Fandom: Watchmen/Inception fusion/au
Characters/Pairings: Walter, Dan
Date Written: 2011
Summary: Is it really a deathwish when you're just trying to wake up?
He isn’t sure, at first, if the Daniel supporting his weight is real or is another projection—can’t remember exactly how he got here, or why he needs support. His brain is coughing up bloody, inchoate fragments—loud, hurts, quiet, ceiling, ceilingceilingceiling—but they don’t connect up correctly with anything. He doesn't remember waking up but he still feels like he's been falling, for hours and hours, falling a very long way.
And anyway, he's no expert.
If this is real, Daniel should be pulling leads and checking his pulse, setting him to rights, but when Rorschach runs one shaking hand into the crook of his own elbow, the skin is clothed and unbroken. Why he was expecting it to be otherwise suddenly eludes him.
"Careful," Daniel says, and they're in costume, and outside, and it is night. He can taste blood in the corner of his mouth, feel a wet rivulet down his cheekbone, slithering between skin and mask.
"You've got a bad gash there," Daniel says, touching the spot, and of course he does, of course.
[He is in front of the scooter, asking Daniel how to operate it, because he doesn't remember. Steering is easy; he'd held a lot of tight corners in those sewer tunnels and there are memories that will never fade, but he cannot recall the device ever standing silent and still, waiting to be started. The ignition is unfamiliar, under fingers that remember everything.
He recites what he remembers of the story, lets Daniel fill in the gaps. The words hit the air like truth but all he can think is that the part with the rats seems too perfect to be real.]
Somehow the years pass more quickly than they should, like all their mornings and sleepless days and shimmery heat-bent evenings have been trimmed off, leaving nothing but midnight and the eternity of hours surrounding it.
It is summer for a very long time.
Daniel builds a ship that can fly without wings, and Rorschach knows too little about aerodynamics to contradict its reality. They bring down one ludicrously flamboyant gang leader after another, a caricature of crime-fighting, but as long as they are doing good, it isn't a bubble he's interested in popping.
One night he is digging for a pencil to jot down a new lead, and a matchbox drops from his pocket, skitters its way across the alley floor. He is momentarily paralyzed; by what, he couldn't say.
Daniel crouches to retrieve it, tilts it into the light to read the label. "Why do you even carry these?" he says, rattling the single match. "You don't smoke."
Daniel should... he should know why he carries it. Shouldn't he? Rorschach opens and closes his mouth, suddenly unsure himself.
"I've just always been curious," Daniel offers to Rorschach's silence, sheepish, handing it back without another word.
[Creeping into Veidt's sanctum feels like something out of a comic book or a cheap adventure film, technicolor and overdramatic. He half expects the stone beasts perched atop their monoliths to animate suddenly, some jerky stop-motion approximation of life; to mutate into other, more terrifying creatures. Jackals and cats and crocodiles he can deal with. What he suspects they will find here, behind all the burnished brass and polished marble and perfection, will be far worse than any toothy and tearing jaw.]
It isn't summer anymore.
He doesn’t think about what he’s doing, just shakes the last match out of the box and strikes it. The flare of hot white gutters down to orange, dingy and filth-fueled.
He expects it to take hours to feel like anything’s changed; pictures himself standing and watching the man’s hideout burn up like touchpaper, take his evil with him back into oblivion. But it happens almost instantly, the moment he presses the empty matchbox back into his pocket and steps back into shadow. Something has been rattling, kept stirred up and agitated, and it's settling down now. For the first time in ten years he feels it: rightness. Maybe righteousness.
This is correct; this is as it should be. He feels himself sink down into his own bones like they are home, and the smell of sulfur and flame will never leave him.
[He would not be losing this fight, he thinks from the floor, watching Daniel bleed into his reflection in the marble, reflection in his goggles, repeating back and back—if anything Veidt was saying made sense.
He is used to many things not making sense, he thinks. The city makes no sense, with its flying elephants and electric cars and cerulean gods. Dogs and the beasts that keep them make no sense. The decisions old friends make on autumn nights, abandoned and abandoning, make no sense. This is different. It is insane, and he knows enough about the subject to say so.]
He touches the flimsy surface of cardboard in his pocket, jostles lightly against it. He is in Daniel's kitchen, and everything looks right, but— "You're not real."
"And you wonder why everyone thinks you..." Daniel trails off, shaking his head over his cereal bowl. Something in his voice rings like pity, and Walter can't remember how he got here.
[There is snow and wind and a horrible howling in his head, and he is suddenly nine years old again, reeling in the pressure wave the moment before her hand slams into his ear, cuffs him senseless and deaf and bleeding—but never crying, because...]
On the corner of 32nd and Maple, a four-winged pigeon explodes up from under a pile of newsprint, silhouettes briefly against the sun, and is gone.
The world is starting to go to pieces.
[He peels off the mask like skin, and it must be skin because the dampness on the exposed muscle and bone has to be blood. He is not crying—cannot be, because...
And Daniel has disappeared, evaporated off somewhere else and he always thought Daniel would be here when he—but that is stupid, stupid rookie talk, as if he is falling to a Knot-Top's knife in an alley instead of to the powers of a god gone mad with stillness and apathy at the bottom of the world. There can be no comfort for this, and he has not believed he would die in another's arms for ten years, now.
Manhattan's hand comes up, and it's just enough time to think Finally, finally, and Why do I— and The snow is wrong, and then light and light and all the rest melts off like morning frost.]
It’s early. Outside the dingy room’s window, the ridge of tenement buildings and beyond that the sky, sickly purple-grey with midsummer haze. It’s the color of bruises, six days old and fading, and that’s what Walter opens his eyes on, slamming back into the present like the chair’s electrified.
Dying, his body thinks independent of his brain, because it remembers going to a million radiant pieces even if he doesn’t, remembers allowing entropy its own. Everything jammed back together all at once sends his stomach into his throat and he lurches forward off of the chair to vomit, sparsely and with a dry, heaving cough.
“Hey,” just the single word, and there are hands against his arms, steadying him, sliding the needles out of his veins (he is coming inside out) and he understands just enough to wonder: have any of his memories of Daniel been real? Did he ever retire, did he ever come back, did he ever care enough to—
Daniel leans him back to rest against the supporting circle of his arm.
“How long,” he coughs out, fine trail of spittle running from his lips.
“A few minutes, out here.” The arm resettles, hefts him until he’s sitting upright on the bare concrete floor. He can feel its chill seeping up through his clothes, and the detail is no reassurance; it’s exactly the sort of thing he’d have remembered to include, way back when. “Where you were, who knows. You’ll need to tell me. It’s July fifteenth, 1964, if that helps.”
“July fif—“ Walter cuts off, trying to place the date. "King of Skin, underage prostitution. Did we…?”
“There was no ‘we’ about it,” Daniel says, a little peevish but after all these years (minutes) Walter can tell concern when he hears it. Daniel's pulling him around to get a vitals check in on him, and Walter remembers decades of craving this closeness, of growing old with the weight of it. He remembers how young he still is. “After you got a hole blown in your head I finished getting the info on my own. It was a little sloppy at the end, but I got it done.”
Nearby, the toady they'd picked up, stretched out in state on the floor, only the faintest rise and fall of breath giving him away as alive. Wires string from his body, too.
“We'll move on him tomorrow night, if you want. I gotta say, though,” Daniel says, babbling, and his hand has been on Walter’s face for too long but unacknowledged years sing under Walter’s skin and he doesn’t move away. “Even if I knew what I was doing, which I don't, working with a corpse lying next to me would still be goddamned distracting.”
.45, Walter remembers thinking, just before the noise that’d deafened him, driven him out of himself and into freefall. Would have made a pretty big hole. He pictures it, with perfect visceral clarity; it's why he's turned out to be so good at this.
“No more sedatives,” Daniel says, normally reserved features flushed with relief, and the hand on Walter’s head slides up into his hair, drags it forward in something almost but not entirely like affection. The adrenaline is making him bold. “I don’t care how fucked up you are; I’ll deal with your crazy marauding sex spiders before I’ll ever watch that happen again, okay?”
And it isn’t okay, but Walter flexes his hand and doesn’t feel the chill rot of arthritis in his joints; puts it to his face and doesn’t feel a pulled-tight shroud of skin over bone, and he has wasted twenty years once already—
“Willing to discuss it,” he says, and Daniel pulls him to his feet, sends him to stand at the window while he deals with their target, to regroup and reorient and watch the first real sunset he’s seen in decades.
In his pocket, the matchbox is empty, but it has been for years and he will just have to trust Daniel instead, this time.