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I'd just like to say that I'm like a fucking machine right now.  apparently excessive posting happens when I'm trapped at home for the better part of the day (every day, for weeks and weeks and weeks...).

anyway, this time around I present you with Watchmen fic.  with specific regards to young!Hollis Mason and all the myriad ways that I believe him to be secretly tortured and repressed.

so...uh. enjoy?  mayhaps I'll get around to posting this over at [livejournal.com profile] watchdom at some point.


Title: A Brief History of Who I Love (part 1/??)
Description: speculation on the relationships and histories of the Minutemen, as told through the eyes of a one (silently suffering) Hollis Mason.
Warnings: N/A (unless a few f-bombs really disturb you)
Notes: the story employs a blending of GN!canon and movie!canon (specifically with regards to the Jon-gets-framed-as-murderer-of-millions plot point) and the general Minutemen timeline is bastardized and ignored several times over.

the title is shamelessly stolen borrowed from a literary work far greater than this one.

finally, a million thanks to [livejournal.com profile] smirnoffmule , who beta-ed this nonsense and put up with the constant voicing of all my  concerns in the meantime. I probably wouldn't have written this at all without the support.



Dan splashes cool water over his face, blinking his way into wakefulness.  Early morning sunlight creeps over Manhattan rooftops and slants in shafts through the bathroom’s small window.  He runs a hand over his stubble, studying his own reflection.  His hair is dark again.  A year and a half since the end of the world, most of it passed under the shadow of at least sixty alleged sightings of his ‘dead’ self, and his caution has given over to a kind of wary comfort.  He supposes that anyone who believes the New Frontiersman’s cover stories on sightings of the walking dead are disregarded as suffering from the same mental instability as those who believed the publication of Rorschach’s journal—which, even Dan wouldn’t have put any stake by, had the dates not been so eerily accurate.

To be certain, the first time he saw the headline “Lost Lives Returned?” his heart nearly stopped.  A painful tightness constricted his chest and he stood at the newsstand, face buried in a bitter cup of coffee, trying to decide if he’d look suspicious buying the paper.  He didn’t.  And eventually the headline vanished into quiet disabuse.  The second time he saw something similar, he was not so alarmed.  The third and fourth times, he barely even glanced.

Now, Dan Dreiburgs and Laurie Juspeczyks and a million others have been sighted beyond count.  He’s even seen headlines reading “Hollis Mason Arises From the Ashes”.  That had been in the bitter cold of December.  Trees twinkled at him and storefront signs blinked MERRY CHRISTMAS obnoxiously out into the frozen, white world.  All of it had twisted up his gut enough to make him search out a dimly lit bar; to nurse a lonely, stinging drink.

He reaches for his razor, shaving leisurely.  It’s his day off—from everything.  Volunteering, work, and the world.  Idly, he wonders if Laurie’s awake.  By the time he’s finished the morning routine, the smell of coffee wafting through the door answers his question.  He wanders into the small apartment’s kitchen to find Laurie, still in her bathrobe, sitting at the table.  She picks at her eggs and flips through TV channels with little interest.

“Hey,” she says, smiling at his entrance.

It’s a thin expression—not disingenuous, but wan.  Perfunctory, maybe.  Dan moves towards the coffee pot.  Reaches for a mug.  He wonders how much of their lives are like that now.  Reflexive.  Weary.  A reaction to remembered affection.  He has wondered before if Laurie’s had any affairs since their return to Manhattan.  He has also wondered if he cares.

“Morning,” he says, and smiles back.

“There are some eggs in the pan for you.  Scrambled.”  She flicks the channel again. “And—uh.”

A long pause.

Dan looks up. “Hm?”

“A…package came for us yesterday.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.  You seemed tired last night so—I didn’t mention it.  But…”

Her tone is unsteady.  Almost placating—though Dan is certain that there is no reason for peacemaking.  Yet.  He looks at her.  She’s biting a slender finger.

“Laurie?”

She waves her free hand, not meeting his eyes.  “It’s on the cupboard.”

He puts down his coffee and reaches up, on tiptoe.  Fingertips brush the corner of a box and he pulls it down.  It’s fairly large and unremarkable, packaged in all brown.  It’s heavier than he expected.  Putting it on the counter, he studies it.  The addressee line reads ‘Sam and Sandra Hollis’ in handwriting he does not recognize.  And then he sees the return address.  The uncomfortable tightness pulls again on the inside of his chest.

He looks up at Laurie again.  Her expression is helpless.

Without another word he tears open a drawer, fumbles for a box-cutter.  Slashes tape and peels the box open.  Inside, there is a loosely bound pile of papers and frayed notebooks, a journal, and an overstuffed folder.  Overlaying it all, a crisp, vanilla-colored envelope.  His name—his actual name, Dan—is scrawled across it in fluid handwriting.  He can only stare.

“Is it—” Laurie starts.  She brings her finger up to her mouth again, biting.

Dan barely brings himself to nod.  He reaches for the envelope, bile churning in his stomach.  With shockingly steady fingers, he tears it open.  The letter inside is as crisp as the envelope and maddeningly short.  He reads it once, twice, three times again before handing it to Laurie and sinking into his chair.

.

Dan,

Please do not mistake this as a measure to repair our friendship—I would not presume to insult you so indelicately.  However, these items were brought to my attention by a rather guileless volunteer and I believe they would be better kept in your care than in mine.

Best,
Adrian

...---...

 
Between the years of 1962 and 1965, former costumed hero, Hollis Mason (mask name: Nite Owl [I]) wrote and published the book Under the Hood; the semi-autobiographical work provided a unique insight into the lives and stories of the collective of masked crime fighters, the Minutemen.  Following his death in 1985, Mr. Mason's apartment was searched and cleared out by the state, his valuables doled out according to the last draft of his will.  As Mr. Mason had no living relatives, he left most of his belongings in the possession of the state, and instructed that all of his earnings—including those made in the sale of Under the Hood, and any royalties accrued after his death—were to be left to a variety of charitable causes. Among his possessions, one specific inheritance was outlined; the backdraft files, the journal, and all additional photographs and memorabilia included in his early drafts of Under the Hood were to be left with a one (1) Daniel Dreiburg.  Should it be impossible to carry out these instructions, Mr. Mason directed that all of the previously mentioned items be left in the care of a one (1) Laurie Juspeczyk.  Unfortunately, due to Mr. Dreiburg and Ms. Juspeczyk’s deaths in the wake of Dr. Manhattan’s attack on humanity, these directions could not be carried out.  The draft items were still in the possession of the city police at the time of the attack.  Mr. Mason’s files—along with a number of other secure items—have since gone missing, and have likely been destroyed at the hands of looters.

...---...


June 3, 1962

Just got done having dinner with Denise.  It was interesting.  I’m not entirely sure how helpful all her advice will be, but good to hear it nonetheless.  And anyhow, she mentioned two things that really stuck with me.  First, when writing a book, gain the sympathy of the audience.  Second, always keep a journal.  Write everything down, she said.  Any old idea that pops into my head that could be related to the story somehow.  She said it doesn’t have to be a “real” journal, per se; I’m not looking to record my life at the present moment.  More a journal of thoughts, ideas, and reflections on the piece that I’m working on.

Write out whole drafts of scenes or chapters, she said.  Even if they seem stupid or useless—I can come back to them later and see if there’s anything worthwhile buried in the muck.

So…here goes, I guess.  I don’t know what to write, except that I’ve been thinking.  Thinking that maybe I shouldn’t do this.  Thinking, to hell with what I should or shouldn’t do, maybe I have to do this.  I guess that’s probably the worst excuse. 


.

Hollis has always said—at least, with some degree of self-deprecating humor—that the world is too big a place for him to really try and think about.  Let the philosophers and the theologians and the intellectuals have their existential crises; he wouldn’t pretend to be among their ranks.

I don’t have time to question everything; I’d never get anything done.  The lack of absolutes, a world without reason or meaning—it’d crush me. I’m not strong enough to hold on to nothing but myself.

Now, though, in the midst of a sweltering August night, he wonders how much he really ascribes that line of thinking.  The light hanging over the kitchen table casts a hazy whitish pool, just bright enough to halo the mess of papers strewn over the table’s sturdy surface.  Against the suffocating closeness of the heat, in the belly of the city, he finds himself suddenly playing the role he never wanted.  Asking questions he knows are better off left buried in layers of time, gradually fading with unspoken memories.

Sitting slouched, Hollis presses the heels of his palms against his eyes.  A constant pressure has been building in his head for the past few hours, pinching somewhere behind the bridge of his nose.  His eyes sting a little and his hands still smell of antiseptic.  Bitter, sharp, and chemical.

He exhales heavily.  Not for the first time that night, he feels the weight of age pulling him downward.  He imagines the grotesque image of slackening skin and withering muscle.  Lips thinning and curling inward; fleshy sheets over a toothless mouth.  And it seems that maybe the world is crushing him after all.

With a weary stiffness to his movements, he gets to his feet.  He can hear joints cracking.  It’s an odd, crunch-popping sound, a strange interruption against the constant hum of his mostly ineffective window fans.  He moves to the fridge, pulling it open and reaching for a bottle of ale—

And pausing at the whispered sound of footsteps.

He looks up.

“Dan?”

The boy—well, young man now, Hollis corrects himself—stands in the kitchen doorway, blinking bleary eyes against the light.  He’s shirtless.  In the unflattering light, he looks particularly exposed, the pale expanse of his chest sloping down into the loose mold of an undefined abdomen.  He isn’t fleshy, exactly—just.  Unremarkable.  Soft.  He has the gawky look about him of a boy who hasn’t grown into the breadth of his own shoulders or the sudden and new length of his limbs.  It’s an odd juxtaposition; that his successor should be so utterly average in physicality when Hollis himself had spent nights training to fit some idealistic mold of a masked hero.  Odd, but nice.  Comforting, somehow.

Dan smiles sheepishly.  “I got thirsty.”

Hollis smiles back.  His eyes flick down to the web of white gauze and medical tape fitted snugly against Dan’s flank, just above the waistband of his rumpled trousers.  How acutely unfair, he thinks, that the superheroes of old have left their successors to deal almost exclusively with criminals like this; the sort that cut and bite and shoot and stab only to disappear back into the shadows and the alleyways without so much as a whisper of a name.  The kind that force honest and good young men to his doorstep, bleeding, and white-faced, and helpless.

He looks back up, meeting Dan’s eyes. “For water, I hope.  It’s all you’re getting.”

He pulls the ale out for himself, and then fills a tall glass with ice and tap water.  Nodding to an empty chair, he returns to the table.  Dan sinks to sitting across from him.

“Thanks,” he mumbles, taking the glass.  He gulps the water noisily.

Hollis smiles against the mouth of his bottle.  “More?”

Dan sets the glass back down, lips wet.  “Maybe in a bit.  Thanks.”  He tilts his head.  “You’re up late.”

“It’s hot.”  Hollis takes a swig of ale.  It’s nutty and bitter.  Frothy.  He sighs.

“And?” Dan coaxes gently.

Hollis makes a vague, shapeless gesture at the papers on the tabletop.  “The thing hits shelves tomorrow.  Just having second thoughts, I guess.”  His mouth spreads into a thin, humorless smile.  “Thinking of all the would haves and the could haves and the should-I-haves.”

Dan thumbs through a few nearby loose leaves.  “You think the others will be upset?”

“No—” 

He breaks off. That’s not entirely true, he thinks.  But it’s also not the reason for his restlessness.  Not the source.  He grunts.  A tight knot of frustration burns in his throat.  Wordless and inexplicable.  He takes another sip of ale.

“The truth always stings a little,” Dan whispers. He’s still thumbing at the papers.  His gaze is unfocused.  “You never made a promise to win everyone some good P.R.”

There’s a bitter taste in his mouth.  Dan’s words settle like a weight in his gut.  The ale tastes like piss, now.

He sets the bottle down.  “Can’t say I didn’t make the story easier for folks to swallow, though.  I didn’t write about any escapades ending in things like that”—he gestures to Dan’s bandages—“or worse.  At least not in any great detail.”  He rakes a hand through his hair, trying again for a smile.  It still feels humorless.  “We aren’t all quite like your buddy—Rorschach, right?  Not everyone wants to see humanity up close like that.”

Dan glances at the floor.  Even in the chalky light, Hollis can see his ears redden.

“Yeah,” he murmurs.  “Rorschach is…Rorschach.”  He shrugs, looking up.  Suddenly earnest.  “It can’t all be that bad though.  You tell me your stories and—you guys weren’t miserable all the time.”  His voice takes on a wistful note.  “I remember begging to stay up late to watch the news just so I could catch coverage about you guys.  Y’know. Before I met you. You were the comic books come to life, y’know? You had that.”  He shrugs.  “So you weren’t perfect.  But you were…necessary.  Even I could see that.”

Hollis exhales.  A quiet, monosyllabic huh.  “Yeah. I guess we were.”  He runs a fingertip along the rim of the bottle.  He imagines toppling it, just to watch it explode.  The silence draws out between them for a while before he speaks again.  “Listen, kid.  Get back to bed.  That mess isn’t going to heal any faster if you keep getting up and agitating it.”

Dan smiles and stands.  “Thanks, Hollis.”

His bare feet murmur in a shuffle across the floor as he moves to get more water from the sink.  He whispers ‘goodnight’ before disappearing through the doorway again.  Hollis watches his naked back retreat.

It’s a pity, he thinks, to have come all this way, and to only be granted enough wisdom to see your own hypocrisy, rather than to find the strength to undo it.

But just like the general public doesn’t need to hear the ugly details of how drug dealers and gang bangers would—and did—fight dirty, just like the average reader doesn’t need to know just how human their masked heroes were, Dan doesn’t need to know just how immeasurably awful his “good guy” mentors often were.  Or, at least, Hollis can’t bring himself to be the one to shatter his ideal.  And for that he wonders if he should blame his ego.

“Even I could see that…”

And abruptly, he thinks of Sally and the way she used to move with a sort of startling lightness, hips swaying, eyes glimmering.  Alight with the glory of her own youth—and aware of it enough to revel in it.  Maybe he was wrong to presume her brash and brazen behavior was the unfortunate effect of thoughtlessness, or of some kind of strange, illogical, mental makeup.

He chuckles to himself.  Maybe he should have put that in the damn book.

And he sucks in a shuddering breath, suddenly wanting nothing more than sleep.

.

June 19, 1962

Gain the sympathy of the audience.

How do I gain the audience’s sympathy?  What does that mean?  The saddest story I know probably isn’t a story anyone wants to hear anyway.  It’s certainly a story no one needs to hear.  And all that makes me wonder: is this what my life, their lives—Byron’s and Sally’s and Bill’s and even Ursula’s—have been reduced to?  A commercial matter of hashing out what fragments of our stories are most palatable to the general populace?   Was Eddie right in calling me a sellout?

Why do I care what Eddie thinks or thought anyway?  I’m old.  Eddie’s old.  Our time is over whether he wants to admit it or not.  Being who I am is getting weighty.  Maybe it’s selfish, but I want someone to help carry some of the baggage.  Not all of it.  I can’t ask that of anyone.


.

One.  Two.  One.  Two.  He’s fallen into a rhythm, now, almost like a trance.  The loud fwap-fwap of fists snapping against the punching bag, the sound of the bag itself battering back and forth, and the cottony tap-tap¬s of his bare feet patting out a boxer’s dance against the mat—all of it a familiar tempo.

“Evenin’.”

Hollis side-steps to the left, swinging hard.  The bag cracks away and careens back.  He feints.  Cuts up with his left fist.  He can taste his own sweat.

“I said good evening.”

He stops, letting his hands drop. Eddie leers from the doorway to the police gymnasium.  Hollis turns to face him, breath coming in quick, heavy gasps.

“Yeah?”  he says.  Even to his own ears, there is a clipped note in his voice that can’t be dismissed as shortness of breath.

Eddie just smirks.   “I’m not interrupting, am I?”

Maybe to avoid snapping something sarcastic, Hollis moves brusquely over to the towel rack, reaching for a clean, white, rolled towel.  He scrubs at his face.

“No,” he says, rubbing at his sweaty hair.  “I was just finishing, actually.”

It’s a struggle to keep his voice neutral.  He snaps the towel over his shoulder and brushes past Eddie.  The swagger-swush of Eddie’s footsteps follows him to the locker room.  Hollis says nothing, but is aware of Eddie’s eyes tracking him as he reaches into his locker for shampoo and soap.  After a moment, he snaps the locker door shut.

“I’m sorry.”  He can’t fight back the sneer.  “Did you want something?”

Eddie is still leering like the Cheshire cat.  He’s stuffed his hands into the pockets of his dark jacket, and he slouches against the opposite row of lockers in a pose that can only be described as insolent.  He looks like a criminal.  And Hollis wonders, briefly, if the universe aligns itself intentionally to create such glimpses of multifaceted irony, or if these sorts of things just happen by accident.

“Just wondering if you were planning on making any rounds tonight,” Eddie drawls, looking about.  He draws a cigar from his pocket.

Hollis glances about, checking for anyone who might be within earshot.  The locker room seems—and sounds—deserted.

“Probably.  Why?”

“Need a partner?”

“No.”

“Oh c’mon Holly.  You know it ain’t smart to go running around alone at night.”  He exhales a thick cloud of smoke.

Hollis feels his lip curl.  “In that case, you obviously have no problem doing stupid things.” 

He walks to the showers, putting his things down on the bench.  He turns to face in Eddie’s general direction again and is surprised to find the other man standing no more than two feet in front of him, smirking around his cigar.  Hollis feels something tighten up between his shoulders.

“And,” he adds, “I never said I was going alone.”

Eddie just snorts.  “C’mon,” he prompts again. “I have a lead on a kiddie porn racket.  I know how you feel about those guys.”

“Ask HJ.”

“I don’t like HJ.”

“Nelly then.”

“I hate Nelly.”

And I don’t like you, almost slips off of Hollis’ tongue.  Instead, he lets the tense silence hold.  Eventually, he finds the strength to speak with some degree of civility.

“If I say yes, will you leave?”

“Whatever you want, Holly.”

“Fine.  I’ll meet you at eleven.”

“HQ.”

“Sure.”

And he’s gone, the locker room door swinging behind him, and the acrid smell of cigar smoke still clinging to the air.

.

They move like shadows through the night—not quite men anymore.  Somewhere behind them, somewhere in the darkness, they left behind the names and the faces of young adulthood; traded in identity for heroics in the name of something bigger than themselves (or that’s what one of them tells himself anyway, as they creep around corners and through doorways and down dark stairwells and into the bowels of humanity).  And when they find the foul men, they turn to foul actions and choices themselves because sometimes it comes down to kill-or-be-killed and it’s alright in a strange way because the ends justify the means (so says the other one, twisting an arm and shattering a wrist; some shit about the greater good, the end result, except the end result is just as ugly as the path you take to get there so it all negates itself anyway).

And for some indeterminable spread of a moment, they move in unison.  Feinting and dodging, ducking and swinging and kicking.  Splaying bodies across floors. But where one of them finishes, reconciling revulsion with a glimmering sense of justice and self-righteousness, the other does not pause.  And suddenly a face is crushed beneath a booted foot, blood spraying black patterns in the dimness while the sound of bones caving crunches over a man’s screams.  And there is gunfire and cursing and explosions of light and the sound of a second body dropping like one hundred and eighty pounds of useless meat, never to move again, all of it before the word stop resounds through the dimness, desperate and furious and horrified all at once.  A final gunshot.

And the shadows are gone, leaving three men, bound and dazed in a row on the floor, beside something dead and another thing broken (gurgling his helpless cries into the basement silence)—all of it surrounded by shiny, matted images of slim bodies and tiny limbs on grotesque display for the police and the break of dawn to find.

.

(undated)

Sally.  She always refers to the Minutemen as the glory days.  And here I am, drowning in the shadow of the past.

She’s seeing something I’ve missed.  Or maybe she’s selectively blind.


.

It’s 1987 and there is a history of the world that was supposed to have incinerated in the blast of Adrian’s blind beliefs, turned to ash under the godly touch (the willing blindness) of Jon Osterman.

And yet, somehow, out of the wreckage—

Dan leaves the box on the counter.   There are things he has to do.  Errands that need taking care of.  They happen in a daze, and somehow he’s home again without recalling that he really ever left.

Laurie is gone when he gets back. Proof, maybe, that he’s been away.  The sky is turning shades of deeper blue and burnished orange.  November evening falls quickly.

He pours himself a glass of brandy and sinks onto the living room couch with the journal, hands shaking.  As he reads it, his eyes sting and he’s not sure if it’s from tiredness, or because of a sudden need to cry.      
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