A/N: Well, here we are again. Yet another Walter/Chloe Watchmen fic from yours truly. Seems like every time I think I'm done with these characters something else pops into my imagination. This one is in fact due to a couple of reviews and messages I got (sorry, I forgot the names) mentioning they'd like to see Nite Owl make a reappearance. I have taken the suggestion under consideration and have come up with the following. So, without further ado…
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the Watchmen characters.
November 1, 1995
Ten years since the carefully orchestrated attack wiped fifteen million people around the world off the face of the earth. Ten years since Nite Owl and Rorschach failed to save them, and Nite Owl failed to save Rorschach. The crater still existed, filled with water to create a massive lake with an artificial island at its very center, like a huge bullseye. All Souls Lake, it was named, although the attack occurred just after midnight on November 2nd, after All Soul's Day. The artificial island boasted a large museum and a wall that wrapped around the island's circumference. Made of gleaming black marble, the wall's entire surface, inside and out, bore the names of the three million souls lost in New York on that terrible day, an elegantly simple monument. It was completed just in time for the attack's tenth anniversary.
"You sure you wanna be here?" Laurie asked with a concerned expression.
Daniel squeezed his wife's hand. "I need to be here. I worked hard to see his name put on the wall. Least I can do is go to see it with my own eyes, pay my respects." A faint tremor in his voice betrayed his deep-seated anguish. He still had nightmares of that horrible moment when Jon's outstretched hand ended the life of Nite Owl's former partner; still saw Rorschach's agonized, tear-stained face and heard his final, tortured words: DO IT! It wasn't easy, campaigning for the lost vigilante's name to be added to the list of New York's casualties, especially since Daniel had to conduct it all anonymously, but in the end he succeeded. In a sense, Rorschach was the last victim in Veidt's twisted "practical joke."
Daniel and Laurie boarded the ferry, two anonymous faces lost in the crowd headed to the historic dedication ceremony. Former President Nixon himself would be there along with current President Bush and, unfortunately, Adrian Veidt. Daniel could only hope he would be able to restrain himself when he saw that bastard on the dais.
The ferry was full to capacity, standing room only. It was so crowded, in fact, the incognito couple remained ignorant of the fact that they shared the boat with a ghost.
The ferry's PA crackled as the captain broadcast the announcement that they were minutes from their destination. Everyone must prepare to debark. Daniel and Laurie turned towards the vessel's bow to gaze upon the artificial island that rose from the grey water as a shallow dome of soil and stone. The museum loomed from its center like a glass and steel castle, the memorial wall a black moat, stark and beautiful. When he and his wife finally descended the gangplank and set foot upon the island's gritty surface, Daniel couldn't help but feel like he was walking on someone's grave. In a way, he supposed, he was.
The dedication ceremony was as long and tedious as everyone expected. President Nixon spoke first, a rambling monologue on the trials of rebuilding, the suffering of the hundreds of thousands who found themselves without homes or families, the generosity of great philanthropists such as Adrian Veidt, and the unified strength of the American people. President Bush talked of the continued worldwide peace which arose from their shared tragedy, the prosperity they all now enjoyed, the sense of purpose shared around the world to live life to the fullest to honor those whose lives were lost. Then Adrian Veidt took the podium. He spoke at length on the resilience of the human spirit, how much good could arise from even the direst tragedy, how the great superpowers set aside their nuclear weapons and mutual suspicion to unite and create a utopia. The massive audience applauded loudest for him, save those rare individuals who knew the truth and glowered in bilious anger. Afterwards, the three powerful men gripped the absurdly oversized golden shears and together snipped through the broad red ribbon. The museum was now open to the public.
"Wanna go to the wall first?" Laurie asked.
Daniel shook his head. "Think I need to work up the nerve. Let's check out the museum."
"'Kay." She linked her arm with his as they stepped through the wide entryway.
Daniel had to admit the museum was impressive. There were enlarged photographs of the city, both before and after the attack, as well as artifacts and videos of the weeks leading up to the tragic event. He paused in front of a particularly large display; a section of wall taken from a building that once stood at the very edge of the crater and was since demolished. The plaque in front of the glass barrier stated the building functioned as a free clinic at the time. Spray painted across the dirty brick façade in jagged black letters were the words: THE END IS HERE. There was also a grainy photo of an apparently homeless man holding up a sign: THE END IS NIGH. One of the few known pictures of Walter Kovacs taken before his capture, apparently enlarged from a tourist's photo that accidentally caught the vigilante as he strode by. A handful of people speculated he might've painted those words on the wall, which would mean the vigilante wasn't killed in the attack. They were half right, Daniel knew. Rorschach didn't die in New York.
Beside him, Laurie stared at the unfocused image of her husband's former crime-fighting partner with mixed emotions. She never liked Rorschach, thought he was creepy and way too unbalanced, but a small part of her couldn't help but respect the fact that he stuck to his principles to the bitter end, even at the cost of his life. Rorschach refused to compromise with Veidt, unlike the others. Even in the face of Armageddon. There were times Laurie wondered if he hadn't been right, if keeping silent about the truth was the worst thing she and Daniel ever did, even though the world was better off than it was before when nuclear war seemed all but certain. At least Rorschach didn't have to deal with the guilt, or the nightmares.
A slight tug on her arm distracted Laurie from her reverie. "C'mon," said Daniel and led her out of the museum. They wandered the length of the encircling wall.
"Know where it is?" she asked.
"Kind of." Daniel peered at the rows and rows of white letters on black marble. After a few minutes he stopped and pointed. "There."
WALTER JOSEPH KOVACS. It was weird seeing that name there, etched forever in stone. Somehow, it made his death seem all the more real. Daniel's fingertip traced each white letter. A lump formed in his throat. Rest in peace, Rorschach. He turned his shining eyes to his wife. Laurie put her arms around him in a comforting embrace. She might not understand her husband's friendship with that disturbing man, but she could sympathize with his sadness. Could hold him while his tears soaked the shoulder of her blouse, like so many times before.
"I'd give anything to change what happened," Daniel whispered hoarsely.
Later, on the ferry once again, Daniel stared out over the grey water with troubled eyes and wondered, not for the first time, what he could have done differently to change the outcome of that tragic day. But no solution ever came to mind.
The ferry approached the dock. Daniel turned away from the rail…and froze. No, it couldn't--
The crowd of passengers jostled their way down the broad gangplank. Near the front edge of the group was the slight figure of a man with red hair turning grey at the temples. Daniel's hand shot out and gripped his startled wife's wrist.
"What?" Laurie frowned at her husband's strange behavior.
Daniel pointed frantically with his other hand. "Look!"
Laurie looked in the direction he pointed, but didn't see what could be getting him so excited. "What's wrong?"
Instead of explaining, Daniel elbowed his way through the milling passengers, towing his confused wife behind him. His less than polite negotiation earned him more than a few dirty looks and angry growls, but he ignored them all, intent on not losing sight of the man far ahead. Once ashore, Daniel all but ran after the retreating figure.
"Slow down!" Laurie protested, "I'm wearing heels!"
"Can't. He's getting away."
His quarry headed for the parking lot. Daniel hustled after him. Laurie stumbled, almost fell, forcing her husband to jerk to a halt. "What's wrong?"
"My shoe fell off," she snapped and jerked her arm free to limp back to the fallen footwear. Daniel waited impatiently for her to wriggle her foot back into the shoe. Finally, with a frustrated sigh, he hurried off. "Hey!" Laurie shouted after her husband's retreating back.
Daniel broke into an all-out run. C'mon, c'mon. Where is he? Dammit, I lost sight of him. Which way? His frantic eyes scanned the full parking lot in search of a glimpse of red hair. I know I saw him. It couldn't have been my imagination…There! He caught sight of his quarry just as the man disappeared into the passenger side of a modest blue compact car, the back of a woman's head visible in the driver's seat. The engine started with a muted hum.
"Ruh--" Daniel caught himself, "Walter!"
The car backed out of its parking spot, turned at the exit. Daniel stumbled to a halt as he watched the vehicle disappear into the flow of city traffic. Dammit! He fumbled for a pen, scribbled a row of numbers onto his hand. Laurie stumbled up to him and punched him hard in the shoulder. "What the hell was all that about?"
"It was him."
"Who?" Laurie threw up her hands in exasperation.
Daniel took her arm and led her to an out-of-the way corner. He leaned in close, spoke to her in a low voice, "Rorschach."
She stared at him. "Have you lost it?"
"I swear to god, it was him!"
"You saw his face?"
"Well," he hesitated, "Not exactly. But I'd know that walk of his anywhere."
Laurie sighed, pinched the bridge of her nose. "Honey, I'm trying to be understanding here, but--"
"I got his license number." Daniel held up his hand with its messy scrawl of ink. "We can find out where he lives."
"He doesn't live anywhere, Dan!" she snapped, "He's dead. You saw him die. You showed me where it happened. There was blood, remember?"
Daniel hesitated. "M-maybe Jon only pretended to kill him." It sounded weak, even to him.
Laurie struggled not to roll her eyes. "Why the hell would he do that?"
"I don't know! I only know what I just saw, and what I saw was Rorschach." He stared at his wife with unsettling intensity. "I have to know if it's real, Laurie. If I try to walk away I'll go nuts from not knowing. Can you understand that?"
She sighed. "Yeah. I guess I can." Doesn't mean I have to like it.
"Are you with me on this?"
"You know I am."
"Okay." Daniel hugged her, grateful for her support in spite of her obvious disbelief. "We'll get the address for the car's registration, then go and see for ourselves how crazy I really am."