Warnings: AU, post-GN (spoilers for same)
Disclaimer: Sing it with me now!
Alan Moore, he had a book,
And in that book, there were hot guys,
And I don't own them, so please don't sue,
Here a "don't," there a "sue," everywhere a "don't sue,"
Please don't sue me, 'cause I'm broke,
Summary: What if Rorschach had decided differently in the wreckage of Karnak? Why would he make such a choice, and what would it mean for himself, Daniel and Veidt's brave new world?
Author's Notes: Third chapter of four, we’re almost there, folks. Apologies in advance to any Adrian Veidt fans; while I do love him dearly, megalomaniacal pseudo-messiah that he is, I can’t help but imagine that his attempt at a “stronger loving world” would turn out a lot like a different Alan Moore graphic novel (in b4 WRONG COUNTRY, BETCH). Also, apologies for my meandering threads o’ symbolism. If all goes according to plan, chapter four should wrap them up and (hopefully) answer any and all questions in the reader’s mind.
Thank you again to all of my reviewers! Your interest helps to keep me going, and I hope that you continue to enjoy my efforts!
Part 1 - "But for me, you would make an exception..."
Part 2 - "Those were the reasons, and that was New York..."
3. "we are ugly, but we have the music"
There wasn't any hope. But there was life, and the hope that hope would come.
President Nixon and FEMA finally decided to stop peace talks with Russia long enough to deal with their own devastated city. National Guard convoys escorted in scores of semi-trucks, bearing food and fresh water and blankets for the survivors, most of the trailers stamped with a familiar purple "V." Dan swallowed at the sight; of course Veidt's hand would be in this, guiding his new utopia through its labor pangs. Standing in the water line, Dan cast a quick glance over his shoulder, judging Walter's reaction, but there was nothing there to judge. Walter's freckled face was impassive, blank as any mask. Dan didn't know if this was a good thing or not.
High, reedy shouts sounded from behind them, further down the line, followed by running sneakers on concrete. "Robbie! Robbie, give it back, that's mine!"
Before Dan could process what was going on, Walter's hand shot out to the side and grasped a running boy mid-stride, pulling him back by the collar. The boy was about eight years old, blond, plump and dirty, staring up at Walter with a mixture of terror and defiance with two Hershey bars clenched in his fist.
"Robbie!" The voice cried again, and a tiny girl caught up to the scene, younger than the boy, perhaps six. Just as blond, just as dirty; a sister, perhaps? "Robbie, you jerkface, that's mine!"
Walter looked down at the two candy bars in Robbie's fist, his mouth tightening slightly at the corners. "Hurm. Ration packs only come with one of those," he said flatly. "Where'd you get the other one?"
"Fuck you, faggot!" the boy shouted, his voice shrill with youth and defensiveness.
"It's mine!" Robbie's sister cried, pointing a dramatic finger. "He stole it from me!"
Walter made another, lower noise in the back of his throat, one that Dan recognized. One that frightened him. "Hey, come on now, Ror- Walter," he said, low and calm, praying that he was talking to Walter, praying that what he was imagining wouldn't happened, afraid of what it would mean.
But it didn't happen. Instead, Walter's free hand shot out and snatched both candy bars from the boy's grasp, tucking them into his trenchcoat pocket over Robbie's protests. Finally, he reached out, seized Robbie's ear with his free hand and twisted sharply before pushing the boy away.
Robbie howled, more in surprise than in pain. "Ow! That hurt, you fucking Mick!"
"Nothing broken," Walter said in reply, his voice unchanging. "Stealing is wrong. Do it again, you get worse. Get back in line."
Robbie sniffed, then spat half-heartedly on the ground at Walter's feet before trudging away, sneakers scuffing over cold concrete.
The little girl stood with eyes and mouth wide, staring at Walter in near reverence. "Wow," she said, "that was so cool! I mean, Robbie's such a nancy; he does that to me all the time. Serves him right, jerkface." She scuffed her own sneakers over the asphault and asked, suddenly shy, "Um, can I have my Hershey bar back, mister?"
And then, a miracle. Walter's mouth quirked at one end, just enough for Dan to notice, before he reached into his pocket and pulled out both bars. "Here."
"Hey, thanks!" Her brown eyes lit up at the sight of her windfall, tucking them away into the pocket of her downy coat.
"Where are your parents?" Dan couldn't help asking, fearing the answer.
The girl jerked a thumb over her tiny shoulder. "By the clothes washers." Thank God, thank God, they aren't alone. "Mom and Dad told me and Robbie to keep their spots in line. Dad said we could eat our Hershey's before dinner just this once, and then Robbie stole mine and ran away." She smiled widely, a hopscotch of missing baby teeth, as rare and beautiful as a rose on a dungheap. Dan wondered if she really understood what was going on, what was being held from her. "I bet he won't do it again!" As if remembering her manners, the little girl turned to Walter again, extending a careful hand. "My name is June," she said solemnly. "What's yours?"
Walter tucked his hands back into his pockets, looking pointedly at her hand. "Shouldn't talk to strangers," he said instead. "Go get back in line."
June's smile fell, but then brightened again. "But you're not a stranger," she insisted. "You saved my candy bar. You're a hero, like Ozy... Ozymandias!" Dan couldn't suppress a wince. Walter did nothing.
Calls of "June? Juuuune!" were heard from behind them, and the little girl turned to go. "Bye, Mr. Hero!" she called over her shoulder. "Thanks again!"
The man behind Walter, a broad Slav with a wide nose and crooked teeth, chuckled to himself. "Cute kid," he said genially. "Glad you gave that little bastard what for, eh? He needs to learn how to behave."
"Everyone does," Walter said flatly, more to himself than anyone else. "Morality must be learned, chosen. Not born into people. Against human nature."
And Dan wanted to say something to that, something to bring back the tiny flame that June had lit in his eyes, but the Red Cross volunteer called for him to get his water ration, and Dan had to step away.
They decided to stay. They could have left New York easily. Dan had managed his father's fortune well over the years, living a simple life on the generated interest and leaving the principle investments largely untouched (unless Archie needed some large and custom part that he couldn't build himself, but that was very rare). They could have gone somewhere quiet and secluded, surrounded by green, growing things where no one knew they were ex-vigilantes or escaped felons or anyone but refugees from a dead world, the horror of stained concrete far from their minds. But they stayed, volunteering for clean-up crews, going door-to-door like gruesome evangelists to wrap the dead in plastic, too late to warm them with bloodless pamphlets that the end was nigh. For who would care about who they were, who they had been? That slate had been wiped clean. The end had already come. (Except for one last piece.)
In the cold days after Thanksgiving, the billboards started going up. Dan sat on the curbside outside a half-cleaned tenement building, their crew breaking for lunch, unwrapping cold turkey sandwiches with too much mayonnaise, no one glancing at the growing stack of bagged corpses ready to be shipped out to the cremation pits in New Jersey, just more trash. Those first few days, Dan had been sure that he'd never eat again. But now, after a month's worth of heavy lifting and carrying to whet his appetite (he was almost back to his old crimefighting weight), he was starving. Amazing, what the mind can become accustomed to. Amazing, how normal can be whatever we want.
Dan didn't want to look at the billboard, but it was look at that, the stack of corpses, or Walter (who was sat at Dan's side, zealously devouring his own sandwich and growling under his breath at Dan's scrutiny of him). It towered over them, above the tenements, a blond couple dressed in togas looking bravely out to the horizon, the word "Millenium" emblazoned with Veidt's purple "V" beneath their pale, perfect bodies. Literal poster children of the utopia, heralds of Veidt's perfect world.
Only after Walter made a grunt of disagreement did Dan realize he'd spoken aloud. "Not perfect," he said simply, licking crumbs from his fingers.
The sheer obviousness of the statement made Dan perversely amused. "Oh, good heavens," he asked with a scandalized flourish, "whatever would make you say that?"
Dan expected commentary on the muggings and rapes that were still perpetrated despite Veidt's insistence otherwise, though the numbers had sharply declined (whispers were bandied about of armed men in black suits dispatching new gangs with lethal force, quiet vigilantes on which the newspapers were remarkably silent). He expected Walter to say something about the essential nature of man, how they were all animals imposing order upon chaos, denying their true natures. Something like that. Instead, Walter scratched the fiery curls at his temple in apparent thought. "Perfect world?" he echoed. "Be taller." He nudged Dan's ribs with his elbow, where he carried the last traces of his retirement weight, and added, "Be prettier."
Dan nearly choked on the last bite of sandwich. He turned to Walter, not believing his ears, but the smaller man's face was studiously blank... except for a tiny upward quirk at the corner of his mouth. Dan grinned in response. "Asshole," he said, shoving Walter's shoulder with one hand.
Then, in the space between one breath and the next, Dan was lying on his back on the clean, cold concrete, an ache blossoming in his chest where Walter's forearm has swept out and knocked him flat. Coughing, he looked up at Walter, red hair burning bright against the gray November sky, and the other man looked just as surprised as Dan. "Sorry," Walter said, sounding almost sheepish. "Force of habit."
And at that, Dan started laughing. He laughed at the thought of how far they had come from Karnak, how far they'd both come, alone and together. He laughed for hope, hope for the world, that there was still hope for it, with or without Veidt's masterful plan to guide it, hope that Laurie and Jon were happy, wherever they were, and that Hollis was in a better place, wherever he was. And he laughed because he was alive, and no matter what happened in the world, he was still alive to have his asshole best friend made snide remarks about his weight and knock him on his ass, and damn, damn, it felt good. And out of the corner of his eye, he could see Walter chuckling as well.
"Come on, funny guys," the foreman called with a smile, "back to work. Nice to know there's still stuff to laugh about."
A month into the new year, and Dan continued to be surprised by Walter. Or rather, he continued to be surprised at how different Walter was from Rorschach.
The important things remained the same. The passion for justice and what was right, that didn't change. He still had the same deadly efficiency when they went out nights (not on patrol, good heavens, did you think they were vigilantes? Just two gentlemen, armed with advanced gadgetry, out for an occasional stroll in the wee hours of the morning through the less reputable neighborhoods, and if they happened to stumble upon a crime in progress, well then, it was their civic duty to intervene). And his sweet tooth remained, though it had shifted from stolen sugar cubes to old Mrs. Starsky's peach cobbler, which she made for them on a regular basis after Walter had repaired her old sewing machine.
And that was part of the difference. Rorschach had broken fingers. Walter repaired sewing machines. Rorschach had spent the majority of his time scouring sewers and alleys. Walter tinkered with Dan in Hollis' garage, now technically Dan's garage as the old crimefighter had willed it to his protege. Rorschach had read nothing but the New Frontiersman with the single-minded fervor of the paranoid. Walter... still read the New Frontiersman, but he also read other things, for no reason but enjoyment. And when the nightmares started to really get to Dan, waking him to scream in the hours before dawn, he would curl up in bed as close to Walter as he dared, and his friend would read aloud to him, usually from a Chandler novel. Walter had a horrible reading voice, flat and monotonous, but as Dan lay in bed, the first gray strands of winter light curling over the horizon, the gravelly murmur drained all of his tension away and never failed to send him right back to sleep.
Rorschach had seemed allergic to water. Walter (once the utilities were restored) showered every night.
"Giggling, Daniel," Walter accused over the hiss of the spray, head poking out from behind the curtain, frothy water dripping from dark, limp curls. "Grown man. Should be ashamed. What's so funny?"
Dan spit his mouthful of toothpaste suds into the sink and tried to quiet his laughter. "Oh, nothing, nothing," he said after rinsing his mouth. "I just remembered..." Propping himself with a hip against the sink, he smirked at Walter. "Didn't you once swear up and down that the fluoride in city water was all part of a Zionist conspiracy to give everyone cancer?"
Walter glared at Dan. "Hurm. True then. True now." He ducked back behind the shower curtain.
"Then why are you in there every night?" Dan called through the plastic barrier. "Not that I'm complaining, mind you, it's just-"
An irritated growl sounded, echoing slightly off shower tiles, and Dan decided to let it drop. Which made it all the more surprising when Walter spoke again. "Should be dead, Daniel."
The hiss of water was the only noise, drowning out Dan's sharp intake of breath. "Wait, what do you-"
"Should be dead, Daniel," Walter interrupted, still hidden from sight, as if the illusion of concealment was the only thing allowing him to speak. "You, me, Miss Juspecyzk, all of us. Dead in Antarctica. Blood on snow. The end. Veidt never should have let us go, but he did. And we should have..." A sigh, faint but heavy with choices and consequences. "Should be dead, but we're not. Makes this... borrowed time. Surplus. How we use it doesn't matter." He exhaled sharply, not quite a laugh. "Cancer least of our worries. Might as well be clean. Might as well-"
The rattle of the shower curtain cut Walter off in mid-sentence as Dan, heart breaking as he had stripped off his sleep clothes, stepped into the shower stall, hot water causing a sudden blush of pink where it hit his chest.
Walter backed as far away as he could, shoulders pressed to tile, fists clenched but not raised, not yet. "What are you doing, Daniel?"
"I'm agreeing with you," Dan replied solemnly, as if he wasn't naked in a shower stall, invading his best friend's near-sacred personal space, flirting with broken bones. "You're absolutely right. We're alive, and we should take all of the opportunities we have. All of them." And he opened his arms in invitation.
Walter glared up at him, hands and teeth locked tight, as if he meant to take Dan apart with the sheer force of his gaze. But then he stood a bit straighter, seeming to come to a decision, and stepped forward, the fury not gone from his face. For a brief, terrifying second, Dan was afraid, afraid that he'd pushed too far, that this was the last straw for their fragile equilibrium and that he would pay for his transgression in bruises and bones. Instead, Walter nearly lunged into Dan, corded arms locking around his taller friend, gripping in something between an embrace and a wrestling hold. Dan could feel his ribcage tighten with the press of it, could feel the aftershocks of the impact rocking him back on his heels, could feel the hot gasp of breath against the hollow of neck and shoulder where Walter had hid his face. And Dan wrapped his own arms around Walter in response, gripping just as fiercely, just as desperately, a pair of shipwreck victims clinging to broken driftwood, praying that it would keep them afloat.
And the water rained down, down, removing the dirt but not the stain.
That night, Walter was almost desperate in his lovemaking. Dan had learned quickly that Walter didn't like to be touched anymore than Rorschach did, at least without permission. He kept his distance even in bed, keeping steadfastly to his own half, waiting patiently for Walter to hear his silent entreaty and grant him permission (and Walter was very good at listening to Dan, catching his eyes across the expanse of mattress, across the breakfast table, across the garage where Walter sat bent over a worktable, before nodding slightly and closing his eyes, arching just the slightest bit as Dan's fingers traced the map of freckles and scars before him).
So Dan had contented himself with always making the first overture, satisfying himself with whatever answer he received, careful not to push any further than their unspoken contract allowed. But this night, Walter had reached across the divide himself, gently tracing the groove his glasses made in the bridge of his nose before kissing him not gently at all. Their coupling was clumsy and awkward, almost vicious in its force, as if Walter had suddenly unlearned all of the finesse and technique he'd picked up over the two months, but Dan (helpless and gasping under the sudden onslaught of sensation, good, too good, too much) couldn't bring himself to complain. And in the quiet aftermath, when he dared to reach across the re-established borders and card his fingers through clean ginger hair without waking the sleeper attached to it, Dan thought about choices. Over their two months of borrowed time, he had been thinking about them a great deal.
Walter had been right: they should have died in Karnak, in the wreckage of Adrian's terrible choice. But they'd all made choices of their own, silence in exchange for peace, and so they lived. Silence in exchange for peace had seemed easy at the time, cheap, a bargain too good to question. But there was no peace; crime still ran rampant in New York City, gangs raping and murdering their way through dilapidated neighborhoods, theives and looters taking from those that had and those that had not alike. A curfew had been implemented at the suggestion of concerned citizen Adrian Veidt, currently in talks about his candidacy for American president. Stories of the black-suited men were growing, passed by word-of-mouth since none of the newspapers would talk about them (except for the New Frontiersman; Daniel had actually taken to reading their local news section when Walter was done with it, apologizing to his ancestors all the while). Human nature was performing to type, breaking like weeds through the concrete of peace, ruining the illusion. Veidt's test-tube utopia was slipping through his fingers, and his response was to tighten his grip. This isn't peace. This is the absence of free will. This is tyrrany.
And if there was no peace, there would be no silence.
Tomorrow, Dan decided. Tomorrow, they would correct the mistake that they had made, that they had all made. Years ago, Dan had secretly created emergency identities for all of the Crimebusters save Dr. Manhattan (even Ozymandias, how ironic that was now). Those false names and a cheap box of hair dye would bear both him and Walter away from this wreckage, out of the city that had forsaken them both, spreading its legs for a lover that choked it to death. They would go west, to the green growing place, wherever it was. They would hide there and, when it was safe, when the trail had gone cold, they would send the truth to New York City, to the United States, to the world, halting the spread of infection before a limb had to be severed. And they would live to correct the compromise that saved their lives, live to see the truth told, and humanity would be free from enforced peace, free to make their own choices and mistakes for good or for ill. Justice would be done.
He raised his hand from Walter's hair, ready to shake him (gently, cautiously) into wakefulness, to tell him about this new and wonderful plan, but Walter made a questioning sigh before settling deeper into the sheets, his untroubled breathing growing heavier, and Dan couldn't bear to wake him. Tomorrow, he thought again, closing his eyes with a smile. I'll tell him tomorrow.
The next morning, Dan was horrified to find the bed cold, the closet and pantry raided, the brownstone empty, and Walter gone. He shouldn't have been.
He should have known better.
Comments and constructive criticism still greatly appreciated!