Characters/Pairings: Rorschach, Nite Owl
Date Written: 2009
Summary: They died together, that night. The masks survived.
Rating/Warnings: PG-13 for imagery/violence.
Notes: AU, 60's. Not sure where this came from really. Just a nastydark little what-if.
The man under his gloves is dying by careful, measured degrees, face purpling in the strobing light, fluttering hands rendered into a grotesque stop-motion as they claw for breath. There is nothing worthwhile in his eyes, nothing that deserves a second chance, a third chance, a seventeenth chance. Dozens of children(some too young to stand, some nearly too old to fit) are strapped into the nearby cages like experimental animals, and that's what they are: strung out on some new cocktail that's days from hitting the streets, the luckiest of them are already unconscious. The rest are digging stubs of fingernails under skin until it tears, are winding fingers and toes through the rough metal wire, are strangling themselves on their drip cords. Their eyes are black and empty.
Across the room, Nite Owl is heaving; there's not much left to bring up, but the smell of slow, living rot is pervasive and unrelenting. He's pushed his cowl and goggles back to keep them out of the way, and they hang between his shoulderblades like the shed carapace of some gigantic cicada.
[He will say later: he regrets that it happened like this. He'd wanted to unmask voluntarily, in a moment of solidarity and trust, to hold out his hand and spin his old name into the vocabulary of this bizarre space and time they share, not strip back his disguise in a moment of blind panic to keep it from being drenched in vomit.]
Eventually the purple is so dark that it's nearly red again, nearly the color of blackening blood - and in the still-frame picture show these things have become, all disjointed moments with nothing connecting them up in between, he watches the hands fall away, the head loll back, the body start to go still but for the ribcage still constricting, fighting, trying.
[He will regret that he was so incapacitated, that he was not instead going from cage to cage, breaking the hinges apart with the force of all the sickness and rage that's hollowing him out, burning up his insides, drooling from his lips to the cold floor and leaving him empty empty empty]
The body may or may not make a sound as it hits the floor; it's impossible to be sure with the way the children are screaming and wailing and rattling the doors of their cages, howling like diseased monkeys. The crates behind them hold the drug itself, pre-parcelled out for ease of delivery. The street dealers will be here in the morning.
[He will regret many things, but he will be too far gone by then for this one: he will not regret feeling it through the concrete when the ringleader dies under his partner's hands. That will feel right, and good, and no, it will do nothing to assuage him when the first boy they free dies in his arms, but when the report is filed - coronary failure, it will say - he won't hear it, too busy changing into something new, something that cares little for details like 'there was nothing you could have done.']
The noise is unbearable in its stunning silence, and Rorschach waits until he's sure no breath remains in the body under him before he staggers over to pull Nite Owl to his feet(even with the mask gone he is still Nite Owl), haul him towards the cages, set him to work breaking locks. Between them, they have more to do here,
[between them, they will change, are changing, have changed]
and justice for these screaming and broken living carcasses is the kind that can only be measured in blood and spittle flecked on blue lips and the rattling heave of lungs collapsing inside of ribs and in the slump of a body as it rolls to the ground, and they are changing
[we're always changing]
with every pair of eyes that cannot focus to meet theirs. The police will come and take the children away and some will survive but the fortunate ones will not, and they will watch from the shadows, expressions sharp-edged and darkening, and the officers will ask each other
["Who called this in?"]
["Where are they?"]
["Who did this?"]
and in the morning the petty dealers will show up and find vengeance waiting and the police will have to come again,
[in the shadows, watching, changing]
and they will not understand regrets, not really.