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.
The next three patrols are all called off as early nights as well. It never takes much – just a fight that goes on a little too long, or a call that's a little too close, or an opponent who's a little too vicious - and the adrenaline floor drops out from under Rorschach like a cord-cut elevator, leaves him shaking violently in the darkness, an unstable shadow in a city that's already rife with them. Every morning, he's recovered, mostly – but the plateau he manages to clamber back up to gets lower every day, and he's getting worse instead of better. Dan's at a loss; the newspapers and radio news are at a loss.
The third night brings the perfect storm.
They're standing in another nameless alley, and they're the only ones still standing, and Dan is breathing hard and fast, fight leaving him. The bodies on the ground are unconscious, not dead – conventional crime is starting up again, they'd been dismayed to observe earlier that night; preying on the fear and disorganization of society in the wake of near-apocalypse, and in force. Dan is breathing hard and Rorschach is silent, fists clenched, facing away from him, and Dan can see from the side that one of the thugs had gotten a hold of his mask, twisted it up, exposing the lower half of his face.
He hasn't moved to lower it – is just standing, trembling faintly in the outline of a nearby streetlight, spilling its guttering illumination around the corner of the brickwork to diffuse into shadow.
Dan's face is covered in blood. One of the thugs had gotten a grip on him from behind – stupid, stupid – and he'd been forced to headbutt the one coming up in front of him square in the nose to buy enough time to break free. The spray had been impressive. The smell is overpowering. His cowl had popped open and loose at the impact, but he's not thinking about any of it when he reaches to put one hand on Rorschach's shoulder, to ask if he's all right, if they'd gotten him anywh-
He should have been thinking about it.
He's suddenly spun and slammed into the brick wall, spine protesting at the impact that shudders straight through the armor. He could probably break free, he could, but he's hesitant to strike out at his friend even as he hears that low noise start to build, and he thinks it's something to do with exacting control or losing control and either way, exacting or losing control over what?
Rorschach is grating rough and forced breaths through his teeth, every sound a guttural declaration of hunger. His hands are solid on Dan's shoulders, gloves digging in against the armor, and his face is right next to Dan's, lower, frighteningly close to the pulse point, and Dan has time to think
(god he's gotten fast)
(they're calling them carriers because they carry it, you idiot)
(is that teeth oh god oh fuck)
(...you sick bastard, you're actually enjoying this, aren't y-)
And his brain, overloaded, is just about to go into protective shutdown and allow him to pass out when the pressure holding him to the wall is suddenly gone, and Rorschach is two feet back from him, shuffling even further on unsteady feet, hands held in the air in front of him as if they don't belong to him- alien appendages incapable of following his brain's instructions. Betrayers. Dan slumps against the wall, bones going to jelly, and refocuses his eyes; Rorschach pulls his mask down and the blots are moving slowly but they resolve themselves into something even Dan can read as horror.
There's not even a mumbled apology – the inadequateness of which would have been awkward enough and almost humorous enough to give Dan a foothold into the situation – just a small, strangled sound of raw misery, and Rorschach's moving, down the alley, in a direction away from the ship. Not walking, not storming. Running without running. Fleeing.
Dan could let him go. It would be smartest, in the best interests of immediate survival, to let him go.
He won't be back in the morning, spreading newspapers and scavenging food without asking. Might not be back ever.
Dan doesn't even think – and hasn't that been his biggest problem lately, not thinking – just tears off after Rorschach, and grabs him by the arm, and uses his superior size and weight to do what he'd never have considered before, never in a million years. He physically drags his partner, halfheartedly struggling the entire way, back to the ship.
Because in that moment of terror and vulnerability, reading the hunger coming off of the smaller man in waves, consciousness had narrowed to a point, a brilliant pinprick moment of understanding- and Dan finally knows what's going on.
The ride home is awkward and silent – worse than awkward, and worse than silent, Rorschach's presence where he stands facing the far rear wall of the compartment a sucking void that undermines even those baselines. Dan just flies the ship, and does his best to ignore it.
A plate thuds heavily to the table in front of him.
Rorschach is only here because guilt – an emotion he'd long thought himself separated from – has him rooted to the spot, hands tightly clenched at his sides, curled around the seat of the chair.
He'd almost killed Daniel. He'd almost killed Daniel. He'd slammed him against a wall, and threatened him, and gotten so close he could just about taste the sweat and the fear, and almost hurt him. Almost killed him.
And Daniel has just dropped a plate of steak and eggs in front of him.
He doesn't understand. Doesn't know if he wants to. Certainly doesn't want to be here – doesn't want to be anywhere but somewhere high up or, possibly, on the fastest way back down.
(You tried to kill him.)
Daniel tells him to eat, pointing at the plate. Is taking the pan off of the stove, running it under water so cold that steam hisses and rises from the metal. It's so normal. Domestic. Exactly how Daniel has always lived his uncostumed life, and it's like nothing's changed.
Daniel says something about physiology, about an indiscriminate carnivore trying to live off of beans and corn flakes and sugar cubes. About how it was right in front of their faces. About how he had better start eating, right now, and Daniel has never been so aggressive or authoritative.
And because he has no place to protest or argue, not after what he'd done/almost done/tried to do, Rorschach ducks his head and complies.
Dan tells him to stay and he can tell that every fiber of Rorschach's being is vibrating in protest, screaming at him to leave, now, before he does more damage. Dan doesn't care, and says so. Rorschach stays.
Two days later and Dan's about run out of meat and eggs and the foil-wrapped frozen chicken he's been keeping in the freezer for late nights when he doesn't feel like cooking, but the shaking has all but stopped, and there have been no further incidents. Not many opportunities for them, to be fair, but still- in the little scorebook in his mind, Dan checks it off as a success, all the while making complicated plans for a grocery run through the infested streets.
They sit, night after night, and they go back out into the streets and cover each other's backs, and trust returns, bit by hesitant bit.
The streets start to become, if not habitable, then at least not as gruesomely hostile. Human crime begins to supplant nightmare violence at night; by day, the average person stands a decent chance of getting from point A to point B without being savaged. Precautions are still recommended, though, where ‘precautions’ equals ‘carry a shotgun’. Only the most basic of services – food stores, distributors of gasoline and kerosene, general supply retailers, gun shops – have staggered back to life. Utilities do their best to keep up with the downed lines and damaged equipment; the police and the medical community had never shut down. Trash pickup begins to resume, cautiously and only in the highest light of day, but they refuse to touch the bodies that are starting to stack up in the gutters where the police haven’t been able to get to them. The street smells like something unimaginable.
There are statements issued that the viral mutation has burned itself out; that anyone who is infected and has not yet gone feral is in no danger of doing so. Rorschach grumbles and disbelieves and keeps right on with his circles and crosslinks and conspiracies but his hand is sure now, the lines solid and strong, and Daniel watches from across the room as the urgency of a man on borrowed time fades into the determination of a man simply searching for the truth, on no specific timeframe; watches Rorschach become himself.
A message comes on Archie's radio one night; a tentative apology from Ozymandias, and that right there is a bit like being handed a planet as a birthday gift. Apologies from Ozymandias don't happen. He was understandably nervous, he explains, but they're more than welcome to return whenever they like; it was never his intention to drive either of them away from the organization. Rorschach stands up silently and walks off halfway through the obviously prepared speech; Dan suspects that they're just feeling shorthanded in the face of the ongoing unrest and Ozymandias is attempting some sort of damage control. He says that they'll think about it, and dials the radio down.
Eventually the day comes when all they find on patrol are thugs and drug dealers and a few scattered gone-mad carriers, the trailing ends of a disaster winding down. The report in the papers – all the papers, even the horrible fascist rag that Rorschach pays such special attention to – claims that the original test subjects' tendency to fall over dead in the night was due to a fault in the genetic alteration that'd been performed on them; these are early days in this sort of research, of course, and without a map of the genomes they're manipulating, mistakes are bound to be made. They are frustratingly unapologetic, but the assertion is broad and absolute: The defect is not carried by the virus.
It's a weight off.
As soon as the streets are safe for him to walk without his mask – there's legislation starting to flow already, thought it shouldn't really be needed – Rorschach returns to his old apartment building to see what the state of things are. Things have no state, as it turns out; his unit is locked up for nonpayment of rent, and as soon as the landlady catches a glimpse of him, he's retroactively evicted on top of it. He's to get his things and clear out, she says, to make room for 'tenants who have goddamn pulses.' Her ignorant and indignant behavior is so incongruously everyday and typical and normal that he could honestly almost, almost laugh.
It’s irrelevant anyway. He doesn't really want to stay here; the electricity is gone about sixteen hours out of every twenty-four, a surprisingly helpful neighbor informs him, and there've been break-ins. Murders, even. He'd leave, the neighbor says, but he's on a fixed income and his lawyer son wants nothing to do with him, so he stays here where he can afford it.
"Good luck, Walter," the man offers as Rorschach heads off with his single box of what he'd bothered to pack – books mostly, newspapers, spare clothes – and he pauses, because he has no idea how the man could possibly have known his name. Rorschach certainly doesn't know his. Some tiny, buried part of him is ashamed at that fact, but he just nods, and walks on.
He makes some noises about getting a hotel now that the situation is starting to stabilize, and he's sure, yes Daniel, very sure that that's what he wants to do. There's one right down the r- yes, that one. No, he's never heard it called that. The Stab Me Special? No, he can handle- No, it isn't ridiculous, it's perfectly sound, and safer for everyon-
Daniel just takes the box right out of his hands, and drops it onto the floor of the guest room with a thump of finality, then wanders back into the living room to catch what's left of the evening news – broadcasts just recently started up again – before it's time for patrol.
They've just stopped one of a dozen petty crimes that night – a straightforward mugging, though implications had been dripping from the assailant's body language like syrup, clinging to his every move. He's bound, and Rorschach is straightening back up, and something falls from his pocket. Daniel picks it up before he can register the voice telling him not to, goes to hand it back – recognizes it.
It's folded up, the front page from last week's Times, and the photograph – blown up to fill half the page – is the only existing snapshot of the original test subjects mid-attack. It'd been developed from the cheap camera of an unknown victim, found weeks ago in the park, and it's unclear from the crooked and unfocused composition whether it'd been taken deliberately or if the victim had simply bumped the shutter button while trying to escape.
And it's honestly horrifying, all teeth and madness and burning eyes, and Dan doesn't know why Rorschach would be carrying it in his pocket. He glances at his friend, and he doesn't ask, but the question's there on his face.
A long silence, then Rorschach reaches up to push his hat further down over where his eyes would be. Hands go into pockets. "...reminds me of what I'm not," he finally volunteers, then holds one hand out for the page's return.
He glances at the sheet. Rorschach isn't just talking about the literality of the monsters in the photograph, Dan realizes brokenly. He's talking about Jackson and about the research director and he's talking about the piece of human filth lying at their feet, unconscious and tied but alive to face trial no matter it may not be what he deserves.
Dan refolds the page and hands it back in silence.
Somewhere along the line, the criminal underworld gets wind of the fact that the vigilante who has always been their most ghoulish and nightmarish figure of fear is now however much more terrifying, depending on who's telling the story - and worse than that, the shifting and furtive rumors say, they can use knives and guns and clubs but they can't seem to slow him down or stop him or do any real damage.
It still feels like damage to Dan, sitting in the close warmth of his guest room, carefully putting a row of stitches into Rorschach's back. "You're starting to look like a quilt," he says, and it's a joke but there's a grimness behind it. He's had to find and buy special non-dissolving sutures after having to completely redo several of the earliest wounds. He's already running low again.
Rorschach makes a noise, the verbal equivalent of a shrug, then lifts one arm up in front of him, looking at the deep slice he'd gotten in the bar that night – the thug with the hidden gun. "These should be able to come out soon."
"Yeah, months later," Dan says, tying the last stitch off carefully, hand lingering for a moment over the deep and neatly closed line of the injury, fingers pressing lightly in opposite directions to test its ability to hold – palm flattening over it, taking in the feel of warm against cold. At least it'd only been a knife – nice clean edges to work with. At least it's curved low under the shoulder blade, and not close to the spine. At least...
"You need to be more careful."
A nod, and Rorschach's reaching for his discarded shirt, heedless of the jagged tear dancing across the back of it.
Life goes on, and the city limps back into something approaching normalcy. There's always crime, always screams in the night, but the background noise is picking up in intensity and pitch and the tapestry of sensation, standing on a rooftop over the city and scanning its skyline, is becoming familiar again- a rising and falling and repetitive pulse of life that feels almost like a heartbeat.
Then, one day in late September, a bus driver's young daughter goes missing.