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FIC: By Fire (Adult Content Warning)

Title: By Fire
Fandom: Watchmen
Characters/Pairings: Daniel/Z!Walter, Carrefour-verse (1800's voodoo!zombie cowboy au I KNOW WTF RITE)
Date Written: 2010
Summary: Cold has many sources and offerings come in many forms.
Rating/Warnings: R. Non-explicit sex, weirdness.
Notes: For Kink Bingo(prompt: 'temperature play'), posted early just so I don't porn-bomb flists when I'm done. Not being crossposted until then.

*

"Cold," he says simply, standing here at the state line.

There's nothing demarcating the border, and ahead of them the looming vegetation is exactly the same as behind; lush and green with life, canopying them against the dusk sky. They've been riding for weeks, walking beside the horses when the terrain got too difficult, making small talk or no talk at all. Even companionable silence had been enough to distract from their undertaking, and nights have been spent in a feverish press of cold and hot flesh, reveling in their starlit solitude and in the knowledge, slipping like oil through their minds, that they may not have many more chances.

Strong enough now, Walter had said cryptically one night, dragging dusty boots through town after the end of another drive. He'd refused to meet Dan's eyes. Stronger with an ally. Will you come with me?

It's a sweltering day, this close to the bayou. Watching Walter shake a hard shiver out of his bones still makes Dan feel a chill in his own.

"Should we stop here?" he asks, and he knows better than to put his arm over his friend's shoulders – there's a time and a place, as laid out by body language, posture, conjunction of the stars – but his voice does the job for him. Walter relaxes back into it, incrementally.

Takes a step back from the border, too, and seems instantly more at ease. He nods, and there'd been a clearing suitable for camping down in about a mile back. "Two days' ride into the interior. Should rest properly while we can."

"Sounds about right," Dan says, watching with narrowed eyes. "But it doesn't seem cold to me, why–"

Walter just turns and looks at him, expression hidden as always under the bloodstained old cloth. Then he turns and leads Bucephalus into the undergrowth, settling back into silence.

*

Sleepless may not have been accurate but Dreamless certainly is; the only dreams he has, he has when he's awake, and they are vivid. Standing with just his toes on the spongy Louisiana soil, he'd seen birds careening bloody and flightless from the midnight sky and felt the cold touch of fingers and blades and fire, tracing over his body. There's old magic here, halfway in his head and halfway not, and everything feels cold when all his body remembers is dying.

It doesn't matter. In this stifling heat the phantom chill will depart, and if it doesn't then Daniel will banish it, wrapping them together until he forgets that the warmth was ever driven so violently out of him. His appetite for Daniel's heat and breath and body is appalling, unconscionable; when there's a mirror or a polished stretch of metal handy, or just the unbroken surface of a lake, he can look in and blame it all on the blackness of his eyes, on dreams of crossroads and drumbeat and the smell of tobacco and clairin.

He was a decent man, once.

There's no wood to be had dry enough to build a fire, even a smoky one, so Daniel sets up the oil lamp he keeps strung into his tack. It's not quite enough light to keep away vermin and biting insects but it's enough to let him fumble through his pack more easily, and he comes up with two taper candles of irregular, half-burned length; an impractical choice for travel, but they've come in useful on occasion. One red, one white, and for some reason this transfixes Walter, more so when they're lit, twisted into the soil until they're upright and both struck from the same match.

It's still not much light and no warmth whatsoever, and Walter's still cold, desperately so. But he knows objectively what this territory is like in high summer and so when Daniel starts undressing he simply joins him, shedding layers like long-bred habit. It'd taken him months to be willing to go past boots and shirt and gloves in any but the most private space, but the darkness here is close, feels like walls, shielding. The trail's been overgrown for miles, clearly out of common use, and in two days they may both be dead for good, and it's too easy a thing to wind up sprawled naked in the soft soil with Daniel sitting up beside him, running a hand along his spine.

Clothes do nothing to keep him warm anyway, he rationalizes. Only a heat source can do that, and with no fire–

He leans into the contact, rumbling encouragement. A second hand joins the first, becomes two hands and a mouth, moving over his skin like balm.

Daniel is habitually appalled at the way people fear him for nothing but irrational reasons, but for all his high-minded words, even he has always been a little skittish, a little wary. His hands shake now, as they settle on the knot of fabric at the back of his head.

"Should I?" he asks, like he always does; as if the face were any secret next to the twisted ghoulish body spread out in front of him.

Walter grunts an affirmative regardless, and the fabric pulls away, leaving him to pillow his secrets on one arm. Daniel's told him what firelight does to his eyes - reflects back and back, like mirrors layered into mirrors, makes them seem like bottomless black pits. He turns them on Daniel now, to see if any of the fear's still there.

Daniel just folds the cloth and lays it aside, meeting his eyes unflinchingly.

They've had so much time, and he never deserved–

"We'll get them," Daniel says, almost reading his mind and that's a magic only Daniel has. A palm spreads flat over the nape of Walter's neck.

Walter closes his eyes. In the woods nearby, the stir of larger animals, but his scent seems to keep them away as much as it occasionally spooks Buchephalus. "If we don't, someone will. Have been promised that much."

Daniel nods, moves to settle next to him, to serve as a hot stone in his blankets; on the way there he accidentally elbows one of the candles. It shifts, starts to fall, and wet grass or not catching the whole clearing isn't something either of them wants to risk. Daniel scrambles, catches it up, reaches over Walter with it to settle it on the other side where it's less likely to be knocked against.

But he tilts the candle too far as he moves it, and the wax dribbles in a thin red stream onto the small of Walter's back.

Walter hisses out a shallow, empty breath.

"Sorry," Daniel says, sounding contrite, but Walter's hand has already closed around his wrist. Before either of them know what he's doing, he's tilted the hand – and the candle – until a thick running of wax has started to pool on his skin.

"What are you–"

"Quiet."

It hurts, a little. He's surprised he can feel it, that spreading awareness of skin-deep danger, but more than just hurting it burns; livid and sharp and then gone in an instant. The skin under its hardening layers feels strange, warmer than it should, invulnerable.

Old magic in these bones, put there against his will, carved in with cold blades, and if you must fight magic–

Rolling over onto his back, every imperfection in the taut grey skin of Walter's chest is magnified by the candlelight, stands out sharply. His eyes rove away from Daniel, toward the black, black sky, visible in snatches through the dense foliage. He's not entirely sure what he expects to see instead. Stone? Moonlight?

He reaches blindly for his friend, drawing him in, and Daniel brings the candle in close without even needing to be told. The flame flickers between their bodies, dancing in the gentle brown of his eyes, wax drooling down its side to collect in the dip of Walter's throat and over the ridge of bone. It draws out with Daniel's hand into a spiral, the most basic human understanding of snake. He can't see it but he can feel it, recognize it in the skin, and it feels like a question.

"Follow the marks," Walter says, low and uncertain.

Daniel does as he asks without question, eyes bright with some primitive understanding. He picks out and traces the scars, brightening their dangerous magic with the lurid illusion of fresh blood. It feels like the old wounds are opening again under the drippings' touch, so hot that all he feels is the sting of blades long rusted and lain aside; Daniel's fingers trail after, then his mouth, kissing living heat in over the cooling wax.

"You've told me before," he says like an invocation, dripping a hard line down Walter's breastbone, sensation blooming up from the depths. "Tell me again?"

"There was a child, screaming," and he's spoken these words a half-dozen times on this journey alone, but it seems to ground Daniel, make sense of why they find themselves alone in inhospitable lands, damp to the bone and weary and only more hopeless nights ahead of them. He closes his eyes, remembers without remembering. "Followed it to a graveyard. They were going to kill her– men, women, dogs, many of them. Didn't think, just–"

"Just ran in and saved her," Daniel says, and it's awe but a little darkness too, holding the flame close while he traces out what feels like a crescent, arcing down along his flank. "With no thought to your own welfare."

"Stupid."

"Beautiful," Daniel corrects, switching from the red taper to the white for no discernible reason. He runs a free hand through Walter's hair, then tips his head back to get at the scars running under his chin. Every drop feels like the beat of warm blood there, and he remembers this, remembers waking up to candlefire in his eyes and paraffin on his face and a knife at his throat, sharp. Somewhere in there, the same sharpness, the first time Daniel touched him. "To give up so much, for an innocent."

Walter rolls his head back into the dirt, seeks out Polaris, Canis, the Hunter. "Didn't know what I was getting myself into."

"Even if you had known," Daniel says, rising to straddle Walter's hips, to grip them together and hiss at the quenching contact of his skin. The candle follows the path of words that aren't words, and even lit in pale white they are incomprehensible. "You would have done it."

"Yes."

Daniel groans, something of the weight of bougainvillea and incense in his voice, in the way it catches, drowns in itself. He pitches his hips, fisting them both with a sharp need. "And they marked you."

"Changed me."

"They're badges," Daniel says, outlining the hard curve of muscle in wax, and it almost looks like wings, or tree branches. "Of what you did. You should wear them proudly."

"Already do."

Quiet, for a moment, as Daniel stops moving; just rests his weight there, lets them sit heavy in his hand. The free hand sets the candle down, reaches to run over the ridges of wax in the center of his chest, tracing the lines.

"The cloth," he breathes. "It's the same pattern. I never... I didn't put it together."

Cold water, he remembers, the last of his hot blood diluted and flaked away leaving only stains, buried with him and risen with him and dried under the western sun.

"I never..." Daniel says again, trailing off as he tightens his hand again, searingly hot with heartbeat. He grinds in against the grip, thighs tightening around Walter's hips.

Cold water and marigolds and the smell of baking, cobblestone dust. The crossroads.

"You're so..."

Daniel's moving against him but his body feels aching, empty, in a way it hasn't since that day in the water. He remembers the snake sliding down to coil in his gut and than vanishing, leaving him to wash alone and bereft onto an unfriendly shore.

"Not enough," he grits out, clamping one hand behind Daniel's neck and willing him to just understand, to ask no questions.

Daniel stills, knits his brow– then a quiet awareness settles into candlelit eyes. They've both heard the stories, accounts drunkenly slurred outside the back doors of taverns and hotels, among the throwaways and layabouts who didn't have the charms for finer flesh; a way to be closer, and how far a man's body can be pushed when the will is there.

The lamp is extinguished, leaving them in the dark but for the two tapers. It gives up its oil, still warm from proximity to the flame.

"If you're sure," Daniel breathes, labored, fumbling between them to find his place. Hot, slick pressure, like the press of scales against the walls of his throat, and Walter wills himself to yield now as he did then, to open himself to it.

Daniel disappears inside of him, and he burns there like a brand.

Fingers splay over his skin, nails digging through the wax. "God," Daniel whispers, even though there is no god to call on here– only the brothers and sisters, snakeskin and silk and cobbles. "You're cold as a stone."

No, he thinks, because stone cannot burn and he is on fire. On fire inside, where flame should not reach; feeling the hot pulse and rush of life again, the flow of blood in veins, the searing slide of flesh against muscle and he spent seventeen years feeling this every single day and he never even–

Daniel rolls forward over him, gripping him by the back of his neck with both hands. Locked like this in symmetry, they move.

It's unfamiliar and shocking and almost too much, but he's dealt with more strangeness than this and there's an alchemy in it, in the way Daniel had run his fingers through the wax– destroying the patterns and their hold on him with his willingness to touch unnatural flesh, to hold it close and sacred. In the way he rocks them together now, driving his heat unbearably deep, mouth full of tumbling words that make sense in no language. It is a ritual, an offering, a gift to the black-eyed Baron, all death and lust and rattling bones.

Not alchemy enough to change dead flesh to living any more than lead could ever be turned to gold, but when Daniel presses hot fingers to his face and tips the white taper onto his forehead like a blessing, he feels something dark and endless lift out of him. It might be something like a curse, a hex. It might just be the certain inevitability of aloneness. But Daniel kisses the spot reverently and wraps around him until this breaks them both; stays inside long after his moment has passed, lending his warmth to a body that's been sunk to the bottom of one cold river or another for years.

Tomorrow will come in its time, and it's a new moon tonight– but Walter could swear he feels the cool blue-white kiss of its light on the backs of his eyelids, closed against the sky.

*

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
marie_phantom
Jun. 11th, 2010 04:40 pm (UTC)
You have returned! And what a story! I love this universe, because for me it combines some of the best into something great! This is so wonderful, and Dan is so understanding, knowing what Walter needs. This is fantastic and so beautiful, you have such a flair for description that makes this so easy to understand! All of your stories, this is great!
etherati
Jun. 11th, 2010 04:52 pm (UTC)
I've been here, i've just been writing a lot of in-progress stuff on the KM that isn't done enough to post here. XD

Thank you! One personal kink of mine is people who know each other so well that they don't need to articulate these things; they can just know what the other needs without it needing to be asked for. <3
daylilymoon
Jun. 24th, 2010 05:23 am (UTC)
*___* YEEEEES

Man but I love them in this, wow. So many good things to say about this.. The atmosphere and setting are so thick I feel like I could just crawl into it. This whole concept of transmuting his scars into something better or at least connecting a better memory is the type of romantic I'm into. I love what you do with this verse.
etherati
Jun. 27th, 2010 03:18 pm (UTC)
I thought he'd really have to end up doing something ritualistic before showing up to face them, not necessarily deliberately, but it would end up happening. Just to kind of... decrease the vulnerability he has over what was done to him.

Thank you so much; the atmosphere's lush because the au's always been lush and that's partly your doing :D
sepulchre_angel
Jun. 27th, 2010 01:50 am (UTC)
oh man oh man I love this 'verse and I love how it has a different tone and feel to it so even though it's kind of the same story as others you've written, it feels different and auuugggh. So good. Really enjoyable!
etherati
Jun. 27th, 2010 03:19 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I love this verse too, it's so thick and lickable nom nom.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )