Author's Note: I know, I know, I have a fic still in progress but I've had this idea for a song ficlet for a while and wanted to write it while the idea was still fresh in my mind. Song is called "In Dreams" by Howard Shore (part of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack) and this is more so movieverse. Hope you enjoy! Reviews are much appreciated.
Destruction is the first thing that meets the eyes of Dan Dreiberg when he lands Archimedes back into New York. If anyone a month ago told him that this would happen, that any of this would happen, he'd think they were mad. But as he steps out of his airship and looks around, reality sends a chill up his spine.
Gone, he thinks, it's all gone. Everyone and everything I know is gone.
The past couple of weeks have been the most life-changing he had ever experienced. He knew things don't last forever but he knew they shouldn't all be taken away so quickly at once. Rubble crunches under his boots as he looks around him at the streets and buildings; at abandoned cars; at what he presumes with a growing lump in his throat to be corpses. He tries neither to gag nor to cry but he fails at the latter as tears roll down his cheeks. He had cried enough in the past two days when he lost those he held nearest and dearest to his heart.
Hollis, poor, wise Hollis, it wasn't his time, it was too soon. The man was like a father to him (more so than his real father) so he naturally thought of the former mask as family. The grief when he heard the news was overbearing and he became so overcome with emotion he didn't know what he was doing or what he was thinking. He nearly killed a man over the situation if he hadn't been pulled back by…by…
A choked sob rattles out of Dan's mouth as he leans against the remains of an office building and can no longer hold back his tears, his sobs causing an eerie echo in the empty remains of the city.
"Dan? Dan, are you ok?"
He looked up at the sound of his name to see Laurie Juspeczyk striding towards him. He can barely meet her eyes and he feels that he doesn't have to because he already knows what he'd see: nothing, no ounce of remorse despite the "I'm sorry"s or the "it'll be ok"s that she mumbles. It'll be just like when they first boarded Archie to leave Karnak and he immediately broke down in tears after they walked by a splatter of blood in the snow and she turned to him whispering, "Dan…was that…"
She never liked him, Dan knew that since they first met, but the coldness she had towards his passing was all Dan needed to know when it came to how far she stood by and supported him. Unfortunately, she was all he had left in the godforsaken world so he had no choice but to acknowledge her.
Wiping his eyes with a trembling gloved hand, Dan rasped, "Yea, yea Laurie, I'm fine."
She stands beside him and places a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Awful, isn't it?" He nods. Laurie sighs and shakes her head at her surroundings, taking it all in a moment before turning around and heading back in the opposite direction to board the ship.
"It'll be fine though," she says. "We can stay with my mother in California in the meantime. Just have to gather some supplies, collect our personal belongings, make sure that-"
She pauses and spins around to face the slumping owl looking back at her with eyes still filled with tears.
"We aren't leaving," Dan sniffs. "We can't leave. This is our city, Laurie, and we've turned our backs on it enough. I know we promised not to say anything but I can't walk away from all of this." He pauses and mumbles under his breath, more to himself than to Laurie, "He would have wanted me to stay."
She stares at him like a madman then scoffs in disbelief. "You are a wild one, Dreiberg," she says, "but fine, if that's what you really want. I guess we can get an apartment somewhere in the not fucked up part of town, change our names in case Adrian has people out there watching out for us, and I can call mother so she can stay with us. It'll be one big happy family!" She lets out a dry bark of laughter that reminds Dan of another man they lost at the beginning of this debacle and walks away from him, leaving Dan to his thoughts.
He was retired for 8 years and he lived peacefully, never stepped out of line and minded his own business when he had to. It all had to change, everything, when he walked home in the rain one evening to see his door kicked open. He succeeded in leaving almost everything in the past behind him but he never thought the past would show up out of nowhere, sitting in his kitchen and bringing news just as gloomy as it was. Dan sighs a moment and looks to the terror that followed such small news that blew up, in lack of a better term, into something he'd never expect. Despite Laurie saying she'll stay with him, the hurt he felt and emptiness in his heart made him note that it didn't matter; he was alone as of November 2.
They succeeded in finding a cozy little apartment on the opposite side of Brooklyn and, after decorating and bringing in all the necessary, personal essentials, made it feel like a home. Though the atmosphere was happy, Dan's emotions were becoming less apparent and he began showing signs of depression within their first few weeks back in the city since the incident. He knew how to put of a faux smile though and did so whenever Sally was around because the woman was more motherly than Dan would have expected and would often question him anytime he frowned or let out a sigh longer than average. Regardless, he smiled at home when necessary and would smile, as well as be polite and friendly, whenever he went out (which was rare nowadays).
The first winter since the incident was a particularly dark and rainy one rather than the cool, white Christmas-y winter they remember. Enormous, black clouds erupted with icy rain almost every day in the city, adding more devastation and casting darker shadows over the buildings and residences. When a gust of wind blew the flaps of Dan's trench coat around him one morning, he felt a chill down his spine that didn't have to with the change of season. Memories flashed before his eyes of snow, television screens, pools of black flowing over a simple white canvas and finally, blood made him shiver as he paused in front of the newspaper vendor, his expression blank and his eyes glazing over.
The vendor looked at Dan curiously then asked, "Hey, buddy, you ok? Look like you're about to cry or some'ing."
Dan snapped back from his thoughts and shook his head, wrapping his trench tightly around him before protruding his money. "One Gazette, please."
The vendor swapped the money in his paper quickly when a sudden crack of thunder roared overhead and rain started pouring down. People walking past tightened their coats and covered their heads as they ran for shelter to avoid the hail-like rain. Dan looked up to the dark sky and didn't blink as the frozen drops hit his face one by one, his mind detached, his thoughts wandering.
"Hey!" The news vendor's cry made him look back at him. "The hell is wrong with you, man?" He covered his stand then shoved himself past Dan harder than necessary as he strode off to find a place to wait for the rain to pass.
Dan sighed as he watched the man leave then raised his head again to the dark and the cold. What is wrong with me? Does it matter? Should I care? He unfolded his already drenched newspaper and used it to cover his damp brown locks as he slowly walked home.
When the cold of winter comes,
Starless night will cover day, in the veiling of the sun,
We will walk in bitter rain
Days turned to weeks, weeks to months, months to years, and the city began to almost thrive again. Dan and Laurie did not marry despite her mother's protests but Dan felt it was fine this way and did not make much of a difference. As time went on, Laurie decided to fulfill her dreams and went back to school to earn a degree in bioengineering while Dan put his ornithology degree to use and became a professor at New York University.
They both lived the days peacefully. Laurie thought that having Dan around his favorite subject really helped him recuperate from his depression for he smiled openly more often and kissed her cheek before heading off to the university. He'd stay up some nights working on lessons, grading papers, or organizing his notes for a lecture he was planning to give the following morning and she could almost cry tears of relief and joy to see the Dan she knew before the incident begin to resurface.
It wasn't until five years had passed since Karnak that Adrian Veidt appeared in their lives again, only this time he was Governor Veidt. When he first decided to run in the election, Dan and the Juspeczyks simply rolled their eyes but when he won, they all looked rather solemn. Sally shook her head and said he had no right and brought up the theory that he cheated while Laurie tried to reason with her mother by reminding her that no one knew that he caused the destruction thus, he won fair and square. Dan was speechless at the news, a blank, dark look clouding his recently becoming more cheerful features, and offered no input to the women's debate.
That night, Dan tossed and turned violently in his sleep, sweat running down his face and lips moving as though he was speaking to something or someone. Laurie awoke when his stirring beside her became too much and she gently attempted to shake him awake. Her hand on his shoulder only made him stir more and the mouthing turned into moans, gasps, and whimpers until he finally opened his eyes.
"Shhh," she cooed. "It's all right, Dan. You were just having a bad dream, is all." She kissed his temple. "Go back to sleep."
He nodded and obediently turned over then fell back asleep more quietly this time.
The following night, however, it happened again, then the night before that and the night before that. Laurie was worried about Dan and voiced her concerns to Sally one morning.
"The poor dear has been through a lot, sweetie, remember that," her mother said over her mimosa.
Laurie sighed and ran her hand through her hair with a yawn. "I know but I thought we were done with this. I mean, he was getting better, he keeps himself occupied, and it's been five years so you'd think it wouldn't be this bad still."
"You have to remember what he saw though," Sally noted. "Didn't you tell me that he saw his best buddy get blown to smithereens back in the Arctic?"
"I guess so, mom, but why would it be starting up again now?"
Sally sighed and sipped her drink then answered, "Maybe seeing the blonde and the boyish in the news again is bringing the memories back. Makes sense, don't it?" Laurie nodded slowly.
The elder Juspeczyk rose from her chair to put her glass in the sink then turned to kiss her daughter on the forehead. "Remember, pumpkin," she said with a smile, "patience."
Laurie smiled at her mother and replied, "I'll try, mom."
Patience didn't seem to be enough when Dan's "night terrors" seem to worsen as the years went by. With no other places to turn, Laurie took him to see a doctor who diagnosed his depression and gave him a subscription to pills that he must take every evening before bed with a glass of water that will ease his nightly rendezvous that made him look like the zombie every morning and cause Laurie and her mother worry.
Before any of them knew it, the year was 1995and life went on. Sally had continued to age gracefully while Laurie cut her hair into a bob and wore more makeup to cover the crow's feet appearing at the corners of her eyes. Dan lost some weight due to aging and his hair had begun to thin much to his dismay, making him tell Laurie one day with a laugh, "I'm my father's son after all."
The city was back to its usual energy as though nothing ever happened; however, once it was November, it became solemn again during the ten year celebration of Nuclear Remembrance Day. Senator Adrian Veidt made speeches that entire week for newspapers, television stations, and on the radio about the tragedy of the Manhattan attack and how we must remember those lost not for their deaths but for their sacrifice to bring the world as one. Dan and the Juspeczyks didn't bother listening to Veidt strengthen his lie; rather, they held their own visual for the people they lost personally.
On a shelf in the den sat four photographs in a row: the Minutemen group picture, a photograph of a young Hollis Mason in his Nite Owl uniform that was in the paper many years ago, a picture of Eddie Blake, flamethrower in hand, posing in a swamp in Vietnam and beside that was the Watchmen group picture. On one side of both group pictures was a candle and, on this night, Dan leaned forward, lighter in hand, and lit them both in honor of those who they have lost.
The trio's head bowed in prayer, tears running quietly down their cheeks as they kept their eyes shut, and then parted ways after the moment of peaceful silence to prepare for bed. When Laurie paused at the stairs, she turned to see Dan still looking at the pictures, eyes sparkling in the candlelight. She was considered going to him and giving him his pills before anything when Sally walked by and squeezed her arm gently.
"Let him remember the way he wants to," she whispered in her daughter's ear before strolling to her room down the hall.
Laurie was already asleep by the time Dan came upstairs and lied beside her. All was quiet until he began to twist under the sheets, breathing deeply, eye lids twitching. He groaned, sighed, and whispered in his sleep as he rolled and kicked about. Laurie woke up with a jolt when she heard sobbing coming from Dan's half of the bed. She sat up and tried to shake him awake like she used to before… He didn't take his medicine; she then shook the sleeping man roughly, trying to wake him up.
"Dan," she whispered in his ear. "Come on, Dan. Please, snap out of it." The man simply tossed his head to and fro then, to Laurie's surprise, began to speak in his sleep.
"No," he groaned, "no, please don't go. You can't go now, you just can't!" He began to sob though his eyes never opened. "Don't leave me," he croaked between sobs. "Don't leave me, don't leave me, don't leave me….."
Overcome with emotion, Laurie threw her arms around him and held him close. "I'm not going anywhere," she mumbled into his thin hair. "Dan, I'm not going to leave you."
Dan let out a long moan then spoke again. "Never leave me again…Miss you too much…I-I-I love you….so much…" He groaned and sobbed again, tears pouring out of his closed eyes. "I should…told you I loved…was too late…too late."
"No, Dan it's not too late," she mumbled as she kissed the head of the sobbing man in her arms. "I love you, too. It's going to be all right."
Another moan. "Love….you…." He sounded like he was going to say something else but Dan went silent in her arms, breathing deeply, one hand gripping her arm tightly a moment then gently letting go. She kissed his lips and slowly laid him back on his side of the bed, admiring how peaceful he now looked before turning over to go back to sleep.
The silence in the room was interrupted when, at long last, Laurie heard what he was trying to say when he whimpered again: "I love you…Rorschach."
But in dreams
(But in dreams)
I can hear your name,
And in dreams
(And in dreams)
We will meet again
Seasons changed and life went on in the Dreiberg/Juspeczyk household regardless of new revelations. The morning following Dan's subconscious confession, Laurie shared what she heard with her mother. Instead of being surprised, Sally simply smiled at her distraught daughter and told her she had a feeling even before the other man's death.
"They were close, honey," the elder woman elaborated, "and I'm not talking about chummy close. No, their closeness is what I saw all around the men back in my day. It happens though, when you go into a profession where people get hurt on a nightly basis and can die. You get attached, attachment turns to working together constantly, working together makes you two become friends, they get each other out of one scrap to the next and before you know it, one is never without the other at least three feet away. Sure you can say they're just watching each other closely for danger but it's usually love. They can't handle seeing the one they love most get hurt or be disrespected so they never leave their side. Just don't hold it against the poor dear; he's hurting more than enough"
Laurie took her mother's words to heart and never brought up what she heard to Dan in the years that followed. Five years later, Sally Juspeczyk passed away in her sleep one evening in October. A small funeral was held and her body was buried near Blake's.
Dan and Laurie continued on with their lives, even though it was apparent that Laurie was missing her mother more than she would have thought and Dan tried to be there for her. She began spending long hours in the bio lab and Dan began to spend more time helping students after hours at the university. It was quiet between them but comfortably so; they've been through so much in their lives that moments of silence were comforting.
A photo of Sally joined the "in memory" shelf as well as a scented candle to be placed beside it. Every once in a while, Laurie would walk by and light the candle for her mother with a smile, thankful that they were able to spend her last years together finally acting like mother and daughter after years of being estranged. Once or twice, Laurie would look from the hallway and see Dan seated on the sofa, one of the frames in his hand. She'd watch him stare intently at it, fingers sliding slowly over the far right of the picture, then place it back on the shelf in time for Laurie to see that he was looking at the Watchmen group and she noticed, with a tightening in her chest, who it was he was staring at and caressing.
The year 2004 brought much change to the city and country as a whole. A new war with the Middle East had begun and patriotism had risen just as it did twenty years ago. Adrian Veidt finally got what he truly wanted and was sworn in as President of the United States and Laurie Juspeczyk, despite her gut feeling that this was very wrong, couldn't care less. Her concern was Dan, whose health has been declining over the past three years and he was slipping fast. At first she thought it was cancer since he told her years ago that it ran in the family but he was extra careful and went to the doctor regularly so that theory was shut down. When they did go to the hospital one day after he had an episode while at the university and fainted mid-lecture, broke her heart even more: a brain tumor.
The doctor said it can be cured but it'd be best if he retired and lived at home for a while and, thankfully, Laurie agreed and decided to work on her bioengineering from home so she can become his full-time caregiver. Whenever he started to show improvement, he'd get worse just as quickly and the cycle was wearing on Laurie's heart and nerves. She wasn't young anymore and neither was Dan (he was pushing 60 now) so when the doctor told her that perhaps it'd be beneficial for both of them if he remained in the hospital from now on based on his declining health, Laurie had no choice but to agree that it was for the best.
Dan didn't mind the hospital much. It was clean, quiet, and the bed was comfortable than he thought. Laurie visited him often and would humor him with conversation for an hour or more before having to go. On days she didn't come, he didn't seem to notice or be sad even though he assumed he should, considering she's the closest living thing he had to a family now since Sally passed on. Regardless, Dan grew used to the routine of eating, bathing, sleeping and being examined that he eventually called the hospital his home.
He got to watch the change of season from his bed and kept up with current events through the radio since his eyes were growing to week to read or watch television nowadays. One thing he didn't like much was how cold the room would get once it became autumn and/or winter but, thanks to a newly placed heater and some extra blankets, he was comfortable.
A year went by as quickly as it began and he was growing weaker. He slept more than he should and was almost completely blind now but could still make up shapes and some colors if he tried hard enough. His hearing was still good, he thought with a smile, and he could still move pretty well despite his condition and age. Unfortunately, his body didn't feel like it used to and he didn't even have to pay much attention to the doctor much when he told him that time was running out.
Laurie came to see him one day, carrying something in her hands. Weakly, he smiled and asked what she had there for him then focused his eyes hard enough to make out a candle and a picture frame (even though he couldn't see the picture that clearly).
"It's going to be twenty years next week, Dan. Remember?"
How could he forget, he answered with a sigh then cast his clouded eyes to the window beside his bed. When he felt her hand squeeze his, Dan turned to face her, squinting to see a small smile on her face that he couldn't help but smile back, remembering their youth. He mumbles to her what the doctor said and she squeezes his hand again as she lets out a sad sigh and a sniff before excusing herself and wiping her eyes with a handkerchief. She tells him that despite everything she loves him and kisses his wrinkling cheek gently with soft lips then pulls him into a hug. They hold each other and cry silently as one until the nurse walks by to inform them that visiting hours were over. Laurie kisses him goodbye and walks out the door, the clicking of her shoes echoing down the hallway and Dan, noting the pain in his head and the clenching in his throat and chest, had a feeling that it'll be their last farewell.
The hospital is cold at the end of October as the autumn winds outside mixed with the air conditioner on full blast make all the patients, employees and visitors shiver to the core. Dan finishes the last of his supper, except for the pudding (he was never a fan), then lets the nurse tuck him comfortably in his blanket before turning the heater on so he can sleep. It doesn't take long for Dan to feel tired anymore thus he falls asleep right away in the warmth of his room.
The silence of the hospital after hours is tranquil, as is the low rumbling of Dan's heater in the dark. Late into the night, the rumbling abruptly stops and the room fills with an icy chill that cause condensation on the windows and even on Dan's glasses on the bedside table.
He stirs and pulls the blankets tightly around him to keep warm but nothing helps. He sighs in defeat and lies looking up at the ceiling, hoping that keeping his mind blank and fixating his eyes on one spot would help him sleep.
Dan scoffs and runs a weary hand through what remains of his curls. "Hmph," he yawns, "sure is a hell of a night for the power to go out. With the luck of some of the people around here, they'd get frost bite."
"Don't know about that. Doesn't feel that cold. Never liked hospitals anyway."
The sudden voice in his room nearly gives Dan a heart attack as he jumps and scrambles for his glasses, pushing them on and looking around the room for whoever spoke.
"Who's there?" Dan calls out. "Come on, I know someone's there. Show yourself!"
He hears the same voice let out a dry laugh.
"Heh. Thought voice would be enough, Daniel. Guess I was wrong."
"That voice…" Dan mutters in disbelief. "I know that voice but-but it can't be."
"Can't it?" The voice challenges.
Tears are stinging Dan's eyes now as he shakes his head slowly. "It can't be because-because…" he sniffs as he tries to speak. "Because you're dead, Rorschach. You've been dead for twenty years and I'm just hallucinating in the cruelest way possible." He then breaks into sobs, his sickly body trembling as he covers his face in his wrinkling hands and cries in the seemingly empty room.
"Hallucination? Hurm…" The sound of boots clacking along the hospital's tile floor echoes throughout the room but it's the feeling of weight sinking down beside him on the bed that makes him look up and make out the man he saw die in Antarctica: brown trench coat with a violet pinstriped suit underneath, matching violet striped pants, ivory scarf, worn boots and violet gloves gripping a brown hat with a violet ribbon around it. There was only one difference between this man and the Rorschach he knew: the man didn't have the trademark black and white mask; instead, Dan's blurred, tear filled eyes met icy blue ones that seemed to sparkle in the dark, sparkle with life.
Dan looked back into the man's eyes longingly, only looking away a few seconds to take in the freckles and blazing red hair on his head. He looked just like the day he died, sans the bruises.
"Everything heals once one passes on," the man spoke, his eyes never leaving Dan's.
Dan blinked at his words. "Did I say that aloud?"
The man's thin lips curve up into the small smile that always made Dan's heart thump. "Yes. Doesn't matter though. Knew you'd ask eventually. Always were the curious type, Daniel"
"So-so you are dead?"
Rorschach looked down at his body, raised a gloved hand and ran it over his face then through his coarse hair before shrugging nonchalantly, "So it seems."
Dan laughed at his deadpan humor, a hearty laugh that he hadn't done in years then smiled sadly at the man sitting near him, understanding everything that was happening.
"You're here because it's my turn, isn't it?"
Rorschach met his eyes again, the humored twinkle slightly faded away, and nodded.
Dan sighed and laid back into his bed, deep in thought, then looked back at the small, redheaded man watching him with those sapphire eyes that felt as though they were looking at his soul rather than his body. He missed Rorschach, more than he missed anyone, and the fact that it was he that came to take him made him want to cry and smile and laugh all at once.
"Ok," Dan said, meeting Rorschach's gaze. "I'm ready."
Rorschach nodded then removed one of his gloves, revealing the pale, freckled hand that Dan remembers seeing many years ago, and then extended it to him. "Take my hand," he rasped gently.
Dan looked at him curiously. "But if you're an apparition, how can I touch you?"
Rorschach ennked then answered, "Daniel, trust me."
Without another moment of hesitation, Dan raised his trembling hand and gripped Rorschach's, amazed at how warm he felt, how much he felt like a living, breathing human being.
Dan closed his eyes to savor the feeling, Rorschach's hand never letting go of his, until a shock ran through his body made him pull his hand back and his eyes snap open.
"Christ, what the hell was…" He trailed off before saying in disbelief, "I can see…I can see!"
Rorschach, now standing, looked as clear as day, his hair and eyes looking as vibrant as ever against his porcelain, freckled skin, his thin lips in a humored smirk. "Told you," he began, "all physical ailments leave once spirit passes on."
At that, Dan raised his hand to his head to notice that not only did it stop hurting but he had a full head of hair again. It was a miracle. Rorschach kept looking at him, holding a smile that made Dan ask what else was different about him. The smaller man pointed to the mirror across the room and said, "Look for yourself."
Dan practically leaped off the bed then rushed over to see what his friend was smirking at and almost felt his heart stop as he stared at his reflection in disbelief.
"I…I look like I'm in my 30s again."
He did. He was thinner, muscular; his hair was a rich chocolate that curled around his ears. He was at his prime. He grinned at himself then turned to Rorschach. "How-"
"If some are too ill at time of death, physical body becomes what the soul still resembles."
Dan nodded and stepped away from the mirror after admiring his youthful physique for a few minutes the turned to Rorschach, still looking fondly at him. Unable to contain himself any longer, he threw his arms around the man and held him close.
"I missed you," he whispered against his red (surprisingly clean) hair. "I was all alone without you."
"Who said I ever left you?"
"I saw you in dreams but…"
"That's how I communicated with you."
Dan moved his head to look down at his friend with surprise. "You mean that was really you?"
He nodded. "Spirits can connect with loved ones through dreams or real world occurrences. Objects moving, doors opening…" He paused then smiled up at the brunette. "Cutting the power."
"So, in my dreams, when I told you that I-"
Dan's eyes widened and his face flushed crimson as he let go of Rorschach, feeling uncontrollably embarrassed.
"No need to be ashamed," Rorschach said. "Did say spirits," he pointed to himself, "communicate with loved ones." He pointed at Dan.
An impatient but humored hurm and then, "Love you too, Daniel."
Rorschach didn't have a chance to move as Dan was on him again in a flash, this time his lips were pressed hard by the other man's in a passionate kiss. His eyes widened in surprise but then he kissed Dan back, causing him to moan with longing and wrap his arms around his slight frame.
They held each other and kissed for a few more moments until they were both panting, faces flushed.
Dan backed away to catch his breath, his mind still reeling that he just kissed a man, Rorschach of all people, but he was happy because he loved him and was loved in return.
"So, uh," he asked, "where do we go now?"
Rorschach straightened his coat and scarf before raising a violet finger then pointed up and that was enough of an answer for Dan.
Together, hand in hand, they exited the hospital, Dan wearing Rorschach's coat over his hospital gown and Rorschach canting his head every few seconds to just take in the other man's smile. The night's darkness enveloped them when they walked outside, taking them to where they can live in peace, harmony, and love for eternity.
When the seas and mountains fall
And we come to end of days
In the dark I hear a call
Calling me there
I will go there
And back again.