[personal profile] brancher
TITLE: Teshuva pt. 5
FANDOM: Watchmen
PAIRING: Dan/Rorschach/Laurie, heavy on the Rorschach/Laurie
SUMMARY: Part of the Triage series. Teshuva: (hebrew) repentence, commitment to change, confession; a return.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4



He takes a train and then another train and then a bus and then a cab. The cab lets him off in front of the place, and he dislikes it on sight: one of those Victorian-era public buildings, a grey neoclassical edifice that's at once impressive and drab. Inside the lobby, there's scuffed linoleum and a wall of ceramic tiles with sad little handprints. Dan shivers, thinks of Rorschach growing up in this place, and almost hopes he's wrong.

The woman in the front office looks up without smiling when he comes in. There's a nameplate on the counter: Lydia Wong, Clerk.

"Hi," he says. "Excuse me. I have a, um, friend who I think was incarcera-- er, grew up here about twenty years ago. I was wondering if you might have any records from that time or --"

"I'm sorry, but our records are private," she says. She says it with the bland professionalism of an airline stewardess. "You'll have to tell your friend to come here in person or send a notarized letter with return postage to this address." She flicks a business card out of a box and pushes it across the counter.

"Well --"

"You see, we can't just give them out to a third party."

"Well, the trouble is, he's in the hospital," Dan tries. He's never been so great at lying to civilians. "He needs a liver transplant. I'm just trying to find out if there's a relative, anyone who might be a match ... And, um, I don't think there's a lot of time left. For him. So a notarized letter wouldn't ... "

She looks up at him again, and this time gives him a long, shrewd, not unkind appraisal. "What's your relationship to the individual?" she asks.

Dan suddenly finds that there are no more lies in his mouth, and before he can stop himself he says, "He's my partner."

She studies him for another moment. Then she heaves to her feet.

"Follow me."

She takes him around the desk, through the back of the office, and down a stairwell. The first flight is well-lit, but the bulb on the second turning is burnt out. He feels his way by the railing.

"It doesn't happen very much anymore," she says, in the dark. "But twenty-five years ago, when I started here, there was a different administration, and ... Some of the boys were abused. Physically." Her voice echoes off the metal stairwell and floats back to him like a ghost. "I don't know if that's the reason. They say that sometimes ... but in any case a fair number of the boys turned out like that." Dan thinks, Like what? Costumed vigilantes?

"Um," he says.

"What I'm saying is, you're not the first to come here, now that so many young men are getting sick. Strictly speaking these records are private. I just figure it's the least I can do."

They've reached the basement, and Dan is spared a reply as she unlocks an unmarked door and flicks on a light. Fluorescents sputter into life, humming. The room is bare except for file cabinets standing in rows like the rows of stones in a cemetery: the buried lives of hundred of thousands of children, he thinks.

"What's the name?" she asks him.

"Dan. Um, I mean, his name is Walter -- Walter Kovacs." He tries to pronounce the name as if he says it every day.

She points. "Alphabetical, starts over here, K's are along that wall. You get lost, just come back up to the front desk."

Then she leaves him alone.

He half-expects the file to be missing, or misfiled, but there it is, thick and dusty, right between Kornfeld, Irving and Kowalsky, Leonard: Kovacs, Walter Joseph. He wonders where the middle name comes from, if his parents named him after someone. In Jewish families children are named only after the dead.

There's a desk on one wall, with a metal chair, and Dan carries the file over with something like reverence. It feels weird to be holding it in his hands, all this information. He thinks about all the questions he never asked, all the lines he never crossed over the years, and shudders. His heart is pounding the way it does before a first kiss.

An ancient rubber band holds the folder closed, but when he tries to take it off it crumbles in his fingers. He opens the file.

The first few pages are intake forms. From these he learns that Walter entered the Charlton Home in 1951. Age ten, height four-foot-one, weight 65 pounds. Taken into care following violent attack -- police report appended. Dan reads the stilted prose and the scene unfolds in his mind, with terrible clarity. God, the cigarette; if there was any question whether Dan has the right name, that clinches it. He's seen Rorschach use a cigarette like that.

Medical evaluations follow: the boy showed signs of high intelligence, emotional disturbance, and chronic malnutrition. There are grade transcripts, too, and Dan reads that he had average scores in math and science but excelled in history and religion. Next there are records of punishment that make Dan's blood run cold: caught fighting, administered ten strokes; caught fighting, personal items confiscated, five strokes; bedwetting, two days in separation room. The worst incident came soon after he arrived at Charlton, when he attacked a teacher's aide, tearing a ligament in the man's wrist. Walter spent a week in isolation. Dan remembers what Lydia Wong told him and hopes that was enough; hopes they left him alone after that.

There are school reports written in a child's careful handwriting, almost familiar from the notes that have appeared in Dan's basement over the years. Essays on Greek mythology and American history, a book report on Mallory's King Arthur and another on The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Dan smiles despite himself.

The next page is on Charlton Home stationary, and has a typewritten title: Dream, 5/27/63.

***

The window slides up easily. Walter pauses on the sill, then drops lightly down into the third-floor hallway of Daniel's brownstone.

The smell of the place overwhelms him immediately: wood and leather, the burnt-dust smell of an ancient boiler. It shocks him; for a moment he feels like himself again, like Rorschach, moving silently through Daniel's home as he has done many times before. But there is amber sunlight sliding over the hardwood floors, and Rorschach never came here in the day.

Dan was a mess Laurel says in his memory. Do you have any idea --

He takes off his shoes and leaves them there, under the window, so that he can feel the soft nap of Daniel's persian rugs under his bare feet. The house is so quiet; he can hear the tick of the mantel clock, the one that belonged to Daniel's great-aunt, two floors below him.

I missed you Laurel says.

In the door to the bedroom he stops and looks at Daniel's unmade bed. Walter has been hard off and on since last night, lying curled against Laurel with her strong scarred stomach under his palm and the soft swell of her breasts just above, so close he could easily touch them, though he did not. Now he looks at the rumpled sheets and the half-drunk glass of water on Daniel's nightstand and feels his penis swell again, beating against his leg like a heart.

He moves on.

Downstairs, the living room is flooded with light, everything as he remembers it. No, not quite; there are dishes on the coffee table, several days' worth. He sits down on the couch, thinks of Daniel sitting here, watching the news, pushing slick foreign food into his mouth. Walter leans back, spreading his legs, rubbing at himself through his pants with the heel of his hand. Pleasure makes phosphenes blur against his closed eyelids. The couch smells even more strongly of Daniel, of his cologne and his hair, and Walter turns his face into the cushions, nuzzling. After a while he slows, breathing deeply, letting himself subside.

Dan was a mess

Dan

missed you

He does not think they meant to claim him. And if they had, it would not be safe; no boundaries left, no face to hide behind, only Walter left to bleed into them. They would absorb his sickness and he would be consumed.

But. Laurel's hands said he was safe. Laurel's tongue said she would not take what he did not want her to take.

The kitchen faces north, and so it's dark; the tile is cold against his feet. He doesn't turn on the light. He lowers himself into his chair -- Rorschach's chair, the one closest to the basement door -- and stays there for a long time before he does what he came there to do.

***

Dan's forehead presses against the edge of the metal desk. He can't get enough air, and the room feels too warm. The piece of paper, the drawing, is in his right hand.

He isn't looking at it. He can see it anyway, the couple melted into each other, their grotesque shared bush, their joined mouth jagged with teeth Dancing sideways down the dark hall like a crab... He tastes bile in his throat.

That was his worst nightmare. What we did -- we thought we were helping him, healing him, and we gave him his worst nightmare instead.

It's all running back like a VHS tape in his head: Laurie kissing him while Rorschach stares, wide-eyed and shocky; Rorschach weeping as Dan bites his throat; Laurie's hand on Rorschach's head, shoving him onto Dan's cock and holding him down, dear god, holding him down while he chokes. Jesus, Dan thought that was hot as hell at the time, he's jerked off to that image --

He never said yes. God, we never even asked him.

He can't get enough air.

Lydia Wong looks up when he lets himself back into the office, and her lips tighten in sympathy when she sees his face.

"Bad news?"

He manages to nod.

***

By the time Dan gets home there's a headache slowly grinding behind his eyes. He doesn't bother to flip on the lights, just shoulders automatically out of his overcoat and goes to sink heavily onto the living room couch. The emptiness of the house is oppressive.

Hell, he thinks. It had been so good, for a while. He'd had Laurie as his lover, and Rorschach as his partner; that should have been enough. He should have been happy with that, and not started those games with Laurie. If he's honest, he's wanted Rorschach for a long time -- the Twilight Lady could tell, he's sure -- but so long as he didn't name it, it was just another fact about him, like his brown eyes and his fondness for costumes and birds.

Saying the words out loud, on his hands and knees on the bed with Laurie's slick fingers inside him -- that was the beginning of something unforgivable.

He thinks about the last time he and Laurie made love, though he can hardly call it that. Half fighting, silent, and graceless, they'd staggered against each other like drunkards waltzing. He'd tried to push her towards the bedroom, but she'd dropped him to the floor in the hallway, climbed on and forced him into her. She could only ride him for a minute before he was too soft, and then she lay crying into his chest for a few minutes before giving him a hand to his feet and going home without a word. He misses her, suddenly, in the visceral helpless way he still sometimes misses his mother.

His stomach spasms, and he remembers that he never ate lunch. He's not hungry, but he steers himself into the kitchen anyway, thinking, Can't fix anything without fuel. Something he's said to Rorschach a hundred times.

He turns on the light in the kitchen and the hairs on the back of his neck rise up before his brain has caught up with them. It takes him a second to see what's wrong -- nothing is out of place, the cupboards are all closed and his morning coffee mug is still sitting where he left it on the counter. But there's something folded neatly on the kitchen table, in front of the chair which was always Rorschach's, the one closest to the basement door.

It's his sweatshirt.

There's a rectangle of paper on top, a photograph or a card. When he moves closer, he sees it's a postcard, and he half-expects to see the familiar mirrored signature when he flips it over. But it's blank.

He turns it over again, to look at the picture. It's a cheap four-color print, a scene of the Statue of Liberty.

***

TBC
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