Characters/Pairings: Dan/Rorschach, lightly
Date Written: 2009
Summary: "After changes upon changes we are more or less the same."
Rating/Warnings: R. Language. Violence. ZOMBIES. Cracky premise, non-cracky treatment.
Notes: This is completely a guilty indulgence – I love reading zombie AU fics, don’t usually write stuff like this. So! This was a zombiefic challenge from elsewhere(the kinkmeme *coughs*). AU. Pre-Roche, so expect reasonably complete sentences from our favorite psychotic redhead. Warnings include: 'zombies created by SCIENCE' cliché, bad science on top of it, mild gore, MotherHen!Dan, non-explicit slashiness(Dan/Ror). Also: OMGWTF*LONG*.This sucker is sitting at about 50 pages in Word right now. End notes are at the end.
Spoilers: Some Roche stuff eventually. Not much else.
EXTRA NOTE: All illustrations are by liodain, NOT ME.
It was a mostly fruitless night, questions going unanswered and is that because the people being asked honestly didn't know, or because they were willing to deal with a broken finger or two rather than spill their secrets?
It's impossible to tell. The premise they're working from is so terrifying and horrible – mankind at its worst – and things are getting a little disconnected upstairs. Dan sits at his kitchen table again – and for a second feels like an actor in one of those bizarre avant-garde plays that only take place in one set – cowl pushed back, goggles around his neck, but otherwise back in uniform, despite it being early in the afternoon. Rorschach may have never even loosened his scarf between last night and now. Dan is once again struck by the apparent normalcy of it all.
...and the other thing they'd found last night, other than lack of information, was an increased number of pale bodies dead where they'd fallen, all over the streets. Natural causes, looked like. It made their night easier, but there was no way to tell if they were test subjects or just carriers, and it was a trend he didn't like the implications of.
"This isn't a good idea," Rorschach insists, one gloved finger tracing a groove on the table. It's almost a nervous tic, but Rorschach doesn't have nervous tics.
"Probably not," Dan agrees, reaching back behind his head to pull up the cowl. "But we haven't been in weeks, and they may be onto this, too – might have more information than we've managed to find. And they’re probably worried, the way we just dropped off the face of the city..."
A disbelieving grunt, and nothing more.
"Anyway, I'm worried about them, too." He still can't get that recorded radio call out of his head; he's never heard people scream like that. "One meeting. We find out if they know anything. Then if you want to go back to ground, we do."
The table is full again, a fact not lost on the others as they settle in and wait for the meeting to start, their eyes shifting again and again to the two occupied seats nearest the door. They'd probably been written off as a loss, assumed killed in the first attack, not expected to return – but the chairs haven't been removed yet, cleared to give the remaining vigilantes more elbow room. That’s interesting.
The table is full and the meeting starts – there's a brief acknowledgment from Ozymandias of their existence, distant but most likely honest. The subject matter is obvious and unavoidable, and Rorschach can only listen for so long as they reiterate over and over again the obvious things, the things he already knows, the things they've discovered by throwing themselves into the thick of it. By not hiding from it.
He unwraps a sugar cube and, with a deft motion he's been practicing for days, lifts the mask, pops it in, and drops the mask again, flat of his hand keeping his chin hidden all the while. Jupiter is going on about having trouble telling the subjects from the carriers, out on the street, a great moral tragedy waiting to unfold. He crushes the sugar wrapper in his hand, drops it to the tabletop. "There's a bigger problem."
A shifting silence settles over the room at his interruption, and they all turn to face him. Daniel takes an audible breath off to the side, probably hoping he's not about to do anything stupid.
"People are being killed. In the hospitals. They go in with straightforward injuries and a virus, and they don't come out. We need to find out why. And stop it."
No response at first, then Ozymandias nods, tapping the tabletop with his fingernails. "I had noticed that as well. I investigated, of course, but nothing turned up. At this point it seems to simply be the growing pangs of a medical community trying to cobble together a treatment program for a disease they don't understand."
A low growl from behind the mask, and Rorschach feels Daniel glance at him, worried. "People who don't go to the hospitals, don't die."
And that's an exaggeration, yes. He doesn't have all the information. But it's truthful in that he is a person who didn't go to the hospital, and that's as far as he's willing to think, certainly more than he's willing to say on the subject.
Ozymandias doesn't respond at first, just narrows his eyes, apparently in thought. Glances down at the wrappers on the table in front of Rorschach, then up to the mask. There's a stretch of silence.
"You've gone through a lot of those today, haven't you?"
Daniel shifts in his seat; Rorschach doesn't move. They both know what's coming.
"What is that, seven? In the last half an hour? You usually get through an entire meeting on one or two. And your mask is barely moving. Responds to heat, you said once?"
The leather of his gloves creases where Rorschach's gripping the table.
"When were you going to see fit to tell us?"
Jupiter stiffens in her chair, looking up in surprise; the inhuman man next to her is uninterested, and across the table, the Comedian barks a laugh around the ever-present cigar, rolling his eyes. "Figures," he mutters darkly, clearly amused more than anything else.
Daniel bites his tongue, hard, and waits.
"...didn't think it mattered," Rorschach finally grinds out from between his teeth, because it's the truth, and because Ozymandias may not be the smartest man in the world but he's sold on his own propaganda and a denial won't wash, not now, the evidence obvious in the sluggish and almost imperceptible shifting of inkblots. Stupid, to not think of that. Really stupid.
"Neither did I," the smooth-talker replies instantly, too fast, eyes lit up with something dangerous. He pushes himself out of his chair, palms flat on the table in front of him. "Until my secretary came back from her doctor's visit... promptly went mad and killed three people. Tried to make me the fourth."
It's an accusation, clear as day, hanging in the air between them.
Rorschach is up like a shot, hands in his pockets, out the door into the hallway before anyone can even process what's just happened. Bad idea, he'd said. This was a bad idea...
...from down the hallway he hears Daniel pushing his chair out and, in a breach of politeness and etiquette and procedure he's never heard from him in these meetings, snarling at Ozymandias: "You know, you can really be a dick sometimes."
Then footsteps, jogging to catch up with him.
Back in the meeting room, Ozymandias sighs heavily, leveraging himself back down into his chair. "And he is far too 'nice'," he mutters, more to himself than anyone else. "It's going to get him killed. But," louder now, intended for the others in the room. "At least now we know where they've been the last two weeks."
No response. "Any further business?"
The door swings back open suddenly, hard, bouncing against the wall with a splintering, resounding bang. Rorschach takes a step into the room, pointing a gloved finger directly at Ozymandias. "Doctor's visit, you said. Was it private or a hospital?"
Nite Owl's behind him, lingering in the doorframe, a look of exasperation on his face – but a little bit of steel, too. He wants the answer to the question just as much, for reasons that are unclear.
Ozymandias just raises an eyebrow. "Hospital, I believe. She was new to the city, didn't have a private physician yet."
And Ozymandias tells him.
"Look, man, I'm sorry about that, I had no idea he'd-"
Rorschach waves him off as they stalk through the fading afternoon sunlight back to the Owlship. "No apology needed. I'm getting used to it." Beat. "You were right though. We did get information that we needed."
Dan reaches for his remote control, uses it to bring the ship down, considering. "Huh. Yeah, I guess we did."
The ship is on ground level now, and the hatch opens obediently. "What?"
"No more meetings."
They’re almost back to the warehouse tunnel when Dan's hand knocks against the radio transmitter and something occurs to him, clawing its way out of his subconscious. Something had felt off about all of this ever since they'd left the meeting, and now he knows what it is.
"I got a call from him on the radio," he offers into the relative silence that rests just above the background noise of the engines and air exchange. "When that was going on, with his secretary. You were still completely out of it."
He senses Rorschach turn his head towards him, but there's no audible response.
"You were still out of it, but she was back at work already?"
The engines cough lightly, he'll have to remember to check that later.
Dan starts counting out the seconds in his head.
"...hrm. Good point. Whatever they're doing might be stabilizing the infection. At first."
"That doesn't make sense though, does it?" Dan pushes the cowl back from his head, runs his hand through his hair. Thinking. "If they're trying to kill people, I mean. Maybe they really are trying to help, and just don't know what they’re doing?"
Silence for a moment, then: "Maybe they don't care."
Dan nods, and drops Archie into the tunnel. That engine check needs to happen sooner rather than later; as soon as the sun goes down, they have a lead to follow.
It's a civilian bar, Daniel reminds him as they land, across from the hospital Ozymandias had named. Not underworld. These are off-shift doctors and nurses and orderlies and if they don't have use of their fingers in the morning it could cost other, innocent lives. And it feels bizarre and wrong, walking into this sort of place and not seeing drugs and prostitutes and shady deals going on in the corner, human refuse buying with cash the satisfaction it cannot obtain anywhere else – just ordinary people exhausted from their ordinary jobs.
But this isn't really a 'criminal' matter, as such.
And it's an easy enough thing anyway – just avoid the patrons visibly out for a good time and stick to the corners, where there's more than sorrows and tiredness being drowned. Guilty consciences. The weight of knowing too much. Fear, like aluminum in the mouth, drawing eyes down to tabletops.
The third table is productive. The man sitting behind it, alone, staring into his fourth glass of liquor, has been waiting for someone to talk to about all of this, even if he didn't actually know it. The conscience can be a powerful thing, can betray the conscious mind's decisions and all of the subconscious mind's survival instincts. Id, ego. Superego. The moral compass points true north, this time.
"Look, I... I don't want it coming back that I was the one who told you this but... I just can't deal with it anymore. It's too big."
Daniel nods. Rorschach shifts his head to one side, a visual indication that he's listening. There's something sharp in the movement too – he's listening and the other man had better damn well keep talking.
"I... I think it might be the director."
Now it's time for the underworld bars. If there is a conspiracy here - and the young orderly had confirmed that there is - and it goes all the way to the top, they've reached the limit of what just knowing the name of the hospital will get them. To find out who's pulling the puppet strings, they'll need to go deeper.
And god, but this is repetitive. They walk in. Someone curses under their breath. He takes up a position by the door. There are snaps, like dry twigs; there is sometimes broken glass; there is sometimes the wet crunch of noses breaking against walls. Sometimes people scream. Only occasionally do they provide useful information. Someone pulls a knife.
Wait - that's not supposed to -
His hand comes up a second too late, missing the man's wrist by an inch, and Dan has just enough time to think (shit, going for my face) before he's shoved aside and sees the blade come straight down into Rorschach's raised arm
(God he's fast)
through the coat and through the jacket underneath. Clear down to bone, if Dan had to guess from the angle of the knife, but there's no blood– just a clatter as it's wrenched free, taken, dropped to the floor. "Stupid," Rorschach rumbles, and it's unclear whether he's referring to his own injury or to the fact that the man had gone after Dan first, but Dan would guess the latter if he were forced to guess at all; Rorschach is just about trembling with rage.
And before five minutes are up, the screams have died and his coat is splattered and they have all the information they'll need. The proprietor is looking on in horror. He's not dead, someone says. Call for an ambulance.
"Come on," Dan says, thumbing towards the door, shaken. Quiet. "Before anyone notices that none of that's yours."
"Is that bothering you?" Daniel asks, false idleness in his tone as they reach the ship, watching the other man's twitchiness with an obviously wary eye.
Rorschach looks down at himself, at the blood drying across the front of his coat. It's not an excessive amount – he's seen and worn worse – but it smells like a slaughterhouse, cloying and heavy and far too potent for the quantity. He's clutching his arm but he knows he can't blame his dizziness on blood loss anymore.
It'll be worse when they're closed up in the ship.
"Christ," Dan mutters, peeling back the fabric of the jacket and the shirt underneath. They're back in the guest room of his brownstone, a suture kit spread out on the bed. There's only one chair in the room and Dan's claimed it, forcing Rorschach to sit on the edge of the bed opposite him. His arm looks like it's started trying to grow a wing, a broad lateral section of skin and muscle sheared nearly off, anchored at the bone. "This is going to take forever to heal, you know." And there's a touch of anger there, bubbling to the surface. The cold arm in his hands doesn't flinch or jump when he puts the first stitch in, not being halfway as gentle as he's capable of.
The second stitch is in before Rorschach responds: "You wouldn't have healed at all." Flat. No baggage evident. Just a statement of fact, cold and practical.
"It would have nicked me, bounced off the edges of the cowl. Don't try to justify it. I've spent the last two weeks trying to keep you alive, and damned if you're going to throw it away to save me some cuts and bruises."
There's a strange motion to Rorschach's head, the same motion Dan saw earlier in the night when he'd been covered in blood and stinking of it and obviously bothered, no matter what he'd said. Dan swallows tightly past a lump in his throat. Has a sudden vision of a kind and mild secretary tearing through three people before she could be stopped, fingernails and teeth and madness and if she could have done so much damage then what about-
Dan puts in the rest of the stitches in silence.
"He had a gun."
It's twenty or so minutes later, and Dan is just finishing the wrappings, cutting a piece of tape to secure the trailing end. He looks up. "What?"
Again, a surprising move: Rorschach reaches up and pushes his mask above his nose and then, after a moment's hesitation, peels it off completely. Fixes real eyes on Dan's, eerily luminous in the low light.
(Just reflection,) Dan thinks. (Like a cat's.)
And Rorschach speaks slowly and carefully. "Knife was a distraction. He was going for a gun, in his belt. Pistol, nine millimeter. Automatic or semi, couldn't tell. He would have shot you in the face."
Dan presses the tape down with his thumbs, circling them over the loose ends. His eyes don't leave his friend's for a long moment; he eventually looks down, and shudders. "Thank you, then."
Tired, tired voice matches tired eyes. "Welcome."
Dan stands to gather the supplies back into the kit; he's a good deal taller than Rorschach under normal circumstances but just now he's positively looming. Rorschach doesn't make it any less pronounced by turning and dropping back against the bed, no move made to sort out the blankets. He'd probably be just as comfortable on a park bench, and Dan wonders idly if he's ever had to be. "I just don't want to see you get killed, after all of this. Just because you don't bleed doesn't mean you're invincible."
"Pretty close," he mumbles into the shadows.
Dan winces. "No, not even in the vicinity. Not even on the same planet. And what happens to the people out there, if you're not around to protect them?"
Those burning eyes slide back over to Dan again, intent and serious and just a little bit dazed but no less intimidating for it. "You do a good enough job, Daniel. City'd be in good hands." He shifts, pulling the injured arm across himself. "Anyway, doesn't matter. Dead already."
Dan won't be sure, later, exactly what it was in his brain that snapped wide open at the statement, which circuit it was that popped. There's no thought. "No," he growls, low in his throat, sounding more like Rorschach than himself, and he's suddenly leaned over the smaller man, propped up with one hand and one knee and the other foot still on the floor, scrabbling for his partner's uninjured hand and pressing it – and his own – against the still chest below.
There's a sound something like a warning, sing-song and low, but Dan doesn't move and the threat doesn't follow up, hanging empty in the air above them.
Dan waits, holding the hand in place, chill seeping up through the thin fabric of the shirt, until he feels it: a single beat, lazy and struggling.
"There," he says, eyes just as fierce through his glasses as they've ever been through his goggles in the middle of a life-or-death battle. In a way, that might well be what this is. "You're alive. You have something to lose. Start acting like it."
And a month ago, this kind of courage might have landed Dan a broken nose at best, a concussion at worst.
A month ago, everything was different.
Rorschach doesn't move, just stares up at Dan with a patchwork expression of defiance and anger. And some flavor of loyalty, preventing the other two from taking center stage. Some confusion, too. His eyes are bright and the bruises are mostly faded and there's something fascinating about what the pallor does to smooth out the planes of his face, to make the eyes and hair stand out unnaturally, like beacons or lightning or a wildfire in the night and...
...and Dan drops his hand, pulls back onto his feet at the edge of the bed, mumbling apologies. Too much, too far into the personal space he knows the other man values over most everything else, and lingered too long on the bare encouragement of not getting hit in the face. Ludicrous.
(Not getting hit in the face, or worse.)
(You saw the way he was twitching, earlier. You’re an idiot.)
Yeah, pretty much.
"Good night, Daniel," and Dan isn't sure, can't tell from looking at the carefully blank face, if it's a genuine well-wishing or a dismissal.
He nods, heads for the door, has it half-closed behind him when he hears an indistinct mutter from inside the room, muffled by one side of a pillow.
"Good," and it's no less a mumble, but he's certain that it carries.