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FIC: Perspectives

Title: Perspectives
Fandom: Watchmen
Characters/Pairings: Z!Rorschach, Dan on the periphery, lots of OCs.
Date Written: 2009 - 2010
Summary: “Set out from any point. They are all alike. They all lead to a point of departure.” The Zombie Apocalypse, from other points of view.
Rating/Warnings: PG-13 for language.
Notes:  This is meant to run alongside Now, as Before chronologically, and shows the same events from different viewpoints. It's been in progress for almost a year. Today is Z!verse's anniversary, so I thought it would be a good day to post it.

*

“Set out from any point. They are all alike. They all lead to a point of departure.” – Antonio Porchia, 1943

*

[0d, 00:00:00]

*

Breaking glass. An alarm. A scream, and she will never be rid of the way it goes on and on.

*

[0d, 00:01:32]

*

He stands on the front steps of the facility, absorbing the carnage with deafened ears, clouded eyes – numbed mind. This is a dangerous place to stand, exposed like this. Part of him hasn’t realized that in the wake of the oncoming breakdown; another part just doesn’t mind it in the least, expecting to feel pain bite down at any moment and making no move to avoid it.

Across the street, there are knots of test subjects, all white flesh and white institutional gowns, huddled and tightening around their foci like lymphocytes around bacteria. Bees in Japan. But that isn’t quite right, because the stray civilians going down in the middle of each cluster are not dangerous infections, not hornets, not threatening anything at all. The infected subjects aren’t defending themselves or serving some greater organism. They’re just eating.

He can’t help these people, even if he weren’t rooted to the spot by misery and fear and shock. He’s not a fighter. He could join them in their bloody deaths, and maybe that’s what he deserves, but he can’t help them.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees one of the huddles blow apart violently – sees a vague figure swinging something that could be a board or a piece of pipe but it’s impossible to tell at this distance, and making a break for it through the opening in the swarming mass of bodies. No one else is that lucky, the other clusters only tightening further- dogs around carcasses. Feeding frenzy. He’s long since stopped registering the screams.

This is when, he’ll tell the court later, he starts crying – and it isn’t a lie, slipping down onto the steps, face dipping into hands that want to scratch and tear and offer no comfort. It won’t matter, won’t garner him any sympathy, won’t commute his sentence in the face of the atrocity he’s birthed into the streets of New York. But it isn’t a lie.

*

[2d, 11:38:07]

*

He's a better employer than most she's had. Goodness, better than most she possibly could have; she's heard the early reports and even though the infections are stabilizing, people are losing their homes left and right. Their friends, lovers. Their jobs, unceremoniously, passed on to new hires or laterally promoted employees as if they'd died or just stopped coming in one day, as if no respect were due whatsoever. Mr. Veidt's not only assured her – calm against her panic, the frantic phone call made as soon as she'd been discharged – that her job's here waiting for her, but he's also given her her sick time early to cover those few days in the hospital. It's more than she could have dreamed.

It's such a shame then, three hours later, when she feels the blood under her nails and between her teeth and some faraway part of her wants to be sick but it's not her choice anymore, is it?

The room's in shambles; people are shrieking, and it's doing nothing but staining her vision further red, disconnecting reality even further, flinging any conception of self and morality and humanity out amongst the broken glass still raining down onto the streets below. Less and less does life matter, does anything matter except the screaming need to tear and rend and eat.

She sees him at the desk, talking into something in his hand, talking and talking and she doesn't remember who he is or what 'who' even means anymore, but she recognizes the look in his eyes when he sees her, crackling like electricity between them.

Fear. Prey.

He's reaching for something else from his desk, and there's more talking, louder and louder and louder and then an explosion near her face, the loudest thing she's ever heard–

Pain. Rage. White-hot hunger, clawing even now.

Silence.

*

[4d, 23:04:19]

*

"So... look, man," he begins, and the confidence of his on-air persona has evaporated – has been gone since the transmit switch on the mixing board was flipped back to ‘off’. He shakes a cigarette from a crumpled, torn pack, all folded in on itself from nervous clutching; tips the pack towards his guest, who declines with a wordless shake of his head. The host shrugs, stuffs it back into his pocket stiffly. He has a feeling he's being transparent, that his every motion is telegraphing his state of mind. Anxious. Afraid. Angry? He finds himself not caring. "Do you really believe what you were just saying?"

His guest just watches as he lights up, the silver Zippo shaking in unsteady hands. ‘Doctor Smith’ doesn't look to be in much better shape, eyes glazy and distant after an hour's back-and-forth on a subject that clearly causes him no little anxiety.

He has no idea.

"Isn't that... bad for the equipment?"

The host huffs, exhaling a stream of blue-grey smoke. "Honestly? The week I've had, they can fuckin' blow me."

A pause of a few more seconds, the guest looking down at his hands, flexing fingers. "So...which part?" he asks, but he almost certainly already knows the answer. Stalling for time. Probably done a lot of that lately.

"The bit about the magic castle in the sky," and yes, the anger's coming through now, twisted sideways onto itself, transmuted into sarcasm. "The hell do you think? People getting infected and not going crazy. Living normal lives. Is that actually true? I mean..." He shifts, and there's a bright fierceness in his expression, all at once: the confidence of his radio persona is slithering back in. The way with words, too. "You just told all those people listening, worried people, people sick with fear, hanging on your every word like it's the only hope they have in the world, that their... mothers and brothers and children and friends will be all right. Will they?"

A long, long silence. Then, careful: "Who is it?"

It's hard to tell through the shifting haze of smoke, but he thinks that's almost a look of contrition on his guest's face; something approaching an apology. Too little, too late. Worthless. "Sister," he replies, tone clipped.

"I'm surprised you were willing to have me on."

Another shrug, still sharp-edged and stiff. "Best way to get into a room with you, get a straight answer."

Just a nod; the 'doctor' doesn't actually apologize, and he's glad for it. Might have ending up slugging him in the mouth if he'd tried. "For what it's worth, then... yes, I do believe it. That is the way it should work. Should, not necessarily will, there are so many variables, but..."

It's the wrong place to trail off, but neither moves to pick up the lagging end of the sentence; the guest shuffles to his feet, gathers his paperwork. Makes his way through the increasingly dense smoke cloud gathering in the tiny broadcast booth, out the door.

No one stops him.

*

[7d, 18:29:46]

*

"God Gary, don't..."

He ignores his wife's entreaties for what is likely the first time in the ten years of their marriage, sliding a pair of shells into the shotgun he'd brought out of basement storage when this all began. He's watching the light glint off of the casings and only the light, only that gold-white shimmer. He's not seeing the way the same light shines in the tears tracking along her cheekbones. He's not seeing the blood on his fingers, already starting to dry.

"Don't you dare!"

He is not seeing his eight-year-old son, rocking forward and back again on the floor in front of him, clutching his mangled arm to his chest.

"I swear to God, Gary..."

The radio said it was a virus. He's seen movies. He understands how this works.

"If you don't put that down..."

He looks up, snapping the barrel back into place. Shakes her grip off of the gun with a force he doesn't really intend. Pauses, and takes a hesitant step forward, on impulse, drops to one knee in front of the thing that used to be his son. Pushes a hand back through the loose brown hair. "Billy..." His voice breaks on the word. "...if you're still in there, I'm sorry. Daddy's sorry."

The head lifts, and he's already looking away, standing. He misses the look of fear and love warring across the boy's face, a familiarity that would have broken his resolve had he stayed a moment longer, wasted on his retreating back. The boy's mouth moves soundlessly. He may have been saying daddy, help me, or maybe i'm scared but in the next instant there's a struggle and a lot of shouting and then the report of the shotgun is echoing through the walls, and his wife is screaming like she's been eviscerated and there's a thudding of feet from upstairs and he's reaching for the box of shells to reload, something fractured and dangerous and completely disconnected settling in behind his eyes and he's being shoved, beaten, feet getting no purchase on the wooden floor, howling screams following him out the front door. The lock is slammed into place. Call the police, someone shouts.

Oh god, oh god, says another voice. He should recognize it, but a lot of things are fading.

Somewhere, through the wood paneling of the door, he hears words degenerate into a deep and endless sobbing. He distantly wonders what's happened. Looks down at the gun in one hand and the ammunition carton in the other; hears an inhuman wail from down the road and remembers why they're in his hands. It's dangerous out here.

Very dangerous.

The sobbing doesn't let up, and he wanders woodenly away from it. Dangerous, he keeps repeating in his head, playing with the sound of the word.

Dangerous.

In a few days' time, he will lift the shotgun to try, and fail, to take a second life. He will be left bleeding out in the alley, clutching his arm against his chest, rocking on his side, abandoned. Something will snap wide open in his brain, and the sobbing of the city, dripping down the bricks and gutters like syrup – the sobbing of a woman behind a door, mad with grief – will suddenly make all the sense it needs to.

The third life, even without the shotgun, he will take easily. It will be a hard target to miss.

*

[9d, 01:06:36]

*

After the kicks and punches and the bludgeons have gone on for some stretch of time, he no longer has any idea what's going on – doesn't feel much anymore, numbness spreading under his skin, drowning him. He thinks he might have a punctured lung – there's no blood to cough up but sucking in a breath to try to shout for help just about cripples him with pain, black haze licking at his vision. The blows keep coming. Shouts. There seems to be no beginning or end to anything anymore.

(...I'm so sorry, Annie... I hope you're all right...)

Distantly, the shouts seem to change in tone. They're less angry; more afraid. After a moment, they've transitioned into shouts of pain. Screams, if he’s honest with himself. He isn't being hit anymore, and that's only a bit of what he cares about– the rest is all wrapped up in a short brunette artist in an apartment two blocks from here whose face he can still just about picture through the fog, and whether she's made it through this nightmare alive and whole and even if she doesn't want him anymore, doesn't want a walking corpse haunting her life, that's fine, as long as she's alive and not hurt and...

Silence. The screams have stopped. There are two sets of footsteps coming towards him; he can feel them vibrating through the concrete under his cheek.

He opens his eyes. Can see the blood pooling in front of his nose, because it's nearby enough that he doesn't need the glasses shattered on the ground nearby to focus on it. It's not his; can't be. Must be from–

God, there's a lot of it.

The two figures crouch near him, but they're blurry and indistinct in the poor light, shifting between demons and avenging angels and ordinary people because hell, look what ordinary people managed to do to him tonight. It’s a disjointed thought: That there's no need for mythology anymore, not when there are enough frightened and desperate and angry people around. Most of his thoughts are disjointed at this point. He's retreating, and not much is getting through; not the blood, or the bodies – dead? unconscious? – littering the alley floor, until a hand settles on his shoulder and he startles, wild eyes and a scream half-trapped in his throat. A murmuring that gradually resolves itself into voices.

"...him… hospital. Really bad off."

"Lenox Hill is the closest."

"Right."

And he's being lifted, out of the blood and pain, and he's not especially heavy but he's no featherweight either and he doesn't think it should be so easy to just be scooped from the ground like a half-full sack of potatoes. Then there's motion, and it's too much, and he sinks down and down until there's nothing left to think or feel or say, just the black and the quiet.

When he wakes up – white sheets and white walls, sun streaming in the open hospital window, the itchy tug of stitches in his face and back and just about everywhere else that isn't utterly numb – Anne is sitting next to his bed, smiling and not smiling and brown eyes wet with an emotion he's too far gone to place– but her hand is warm around his.

*

[9d, 13:59:17]

*

He's been on shift now for way, way too long. That's the only thought making it through. He's an orderly– not a doctor, not a nurse, not being paid anywhere near enough for these kinds of hours. Or for these kinds of nightmares.

They've lost three today. Two went quietly in the early hours of the morning, and if he hadn't set up the oxygen tents himself he'd almost think they'd suffocated. He's no expert, sure, but it's kind of hard to end up with o2 stats that low in a tent – without a pillow over your face, that is. Maybe someone's taking nature's course out of nature's hands. It's not a pleasant thought. He'll need to keep his eyes out.

The last one though... well. He'll be cleaning up room 407 for a long while once he finally comes off of this unauthorized break. The blood will come up easily enough, from the floor. From the bed. The linens are probably a loss. The cabinets will need scrubbing. The ceiling tiles...

He doubts he's going to be able to scrub away the screaming, echoing dully just below the conscious noise floor, for a very long time. It was the single most horrible sound he's ever heard in his life, and he's heard a lot between those walls. They don't even scream like that when they've gone thrashing insane, chewing through their restraints, rushing at the broad windows with bloody murder and something horrific and starving in their eyes. He didn't know human vocal cords could scream like that.

He stubs out the cigarette against the brick wall. Time to get back in before he's missed. They never check this alley – most people smoke outside the entrance – but he knows he's needed in there, and injustice of triple shifts notwithstanding, he did take this job for a reason. He turns to head back when something peculiar catches his eye, and he stops to give it a second look.

There's a hollow in the pile of refuse and scrap next to the dumpster, a cleared away area about a foot on each side, almost perfectly square at the base. Obviously made deliberately. It's as if someone had been planning to put something there, hidden amongst the garbage– then decided against it, leaving the hole to collect wind and rainwater and curiosity.

He narrows his eyes for a moment, then shrugs dismissively and moves on.

*

[11d, 03:35:10]

*

"Christ, Macey, for the last time. Guy was not attacked by a zombie. Last I checked they tend to eat people, not mess them up like this."

She's got the man down on the stretcher, has brought all her weight to bear to keep him there while Jimmy works the straps, gets him secured in place. The guy's big and he's lost his shit completely, is flailing and screaming about zombies, nevermind that there isn't a tooth mark on him.

This is what she gets working the night shift on Saturdays, and in the worst part of town.

"I'm just telling you what he's telling me," she says, reaching for an oxygen mask from the wall of the ambulance. Outside, she can hear the siren start up, vibrating in through the walls.

He's babbling now as she brings the mask down, incoherent, and no wonder; most of the bones in his hands are broken and there's glass in his chest, in his face. "Didn't bleed," he mumbles, panic in every syllable. "No blood."

"Hate to tell you this, pal," Davis says, leaning over him to start cutting the fabric of his shirt away. "But you're bleeding like a stuck pig."

He flails again, fights, and Davis grabs him by one shoulder, Macey by the other. The words are incoherent again and she fights to get the mask in place, but he has time before she seals it down around his mouth and nose for three more words, forceful and desperate: "Not me. Him."

Macey spends a second processing this – has almost formed a thought, a conclusion, something that would make the story make sense–

Then Davis is asking for a syringe and a new pair of shears and Jimmy's losing his grip on the leg strap and her mind's back in the now, in the procedural, predictable chaos of her job, and whatever incredible supposition had been about to surface is gone.

*

[12d, 01:25:28]

*

Their duties aren't easy or safe - especially not now, but even before the outbreak there'd always been gang kids and drug dealers and convenience store robbers loaded up to the gills on PCP or crack cocaine – and they're anything but predictable, but this still suprises Steve, too long on the force to shock easily, as they arrive on scene.

Fuck, and to think he'd been just about to make detective before this thing blew open.

It's like interrupting feeding time at the monkey house. One by one, bloodied snarling faces just human enough to place the emotion behind them as aggression or hunger lift from the grotesque pile of flesh and bone. Eyes narrow. They snarl, a rising tone that gets louder as it's joined, until all of them are a second away from leaving their meal and coming after him and his colleagues instead. Thank god for Kevlar, and for truncheons and riot shields.

Then they're just animals, and it doesn't matter how almost-human they look as they're barreled into and beaten away, scattered howling into the night.

"What do you think happened?" asks the man nearest him, a rookie whose name he doesn't know yet, fresh out of the academy. Bet mommy and daddy didn't think he'd be fighting these kinds of odds when they watched him graduate. Maybe mommy and daddy are already dead.

Steve lights a cigarette, keeps a careful eye on the only one of the creatures that hasn't totally disappeared, still skulking nearby in the shadows of the entryway. It's a hospital, but no way this guy was a patient. He knows the landing pattern of a jumper when he sees one. "Fuck if I know. This guy look like he's gonna be telling us?"

"He's not even giving us a name," says Bourquin, another new guy on the squad but at least he's got some street time, some experience. He's poking at what's left of the body with his truncheon. "We'll be lucky if we get dental ID, poor bastard landed on his face."

There's some idle talk, and someone crouches to go through the dead man's pockets, looking for a driver's license, an ID card, anything. Steve watches the shadows still, through the shifting stream of his cigarette smoke.

"C'mere," he gestures to the rookie, and when he does, points into the darkness with the smoke. "See that fucker? Look at the way it's just watching us."

"Why doesn't it–"

"Knows it's outnumbered and outclassed," he says, taking a drag. "It's thinking. And that right there is some scary shit. I tell you, next person wanders by here alone is screwed."

The kid shifts from one foot to the other, unnerved by the way the shining eyes don't seem to blink. "Are we gonna do anything about it?"

The remainder of the cigarette arcs brightly through the air, right in the hiding monster's direction. "Can't stay here all night, and I don't know about you, but I'm not going into the shadows after it. Rule number one, kid."

And the rookie nods, swallows tightly, because he doesn't need it recited; it'd been drilled into their heads since the day this all started.

Don't try to be a hero, they'd said. You can't help anyone if you're dead.

*

[12d, 13:24:49]

*

They unload quickly – haven’t seen the actual vendors of this stall in a week and a half now, but their instructions are clear and the cash for the delivery is always on the counter when they arrive, perfectly counted out down to the penny. They wedge the stack of today’s edition into the wire rack with the ‘NF’ designation scrawled onto its tab in hazy pencil, pick up the stack of money marked with the same label. There are an array of them, fanned out on the counter: ‘NE’ and ‘GZT’ and ‘NYT’ and so on, and it’s a remarkable thing that they’re always there, untouched by the expectant and entitled hands of all of the welfare cheaters and handout-grubbers crawling through the city.

They don’t question. They’re being given a chance to keep dispensing truth to a city that, half the time, doesn’t want to hear it. People call them fascists, call them extremists, call them all sorts of things, but one thing they aren’t is completely stupid; they understand that this is a luxury, that truth doesn’t mean much when the choice between ‘starve to death’ or ‘be eaten alive trying to make it to the store’ is being made every minute of every day.

There’s someone coming up the street, quickly; straight towards the stand with purpose behind every step. It might be someone taking a chance, looking to buy a paper, reconnect with the world outside the city's quarantined borders. It might be a goddamned zombie. They don’t stick around long enough to find out.

*

[15d, 10:05:29]

*

This was supposed to be a vacation.

Take time off, they told her. Go somewhere you haven’t been. Wait, you live in New Brunswick and you’ve never been up to the city? Ever? What the hell. Seriously.

So she packed up some clothes and toiletries and her camera, and she drove up. Spent the day taking in the sights. The next day things went pretty horrifically wrong. It’s been a week, and the highways are closed, now – no one in or out. Quarantine lockdown. She doubts any of the people who live here even realize; it would never occur to them to try to leave, to run away. They’re standing and fighting. Or hiding. Lot of hiding going on.

She’s been hiding in her hotel room. She’s out of food, has been for a week, has been eating toothpaste and breath mints. There’s a churning in her head that probably has something to do with that. She needs… something. Can’t remember what.

…food, okay, right. Food. That isn't hard. The shortest path is straight across the park. Shortest, fastest. Fastest is good.

She's peeking around the door and calling the coast clear and running and running – and falling now, stumbling towards the bloodied ground. They'd come up on her so quickly, a coordinated pack, flanking and cutting her off and she has no idea how they’ve gotten so smart in only seven days. There’s a bright flash of light, somewhere to her right. At first she thinks: Police. Here. God, I have a chance.

But it’s the flash on her camera, so lovingly picked out last winter and carried with her everywhere since. She’d mashed the shutter button with her elbow. There are no police. There are no rescuers. There is only her, and her stupid camera, and the slinking creatures closing in, which means that in the end, there is nothing at all.

She has time for one last thought before they’re on her and pain pushes out any hope of coherency; she cradles the camera’s fall to the ground.

(Maybe someone will remember.)

*

[34d, 12:45:28]

*

They're ordered to resume pickups when the streets still reek like nothing he's encountered in fifteen years of sanitation work. They're issued filter masks, to cut the stink. Someone shouts from the back of the room, why not gas masks? and there is an answering whoop of laughter and encouragement.

Because, they're told, unpleasant as the smell of their dead neighbors may be, it isn't poisonous. That shuts the jokers up; there's really no one here who hasn't lost someone. It just makes it easier, to pretend to be above it.

It makes it no easier on the curbside, hauling black plastic bags into the truck, puzzling at the strange shape and weight of some of them. They've been told they don't have to touch the bodies that are stacking up in the gutters like roadkill, and he has no intention of going above and beyond, fuck no, not this close to retirement. He's not catching any horrible zombie diseases now, and those people can stay where they are until the hazmat guys decide to stop picking their noses and get involved. But if it's in a bag they haul it, and move on, and try not to think too hard about it. They're paid plenty well, but not well enough to go and let idle thoughts screw with them, fuck up their rhythm, conjure questions they don't have any answers for.

Goddamn but it stinks out here, and the summer's not anywhere close to over, but at least this house's put their cans out nice and neat, bags done up with zipties, nothing through the walls of plastic but empty tin cans and cereal boxes and the usual refuse. No sneakily hidden bodies, anyway.

Out of the corner of his eye, a shift of movement at the window, like a curtain pulled back a fraction to allow for a suspicious, watchful eye. Probably some old bag, worried he's going to steal her trashcans or roll them into the road to be hit by passing cars – never mind that there are no passing cars – or some other punk kids' tricks that they always get blamed for.

He sets the can carefully back on the curb and flips a mock-salute toward the window, because damned if he's going to be intimidated by the city's mundane weirdness now that they've all seen what crazy really is.

*

[57d, 21:09:53]

*

He watches the boy go through the remnants of daylight – and hell, he knows that's not really fair, calling him a boy; mid thirties easily, but that feels so young when the sun's bleeding into the horizon like this. Younger than his own son anyway, and he sighs. Got lucky, this one, has someone looking after him if the whispers are anything to go by.

Well, he reminds himself, leaning on the wobbly iron railing of the tenement stoop. Christopher's got someone looking after him too.

And it's almost dinner time, but he gives himself a moment to really feel the age in his bones, let it settle and rest there, allow it to ache in the way he usually ignores – heavy in the twist of one leg and the spots on his hands, in the way his head feels a few sizes too large for his neck. Only when the retreating figure, black against the sunset, drifts into that zone too close to the sky to look at without squinting does he turn to make his wobbling way up the stairs and into his apartment. He shuts the door behind him quickly, before the growling and spitting and the rattling noise of chains from one corner can reach outside.

"Oh, just hold yer horses," he says, crossing to the ancient fridge he'd found last year in the street – olive green and with a tendency to blow its circuit now and then but basically still functional. The snarls, inhuman and strange, follow him across the room, rise and fall as he opens the door, retrieves a cut of meat, carries it to a butchers' block on one counter.

"Lotta good that fancy law degree did you in the end, eh sport?"

Nothing but a hiss of hunger, and the sound of a knife at its work.

*

[117d, 16:29:29]

*

“Isn’t it kind of late in the season for cookouts?”

The deli supervisor looks up from his cash drawer, filing away the thick stack of bills that were handed to him a few minutes ago. “What?”

The kid is organizing cut blocks of cheese, trying to keep the most common requests within easiest reach. He jerks his head toward the door, the customer in question already nearly out of sight. “Order that big, gotta be some kinda weekend cookout thing, right? Only it’s pretty cold out.” Getting well into October, but he doesn’t say that; stating the obvious always gets him smacked in the ear and he’s already earned one with that ‘pretty cold out’ comment.

“Hm.” The cash drawer shuts with a metal-on-metal clang. Strangely, no smack in the ear seems forthcoming. “Dunno. That’s just his usual order. Every Saturday like clockwork. It is an awful lot to go through in a week.”

American or Swiss on top? He isn’t sure, and narrows his eyes thoughtfully. “You’d almost think he was…”

“Yeah, but he’s not. I mean, you saw him.”

“Yeah.”

Swiss, he decides, shuffling them around. Figures he’s pretty clever. The last kid they had in this job got fired for dropping the Gouda on the floor and then trying to slip it back into the stack.

The supervisor drums his fingers idly on the glass case, then turns to wrap what’s left of his weekly sirloin shipment, get it packed back into the coldcase.

“Maybe he just has a big family…”

A nod. “Probably, yeah.”

*

[142d, 10:49:17]

*

The tourists are the part of this no one expected. Singlets, couples, trendy young families with children too young to care; everyone wants to see the streets that'd been overrun with what may as well have been extras from a horror movie for all their visitors' detachment. Everyone wants to take pictures next to the memorial in the park. Everyone wants to see ground zero, the research lab and the sidewalks around it that claimed all the outbreak's first victims.

More than that, people want to see them, the ones who survived – the walking ghouls that prove the city's legendary willingness to accept any huddled masses, no matter how strange.

She's aware enough of these things to be self-conscious as she fingers her camera; averse enough to the idea of simple tourism to avoid the usual sites, to stalk down the alleys and back roads in search of something that... well, she isn't sure. Something that will capture the horror these people endured in a way that isn't sanitized and prepackaged. Something that isn't meant for outsiders. Something real.

Stepping out of the mouth of the alley into a residential block, she finally finds it, after three day's searching: one of the elusive carriers, right in front of her, talking carefully with a corner newsvendor – pale and ugly and every inch the bizarrely human monster she's expecting. He has a picket sign over one shoulder and is counting change out of his pocket one-handed; the hand is a corpse's hand and the face is a corpse's face and even at this distance she can see all the clean bloodless wounds, unhealing, held together with thread. It's too much, too close, and she can't bring herself to reach for her camera.

Instead, she watches, as he hands the vendor the change and the vendor hands him a pair of newspapers, takes a moment to clap him on the shoulder and mumble something encouraging. The zombie – because that's what he is, isn't it? – seems uncomfortable at the touch, shifts out from under it. Turns and heads back in the other direction, and it isn't a picket sign, and now she does pick the camera up–

–because really, who has more right to declare that the end is nigh than someone who's seen it, who's heard its bloody screams, who's felt the apocalypse spinning through their skin, shuddering up through their bones? Who has more right to proclaim doom than those who really know what the word means, in all its horrible breadth and depth?

*

[183d, 1:35:37]

*

"How are you doing?" she asks, because he's hunkered into his coat and under hers and the air's just shy of freezing, and her arm around his shoulder helps a little but not really enough. Middle of December and he decides to go traipsing out into the park at midnight, and it was stupid, but she's been indulging his whims pretty indiscriminately lately, ever since–

A cough of breath, the sound of hands chafing together. "I'm okay," he finally says. "Have you to keep me warm, right? Better off than some people."

Across the broad expanse of grass, there's a lone figure navigating the concrete path, aimless but it's a purposeful aimlessness. Trying to get lost. Whoever he is, the wanderer is the picture of winter desolation, and Annie elbows him under the shared coat. "Don't start acting superior at others' expense, now."

"I'm not, just... I'm lucky to still have you, you know? Makes my head spin sometimes, just how lucky. Most people got abandoned." He nods at the man, where he's stopped to run his hand over the low-hanging branch of a barren tree. "For example."

"How do you know he's..."

He snuggles in under the coat, tucking his head under her chin and the arrangement's pretty amazing because he's got easily eight inches on her. "Hard to explain. Just the way people carry themselves in the cold, you can tell."

She brings one hand up to tug at his far shoulder, pull him closer in. Watches the figure in his long coat and hat, in his utter normality. Watches the way his face, obscured in shadow, sweeps up to follow the branches and on to the stars beyond them.

"Well," she says, voice pitched low. "You're wrong about the last bit at least."

"Yeah?"

She nods, taking a cold hand between hers. "He's got someone to go home to."

A happy sigh at the warmth, and then he picks his head up, narrows his eyes. "How can you tell?"

"I don't know," she says, digging her chin into the crown of his hair. He's shaking. "I just can. Hey, you had enough?"

He nods, jogging her head up and down with it. "Yeah."

So they gather themselves up and she keeps her coat thrown over both of them, and the starlight makes his face glow almost white but she's gotten used to it, doesn't even notice it anymore.

Out on the path, the man shuffles his hands into his pockets, gives the brilliantly clear winter sky another glance before heading on his way.

Just like them, he's going home.

*

Comments

( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
marie_phantom
Apr. 5th, 2010 12:02 am (UTC)
This is so great. I mean, now we can see the troubles through the eyes of other people, people who we don't even know, and yet we still see the lives of our favourite couple as well. The person walking to the news stand (Dan), the photograph that Rorschach has to remind him f what he is not, and the bit that really had me chocking was the bit when the man notices the cleared space next to the dumpster, because it was so close, and we could have lost Rorschach. Seriously, this universe just keeps growing and growing, and it is so new and wonderful that I am happy whenever I see something from you. Keep writing!
etherati
Apr. 5th, 2010 03:30 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's the moment where the story came closest to tragedy. Thankfully he thought better of it, but yeah. :(

Thanks!
sepulchre_angel
Apr. 5th, 2010 02:44 am (UTC)
Oh man. This was... like, beyond awesome. I'm always interested in z!verse and this collection of stories made me all kinds of happy. I loved being able to go "HI DAN. HI RORSCHACH." every so often and I loved going through the whole disaster over again in a new light. Like, I could kind of superimpose this with the original story and it just makes both more fuller, richer stories. XD The last little story got me and I kind of just wanted to hug Rorschach and the other couple. Lol. Sooo happy. XD good job once again! :D
etherati
Apr. 5th, 2010 03:29 pm (UTC)
That's exactly the idea - that now you know these people's stories and what's really going on with them, and it makes the casual one-off encounters and mentions in the main story have more to them. I'm so glad that worked like it was supposed to. :D Thank you!
tuff_ghost
Apr. 5th, 2010 03:49 am (UTC)
I didn't know what to expect with this story, but halfway through I was really enjoying reading it, and by the end I was totally invested. I felt re-immersed in the atmosphere of NAB too, the scariness and the mystery, plus the way the sweet h/c stuff came quietly and incrementally like it did with Dan and Ror.
etherati
Apr. 5th, 2010 03:27 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad, <3

That's part of why I wanted to get it posted yesterday, because I feel like it does invoke some of the same atmosphere.
book_of_sail
Apr. 5th, 2010 05:04 am (UTC)
Definitely awesome~! Zombieverse is flipping brilliant already, so naturally it can hold it's own without the narrative tailing Dan and Rory. :3
I love seeing familiar scenes from some other person's point of veiw~ And the new stuff as well! I also kind of liked that when Dan or Rory did happen to show up, you didn't just out and say so. It was just some guy, and there just happened to be enough information there to pick out that it was probably one of them. Kept to the theme nicely like that.
This was a lovely thing to have just before bed. One can only hope it has some heavy amount of influence on my soon-to-be-sleeping brain. :)
etherati
Apr. 5th, 2010 03:26 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you think it stands on its own okay. And yeah, I wanted to work them in here and there, and you can always tell it's them but to the people seeing them they're not anybody special, so...

feather_qwill
Apr. 5th, 2010 08:32 am (UTC)
Wow. Seriously amazing, I love the scope and the intensity of it, and the way you wove bits of the main story into the background of these stories. Also, the way you brought it all to a close, coming back to the man from the alley. And that everyone is nameless except Anne. Just . . . awesome work.
etherati
Apr. 5th, 2010 03:25 pm (UTC)
Not everyone, there's a few other names, but not too many, no. :) Thank you! I wanted to illustrate all the points of intersection between Dan and Ror's story and the stories of all the other people they encountered, but I had no idea if that'd be interesting at all. XD
steals_thyme
Apr. 5th, 2010 05:57 pm (UTC)
Happy birthday, Zombieverse; here's to many more!

I love this, eth. I know we've seen other characters on the periphery and in ficlets here and there, but this really yanks me from the insular little world of Dan and Ror, and zooms right the hell out so I can see the scale of things and how it impacted everyone.

This and NaB work beautifully as individual fics, but put them together and they become something greater than their parts. There's so much depth and texture I want to reach out and touch <3

etherati
Apr. 5th, 2010 06:48 pm (UTC)
And I started it waaaaay back then with exactly that intent: that they would supplement each other and each would enhance the reading of the other. But then I sat on it. Forever. D: FAIIILLLL.

But yeah I was feeling like it'd gotten too insular, like 'zombie apocalypse? what zombie apocalypse?' and i'm so happy to see that people are interested in reading this and that it's not just horribly boring.

<3


mad_bertha
Apr. 6th, 2010 10:04 am (UTC)
Oh man, I first read NAB when it was fully posted up and I raced through it, I was so driven to read it to the end. I'm grateful to you for posting this up, because, after I read it the first time, it made me go back to NAB and savour the writing, the story, how the shift away from the outcome of the Roche case (Ror's breakdown) was developed so naturally, it seems inevitable. I forgot far too much of it too, so it was a rediscovery for me :)

I then came back to THIS again and it's lovely how they can be read back to back and work so well together. I particularly loved the old man and his lawyer son. The poor girl whose photo plays such an important role for Ror... and yes, the times Dan or Ror pop up :). I particularly love the ending, with the winter night sky, the couple and Ror--it kind of drives home how the fear, the redemption and the new solidity of Ror/Dan's relationship was echoed around them (along with the not so great discoveries, ouch with Gary). This fic takes it beyond them into the world around them, it plays with a cast of OCs and yet you retain the connections seamlessly with Dan/Ror.

So many many layers and my mind is blown.

(Anonymous)
Jun. 23rd, 2010 01:14 am (UTC)
Can I just say how much I love the old guy and his son? Just the whole horrifying, fascinating concept of keeping a blood-thirsty man-eating creature in the corner of your shitty apartment, who used to be your son, no less- *brain asplodes* (It reminds me of the ending for Shaun of the Dead, where the protagonist keeps his zombified best friend in his shed.) It honestly felt like a little peek into someone else's story - someone who's just as interesting as our initially designated heroes (D&R). Every single one of the snippets feels as though they could be spun into full-fledged novel, because every character is just so rich and believable and...yeah.

This fic is amazing.
etherati
Jun. 23rd, 2010 04:40 pm (UTC)
Wow, thanks! I tend to really enjoy writing OCs as sort of background texture - not so much just robots for the main characters to interact with to advance the plot, but as pieces of the big picture that suggest more going on than I usually have space to go into. For NaB in particular I really felt like a lot of these random characters needed exploring and to have their stories told too, though I didn't expect many people to find it that interesting haha.

(And yes, it was a sort of a nod to Shaun, though obvs in a less funny and more sad kind of way)

Thank you so much though, I always worry about OCs and how worthwhile it is to spend time on them; comments like these make me feel better about giving them a little spotlight time. :D
hohaiyee
Jun. 25th, 2010 11:23 pm (UTC)
re: Perspectives
It's like interrupting feeding time at the monkey house.

This got me to whimper/squeal in a not even remotely fun way, yikes! I can just, see them, white faced, teeth crooked and exposed, couched on their fours to eat at the bloody mess. I hope we never get zombie monkeys, monkeys can climb!

"It's thinking. And that right there is some scary shit.

I think if we ever get thinking zombies like Marvel Zombies, my not-survival plan involve wine cellar orgy drinking to death. You just can't win when you get Zombies on the murkip fucking helicarrier!

I actually have a rule about nevvvvaaar watching zombie movies again after dawn of the dead remake kept me up for weeks, but wow, fiction is also scary.


The man with the son with the lawyer degree...oh, what a follow up!


...and Dan should really pick out several grocers and alternate, to avoid suspicions.
etherati
Jun. 27th, 2010 03:40 pm (UTC)
Re: Perspectives
It's not like it's illegal to be a carrier or to house one, so he doesn't really have to worry about it.

Yet.

*shiftyeyes*

Anyway, yeah, zombies that think well enough to fly helicopters I think I would be taking the drink yourself to death route too, crap.

Thanks!
onlyitwasspring
Aug. 28th, 2011 01:58 am (UTC)
This is brilliant. I'm amazed at the universe you've created here -- you've just taken these random few extras we've seen and given them whole lives. I've been reading your work for a while, but I'm a lurker by nature, so I've never commented before. I figured I should finally drop in and tell you, though, that you are probably my favourite fanfiction author out there. Your writing's just incredible and has so much more of an emotional impact than most everything else I've read. Plus, the fact that you quote Eliot poems periodically just makes you even more awesome :)
oh_viz
Feb. 17th, 2012 03:24 am (UTC)
This is absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking. I almost can't bear to stop to make this comment, I love this series so much.
( 19 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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