He isn't sure if it's a dream. It doesn't hurt, and it doesn't smell of salt, but it has the thick, uneven quality of events that cannot be happening in sequence. So Adrian rises from his bed, and doesn't look back see if it still contains a body.
A light shines in the living room, one that he didn't leave on. He pads in, silently, but the figure still turns to look. A tall man, broad-shouldered, blond, dressed in a purple jacket. It's a familiar face. The man could be his brother. He's been gazing idly at the bronze sculpture of Anubis set in its niche, the still-smouldering incense cones set before it. The man smiles. Calm, confident. "I was wondering when you'd come out," he says.
"I was asleep," answers Adrian.
A little broader, and the smile is more confident. The smile of a man who has never missed a meal, never felt a soul-deep doubt. Adrian wants, very badly, to punch it.
He sits down instead, sinking into his comfortable, expensive sofa, and pats the cushion beside him. "I don't imagine it would do any good to ask how you got here" - a shake of the head - "so I suppose I should be a gracious host and offer you a drink, but I expect you know where I keep the glasses."
Veidt sits beside him. "No need," he says. "I don't, actually. You laid out your apartment quite differently." There's an uncomfortable moment of silence. "I expect you did a lot of things differently. Tell me, how's Nixon these days? Have you driven him out yet?"
"He'll be gone in the next election." Adrian folds his hands carefully on his knees. "I have enough to worry about. You of all people should be able to comprehend that. Better not to make too much noise."
"There's no harm in excess publicitly," Veidt answers mildly, and leans back as if the sofa were his and Adrian were only a guest he was entertaining. "Better to be remembered. And it isn't as if men like us don't deserve to remembered, even if our greatest achievement must be hidden from the eyes of men."
At this point Adrian almost snaps.
He controls his breathing with some difficulty. His hands don't move from his knees. That confidence is grating now, and the charm is cloying, and he does not think Veidt understands the magnitude of his actions. This is an Adrian Veidt who has never been hungry, who has never known doubt, who believes absolutely in his own goodness. Who, Adrian thinks, never knew what his father did for a living, before he left Germany. Who never realized where he came from.
Who, therefore, is not as observant as Adrian is. Not as inquisitive. Maybe not as intelligent.
Much, much happier.
Not for the first time, Adrian feels self-indulgent bitterness rise in his throat. It is tempered this time with a genuine outrage, that a man who shares his sins, or something very similar, should have so much confidence left in him. He looks sideways at Veidt. There is something shadowed in his gaze, but it is not a deep shadow. How could it be, in such a face? A face built for confident smiles. "How many people did you kill?" he says, and does not meet Veidt's eyes.
"Approximately three million." The idea only seems to make Veidt a little regretful. "The psychic effects of the monster spread across most of New York City, but were very irregular in effect. It worked, though. The enemies immediately realized there were bigger fish to fry, so to speak. And of course, I've steered them on the right path. I might end up ruling the world in name and fact, but that's acceptable. I think I will have that drink now, if you don't mind."
Monster? What did he do, create some horror-movie creature and hope that it would be frightening? Rely on something as variable as psychic abilities? They exist, certainly, but they also tend to stop existing at inconvenient moments. And really, how long would that threat hold their attention?
People, Adrian worked out long ago, are unreliable. They need prodding. A threat with teeth. A god who smites. He hated the idea of regressing humanity to a four-thousand-year-old ethical system, but they'd made such a hash of the modern ones.
A drink. But of course.
It is when Adrian returns with two glasses of whiskey that Veidt asks: "And you?"
"Fifteen million." He tips back his glass for a long gulp, like the Comedian used to at official functions. "It turns out the Russians aren't the only ones afraid of Doctor Manhattan."
Veidt almost looks sympathetic. "You got further with the teleportation research than I did, I take it."
"We made some great strides at the Antarctic research facility. It's in mothballs now, of course. Regrettable, but people will be scared of Manhattan's energy for years. Perhaps someday we'll reopen it." Veidt, Adrian notices, is drinking his whiskey in dainty little sips.
"Ah, you developed it as a research center? Sensible."
Adrian half-shrugs. "What was Karnak in your world?"
"Merely a getaway spot, I'm afraid." His half-smile is apologetic, but Adrian is still angry. This is a version of him with supreme confidence and no boundaries. No idea of subtlety. No notion of how not to go to excess. No idea, Adrian is sure, that he isn't the greatest man in the world. No idea of how ordinary people look at Jon. He probably cheered when his plan went through.
He takes another sip of whiskey.
Adrian realizes his hands are shaking, very slightly. He clutches at his dressing gown. Veidt leans over, rests his hand on top of Adrian's. They fit together perfectly, of course. "What's the matter? It was necessary. A terrible thing, but better than the alternative."
He has always know that, of course, told himself that repeatedly. It doesn't really help. It seems to have helped this confident caricature of himself, so much that he isn't sorry anymore. "Was it? How long will it last?"
And that is enough to make Veidt look away, although his hand does not move. "Jon told me that nothing ever ends."
"Wise of him."
Veidt clenches his fingers. His breathing is speeding up. The light reflects off his golden hair, the golden pin in his lapel. "I don't know that he was right," he says, and Adrian thinks: he's Jon. When was he ever wrong? Who are you to second-guess him, so overflowing with your own greatness? "It's held so far. There's every indication - " Veidt breaks off, and looks down at his hand, which is starting to tremble. When he speaks again his voice is muzzy and distant. "What did you do?"
Adrian sits back, composing himself, to watch Veidt twitching on the other half of the sofa. "Cyanide. Fast-acting, as you've just discovered."
He can't restrain a horrible little laugh. He has a lot more in common with the Comedian, these days. "I've wanted to kill myself for a while. But I couldn't, not until I'd made sure things were going to turn out alright. You, however, aren't needed. And you're rather a smug bastard."
Two voices laughing in unison, one of them choked and terrified. Adrian's amusement only grows at the discordant, terrible sound. "You wouldn't do that - it's not - you could have just gone for the throat - "
"Subtlety." Adrian pats Veidt's shoulder; it twitches, and he can almost see the frantic fluttering of his pulse. "You need to learn subtlety. Really, who keeps a secret headquarters in Antarctica these days?"
When Veidt finally stops twitching, Adrian turns out the light.
He goes to the kitchen to pour the rest of the whiskey down the drain. He'll go back to bed. The body, he is sure, will be gone in the morning; he doesn't care to think on that too deeply. No. It was just a dream, and he feels oddly satisfied. On behalf, perhaps, of three million New Yorkers, in some alternate universe, who were the victims of a man with a plan and grand aspritations - maybe delusions, he has no way of knowing, not in this universe. It's not important. His own fifteen million, Adrian thinks, will get their turn when he's put the world in enough order to outlive his usefulness. He thinks it won't be too long. He hopes that it won't be too long.