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FIC: All Souls

Title: All Souls
Fandom: Watchmen
Characters/Pairings: Z!Rorschach, Dan
Date Written: 2010
Summary: Is death an end or just a middle? Is the middle a good place to be?
Rating/Warnings: PG.
Notes:  For mad_bertha  , my loooong overdue help_haiti fic. In my defense, I promised 1000 words, and this is nearly 3000. Request was for something spiritual set in Z!verse, and this was what I came up with, by smashing my messed up ideas about death together with all the weirdness left over from being raised catholic, as I figure Walter was as well. Heh.

*

They're sitting across the width of Daniel's bed, diagrams and notes spread between them. The heat's out downstairs due to a freakish early ice storm, and the kitchen's intolerable and the basement worse. This is the only compromise that made sense, and they have to keep working. The city's gangs won't catch themselves, and neither will they ever stop coming.

It's harder to take notes down properly without a flat surface; Rorschach's already punched a hole through the sheets with his pen more than once, and everything's caught up in a looseness of line that's artificial, forced into a child's scribbling hand that conjures ideas of possession, automatic writing, spirits in the flesh.

Their current mark is, to all reports, a superstitious man. It's possible it's rubbing off on him.

"Pays a lot of attention to 'omens'," Daniel says, and he shapes the word that way, like something fake and relabeled, bootlegged to be sold on a street corner to the gullible and unwary. He raises an eyebrow significantly. "Especially ones involving death."

Rorschach frowns through his irritation, the tip of his pen punching through the sheet yet again. Looks up. "Stupid."

"Everyone's got a weakness, I guess."

The pen is capped with a motion bordering on violence. "Wonder how he'd respond to a body dropped in front of him."

A glance up. "What, like a black cat crossing your path?"

"Nnk. Deader. Also substantially larger."

Daniel laughs, and Rorschach can tell by the faraway look in his eyes that he's picturing exactly that. "That'd probably send him screaming right into our hands. Shame you can't just check corpses out of the morgue for the weekend."

A pause then, as Daniel goes back to reading through the stack of notes he's been assigned. Rorschach can tell that he's already dismissed it, as a joke or a tactical impossibility.

"Don't need to," Rorschach says after a moment, and he finally gives up on the loose sheets, pulls a thin book out of the folds of his coat. Props it open on one knee and starts jotting things down in it: location, MO, a quickly sketched map. The spine is stiff and new, is fighting him like his old one never did.

"Oh, hey," Daniel says, looking up, distracted. "Haven't seen that in a while."

"Lost the old one during the outbreak. I haven't had a chance to replace it until now."

"Fair enough," and Rorschach can feel Daniel looking at him oddly, balancing questions he knows perfectly well he'll never ask. The best hope is that it was destroyed, torn to pieces in mad fury or scooped up as garbage and incinerated, and the weight of that – and that it might have fallen into enemy hands instead – is just this side of uncomfortable.

So, the practical. Daniel shifts, stretching one leg out from under him. "What do you mean, we don't need to?"

Rorschach looks up from the journal, meeting that strange look with a critical stare. Surely Daniel can't have missed the obvious, can't be blind to what is literally staring him in the face.

"What?"

Rorschach doesn't reply; just lets one corner of his mouth crook upward the tiniest bit.

Daniel's mouth falls open. "Oh. Oh. You're talking about–"

"Easier cleanup, anyway."

The wheels are turning, faster now. Daniel sets the papers aside. "How well can you fake that?"

"One way to find out."

*

There's no warning – Rorschach just collapses onto the bed with a suddenness that makes Dan jump and a finality convincing enough to make his heart beat high to match.

Stillness, on both their parts, for a good thirty seconds.

The part of Dan that understands biology and psychology realizes that there are probably cues here, things he should be picking up on without realizing it. Sub-motor twitch of muscles, or a single pulse under the skin, shallow and slow, there and gone again. But he's not really registering them; against the stillness of Rorschach's chest and the breath-constricting memory it stirs, they're just noise, just nothing.

He's on his side, exactly as he fell. It'll only make the tableau worse, but Dan still reaches out and takes him by the shoulder, rolls him onto his back. Lets his fingers drag over fabric as they pull away, subconsciously seeking heat even though he knows there's nothing to find.

His eyes are closed. He is loose-limbed. Both are wrong, should break the illusion, but it isn't the idea of the hours-dead and stiffened and gone that's spooking him. For all that it's the wrong time of year entirely, wrong time of day, wrong light, it's still far too easy to imagine himself back in that bleak summer morning, hunched in the guest room, feeling the slow roll of breath and heartbeat wind down to a stop under his hands.

Dan moistens his lips. He knows what that place was, knows all the dimensions of it, can consciously refuse to be there. Thought over emotion. "Rorschach?"

Nothing.

A sharp laugh, bereft of humor. "Okay man, that's enough. You're good, I get it."

Still nothing, but that's not quite right. More of an absence. He's utterly still, the lines of his face slack and nerveless, eyelids not betraying any movement beneath them. He looks carved of filthy, low-grade marble, run through with blue and black veins, and as empty as any stone.

Emptied out, like-

"Rorschach?" Dan asks again, and the question's more earnest than it should be. The hand's back on his shoulder and he jostles it, rocking Rorschach's head limply against the sheets. No response to that either, and Dan slides his hands up into the hollow of Rorschach's throat, pressing in for a pulse even as he pretends they're doing no such thing. "Come on, this isn't as funny as you think it is," he says, and theres a faint, shrill edge of panic in it against all his efforts. His hands are shaking against the cool skin, and it is a goddamned joke, Rorschach's notoriously morbid sense of humor, but his hands are shaking anyway and–

Rorschach blinks his eyes open, comes back all at once. Reaches up to gingerly peel Dan's hands from his throat, and there's a long moment of silence, Dan drinking in the sight of those nightmarish eyes finding their focus again.

"Convincing enough?" Rorschach asks, still flat on his back.

A shuddery breath is the only response, and Rorschach's brow creases, suspicious. "Too convincing?"

Dan rubs a hand over his face, pushes it back through his hair. Shakes his head, dismissing the idea. "No, you need to tighten up more, you were too loose. And your eyes should have been open."

Rorschach frowns, propping himself up on his elbows. He lets the obvious lie go, and Dan's grateful. "Eyes would give the act away," he says, and he's right; too luminous and strange by far, anyone would know what he was in an instant, would know he was probably faking it.

Dan had known he was faking it. It'd been little guard against imagination. "Yeah okay, fair point," he says, halfhearted, pushing to his feet and heading unsteadily for the door.

*

It's an hour before Rorschach appears in the kitchen entryway, and Dan's one cup of coffee has long since gone cold. He's stirring it idly with a fingertip, drawing paths down the ceramic of the mug with the lukewarm brown sludge, and there's something apologetic in Rorschach's posture as he ghosts under the doorframe.

Dan traces with the coffee, following the contoured lines on the mug's design.

"Didn't..." Rorschach starts, then trails off.

Mug set aside with a sigh, Dan runs his tongue over his teeth. "I know."

"Wasn't my intention–"

"I know," Dan interrupts, lifting his eyes sharply. "It was just me being stupid, you didn't do anything wrong."

Rorschach doesn't look convinced – and Dan's been there, that fucked-up feeling of knowing you owe an apology but not even sure what for or why – and steps over to the coffee maker to pour a fresh cup and a half. Sets the full mug in front of Dan, silently, and sits down to nurse his own against the deep freeze of the kitchen. He won't pry, he never pries; just hangs on the periphery, expecting that Dan will eventually spill out all his disjointed fears and concerns and issues like a babbling, too trusting child. There's a strange blend of condescension and gratitude in the knowing, and he is usually right.

Dan doesn't want him to be right this time, and he's about to dig in his heels and metaphorically sew his lips shut when he looks at the fresh mug in his hand – takes in the chipped rim, the flea market sticker still stuck to it, the brilliantly bright pink cartoon owl motif swept around its sides. He didn't buy this monstrosity, would never buy it, has never seen it before, but he has a fair idea how it came to live in his cupboard.

"Very funny," he says, taking a sip.

"Thought you'd appreciate it."

A short laugh into the coffee, and Dan feels his resolve slipping, thrown just far enough off guard by the absurdity in his hand and honestly, Rorschach probably did that on purpose. There are times he regrets how perceptive his partner's gotten, lately.

The clock over the stove counts the seconds out evenly, smiling time from its fat belly, endless seconds and minutes and hours with no concept of them ever running out, running down.

"You were dead," Dan blurts out suddenly, eyes closed in the steam from the mug. "Before you came back."

He doesn't see the reaction, but he does hear Rorschach's coffee mug hit the tabletop a little too hard. Then, nothing. It's going to be on Dan to continue this, now that he's started it, and the thought makes him want to laugh a little, to let it bubble up and choke him.

Instead, he sets his own mug down, opens his eyes. Rorschach's are fixed intently on his, unblinking. "I was there, with you, when it happened. Thought that was the end of it, but I just..." Dan ducks his head, licks his lips. "I couldn't give up on you, you know? So I just sat there. Until you came back."

"...how long?"

Dan shakes his head, and when he tries to pick the mug up, the heat of the ceramic feels like a brand. "I don't remember, man. Five minutes? Ten? Should've been too long, but I guess it was some kind of controlled system restart, I have no idea." He looks up again, eyes asking for understanding. "I lost track of time a little, you know?"

Rorschach nods, carefully. Picks up his mug, takes a sip. "Understandable, under the circumstances."

"Does it matter?"

"Don't..." A vaguely frustrated noise punctuates the pause. "Don't like the idea of having died, but it's apparently not as painful as I had expected."

"Guess not," Dan says, tapping one finger over the rim of his mug. "If you don't even remember."

A long silence, and it's eventually too much, and Dan gets up from the table, carries his mug to the window over the sink. Pulls back the curtain to let the cold sunlight in.

"...you've seen the movies," Rorschach says, distaste for the genre wrapped into his tone. "Is that what happens to make them monsters? They die and come back?"

"They don't come back for real," Dan says, and turns back to face the table, leaning on the counter. "Reanimating's not the same as coming back. Anyway, they're just movies, they don't have anything to do with this."

Rorschach tilts his coffee mug, looking in at the half-cup he's allowed speculatively. Half a cup but not a whole one. Meat but nothing else. Clothes, a warm bed, sanity and morality and self, but not continuity – no ability to say he's the same person he was, because for five or ten minutes, that person hadn't existed.

"Suppose not," he finally says, draining the cup in one shot and heading back upstairs before the cold down here freezes him, sticks him in place, in this middle ground where everything is a tighter balance than even the peaked run of rooftops at midnight.

*

The bust goes just like they expect it to, the man's fearful ideas about death and its meaning sending him to run in mindless terror from the spot where Rorschach had dropped himself a half hour earlier. They'd done a convincing job with the makeup and clothes, frozen pig blood from a foreign market and a dull razorblade doing most of the work. It's a little eerie to stand next to him now, as they watch the police push the man into the back of the cruiser from their place in the shadows. The blood reeks, but that was the point. Realism.

"Satisfied?" Rorschach asks, and for once he's the impatient one, willing to trust the rest is taken care of rather than stay behind and make sure. "Would like to clean up, if possible."

And get out of his civvies, Dan figures. It's a liability to be publically associated with a vigilante operation in his street face, and only the dried smears of blood are acting as a mask right now.

"Yeah, okay," Dan says, grinning down at him. "You stink to high hell anyway."

"Apologies if death is offensive to your sensibilities," and it's deadpan but it's still a joke, so Dan laughs.

"You don't smell like death, man. You smell like a slaughterhouse. There is actually a difference."

"Not to the pig, I'd imagine."

"Fair enough."

The police are only at one end of this cut-through, mumbling about Halloween being over, pal, and where do these crazies come from, seriously now? So they head for the other end, sticking to the shadows. Archie's two blocks away, and it should be an easy walk, even with Rorschach looking like more of a nightmare creature than usual.

Then they turn a corner, and the road's blocked – not with cones or pylons or rigged up fencing, but with bodies, moving together to spill over the concrete. They're chanting, dressed in white, holding candles and strings of beads and metal balls that are burning something, letting off a fragrant smoke. Incense, Dan thinks, but that's all the sense he can make of it as they both stumble to a halt.

The moment is surreal – caught here between one moon and the next, the sky's endless blackness twisting through bloodstained trees and the season's decorations like some impossible, inverted light through stained glass.

For all the time he's spent living here, Dan barely knows his own traditions, much less the strange Catholic ritualisms of the Irish and Italians and Greeks, mother-figures wreathed in gold, words thick and syrupy for the Latin they're wrapped in. They seep up from the street, rolling, hypnotic, foreign. Incomprehensible.

So he asks, voice quiet. "What are they doing?"

"All Souls' Day," Rorschach says after a moment's hesitation, and his voice sounds like memory, a quiet shuffling around and reaching out for old, buried things, things that have gone soft in long storage. "Honoring those who've died but not... made it all the way yet. Stuck in the middle."

"I don't remember ever seeing this before, do they usually–"

"No," Rorschach says, shaking his head for emphasis, and now Dan sees what his partner must have recognized right away: almost everyone in the train of bodies is as dead-pale as Rorschach, moving with the same predator's grace even in their dedication, and why wouldn't the city's not-quite-living and not-quite-dead take a holiday like this as their own? Who else knows more about being stuck in the middle?

"This is new," he continues after a moment. "Usually only celebrated behind closed doors. Prayer for loved ones in purgatory."

"Does that do any good?"

Rorschach glances over at him, and in the warm candlelight from the passing procession, he almost looks alive again. "The theory is that they committed small sins. Didn't murder, or fall to lust. Just small things that can be... petitioned."

Murder. Lust. Dan remembers, vividly and all at once, the moment when the 12th story air had hit his face and Rorschach had pushed, deliberately sending a life to its end for the first and only time. He gets it – he understands why murder would jump to mind. But he wonders at the way Rorschach's voice breaks over the last part, because there are so many other sins he could have picked from than just murder and lust.

The way he'd responded to Dan's hands on him the other night, splayed across Dan's bed like he belonged there and how many nights has he spent there, just carefully out of range of whatever imaginary line he thinks he's in danger of crossing–

Dan shakes his head, to clear it. "Do you still believe all of that?"

At the head of the procession, one candle lights another and the flame moves, roving through the crowd, growing brighter. The ancient words hang around them, drip from the candles with all the white spots of wax.

"No," Rorschach says after a moment, hands shuffling to his pockets and there's no ironic self-deception there – it's just the truth, edged with a wish that it weren't. "Simplistic, childish. We've seen too much. If children's stories really dictated the way the world works..."

Children wouldn't die, Dan completes the thought on his own, no more able to speak it aloud than Rorschach is.

So he just nods, and doesn't say a word when they linger for a moment more regardless, watching the cloud of sweet-rot incense curl its innocent and empty promises against the darkening sky.

*

Comments

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
marie_phantom
Apr. 5th, 2010 07:54 pm (UTC)
It's funny how strange a story like this makes me feel. As a fellow Catholic, I too have strange notions about life and death, although I do not believe in Purgatory, because a benevolent God wouldn't let someone suffer in pain. Rorschach, caught in the middle and yet somehow alive, is the perfect balance of this, and he is not suffering. He is with Dan, and he did come back, but as someone different, someone who accepts the things the old Rorschach pushed away. Somehow, death changed him, and the celebration for me of All Souls Day is not praying for those in Purgatory, but celebrating lives. This story captures that, because Rorschach, for all intents and purposes is alive, and he knows it.
On a happier not, I love the line about Rorschach wanting to take a bath, because again, Old Rorschach would never have conceded to that!
etherati
Apr. 5th, 2010 08:06 pm (UTC)
and the celebration for me of All Souls Day is not praying for those in Purgatory, but celebrating lives.

That's very much what it should be, imo, but when I still did this stuff it was all very fire and brimstone, I think my parents' church was kind of hardcore and old fashioned and scary XD I don't follow it anymore, so it may have changed, but this is just what I remember.

He's definitely different, though I dono if I'd say dying did it - I think the careful trust he's been building with Dan has more to do with it, though going through that kind of trauma, even if you're not consciously aware of it, could definitely lead a person to want to seize what they have. I think it's a lot of factors. :)
marie_phantom
Apr. 5th, 2010 08:45 pm (UTC)
My understanding of Catholicism is that God is benevolent and loves us all. No offence, but fire and brimstone of Old Testament, and something I don't agree with. We should celebrate God, and I hope by saying this I come across as not a Bible basher, because I am a Catholic, although a slightly lapsed one. This story is to me about life, and it is beautiful. I love this series ( and I cannot tell you how relieved I am that the owlbbs was an April Fools!)
cousinmary
Apr. 5th, 2010 10:44 pm (UTC)
If children's stories really dictated the way the world works..." Children wouldn't die

Wow, what a line!

Great story, really brings across that lingering I-don't-believe-but character of someone raised Catholic who knows all the stories (I'd fall in that category btw) Anyway, yeah, this rang true for me, at least the second part. The guy with the death omens wasn't really up to the grand level you reached by the end, but Dan's reaction to Rorschach's "death" was amazing. So... yeah, I loved all of this except the actual plot ;-) Great work!
etherati
Apr. 6th, 2010 12:31 am (UTC)
Pffff, plot. XD The whole point of the 'plot' as such was to get to the other stuff, and I'm really glad that other stuff worked for you, especially the feel of being in that position - even when you don't believe anymore, a lot of it stays under your skin anyway.

So, yeah, thanks!
mad_bertha
Apr. 6th, 2010 02:47 am (UTC)
THAAAANK YOOOOOOOOOOUUUU!

This is EXACTLY what I was hoping for! The best fill is one that not only touches all bases but still surprises, and you've done it!

It's not easy to get Rorschach to come to the party and talk about intimate things, and this achieves that well. The plot, for instance, forms a great lulzy backdrop and offsets the srs issues that are really what this fic is about. I chortled at the idea of Rorschach in his civvies, pretending to be dead in plain sight of their prey, such a contrast to his normal modus operandi (sneak, hide, ambush and bash). Yet, the suspect's superstitions are an apt launching off point for the spiritual issues that (I think) have been dying for some sort of address. And then you have Dan and Ror talking about it in a way that is very plausibly oblique--PERFECT, exactly how I think they would do it too.

I love the choice of All Souls Day for the final resolution of the question of Z!ror's religious stance! Absolutely--the beliefs underpinning the event, and, in the GN verse, that's when Rorschach dies. It's made me contemplate how different zombie ror and gn ror are--they're from the same mold, but they went different paths. GN Ror is so confused, he says there is no God, we've made our own hell, but then he talks about the final judgement in his journal...

And yet Zror here is also not completely sure, which I like very very much. And I like that Dan realises that this residual belief is also working against their relationship.

In a way, I don't think it would have mattered to me which way ZRor's beliefs fell, I knew that you would arrive at the most fitting perspective and wanted to see it come to light.

My favourite line? THIS: "watching the cloud of sweet-rot incense curl its innocent and empty promises against the darkening sky."

[added, because, yes, I'm rereading it again] The little details also make this fic, the way they are so familiar with each other, some things are left unsaid, or they communicate in non-verbal ways. The owl mug made me smile, especially Dan knowing that it's Ror's way of getting Dan to relax his guard...

Thank you so much for this, it was worth the wait!



Edited at 2010-04-06 05:44 am (UTC)
etherati
Apr. 19th, 2010 04:23 pm (UTC)
LONG COMMENT IS LONG.

I have been really intimidated about replying to this, but lemme try:

I'm glad the obliqueness of the conversation suited them. It didn't seem like something that would come up normally, it would have to be couched in something else. My take on the actual religion bits is that he did go through Roche and does still harbor some of the 'no sane god would allow this' that his canon self had, but without some of the crazier, more dissociative bents. I think he's unsure, yes, and he'd like to go back to believing but can't find it in himself anymore.

The nonverbal stuff is my favorite part of their interactions in this verse, yes :D

And more than anything, I'm just glad you're happy with it :3
mad_bertha
Apr. 19th, 2010 04:37 pm (UTC)
I HAVE DISCOVERED MY TALENT. Leaving intimidatingly long comments! *fistpump* YESH!
streetcake
Apr. 6th, 2010 04:25 am (UTC)
I'm protestant so I don't know anything about Roman Catholic rituals, and it's really interesting to hear about them, especially the way the other zombie victims incorporated it towards their situation. Which is also interesting in the sense that in Catholicism, zombies are like living in purgatory on earth, which makes me think about how they would be interpreted in other religions. I think there's some stuff that talks about the living dead in Buddhism or some eastern religion...but anyway, about the fic-

Rorschach looks up from the journal, meeting that strange look with a critical stare. Surely Daniel can't have missed the obvious, can't be blind to what is literally staring him in the face.

It's all kinds of cute and sweet at how used Dan is to Rorschach being a zombie! XD I agree with Rorschach: how do you stop noticing something like that? Oh Dan.
etherati
Apr. 19th, 2010 04:17 pm (UTC)
I should look into the Buddhism angle, I'm curious what they have to say about zomborz. XD

Dan just... he tends to look at a person and see the person, not so much the skin they're trapped in. It's part of why I love him in this verse so much :D
sepulchre_angel
Apr. 6th, 2010 06:03 am (UTC)
Oh man. So the theology thing has already been mostly covered and, as beautiful as it was to a Catholic, I can't really elaborate further on the point. what really got me is that somehow, I didn't know that Rorschach actually died in NaB before he was zombiefied. That actually freaked me out a little bit. And then, for some reason, I was almost as freaked out as DAn. Awesome work!! Superbeautiful. My computer is going to shut down somehow, so I must conclude. Thanks for this!
etherati
Apr. 19th, 2010 04:15 pm (UTC)
It wasn't written explicitly in NaB - I didn't want to weigh the narrative down too much and had a feeling I was going to address it later and then never did - so no surprise that you didn't know. That's the point of supplemental materials, yes? :D

It wasn't really that he died the same way they do in movies, permanently or due to irrecoverable injuries - it was the virus doing, like Dan said, a controlled system restart, and there was nothing structurally wrong with him that would preclude him living - but it's going to bug him a little. And it certainly upset Dan at the time, who'd been watching the steady decline for three days with more and more helpless panic :(
sepulchre_angel
Apr. 20th, 2010 03:19 am (UTC)
I figured. Just the image of Dan, not really knowing what was going on, watching this system restart and not knowing if Rorschach was ever going to wake up or if that was it or what. It's a really powerful thought for this 'verse. Also: YAY supplemental materials!! XD
etherati
Apr. 20th, 2010 04:24 am (UTC)
If you'd like to read the scenes written out, kovacsisdead has done a great job of handling it from both POVs, Dan's here (scroll down to 'Ebb') and Rorschach's here. These were the pieces that encouraged me to finally have them tackle it out loud. :D
findmyantidrug
Apr. 6th, 2010 08:28 am (UTC)
One of my favorite things of Z!Verse is how many unspoken things there are between Dan and Rorschach that are never put explicitly but that they still get because of how close they've become. Like Rorschach knowing he should apologize, and the mug, and If children's stories really dictated the way the world works..." Children wouldn't die

I'm in love with the imagery you used in the last part, especially the way you revealed that they're all zombies participating and the emphasis you put on the candles. It made for a vivid read. Great job, as always.
etherati
Apr. 19th, 2010 04:08 pm (UTC)
Oh man, thank you. That's one of my favorite parts of it too; even before they fessed up about things officially they still acted so close and it's such a fun dynamic to play with. And Rorschach can be sneakier(ie the mug) than he lets on.
jack_infinitude
Apr. 7th, 2010 05:27 am (UTC)
This is great. I just -- *flaps hands* Insightful and thought-provoking and a one hundred other deep things.
etherati
Apr. 19th, 2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
Thank you :D I figured it was just pretentious, but that could be me being harder on myself than necessary.
( 18 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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