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FIC: Now, As Before - [11/12]

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.



*

One day.

*

"Deserves it," Rorschach mutters in the dark, voice monotonic and frightening, tone indecipherable. His hand is twisting the cap from the kerosene bottle, and he hasn't even looked up at the figure that has suddenly appeared in the doorway, silhouetted against the faint city-glow from outside like a ghost of other lives, other pasts.

The figure nods, and it's trembling slightly, one hand held out as if to placate. "Yeah, you know, I think he does. But you don't deserve to be the one who has to do it."

The kerosene is splashed around the room haphazardly, over and around the unconscious body cuffed to the wall, Rorschach's every move that of a caged animal, battering at its bars – possessed by some higher need than rational thought. "Someone has to," he growls, and he steps momentarily through a sliver of light and is bloody and fierce and broken and unrecognizable, but there's emotion creeping into his tone now, faint and familiar and it's something, it's somewhere to start.

Start somewhere...

The shadow in the doorway takes a step into the room and, as Rorschach passes close to the door, does an extremely dangerous thing – reaches out and grabs hold of the arm bearing the kerosene can, holds it solidly. Rorschach's entire frame starts to shake, instantly, but it isn't a tremble of weakness or a shiver of cold – it's rage, bubbling to the surface, vibrating itself free in a new direction now that his motion has been stilled. "Someone will," and his voice is steady despite the precarious situation he knows himself to be in; there's no wall, but he can just about feel the brickwork digging into his spine. The alternative is horrifyingly worse. "What do you think will happen to him, in prison? They don't like child-killers in there, Rorschach. They really don't," and he's talking fast, with the flushed desperation of a man waiting for the blade to drop, and maybe he is. "You kill him now, his suffering ends. We turn him in, it goes on and on."

Rorschach – who really isn't Rorschach, not right now, not with the girl's blood still drying on the scarred countertop across the room; just a quaking caricature of the persona he's spent ten years teaching the streets to fear, that's all he can handle being – drops the kerosene can without bothering to free his arm, and digs in his pocket for a book of matches. "Justice," he grinds out, and it sounds like even he isn't sure whether it's a statement or a question.

He comes out with the matches – and with a folded sheet of paper, dark and rough-edged from riding around in his pocket for a month – and freezes. He can't see it, in the darkness, can't see the faces staring out of it, bloody and fierce and broken and unrecognizable. Doesn't have to.

A horrible, shattered noise weaves through the space between them, and the clipping drops to the floor, released as if it had burned.

There's a moment of utter stillness in the darker than dark, a stretch of time twisting and writhing in the space between them. Then Dan puts his other hand over the fumbled matchbook, curls over it, takes it away.

*

Maybe six months ago, Dan wouldn't have had the nerve to take Rorschach by the shoulders, shove him into a chair – start stripping off the bloody and sweat-stinking trenchcoat, and demand that he start talking, right now. Maybe he wouldn't have had the courage to listen, and keep listening, even when it gets scary and all he wants to do is believe this is a nightmare and wake the hell up.

Maybe six months ago, the human being inside of the caricature would have been too hung up on vulnerability, too lacking in trust, too detached from its status as a human being to be able to batter against the caricature's grip, fight its way to the surface, and do as Daniel is demanding.

Maybe a person's entire future can pivot on one night, one hour, one moment – on a rapidly closing window to strike at the right demons, to make the right choices.

For a while, Dan just listens. Then he starts responding, when it gets to be too much and he can't handle just listening. They talk and shout and argue, violently raised voices and things that can never be taken back, but anger is at least an emotion, is something, something other than a horrifying monotonic blankness.

There are quiet moments, awkward silences where more is said by the angle of a face or the shifting of a shaking hand than in a thousand shouted arguments or invectives.

There's a lot of Jungian bullshit, about the collective racial memory of fear and the unconscious discovering its true face. The mask hasn't come up once the entire night, and if he's honest with himself, that has Dan more worried than anything else.

There are odd moments where Dan finds Rorschach suddenly collapsing into him, clinging for a handhold, all the while growling like a thing rabid and ready to snap out at any hand that comes near. Dan threads his arm around anyway; he's very familiar at this point with taking stupid risks. He's not going to stop now, not when it matters.

And it goes round and round. They argue about the girl, and about Grice, and about Jackson and about the city and about the killing they've both had to do and about sickness and filth and metaphor and poetry, and about the way a fire can feel under hands and against a face and rising, vengeful, into the night, and about the parents and about the way the dogs had cried out and about the stars shimmering down, tacit approval, on everything they've ever had to do, everything the darkness has ever hidden from the world, from the city, from themselves.

There are shaking admissions in there, somewhere, and Dan just holds onto them and accepts them and he might make a few of his own, but things get a little disconnected after a while.

*

By the time the first light of dawn is starting to shift in through the window, Dan has gotten the mask off and is holding Rorschach steady by the back of his neck as he dry-heaves over the kitchen sink. Nothing seems willing to come up despite the fact that plenty had gone down, but his brain is still blissfully unaware of the rest of him and when it's decided that that's it, it's had enough, time to purge- the muscles obey. The quasi-fugue state has passed, finally, and what's left is a hollow and shaking shell, but it's a shell Dan knows and recognizes and that's all that matters – the only thing in the world that matters.

*

("At the second turning of the second stair-")

It's a disconnected thought but it's a thought, and a thought that belongs to him, and Rorschach can't go any deeper than that, not right now, not with Daniel guiding him carefully past the closed guest room door and up the stairs – just grab onto the thought and hold it close and try to keep his legs moving and get to the top before everything tumbles down.

*

Dan jerks the shower's handle with force just shy of breaking it clean off, and the pipes rattle to life. There's nothing but practicality in his movements as he strips off the bloodstained and filthy layers of his friend's symbolic armor, laying pale skin bare in the harsh white lights – crisscrossed in old and new scars, in lines of stitches, pigment standing out sharply in the swaths of freckles; Grimy with sweat and blood and something like fear. He offers no resistance, but the luminous eyes carry a familiar light now, and the shaking is no longer from fury. There's someone in there.

He's pushed into the stall, and there's a hand on his shoulder from outside, holding him steady. Neither says a word, and Rorschach just stands, disoriented and white and drenched and running with rivulets of dirt and blood, black-red water swirling towards the drain, looking more lost and hollow and frightened and frightening than Dan has ever seen him.

*

The water turns off, and there is a towel, and then there are blankets and sheets and something warm at his back, and all Rorschach can see behind his eyes are the stove and the countertop and the dogs and the indifferent stars, watching over all of it.

*

The room is silent and still, and there is an honesty running through it, tingling like electricity on the surface of the skin.

Rorschach wants someone to take him apart and put him back together again, and maybe he says that out loud and maybe he doesn't.

Dan wants to never have to feel this close to losing his friend again, this close to such unshakable grief, and maybe he says that out loud and maybe he doesn't.

When Dan presses an open mouth to the back of Rorschach's neck, he tastes something like rotting leaves and old copper pennies, and the small and broken sound shivering out from under the heaped blankets is the only thing in the world right now that makes any sense at all. It's a promise and a warning and an apology all at once, and somehow, all Dan can do is slip both arms around and hold on tighter than he ever has and tell himself, really tell himself, that he'll be able to let go in the morning.

*

---->Chapter 12.

*

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
februaryfinds
Apr. 13th, 2009 03:23 pm (UTC)
This chapter is amazing. Like, really, deeply, amazing.
etherati
Apr. 13th, 2009 03:38 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I was a little nervous about it because I know how fandoms typically frown on 'fixits', but I didn't have it in me to leave it alone after everything else I'd already put them through. D:
(Anonymous)
May. 21st, 2009 03:36 am (UTC)
anon jumping in the conversation much, much later. :)

There's absolutely nothing to be nervous about here--no, seriously, the entire fic was building up to this. The turn of circumstance and Dan being there for him certainly helped, but Rors has been fighting becoming a monster since the very beginning of this thing. If there is any Rors in any universe who would survive Roche intact, it's this one. He became a monster externally so he wouldn't have to become one internally. It's a wonderfully neat turn.

Which is a long way of saying, don't worry, it was fantastically believable.
etherati
May. 21st, 2009 04:16 am (UTC)
Wow, thank you so much. That was pretty much exactly what I was thinking - that he faced this particular moral crisis well beforehand and so it didn't hit him nearly as 'cold' as it did in canon - but you said it much better than I've been able to.

Thank you. :)
zekkass
Aug. 10th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
I'm nowhere near as coherent as the commenter above me, but I can say this: you pulled it off. Have no fear, you pulled it off, and it's believable.
etherati
Aug. 10th, 2009 03:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you, really, that's such a comfort to know. It's such a pivotal moment in canon and I didn't want to just handwave it away, but I also couldn't stand to let it happen as it originally did after I'd brought him through so much.
akemi42
Aug. 5th, 2009 07:22 am (UTC)
Oh wow! I love how you worked the Blair Roche bit in. It is so well written and the idea that Rorschach would take a different path after he has been through all this (with Dan) is fascinating.
etherati
Aug. 5th, 2009 07:26 am (UTC)
yes. both because dan was there and because hed already been through a hell of a moral crisis leading up to this, made some hard decisions, etc. it took a lot of stars lining up just right to pull him back from that abyss but i never could believe hed get through it okay with just a pat on the back from dan. it needed to be more.
lampsh4de
Nov. 22nd, 2009 07:15 pm (UTC)
GUH.
This is heartbreaking. It's so painful to think that maybe if Dan had been there like this when the Roche thing happened, maybe Rorschach would've turned out different. Especially without much dialogue, just your wild descriptions, everything seems so vivid and intense. This whole chapter made my chest ache. D: But... in a good way, almost, because even though Ror's fucked up and broken in every way possible, Dan's there, and they're both alive. Alive enough, I mean. "He's not going to stop now, not when it matters." ;_;

etherati
Nov. 22nd, 2009 07:29 pm (UTC)
Re: GUH.
I realized halfway through the fic that I was just going to have to deal with Roche - I couldn't bear having brought them through all this amazing crap and then he just goes crazy a few months later anyway - and my biggest worry was that 'fixing' roche would piss people off, but folks seem to like it heh.

Because yeah, if Dan HAD been there, a lot probably would have gone differently. Even here, with Dan there to stop him, with him having dealt with the realization of not wanting to be a killer beforehand, and with Dan there afterwards to help him put things back together, it was a struggle.

Thank you. :\
robinnevermore
Dec. 4th, 2009 07:10 am (UTC)
Re: GUH.
'By the time the first light of dawn is starting to shift in through the window, Dan has gotten the mask off and is holding Rorschach steady by the back of his neck as he dry-heaves over the kitchen sink."

It's been a month since i've orignaly read this line and I can't stop thinking about it. When I think of this story, this is the most pronounced scene in my head. I think it's because this is them moment when their relationship, a more than friends relationship, emerges. Why?

Because you know someone REALLY cares about you when they're willing to hold back your hair/hold your neck when you vomit. It's a strangely intimate moment for the two, because rorschach is so against showing weakness, ever, and allowing Dan to be there and take care of him when he's ill shows how much he trust him. It's very bittersweet. I bow to you and your awsomeness, shine on. :)
etherati
Dec. 5th, 2009 03:33 am (UTC)
Re: GUH.
That set of lines - not just the scene but the words themselves - were in my head for such a long time before I actually wrote them heh. It's definitely a pivotal scene. And yes, very intimate, especially given what they've just been through.

Thanks :)
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )