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Title: Laugh, And You Laugh Alone
Author: MustInvestigate
Disclaimer: I only own action figures
Rating: NC-17
Character(s)/Pairing: Laurie/Jon
Summary: No one will hire the Silk Spectre, not even the cops, not even a government happy to pay scum like the Comedian. Jon doesn’t need my company, not really. I’ve got more designer jeans than Brooke Shields, and nowhere to wear them, and nobody needs me, and I’m bored out of my mind.
Notes: An odd little what-if vignette, probably initially inspired by the excellent crossdressing!Laurie kinkmeme fills oh so long ago.

“Where do I tell you I meet him?” she asks.

Laurie’s life has been a little too easy since she had a chat with Dan about temporal causality.

He gives her an address without turning away from his work, which currently consists of making infinitely small circuits waltz between his outstretched hands. It’s a pretty show, and will probably end world hunger, eventually, somehow, just like his subdued delight in rearranging the atomic particles of magnesium into lithium eventually, somehow saved the world’s atmosphere.

“Do you mind…?” She sets her bundle on the table in front of him: skirt, shirt, sensible flats, coat, beret, pillowcase. He could probably change anything into what she requires – she suddenly pictures herself dragging in a urinal, for that classic dada touch – or even pinch the raw subatomic material from the particles surrounding them, leaving the lab’s integral reality just that much thinner. She feels more thoughtful providing something that won’t tax the conservation of local matter and energy overmuch.

A flash of blue that windlessly ruffles her hair, and it’s done.

“Thanks, Jon.” She gathers up the altered clothes, telling herself she didn’t deliberately pick an evening her lover would be particularly absorbed in whatever it was he did that earned them a windowless luxury suite and permanent SWAT garrison.

“Be careful,” he says, but she takes heart that he doesn’t seem truly concerned. Even though she knows it doesn’t work that way.

* * *

She counts floors and takes the fire escape, climbing in a window that’s either left unlocked for ease of sneaking in or – more likely – because no one with working eyes would break in. A dismal apartment in a tenement buttressed by mold and misery, it was most likely (she could only assume, based on the empty cans piled on undifferentiated filth and stacks of insulating newspapers on the sprung mattress) a bum waystation. One of those forgotten places old homeless guys seemed to know about, where they could get a night or two of relatively peaceful sleep.

Yes, this was a place he would come, to look for witnesses or crouch for an hour, scribbling in that little diary of his.

The trench had coat smelled like a sick animal when she pulled it on over the wrinkled suit, but she can barely smell it through the strange fabric of the mask. She leans on the least disgusting wall, for the first time thankful Jon had reproduced the garments’ grime as much as their texture. It feels like camouflage.

She passes the time moving her hand past her face, discovering that, if she stretches her mouth into a grimace, the fabric’s ink pools in front of her eyes. It’s no worse to see through than polarised sunglasses. She wishes she could tell Dan how it works; they used to speculate how his partner could even see through his mask. Once, she almost had him convinced Rorschach was actually blind and compensated with super-sensitive hearing.

It probably should have occurred to her earlier that coming face to face with himself might drive him insane. Not the usual self-sustaining mask psychosis, which she’d already encountered as four distinct brands in thirty short years, but catatonic-in-a-rubber-room-after-murdering-three-square-blocks insane. She isn’t prepared, when he oozes silently through the partially open window, but eight years working DC without back-up hadn’t been for nothing. That choke, the hands flying to touch his covered face even as he twists to launch himself –


She doesn’t try to disguise her voice, or the reflexive irritation that permeates the word. She also doesn’t move, other than involuntary stiffening, all the old defensive systems slamming back online at once.

He pauses mid-swing, head tilting as he processes – she watches him place the voice, his posture shifting minutely from physically to socially defensive, then momentarily struggle with the unconceivable noise of her voice coming from his mirror image, outrage stiffening his spine as he accepts the evidence of his ears and eyes and processes the unbelievable sacrilege of –

She interrupts him again. “I just can’t do nothing anymore.”

* * *

“Where do – ”

“You don’t. Not tonight.”

The circuit components have changed shape, subtly, and move together with the ragged order of geese flying north.

Jon’s right. She goes back to the waystation – marvelling at the comfort of her feet as she creeps to the windowsill, the extra padding in her shoes absorbing landings the way her stilettos never have – but the newspapers are gone and there’s a hole in the floorboards. She listens to the neighbors, a joined-up auditory mush of fighting and fucking and years rotting from the inside.

She has her suspicions, the beginnings of guilt, but pushes them away. No one could live here.

The crazy little man hadn’t agreed, but he hadn’t forbidden it either. He hadn’t said much of anything, letting his restlessly clenching fists and furiously tight shoulders do the talking. She’d only thought, No one will hire the Silk Spectre, not even the cops, not even a government happy to pay scum like the Comedian. Jon doesn’t need my company, not really. I’ve got more designer jeans than Brooke Shields, and nowhere to wear them, and nobody needs me, and I’m bored out of my mind.

I don’t know how to do anything else.

The mask facing her shifted at can’t do nothing anymore, making her bite her lips before her actual reasons could escape. He’d probably come to her last of all in ’77, after Dan and Adrian and even Jon, as close as he’d ever come to begging: City needs you. Can’t abandon it. Can’t sit back and do nothing.

Better to let him think his words had percolated through the last few years, nagging at her, grinding her down until she couldn’t bear her decadent liberal lifestyle, much as that galled.

“Silk Spectre can’t come out of retirement. Hell, even if I made a new identity, a new costume, they’d ID me my first night out and arrest me in my own bed. The only reason I don’t have a CIA tracking anklet right now is because I went voluntarily – don’t think they trust me! But you, no one knows who you are.”

Rorschach grunted and stepped back to the window.

“And I’m not here to unmask you, dammit! Hell, if there was any point to that, I could just ask Jon. I want to – hell.”

She’d wanted a smoke more than anything, but pushing up the mask to get it to her lips would be tactically disastrous. “Everyone knows Rorschach’s still out there. If it seemed like he was in two places at once sometimes, then, uh, it would just add to the legend.”

Rorschach snorted, but his shoulders had lowered. Flattery had hit some special mark in that crusty ego. “And when caught, unmasked?”

“Hey, I’ve been trained for this since I could walk!” she snapped, stalking closer, breathing through her mouth. “An entire childhood of martial arts, gymnastics, and the criminal mind, all of it without armour and in goddamn heels! How ‘bout you, huh?”

He climbed out the window, muttering.

”Not in heels, no”? she thought. I did not just hear that.

She reminds herself that he hadn’t actually said no, but resists the urge to patrol. Too dangerous, when they could accidentally cross paths, be seen by anyone not drunk enough to pass it off as terrified double-vision.

* * *

She’s waiting for him in a dockside warehouse with a thermos of sweet coffee the next time. He’s a flicker in the corner of her eye – probably jumped out of his skin, she guesses smugly – then behind her in a heartbeat.

“You,” he hisses.

She holds the thermos over her shoulder, a mute peace offering.

He takes it, holds it like a police baton. “Why are you here?” he demands, pacing and passing the thermos from hand to hand.

“Told you. I want back in. This is the best way to do it.”

“Won’t work, won’t – ”

She pulls a map from one of the pockets, grateful for the gloves that protect her from actually touching the scummy leather, “Where are you working tonight? It’ll be safer if we split the territory.”

“Go home,” he snaps.

“Either we work together, or we risk tripping each other up,” she shrugs.

“Not happening,” Rorschach mutters, but it sounds less like a rebuttal, more like someone praying they’ll wake up in a cold sweat.

“You can’t stop me.” She decides to push it. “You don’t own this image. Technically, Adrian does, since he licensed us all as action figures.”

Predictably, he growls, raising the thermos like he would bash her skull in. She’s not afraid, though; he’s now in what passes for his right mind, and while he might despise her, she’s both a woman and a fellow crimefighter. The little freak might consider himself judge, jury, and executioner, but none of those schizo personalities can stretch to convict her. Yet.

“At least the Rorschach toy looks like you. Mine is practically ‘Underwear-Vigilante Barbie, packaged with glowing blue Ken!’ That vapid smile makes me want to kill myself every time I see it.”

Another growl, but one of surprised agreement. It worries her that she can tell the difference.

“My mother loves them, of course. She’s got three on her mantelpiece, and they’re in different poses every time I visit.”

She shudders, jamming gloved hands into the filthy jacket pockets.

“Tomorrow,” he says, his voice rough as ground glass. “Here. No tobacco. No perfume.”

She smells herself, startled. “Oh. Ah, hah hah – I forgot. Fine, I’ll de-stink before patrol if you do.”

He’s already slipping out the entrance, thermos tucked protectively to his chest.

* * *

The next night, they fight.

She dodges a kick aimed at her groin, and he grunts in disapproval; she’s still coming down on the ball of her foot too tentatively, not stepping back as far as she could. She knows she’s not wearing three-inch heels, but her instincts don’t. And she’s kept in shape…or so she thought. The only knockouts her body has pulled off in the last three years have involved slinky red dresses.

Their fighting styles are different – she sums it up as he punches, I kick – but she knows she can adapt. They don’t have to move like twins, as long as she can just keep her damn heels on the ground. They’re about the same height, and nicotine deprivation gives her body language an edge of unhinged rage. His clothes have been stripped of some filth, and he smells of nothing worse than the sweat they’ve both worked up. It’s close enough.

He doesn’t agree. He drops his fists mid-spar and shrugs his coat on. She can almost convince himself there’s an edge of regret when he declares, “Won’t work.”

“It will,” she insists, but he’s already hoisted himself up to a broken window and slides out, leaving her thermos on the floor. There’s a new crack in the lid with a speck of something matted, and she makes a mental note to clean it with bleach, just in case.

The next morning she convinces Jon and his handlers that yes, she is a big girl who can walk down the street all by herself, and goes to the YWCA near Dan’s place. She intends only to sign up for a boxing class, but the middle-aged receptionist who doesn’t ask how to spell “Juspeczyk” plies her with coffee.

Afterward, she calls Dan from the pay phone on the corner, and they meet for lunch at his Gunga Diner.

“One minute, I’m pretending to know who Germaine Greer is and why the hell she’d write a book about me. Then the next, I’m agreeing to take over teaching the afternoon self-defence course three times a week! Damn the woman, anyway.” She stabs at her supposed saag paneer, searching for even a single piece of cheese.

“Germaine Greer?” Dan asks. He has mango chutney on his chin. She’ll tell him if it’s still there when they leave.

“No, the woman at the Y. Cynthia, I think. Cynthia Fucking Silvertongue.” She pushes her green mush aside and lights a cigarette, ignoring Dan’s pointed cough. “Who the hell makes someone learn judo in heels, huh?”

Dan coughs again, brow crinkling as he struggles to put together a perfectly reasonable conversational jump. “That’s not a bad idea for your class, actually – teach them to defend themselves in the shoes they’ll be wearing on the street.”

Laurie shoots him a withering look. “Trust me, that’s a horrible idea.”

She changes her mind after the second week of classes. Between the home schooling and her vigilante-slash-kept woman career, she’s had few friends among other members of the fairer sex, and it’s clear she’d overestimated the average woman’s muscle tone. Hell, most of them have just got the hang of yelling “No!” in a loud clear voice without giggling – although there’s a grandmother out of Bensonhurst who throws a mean elbow into anyone foolish enough to demonstrate a hip throw on her. She’s Laurie’s star pupil.

The rest…no, Dan was right, though she’ll never tell him. Even if they get comfortable learning basic defence moves in sneaks and sweats, in street clothes and pretty shoes they’ll freeze like every victim she’s ever rescued. She tells them all to bring the highest pair of heels they own to the next class and finishes off with a review of pressure points.

She’d never tell Cynthia Fucking Silvertongue (if she wasn’t already dodging an in-depth discussion of Germaine Motherfucking Greer’s dissection of both Silk Spectres), but she’s enjoying herself.

It almost scratches the itch – it damn well should scratch the itch, being useful, sharing her skills, pre-emptively rescuing thirty potential victims, meeting real people and getting whaled on by a woman twice her mother’s age…

But it doesn’t. It just isn’t enough. So she kills a half hour with three cigarettes, tapes up her knuckles, and goes upstairs to her other class.

She is not the star pupil there.

No one in Rosa’s class clumps together to whisper and giggle. Rosa would probably throw them off the roof if they did. She ignores Laurie, pointedly, aside from a few complaints about “Barbie Doll wannabes wasting my studio space!” but Laurie bites her tongue, silently curses Adrian and his entire coven of marketers, and copies the older woman’s form. Rosa has grudgingly let her graduate from shadowboxing at a spotty mirror to actually hitting the speed bag, but she watches the sparring couple with impatient envy. She’s sure she could take them both, at the same time and in those goddamn heels, on the street.

It’s dark when she leaves, shivering more from the locker room’s cold shower than the wind. Her shoulders and arches ache, but she doesn’t cross the street to the subway station. She can feel eyes on the back of her head.

He appears in the second deserted alley she strolls down, perched on a fire escape.

“Oh, it’s you,” she says, smirking. “I was in the mood to pulverise a rapist, but you’ll do.”

He grumbles at the joke, mask changing with the jaw movements. It occurs to her that she could wear the mask and practice in front of a mirror, work out a cipher for his expressions under there. The thought amuses her far more than it should.

She can’t make out his next words, which don’t sound like an insult, for once.

“What? Speak up!”

“Quiet!” he hisses.

“If you want a private conversation,” she points out, “you’ll have to come down here.”

He makes an irritated noise, but drops easily down to the asphalt. Once, she’d have wondered how he did that without breaking his ankles, but now she knows: shoe padding. Brilliant.

Her admiration slams short as the smell reaches her nose. He reeks again, like he’s been burrowing in a garbage scow.

“Fwoo!” she huffs and steps back. Fortunately, he doesn’t seem to take offence.

“Teaching,” he says.

“Yes,” she answers, when he doesn’t continue, and falls silent herself. She waits for the inevitable put down on the uselessness or downright immorality of giving women the weapons of their own damn bodies when they should all be locked up in nice safe kitchens, ideally barefoot and nursing a brace of virile Republican sons.

She’s not hoping he’s impressed at her diligence. She’s got the costume, she’s nearly back into street-shape, and she’s not going to wait for anyone’s permission now. It’d be easier with his cooperation, but –

“That’s something,” he breaks into her thoughts, and damn right it’s something, you – is on her lips before she registered the slight lift at the end, making the statement a question, should she choose to take it that way.

She chooses to.

“It’s something,” she agrees, and there’s the faintest of slumps to his shoulders, an unconscious gesture she recognises as something Dan does a lot, too. “Something like a day job. My nights, now…they’re still a long stretch of nothing.”

She immediately pictures her mother laughing at her own snide joke about sheets full of nothing, too, and regrets the phrasing. Of course I’m not sleeping with my boyfriend, she argues with that damned insinuating cackle in her head, he doesn’t sleep.

His head is tilted, and she knows her face must be giving away her sudden anger, wonders what the strange little man thinks has caused it. Of course, he’s always been boiling-over furious at the drop of a hat, any hat, so maybe this is the first time she’s made sense to him.

“Wouldn’t agree,” he begins, “no time or patience to babysit dilettante, but…also cannot neglect current investigation.”

She ignores the insult, excitement rising at the reluctant, warning tone. Hesitation a man’s voice always means she is about to get her way. “Where and when?”

He tersely describes one of many lousy neighborhoods not far from the docks, territory split between two gangs and notorious for “…gentlemen of…affordable company.”

She can hear his teeth grind with the effort of protecting a woman’s delicate ears. “So, it’s a vice ring?”

He shakes his head. “Beatings of…gentlemen. Escalating in frequency and brutality. No police involvement.”

“Well of course not,” she says. “No hooker will report assault, especially not if it’s a john.”

He grunts, and she hears both distaste and agreement. Wait until she tells Dan he’s no longer the only human being fluent in Rorschach.

“So why aren’t you looking into this?” she asks. “Afraid some pretty rent boy will steal your heart?”

He makes a gagging noise, the mask sagging grotesquely around his twisted lips, and she laughs. “Just kidding.”

“Serial rapist,” he spits out, and names a block in the garment district.

She remembers reading about regular police rousts of illegal immigrants in the area and speaks without thinking. “Shit. Another ‘no police involvement,’ right?”


“Give me an hour to get home and change,” she says, vocal cords already tightening with anticipation and fear. “I’ll find the bastard before he lays a finger on anyone else.”

“Only patrol,” he protests. “Be deterrent presence. Will investigate when rapist is caught and dealt with.”

An entry in the police blotter to look forward to, she thinks, but replies mildly. “Fine. Flying the colors it is. But if the perpetrator should happen to fall into my lap…”

He shrugs, clearly not expecting her to find anything other than her ass, and that only if he draws her a map. “Report in – ”

“I’ll find you, tomorrow night,” she interrupts and jogs away toward the subway station, smirking. She got the last word.

She’s clipping the Ace bandage around her breasts when it belatedly sinks in, and she’s so distracted that she lets Dan’s phone ring three times before remembering he doesn’t know, can’t know, about her project and hangs up. So she interrupts Jon’s work, instead.

“It makes no sense!”

“Your perspective is limited,” Jon answers. He touches her cold coffee, and it steams.

“Rorschach is not the champion of illegal aliens and gay prostitutes! This can’t be…” She takes hold of the mug he’s levitated in front of her nose and sips carefully. “Jon, have you been fiddling with the space-time continuum again? I won’t be mad, I just need to know if I’ve fallen through a rip into Bizarro-world.”

“I do not ‘fiddle,’ Laurie, I explore.” No one else would know his expression is one of reproach and hurt, but she feels it. “That rift was subatomic and open no more than a nanosecond before it collapsed.”

“Hmmm. Now that I think on it, if this is Bizarro-world, it would have been my Jon who made the rift, not you. Bizarro-you.” She keeps a straight face while his expression shifts into offended irritation.

“I can assure you, there has been no such rift anywhere in New York State.”

She treasures the moment. It’s not often she gets his goat, these days. “I know, honey, I know. But how do you explain… The New Frontiersman would repudiate him for life if they knew he was protecting the greatest enemies of The American Way Of Life!”

She pronounced the capitals with dramatically wide, incredulous eyes.

“Rorschach cares for criminals, and their punishment,” Jon tells her, rising and turning toward his precious laboratory. “Victims are only a necessary part of an equation leading to that desired end, neutral as an equals sign.”

“While I’m gone,” she says, tucking the mask into her pocket and finding her fedora, “work on translating that into Laurie-speak, ‘kay?”

* * *

The “affordable gentlemen” melt away from her as she patrols. It takes a lot of concentration, walking in exactly the depth of shadow that will leave her visible to criminals but not (hopefully) police. She tries not to enjoy their nervous starts, hurrying away from potential customers.

No one ever ran from Silk Spectre. Hell, it was practically a boast, to be dragged to lock-up by a woman in latex lingerie, claiming anything from a quick grope to six sloppy blowjobs on the steps of the Statue of Liberty.

The amusement dribbles out of her when a young man with more bruises than stubble on his face trips on his own Cuban boots at the sight of her, of Rorschach, and dives into the safety of a filthy alley.

“Hey,” she calls, strangling her vocal cords into an approximation of that ridiculous growl, but gets only running footsteps in return. She could turn back into the neighbourhood, obediently show the vigilante colors for another hour or two. Or…

He won’t run far. Three more blocks west or north will take him into an entirely different red light district, and he probably can’t afford to miss a night’s income. When there’s no sign of pursuit, he’ll turn back, carefully slinking through less travelled paths, but not through this alley. There’s another possibility one block north, barely a footpath between buildings, with a nice wide ledge along the second floor.

She shrugs and decides she can use the climbing practice. Her feet haven’t even had the time to go numb when he slips past below her, carefully watching every direction but up, and she has no plan.

Step one, she decides, is to slide off the ledge, clinging on with one hand, so she only has eight feet between her and the street instead of fourteen. It works so well that the young man doesn’t even hear her land, and she has to clear her throat to pull his attention away from the street he’s craning his neck to scan for her.

“Ah, hell, man…sir…I don’t want any trouble, please…”

“I’m not here to hurt you.” No, still a little too high. She clears her throat again, hard, until it feels like she’s got a nail file lodged in her soft palate.

“Oh, ah,” the young man nervously smoothes his dark hair back and twitches his lips into a warped parody of a come-hither pout. “Yeah. Yeah, okay. You, for you, yeah, it’s on the house, right? Anything you want.”

She chokes on the phlegm she’s loosened and coughs it back out, wiping the mask over her lips before she remembers. “Answers will suffice tonight, thanks.”

He nods so hard she expects his neck to snap. “Yeah, yeah. Anything. Just don’t hit me, man.”

It’s not even johns putting the hurt on these men, as it turns out. Just “local guys, dress like Teamsters, most nights after the Sunset Lounge closes.” That’s more depressing, somehow. She wishes it was some vice lord, trying to scare off the independent competition. Something organised, something that made goddamn business sense.

He tells her there’s always at least four of them, sometimes six. She can picture herself, getting the drop on them, taking out two right off with a wicked one-two combo…and then the other four dog-pile on her, her vigilante comeback DOA on this godforsaken street full of boys whose asses look far better than hers in tight leather pants. Hell, she’d have a better chance of taking out Rosa in a fair fight.

“I could stay close tonight,” she begins, without conviction. “Deterrent presence.”

“Yeah, to every trick in six blocks. Man, I got to pay my rent!” the man argues, then flinches. “Not, that, uh, thanks, but…”

“Bad idea,” she agrees, and smiles inside the mask. She thinks of the old days, kicking in “storeroom” doors that led to gangsters’ inner sanctums, high as a satellite on sheer adrenaline. She thinks, too, of how often Jon de-atomised her targets as soon as they even thought about reaching for their guns, before she got to have any fun at all. “Always preferred direct approach, anyway. Sunset Lounge, you said?”

He nods, eyes wide. “I, uh, one of them had blond hair. Real short. The guys called him Frank, I think. You’re not gonna…are you?”

She indulges, snapping off a crisp salute. “Evildoers must be punished. Go about your business, sir.”

She pictures Rorschach, across town, suffering a sudden hemorrhage in his moral majority.

The young man huffs out a winded chuckle, backing away. “Man, you’re all right, you know? Thanks, yeah. Thanks.”

The dive isn’t far, but she’s got most of a plan in place when she shoulders open the front door. She’s thinking of Kitty Genovese, of the so-called “bystander effect,” and that time Dan said the noise of tiny finger bones snapping haunted his dreams, the good ones and the nightmares, when she points to one bright, fade-cut scalp and growls, “Frank?”

“Yeah?” the man says, and he’s younger than she expected when he turns around. She’s glad she got him right on the first try. Would have been humiliating, otherwise. “What the…you?

The bartender drops a glass, and as if that’s the cue, the rest of the dive’s seedy patrons recede from Frank. Seems she’s found a guilty man. Even the guys at his table inch their chairs back, eyes locked on her face.

Well, his mask. Who cares, anyway, if she’s the one wearing it?

She can’t hear anything but her heart, thumping on her ear drums, but she feels the vibrations through her sinuses when she snarls.

“You’re gonna go straight home tonight, Frank, you and all your little friends. Tonight, and every night. Aren’t you, Frank?”

Frank’s eyes narrow, but that’s a show. Under the lids, they’re darting side to side, looking for a friend. “What the fuck do you think – ”

She estimates that she’s got at least thirty seconds before his buddies can shake off their booze-slicked inertia, realise that the goddamn Rorschach is really real and really threatening their boy Frank, and, furthermore, count up on their fingers that the odds would be five-to-one if they all stood up at once. She derails that potential train of thought by kicking the chair out from under Frank and slamming his face into the table’s overflowing ashtray.

“Nobody gets their ass kicked on my beat unless it’s by my boot. Which is currently itching to bash some sense into the soft parts you do your thinking with. Capiche, my aryan amigo?”

She doesn’t think she’s caught the flavour of Rorschach’s usual threats, but she doubts Frank’s heard more than the gist, anyway, through the enraged gibberish he’s spitting into the cigarette butts. He throws an elbow into her stomach, and it’ll bruise tomorrow, but just now she barely feels it.

She catches the arm and, leaning hard on his neck with her other forearm, yanks his hand up, separating the fingers.

“Shit, buddy, shit, don’t do that, I gotta work, don’t touch the fingers!” the man blubbers, going limp underneath her.

“Then keep your fists to yourself!” she growls, settling for slamming that hand on the table next to his ash-covered face. “I see you on the street, and…”

She backs toward the door, keeping her shoulders squared, up on the balls of her feet. “And this goes for all you closet cases, so listen real hard!”

All eyes in the silent bar are locked on her, wide in fear and sudden hope they might all get home with their limbs intact, and it hits her like a jolt off a live wire.

“I see any of you bastards near the docks, and the cops are gonna be carrying what’s left of you to lock-up in a Coke bottle!” she snarls, exalting in their stiff terror, and forces herself out the door. On the sidewalk, she tells her feet to move, to sprint to the alley across the street, to climb up that fire escape and perch on the landing, out of the streetlamp’s cone of light, before all her nerves blow their fuses. She crouches, paralysed, a smell like ozone inside the mask as she pants, eyes pointed at the Sunset Lounge’s faded door.

If she thought, she’d think she made a hash of that, too petty and cruel for Silk Spectre and not nearly vicious enough for the mask she wore, so it’s fortunate her brain has vapour-locked with the rest of her.

She’s still immobile fifteen minutes later when the bar ejects the 2 am crowd. Frank’s bright head is easy to spot until he pulls a knitted cap on against the chill. Five bodies ring the door, heads tilting from one to another to every dark shadow in the streets around them, until…

They head off, away from the docks. Looking over their shoulders as long as she can see them.

Her joints loosen a little, enough that she realises her feet really have gone numb, this time. She shifts until she’s sitting on the edge, legs dangling, anticipating the pins and needles. There’s time for another patrol of the docks, but…that kid needs to earn a living, and she’s chased away the bad guys. For tonight, at least.

Now she thinks, she should have gotten Frank’s last name. And his friends’ names. And followed them home, asked Hollis to check for recent convictions under the names and addresses. Hell, tomorrow night, she can stake out the place and do just that. Tomorrow…

It’s a long walk back to her neighbourhood, and she thinks that she’ll have to work something out so she can change into street clothes somewhere and get on the subway without causing a panic. That’s about all she thinks, rushing through the back streets even though there’s hours until dawn, vaulting over the chain-link fence surrounding the Doctor Manhattan compound as if the hounds of hell nipped at her heels.

She doesn’t have to drag Jon into bed. He waits, glowing through the sheets, seemingly absorbed in the contents of a folder marked with MIT’s Mens et Manus logo. The pages shuffle themselves away, the folder settling on the bedside table, as she toes off her shoes and shoves the covers to the floor.

He pulls her close even before she’s within arms reach, her knees skimming the sheets, trenchcoat buckle undoing itself. He pushes the scarf and two layers of jacket off her shoulders with his hands, but the buttons of her sweat-damp oxford pop open simultaneously. She wiggles impatiently out of the stiff trousers, barely noticing the clash of red panties against the dark pinstripes before they too are discarded. The brush of conditioned air makes her skin prickle into goosebumps, and she leaves the white shirt on as she unwinds the bandage beneath it, his fingers delicately skimming the cloth-ridged flesh beneath.

“Did you have a good evening?” he asks, pressing his lips to her collarbone, as calmly as if she’d only popped out for a drink with an old friends.

“Nobody died,” she replies, more tartly than she intends. He’s not really omniscient, can’t be expected to know how much she just wants to be Jon and Laurie right now, unless she tells him exactly how she feels sometime in the future. And she’s no Sally Jupiter, making a psychoanalyst of every poor sucker in earshot. She spreads her fingers over the smooth eggshell of his skull as if she could press what she needs directly into his thoughts.

His hands instead follow familiar trails up from her knees. “An improvement over what might have been, then.”

She presses her legs together, trapping his hands at the juncture of her thighs. His head tilts, Little Orphan Annie eyes seeking explanation.

She has none to give, so she lets her hands fall from his head to hang down between his shoulder blades, opens her thighs to him, wriggles close and wraps those legs around his waist. She doesn’t want to be laid across the bed or comfortably levitated over his patient lips and tongue. She wants the bumping of limbs trying to entwine in ways the joints just don’t bend, to feel the subliminal fizz of his skin against her belly and breasts, and doesn’t quite register its lack where her cheek digs into his neck.

His body is never awkward, though, and his hands continue the interrupted motion. She closes her eyes rather than watch his graceful wrists bend into the torturous angle require to run his thumbs along the bumped-up flesh over the line where legs become hips. Without thinking, she’d moved to block his usual strokes, hoping he’d detour. Surprise her, since she has no hope of surprising him.

His hands move together, symmetrically flowing back to rub slow, expanding circles below her navel. When he bends her backward to taste the sweat lingering between her breasts, his lips move to the same rhythm. She thinks it might sync with her heartbeat.

She jumps ahead, pushing his chest until he leans back and she can take him in hand. He hardens immediately, obediently. Feeling the familiar weight of him, of that instant, bloodless, distantly needful cock, muddles up the singular drive that hurried her through the streets, but she straddles him anyway. She works him in impatiently with shallow thrusts, balancing on her knees and ignoring the slight lift of Jon’s eyebrow.

Yes, his way is more logical, teasing her with his fingers and tongue until she’s on the edge, until he can slide in like an oiled piston. Sometimes she races ahead of schedule, pushing into the strokes of his tongue just right, and with his bastard awareness of every cell and nerve in her body, he slows or shifts just enough that the best of the orgasm slips past even as she twitches around his fingers. And he smiles when he does it, because he remembers the hundred times to come that she’ll growl and pounce, impaling herself on him, digging her nails into his perfectly built skin and not letting loose until he’s pulled at least two more out of her body. Like clockwork, that first climax hits quickly and feels like a car wreck, wrenching agonised groans from her as she clamps down on him so tightly she’s genuinely concerned her muscles will cramp that way and Jon will have to materialise a miniature jaws of life to separate them; the second coming later, sensitive flesh shuddering weakly again after long minutes of moving together, like a signature.

Every Cosmo she’s ever read (and her mother) has told her that a woman’s pleasure is something bargained for, resentfully yearned after, stolen in the privacy of the shower. She’s got nothing to complain about, getting exactly what she wanted for the last fifteen years from a man who’d be satisfied to cuddle, tracing the lines of her face as if it were a precious artefact of lost Atlantis.

She’s not ready yet. He feels too big, but before she can tell him where to touch her and fan her flicking libido back to life, he compensates by narrowing his cock until the edge of overstretched burn disappears.

“I give up,” she tells him, with a smile she doesn’t quite feel. “Do your worst, Jon.”

He knows, anyway. There’s nothing new she can tell him. He touches her the way he always has, his teeth scraping her nipple almost painfully as fingers more gently slide from cupping her ass to teasing between the cleft of it – like every time, she feels a flicker of heat in her cheeks, remembering how they’d flamed when she confessed to that particular desire, back in ’67 – and her body shivers and salivates like Pavlov’s dog.

She’s only been getting in her own way.

She sees the street again, when she closes her eyes, furtive lost souls and five men looking over their shoulders. Jon pinches the nipple he’s not biting and the sharp twist of pleasure shoots down her spine. She wriggles closer, mashing his nose into her chest, and feels Frank’s heaving body, held down by her weight.

He’s moving faster now, almost rushing through the motions. They’re out of sync, and he always gets anxious when he can’t break her code of endorphins and adrenaline. Even so, his finger is gentle and slick as it slides inside her, twisting to rub that thin bit of her between it and his cock, thick again now with perfectly manufactured urgency.

He moves them together, not his usual algorithmic counterpoint but a straightforward thrusting assault, and there’s a pressure on her throbbing clit that makes her think that has got to be one too many hands before she shudders in release, watching her body groan and melt from a very long way away.

They rearrange themselves, some time after, and when Jon asks again how her night went, she tells him it went fine.

“I wouldn’t advise you sleep with that on,” he tells her, just as she’s about to drop off. “This material carries a small risk of suffocation.”

Her fingers reach for her face, touch the slickness of the mask instead. “Oh. I didn’t even realise I still…”

She pictures herself, masked and impaled, and her twisted brain all too quickly replaces breasts with a scrawny flat chest and then, for good measure, imagines raised fists and an indignant “RAWR!” torn from his throat.

Jon’s right. She damn near chokes on the thing, gasping for air in between donkey brays of horrified laughter.

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