Characters/Pairings: Z!Ror/Dan, Laurie
Date Written: 2010
Summary: Stupid Dan breaks his stupid arm. Laurie has to stand in for him - and work with Rorschach - on a critical mission, and reevaluations are made all around.
Rating/Warnings: PG-13, minor language.
Notes: Dear god I have no idea what I'm doing here please don't kill me.
Part 1 here.
"Pay attention to the route from here," Rorschach grits out when they've gone about 500 yards and hit a T-junction in the tunnel; a rush of crosswind hits them, lifts her hair and the edges of his trench. "We're not going to the same warehouse you came in through."
"You actually worried I might have to find my way back alone?"
The mask turns to regard her for a long, empty moment, and even the brim of his hat is catching the wind. "No way to say. Dangerous mission, and being unprepared for any possibility is a rookie mistake."
Any possibility. She thinks of Dan for a second, back in the basement, the quiet apprehension in his voice, and about Jon. Realizes that there are worse people to love than someone who really is immortal; someone who only pretends to be jumps to mind.
"Alright, so–" she says, turning down the left fork, unsurprised when he keeps pace easily despite the height difference. She remembers that, from the early days of the outbreak, just how goddamned fast they are. "Two questions."
A grumbled assent, nothing more. The illumination of the tunnel they've left fades behind them; this one is even more disused, and echoes.
Laurie drops her volume instinctively in response. "One, you said there were two entrances to this place. How do we know which they'll use?"
Hands shift out of his pockets to shift his hat; it doesn't really need adjusting as far as she can see, but the basement had smelled like dark coffee when she'd arrived and he might just be a little twitchy. "We don't. Will go in through the roof, stay in the rafters. They run the span of the building, so it should be a simple matter to cut off their escape regardless of their position."
"What, just jump down? From how many floors?"
"Two. Know how to land correctly, I assume. Standard component of combat training."
Laurie pushes her hair back; reaches into one of the pouches in her uniform for a tie. Glamorous some might think it to drop from the ceiling with tresses all a-flowing, getting shot in the head because she can't see what she's doing would definitely put a damper on it. Mother is practically a swear word already, in her head – needs no real profanity attached, but she still manages something creative. "Gee, I must've missed that lesson somehow," she says, sarcasm laid on thick.
And a year ago, all her interactions with Rorschach would have lead her to expect him to miss the meaning entirely, but now he just makes a sound that's almost amused, hunches his coat up around his shoulders. "Second question?"
She grins, and it's like a wildcat's smile, all teeth and predation. "How long has this been going on?"
No answer. He's ignoring her suddenly, despite soliciting the question; shifting along the edge between the walkway and the drop to the tracks with more ease than makes sense in the poor light.
"What?" she asks, laughing. "Virus crawl up into your ears or something?"
One hand lifts to the low ceiling of the tunnel, tracing the pipes fastened there by touch. Mapping. "Used an unspecific pronoun. Don't know what you're referring to."
"So if I narrow it down, you'll actually answer?"
"Depends on what the question turns out to be."
"Okay!" she whispers, cheery despite the need to keep quiet. "How long have you and Dan been fucking?"
Not a lurching halt – just a gradual stop, feet rooting themselves to that dangerous edge of the walkway. A long, still pause then, telling in the way it stretches.
The mask shifts, slowly, and she can't begin to decipher it now, even in jest. "How long – nnk. How long have you been so unsatisfied with your own relations that you feel a need to pry into others'?"
"Whoa–" Laurie sputters around a laugh. "Little uncalled-for?" she asks, even though she's not actually offended, is laughing too hard to possibly be. To tell the truth, she's a little impressed – had expected him to just make some undignified noise, to call her a whore, maybe an unprofessional liability if he was feeling particularly verbose. Not snipe back, much less up the ante.
Footfalls resume, silent but for the faint brush of leather over time-roughened concrete. It brings their location back into focus, and their reasons for being here. "Question was also. Suppose we're even. Could perhaps concentrate on mission now."
"Okay, yeah," she says, winding the band into her hair, pulling it back tight. Quasi-sadism aside, they do have a job to do here, and it's an important one. As easily as the last snap of elastic, distraction secured, the whole world feels more like a fight, feels like something she's ready for. "You're figuring about six guys, right? Ringleader with the cache?"
They've reached another juncture, and Rorschach is looking at the pipes again, thinking. "No. Ringleader will have the drugs, buyer will have the money."
"That's what I said. Cache like 'stash', not money."
Laurie watches him running two fingers along one pipe; they catch in some sort of groove, scratched in with a blade, and he nods to himself, sets off to the right. "Expect at least four to be armed openly, others with hidden weapons. First priority is disarmament. Second is securing the seller and buyer."
"What about the others?"
"Capture if possible, but if they get away, will find them later. Hired muscle, not significant to putting a stop to this atrocity."
Lights again, in this segment, and a rumbling comes through the walls, telling of a faraway train. Laurie'd been stuck on the tracks before, years and years ago, and the behemoths bear down like all the fury of the future interrupted mid-breath. It's not a good place to be, and watching the way Rorschach moves, hunched forward and furious and unhesitating in his drive forward, she almost feels bad for these guys. Then she remembers what they're planning, and squashes the sentiment, hard. They deserve the trainwreck that's coming to them.
"Well, that's the important thing," she says, and it's the truth, for both of them. Something in common; who'd ever have thought.
"So," she whispers, conspiratorial; she'd backed off before, but some things are too tempting. They're in position, crouched on the rafters like overfed pigeons, and both doors are in perfect view, and she flexes her hand against the stiffness of the Kevlar in her glove. "Do people taste like chicken?"
A blank stare through the mask, and the blots are even more unnerving than they used to be for just how slowly they shift.
"I mean," she continues, only letting the edge of a smile show. "People are always saying this or that bizarre thing tastes like chicken. So, do we?"
"Wouldn't know." He turns back to the floor below them, gauging their proximity to the doors, the likely location for the handoff, the best place to drop from...
They need to be a little further into the room. She nudges him in that direction and he shifts precisely not at all, immovable. "Okay, let me rephrase. Does Dan taste like chicken?"
A long silence. The map reappears, and he unfolds it carefully, tracking the likely angles of approach. Almost idly, like he's reciting from one of Dan's National Geographics and god, he probably is: "Polynesian tribes that engage in cannibalism typically compare it to pork, not chicken. Hrm. Agree that this position is not ideal, given their likely trajectory-"
"Pork? That's really..." she sniggers in the darkness. "That's funny. Since I don't think he's supposed to–"
"Has crossed my mind, yes. Again, would appreciate you focusing."
"Right. Yeah, okay, schoolkids on crack. I know."
The time passing can really only be counted in minutes, but it feels like hours, and she has plenty of opportunity to memorize the details of the room they're in multiple times over. The rafters run at seventy-ish degrees to the far wall. There are three light fixtures, all broken. The dust on the floor is at least a quarter-inch thick.
Crouched next to her, Rorschach is utterly still, in a way that feels time-locked, unnatural. The kind of creeping terrors she usually associates with childhood nighmares send the hair on the back of her neck to lift and the nerves under them to hum, and she understands a little about animal magnetism now; like anything with electrified extremes, it either repulses or attracts hard, and there is no middle ground.
"Jesus, you smell funny. Are you even aware of that?"
It's a whisper. That's all they can afford; across the warehouse, someone's trying the door. It's also completely cheap – she knows full well it's not really his fault – but it's been almost an hour now and the eeriness is getting to be too much, and she needs a reaction, a sound, a motion. Something to break the stillness, and not much else she's said has gotten through to him. She's actually starting to respect that, a little. "You could do something about that. You know, for courtesy."
"Could make yourself smell less like a ham sandwich," he mutters darkly. "For courtesy."
"Oh, god." She blows her bangs out of her eyes in irritation. "I'm gonna get eaten, aren't I."
A low rumble that could almost be laughter under all those layers, shoulders hitching slightly out of the corner of her eye. She understands all at once: she's being fucked with for once, and damn if that isn't a first. "Bastard. Seriously, how can Dan stand to–"
A hand in the air then, silencing her mid-lewdness. Even the dust twisting through a nearby beam of light seems to freeze in place.
Below, the door swings open with a long, painful creak.
Nothing at first – just a rectangle of daylight, and neither of them dares a breath. Then, moving carefully, figures shift into to block the light, furtive and looking everywhere but up, and there are more of them than Rorschach had said there'd be. More guns, too.
She hears a grumble from off to the side, then nothing – and when she turns to suggest that they modify the plan he's already gone, disappeared into the dark network of rafters without a sound.
Shit. Shit, shit–
A second later he drops behind the group, obviously not intimidated enough by the extra numbers to bother altering his tactics. He hits the ground as silently as he'd paced the rafter, and he's moving before they fully realize he's there, one weapon after another wrenched away and discarded in a blur of efficient, impossibly fast motion but there are too many, and she should be jumping down between them and the far exit but there's a prickling on her scalp like something about to go very, very wrong.
So she lands straight down into the midst of them instead, surprising them with her late arrival. A boot to the gut and another gun drops, and she's already aiming a roundhouse kick at the wrong target entirely when she hears an arm break and two bodies hit the floor in succession and sees a small-caliber automatic rifle come up – .22, her ballistics training tells her, cheap and easy to get and plenty effective at close range – and a burst of rapid gunfire brings the whirlwind of destruction to an immediate, wrenching halt. He sounds heavier than he looks, hitting the ground, and somehow that's the detail she latches onto.
It's like no one wants to breathe, for a second – not Laurie, and not the thugs, staring down at the stilled form on the floor and disbelieving their luck. One reaches out with his foot, toes at the still body carefully and Dan is going to kill her because there is no monster-movie springing back to life. Rorschach doesn't move.
Then she takes advantage of their distraction and sucker-punches the man with the rifle, hard, stripping the group of their last piece of leverage. Catching it on its way to the concrete floor and turning it back on them is a trivial thing, and once they've realized that a battle won doesn't bring the war – that half their men are down and all of their other weapons are scattered far out of range and no matter that they've finally taken out one of the underworld's most feared vigilantes, they're still not walking away from this one except possibly in handcuffs – the looks on their faces turn satisfyingly towards fear. They're edging back away from her, drug-addled eyes jumping between her trigger finger and the door.
This, she realizes, is why he'd called it a two-man job, because she can stare coolly down the barrel and smile like a woman willing to kill but she can't block both doors at once – and they're going to make a break for it. She can see the decision even as it's made, desperation overwhelming sense. They're turning, starting to move, banking on the fact that she won't shoot them in the backs and damn it, they're right, but–
Then a blur of motion out of the corner of her eye and Rorschach is at the door before they're within three steps of it, good arm splayed across its surface. He's leaning on it hard, unbalanced, off his game, but good god he moved fast – and a low growl climbs over the industrial machine-sounds, intensifying with every step the thugs take. It isn't just the usual rough edge he spins into his voice; it's an animal thing, that vibration deep in the throat that warns of an imminent violent snap.
The thugs waver – take a step back towards her, towards the gun. "Shit, man," one of them says, quiet, and that's all; but they all know damn well that he's got a clip's worth of lead in him and they all saw him go down, and bogeyman is too childish a word to speak aloud. But they all know. Laurie wonders crazily for a moment if he spread the rumors himself – or just allowed them, let them become something he could use, bleed into fear he could take advantage of.
If he did, it's working. "Take your chances with him or take them with me," she says, all cocky self-assurance now, drawing their attention back to her, to the gun. They halt again, and don't move in either direction; the rock and the hard, hard shore. "Still at least thirty rounds in this, and you know what he'll do to you if you get too close. That's honestly what I'd prefer, you bastards probably deserve it." Nevermind that Rorschach's obviously in no shape to carry out her threats; best to keep feeding the fear, while they still haven't noticed that he's all but holding himself up by the doorframe. "Or, you know, you could just give yourselves up. Your choice."
In the end, they surrender, allow their hands to be cuffed and bound, huddled into a corner just before Rorschach finally drops. She's there when it happens but she isn't expecting it – with his arm shredded and obviously out of socket, she's not sure what she was expecting – so he sinks to the floor unarrested, onto his knees and curling forward over himself like he's trying to hold something inside.
"Hey," she says, crouching in front of him; she's grateful that their prisoners are all tied up facing the other direction, aren't seeing this. Isn't sure why. Pitches her voice low anyway. "Your shoulder's out. Should get it back in before we head back."
He doesn't respond immediately; just touches his glove to the ragged mess of his coat. It comes away wet, and he coughs something that could be surprise. "Hn. Bleeding. Hasn't happened in a while."
Shit– he is, too, not heavily, but seeping like a burst pipe under low pressure. They must have torn up something pretty major in there, and the thought of there being damage Dan can't readily repair with some duct tape and fairy dust enters her mind for the first time – but the first priority is still making sure his arm doesn't fall off and she's seen too many movies to dismiss it as a possibility. "Okay, yeah," she says, sharp, to grab and keep his attention. "It's a fucking fascinating sensation, I'm sure. Sit up straight so I can fix this."
"Have... nrg. Have called police?"
"I will once I'm sure we can walk out of here. I'm not gonna have you passing out and slowing me down." Then she holds a careful breath and puts one hand on his shoulder, the other searching through the mangled trenchcoat sleeve for the wandering joint. "This is going to really hurt," she says, "no matter how immune to mortal concerns you think you are, Mr. Bleeding-is-such-a-goddamned-novelty."
A sharp grunt as her fingers find the bone; the words push out around ragged, short breath. "Yes. Am aware. Didn't mean to imply–"
But she's never seen a point in warnings, so she just moves, fast, rolling the joint back into place with a sickening wet snap.
To his credit, he doesn't make a sound.
“Left a man down, to finish the job.”
Laurie sighs, and it’s bad enough she has to haul him bodily home like this – nothing wrong with his legs, and isn’t he supposed to have a legendary tolerance against pain and shock? – without having to deal with his crap, too. “Look, ghouly. You were the one saying how high the stakes were–”
A grunt, interrupting her, pain or irritation. “You misunderstand. Not a criticism.”
“Damn well better not be,” she grumbles. “Figured you brought me along to beat the shit out of some drug-dealers, not play some kind of neurotic mother hen.” And that’s what she’d done, and done well, and that's all that should matter. But then he loses his footing and lurches against her and she remembers just how many rounds he took and how messed up she’d been the one time she’d had a dislocation reduced in the field, and the anger’s dissipating, bit by bit.
Then he shifts away, trying to minimize the contact between them as much as possible while still retaining the support he apparently needs to stay upright. It doesn’t work very well. They pass a light fixture, filling out the tunnel in sickly orange, a single-line spectrum that casts them both like burning apparitions. She’s not sure if it’s the third or the fourth. Rorschach makes a breathy noise through his efforts that sounds a little like a laugh, echoes like something harsher. "Performed admirably,” he says, and the words are a struggle. “Not a decision Nite Owl would have made.”
“Yeah, well…” It’s the third, she decides, because the light around the bend is steady and she knows the fifth flickers. They have a long way to go, and she finally gives up; shuffles him in against her in the most efficient support posture she can find, and is grateful at least for all the Kevlar between them. “That’s a little different, isn’t it?”
“Shouldn’t be,” he says, struggling halfheartedly against the contact, and it’s very possible he’s only being so verbose on the subject because he’s blasted out of his mind on adrenaline and endorphins and the first encroaching shivers of psychological shock. Doesn’t mean she’s going to just let it lie.
“Stop fighting, you stupid jackass,” she mutters, quickening their pace. “If I don’t get you back in one piece, Dan’ll… I don’t even know. Skin me alive or something."
"Yeah, I know, he's never had the stomach for that sort of thing. I'm just not great with grudges, and 'you let my zombie boyfriend die in a tunnel' would be a hell of a grudge."
An annoyed grunt, likely intended to be another pointless denial, dying off somewhere before it finds its way into words.
"Anyway," Laurie says, and she stops for a second to catch her breath, to resettle the short, compact body against her side. To sneak a surreptitious glance at all the torn fabric, trying to gauge how much more blood he's leaked, dark and foul like motor oil, into its ragged edges. "You don’t have any room to criticize him, it’s not like you’d just leave him down and go on with the mission either.”
“…Nite Owl more likely to succumb to his injuries if not attended to. Could bleed out too quickly. S’different,” he says, and yeah, that’s a slur creeping in, smoothing all the grit away as the fade starts to take him.
“Shouldn’t be,” she echoes back, and god but he's getting heavy, limbs turning uncoordinated and awkward – but to be fair, it’s honestly amazing he’s still conscious, if she actually lets herself go so far as to be impressed. "Hey, come on, keep moving, you lazy motherfucker. Expect me to do all the work here?"
A long silence then; so long that Laurie would almost worry that he’s passed out on her if not for the fact that his feet are still moving. His breathing sounds terrible under the mask, ragged and sharp with pain. She thinks again of how silent he’d been when she'd seated his shoulder back into place, of that tiny jolt of fear when he'd gone down and not gotten back up, and relents. “Look, R – don’t sweat it. Selective hypocrisy’s sorta the name of the game.”
“Don’t… ng,” and his voice is getting weaker, but as they step into the guttering patch of light under the fifth fixture – three more to go – he’s holding his own. “Don’t know what ‘game’ you’re referring to.”
She laughs, and she can't find any bitterness in it. “Yeah, you do.”
----> Part 3.