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FIC: Now, As Before - [9/12]

Title: Now, As Before
Fandom: Watchmen
Characters/Pairings: Dan/Rorschach, lightly
Date Written: 2009
Summary: "After changes upon changes we are more or less the same."
Rating/Warnings: R. Language. Violence. ZOMBIES. Cracky premise, non-cracky treatment.
Notes: This is completely a guilty indulgence – I love reading zombie AU fics, don’t usually write stuff like this. So! This was a zombiefic challenge from elsewhere(the kinkmeme *coughs*). AU. Pre-Roche, so expect reasonably complete sentences from our favorite psychotic redhead. Warnings include: 'zombies created by SCIENCE' cliché, bad science on top of it, mild gore, MotherHen!Dan, non-explicit slashiness(Dan/Ror). Also: OMGWTF*LONG*.This sucker is sitting at about 50 pages in Word right now. End notes are at the end.
Spoilers: Some Roche stuff eventually. Not much else.


*

Day 14.

*

Dan opens his eyes.

He opens his eyes on blue and blue and red-gold and a fierceness that is both familiar and sends a shiver straight to his core, and his first thought is (oh thank god, he's still alive) and his second thought is (oh thank god, I haven't been eaten) and his third thought is (oh, shit). Because he's staring across a pillow at Rorschach and he has no idea how to even begin to address this fact verbally, much less how to go about detangling himself from the situation.

"Daniel." There's no audible question mark, but it's still a question.

Dan narrows his eyes through his myopia, trying hard to focus on the face in front of him - realizes that the issue isn't with his vision. The fact that there's a question buried somewhere in Rorschach's expression is apparent enough, but it keeps shifting and changing, like the inkblots on his mask - keeps trying to become something else just before it resolves itself. If it were something simple and obvious like 'what the hell are you doing in my bed', Dan wouldn't be half as hesitant to respond.

...and, for that matter, how did they end up facing each other like this, unless Rorschach woke up, turned over, and... what? Stayed put, watching him sleep? The thought is ludicrous, and it's also a little unnerving and a little confusing and a little honestly terrifying - because it's warming him somewhere inside just as much as the heatsink of Rorschach's back curled against him had the night before and that's so beyond wrong and screwed up and...

(Get a handle on yourself.)

"What?" he asks, voice impressively neutral.

Rorschach blinks, and all of the shifting coalesces down to a point. "Move your leg? Trapped at the moment."

Oh. Dan shifts, muttering apologies. "Could have just kicked me awake."

An indistinct noise, then: "Could've," and nothing more. Rorschach slides to the edge of the bed, reaching for his jacket where it hangs over the edge of a chair, pulling it on with a shifting grace that shouldn't be possible this early in the day.

And Dan tries to ignore the way that warm wisp of something is circling around in his gut, looking for a place to settle. He fumbles at the nightstand for his glasses, blinking blearily through the lenses. Gets his own feet on the floor before this gets really awkward. "How are you feeling?"

His partner is shuffling his shoes on, and doesn't look up. "Better," he replies, tone cautious and guarded and giving away nothing. "Warmer. Probably your doing. Certainly not mine."

"No more shakes?" Dan asks, and now that he can see clearly, he's expecting the lie when it comes.

"...no."

A second or two of silence, then Dan pushes himself unsteadily to his feet. "Okay, well..."

"Daniel." He's pulled the mask half on now, fabric bunched over his nose, and there's a significant pause before he continues. "It's... fine."

Head slightly ducked, biting down hard on everything else that wants to be said, Dan glances sideways at his friend. Runs one hand through his hair. Says what actually matters, quietly: "I was really worried."

There's a grunt that Dan's learned to translate roughly to 'yes' or a generalized agreement. "Came to the same conclusion you did, once I was warm enough to think again. To see the similarities. Was not a... comforting thought." Another pause, and he reaches up sharply to wrench the mask down all the way, protectively, edges rolling in his fingers. "Would have done the same."

And Dan doesn't need to express his incredulity- it's clear on his face, in the set of furrowed brows.

Rorschach just picks up his hat, retrieving his scarf from where it's coiled inside. "Priorities, Daniel."

Dan swallows, and looks at the door.

-My life matters more to you than pride or propriety or squeamishness- is what's hanging in the air, unsaid, -and so does yours to me-, and it's almost a thank you, almost an acknowledgment of how much he'd been needed but it will never quite be that, ever, and...

... and it's almost too much, and Dan picks up his shoes and excuses himself and heads upstairs.

*

It's only when he's gotten his shower running good and hot and he finds himself distinctly missing the cold that Dan allows himself to admit that they may have a problem - or rather, another problem, on top of an already impressive pile.

"Damn it all," he growls, sounding like something other than himself, and reaches to turn off the water with more force than necessary.

*

Once he's changed and shaved and combed out his hair and all the other things sane people do to take care of themselves in the morning, and a few things that sane people do when they're trying to stall for time, Dan wanders down into the kitchen. Picks up the open box of cereal, is about to seal it up and put it away when he thinks better of it, reaching for a bowl for himself.

It plunks down onto the table with a little too much finality, and Dan follows into the chair in front of it.

The Owlsuit is still half-draped across one corner of the table - the light in here had been better last night - and Rorschach's got its sleeve between searching fingers, cereal forgotten off to the side. Bending the armor along the bite marks, checking for the slightest breach. Absorbed. His mask is half up and his spoon's still stuck in his mouth, as if he'd forgotten about it completely in his investigations.

"Already checked it over last night, it's fine." It's actually not that early, and the sun coming in the window is bright and uncompromising; Dan squints behind his glasses, reaches one hand out to press into an indentation. "Shouldn't take too much to fix it either, though I'll probably want to redo the top layer entirely in something more durable."

Rorschach just makes a hrming noise, shifts the spoon to the other side of his mouth. Inspects the place where the teeth had gone deepest, and it really was just a razor-thin layer of polymer between Dan and... who knows what, exactly. Rorschach's situation, at very best; losing an arm on top of it at worst. Or possibly his mind. "This was really close," Rorschach mutters, more to himself than to Dan.

Dan nods, stirring the cereal absently. Raisin Bran has never been his favorite; god knows why he buys it all the time.

"It made you braver."

Dan runs a finger over the marks again, digging a fingernail into the split. The last layer finally does fissure under the pressure; it doesn't take much. He shivers slightly, and his arm still aches, and he thinks about slipping it between blanket and shirtcloth and not really knowing if he'd still have it in the morning. "I guess so. Shouldn't have. Should've made me run for the hills."

"But you didn't," and it's half a question, half a challenge. Rorschach takes the spoon out and goes back to his cereal, and there's still a slight shiver in his fine motor control, scattering tiny droplets of milk back into the bowl - but it's nothing like last night, not acute, not telling of an imminent breakdown. But there, and still indicative of something.

Headshake, then quietly: "No." And he doesn't explain, but all of a sudden he finally knows, himself, why - it's written there in the pattern of white droplets on the tabletop, woven into the frequency of unease and fear and the resonance of shaking hands clasped together under the darkness: the unbearable noise that fills every silence between them.

Something about heat and cold and how they both can burn just as fiercely. Something about screams layered into the night.

Something...

A moment passes, and the feeling of epiphany fades as it always does, and Dan gets up to dump his cereal - it's worse soggy, and he's let it get to that point - and Rorschach cuffs the owlsuit up in one hand and holds it out pointedly.

Dan just eyes him from the sink, one eyebrow raised.

"We need newspapers," comes the eventual reply, straightforward, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "Need to follow up on last night, make sure the right lesson was taken."

The bowl settles into the sink with a subdued clatter. "And I have to put on my costume for the amazingly secret and sensitive activity of walking to the newsstand?"

It doesn't even raise half a smile in response, but Dan didn't really expect it to. "It's too dangerous on the street alone," Rorschach says plainly and factually, and he's not looking at the damaged sleeve of the suit- focusing on his breakfast- but he may as well be.

And he doesn't have to explain the rest of his logic, the statements that logically follow. Not when the last fight they'd gotten into on regular patrol had been with a gang of fifteen or so normally law-abiding citizens, only missing the torches and pitchforks, beating a perfectly stable carrier into a bruised and huddled heap in the corner of a desolate alley.

(There was a lot of blood, that night.)

It's becoming a schismed world very quickly, and if Rorschach can't go out in his street face and Dan wants his company, full costume is really the only choice. It's also a patently ludicrous mental image.

"...I think I'll be all right by myself," and he's smiling and pushing the suit back to the table and not saying that he's thinking about how few of the caught-between he's actually seen out there, between the hospital killing them and their neighbors killing them and probably a lot of them killing themselves - and the ones hauled off in restraints to be put down like rabid dogs. "Need some time to think about... need time to think, anyway. And it's almost noon-"

"They're not nocturnal."

"-but they're scarcer and don't pack up in the daytime as much, and I can handle one by itself."

Rorschach's still not pointedly looking at the mangled suit, but it sits between them, offering silent and unpleasant testimony to the falseness of that statement.

There's no response for a while; the spoon hits the bowl, and Rorschach gives him a list, and there's some sort of expression trying to form on the unmasked lower half of his face but Dan is out the door before he's forced to see whatever it turns out to be.

*

It's a strange world he's stepped out into, and it's the first time since this began that Dan really feels like an apocalypse of some sort has been and gone. They've been locked up in his brownstone for so long now, sleeping away the daylight, only coming out into the shadowy playground of New York twilight filled with the usual sirens and strobing lights and people screaming for their help, for anyone's help - and it's felt almost normal.

This, though - this silence, almost complete, stifling in the spaces between boarded up buildings, haphazard barricades, piles of trash no longer being collected -

There's no one else out.

(Maybe this was a stupider idea than you thought.)

There's no one else out, and maybe they all know something he doesn't or maybe they're more easily scared or maybe he has a goddamned brain tumor, the things he's been doing lately, but the newsstand is only a block away and he gets there without incident. Tucking some folded bills into the self-pay jar on the vacant counter, impressed by both the apparent trust of the vendor and by their dedication to keep the news coming in the face of everything else falling to pieces, Dan peels the morning edition of each requested publication from its stack, and heads home, and pretends not to notice when he gets there that Rorschach is perched on the arm of the chair nearest the entryway, tripwire tense and one ear trained on the door.

*

The news is acceptable. The people responsible are being punished. The mayor's already announced his resignation and the news has only been out for a few hours. Rorschach sits at the table with the papers spread around himself, pages from different sources interleaved and overlapping and organized in haphazard ways that make sense only to him. A red pen moves over them, hovers here, hesitates there, circles a passage or moves on. Notes are scribbled in margins. "Have any trouble?" he asks, muffled now through the mask.

Daniel shakes his head, a motion Rorschach just barely catches on the periphery of vision. "Street was empty. I could have walked to the newsstand naked and no one would have noticed or cared."

Hmm. A link between the mayor and the CDC? That gets double-underlined. There's an awkward pause settling into the room, as if Daniel has just embarrassed himself in some way, but Rorschach doesn't pay it any heed, digging through the pages for something to cross-reference the CDC connection. Idle, and somewhat gruff: "Get the thinking done?"

No response at first, as if Daniel's trying to remember what exactly the question refers to - then he's walking across the room, to do something noisy at the sink directly behind him. "Ah, well, you know. As soon as I realized I was the only one stupid enough to be out there, that sort of got preempted."

A noise of approval. Rorschach had not been thrilled with the idea of Daniel wandering around out there with his head in the clouds. Good that survival instincts had kicked in. And there's nothing else in any of the pages to corroborate his favorite paper's claim, but he trusts their standards of truth and disclosure further than he does the Gazette or the Times by a long shot, so it gets a star next to it to indicate personal investigation further down the line.

He senses Daniel hovering over his shoulder, eyes roving over the scattered pages, and for a moment it almost feels like things are the way they've always been - the puzzle-piecing and the connections and later they would go out and take down their prize and it would make him actually feel good for a short span of time - but the penlines are more wavering than they should be and the eerie silence from outside has followed Daniel in and the noon light filtering in from outside feels like December sun, all show and no results, cold like fluorescent tubing.

"Huh," Daniel says, reaching down to shift a page off of another, to read what's underneath, throwing off the entire layering and the network of crosslinking lines and...

A gloved hand comes down on the papers to still them from being moved any further, and it used to be that Daniel was scared of his own shadow when it came to Rorschach and his quirks - and this process here potentially could be called 'quirky', he supposed, though not generally to his face - but the other man's taken more liberties than this in the last two weeks and he's not missing any fingers for it, and Rorschach's already moving to tamp down on the anger before he realizes there's no actual anger to tamp down on.

Instead, he glances briefly at the article Daniel had pointed to - a small one, buried in the back pages, a scientific piece on the infection, claiming that the insanity-driving mutation had happened out in the wild, and only in the original vectors, and had happened about two days after the original incident. The implication is that anyone infected before that time is not at risk for the degeneration. Daniel seems enthused, looking at him expectantly, a smile tugging the corner of his face.

Rorschach just hrms deep in his throat, and scribbles a shaky note in the margins. Something about Jackson and his uncertainty regarding the nature or cause of the mutation, despite being in the best position to understand it. Something about Ozymandias's secretary, who was back at work and already going mad two days after the breach. Whose medical records, liberated the night before, showed her original admission as 6:17 AM the morning after the attack.

"Sorry, Daniel," and he really is. "Don't think it's ever that simple."

*

Dan asks, later, if Rorschach wants to go after the person or people who were behind the virus in the first place. He receives only an uncharacteristic shrug in response, and knows in that instant that he's being protected. He's watched Rorschach work on newspapers this way before, has learned to identify themes and purposes, and he knows exactly what sort of hunt he's on.

He's going to kill them. And he doesn't want Dan to have to deal with it.

And after two hours of a careful and hesitant patrol – Rorschach's still not completely up to standards, but they'd both been unwilling to stay in, ear to the walls, listening to their city die by inches – Dan just watches, numb, as Rorschach heads off on his own down an alley, away from the ship.

"Things to take care of. See you in a few hours."

There are bodies around Dan's feet – creatures, and the civilians they'd been too slow in arriving to save, and most of the predators are from that first batch but there's one dressed in the remains of tennis shoes, a jogging suit. That one had been the most vicious of them all - the one who landed the killing strike on the teenage boy that had been running from the haphazard pack, hysterical and crying and feet beating the pavement, when they arrived.

Dan could move to stop him.

He doesn't.

*

Early in the morning, as the first tendrils of sunlight start to snake their way between buildings and through the pre-dawn fog, the head of the research facility – the one who'd been speaking so deferentially on the radio – is found lashed to a flagpole in front of the justice department building, severely beaten, hard copy of all the evidence linking him to the creation of the virus and its deliberate engineering to behave exactly as it does and the safeguards he specifically short-circuited to get the most devastating results and all of the human rights he violated to get there- stapled straight into the side of his head. With multiple staples. The man who finds him says that he'd never before thought that a stapler could be wielded in anger, but there it is.

But he's alive. Broken, humiliated, in a position no jury will ever sympathize with, ever – but alive.

Dan asks him later why he didn't end up killing the man. Rorschach looks straight at him, whatever can he's working his way through forgotten, and deadpans that he has no idea what Dan is talking about, a subtle mockery of his threats to Jackson because Dan is not him, Dan does not break fingers or bones or strangle people or drop them out of windows.

There's the slightest trace of a smile on the face under the mask, and Dan decides, uncertain, that this is probably a good sign.

*

There's been a lot of death lately, all around them. Criminals can be tied up and handed over to the police, spitting and screaming insults and threats but manageable. The shadows they're fighting now can't be talked down or reasoned with or handcuffed or knocked unconscious; they have to be put down, immediately, because the first chance to do so – if they get one at all – is the only one they have.

Maybe there's been too much death, and maybe the ability to kill without a second thought is a thread, tightening, between Rorschach and the slavering monsters dying under his hands, in their jeans and T-shirts and business suits and dresses- once rational and thinking beings, gradually displacing the inhuman hordes of the first week or so. Maybe every killing pulls the cord a little tauter, and maybe it's uncomfortable and maybe he's even a little afraid, and maybe 'Doctor Smith' has that to thank for his life, whatever it's to become.

Dan doesn't know, likely won't ever know, because that enigmatic half-smile is all he'll ever have to work with.

*

Things seem to move very quickly after that – to be remembered later as a blur of ideas and fears and not-quites and almosts and studded throughout with the sharp moments that will be burned into memory forever.

*

---->Chapter 10.

*

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
akemi42
Aug. 4th, 2009 07:23 am (UTC)
I am loving this, but must get some sleep. I'll appreciate the rest tomorrow after work.

Thank you!
etherati
Aug. 4th, 2009 07:25 am (UTC)
This is honestly a good breaking point anyway hahaha.

And thank you! Really, you've made my night. :3
lampsh4de
Nov. 22nd, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC)
The man who finds him says that he'd never before thought that a stapler could be wielded in anger, but there it is.

C:
etherati
Nov. 22nd, 2009 06:53 pm (UTC)
Rorschach wields a mean stapler, that is all I will say.
hohaiyee
Jun. 25th, 2010 06:59 pm (UTC)
Dan should start feeding Walter hot chocolate
like, I think I remember that the Venom subsist on brains OR chocolate.

I still remember the part from the chapter where the director splatters on the sidewalk, attracting the zeds. Excellent storyplanning! I feel the zombie reality without you having to SAY "it's z-day".

etherati
Jun. 25th, 2010 07:57 pm (UTC)
Re: Dan should start feeding Walter hot chocolate
Walter will end up with a lot of hot chocolate once they realize what caffeine does to him and Dan cuts off his coffee supply. XD

And thanks! So much of this was an experiment, but yeah, I wanted it to come across more in the feel of what's going on than in explicit narration. When you're done with this you might want to read 'Perspectives'; it's the same basic storyline as this story but told through the POVs of the various OCs, and I had a lot of fun fleshing out out the disaster through other eyes.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )