etherati (etherati) wrote,

FIC: Between the Brushstrokes - [16/?]

Title: Between the Brushstrokes
Fandom: Watchmen
Characters/Pairings: Dan, Rorschach, Adrian, Manhattan in pt 1, Dan/Ror.
Date Written: 2010
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.


[A dozen television screens – two dozen, three. They're hard and unyielding when his back hits them but he can't see or understand who is pinning him there, who is battering him against the glass and the chessboard of moving images curves out around them like a cave wall, showing things. People, things, there is no difference; their dancing faces move through the spectrum of human emotion and still the countenance in front of him won't resolve.

A smell of something burning; hair or silk, and a pooling up of blood around his feet but he knows it's there and it's just the drain, the drain is just clogged but his limbs are slow and useless and there's still someone holding him here against the glass, face-first into the present or the past or maybe the future and if he can't get to the drain, to pull the stopper and let all this swirl away, they're both going to drown–

faces all around him, hands tugging at him, all draped in scraps of bloodied violet, pieces of his costume and they deserve it, they are the great ones, furious but wonderful, a fist knotting in his hair face pressed into shattered glass they are the ones who gave their life for–

who were killed for–

he looks down, sees the feet behind his through the blood as if it were no thicker than water, just red-dyed water not real not something carried in human veins, and they are exactly the same as–]


Adrian starts awake, and the silk pooled around him is dark and damp with sweat. The room is still dim, pre-dawn and quiet, only the faintest trace of streetlight making through the curtains and casting everything into surreal shadow. He remembers, all at once, the one sliver of relief he'd felt years ago when they'd strapped him down and forced his eyes open and started the countdown, politicians looking coolly on. The last real thought he'd had, just before the light stole it away: At least now the dreams will stop.

But. Every face in the dream was a person, every emotion real, their deaths so entangled with the death of his creature that their collective flash of grief and horror, over in an instant, pressed itself into the psychic field of the city like a bloodstain. Like a haunting, and no one had escaped the dreams but they feed on guilt and the guilty and linger longest there, a decade gone and screaming. Every face is real, and does he have any right to run from them?

("You've got a long way to go," Dreiberg had said, even in his condemnation allowing that the path existed, even in his cynicism the perpetual optimist.)

Pulling breath hard, one hand pushing shaky through sweat-slicked hair, Adrian considers dropping back onto the sheets, into the stink of fear and panic. Wonders how much of it is his own and how much is his forever-ago victims', stale in the air.

Elsewhere, he knows there are people preparing to risk their lives for a cause, to unmake the monstrosity he'd had such an unwitting hand in. He probably deserves the nightmares, it's probably fitting, but there's a role he's meant to play in this and there are times when the just course of action isn't the most productive.

So he reaches over, snaps on the radio as he dresses, prepares for the day. There will be interference to be rendered later, but for now he knows the cues, the little undercurrents and mental bugs, planted in the far upper sideband of the broadcast. If there's any sign that the controlling bodies know what's about to hit them, it'll be there, a yellow note amongst the usual soothing, crystal clarity.

If they notice anything odd about his own behavior, it will only be that he's up at 5:34 instead of 6:00, and that – the light insomnia that shortens sleep cycles by just a tiny bit at the end, leaves people blinking confused into darkened bedrooms, the last stillframes of nearly prophetic dreams still fresh in minds no longer capable of processing them – is becoming more and more common these days, anyway.


6:00 AM: The changing of the guard. Clockwork, shift workers like the desk clerk at the motel and the waitress with her extra syrup, except that they carry rifles and nightsticks and stunguns, live more dangerous lives than even they realize. No chatter as one shift goes off and another comes on, no shared jokes or cigarettes or complaints about the hours they're forced to keep. The inner workings of clocks have more soul as they spin endlessly onward, gears and springs ground by hand, assembled by human delicacy, counting down the seconds of their lives.

Inside the prison, there are whispers, but there are always whispers.


A quiet reminder in the morning – and morning's a bit of a joke really, it's just after six, two more hours of sleep grabbed under the rain-battered roof – and Rorschach stops midway through pulling his suitcoat on, peels it away again. Reaches for the borrowed Kevlar vest Dan's pointed out, hung on a nail by the door, and layers it under the coat without another word. It's the easiest fight Dan's ever won.

"We're not getting any more immortal," he jokes, still feeling a need to offer some kind of argument, so used to Rorschach being difficult about these kinds of things, dead set on putting himself under the axe. It's a joke, but it conjures ideas about youth and the fact that they're losing it, feeling it slip away every moment they spend standing still for too long. They're not getting any faster, any stronger, either.

Rorschach just looks at him oddly, face only half lit by the buttery dawn light just starting to seep in through all the cracks in the makeshift shelter. Fixes up another button. "Not arguing, Daniel."

Dan narrows his eyes. "You're not fighting because you agree, or–"

"Always accused me of being too disagreeable," and now there's a glint of humor in his voice, dry as it's ever been but it's familiar. "Now you're upset that I'm not?"

"More just worried. After–"

"Not fighting about it because I won't be any good to the plan dead in the entryway. Obvious." A pause, then the last button slips into place. The vest is still visible in the triangle over the lapels, and he reaches for his scarf.

Dan almost opens his mouth to reply. Loses it, somewhere between the intent and the words.

"Not their kept creature anymore," Rorschach says after a moment, looping the scarf over itself, pulling it up to his throat. “Should know that.”

At the warehouse in an hour, Dan will gather his armor and the maps and the bin of documents and the last of their supplies. He'll stop at the door to look back in, at the crates and dust and rafters, at the dark rust stain flaking up from the concrete, and feel a hesitance. Nostalgia will not be the word for it. In the early light of morning, his own shadow far-reaching and diffuse across the floor, it will feel more like the nervousness of turning a key he knows will break off in the lock.

Now, he just watches Rorschach dress from the half-cave of his blankets.

They will stand together or fall together today, but he can't find the fear of a few days ago, the vibrations of the elevator rattling up through his boots and Rorschach unstable and ready to kill or die beside him. All he can feel is determination, and the solidness of it is comforting.


Hunched behind a length of the fencing that's obscured by shipping crates – bulk food and supplies, brought in from China if the labels burned into the wooden slats are any indication – they wait. There will be no specific signal, they've been told. When the distraction comes, they'll know. Dan shifts restlessly; he's never been the type to fidget, not small-framed or high-energy enough, and waiting usually comes naturally to him. He's had practice. But it's past nine now, and he hates goddamned subjective, unspecific information like 'you'll know' – it's cliché action movie garbage, and he'd rather know exactly what to expect and when.

He's also being given far too much time to think.

"Nervous," Rorschach says from his elbow, and it's neither the half-teasing question it would have been in 1970 or the venom-filled accusation 1980 would have twisted it into.

Dan shifts again, careful to keep his balance. At the other end of the crate, the five they'd brought with them are waiting for a signal to move; they're out of earshot if they keep this quiet. "Just thinking about... the bigger picture, here."

"New situation for you."

There it is, that's the tease, and Dan grins. "Yeah, I know, right? Amazing things happen under the right pressures."

A coughed sound, but there's no real humor in it. Across the yard, the guards patrol stiffly, repetitively.

"Just..." Dan continues, fingering the edge of his armor where the cowl usually connects. "I think Jon sent us here for a reason, and I doubt it was because he wanted us to fix things."

"Wanted us to fail?"

"I think he just assumed it was a given. Maybe it is. I've never really understood the simultaneous time thing, but if he didn't want us causing trouble in '85–"

"Wouldn't want us causing trouble now, either."

Dan looks back at him; the guards' paths are unchanging, don't need to be tracked constantly. There's no room for spontaneity in their job. "Which maybe means we can't, or we're not going to? I don't know, but it doesn't really bode well for things."

"He's not here to see it end," Rorschach says, stating the entirely obvious, but it's still an important point. "And have already caused trouble. Can't be more than an assumption on his part, or a guess."

"That's true. I guess we're off the edge of the map at this point."

"Best place."

"Yeah," Dan says, smiling despite himself. "Between the lines, where the great literalist can't see us."

"Hehn. Yes."


9:12 AM: A small explosive device, no larger than a pack of playing cards, obliterates a bank of five control computers, damages six more beyond repair, sends the other thirteen offline from overheating and the force of the blast. The facility sends up its alarms; A directive goes out, over radio and the pulse of streetlights and woven into the wail of sirens, for all armed guards and enforcers to converge on the location of the explosion. The signal has Priority Level One, and they respond like someone's put a knife into the base of their spines and twisted, jerking out of their activities and running in the indicated direction with no heed to how far it is or how likely they are to get there in time.


He's working his way through another stack of paperwork on the top floor, carefully disguising his actions, letting none of his annoyance show through at the sheer mindless repetitiveness of the task. There are cameras here, too. The radio set into the desk is still on, tuned low, and the voice drones on, but not much of what it reports is truly newsworthy, much less important.

Then it changes, and it's not something he could pin down exactly or explain, but he knows it when he hears it. A remnant of the conditioning perking him to attention, and he lets it, for the benefit of the watching eyes. Keeps all the crossprocessing in his head. It's a surprising jumble, hard to keep sorted, harder not to fall headfirst into, sink back into the depths and he'd seen the camp, all the people with their blacked-over lab goggles and bandannas and not a radio in sight. No wonder; this is less a binary state than he'd expected.

Once it's passed, he takes a breath – reaches for the phone. Dials a number he's not supposed to know and punches in buttons in a long, daunting sequence.

When it's done, the alert's usual time frame of fifteen minutes has been extended to an hour. That should give them the time they need to, if not get in and out, at least get in and gather enough of a force of numbers as to be able to brute force their way free. Casualties are assumed, but the bulk of them will make it to the intermediary point, and that's what matters.

The cameras will have seen that, he realizes, distant. But there's nothing to be done for it. He has at least an hour until any personnel are freed up, and in his head, escape strategies start to form.


The sky splits to the east, somewhere out on the harbor – a blooming cloud of light, shot through with scarlet and brilliant. It doesn't shake the ground underneath them, is mostly a firework at this distance, a fiery display of red and black and a distant concussive pop; it doesn't matter. Dan concedes that yes, they were right; this is their signal, and he knows that immediately, leaning around the edge of the crate to see the guards abandoning their posts, haring on foot towards the streets.

Five seconds. Four. Rorschach's at his elbow, watching the fire die, probably triangulating the blown facility's location for later. The men with them are starting to move around the crate.

Three. "Not yet," Rorschach hisses back at them, and Dan revels for a moment in this feeling, being this in sync again, sharing tactics without a word.

Two. A hand tenses on his shoulder.

Overhead, seabirds wheel, skim the harbor, diving into their watery destruction over and over and coming out unscathed. Fear death by water.

'One,' Dan mouths, and the hand opens against his back, palm flattening, pushing. The guards are clear.

A step into the open, two; and they move, like one creature with a string of bodies trailing behind, weaving and ducking across the expanse of the yard – horrifying in its lack of cover, their shadows long and overlapping in the morning sun.


It's a nerve-wracking 48 seconds.

They hadn't been sure what to expect from the promised distraction – a distant siren that would draw the guards' attention for a few seconds or a city block being leveled, or anything in between – and had presumed at least a few straggling guards would stay behind, that they'd have to do their questionable best to dodge gunfire or catch it where it'll do the least harm. Even as they reach the doorway and Daniel keys in the stolen code, ushers the rest of them quickly inside, Rorschach's still straining his senses, waiting to hear the first shot.

It doesn't come. The door pulls shut behind them and it's anticlimactic in a way that Daniel probably accepts at face value, appreciates. All Rorschach can think, cliché or not, is that too good to be true usually is.

"Okay," Daniel says, hushed, gesturing the group over to him. Rorschach ignores him, keeping the conversation in the periphery of his awareness as he scouts beyond this little alcove for front desk security, cameras, patrolling guards, any personnel at all. Around the time he hears Daniel explaining that this building is where the actual convicts were housed, that this is where the fighters will be, Rorschach finds the security room. It comes complete with a dozen video feeds lining its walls, industrial computing equipment to control it, and a guard staring at the screens in open-mouthed disbelief.

"I don't–" the man mutters at the sound of the door opening, not even bothering to look up. He has no sidearm. On the screens, Daniel and his huddle, and the entry they'd just come in through. "I haven't been trained in this, I don't know what to do–"

"Destroy the tapes," Rorschach growls from the doorway, and the guard stops mid-ramble, finally turning to look now that it's obvious the presence in the room isn't just the angry supervisor he'd been expecting. He goes two shades paler, color visibly draining off, and he looks like a startled rabbit, muscle-locked by terror, by an instinct even older than human fear.

“The tapes,” he rasps. “Where are they.”

No answer – just the dull rattle of the chair’s bolts, jangling against each other as the weight they bear shudders in place.

Rorschach takes two steps into the room, menacing despite the lack of his mask. In the hall, a quiet mumbling he can't make out, but he knows: after they blow enough cells open those five will split up with their reinforcements, fan out over the grounds, hitting all the other detention buildings at once. It's a good solid plan, hashed out in the calm of the night to the sound of the city running itself clean. Rorschach has other concerns at the moment.

"Where are the tapes? " he repeats, voice carrying the threat of things worse than mere injury or death.

The man's hand is shaking as badly as the rest of him; Rorschach has no idea whether it's from fear or from the strain of fighting the conditioning, the implicit threat of his presence driving a wedge in, deep. But he still points out the far bank of machinery, tape spindles ratcheting and unwinding quietly under the steady hum of the computers.

In the shadow of the hat's brim, Rorschach might smile, but he'd never admit to it.


"There you are," Daniel says as he approaches. "We’re burning time here, we really need to get moving– Rorschach?"

Rorschach walks straight past him, not pausing to take in the words. Reaches up along the wall when he comes to it, considering the angle, the height implied. Finds the camera under a small bubble of glass laid into the mortar between cinderblocks; to anyone not looking for it, it'd just be an irregularity in the construction.

He pulls a black marker out of his pocket, scribbles over it completely.

Daniel's at his shoulder now, his voice quieter. "What is it, a camera?"

"Yes. Will be more. We'll have to keep an eye out, in case they manage to replace the tapes."

"What, you already got them?"

Rorschach tilts his head, looks at him in a way that would have made more intuitive sense before, when he'd still had the mask. Somehow, the blots had always been the easier thing to read when they coalesced in service of these strange, ambiguous expressions. "...yes,” he says after a moment. “Security guard was very helpful in locating them. Also offered his keys. Very eager to assist."

"You broke his fingers, didn't you?" Dan asks, taking the keyring in hand.

A shrug. "Didn't have to."

"Is he..."

"Tied up at the moment," Rorschach says, and there's a hint of humor in the whisper, buried somewhere under the parched-dry sands. "Will have to get back to us later."

A sigh of badly disguised relief. "Okay. All right. We have to move, here.”

“Agreed,” Rorschach says, and he turns with Daniel back to the building’s foyer. The layout of these buildings is in his head, memorized. Guard positions, gleaned from the security screens. Likely camera locations, weapon stores. Know your resources.

The men and women standing around them, though, their allies - they are antsy and desperate. He can smell it on them, the same stink that’s always strung him along, nose to the wall, down alley mazes and through all the rotting underbasements of the city, led him to their secrets. Everybody needs something, material or immaterial, pure selfish scrabbling or the narcotic, hypocritical rush of altruistic satisfaction – good deeds felt heavy in the gut, in the base of the spine, electric.

For once, he finds he cannot set himself apart as an exception.

Rorschach nods in response to a question that wasn’t asked; heads off wordlessly into the corridor, hat brim pulled low, hands already pulled into fists. Around the next corner, everything becomes an unknown, and that is the most dangerous this will ever be.


Rorschach doesn't speak, when they get to the third corner without incident – just stops dead, and gestures low at his hip. There's no real content in the sigil, just a generic warning and warding, a 'here there be monsters.'

Guards, then. Dan has no reason to question. He flattens himself against the wall and, following his lead, the group behind him does the same.

He's about to mouth 'what now' when the last thing he's expecting, happens: Rorschach throws himself around the corner with complete careless abandon, and from that blind corridor, a violent chaos erupts more quickly than Dan has any ability to process.

Out of sight, the sound of fists and knees striking bone, striking cement.

"Shit!" Dan hisses, after he's let two precious seconds tick by in his complete, dumbfounded disbelief. He snaps into motion, swings around the corner at just as fast a run – and immediately ducks under the strike as a bludgeon comes down, ringing dully against the concrete where his head was just a second before. He's vaguely aware of bodies behind him, of being followed into this suicide run and there's no time to think about it, just to move, just move. A fist coming at him, neatly ducked, grabbed, redirected, face-first into the wall. A grunt of pain from where his instinctual fight radar is telling him Rorschach is, but it's too deep, too low, resonates with too much volume, so he ignores it, keeps fighting, keeps listening–

A distant alarm, and fists and knees and sounds of pain, he realizes distantly, but no shots. Those carrying guns were apparently more needed elsewhere, and this is what's left. It’s not an entirely unwelcome thought.

They're still dangerous, though, and Dan can only be grateful for the nonconductive layer he thought to include in his armor when the taser leads lodge in just above his breastbone, bury themselves in the armor and sizzle with voltage, spilling it uselessly over the shell of the suit. A little juice still leaks through where they've pierced the deepest, and he grits his teeth around a broken swear, a broken breath, clawing across the beesting prickling and trying to dig the leads free while his other hand's busy fending off the whistling descent of a nightstick. The third man he'd been fighting is struggling back to his feet; across the hallway, the guard Rorschach's squared off against now is swinging a goddamned shiv, and hell, why not? Lunatics running the asylum, convicts running the prison.

Because yes, they're dangerous, but they're not particularly intuitive or inspired fighters. They're choreographed, throwing punches and swinging weapons strictly by the numbers, fighting like they learned it from a textbook. They've encountered the type before, young gang members with their hands bloodied but their feet not yet wet and, dangerous toys or not, this group doesn't stand a chance.

Dan winds a gloved fist around the leads; hauls the man in by the taser he's too dull to know to drop, and lays him out with one straight punch.


In the monitoring room, the guard sits where he's been bound to his chair by too many wraps of unspooled magnetic tape to break, the chair bound to a wall fixture in turn. He watches the screens, the conflict jumping shudderstep from one view to the next. Some of them go black, rubbed over. He isn't afraid, not now that he’s alone again.

He's not struggling, either, not fighting his bonds or working out the means to an escape. It doesn't occur to him to wonder if there's an alarm button he can get at to press. He hasn't been trained for any of this.

He watches the screens, eyes fixed and glassy and uncomprehending, because that is his job.


The three best fighters are all struggling alongside them, dropping the guards in just as short order, but the two Dan had picked for technical ability – one of the men, one of the women – are working on the new lock systems on the nearest cell doors, deeply shadowed eyes watching them through the bars as they try to match the right key to the right code. Eventually, there's a satisfied whoop as the lock tumbles into place, and they slide the door back, disappear into the tiny room to start working the handcuffs that have the prisoners linked to each other.

In the hall, the last body falls, unconscious.

“How did you know..." Dan asks, breathless, trailing off.

A shrug. "Saw the security feeds. No one was armed."

"Jesus. Could have told me."

Another shout from the cell, interrupting, and an outpouring of bodies. Just like that their numbers are nearly doubled – six more pairs of eyes and hands, and they look ragged and worn down and undernourished but ready to fight, determination sitting awkwardly on faces that have long since outgrown its use.

"Okay," one man says, after a metered moment. He's pushed to the front of the crowd, is taking them in: the strangeness of Dan's and Rorschach's costumes, the goggles and light shields hung around all of their necks. He comes to his own conclusions, finds them favorable; fists clench at the sides of his grey jumpsuit, shaking. He's balding, a little, but you could never tell his age to look at his posture, the rage on his face. "Can't speak for anyone else, but just point me at the bastards, I'll take out anyone you need."

Rorschach takes the statement at face value, points vaguely down the hall.

Dan can only grin, expression flooded with adrenaline and exultation as the group gathers into something resembling a formation and starts moving. This is not a victory, not yet, but there's a clank from across the hall as a second cell is breached, and like a tidal swell gathering force, pulling up and up, cresting into a breaker with all of its violence and dead-white foam and cold unstoppable fury – it's begun.


Whispers are just whispers, little threads of hope winding up through the cracks in reality. News, rumors, speculation, fantasy; they layer together and become indistinguishable after a while, and all lose their credibility. Become tools for the weak minded to prop themselves up with, and she's never been one to need support.

Mutterings though – furtive, urgent information passed cell to cell when the guards are just out of earshot – that's something else entirely.

They all saw the building empty out a few minutes ago, heard the sound of pounding feet in perfect sync, watched them leave only a skeleton crew behind. Those in cells with even the smallest slit of a window facing east have reported another explosion out at the Lighthouse, like the one three weeks ago – the resistance acting up again. Probably running short on warm bodies and looking to recruit from amongst the unboostered masses, and honestly? Good for them, but it's nothing out of the ordinary, just the fodder of more useless whispers.

Then word comes down the corridor that there's a fight outside the first cellblock, that the guards aren't winning and the winners aren't prisoners, aren't anyone they've ever seen before.

Echoing, the clang of metal on metal; a cell door being slammed open. Another after that.

She reaches over, shakes Frie awake, and Hatch, and Randolph-who-doesn't-have-a-last-name. It's a cell meant for one man; they're all sleeping on the floor except Hatch, whose turn it is on the cot this week.

"Shhh," she hushes, quiet, before they can ask any questions. Points wordlessly to the ceiling, and there's the sound again, closer now. Working towards them.

They nod in turn; settle into a cautious readiness, no matter the ruckus down the corridor turns out to be caused by friend or foe. Either will require quick action and these are some of the fastest people she's known, but that's nothing special. They're all soldiers here, of one sort or another.

The shackle around her wrist, and the chain connecting it to the others, feels heavier than it ever has.

They wait.


Halfway down the first corridor, only one of their backup is left behind; he's showing Dan how to extrapolate the code from the keys, and it's something Dan could figure out on his own easily enough but they've run into two more groups of guards on the way and it's slowed them down so anything that saves them time is welcome.

"It's good to see you in action again, Nite Owl," the man mumbles, self-conscious in the way he only manages half a smile, almost childlike. “The way they forced you out, it… made me angry. For a long time.”

The keys clank against each other as they change hands, loud. Dan narrows his eyes, skips the more obvious question in favor of the one that matters. "What was your name again?"

He glances back at his own rabble, ready and eager to head to another of the detention buildings, to right some wrongs or possibly just break some heads. Motivations vary, after this long under lock and key. "Oh, uh," he says, visibly distracted. "Kevin Gordon."

And before that can sink in, he takes Dan's gauntleted hand in his, his elbow in the other – the parting gesture of a brother in arms, and that's what they've all become, over the last half hour – and is gone, mob surging and cresting behind him as they break for the shore.

Dan just stands for a moment as the unruly sound of it fades, mental gears turning, gradually clicking into place. Rorschach nudges him in the ribs, an intrusion almost entirely wasted on the armor.

"What? Oh, right, sorry." He unthreads the loops of the keyring, handing half to Rorschach. "Just... small goddamned world sometimes."

A moment of very perceptive silence, one eye squinted at him. "Old ghosts?"

"Run into them more often that I expect these days, yeah," and it doesn't even occur to Dan to wonder how he knew that; a Rorschach who didn't seem capable of reading his mind would be stranger. "Anyway, you caught that, about the codes?"

A curt nod, and Rorschach turns the keyring through his hand, running the weight of the keys over his fingers. "Shouldn't split up, without backup," he says, voice suddenly sounding like the street-bleeding summer of 1965, like the waver of uncertain feet in a fight, scuffing artlessly over asphalt.

"No," Dan says, with a half laugh and a shake of his head. "No we fucking shouldn't. We'll just work opposite sides of the hall, it'll be faster that way. And we can both keep an ear out for more guards."

Rorschach doesn't even acknowledge, this time; just heads for the nearest cell and starts cycling through keys, and they know what they're doing now – this should be fast.

It has to be. They have twenty-five minutes left and a lot of prison to cover.

Dan steps to a different set of bars, and the light fixture in this one is blown, so all he sees is the cold glint of eyes that are only just barely daring to hope. A rattle of chains. The harsh rush of air over a vacuum.

The second key he tries fits, and he punches in the code, turns the lock. In the quiet of the prison's held breath, the tumblers sound like a gunshot.


It becomes repetitive, after a while. The codes they need to work out for each cell – an amalgam of the numbers on the door and the numbers on the key – are simplistic, and they'd have to be, for mindless puppets to be able to process. Every cell announces its breach with a loud enough noise to draw any number of guards. It's only a matter of time, but the crowd gathering between these narrow walls is increasingly capable of handling them. Fighters, every one.

The fifth cell he gets to, he thinks of Daniel's old ghosts, but the light is on in this one and a handful of faces stare up at him, strangers. He works the lock mechanically and slides the door open, steps in to start unfastening their cuffs. They know what to expect now; word has spread

(whispers, mutterings, hope and hopelessness)

and if it's a moment out of a dream, no one seems willing to push it to its break point.

"Come on," he says, more gruffly than he intends. "Out."

They are happy to oblige.


The eighth cell is in darkness, the broken fixture glinting metallic in the light from the corridor. It's been pulled from the ceiling, hanging by its power cords. A sudden memory: pulling a fixture down and breaking it apart for its cheap, industrial metal slats, sharp as razors. That had been the fourth time he'd managed to escape Veidt's cell, and he'd been in restraints after that, but the lamp's fractured pieces had tasted blood before it was over.

Weapon improvisation, he notes, mentally cataloging the skill sets of the freed resistants. Then he adds weapon usage, glove diverting for a moment to trace the flaky old bloodstains on the bars, before returning to the lock.

Key, code. Twist, punch punch punch. It's become something rote, but the usual patient stillness inside the cell breaks and his concentration with it, as someone shuffles closer to the bars, chains clanking.

"Will have it in a minute," he says, and it's a little peevish, but the code didn't work the first time and now he's trying to reenter it correctly.

"Jesus Christ," comes a voice from inside the cell, far closer to the bars than he'd been expecting from the sounds of movement and familiar, too familiar. "It is you."


He freezes, the bastard, one digit from the end of the code, and they all hear the irritated triple beep of the lock timing out and resetting. He drops the keys.

Then he mutters, some string of nonsense before he says her name, face through the bars all shock and – Jesus, is that fear? Why the hell would it be fear? – and no one has addressed her so formally in years and–


From across the hall, Dan hears the ring of keys hit the ground with a careless rattle – thinks guards, thinks ambush, turns to look–

And then Rorschach is talking but he's too far away to make out. By the time Dan's broken away from his group and gotten close enough, there's only one thing left to hear, full of all the usual disdain but chafed around the edges with something like grief, with a brilliantly painful kind of knowing.

"...Ms. Juspeczyk."


---->Chapter 17

Tags: fic, slash, watchmen
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