Author's Note: First fic in a new fandom. Graphic Novel-verse with heavy influences from the movie portrayals, I hope that this piece will have something to satisfy both the forgiving purists and the moviefen. This idea is my attempt at translating Leonard Cohen's song "Chelsea Hotel No. 2" into prose form, as well as an experiment in narrative stream-of-conciousness.
1. "but for me, you would make an exception"
He should have known better.
It was a marvel that they were even alive. As he stood in the chamber, the great Ozymandias' temple to media, and saw the aftermath of his hideous plan (a Holocaust of millions in the name of a better world, how very familiar to Daniel Dreiberg), he thought that Veidt would kill them all where they stood. But when all Veidt required was their silence (and he agreed, of course he agreed, he would rather damn himself than the world), then he thought that Veidt would kill Rorschach where he stood. For surely there was no way that the masked man would compromise, not even to save the world, no matter how much Dan hoped he would, how many frightened, pleading looks were cast at his roiling visage, for God's sake, man, just don't say anything, don't say anything or they'll kill you, they'll kill you where you stand, Rorschach, for pity's sake, for MY sake, PLEASE...
"Hurm," Rorschach grunted under his breath before whispering, as if it hurt to say so, "Fine." Without another word, he turned and walked quickly to the enormous double doors, clenched fists in pockets, shoulders hunched in tension, as if he was set to explode if he remained a single moment longer.
Dan was thunderstruck. He remained motionless for a moment, barely believing his good fortune (thank God, thank God, we're alive, thank God) before hurrying after Rorschach. A glance over his shoulder revealed a blank stare from Jon, his mind already set to higher and farther things, a weak smile from Laurie as she drifted to Jon's side (pulled once more into the well of his terrible gravity, and Dan was surprised at how he wasn't surprised at all), and a nod from Adrian that was both benediction and warning. And then he was outside, cringing again against the blast of snow, following Rorschach's tracks to the ridiculous hoverscooters. The cold made his lungs ache with each breath, a beautiful pain that reminded him with every step, alive, alive, we are all alive, and oh, how very sweet it is.
For the hour it took to warm up Archie's engines, and at least six hours into their flight, Rorschach slept. He had just stripped off his trenchcoat, curled up on one of the two medbay cots with his back to the curved metal wall and slept. At least, Dan hoped he was sleeping; it was impossible to tell with his mask still on, the blots moving sluggishly in the still-frigid air. But Dan hoped he was asleep. He didn't want to contemplate the alternative: Rorschach staring at him behind a wall of shifting latex, eyes colder than Antarctica, flaying him for his weakness, his compromise, and hating him for forcing Rorschach to do the same. Dan finally started Archie's engine, set an auto-pilot course for home and stripped off the majority of his costume. He turned his goggles in his hands, debating whether or not to say something, to test whether Rorschach was actually awake, but in the end he just grabbed a blanket from the med shelf and curled up on the spare cot, facing the wall. Coward.
Six hours later, somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, Dan awoke to find Rorschach staring at him. There was no mistaking it this time; the smaller man was sitting upright, elbows resting on his knees, clenched fists dangling between them, shifting mask pointed directly at Dan. Dan sat up slowly, swaths of blanket clenched tightly in both hands, afraid. Afraid of death, of abandonment, of that gravelly voice condemning him, of unseen eyes casting him aside as completely as if he were thrown from the craft itself. So he sat, silent in cowardice, until the quiet could no longer be borne.
"Why?" His raspy voice did not surprise himself, but the question did. He'd meant to say something neutral to try and diffuse the situation, a comment on the time or how far they had traveled, but the question slipped past his lips without his even noticing, others crowding in behind his teeth. Why, Rorschach? Why in God's name did you make that choice, when you said you'd never compromise? What does this mean, for you, for us? Does it mean anything at all?
Rorschach got up from the cot, moving to stand over Dan, the rasp of his breathing just audible over the drone of Archie's engines. Dan's knuckles whitened over the cloth he held as he tried not to flinch. He'd stared down hired killers, mob bosses, the very dregs of humanity without fear, but this... this was his friend, his partner, his last link to the world he had known, before the end came and left chunks of reality scattered across the landscape, waiting to be remade in Vedit's image and likeness. And, Dan realized with a sick certainty, he would rather die than lose that link.
"Why?" Rorschach echoed, but the tone was not mocking. He sounded almost... contemplative, as if he was searching for the answer himself. He regarded Dan for another long moment until, with a slight straightening of his spine, he seemed to come to a decision. Rorschach reached up and peeled his mask away, slowly and carefully as if it were a matted bandage. The face beneath was even more bruised than he remembered, swollen and lopsided after the fight with Ozymandias. Asymmetrical. Imperfect.
"Not stupid, Daniel," he grated and, with the speed of one who was close to changing his mind, grasped Dan's undershirt in both hands and kissed him.
If Dan had ever contemplated such an occurrence (which he hadn't, of course he hadn't, what kind of asinine thought was that?), he would have expected Rorschach's kiss to be hard, brutal, passing sentence and exacting punishment in one fell swoop. Instead, the only roughness came from the rasp of Rorschach's stubble against his own. The kiss was hesitant and chaste, sweet in its clumsy honesty, pledging... something, something Dan couldn't grasp, couldn't bear to contemplate. And when those shy lips began to pull away, Dan couldn't bear it any longer.
Hands leaving the blanket, he slid them loosely around Rorschach (No, Dan corrected himself, not Rorschach, not here. Walter.) pulling the other man down to kneel on the cot, Dan's mouth coaxing another kiss from him, holding him through nearly imperceptible tremors. Dan had never imagined this before the end of the world, not even once, but now, after the end of the world (he eased Walter down to lie at his side, afraid to break the cautious silence, thumb caressing the other man's bruised jawline until Archie's everpresent hum lulled them both back to sleep), now he would rather die than lose this one last piece. Now that he knew (or thought he knew) what it had cost the smaller man to purchase it for him.
Dan had thought he had his answers, thought he had Walter's reasons. He should have known better.
Comments and constructive criticism are greatly appreciated!