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FIC: Breathing Room

Title: Breathing Room
Fandom: Watchmen
Characters/Pairings: Dan/Rorschach.
Date Written: 2009
Summary: Some patrols go badly; then there are patrols like these.
Rating/Warnings: PG... 13? Gratuitous nudity, but nothing sexual.
Notes: Kinkmeme fill, prompt was for Rorschach having a panic attack/hyperventilating and Dan needing to talk him down. He's a pretty tough nut to crack so I had to pull out the big guns on this one, and bring them all to bear at once. Pardon the contrivances, CHEAP PLOT DEVICE IS CHEAP.


*

"Hey, hey, it's all right," he's saying, over and over again, a mantra of reassurance that isn't quite cutting through the panic, and the Owlship's decking is hard and abrasive under his knees. He's naked, and Rorschach is naked too, with all of its implications of vulnerability and throat-baring submission, and Dan's acutely aware of that fact because god, it's only making this worse – but he knows that if he lets go of Rorschach's face for even a second to reach for something to cover them with, he'll only slip further under.

It really isn't what it looks like – it isn't. The hideout they'd been tipped off to tonight had been rigged against them, and the acid released from a reservoir somewhere far above them had started eating through their costumes like hungry, licking flames the moment it had hit. It was a gruesome welcome; they both know perfectly well how a strong enough acid bath is its own cleanup, no bodies to dispose of, and the Owlsuit's synthetics had held up better than Rorschach's cotton and leather but they'd both had to shed layers as they ran for the ship, garments left dissolving into green-black puddles on the asphalt, a breadcrumb trail of stinking, bubbling defeat.

It wasn't surprising that the latex had held the longest, but by the time they'd gotten into Archie the top layer had burst, bleeding black and white, boiling and spitting in reaction – and Dan hadn't even asked, hadn't allowed for an argument, watching the caustic substance burrowing in towards his partner's face, his eyes. It'd had to come off. Rorschach had stumbled bodily against him, half fighting him and half just falling, fingers clawing at the remains of the mask – then had gone suddenly still, feeling with damning acuity all the places their bodies were touching, nothing more protective between them than a fine sheen of sweat, a bit of ash, a bit of blood. He hadn't breathed at all, for a good long moment.

They're on the floor now, hands on his face the only contact, and Rorschach is heaving gulping breaths, short and stilted, nowhere near deep enough; his lips are starting to turn vaguely blue. Dan knows what this is, recognizes the signs, remembers from his own awkward teenage years what an anxiety attack feels like - but he isn't sure how much of it is losing the mask and how much of it is their proximity, the smell of sweat and panic thick in the enclosed space. It's still dark because he hasn't had time to restart the electrics, and the only light is what diffracts through the Owlship's wide eyes, outlining everything in a delicate glow. There's so much skin and so many unavoidable implications and he knows he might be making it worse when he slides his hands down to Rorschach's throat, rubbing in at a slower pace than his wild, racing breath, encouraging him to match it.

"Come on, just breathe, this is okay, we're okay."

Under his fingers, throat muscles clench convulsively, a half-second from closing his airway entirely; the sharp, desperate puffs of breath are louder than they should be in the quiet of the shut-down ship. "Not-" he manages to choke out, and his hands are starting to shake and slacken where they're wrapped around Dan's wrists, an oxygen-starved grey-out draining the rest of the color from his face. "Like this. Touching. I – nnk. Shouldn't see me." A sound like he's choking, and Dan tips his chin back with both thumbs, trying to keep his throat open. "...Shouldn't see you."

"It's fine," Dan soothes, words out immediately because for all the broken, choppy attempts at communication, he does understand. "I don't mind, really, and it's not like we had a choice anyway." He shifts his weight to sit on the deck, massaging the rhythm of breath into the knotted and tense muscles under his hands – smoothing down over the raised ridge of collarbone to urge the air deeper. "Every night we go out, you trust me to have your back, right? To not let you down, or hurt you, or anything like that?"

There's no answer through the broken pattern of air, but he isn't saying no, isn't shaking his head in denial, isn't going on about how he doesn't trust anyone and that no one is worthy of trust; that's as good as an affirmative.

"Then it's okay, to be here like this. Because we're partners, we trust each other." The argument is simple, almost childlike, but not much else is going to get through right now; Dan knows that from experience. Small words, straightforward concepts, metered out carefully; a fragile length of line, reeled in an inch at a time.

He turns his head slightly, tracking the spill of streetlight through the round windows; the strange shapes it casts on the floor, and the way the amber glow of it is outlining Rorschach's entirely flawed and unfamiliar human shape in hard lines of yellow-gold and red, an impressionistic abstract of something warpainted and primitive and carnal, heaving breathlessly in the darkness. He knows he must look the same; lets out his own shuddering exhale. "...god. Okay. We'll just get back to the Nest, and get some spare things, and..."

The panic isn't dissipating; breath is there, is flowing, but is still too harsh, too fast, and when those hands finally slip free of his wrists, Dan can feel a sympathetic twinge of numbness in his own, of the sharp pins and needles of nerves drowning in deoxygenated blood. The words aren't working.

...standing at the lip of a cliff is only terrifying as long as you stay on the edge; step back or jump, doesn't matter which, and the fear transmutes into something else, something manageable. The teetering and waiting and feeling gravity tug and tug – that's the only part that makes the heart beat in the throat like a swarm of metal-winged butterflies, stirring terror, fight or flight, breath dragged out clawing and dangerous...

And the words aren't working.

His hands find easy purchase around Rorschach's back, not flinching away when his ribcage shudders and bucks under the contact. Dan pulls him in until they are flush skin-to-skin and that skittering, panicked breath is hitting his ear, is riding against his chest and under his arms. "It's okay," he mumbles, over and over again, "We're fine, this is fine, this is okay," but he doubts Rorschach's even hearing him; he's burying his nose into the crook of Dan's shoulder, blinding his eyes and hiding his face all at once –

(see no evil, show no evil)

-and maybe there's something else here, fueling the panic. Something beyond simple vulnerability and a identity violently stripped away and eyes and hands going beyond the bounds of propriety – and the smell of both of their costumes burning, evoking uglier sense-memories of worse nights, worse patrols. Something that hums restlessly between skin and skin and drives Rorschach to clutch fumblingly at flesh he should have no desire to touch, slick with cold sweat and fear. Maybe. But if there is, this is not the time to address it; and under the solid weight of unmoving hands, restraining him in place, breath slows and evens out and deepens.

They stay as they are for a few minutes, not so much molded as jammed together like mismatched jigsaw edges, elbows and knees refusing to line up, before Rorschach finally speaks, a dull vibrato against the skin of Dan's throat.

"...need clothes, Daniel. Too early in the night to stop patrolling."

And Dan laughs, and it rumbles through his chest and through Rorschach's too, and the situation is still insane – they're naked and unmasked and bleeding and acid-burned in patches and a long ways from safe ground, and they've just blown a bust and if any of this gets back to the criminal underworld it'll take weeks to put the fear back in them where it belongs – but it's suddenly a bearable insanity, with enough breathing room to regain their bearings; something they can walk away from, a new and tenuous understanding unspooling between them in the quiet.

*




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Comments

( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
findmyantidrug
Jul. 12th, 2009 08:49 am (UTC)
I always get really giddy when I see you posting, because that means I can finally add your fics to my memories. This one gets an instant add, because the panic is written so well, and I love how Daniel keeps emphasizing how this isn't sexual, this isn't wrong, this is just them accidentally ending up naked together and needing to cuddle naked to feel better, there is nothing wrong here. Also, the use of the word unspooling makes me oddly pleased.
etherati
Jul. 12th, 2009 09:01 am (UTC)
I am glad my brain's random word generator is pleasing!

But yeah, that was so much the point of this: that this crazy kind of shit can happen without it being sexual, without it leading to Convenient Porn, even if the undercurrent is there. That sometimes crazy shit is just crazy shit. XD
midnite_vision
Jul. 12th, 2009 01:45 pm (UTC)
Even if it is a cheap plot device, I think you made it work here. And I had to chuckle at the fact that the first thing Rorschach says when he calms down is that they need to go on patrol again. Oh, Rorschach...
etherati
Jul. 12th, 2009 11:14 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I just needed something that would strip away all sense of being safe, and that included the mask, so it had to be something that no amount of 'it's a line you just don't cross' would keep Dan from pulling it off of him. I'm glad you think it worked ok.

Yes, Ror, go get into some baggy Dan!pants and continue terrorizing the underworld like that. See how well that works.
por_queeee
Jul. 12th, 2009 10:42 pm (UTC)
Holy shit, I'M ALWAYS SO HAPPY WHEN YOU POST FIC! This one in particular is really... I don't know, just fantastic. I loved the fact that they're holding each other, both naked and yet you still get across how innocent it really is, and that Rorschach was reluctant to take off his mask despite the fact acid was burning through it.

etherati
Jul. 12th, 2009 11:16 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the innocence of it was a really important point, even if there ARE slashy undertones that I'm sure they're both aware of; that hurt, in the middle of patrol, stripped of all of their gear and masks and with Ror having a panic attack over all of the aforementioned goodness, it was in no way the time to even think about anything on that level.
__perplexity__
Jul. 13th, 2009 12:25 am (UTC)
Uck, your descriptions are wonderful. I have to be rubbish and use your own words above and say how I LOVE the lack of convenient porn, love it love it LOVE it.
Sorry I can't be more constructive, but it's a really good piece. Thank you for sharing!
etherati
Jul. 13th, 2009 12:41 am (UTC)
Thank you so much :D See, I never can tell! some people only want porn, some people prefer the lack of it; I just try to be as true to the characters and situations as I can, and whatever makes sense, happens.
jackiemei
Jul. 13th, 2009 03:36 am (UTC)
I enjoyed this piece very much. I love calm gentle Dan, its always the way I imagine him as part of that duo. I liked the bit about the mask being the last thing to come off, and how its down to the point of threatening to burn his eyes out before it does, very symbolic and powerful.
etherati
Jul. 13th, 2009 03:51 am (UTC)
Thank you, I'm glad you picked up on that. And I agree about Dan - I'm not sure where all of the aggressive, borderline nasty Dan comes from in the fandom; he's such a sweet, sweet guy.
cosmonautsister
Jul. 13th, 2009 09:07 am (UTC)
That was brilliant, menacing and poetic... and I couldn't help but laugh at the image of Daniel and Rorschach running around naked.
etherati
Jul. 13th, 2009 02:33 pm (UTC)
They were very much not finding it funny at the time XD Thank you so much!
jack_infinitude
Jul. 14th, 2009 06:32 pm (UTC)
**meep** I love it. God, acid, that's scary. D: I know how Dan feels, my cousin has panic attacks like this, and really the best thing you can do is hold him until he starts breathing normally. Good job, Dan!
etherati
Jul. 14th, 2009 06:55 pm (UTC)
Dan strikes me as the type to have had social anxiety issues as a kid; quiet, extremely smart, with a somewhat sheltered, overbearing family life, and not a lot of peers to relate to. So he knows what's up with panic attacks, yes.

Thank you! :)
gothic_tampons
Aug. 5th, 2009 10:42 pm (UTC)
Poor Ror! I SO know what it's like to ahve a panic attack. ):

Really the only thing you can do to make it go away is be held and be assured until it goes away. ):

This was very cute and sweet, and like other commenter's, I'm glad it didn't turn into porn. mainly cause, I don't see Dan as a person to really initiate something like that. Hell he has to have the chick initiate it most of the time. xD

So yeah, plus as closet perv-y as Dan is I don't think he'd ever take advantage of Ror in a sorta situation like this. He'd just be very calm, sweet and re assureing, like a big bro or an uncle or a daddy. :D
etherati
Aug. 5th, 2009 10:46 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

Yeah, there's no way it would even cross his mind to take advantage of this kind of situation. He's way, way too sweet. He recognizes - because you know, adults here, he's not blind - that there's probably a sexual component to the freakout Ror's having, combined with them almost DYING and him losing his mask, and the general level of 'cant deal with it' that he has going on with nudity, but it's really, really not the time or place to even think about that.

Which makes me feel a little skeevy for using such a cheap plot device to get them gratuitously naked to begin with? But I really thought that extra level of vulnerability was needed to trip him over into actual panic-attack territory.
gothic_tampons
Aug. 5th, 2009 11:38 pm (UTC)
Yeah, and to be honest in most situations. People DON't pounce when they know theres a sexual componat to an anger or sence of panic. Which is why (As much as I LOVE smut) I HATE fics that are all "Oh, we are convinaiantly (sp?) naked. I will take advantage of your nakedness and vounerabilty (Sp?) and fuck you." Thats just not how the mind works. Or how people work. At least I like to think that.

No I know of a cheaper one. Yours makes sence. You coould have used a cheaper one like "MOLOCH USES HIS MAGICAL POWERS OF MAGIC NAKEDNESS TO MAKE THEIR CLOTHES POOF AWAY, LOL"

So yeah, no worries. :D
etherati
Aug. 5th, 2009 11:53 pm (UTC)
The only fic I've written of them where the nekkidness actually *precedes* the sex, was Nightswimming, and I think I can have a pass on that one since that was kind of the point hahaha.

But yeah. The 'I see an opening, I shall pounce now' thing doesn't really happen. Sometimes it works in fic, for certain characters, for PWP, but that's about it.
gothic_tampons
Aug. 6th, 2009 04:38 am (UTC)
Yeah. ):

Plus this type of Emotion porn is better anyways. xD
snake_easing
Sep. 14th, 2009 06:35 pm (UTC)
Okay, that line about how standing on an edge of a cliff is the problem, with a move forward or back both making things bearable... that's inspired. Seriously. Best metaphor I've heard recently. It keeps coming back to me, especially when I was on the edge of a cliff the other day. It's so true to life.
etherati
Sep. 19th, 2009 04:36 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I've always felt that actual *falling* wouldn't be as viscerally scary as standing there, teetering, knowing you could fall, probably will fall, but haven't yet and that moment just *stretches*.

lampsh4de
Nov. 25th, 2009 08:18 pm (UTC)
Go, Dan, go! C:
etherati
Nov. 25th, 2009 10:57 pm (UTC)
Dan is good at what he does. :3
( 23 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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