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FIC: Vigil (2/12)

Title: Vigil
Fandom: Watchmen
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 2: From the Ashes


It must have all been a dream. That's the only thing that makes sense, the only idea with enough reality-roughened edges for him to get a handhold on. He'd been the one hurt (his side aches, feels like he's been stabbed, and hadn't Daniel said he was bleeding?), had passed out, been brought here. It all makes sense.

Daniel sits back on his heels, and the front of his costume looks like a massacre.

Rorschach chokes. The terror hits him cold right in the spinal cord in the way a dream never has. Beyond Daniel, a dried mess on the concrete and the white trail of dripped candlewax. His own gloves are covered in the stuff, and he notes distantly how they're shaking.

"Rorschach?" Daniel asks, expression cautious, one blood-crusted gauntlet out in the air. "Buddy, what's—"

"I'm not crazy," Rorschach blurts out.

Daniel's face collapses inward. "Of course not, why would you think..."

Rorschach traces the trail of wax with his eyes, the careless arc of something tossed aside. He can see the stub of the candle, rolling back and forth on the uneven floor. Daniel's still talking, but it's just a buzzing, incomprehensible. Like he's in shock, and maybe he is: "You were dead."

A stunned silence. "Hey, I know we had a close call here, but we've had those before—"

"Look at yourself."

Daniel does, and it's got to be the first time he has because his face twists up in surprised horror. One hand lifts to his own chest, ranging over the torn, blood-soaked fabric. Presses in, experimentally, and when there's no obvious pain, looks up at Rorschach, horror now transmuted into a terrible concern. "Christ, you must be bleeding more than I thought," he says, reaching for Rorschach's coat. "Come on, let me look. Should've known, from the way you were acting, you always get weird when you're trying to hide something."

Rorschach closes his eyes, allows the hands to make contact, to start parting layers. The smell of iron is overwhelming. "It's not mine," he says, voice a tight whine.

"It has to be, you're the only one hurt—"

"Bullet holes in your costume also mine?"

The hands disappear, and when Rorschach opens his eyes again, it's to see Daniel peeling the fabric back from where it's stuck to his chest, poking a finger through one of the now-obvious dime-sized holes. There's at least a dozen of them.

He looks honestly confused, now. "I don't... They look like bullet holes, but I mean, there's no way they can be, that doesn't make any sense."

"Saw the gun go off," Rorschach says, glad of his mask, because he can close his eyes when he needs to here, can conceal the dried tracks down his cheeks. "Knew it was over before you hit the ground."


"Dreaming now," he continues, despairing. "Obvious, really."

A hand on his shoulder; a solid presence, settling next to him. "You got us back here?"

He nods into his chest.

"Rorschach, we were miles away, how did you..." Daniel trails off, takes one wax-drizzled hand in his own, palm-up. "The candle?" he asks.

"Vigil for the dead," Rorschach chokes out, because dreams shouldn't feel this real, shouldn't have this much weight and heft. Shouldn't make him feel like he's falling through the world.

"You fell asleep," Daniel says, voice gently teasing. "Not a very good vigil."

"Am aware."

There's a peeling sound, like adhesive bandages being ripped away, and when Rorschach looks up again Daniel's stripped to the waist, the cape and cowl and bloody costume top discarded to the side. His chest is just as much a mess as his costume was, but under the blood he's working to flake away, the skin is whole, and Rorschach finds himself reaching out to touch, halts the motion halfway there.

Daniel catches his wrist. Meets his eyes unerringly through the mask, and pulls Rorschach's hand to lay palm-flat against his chest.

Warmth under it, and the rise and fall of breath, no sign of the cold stillness of this body in the street or the wet blood-pulsing wounds that had put it there, and a heartbeat so strong he can almost hear it, ringing in his ears like being trapped under drumskin—

"I don't know what's going on," Daniel says, and it's so quiet compared to the rushing in Rorschach's head. "But I'm pretty sure you're not dreaming."

Rorschach feels a small sound break out of him, and a second hand has joined the first, moving in rough circles to clear away the gore. That he would normally abhor such contact doesn't even try to connect, even when his hands drift up over the bare throat to grip Daniel tightly by the back of his neck.

"You're alive," he says, like it needs to be stated aloud to be true.


"Thought you were dead." He still does, really, is waiting for reality to brittle fracture at any moment.

"I know."

"Should be."

"I don't know why I'm not," Daniel says, and the honesty in his voice stings like salt in a fresh wound, is paralyzing.

Rorschach leans in, brushes his masked cheek over Daniel's red-streaked one, ignores the stink of gunpowder and sweat and death. "Carried you, couldn't let them see—"

"Thank you. But listen." One hand settles on Rorschach's side, presses against the wet patch of his trench. It hurts, more than he expects, and it's possible some of the blood trail he left behind them for winding miles might have been his own. "You're really hurt under there, I think. I know you're confused—I am too—but we need to take care of that now, before I'm the one lighting candles, okay?"

"Dreaming anyway," Rorschach says again, and this time it sounds like a question.

"No." Daniel rocks him away, carefully peels his hands free and pushes the opened coat down his arms. "You're not."


He lies on his side, frighteningly exposed, while Daniel mechanically puts sutures into what turned out to be a knife wound. It's deep but hit nothing vital, Daniel says, and he looks pale and weary hovering over him, too worn to stand for long which is why they're doing this on the floor. His stitchwork isn't at its best right now, uneven and painful. Rorschach doesn't care, can't care, can barely think straight and is distracting himself by running the discarded garment through his fingers.

It'd be an unsalvageable waste even if it weren't for all the holes. This much blood doesn't wash out, has left the spandex stiff and sticky. When he turns it over, the back is soaked through too—they'd lain in a puddle of the stuff for how long?—but there are no holes.

No exit wounds. They'd gone in and—

"Daniel," he says, and he must sound urgent because Daniel's hands still immediately. "Where did the bullets go?"


He holds up the shirt by its unmarked back. "Didn't go through. Still in there?"

"I..." Daniel trails off, then sighs and finishes, taping a bandage down and moving away, giving Rorschach room to re-dress. "I don't know, I think we're assuming they didn't go in at all? Since..."

"Makes no sense." Rorschach pulls on his shirt, his jacket. Holds the coat between his hands, wringing the fabric.

Daniel just shakes his head, putting the kit away.

And it doesn't make sense, but when they find a small pile of slugs scattered by the worst of the mess, metal dull with deformation and rust-red stains even in the basement's bright light, all either of them can do is stand for a minute and stare down.

Daniel crouches, picks one up, rolling it between bare fingertips. Daring it into existence. "I don't..."

Silence, for a long time.

"Okay," Daniel says finally, scooping them all up into his hand, setting them onto a nearby workbench with a clatter. "I can't even process this, you want to go upstairs for some coffee?"

And normally, Rorschach fights these offers— not because he doesn't want coffee or doesn't enjoy the company, but because it's who he is, what he does. But he can still feel the weight of the other man across his shoulders, dead weight, dragged and dragged and quiet, and all he can do is nod his head, too fast and too many times, and follow Daniel shakily up the stairs.


They sit across the kitchen table from each other. One cup of coffee's turned into two, turned into four for Daniel, and eventually into a carton of leftover Gunga curry and three bananas and an apple, two glasses of milk, whatever else he can find. It's obvious in this warmer light just how bad off he is, how sallow and wrung out, and he's eating like he's been starving for years. A blanket from the living room is draped around his shoulders, and he clutches it close in the front.

They haven't really spoken since the basement. Rorschach has his journal open in front of him, is scribbling down clues and assumptions and data and it could be any mystery he's working on if his hand weren't shaking so badly.

He's put 'gunshot wounds: fatal' in the assumptions category, but now he hovers, thinking.

"You shouldn't be doing that," Daniel says, pillowing his head on his arm. He disappeared at first, to change his clothes and wash his face, and he made a valiant effort to run some water through his hair but it's still a little sticky, curled into reddened peaks. It'd been all too easy, alone in the kitchen, for Rorschach to imagine he'd made both cups of coffee himself, was sitting here waiting for a errant hallucination that wasn't going to come back.

Now he steadies himself to the sound of Daniel's breathing, tries to ignore the way his glasses catch the kitchen light strangely, hollowing his expression. "Dwelling on it, I mean," Daniel continues. "I'm okay, you're okay, that's all that matters, right?"

His own writing stopped making sense a long time ago, is swimming in and out of itself on the page. The word obsessive floats to mind, hazy.

"It helps," he says, putting down the pen and reaching for the coffee mug, only to find it empty. Contemplates getting more; he's obviously half-asleep still or he wouldn't be half so honest. "To process it this way."

Daniel threads one arm across the table, snags his wrist. "No, it doesn't," he says, face lit in lazy defiance. "I can tell. I mean, I can't even pretend to know what you went through here, but..."

Rorschach says nothing, doesn't move a muscle. After a moment, the grip slips awkwardly down to his hand.

Over the stove, the clock ticks.

"I really am okay," Daniel says, eyes sharp through the lens-glare.

"...I know." After a moment, Rorschach carefully extracts his hand. Closes the journal and gets up to carry both empty mugs to the pot of coffee for refills, studiously ignoring the pull of stitches in his side. "Still expect to wake up at any moment," he says, interrupting himself halfway through with a yawn his hands are too full to cover or stifle.

"Drink enough of that, then maybe."

Daniel's speaking from his sleeve again, muffled, and Rorschach suddenly feels like he could knock back seven more cups and not wake up; the adrenaline's worn off and they're both crashing, and his body's summarily ignoring any chemicals he throws at it. "How are we going to handle the rumors?"


Clock-check: it's 4:46 AM. "Been three hours, the entire underworld will think you're dead by now."

"News travels fast, I guess."

"Always has."

Rorschach sets the mug down in front of him, and Daniel gathers it to himself with both hands, seeming to want it more for the warmth than anything else. Whatever happened to him tonight, it seems to require a lot of maintenance.

"Perhaps we should use it," Rorschach says, and where the fine tremor in his voice came from, he doesn't know. "Element of surprise can be—"

"Changing the subject," Daniel mumbles, eyes closed over the steam.

Rorschach stands for a minute, staring down into his own mug, one hand still on the chair back. Then he's collapsing into the chair like he has no energy left in him at all, shoving the journal aside in one motion. He can feel his voice falling apart. "What is there to talk about?"

Daniel doesn't open his eyes, just leans closer over the mug. "When I thought... when I woke up, and I thought it was yours," The blood, Rorschach thinks, he's talking about the blood, and how is he even sitting here alive with so much of it caked into his uniform and onto the basement floor and along miles and miles of traitorous city streets? "I was so scared that—"

"Could see I was breathing," Rorschach says, more snappishly than he means. "Tell I was just asleep. Don't pretend it was the same."

Daniel opens his eyes, damnably serene.

"Have no idea what I— what it—"

"No. I don't."

"Haven't ever watched—"

Daniel ducks his head. "I've watched people die, but it was always expected. Something I'd prepared for. I know it's not the same."

Rorschach opens his mouth, works his jaw under the rolled edge of the mask, but all of a sudden the words are gone and nothing is rising to replace them.

It really happened. It really happened and Daniel is admitting it, is—

"Thank you," Daniel says, peering up through the steam, and it makes him look fading and indistinct, makes his words sound like something out of the closing moments of a dream. "For being there, and for bringing me home."

"No," Rorschach says, quiet, because he was right, wasn't he?

Daniel's eyebrows knit in confusion. "No what?"

"Just," and Rorschach sets his forehead down on the table, is unconcerned when the fedora rolls off, settles itself an arm's length away. He's so tired, suddenly. "Don't."

Now is when he says goodbye, his exhaustion-addled brain whispers; the scenario is familiar. Says that you were always a good friend, one last mercy before you wake up in a burn unit somewhere, but instead Daniel just settles his hands to either side of his head, palms warm against the roughness of his jaw, and carefully lifts his face.

It should be shameful how much the solidness of the touch warms him, how much he's always wanted it, and only now, only now—

It is shameful when his own bare hands come up to rest over Daniel's, trapping them where they are, but he can't find it in himself to care.

"Don't what?" Daniel asks, perfectly serious, and Rorschach can feel the tiny pulse in his thumb where it rests too close to his mouth.

Then Rorschach moves his hands, hooks the edge of the mask and it's something like if this were a dream you wouldn't be able to do this or if it's a dream then this is how you can stay and he knows that's all wrong, jumbled superstitions, but it's something to do with names and faces, how much we reveal in death and in sleep and really they're the same thing—

The mask peels away like a skinning, but it doesn't hurt.

Daniel sits silently, gaping, struck dumb but there's something sparking in the back of his eyes that says he gets it, he understands. He knows what this is.

"Don't leave," Rorschach hisses, all the steel he's lost in the nakedness channeled into his voice. Maybe it's enough.

From the table, the mask stares up at both of them, still now and looking faintly betrayed.

After what feels like forever, Daniel just nods, and strokes lightly with one thumb before drawing back. "You want to stay here tonight?" he asks, even though the night's almost over. "There's the couch if you want to be up here, or even the guest room if you feel like—"

"Couch is fine," Rorschach says, scooping up the hat and the mask and his coffee mug and disappearing into the living room almost faster than the words are out, before he can regret what he's done.


--->Chapter 3