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FIC: Marking Days

Title: Marking Days
Fandom: Watchmen
Characters/Pairings: Dan, Rorschach, Dan/Ror UST.
Date Written: 2009
Summary: Can you call it waiting if there's nothing to wait for?
Rating/Warnings: PG-13 for some morbid/disturbing imagery. Also: AAAANNNGSTTT. Sorry.
Notes: Another kinkmeme fill. Prompt was as follows: "So, we've seen fics where Rorschach is made to think that Dan is dead, but in every case Dan pops back up within an hour to show he's alive and all is well. I want to see a fic where pre-Roche Rorschach is forced to deal with Dan's "death" for an extended period of time, several weeks or months. Maybe Dan is being held captive and his captors are doing a very convincing job of faking his death so Rorschach won't figure it out? Dan can be hiding out in a plothole for all I care. I just want to see the kind of toll this would take on Rorschach. (Cause him to snap ahead of schedule, perhaps?) And have Dan have to clean up the mess when he comes back."


*

[Somewhere, in a dark and silent place: there are warm hands and the prick of another needle, and the burn of fire in his veins as he surfaces, comes back and a breath that hurts more than any torture he has endured, lungs spasming and sucking, hard. There are ropes. There are questions, in both directions, the moment his voice returns. They want to know the identities of every mask in the city; information he does not have. He wants to know who the hell they really are, and where Rorschach is, and what they think they're doing; information they refuse to give. There are no answers.

Then there is an answer, just one: They tell him what was in the first syringe. They tell him what they saw, from their hiding place across the room. They're grinning.

He slumps down into the chair he's tied to, mind racing with the implications; he makes a low sound of despair. It's a very familiar sound, they tell him.

He loses track of time, after that.]

*


Walter Kovacs is the name behind the mask, the passive flesh-and-blood daylight counterpoint to the inhuman fury that sings through his veins by moonlight, but even Rorschach has always been a fundamentally sane creature. He’s prone to excessive force at turns, grim and slow to smile, bearing more emotional scars than one person should be able to carry, crisscrossed over his chest and catching whatever light is brought to bear – but he has a basic grip on the reality of life that suits one tasked with protecting it.

Then comes the night – just a night, just a date on a calendar, and where Daniel's clean hashes leave off he keeps marking them with thick, shaky X-marks, shakier by the day, by the week – that splinters the illusion. That teaches him that no one good can survive in a bad place, that virtue is worthless, that nothing gold can stay; the night he holds a life in his arms and watches it wink out–

–and everything changes. It may not be instantaneous; it may not be a switch thrown, a button pressed, but it has its roots in this moment:

He is shouting, a mindless litany of denial – the word 'no' loops endlessly through his brain and then on his tongue, and the taste of it is the only thing keeping him from flying completely to pieces – before the syringe even pulls free from the seam of Nite Owl's costume, completely emptied and how full was it before how full was it

The drug runner bearing it is on the floor in an instant, spine feeling shattered and loose under Rorschach's boot. He's the last, as far as Rorschach can tell. He might be dead. It doesn't change anything.

It doesn't change anything, because Daniel is groaning on the floor, and he's Daniel now, not Nite Owl, not like this; he has a name and a home and he visits with Hollis on some weekends and he has a new owl print he just brought home today, and he has warm human hands that work miracles and unravel mysteries and could pull him to pieces and put him back together again both with the same violent affection if only he'd ever let them, and he's good. A good man. Better than this.

(this isn't the way for him to...)

But the veins in his face are standing out, livid and blue in the half-light, and none of it changes anything, because Rorschach knows what kind of business these people are running, knows how many dozens of compounds could have been in that syringe. Knows how many of them would be fatal, in that kind of a dose.

And so there is a part of him – a primitive chunk of his mind that can understand these things without facing them – that is already grieving when he drops to Daniel's side, popping the cowl open and pushing the goggles up out of the way; lifting him with one arm and pressing fingers in against a pulse that is thready and rapidly slowing. His eyes are moving, but they are unfocused, and the deep warm brown is leaching out, leaving a color like dirty shale and there's an explosion of breath that sounds like it might be the beginning of a word–

And then – nothing. He just stops, like a toy wound down, and Rorschach has lifted men twice his own size but his arms were never meant to bear a weight like this.

He will wonder, later, at how quickly it all happened.

*

They've talked about this, on grim and morbid nights – the fresh, cutting smell of blood filling the air closed up inside of the ship. It's an occupational hazard. There's no getting around the reality, and they both felt validated for having brought it into the open air, acknowledged it, taken away the wolf's fangs by naming it aloud.

("What would you do if I...")

He's pretty sure he hadn't answered 'throw up until it feels like my insides are coming up too, and panic because maybe they are and maybe they should be, maybe that's the way this works - and run and run until the blurred, jagged-edged horror stopmotion of the city makes more sense than reality does and pass out from exhaustion on your front step,' but it turns out that some things are too big to wrap words around – beyond addressing or taking the bite out of or naming.

*

He will also wonder how he could have just run and left Daniel behind. He will forget the way he had seen his consciousness skittering sideways in the darkness, separating and detaching from him like a bloodstain lifting from an old shirt; the way he almost felt something shuffle loose, something important, in the instant Daniel’s eyes emptied out – fall, and clatter, and break. It may be what people call temporary insanity, or it may not be temporary at all. It is no excuse either way, and when the sun goes down again, the shadows gather at the dark edges of his mind, and poke and prod and jeer.

*

An 'X' on the calendar, and today becomes yesterday and it will never be just a bad dream, never less than something that has already happened – the past, real, beyond waking up from and wiping the cold sweat away and murmuring 'thank god, thank god,' mindlessly into the quiet.

*

Three days pass, and Rorschach is still eating, but only what he can find in Daniel's pantry. He is sleeping on the kitchen floor, sleeping badly - barely sleeping at all. Resting, though, because he is flesh under the coat as Daniel was flesh under the armor, and flesh gets tired, breaks down. Stops.

The first night he'd gone scouting for a place to rest, had found Daniel's bed heaped in soft and inviting blankets, screaming out a familiarity that he thought he needed – but he'd only been there for a few minutes, wrapped in that warm and human-smelling cocoon, before he'd made a noise horrible to even his own ears and kicked himself free and stumbled downstairs. The couch presented the same problem, and so the kitchen floor it is. His own apartment seems out of the question, and he tries not to think about that; here, there are ghosts and there is an absence of what was but there, oh, there – there was never anything to lose there, just the hollow emptiness of creaking walls and a nothingness he knows well, and that’s unthinkable right now.

He throws his cans away after he finishes them, because Daniel always gets upset when he doesn't. He'd picked the front door lock too, carefully, because Daniel hates it when he breaks the frame. There are accusing words in his head, ‘weakness’ and ‘denial’ and ‘let it sink in’, but the truth is that this ugly piece of reality hasn't even skimmed the surface. When it does, the ripples will roil along and chase each other to the dark and uncharted edges of the world/sea/mind,

(here there be monsters)

and somewhere, a ten-year-old boy is standing in the street, the stink of burning paper like something physical in his hands, and he is sinking and sinking.

*

A week. A solid seven days of thick black X-marks, and there's something in the way the owl in the photograph is looking at him as he draws in the eighth, like he has some secret understanding, some desperate measure, some key, if only Rorschach could make sense of it.

The ninth day, the black marker seems to move of its own volition as it scribbles out the creature's eyes, leaving only dead and hollow shadows under the feathered brow.

*

He still patrols, or tries to. The minor injuries are stacking up, starting to riddle his frame with a termite-eaten weakness, each new ache and pull and sharp, lancing pain compounding the last. It is because he has no one to watch his back, he realizes, and that– that is because he failed to watch Daniel's. He has no right to complain.

It is the twelfth day, sitting at the kitchen table in the dark, trying to stitch a slice with his off hand – not quite sure why he can't see very well, and not interested in his logic center's insistence that he get up and hit the light switch – when he finally lets himself whisper it aloud:

"Daniel's dead."

The thread is pulled taut and it resonates in the small space like a strand of catgut. What had been a slow and gradual process of tiny cracks spidering into other tiny cracks, webbing out, careful careful careful – shatters.

*

Two and a half weeks, and he has stopped bothering to eat. It is not a conscious thing, not particularly self-destructive or violent; it just no longer occurs to him.

*

He sets a police scanner up in the kitchen, skims through it for every hour that he is awake. He is no longer going on patrol every night or really any night; he is a single man flailing at the oncoming flood,

(who will stand on either hand...)

and he cannot hold the bridge alone. And maybe the bridge doesn’t even deserve to be held, anymore.

He still hates himself for the obsessive weakness that keeps him here, useless, falling apart on the tile floor while the city bleeds, and he tells himself that he's keeping abreast of criminal activity as he twists the dial, but really he's listening for found body reports. He keeps imagining the river by the warehouse, and how cold it is this time of year, and how long someone can stay down there without being found and–

*

He apologizes to the owl in the calendar every night, for taking away his eyes. He tries to draw them back in; when this makes the visage no less angry, no less accusing and unforgiving,

(as if you deserve forgiveness)

he starts gathering all of the owl knickknacks and clocks and small pictures and books and even a tiny, delicate creature worked from twisted steel wire he found in a dresser drawer, and arranges them on the table facing the photograph, like some bizarre tribute. This doesn't help either, and one night he can swear he hears claws clicking across the tile floor, stalking towards where he's sprawled by the cupboard. In the morning he is relieved to put the month behind him, and he changes the calendar and forgets about the hollow, dark stare he'd given the bird

(your fault, and how can you resent him for...)

(staring hating leaving)


and runs his scabbed and bitten fingers over the feathered lines of December's poster child. Snowy Owl. Daniel used to go on about this one, and he shouldn't be thinking about that but it was something about prophecy and rebirth and two roads that never meet. He almost believes it, standing there before his new watcher, hand shivering against the paper, dropping down some strange new rabbit hole in his mind, faster, faster, away from the talons before they hit–

The trinkets stay on the table, arranged into something like a diorama, a stageplay of dedication and denial and grief, because they were never really there for him, anyway. They're there for Daniel.

*

It's almost a month – almost a moon cycle passed, and he only knows this because it's printed on the calendar, little icons of quarter, half, full, half, quarter. New. New moon, the most poorly named, because it is no moon at all, and it is on one of these hollow and endless nights that the door to the basement heaves open on neglected hinges. There is a sound of footfalls, of a large body – too large to be the avenging horned owl with its horrible black stare, at least – moving through the space. It's a kind of half-awareness, partway into a dream that is no dream, and Rorschach does not stir, invisible in the dim light and half under the table.

Then the figure pauses – and there's a scrape as the wireworked owl is picked up, turned over in wondering hands.

"Don't," Rorschach almost-shouts, springing awake in an instant, but he has so little strength left in his body that there isn't much to spare to his voice. He's scrabbling for a handhold to pull himself up, to defend his creatures, when the figure crouches down next to him, the owl still in hand. It's catching the light from the streetlamp outside the window, but the face remains in shadow.

"Shhh," a voice gentles, and there's something familiar even in the hissing vocalization. "It's okay."

The voice. The voice and the shining rims of glasses and the shape of the face all filled in with black – and he's actually going crazy now, legitimately delusional. This is the first time the possibility has occurred to him. He understands the double-negative paradox of questioning sanity, but it's never given him cause to worry until this moment.

(If I think I'm... if I don't...)

"It's okay," the voice repeats, a hand reaching to run shaking fingers through his hair – he must have taken off his mask, too stiff with blood and dried tears to breathe through, but he doesn't really remember – catching in the filthy snarls. He hasn't washed in weeks, and the smell fills the kitchen. This cooing, soothing ghost doesn't seem to mind, sitting down next to him with a motion too careful and pained to truly be something incorporeal; an arm threads over his shoulders, solid, pulling his broken and emaciated frame in close. He isn't alone in this; the ghost is also thinner than he remembers, bony elbows and knees that don't know what to do with themselves and a quiet gasp of pain when even Rorschach's diminished weight falls too heavily across straining ribs.

Outside, the new moon hides behind its own shadow, losing its memory, resetting the world,

(rebirth. prophecy. can the roads be forced to meet?)

(all roads meet, far enough out on the horizon.)


churning over something new.

"I'm glad you kept up my calendar," the impossible creature next to him finally says, a thin thread of something entirely unlike humor stringing the words together like beads on a cord – each dropping into the air with an audible thunk, a rattling roll across the hard edges of darkness.

Rorschach buries his bruised, hollow face into the ghost's shirt, feels the warmth leeching up through it, and the last of the fracture lines give. Daniel holds him there until well past dawn.

*

*

End notes: It's entirely possible that Ror is being OOC here in the way he falls apart, but the thought I had was that if he really has never actually cared about anyone before, then he's never lost anyone he cared about either, and having no experience with it and no defenses built up, it could completely blindside him. I dono. Drugs similar to this do exist, I think, and we know Manhattan's existence advanced their world's tech and science a lot, so...

Several attributions to make in this one.
1. ‘nothing gold can stay’, from the Frost poem of the same name.
2. ‘who will stand on either hand’, from the Macaulay poem ‘Horatio at the Bridge’.
3. The bit about the moon losing its memory, paraphrased from the Eliot poem ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’. “The moon has lost her memory.”
4. each dropping into the air with an audible thunk, a rattling roll across the hard edges of darkness.” – what I’m thinking of here is the ball-dropping sound-effect in Depeche Mode’s ‘Blasphemous Rumours’. OBSCURE REFERENCES FTW.
5. Two roads that never meet – taken from totem legends regarding owls. The Blue Road of Spirit and the Red Road of Physical Life; ie, the dead and the living.
6. I AM OBVIOUSLY A HUGE NERD.



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Comments

( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
midnite_vision
Jul. 2nd, 2009 02:44 am (UTC)
This is... "Heartbreaking" doesn't really cut it. I think it almost transcends words. I was slightly confused towards the beginning (before I realized that Rorschach was having something like a flashback), but the confusion actually kind of went with the piece as a whole, if that makes any sense. And after reading your end note, I really could see this happening. You make a good point.
etherati
Jul. 2nd, 2009 02:51 am (UTC)
I originally had the little 'Dan POV' block more in the middle, but it just broke up the flow and there was no place to put it that felt correctly balanced, so I moved it to the beginning - figuring that that way, it could be one of those things that starts making sense as you go through and gives you as the reader info that Ror doesn't have, right at the start.

Thank you, really. I always worry with angsty things that it's too over the top.
por_queeee
Jul. 2nd, 2009 09:49 pm (UTC)
Oh my god I actually want to cry CURSE YOU AND YOUR AMAZING WRITING.

Honestly I really do think that this is one way which Rorschach might react. He never has let anyone in as much as Daniel, and having that person suddenly taken away really has the potential to be earth shattering. Considering how mentally unstable he already is it's definitely not a long shot to say that Daniel was helping hold him together a bit.

Also, nerdiness is a good thing, don't knock it.
etherati
Jul. 2nd, 2009 10:06 pm (UTC)
That was exactly what I figured - that he's hardened against the things he's been exposed to but something like this would very much come out of left field just because it's never, ever happened before.

I'm not really knocking it heh, I just realized that wow, I just made up a 5-point bullet-list of literary and mythological references, all of which I actually looked up, for a fic that is basically 'oh hey, let's have us some angst with a side of angst.' And this fact amused me. XD
unimagine
Jul. 3rd, 2009 12:32 am (UTC)
Okay, been lurking on LJ for ages now reading your works, and NOW I HAVE FINALLY DELURKED (just made an account, actually) AND SHALL PROCEED TO FLOOD YOU WITH USELESS COMMENTS. D:

That was...almost too melodramatic. Almost. But somehow you managed to keep it together. (I think I just love your style too much for my own good) At first glance, I find it hard to believe Rorschach breaking down like that, but after considering what you said about him never experiencing losing someone, I can swallow it more easily. Hence, melodramatic angst, but beautiful melodramatic angst. <3 (Marking down on the owl calendar = D': = <3)

Be proud of your nerdiness! 8D I am a perfectionist who is concerned with little details, so I admire your research. x]
etherati
Jul. 3rd, 2009 12:44 am (UTC)
Yeah it really is entirely possible that the collective angst of... something... has risen up around me and etc etc etc. I'm still *really* undecided on this one, and only posted it in this batch because I'm a horrifically obsessive completionist, and because there are things about it that I like.

I DO think that the first time anyone loses someone that means a lot to them - especially if it's completely unexpected, and kind of pointless/useless, and there are a lot of regrets backed up about chances never taken, and there is absolutely nothing in the way of a support structure in place - that it can be really, really bad. That said, I'm just not entirely sure if it *feels* true to me.

So, yeah. Undecided.

(Edited for typo correction)

Edited at 2009-07-03 12:45 am (UTC)
misachan
Jul. 3rd, 2009 03:39 am (UTC)
Don't doubt yourself. I believed every word of this, from the denial to the self-recrimination to the crushing despair. Normal people indulge in rituals and magical thinking during grief. Someone like Rorschach, who's just lost literally the only friend he's ever had and hasn't learned any coping mechanisms other than repress repress repress, this is exactly how he'd react.

And the language is beautiful. I keep trying to pick out one line to highlight as my favorite but I would have to highlight the entire thing.

And oh, Dan. Knowing that Rorschach was going crazy and slowly dying of grief would be the worst torture anyone could do. Any chance of writing his side of this?:)
etherati
Jul. 3rd, 2009 03:53 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! See, that's the thing, I keep getting mixed reactions, which is what has me unsure.

And yeah - Dan was not really having a good time of things to begin with, but knowing what they told him of Ror's initial reaction, I can see it eating and eating at him as his escape attempts keep failing and the days bleed into weeks.

I hadn't thought of writing his side of it - I'm not sure I can venture into such depressing material again for a little while, but it's a good idea. I'll add it to my list. :)
misachan
Jul. 3rd, 2009 04:01 am (UTC)
This fic is crazy good. I just finished reccing it in my own LJ.:)

I can see it eating and eating at him as his escape attempts keep failing and the days bleed into weeks.

It probably keeps him going, though. If it was just his life, maybe he could give up but that's certainly not an option now.
etherati
Jul. 3rd, 2009 04:19 am (UTC)
Ggnnnn that's a very good point. He knows that the longer he stays away, the bigger a mess it's going to be to clean up, and therefore, the more he *needs* to get back to do so. Yeah, I think it's gonna be a while before I can handle tackling that.
jack_infinitude
Jul. 4th, 2009 02:52 am (UTC)
I really hope Daniel killed the guys holding him captive. Maybe Rorschach would like to help.
etherati
Jul. 4th, 2009 03:01 am (UTC)
Most likely not - not really Dan's game, killin' folks. There may have been a casualty in whatever fight presaged his escape, but I don't think he'd have deliberately killed them. They're probably very (un)happily in police custody.

However, you're probably right about Ror. He's not quite right atm.
jack_infinitude
Jul. 4th, 2009 06:15 am (UTC)
All quite true. HE'S HOME SAFE AND CAN HELP ROR PICK UP THE PIECES AND THAT'S ALL THAT MATTERS NOW.
etherati
Jul. 4th, 2009 06:21 am (UTC)
The first order of business is to cook them both some goddamned waffles. D:

But yeah, in all seriousness - he's got his work cut out for him.
hoo_hah
Jul. 6th, 2009 05:01 am (UTC)
this is a dumb question, but I was wondering about when dan came back, was he still in his costume? you mention he's got his glasses on, but nothing other than that. I'm not trying to call you out on anything, I'm just trying to draw it and I know I'll end up doing it wrong. lmao

btw this fic was EXCELLENT as always C: ily
etherati
Jul. 6th, 2009 05:30 am (UTC)
He'd be wearing whatever secondhand garbage they gave him to wear after they took his armor away - ratty and probably pretty dirty by that point. He has his glasses because he came up through the basement tunnel and has a spare pair in the workshop. He'd also be substantially thinner than before - this is pre-Keene obviously so he was in good shape before, so it'd be mostly a degradation of muscle mass more than anything.

And thank you. :D
hoo_hah
Jul. 6th, 2009 05:39 pm (UTC)
lol thanks

I realize how creepy that question is but I wanted to pull myself out of my no-drawing coma, and what better way than to draw something from one of your amazing fics

peace :D
etherati
Jul. 6th, 2009 06:18 pm (UTC)
I AM ALWAYS PRO-ART. Art makes me dance and squee.

And no, it's not creepy, in that context. You're translating something visually so you need visual details that I left out. Nothing creepy about that at all.
danceswithelvis
Jul. 6th, 2009 08:48 pm (UTC)
Art finally
So, I couldn't keep the imagery you painted out of my head with this one. It's not that great...but, hopefully I caught the emotion with it.

Photobucket

etherati
Jul. 6th, 2009 08:56 pm (UTC)
Re: Art finally
:O

Wow. Seriously. Yeah. The emotion's very, very nailed. I actually really like the roughness of it - because it's such a raw sequence of moments, outlined in that sort of stark, shaky edging that makes the seconds and hours and days seem to turn on you, all sharp and broken. His posture, and the knocked-over owl knickknack, and the way the calender page is obviously just ripped clean off - such awesome details.

So, I'm thinking I need to add an 'everything else that is not zombies' art post, because there's getting to be a bit of it. Would you be okay with me including this? Because it is <3 and also bawww and also wonderful.
danceswithelvis
Jul. 6th, 2009 09:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Art finally
Go for it! I'm very happy you liked it. Was worried it kinda sucked... ^_^

The emotion of the story was so palpable that it really stuck with me, and this is what came out. All I could see was Rorschach curled in upon himself full of guilt, sadness and loss...and having no clue what to do with himself.
etherati
Jul. 6th, 2009 09:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Art finally
Is it posted somewhere that I can just link directly to it, or would you prefer I find somewhere else to host it?

And no no it doesn't suck at ALL. If it gets across what you were aiming for, then it never sucks, because that's the point of art - like writing - to make someone feel something. <3
danceswithelvis
Jul. 6th, 2009 10:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Art finally
It's on photobucket...if that helps any. I don't mind you direct linking from that. Or, if you want I can send you the original file...either way works.

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v207/DanceswithElvis/watchmen/markingdays.jpg

Here's the direct link.
snake_easing
Sep. 14th, 2009 06:32 pm (UTC)
That was something really special. I'm impressed. Poor R. I'm glad they reunited in the end. And I do love literary references... they're more in character than they seem at first. It was R, after all, who exposited all over the place about dead pharoahs and the end of the world.

In any case... I really loved this.
etherati
Sep. 19th, 2009 04:34 pm (UTC)
They're very in-character, at least for Ror, given his canonical background in literature. And yes, his tendency to ramble about such things. XD

I'm glad you liked it, thank you! This is one of those pieces I'm unsure of in general, so this really helps. :)
lampsh4de
Nov. 25th, 2009 06:55 am (UTC)
I was like, "Huh, should I go to sleep...? I feel like my night's missing something... Oh, how about I read a quick, smutty D/R fanfic?" and somehow five minutes later I was reading this (not quick smut) and getting all teary-eyed. D:

It might seem a little OOC without your End Note. But I can picture him flipping out like this pre-Roche. I mean, with the way Rorschach throws himself into his job because it's the only thing he has, I can see him throwing himself into Dan in the same way. In your fics (and the way I see canon, with my twisted fangirl mind) the closer they get the more Rorschach builds this incredibly fragile life around Dan. Take Dan away, and he doesn't have much of a foundation to stand on. Hence the shitstorm of ANGST.

I'm tired and angst-ridden now... D:
...and it is somehow awesome. Thank you. :3
etherati
Nov. 25th, 2009 02:52 pm (UTC)
In a way I wish I'd handled it with a lighter touch now, but the prompt specifically asked for him going out of his mind so I was writing to that... handled however which way though, I can't imagine any loss that would hurt him more than losing Dan, especially pre-Roche when he still valued the fact that Dan was his friend and understood the significance of the fact that Dan was his -only- friend. Post-Roche, he's driven enough by justice and so on that while I think it would still be crushing, he'd have a focus point of 'vengeance' strong enough to keep him going.

Anyway, thank you!
( 27 comments — Leave a comment )

what this is.


This is a fic journal for the most part, with some art on the side and a sprinkling of personal posts here and there. I don't write as much as I used to, but I try.

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