Summary: The first rule of patrol is: Don't get separated. The second rule of patrol is: DON'T GET SEPARATED.
Notes: Gratuitous self-gratifying character torture. Written to a specific prompt. There is no great depth in this one, sorry, I just felt like writing something schmoopy.
Rating/Warnings: PG-13 for some disturbing imagery.
Characters/Pairings: Dan, Rorschach, mild Dan/Rorschach.
Disclaimer: Don't own any of this, of course. Does anyone else find it odd that we STILL need to state the obvious like this?
filling the gaps
(Don't get separated.)
It's the first rule – the first goddamned rule. Glass fragments crush under the careful tread of his boots, but it's old trash, soft-edged and scattered. None of the thugs they'd fought tonight had been so unprepared as to have to resort to swinging glass bottles. Nite Owl's face stings, split from cheekbone to chin, and his shoulder pulls where one of the blades managed to get through a seam in his costume - at least he'd been wearing armor. Who knows what condition he'd be in if he wasn't-
"Rorschach?" he calls out into the alley, and the word comes back to him, flat and empty and echoing with silence.
(Don't lose each other's backs.)
There are only half as many thugs on the ground as he remembers starting the fight with.
There's a lot of blood, and some of it's his, and he's not picking his way carefully over the debris anymore. He's running, cape rippling out behind him, heedless of the noise he's making, spiraling out through the maze of alleyways and tracing ribbons of shining red. There are bodies here and there, all unfamiliar, and they're markers that he's on the right track. He's navigating without thinking, and that's good, because his conscious mind is occupied with other things.
(Fill the gaps and weaknesses in each other's defenses.)
The speed and vicious accuracy of every one of his opponents tonight. How long it'd taken to put them down, how close a few had gotten to getting in what could easily have been killing strikes.
How long it'd been since he'd last seen his partner from the corner of his eye, a swirling mass of brown and violet and violence, measured with hindsight's exacting precision and summing up neatly as 'too long'.
Rorschach's complete and total lack of physical protection.
(Keep them from becoming fatal.)
He sees things, as he's running. Thinks he hears things – distant screams, pained groans, whispers that sound like his name – but they vanish as soon as he focuses in on them, and the one response he needs to hear doesn't come, so the images march through unchecked:
[Rorschach face-down alongside a dumpster, one hand still clutching at the metal in a failed attempt to stay upright, red slicking the ground around his throat – slit clean through the mask, ear to ear.]
[Rorschach doubled over against a wall, head lolling limp against his chest and fist balled into his stomach, cut too deeply and bled out before Dan could get to him. Free hand clutching his fedora to his head in a misplaced drive for dignity.]
[Knives like porcupine quills, left behind as a calling card, as credit claimed for being the gang that finally took down the underworld's bogeyman; some bizarre sacrificial St. Sebastian, and Dan isn't Catholic of course but he's been to all the art museums and seen the paintings and has a feeling that the man still being alive was just a matter of artistic license. The body's more fragile than that.]
Everything – life, friendship, the quiet moments in between all the violence when Dan manages to catch glimpses of the person under the mask, unfurling tendrils of trust – so goddamned fragile.
Dan imagines the way his footfalls will slow as he comes upon the tableau, the way his mouth will work silently around words that won't come. The rushing of blood in his ears as he bends down to check, to be sure, and the way the world will seem to drop out from underneath him, leave him spinning cold and nerveless through some desperate and uncaring vacuum.
He's been calling out the entire way, and does so again, reaching another junction, skidding to a careful stop. Sound travels strangely in these corridors, echoing off of the brick and metal and being absorbed back in by the garbage and the scrap, taking turns that aren't always expected – so he doesn't assume, and Rorschach's name hits every wall in every possible direction.
There were no blunt instruments in this fight; no crowbars, no two-by-fours. He isn't just knocked out somewhere. If he's hurt and still has any breath left in him, he'd be responding.
The silence sounds almost like screaming.
Dan remembers the expanded range infrared tracker that, of course, he's left back at the Nest with Archie, the ship in need of engine work and the night warm and temperate and begging for a patrol on foot. Almost, for a second, doesn't want to retrieve it, because if he switches it on out here and sees nothing but a blank screen, it will all become far too real for him to bear.
A ragged sigh, hopped up on adrenaline, and Dan heads back towards home as fast as his feet will take him.
Dan's not quiet, coming up the tunnel, but his footfalls are masked by a cacophony of heavy and metal and breaking things hitting the concrete floor – his basement sounds like it's being ransacked, and he would pick up his pace but he's already running flat out. Grabs the corner, pulls himself around it-
Rorschach's groping blindly through one of his equipment bins, every motion taut and rippling with urgency, dropping one gadget after another to the floor.
Dan freezes in place, brain attempting to catch up with reality.
Another device hits the unforgiving concrete, harder than it should, a victim of intense frustration as the case splits open, spills components like so many scattered pennies. Prototype, that one. Dan doesn't care. "Oh god," he finally mutters, relief sinking in, hitting him in the knees first, in the gut a second later.
Rorschach looks up sharply, hand poised to discard one of Dan's new dynamic lighting units to the side – then takes a breath deep enough to be visible through all of his layers. Sets the equipment down on the nearest bench, takes a moment to wring the tension out of his body – glances down at the mess he's made around the bin. Stands, uncharacteristically awkward, then: "Sorry, Daniel. Was looking for your infrared tracker. Thought I could use it to find you."
Dan just reaches up to pull his goggles down, push his cowl back, running gloved fingers back through his hair – dragging them forward to press into his eyes, to try to hold back or at least hide the moisture starting to gather there because damn it, there's no reason to be upset, he's here, it's fine. Just another close call, and the fears and the grotesque imagery that've been dogging him since the first echoing call into the darkness went unanswered are fading, going soft around the edges, pictures on wet tissue paper - and there's no reason at all for a grown man to be cryi-
"It's... good that you're safe," and there's a mirrored waver of remembered fear there, peaks and troughs picked out in the monotone, and it's too much.
Dan drops his hand away, biting down on his lip, and no, damn it, he isn't crying, but there is moisture there, something hot and wet deep inside that's overflowing its bounds, seeping to the surface, leaking out through strained seams. "Oh, god," he repeats, less shock and more weary, mindless acceptance.
Rorschach tilts his head to one side, studying him through the shifting inkblots, the mask bunching over his brow. It looks like confusion, possibly concern. Like a question.
Like a goddamned question, and Dan knows what question it is, because of course it wouldn't even occur to Rorschach that he could have fallen under those flashing blades, blue-white and shining with murder. Wouldn't expect Dan to be worried about him, so worried he can still just about remember how it would feel to slip fingers in against cooling skin, looking for a pulse that isn't there, and maybe his imagination is overactive and morbid but damn it-
Dan takes a steadying breath. Decides that he doesn't have the capacity for anger in him, not right now. "I thought you were – I mean, I couldn't find you, and..."
It's a second or two before realization dawns; then Rorschach steps forward, right up into Dan's breathing space. Stands there for a moment, blots inscrutable as always - but his voice is quiet, lacking its usual menace. "...am fine, Daniel."
Dan nods loosely, motion not quite under control, wetness still shining on his face. A detail he'd missed at distance catches his eyes, and they narrow. "You're bleeding."
A shrug, dismissive; the white fabric of his scarf is distinctly red on one side. "So are you." And it's true, but that's not enough, because this isn't a verbal spar, isn't about who gets in the last word; Dan's bleeding from his shoulder and face, Rorschach's bleeding from his throat. The stakes don't scale. After a moment, Rorschach seems to realize that; hands come up, haltingly, to unwind the scarf, lay bare the skin underneath. "Just a scratch. Nothing serious."
A rough sigh, and the relief at being able to rely on the evidence of his eyes – rather than just trusting Rorschach's constant mantra of 'fine, fine,' always fine – is almost overwhelming. He presses his fingers back up to his eyes. "When we got separated... I know it's happened before, will probably happen again, but..."
But it was bad, this time. It wasn't a handful of children playing at criminals. Wasn't all smooth and coordinated fists colliding with flesh in an efficient dance of vengeance and justice, back to back and adrenaline and everything over and done in thirty seconds. They'd been in over their heads and fighting for their lives and should never have let themselves be split up like that, not with the odds stacked so far against them already and...
And there's something inside him that's still shivering with imagined pangs of loss, something cut and bleeding far deeper than he'd thought possible, that wants to run hands over skin to feel the blood pumping and the chest swelling with breath and the humming vibration of words and not-words and it's shattering to just stand here, shaking faintly in place, knowing that he can't have any of it.
Somewhere across the room, there's a metallic whirring and a rush of air as the ventilation units switch on.
Gloved hands settle onto his shoulders, grip awkward and rough. "Daniel. We're fine."
(c) ricebol 2009