etherati (etherati) wrote,

FIC: The Center Only Holds(1/3?)

Title: The Center Only Holds
Fandom: Watchmen/Homestuck
Characters/Pairings: Rorschach, Spades Slick. 
Date Written: 2012
Summary: Hold onto your memories, they say, because eventually they're all you have and they're yours, inalterable. Until they aren't. Or: two short, violent, irritable, noir-styled grumpasses meet in the afterlife.
Rating/Warnings: R for stabby stabbings and language, though not so much in this part. This part is most just deathbubble!Rorschach having existential issues.
Notes: FML, FML. Also: Art by liodain, gorgeous as always.


Rorschach doesn't expect anything in particular to happen to him, once Manhattan's hand comes down. It will draw down the invisible curtain on his life, and then he'll be gone before he can even feel it. He may have been instilled with dramatic ideas of Heaven and Hell when he was young, but it's been a long time since he's known for sure which would claim him and even longer since he's cared. It's fairy tales; justice in the next world for people too cowardly to exact it in this one. It's nonsense.

So when he finds himself somewhere—doesn't matter where, just the fact that he's still extant, that his mind still exists to be at all—all he can assume is that it's the last frantic firing of a brain on the verge of death, cushioning him here in this protracted fantasy.

He waits for the inevitable dissolution.

Nothing changes.

Then, gradually, something does: the mist starts clearing around him, revealing details bit by bit. Metal floor, curving up away from him at the edges. Curved walls, curved ceiling, like a cold metal bubble—but Rorschach knows these lines, knows their sweep and all the things they've caged in and borne witness to.

Beyond the staring glass eyes, the landscape is dark, formless. Might not exist.

He reaches for a switch—he still has fingers, they're still clad in leather, they still follow his instructions with just the slightest twinge of arthritic resistance—and flips it. He's not sure what he's expecting. Maybe the bank of controls will flicker to life, a careful swell and crescendo of electricity cascading from circuit to circuit. And maybe the door will hiss open, hydraulics miraculously intact.

Maybe Daniel will appear in its frame, frustrated from walking miles alone across the Antarctic wastes, great ridiculous thermal owl suit ruffled up in the wind--ranting and raving about why Manhattan had to teleport Rorschach all the way here, leaving Daniel to hike here in a hurry to make sure Rorschach didn't freeze—

Maybe he isn't dead.

There's a twist in his chest that should be his heart squeezing, but it isn't. He can feel the organ in a way he never has before, hanging low and heavy with pooled blood behind his ribs. Quiescent.

The controls don't respond. He leaves them be.

Three more circuits of the interior don't reveal much. The door won't open; there's nothing visible outside; there is, curiously, a paper cup of hot coffee steaming away on the dash, and pressing his fingers to its burning sides tugs at something in his memory

[It's 1966, and he's lost his job and been evicted from his apartment; has been living rough and functioning as well as he can with the three or so hours of one-eye-open sleep he's getting every night. A week of this and his clothes stink, of trash and sweat and unwashed human being, and he's still young enough to care about this, to be embarrassed by it. When Nite Owl finds out—Nite Owl always finds out, all of their target's secrets and all of his too, and he never has to break any bones to get it—he offers his prototype airship, still a nonfunctional shell, as a safe, secure, private crash pad. Rorschach had tried to argue, but...]

but he's not sure what, so he eventually just collapses into the copilot seat, still stiff on its runners and helpfully covered in a pile of woolly, faintly moth-bally blankets.


Time must be passing, but he has no idea how much, either for him or for those still in the realm of the living. Because yes, it's pretty obvious that that's what's going on here, his pulse stubbornly silent and his eyes, when he'd dared lift the mask and peer into one concave windshield, glassy and pale. White holes. Empty.

And this scenario, whatever it is, is lasting too long to just be dying neurons dancing, spastic and desperate. Or is it? Time, time. It feels strange, like it stops passing when he stops paying attention to it. And he stopped paying attention to it a long time ago.

He has no way of knowing that somewhere out there in the nothing beyond the Archimedes's walls, there are universes beginning and ending, new feuds beginning and old ones ending, forever. That a year has passed already, in the world as he knows it; that pieces have been picked up and lives have moved on. That in a decade or more Veidt's strange utopia, borne on his alien horror's slimy breast, will give rise to stranger lives, will spawn a group of children that will do what he's failed to do—will turn the world on its ear and make everything right again.

That time, in the end, simply doesn't matter.

He sleeps sometimes, and wanders around in circles, and the cup of coffee is always hot and always full, and the blankets never wear out under his anxious fondling. They always smell vaguely of storage but also of Daniel, no matter how many times he buries his own stinking face into them, breathes deep and long into a body that doesn't even need the air, doesn't really exist.

Rorschach's getting sick of this place.

Then one day (one day, what does a day even mean anymore?) the wall starts to shimmer and warp, like a soap bubble made of heat and longing. It billows out and into his space, two spheres intersecting, colliding. He knows, immediately, that he can cross this boundary—it's meant for him, that's why it's here. It's time to move on, to let go. Through the rainbow-scattered film, he can hear voices.

He straightens his hat, flips up his coat collar. He's ready, but it isn't what he thinks it is.


1972. 1947. 1959. 1982.

1975. 1975. 1975.

(The flames are no less hot for being just a memory.)

Sometimes the memories aren't his. There are a lot of dead people hanging around this particular stretch of limbo, most of them his old neighbors, in as much as everyone who lived in New York feels like a neighbor, right now. Most of them are in denial or hiding, repeating the same endless happy theater over and over again, pathetic. Some of them are trying to figure out what's happening to them. Some of them even know they're dead.

(Rorschach tries to not be interested in their lives, their memories, but he's always been a voyeur of the darkness in every human heart, and it's hard to step back and into his own empty memories, sometimes. It's not that they're unpopulated—many a criminal's most vivid memories coincide with his—it's just that the only person he wants to see is thankfully, frustratingly, still alive.)

1965. 1969. Nite Owl appears sometimes, just as Rorschach's memory holds him: a little distorted, simplified, image wet around the edges. He isn't real.

(He'd thought that first step out of the owlship was letting go, but it wasn't, and the longer he goes on like this, ricocheting between the walls of his own regrets, the more he wants to. Let go, put his own ghost to rest, lose himself in the moment-to-moment retelling of his life free from all the skepticism and judgment. Hindsight has a hell of a left hook.)

Sometimes, in the trailing ends of dream/memory/life, when it's all dissolving around him in the space between the bubbles, he catches a glimpse of something out there in the black—just a shape, something huge and gaping and rippling, a thousand arms all reaching to chaperon him along, one memory to the next. There's more than just the one, and each feels like it's the size of a moon, a planet, a universe. They make him think of the abomination that'd filled all of those television screens at Karnak, and Rorschach wonders if, somehow, all of this is Veidt's fault too.


Years and years and years. He doesn't notice them.

It’s a rainy, miserable night, in that way that always ends up feeling inevitable. The streetlights are flickering at this end of the alley; he's perched on a fire escape, watching the neon from the pizza place across the street color the girders, the chipped paint and iron under it. When the watery color breaks it will mean that someone is in the mouth of the alley. He doesn't need line of sight.

Somewhere out in the city, Nite Owl is flushing their quarry toward him. It won't be the man himself who breaks the neon's path, but his thugs and bodyguards, towering in the light. Six months of work have come down to tonight—he thinks, anyway. Feels like they've gone too quickly, but he doesn't examine it closely. It isn't the point.

Tonight, Big Figure will be theirs.

A lazy dribble of water overflows the brim of his fedora, patters down onto his arm. Seconds pass. The tension is electrifying; he feels utterly alive, except—

The light running along the wet railings fades. They’re here.

It’s an easy one-armed hoist over the handrail, and he hits the ground in a crouch, nearly silent—air catching the tails of his coat and billowing it out around him, then letting them flutter back down to rest. He could not have choreographed the moment any better if he’d tried.

The footsteps coming up the alley still pause, shuffle a little. Just one set of them, and that isn’t right; he wouldn’t be alone, and if he were, he wouldn’t have been tall enough to block the light.

Rorschach’s prepared himself fully for this moment, including everything he wanted to say, but now the kind of nasty short jokes only a man in elevator shoes can manage die on his tongue. A shock of anticipation thrills through him. He doesn’t know why.

The man across from him isn’t tall—he’s shorter than Rorschach himself, which says something—but he isn’t as short as they all know Big Figure to be. He’s also dark; not just dark-skinned or wearing dark clothing, but dark the way closets are at night, gaping between hiding children and their monsters. Dark like a black hole, like the center of the earth.

Dark like the nothing outside of the owlship’s windows, the nothing he’d spent a year of non-time staring into, and he is yanked all at once out of the moment, out of the dream. He remembers.

Then the man takes a step into a spill of streetlight, joints all moving frightening and wrong, and Rorschach catches a glimpse of a single beady eye, a flash of metal up the sleeve, rows and rows of brilliant white sharks’ teeth set into the shining black mask of a face, and he knows: this isn’t just his memory, anymore.


Part two
(not written yet, sorry!)


Tags: crossover, fic, homestuck, watchmen
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