Date Written: 2009
Summary: Captcha Ficlets. #1 and #2 are Z!verse, #3 is canon post-GN NYC.
Rating/Warnings: PG... 13? For some mentions of violence in various forms? Oh and baawwwwsad on the last one.
#1 - Prompt: 'devalved doctors'
He comes awake in gradual, stuttering pieces, but his world is unitized and simple: pain, centered in his head and his chest, and a clinging feeling of violation. The light overhead is too bright and it makes his head ache even more sharply, and the way he’s lying flat on his back makes his ribcage pull and spasm.
He can't breathe. Oh god, he can’t–
There are hands on either side of his chest, cold through the layers of fabric, moving jerkily and without clear purpose and it's not helping and there's a short sound of panic and he can't breathe and everything hurts and a wave of nausea rolls over him, hard and–
Hands on his throat, rubbing slow circles. Someone is talking to him, incomprehensible but he knows it, he knows that voice–
[Fighting on the docks, and these bastards are getting smarter, too smart – they get separated in the fray and he’s fighting well but it all skews off to the side, slows down, when he sees the gun come up. He knows he's not going to be able to move in time, knows Rorschach is too far away to help and he's spinning and ducking and trying to divert the shot and why didn't he wear his armor tonight–]
The hands are soothing air back into him, and the voice becomes words, becomes a careful, calm mantra of Breathe, Daniel, breathe, slow, just breathe. His chest feels cracked in half under their touch, split open and bleeding.
[The gun fires twice and the first has just skimmed his scalp through the cowl and he's thinking missed, thank god when the second– the second–
Hands pulling back fabric, splaying over skin, trembling for a moment before they press down, hard – and he knows that voice.]
When he opens his eyes – and it takes some doing because the light is still too bright and he doesn't even remember closing them against it, but he must have – the face hanging over him is just as familiar. It's somehow even paler than usual, from panic or exhaustion or just the washed-out fluorescent light falling over them, industrial rod lamps humming from the ceiling, punctuated by the steady, too-fast beeping of a cardiac monitor.
He's in a hospital room.
He's in a hospital room and Rorschach is half-sitting at the edge of his bed, partly in uniform and partly not, hands stilled over the blankets now and god, he looks terrible. Looks like Dan feels, like someone's come along and scooped him out and left a shaky, collapsing shell behind.
[It's a chill night and the dock is wet but he doesn't feel particularly cold, not like they always say in movies, and he tries to say so – because that's a good sign, isn't it? – but he hears a horrible choked noise above him that makes him afraid to look, afraid to move, afraid to breathe.]
"Awake for real now?" Rorschach is asking him, and the brilliant white light behind him makes him look unreal, barely there.
Dan nods. It hurts, and his head feels heavy, like it's swollen to twice its size; he tries to ignore it. A corded plastic tube is pressed into his hand, a button on one end.
"Morphine." Rorschach gestures to the button.
Dan narrows his eyes through the pain. "You said painkillers were... god." Talking hurts, a lot, more than breathing, more than not being able to breathe. "...were for people who can't handle..."
Sharp eyes, sharper frown; fingers trace down the center of his chest, and he can feel the stitches shift under them. This might be more serious than he thinks it is. "Just push the button, Daniel."
So he does, and after a moment, the world comes back into focus – fuzzy focus, soft around the edges, but he isn't drowning in sensation anymore, writhing in nervous overload, sick and spinning.
A long period of silence, then, of drifting in and out of awareness, fractured moments of feeling a hand smoothing back his hair and tracing lines he can't see or make sense of, mapping out his skin through sheet and hospital gown like something precious and ephemeral, something worth committing to memory. Time passes; he’s not sure how much.
"Thought you didn't trust doctors," he mumbles, half-awake.
"Hrm." The hand pauses; his tone is casual. "Threatened to chew all their hearts out if anything happened to you."
Through the haze, Dan's just coherent enough to be horrified and touched all at once. He probably smiles.
Fingers press into his skin, grounding in his warmth. "Seems to have done the trick."
#2 - Prompt: '6-1/2-79 overheat'
The rungs of the ladder are damp with beading moisture, and the rust clinging to them lifts free and sticks to gloves and gauntlets and the leather soles of shoes like torn red autumn leaves. It’s nowhere near autumn – midway through June and as humid and unbearably close as these hot midsummer nights get in the city – and Nite Owl’s goggles tend to render everything violent and blood-colored but tonight even he is seeing something innocent in the clinging flecks of red, some reminder of the relief that always eventually comes.
Which doesn’t mean he wants them in his mouth – so when he looks up and catches a faceful of wet flakes brushed free by his partner’s ascent, he laughs. “Hey, look out down here!”
He’s not surprised when there’s no reply.
They clamber onto the rooftop and stand for a moment, eyes tracing the line of the eaves and the city shapes beyond, firefly-lit towers reaching into firefly-lit sky. Trying to reorient themselves. The plan is surveillance – a boring way to spend patrol but necessary in this case if they want to put a pattern to this thing, stop hacking at the gang’s limbs and go for its beating heart. As far as Dan’s concerned, it’s far preferable to running headlong through the thickening heat on endless minor errands and chases, risking heatstroke or worse.
Rorschach’s crossed to the far edge, overlooking the pocket of alley they’re interested in, and when Dan settles down next to his crouched form and reaches to unhook his cowl, push it and the goggles back, Rorschach spares him a half-second’s glance and a disapproving non-word.
“What?” Dan asks, grinning companionably in the late evening city glow. “No one can see up here, and my goggles were steaming up.”
This time, the non-word of choice sounds almost like laughter.
“No idea how lucky you are,” Dan says, self-amused weariness creeping into his tone. He combs gloved fingers back through hair that’s stuck in loose curls from the heat, sweat-glued into disheveled peaks. Clears his hairline and tries to block out the unbearable way the spandex clings all over, the way there’s really no escaping it no matter how high above the hot milling crowd they climb – the way dizziness threatens, corrupting his vision around the edges and letting him feel every pounding beat of his heart high up in his ears.
Rorschach just regards him, a long and thoughtful silence.
And he’s sure his skin is flushed already, can feel the damp warmth there, but when Rorschach peels a glove free and sets his hand on the nape of Dan’s neck, a shock of cold at the base of his skull almost biting enough to hurt, he’s no longer sure if the heat’s entirely to blame.
Dan’s eyes are closed; he doesn’t remember closing them. He hisses, air sucked between his teeth, when he feels that cold creep into his hair, over his scalp – pinpricks of white behind closed eyes, stark against the heavy blackness. He can feel Rorschach’s eyes on him, some ancient prey instinct kicking in that he’s learned to reinterpret into new and less forbidding contexts, and that means that neither of them are looking down at the street and that isn’t a good thing but he can’t seem to–
The air is too thick and dense to carry sound very far, and so when he feels cold lips press to his throat through two layers of latex, just where overheated blood swims closest under the skin (he knows it can go no further because they are on duty, have work to do, but it still feels like something heavy and overwhelming being lifted away, like a slaking) the sharp whine vibrating up against it ultimately comes to nothing: swallowed by humidity and night sweats and city noise, smeared down alley walls until all that is left is a bare whisper of relief in the midst of New York’s unrelenting midsummer fever dream.
#3 - Prompt: '$45 retyped'
He sits, hunched over a typewriter, banging away. It's not electric, so he can make do without power, without running water, hiding in warehouse after warehouse as he's flushed out like a particularly large specimen of stinking vermin. The typewriter has a handle, is easy to transport, is all that matters. Human life isn't worth much in Adrian's utopia. Ideas, though. Well.
("I’d recommend you keep quiet, or...")
A threat, a warning, a piece of good advice. He'd assumed that trailing end would wrap itself around a lonely, unmarked gravesite, was braided from steel and resolve, had teeth. He'd never expected this kind of detached, anticlimactic ruination.
("Or what, Adrian?")
The journal was easy enough to rescue from the dumpster behind the Frontiersman's office, so much lunatic refuse sent away for burial. That burial was more of a luxury than its owner ever got was not lost on him, did not fail to make his knuckles clamp white in fury around the battered spine. Does not let him forget, even now when so much else has fled, faded like an old, forgotten nightmare.
Somewhere nearby, rats' feet through detritus, and they do not dream. They are fearless.
The keys strike the roller, heavy and final, as he retypes every entry with careful attention to the nearly illegible script. Yesterday, he was mistaken for homeless, and a man tried to palm him five dollars, gave him a look that said there was more to be had if he was desperate enough to... and he is homeless, but he's not that kind of homeless, and he–
A noise across the room, and he jumps. Reality's getting a little disconnected – yesterday and today, cause and effect, and it's easy to slide into then as if it were now. He has a gash in his side that probably needs attention, but he's wrapped some packing paper over it and that'll be good enough; the ceiling creaks under the weight of snow, makes this space feel like remembrance. His fingers are cold and blue on the keys, crisscrossed in tiny itching slices. Free association: Papercuts, paper hearts, broken hearts, hearts that were never whole to break – the feel of wiry hair and scarred skin under his hands and somewhere in there, something true that he needs to unearth, to understand. He feels hands on his own, sometimes, guiding them to keep typing typing typing until his fingers lock up so hard that will alone can't overcome it.
There's $45 in loose mixed bills burning like a brand in his back left pocket. It's charity that sustains him, and it chafes. He doesn't charge for these meticulously drafted pamphlets, but people come back and find him sometimes, whispering mad entreaties into his ear, questions that buzz and buzz like detuned static, and they give him money that they don't expect anything in return for. Repayment for the truth, nothing more. And god but he's thin these days, an open and wasted kind of leanness that marks him, that clings to him like a bad smell. He has to eat. He's still aware of that, that his body is a machine that requires fuel and if he doesn't feed it then eventually he will be bone and skin and three layers of wool, armor against the stinging January freeze, with fingers that no longer move. Duty is more important than pride; he has to eat, so he takes the money.
(And just whose life have you commandeered, what rogue spirit have you let settle into your flesh as if it belongs, as if it's always belonged?)
It was such an easy thing to find, this book, as if it'd walked into his hands of its own volition, and sometimes he remembers it happening that way. So easy and so impossible because he knew what would–
("Whatever precise nature of this conspiracy, Adrian Veidt responsible.")
(Loose paper raining down from a balcony in a flurry of black and white and motion and that's it, that's it–)
He doesn't remember what they did when they finally caught him, pressed his face into the sleet and twisted middle-aged joints further than they ever should have gone. He doesn't remember much anymore, really. Pain, he remembers, sharp in the back of his head, pain like light and discordant music and the color of violets, exploding synesthetically against a backdrop of how could you and this isn't right and I won't let him have died for nothing and rainwater tracing down the edge of painted wood, smearing newsprint into muddy grey and dripping, dripping...
("I do regret that it's come to this, Dan.")
He turns the journal to the last page. He has three copies finished already, needs two more if he wants to hit the street by noon. The voice echoing detached against his urges him on, and some days this feels like defiance, like proving to Adrian that these things cannot be suppressed.
Some days, it just feels like obsession.