sermocinare: (Silhouette and her nurse)
[personal profile] sermocinare
Fandom: Watchmen
Title: The earth beneath his feet
Rating: R
Warnings: none
Characters: Dollar Bill/Byron Lewis
Disclaimer: Watchmen belongs to Mr. Moore and Mr. Gibbons.
Summary: Bill's life is built on hope, but in the end, he needs something more solid than that.
Author's note: A birthday present for my bb rocks_not_dead. Hope you like it! The picture of Bill I paint in this one is a bit darker/angstier than the usual fanon interpretation, but hey, it's not as if we really know anything about the guy, right?


It feels like the end of the world. Bill is in the fields, together with his younger brother and his father, when he notices something strange on the horizon. There's a wavering darkness, almost like smoke, but it spans the entire length of sky, and it towers and billows like storm clouds, only that storm clouds belong in the sky. These, however, are hugging the land, devouring it. Bill feels a wind on his face, and he can smell earth, dust, and suddenly, he knows what it is. His eyes widen, and he opens his mouth to scream a warning to the others.

They drop everything, turn and run, but there's no outrunning this. When Bill finally pushes the front door closed behind him, he is covered in dust, earth clogging his nose and his mouth, as if he had dug himself out of a grave. The storm is raging all around them, howling like a hungry beast, blocking out the sun. His mother has lit some lamps, and his little sister is curled up on the couch, arms hugging her knees, crying softly. Bill goes to her, hugs her close, and whispers into her hair.

“It's going to be all right, Mary. It's just a dust storm.”

He knows he's lying. It's not just another dust storm, and this time, it's not going to be all right again. This time, God's fury is ripping away everything that was left, and for a moment, Bill can feel a white-hot anger rise inside his chest, anger at a creator who takes away the land from the very stewards he entrusted it to. And hadn't they done a good job with it? Hadn't they cared for the land, made it fruitful and blooming, and hadn't they given thanks for their bounty every day?

The anger stays with him for a long time. He never lets it show, though. His family needs him, now that his father has turned from the strong, forceful man he was into a brittle shell, hollowed out by all the struggles he had to go through just to keep the land they have lived on for three generations.

“At least we still have our home,” his father says when they see another trek of refugees pass by, and Bill nods, even though in his heart, he's asking himself if maybe it wouldn't have been better to leave after all, since nothing has ever been the same since the blackness came. But he still smiles, because someone has to. Someone has to smile and be hopeful. The other option would be to curl up and die, and Bill is too much of a fighter for that.

Bill has always liked football, and he's always been good at it, too. In his last year in high school, a recruiter from Kansas State approaches him and asks him if he would like to play for their team. He'd get a full scholarship, too, which would make him the first person in his family who has ever been to university. Neither his father nor his mom have even finished high school, and when Bill tells them about the news, he can see his father's eyes light up for the first time in weeks. His mother just presses her hands to her mouth, almost crying with joy, and then hugs him, her small frame pressed against his with a fierce love that makes Bill's heart skip and ache at the same time.

And maybe this way, he can help his family, even better than he could if he stayed around and tried to squeeze something out of the thin layer of soil the storms had left them. He'll be one mouth less to feed, and if he's good enough out on the playing field, he might even get picked up by one of the really big teams, the ones that play the NFL, and there's got to be money in that. Sure, football is not something you can really build a living on, but for a few years? It's a spark of hope, and Bill allows himself to let it grow, turn into bright little flame that keeps him going.

He carries that fire on to the field, plays with all his heart and soul, putting everything into the game. He loves the feeling a good game gives him, the warmth and joy of having accomplished something. What he loves even more, though, is seeing the faces of the people in the stands, their smiles, the light in their eyes, the way they're cheering him on. He's giving them a little bit of happiness of their own. If only it weren't so fleeting.

In his third year, Bill gets enough offers from the pro teams that he can dream of a future in which he can pay back all the debts and loans his father picked up after the storm, and still never have to worry about money himself, either, at least not for a while. He knows that this should make him happy, should fill him with the same warmth and sense of accomplishment he gets from winning a game, but truth to be told, that feeling has been diminishing for a while, too. It's as if a part of him knows that it's not going to last forever, and is mourning its loss even while it is still there. So, Bill stalls, unable to decide on one city or another, until one day, he gets a letter from New York.

The First National Bank of New York wants to hire him to be a hero. At first, Bill almost laughs at the idea. Him. A hero. Of course he's heard of the costumed vigilantes, who hasn't, and he has a lot of respect for them. After all, they make the world a better place, they give people hope, and hope is something the world always needs, especially after all the desperation that has held the nation in its grip ever since the jobs and the money suddenly disappeared. Ever since the land blew away. Still, him? A hero?

Bill lies awake at night, stretched out on the bunk in his dorm room, thinking of the letter, the possibilities, and of New York City. New York, with its skyscrapers, cars and soaring bridges. With is streets like canyons. He could do good things there. Things that last, that have an impact, and don't just blow away after a while. Bill grins into the night, turns around and falls asleep, dreaming of the sun setting behind a horizon more jagged than any mountain range you could imagine. The next day, he writes a letter to the First National Bank, accepting their offer.

When he arrives in New York with his one suitcase, he is immediately greeted by a representative of the First National, who introduces himself as Mr. Osborn: “Welcome to New York City, Mr. Brady. If there is anything you need, anything you want or if you just have any questions, I'm your man. Now, if you'll follow me, we're going to get you settled in.”

Bill follows him almost meekly, the sheer number of people surrounding him, all rushing past to some unknown destination and not sparing one glance for each other making him feel nervous and lost. The streets are full of people, too, and full of cars, one of which he is ushered into by Mr. Osborn, who keeps chattering on, telling Bill things that are no doubt very important, but Bill doesn't really listen. He's busy looking out of the window of the car, hunching down and craning his neck back to look at the buildings that are growing into the sky like corn in summer. Hulking behemoths and sleek pillars with swift lines, all reaching for the sky, the sunlight glinting off of myriads of glass windows reminding him of the big lake in the woods back home, when the evening sun would bounce off the tiny ripples in the water.

The thought that this is his home now, this city of towering stone and glass, hits home then, and Bill grins. It feels solid, anchored, eternal. No wind can ever blow this city away.

Still, he's happy when he can shut the door of his new apartment, shutting out Mr. Osborn and all the other noisy citizens of this grand metropolis. He has two hours to freshen up and relax a bit from his journey, and then he will meet his new employers. Bill sets down his suitcase and takes a deep breath, wandering over to the small couch that stands in the middle of what serves as both a living room and a kitchen. He lets himself fall into the cushions, the air escaping his lungs in a long sigh. He is aware that he barely knows what he's gotten himself into, but he is sure that it will be all right. Reaching into his jacket's pocket, he pulls out a small brown paper bag, and tips the last of the cookies mother baked him for the trip into his hand. He told his family that he would be going to New York for a job, no, not football but something more important, with a bank. He didn't tell them about the part where he would be chasing down criminals, figuring that he can still do that once he's survived a few of those encounters and can actually make them believe that yes, he's going to be all right

His first days in the city seem to be filled up with talk, talk and even more talk. The bigwigs at the bank explain to him why he was hired, what kind of masked adventurer they think he should be, what they hope to achieve with this, and honestly, Bill doesn't really care about half of it. He knows why he is here. He is here to protect the city. He is here to make things better, and to give people hope and a sense of security in these volatile times. And he doesn't need a bunch of PR geeks to explain that to him.

The costume they've come up with is nice enough. Bill likes the stars on his cape, even if he's not so sure about the dollar sign on his chest. But the stars are good. When he sees himself in the mirror for the first time, he can't help but giggle at what he sees. It just looks so strange, so alien, so... not him. But then, it's like his football gear. It protects him, and it shows people which team he's playing for. Team heroes.

The training, now, that is something he absolutely loves. He already knows a lot about tackling and shoving, and also some boxing, but this is a whole new world. He learns how to disarm someone, how to pin and grapple them so that they can't move, and where to hit them so that they won't get up again too soon. He's good at it, too, and finally being able to do something besides talk re-kindles the fire in his soul. A few weeks later, his trainers all agree that it's time that he hit the streets and put his training to practice.

He patrols the streets for two, maybe three hours without coming across anything, but then he sees it. A man in a scruffy jacket, waving a knife underneath the nose of a lady who was unfortunate enough to have to go through the small back alleys at this time of night. He can't hear what they are saying, but then again, he doesn't need to.

“Hey, you! Leave her alone!”

The words ring through the alley, bouncing and redoubling off the brickwork, and for a moment Bill is surprised at just how calm and commanding his voice sounds. But then, why should he sound nervous when all he can feel is a cool, controlled excitement, just like in the very second before the referee starts the game.

The guy turns around and looks at Bill, aghast, his mouth hanging open.

“Who the fuck are you supposed to be?”

“It doesn't matter who I am. What matters is that you leave her alone and scram. Now.”

The PR boys would probably have his head for not saying the name they've chosen for him, but they're not here now, and he is.

The man laughs, and shakes his head. He's heavy set, with wide shoulders and a face that looks like it's been in a few fights.

“Shove off. Me and my girl here are just having an argument. None of your business.”

For a second, Bill's gaze flickers over to the woman. Her eyes meet his, and they're silently screaming at him: help me.

Bill sets his jaw, and decides that this guy isn't worth arguing with. He charges forward, and at the last possible second ducks down, both to evade the swing of the knife and to ram his shoulder squarely into the bastard's lower chest. They topple down to the ground, and beneath the sound of the man's surprised yelp, Bill can hear the clatter of metal. Good. He's lost the knife.

The bastard still has his fists, though, and one of them knocks Bill on the side of the head, making his vision blur for a moment, and then pain booms in his skull like a firecracker going off on the fourth of July. Ignoring the pain, Bill slams his head down, his forehead smashing into the man's nose with a sickening crunch. The guy yells out, and makes the mistake of clutching at his face with both of his hands, which gives Bill an opening to punch him squarely in the guts. Then, Bill jumps to his feet, grabbing the man by the shoulders of his jacket and pulling him up off the ground before slamming him face first into the brick wall and quickly pinning his arms behind his back.

The man struggles weakly, but it's all over. Bill's hold will not break. Pressing against the man to keep him from thrashing around too much, Bill turns his head and looks over his shoulder to where the woman is still standing.

“Ma'am, if you would be so kind and go to the next phone booth to call the police? I think this one's been giving everyone enough trouble for the night.”

She nods, slowly, as if waking up from a horrible dream. She takes a moment to pull herself together, and wipes the tears from her cheeks.

“What's your name?” She asks him, her voice still wavering slightly.

“Dollar Bill.”

“Thank you, Dollar Bill.” She smiles. It's a thin, shaky smile, but it still lights up the whole alley. “Thank you.”

There are other masks patrolling the streets of New York, and when the bosses at the bank suggest that he join up with them, Bill has no problems with that. In fact, he's excited. Maybe he'll finally meet someone who feels the same way he does, who knows about the joy and excitement of bringing light into the darkness. Who knows about hope.

What he gets is a bunch of people who could not be more different from him if they tried, save for maybe Nite Owl, in whom Bill recognizes something of a kindred spirit. Hooded Justice, the man who started it all, is as menacing to his compatriots as he is to the criminals he hunts down with such ferocity. He hardly talks, but when he's around the man, Bill has the same feeling he got when he stepped up to the tiger exhibit in the New York zoo. It makes the hairs on the back of his neck stand up, as if part of him knows that it's only a very thin barrier of civilization that keeps him from being mauled. The Comedian is worse, not even bothering with the barrier, and Bill is pretty sure that it's pure chance that the guy didn't end up with the gangs they keep chasing instead. He keeps away from those two as much as possible. Sally flirts with him, and at first Bill feels flattered by it, but he quickly finds out that she flirts with everyone, which somehow makes him feel awkward.

Still Bill keeps going back to their meetings, because it's what the people at the bank want, and because there is sense to what Nelson said about pooling their resources and dividing up the work. There's a lot of work for them here, more than Bill could ever have imagined, and on some days, it's hard to keep a smile on his face while at the same time feeling as if he is surrounded by misery and grief. On those days, he just reminds himself of his sister, of the woman in the alley, and of all the people who needed him, whose life got a little bit better because he did something.

And then there's Mothman. Bill is not sure where to place him, he's so unlike anyone Bill has ever met before. He reminds Bill of some of the Prophets the preacher used to talk about, men with visions that burned so brightly that they almost got consumed by the flames. One evening, Bill asks him about how he got the idea of putting wings on his costume, and the simple reply he gets is “because I wanted to fly, and because people told me it would be impossible”. Mothman, it seems, is not so easily swayed from his path, even if everyone tells him he's going the wrong way. Bill feels drawn to that vision, that passion, even while at the same time being afraid that he will get burned by it.

Byron – Mothman's real name, as Bill finds out after a few weeks of patrolling together – likes high places, and often, after they've called it a night with chasing down criminals, Bill will find himself sitting next to Byron on some roof ledge or fire escape, their feet dangling over the abyss, sharing thoughts and a beer. It's hard for Bill to follow Byron's thoughts sometimes, not just because he talks about stuff like philosophy and socialism and other things Bill doesn't know much about, but also because Byron's thoughts tend to fly from one subject to the next without any kind of order. Still, he listens, because no matter what, it's interesting, and he likes the sound of Byron's voice. And Byron listens to him, too. When Bill talks about his own passion, about his dream of giving people hope and making the world a better place, about his family. About the dust storm, and how he's still angry at God about that, even though he tries not to be.

It's Bill's last night before shipping out to boot camp and then on to Europe, and he's just brought himself to tell Byron, wondering why on earth this should be so hard. Byron reaches out and grasps his hand, looks him in the eyes, and there's something so deep and sorrowful in them that Bill's heart gives a painful jolt.

“Come back. Just... come back, Bill. Promise me that much. We need you.” Byron's voice drops, but only a bit: “I need you.”

And suddenly, Byron's lips are on his, Byron's body pressing against his for a fleeting moment before the other man pulls back, turns around, and takes a running jump off the roof they're standing on, swooping down into the streets below, leaving Bill standing there, all alone with his confusion.

Over the next few weeks, months, Bill curses Byron again and again for having done that. For just dropping this on him and leaving, leaving Bill to deal with the emotions that are tearing him up whenever he allows himself to think about Byron. Bill knows that he should be shocked, even horrified about it, but the thing is, he's not. He doesn't want Byron to never do that again, he wants him to never stop doing it. Bill wonders if maybe there's something wrong with him, because well, he's never felt that way about any girl, ever. Not even Sally, and Sally's the most pinned-up girl in the barracks. Then again, he's never felt that way about any other guy, either. Actually, he's never felt that way about anybody, period.

Finding out that Byron has joined the war effort, too, albeit in a position that goes better with his convictions, only makes things worse. Before that, Bill only had to worry about keeping himself alive. Now he also has to worry about Byron staying alive, and it's a lot worse because he can do absolutely nothing about that. It's not in his hands, it's in God's hands, and Bill still doesn't know if he is able to put his trust in God again.

The war only serves to sharpen Bill's belief that yes, the world needs people who will stand up and do something, because evil always wins when good people just sit around and do nothing. He's seen evil now, true evil, and the memories have burned themselves into his mind, impossible to erase, impossible to ignore. As soon as he's back in New York, Bill puts his costume back on and goes back to patrolling the streets. The shoulder where he took the bullet sometimes hurts, especially on rainy days, as does the leg that got peppered with shrapnel, but that doesn't stop him. He's as fierce as ever, maybe even more so.

Only three weeks after Dollar Bill makes his first reappearance in the papers, Mothman is back, too. Byron just stands in front of his apartment door one day, looking slightly more haggard, quite a bit harder and a lot more hungry than Bill remembers him to be. Neither of them says a word, but they don't need to. It was all there, hidden between the lines in the letters they kept writing each other, and now it's in every gaze, every touch, every kiss they share.

Bill has Byron pinned against the wall, his mouth raking across the curve of Byron's upturned jaw, when Byron whispers into his ear: “You're alive.”

As if the letters hadn't been proof enough, but come to think of it, they weren't. Bill only realizes that now, now that he's got Byron's pulse hammering away against his lips, that all those words and letters, they hadn't been proof, but rather hope. A promise. This, this is proof. This warm body under his hands, the breath against his ear, the taste of Byron's skin on his tongue, that is proof. Hope can keep you going, but to really feel alive, you need more. His heart had been hanging in limbo ever since that kiss on the rooftop, but now everything is crystal clear, all doubts and confusion erased, replaced by something as solid as the earth beneath his feet, as solid as Byron's body, pressing against his own.

For a while, it's an almost frenzied dance of hands and lips, as if they have to make up for all the moments they've lost because of the war. It's only when Byron first explores the scar tissue on Bill's shoulder, the small jagged line where the bullet dug through his flesh and into his bone, that things calm down an bit, and when Bill closes his mouth over Byron's straining erection, every doubt he has ever had about if this was right or wrong has long since been burned away, because really, this is the only way things could be.

They're lying on Bill's bed, curled around each other, and Bill can feel Byron's heartbeat thudding against his chest, in time with his own. He feels spent, happy and warm, and for the first time in what feels like an eternity, Bill feels at peace. He's not worried about the warmth fading away, about the ground being pulled out from beneath his feet, and he's no longer angry, because in the end, everything has led to this, and this is exactly where he wants to be.
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sermocinare

May 2013

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