It's been nine years since I last updated this, but it deserved an ending. It was hard to start, but once I got into it the words just kept coming. I think this story wanted to end as badly as I wanted it to end.
To date, this is still one of my best work and calling it "complete" feels freeing in a way I can't describe. I think a part of me was waiting for the right moment. For a moment when I needed this ending. It's here now, and I'm proud to call this story "Complete."
Thank you so much for reading.
Rorschach removed his face.
The masked vigilante no longer deserved to live when the rest of the Watchmen were dead. Rorschach deserved to go with them. For his failure. Walter threw the mask into the cinders and watched the black and white colors shift with the cooling ashes.
His overcoat followed, along with his suit jacket.
The hat, too.
Walter Kovacs was all that remained in old slacks and loose suspenders.
He left the room and left with shoulders straight back. He'd left his guilt with the burning remains of Veidt and the Comedian.
With Silk Spectre.
With Nite Owl.
Walter walked the filthy streets, passing by the sinners and criminals without a second look. He let the shoulders of strangers brush his own and allowed the sky to stay overcast with clouds.
He walked home.
He passed the screaming rent lady and climbed the stairs. He kicked open his door with the broken lock and crossed the room. Walter crawled into bed with his shoes on his feet. He let his head hit the pillow on the rotting mattress and stared at the ceiling.
He though of Daniel.
Of Rorschach's regrets.
Walter closed his eyes and dreamed.
"So this is the sort of thing you hoped for," Daniel said, sitting next to Walter on the roof of the highest building in the city. Both out of costume, they watched the blinking lights below. A clean city with no crime. Just happy people and loved ones. No need for heroes. No need for masks. "It's a pretty dream, even if dreams are the only place it can happen."
"I'm aware." Walter knew his time was short. "But I wanted you to see it. At least once."
"Thanks, buddy." Daniel reached over and took his hand. "I'm going to miss you."
"Same." Walter squeezed. He exhaled and swallowed. "I'll make sure you can rest easy."
It wasn't long until the boiler room greeted him. He refused to feel grateful that Krueger gave him one last moment of peace with Daniel before he arrived. His dreams were his own.
Krueger could only have the nightmares.
"The final showdown. It's just you and me now, Walter."
"Fine by me. You took it all." Walter rolled his shoulders and stretched. "Nothing to lose."
Krueger snickered. His voice echoed around the boiler room, echoing off the metal and heat. "Not even your soul?"
"I lost that years ago," Walter replied. He grabbed a pipe and yanked, ripping it from the wall. The metal burned his palm but he ignored it. He'd felt worse pain. "Nothing to take."
"Oh, I knew I liked you." Krueger stepped into his field of view. The monster adjusted his sweater and brushed it off with the clawed hand. The tip caught on the fabric and stretched. He snorted and pulled his hand away. "I'm going to be sad when this is all over. I've had fun playing with all of you."
Walter swung the pipe.
Krueger disappeared before it could make contact, but the message was sent.
He wasn't there for chitchat.
"Kill me or stay still so I can hit you," Walter said. He stalked forward, his feet clanging on each step. He'd lived through his mother. He had lived on the streets. The worst had already happened. "Games are over."
"I'd say they were just starting."
The scenery changed.
The pipe disappeared along with the boiler room. Walter stood in the middle of his mother's apartment. He heard her moaning on the other side of the door with one of her many clients.
"But what stage should it take place on?"
The tailor shop.
Walter's first look at the fabric that would make up his face.
"There's just so many choices."
A dead girl.
"But let's hit you close to home."
An open can of beans sat on the counter.
"You didn't really think I'd let you have your peaceful goodbye, did you?" Krueger asked, once more using Daniel's face and body. He strolled across the room with a mug of coffee, stirring the cream. "He's mine now."
Losing Nite Owl would haunt Walter for the rest of his life.
But it had been done.
Walter punched Krueger's face, smashing the man's head into the counter. No hesitation. No compromise. Walter picked up a chair and slammed it across Kruger's back, hard enough to throw him across the room. His glasses shattered alongside the dropped coffee mug.
"Oh," Kruger said. He stood, shaking off the illusion and turning around. "You really are past it all, aren't you? I should be impressed."
Walter threw another punch.
Kruger caught it with his gloved hand and squeezed as he turned Walter's arm, but the monster wasn't trained like Walter. He didn't see the elbow to his face coming.
Or the follow up kick to throw him off his feet.
Or the sheer fury of a grieving man as it poured over him.
"I'm going to split your head open like that dog's," Walter said, digging his fingers into the bald head. He lifted it and smashed it onto the tile. He repeated the motion and watched tile dent. "One of us is going to die tonight, and I don't really care who as long as I get to rip you apart."
"You're not scared at all, are you?" Krueger asked, pushing Walter off with a renewed sense of strength. He coughed and reached up to wipe the blood from his face. "I guess we really are done."
Krueger stood in front of the door that led to the Nite Owl's lair.
Walter rubbed the back of his knuckles on his cheek. The smear of warm blood stuck. "Then do it."
Krueger lunged for Walter.
Walter grabbed the cold can of beans and flung them at Kruger's face. The gooey mass caught him in the eye and he flinched for the second Walter needed to run and tackle him full force.
He crashed them both through the door and they tumbled down the stairs into the lair. Walter grabbed Freddy and threw him into the glass cases that held Daniel's multiple costumes. The man screamed as the glass hit him.
"I see giving you the home turf advantage was my mistake," Kruger hissed, no sense of humor in his voice. He snapped his finger and the dream changed once more—back to the boiler room. "My turn to know every inch."
"The location doesn't matter." Walter pulled his fists up. "I'll fight until I die."
"No, by the end you'll be begging for your life like the others."
Kruger smiled, stretching the burnt and wrinkled skin of his face. "Am I?"
"They would never beg." Walter had held Daniel. He knew better. He knew his friend. "They're stronger than that. They're stronger than you."
"Then why are they dead? Why are their souls mine?" Krueger threw his hands out and laughed. "If they're so strong, why did I win?"
"Evil men succeed all the time," Walter said. He inhaled and exhaled, breathing through his own crooked face. "Heroes that fall are still stronger than the evil. They inspire others to rise up and stand in their place."
Rorschach and the others had been the second generation.
And he knew there'd be a third to follow, the laws be damned.
"You killed them, but they don't belong to you," Walter said. It was all a trick. Words. A cruel lie to throw Walter off guard. How could he have been so foolish to have ever believed that monster was strong enough to keep his friend's souls? "Daniel is too strong to be owned by you."
Krueger flinched, his head tilting to the side. His finger twitched and he shifted back.
"He's smart," Walter said, licking his lip. "Maybe not like Veidt or Manhattan, but he was leagues above me and the others. We were good at punching. He planned."
The monster didn't move. He stared at the floor and his face changed expressions, like something was causing him pain.
"If I know my partner as well as I think, I'd say he was lying low," Walter said. He ripped another pipe off a boiler, letting the steam hit him the face. "Waiting for his moment to strike. To free himself."
"Stop talking," Kruger said, through gritted teeth. "I'm in control here!"
"Sometimes Daniel doesn't know how strong he is," Walter said at last. Insecurities plagued Daniel. He always second guessed. He always came through when it mattered. "But I believe in him. All of them. The Watchmen won't lose to you."
"No," Kruger hissed, holding his head. "You stay in there!"
"One last time, Daniel," Walter said. He closed his eyes and opened them to his beautiful world of black and white. Rorschach dawned his costume once more in the dream. "Be Nite Owl!"
"Let's take out the bad guy one last time, buddy."
Krueger spun around to the voice behind him and his face met Nite Owl's gauntlet. The bird-themed hero punched him hard enough that his nose caved in. Nite Owl kicked his stomach and held both hands together to throw a powerful uppercut under the man's chin.
"I'm sorry that took so long," Nite Owl said. He shook his hand and smiled. "It took a while to get everyone on the same page."
"Better late than never, Daniel," Rorschach said. He ran forward and swung the pipe against the back of Krueger's head. "Good to see you."
"You too, buddy."
"Come on now boys, don't keep him all to yourself!" Spectre shouted in delight. She jumped from a rafter above and dropped her heels into Krueger's stomach. He cried out in pain, crawling to get away. The woman grabbed the back of his sweater and yanked him up into an overhead throw. She tossed him with practiced ease and shouted, " All yours, dad!"
"That's my baby girl!" The Comedian shouted with a laugh. He aimed a shotgun at the man's face and shot him multiple times as he fell. "Teaming up? Who would have known."
"We all should have," Veidt said, snapping his finger. A large, purple monstrosity that resembled a tiger roared and ran across the room. Krueger shrieked as the animal jumped on him and tore into his flesh. "He took us out as individuals, but our mind power combined gives us more control in the dreamscape."
"Which makes this our playground now." Rorschach cracked his neck both ways and strolled forward. With each step, the boiler room melted away until they all stood in the center of the city streets. "Our turf."
"No," Kruger said, sitting up. He spit out blood and stumbled to his feet. "I won! Your souls were mine! Your power was mine!"
One by one the Watchmen surrounded Kruger. Rorschach stood between Nite Owl and the Comedian. Veidt with his pet at his feet and Spectre on the monster's other side.
They were together.
They were stronger.
No longer tired.
No longer in pain.
No longer afraid.
"You lose, Krueger." Rorschach said. He took a step and the street shot up, transforming into a rooftop. Krueger backed away until his feet touched the edge of the roof. Rorshach pulled out his grappling gun and pointed it. "Say goodnight."
The grappling hook hit Kruger in the chest, throwing him off the building. He fell with a scream. The man hit the pavement and burst into dust with a final, agonizing wail.
"Well done," Veidt said. He put his hand over his chest and closed his eyes. The world around them remained stable. No roaring monsters came. Rorschach felt a lightness around him—he knew they all felt it as well. Veidt confirmed with a smile and sigh of relief. "I do believe we are free."
"I guess I'll see you all on the other side," Comedian said. He slapped Veidt on the back and turned around to light a cigar. He pointed at Rorshach and winked. "There's no point in hanging out in that guy's head, so let's see what's waiting on the other side."
The two slowly faded away from the rooftop with a soft light and goodbyes that did not need to be spoken..
They moved on.
"I never thought it would all end like this," Spectre said. She crossed the roof and took Daniel's hand in one and Rorschach's in the other. "But if it has to end this way, I'm glad I wasn't alone."
"It's good to see you," Rorschach said. He reached up and pulled off his face. "You were not…horrible."
"The feeling's mutual," Spectre said. She kissed Walter on the cheek; her lips were warm. "Take care of yourself."
"I'll be right with you," Daniel said. He squeezed Spectre's hand. "I need another minute."
"Take your time," Spectre said. She smiled and slowly let go of Daniel's hand. Her own form too began to fade, with a bright light that filled the entire roof with a warm, bright sunlight. "I'll be waiting."
"Hey Rorschach," Daniel said. He closed the distance between himself and Walter, throwing his arms around the other man. The hug burned worse than any metal pipe and Walter's eyes watered. "You're going to wake up soon, but I need you to promise me something."
"Anything, Daniel." The hug grew tighter. Walter threw his arms around Daniel and squeezed back. "Anything."
"Go live," Daniel whispered. "I'm going to miss you like crazy, but I don't want to see you any time soon. You are as unstoppable as any cockroach and I don't want this to be what takes you down. Live as Rorschach or Walter, I don't care. Just live."
"It'll be hard."
"But you can do it." Daniel stepped back and held tight to Walter's arms. He let go of one long enough to push his goggles and cowl out of the way. His ruffled brown hair framed a warm, happy face. "Go hunt down some criminals. It'll keep you busy until we see each other again."
"I mean it, buddy. Promise me."
Walter woke up.
But he wasn't alone.
The others lived in the tears streaming down his face and the promise he'd made.