A/N: Aside from including this here author's note & disclaimer I've also made some changes to the first chapter. [Proofread. Always proofread!] I was in kind of a hurry to get it posted and still make the weekend matinee of the Watchmen movie, which I hadn't seen yet (I give it a B). Jackie Earle Haley utterly rules as Rorschach! Therefore this story, though definitely AU, is going to have some influences from said flick as well as the original graphic novel. Hope ya like it.
Oh, one more thing. The story's title is taken from the lyrics of Duran Duran's song "Come Undone."
Disclaimer: I do not own Watchmen or any of its characters.
THE END IS NIGH
Chloe gazed up at the moving sign. "The end of what?" she asked, meeting the bearer's icy stare without any noticeable discomfort.
The shabby redhead searched the middle-aged black woman's features for any indications of mockery. Finding none, he reluctantly answered, "The world."
A fleeting expression of annoyance before cold detachment returned. "What?"
"Which world? Yours? Mine?" She gestured to the milling crowds passing them on either side like a river. "Theirs? I mean, what is 'The World,' but the sum of our perceptions?"
It bothered him that this actually made sense. "Everyone's."
The corners of her mouth quirked up in an almost-smile. "Well then, I guess there's nothing left to worry about." Chloe sauntered off, throwing a coy glance over her shoulder.
Walter Kovacs watched the woman's retreating back in puzzlement. "Hurm."
It had been a slow morning at the free clinic. Slow enough for Chloe to make a rare excursion to the little book store eight blocks away and buy a paperback, which now rested in the large outer pocket of her old tweed jacket. Getting back, however, she discovered a line stretching down the street from the clinic's front door. Harried welfare mothers herded screaming kids, homeless men coughed wetly, trembling junkies stared with empty eyes. Chloe hurried through the bustle and squeezed through the door. She quickly stowed her coat in the tiny coat closet, stuffed the pockets of her light blue scrubs with extra latex gloves, and took her place at the third station. The other two volunteer nurses cast her grateful looks.
"Thank God!" Rachel gushed. "Place is turnin' into a zoo."
"Next!" Chloe barked. A twenty-something girl with tangled blonde hair, thin to the point of emaciation, shuffled forward cradling her left arm. Chloe gently peeled back the sleeve to reveal angry red track marks and a puncture wound black with infection. Stifling a quiet sigh, she cleaned and bandaged the wound and administered antibiotics, admonishing the girl not to aggravate it (in other words, shoot up elsewhere). She then gave the girl a box of new syringes with a guilty pang, knowing she was an enabler. Knowing the girl would accept no other help.
So the day went, offering band-aids and antibiotics, vaccines and stitches to the poor and the desperate. In more severe cases, she advised they go to the emergency room or come back the next day, Wednesday--one of two days a week when an actual doctor volunteered some hours at the clinic. The flow of patients gradually slowed. Six o'clock rolled around. Rachel and Maria headed home, it being Chloe's day to work the late shift. Finally, finally, the last patient shuffled out at nine-thirty. Chloe hurried to lock the door and flipped the sign: FREE CLINIC IS CLOSED, PLEASE RETURN TOMORROW; with the clinic's hours listed below. She turned off the interior lights, collected her coat from the closet, and made her exhausted trek up the back stairs to the little apartment she kept on the building's second floor.
"Efficiency," is how the advertisement would label it, if she were to ever move. An L-shaped room with a bed, a chair, a TV, and a little kitchenette. A narrow hallway led to the closet-sized bathroom with its toilet and shower stall. Chloe stripped out of her soiled scrubs, tossed them absently into the laundry basket, and headed for the bathroom for her nightly shower. Afterwards, in a long T-shirt and wrapped in her faded blue terrycloth robe, she heated a can of soup on her little stove and slurped it down, brushed her teeth, and crawled into bed. The ever present background noise of the city--barking dogs, distant shouts, police sirens--soon lulled her into a dreamless sleep.
Stupid. Should have watched for second man. Not enough sleep. Slow, sluggish. Like blood seeping through my fingers; sluggish. Can't go to hospital. Too far from Dreiberg's home. There. Free clinic. Run by bleeding hearts. Giving band-aids and aspirin to junkies and whores. Helping such lowlifes, must know when to keep quiet. Heard talk; volunteer lives there. Bleeding heart. Bleeding man. Find fire escape. Too weak to climb quietly. Stumble. Glass pane rattles but doesn't break. Light flips on. Startled face in window. Woman, black, long curly hair going gray. Woman who talked to Kovacs. Window opens. Foolish. Could be murderer, rapist. Wave of dizziness hits. Legs weak. Slipping, falling. Dying…
She knew who he was. How could she not? His non-face was everywhere; in newspapers, wanted posters. Rorschach the vigilante, the killer. He was wounded; stabbed in the gut. The sight of all that blood triggered Chloe's nursing instincts, banishing all qualms. It didn't matter that this strange man had barged in through her bedroom window in the middle of the night. Didn't matter that she was alone, wearing nothing but a T-shirt, with a known violent criminal in her home. At that moment, he became her patient. She helped him through her window, surprised this larger-than-life vigilante was so slight of build. He groaned as she dragged him to her bed, unconcerned by the fact that his blood was ruining her sheets. He kept both hands clasped tightly over the wound. Good. Chloe hurried downstairs to the clinic, grabbed a suture kit, gloves, sterile gauze, and ran back up to her apartment. She pulled his gloved hands away, peeled back his coat and ruined shirt. Blood seeped from a long, deep cut running diagonally from above his navel to his right side. Chloe cleaned away the blood, relieved to see the wound was shallower than she'd feared. No organ damage, and the blood was starting to clot. She threaded the curved needle with thick black thread and set to stitching the wound. If her patient experienced any pain from her ministrations, he gave no sign, at least sound-wise. Couldn't tell a thing from that mask of his.
Rorschach stared at the woman's bent head as she worked. Her face was serene with focused concentration. Fine lines traced patterns across her broad forehead, at the corners of her eyes and mouth. Remnants of a thousand smiles. Full expressive lips, narrow chin, hazel eyes. She radiated calm assurance.
Rorschach's gaze slid away from the woman tending him to take in his surroundings. Small place. Slightly rundown, but clean. TV on the dresser, paperbacks crammed into cheap pressboard shelves against the far wall. Framed picture above the shelf; the woman, younger, twined in the arms of a tall man, darker than her, both smiling. Too far to make out detail. No other pictures or mementos in sight. The bed he lay on was narrow, twin sized. No one else, then. Not even a pet. Not even houseplants.
His eyelids felt heavy, vision blurred. Tired from blood-loss and shock. Despite himself, he felt unwelcome sleep creeping over him. He sighed.
Finished, Chloe tied off the last stitch and snipped the extra thread, then covered the wound with gauze and taped it in place with white surgical tape. She sat back on her heels and looked up at her patient. His head was turned a little towards the wall, breathing slow and regular. Strange black images flowed upon his mask. A strong odor emanated from him; sweat and too much cologne. Chloe had smelled worse, but was surprised a "superhero" didn't practice better hygiene.
"You awake?" she whispered. No answer. Chloe gathered up the scraps of thread, gauze, and her used gloves, and stood to dispose of them. She then went to the kitchenette, filled a large bowl with hot water, grabbed a rag, and returned to the bedside. With slow, gentle movements, she began to wash the blood from the man's torso. He sighed as the warm, wet cloth brushed against his skin; his only reaction. Chloe found the act of bathing him soothing and proceeded to wash the rest of his exposed skin, whether it was bloodied or not. Over his lean, well muscled chest, his shoulders. She tugged aside the dirty white scarf to better wash his neck. Her knuckles brushed against the bottom edge of his mask. For a fleeting moment, she was tempted to peel the morphing fabric aside and see what lay beneath, but decided against it. His identity was none of her business.
Finished, she dumped the tainted water into the sink, rinsed the bowl, grabbed a towel from a drawer, and dried him off. His skin was freckled and pale. So pale she didn't notice the scars until she really looked. His body was a roadmap of past battles. Now dry, Chloe pulled the covers up to her patient's chin, noting that her ministrations had reduced his body odor somewhat. She went to her dresser to pull out a spare blanket, then curled up in her easy chair, facing the bed and its occupant. She drifted off in moments.
Sunlight streamed through the little window, stabbing through closed eyelids like fiery needles. Rorschach grimaced, opened his eyes to find himself in unfamiliar surroundings. The threw back the quilted blanket to find his shirt open and his stomach taped in gauze. Oh yes, he remembered now.
A sizzle reached his ears and a scent assaulted his nostrils. His stomach twisted in hunger. He sat up, his shod feet clomped against the floorboards. A brown face peered around a corner at him. The woman gave a hesitant "Hi."
Rorschach didn't respond.
Chloe turned back to her stove. She lifted the frying pan, held it over a plate, used the spatula to transfer the pan's contents. She set the pan and spatula aside, took up the plate and a fork, and approached the silent man seated on her bed.
"Here," she said quietly, "You've lost a lot of blood. You need protein."
Rorschach took the plate. Two eggs stared up at him, yolks like the Comedian's pin. Chloe returned to the kitchenette while her "guest" ate the last of her eggs. The toaster soon stood at attention. She smeared margarine and honey over her breakfast. Minutes passed with only the crunch of toast and the slurp of runny yolks to break the uneasy silence.
Finished, Rorschach pulled his face back down to cover his mouth and stood. He approached the woman, held the empty plate out to her. She took it without a word and placed it in the sink.
Chloe picked up a plastic-wrapped bundle from the counter and handed it to him. "You'll need to change the gauze twice a day, and clean the stitches with rubbing alcohol," she explained, "Don't get them wet. When the gauze runs out, it'll be time to get the stitches taken out. There's also a bottle of antibiotics. Take them once a day until they're gone. Even if you feel healthy, take them. Infections hit hard and fast with smaller wounds than yours."
Rorschach nodded, tucked the bundle into his overcoat pocket. He fastened the remaining buttons on his bloodied shirt, closed his overcoat to conceal the mess. Without a word of thanks, the vigilante left as he had come; through the window and onto the fire escape. He didn't bother closing the window behind him.
"You're welcome," Chloe muttered. She wasn't sure whether to be irritated or amused by this uncommunicative man who had barged into her home. A sensible person would call the police, her inner nanny chided. He is, after all, a wanted criminal. But he hadn't harmed her. Granted, he was wounded and no doubt woozy from the loss of blood, but he could have done something this morning and yet hadn't. Even hardened criminals could show gratitude, even if it meant simply not raping and murdering a woman who foolishly lived alone in a high-crime neighborhood.
Chloe smirked at these thoughts and shook her head. "One weird night."
Rorschach was used to fear; expected it. Those he saved from certain death often ran screaming at the sight of him as readily as they had the scum he fought on their behalf. He understood such reactions. He was frightening in appearance, monstrous by reputation. He accepted their fear as the price to be paid in cleansing the city of evil.
But the woman hadn't been frightened. In that crime-riddled area, alone in a poorly maintained apartment easily broken into, she should have panicked at the sight of a strange man at her window. Should have run screaming for help. But she hadn't. Her behavior was an anomaly. Rorschach disliked anomalies. They often betokened sinister deeds. He just couldn't figure what they might be. A pusher wouldn't live in a shabby second-floor efficiency. Perhaps she took advantage of her access to pharmaceuticals to feed her own addiction? Then why help him? He was a clear threat to the likes of her, assuming she was a junkie. Hurm. Will investigate, he decided.