Dan reaches the edge of the riser, panting, shaking like a dope fiend. Over the floor of the stage he can look up, even though he doesn’t want to, and sees the slow swing of the two entangled forms, trapped in the web and each other’s death grip. With considerable effort, Veidt manages to extract himself, squeezing past the cables wrapped around his body to balance precariously on the intact wire above. He reaches down and, without hesitation or mercy, rips off the inkblot mask. Even as close as Dan is, all he can see is a mass of dark hair and a bloody face. It’s all anyone can see.
“It’s not him,” Veidt says, quietly, but the mic is still on, so of course everyone else can hear too. “Not Kovacs, I mean. It’s some other crazy with a mask. Get him out of here.”
Dan freezes—what exactly is Veidt playing at?—and then, even though he knows he’s probably going to die for it, climbs over the stage. It’s not as though he has anything to lose now. He puts his hand out to stop the guard behind him. He’s in charge. No one knows him, but he’s in a uniform and he’s giving out orders so he’s clearly in command. He doesn’t meet Veidt’s eyes; just hauls himself up into the nets and across the wires to where Rorschach hangs, arms still draped across the cables.
“It’s okay, sir.” He doesn’t think that he can disguise the tremor in his voice, thinks that Veidt must hear it, must recognize him, but out of the corner of his eyes, he sees the man nod. “We’ll take it from here.”
Veidt thanks him, ever so polite, and lands, light as a cat, at the front of the stage. Dan can hear him talking again, blathering on about the enemies of peace and freedom. Dan doesn’t care. Blood pulses in his ears as he catches his motionless partner.
Someone is muttering, “please don’t be dead, you stupid asshole,” and Dan realizes that it’s him. He bites his lip and touches his partner’s pale neck, there’s heat there, and a fluttering pulse, and he can barely see through the tears blurring his vision.
“Goddamn it, Rorschach.”
Rorschach’s dark eyes slide open and take a moment to focus on his face. “Hold me.”
Dan wraps him in a gentle hug, wary of the liquid heat that bubbles over his hands, of causing his injured friend any more pain.
“Hell of a time to get romantic.” Not like he isn’t so terribly, terribly grateful.
Rorschach grunts out: “Hurm. No. Mean it literally.” In a swift series of motions, he grabs Dan’s gun, fires into the cable above their heads, and they’re yanked up into the air again as it snaps. Dan clings to his partner for dear life as they swing high above the crowd and smash through the window of an office building overlooking the square.
For a moment he’s sprawled there, bruised and bleeding, Rorschach a dead weight against his chest. The back of his trenchcoat is slick with blood. The thick canvas probably slowed the bullet at least a bit, and it wasn’t at close range, but God, he’s not moving and his breath comes in pained wheezes and Dan is gripped by terror again as he rolls his partner onto his side, wads up his jacket and presses it against the wound. Outside, he hears sirens rising to a wail.
“What were you thinking?”
Rorschach coughs. “Got out. Good plan.”
“No, that was a bad plan. Probably the worst plan ever, which is saying a lot. You could have been killed.”
Rorschach struggles weakly under his hands, trying to get up. Dan keeps him pinned down against the grey industrial carpet. “Wasn’t.”
“I might not have been there. I might not even have figured it out in time…”
His partner’s eyes slide shut again, and Dan shakes him, tries to keep him awake. He murmurs something and then says, “You did. Always do.”
There’s something in his voice that rattles Dan, some ghost of expression, a relic of a man who died a decade earlier. He’s imagining it, probably. Kovacs doesn’t exist, but for a while, the man who replaced him lets his mask slip a little, lets himself be held. The red curls at the back of his neck tremble with each of Dan’s breaths. He’s tiring quickly, and Dan starts thinking about escape routes, hospitals, safe houses, and how he’s ever going to set up new identities for them, assuming that they survive the night. The cops will be on them soon. He feels them closing in, red and blue gleaming through the splintered glass of the window.
“Rorschach. We have to go.”
“Mffg.” He manages to pull himself up, leaning heavily on Dan, groggy with blood loss. “The New Frontiersman?” he asks suddenly.
It’s not really the conversation that Dan wants to have right now, but if it keeps his partner conscious and fighting… “How long have you known?”
“Veidt didn’t know about journal. Had no motive. You did.”
“Oh.” He feels like an idiot. “It wasn’t to protect him.”
“Yeah,” Dan says. “You can punish me for it later if that gives you a reason to hang on.” He slings Rorschach’s good arm around his shoulders and half-carries, half-drags him across the floor.
“Will do that,” Rorschach mutters, and Dan isn’t entirely sure that he’s kidding.