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Fic: Widows' Gate

Title: Widows' Gate
Fandom: Watchmen
Characters/Pairings: Dan, as-yet-unnamed OC
Date Written: 2009
Summary: Some deaths come without blood or pain or anyone to mourn.
Rating/Warnings: PG. Post-GN/Movie canon!verse, so: depressing.
Notes: Originally a captcha fill('gatepost widows'), but it got long and I like it so it's getting its own post.


*

It's just a chainlink barrier, a temporary block put up in an attempt by what was left of the police force to keep order, to keep the public away from the creature at ground zero, to keep people alive. It’s old, and has seen riots and explosions and fires, the metal links blackened in places, twisted in others, and the wheels it’s been run out on catch and snag and don’t always roll straight. It’s strung through along the top in orange caution tape, and the segments are attached to each other with padlocks where the pinioning joints have failed.

It was meant to be temporary, but the city mayor has ordered it stay exactly where it is, indefinitely. The chief of police didn’t argue – his wife’s photograph was already in amongst the rest, clipped to the wire like a wall of pinned butterflies, multifaceted wings rising and falling in the wind in rippling waves of color and pain and loss.

In melodramatic circles it’s becoming known as the Widows' Gate, this section of protective barrier, but really there are widows and widowers alike here, orphans and the suddenly, unbearably childless, brothers and sisters and cousins and people from out of town, from all over the country, come to pin folded faces in amongst countless others. They leave no flowers, no candles, no cards or tokens – just an endless mosaic of every face that stood between Adrian and his unfathomable knot.

Laurie doesn’t know he’s here; she’d been napping on the couch, wrung out and sick from another day of digging for survivors and finding only rubble and bodies too far gone for anything but dental identification. He isn’t faring much better, but there are these things that need to be done. The people here are watching each other with glazed eyes, tracing the paths of hands and pictures and fingers running over wire, and maybe they’re still in too much shock to just post their losses and walk away, make these things official, make them real. Maybe they’re just looking for pain that trumps or at least matches their own, for the shallow, scab-picking comfort it brings. Maybe.

No one looks at him twice when he clips up Hollis’s picture; the ages are right, the man could have been his father. The newspaper clipping, though, from the day after the arrest – the only photograph he has of the man under the mask – draws stares, even through the dead-eyed haze of communal grief.

He’s not concerned with stares. Turns to leave. Feels a hand snag his sleeve.

It’s a teenage boy, a picture of a middle-aged woman held in one trembling hand. His mother, probably. His eyes are red-rimmed but narrowed in curiosity, and Dan suddenly feels an overwhelming rush of envy for the young and their resiliency. “You… you knew him, really?”

Dan just nods, carefully extricating his sleeve from the boy’s grip.

“The other one’s Mr. Mason. It’s the same one from his book. Are you… are you Nite Owl?”

Not anymore, he could answer. Used to be.

Even if I was, I couldn’t tell you.

…Yes.


And god, he could be. The city still has plenty of problems that need fixing and he doubts the police would have the time to come after him, arrest him, drag him away for trying to get people to water, shelter, save the injured and ill from the worst things crawling in the night. He could go home tonight, put on the armor, become someone important again, someone making a difference.

Become…

He’s shaking his head in the negative before he even realizes it, though, because it was Hollis that made him Nite Owl and while Laurie may have lured him back into that skin it was Rorschach who kept him in it, well after the jailbreak and the long, long hours at the bottom of the river; after there'd been plenty of time for all of the consequences to sink in. And now they’re just faces, flattened and smoothed into the gaps in a puzzle far larger than that of Dan Dreiberg’s shaky self-concept, of what makes a hero a hero – of how much a life and a place and a home can change between clock ticks.

... but the city is so different, now that its heart’s been carved out – it pulses to a different rhythm, something primitive and chaotic and driving. People are dying, every night, under blade and fist and gun, greed and apathy and the giddy love of breaking things just to watch them bleed. They scream for help, for someone, for anyone, and he could be Nite Owl again. He could–

[“Do it,” pleads a wavering voice from the back of his mind, and Rorschach is standing in the snow disguised as a man named Walter Kovacs, and everything is so, so still – and that’s the only imperative he will ever remember, the only command he will ever associate with that sandpaper voice, that sharp jawline, moving under the mask: in the snow on the street in his kitchen in the glow of Archie’s dashlights. But the context is wrong. The context will always be wrong.]

but he knows he won’t; knows the costume will sit untouched until it goes to pieces with the rest of the world. Knows he will go home tonight and shake, and down aspirin to try to drive away the headaches and coffee to try to keep away the dreams, and fall into arms that feel like an elusive wisp of sanity all wrapped up in something as brittle and breaking as he is. Out here, people will die, but so many already have, and all that remains is a sad, broken-down old chunk of fencing and a million scraps of glossy paper, rustling in the breeze.

“No,” he says, shaking his head again and offering up what he’s sure looks like an apologetic smile. He thinks of Laurie, curled on his couch, trying so hard to be strong, trying to love him, and he wonders just when he’d gotten so good at faking emotions to plaster over all the hollowed-out blankness. “I’m… I’m not anyone.”

He can feel the gaze on his back until he turns the corner, tracing his posture, his cadence, the way he watches nothing but the cracked pavement passing under his feet. Not anyone important. Not anyone–

Then the corner is past, and he’s left these pieces of himself behind, pressed them into a greater legacy of loss than he can carry on his own – and wedged between two photographs of heroes who fell as mortal men are the intangible echoes of shouts in a bar and a scream in the cold and a throat between his hands and a bruised and bloodied face under his fists and the endless footfalls of walking away and he knows: Nite Owl is dead, too.

*

*

---> annnnd pop over to slipstream_chan's for the followup piece, Succession.

*

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Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
midnite_vision
Aug. 1st, 2009 02:03 am (UTC)
Poor Dan... It's like he'll never be happy, his life turned into a series of emotional masks that he forces himself to wear every single day.
etherati
Aug. 1st, 2009 02:26 am (UTC)
I think he'll probably eventually be all right - it's just, not so much here, in the immediate aftermath. :(
anactoria
Aug. 1st, 2009 09:26 am (UTC)
Oh, this is just heartbreaking.
etherati
Aug. 1st, 2009 05:56 pm (UTC)
I always seem to go super-depressing on captcha fics, no idea why. :(
tortoisegirl
Aug. 1st, 2009 06:24 pm (UTC)
I keep going back to the descriptions of the gate, because the whole concept of that is so beautiful and mournful and it feels so real. Especially the bit about the mayor and the police chief ordering that it stays up. The fence wasn't meant to become that and it likely won't be last forever but it's what they have and that makes it even more moving. Moreso than say, a carefully planned marble memorial. Someone needs to tie Adrian down in front of that gate and really make him feel all those deaths.
etherati
Aug. 1st, 2009 06:28 pm (UTC)
To be honest, in my head(which has been slightly more Adrian-sympathetic of late due to Brushstrokes) I imagine he probably DOES visit it on a pretty regular basis.

But yeah, that's why I found it so compelling to write; it seems like the kind of thing that WOULD spring up, especially THERE, and it's so honest and human and real.
unimagine
Aug. 1st, 2009 08:28 pm (UTC)
I come back from a week-long internet-less trip and what do I see but that etherati has provided some beautiful angst to usher in the last month of summer before school starts? You have slayed me with this fic. D': The concept and description of that gate is just so heartwrenchingly real and human, and I've fortunately never been the victim of a catastrophe like that, but it just takes me right into the story and the setting and I can see it right there in front of me and feel sad and happy at the same time, because it's awful and beautiful for its sheer grief and humanity.

*shot for extremely long run-on sentence*

And, oh, Dan... *sobs*
etherati
Aug. 1st, 2009 08:44 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much; I just sort of closed my eyes and thought 'what would this look like? What would they use, what would people decide to take back as their own, what form would this take?' And that image just came into my head fully formed, with the people not willing to move on and everything.

And yeah, Dan. :*(
jack_infinitude
Aug. 3rd, 2009 11:23 pm (UTC)
The whole time I was on vacation last week, I was thinking, "What has my girl Etherati been up to?" And then I make it back, and this is the first story I've read, and I want to weep.

Daniel mourns the city along with its heart, Mason-Rorschach. After such a cataclysm, one wonders how one can stay human and sane. And maybe for Dan, part of that is never even looking at that costume again.

Favorite line, as usual: ...and wedged between two photographs of heroes who fell as mortal men are the intangible echoes of shouts in a bar and a scream in the cold and a throat between his hands and a bruised and bloodied face under his fists and the endless footfalls of walking away and he knows: Nite Owl is dead, too.

Every time, you come up with a way to utterly slay me.
etherati
Aug. 3rd, 2009 11:47 pm (UTC)
And maybe for Dan, part of that is never even looking at that costume again.

I think so, yeah. I know the GN ending goes elsewhere with it, but screw that ending, seriously, screw the blonde dye and the happyhappy and all the other bizarre pod-people shit they have going on with both of them but especially Dan; I will be over here with my fingers in my ears, humming.

Thank you so much as usual, I'm flattered that you were wondering about new stuff haha.

(Oh I just updated Brushstrokes, btw. You may want to take a look. IT GETS INTERESTING.)
jack_infinitude
Aug. 4th, 2009 12:24 am (UTC)
LE GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASP!!!!! *smishes you*
jack_infinitude
Aug. 4th, 2009 12:27 am (UTC)
ALSO, totally agree with you on the GN ending. I actually preferred the movie one, because Dan and Laurie actually try to keep living as themselves, and it seems, dealing with the fallout. Because, seriously? You two think that hair dye will keep Adrian from finding you if he really wants to? Good luck with that, but Rors would scoff.
etherati
Aug. 4th, 2009 12:29 am (UTC)
Well I think it was actually mostly intended to fool the police, and since they cut the whole 'the police figure out who he is' thing from the movie, it wasn't necessary. It was still dumb. And they were still pod people.
lampsh4de
Nov. 30th, 2009 08:13 am (UTC)
Bawwwww
I read this right after Round the Prickly Pear, and I feel sort of crushed. D:

I totally suck at being articulate, so just know that the imagery and emotion in your writing is so vivid that it's like a roundhouse kick to my heart.
lampsh4de
Nov. 30th, 2009 08:26 am (UTC)
Re: Bawwwww
(By the way, I used to feel kind of bad for loving the movie ending... I fucking hated the GN ending with their fucking Mormon hair and Dan's fugly 'stache. It was very anti-climactic for me 'cause I'm like, full of EMOtion about everything and all of a sudden they have stupid hair and Dan's all, "LOL PORN" and Laurie's joking around like nothing happened. Anyway, I guess I felt bad because it didn't have Alan Moore's blessing.)
etherati
Dec. 5th, 2009 03:47 am (UTC)
Re: Bawwwww
Yeah I hate the GN ending too - it's like hey, you just lost almost everyone you cared about and you're kind of sort of carrying a burden of unthinkable knowledge here? act like it?

But thank you; these captchas that arent z!verse always seem to end up being post-GN Dan being depressing heh.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )