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- Hush, little baby, don't say a word -

It took four bars and seven hospitalizations before he got a decent lead on where the Roche girl has been taken.  Once the kidnappers realized she wouldn't be worth a ransom they took what profit they could selling her to another of their kind.

Sold... white-hot anger still flares at the thought, propelling him ever onward.

- Poppa's gonna buy you a mockingbird -

He hasn't slept in days and his control is all but gone.  He actually folded a man's arm in half the wrong way at the last place he visited.  Still, it got him his answer.  He can't feel bad about that.

- and if that mockingbird don't sing -

There are two dogs in the back, but they're busy fighting over a soup bone.  Easily avoided.  An open second-story window is all the opportunity he needs.

- Poppa's gonna buy you a diamond ring -

Old dressmaker's forms surround him, half-buried in heaps of mildewing fabric.  He can hear singing - a man, sounding high-pitched and infantile.  It makes his hair stand on end to hear it, but it's the faint whimpering cry beneath it that makes him start running.

- and if that diamond ring turns brass -

There's a light in the room at the end of the landing.  His footsteps are too loud so he tries to make up for it with speed now.  The singing continues, and he can hear the other voice, tearful, so small...  He makes it through the door and she's there, just like the picture the parents gave him - same cupid's-bow mouth, same blue eyes, even the same little dress, only the dress is pushed up where it shouldn't be and her eyes are full of tears and her mouth is an upside-down smile saying no, no

- Poppa's gonna--

There's a roaring sound in his ears that stops the singing and drowns out her whimpers and there's someone screaming now but he can't make out the words - it's just a steady rhythmic cadence that shortens his breath and makes his arms ache until the room coalesces around him again and it's him screaming, sobbing, snarling never, never, never, never

She thinks a monster has come in here - the big scary man was holding her down, singing and smiling but it was all wrong and he was taking her clothes off and pushing at her with something, but then something horrible came and dragged him away from her.  Now there is shouting and bad sounds so she pulls her dress back down and curls up all small and hopes the monster won't see her because she's too afraid to move and can't hide.

The struggles have long since stopped but he can't stop pounding his fists down into this monster - not until a blow glances off what's left of the skull to the floor below, jarring up his arm and rattling his teeth.  Then he hears the terrified crying behind him and remembers why he's there.  He looks at the mess beneath him, on him, and fights a wave of nausea.

The worst of what's on his hands is wiped on the body's shirttails.  Rags take care of the rest, leaving his gloves dry if not clean.  The trench coat, splattered with a map of crimson, is hastily stripped off.  He can't get enough air yet.  He turns around and sees her cowering in a tight little ball on the filthy mattress.  Ohgod, he thinks, what did she see.  Quickly he grabs a discarded blanket to cover what he's done and tries to bring his breathing under control.

The noises have stopped, except for the breathing.  She won't look, she won't look... maybe it won't see her.  Maybe Mommy and Daddy will finally find her and bring her back home.  She can't stop the tears, tries to stay quiet but she's so scared and she can't stop the sounds that come up from her throat so she tries to make herself even smaller instead.

He stands, shakily, and stumbles over to her.  She's keening brokenly, her whole body is shaking, all tangled brown hair and crossed arms and tiny feet and he's completely at a loss.  His hands reflexively burrow into his pockets and his left hand crumples into something rigid - her photograph.  Carefully, he brings it out and kneels next to the shuddering girl with this talisman.

"Blaire..."  He sees her jump, and now he can hear a frantic whisper  don't hurt me, don't hurt me, don't hurt me  and something breaks inside of him and makes him want to weep.    He searches his mind for something, anything that will help and he remembers a detail, something the parents said.

"S-- Skipper?"  The nickname topples past his lips.  His throat is raw from screaming and all he can manage is a horrifying rasp.

She looks up, peeking from behind her hair at the sound of her Daddy's name for her.  She can see now the monster looks like a person, but with a strange black-and-white face that isn't really a face and clothes like Important People she sees sometimes. He's holding something out to her and she sees that it's her - it's her picture.  

She's looking at the picture and he sees recognition in her eyes.  He tries again.  "Your parents-- your Mommy and Daddy...  said they call you 'Skipper'.  Is that right?"

The small head nods amidst wide-eyed hiccuping snuffles.

At last he has what he needs.  "They sent me to find you, Skipper.  They sent me to bring you home."

And then her arms are around his neck tight, so tight he can't breathe, and she's crying so hard but it's all right because he thinks he is too.

- - -

He tries not to hurt her as he wraps his arms around her.  She's so tiny!  The strength of her grip around him feels independent of her weightless form.  

Slowly her crying subsides into sniffles and he releases her with a small awkward pat to her back.  He has to get her out of here.  It's cold enough outside that he wants to cover her, but there's nothing he wants to use from this place.  His trench coat is unacceptable - too big, and stained now with that animal's blood.  His suit jacket will do, though, so he takes it off to wrap around her.  "Sorry," he apologizes gruffly, wishing his voice didn't sound so ruined.  "Probably smells funny, but it'll keep you warm."

She wrinkles her nose a bit - the big jacket does smell funny to her, sharp and strange.  But it's purple not black, with stripes, and she likes that.  She looks at the strange man kneeling in front of her.  She understands he's not a monster now - he was only scary like one.  He's still a little bit scary, but he doesn't seem bad like the ones who took her, or wrong like the other man.  He does look smaller now, and a bit funny with his hat and scarf and gloves like he's going outside but no jacket because he gave it to her.  His shirt and vest look nice, though, so she doesn't laugh.  She lifts her arms, looking down at the purple covering them.  The jacket is heavy, and if he looks smaller without it then she thinks she must be bigger now with it on.

He needs to keep her facing away from the mess near them.  "Don't turn around," he warns while he retrieves his trench coat.  Quickly he turns it inside-out and folds it over one arm.  He returns to kneel next to her, glancing down at her bare toes.  He didn't want her walking on her own in this place anyway, much less outside, but this clinches it - he'll have to carry her.  He fights an absurd wave of panic when he realizes he doesn't know how to carry a child, but she reaches up to him with the sleeves of his suit coat flopping over her hands and his arms somehow know what to do, securing her to him so he can stand up again.

"What's your name?"  She wonders if maybe she shouldn't ask,  but she's got his jacket protecting her and his arms are careful like Daddy's and so she decides maybe it's okay.

He looks down at her and the shapes on his face change around a lot before he says anything.  Then he says "Roar-shack", and  she thinks that makes a lot of sense because she remembers the sound he made when he rescued her.

They go down the stairs but then he sees something and stops.  "I need to set you down for a moment," he says in his growly voice.  "I won't leave you, I'll be right back - I promise."  She's afraid but she tries to be brave and she nods.  He puts her down on a clear spot on the floor and goes into the next room to pick up a big metal can.  He pours something wet out of it onto everything, making the air smell all icky.  She holds the big sleeves covering her arms up to her nose so the smell can't get through.  Then he comes right back to her like he promised.  He crouches down so he's not so tall and the black blotches move around and look at her.  "Get ready, now," he says.  She nods even though she doesn't know what to be ready for and watches him take something out of his pocket - he's got matches.  He lights one (matches are dangerous, honey, don't play with them) and turns back toward the smelly room, holding up the flame in his hand.  He stops, looking back at her with moving black spots that look kind of like a frown.  

"Don't ever do this."

Then he does something very bad and throws the match into the smell and then everything's on fire but he's scooped her up and they're going outside fast, fast, and she doesn't know why he did that but he kept his promise to come back and he called her Skipper and gave her his jacket so she just holds on tight, ducking her head down into his scarf because she wants to go home and it's dark out here and she still feels safe with him but she doesn't know why he did that.

A nearby phone booth is exactly what they need in the glow of the now-raging fire.  He drops in a dime, listens for a tone and enters a seemingly nonsensical sequence of numbers.  "Nite Owl."  He suppresses a cough, favoring his raw throat.  "Need a ride.  In Brooklyn."  He spares a glance for the inferno behind them.  "You'll find us."

- - -

Rorschach was right, Nite Owl reflects; it would have been pretty hard to miss their location.  His partner didn't explain who the "we" was, but he hopes it means Rorschach has found the little girl who'd been kidnapped.  

Guiding Archie to circle the burning building, he tenses as he sees two large dogs running from the blaze - in these neighborhoods no one keeps dogs as pets.  He can see they're intent on escape rather than attack, though, and he lets them go.  A bit farther on he spots Rorschach sitting on a stoop near a hollowed-out business, seemingly unharmed, and he sets Archie down nearby with relief.

It takes him a moment as he approaches to make out the tiny figure perched on Rorschach's lap, bundled in his suit coat.  Rorschach is patiently rolling up the jacket's sleeves for her while she stares openmouthed at the Owlship.  Nite Owl can't help but smile at his ferocious partner doing something so mundanely domestic, and tries to halt far enough away not to startle either one of them.  

"Better?" he hears his partner ask her, and when she doesn't respond he looks up to her, following her gaze to see Nite Owl standing there.  Quickly Rorschach reaches over to grab his trench coat and then gathers her up as he stands.  Nite Owl's amusement at his flustered partner fades a bit as he senses a tension despite the ease he can see between these two.  He lets Rorschach be the one to close the distance between them.  

His partner introduces him with the odd formality he sometimes exhibits.  "Blaire Roche," he addresses the girl, then turns to him, "my partner, Nite Owl."  The amorphous patterns in the mask hold Nite Owl's gaze.  "He's going to help bring you home."

The girl looks at him with wide, wide eyes that take in everything, her hand moving up toward her mouth in a way that makes Nite Owl believe she used to suck her thumb.  He offers his hand and a small smile, every bit as formal as his partner here in the middle of the litter-strewn street with a two-story fire raging unchecked in the background.  "Hello, Blaire.  I'm very pleased to meet you."

He's a little surprised when she actually accepts his handshake, and is very careful to just take the tips of her fingers with his much larger ones.  He looks to his partner and the question slips out before he can stop it, "Who had her?"  

"Someone bad," is the only answer he gets, and whatever has ruined his partner's voice into this splintered growl is lending a sudden darkness to him that makes Nite Owl want to shiver.

"Was she...?  We should get her to a hosp--"

"Nite Owl.  Promised I'd bring her home."  And his arms go just a bit tighter around her while she clings to him with absolute trust in the jacket he's only seen Rorschach remove when he's been so wounded he needs stitches.  For the first time, Nite Owl notices the dark stains on the other man's gloves and a small part of him suddenly thinks it knows why there's a burning building nearby that isn't phasing his partner in the slightest.  He looks again into the eyes of the child Rorschach has saved and discovers that that part of him approves.

There's so much here he doesn't know and wants to ask, but he can hear sirens approaching now and something about Rorschach's demeanor feels precarious, and this little girl needs to go home.  So he just nods instead, and leads them into the ship.

- - -

He looks down across the city from inside Archie, grateful for his partner's silence.  He doesn't want to talk right now - not about what he saw, not about what he did, not about how he feels about any of it.  The girl gives him something to occupy his thoughts; something to keep everything else at bay for now.

To his relief, she accepted Nite Owl once he introduced them.  He hadn't been at all certain of what her reaction would be to another unknown male, much less one in a costume like that.  Even so, she remains firmly attached to him.  He is briefly amused by this, considering Nite Owl is normally the less frightening of the two of them.

He doesn't know what to do with her, not really.  He doesn't know if it's normal that she's so quiet and still, but she hasn't let go of him or given any sign that she wants down.  She barely weighs anything, and he's still trying to convince himself that she's really here so he just keeps holding her while she rests her head on his shoulder and runs her small fingers down his scarf again and again.

They're flying, up over the buildings like in an airplane only they're much closer to them in this machine that Nite Owl calls Archie.  The name made her laugh, just a little.  Nite Owl is driving, and he seems nice but he's very big and she doesn't know what to say to him.  That's all right, though, because he's busy steering Archie over the buildings and just smiles at her with a pretty smile so she knows it's okay.  She knows to be quiet and good when people are driving - that's what her Daddy tells her when he lets her ride on his bus.

Roar-shack has been looking out the window but now he's looking down at her.  "There's your street, Skipper.  Look..."  She looks where he points to a street below them with familiar big trees that take a moment for her to recognize because she's never seen them in the dark from above before.  Then she can see her building, that's where she lives, and they're flying right there, just like magic.

It feels like it's been forever since she was there, waking up in her bed with its blue and yellow blankets, Mommy making her cereal for breakfast, getting dressed and combing her hair and brushing her teeth and going to school.  Now Mommy and Daddy will tuck her in bed again now, say goodnight again and kiss her again and tell her they love her and she'll fall asleep in her own bed again.  She feels so happy, but it's more than just that, it's something too big for her to name that makes it hard for her to breathe when she tries to think about it.  She looks back to the one who found her, wanting to tell him all of this because he's the one who gave this feeling to her and it's like every birthday and Christmas happening all at once, but all she can say is  

"...I'm going home."

He nods to her.  "I promised I'd bring you back."  His voice is very quiet and shakes a little, but she thinks he sounds like he's smiling at her.  She hears Nite Owl sniff behind her and when she looks at him he looks like he's wiping his eyes - but that's silly because he's wearing goggles.

"Where should we set down?"

Rorschach scans the area and points to the small vacant lot across from Blaire's building.  "There."  He can see lights coming on here and there along the street, curious silhouettes turned upward to watch their approach.   He glances down at Blaire again.  "We should go in the front, like respectable visitors."

- - -

By the time they disembark from Archie, one light in particular is on in the building.  They cross the street ("Look both ways!") and the front door opens, spilling light in a path right to them and releasing her parents, rushing out in a blur of wide eyes, bathrobes, mussed hair and their daughter's name.  Blaire and her parents reach out in perfect mirror images of each other and Rorschach braces for the  inevitable separation to come.  To his shock, he instead finds himself engulfed as Mr. and Mrs. Roche choose the more expedient option of simply embracing their daughter where she is.  Arms are around him, crushing in their strength, and voices are babbling and crying and gasping for breath and it takes everything in him to not throw off the bodies closing him in and free himself from the overwhelming assault.

Uncounted, unbearable seconds pass before muscles relax, fingers unclench, and words taper into tearful whispers.  They separate slowly, with pats and clutches and thank yous and he does his best to control the shaking through all of it.  Blaire finally eases from his arms into her mother's, and both are held by her father, and the utter rightness of this mitigates the pang from letting her go.  He senses Nite Owl moving to fill the space by his side, feels a hand that isn't too heavy rest briefly on his shoulder.  It helps.

Nite Owl isn't certain how much more Rorschach has in him. He's practically swaying with fatigue and god only knows what kind of emotional wringer he's been through already.  But the Roches are beckoning, reaching to pull them gently but inexorably in, over the threshold and up the stairs past a blur of opened doors and sleep-muzzy faces and murmured exclamations.  His partner doesn't seem aware of any of it - his gaze is locked with Blaire's as she watches him over her mother's shoulder.

He only blinks, it seems, and they're in a small apartment with well-worn, homely furniture where he and Rorschach are vaguely declining the offer of a seat, something to drink, no, thank you, we're fine and he's aware he's answering for his partner but Rorschach really doesn't seem to be terribly connected to all of this just now.  He's too busy watching Blaire as her mother carefully helps her remove his coat.

Mrs. Roche - same hair and eyes as her daughter, he notices - finishes unrolling his coat's sleeves and then hands it to Blaire, gesturing to him.  The little girl carefully carries the garment that's nearly as tall as she is back to him and he reflexively kneels down to see eye-to-eye with her.

"Thank you," she peeps without prompting and all he can do is nod helplessly as he takes the suit coat back.  Then he nearly overbalances in surprise when he feels her arms go around his neck again.  The coat falls to the floor, instantly forgotten, and his arms come back up behind her in the configuration they've only recently assimilated.

A gasp makes him look up over the child's shoulder where Blaire's mother is standing frozen in a pantomime of wide-eyed, hand-to-mouth surprise.  She's staring at him.  No - she's staring at his hands.  At his gloves.

He'd forgotten.

Mr. Roche and Nite Owl turn at the sound as well, and he knows he has to let this child go before her mother wrenches her away from him.  He allows himself one more breath like this before releasing her and standing as Mrs. Roche's footsteps approach.  She crouches down to Blaire, reaffirming with questioning eyes and hesitant touches that her daughter is indeed all right.  Then she turns her attention on him, joined now by her husband.

- - -

Her wide eyes make him think of Blaire's,  staring frightened out at him from behind disheveled bangs.  They make him want to hide what he did from her, just as he did with her daughter, and he wishes irrationally for Blaire to tell him something about her parents that would tell him what to do now.  

His instinctive retreat is halted by a gentle hand around his left wrist.  He tenses immediately and has to concentrate on not letting his hand form a fist at the contact; this is not an enemy touching him - he is accountable to these people.  He lets her lift his hand so the dark red stains and deep gouges in the glove's leather come up between them where Blaire's father and Nite Owl can see them too.  

Her other hand drifts up as though to touch before flinching back, her fingers curling in on themselves.  She looks up to his face and her eyes lock with his right through the mask.  "What... what happened?"  She looks afraid to know, even as she asks.   Her husband - a full head taller than she is and broader in the shoulders than Nite Owl - has the same lost, sickened expression and it's somehow worse to see it on his face as well.

He can't be this close to them anymore - he can't tell them he doesn't know if he was able to reach their daughter soon enough because even though he knows he deserves punishment for it he can't stomach the idea of putting them through that revelation.  As gently as he can he pulls his hand back, stooping quickly to retrieve his jacket from the floor.  He gathers it up, letting it fall over his hands so they can clench without alarming anyone.  The door is behind him, to the right and four steps away.  There are windows, not as easy as a door but still usable.  He's not going to run.  He's not.

Blaire is holding on to her Mommy's robe.  She really wants to be picked up, but she's a big girl now and she knows she's getting too big for that even though Roar-shack carried her for a long long time.  He looks like he's upset right now - all the grown-ups do - and she doesn't understand why.  Mommy just asked him what happened but he won't answer and he looks like he did something wrong and got in trouble.  She tries to puzzle this out.  Her Mommy was looking at his hand - is she mad that his gloves got dirty?  She looks down at herself - she got dirty, too, and her shoes and socks got taken away, and she lost her barrettes, but no one was mad at her about that even though she was afraid they would be.  It's not fair if they're mad at him but not her.  

She knows she's not supposed to interrupt when grown-ups are talking but she knows the answer to this question and she doesn't want anyone to be mad or in trouble so she tugs on the robe's sleeve just a little bit.  "Mommy..."  Her Mommy looks down at her and she's going to say Not-now-honey but this is important so she tugs harder to bring her Mommy down so she can whisper quickly.  

"Don't be mad at Roar-shack for getting his gloves dirty.  He was pulling the big man off of me and he took him away in the big dirty room."

Anywhere else, a child's stage-whisper would be funny.  Now it's as though the entire universe has stopped.  Nite Owl had suspected, of course, but he'd at least hoped otherwise, for both the child's and his partner's sake.  When his heart starts beating again he hears a choked-off sob and a despairing ohmygod and there's a flurry of motion as Blaire's parents turn to her but all he can see is his partner looking smaller than he's ever seen him before and that upsets him more than anything else he can think about right now.

He doesn't know how to help his friend.  He's afraid to do any more than just stand near him for fear of him flying apart at the seams, so he settles for letting his personal space bleed into Rorschach's to let him know he's there and wishes he could do more.

"Don't be mad, Mommy..."  Poor Blaire is so confused, but it gives Nite Owl a paradoxical sense of pride in his partner's ability to keep the worst of what happened from the child.  He watches Rorschach straighten at the sound of her distress, still so closely attuned to her, and resolves that his partner won't be alone, no matter the outcome.

Mommy is hugging her so tight again, and she's crying but trying to smile instead.  "It's okay, honey.  We're not mad."  She lets go a bit to look at her.  "We're not."  And she shakes her head to show she means it.  

Her Daddy reaches over to stroke Blaire's hair softly, again and again.  His smile is all wobbly like Mommy's.  "Your Mommy's right, Skipper."  His big hand touches her face for a second and then he stands up to look at Nite Owl and Roar-shack.  "It's okay."  

"It's okay," he hears, and looks up to see something kindred flaring in Blaire's father's eyes.  The larger man offers his hand, looking right at him.  He knows he shouldn't, but manners and some other unnamed need win out over misgivings and spur him to reach out in return.  His bloodstained hand is clasped firmly in both of the other man's.  

For a long moment Mr. Roche simply looks at him.  "I ain't gonna ask - but I know you didn't do anything I wouldn't've done in your place."

The words are a balm and a burden all at once.  He feels Nite Owl stir beside him and wishes for one instant that he could just lean back into his partner  so he could stop working so hard to hold himself up.  His head turns to watch Blaire watching him.  "I'm... sorry I didn't get to her sooner."  

The grip on his hand tightens gently.  "You found her.  You found our baby and you brought her back home."

It's too much.  The acceptance, the gratitude he can see overpowering the sadness and uncertainties in their eyes is burning into him and he can't breathe anymore.  This isn't something he knows how to fight and it's going to shatter him into thousands of pieces.

A small sound escapes Rorschach, and Blaire's father seems to understand.  His hands release him and he steps back with a parting clasp of his shoulder.  Nite Owl steps forward almost apologetically into the silence.

"We should go."  He doesn't say before the police get here and he doesn't have to.  

Mrs. Roche rises,  looks from him to Rorschach.  "We won't--"

He nods to reassure her.  "We know.  It's all right."

His partner stirs suddenly.  "Don't make her lie."  He regards them in turn with a brief surge of his usual strength.  "Whatever happens, you let her tell the truth."  After a stunned pause, both parents nod.   

He watches Rorschach submit to the brief, undemanding hug Blaire's mother gives him.  She lays one hand over his where it clutches his jacket and offers him a watery smile before turning back to her daughter.  "Blaire, honey - it's time for Rorschach and Nite Owl to go home now."

Her mother lets her approach him again and he is thankful for that small miracle.  He kneels one last time and just looks at her.

"Will you come back?"  Her tiny hand reaches out to run down his scarf, pulling gently at it.

He has to swallow hard.  "I don't know, Skipper."

Her mother's hand strokes down her hair once.  "They have to help other people too, sweetie.  But if they ever need to, they can come here, all right?"  

His head bows under the weight of that trust and he's glad to hear Nite Owl offering quiet thanks for both of them because he doesn't have words to answer.

Blaire appears to be satisfied with this arrangement, and turns to gaze up (and up) at Nite Owl without letting go of his scarf.  "Thank you for letting me ride in Archie."  Her other hand goes near her mouth again as Nite Owl crouches down.

"You're very welcome, Blaire.  I'm glad I could help."  A large gauntleted hand is offered and she shakes it with a shy smile.  Then Nite Owl is stepping back and her attention is on him again.

He's distantly aware of the others murmuring nearby, words tumbling about softly that we'll get her to a doctor a woman doctor yes that would be a good idea but he's not letting any of that get through, not when he's trying to say goodbye and not think about how if everything goes well he may never see this little girl again.  

She reaches up to touch the mask and he lets her, wondering what patterns she's seeing appear under her fingers.  They wander carefully over his forehead, down the bridge of his nose, finally resting at his cheek.  Her head tilts slightly to one side.  "I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you too."  And he hugs her, careful not to touch her skin with his gloves and memorizing the sigh she gives and the strength in her arms and the way she holds on to his scarf until the very last second.

- - -

The ride back is silent except for Archie's various hums and whirrings.  Rorschach is motionless by the window, guided to that spot by Nite Owl and seemingly content to remain there with his jacket still draped over his arms.  Nite Owl doesn't know if he's looking at the city below them or at something inside his own head, and doesn't ask.

His partner's trench coat lies off to one side where it was tossed earlier with a vehemence normally reserved for combat.  One lapel is peeking out from the rumpled pile, smeared with something that still glistens wetly in spots.  Rorschach won't look at it.  Nite Owl wonders what the best way of disposing of and replacing it will be.  

They reach the warehouse entrance without incident - no alerts on the police scanner, no flashing lights, no sirens.  The tunnel walls embrace them and he steers Archie gratefully into the familiar cluttered safety of the Owl's Nest.

"Rorschach.  Stay here tonight."

His partner just looks at him, his posture wary.  "Why?"

They're at the steps leading up to the lockers, where they  normally part for the evening.  Nite Owl weighs caution against candor and the latter wins for once.  "You shouldn't be alone right now.  A lot has happened, and...  Well, I'd like to be able to make sure you're all right."  

It's a risk, he knows.  His partner prides himself on his independence and expressing such sentiments can wind up driving him farther away.  But this was anything but a normal patrol.

Rorschach retreats a step, back toward the tunnel.  "I'll be fine."  His voice is still raw, making a mockery of the assurance.  "I won't impose on you."

"I have an entire guest room I'm not using.  We don't even have to see each other, if you don't want."

His partner is shaking his head in protest but his energy is flagging.  "I have to be at work..."

"Call in sick."

"I can't, I'll lose my j--"

"I'll help you find another."  He takes off the goggles and pulls back the cowl, no longer the vigilante Nite Owl - just Daniel Dreiberg.  "Please, Rorschach.  Please, just stay here."

It's enough.

Dan makes coffee.  He knows it's not the best idea at this hour, but coffee is something normal, and warm, and will give them both something to look at besides one another when the silences stretch out too long.

He joins Rorschach in the living room where the light is dim and less intrusive.  They sit in parallel on the couch - elbows on knees, mugs in hand - silent because Rorschach isn't talking and Dan won't try to make him.

Dan has changed out of the armor, opting for jeans and a t-shirt.  He's foregone wearing shoes and his hair is still mussed and he feels terribly disheveled next to Rorschach, who has only removed his hat - he hasn't even lifted his mask to drink the coffee he's holding.  His jacket lies folded neatly in his lap.

A part of Dan wants to turn on the television to see if anything's been said about the Roche case or the fire in Brooklyn (or whether the police are going to come after his partner and he's an accessory now, isn't he?)  but he knows it wouldn't be helpful.  Anything except for the news seems too inane for a moment like this, despite the likely need they both have for a distraction.  So he just sips his coffee and sits, not knowing what will happen next but willing to stay up all night if that's what his partner needs.

The minute hand on the wall clock creeps from the four to just past the seven.

"He bought her."

Startled, Dan recovers his grip on his coffee mug and looks over to Rorschach.  "What?"

"Bought her.  Like she was a toy, or a pet.  A thing."  Rorschach's fingers are tightening on his own mug and his shoulders hunch forward.  The patterns in the mask swirl sluggishly into something large and dark.

Dan doesn't speak, not knowing what to say and not wanting to break the spell if Rorschach is talking.  Small ripples appear in Rorschach's coffee, prompting Dan to set his drink down and kneel at his partner's feet to look up into the mask in readiness for whatever is coming.  

"When I got there... could hear her crying.  He was - her dress...  He was singing a lullaby to her while he--''

His voice breaks and his untouched coffee sloshes over his gloves until Dan rescues the mug and sets it aside.  Rorschach is shuddering, fingers clawing at the space where the mug used to be and the mask flutters with the force of the breaths sawing in and out of him.  Dan can only watch, hands hovering near but not daring to touch until Rorschach scrabbles at his own hands with an incoherent snarl, tearing the gloves off and flinging them away to reveal blunt, powerful fingers with deeply bruised and swollen knuckles.  They claw upward into the mask and Dan has just enough time to realize what is happening and consider turning away before his partner wrenches it free of his head and hurls it across the room.

He sees shockingly vibrant copper hair and sharp cheekbones and too-bright eyes and teeth bared in an awful grimace, all in a breathless rush.  Then the abused hands return to drag all of it down, closing it in the gate of his forearms.

She's gone.  Safe at home, alive, with her parents where she should be but he's been too still and it's too quiet in here and he's supposed to be stronger than this but he's not, he's disgracing the uniform he chose so carefully for himself.  

He can't stop hearing it.  That horrible unnatural singing that twists a loving comfort into something obscene, and her crying, and the echoes of his footfalls on the floorboards.  The sharp, slapping impact of fists on flesh that dissolves into wet crunching.  Screaming.  His fists remember the rupturing of skin and the cracking of bone and he can still feel the swing of his arms down, down and there's nothing to ward it off anymore because she's gone and now he's trapped with it scraping through his head again and again...

Dan doesn't think about the fact that he's seeing his partner's entire face for the first time, or wonder just what it means that he's taken the mask off oh my god what just happened because all that registers is the pain radiating from the man in front of him that calls him to move near, reach out, and it's as natural and necessary as breathing to do so.

He returns to the couch, ignoring the niceties of personal space this one time.  He doesn't say "It's okay" because it's really really not, but other words come out steady and slow and this tremoring anguished stranger he only knows as Rorschach lets Dan gather him close, turns in his arms and presses in like he wants to be inside him and clutches at his shirt so tightly he can feel seams threatening to give way.  

He leans back until the corner of the couch is holding them up, riding out the earthquake that's in his friend.  He should have been there, he thinks, but says "You saved her" and holds him tighter instead.  He dares to place a steadying hand at the back of the other man's head, carefully smoothing down short unruly locks.  "I'm here," he says to his friend and the darkness alike as the front of his shirt grows damp.

Daniel's voice washes over him, seeking out the noises in his head and calmly staring them down one by one.  The arms around him feel strong enough to hold him together so he lets himself be eased down close enough to hear the steady heartbeat that fuels them.  His own pulse responds, slowing its frenzied hammering to fall into step beside it.

The tension bleeds out of him and his arms slide down, not in an embrace but a slow collapse.  He hears the words good man and considers believing them.

After a time Dan risks reaching down to retrieve Rorschach's suit coat.  Carefully he drapes it over its owner, catching the faintest trace of Blaire's scent within it as he does so.  A battered hand reaches up to touch it as it settles, and a long exhalation shudders through them both.

There is nothing left to do now but wait for the dawn.

Originally written for a prompt at the Watchmen Kinkmeme on LJ. The request was for the Roche case to turn out all right. It did, mostly.

The frightening thing is, this story spawned a whole miniature universe in my head - I kept having to cut things back out of it. Maybe someday it'll coalesce into something writeable, but I have my doubts. Ah well.

:icongunga-diner: has permission to display this work.
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Imaninja41 Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2012
Deliciously dark, i love it. Great, heartbreaking, description of horror. You did a great job.
FugueState Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you :thanks: Dark as it is, I like to think it's at least a better fate than Ror & Blair originally got.
Imaninja41 Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2012
MorganaLustitia Featured By Owner Jun 23, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
This made me cry just like the original in the film...
FugueState Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
*hands you a tissue* It's good to know it has that emotional impact - thank you!
MorganaLustitia Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
FugueState Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
pluevior Featured By Owner Aug 20, 2011  Student General Artist
Amazing - and I do mean that. I think you captured the mood perfectly. Everything is well executed - not too much of a happy ending, but still happy. I love it all! Great work!

And now I'm going to stop babbling before I really get started :)
FugueState Featured By Owner Aug 20, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you very much! This is pretty much the moment in the story that my brain really wanted to fix, even if the fix isn't completely "happy" in the end ('cos let's face it, Rorschach isn't Rorschach without the angst...)
ZaksBlood13 Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2011
FugueState Featured By Owner Mar 24, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you! ^^ (I recently added an epilogue to this as well, if you're interested)
bluessaurus Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2010  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Nice concep. :)
FugueState Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you! :)
bluessaurus Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2010  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
'welcome. :)
WrongSideOfThePond Featured By Owner Apr 26, 2010
Gah, that was just - and - gahhhhh, even when it turns out "all right" it's still horrible! T.T

You're amazing. (Also, is it okay that I was happy the dogs lived, too? XD)

Now I have to go reread the graphic novel and rewatch the movie. Woot.
FugueState Featured By Owner Apr 27, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
*sigh* I know, even when things go better for them, it's still angst-ridden! :dohtwo:

Thank you! (and yeah, I couldn't kill Fred & Barney. They didn't know what they'd done wrong! T_T)

WrongSideOfThePond Featured By Owner Apr 27, 2010
But at least in your universe there's potential for things to go up. :D

I love how you built up the relationship between Rorschach and Blaire so well in so little time, and all the details you gave her character.

(Seriously, I almost cried when I saw the panel of the dogs looking up at him like "Wuh? Play?", because you just knew what he was going to do...)
FugueState Featured By Owner Apr 28, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
This is true - and they do, more or less. :) I could never assemble anything coherent enough to form a story, but I do know that in this universe Walter doesn't completely break, and at some point he gets to see Blaire again.

I'm glad you like Blaire. I wanted to give her a full enough life to make her real. :)

The dogs needed another chance too. That panel always chokes me up. :(
0ArmoredSoul0 Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2010  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
He saved her.
And that is all that matters.
*hugs Walter*
foxybcosplay Featured By Owner Aug 18, 2009  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
Fantastic! I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm not a fan-fic reader, but I love reading yours! Perfect alternate timeline Rorschach/Walter, perfect Dan. MOAR MOAR! (of whatever story stands up and waves its hand at you next, of course) ;)
FugueState Featured By Owner Aug 19, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you so very much - I'm extremely honored to be such an exception to the rule! :blushes: :aww:
Airafleeza Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2009  Student Digital Artist
Excellent, excellent.

I love the idea and your style of writing. And the Rorschach in your story. It really shows how "soft" he was before the case.

This has really spawned some great images in my head. Could I perhaps draw fanart for it, if you wouldn't mind?

Sorry... I'm hardly awake here, but I'm trying to put into words how much I like the writing style for this story and the Walter x Dan hints of cuteness at the end! :giggle:
FugueState Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
Oh, wow... fanart of my fic would be amazing! *blushes madly* :blushes:

I'm really glad you liked this - it was kind of strange to realize that I was writing a Rorschach who doesn't lose himself in his persona and who actually gets/has to continue being human.
Airafleeza Featured By Owner Sep 3, 2009  Student Digital Artist
Right now, I've finished one piece... as terrible as an illustration that may be... :XD: And I have another one in the processed of colorization and there's one last sketch time in my head. :XD:

It makes me wonder though... how much this would and will affect his character in his future, now that he never had to see little Blaire's leg being used as a chew toy. Now I'm very interested. :)
FugueState Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
It's not terrible at all - I love it! :deviation:

I think it'd affect him a lot, really. Sometimes I wonder if the Keene Act wasn't at least partially in response to his decision to start killing criminals. Somehow, in this universe, in the aftermath of this case in particular and the way it potentially affects relations between vigilantes and the police, I can't see the Keene Act passing.

I can see this Rorschach becoming a sort of bogeyman who specifically targets kidnappers/child molesters - I actually had a scenario pop into my head where a child was taken by someone and then solemnly informed them, "Rorschach's gonna get you," and then shortly thereafter the child is left unharmed on a street corner a mile or so away. xD

But then I think about what this case still did to him, going the way it did, and I don't know that he'd be able to devote all his attention like that. He'd still do it, I think, and definitely keep an eye out for instances of child endangerment/abuse, but they'd be really hard on his psyche and I imagine he would still kill, or at least have to fight hard against that impulse. I guess that's where Dan would need to come into it, helping him with cases and keeping him from falling apart.

I want to write him getting to see Blaire again, somewhere down the road. I don't know how far into the future it would be, but even if I don't actually write it, he does get to see her again. :)
Airafleeza Featured By Owner Oct 1, 2009  Student Digital Artist
Oh... wow... thank you. ^^;
I drew another piece, actually! Of him holding Blaire to take her away from Grice's home... :XD:

Hmm... actually, when you mention that... a certain Freddie Kruegar character comes to mind... maybe because he's been on my brain lately due to the new Nightmare release... do you plan on seeing that at all, by the way? :XD:

Oh my goodness... I would actually love to see that. And the thing with child abuse cases, why they would also affect him, not only because of Blaire... but wouldn't you say they'd hit kind of close to home with him? His mother and whatnot... :(

And I'd really like to see this too! I wonder how she would react to him... treat him like her best friend or a fatherly figure? :XD: Do you know about the age you want Blaire to be if she ever does meet Rorschach again?

And sorry about this extremely late comment! ^^;
FugueState Featured By Owner Oct 29, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
(Extremely late comments continuing, woohoo! xD)

I do plan on seeing the new "Nightmare" movie. I only vaguely remember the original, and I'm curious to see what they do with it.

Yeah, I still waver back and forth trying to decide just how much he'd want to concentrate on child-related cases. With Walter not "dying", his character has several directions he could go, depending on how much this ends up affecting his relationship with Dan. I can see him castigating himself for not being "strong" enough through this, and I can see Dan having to veer between emotional support and being tough enough to stand up to the (unrealistic) ideal of Rorschach while Walter continues to cope.

And then there's the small issue of the investigation of the fire, and what happens when Blaire tells her story, and how/if an investigation follows... *cradles aching head* xP

I think I'd like to see Rorschach and Blaire meet up again within a year or so of all of this - far enough away from the trauma for some recovery, but while Blaire is still a child. The way I pictured her perception of Rorschach in this was almost like an Imaginary Friend come to life - she knows he's a person (eventually), but he's also more than that to her. I'd love to see the two of them get a quiet moment together where Blaire can give him back some fragment of his childhood.
Airafleeza Featured By Owner Nov 9, 2009  Student Digital Artist
Ah, good! I plan to see it, not only because I absolutely love Jackie Earle Haley, but because Nightmare on Elm Street has been a series of mine I've loved for a few years now. ^^

Hmm... yes. Rorschach would be alot weaker, mentally, and maybe even physically somehow... because well, it wouldn't quite be "Rorschach", but, as he said, "Kovacs pretending to be Rorschach".

I'd actually like to see them meet up again, also! :XD: It'd be a sweet moment between the two, I think! ^^
DeathNoteGurl Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2009
This was incredible. Everyone was perfectly in character, and it was great to see Rorschach interact with a child. Amazing job.
FugueState Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you! I really enjoyed writing this, and I'm glad you think I kept them IC. :phew:
RCWikkydArtist Featured By Owner Jul 25, 2009  Hobbyist Filmographer
Very interesting take. Maybe Alan Moore should have a fan art book or have alternate stories from Watchmen from different people. It would be kind of cool, huh? Like the 52 alternate worlds of DC.
FugueState Featured By Owner Jul 25, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you for reading it! :) It occurred to me partway through writing it that this Rorschach didn't completely subsume his humanity into becoming an idea, and it's since sent my mind into interesting corners.

Re: alternate stories - It would really be awesome, if Mr. Moore wasn't such an absolutist about his work. As far as he's concerned, anything beyond his own creation is an utter abomination. I can admire the guy for his ideas, but I really wish he'd check his ego at the door sometimes. xP
RCWikkydArtist Featured By Owner Jul 25, 2009  Hobbyist Filmographer
Your welcome and I don't know much about him but everyone describes him as being angry
FugueState Featured By Owner Jul 26, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
That's a pretty accurate description of him, I'd say! ;)
RCWikkydArtist Featured By Owner Jul 27, 2009  Hobbyist Filmographer
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