46. Love is an Apology
It's raining and I'm cold, shivering in the thin covering my uniform provides. I guess I could have gone somewhere to hide from the rain, but I'm waiting for Rorschach and I want to be sure he's safe.
He had told me to wait outside while he and Eddie took care of the men inside the warehouse. When I'd argued, he'd told me that if any of the men escaped, he was depending on me to catch them.
He was depending on me, so of course I hadn't argued after that.
Jimmy and Damien are holding the other entrance on the other side of the building, probably just as cold and soaking wet as I am. I wonder briefly if anyone's escaped on their side, but it's not long before I start thinking about Rorschach. Again.
When the door slams open, I am taken by surprise. I jump, startled, and turn just in time to see the flash of the gun as it fires.
There is no pain at first. It just registers as a burning in my chest so white-hot it's almost cold.
And then comes the pain.
I scream, but it comes out as a gasp.
Dimly, I register someone calling my name but there is a ringing in my ears and I can't hear properly. I barely feel it when I hit the pavement; my spine takes the force of impact, but that pain is nothing compared to the searing heat in my chest.
My vision blurs for a few moments, wavers in and out of consciousness. And then, like a whisper, I hear him in my voice, soft at first but gaining strength- Rorschach.
No. Walter. He has become Walter just for me.
I open my eyes and see him staring back at me. Just a swirl of black and white, but in my head I can see what he's seeing, and it's my eyes. Only my eyes, like nothing else matters.
"Cadence!" His voice comes out as an urgent bark, and it's the most scared I've ever heard him sound before. One arm wraps around my shoulders, holding me up. It's only then that I realize that blood has been pooling at the back of my mouth- when he lifts me up, it comes gushing from my mouth and spills onto my chest.
I blink, trying to make the world stop spinning, and focus on the patch of blood I've just vomited up. It's strangely beautiful. Red like rubies.
"Cadence! Look at me!"
I look back at Walter and watch as he reaches for his face, preparing to peel it off.
"No!" I protest, but it comes out as more of a bloody cough. My hand flashes out and grabs his, surprisingly strong. I can feel him staring at me, desperate and pleading and terrified, and I wish I could comfort him.
But the truth is all I can give him.
I smile at him and stroke his face soothingly; I leave bright red smears across the furiously swirling black and white surface. "Walter," I say, trying to keep my voice steady. Then my smile grows wider. "Brick Wall."
The sound of Eddie's agonized cry pierces me like a knife in my heart, and I whip my head up immediately to find him. He rushes over to us and kneels down next to me. "Rylie, no," he cries, and the sound of his sob feels even worse in my chest.
"Eddie," I murmur and reach out for him. Walter doesn't move, although Eddie leans toward me and they are so close they are resting against each other.
Eddie's arms envelope me tightly, and I wince as the pain in my chest intensifies. "It's okay," I hear him murmur in my ear. "You're gonna be okay."
His words make me laugh, even though it hurts like hell to do so. He leans away, still holding me by my shoulders. I smile back at him and shake my head. "You and I both know I'm going to die," I say.
Pain so fierce I feel like I might be devoured by it fills his eyes, and he shakes me just as fiercely. "Don't you dare say that, Rylie," he snarls. But the tears in his voice weaken his words.
"Eddie," I soothe. "Eddie."
It takes me several tries to calm him down, and when I finally do, the tears are falling so thickly down his face I doubt he can even see me anymore. Gently, I wipe them away, leaving trails of blood across his cheeks. Slowly, he lowers his head into my chest, the side without the bullet.
"Don't leave me," he sobs into my shoulder, holding me in trembling arms.
"Shh," I continue to soothe him, stroking his hair lightly. Over his shoulder, I see that Walter still has not moved. He hasn't even removed his arm from around my shoulder. He just continues to stare at me, watching me as though watching a car crash- he can't look away.
"I'm sorry," I mouth at him, unwilling to say it out loud. And I am. This is exactly the kind of thing he's been warning me about since day one.
He doesn't respond, doesn't give any indication that he heard me. But I hear my words in his mind as though I spoke them aloud, and I know that he understood.
A low moan from Eddie draws my attention. "Shit, Rylie, please stay with me!" he pleads, leaning away to stare beseechingly into my eyes.
But the wound in my chest is fast bleeding out my life- I can feel it leaving me now, like a physical, tangible thing, and my God I am tired. This is the one thing I can't do for Eddie, even though I want to. I reach out to press my bloody palm against the back of Eddie's head and pull him closer to me so that our foreheads rest together.
"I'm not going anywhere, Eddie," I murmur. "I promise. It's just that it won't be as easy for you to see me."
"No!" he moans, but I interrupt him.
"Eddie, you have to promise me. Promise me you'll deal with this. I know you can, you're strong. Stronger than you think you are," I continue, more intensely this time.
He starts to shake his head. "I can't, Rylie, I can't, I can't."
"You can," I press, and then wince as a shard of pain lances through me. Time is running out. I have more things to say, and so little time left. I have no inhibitions left; what can anything do to me now? So I lean forward and kiss him- not on the lips, as I've dreamt of so many times, but on the forehead. Because I've realized in that moment that I can't kiss him anymore. It's not him that I'm in love with.
"Please, Eddie. Be a good boy and promise me," I beg, pleading now because the drowsiness is spreading and my head is becoming foggy.
Even though I can tell he wants to argue more, there is a resignation in his eyes. No, not a resignation. An emptiness. I wince and pray to God that someday soon, that emptiness will be filled. I mean, honestly, how much of a void could I possibly leave in him?
He leans away but sticks close, allowing Walter more room. I'm thankful that they're both not so loathing of each other that my death can bring them together.
I smile at Walter and hold out my arms; they are shaking like crazy but I manage to keep them under sufficient control.
He doesn't hesitate this time. With total abandon, his arms envelope me and we embrace tightly- not for the first time, but certainly for the last. His breath is hot in my ear as he whispers, in a quivering, terrified voice, "Cadence, I can't do this without you."
I shake my head and laugh weakly, leaning away to look at him. "Of course you can, you idiot. You've been doing this without me for years," I chide lightly.
But he shakes his head, and I am reminded of a scared little boy. I wish so badly that I could hold him and tell him that everything will be alright. But I couldn't lie to myself, and I certainly couldn't lie to him.
"Cadence. I can't."
"Oh, Southpaw. Of course you can. You were born a fighter. You'll always be a fighter. Losing me isn't going to change that," I say and then I sigh. The pain has pretty much faded by now. Actually, almost everything is fading, quickly now. Exhaustion sweeps over me. But there is one last thing that needs to be said.
Slowly, carefully, I reach out to grab Walter's face in my hands. I don't have to see his face to know when I've found his eyes; they burn into mine so fiercely I'm surprised my eyes haven't caught fire.
"Walter," I say, in a voice as slow and careful as my hands. And then I say it. The thing I've been meaning to say since the first moment I meant him. What I was born to say, probably. Cheesy, yeah. But when you're dying, things become just a tad more dramatic.
"I love you."
The flare of emotion within Walter is so strong, so powerful, that for a moment I wonder if I've just been struck by lightning again. But, no, it's just him. Just his heart, beating in time with my broken meter, matching mine pace for pace.
Rorschach is silent. I am surprised. I was expecting a fight, but there is nothing. Not the least bit of resistance when Walter, in a voice that wavers and breaks, says, "I...love you, too." It sounds strange, almost like a question, and I hear the absolute fear in his voice as he says it. Rorschach may not be putting up a fight, but it's not like admitting something like love would ever be easy for him.
I grin at him tiredly. "Good. I was hoping you'd say it back," I murmur and then sigh. "Sorry it's so late."
"Don't you ever be sorry," Walter snaps fiercely; when he reaches out to cup my face, his fingers dig into my skin, probably leaving bruises. Or maybe so much blood has been drained from my face that there won't be any bruises.
I shrug weakly and continue to grin. "Sorry."
Walter pauses for a moment and then his eyes soften. I feel the memory in his head and smile wider; the first day we met, when I'd apologized for running into him. . "You apologize too much," he murmurs. "And I accept."
"Well, good," I murmur, and then close my eyes. I've said all I need to say.
The only warning I get is the warmth of breath upon my lips. Then, in a hesitant, trembling way, Walter is kissing me. My eyes flash open and my heart stutters weakly in my chest. It is so chaste, so fearful. A virgin's kiss.
I smile against his lips. This is the only kiss I will ever get from him, and it took death to get it out of him. Oh, well. Better late than never.
When he pulls away, I see my face in his mind and though it is pale with death, my eyes are shining. "Thank you," I tell him.
He dips his head to me. "Of course, Northpaw," he replies.
And that's it. My lids are too heavy now to hold up. I've held on for as long as I can, but it was long enough.
When I close my eyes, they don't open again.
Rains when they bury Cadence. Poetic part of me likes to think sky is mourning for her, too.
Would really like to snap that pathetic part of me in half.
Eddie doesn't speak to anyone but me anymore. Strange turn of events. Only friends because Cadence is dead.
Won't matter much longer, however. Nothing here for me anymore. Nothing matters.
Leave on a Saturday night. Three weeks since Cadence died. Walter is gone now. Just Rorschach, but that's fine. Stronger than Walter could ever be.
"When will you be back, Rorschach?" Daniel asks, leaning out of front door. He knows not to call me Walter now. Not ever.
Rain patters down onto my shoulders. Part of me thinks of Coke bottles, but quickly reject the memory.
"Won't be," I reply and turn away.
"Wait, what?" Shock evident in Daniel's voice, as well as worry. Hurm. Could never let go of emotions.
"Good-bye, Daniel," I say and start walking.
"Rorschach, wait!" he calls after me. Don't know why I stop, but do. Turn to him slowly, warily. Follows me out into rain. Watch it drip from glasses he has yet again adopted.
Pain in his eyes. Ignore it. "What about the Resistance Movement? What about the government and all that we've been working for?" There is a pause. Know what he's going to say before he does, but still can't believe my ears. "What about Cadence and-"
"Don't say her name," I hiss, spit venom from between my teeth. Daniel knows never to say her name. Ever.
Holds his hands up. Hold back a snort of contempt. Could never stop surrendering, either. "Sorry," he says. "But what about all that we've done? What about saving the world?"
Sounds like a naive child. Could never save the world. No one could. Stupid to try. I turn away.
"World can burn for all I care," I toss over my shoulder. "Nothing here for me now. Good-bye, Daniel." This time, Daniel stays silent and doesn't follow. Smart of him.
Don't know where I'm going. Been lost before. Hoping to become lost again.
Far from here...far from here is salvation, so far it's out of reach. So am I. And in the end, there is this truth...
Nothing ends. Ever.
I dread this and I embrace it.