A/N: Well, here it is (sniffle), the last chapter. Lucky 13. I have to say it's been a genuine pleasure writing this story and getting all your feedback. Thank you all, both those who've stuck with this from the beginning and all you newcomers reading this for the first time. Your wonderful reviews have spurred me on to write a better story than I ever imagined I could create.
Of all the characters in Watchmen, I think the saddest character, other than Rorschach, is Dr. Manhattan. Not because of what he'd become, but because he remembered being human first. If he hadn't remembered being human, I don't think he would have suffered as he did, knowing all of time simultaneously and being powerless to change it. I decided to write a chapter prologue told by him in the first person, as I feel his perspective has something to offer here.
So read on, boys and girls! And take your time, 'cause this is all she wrote.
PS: The two song excerpts are "Faces" by Greenwheel and "Come Undone" by Duran Duran.
Disclaimer: I do not own Watchmen or any of its characters, nor the musical talents of Greenwheel or Duran Duran.
I have tried many times to explain my perception of time to others, but as linear creatures, human beings simply have no frame of reference. Nevertheless, I shall make another attempt. Imagine a simple line drawing. Looked at one way, you see a rabbit's head; looked at another, you see a duck with its bill partly open. You do not alter your stance, the position of your eyes to change this perspective; what is altered is the perception within your own mind. Both images are equally true, but it is impossible for you to see both images simultaneously. You can only shift between one or the other. It is simply the way your human brain is constructed. You exist in linear time; you can only move forward, only recall what happened before, never after. To you the future is a blank slate, waiting to be written upon. You make a choice, never fully knowing what the consequences will be until they happen. You can only guess and use your own judgment, draw upon past experiences and hope for the best. This is known as "free will."
The accident has transformed me into a nonlinear entity; to me the future is as clear, as immutable, as the past and the present. All time is the same to me. Where for you the future is a blank slate, so for myself it is carved in stone; where you can only guess at events yet to happen, I already know. Free will is lost to me.
Both states of being, linear and nonlinear, are equally true. Yet both are mutually exclusive. I can no more alter future events anymore than you can reach into your past and change decisions already made. Your ignorance of what will be is what gives you the freedom to choose.
I am in Antarctica. I stand naked upon the snow, yet experience no sensation of cold, no discomfort. I face a former ally, my hand extended. I am about to kill him.
"Must protect Veidt's new utopia. One more body amongst foundations makes little difference." He removes his mask, gazes at me face to face, no barriers between us. I can see that he is crying. "Well? What are you waiting for?" His voice quavers, chin trembles with voiceless sobs. "Do it."
But do I kill him? I assume it is so, but Veidt's tachyon smoke screen still obscures my vision. The future is a haze. I do not know what is to happen. I am linear. "Rorschach…"
And if I do not know, then I am free to choose.
Broken down, this place seems to have no face
There's no one moving forward now
They're just drowning in it all
Walking around in circles with a never changing view
As hopeless as this seems
There's a reason for everything…
Walter fell onto a hard, uneven surface and opened his eyes. The air stank of burnt ozone and bloodshed. Lying on the broken pavement, gazing up at the black-gray sky, he believed for a split second that he was dead and this was Hell. But it wasn't. As he sat up he saw before him a massive crater, its edge surrounded by broken buildings. He heard the distant wails of sirens, the screams of survivors. Tendrils of black smoke roiled from gaping windows and cracked masonry. He was in New York.
That freakish blue bastard had teleported him!
Walter climbed to his feet with an inarticulate snarl. It had not been a gentle trip; his hat and Rorschach mask were gone, his trench coat in tatters. Looking down that smoldering pit, he considered throwing himself in. No one could possibly survive such a fall. But thoughts of Chloe held him back. He wanted to be with her, or at least be in the same place where she had met her end. He gazed around him with bloodshot eyes and got his bearings. That way. He stumbled along the edge of the crater, followed it in the direction of the clinic.
The lucky ones had been at ground zero, their bodies vaporized instantaneously along with the buildings and vehicles. It was the area surrounding the crater that seemed so much more devastated; buildings listed to the side or toppled altogether, cars flipped over, men and women crushed or mangled, dying by inches. At one point Walter discovered the remains of what he supposed had been a man; everything below the waist lay on the very lip of the crater, the top half neatly sheared away by the energy bomb's vaporizing field. Walter shuddered, gave the half-corpse a wide berth. He prayed he wouldn't find Chloe in such a state.
It was hours before he finally reached his destination. The clinic's building hugged the edge of the crater, the side facing it completely open to the air, giving it the appearance of a gigantic dollhouse. Walter stepped through the wide-open doorway. Inside was a shambles; part of the ceiling had collapsed, crushed the clinic and its occupants beneath tons of shattered bricks and splintered boards. Walter picked his way through the devastation towards the back stairs leading to the second floor apartment.
"M…Morrr…" The weak groan reached his ears. Walter turned towards the source of the sound, saw a feeble movement. A survivor? Walter altered his course. Whoever it was lay beneath a sizable pile of loose masonry. Walter dug, tossed aside jagged bricks and chunks of plaster, until he uncovered a familiar face. The doctor, Chloe's friend. What was his name? Matt something. As Walter uncovered the man he realized it was hopeless; part of Matt's skull was caved in, blood and other fluids oozed around splinters of bone. The doctor's wide eyes stared sightlessly up at him.
"Morr…Morrrgannn," he gurgled, pawing feebly at the air with one hand, the other limb pinned beneath a fallen girder. Not far from where he lay, a sneakered foot protruded from the rubble. From the size, it had to belong to a man. Morgan's? The male nurse who occasionally filled in when a regular was unavailable at the clinic? Was he Matt's lover?
"Morgan…" Came the helpless, heartbreaking cry.
Walter sat and carefully lifted Matt's upper body, cradled him against his chest, heedless of the spreading wetness as the dying man bled on him. He caught the flailing hand in his own, gripped it tightly. "Shhh."
Matt whimpered incoherently. Walter rocked him gently, back and forth, murmuring reassurances he doubted could be heard or comprehended. Later, he used his ruined coat to cover the now motionless body; a sorry excuse for a funeral shroud.
Walter climbed the stairs to the second floor, found the door partly open in its warped frame. He squeezed into the little apartment. There was surprisingly little damage. The bookshelf had toppled, spilling its contents over the floor. Chloe's photo of herself and her lost husband hung crookedly from its nail. Walter took a step; the toe of his shoe connected with something that skidded a short distance on the floor. He bent down, picked it up. It was an envelope, probably slipped under the door by one of the clinic's nurses. Pale blue in color, Chloe's name and address written in tidy script, and in the lower right corner, a W. The post mark read "Oct. 22," the day after his arrest. Walter's legs weakened in sudden, desperate hope. He stumbled to the easy chair, fell heavily into it. Oh, please, he silently begged, let my earlier fears be true. Let this be a Dear John letter telling me she's still in Jubilation. He tore open the blue envelope, unfolded the page tucked within. He stared at Chloe's neat handwriting.
I'm writing this in the hope that you'll sneak into my apartment at some point and find this waiting for you. There are some things I need you to know, and I need to tell you now, like this, before I lose my nerve.
Lila Danvers has offered me a job as a nurse in Jubilation's hospital. I have to admit, since coming back here I've felt happier than I have in a long time, save the moments I've spent with you. I'm tired, Walter. I've given so much of myself at the free clinic I'm afraid that very soon there won't be anything left but an empty shell. Can you understand that?
Do you remember the first time we met? You with your sign, walking down that busy street, and I stopped and asked you whose world was about to end? I was only half-joking then. My world ended the night Byron died. We'd just bought our first house together. We'd done everything responsible homeowners should have done; had the wiring inspected, the foundation, the furnace. We replaced the insulation, re-shingled the roof. We did everything…except install a lightning rod. Our first night in our new home there was a storm, the kind that's always frightened me. That's why I was awake when the lightning struck. I panicked, ran from the house without looking behind me. I thought the noise would have woken Byron, but he was always such a heavy sleeper. They told me he never woke. I've spent the last six years trying to get past the guilt of not saving him, to salvage something of my world out of the pieces left behind. But there just wasn't enough. Not until I found you. You fill all the empty spaces in me, Walter. You are my new world.
I've decided to decline Lila's offer. I'm coming back to New York, just as I planned. Whether you decide to stay, or choose to leave Rorschach behind and come back with me to Jubilation, I'll leave it up to you. I just want to be with you.
Just a few more days, baby. I love you.
The paper crumpled in his fists. A low sound began deep in his chest, pushed its way up his throat, emerged from his mouth in a long, keening wail.
She'd come back for him, probably caught in the explosion on her way here. There was nothing left for him. Nothing.
He had no idea how long he sat there, mourning the loss of her. When there were no more tears left, he rose shakily from the bed, took the photo down from the wall, and walked out of the apartment. Outside, he didn't have to search long to find the things he needed. There was a small group of Knot-Tops, killed in the act of defacing a wall with another silhouetted couple. Walter picked up the can of spray paint from where it had fallen from its wielder's hand. The other thing he needed he got off a dead policeman who'd been crushed under his own squad car. Walter wriggled his slender frame into the narrow gap beneath the car, tugged the object from the pig's belt, stood, and tucked it into his pocket.
Walter returned to the clinic, to the place on the wall where Chloe had always leaned as he visited her in his street prophet guise. It was there that he used the spray paint to scrawl the words in large letters: THE END IS HERE. Finished, he tossed the paint can aside. Clunk. He stared down at the photograph where he'd leaned it against the wall; a younger, happier Chloe and her husband, both in Heaven now. Walter reached into his pocket, pulled out the cop's revolver, pressed the weapon to his temple.
"I'm sorry I couldn't save you," he whispered to the image of the woman he loved. He pulled back the hammer with his thumb.
Now, imagine a clock. See the hands turn back, back, the hours slipping by, becoming yet-to-be. Back. Two-to-midnight, All Souls Day.
"Come on, you bitch!" Chloe screamed in frustration as she threw her weight against the tire iron. Hank's pickup sat on the shoulder with a flat tire. The traffic flowed by, uncaring of the woman's plight. Chivalry no longer applied in the twentieth century; certainly not this close to New York. It was infuriating. She was so close! But not close enough to walk the rest of the way. Chloe had managed to loosen all the lug nuts save this last one, which stubbornly refused to budge no matter how hard she tried. It was as if the thing was welded in place. Chloe yanked and shoved, screamed obscenities which would have made a hardened criminal blush. To no avail. Chloe straightened, panting hoarsely, felt a twinge in her lower back. Dammit. She might have to hitchhike after al--
The skyline exploded, blinding blue, turning night to day. The tiny hairs on Chloe's arms and the back of her neck stood on end. Her skin crackled with static electricity. A sphere of light engulfed half the city with the sound of a thousand thunderbolts. All around her tires screeched as stunned drivers lost control of their vehicles. Cars slammed into one another with metallic groans and crunches. Chloe barely noticed. There were screams and shouts of "Oh my god!" The worst had come to pass; Armageddon was here.
But where were the mushroom clouds? The shockwaves? The radioactive ash? There was only that terrible light, expanding outward. Then it was gone, as sudden as it had appeared, and left the skyline forever altered.
Chloe stood agog; the tire iron dangled forgotten in her loose grip. A strange sensation rose in her, at the back of her mind. A voice, yet not a voice, familiar and haunting. It whispered soundlessly, Hurry.
Chloe rushed back to the flat tire, fitted the tire iron over the stubborn nut. It emitted a squeak of protest and turned. She yanked the useless tire off, let it drop, wrestled the spare onto the wheel, tightened the lug nuts. She flung the tire iron and carjack into the bed of the pickup, leapt into the cab and started the engine. She sped off towards the ruined city. Luck remained with her. The scattered vehicles and stunned bystanders provided to barrier to her. Chloe swerved through the obstacle course that was once a highway, ignoring the shouted curses, the braying horns. Some hidden instinct told her she could not afford even a second's delay. Hurry, hurry, the voiceless words chanted, before it is too late. Too late for what she dared not ask, lest she know the answer.
Inside the city limits, Chloe's luck ran out. Every avenue, every side street and alley she tried was blocked by toppled buildings and crushed vehicles. "Fuck!" She killed the engine, leapt out of the truck, and started running. It wasn't easy; the ground was treacherously littered. Chloe fell more than once, her hands scraped raw from catching herself, a jagged hole was torn in the knee of her jeans and blood seeped from a cut on her knee. She took no notice of these inconsequential hurts. She struggled on like a crazed lemming to the cliff, heedless of anything but her nameless urgency. All around her fires raged and people screamed, walls crumbled and pipes burst. All was utter chaos.
Hurry, hurry, hurry…
It took hours. Finally, as the weak predawn light began to filter through the haze, she saw the clinic loom ahead, on the edge of a new precipice. Chloe stumbled towards it, filthy and exhausted. Her eyes were drawn to the yawning crater in spite of herself. So much lost, so many dead. The Gunga Diner, the newsstand with its talkative vendor and the comic-reading boy who sat against the hydrant, that Hustler-reading female cabdriver, Detective Fine and his partner whose name she couldn't remember, all her patients, Maria and Rachel, Morgan and Matt. She would mourn them all. Later.
Chloe stumbled over the wreckage of her neighborhood. God, she was so tired. Her ears picked up a sound. At first, she thought it was hissing gas from a broken main, but that would have been one long continuous sound. Not so this. Hissss, stop, hisss, stop. Chloe rounded a pile of rubble that was once another building and froze at the scene which came into her view.
A man stood before her wall, his back to her. She would know that stance, that red hair anywhere. Chloe's hand clamped over her mouth, tears streamed from her eyes. Alive. She stood in stunned relief as he painted words across the dirty bricks: THE END IS HERE. Watched as he tossed the spray paint can carelessly aside with a clunk. Watched as he reached into his pocket. Her eyes widened in horror as he drew out a gun, pressed the barrel to his temple. She heard the faint click as the hammer was pulled back.
He froze, finger on the trigger. No, no, couldn't be. He'd finally lost his mind. He was hallucinating.
"Walter, look at me."
He couldn't move. Didn't dare. God, how can you be so cruel? He willed his finger to tighten, to end his pain. But the voice, that terrible, beautiful voice, held him captive.
"Please, baby," she sobbed, "I can't outlive another husband."
And he turned, the weapon falling from his hand to clatter on the cracked pavement. And there she stood, hazel eyes gray with sorrow, her gray hair a mass of tangles, face dirt-streaked and tearstained, wearing that horrible lumpy sweater he always thought looked like a potato sack. Surely his subconscious wouldn't conjure such an un-idyllic vision. "Chloe?"
He looked terrible. Bruised and bloodied, hair matted, eyes red-rimmed and puffy. His voice came out as a weak croak, hoarse from long, anguished screams. Chloe approached him with care, as if he were a half-wild, frightened stray. She placed her hands tenderly upon cheeks like sandpaper. "I'm right here."
Her hands, so warm and real. Walter's face crumpled. He fell against her, weeping. Clung to her with bruising force, terrified of waking from this dream.
"It's okay," Chloe murmured as she held him, tears running from her own hazel eyes, "I'm here. I've got you."
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I c-couldn't--"
"Shhh." She kissed his neck, his stubbled cheek, found his questing mouth and crushed her lips against his. They kissed long and deep, desperate for contact. Their mouths parted, connected again, breath and tears mingling. Finally, they drew apart with great reluctance and gazed upon each other. Their hands traced one another's features as if to memorize every contour, every beautiful flaw. Around them the world lay in ruins; all that they had known, every familiar face and building, wiped from the earth as if they'd never been. Those left behind would rebuild, perhaps create something better than before. Many hands would be needed for this great undertaking.
They'll just have to get by without ours, Chloe decided then and there. She took Walter's hand. "Come on." She started leading him through the maze of destruction with careful but determined steps.
"Wait." Walter pulled away, hurried to the wall to pick something up, returned to her. Chloe's photo of her and Byron was tucked under his arm. Chloe smiled at him in gratitude, took his hand once again and started walking.
"Where are we going?" Walter asked without inflection, emotions numbed from so much turmoil.
Chloe turned her back on the clinic in which she'd given six years of her life without complaint. She felt no regret in this decision. After giving so much, she felt she'd earned the right to be selfish. "We're going home."
Walter followed without question. It didn't matter where they went. Home was wherever Chloe was. She was all he needed. His world. He knew then that Rorschach was dead; had died fighting in the snows of Antarctica, which was all the masked vigilante could have asked for. It surprised Walter how easy it was to leave it all behind, the endless quest that had consumed him for so long. He felt no pangs of guilt, no qualms or conflict. As he followed the woman who'd journeyed so far for him through the horrors of the bomb's aftermath, he felt only peace.
They found Hank's pickup where Chloe had left it, undisturbed. Chloe got behind the wheel, Walter beside her, the photo resting on his lap. She turned the key, backed the rattling vehicle until she could steer it back in the direction she'd come, then drove off. They wended their way through the wrecked streets, out of the city and onto the highway. Neither of the truck's occupants spared a glance for the damaged skyline behind them. Their gazes remained steady on the long road ahead.
"We're not married."
Chloe glanced at him, puzzled. "What?"
Walter's exhausted, ethereal eyes regarded the woman beside him, the corners of his mouth upturned. "Said you couldn't outlive another husband. But we're not married."
Chloe smiled. "Well," her right hand left the wheel, reached to grasp his left, fingers interlaced, "That's easily remedied."
Their eyes met in perfect accord. Then they returned their gazes ahead, towards Jubilation. Towards home.
Fade to black. Roll the credits. Cue the music.
Mine, immaculate dream made breath and skin
I've been waiting for you.
Signed with a home tattoo,
Happy birthday to you was created for you.
Can't ever keep from falling apart at the seams.
Can I believe you're taking my heart to pieces?
Oh, it'll take a little time, might take a little crime
To come undone now
We'll try to stay blind to the hope and fear outside.
Hey, child, stay wilder than the wind and blow me in to cry…
Who do you need, who do you love
When you come undone?
Who do you need, who do you love
When you come undone?
A/N: There you have it. Hope it didn't disappoint. I must admit, I'm sorry it's over. I've really grown attached to those two. Who knows? Maybe I'll write a sequel. Are you game? ;-)