Title: What Cats Know
Author: Slipstream (LJ: slipstreamborne)
Summary: When Blair Roche goes missing it's Walter Kovacs who finds her.
Warnings: This fic features graphic, potentially triggering content in the form of violent sexual assault. "Non-con" gets used pretty casually in fic warnings, so I'm bolding this as a heads-up for those who wish to avoid such material. This is not porn.
Notes: The kinkmeme thread featuring the prompt and my original post in parts can be found here. Realized halfway through writing this that canon Grice is just using the dressmaker's shop as a hideout and is not, actually, a dressmaker. Oh well. As far as the AU elements of this fic go its a small one. But one "fun" thing I did realize only after writing the second section of this fic re: the stove/furnace was this: the multiple rapist that Rorschach kills and drops off in front of NYPD is named "Furniss". TINY D: INDUCING DETAILS OF WATCHMEN I LOVE YOU BUT AS MENTIONED YOU MAKE ME D:.
Disclaimer: I own none of the characters featured in this fanfic. Some phrases have been pulled directly from the GN for D: inducing remix purposes. To quote the original prompt at the kinkmeme, "Fandom, Moore, Walter. I'm so sorry."
It's Walter who finds her. No detective work on his part, no masked heroics. An accident, a twist of fate. A fluke of fortune written in the distant, unblinking stars.
On an errand for his boss, sent to shake down some orders and fabric Gerald Grice promised last week but never delivered. Grice absent, forced to wait, concrete stairs of the stoop hot against his thighs. It is good to sit, if only for a moment. Walter is tired. No sleep this week, nights eaten by a gang war and his growing unease regarding the Roche case splashed across the papers, but forced by the necessities of rent and food to drag back into work each morning.
He hears her faint, lost mewling drift down from a cracked window above, thinks her first a cat scratching to be let out. Unbidden the old memory surfaces, howling and clad in a long, dirty nightshirt, and he recognizes then the human note of fear in her whimpered cries.
No thought, only action. Walter cannot ignore the baying instincts honed eleven years by his night self any more than he could ignore his need to breathe.
The door swings open, impact jolting up his leg harder than usual without the cushion of his patrol boots. Inside a mess, half-finished projects draped over dusty junk and corners haunted by fat, felt torsos. Dogs out back very loud, stirred to frenzy by the noise of his break-in.
The kitchen smells like a slaughterhouse: old blood and animal piss. Butcher's tools spread across the counter, waiting to be sharpened. Heavy padlock closed around the handles of the under-sink cabinets. The cabinet doors rattle on their hinges, shivering like a living thing. Whimpering louder, unmistakably human. Scared of the dogs, prowling below the window. Scared of him, whose coming makes the dogs bark.
"Getting you out," he says. "Hold on."
No tools; Walter doesn't carry them. Stupid, stupid. Improvise. Padlock strong, hinges weak, screws loose in the rotting wood. He slides the blade of the butcher knife between the door and its frame, wretches it back and forth like a crowbar. Kicks at the hinges--less jarring than the front door--until the wood splinters and gives, the cabinet door falling open like a broken jaw.
Blair Roche huddles behind a tangle of pipes and bottles of bleach, dirty and shaking. He drops the knife.
"It's okay." She doesn't move. He crouches low, holds out his naked palms. He knows more than others how empty the gesture is--a fist is a fierce weapon--but it's all he has. "Won't hurt you. Taking you--"
Doesn't hear Grice come in, doesn't register the blow or his bones turning to water until his shoulder hits the floor. The dogs. Too loud. Walter caught up in the girl, his own demons, and the dogs...
Focus. Head rings, fingers scrabble for purchase in a slick red pool. Push past it, fight, find Grice and the girl--
Can't get up, can't tell up from down, but can grope with strong arms until he hits Grices legs, can yank him down to join him on the gritty linoleum. Fairer fight here on the floor. They twist like mating snakes.
"Christ!" Grice grunts. He's a sloppy brawler but outweighs him by at least sixty pounds. "Just stay down, you little shit!"
Only thrashes harder, rolling them away from the dank maw under the sink and Blair Roche's wide, white eyes. He is half-blind, kicking wildly. Grice is kneeling on top of him, has his shoulders pinned under his sharp knees, but that's good, his attention is on Walter and away from the girl and the now clear path to the door.
Walter looks up. They lock eyes...
"Run!" he barks, and she does, scrambling on hands and knees before finding her feet and hitting the hallway at full speed.
...but in that moment of distraction Grice picks up the heavy butcher block--blood already smeared across its scarred surface, was that what hit him?--and brings it down with more luck than skill across his nose and eyes.
Dark now. Dark as it gets.
He wakes to a world still grey and shifting, the only certainty the hard press of naked floorboards against his back. Tries to rub at his eyes, clear his vision, but can't find his hands. Should be attached to his arms, but even those feel distant, as disconnected from reality as the stars.
Slowly regains feeling. Finds his fingers first, hot pinpricks under his nails and deep in his knuckles. He recognizes the sensation of circulation-starved digits, flexes, and yes, those are his wrists, stretched above his head and bound together tightly with thick, rough rope.
Sure now of the location of at least two of his limbs, he attempts to takes stock of the rest of himself, but the agonizing mess of his head drowns out all other complaints, his brain crammed into a skull seemingly two sizes too small. Nose certainly broken, airway clogged with blood. Vision still muddy, offering only brief, spotty images of a water-stained ceiling, but hearing sharp, feeding him the repeating, sharp scrape of metal honing metal. Ringing muffled, though, by distance and drywall. Grice in the next room, then.
He pushes clumsily with his feet, managing to raise himself up on his shoulders a few shaking inches before his legs give out on him. Hnnh. Problematic.
Forces himself to rest, regain what strength he can. When he opens his eyes again the shadows have receded slightly, revealing an upside-down gauntlet of dressmaker's dummies. He's in the front room. Cranes his head back and catches a glimpse of a thick metal pipe reaching for the ceiling. Tugging against his rope bindings confirms that he's been lashed to one of the arched legs of the heavy cast-iron stove bolted to the floor.
He drifts, unaware of the moment he slips from picking at the knots with fumbling fingers and into semi-consciousness. Snaps back at the creak of door hinges, looks up to lock gazes with the dark shape of Grice, standing there outlined in yellow-gold light, a long, shining carving knife held loosely at his side.
Gerald Grice is not a brave monster. Likely would have cowered before Rorschach, fallen into stuttering denial before the inhuman authority of his shifting face. He's scared now; not of Walter himself but the threat of exposure and capture he represents. Angry, too. Walter lost him his ransom, even though it was never his to begin with. Lost him his plaything.
Having come to some decision, he strides forward with a new, grim purpose. His steps raise small clouds of dust.
Walter doesn't look away, doesn't blink. He knows that Grice sees in him--with his threadbare clothes and plain face dusted with blood and freckles--something that can be made small and useless. He can't bring himself to entirely disagree with Grice's assessment of Walter, even if the pleasure Grice finds in weakness fills him with disgust.
Grice shifts his grip on the knife and settles down on the floor beside him, outside the reach of both his teeth and uncooperative legs. He looks him over with a dressmaker's eye, finding all his seams.
He starts with the buttons of Walter's shirt, testing the edge of his blade on the cotton threads. Satisfied, he sets to work cutting and cutting until Walter falls apart in his hands, until he doesn't look like a man anymore.
His confidence grows with every slice.
It is not a plea, not a curse. Just a name in the dark of his mind, whispered to himself where no one else can hear. A name given to the headless, armless female forms encircling him, staring down with grim satisfaction from over Grice's shoulder.
It is good to name things, to give them a form and substance separate from the inky, indescript universe. To give them life and mortal form, if only so that, being mortal, they may at last be killed.
And he is going to kill her, oh yes. Never mind that the old whore is already long dead. Obviously a trick, meant to lure him into a false sense of security, just one more silken thread in the snaring web she's woven over his whole life, swollen spider hungry jaws clicking, waiting for the moment when she could at last spring and fill him with one last, flesh-eating poison.
Grice shifts, forcing Walter to bite down on the low animal sound in his throat. He can't make any noise. Won't. No worse than the pain of the knife. Made no noise then. Objectively, this is possibly better, his pain receptors numb now with endorphins and blood loss. And yet...
He doesn't realize he's been holding his breath until a hard thrust forces the hoarded air from his lungs. Tries to inhale but chokes on the blood and bile pooled in his mouth, coughs until red spray stains Grice's already stained shirt with fresh Rorschach patterns: blooming flowers, a butterfly frozen in flight. Some of it hits Grices face, dripping down his sweaty, sloping brow and into his eyes. Walter hopes it stings.
For all the horrors of his childhood, this was one hard lesson he'd managed to escape. Thought he'd learned it--face sticky with rotten fruit, hands tracing the hot edges of resealed latex--knows too well now his presumptive foolishness, soft and nauseating like the press of Grice's stomach against his own.
This is what cats know, screaming like babies in the night. Not just the pain of the she-cat, teeth in her shoulder and loins burning with each thrust of the tom's barbed flesh, but Kitty Genovese's pain, steps from home when evil caught her, her cries met only with shut windows and a few pressed, curious faces who watch but do nothing.
Gerald Grice won't shut up, panting his obscene, pink fantasies to the replacement he's fashioned from Walters body and--
Sylvia Kovacs laughs and says This is what it was like, every night, you ungrateful bastard, this is what it is always like, and--
what friends Walter has are masked and powerful but they are not here, they are not coming.
He is alone.
Empty now. Grice has withdrawn, grunting. Jet of warmth spatters across Walter's chest, like a hot faucet.
The end is nigh.
Still, she is not here. In the patter of blood on floor and semen on skin he can hear only the echo of her leather Mary Janes; Blair Roche, running, down the hall and out the door and down the steps to the street and gone, gone, free.
In the face of the unacceptable alternative, all Walter Kovacs can do is close his eyes.
Rorschach opens them again.
Eehnngk. Not dead yet.
Unexpected, but irrelevant, long term. Dead now, dead five minutes from now, still dead. Dead ten years from now, still dead.
Grice's movements slow and disjointed, as if in dreaming. Is choosing best knife for job. Is washing bloody knives in sink. Is lighting iron stove. Is closing hand over Blair Roche's mouth. Is cutting off shirt buttons. Is locking cabinet. Is slipping blade between the joint of Kovac's hip. Is dreaming of ransom. Is unzipping his trousers. Is whistling to dogs.
Rorschach watches, detached. This how Dr. Manhattan--?
Also irrelevant. These things are happening, have happened, will happen, to Kovacs. Not Rorschach. Kovacs just the chrysalis, the hard, harboring shell. Can stand some cracking, some peeling back.
Ignore time's stutter-stop cartwheels, watch the spaces between. Sordid, violent twilight zone. A face there in the swirling black. Look, look.
Know that face. Darkness shifting over concrete. Sewers flooded with blood. Blind eyes turned upward, pleading. New York.
It opens its mouth, black teeth white tongue.
Something unclenches. Yes. Time now to step into shadow, a formless fear in the night, Kovacs one more body discarded at city's foundations, the tired masses yearning to breathe free. Time later to find Grice again, to burn him out of hiding. Roar up black smoke against black sky. Rain down ink and salt and wash the city clean.
Noise from throat. Not laughter. A gurgling, ghostly parody.
Grice frozen, hand holding the cleaver arched halfway over head. Watches him like one weary of a mad dog.
"What are you waiting for?" Rorschach rasps. "Do it."
Skin of mask wet and aching. Air in lungs Antarctic cold. Dark planet turns beneath him. This is not end.