Dan doesn’t talk much these days, not even to his ex-ex-partner. In the quiet after the screaming, in the rubble that gave birth to Utopia, there’s so very little to talk about.
He doesn’t mention the bodies that lie in black-shrouded rows in Times Square, dusted with snowflakes, the feel of a small hand in his palm as he deposits it softly, reverently, in a plastic bag. He doesn’t mention it because, what’s the point? Those murders have been solved, and all that remains is to bring them justice, and the three last masked adventurers on Planet Earth all know that it’s mostly Dan who stands in the way of that.
Accordingly, it’s just as pointless to ask Rorschach where he goes when he slips out the fire escape at night. Or to mention the tentative, feather-light touches that the two men exchange, late at night, when neither can see the other’s face. So they don’t say very much, two guys who’ve known each other for decades, communicating in single-word sentences and grunts.
They go through three apartments in the first month. The first, they leave just after the explosion takes out Pioneer Press, which Rorschach is still convinced is the work of Veidt’s mysterious agents. The second is nicer, but some of the old tenants in the building want to come back and there’s the risk of getting sighted. By the third place, they’re back to cockroaches and inconsistent heat and only the occasional dribble of water (and more through the roof rather than out the tap) but it does have the advantage of being such a rotting hole that no one would ever pass the building by and imagine that even the most desperate homeless person could stand to live in it.
When the world’s smartest man is looking over your shoulder, ready to add you to his impressive pile of corpses if you so much as breathe the wrong way, you can’t be too paranoid.
It’s December, and the city has no place for them, not like it ever did. In another world, the massive Christmas tree in front of the Rockefeller Center sparkles with 78,000 lights. In their world, they’ve only just barely cleared away the debris. Dan never liked Christmas anyway, always felt awkward at the parties. He lies on the mattress and stares at the mottled grey-brown of the cracked ceiling, shadows dancing in the light of a helicopter.
Rorschach stirs beside him. “Sleeping?”
Dan snorts, rolls over to face him. It’s as close to jumping his bones as Rorschach is ever going to get. There are rules, obviously, which Dan usually doesn’t figure out until he breaks one. No kissing, not after that first time. They’re not homosexuals, after all. No blowjobs. No eye contact. Even still, sometimes he’s too gentle and Rorschach flinches and turns away—usually at the worst possible moment—leaving Dan to deal with his uncomfortable arousal in the bathroom, irritated and hurt and wondering just what in hell was done to that guy.
This? This is not one of those times.
They don’t fit together properly. He’s used to the warm curves of a woman in his arms; Rorschach is all bony knees and elbows and sharp angles, and Dan thinks that this is right, that in the wreckage, nothing can be soft and loving and graceful ever again. He likes that the face that presses into his shoulder, scratching his skin with chipped teeth, is never the right one, is masked no matter what it looks like. He likes that it’s not comfortable. He doesn’t want to be comfortable.
He slams Rorschach into the mattress—he can feel his partner hit the floor underneath—climbs over him and feels him flail beneath, arms and legs that could incapacitate a criminal before he knew what was coming rendered suddenly clumsy. Dan bites freckled skin because he can’t be kind. He winces at the hiss of pain as he takes the smaller man, too roughly, too soon, not enough lubrication, but he’s not being pushed away and he’s too gone to really care anyway.
Man, he thinks, in a split-second moment of lucidity before something inside him spasms and bursts, We’re kind of fucked-up.
And somehow in all of this he manages to twist Rorschach over so that they’re face to face; he’s about to come, they probably both are, and he breaks one of those rules and stares into his partner’s ink-black eyes.
It’s not like Rorschach has become less ugly or ill-tempered since Karnak, and he’s not about to redeemed by the love or, okay, maybe just the lust, of a good man. He’s not like that. It’s more that he’s exactly the same, violent and broken and it drives Dan insane but vulnerability is almost as much as a turn-on as a costume. Rorschach would probably kill him if he knew that.
The abyss gazes back at him. Doesn’t understand it, understands so many things, but doesn’t get being wanted. Doesn’t think such things are possible.
But for a moment there’s something there, and Dan strokes the side of his face, notices the roots beneath the faded dark curls. It’s almost tender, and then Rorschach jerks away from him and curls up facing the wall.
Dan drifts off for a few hours, and when he wakes up, the apartment is filled with the cold blue light of dawn. He’s alone. He curses under his breath and stares at the indent in the mattress beside him, rolls over and stares at the cracked ceiling, and then, too late like goddamned always, notices the headline on yesterday’s Gazette, crumpled with the past week’s newspapers on the floor.
You’d think the appearance of a washed-up retired superhero wouldn’t be front-page news in a city flattened by an alien monster only a month earlier. But this is Utopia, after all, and the rules are different. When something nice happens, like the return of said retired superhero for a benefit performance in Times Square to boost the spirits of the survivors and raise money for the reconstruction effort—well. It’s a different world, now, even for journalists. A more loving world.
Dan’s fist goes into the wall and flecks of plaster, like snowflakes, like ashes, flutter around his head.
“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” – attributed to Joseph StalinFor five weeks, Broadway and Seventh has been a graveyard, the heart of the city turned still and cold. It’s appropriate, Dan thinks, and equally appropriate that they’ve moved the salvage site somewhere more convenient and hidden, clearing out all the corpses in less than 24 hours. It’s amazing what you can do with enough money and the proper incentives. Adrien Veidt, the great Ozymandias, pities New York. His heart bleeds for it, just like his heart bleeds for every other savaged and starving part of the world, but God forbid that he should be brought face-to-face with the visceral, stinking afterbirth of his creation.
Dan pulls up the floorboard by the bathroom, reaches down into the dust and retrieves his goggles. The other mask, that’s gone of course, and the fedora, and the awful smelling trenchcoat with the bloodstain. He should have made Rorschach throw them out in exchange for shaving off his mustache.
He laughs at that thought—as though he could ever possibly make Rorschach do anything. Especially that. He might be wearing a mask on top of a mask, but Dan never kids himself that he’s doing anything other than biding time underneath.
Last night was a goodbye. Rorschach was trying to be nice.
Dan sits there for a long time, flipping the goggles over and over in his hands. By daylight, they’re ridiculous, incapable of saving anything, or anyone. He checks the time in the paper again.
Part of him—and he doesn’t like this part, he tries to smother it but it whispers to him anyway—wants to stand by and do nothing. Let the truth win out, let Rorschach do whatever horrible thing he has planned. People will die, and there’s already been so much death that the prospect of more killing seems unreal to him. How can it matter? How can more bodies tip Utopia’s precarious balance and send the world hurtling back into war and misery?
Except that he knows he can’t do nothing, and it’s not because of any promise he made to Veidt. It’s not—and this is what he hates the most—even really about saving the world anymore.
Downtown, they’re setting up a stage. It’s impressive. In ancient Egypt, it’d have taken hundreds of slaves to raise those pyramids, to string highwires between buildings, to stand guard around an assembling crowd to protect the coming Pharaoh and clear his path. Here, it takes only dozens of volunteers, eager to do anything that isn’t digging out bodies and glistening slabs of alien meat.
Today, the city hums with electricity. Veidt has reached into its squelching despair and given it a sense of purpose. Watching from a rooftop, Dan can’t remember the last time he saw so many people out on the streets. He blinks, like he’s stepping out from a cave into a circus of neon violet and acid green. The city puts on a new face for its savior.
There’s no way to find Rorschach, not in this mess, and especially not if he doesn’t want to be found. And Dan doesn’t know what he’d do even if he did manage to find him. It’s not as though Dan is going to be able to talk him out of it.
Like the gears of the massive clock that looms above him, the events of the day, set in motion long before this moment, slide into place. It’s easy to think that he had no role in this. It’s always been someone else’s plans—Veidt’s plans, Rorschach’s plans, Nixon’s or Gorbachev’s or Keene’s or some faceless bureaucrat’s, bent over a map in a war room somewhere. Never Dan’s. He’s too preoccupied, too concerned with the human, the mundane, one life against the lives of countless others.
He breathes in, the air cold in his lungs. It smells, not of blood and ash, not of Nostalgia, but of Millennium. He slips down a rusting staircase, into familiar shadows. He passes an old woman who offers to tell his fortune and he ignores her but on the table he can see tarot cards, the Tower and the Hanged Man. There was never a chance that he could stand in the way of fate, and never a chance that he wasn’t going to try anyway.
The thing is, Dan thinks as his arm curls around the throat of one of Veidt’s security guards, peace tends to result in a certain sense of complacency. In a world purged of sin, you don’t see the snake in the garden because you’re not really expecting to see one. Who wants to tamper with perfection like this?
The man chokes and gags and goes unconscious and, in a fit of self-deprecation, Dan wonders why he ever bothered with the whole masked adventurer routine in the first place. There are easier disguises that one can find in which to fight evil.
Dressed in another man’s skin, the weight of a gun against his hip, Dan puts on his best pleasant smile and steps into the light.
Crowds trust a man in a uniform. It renders Dan anonymous, even if he hasn’t brushed his teeth in days, even if his skin is grimy and his eyes hollow. They are still reassured. He assumes the role easily—the city’s protector. He thinks he might be that much, even now. He pushes forward and people step aside for him. He is someone important.
It’s hard to strike the right note of solemnity and resolve, but Veidt tries admirably. There are no pyrotechnics when people cringe in fear of explosions. Veidt enters to red and blue spotlights that cross over his flawless features and beam up to the sky in defiance, to Gershwin’s Rhapsody and a round of applause. He swings effortlessly from the highwires and his acrobatics somehow manage a sense of gravitas. This is Man, perfected, even in the ruins, the spirit of progress and hope.
As he watches, Dan sort of still wants to believe in him.
This is where his plan falls apart. As Veidt lands with a flourish, arms extended to the brave people of New York City, there’s still no sign of Rorschach. Even as Veidt addresses the crowd, head half-bowed but proud nevertheless, as he asks the world to pray for the shattered city, for a nation and a world that grieves for its lost children, as he reassures those who go on with their lives, who stand strong in their resolve for justice and peace, Dan scans the faces in the crowd and sees nothing.
Beside him, a young man wraps his arms around his girlfriend; a father lifts his daughter onto his shoulders to watch the spectacle.
The music resumes. Veidt springs into the air, dances above Times Square, in the spaces between buildings and the beams of the spotlights. Dan is so entranced that it’s some time before he notices the other figure, lithe and dark, that echoes Veidt’s leaps and falls. It could be Veidt’s shadow against the giant clock, invisible in the brightness of the Sun God.
Dan just thinks: Oh. Fuck. No.
Veidt has no doubt noticed that he’s no longer alone above the city, his hyperaware senses picking up on the stresses and tensions in the wires even before he sees Rorschach fly at him. He blocks the punch, and he’s almost fast enough to knock his attacker clean of the highwires, except that the one thing that the world’s smartest man can’t see coming is the world’s stupidest ambush. The smaller man barrels into him and he catches his grip on another wire, thrown off balance, bringing his knees up in a swift kick.
Even from where he stands, helpless below the stage, Dan sees the inkblots coalesce into a shape that looks like broad grin. Rorschach has been waiting a long time for this.
The couple standing near him both gasp; he exchanges a glance with another security guard a few yards away. No one knows if this is part of the show or not—if it is, it’s in very poor taste and why wouldn’t Veidt inform anyone if he was planning a stunt like this—still, they’re almost coordinated enough, each man narrowly dodging the other’s blows as they chase up and down the wires like cats above an alley, that it looks choreographed.
Dan swallows past a lump in his throat. Rorschach is amazing, feral and snarling and almost beautiful like this, silhouetted in crimson and absolutely relentless. But he isn’t a match for Veidt any more than both of them, together, were in Antarctica. Dan edges closer to the stage, reaches for his gun. He sees the other guard do the same thing, arm wavering. Both of the fighters are too close, too fast, and there are too many innocent civilians around for an ordinary mortal to get a clear shot.
There’s nothing he can do except watch, paralyzed and transfixed.
One of the wires pops free, then another, cut by an unseen knife, and Veidt swings across the stage, skimming the head of a golden sphinx. Rorschach grabs him and hauls him over a tangle of broken wires, coils around him with a penknife at his throat and hisses into the microphone on his lapel.
“Tell them, Veidt. Tell them what you did.”
In the hush before Dan hears the shot ring out, before the splash of blood on spandex, they hang together, suspended above the stage in a demented spider’s web of crisscrossed wires, a parody of a lover’s embrace. Hiroshima’s shadows, sketched in red spotlights, cast onto the motionless city as it holds its breath.
They stay like that, for seconds, forever, until one of Veidt’s security guards realizes that he has a clear line of sight. Rorschach slides against Veidt’s chest and they both plummet downwards, caught up in severed wires, framed in red.
Amazingpic by amazing badra1018.