NOTE: Okay, so, at first I was going to wait to post this after I wrote it. But then I thought "goddamn it, I really just want to get this done!" So, here you go! Hope you like it!

7. Waiting for the Smoke to Clear

Rylie (5:06 p.m., Sep. 26, 1975)

I see him, walking out of a clothing warehouse on 28th street, looking more worn and tired and old than I've ever seen him look. The difference between my Walter and this Walter is staggering. It takes my breath away.

The shadows under this Walter's eyes look like bruises, or like the ink from his mask sunk into the spaces beneath his eyes. My Walter has shadows, too. But they're not so dark.

I follow him on the other side of the street, trying to be unobtrusive about it. The distance aches between us, though I know he's oblivious to it. My pain is palpable; it's a physical thing, and I wish I could get rid of it.

Two months, I remind myself. Two months and then I can go back.

I follow him to a sleazy apartment building a few blocks away. He heads inside. I can't help feeling a stab of concern. He lives here?

I shouldn't be so surprised. I guess I just hoped there could have been something decent about his screwed up life.

With a sigh I turn to head back the way I came, but quickly realize that I will have no idea where to find him later if I don't wait for him now.

I grit my teeth in frustration and lift my eyes to the sky.

Jon! I shout. Would it kill you to help me out a little?

His quick response surprises me. You want to know where to find him tonight, he says.

YES.

The disused brewery on 25th and Lansing at 10:18 tonight, third floor. The front door will be unlocked. Make sure to wear your mask.

Thank you, I think fervently and head back the way I came.

~r.~

I curl up in a tight alley under a piece of cardboard. It isn't terribly cold yet but I don't really want to be seen in such a vulnerable position. Guess Walter's paranoia has been rubbing off. I catch a few good hours of sleep and then shove off for the brewery.

Darkness has fallen over the city, though the activity is far from still. This is, after all, the city that never sleeps. I sigh and feel myself relax. A smile lights my face. Even though I'm thirty-six years away from home, this city still manages to feel familiar and, in a strange, perverse way, safe.

When I'm a few yards from 25th and Lansing, I glance down at the watch on my wrist. I stole it from a fat, rich-looking man just this morning. I felt a little bad- he looked like a nice guy despite his obvious wealth- but I figured he had enough to spare, just the same.

It's five to ten. I'm early, but I figure I might as well head inside anyway. I take a moment to pull on my mask, humming lightly to myself.

The moment I open the door, somebody grabs me and yanks me inside. I start to struggle, crying out in surprise, but they toss me away before I can do any damage.

I land hard on my left shoulder and tumble across the dusty floor, coming to a sudden stop against the south wall.

Walter's voice is abrupt and loud in my head. Get up, now! he shouts. The urgency in his voice is not lost on me.

Gritting my teeth against the pain, I stagger to my feet, only to slam back against the wall as somebody's fist racks me. There is blinding pain in the left side of my face. A cracked cheekbone, I'm sure. Tears spring to my eyes. Blood bursts from a split in my upper lip.

Goddammit, you pathetic beast! GET UP, Walter snaps.

This time when I pull myself to my feet, I am ready. Another fist cocks back and aims for my face, the right side this time. Violent energy surges through me. I duck and swing my foot into my assailant's side.

Yes! Perfect kidney shot! Eddie cheers in my mind. I grin dangerously.

Someone else swings at me from the left. I duck and ram my head deep into their stomach, sending us both flying. He skids across the floor and I lift my head, grabbing his throat with surprising force.

Panic flits across his features, mingling with the pain and rage, but before he can asphyxiate and die, he reaches into his belt and pulls out a gun.

With Walter and Eddie screaming encouragement in my head, I let go of his neck and instead snatch the gun right of his hand. In the same movement I level it at his throat and grin. He stares at me, the shock on his face nearly comical.

Don't get cocky, Rylie. Behind you, Walter warns me.

I swing around, keeping one knee pressed to the man's groin as a warning. If he tries anything, all I have to do is lean my weight on that knee and he'll be howling in misery. This makes Eddie laugh.

The ultimate pressure point, he says, giggling like a little boy.

There are six men and two women behind me, all snarling at me like a pack of hungry wolves. I snarl right back even though my heart flutters a little at the sight of them. I've never had to face so many people alone before. I always had Walter or Eddie by my side.

We're here, babydoll, Eddie assures me.

Walter says nothing but I feel his presence within me, where I suppose he always is.

"You're boy here is in a bit of a sticky situation," I say, pressing the muzzle of the gun into the hollow at the base of the man's throat. He whimpers, and I feel the slight movement as he swallows convulsively.

"Now, I've got a little bit of an itchy trigger finger myself. It's something I'm working on," I continue, gracing them with an ironic smile. One of the women curls her lip and starts forward, but a man grabs her shoulder and roughly hauls her back.

I let the grin linger on my face for a second more and then narrow my eyes dangerously.

"I'm no saint, and I'm not afraid to kill. So back the fuck off and I won't pull the trigger," I growl. I can hear Eddie howling with laughter in my head.

For a moment, no one moves. I feel my stomach give a sickening clench as I realize I may actually have to shoot this man. I mean, it's not as if I've never killed before. But that was always in the heat of battle, never in cold blood like this.

Do whatever you feel is necessary. Do not be afraid to kill, Walter advises me. I can hear his disapproval in my hesitance and it makes me feel very young.

He has killed so many times, I think. It's no revelation to me, but all the same it makes me shiver.

From under me, my captive trembles and shouts, "Listen to her, man! Fucking listen to her!"

And finally, miraculously, they start to back up, glaring at me the whole time. I can feel their desire to murder me, to tear me limb from limb; it sizzles and sparks in the air between us.

As they back up, I get to my feet, pulling my captive up with me. I keep one hand ensnared in the front of his shirt and the other wrapped tight around the gun, its muzzle still deeply buried in the skin of his neck.

I give the room a quick once-over, examining my situation from every possible angle like Walter taught me. In the very back of the room are four large, metal stills that used to hold the liquor. To my right, a few steps from where I was originally flung, is a simple staircase and a window. Beyond that and the adversaries in front of me, there is nothing here.

I examine my options. I could pull my captive outside and try to make my getaway. But that move is inherently cowardly, not to mention I could accidentally involve innocents.

Best to keep them in close quarters, Walter agrees.

So I start edging toward the stairs, making sure I don't do something stupid like tripping over one of them. I half-drag, half-walk my captive with me, and the rest of the group follows me at a cautious distance.

It's a long walk, to say the least. By the time I reach the second floor- which, after a one-second assessment, seems more bare than the first- my legs are shaking from the stress and the hand gripping the gun has begun to ache.

And then, as I'm taking that final step, I suffer from a very Rylie moment. I almost think I hear Walter's exasperated sigh but it was probably my imagination.

My toe catches on the last step and I trip, landing in a very painful way on my knees. My captive falls with me and the gun tumbles out of my hand.

With triumphant cries, the crowd below surges forward. The guy closest to me scoops up the gun and points it at me; I scramble to feet and feel the hot slash of the bullet just inches from my back.

"Get her, Freddie! Get her!" one of the bitches caws while another cackles like a madwoman.

I curl my lip in disgust as I run, dodging another bullet. Ugh, I think. Bitch crows.

"Stop, bitch!" the man with the gun screams. There is another blast of the gun, and I just manage to skid to a halt and perform a graceless switchback before my brain is blown to bits. Instead the bullet passes through the tangle of my hair as I turn, cutting through strands as easily as a knife cuts through butter.

Unfortunately my little turnaround has left me unbalanced and I go sprawling, skidding on my stomach across the floor. I wince, hoping that my bra has enough padding.

Is that all you can think about at a time like this? Your wonderful breasts? Eddie asks, half-amused and half- irritated.

Shut up, Eddie.

When I finally come to a halt, I twist so I'm lying on my back, already dreading the burn marks I can feel blooming under my torn shirt. Should've worn my pea coat…but it was so nice today…

"Freddie" points the gun at me. Even from a few yards distant I can tell that it's aimed right at my forehead. Right between the eyes… I swallow hard, not daring to move.

Freddie grins at me. "Yeah, bitch. Gotcha now, don't I?" he sneers. "Yeah, me? I got itchy trigger finger, too."

I groan silently to myself. I should never have tried to be a badass, I think. If hanging around Walter had taught me anything, it was that. It was the one truth in my life that I kept ignoring.

I close my eyes and wait for the bullet. I wonder if it'll be quicker than it was last time.

But when the blast comes, it's not what I'm expecting.

My eyes fly open. The window to my right has been shattered, by a swinging figure that is so familiar it makes my legs shake with relief. I almost shout out his name, but stop myself just in time.

Mr. Hollis! I think. Dan!

He comes swinging through the window, hanging onto the grappling hook gun that I recognize from patrolling with Walter. For a moment, he is suspended in midair amid a myriad of sparkling shattered glass, and I can't help thinking in that instant that he is the most beautiful gift from God I've ever seen.

He lands steady on his feet, years of practice shining through, and I envy him his obvious balance and confidence.

He glances first toward the opposing group, the leader of which has pointed his gun at Dan. Then he looks at me, and though I can't see his eyes I see his mouth fall open in a small "o" of surprise and recognition.

I give him a little, sheepish smile. He closes his mouth and his lips press together in a thin, determined line. Then he turns back to the gang.

"Well, now, Estevez," Dan begins.

Estevez! I mentally slap my palm to my forehead. Of course! Where else would I rendezvous with Dan and Walter?

Rorschach.

Jon's voice startles me. I blink up at the ceiling, once again expecting him to be there.

What?

Remember who you're dealing with, Cadence. Remember who it is you came to see, he explains.

Rorschach. Right. Not my Walter. I have to quit looking at them and thinking they're the same man.

"Leave it alone, Owl Man," Estevez says warningly, interrupting whatever Dan had been saying. The hand holding the gun quivers but he doesn't lower it. "This ain't none of your business."

"Oh, I think it is," Dan replies. His tone is dangerous. He takes a step in Estevez's direction and his other hand flies to the gun.

"Hey! Back up! Back the fuck up! I'm warning you!" Estevez shouts, sounding more panicked than threatening. The gun shakes convulsively in his hand.

Jeez, why couldn't he be that scared of me? I grumble.

Face it, sweet cheeks. You just ain't that scary, Eddie chirps.

I ignore that.

And that's when I see, him sneaking up the stairs like a silent shadow of death, his black and white face swirling slowly with concentration. My heart leaps in my chest but I am careful not to let it show on my face. I feel his eyes on me and I glance purposefully away even though it hurts.

None of the others have noticed him, except for Dan, who probably planned this with him beforehand anyway. Then I blink, remembering something, and glance down at my watch. 10:18 on the dot. I shake my head, allowing a smirk to lift a corner of my mouth.

"Just put down the gun, Estevez. You're getting yourself into a lot more trouble than you were in before," Dan advises.

"No, man. I ain't puttin' down the gun unless you fuckin' leave!"

"You know I can't do that."

Rorschach is closing in and still no one has noticed him. He is so silent and I envy him his stealth.

And his obvious grace, which I possess none of.

"The fuck you can't, Owl Man! You don't need to be huntin' us at all! What did we ever do to you?" Estevez cries desperately.

Dan takes another step closer and Estevez takes a step back. The rest of his gang starts backing away, too, closer and closer to Rorschach. I start getting to my feet.

Estevez turns back to me, pointing the trembling gun once more at my forehead. I pause.

"Freeze, bitch," he snarls. "Don't fuckin' move."

"Estevez. Estevez," Dan soothes, stepping into the way of the gun and momentarily blocking me from sight. I use the opportunity to scramble to my feet.

"Just calm down. You don't want to do that," he continues.

"The fuck I don't! Man, all you vigis is alike!" He is practically crying now. "You come crashing in and beatin' the shit outta us…Man, tell me a good reason why I shouldn't just shoot you right now!"

"Me."

Everyone whips around at the sound of Rorschach's dark growl. The Bitch Crows start screaming and flipping the fuck out, lending panic to the rest of the group. Estevez stares at him for a long moment and then turns back to Dan.

I start to move then. I read the intention in his eyes and there's no fucking way he's going to get away with it.

I ram into Dan's side and Estevez pulls the trigger. There is a sharp, flaring pain in my side and I utter a short scream. The pain is familiar, and for just a second I am back in that alley, bleeding out from my heart…

But as Dan and I collapse to the dusty wooden floor, I tell myself that it's not the same. I have been shot in the side, not the chest. It's alright, I'll live, I'll be okay…

But the pain grips me and when I look down I feel a squeamish flutter run through me. The blood is hot and red, cascading from the wound in gruesome rivers. A wave of faintness washes over me and I fear I'll pass out.

"Northpaw!"

I blink open my eyes, struggling to stay conscious. For a moment I think it's Walter talking in my head. But then I realize that it's Dan, who's gotten to his feet and crouched over me.

Right. Northpaw. That's my name, I think dizzily.

"Nite Owl," I croak and grin at him. "What's kickin'?"

A small, relieved smile flickers over his lips. "Oh, the usual," he replies.

"Bunch of gangbangers trying to shoot you?"

"Like I said- the usual."

I laugh and the dizziness passes. "Pretty much."

Our quiet exchange is interrupted by the screams and shouts of battle near the stairwell. We both turn and I realize with a clench of my heart that Rorschach is alone, fighting the gang members.

Dan leaps up to help him immediately, storming into the battle with a youthful vigor I've never seen in him before. He and Rorschach flank each other automatically, and I am reminded of the way Walter and I fight with another painful little clench.

Gritting my teeth against the pain, holding my hands to the gunshot wound to try stave off the bleeding, I push myself to my feet. The Bitch Crows have disappeared downstairs, and one of the men as well. The others have stayed to fight, Estevez included.

Once I'm on my feet, the adrenaline surges through me and the pain lessens. I skid for the stairwell, ducking to avoid a blow to the head as I weave my way through the fighting. I hear Dan call my name but I don't stop to look back. I take the stairs two at a time, hoping I'm not too late.

The Bitch Crows are just racing through the door, screaming shrilly, and I'm about to follow when the missing man lunges out at me and tackles me to the ground.

He doesn't waste any time, sending a swift punch to my face. His knuckles crack against my temple in a bright burst of sickening pain and the dizziness returns with a vengeance.

Focus, Cadence, or he'll kill you! Walter roars.

His voice is the only thing that has me surging upward, my hands at the man's throat. His eyes bulge with surprised terror and he collapses under me and suddenly we have switched positions. Teeth clenched, a wild snarl on my face, I dig my fingers into his skin until it gives. His mouth parts, searching for air, and I dig in harder.

"Die, motherfucker," I hiss.

I'm not really sure what's come over me. I've never felt such violence before, such black hatred, and I'm not entirely sure it's mine. For a moment, I wonder if it's Walter's, but that's impossible since he is in a complete other decade, a complete other millennium.

I hold on until the last panicked breath fades from his lips and his eyes lose their terrified glow.

Rorschach (Sep. 26, 2011)

For just a moment, myself and rest of truthers are frozen, staring down at Luke's still body. Blood seeps in rivers down stomach, where he's been shot. For dreadful second, am back in alley with Cadence in my arms, blood running down her body, cascading from her lips…

Oh, Southpaw… I hear her whisper. Mournfulness sweeps over me, drowns everything else. Body feels weak. Knees shake.

Northpaw, I think. Wishing she would answer.

Southpaw, get your shit together! Cadence barks, startles me. Don't stand there like a fuckin' moron, help him!

She breaks me from trance. Burst into movement, startle the others. Crouch on knees at Luke's side and feel for pulse. Slow, but still there. Face is pale, lips outlined with thin trickle of blood. Close my eyes for a moment, banish images of Cadence once more. Then turn to others.

"Call 911," I hiss.

Emmi does this, pulling out cellphone and dialing with shaky fingers. Turn to Ben, who clutches his sister, Bailey's hand, so tight knuckles have gone white.

"Need your help," growl at him.

Though face is white with horror, nods immediately and kneels at my side. "What do you need?" he murmurs. Tone is serious, unwavering. Reminds me of Luke.

"Need to stop bleeding. Lost too much already. And water."

Ben blinks. "Water?" he repeats.

"Yes," hiss impatiently. "Need to get fluids to him now. Unless you plan on donating."

Ben turns to his sister. "Go get some water," he commands.

She rushes off with wordless nod, Russell at her side. Emmi delicately touches shoulder, and when I look at her she blinks tearful eyes at me.

"The ambulance is on its way," she murmurs, voice nearly inaudible.

Nod to her and turn back to Luke. Ben has taken off shirt, pressed wad of it to Luke's wound. Fabric is soaked in seconds, stained with dark red blood.

Anxiety pierces chest. Ambulance may be too late. Bullet may have severed a crucial artery or punctured an organ. Fingers tremble to take a look but know I won't be doing any good without proper tools.

Below us, crowd has gone insane. Protestors have fled, screaming. A few peek at us, curious and terrified. Want to strangle all of them.

Luke stirs, drawing back my attention. Eyelids flutter open. Mouth parts and lets out bubbling cough. Little spatters of blood burst out, dotting his skin.

"Luke," I whisper.

Eyes roll slowly and land on me. Blinks and expression becomes surprised. "Wa-lter," he croaks and starts coughing. More blood spews in gruesome ribbons from lips.

"Hush," I order harshly. Don't want him to say anything. Might say good-bye.

Luke does not listen.

"Walter…what…happened?

"You got shot, buddy," Ben answers, forcing weak smile. "Lucky you. Now don't talk."

A few minutes pass. Bailey and Russell come running back, out of breath, each holding two cups of water. Hand them to me and Ben. Rest of drumline gathers in tight circle around us, eerily quiet.

Pressing hand to back of Luke's head, carefully lift him to sitting position and press cup to his lips. Eyes roll to me questioningly.

"Drink," I order sharply. "Need fluids."

Needs no more encouragement. Drinks like a good boy until he sputters and chokes. I hold him by shoulders while Ben slaps him on the back. His coughing fit leaves blood splattered on my face.

Screaming from crowd below grows into a roar. Glance down and feel wave of shock. Police in riot gear have infiltrated crowd, pushing through roughly and barking out orders. Can't understand what they're saying, but seem to be searching for someone. Most likely shooter.

Some in crowd get feisty, surprising me. A few try to fight, then a few more. Emmi gasps and presses hand to my shoulder.

"We need to do something!" she cries.

Yank shoulder from her grip but know she's right. Fine line between my hatred for the protestors and my hatred for the cops. But cops win out in the end.

I stand. Jimmy and Damien are at my side in an instant. Nod to them and risk a last glance at Luke. Bailey has taken up my post, and is gently coaxing cup to his lips. Russell has taken off shirt and exchanged Ben's for his. Luke will be- should be- fine until ambulance arrives.

Jimmy, Damien and I run. Hit the crowd at full-tilt sprint, slam bodies into officers, surprising them. Officer swings for my face. Duck and bring fist crashing up, cracking his bottom jaw. Steal gun from his hand as he falls and jab butt of gun into another officer's stomach, past protection of gear.

Protestors abandon the fight first sign of us. Soon just three of us against squadron of cops.

Have just taken down another cop when I look up and see an officer swing gun into Jimmy's head with one sweeping blow. Jimmy crumples to ground, blood coursing down wound in his head. Damien rushes to him immediately.

Black rage sweeps over me, hot and blinding. Zero in on officer and pounce, sending him to ground beneath me. Fingers close around his throat, clenching off airways. Hatred courses through veins, fire bubbling in blood.

Officer's helmet has fallen off head in fall, revealing his face. Eyes bulge in terror. Mouth parts, searching for air. Dig fingers in deeper.

"Die," I hiss and he does.

Look up moment later to see other cops gathered, watching warily. Snarl at them. Want them to come. Want to kill them all.

Then Ben is calling my name. Whip head around, still snarling wildly.

"Walter!" he cries. "Get out of here!"

Blink, rage clearing momentarily. Turn to see Damien has already carried Jimmy away. Don't even know where they went. I must leave, too, or succumb to arrest.

Swing body around and wheel to my feet. Take off running before any of the cops can respond, heading west.

Eddie (Sep. 26, 1948)

The jab from the knife that I'm expecting never comes. Instead there is a surprising blast that startles me, my eyes wide open.

It's a gun blast, I realize, and the man is now lying in a pool of his own blood before me, eyes vacant. The switchblade has skidded a few feet away.

Mouth gaping and eyes wide with shock, I turn to my left to see who could have possibly shot him.

Walter. Little Walter stands in the middle of the alley, gun still raised and smoking, his expression mirroring mine. He looks so surprised that he's actually used the gun, that he actually pulled the trigger, that I start to laugh.

The laughter hurts and I wince, pulling at my wounded side. Right flank, pretty damn deep.

Before I know it, Walter is crouched in front of me, having abandoned the gun. His blue eyes are big as saucers, terrified and excited at the same time.

"You were shot," he says, trembling.

I want to praise him for his exemplary observational skills.

"Yeah. Fun times," I reply and laugh again. I wonder silently if the bullet ruptured anything internally, like an organ. But my laughter turns to coughing and then a thin trickle of blood is running from my mouth and I know.

"Dammit," I mutter, spitting. My blood stains the concrete dark red.

Walter stares at the spot for a long moment and then turns back to me. "You need to go to a hospital," he whispers. I'm surprised to read concern in his expression.

"Yeah, and you need to get out of here," I reply, wiping a dribble of blood from my chin.

He blinks at me, seeming surprised that I should come to such a conclusion. "No," he says. My surprise at his concern turns into complete shock when I his expression becomes teary.

"No," he repeats forcefully. "I won't leave."

Ah, and there it is. Some of the fierce, unshakeable loyalty I know from my Walter making an early appearance. I smile, glad that I'm privy to it.

But the smile disappears when I hear footsteps approaching, and voices raised in confusion. Must have heard the gunshots and waited just long enough for the smoke to clear…

"Kid, you need to get out of here," I repeat, more firmly this time.

Walter shakes his head, though he casts a nervous glance down the alley at the voices. "No, I want to help you get to the hospital," he insists.

"I can get myself to a hospital on my own, but you need to leave now, Walter!"

The moment I say his name, something shifts between us. He looks at me and I look at him, and for a heartbeat we know each other, and I'm not entirely sure what that means but I can definitely feel it.

Then he scrambles to his feet and races away, in the opposite direction of the voices.

As soon as he's gone, I look up at the sky and shout his name.

Manhattan!

I am here.

Take me away. Take me away before they find me.

As you wish.

Then, in a flash of blue, I am gone, too.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Alrighty, well, it's the first pretty long chapter in this story and I don't know if that's a good or bad thing...guess I'll let you decide. Lots of action, so, yay! Thanks you guys who are still reading, I love you so much! :) Now please review so I know if I'm doing good or if I'm just completely fucking up haha xoxo