-style invasion yesterday and all the running around and the covert secrecy of it all – but every shuffling, apathetic step Rorschach takes, feet scraping the carpet in apparent unconcern for how much noise he's making, drives home the reality: The worst has already happened.

In a voice that isn't his, cynical and taunting: (Can only go downhill from here.)

"It will be better, eventually," the manager says, and there is something like sympathy there, drowned in layers of damp cheesecloth. "When you get careless or your watch breaks, or you just get tired of fighting it, and you get hit too. Then you'll be the same again. It's better that way."

Dan can't feel the expression on its face, but he knows it must be something terrible, something furious and afraid and lit with violence as yet undone – but then the man glances up from his desk for the first time, actually looking him square-on with eyes just a bit too sharp, and Dan gets the creeping, eerie sensation of looking at a house with lit windows in the middle of a power outage.

"How would you know?" Dan finally asks, voice cold and knowing.

There's confusion, then, and a quick and quiet shuttering-away, and fear – as if he hadn't expected Dan to pick up on that, to divine his secret through all of the carefully practiced dry detachment. It's satisfying, the look of panic glittering momentarily in otherwise dull eyes, and it's the only vengeance Dan can afford to take, here in the great churning and devouring belly of the beast.

He lets the threat hang, implicit, and turns to guide Rorschach out the door – down the elevator, onto the street, carefully shutting down every part of his brain that isn't involved in navigation or in tracking the warmth pressed against one splayed hand, putting himself on autopilot for the duration. Can't think, can't try to process. Not yet – not until they're back at the warehouse, back where they are less exposed, safer, surrounded by windowless walls and dust and the shuffling silence he has a feeling he will need to get used to, spreading loud and syrupy to fill out all the gaps between them.

*

"Daniel," the flat, quiet voice had said, a few hours after they'd made it back to ground, and Dan had felt a sudden upswell of hope before he remembered: this thing didn't erase memory. Just damn-near everything else. The recognition had meant nothing at all, not shaped like had been, tongue working around a word that existed only in long-term storage with no muscle-memory behind it. Something to eat, he'd asked for; was there something to eat, and the monotone had been far more disturbing in this passive and neutral voice than it'd ever been in the affected growl. He'd accepted the offered protein bar without comment, processing it mechanically and efficiently and unenthusiastically.

Now, afternoon going down into evening, Dan is digging through journals and medical publications, grateful for the camping lantern he'd finally gone out and bought, spreading a corona of hazy white light around him. Rorschach is sitting against a crate just on the edge of the spill, half his face in and half out of the light, and is looking at precisely nothing.

Dan is talking. Hasn't stopped talking for more than a few minutes at a time in the last three hours. His throat is raw and dry, but he can't bring himself to let quiet settle into the room; stuffy and dark and full of dust, it already feels like a tomb, and he imagines Rorschach crawling into this space, back in '66 or '67, bleeding out and vision spinning black and chaotic at the edges – huddling into a corner and wrapping the wound in his scarf and waiting to either live or die with the same stubborn, fatalistic patience.

It's an unwelcome image and one conjured far too easily – with the right equipment, he could probably find all the old bloodstains – and so Dan talks. About old cases, the first cases, the ones where they'd stood tremblingly on opposite sides of some line or another, strangers, cast starkly against the shadows or winding up along fire escapes, eyes that locked across that line and didn't know what to make of what they saw. Weren't sure which line it was, or if it was one that mattered; two night creatures with overlapping territory, posturing and studying and, for some inexplicable reason, unwilling to just let it go and move on. He talks about the first time he'd felt a back against his in a fight, a surprise, too overwhelmed by the numbers pressing in on him to have seen the blur of brown and violet drop down from the window ledge.

He talks about Big Figure and the Underboss and all of the minor gangs, about the one summer that the Top-Knots seemed to have had a recruitment drive, tripling their numbers almost overnight, and how hard the patrols had gotten after that. How many knives had hit their mark, how many bruised and cracked ribs they'd both had to wrap, cloth binding tightly against the memory of chains and iron piping and two-by-fours whistling through the dark.

He talks about the satisfying cases: the ones where they'd stayed two steps ahead of the scum they were tracking, were able to cut off the drug shipment before it hit the streets or bust in doors and windows and slide into the blacklight-poisoned parlors of the flesh traders before another young girl or boy could be shuffled off into greedy and possessive hands. The times – and was it really so long ago? – when people were relieved to see them instead of terrified, thanked them instead of cursed them, saw the masks as a sign of heroism rather than a sign of cowardice or perversion.

Then there's a silence that stretches just a second or two too long for the thread of one-sided conversation to remain continuous, and the sound it makes as it snaps is like dry bone splintering under teeth.

The neurobiology journal in his hand stares up accusingly; it is the last in the stack, and there have been no answers.

"...we'll find a way to fix this," Dan mutters, tossing it aside, turning to look at Rorschach squarely; he's still turned away, so the best he can do is the side of his head. "I promise."

(Promises you can't keep, Daniel,) the growling voice in his head condemns, disappointed. (Useless. You know that.)

At the outer limit of the lamp's circle, edges of dark and light bleed over into each other into a hazy grey boundary, indistinct. Inside, there is Dan and the cheerful glow of the lamp and the piles of research materials that mean nothing so much as the fact that he's trying, that his fingers and eyes and brain are itching together for a solution, wired up into something that is devastated and searching and trying like hell to hold it all together. Outside, darkness and all the memories of blood and violence and cold shivers on summer nights, black and red running together to pool around battered leather boots.

Rorschach sits in that grey space, split up the middle by it, features cast into stark and monstrous relief - all jagged edges and deep black lines and hollows where the eyes should be, skin blanched almost white in the cold artificial lighting. He reacts as he has to everything else Dan has blathered on about for the past several hours: just looks at him indistinctly, shrugs one shoulder, and goes back to staring at nothing.

(Ragdoll,) Dan thinks, studying the limp posture, the glass-bead eyes shining almost black, the unwashed hair like carpet wire. He can almost see the sawdust pooling from ripped-out rows of stitches that aren't actually there.

("Make me real.")

Dan shudders out a breath that would be a sob if he had the energy for it, if his throat and heart weren't worn raw from all the memories he'd shaken free tonight, watched miss their mark entirely, shatter and diffuse against the distant walls.

Wasted.

This is too much. Too much for any person to bear stoically, to soldier through without stopping to face it, to feel it – and Dan is hoping for a protest, for a stiffening posture, for a sharp jerk away, when he shifts over to the same crate and gathers Rorschach against him, back to chest, arms threading around the front of his coat. There is no struggle; there is no protest. Rorschach collapses bonelessly, strings cut.
 



And Dan keeps talking, quieter now, more solemn, mostly nonsense. They sit only halfway in the light, touched on one side by the darkness of bleaker and bloodier moments, and the words twist into fear and doubt and the visceral terror of warm red slickness over hands and arms – into the particular set of the moon in the sky on the nights Dan was certain he'd be finishing patrol alone, alone for good, dragging deadweight wrapped in trenchcoat through the streets and sure it would never stir again. He says the twisting and strange things that people only dare say in their sleep, words that are also not words, jagged and raw and outlined in bright oilslick ripples,

("Make me real.")

and he knows the science and the science fiction, the mythology and the fairy tales; he knows all of the thousands of ways these things can work. What he does not know is how to deal with feeling a body breathing against him and not feeling the person inside; just a clockwork spinning of biological parts, pumps and valves and air gaskets and pistons, blood and muscle and bone and if they mechanically collude for just a moment to curl a light, hesitant grip into his forearm, Dan is sure – it breaks his heart how sure he is – that it means nothing.

 

*

The first day, Dan keeps a careful eye on his watch, waiting for that vital last minute before noon and hoping that something will surface in his friend, however briefly. The hands slide up close together, as close as they can without becoming one, the second hand jittering along. There is no flash of fear or anger or awareness; no twitch around the mouth, no deepening of the hard lines around his eyes, and then it is noon and the moment has passed and Dan is palming over Rorschach's brow, protecting him from the knife that wants to twist and work its way even deeper than it already has.

Rituals; intangible and barely there, they hold a powerful grip on the human psyche, a thousand strands tangled together into the deepest places. It is no surprise that this becomes one: The 11:59 vigil. Very little's ever come of any other observation Dan's held to in the past; the lack of results is not a deterrent.

*

The packet of papers reads like a release form from a hospital; there's even a chart, tracking Rorschach's behavior after his capture, noting down incidents with timestamps and strange, unreadable signatures. His level of compliance had waxed and waned over the 24 hours; he'd tried to run six times. Twice he'd gotten his hands on an improvised weapon; the second time he'd had to break out of the restraints they'd put him in after the first. Once – just once – he'd gotten to within feet of the building's front door before the security forces had caught up with him.

Dan reaches over to where Rorschach leans against a crate, shifts down the trenchcoat's collar – sees the stungun burns on his neck, red and angry against skin too pale. Something like rage bubbles up; escapes as a harsh exhale through his nose, echoes in the grim set of his mouth.

He'd been muttering something in the aftermath, the guards reported, voice rushed and broken, writhing on the tile floor as they'd snapped on the restraints. They hadn't been able to understand it but, they'd said, it'd sounded like it might have been a name.

Twenty minutes later, the clinical typeface reports, treatment had been completed and, despite his highly unusual lack of an appropriately pleasant mindspace to burrow into, deemed a success.

Time of discharge had been penciled in by hand, another 27 minutes later.

*

Dan is paging through yet another medical journal; its cover the acid-bright cross-section of a brain under MRI, dark patches in places they don't belong. "Hey, remember when you said about Adrian, the idea that he’d gotten his brain split, on purpose?"

Rorschach nods vaguely, looking somewhere else, because the memory is there and there is no reason not to answer.

"I'm not sure if that’s actually what's going on. I mean, that can mangle the intent a little – one hand picks things up, the other puts them back – but on the level of what he's been doing? I'm wondering if maybe this is something... dissociative, or some compartmentalization he's managed to set up for himself."

(Amateur psychology doesn't suit you, Daniel.)

The response isn't the usual expectant and prompting 'and...?', waiting for the point, the relevance. It is not even that invested; the wall is, somehow, more interesting.

*

He reads, and he reads, and in the spaces between the books and the maps and the notes he's taking in every scrap of margin he can find, and the runs to food stores on the edge of the district, and the twenty minutes at a time that he can stand to listen to the news on the portable radio he's bought, Dan keeps trying.

*

"I think I've figured out where all the resistants are," he says one day, spreading a blueprint of the Riker's Island prison system across the dusty floor; it's not as impressive as the maximum security facility they'd busted Rorschach out of what feels like only a week ago –

(It was only a week ago.)

-but still complicated enough to require some planning. He has a thick black marker, and is marking the blocks most likely to house the seditious, the inconvenient, the 'missing', and who's even aware enough to file a missing persons report anymore? "Well, okay. Not all of them. Obviously some of them are just hiding in plain sight, evading the authorities, but the rest... well. I'm going to need some help figuring out how to pull this one off."

He looks up; is met with a blank stare. Rorschach at least looks at him when he's speaking now, but all Dan can think of in the face of that obedient attention is that damn stupid dog again, bounding off into the road, near-miss after near-miss and no sense of anything except doing what was asked of him.

The map folds closed with a fluttering up of dust from the floor. "...all right, well. It can wait."

*

"These people need us," he says some nights, voice whisper-quiet in the dark. He rarely knows whether Rorschach is awake or asleep; only that he doesn't flinch away from the words unwinding next to his ear, and sleep-conditioning has some basis in reality anyway. "And I can't do this alone, it's too big."

It's a weak things to say, a weak thing to feel, and he'd welcome the admonishment, but none comes.

"I'm willing to fight this time," he says into the stinking wiry hair – they're both unwashed, living in a place only meant to house shift workers, crates coming and going, no basic human amenities. "Probably think I'm just saying that. God, sometimes I think I'm just saying it." A laugh, short and all sharp edges. "Can't walk away from this one, though. But now you're quitting on me."

("You quit," he said, disappearing down the tunnel, but who stopped coming around first, back in '75; who started working alone, a solitary shadow of the man he'd been? Who quit on who?)

(Who walked up to a man who could grant any desire and screamed for oblivion?)


Other nights he talks about Adrian and his murder of the city and his complicity in everything they've seen; talks about Warren, a man they've never met with demons they do not know, but who engineered this farce of an ideal human society as surely as he stood trembling over a short grave in '77, losing his mind in careful, delicate pieces – as surely as he rode into office on a road paved with the blood of innocent convicts, rattling their chains in the dark.

Rage, injustice, indignation, retribution

Some nights, he just tightens his grip and says, "I need you to come back now," with the weight of every terrible secret he's ever held too close to his chest for too, too long.

*

He's going through the pockets of Rorschach's coat for – clues, maybe? Dan's not even entirely sure, but he's been through the books and maps and documents and everything else until his eyes went crossed and there's not much else to do except hope Rorschach had managed to write something down, some piece of evidence or information, before his will was stolen.

The scarf, the journal – not touched, nothing changed or added – the pencil stub and the handwriting sample and a handful of loose change. Then, buried deep, a scrap torn from a larger sheet, the writing barely legible:

'Don't let me live like this.'

It's a minute or two before the shakes pass, and when Dan crouches in front of Rorschach and asks if he wrote it and receives a distracted nod in reply, he can't help but voice a stupid question that he already knows the answer to. "Did you mean it?"

(Does it matter? Whether he meant it or not, you can't-)

A long moment, and a shrug. "Don't remember."

*

The radio dies on the thirteenth day, batteries run down, and as Dan counts out single bills and loose change on the cement floor, he realizes he cannot justify replacing them with their food supply dwindling and these fluttering scraps of paper and silvered tokens diminishing even more quickly.

Something is going to have to give.

*

The possibility – probability, really – that this is simply their life now, a soulless automaton and his keeper, is starting to batter through the hope and the hard work and the desperate, childish optimism. He may not be able to save Rorschach, may not be able to save anyone, may have to leave this world to burn until the wick reaches the wax and puts itself out in a slow hiss of thin black smoke.

Rorschach is sitting across from him, drinking slowly and deliberately from a bottle of water. It's been two weeks, and the doll eyes follow him around the room at times, seem to have a sense of presence and of place – but you'd never know to look at him that this man had once broken rapists and murderers in half with his bare hands and a burning cold fury that could not be contained; had walked out into the Antarctic snow, knowing what was waiting for him but too driven to take any other way out. Had trembled in rage at the murder of his city, his people. Had been crying under the mask when it finally peeled away.

Dan's remembering more and more of the dream as time goes on, and the imagery sticks behind his eyes, in the back of his throat: children pawing at blood, swallowing it away, frosted by snow that never stops falling; shaking apart bones in a dirty yard, more bones than a single body can hold, some small and some large, and they take and take until all he's left with is the heat of fire and the sound of wind through hollow chimes and the memory of a bloody Cheshire smile, teeth rattling like death's head beetles crawling through his walls. Two places, two moments of destruction and dissolution and less left over each time, less breath and meat to animate the skeleton, and now: nothing at all.

(The paper was shaking in your hand, wasn't it, when you asked: "Did you write this?")

(Would it have been easier if he hadn't answered?)


Dan knew a strange young man when he was in college, with hair and eyes and teeth like coal, who smelled like rot and saffron and dealt strange cards between long and knotted fingers – rubbed raw around the edges, creased with heavy use. Ash and bones and fire and a bird with an eye splintered like a black diamond, twisting in its bloody dance to become something new, and he remembers: death is not always death.

*

Comes the day when Dan returns to the warehouse from a long errand, arms laden with supplies, and Rorschach is not sitting beside his crate.

He's not in the warehouse at all, and the dust is scattered, and the spatter of blood is fresh and red and hot to Dan's touch when he kneels to run his thumb through it – a violent explosion of the stuff, sharply sprayed in one direction, gruesome fingers reaching out to wind into cracks in the concrete floor.

(Ohgod.)

A missing person is bad enough; a missing person plus blood, especially in this volume, is tripping all of Dan's fight instincts into overdrive, is sending his extremities numb and his heart to pound triple-time, is screaming emergency.

There's a knife on the floor, but he barely notices, because there is also a meandering trail of gore from the epicenter here by the crate to the far door, the one leading out onto the wharf. It is thick in some places and thin in others, as if he'd had to keep stopping to rest, to regather his strength –

Dan is across the floor and out into the open air before the thought can complete itself, something like yellowed, dirty fog crowding into his head, preventing him from visualizing, from actually anticipating what he's going to find

('Don't let me live like this.')

once the dock comes into view. There are possibilities: A blood trail that leads to the water, ripples only just settling; a body slumped against a piling, face contorted into something like defiance – but the images won't congeal, won't show him anything but the vague outline of the moment, shaky and torn.

He squints through the sunglare, tracing the blood, one hand against the doorframe to steady himself against a rush of lightheaded dizziness. The trail does lead across the cement and onto the dock, where it breaks up into an uneven striation over the pitted and warped grain of the wood. There is a lot of it and it doesn't taper off like it should, sticking to the knots in the boards in thick clotting clumps. But where –

(...oh.)

At the far end of the pier – and Dan lets out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding, willing the panic down, the constriction in his ribs to dissipate – Rorschach is struggling with a body.

The man is big; not all muscle but not all fat either, possibly an old high-school quarterback gone to years of laziness and one six-pack too many. He is completely limp, head falling at an angle his spine shouldn't support. He is likely dead.

Rorschach lifts his eyes, meets Dan's over the corpse's shoulder, and Dan is already jogging down the pier but he doesn't miss the fire there, the wild way his features are jumping and lit up and unable, or unwilling, to settle. There's blood running down Rorschach's shoulder, lurid against the white of his torn dress shirt, and that's why he's having trouble – with every tug on the weight he's dragging a sharp flash of pain pinches his features and he hasn't let these things show so obviously for years-

[It's 1982, middle of the night, and there's a ragged knocking at his door, a black and white ghost stumbling into his living room with a badly broken arm and not so much as a hello. His mask comes up to ease his breathing around what he knows is coming, and goddamn but he doesn't make a sound as Dan fumblingly sets the bone – but it's not for lack of wanting, and the tensing of all the fine muscles in his face, contorting the topography of skull beneath the skin, speaks a language they're both far too well acquainted with...]

(No, no, go back further: Do you remember how he looked when that broken bottle slid in next to his spine, so close, so young then – and he collapsed against you, arms like cords of jelly, babbling on about vengeance and vigilance and paralysis, permanent damage, never walk again – and it's not just pain, not just pain by itself. It's fight and fear and something inside that knows what's about to happen, that tracks the weapon flashing in the light before the eyes can resolve it-)

(Knife on the floor,)
his memory pokes at him, as sharp as any blade.

-and Dan should be upset that the man is dead and that there's blood everywhere and this will bring the authorities down on them in a heartbeat but he can't do anything but stare, rooted to the spot, as Rorschach regards him with impatience and irritation and eyes that focus and-

("Petty, angry, looking for an excuse to be moved to violence. I can't let you give them that excuse.")

"Have found our cure," Rorschach says, and there's more inflection in his voice than there's been in a decade. And the chastisement can wait, purely tactical instincts driving Dan to cross the last few yards and take hold of the man's other arm, hands knotting into the stained black T-shirt; to stand back as they roll him off of the planking. Water splashes up regardless, misting into his hair and smelling of silt and minerals and, this far into the harbor, like the salt-marsh stink of death – and he doesn't care, he doesn't care.

*

-----> Chapter 11

*




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feather_qwill
Jul. 12th, 2009 07:49 am (UTC)
Amazing AU. I'm so glad Rorschach got de-brain wiped! Looking forward to the next chapter.
etherati
Jul. 12th, 2009 08:30 am (UTC)
Thank you! :D
_redux
Jul. 12th, 2009 01:39 pm (UTC)
Wee! He's back! :D The boys are back together again, and I can't wait to see what happens next.
etherati
Jul. 12th, 2009 05:37 pm (UTC)
It took some doing, but yes. :D

midnite_vision
Jul. 12th, 2009 02:17 pm (UTC)
Yay! Rorschach's back! :D I felt so bad for Dan, but at least it looks like things are back to normal now. (Maybe? We don't know what exactly happened to make Rorschach snap to himself. He might not even quite be himself.)

I actually read the first half of this on the kinkmeme, but I've found that I like reading it all at once. Unless you give us an absolutely horrible cliffhanger, I'll just be patient for the chapter releases. :)
etherati
Jul. 12th, 2009 05:40 pm (UTC)
The implication I was trying to convey was that what snapped him back was the threat of violence - being attacked, having his life be in danger. I may not have done a good enough job getting that across., but yeah. As for 'quite himself' - that'll be hit on later.

And yeah I post the bits on the meme so as to not be a complete bastard, but I think the chapters read best as whole units too. :)
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daylilymoon
Jul. 12th, 2009 04:36 pm (UTC)
auugh I was so scared at the end, but then you made it all okay! (Well, you know, comparatively okay.) Rorschach's back! :DD

Things I Liked:
1. The continuation of Rorschach's voice in Dan's head, along with Ror's note. Ror's words continuing beyond him was one of my favorite things in canon
2. he doesn't flinch away from the words unwinding next to his ear -- Do I detect moar spooning? :D
3. Revealing to us that Rorschach fought like Hell
4. The quitting theme, of course (which caused delicious misdirection and made me think the last scene was attempted suicide)
5. I don't know what is going to happen next, and that is awesome.
etherati
Jul. 12th, 2009 05:45 pm (UTC)
1. Dan's inner-Ror-voice was fun as hell to write. The note made me sad though, especially since you just know he really did mean it.

2. You detect a general level of contact/closeness that non-catatonic Ror would never have allowed and which Dan was hoping would help ground him and ease him out of it, but it is more the sleeping-sitting-up variety.

3. Of course he did!

4. It never sat right with me that he accused Dan of quitting in '77 but we know that after Roche he was 'mostly working alone' which means that really, he quit on Dan first. (And yes, that was me being somewhat manipulative, but the scene was what it was and that IS what Dan would have thought he was seeing)

5. Woohoo!


Edited at 2009-07-12 05:47 pm (UTC)
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anactoria
Jul. 12th, 2009 06:38 pm (UTC)
I still love this. Beautifully written, even in the parts that are unremittingly hopeless and painful, and I like how the ending is both hopeful and horrible (in that Dan doesn't care about the dead guy -- though perhaps being dead is no worse than being unable to function as a human being) at the same time.

Edited at 2009-07-12 06:38 pm (UTC)
etherati
Jul. 12th, 2009 06:45 pm (UTC)
It's more that he recognizes that it was probably self-defense, and that really, they do have to get rid of him before someone notices; practicality trumps an argument, right there on the dock, over what happened and why. The 'you really shouldn't kill people, come on now' speech will happen later.

I dono though, I'm starting to get this feeling that this story really isn't any good, because it's got basically 1 reviewer on ff.net and none at all on who watches the writers and someone over there trashed the rating down from 5 to 3.5 without even bothering to review to say why and I'm starting to think maybe I should just. stop. While I can. Don't know.
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gothamafterdark
Jul. 12th, 2009 08:00 pm (UTC)
This chapter was so full of hopelessness and then at the end I got to take a breath of slight relief. All through this story I’ve felt poor Dan needs a good cry and a hug, especially with the last two chapters. You’ve conveyed his panic and anger and despair so well.

I am very curious to see if Rorschach will comment on Daniel’s methods for trying to break him out of the brainwashing (talking about their past partnership, the touching, and the ‘you’re quitting on me’ line.) now that he seems to be back to normal. And the note in Rorschach’s pocket, that warrants some talking about, but of course he wouldn’t want to live like that.

You always leave me wanting more.

This is a such perfect gem.
etherati
Jul. 12th, 2009 08:07 pm (UTC)
He really does. And yes, there's going to be an awkward 'so uh, how much do you remember?' 'all of it' conversation at some point. And the note, or at least the idea of it, will come up as well.

Thank you. I'm glad to hear some people are still reading. :)
steals_thyme
Jul. 12th, 2009 08:30 pm (UTC)
I'd not judge the merits of your writing on the number of comments/reviews you have, truly. Fandom has noticeably dwindled (a lot of people jumped ship to Star Trek forex) and unfortunately it's inevitable for a fandom who's canon is done and dusted, without episodic updates to keep snatching people's interest back.

But yeah, the rate-down was a shitty move and I don't blame you at all for being pissed about that. Please don't let one asshat ruin it for everyone else, or for yourself; I know you want to tell this story as much as I want to read it <3

Okay, now that's out of the way...
HOMG ROR IS BACK YAY! (I'm such a deep and considered commenter, har) I am very, very glad to see him again, the note he left just about broke me. Now for the delicious aftermath :D

children pawing at blood, swallowing it away, frosted by snow that never stops falling; shaking apart bones in a dirty yard, more bones than a single body can hold, some small and some large, and they take and take until all he's left with is the heat of fire and the sound of wind through hollow chimes and the memory of a bloody Cheshire smile, teeth rattling like death's head beetles crawling through his walls.

This is creepy as hell. Awesome.
etherati
Jul. 12th, 2009 08:56 pm (UTC)
The thing is, I have that particular sort of psychology where if twenty people say 'this is awesome' and one person hates it enough to rate it that lowly, all I can think is 'that one person must be right.' I was already self-conscious about the story and then... bleh. I dono.

I RAMBLE AND WHINE TOO MUCH I know I'm sorry.

The note was very 'him' though, I think. One last attempt at 'escape' when it was obvious he was out of time to actually escape. Though I doubt he believed for a second that anything would actually come of it.

I liked the bit with the beetles in the wall.

The aftermath will be a lot of things in turn, but should wind up at some value of 'delicious' before it's over. THEN IT IS TIME TO GO KICK SOME ASS.
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runninglonely
Jul. 12th, 2009 09:47 pm (UTC)
I didn't jump ship, but...
I'm actually just tired so I've been inactive on the writing front lately.
Like the past two months now, I guess. D:
I'm barely keeping up with the meme, and even then not reading every story like I used to.

But I still very much look forward to each update of this fic,
I don't know how anyone could put down such a sprawling, enrapturing,
claustrophobic, perfect depiction of a dystopia.

The plot and pacing are excellent, and the emotions are very real, and your metaphors are still gruesome train-wrecks. Screw what you say about this not being subtle and nuanced, by and large it IS.

I'm on messenger often, and your low opinion on your writing worries me.
I'm around very often on various forms of IM, you can reach me at FSimonBelmont for aol, lethnomakai@hotmail for msn, and femmesimonbelmont@gmail for gtalk. Talk to me anytime, Etherati.
etherati
Jul. 12th, 2009 10:20 pm (UTC)
Re: I didn't jump ship, but...
Thank you, seriously. I really, really appreciate you taking the time to say something. I really didn't intend to turn this thread into an OMG I NEED A SELF ESTEEM INTERVENTION - I wouldn't ever voluntarily inflict that on people who've been so amazing to me - but I'm honestly touched by the response.

I will see about getting some sort of messaging program. :) Thank you.
i_am_your_spy
Jul. 12th, 2009 10:01 pm (UTC)
Yay! This just keeps getting better.
etherati
Jul. 12th, 2009 10:22 pm (UTC)
Thank you, as always. :) I'm glad it's getting better and not worse!
aceles
Jul. 12th, 2009 10:40 pm (UTC)
I have little to say aside from Thank God. And that you slay me, just kill me dead. I could feel the relief as I got to the end. YES YES YES. :DDDDDDD

Also, you are my hero. Also, do you have any clue how many parts this is going to be? I almost want to start recording it now, before it's even finished. ._.
etherati
Jul. 12th, 2009 10:50 pm (UTC)
I have NO IDEA. I don't like... write outlines or anything, I just write. XD At this point though, with the plot tightening, I probably should, so that I don't utterly screw it all to pieces. So I'll try to outline the rest and get you an idea of how many chapters. It's already way longer than NaB(74 pages in word atm, NaB was only 50) so you'll probably ending up wanting to break it apart anyway? I DONO.

And thank you. I'm glad the payoff was worth the agonizing buildup. :)
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spiralngforever
Jul. 12th, 2009 11:33 pm (UTC)
AU's for me are always interesting in that the characters are in a situation (vastly) different from their own, and when handled properly can be very amazing stories, and you are handling this wonderfully.
The idea in and of itself is fascinating in a "wow thats extremely creepy and would totally suck if it happened" type of way.
It's been so much fun so far to read and see the characters reactions to the unfolding events, and they've all been so IC. I especially love how you handle Rorschach, hes always stuck me as one that would be hard "to get" but you handle him very well.
Also all of it as a whole has been very well written, everything is weaved together nicely and not a single word seems extra or unneeded.
The hopelessness that pervade this chapter, and the note was all so very heartbreaking but in such a beautiful way, and the ending was both a relief and worrying, because your left with this sense of "Hes back ^^....wait is he back for good...or? *worry*"
My favorite part I think though was the constant theme of quiting, and the question of who Really quit first?"
But yea I love it, ans now that I have rambled on I shall look forward to the next chapter.: )
etherati
Jul. 13th, 2009 12:02 am (UTC)
The quitting thing has always been a big issue I've had with Ror and his hypocrisy heh.

I'm glad you're enjoying it, and that everything rings true and that you feel the characterization is solid. Ror IS a very hard one to pin down and I am always worried about whether I'm handling him correctly, especially in this unknown, post-GN, left his mask in Antarctica, was just about to change again before he died(or didn't die in this case) state; there's no canon to rely on for it.
unimagine
Jul. 13th, 2009 03:10 am (UTC)
Yeah, so, after reading something by you, my brain is always a melted puddle...so please pardon my unintelligent comments. D:

Um. I found a typo? "and his tone his all annoyed boredom" (extra "his"?) I prostrate myself before your superior writing, so all I can do in the way of crit is pointing out little nitpicks like that.

Probably others have already said this, but what I liked the most:
1. The dream. Eeee, creepy imagery! But I love it, and I love your style overall (I've already said this, haven't I?), and your ability to write description and imagery in humongous sentences and still have it flow.

2. THE NOTE. They really need to have a talk about that. D: Plus, the whole "who quit on who" thing. I'd never thought about it before. Amazing how we all put up with Ror's hypocrisy.

Great chapter. I was on the figurative edge of my seat the entire time (well, actually I was lounging in my chair, but my eyes were GLUED to the screen), and now I can't wait for the awkward conversations and action to take place.

Please don't feel discouraged by a lack of response or anonymous basher. Especially on FF.net - I gave up on that site after discovering LJ, and was extremely impressed by the quality of the Watchmen fandom here. I used to read and favorite without reviewing, but now I try to comment on everything even if I have nothing very useful to say. ^^; I can completely relate to a feeling of low confidence in one's work and the necessity of venting. From what I can see, you have many loyal and supportive fans here, so write on!
etherati
Jul. 13th, 2009 03:22 am (UTC)
RAGGHGAHGJHSG RRRAAAARRRLLL I thought i FIXED that. That was an error in one version of the document but I coulda sworn I fixed it.

Anyway: Yes. The dream. I presented it way back in... chapter 3? As a generalized anxiety dream but no, it actually meant something. That the things our subconscious processes as 'death' are usually just moments of change. There's other things going on in the dream too, but I'm a little tipsy atm.

They will talk about the note or some permutation of the idea behind it.

The quitting thing, yes, Ror is really a big ol' hypocrite on that one, but he doesn't see it that way because he didn't perceive his drifting after the Roche case as 'quitting' on Dan in any way that should have mattered - because by then, he'd figured human connections were unnecessary, that only justice mattered, that Dan should have kept it up regardless of whether Ror was still there at his back or not. So. Complicated, as usual.

ff.net is mostly a hole and I've accepted that, but the random basher really made me angry, mostly because they didn't even say why. No courage of their convictions and that's just. Pathetic.

But: thank you! Seriously! Taking the time to actually review means a LOT, trust me, it means everything.
tickle_me_dalek
Jul. 13th, 2009 05:03 am (UTC)
I'm a long time lurker and I haven't been active in any fandom in years, but after reading the above comments I felt like I had to come out of hiding. A lot of people don't review because they're lazy twits, myself included. Especially on FF.net. I know from experience that trying to get reviews over there is, in most fandoms, like pulling teeth. I've never heard of Who Watches the Writers, so I can't really comment on that one. However, I can say that I can't remember the last time I was as emotionally invested in a fic as I am this one. You have a beautiful style, strong pacing, and the ability to construct gargantuan sentences that flow effortlessly. (The latter being a gift I am infinitely jealous of.) As for characterization, you really don't have any cause for concern. I'm usually the first person to fly off the handle about something being out of character, but you seem to nail them every time.

Bah, I'm starting to sound all gushy. Sorry. What I'm trying to say is this: Please, please don't let any idiot trolls or lazy readers make you doubt yourself. You're very talented and your work is a joy to read.

*Ahem* Anyway. I'm out of my hidey-hole now, so I may as well hang around and add some chapter specific stuff.

"Because they want him to see this." I was a nervous wreck all through the first part of the chapter, but this sentence made my stomach tie itself in knots.

I think it's been mentioned a few time already, but I love how Dan hears Rorschach's running commentary in his head once he's lost the genuine article. It's cute, but at the same time it emphasizes how alone Dan is all of a sudden. He's dropped in this bleak future with no friends or allies save the one he thought he'd lost years ago. Then even that companionship is stolen from him and he's forced to keep it alive the only way he can because, otherwise, what does he have? I have no idea if any of that was remotely coherent. It's 1 am here and long past the point where I know what I'm saying...

I'm so glad Ror's back in action, and I'm even gladder that it wasn't "true love" that did it. I'm still scared, though, because I can't see how they can possibly get out of this ok. At least there's a very awkward conversation on the horizon. ;)

Wow, I did not mean to ramble that long. Whoops. Back to the hidey-hole for me!
etherati
Jul. 13th, 2009 05:32 am (UTC)
First: Thank you so much for coming out of lurking and for such a long and thought-out comment. Really. I'm not freaking out as badly as I was this morning but the reassurance still helps, a lot. Particularly on characterization, because I am constantly paranoid I'm getting it wrong.

Spot on on Dan's head-Rorschach. He needs *something* - we all have a voice in us that tells us the things we don't want to hear, but he's had Rorschach to do that out loud for him for a long time, and when that's gone, it leaves a gap that needs filling. Also, there's a kind of superstitious-thinking thing going on where as long as he's still got his voice, then the real thing still exists somehow.

Very, very awkward. Because Ror remembers everything that went on. And he's not exactly long on self-control at the moment, due to the rushing-back-in of everything that the brainwashing took away, which will make for some interesting aftermath. *coughs*

And, oh yeah, there's no way you could snap someone like Ror out of mind control with sappy shit like that. Hadta be violence. XD
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roachpatrol
Jul. 14th, 2009 08:40 am (UTC)
Oh my gosh I like this story SO MUCH. Hooray for Rorschach! And Dan is pretty damn rad here, too! I love everything.
etherati
Jul. 14th, 2009 03:13 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! That means a lot, coming from you. :D
jack_infinitude
Jul. 14th, 2009 06:07 pm (UTC)
Oh. Christ. How do you do this, make me run the gauntlet of emotions? There was so much terror and love in this chapter and -- AAHHHH, RORSCHACH WILL REMEMBER!! HE WILL REMEMBER WHAT DANIEL SAID!!!

He says the twisting and strange things that people only dare say in their sleep, words that are also not words, jagged and raw and outlined in bright oilslick ripples,

BWUH.
jack_infinitude
Jul. 14th, 2009 06:26 pm (UTC)
*deep breath* So BEFORE I CHICKEN OUT, I just, I have to ask if I could make an audiobook out of this? I mean, I can do a sample chapter for you if you like, if you want to judge my prowess and make sure I'm not mispronouncing anything **babble** It's just someone else got to NaB before me, and I really want to claim this story first. I love reading aloud, and your stories are exactly the kind I'd love to do that with. So, **fidget** could I?
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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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