Characters: Dan, Rorschach, Hollis cameo, misc bad guys.
Date written: 2010-2014 hahaha wow I SUCK
Summary: The most important skill a masked vigilante can cultivate is how to fall and come right back up. When Nite Owl and Rorschach run into a trigger-happy gang, Nite Owl finds he's able to push that skill to the extreme--even if he has no idea how or why. AKA, the one where Dan just won't stay dead and Rorschach is Freaking Out.
Notes: Originally for a KM prompt asking for 'Highlander-style immortality', though I didn't actually make it a crossover. No swords and shit here, just a very confused owl.
Ratings/Warnings: PG-13 I think. A lot of blood and injuries and deaaaattthhhhhh. Some of it's temporary, some of it's not. Language, some offensive dialogue.
Chapter 1: Penance
This is bad. It's worse than bad, far worse; 'bad' is trivializing and dismissive, a word of botched busts and the sick crawling of skin at an innocent touch and the store not having the kind of cereal he'd prefer. This isn't bad, it's incomprehensible.
Rorschach's already whirlwinded through denial and bargaining, his throat sore from all his pleas and promises, dropping empty and unanswered to the city asphalt. Anger, too, which is how he's come to be surrounded by a ring of broken bodies, draped over themselves on the pavement grotesquely. Some are breathing still, some aren't, but he doesn't care, he doesn't care. He doesn't.
He only cares about one of them, cradling it against flickering streetlight and rocking back and forth the way he remembers doing as a child, when all the world seemed against him, intent on taking everything he had. Every bit of happiness snatched away, no matter how small. The blood pooling under them is already going cold and sticky where it's soaked through his pants, and he skirts the fingers of one shaking hand all around the edges of the cowl, not touching skin.
It'd happened so fast. His brain still hasn't caught up with his eyes, his fingers, is trying to pull the body up as if it were still a person, still capable of sitting up and groaning and holding it together until they could get somewhere for help; a hospital, a police station, something, anything. There has to be something he can—
There can't be nothing, he has to—
Sirens in the distance. They recede; unrelated, but eventually the police will respond to reports of a fight here, to reports of gunfire. The part of Rorschach that knows what this is also knows that they cannot be found like this, bloodied and defeated. He won't allow it.
He lets that part take over, shakes out the grief and sweeps it away for later. There will be time, and he will never forgive himself if they turn this, turn Nite Owl's death—and he can almost say it now, almost hear it—into a front page spectacle, dragged ugly and bleeding through the unforgiving gears of newsprint, left to flounder in damp tatters in a thousand stinking gutters.
He shoulders the body up onto his back, and it is heavy and he is small, injured himself, soles of his shoes treacherously slippery from all the blood, but it doesn't matter.
Miles later he's not entirely sure even he survived the fight; he can't feel his own body, arms and legs and back gone numb from more than just exertion. He has not wept since he was ten years old, but he has been for the last hour, a steady seeping leak that keeps time with his footfalls, with the continuous patter of blood to the ground.
His arms have locked, and he doesn't know if he ever wants to let go. Ever wants to reach his destination, because if the subway tunnel's walls ache with moisture and the ceiling lamps rumble just slightly from the passing cars overhead and he can hear the faint chitter of vermin in the darkness, he will know this is no dream.
He reaches the tunnel, stops to feel, listen. It's not a dream, and he chokes up a sob under the mask, starts walking again before he can drown in it.
Coming into the bright light of the Owl's Nest feels like walking into a wall of fire, like judgment. It's overwhelming, and Rorschach feels the tension in his limbs cut out like snapped string. He tumbles them both to the ground, and it's all he can do, remembering some elusive wisp of that time before he stopped crying, to pull himself to Daniel's work desk and scrabble for an emergency candle in the drawer.
The word floats through his mind, vigil, looking for something to connect to. Lying in a boneless heap, he thumbs a matchbook open and succeeds in lighting the wick on the third try, and he passes out a few minutes later holding it cradled in his hands.
If it tips over and starts a fire, then at least Daniel's secrets will be safe, and if he goes with it, well, there's a word from his childhood for that, too: penance.
What are you trying to do, burn the place down?
It's a voice, distant, sounding pained and a little angry but it's an impossible voice and Rorschach's brain readily supplies: dream. He's dreaming, and he stays submerged, knows there's a reason he doesn't want to come back to the surface. If only he could remember.
Christ, you're bleeding. What were you—
Then he feels whatever's in his hands being taken away, and he struggles to recover it, because it's important.
An audible huff of breath and a clatter, then hands are on his shoulders, quieting his thrashing. When he blinks his eyes open, there's a haggard, black-eye bruised and sweaty face hanging in front of him, drawn in concern and haloed by the intensity of fluorescent lighting, damp bloody hair stuck to its forehead in whorls, and no no no it can't be it can't—
Rorschach doesn't scream, but it's a very near thing.