A/N: Well, already I'm getting into a sequel. I just can't seem to let these characters go! This story is going to focus on Walter adjusting to life in Jubilation, while at the same time Jubilation adjusts to him. Should be interesting, former city crime fighter in a bucolic country town. Wonder how things'll go.
Disclaimer: I do not own Watchmen or any of its characters; they belong to Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, DC Comics, and Warner Brothers. Chloe, Elsie, Hank, Nixon, and all the other residents of Jubilation, however, belong to me. So hands off!
"Whuff!" Nixon, the world's laziest dog, performed his one and only duty; he let the Lady-Who-Fed-Him know that a vehicle approached.
Elsie Mayweather grabbed her cane and hauled herself up from the sofa. She switched the TV off and headed for the front door as fast as she dared; her balance was still a bit off, courtesy of a most annoying mild stroke. She pulled open the front door just as a familiar pickup pulled into the driveway. Elsie sighed with relief; Chloe was home. Upon learning of the devastating attack on New York City, she had feared the worst for her niece. Thankfully, Chloe had phoned her hours later to reassure Elsie that her niece had not been in the city limits at the time of the attack, that she had found her man, Walter, alive in the wreckage and was bringing him back to Jubilation. Chloe had phoned every day since then, letting her aging aunt know of their progress. Now they were here, at Elsie's home on the outskirts of the little town of Jubilation. Thank god.
"What the hell kept you?" Elsie called as she negotiated the porch steps.
Chloe climbed out of the borrowed pickup, slammed the door shut with a rattling bang. A man exited the passenger side; perhaps a hair taller than Chloe, redheaded, with pale white skin dusted with freckles, a prominent five o'clock shadow, and piercing blue eyes. It was a face Elsie recognized from the news: Walter Kovacs, also known as Rorschach, the notorious masked vigilante. Days before he had been captured in a police ambush, which prompted Chloe's abrupt departure for the city. While she was on the road Rorschach escaped from Sing-Sing with the help of fellow mask and long-ago partner Nite Owl. His escape had dominated the news…until the attack occurred which left three million New Yorkers dead, fifteen million worldwide. It was doubtful the authorities would make his recapture a priority, even if they believed he still lived.
While Elsie trusted her niece's judgment and common sense, the sight of this man who was known to have beaten larger men to death with his bare hands gave Elsie pause. The mottled bruises still healing on his face plus the intensity of his gaze didn't help.
"Els!" Chloe ran up to the older woman and threw her arms around her.
Elsie returned her embrace with a sigh of relief. "You okay, baby?"
"We're fine." Chloe stepped back, motioned the redhead over. "Walter, I want you to meet my aunt Elsie. Els, this is Walter."
The two people Chloe loved most in the world eyed each other with reservation. Walter, hesitant, held out his hand. "Hello," he murmured, low and gravelly.
Elsie switched her cane to her other hand and completed the handshake. "Pleased to meet you." It wasn't an outright lie; she was curious about the man who had won her niece's heart. "Well, c'mon in. You both are probably hungry." She turned, mounted the low porch steps, heard the echoing thumps of two other sets of feet behind her.
What Walter had initially assumed to be an extraordinarily ugly rug turned out to be a large, extraordinarily ugly dog. He eyed the creature warily; he didn't like dogs. Not since Blaire Roche.
"Relax," Chloe smiled, "That's just Nixon."
"Elsie names all her dogs after U.S. Presidents," Chloe chuckled. She held the screen door open for him. Walter stepped inside. The interior of the picturesque little blue house was everything he'd expected, minus the doilies. Matching overstuffed sofa and chairs in subdued floral print; dozens of framed photos on the walls, the mantelpiece; dried flowers arranged in a glass vase perfectly centered on the coffee table. The air smelled faintly of vanilla and cinnamon. Walter felt so out of place in this cozy home, like a vagrant in an art museum.
"Have a seat," Elsie pointed to the sofa with her cane, "I'll rustle up something from the kitchen."
Walter reluctantly sank into the sofa, then sank even further, to his growing alarm. Chloe couldn't quite stifle a giggle at his wide-eyed expression. "Relax! It's not gonna eat you."
Laughing, Chloe bent down and kissed his forehead. "I need to make a call. Be right back." She headed in the same direction as her aunt. The house only had two phones, one upstairs in Elsie's room and the other hanging on the wall in the kitchen. Chloe unhooked the off-white receiver and dialed Henry Dobbins's number while Elsie rummaged in the fridge for last night's leftovers.
"Hank? It's Chloe. Yeah, we made it," she smiled at the familiar basso voice of her childhood friend, "Truck's in the driveway. You can pick it up whenever. Okay. See you soon. Bye." She hung up.
"Does Walter like lasagna?" Elsie asked, holding up a pan more than three-quarters full.
Chloe shrugged. "I don't think he'll feel one way or the other about it, long as it's edible."
"Hmph!" Elsie sniffed, her guest's indifference offending her culinary sensibilities. To her mind, if people went around not caring what they ate they might as well just gather around the trough with the other dumb animals. "Then I guess I won't bother to reheat this." She set the pan on the counter, got two plates from a cupboard, and sectioned off portions of the pasta dish for transferal.
Chloe smirked at her aunt's piqued reaction. "Els, if anybody can turn him into a gourmand, it's you."
"Well, he could sure use the extra weight," Elsie said, somewhat mollified by the flattery, "That boy's as skinny as a rail." She dug out two forks from a drawer, set them on the plates beside the lasagna servings. Chloe picked up the laden plates and stepped out before her aunt could protest.
Walter hadn't stirred from his hunched seated position; hadn't dared. He just knew he was going to break some treasured heirloom at some point, and Elsie did not look like the forgiving sort.
"C'mere," Chloe beckoned with a jerk of her head as she went to the oak dinette and set the plates on the table. Walter extricated himself from the ravenous sofa and shuffled over. He took the chair beside the already settled Chloe, picked up his fork with an uncertain look. He nearly jumped out of his skin when Elsie clomped a glass of iced tea beside him. Chloe struggled not to laugh at the redhead's edginess. Here was a man who had single-handedly taken on whole gangs of ruffians armed to the teeth without a moment's qualm, yet in the presence of the forceful personality that was Elsie Mayweather he was as jumpy as a rabbit sneaking into a vegetable garden laced with landmines. If he only knew what a softie Elsie really was.
"Eat up," Elsie said, taking the empty third seat with her own glass of tea. Walter took it as an order and stabbed his fork into the cold pasta. He shoveled a forkful into his mouth and chewed, then paused as signals from his taste buds suddenly reached his brain. Food had never been more than a means of replenishing his body's energy. It never really occurred to him to care about the taste. At least, not until now.
"Good?" Chloe asked, the corner of her mouth quirked in a half-smile.
Walter swallowed, took another bite. He chewed slowly this time, analyzing the array of flavors. He didn't have the vocabulary to describe it. The only spices he knew of were salt and pepper, the only cheese the kind that came in individually wrapped slices and had the texture of melted plastic, the only tomato product the kind that came in a bottle. His poor tongue was suffering from sensory overload.
"Delicious," he managed after another swallow.
Elsie beamed. That was one point in his favor.
Before he knew it, Walter's plate was empty. He picked it up in both hands, stared imploringly at the older woman across from him. "More?" then, after a moment's consideration, "Please."
Elsie rose and took the plate from him, flashing a warm smile that caused an unfamiliar emotion in Walter. A touch on his knee brought his attention to the woman beside him. Chloe's smile brought on a feeling he was more acquainted with; Walter smiled back, placed his hand over hers.
"It's okay," Chloe stood and headed for the front door, "It's probably just Hank here to get his truck back."
Walter rose from his seat to follow her. He stood on the porch and watched as two men pulled up in a red car; one about Elsie's age, his white halo of curls offsetting his dark mahogany skin; the other, younger, very tall and thin with yellow-gold skin and almond eyes. The younger man unfolded himself from the red car and hurried over to Chloe who stood with her arms open and grinning. The man scooped the shorter woman up in a bear hug. Chloe giggled, feet dangling like a child's. Jealousy flared white-hot within Walter.
"Thank god," the tall man gushed as he set her down, but kept his long arms circled around her, "When I saw the attack on the news I thought the worst, till Elsie let me know you called. You okay?"
"We're fine," Chloe answered. Walter felt a tad smug over the "we." Chloe stepped back from the circle of her friend's arms and beckoned the redhead over. "Walter," she put her hand on his shoulder, "This is Henry Dobbins, one of my oldest friends. Hank, this is Walter."
The two contrasting men sized each other up. Henry offered his hand. "Pleased to meet you," he lied.
Walter took the proffered hand with more firmness than was strictly necessary in a handshake. "Likewise," he also lied, voice a hair's breadth from a snarl.
Chloe stared at the two men and suddenly wondered if introducing them to each other was such a good idea. "Um, hey, Zane!" She waved at the older man who waved back from the car's driver side. "Zane's Hank's father," she said, hoping to distract the two men from their staring contest, "He manages the general store. Hank helps him out there--"
"When I'm not busy acting as sheriff," Henry added coldly.
If anything, Walter's eyes got even flintier. "Town sheriff," he rasped, "Tin star and everything?"
"Yeah," Hank drawled, "Even got me a gun."
"Hokay! Well, we don't wanna keep you from your busy day," Chloe hastily stepped between the two men, grabbing Walter's hand and smiling up at her childhood friend. "Thanks again for loaning me your pickup. Uh, I'm afraid I had a flat along the way, didn't get a new spare."
"That's fine." Hank's expression thawed a bit as he addressed her. "Needs some new tires, anyway." He flashed another glare at the redhead, gave Chloe a we'll-talk-later look. "See ya around, Chlo." He sauntered over to his pickup, climbed inside, and started the engine. He followed his father's car as they backed out of the driveway and onto the road, headed back for the store.
"That went well," Elsie observed from the screen door.
Chloe let go of Walter's hand, turned and went back into the house, back rigid. Walter glowered at the retreating vehicles as they shrank into the distance. A thunk from Elsie's cane drew his attention to the older woman. "Word of advice, young fella. Don't be in any hurry to make enemies around here. Jubilation's a small town, and you're just a stranger from the city." She turned and followed her niece back inside.
Walter sighed, angry with himself. Barely an hour into his first day and he'd already pissed off the local law enforcement, not to mention Chloe. As he turned to go inside, he wasn't sure which he felt was worse.
Nixon shifted his tail the minimal distance necessary to avoid its getting trampled by the Man-Who-Smelled-Of-Smog who had come with the Woman-Who-Once-Cried-Too-Much. The house was getting far too crowded for Nixon's liking. Crowded houses brought excitement, and the lazy dog didn't like excitement; it detracted from his precious napping which was the key to his longevity. Nixon sighed. Oh, well. Whaddya gonna do? Either way, he still got fed.
Elsie insisted they move into her bedroom while she took the guest room. "You two need the bigger bed more than I do," she smirked, eliciting a roll of the eyes from Chloe and a blush from Walter.
Chloe helped her transfer the contents of her dresser and change the sheets on the beds. Night had set in, and the couple was tired from their long journey. Elsie wished them pleasant dreams as they turned in early.
In the bathroom, Walter stared at the claw-footed bathtub while he brushed his teeth. It looked deep enough to swim in. He wondered how the diminutive Elsie got in and out of it without a stepladder.
"Y'know," Chloe said from the sink, spitting a mouthful of toothpaste, "You could have put a little more effort into acting civil towards Hank."
Walter didn't answer, concentrating on his molars.
"I mean," Chloe continued as she rinsed her brush and dropped it in the cup. Plink. "I pretty much grew up with the guy. I've spent every summer here since I was six and nearly all those times he was the kid I played with the most. I'm not saying you have to like him, but you could try to make a good impression for my sake, at least."
Walter rinsed his mouth, spat into the sink. "Didn't tell me he's a cop."
Chloe sighed. "It doesn't matter. Hank trusts me. As long as you don't break any laws here, he'll leave you alone."
Walter mumbled something. "…leave you alone."
"What?" Chloe turned on him.
Walter fidgeted under her angry glare. "Nothing."
Chloe shook her head, threw up her hands. "Fine. Whatever." She stomped out of the bathroom.
Walter sighed, looked at himself in the mirror over the sink. Heel. He switched off the bathroom light, stepped out into the already darkened bedroom. His eyes adjusted to the dark quickly, thanks to years of nocturnal activities. He crept to the looming shadow that was the bed, crawled under the quilted comforter beside Chloe who lay on her side, back to him. Walter spooned against her and was relieved when she didn't move away. He put his arm around her. "Sorry."
"'Sokay," she snorted, "I'm making too much of it. We just escaped Armageddon, for god's sake. I shouldn't be jumping all over you just because you're jealous of an old friend."
Walter winced; she read him too well sometimes. "Can't help it. Nothing good ever lasts for me. I…get scared."
Chloe rolled over until she faced him; the white of her eye gleamed in the faint ambient light. She placed a warm hand against his whiskery cheek. "I know. I wish I knew how to convince you I'd never leave you. Not ever."
He wished the same.
"I love you," he whispered.
"Love you, too."
They settled against each other, taking comfort in each other's warmth as they drifted into sleep.