Rook the Librarian (gisho) wrote in watchingrule63,
Rook the Librarian

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Fic - "Rose Trees Never Grow"

So I started to write this for a kinkmeme prompt that asked for Hot Lesbian Sex, but as is trditional with me, the sex just would not get written. Instead, this is all about The Incredily Sucky Love Life of Danielle Dreiberg. Sorry. I hope it's nontheless entertaining and cute. And hey, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre do get together in the end.

~6100 words, worksafe.

1963. Hollis pats Danielle on the back. "You'll do just fine," he tells her. "You've got guts. Don't worry."

She can't help but laugh, nervously. She doesn't feel ready at all. She's twenty-two, she has an aeronautics degree from Harvard, and she's about to embark on a career she can never talk about, that doesn't pay at all, that will leave her with bruises and broken bones and probably gunshot wounds on a regular basis. That might, however, leave the world a little better place.

She lowers her goggles and switches them on, and suddenly Hollis is grinning at her in green outlines. "Thanks," she tells him. "I'll try."

1966. Danielle is a little suprised, and intimidated, by the new Silk Spectre. She'd thought she would be the only woman at the meeting, and next to Laurie she feels positively frumpy. Her costume is made for protection, except for the opening over her cleavage she'd hoped would be distracting. But Silk Spectre smiled at her and said it was good to have another girl around and she hoped they'd be friends. So friends it is, and after the messy breakup of the meeting they trade phone numbers.

On the way home, Rorshach is, as always, quiet. Danielle asks him what he thought of the others, and he shrugs. "Ozymandias has some good ideas. The others don't have their heart in it. You're worth two of Silk Spectre. Have more sense."

She should protest, protect her new friend, but the words are the warmest she's ever heard from Rorschach. She lets it lie.

1968. The vice queen who calls herself the Twilight Lady is worse than Silk Spectre, and she grins all the time. No help for it, Danielle will never be the pin-up girl of the adventuring world. That's fine, it wasn't what she wanted. She wanted them to quiver at the sound of her name. The Twilight Lady doesn't quiver at anything, and she flirts relentlessly whenever their paths cross.

Rorschach mutters his disapproval, louder and louder as the investigation drags on, until one day Danielle snaps. "You think I'm doing this for fun?" she hisses. "Maybe you like growling so bad nobody will touch you, but I like to be nice. I can't help it. I'm not egging her on, but I'm not going to go wading in swinging my fists just because Twilight Lady's having a laugh. Let her. At least she's clever about it." Her voice is rising and she realizes her hands are waving. Rorschach's face is, of course, unreadable. "Do you have any idea what it's like for a woman? Complete strangers have tried to fondle my breasts on the subway! This is just the sort of thing that comes with having breasts! And I'm sick of you saying I should be more careful."

She's panting. Rorschach, very carefully, takes his hands out his pockets and rests them on her shoulders. "Apologies," he grinds out, every word obviouly pulled from some dark depth of his brain. "I did not mean to insult you."

"It's fine," Danielle tells him, and wipes her forehead with the back of a hand. "Don't worry. We'll get that bastard yet. Well. Bitch. We'll work something out."

Rorschach still hasn't moved, so she pats him on the shoulder to encourage him. "We're a good team, right?"

He nods, and doesn't let go.

1969. Danielle doesn't celebrate Christmas, she's just not that secular a Jew, but when they deliver the Underboss to the police station on the morning of the twenty-fifth, she can't help but feel the spirit. The white-haired captain who meets them apparently feels it too, because he claps them on the shoulders, thanks them for the wonderful present, and invites them in for hot cocoa.

The Underboss is carried off, scowling. Rorscach makes a vauge noise of annoyance and follows them to the station's breakroom, where he crumbles three sugar cubes into his cocoa and clutches it without drinking. The captain introduces himself, says how glad he is that someone finally ran down "the scheming bastard".

Another officer walks past, stops, sticks his head in. "Hey, what're they doing in here? They're not officers!"

"Ease up," the captain says. "They just handed us the Underboss with a bow on top. Thought I'd spread some holiday cheer. What's your problem? Havn't you got any Christmas spirit?"

The other officer's expression changes to one of wariness. "Well, I suppose it's alright just this once," he mutters, and strides off, adjusting his jacket.

"Hmmph." The captain shakes his head and takes a gulp of cocoa. "I don't see why. A lot of the boys say they don't like adventurers, but far as I can tell you're out for the same thing we are. Cleaner city. Safer people. Of course," he adds thoughtfully, "it's different for me. I knew Hollis Mason, back when he was on the force. Wonderful fellow."

Rorschach has pulled up the mask and is sipping his cocoa. "He was a good man," he rumbles.

From Rorschach that's supreme praise, and Danielle gives him a thoughtful glance, but the police captain just nods as if nobody could doubt it. "Right. And he did us a lot of good. I'm glad somebody picked up his mantle. You know, it put me off a bit when I heard it was a girl, but you've done him proud." He grins at Danielle, who tells herself she's twenty-eight and far too old to blush. She thanks him quietly.

When they get back to the nest she asks Rorschach if he wants to come up and have breakfast, but he shakes his head and takes off down the tunnel.

1971. Danielle meets a professor from Syracuse at an ornithology conference and he asks her to dinner. She happily agrees, and he asks about time, and she says it has to be early because she works nights, and it seems, when she thinks about it later, that was the last honest thing she said about herself all night. Dinner is awkward and ends coldly. Danielle comes home and flumps on the couch to gather her wits before she suits up.

How can she have a normal relationship? Danielle Dreiburg can't spend the evening with her boyfriend, because most nights around nine, Danielle Dreiburg temporarily ceases to exist, replaced by Nite Owl. And Nite Owl has better things to do.

She's thirty, she hasn't had sex in eight years, and when she decides the next day to call up a female friend to commiserate, she realizes her only female friend is the Silk Spectre. Well, at least she can be honest with Laurie. They wind up on the couch watching a rerun of I Love Lucy, and Laurie hugs her. "Don't worry," she says. "You're pretty amazing. You just have to find a guy who appreciates you." A thought seems to strike her. "You know, you should ask out Ozymandias. He's cute, he's smart, he already knows your -"

"I did," Danielle interrupts. "Last year. He's gay."

Laurie blinks, then bursts out laughing. Danielle feels betrayed for a second before she joins in. It is pretty funny, in hindsight.

She's grateful for the company, but really Danielle can't help feeling jealous of Laurie. Laurie has Jon, they're happy, and they have no secrets from each other. She has a basement full of technology and secrets from everyone and a half-empty bed.

1972. Ozymandias has asked for her help tracking down a money-laundering ring. It's complicated and makes her itch; they start by committing a burglary to get some records and tapes, and then it's days of indoor work, going over the books to find loose ends and proving who had access. Rorschach will have nothing to do with it, and spends his nights putting the fear of, well, Rorschach, into an assortment of enterprising muggers.

The leaders are accountant types, havn't invested in enough muscle, and when Ozymandias and Nite Owl walk into their meeting they go quietly. No trouble at all. Ozymandias thanks her afterwards. "It's good to know we're rooting up the problems at their source," he says. "Treating the disease instead of its symptoms."

She passes the remark on to Rorschach, and he makes a dissaroving noise. "The disease is human immorality," he growls. "It won't be cured so easily. I don't trust Ozymandias. Socialist sensibilities."

Nite Owl frows and adjusts her goggles. "Do you trust anyone, Rorschach?"

It's a rhetorical question, but he answers, as if it should be obvious, "You."

1974. Nite Owl and Rorschach aren't working together nearly as much these days. Danielle regrets it; they were a good team. Are a good team. When she hears of a man calling himself Red Hand who's started a protection racket on the East Side, she leaves a message for him.

Red Hand has a gimmick. Not many people do, these days. It's simple and terrifying: people who annoy him get bad dreams. Really bad dreams. Screaming, oceans of blood, several times a night. He says it's a curse. Danielle suspects an aerosol hallucinogen and subsonic suggestions. She talks to the victims, then she and Rorschach start twisting arms. He has minions, but most of them are no good in a fight, too startled when Rorschach leaps down on them from a fire escape to do more than kick randomly and soon surrender. When they track down Red Hand himself they burst into his hideout wearing gas masks, just in case.

It workes great, until, halfway down an aisle between two vast stacks of rusting barrels, Red Hand falls on them from the rafters and rips off Rorschach's mask.

It takes Danielle a second to process why Rorschach is screaming. She spins around. There's a scrawny guy with red gloves and an aerosol can kneeling on Rorschach's chest. He must be out of henchmen, she thinks dizzily, and without thinking at all she kicks him sideways into the barrels. Her teeth are on edge - he must have turned on the subsonics. She kicks him again and he coughs - there's blood dribbling from his lips and he spits out something and laughs. Nite Owl picks him up by the collar. "What did you do to him?!" Rorschach is curled on his side, whimpering.

Red Hand tries to bring the can up, but she catches his wrist and twists. There's a satisfying crunch as the bones snap. The can bounces on the floor and Red Hand yelps, high-pitched. "What was in that? Tell me!"

"Bad dreams," yells Red Hand. "Just bad dreams. He'll wake up."

Nite Owl throws him against the barrels again, then hits him very hard on the head. She would have used his gas on him, poetic justice, but she's in a hurry.

Rorschach has gone disturbingly quiet. He's wheezing and his hands are clenched. Danielle wants to take him away, but she knows what he would have said was more important. She carries him back to Archie and leaves him there while she searches the building. There's a lot of cash, which she ignores, and a strange laboratory setup, which she smashes a few important-looking pieces of, and some large flasks with long labels, which she leaves outside the front door so the police can find them easily. Then she makes a call on Archie's radio. Rorschach is whimpering again. The sirens are sounding in the distance, so she takes them up and home.

When they're parked she pulls up his mask so he can breathe better and sits on Archie's floor, cradlng him in her arms. Maybe it'll help, maybe not. It helps her. "Rorschach," she murmurs over and over, hoping the noise is soothing. "Rorschach." No subsonics here, and the worst must have been over by the time she was done searching the headquarters. "Rorschach." She'd say his real name, but she doesn't know it.

It's impossible to tell when his eyes open, but she can hear his breathing change as he wakes. "Rorschach?"

"Nite Owl. What . . ."

"Red Hand got you with his gas. You've been out for an hour and a half. I got him, we're home safe." And because she was so afraid for him and because there should be no secrets between them - no important ones, at least - she pulls him closer and kisses him.

He's quivering a little, not responding. She's sure it's just leftover bad dreams. She pulls back for a breath, then kisses him again, leting her tounge flick out to taste his lips. He tastes of sugar and faintly of blood, and there's something odd about his lips. He touches her cheek; she's flushed with exertion and desire. "Nite Owl. Why?"

"I've wanted to do that for years," she confesses. "I love you. Silly, isn't it? I'm in love with a man whose name I don't know, whose face I've never seen. And I don't want to never say anything and regret it." She tries to keep her voice light; tonight was nothing that could have killed her partner, just a nasty remider of the possibilities.

Rorschach pushes himself up on his elbows, tries to sit up properly. "Nite Owl," he begins. His voice sounds softer, higher, less gravelly. "Don't misunderstand. You know my name. You've seen my face."

She'd suspected that, somehow. "The name you use in daylight, then," she whispered. "We've been partners nine years now. Nine years worth of nights, at least, until you started going off alone last winter. I know you're a good man. I know what's real. I'd still like to make it partners all the time, not just at night."

"Danielle -" He breaks off, as if he can't think of what to say. That's a bad sign, and so is calling her Danielle when she's only got her hood off.

"Sorry. I know this is sudden."

Rorschach shakes his head and rolls away from her. He's still trembling. "I'm sorry." There's something raw and painful in his voice. "If - if you knew you wouldn't want me. You're a good woman. Can't happen. My fault. Forgive me." He's trying to get to his feet; it takes visible effort. Danielle follows and helps him up, and he doesn't protest. He pulls the mask back down; for a second she sees a red curl of hair before it vanishes under his scarf.

"Try me," she says. "I can overlook a lot."

"No. I . . . truly am sorry. You deserve better."

He's crawling toward the hatch, and she growls and grabs his shoulder. "You're hurt. Will you at least stay here tonight? Please?"

He shakes his head. "I'll be fine."

Danielle knows how far she can push. So she lets him walk off, and goes to bed and tries to imagine what could be so bad he'd walk off with that much hurt in his voice rather than let her try to heal it.

1975. They havn't seen each other in months, but plenty of other people have seen Rorschach and regretted it, so Danielle's not too worried.

She's woken in the middle of the night by a noise from the basement. If it's a burglar, it's an astonishly incompetent one. She stumbles into the kitchen, rubbing her eyes.

There's a thick smell of smoke and old blood. Rorschach is standing in front of her open refrigerator.

"Hey," she says.

Rorschach looks up. Or at least, he moves his head. "Danielle. Need your shower." As he shuts the fridge she realizes that there's blood splashed all over his coat, and it's smeared with soot.

"Christ. What happened to you? Of course you can use my shower." She waved him to follow and headed back down the hall. "You need me to wash that? Were you in a fire?"

"Started it." She's never heard his voice so flat. "Was looking for kidnapped girl. Found her. Dead. So's the kidnapper." It takes her a moment to parse, and then Danielle realizes: he killed the man, and set the fire to destroy the body. She should be repulsed, appalled.

She's not. She's worried.

She says, "Good."

"Not good. Just. This world is a slaughterhouse and the innocent are hung from its hooks and everyone turns their faces away and listens to the blood drip. No innocents left. When it burns, will be a mercy." He pushes past her into the bathroom. "Wash would be appreciated. Will leave clothes outside door. Need to be respectable in morning. Bearer of bad news." The door shuts before Danielle can reply.

She sinks slowly against the wall, head in her hands. He's gone somewhere she can't touch, and more significantly, can't follow.

There's a gush of running water, and the door opens a crack to deposit a pile of clothes: trenchcoat, jacket, shirt, trousers, socks, gloves. They are followed shortly by a pair of shoes and a fedora. Somehow she's not suprised there's no mask. The hand that offers them is small and some of the fingers are twisted with old breaks.

She is suprised, a little while later, when he comes out with his face uncovered, wrapped in her ratty bathrobe, clutching the mask. She tries not to look, and anyway, she can't see much in the dark. An angular, thin face, obscured by a purpling bruise on the cheek; hair much longer than she would have expected from a man who uses "hippies" as a dirty word. His shoulders are hunched. He sits at her kitchen table until his clothes are dry without saying a word.

1977. A week after the Keene Act passes Danielle and Laurie get together. They call it a 'retirement party' but it's mainly an excuse to get drunk and maudlin. Laurie says she won't miss adventuring. She says it loudly and repeatedly, and waves her glass in the air for emphasis, and then stops, hand still in the air. "Are you quitting, Dani?"

"Don't have much choice, do I?"

"Well. I mean." It's awkward, and Laurie knows it. "Rorschach didn't."

Very publically failed to, in fact. She hasn't seen Rorschach since the riots ended. She hopes he'll be okay. "I'm not him. I like not being on 'wanted' posters. And people know my name."

Laurie half-smiles. "I'd never tell. Us girls have to stick together. And neither would Jon, you know, he just doesn't get involved like that."

Which is true, all of it, but Danielle is thirty-five and she's starting to get old and she wants to finish. In peace. You can't empty the ocean with a teaspoon, much less if the cops are tailing you. The truth is that she's just too tired

1980. Danielle steps into the alley, like she does every week, and pulls a screwdriver from her coat pocket. She opens the electrical box with some care; the light it feeds is long since broken, but the wires are still live, and could short. Inside is a grubby folded piece of notepaper; she knows it's a list of safe combinations, and doesn't look. Nothing else. She pulls three twenty-dollar bills from her wallet, rolls them up and stuffs them inside, then screws the cover back on.

When she turns around there's a figure in a trenchcoat at the end of the alley. She steps out of the shadows, hands in her pockets.

"Late," says Rorschach.

"I know. Had to run downtown." She's not sure how he knows when she comes by. Most weeks, the emergency stash is untouched. Once she left a maudlin note; two days later she thought better of it and came back, and it hadn't been unfolded.

"Hollis will worry."

"I'm a big girl. I can look after myself. He knows." She walks forward, deliberately not looking straight at him. They havn't seen each other in a year. "How've you been?"

"Not dead yet." When she passes him he grabs her elbow. She could break the hold, but she stops. "Danielle. Be careful. Dangerous world for a woman alone."

Nite Owl would have laughed, but Danielle Dreiberg says, "I will. You be careful too." Rorschach doesn't answer.

1982. Danielle Dreiberg drifts into a gala dinner on the arm of the World's Smartest Man. It's the third time in as many weeks they've been out together. If anyone asks, he says, they met at an environmental protection conference. Her hair is done up, she's wearing a designer gown and borrowed jewelry, and she still feels frumpy next to Ozymandias. Adrian. Probably the glasses; she's the only woman in sight with glasses.

Of course Danielle and Adrian have kept in touch, had dinner together at his apartment, even spent weekends at his house in the Adirondacks. But that was just the two of them. This is public. She'd laughed when he called her up, and asked if he was switching teams. "Do I have to switch teams to want to enjoy the company of an old friend?" he'd answered, and so here they are. There are sidelong looks, discreet murmurs. There will be rumours. She doubts that Adrian cares. Maybe he wants it that way.

She keeps close to him, and is witty and charming and a bit shy, and drains her glass at the toasts. After dinner they wander out onto the terrace. They are the only ones outside; the spring air is chilly and dark clouds are hanging overhead. Adrian throws his coat and his arm over her shoulders, and Danielle, grateful, leans against him. He's just as solidly muscular as he was as an active adventurer, and she chuckles. "I should feel lucky. You're quite the catch."

"Perhaps." Adrian seems as amused as she is.

"There were people watching us. I bet they're taking bets on when the wedding is."

He shifts, pulling her closer. "That depends entirely on when you want it to be. June, maybe?"

Adrian sounds cheerful but, she realizes after a second, there's no humor in his voice. She turns in his embrace to look up at him, open-mouthed. He meets her gaze and quirks an eyebrow. She shuts her mouth. "Adrian. You meant that, didn't you. That was a real proposal."

"Yes." His eyes are warm but he's not smiling. "I've been considering it for a while. We'd make a good pair. I'm afraid I havn't got a ring, though."

"I thought you were gay." It's perhaps not the best response, but it's the most coherent of her frantic thoughts.

"Well. Yes." He glances aside. "It would be a celibate marriage, a business arrangement, and for companionship. There have been plenty of those. Often very happy." He smiles. "Think it over. I don't expect an answer right away."

There's a misty rain starting to fall, obscuring the city lights. She thinks of Rorschach, stalking down the dark alleys, looking for horrors and never failing to find them. She shivers. "Let's go inside."

When she gives a firm no on the way home, Adrian seems sad, but not suprised. Danielle will admit to herself she was tempted; she's past forty and the nights are very long. But marrying Adrian would be simple and easy and wouldn't hurt at all, and Danielle has always been enough of a masochist to distrust easy choices.

1983. Hollis is cheerful, as usual. They talk about the subway strike and the latest Moon landing and Veidt Industries' forays into experimental aircraft - Danielle has been doing some concept work for them, and she's quite pleased with the results. Fond though she is of Archie, he's not practical for mass production.

She asks how Sally Jupiter's been, and Hollis shrugs. "As well as she can. They think they got it before it metastized, but . . . She's coming back here for a visit, in a month or two. I don't know why, it's not like she doesn't see Laurie all the time." Danielle thinks she knows why, but she keeps her peace.

He asks about Ozymandias, and she admits they had dinner together two nights ago. It was an interesting dinner; the napkins were cloth and she'd wound up sketching on the back of an ad rough lying on Adrian's desk. Hollis chuckles at the image. "Are you ever going to run out of ideas?"

"I hope not," Danielle declares. "God knows the world could use some new ideas. The economy's in the dumps, crime rates are up, the Russians want to make it all moot by nuking us back to the Paleolithic . . ." It's not exactly a comfortable topic, but she pushes on. "Maybe some shiny new airships aren't going to cure cancer or make the Communist Bloc decide they like us after all, but dammit, what can anybody do? At least we can have a bit more fun while we're waiting for the sky to fall."

Hollis claps her on the shoulder. "Dani, I love you dearly, but you're an incurable pessimist."

"I'm just trying not to have false hopes."

"So maybe they're not false. Did you ever think of that? You're trying to help out, however you can. You're not giving up. If everybody thought like you did the world wouldn't need saving."

"They don't, though."

"No. But there's enough. You're not alone. I think we'll pull through somehow. Just as long as people do whatever they can."

She can't help but smile, and wraps her arms around him. "Thanks, Hollis."


The end is nigh.

Archie glides south over the Atlantic, on autopilot.

The Comedian is dead. Danielle - Nite Owl again, for now - barely knew and never liked the man, but the manner of his death and the reason he was killed weigh on her. Dr. Manhattan has left the planet, and Laurie has gone with him, and Danielle does not believe that she will see either of them again. Ozymandias, who she trusted, who she could have loved, has become the spider at the center of a vast web, and it remains to be seen if they can break free.

Rorschach is sitting against the edge of the front window, huddled against the chill, staring at the dark sea far below. She hasn't spoken since they left New York.

Danielle compulsively rechecks the radar. She's still sorting things through. She read the papers from Adrian's desk, and none of it makes sense. Why would he arrange his own assasination? What was the Comedian babbling about to Moloch? She'd ask Rorschach for ideas, if she though she'd get an answer. Danielle looks over at Rorschach again; Rorschach doesn't move, and she's still curled in on herself, arms folded over her chest as if she were ashamed.

The truth is that of all the revelations of the past few days, Wanda Kovacs was the least disturbing. It had helped, Danielle thought, when she asked Silk Spectre for help with the prison break - Laurie's long-standing belief in the sisterhood of heros had expanded automatically to Rorschach, and she'd felt nothing but sympathy.

She sits down next to Rorschach and looks out at the water. It doesn't look like much of anything in the dark.

Eventually she asks, "Are you cold? I can turn the heat up."

"Fine," says Rorschach. The voice is as low and gravelly as she's ever heard it.

"It's going to be a long trip. We can stop in Brazil if you like, stretch our legs."

"Not necessary. Should not delay."

Danielle takes a deep breath. She's sure she's just annoying her partner by hanging so close, asking so many questions, but she can't just sit back and let it go. Not now, not when they'll probably be dead in less than a day, when everything else is gone. "We're going as fast as the ship can. Once we get to Antartica we still have to find Karnak. Adrian . . . never acts rashly. We have time." She's almost certain it's true. She reaches a hand out and, when it doesn't get a flinch, lets it sit on Rorshach's shoulder. "I don't want you so worn thin you can't fight."

Concern for Rorschach disguied as concern for her abilities gets through, and Rorschach lifts her head. "Got sleep yesterday."

"You'll need some more before we get to Antarctica, then, but I don't just mean sleep. What's worrying you?" This quiet is disturbing. Normally Rorschach have been angry, muttering, insisting they take action. It almost makes sense now, but she was so quiet yesterday, too, except for that one outburst when she insisted they find Adrian's assasin.

But Rorschach just shakes her head. "World is dying by pieces. Not to worry is madness. Veidt is strong. We might not survive."

Weirdly, the last idea sounds downright cheerful. As cheerful as Rorschach sometimes got in the sixties, when they were working together. But Danielle is worn thin too, and there's little enough she can do already. "Fine. Well, we can still try." She gets up, stalks to the other side of Archie, and lies down, wrapping her cape around her. "I still love you, you know," she tosses off, mumbling into her arms.

She didn't think that Rorschach even heard her. But a little while later, there's a rustling noise, and she feels Rorschch lying down beside her, not quite close enough to touch, breath warm on her face. "Danielle."

"Rorschach . . . "

"Understood you and Veidt romantically involved."

"I didn't think you read gossip columns." Has Rorschach been operating on that assumption all this time? She and Adrian have been seen in public together, but not that often.

"Don't. New Frontiersman piece. Called him a Jew-lover." An awkward pause. "Sorry."

Danielle shakes her head. "We're not. We were friends, that's all. He asked me to marry him three years ago but I turned him down. I was still carrying a torch for you. God. And now I wonder if it was all some game, to make me trust him so I wouldn't figure anything out . . . God, I was such an idiot." Danielle shivers. "I should have seen through him."

"No fault. Nobody did." This time it's Rorschach who initiates the contact, resting a hand on her ribs. Her voice has gone soft and high again. "Still carrying a torch?"

"Yeah. Was . . . when you turned me down. You said I wouldn't love you if I knew. Was this what you meant? You being a woman?"

An uncomfortable silence. Then, "Was. Doesn't matter now."

It takes Danielle a while to work this one out. But she remembers a night in '75 when Rorschach came to her house late and asked Danielle to wash her clothes, and sat in the kitchen for an hour with her mask off. As if it no longer mattered. Danielle doesn't think she's ever seen Wanda Kovacs's face. She might have kissed her once. That was in another lifetime.

"Of course not." Danielle doesn't mean for the anguish to show in her voice, but it does. "What matters now? The world's about to end. What can we do if Adrian . . . "

"Justice. Let justice be done. Even if the world does end. All we can do. We can do this much."

Danielle realizes this is an attempt to comfort her.

"Rorschach? You're not afraid, are you?" A soft noise that might have been a denial. "I am."

"Danielle. You're a good woman." Rorschach hesitates, then shifts until they are touching. Hands resting on each other's backs, body to body like lovers, staring into each other's eyes. At least, they would be if the mask weren't there. "Good friend. I know that I havn't . . . havn't always paid back what you gave me. I'm sorry."

She said something similar, just before they took Archie up from the river to get some answers, but that was twelve hours and a lifetime ago. There's no urgency now, no answers to find except the ones witing for them in Karnak. And they are too late, ten years too late, and they will die tonight. Danielle can feel it in her gut.

She can't bring herself to regret it.

"It's alright," she whispers. "This is enough. I'm glad you're with me. I wouldn't want to do this alone."

"Not alone." Rorschach leans, just a little, until their foreheads are touching. Danielle closes her eyes and sees black splotches dissolving into white, swallowed up by the blank white glare of the Antarctic snow, made clean. Purified. Erased.

Outside the sunrise picks out bright splotches against the dark sea.

They fall asleep, still embracing, and the ship glides south towards the end of the world.

1986. New Year's Day. A woman with short blond curls knocks on the door of a house in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona. She's dressed in a crisp sky-blue suit and sunglasses, and carries three thousand dollars in cash, a New York driver's liscence in the name of Wanda Daniels, and a small screwdriver. Some habits aren't worth trying to break. A minute passes. "And I alone am escaped to tell thee," the woman says under her breath. It's a beautiful day. The world is full of color, green plants, red earth, and an endless blue sky.

There's a sound of footsteps, and a tired-looking white-haired man opens the door. He looks at the woman for a moment, and his eyes widen, but before he can say anything she throws her arms around him, crying, "Daddy! Oh, Daddy, I never thought I'd find you . . ."

The passionate greeting has moved them into the hall, and the woman kicks the door shut. Two neighbors close their doors, smiling. So touching! So their new neighbors hadn't lost their daughter after all. Such nice people, the Danielses, and such a pity what happened to them in New York. But it looks like they get a happy ending after all.

Inside, Hollis Mason leans agains the wall, catching his breath. "Dani? What are you doing here?" Some of the exhustion has left his face.

"Wanda Daniels, these days. I'm sorry I took so long. I was in Antartica for a few weeks, and then I had to find you." She rubs a hand over her still-unfamiliar hair. "Whatever possesed you to pull out the emergency identities? You're not wanted for anything. Well, not that I know of," she adds.

Hollis closes his eyes. "We wanted a fresh start, that's all. With you gone, and Laurie gone . . ."

A noise from upstairs. "Hollis? Hollis, who was -" At the top of the stairs, Sally Jupiter stops. She looks older than she is, exhausted, but it's only reasonable under the circumstances.

"Dani's alive. After all this time!" Hollis lets her go and scrambles up the stairs, and Danielle follows, hands clenching. Hollis takes Sally's hand and beams, and Danielle's heart flips in her chest.

There's no good way to bring up the topic, so she's glad when Sally does it for her. "Is Laurie with you?"

"No. She left Earth. With Jon. I don't know where they went." There, it's laid out honestly. "She said," and her voice cracks, "to - to give you her love. And to say it's alright. You were always good to her." That is a flat lie. Laurie said five words before she left: I'm sorry, Danielle. Good luck. Then a flash of blue light, and nothing left behind at all. After all, what tied her to ths world? It wasn't like she and Danielle had anything more than friendship holding them together. Not even much of that. But Danielle is getting used to lying.

"Oh, Laurie," Sally whispers to nobody in particular, and takes ahold of Hollis, who strokes her hair with a sympathetic look.

Danielle leans agaist the bannister while she composes her thoughts. "Rorschach's dead," she says, since they aren't going to ask. "Killed by Manhattan."

They don't look suprised. Sad, but not suprised. Hollis lets Sally go and looks at her thoughtfully. "Is that why you picked 'Wanda' for an alias?"

"Yeah. Wanda Daniels. I hope you don't mind suddenly getting a daughter, but, well, I thought it would be the best reason to come stay here." She'd almost made herself Danielle Dreiberg again; Adrian had offered to kill the charges. But she'd wanted a fresh start too, and this was the obvious place for it.

Sally hugs her. "Of course not," she says. "Not after - not - " And she's sobbing, little broken noises that make Danielle wince. But she's lost a daughter, after all, and getting another doesn't make up for that. Danielle rubs her shoulder, little soothing circles. She can feel the bones jutting out.

Hollis embraces them both. It would be cheesy if it weren't so comforting. He doesn't say anything, just lets Sally ride out the upsurge of grief.

Evventually Sally pulls back, with a small, dry laugh. "I must look like a mess."

"S'fine." Hollis pats her head, a brief, habitual gesture. Nobody would guess they'd only lived together for two months. "Look, why don't you go get dressed and I'll help - Wanda with her bags. Do you have bags?"

"Yeah. The car's out front."

He nods, and as Sally hurries off they walk down the stairs together. "So. How did you end up here, daughter?"

Danielle is glad he's only asking for the lie. The truth is so big she couldn't tell it, even if she hadn't promised Adrian not to. "It's complicated," she starts. It's always complicated.

Outside there's a cool breeze, but even so, it's a beautiful day.
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