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FugueState
Only the shallow know themselves
Artist | Hobbyist | Varied
United States
Current Residence: Someplace dark.
Favourite genre of music: Angst-ridden
Favourite style of art: Anything that makes my brain say "Shiiiiny..."
Favourite cartoon character: Venger
Personal Quote: "No, it's not going to look like that."
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It was hard to tell which was worse: the glaring white-enameled chaos of the Emergency Room, or the fact that Rorschach had to be there. Or rather, Walter. It was Walter who got injured beyond a point he could work past as Rorschach – Walter who'd been unlucky enough to be standing in just the wrong place when a trainee lost control of a pallet full of fabric that crushed him against a wall. He supposed he was lucky one of the rolls fell in front of the jack's wheels and stopped it before it did more than crack his ribs – at least two, judging from the vivid sense-memories that were re-playing annoyingly in his head as he waited. Daniel was off ostensibly in search of coffee; he'd briefly tried keeping Rorschach distracted from his impatience, but he finally opted for just giving his partner space.

The entire factory floor had gone quiet when it happened, and his supervisor turned white as a sheet, he remembered. The trainee had been babbling something, but he'd been too busy taking stock of his breathing to pay it any attention. He didn’t think anything had been punctured, but it was still bad; he couldn't pull in a deep breath and any movement of his torso was painful enough that he knew pursuit or serious combat would be impossible. He'd had to call Daniel, finally – he wouldn't let them call an ambulance at work, but he could barely walk under his own power.

It was Daniel who'd talked him into coming here – harangued him, really, when it became apparent he was out of his depth in offering help. So he sat, watching others in worse shape than him cycle through the churning morass of blood and sickness and desperation held barely in check, waiting his turn, gritting his teeth through the pain and reflecting on the irony that he was being kept waiting because his condition was so much better than others'.

Endless, monotonous hours passed… and then suddenly it was his turn. He was led to a secondary waiting area outfitted with cots and curtains, leaving his partner's not-hovering behind and preparing for a whole new round of waiting.

.

"All right…" The nurse swept into the curtained-off area. "What've we got?" He stayed quiet while she checked a clipboard. "Upper torso injury… Work accident?" He nodded confirmation and she reached for a blood pressure cuff. "Not much of a talker, are you?"

"Not much reason." He grunted slightly as she rolled up his sleeve and lifted his arm to get the cuff around it. She didn't apologize for the pain it cost him, but she didn't move him more than necessary, either. He endured her hand on his wrist for a pulse, and glared as she matter-of-factly stuck a thermometer in his mouth.

Once that indignity was finished, she scribbled onto the clipboard and looked him in the eye again. "All right, let's see what we're dealing with. Can you get your shirt off, or will you need help?"

His hands were already undoing buttons, even as the motion sent shards of pain through his torso. "Can do it myself."

She raised her eyebrows, but waited for him to struggle his shirt off. He was reaching for the hem of his undershirt, but she stopped him. "Just lift it so I can get a look…" Her left hand held the hem of his shirt, but she didn't touch his skin. "Mm, got you good, huh. Where do you work?"

"Garment factory."

"What happened?"

"Trainee lost control of a pallet jack, pinned me against wall."

"Ouch – what was on it?"

"Fabric bolts."

She hissed through her teeth as her right hand hovered over the perimeter of what even he could see was spectacular bruising at his front and back. "Lucky it didn't take your legs out first. Take a deep breath." He obeyed, irritated at the hitching of air in his throat. "Again – okay, I'm going to touch, sorry if it hurts…" He stopped a flinch at the sensation of firm fingertips at his back, his side, another part of his back. "…Where'd this come from?" He tensed as she went to touch the stitches he'd forgotten were along his right side from a bust he and Nite Owl had done last week. Her eyes were wandering.

"Got mugged." He flipped the hem of his shirt over the injury to stop her prying, but it only shifted her attention to his hands where they gripped the fabric.

She was taking in more and more of his hands' appearance, and what she could see of his arms. "Looks like you got a few licks in yourself. You work out?" He didn't answer. This was a mistake, he realized; injury or no, this wasn't a safe place to be.

She moved back into view, her lips pressed tight. "Well, so far it looks like you only cracked a few real good. Let's get an X-ray to be sure." The radiology tech's arrival prevented any response on his part, and he did what he could to maintain a normal stride to the exam room. More shifting, more prodding – the X-ray machine buzzed and beeped, and each new noise ratcheted the price ever higher in his head. An invisible fist was crushing his torso into a hot painful haze, and his lip curled over clenched teeth by the time they were finished.

Finally it was over, and the nurse – Rita, her lanyard read – collected him once again. "Okay – they're cracked all right, but not going anywhere, and there's not much we can do besides wrap them for you to keep things from moving too much. I'll get you something for the pain 'til you can see your doctor."

"Don't need drugs. Fine like this."

He glowered as she looked up from fetching a wrap bandage and realized his error in refusing medication as her eyebrows went up once again. "Not that I'm trying to push anything on you, but you're likely going to want something before too long."

"No. Have to work."

"You're not going to be able to work for a while, hon." His expression must have betrayed something, because her jaw set. "Look, I'm gonna write you something to take to work, 'cos you won't be in any shape to do much for a month or two. It happened at work, so if you haven't filled out an incident report, do it first thing tomorrow so it's on Workman's Comp."

He blinked. It hadn't occurred to him that his shoddy employer might have to pay for his medical costs. Daniel wouldn't have to use his money for Walter's bad luck. Still, he'd have to watch himself at work to make sure the money actually came – maybe find something to encourage his employer to do the right thing.

"Here, let's get your shirt up again…" She moved toward him again.

He wanted to leave – just leave and take care of things himself, or have his partner do this, the way they'd patched each other up before. Every time she came near him, he could sense her taking in more details, picking him apart, judging him –

"You know," her voice was mild as she worked with brisk efficiency, "I end up seeing pretty much everyone here. Especially the ones people don't like to think about. Fights, gang wars," she arched a brow at him, "muggings. Doesn't matter who it is or what happened, I have to treat them – even the ones who did the mugging, or the beating, or the shooting. I see Katieheads, Neo-Nazis, assholes who beat their wives or their kids, you name it. And it occurs to me," she said, wrapping another layer over his creaking ribs, "I think I'd rather have to treat the people who tried to hurt others, instead of the ones they got to hurt – or the ones who stopped them."

He froze as their eyes met – but she only reached to settle his undershirt over the bandage and hold his shirt up while he numbly settled back into it. He forced his arms up to fasten the buttons once again, watching her as she bustled with forms, and then turned back to him with a small sheaf of papers.

"Take this to the front desk and fill it out; you'll need it for your employer. I'll send up a restricted duty letter for you to pick up there, too. You still need a doctor, but in the meantime you'll want to use ice packs for the swelling, only fifteen minutes at a time, and at least some Tylenol if you're gonna be stubborn about painkillers. Practice taking deep breaths, or you can get pneumonia. Eat more, and drink milk – don't give me that look, I'm serious – your bones need something to heal. And sleep. You'll forget, 'cos everyone does, but I'm saying it anyway. If anything gets worse - you start coughing up blood, you can't breathe - get back here right away." She walked him to the hallway leading back to the waiting area. "If anyone needs to know, I'm usually in on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from eight at night to six in the morning." Her mouth quirked in a half smile. "Just in case anyone needs to know."

A page came over the intercom and she turned, nodding a distracted farewell. Rorschach watched her disappear back into the chaos, gone as fast as she'd appeared.

He continued back toward the waiting room, and debated speaking to Daniel about stocking up on milk.

-fin
Mundane Hazards
Written for this prompt at the Watchmen Kinkmeme. I ended up filling more of the bonus points than the main prompt, but the OP was gracious and liked it anyway. :blushes:
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- Need to see you. D is the same, but we should talk. D's place, 10:30. -



The note lay tucked into his pocket as he followed its direction. The paper was from the kind of lined tablet that nearly everyone had somewhere in their house, softened now from its initial folding, as well as the scrutiny Rorschach had given it. It had been folded twice, as though the author had had second thoughts but overridden them. It had also been written carefully – extremely so, the letters rendered with the utmost caution with a good quality ball-point pen. In spite of the assurance it made, the possible implications of what hadn't been said in the note, along with the request to return a day early, made Rorschach uneasy. Everything about the note spoke of much deliberation – possibly even rough drafts leading up to this version. He didn't know Mason well at all, but he knew prevarication when he saw it.

Once again he stood outside the Owl's Nest tunnel entrance. If not for the knowledge of where Daniel was, it would have felt like any other patrol. As it was, he had to stop himself from expecting Nite Owl to meet him where the tunnel widened into the Nest itself.

The Archimedes lay in darkness, and pieces of Nite Owl's armor still lay around the bench from when Rorschach had forced Daniel to leave them. Disturbed by this for some reason, he found himself pausing. Retrieving the dropped cape, he draped it carefully on an empty spot on the workbench. The gauntlets that were already there were straightened from their haphazard position to lie side-by-side. Nite Owl's locker was just up the steps, but it didn't feel right to presume upon that space. It was enough for now to put his partner's things in order where Daniel could find them.

At the top of the stairs he stopped to listen at the door leading to the kitchen. He could hear music – the older style that Daniel favored – and reflected on the logic of Mason using it as well; an intruder wouldn't advertise his presence in such a way, after all.

The door was unlocked and the kitchen dark and shuttered, but he could see light coming from Daniel's living room. The music switched off.

"Hello Rorschach."

"Good evening, Mr. Mason." Rorschach flipped the light switch and scanned the kitchen. Mason had evidently cleaned it; the beer bottle on the sink was gone, and the chairs placed loosely back under the table. He remembered the owl figurine in his pocket, vaguely reminded himself where it belonged on the bookshelf.

There were footsteps, and Mason appeared at the doorway. Rorschach didn't bother with further pleasantries. "What is it?"

Daniel's mentor studied him for a moment, shifting his weight more evenly and placing his hands in his cardigan's pockets. "I'm afraid I owe you an apology – of sorts."

"Why?"

"I visited Danny this morning." Mason moved toward the sink to lean on the counter, as Rorschach squared his own stance. "I wanted to see how he was doing, obviously, and to let him know I'd been in touch with you. Naturally, I couldn't just bandy the name 'Rorschach' around, and I had thought..." He sighed heavily, but there was anger beginning to smolder in his eyes. "I didn't know you'd never trusted Danny with your name."

A sudden wave of heat and cold twisted up Rorschach's spine. "You told –"

"I didn't know." Mason's voice cracked out sharp as a whip. "Danny was barely conscious and there wasn't much time; I thought I was keeping things simple for him!" He passed a hand over his eyes. "I didn't know Danny was working alongside and trusting his life to a partner who didn't offer the same trust Danny had given him! How he could even think to do something so –" he bit back the first word, "dangerous, is beyond me." Mason's glare was thunderous, and his hands were fists in his pockets. "Ten years. He's shared everything with you for all this time, let you into his home, and you –"

Rorschach strode forward until they were nose-to-nose. So this was what he'd been called here for – a lecture, as if he were some selfish, irresponsible child? "Would never harm Daniel," he growled. "Nite Owl is a good partner, trust him with my life. Protected him countless times, give him everything I have every time we patrol. There is nothing else." The urge to strike the man in front of him was nearly overwhelming and he hated himself for allowing his control to slip so far, even as the tide of adrenalin gave him strength. "You were wrong to give him that name. Kovacs is not Nite Owl's partner, not the one Daniel trusts. Never will be."

He watched the hostility drain from Mason's features, to be replaced by something strange. Not fear, but almost...

Daniel had looked at him like that, he remembered.

"What was it?" Mason's voice was suddenly quiet, and unsettling with the weight of knowledge. "...It wasn't a case with Danny, or he would have shown it."

Rorschach took a step back. This wasn't right.

Mason didn't move. In his eyes flickered something that looked like grief, just for a moment. "You went solo, didn't you? You took on something on your own, and something went bad."

The images sprang into Rorschach's head before he could stop them: The cutting board, scored and stained... the tiny scrap of fabric with teddy bears dissolving into ash...

...the happy, hopeful expression on the dogs' faces.

He took a step back to regain control but miscalculated how close he stood to the table. He struck it, bracing automatically with his right arm, and hissed in pain as his injury re-asserted itself.

Abruptly Mason's demeanor shifted to a different kind of alertness. "You're hurt."

Rorschach had already shrugged off the pain and righted himself. "It's fine." He was done here.

"Rorschach, wait." Mason's voice was quiet and he didn't move, so Rorschach paused. He watched Mason's hands come up in conciliation. "I made a promise to Danny... to look after you for him." He nodded to Rorschach's shoulder. "You've been hurt, and you're patrolling alone. Regardless of what you have or haven't shared with your partner, or how I feel about it, I'd be breaking my promise if I didn't have a look at that." And you would too, he didn't say, but Rorschach heard it all the same.

He was here now because of Daniel – because he was sick, and Rorschach hadn't seen it soon enough. All there was now were two men who had made promises to him while they waited to see if he would live.

Grudgingly, he stripped off his trench coat, draping it over a chair.

.

"Where were you hit?"  Mason was all business now - not touching, but demanding with his eyes and letting them take in everything.  It was different from Daniel's habitual fussing; he decided it was better this way.

"Shoulder.  Baseball bat."

"After we met?"

"Yes."

"What treatment have you had so far?"

"Cold.  Rest."

"How well can you move?"

"Well enough."

Mason frowned.  "Let me see."

Irritably he forced his arm through its range of motion.

The elder Nite Owl still wasn't convinced.  "Block me."  He telegraphed his sparring attack, but didn't hold back much force.  Their movements were hampered by their caution in the small kitchen, but Mason was still able to make him put effort into his defense.  

At once Mason feinted to one side, and Rorschach was too slow to prevent a strike near the wound.  He grunted at the hit and Mason stopped, stepping back.

"That's going to get you into trouble."

"Can take care of myself."

"For how long?"  Mason was unimpressed.  "If an old man can get past your defenses, how long will it be before someone serious does some real damage?"

Rorschach was bristling, but Mason went on.  "I know how it was in my own time, and we weren't fighting half of what you do now.  You're no use to anyone if you get yourself killed."

A shadow passed over Mason's features, and Rorschach was reminded of the Minutemen who had done exactly that, in one way or another.  He wasn't like any of them, he knew – he was careful, and he'd already endured injuries worse than this on patrol.  He could respect the other man's concern, though, given his past experience as a vigilante and his influence on Daniel.  He also wasn't like Daniel, who would be trying to wheedle him off-duty with childish promises and cajoling - Mason was much more to-the-point, which Rorschach could appreciate.

"Can afford one night."  Mason relaxed slightly, and gave a faint nod.  

"Do you have painkillers for that?"

"Am fine."

Mason's eyes narrowed.  "That's not what I asked."

"...no."

"We should see if there's anything downstairs, then."

.

Rorschach walked to the supply cabinet in the Nest with Mason in tow.  He knew what he'd find, still remembering the last time he and Nite Owl had needed to use it.  Mason grunted in satisfaction at the store of various drugs and first aid supplies.  Grabbing half the contents of a box of over-the-counter pain medicine, he handed it to Rorschach.  </p>

"Here.  Take these back with you, and anything else you might need back at your place." He put up a hand when Rorschach turned back to him.  "There's no sense in roughing it if there's something here you can use.  It'll be better for you to have these things in more than one spot anyway until Danny comes back." He stepped away, letting Rorschach choose what he needed.  

The suture kit was small, as were the rolls of gauze; they'd be easily transportable. The stronger painkillers he left alone.  He didn't want his faculties dulled by anything if he was going to fight, and he wasn't convinced his landlord didn't snoop through tenants' apartments.   The chemical cold packs and coagulant were more useful anyway, so he took those instead.

The makeshift kit he'd assembled bumped the ceramic owl as he shoved things into his pockets.  He carefully brought it out, exhaling when he saw it was unharmed.

Mason had been gazing around the Nest, pacing slowly, but now he noticed what Rorschach held.

"From the other night," Rorschach explained.  "Hid the others in case paramedics noticed.  No place to put this one."

"Mm, good thinking.  Danny can be a bit obvious sometimes, can't he?" Mason’s mouth gave a rueful twist.  "Comes from living alone, I guess.  He'll be glad you kept it safe."  He offered a small, lopsided smile and looked around the Owl's Nest again.  "Just look at all this,” he breathed, stepping forward to touch the immense computer console that lay dormant along one wall.  "It always amazes me, the things he can do."

Rorschach’s gaze followed his – to Nite Owl’s armor, lying in pieces; to the Archimedes, that had served them nearly all their years together… past the ill-fated "Owlcar" that had seemed promising until they realized it had no advantage in heavy traffic; the hover bikes that proved to be much more useful, allowing them their first and most famous capture.  He looked at tables piled with tools and half-built equipment, sheaves of paper and notebooks containing any number of new ideas… There was never a time, he reflected, that Daniel hadn’t been working on something.  When he wasn’t inventing fantastic machines seemingly from thin air, he was endlessly improving upon his designs.  And talking about them, all the time, whether Rorschach understood what he was saying or not – although Daniel was patient enough that he would happily explain anything if asked.  It was rare to come down the tunnel to the Nest and not see him working, finishing up some repair or upgrade while some old song played from the airship's sound system.

"Danny always wanted us to meet, you know."

He snapped out of his reverie.  Wondered how long Mason had been staring at him.

"He'd talk about you all the time... he really does think the world of you."

Rorschach could think of nothing to say to that.  He found himself looking down at the owl in his hand, as though it would have an answer.

Mason sighed – a long, tired sound.  "Danny's the closest thing I have to a son, you know – better, really; I know I never could have raised someone like him."  He reached out, placing a hand on the Archimedes' hull.  "He's got a good heart, big enough for the whole world… and if you're not careful, you're going to break it." He turned to face Rorschach as he looked up.  Took one step toward him.  "I can see the road you're on, son.  I've seen other men – good, honorable men – land there and get swallowed whole by it.  And I've seen it spit them out in pieces.  

"Danny may not be my blood, but I do know him. He loves you, plain and simple.  He'll try to follow you, and one way or the other, it'll kill him.  Hell, it almost did this time.  He deserves better than that – and so do you, even if you don't see it right now."

Mason's words echoed softly in the cavernous surroundings.    They rattled through Rorschach's head, rendering him mute and immobile.  Inwardly he raged at Mason for saying those things – they blurred the lines that had so clearly been laid out for him, threatened to unbalance everything he'd become, without regard to his duties and the work that had to be done.  They were a distraction from his purpose.

But the haunted pain in the older man's eyes, the jumble of love, kill, blood, good that spun around and around in his mind… he couldn't shake free of it, couldn't batter it away or silence it.

At last Mason broke the spell, lowering his eyes and releasing him.  He took a step back, turning toward the stairs, then looked back over his shoulder.  "I'll be back to see him in the morning.  Do you want me to pass anything along to him?"

"Tell him –" What?  That he was still following leads, doing his job?  That he would keep watch over Daniel's home and the Owl's Nest?  He knew that without it needing to be said.  That he wished Daniel was here?  That he'd been hurt patrolling without him? That he was fulfilling his promise in spite of the costs it was exacting?  None of those things would be useful.  But… "Tell him.  To get better.  Soon."

"I'll do that.  And…He said you're welcome to stay here, if you need to." The effort in saying those words was clear. Unsurprising, really, though Rorschach appreciated that he still respected Daniel enough to pass the information along.

"Will keep that in mind."

-

He stayed long after Mason left, not moving. The Owl's Nest remained silent around him. It felt wrong – all of this had since Daniel had gone. The Nest wasn't meant to sit unused, in darkness and silence. The streets were not meant to be left to drown in the filth that infected them.

There was time for him to get back to the apartment, but he was reluctant to do so.  His concession of one night away from patrol meant he'd be of no use on the streets; it would only bring frustration, and the risk of a confrontation regardless of any intention if he was intercepted.  The Owl's Nest was reasonably safe, and it had far more resources than he had at his own disposal.  Considering he was already here, it was logical for him to stay – and besides that, Daniel had made his welcome clear enough in the past.  He wouldn't be taking advantage if he only used what was necessary to continue their investigations, and to regain his full physical capacities.  His gaze went up the stairs to the kitchen door where Mason had exited – he needed to make sure the building above was secure, if he was going to stay here.    

There was enough light to see by, bleeding in from outside. Silently, he moved through the kitchen to the hall and considered the front door.  It was locked, though with only one deadbolt.  The absence of hardware, the expanse of untouched wood on the door, felt disturbing.  Alien.  Aside from the secrets held below his home, Daniel had several valuable possessions in plain view.  It served as further reminder of the differences between Rorschach's world and this one.

His hand closed around the owl figurine in his pocket.  Moving into the living room, he stood in front of the shelf where it belonged and set it back in its place, alongside books that had obviously been read and weren't just for show.  It was something he respected in Daniel, that he remained genuine despite the obvious advantages his upbringing had given him.  

The other two statuettes he'd concealed were quickly set to rights in their places, once again all but announcing Daniel's identity for anyone to see… although it was obvious he didn't have visitors.  Daniel was not a stupid man – in spite of his sentimental failings, he would not endanger his identity as Nite Owl.  Looking at the arrangement of furniture, remembering glimpses of cupboard contents on the nights Rorschach had come upstairs from the Nest, it was evident that his partner's life here was a solitary one.  

He left the living room, satisfied that it was restored to its prior state and that the front of the building was as secure as he could make it without disrupting Daniel's belongings.  He thought of returning to the kitchen, but his feet took him upstairs instead.  

He'd never come up here before.  There had been no need, and he'd respected Daniel's privacy.  There was no need to be up here now; he knew from previous observations that climbing to the windows was impossible without being seen from multiple angles.  Even as that thought re-asserted itself, he found himself on the landing.

Farthest from him was Daniel's room – visible from the street, but less vulnerable from the stairs.  The neatly-made bed lay quietly in the shadows, near a plain chest of drawers with a mirror that showed him the dim outline of his reflection.  A nearly empty box of tissues sat on the nightstand, next to half a bottle of cold medicine.  The small trash can next to it held a pile of tissues and another, empty, medicine bottle.


"Had the flu – told you last week."


He left Daniel's room, noting the spots on the floor that creaked as he moved to the second bedroom.  More than once, his partner had extended invitations to stay there… nights when they'd come back from patrol bleeding, or when the sun was already creeping over the horizon.  The first time had been barely a month into their partnership; he was still appalled at how presumptuously trusting Daniel had been.

He looked into the long-offered room for the first time.  The bed was the same size as the one in Daniel's room, ridiculously large, and made up as though in anticipation of a guest.  The nightstand was the twin of the one in Daniel's room, with a lamp and a book.  There was a clear view of both the window and door from the bed.

There was no reason to maintain the appearance of this room; no reason to keep linens on the bed, or leave space in the open wardrobe.  There was no reason to keep it as a bedroom at all; he and Daniel both knew the impossibility of having guests.  It was absurd.  And wasteful.  Daniel was always making such gestures, regardless of their practicality… coffee and music on the airship; offers to come upstairs to the kitchen, especially when the temperature outside dropped; endless hours of talk that had little or nothing to do with their work.  Questions, inoffensive but persistent – how was he, was he thirsty, was he hungry, was he hurt.  Had he heard this song.  Had he read this book.  Always so eager.

The silence rang in his ears.  The walls were too thick – or the neighbors too quiet – for him to hear anything but the faintest hint of his surroundings.  Even the traffic outside was reduced to a whisper.  The door to Daniel's room yawned in the darkness, and the guest room lay in uncomfortable emptiness behind him.  There was no reason for him to be here.

He returned to the kitchen, leaving the light off.  Even at this hour, it would be a risk, and it was better to keep his eyes trained for dimness anyway.   He debated eating something when he recalled how long ago he'd eaten last.  The thought of taking anything was distasteful, but for the knowledge that he had to maintain his strength to perform his duties.  Daniel had always told him he could help himself – he'd even gone so far as to make Rorschach repeat it back to him once, although he'd done it teasingly.   Rorschach had never taken him up on the offer.  Too many people were willing to take, willing to make themselves beholden to another and forget how to fend for themselves.  

There were any number of canned goods in the cupboard.  Cereal as well, and coffee, and most of a loaf of bread in the breadbox.  A glance in the refrigerator showed milk as well as orange juice, along with a half-empty carton of eggs, some cheese, a few apples, and a foil-wrapped dish on the bottom shelf.  It was more food than he'd ever had at any given time, and the sheer decadence of it made him grimace.  He remembered a recent invitation for dinner/breakfast after patrol a week ago that he'd refused, as usual.  Daniel had seemed disappointed, but shrugged it off and wished him his typical, if quixotic, "Good Morning" when he left.

Vaguely curious, he lifted the foil on the dish in the refrigerator.  It was two or three servings' worth of lasagna, but it had gone bad – there was obviously too much for Daniel to have been able to eat all of it by himself.  Closing the door to the refrigerator, he turned back to the cupboard, remembering – he'd seen two boxes of cereal.  Again, more food than Daniel needed.  He frowned, and re-opened the cupboard door.  Stocking up on non-perishable food was at least understandable, but now he could see that a significant number of items were things he'd mentioned in conversations with Daniel at various times.  Things he'd admitted liking.  Some of them, the ones in the back, had a faint layer of dust.

He wasn't hungry anymore.



Returning to the Nest, he let himself acknowledge the fatigue he'd been fighting and made his way to the cot in the back corner.  He would rest a few hours, then perhaps try to see if Nite Owl's computer could tell him anything useful.

-

It wasn't safe. He had to get back in time, they were in danger and he'd seen the others. The children were inside, milling around the tiny kitchen like frightened rabbits as he tried to see out the windows without letting them near. The others were out there, invisible in the smoke. It only swirled and left ash over everything like that when they were near and he couldn't let the children see or they would disappear, but the children were hungry – they needed to eat or they would cry and be heard, but the rats had taken everything, climbing up and carrying it out the hole in the door, there was a hole and the others could get in, he had to block it before they noticed it. He had to move slowly or the lights would come on and give away their position. The cupboard door was the right size for a barricade; he had to risk it. He leaned over, reaching for it, but the movement outside was mirroring his – they'd seen him and were moving faster. The children were grabbing the door with him, there were two who were older and had gloves so they'd be protected but they were the only ones. The others were getting closer and the smallest child looked up, he couldn't stop her, and she disappeared before the hole could be covered - It was all the others needed and they began melting through the walls. If he could cut them before they finished forming they would be safe. There was a knife just below one of them and he grabbed it, pushing the children back into the far corner where they could be small enough to fit. He swiped at the other that was near the window, trying to cut but it wasn't working, he would have to wait until it formed and try to fight it. Its body turned toward him and he raised the knife, its long blade pinning its shoulder to the wall before it leaned forward and into it, it wasn't stopping even though he could feel the flesh giving way to the muscle beneath, thick and fibrous. He backed away with the knife held out and its dark shape followed, leaning again into its point even as he was telling it to stop, stop doing this, but it just tilted its head and tried to come closer, forcing him to stab hard into it again and again, the blade sawing deep, and Daniel wanted to know why he was doing that to him but he couldn't stop, the knife was pushing into Daniel's shoulder and chest and he was naming all the organs he was hitting because he had to do it in the right order and Daniel's eyes kept blinking as he fell into pieces on the filthy kitchen floor, bits getting covered in dirt and still moving, still trying to



His breath left him in a shout that echoed in the darkness, waking him. He registered the cold, eyes following the glow of the work lamp to the silhouette of the Archimedes and telling him where he was just as the door at the top of the stairs was thrown open.</p>

"Rorschach?"

The lights went on – all of them – as he recognized Hollis Mason's voice. He flinched momentarily against the glare, and worked to sit up. His hat lay off to one side on the floor and his coat was half-tangled around him – he quickly righted them and struggled up off the cot. His eyes felt sandblasted, and his breath was coming too fast.

Footsteps sounded down the stairs after a few seconds' pause, and he gathered himself as they approached. Metal slid softly in the background; he could see the outline of a prybar held by Mason's shadow.

"Here." His voice felt ill-used, and he resisted an urge to clear his throat. The prybar's silhouette lowered, and Mason came around the corner. His motions were wary, and Rorschach could see him bite back his first question and frown before stepping forward. An echo of Daniel's conciliatory expression flickered in his eyes, though his words were flat and he cut directly to the point.

"I heard you shout."

Silently he cursed himself, forcing back the afterimages that threatened. "It was nothing."

Mason inhaled slowly. "I've heard nightmares before, son. Had a few myself."

His fist clenched immediately. He had tolerated more than one intrusion from his partner over the years, but this man had no such rights. His shoulders squared and he prepared to barrel through Mason if need be. "Said it was n—"

"Rorschach." The name was barked as a command and Mason strode into Rorschach's path with clenched fists of his own. "By god," he muttered, "I am tired of these games. How Danny has kept from thumping you all this time is completely beyond me." He looked Rorschach over like a drill sergeant at inspection, scowling furiously. "You will come upstairs with me, now, or so help me I will take all the trouble you've caused him and me both right out of your hide. Are we clear?"

It wouldn't have taken much to disarm him – half a dozen ways flitted through his mind in a matter of seconds. But Mason was caring for his partner and – however unwelcome it was – upholding a promise by trying to tend to him as well. Rorschach was indebted to him - at least for the former - and he knew, looking at Mason's grim expression, that leaving now would be an irrevocable step.

Mason hadn't let go of the prybar, and his knuckles stood out white around it. When Rorschach didn't respond he stepped aside just far enough to offer passage, and waited.

Rorschach could feel a flush rising to his face and knew it was being telegraphed in the ink swirling across it. If anyone else had dared to speak to him in such a manner, he would have put them on the ground before they'd completed a single sentence. As it was, he could feel his pulse hammering from the fury he was keeping in check. For one brief, blinding instant he actually hated Daniel for all of this, for putting them into this position – but no. Even as he thought it, he knew that wasn't true. The only thing Daniel had done wrong in all of this was to not stand up for himself, as was his wont; Rorschach still bore his share of responsibility for not watching out for his partner.

He ground his teeth against the stab of shame that threatened. It wouldn't change anything, so there was no point to it. Chin raised, he squared his shoulders and let himself come within an inch of shoving past the other man as he walked to the stairs.

.

The angle of light through the kitchen blinds was an unpleasant surprise – he'd slept far too long yet again. A sound from the opposite door interrupted the thought and he went rigid as Mason's white dog appeared to regard them both, its ears perked forward in curiosity.

"Phantom—" Mason quickly moved from behind Rorschach to greet it, hand outstretched. Rorschach twitched as its tongue licked once across Mason's palm. "Good boy, go lie down in the living room, all right? Go lie down…" The dog obeyed, glancing at Rorschach before turning back into the other room. He listened as its claws tapped on the floor, unhurried, until the living room carpet swallowed the sound.

After a long moment he looked up, and saw that Mason was watching him again. He braced for questions, or recriminations, but Daniel's mentor only tilted his head toward the kitchen table, gesturing for Rorschach to sit while he moved to the counter. Rorschach did so, taking the chair that faced the door to the hall.

A rustling made him turn to see Mason unwrapping the loaf of bread he'd seen earlier. He watched as four slices were put in the toaster and coffee was set to percolating. All but ignoring Rorschach, Mason proceeded to putter quietly about the kitchen, moving carefully in the obviously unfamiliar surroundings, but with no less purpose. His face still bore the tension of their last exchange.

The urge to fidget, to challenge the older man to come out and say what was on his mind, was difficult to suppress. Mason was stating his terms, albeit silently, and Rorschach wasn't going to betray any discomfort his behavior was causing.

The toast popped up, and soon there was butter and jam on the table. Two slices were placed in front of him, followed shortly by a cup of coffee with its accompaniments. Rorschach looked at them, then back up at Mason.

"Eat." The word was saturated with reproach as Mason met his eyes. "You're running on fumes." He turned before Rorschach could respond, and began cracking eggs into a skillet.

He stared as Mason busied himself scrambling the eggs and pouring a can of beans into a pot on another burner, not moving until the smell of the food cooking finally reached him. Abruptly his stomach clenched in long-deferred hunger, and he glanced down at the toast on his plate.

He would have to lift his face in order to eat. It was a vulnerability he didn't want, even knowing its triviality in light of what Mason already knew. As another pang hit, he quashed the sting of embarrassment from Mason's obvious disappointment and grudgingly lifted his face to settle at the bridge of his nose. He grimly stripped off his gloves, and picked up a piece of toast to slather jam over it as plates clattered softly.

Halfway through the first piece, Mason set another plate with eggs and beans in front of him before settling in the other chair with a plate of his own. He barely glanced at Rorschach, concentrating instead on his food. "Danny said to go ahead and eat anything that'll go bad – they're keeping him for at least the rest of the week." Not everything on the table matched that criterion, but Rorschach held his tongue. Mason tucked into his own food, scooping a forkful of beans onto his slice of toast. "He also said to tell you he'll do his best to recover – He is looking a bit better, so we'll see. How's the arm doing?"

He gave it a second's thought. "Better." Brief jolts of pain still flared with movement, but it was nothing he couldn't push to the back of his mind.

Mason looked at him a moment, and then nodded to himself, subsiding. The two of them ate in tightly-coiled silence. Outside there was a friendly shout that someone else answered in kind. A dog barked.

Rorschach glanced up to see Mason watching him. He waited.

"You don't like dogs – why?"

In any other setting the question would have sounded conversational. Rorschach set down his coffee mug, took another piece of toast to mop up the scraps left on his plate.

"Dogs always do what they're told."

Mason's eyes went distant as he digested that answer. Rorschach made himself finish eating, and then pulled his face back where it belonged. Perhaps Daniel's mentor was thinking of his own companion; it didn't matter. He rose to leave.

"…God." The sigh stopped him and he looked back. "What am I doing?"

Mason had put down his utensils and was shaking his head, looking off to the side with a frown. He looked old, and tired. He looked the way people used to look at Walter Kovacs so long ago. Helpless bleeding-hearts who wrung their hands and mouthed platitudes instead of taking action, taking responsibility.

His lip curled. "Don't need your—"

"Oh, be quiet, damn you." The sudden words lashed out in a furious hiss as Mason glared up at him. His fist was clenched hard on the table. "You think you're the sole authority in this, that no one else knows what you and Danny have been through? You think I haven't ever--?" He bit off the rest. "Of course you don't, you're both still so young… and here I am," he muttered in disgust, "just patching you back together to go out for another round like nothing's wrong." He rose, stalking toward Rorschach and leaning into his space. "You think I was just playing around when I was Nite Owl? That everything was just like they wrote in the papers with the good guys always winning and the bad guys always getting put away? You think I don't carry the memory of every person I couldn't help? Every storekeeper being squeezed by the mob, every woman or child I knew was going home to get beaten again, every last person who told me they were fine while their eyes went dead right in front of me?" Mason's lips pressed into a thin line and he turned away. "You think I've never been too late? That I've never lost sleep knowing that being a cop – that being Nite Owl wouldn't always be enough? I can't tell you how many times the bruises I went home with felt like I'd been let off easy." He seemed to deflate, his voice growing distant as he stared out the blinds at the sunlit world outside. "I hated the sunrise sometimes, do you know that? Absolutely hated it. Hours I had to wait before I could do anything, while the rest of the world--" His hand made a vague, futile gesture. "We fell apart. We lost each other, one by one, until we just couldn't hold on anymore."

He looked at Rorschach, shaking his head as his face darkened. "I was so relieved when Danny told me he had a partner. I thought he might not have to go through what we did – that he'd have someone…" Drained, he slumped back against the sink, "someone to help him stand up to… everything that's out there."

It was silent between them. Dust motes floated past in the cold, oblivious light of the day outside. Abruptly Rorschach could see in perfect clarity the image of Daniel as he'd last seen him – sick, worried, too thin, and tired – Daniel had looked so tired. He tried to remember what Nite Owl had looked like the last time he'd been well, and realized he couldn't; he couldn’t trace the exact time, or a particular event. He couldn't recall with certainty the last time his partner had spoken with any sort of confidence. The more he tried, the more firmly his mind turned to the night in the alley – to the blood glistening darkly on Nite Owl's gauntlet and how…lost his partner had looked. He thought about Daniel not recovering, never coming back to this place or to the Owl's Nest, and not having any other memories of him.

"…Six."

The voice was startling in the silence. Rorschach belatedly realized it was his own as Mason looked up at him.

"She was six."

She smiled up at him in the photograph, gap-toothed already. Her hair was in pigtails and she was opening a birthday – no, Christmas present. He couldn't tell what it was; the paper still obscured what lay inside and a part of him wanted to ask, what is it, but she wasn't there and that wasn't why the photo was in his hand and that wasn't why he was standing there with her parents, he would never have known them at all except for this one thing at the wrong place, wrong name at the wrong time and the wrong people, helpless and lost and staring at him with wide desperate eyes red with crying and fatigue. The father's eyes had been green, green as the linoleum of the floor where they lived, where flecks of color showed in the tiles, irregular and unmindful of the decaying landscapes of brick and concrete where he hunted for answers because he promised, he promised because never, not ever, no one should, he couldn't. Ugly hostile faces, pained, frightened, mouths sneering with jagged (pointed) teeth, widening to devour words with screaming. Tears from one, surprising, a steady drip from the faucet not quite turned off and tapping slowly into the sink by the cutting board, leaking down to mildewed floorboards, rot and ash where only a scrap of color remained, one last bright moment flashing against gray, white on white, scored and scratched, glistening. Weight in the hand, smell of filth in rain, warm and wet and a high wailing cry that stopped, breathing hard and drowning in a welter of voices, one voice babbling nonsense in smoke and flames while flesh and hair and bone screamed in black clouds that reached out, pulled close, pulled under until


--he let go.

-

He didn't know how much time passed. There was a vague awareness of Mason's voice set in a pitch of concern that began escalating into fear… Mason may have even shaken him at one point; he wasn't sure. It didn't matter, so he left it alone. It stopped, after a while.

Bits and pieces of phrases drifted to him, things that for some reason should have been important. He could hear voices, blunted and distant – one was familiar but not the right one, not liked but safe nonetheless; the other stirred a sluggish disgust, what would have been anger if anger wasn't so difficult. Back and forth they went, the rhythm of words and pauses like waves as they rose and fell. He let it move through him without trying to decipher, or control, or dissect… Everything felt far away, and he found he didn't mind it.

The mumble of voices slowed, and eventually stopped. He thought there was movement, and then stillness. The stillness was good. He hadn't realized how much energy he'd been expending, how truly exhausted he'd become. He would sit. It was reasonably safe here, he could remember that much. He would wait for… until…

If…

He would wait.

.

Nothingness, for a timeless, perfect span. Peace like he'd never known before. Then slowly – reluctantly – his awareness regained focus.

He was in Daniel's living room, seated on the couch. Dim, sickly light filtered through the blinds on the far side, showing his reflection in the blank television screen across from him. He watched the slow shift in the patterns of his face, focusing on their swirling change from one shape to the next until it was all he could see, just black and white symmetry flowing into and around itself, surging and retreating and never ending, always –

Movement yanked his reflexes into full alert, even as he observed it was only Mason, shifting in his sleep in the armchair nearby. His brow furrowed as Rorschach watched and he took in a deep breath. Exhaling slowly, Mason opened his eyes, blinking muzzily until he saw Rorschach watching him. He leaned forward, his hands scrubbing slowly at his face before dropping down to hang over his knees. His expression became cautious as he weighed his words.

"How are you feeling?"

It was a surprisingly difficult question to answer. The sun had apparently gone down some time ago, and he couldn't quite make out the hands of the clock on the shelf. He thought he might have slept, but somehow felt exhausted.

Mason changed tack at his hesitation. "What do you remember?"

…he didn't, he realized. That should have upset him.

"…Son?"

His reflection stared back at him, shapes shifting like clouds, silent and steady in their perpetual motion, punctuation of breath and pulse in the dark, one calm, clear point in surrounding darkness that spiraled and grew, filling his awareness and growing heavy until it was difficult to

.

"-schach? Rorschach."

"Yes."

"God. All right. That's the name you want, then. Listen, do you know where you are? Come on now, son, this is important."

"Daniel's house."

"Ok. Good, that's good. Do you know who I am?"

"Daniel's mentor."

"…Ok, but what's my name?"

"Mason. Hollis."

"Ok. Ok."

"Where's Daniel?"

"He's. He's coming. As fast as he can. All right?"

"All right. Can I sleep now?"

"…Yeah. Yeah, son, you can sleep. You're safe, ok, you hear me? You're safe here."

"Safe."

.

He opened his eyes, and there was a stranger in the room with him.

He faintly registered that his surroundings were likely Daniel's guest room as he took in the pale figure reading a book at the bedside. A stand with an IV bag stood near the other person, who glanced over and realized he was being watched.

Rorschach moved, intending to demand answers of this strange intruder who made so free with Daniel's home and belongings. Who was he? Where was Mason? He hadn't even heard the dog give any warning; was Mason incapacitated, were Nite Owl's secrets even now being ransacked and dragged out into--

A scar near the intravenous tube caught his attention. It was a peculiar "J" shape, ragged on one end from a rough burr at the end of a steel pipe. Daniel had cursed roundly when it happened, vowing later never to –

- another scar, just visible at the neckline of the overlarge t-shirt where it had sipped to one side… a puncture that had come far too close to the jugular vein. Nite Owl's armor was quickly redesigned after –

- two burn marks on the left hand. Daniel had sheepishly admitted to forgetting his welding gauntlet after testing some adjustment and absentmindedly reaching for –

He looked back to the other's face, taking in the unwashed hair and powdery-looking skin, and looking beyond them to the expression in the sunken, bruised-looking eyes that watched him from behind familiar glasses.

"Daniel."

The figure before him smiled, and it was his partner. "Yeah, buddy?"

"Have looked better."

An odd, half-strangled laugh burst into the silence. "You mean me, or you?"

Instinctively he looked down at himself, suddenly noticing stains and semi-mended tears on his clothing that had to be ages old. His joints were stiff, he realized, both from injury and immobility, and an embarrassing amount of detritus had flaked off of his uniform to litter the bed.

"Hrm. Point taken." He looked again at the plastic hospital bag attached to Daniel, whose smile slipped from his face.

"Hollis… said you needed me." He looked down, briefly lifted the hand with the intravenous attachment. "This was the only way they'd let me out of the hospital, and that was only after they'd watched me all night and half the damn day." He coughed once, softly. "I might've given a few of them a hard time about it."

Rorschach digested that comment and they sat, the only sound coming from the occasional tick of the radiator. The book Daniel had been reading lay closed on his lap; the top of a bookmark peeked out from several pages in. It was an older one – well-read, by the look of it. Something stirred in his memory… he remembered

"Orpheus."

Daniel looked up, startled but not displeased. "You heard me?"

It came to him, then – the familiar cadence of his partner's voice nearby, murmuring in… rhyme? He looked again at the book, glimpsing the name "Ovid" on the spine. He had heard Daniel, he realized.

"How long?"

His partner looked down again, his hands stroking idly along the book's cover. "Hollis said you were… out of it a couple of days ago. You were, I dunno, running on automatic or something, doing the basic stuff but not really there. I got home yesterday evening."

Daniel had come back for his sake. Still unwell, by the look of him, but doing better. Called him back from wherever he'd been. Had been trying to for a long time, he could admit. He thought again of how close his partner had been to death without either of them even knowing it, his ailment lost in the background noise of their work and Rorschach's inattention. He thought of his own obvious deterioration, and felt an unpleasant chill twist up his spine.

"Mason was right." Daniel looked up at him. "What he said to you. I do…need you. Have not -- I have not been a good partner. I'm sorry, Daniel."

"Hey. Hey." His partner struggled up, cursing briefly as he negotiated around the intravenous stand to sit next to him. "Whatever it is, I'm here, okay? Just… " Brown eyes searched for his as cautious hands grasped his shoulders. "talk to me. Please? Don't do this alone."

His throat tightened at that word, felt like it couldn't pull in enough air. His head bowed under the weight of it, his eyes squeezing shut. One of Daniel's hands raised to his face, gentle and shocking, and the only thing he could do to keep breathing was to reach up in return. Wide shoulders were steady under his hands, taking his weight as he fought for breath.

He held on and didn't let go.


-fin
Priorities, part 2 of 2
Written for the Watchmen Kinkmeme prompt:

Daniel/Rorschach Pre Rorschach dying, back when they were still partners, Daniel is badly injured (not dying but frighteningly close) and it forces Rorschach to see that he could lose Daniel and it makes him re think his views on his feelings for Daniel. (
spam-monster.livejournal.com/8…)


The concept of moirallegiance from Homestuck grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and gave me a good shake, and this is what happened.

-Rated for violent imagery
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Nite Owl was falling behind again. It was the third time this week, already with one fewer patrol than there should have been. The temptation was strong to simply run ahead, but they were chasing two targets. He could catch one himself, but not both.

If not for the need of his now-limited help, it would have been an easy choice to leave Nite Owl behind – would serve him right for not taking enough care to shake off whatever malady was making the rounds this time of year. There was no excuse; Daniel had no need for a job to keep him away or even expose him to the sick during the day. He had enough money to buy whatever medicine he needed, and his pantry was always well-stocked. He got plenty of sleep – and then some – and yet here he was: Slow, clumsy, and out of breath. Half a dozen times during the past week his coughing had nearly given away their position during reconnaissance.

Daniel's excesses were forgivable when he was still getting the job done. Now, they only highlighted his shortcomings. As if to emphasize this, a prolonged stream of wet hacking sounded behind him, much farther back than it should have been.

It was no use – their quarry was too far ahead. As they disappeared around a corner, Rorschach growled and turned back, prepared to let his partner know the full extent of his displeasure.

Nite Owl was slumped against a wall, gripping the brick as cough after cough rattled out of him. His legs were barely holding him up and another cough nearly doubled him over. When he straightened, something dark was staining his lips.</p>

It pulled Rorschach up short, and suddenly he could see how badly Nite Owl was struggling for breath. Even in the harsh spills of neon and sodium from the street his face looked pale beneath the goggles. As he neared, Rorschach impatiently waved away his partner's apologies and actually took a good look at him.

A small tremor was running through Nite Owl as he looked at his red-spattered glove with incomprehension. His breath whistled in his throat, and now that Rorschach was this close, he could see Nite Owl's costume looked too loose on his frame in places. He stiffened, clenching his fists. "What's wrong?"

Nite Owl lifted his goggles to wipe at his eyes. "I don't know." He was struggling to speak without coughing. "Had the flu – told you last week." His eyes accused, briefly. "Been trying to keep up..." Another cough, even worse. It went on, making Nite Owl stagger away from the wall and forcing Rorschach to catch him before he fell. "Can't – can't breathe –" A thread of panic was in his voice now, and more blood flecked his mouth.

They were done patrolling; this wasn't something that could be ignored. They were in an alley – good, because it offered some protection from passers-by, but bad because they needed to get back to the Owlship safely. They had to get to a roof.

Quickly, Rorschach pulled out his grappling gun. "Nite Owl." He shook his partner's shoulder, bringing the gun into view. "Sure of cable strength?"

Comprehension briefly lit Nite Owl's features and he managed a nod. Rorschach began scanning the four- and five-story buildings around them for anchor points.

"Call Owlship. Can you hold on?"

Nite Owl nodded again, but not quickly enough. Growling, Rorschach thought and then reached for his partner's utility belt for the zip-ties he kept for restraining criminals. Ironically, their poor patrol meant there were enough to loop together into makeshift ties between Nite Owl's belt and the knotted belt of Rorschach's trench coat. It would only buy them a second or two if it came to that, but it would have to be enough.

He finished securing them together and another cough jolted through both of them, forcing Rorschach to prop up his heavier partner. When it subsided, he lifted the grappling gun and fired, watching as the hook cleared the wall's capstones and caught. "Hold on. Tightly."

-

Nite Owl gripped the other side of the gun with one hand and hooked his arm across Rorschach's shoulders with the other. His weight pulled at them and Rorschach grunted with the effort of supporting both their weight as they ascended, but the cable and his grip held.

They snagged and nearly slipped for one brief, sickening moment near the top. Nite Owl's arm clenched around him and their legs scrabbled at brick, trying to gain purchase. Rorschach grit his teeth and concentrated on holding on, and they finally gained the last few feet to the capstones. Nite Owl's gauntlet flew from his grip on the gun to gain a handhold while Rorschach's boot braced against a jut of stonework above a window, and somehow they managed to haul themselves up and over the side.

Nite Owl's coordination was lost in another coughing fit and he dragged them both down into an eight-limbed heap. Snatching the crescent blade from Nite Owl's belt, Rorschach cut their improvised tethers and pulled free. His partner barely noticed, lying where he'd fallen and gasping like a landed fish.

"Up." Rorschach grasped his partner's wrist, waiting for him to take hold. "Nite Owl, can't carry you."

Slowly they staggered up, and made it into the airship. Once there, Rorschach lowered Nite Owl into the copilot seat – steadfastly ignoring the strangeness of having him there – and punched in the emergency piloting code that Nite Owl taught him years ago.

The ship lurched upward, and he made himself sit in the pilot's chair as they traveled. He would have preferred to stand, but the Archimedes in Emergency Mode was more about speed than comfort, and he risked sliding into a bulkhead otherwise.

Nite Owl was sagged into his seat, barely looking up. The coughing had subsided somewhat now that he was sitting still, but his breathing was still too rapid and he was wincing with each inhale.

They descended to the river, and the jolt of the Archimedes hitting the water caused a grunt of pain as Nite Owl's body was thrown against the safety restraint.

"Need to – iron that out a bit...sorry." He winced again as the ship's thrusters braked hard for landing in the tunnel.

Rorschach was already struggling free of the pilot's chair. "Got us here. Good enough."

They stumbled out into the Owl's Nest where Nite Owl collapsed onto a bench. Mechanically, he began stripping off the layers of his costume. Rorschach watched as this normally perfunctory task exhausted his partner, saw him flinch in pain despite the lack of injury on his now-exposed torso. An attempt to pick up his t-shirt made Daniel's hand suddenly clutch his chest, and Rorschach surged forward.

"Upstairs." He grabbed the rest of Daniel's clothing and wrapped an arm around him, pulling him up the steps.

"Wait... I'm-"

"Now, Daniel," Rorschach cut him off and opened the kitchen door, ushering him to a chair. Setting the t-shirt and sweatpants on the table, he turned to face his partner. "Hollis Mason's phone number. What is it?"

Out of breath from being hauled up the stairs and looking worse by the minute, Daniel recited the number as Rorschach dialed.

.

The line rang two, three times. Then Mason's voice, hoarse with sleep but alert with a policeman's instincts.

"Hello?"

"Mr. Mason."</p>

"Who is this?"

"Daniel needs your help."

There was a pause, and then all trace of sleep was gone from Mason's voice. "Who is this?"

Rorschach twitched briefly, thinking of wire taps and knowing how unlikely they were, but hating the possibility of them all the same. "Daniel's partner. He's very ill, at home. Cannot-" He couldn't finish the sentence.

"Prove you're his partner."

Rorschach's free hand clenched into a fist. Of course Mason would suspect a trick. He should suspect one. Setting his jaw, he searched for an answer. "Daniel is fond of Arthurian legend. Reads the Gazette. Speaks highly of you. Made a gift for me that I still carry."

"...All right. I'm on my way." There were numerous unspoken threats in that sentence, and the line went dead.

Rorschach hung up the phone and turned back to his partner, who had successfully finished dressing. The already loose-fitting clothes looked a size too large on him, and his skin was pasty white.

"Mason is coming."

"Gave you... third degree?" Daniel managed a lopsided smile.

"Hrnh. Right to be suspicious. Observed good security measures."

Daniel's smile faded, and he just stared at Rorschach looking... sad.

Rorschach shifted, burying his hands in his coat pockets. "What?"

"...What happened to you, man?" The sadness deepened, started looking like pity, and Rorschach suddenly felt all the anger he'd felt at Nite Owl's shortcomings come rushing back.

"You used to – I dunno, you... used to talk to me." Daniel's breath whistled unpleasantly in his throat. "Now you're... I can't..."

"Am fine, Daniel." Rorschach spat the name like an insult. "Have priorities in proper order." He paced the length of the kitchen as Daniel's expression darkened.

"What's that supposed... to mean?"

Rorschach's hand stabbed toward him. "Haven't taken care of yourself. Have every advantage, no reason you can't maintain fitness, and you let-"

"Wh-? You're blaming m-" Daniel's outrage drowned in a heaving cough – one that rocked him into the table and left red spatters on the formica. That silenced the argument, leaving Rorschach to work his hands in and out of fists while Daniel's back bowed with the effort of breathing.

The knock at the front door made them jump in unison. Daniel actually tried to get up, but Rorschach held up a warning hand. "Don't move."

Daniel glared up at him. "So what, you're... just gonna answer the door? He doesn't know you."

"Can't be helped." Rorschach turned as the knock sounded again and headed for the front of the brownstone.

-

He stopped in the front room, glancing out the window before going to the front door. He stayed behind it as he pulled it open, closing it quickly as Mason entered.

Rorschach noted Mason's defensive stance and the telltale outline in his front coat pocket with approval, and kept his hands within view.

"Where is he?"

"...In here, Hollis. It's ok." The weak voice turned both their attention to the kitchen door where Daniel held himself up.

"Danny?" Mason's hand came out of his pocket and he strode quickly to the younger man's side. "Good God , I don't think it's 'ok' at all – you look like hell."

Rorschach rejoined them, herding Daniel back into his chair. "Breathing wrong. Coughed up blood."

"Blood?" Mason's frown turned to Daniel, who nodded reluctantly. "You weren't hit? Nothing from patrol?"

"No," Daniel and Rorschach answered in unison. Rorschach bridled at the idea he'd let Nite Owl come to harm like that, but knew the necessity of the question.

Daniel sat quietly under his mentor's scrutiny, his face drawn. He coughed weakly, wincing.

Mason's face was grim. "We need to get you to the hospital – this is bad." He took a step back. "Danny, I'm going to call for an ambulance."

Rorschach must have given some reaction, because Mason quickly turned to him. "This isn't something for a cab, especially not at this hour. I was lucky to get the one I got."

"How will you explain being here?"

Daniel stirred. "Hollis is... a family friend. We visit all the time."

"Which has the advantage of being the truth," Mason nodded.

"Hrm. Will have to do."

Mason looked around them, businesslike. "We need to make sure things look right before they get here..." An idea lit his face and he headed for the refrigerator. "Here we go." He rose, holding up a bottle of beer. "Lucky thing you had these ready for Saturday – here." He handed one to Daniel. "Take one swig, if you can." He followed suit with another one, then took Daniel's back and gave them both to Rorschach. "Dump these and one more down the sink, and then flush water down the drain. Put those in the living room," he indicated the two bottles, "and then make it look like we've been visiting in there. Hopefully, they'll be too busy with Danny to take a good look around, but EMTs have detective's instincts – we need to be careful. Which reminds me -" He turned back to Daniel. "Do you have any older injuries you'll have to explain?"

Daniel thought with some effort. "I don't think so. Worst case...I can say I got mugged, or got... injured on a trip."

Mason nodded. "I'll try to back you up, if I can." Turning, he picked up the phone and dialed while Rorschach went to set the living room.

.

The bottles went on the coffee table, their residual condensation settling onto coasters. The morning's newspaper was on an end table; he grabbed the front section, opening and re-folding it a few times before setting it on the coffee table as well. The couch had only one indentation in it so he sat on the other side, pressing the throw pillow into the cushions. Mason's voice filtered in from the kitchen, giving directions over the phone. There were only a few minutes left to prepare.

Looking up, he took note of a few owl-shaped curios in the room and tensed. They might not be noticed, but with Mason there... He pocketed a small figurine and rearranged books and picture frames in front of two others, just in case.

"They're on their way," Mason came in, giving the room an approving glance. "Turns out I knew the dispatcher from the old days; she's making sure they hurry."

The two of them returned to the kitchen where Daniel still sat, forlornly watching their flurry of activity. He fixed Rorschach with a look that was equal parts apology and apprehension. "Be c-" Another bout of coughing cut him off, but Rorschach nodded.

"You too." He shifted his weight for a moment before reaching a hand out to his partner.

Daniel clasped it in his own, then reluctantly let go. "Better... get going, man."

Rorschach nodded, looking briefly to Daniel's mentor.

"I'll ride with him." Mason placed a gentle hand on Daniel's shoulder. "Come to my garage tomorrow night. I'll leave a window open in back for you."

The faint wail of a siren made them all look toward the front door. Rorschach took one more look at Daniel - pale, weak, and nothing like Nite Owl in this moment – then strode to the back stairs and shut the door to the Nest behind him with the double snick of the locks following.

"Hollis –" Daniel's voice filtered through the door, its fearful tone stopping him mid-step. "Hollis, promise me you'll take...care of him."

He didn't hear the answer, and then a rapid knocking sounded at the front door. He heard voices, hurried footsteps. Questions, quickly answered. Daniel coughing, gasping. Urgent voices and more footsteps, all of them, slowly receding. The front door closing. The ambulance siren, fading.

Then nothing.

-

Rorschach stood outside the warehouse that hid the tunnel to the Owl's Nest, his hand turning and turning the owl statue he'd hidden. There was still time left to patrol, at least a couple of hours. The night wasn't going to wait, so he headed North toward one of the seedier neighborhoods.

He was rewarded with a mugging-in-progress, and from that point what remained of the night was filled with brief, satisfyingly violent takedowns. Even alone, he was well able to strike fear into his enemies just as he'd done in the beginning. Still, it could have been faster; he could have covered more ground, found more targets, if not for what happened. Dwelling on it was useless, though, so he did what he could.

The sky was paling with dawn, taking away the dark corners where he and the scum he hunted moved. There was no daytime job demanding his time, not anymore, but there was still work to be done. He would leave the streets for now and his disguise would suffice until night fell again.

He reached his window just as the earlier risers were making their way to work. Fortunately for him, they were too sleep-addled and numbed by routine to bother noticing anything around them. They certainly weren't about to look up, where they would have seen a masked man swinging from a fire escape to a nondescript window and slipping inside.

He changed his clothing in the dark, not betraying his presence with a light. The owl figurine was still in his pocket - he debated taking it out, but it was safest where it was. He tucked it under the subway map he kept in that pocket and left it there. Carefully he folded everything into a neat, tight bundle, and secured in its hiding place. That done, he resumed the disguise that made him disappear from the public's view. It was unpleasant, but necessary – there was no better way for him to reach the places that needed watching and see the things he did without being noticed.

He took a small notebook from behind a loose section of baseboard and sat at the worn table in the corner. The descriptions of their escaped quarry came first; there was still a chance they could be found and it would be worthwhile to continue tracking that gang to its source. He added a few thoughts for a possible future investigation, flipping back through his notes to check his and Nite Owl's observations up to this point.

Nite Owl.  He debated writing about the incident. More than once his pencil touched the page to begin, but then stopped. It wasn't relevant to the case beyond the delay, and it would be cataloguing a weakness in his partner. It wasn't something he wanted to write about.

.

His attention shifted to the small pile of newspapers he'd been using to track recent gang activity. There were still a couple of leads he could pursue, though one was too far away without the Archimedes...

How long would Daniel be gone? The question struck him suddenly, along with unpleasant visions of the Owl's Nest being discovered, of Daniel's plans and inventions being stolen, destroyed. It was completely irrational – Daniel left the Owl's Nest every night he patrolled, and had any number of security measures in place that likely made it safer than all but a military installation. Possibly even that.

Irritably, he pulled the paper to him again. Headlines and notations glared up at him, jumbling into so much noise as he tried to focus on them. Doggedly he scanned them, but the words wouldn't coalesce into anything coherent. All he could see was Nite Owl in that alley, staring at the blood on his gauntlet.

He had to concentrate.   There was too much to be done - but he couldn't force any sense out of the words in front of him, or formulate any sort of plans. His eyes closed as he willed away the fog in his brain. He would gather himself, take a few seconds and then...



...he jolted awake, images of fire and blood still echoing. It took him dangerous seconds to re-orient himself as he shook free of screams lost in black smoke. The pencil was still in his hand, and a jagged scrawl now marred the margin of one article. Disgusted, he stood up, scrubbing briefly at his eyes with his other hand.

An incredulous glance out his window told him he'd slept nearly the entire day away; the sun was already creeping below the top of the skyline. His stomach growled, and he resisted the urge to answer with one of his own. Reluctantly he went to his food stores and found the last few slices of a loaf of bread and a peanut butter jar with a few scrapings left. The bread was stale but not moldy, so he resolutely chewed his way through a meager sandwich as he hid his notes behind the baseboard again. It would take a while to reach Mason's garage. The day was a loss; the least he could do was get dressed and get there in good time.

.

What little warmth the sun had offered was already leaching out of the bricks he climbed up to the roof. There were no clouds, and the wind was picking up. It would be a bitter night.

Jumping from roof to roof, he chased the setting sun as it painted the sky in bright reds and oranges against the encroaching purple of evening. His partner would have had something unabashedly romantic to say about the view, he was certain, but Rorschach only calculated how long it would take to be dark enough for ground travel.

For once, he found himself hoping he didn't encounter anything along the way. He'd always enjoyed what Nite Owl had jokingly called his "warm-up": Finding and thwarting some petty – or sometimes not so petty – crime before he reached his destination. It was often a game between them, that Nite Owl would have to catch up... He put on a burst of speed, his body on automatic as he dodged chimneys and skylights, leaping across the voids between buildings and clambering along fire escapes.

At last the darkness caught up with him and he dropped to ground level in an alley. He had to force himself into a circuitous route, doubling back and wending his way through neighborhoods as though it was any other night on patrol. The delay was infuriating, although the handful of criminals he encountered helped alleviate at least some of the frustration.

It was late but still well before midnight when he reached Mason's garage. He'd known its location ever since Daniel first spoke of his mentor, but had never had a reason to come here before now. It was in an older neighborhood, not yet lost to the gangs but not far from it, if the encroaching graffiti was any indication. Dr. Manhattan's work in electric automobiles had done Mason's business no favors, but he was still making a living.

He made his way around back to a small yard with waste oil barrels and a few empty crates. The promised open window was on the second floor. A running leap and a large oil drum for a step got him a handhold, and he quickly pulled himself up and into a small back room. There was a light visible through the hallway.

The first indication he'd been heard was a low whuffling sound, followed by a quiet "Phantom, stay."

Mason had a dog.

He froze for a moment, so suddenly that it sent a tremor through him.

"That you, son?"

His arm felt the memory of impact; he smelled blood, and kerosene.

"Need you to speak up, or I have to set Phantom loose." Mason's voice was still casual, but there was a faint edge to it.

Something choked out of him at that, and apparently it was enough.

"All right, come on in."

He rounded the corner to a tiny living room where Mason and his dog – a white German Shepherd – sat. The curtains were drawn and a small fireplace made a pocket of warmth in the surrounding chill. The dog looked up at him with panting mouth open, pink tongue sawing back and forth across its teeth. It whined once.

He belatedly realized Mason was watching him as he got up from his chair. "Let's head into the kitchen, shall we?" He motioned the dog to stay, and it settled on the threadbare hearth rug in front of the fire with a sigh.

He followed Mason into a worn but well-kept kitchen. He ignored the invitation to sit at a small table, standing behind the chair facing the door. The curtains were closed in here as well.

Mason registered his choice, then began without preliminary. "It's pneumonia. And it's serious. They've got him on oxygen, for whatever good it'll do."

.

"Pneumonia?" He had only the vaguest notion of what the disease entailed, but he knew it wasn't good. "How?"

"Danny said he'd had the flu... sometimes it can develop from that, if the body's defenses are down." Mason leaned back against the counter. "It took some doing, but Danny finally admitted to me the hours he'd been keeping... Patrols every night, rain or shine, with no end of legwork during the day. He hasn't had a good night's sleep in weeks, you know – and he's been worried about you."

"Me?"

"Yes, you. And I think I'm starting to see why."

Rorschach tensed under his gaze. "Never asked him to. Never asked for his worry, or – " He broke off, teeth clenched. "Should have paid more attention to himself."

Something flashed in Mason's eyes. In the near-hypnotic quiet of the kitchen, seconds passed in which he simply stared at Rorschach, shoulders tensed. Just as quickly his expression shifted and it drained out of him again. He sighed, passing a hand over his eyes.

"What's your name, son?"

Rorschach started slightly. "What?"

"Your name."

"Unimportant."

"Not to me."

"Why?" He didn't even try to temper the scorn. "Think I need some kind of surrogate family in this?"

Mason's eyebrows went up. "Oh, no. Nothing like that." He pushed slowly off the counter and moved closer, almost - almost leaning into his personal space. "I just want to know who I'm coming after if Danny dies."

His voice remained calm – even conversational – but at last Rorschach could see the vigilante Daniel had chosen to emulate in the older man's eyes.

And then the words hit him. "Die?"

"He's practically drowning from the fluid in his lungs." The shadow of Nite Owl faded, leaving behind a greying man beset by worry. "He's dropped at least ten pounds, and he's physically exhausted. They've given him a slew of medications, but it's a guessing game for the next few days at least as to whether or not they're even the right ones." He shook his head. "They're doing what they can for him, but the fact is a lot of this is going to come down to luck."

Rorschach knew about luck. Luck occasionally meant that a simple mugging led you to a new link in a crime ring, or that a cry for help could be answered in time. More often than not, though, luck meant the knife glanced off a rib instead of puncturing a lung, or you got loosened teeth rather than a broken jaw, or instead of a clean end, you got damage that lingered and took another piece out of you that you had to learn to live without.  He had the scars to prove just what luck could bring, and now that might be all Daniel had.

"...Kovacs." He looked up, meeting Mason's eyes. "Walter."

The first Nite Owl nodded once, slowly.

-

It was agreed that Rorschach would return in two nights, and in the meantime they would communicate via one of his message drops nearby. Rorschach was left having to trust Mason would keep his word not to use his new knowledge unless there was no other option.

It was the thought of being tracked, more than anything else, that left him feeling unpleasantly exposed as he made his way down neon-lit streets and filthy alleyways. His name itself had nothing to do with his identity; Walter Kovacs was irrelevant - Rorschach was the one who mattered. Rorschach was the instrument of just retribution, while Kovacs merely offered a disguise. He knew it confused Daniel – maybe even upset him – that Rorschach had never reciprocated in giving a civilian name. Daniel, who was brilliant and skilled before he even had Nite Owl... his name had value. He would never understand that Rorschach had already given him what was worth having.

A movement out of the corner of his eye gave him just enough time for fury at himself for woolgathering instead of paying attention to his surroundings. Then instinct took over and he twisted just far enough that the baseball bat aimed for his head only cracked into his shoulder.

There were two of them – more gang members like the ones who'd escaped, he saw, as bright pain lanced down his right arm. Instead of staggering back, as they apparently expected, he held his ground and lunged back up to grab the bat with his left hand before another swing could be taken. Snarling, he wrenched it down and leveled a kick below its owner's knee. The joint gave a satisfying crunch as it gave way, and served the additional purpose of giving the second man pause, who he now saw had a knife.

He hefted the bat, ignoring his still-useless right arm as he turned to his second target. He saw the other's uncertainty turn to fear as he advanced, and reveled in it.

He easily dodged as the knife half-heartedly swung at him, and retaliated with a blow across the gang member's arm that sent the knife clattering under a dumpster. The thug howled in pain and doubled over, cradling his arm. Another blow to the back of his head put him on the ground.

He stood over the two men – one unconscious, the other whimpering curses as he scrabbled at his disassembled knee – and felt the weight of the bat in his hand, knew how easy it would be... could feel it. The blood was roaring in his ears as he looked down. They deserved it – all of them. All the ones who preyed on others, who made the night dangerous, who made it necessary for people like him and Nite Owl to fight them and put their own lives in danger. It was their fault...

He suddenly came back to himself, looking down into the terrified eyes of the knife-wielder, who had regained consciousness and was now on his back. The man was frozen, his bludgeoned arm lying limp across his chest, looking up at the bat in Rorschach's hand which he had somehow swung up over his head.

He realized he was breathing hard, and pain was jolting through his right arm as the initial shock wore off. He thought of his earlier failed pursuit, and where it had led, and suddenly felt the weight of the past twenty-four hours crushing down on him.

He needed to be away from here. He needed to think.

The man at his feet was gibbering now, pathetic in his cowardice when only moments ago he'd tried to put a knife into him. Rorschach lowered his arm, his lip curling as he looked down at him. A confused, cautious hope crossed the other man's features and Rorschach was abruptly overcome with loathing. Seeing only the scum he and Nite Owl had fought, knowing how many more he had yet to fight, he brought his boot down on the man's good arm where it lay on the pavement, feeling bones give way under his weight. Turning, he tossed the bat aside and stalked away from the sound of screams.

.

Back in his apartment Rorschach flexed his right hand, willing away the pain. The reflection in the mirror showed a black bruise spreading from the back of his shoulder to the front – his entire upper arm and more would likely be discolored before long. He had no ice to put on it – there were cold packs in the Owl's Nest, but not here. He did have some aspirin left in his own small first aid kit. He regarded the dwindling supply and considered taking a dose, but just as quickly decided against it. The bruise would spread faster, for one thing, and he didn't know when he'd be able to get another bottle.

His windowpane rattled in a sudden gust of wind, letting in icy tendrils from outside. Rorschach looked at it a moment, then gingerly pulled his day shirt on and moved to the window. The fog of his breath on the pane confirmed his thought, and he carefully leaned as much of his injured shoulder as he could against the cold glass. The position was awkward, but effective. The shirt covered his injury; from outside, he would look like just another layabout.

He would have to change his strategy for patrols. Where he and Nite Owl could follow a similar path night after night, he would have to be unpredictable. Word was obviously out about Nite Owl falling ill, and Rorschach had made enough enemies in the criminal world to be a tempting target. They all forgot that he had begun by working alone, that he was perfectly able to take care of himself. He heard their taunts, their whispers, that Nite Owl – larger, armed, more overt in his methods – was there to take care of him, to protect him. That Rorschach was somehow soft and helpless on his own.

Stupid, all of them. They'd find that out soon enough.

Around him the building was slowly waking up. It was a Saturday, which tended to start later, but the basic patterns were still there. The blare of cartoons filtered in from one side, while drawers and cabinets opened and closed on the other. Someone was knocking on the door to the common bathroom down the hall – the water in the shower was no doubt cold already. Shouts and curses from above confirmed that the couple upstairs had begun their daily cycle of mutual abuse. Awash in their noisy banality, he briefly wished for a top-floor apartment, maybe one at the end of a hall. He would have only one neighbor to hear then – maybe two. Roof access would be easier as well, farther away from prying eyes.

The faint smell of cooking bacon wafted in from somewhere, and his stomach clenched tightly around its own emptiness. A quick calculation told him he could afford something for breakfast, but sleep had to be dealt with first. It was still too early for the stops he needed to make, and he wasn't nearly as focused as he needed to be. He realized that in addition to daydreaming, he'd been staring down at the alley below without really seeing it. Not that there was much to see... Just piles of rot plastered with rain-wrinkled posters and graffiti. Vermin crawled in and out of the refuse of daily routines and guilty habits, and he could only think how aptly they resembled their human counterparts.

His shirt was growing damp from the window's condensation and the pain was now something he could absorb into the background, so he straightened and made his way to the bed. Normally he slept on his right side, facing the door. Sleeping on his back would still require him to roll onto that side should he have to rise quickly... Scowling, he took the chair from his table and leaned it up under the doorknob as a barricade. He then tossed the pillow to the foot of the bed, tugged the sheet up to cover where it had been, and reluctantly lay down on his left side. He couldn't afford to favor his injured side for long; he would have to mend quickly.

He closed his eyes.

.

Nite Owl was falling behind again. He knew why, but he had to keep running. They were just ahead, he could see them, nearly touch them. Just a fraction of a second more and he would have them, except Nite Owl wouldn't stop coughing, and every cough pulled him back another step. The blood beneath his feet was making his footing uncertain; the men he was chasing were already slipping, going to all fours to keep moving through it. It flowed up their limbs, black clotted bits expanding and branching out into bristly fur that covered them until it was two giant dogs he was chasing, their teeth glowing white in their gaping jaws. Nite Owl was gone now but he couldn't stop, following the dogs into a yawning alley. Smoke and cinders flew through the air and he couldn't move fast enough – his limbs felt weighted down, even as his feet wouldn't stay on the ground to gain any traction. It was taking all his strength just to force his arms and legs forward as he drifted, toes barely scraping along ash-covered pavement. It was snowing, cold white flakes whipping into his face and blocking his vision. He realized they were pages of his journal – every page held a secret in his writing and they were flying everywhere, sharp-edged and slicing through his coat, his gloves as they shielded his face. This wasn't going to work, they were going to give everything away... He had to find the hiding place in his apartment again so he could get them back. He could barely see the floorboards for all the paper scattered everywhere. His feet slid and he knew if he fell, they would hear him and come in. They would see him. He had to be quiet, had to be invisible so he could find the hiding place, but the room kept getting bigger just as he thought he was getting close. He ran past doors he knew went nowhere, not fooled by them at all, until he could see the loose piece of baseboard, the one with the mark like an owl's face, but there was someone at the door. The room shook as a fist pounded on it. Growls and wet, crunching sounds were coming from out there –they were too loud, seeping in and rotting the edges of the door away. It was too flimsy; it would never hold. He scrabbled at the baseboard with clumsy, too-small hands. He couldn't let them see him, he had to get the hiding place open. Something howled just as he grasped the most important page of his journal, the one that would tell all the other pages what to do, and it was too late. The door gave way and there was nowhere to hide from the caped figure that shambled toward him. Glowing eyes pinned him in place while gnarled, clawed gauntlets reached out and something like words bubbled slowly like rotten molasses from a mouth that swung far too wide. He'd been too slow. He couldn't even struggle as he was lifted, carried so very gently to a white beast with too many limbs and a split-open head that writhed and twisted, collapsing in on itself. Something like peace descended on him. There was nothing left to do, no one who could

"help me."


The words woke him, matter-of-fact and shocking as he uttered them. The dream was already fading into amorphous shapes and the remnants of unease, leaving him to feel quizzically embarrassed about having said such a thing. Irritably he rose, testing his shoulder and finding it no worse than before. He glanced at his watch and saw that just over three hours had passed. He'd slept long enough.

-

His shirt was still damp and stuck unpleasantly to his skin. The only other shirt he had got torn during patrol last week, and he hadn't fixed it yet. There was nothing for it – he mentally shrugged and reached for his jacket. The motion and weight of the garment made his right arm complain loudly and he suppressed a wince. Berating himself yet again for his idiocy, he put it through a slow rotation, deliberately pushing just past the point of discomfort until the spikes of pain dulled and became predictable, and then carefully finished putting on the jacket. After double-checking that his things were secure, the chair went back into its place and he opened the door.

There were still a few small bills in his inner pocket – enough for the next few days, at least. He remembered rent was due in two weeks, and he would have to decide if paying it was worth more than moving somewhere cheaper. Walking down the hall with its stained floorboards and grubby paint, hearing the chatter of televisions and too-loud voices behind paper-thin walls, he reflected that there was nothing here he couldn't live without. A cheaper apartment would be dirtier, noisier, less secure... but the landlord would likely care even less about his comings and goings, and it would put him at an even better vantage point to monitor the scum who polluted his city. Moving might be the better option.

The street embraced him in its familiar daylight wave of impatience and exhaust fumes. The greys of asphalt and soot-stained brick blended into the slate-grey sky overhead, everything blurring together into one huge polluted smudge. The wind threatened a storm, so he pulled up his collar and jammed his hands into his pockets, entering the oblivious current of pedestrians.

They instinctively flowed around him without seeing him at all. Once, before he finally learned who he really was, he was subject to the same jostlings and awkward sidesteps that everyone suffered on these sidewalks. Not anymore. He moved among them, gauging and dismissing them one by one, until he reached a tiny shop tucked in among the other dingy storefronts in his neighborhood.

It was part bakery and part sandwich shop, barely large enough for its own stock much less the endless stream of customers passing through it. The food was inexpensive, and reliably the same regardless of time or date. Warm, filling – it was neither stellar nor awful, but it never promised to be something it wasn't. The aging couple who ran it, as nondescript as the fare they offered, rarely looked up from their eternal motions of preparation, sales, and cleaning. They moved with the blind certainty that years of the same actions bring, never wasting time with idle chatter or empty platitudes. Rorschach took two of the cheapest pre-made sandwiches they had, put his money into the waiting hand that extended from behind the counter, and left without having to utter a single word.

.

He ate the first sandwich as he walked, pocketing the other for later. His first errand was mildly irritating, but there was no denying his ignorance of his partner's true condition. He needed to know more, and his best option was the library. Thankfully, the one near where he lived was large and well-kept. More than once it had given him valuable insights - on abandoned subway tunnels used by gangs; on means of smuggling materials (or people) in and out of the city; on ways of treating – or causing – damage in a fight. It was one of the few ways this city actually helped him in his work, and he used it to the fullest.

As always, the quiet inside held its own atmospheric pressure, muffling and effectively fending off the chaos outside. The smell of old paper and decades of wood polish twined around faint echoes of footsteps on marble and endless pages quietly turning, and his posture relaxed the slightest fraction. It would be well over an hour before checking his message drop would be of use; the number of medical tomes listed in the card catalog assured him there would be plenty to occupy that time.

.

It was approaching midday when Rorschach emerged from the depths of the library's medical section, leaving behind scattered piles of texts and journals that would give the librarians fits to put away. He'd scoured page after page of medical jargon, only to find he hadn't made much headway at all. He'd gathered that Mason's information had at least been correct, which really only confirmed the older man's thoroughness and honesty, and that Daniel's choice in mentors had been justified. On the other hand, the data he'd read told him that Daniel truly was on his own for recovery. The only advantage a hospital held was the vague possibility of help if his condition worsened, but they would only be treating symptoms - not their cause. Even so, at least Daniel's money would get him better treatment than he might otherwise have – Had Rorschach been in his place, he would have waited in an emergency room for hours if not longer, been given some cheap drug that may have just as easily been sugar pills, and been sent on his way to heal or die on his own.

.

Back on the street, he continued toward his message drop. There was a newsstand along the way, followed by a short series of bus stops. Keeping alert as he passed, he was rewarded with a discarded weekend edition of the New Frontiersman lying abandoned on a bench. He swept it up, then walked past the waste bin that served as a message center in his investigations. There was nothing of note in it yet, though the half-full accumulation of garbage was favorable in its own way. While he valued the anonymity this method offered, digging in trash containers brought about its own amount of attention.

Off to one side there was a diner that afforded a good view of this spot, as well as bottomless cups of coffee. That, along with his newspaper, would allow him to stand watch as long as he needed.

The waitress for his section was young, wearing too much makeup and a shirt cut half an inch lower than it should have been. The dirty look she gave him said she knew he'd only be ordering coffee, and she'd be neglecting his table as much as she could get away with. That was fine – preferable, really.   Less distraction from his watch.

He gave the front page a perfunctory scan, then turned to the classified ads. The gang he and Nite Owl had been following were using this paper and others to communicate, and he only needed a few more samples to completely crack their code, he was certain.

Outside, the streams of people and cars continued unabated, hurrying blindly on in the chill air. He thought he heard thunder, and soon after that the pavement grew wet with a slow spatter of rain. The waitress passed his table and forgot not to make eye contact, so his glower forced a surly refill of his coffee.

Time passed. Slowly the margins of his newspaper filled with notes, with various sections marked for reference or as possible leads. His half-cup of cold coffee became a full lukewarm one at shift change, when a slightly less jaded but no more appropriately dressed young woman took over for that section. He automatically poured in more sugar, noting how little was left in the dispenser as he did so, when a figure outside caught his attention.

It was raining hard now – fat, cold drops that shrank people into themselves and hurried them along to escape the pelting misery of it. In the midst of the rain's curtain, contrasting slightly with the rush around him, a hunched figure walked toward Rorschach's message drop. There was no way to identify the stranger for certain – his hat and coat were both generic enough to belong to nearly anyone – but he moved just half a notch slower, more deliberately, which was what had called attention to him in the first place.

As he watched, the man paused to take a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. Turning his back to the weather, he lit one and stood for a moment while he took a few drags. As Rorschach watched, he crumpled the now-empty pack and tossed it into the trash bin. Taking one more drag, he then merged back into the rain-soaked press of the crowd.

Forty minutes later, after no sign of anyone else approaching the drop or following the other man, Rorschach carefully folded most of his newspaper into his jacket, laid some money on his table, and made his way to the door.

He still held one unmarked section of the paper in his hand, and this he took with him to the trash bin. Reaching down, he deposited the paper while palming the empty cigarette pack. He moved on, hands in pockets, hunching his shoulders against the rain.

A quick check inside his pocket confirmed the crinkle of more than just the cigarette wrapper under the cellophane. Setting his jaw, he turned the corner for the walk back to his apartment.

-

Priorities, part 1 of 2
Written for the Watchmen Kinkmeme prompt:


Daniel/Rorschach Pre Rorschach dying, back when they were still partners, Daniel is badly injured (not dying but frighteningly close) and it forces Rorschach to see that he could lose Daniel and it makes him re think his views on his feelings for Daniel. (
spam-monster.livejournal.com/8…)


The concept of moirallegiance from Homestuck grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and gave me a good shake, and this is what happened.

-Rated for violent imagery

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For anyone familiar with my AO3 presence, there won't be anything new just yet; I'm just posting the fics that I've put up there that for some reason I didn't post here.  There will be some Watchmen and some Shape of Water - enjoy! :reading:
I still exist, but it's been a while - several years, in fact! 

And, having recently been inspired to draw again, I've made a discovery that's been a bit troublesome, but not insurmountable:  Apparently, it's been long enough, and I am old enough, that my eyes have begun the transition into annoying farsightedness and I have trouble seeing things close up. :hmm:

I've been nearsighted since elementary school, to the point that anything beyond about 12 inches gets blurry.  Now, though, anything closer than 12 inches while I'm wearing my contacts is blurry!  Considering my normal drawing distance is about 7 inches from my work surface, that makes for a lot of shifting around and grabbing for reading glasses.  :XD:  Or, I have the option of sticking with my regular glasses instead of contacts when I draw, and just removing them when I need to do close-up work.  Either way, though, it's meant incorporating an extra - and cumbersome! - step in my process.

I've read that it's possible to do eye exercises to combat the condition, and that people aren't necessarily doomed to needing reading glasses all the time; it just takes a fair amount of time and consistent practice.  We'll see, I suppose.  Meanwhile, I need to upload some fics that currently only exist on AO3, and pursue the other drawing ideas that are floating around in my head.

I hope everyone has been well! :wave:

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:iconfuguestate:
FugueState Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
LOL! Nope, she completely borrowed Adrian from Watchmen; just changed the spelling of his last name. xD

I highly encourage you to read Watchmen, or at least to see the Director's Cut of the movie (it's not perfect, but it's still pretty good.) Even though it's a very different story from V for Vendetta, there are a lot of similar issues threading through it.

(and don't worry, I got your comments over there as well! ^^)
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:iconewigestudentin:
ewigestudentin Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Had to compare the names three times to find the difference :blush:

I have Watchmen on my to read list. It sounds like something right up my alley, from all the reading I've done on it (squinting my eyes all the time so that I don't accidentally get spoiled, lol)

However, a certain English gentleman occupies all my free time for now, so Watchmen will have to wait.

I got one of the real daggers just like those used for the movie delivered yesterday. What a gorgeous piece it is. I remember girls on SG swooning over V's daggers but the true eroticism of them hits you full force only when you actually hold em. *dreamy sigh*
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:iconearthboundsatyr:
EarthboundSatyr Featured By Owner Feb 24, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks. :)
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:icontoatoneart:
ToAtoneArt Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2013  Professional Writer
Thanks for the llama! :heart: Enjoy a return badge from me!

If you'd like to check out art for the book series 'Tales of Atonement', please consider joining the :icontalesofatonement: group! It gets art and info about the up coming sci-fi/fantasy novel series! :3

If you'd like to see MY official artwork for the book series, please check out my page-where art is seperated per book it's showcased in!

If you'd like to see my fanart, consider putting my fanart account, :icontheauty-sama: on watch! In the future, all new fanart will be posted there, as well as all of my fanart here will eventually be moved there, and it has art there even now! ^^

For more Tales of Atonement info, like updates, wip images not showcased on dA, and more, check these pages!

Twitter: [link]
tumblr: [link]
Blogger: [link]
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:icontimtam4:
timtam4 Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks for the llama badge :D
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:iconfuguestate:
FugueState Featured By Owner Feb 23, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
You're welcome! ^^
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:iconinywolf:
InyWolf Featured By Owner Feb 12, 2013
Thanks for the llama! :iconexcitedplz:
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:iconfuguestate:
FugueState Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
You're welcome! ^^
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babyhosey Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2013
Thanks for the llama badge.
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:iconfuguestate:
FugueState Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Y'welcome :)
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