Summary: There are reasons for many things, and here is one: why Dan had to follow Rorschach out into the snows of Antarctica.
Notes: Watchmen/Dead Like Me crossover, which is very weird, I know.
Disclaimer: Don't own any of this, of course.
Daniel starts acting strangely when their detour to Mason's garage finds the place empty and deserted, the old man nowhere to be seen. Even the dog is gone, something Rorschach is grateful for, but there are no signs of struggle, nothing to indicate anything is amiss. Daniel still reaches to straighten the old Minutemen portrait with the reverence of someone saying goodbye.
Then Rorschach finds the envelope on the workdesk, Daniel's name scrawled on it in a careful hand. Picking it up to pass to his partner feels electric and strange, like someone treading heavy and careless over his grave.
One quick look inside – all Rorschach can see is a glimpse of yellow paper, scraps stuck together under the fold of the envelope – and Daniel goes shock-white under the cowl and goggles, forgetting to breathe. He looks unspeakably old, for just a moment.
"Something wrong?" Rorschach grates, and for once, he wishes he could soften the edges of it.
Daniel looks up from the packet, and even through the goggles Rorschach can feel the way his eyes are seeking contact. "No," he finally says after a minute, "everything's fine," and he's a worse liar than Rorschach is.
"So, ah," he says once they're in flight again, headed for Veidt's tower. "Kovacs, huh? What is that, Slovak? Hungarian?"
"Not important," he growls, and Daniel just nods, biting his lip and checking the ship's chronometer and returning his attention to the sky spread out beneath them.
He climbs back into the ship, journal safely seen off to the hands that deserve it, the only ones he trusts. It's possible the last entry is too fatalistic, but the ink's on the paper now and what's done is done, and he doesn't like the look of Daniel's face in the dash lights, fearful and resigned. These things carry their own omens, and a good prophet knows how to read the writing on any wall.
"What do you think we're going to find there?" Daniel asks, two hours into the flight.
Rorschach shifts in the passenger chair. "Veidt. Guards. Complicated security system."
A laugh, incredulous. "No, I don't mean – not in terms of obstacles, just in general. What do you think he's doing?"
"No idea. What we're intending to find out."
"It could be dangerous," Daniel says, and he reaches forward to press the Archimedes' autopilot button; turns his chair to face Rorschach. His face still looks like grief, like it did in Mason's home, white in the moonlight. He's starting to understand why. "Either of us could die there."
"Yes," he says, ceding the point like an indulgence. "Or both. Do you… I don't know, man. Do you have any regrets?"
Just the whirring of the ship's engines, for a long stretch.
"Very personal question, Daniel. Why are you asking?"
Daniel pushes the cowl back, becomes himself. Nite Owl was only ever a disguise to him, and Rorschach's always been able to see straight through all kinds of masks. "Because I care and I just don't want– god."
More mechanical noise, and the flow of air over the hull.
"Look," Daniel says, dropping his eyes to the floor. "This isn't us running out into the street to beat on some punk kids. This is serious, seriousshit we're heading into here. It isn't a game. And I don't want you to walk in there with anything unfinished, you know?"
"No regrets," Rorschach snaps, and it's a little peevish but through the swirl of the mask, he makes sure to meet Daniel's eyes. "Have gotten through life without compromising. Have done a lot of good. Haven't… saved everyone. But some people are beyond saving."
"Yeah," Daniel says, the word riding an exhale. He sounds like he's breaking somewhere inside. "Yeah, I guess they are."
Daniel's never worn a watch with his costume before, but he straps one on before they leave the ship, keeps checking it at the most inappropriate times. All through their fight with Veidt, and every time the horrible mutant cat draws too near, and when a gunshot splits the perfection of Veidt's victory. It's like he's waiting for something, watching a different countdown than the rest of them, and the longer it runs the more miserable he looks, gutted and desperate and sick.
He's not entirely sure what's happening anymore – it's been too much too fast, the implications of Veidt's actions flooding out his brain with rage and misery and he can tell that he's crying under his face but it's not importantanymore and–
Daniel has followed him out into the snow, is reaching to pull him back, always trying to pull him back, to stop him from doing what he needs to. No staying power. But he doesn't pull this time; just grasps his hand with an expression so agonized it hurts Rorschach and Walter both to see it, and then lets the grip slip away and it feels like something of himself is slipping away with it and–
And it's all so much quieter and easier after that, and nothing is a surprise, and nothing hurts.
They're sitting on the snowy side of the rise, and no one is paying attention. No one can see Daniel right now, he's said, and the bloody spatter of remains in the ice is too distracting for anyone to go squinting into Antarctica's eternal sunlight to find the shade that once lived in it.
A lot of things make sense, now. The way Daniel had sometimes taken them down random alleys like a hound on bloodscent, well out of their usual patrol radius, and how those had always been the worst nights. The way he'd never needed the same careful stitching that Rorschach had after the fights that got out of control, shrugging off injuries that'd seemed severe in the street like so many papercuts. They way he'd turn sad sometimes, sad and resigned and heartbroken at the way the world worked.
"How long?" he asks, something even and careful in his voice. He's fingering a yellow scrap of paper; recognizes Mason's handwriting shaping his own name, doesn't want to consider the implications.
Daniel shuffles next to him, settles his arms across his legs. "Eighty-seven years."
"1898," and he wonders idly where the math is happening, now that his brain doesn't exist anymore. "How did it happen?"
A long silence, for all that it can actually be silent here, the wind at the bottom of the world always battering the senses.
Walter looks up, and he is Walter now, stripped not just of his face but of the disease of the last ten years, run clean. "Is it a secret? Something you're not supposed to tell?"
"No, I just…" Daniel laughs then, humorless. "It's just really stupid, you know? Embarrassing."
"Just walked up to the prefabricated deity of the modern age and called his bluff. If he hadn't been there, would have tried to walk across Antarctica to a nonfunctional ship without the ability to open it. Would probably have frozen." Death has done wonders for his self-awareness, it seems, but nothing for his use of grammar, and some part of him is pleased by this. "Don't hold a monopoly on 'stupid', Daniel."
Another laugh that's almost a sob, and Daniel's been avoiding looking down at the stain on the white below them. He has Rorschach's hat in his hands, is running it through his fingers. "I guess not, no. Okay." He takes a breath, lets it out. "It was dumb, like I said. My family had too much money, they flaunted it, Iflaunted it. Made myself into a target."
"You don't flaunt–"
"Now I don't, no. I learned that lesson." He shrugs, and the gesture's always seemed so much larger on him. Right now, he's as small and uncertain as Walter. "Got mugged coming out of a bar, stabbed in the back."
Walter narrows his eyes. He's taken too many deep blades, patched up by these hands in front of him, and none have been fatal yet. "Just stabbed?"
"Yeah well," Daniel says, pressing a hand over his eyes. "I know that doesn't seem like much, but there weren't exactly emergency services back then. No payphones, no 911, no ambulances. A knife in the right place was usually all it took."
Walter squints into the sky. There are no birds here to serve as a distraction; no clouds shifting across the sun. The reality sinks in unimpeded. "…died in the street."
"Is that why you became Nite Owl?"
"It's part of it. But this really isn't about me." Daniel turns, and his eyes have never seemed so sharp. "What about you? Any regrets?"
Walter rolls his shoulders, hunching the coat up around his ears. "Already answered that, on the way here."
"I know. But the answer tends to change when it stops being an academic question."
"Regret not stopping Veidt," he says, immediately. "Not saving–"
"You couldn't have. Please, trust me here, don't waste time regretting something you can't do anything about," and because it's Daniel and he sounds so plaintive, Walter nods, and goes quiet. Thinks, for what feels like a long time.
A shrug after a moment, and Walter hands the piece of paper back, watches the writing on it fade as it passes back into Daniel's hands, the name and the time and the hastily scrawled so sorry, Dannyon its back. Holds his own hand up in front of him, watching what still looks like muscle shifting under the glove leather as he rolls his fingers in and out of a fist.
Daniel waits, still and quiet.
"I can touch you?" Walter asks, reaching to work the glove off. "Won't just… go through?"
"Yeah," and Daniel's smiling faintly. "I'm kind of special like that."
He shoves the glove in his pocket, has a sneaking suspicion that if he just drops it it'll evaporate into the freezing air. "Always have been special," he says, and lays the back of his hand against Daniel's cheek; Daniel closes his eyes. "Just didn't realize…"
"That you were working with a dead man?"
"Unimportant," Walter growls, hand incongruously gentle where it smoothes back over skin. "This won't… won't damn me?"
Eyes open, so full of pain Walter wonders how he could ever have missed it. "I don't know if there even isany damnation, buddy. I've never… I mean, no one ever goes to something that isn't better than what they're leaving."
"What about you?"
"Heh. Someday, maybe. When I'm done here."
There it is, the catch, the separation. Questions are drifting like when and how long and how will I knowbut he doesn't ask any of them; just leans in to press a chaste kiss to the corner of Daniel's mouth, and it feels like kissing nothing more substantial than warm spring air.
"Regret never doing that," he whispers, voice cracking apart to be held so low.
"Now you've done it," Daniel says, and he smiles, warm and empty of questions. There's no time to ask where this came from or how long it'd been harbored. Only now is important. "Nothing to regret anymore, right?" he says, and he clasps the back of Walter's neck like he has on a dozen better nights, a dozen victories held sacred in the darkest city spaces.
"Suppose not." There's something bright leaking around the edges of his vision, brighter than the sun, but it's getting no closer. "How much time do I have?"
"It varies a lot. I think it depends on you being ready."
On the embankment below them, the red is starting to blacken in the cold, symmetric against the white.
"…could be here a while."
Daniel laughs, and for the first time in a day, it feels honest. "That's okay. Benefit of already being dead, you can't freeze to death."
"–knows full well that I just watched my best friend exploded in the snow." There's a catch in his voice, and it sounds like it hurts. Walter barely notices; he's stuck on the words. "I think she'll understand if I need some time to myself, here."
Walter nods. Shifts to lean against Daniel and meets no resistance, feels an arm settle around his shoulders and draw him in and for a second he almost forgets that he has no shoulders, no weight to press against Daniel's side.
A hand runs through his non-existent hair. "Hey, do you mind if I keep this?" Daniel asks, holding the hat up in front of them.
Walter tries to answer, he really does; but for no longer being a real body it's frustratingly uncooperative, and his throat is too tight to allow for speech. So he just shakes his head: No, he doesn't mind, he's never minded, Daniel's hands and face and voice in his life a long-ago forgiven intrusion.
Daniel sets the hat on his own head for safekeeping. It doesn't fit. "You know," he says, careful. "In eighty-seven years, I don't think I've ever had anyone else I could really call a friend. I spent every night we were partners terrified you'd show up on the next night's list, you should have seen what a wreck I was. You got under my skin, man. I don't know how, but…"
And he might trail off there or he might not, but Walter can't tell because there's a wind in his head and it's getting louder, and he presses his eyes closed against it, holds onto this breathing construct of hope and regret for all he's worth until he feels it starting to dissolve, run through his fingers like sunlight.
When he opens his eyes again, all he sees is white.
(c) 2010 ricebol