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 6: Sacrificial Creatures
They're not even in a fight—just walking, pacing down an alleyway because it connects them easily from where they are to where they need to be, and something's wrong, because—
Rorschach freezes a second before Dan does, the faint scrape of clean metal against rusted out of place. It's just enough time to hone in on the man holding the knife before he lurches out of the shadows. It's not enough time to actually dodge.
Or it shouldn't have been, if he hadn't been shoved hard from behind, rolled into a pile of refuse and left to regain his footing on his own, turn, disarm—
Daniel's already on the ground. The assailant's already disarmed, because his knife is now lodged snugly between Daniel's ribs, and his chest is still heaving roughly against it but his breathing is loud and wet and when the assassin's head hits the wall, it just about bursts like a melon.
"What were you thinking," Rorschach asks, hauling Daniel up into the Archimedes' hatch. He doesn't expect an answer; gets only a wet gurgle in protest. He hasn't removed the knife. He knows enough about emergency aid to not yank it out and increase the bleeding, but it's doubtful they'll get to a hospital fast enough anyway— the last two blocks seem to have taken hours.
He pulls the hatch shut behind them, feels the slam echo in his braincase. Drops down next to Daniel, pushes the goggles back, splays his fingers around the hilt of the knife. The angle's wrong. This isn't going to be a case of someone getting very, very lucky; his lung's been hit at bare least, and it's probably worse than that. "What were you—"
"Playing odds," Daniel manages to get out around the blood in his airway, and when their eyes meet through the mask, Daniel's are clear.
"Stupid," Rorschach says.
"If it... if it works out, hey. You can yell at me tomorrow."
Moments from a fading dream. Smoke through his fingers. Curtains. "Daniel, don't."
"Not much..." A sharp cough, wet. "See you later, buddy."
The gauntlet's bloody again when it rises, seeking, into the air, and suddenly the commands screaming through Rorschach's brain—figure out how to fly, find a hospital, stop the bleeding, beg bargain deny—all collide and jumble with the sound of twisting metal.
Rorschach grabs the hand up, and holds on tight, silent, eye contact unbreaking until the chest under his hand goes still and the eyes dim, lifeless.
He has already borne this tragedy once, on his back and in his heart and in his shaking hands; he will not fall to pieces. He will wait, patiently. He will stay awake this time and wait and if the miraculous happens it will also be an old shock, toothless and rough. None of this should affect him.
None of this...
His hand is steady when it reaches out to grip the knife's handle; finds it slippery with blood, and he bites the inside of his cheek until the taste of his own blood overwhelms the scent of Daniel's. He pulls it free then, and it makes a long, loud noise, a sucking, and the blood is candy-red in the owlship's lights and Rorschach realizes that what he's feeling is rage, simple and uncomplicated, because this was meant for him, was meant to rest between his ribs with its tip in his heart and who is Daniel to steal fate from—
"You pushed me," he says to the body stretched out in front of him, and he can't seem to keep his hands off of it, even in his anger. "I was the target, not you. You didn't have to..."
He imagines Daniel dragging his dying body back to the ship, scanning the maps as he pulls the ship into the air, coming to the same realization. No hospitals close enough, and not enough time. He does not bother with false cynicism; he knows how ruined Daniel would be even if he doesn't quite understand why.
"Selfish," he snarls through his teeth. "Easier to die than to be the one—"
Too much. Stop. Start over.
"If I'd seen him first, if I'd reacted fast enough, you wouldn't have had to—"
Still not right. His voice fails and he lets it; fingers smooth over the ruined spandex, flattening it over the wound before the blood can dry it stiff. He leaves Daniel's eyes alone, has seen enough bodies to know better, and if Daniel wants to stare at the arching ceiling of his ship, his creation, for the rest of time, Rorschach is not going to interfere.
"Stupid," he says again, but the anger's mostly gone cold, and he can feel the heat dissipating up into his touch, thickening the air and turning it sour and silent, a nightmare in all five senses. He makes two more short, sharp noises that might be words, might be something important, but there's no way to be sure.
One hand on Daniel's chest and the other on his forehead, knees sore against the rough decking, Rorschach waits.
He waits and he talks, a mumbling cadence that's barely recognizable as language. He's not sure how long he waits.
After a while, the thought appears: he will wait for hours, for a day; will emerge into a new night with joints that've long since locked from hovering over a corpse, will seal the ship and notify the police and go onward alone. It doesn't have the biting edge of true panic—he can still see, in his mind, Daniel shaking him awake bloody and whole in the basement, Daniel's arm healing itself together under the kitchen lights—but as time goes on, it takes on a note not unlike despair.
The first time, it was just a fight gone bad. This time, it was for him.
No, not unlike despair at all.
Then, at no particularly prophetic time and with no particular ceremony, it happens—a hard spasm under his hand, and a sudden sucking gasp of air, threaded through with a scream. The exhale is just as harsh, and over the next few breaths the cry breaks up into a staccato of exhausted agony; pain too deep to feel itself properly, eyes roving the ceiling.
He's struggling to sit up before he's completely come back to himself, and Rorschach loops an arm under his back, hauls him upright. Daniel coughs, short and sharp, and his fingers go instinctively to the slice in his shirt, slipping inside the opening, pulling the fabric out and away.
"Well," he says after a minute, the words obviously painful, "that answers that, I guess."
He's sitting on his own. He's talking. That's all the assistance he needs, and Rorschach feels the low simmer of anger start to bubble over; it drives him stumblingly to his feet, propels him to the front of the ship, where the glass eyes give him a view of the street, low and ugly. Pavement bloody, sky lightening, its own wound leaking red.
From behind him: "Rorschach?"
Just the humming of the ship, for a long while.
"Stupid risk," Rorschach finally hears himself growl, but most of the anger's still inside. "Had no way to know that you'd..."
"No, I... no, I didn't."
Another long moment; then Rorschach pulls himself away from the panorama of violence. Walks quietly across the echoing floor, and crouches down next to Daniel, hand flattening over the place where the knife had been lodged. "Hurt?"
Shake of his head, hair soft and shining in the slanted light from outside. "I don't think so. It just... breathing hurts. It did the first time, too."
"Will need another uniform."
Daniel coughs, hand over his chest, and it probably started as a tickle of laughter. "Should just make a dozen at once, at this rate."
It's the wrong thing to say. Rorschach feels his face go knotted and tight against his will, twisting under the mask, and then he's across the space, busying himself with coffee neither of them needs.
Dan accepts it and the hand up anyway, and the guidance back to his seat, and sips at it in silence as he carefully navigates home.