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FIC: Now, As Before - [12/12]

Title: Now, As Before
Fandom: Watchmen
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. 


*

Loose Ends.

*

It takes... a while. It's not like flipping a switch. There are shaky late nights and there are fits of anger and there are mornings when it all comes crashing back in. Gradually, though, Dan's able to pull Rorschach back onto stable footing- all the building blocks are still there, and if he's a little quieter in the aftermath, a little more cynical, it's the least damage anyone could expect to take after seeing what he'd seen.

Dan volunteers, the day after, to talk to the parents for him. It isn't right, it isn't his responsibility, but Rorschach's eyes are hollow in the fading afternoon light – he's over the sink, scrubbing the blood splatter from his mask – and he doesn't seem to have it in him to argue.

It's a week before Dan can get him to put the mask back on and go out on an abbreviated patrol, just to regain a feel for the streets. The moment he slips it on it's as if time stops, for only a second, echoing around in its hollow spaces with a sharp and uncompromising awareness of just how close he'd come to losing himself to it.

Then time resumes and it's just a piece of latex and trapped liquid, and they head out, a little uncertain, into the night.

*

Dan works with the others sometimes, when it's necessary. He drops in on the occasional meeting to keep up to date on the latest criminal goings-on. But he doesn't feel like he belongs to this brotherhood, not anymore – not since the day they forced him to choose between loyalties, and he had. Rorschach had been his partner - his brother - long before the Crimebusters existed, after all.

*

They keep one eye on the news and the papers for progress that may or may not be made in finding a cure for the virus, but since the fiasco with City General – and the CDC link had been reported to be fraudulent, an 'unsubstantiated conspiracy theory', which was enough to make Rorschach throw a can at the screen and storm out for an early start to the night's head-breaking – they're being careful. Conservative. Making no great leaps forward. There are also very few available participants for drug trials even if they were making progress, which they aren't, so it's something of a moot appeal.

More and more, Dan's finding it's not a critical concern. He says to Rorschach one night, repairing some minor damage his partner had done to his grappling gun, "You know, pulling that stunt with Jackson – we may have blown your chances of ever shaking this thing."

Rorschach just shrugs, and tucks the returned grappling gun into his coat, and climbs into Archie's hatch.

*

Dan comes in with a load of groceries one day – and they still look at him funny at the meat counter, but he's not about to make an issue of it – to find Rorschach sitting on the living room floor in a spare set of clothes, mask half pushed up, a broad wooden sign being painted in front of him. The whitewash is old but the lettering is fresh, and he watches for a moment, letting the message take shape- until he can't help but laugh. "Perfect disguise," he says, and Rorschach looks up at him sharply, but there's something like laughter tugging at the corner of his mouth.



"No one will take it seriously, will they?" he asks, tone all severity but there's something in there that lets Dan know that that is, in fact, the entire point.

Dan just grins, and continues on to the kitchen to put his things away.

And when Rorschach takes to the street the next day, there's not a single person who actually believes that the end is nigh – not when the end has already been and gone, as far as they're concerned. And there he is, living, visual proof: hands gripped around the wooden handle even whiter than the chipping and dirtied paint on the sign's face.

*

So Walter by day, hiding in plain sight behind the guise of the simple eccentricity and destitution of a disenfranchised carrier, buying newspapers with far too much small change, keeping an eye on the ebb and flow and lifeblood of the city from within its own body. He palms notes to Daniel as he passes by at all the predetermined times, a one-man surveillance operation that goes predictably unnoticed in a place too loud and busy and caught up in its own problems to pick up on the obvious.

At night, they are Rorschach and Nite Owl, and all the intelligence he's collected and the questions and answers and the newspapers scarred and scabbed over in red ink reap their rewards. They repair the city, one loose nut or bolt or screw at a time, helping where they can, protecting who they can, doing what they can, covering each other in the violent darkness of brick and dumpsters and empty cavernous warehouses and damp creaking docks and the moment of life suspended out there in the nothing, only a thin grappling line arresting freefall – now, as before. As always.

*

Winter settles in around them with whispers of cleansing and rebirth amidst the snow and sleet and grey-black slush, the twisted leafless trees, the dying grass and starving park life. The promises seem hollow, but there is a thrum that resonates at the wooden core of every tree and the itchy center of every animal and human brain, an ancient wisdom lodged in deep that says that anything – anything – can be reborn.

Promises aside, it still brings with it cold days and colder nights and bitter winds that bite to the bone. Rorschach is still sleeping mostly in Daniel's guest room, though it's barely a guest room at this point, his books and newspapers stacked on the shelves, his worn street clothes piled against the wall of the closet – but there are the odd nights that he patrols alone for one reason or another, and he comes in late, frost clinging to the brim of his hat and riming all along the outside of his mask and gloves. And he always pauses in the entryway, like it's breaking through a new wall every time, before climbing the stairs and silently slipping open the door to Daniel's room.

It's something to do with the cold, its invisible claws sunk deep into him, too deep to shake free on his own. It's something about the hollow space next to him that he turns to after a fight, to make sure Daniel's still standing, and only then remembers that Daniel's covering the uptown area right now, that there'd been too much going on below them tonight not to split up their resources. It's something to do with how long he wanders, well after patrol is over, and the kinds of thoughts that ambush the alone and cold and aimless in the dying ends of winter nights.

He stands in the doorway, silent. Sometimes Daniel just sleeps on, oblivious, and he turns and goes back downstairs. Sometimes, though – more often than not – his friend's instincts are working like they should be and he wakes up, senses he's being watched. His eyes are dark and bleary in the half-light, and he lifts the blanket with one arm; an invitation as wordless as the question. And Rorschach shucks off the hat and a few layers of jacket and coat and sets aside the mask and shoes, and that copper-and-leaf-rot smell clings no matter how often he washes, but Daniel's long since stopped noticing or caring. The blankets are heavy; the heat gathered in the grey space under them heavier.

It's 1975, a new year quickly approaching, and maybe there's only two years before their whole world is turned on its ear and maybe there's only ten years before everything goes to hell and uncertainty in the coldest place of all, all of today's choices echoing dully into the future, changing who they are and who they will be and what decisions they'll be capable of. But for now, in this time and place, Rorschach can lie quiet and still next to someone he trusts, held in arms that've covered his back and stitched his wounds and pulled him kicking and screaming out of the darkest of places, and for just a little while, he is warm.

*

END

*

End notes: Thus completes the LONGEST DAMN THING second longest thing I have ever written. Thanks to all of the lovely readers over on the kinkmeme who kept my fragile self-esteem propped up through -38- LJ-comment-sized bites of story. The summary quote is from the 'missing verse' of 'The Boxer' by Simon and Garfunkle; the quote in part 11 is from 'Ash-Wednesday' by T.S. Elliot, 1930 - which seeing as the GN noted a specific affinity for literature in Rory's background, seemed like something he'd know. The full quote is: "At the second turning of the second stair | I left them twisting, turning below; | There were no more faces and the stair was dark."

The story doesn't end here - not by a long shot. If you want to read more of what's been happening in this AU, pop over to the Zombie!AU continuity post, where everything is indexed in order. :D

Comments

( 148 comments — Leave a comment )
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lilsi
Apr. 12th, 2009 07:53 pm (UTC)
Wow great story i just sat and read through all 12 chapters! Loved it, very detailed and you got both Daniel and Rorscach down so well. Love how you brought the sign in and changed the Roche incident too! great work :D
etherati
Apr. 12th, 2009 08:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks! The Roche thing was really kind of tricksy - no one thing would have kept him back from the abyss, but a few things working in tandem had a pretty decent shot I figured. XD
i_am_your_spy
Apr. 12th, 2009 08:56 pm (UTC)
Oh, that was very cool. Well done!
etherati
Apr. 12th, 2009 09:56 pm (UTC)
D: *wibbles* Thank you. Really. That means so much, coming from a legend of your status.
seraphitta
Apr. 12th, 2009 10:04 pm (UTC)
Dayum. I just finished all 12 of them.
Great work. You took a cracktastically cracky premise and worked it to make such a lovely piece.
etherati
Apr. 12th, 2009 10:11 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much - my biggest fear with posting this under my normal account was that everyone would go 'pfft crack' and never read anything I write again. D: Glad to hear that it's kindasorta transcended that a bit haha.
ryouseiteki
Apr. 12th, 2009 11:41 pm (UTC)
GLEE
You already know how much I love this story, and you for writing it. ♥
etherati
Apr. 12th, 2009 11:57 pm (UTC)
I match your GLEE and raise you a SQUEE.
<---just found this, most adorable icon ever. <3 Dan.
(no subject) - ryouseiteki - Apr. 13th, 2009 01:26 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
etherati
Apr. 13th, 2009 12:01 am (UTC)
Thanks! Every time someone reaffirms that the fic isn't as cracky as the premise, I get a little more warm and fuzzy inside. :D
aceles
Apr. 13th, 2009 12:25 am (UTC)
This is absolutely gorgeous. I've never read a fic where Rorschach was pulled back from that edge that resonated and stayed as in character as this one did. You turned a simple zombie post-apocalypse AU into something truly beautiful, something much more about those two and their relationship than the whiz bang of the situation. I read it straight from beggining to end, and loved every bit of it.

I was wondering if you'd mind having this podficced? There's barely any in the Watchmen fandom, and I feel like this one would make a great addition.
etherati
Apr. 13th, 2009 12:40 am (UTC)
Awww thanks. :D That's what I was mostly trying to focus on, though the zombie!nerd in me of course had to indulge here and there.

And sure, that's fine, as long as credit's attached - just let me know where it ends up so I can snag a copy. XD
(no subject) - aceles - Apr. 13th, 2009 12:45 am (UTC) - Expand
scarlett_rat
Apr. 13th, 2009 12:50 am (UTC)
Oh man, this was fantastic! Excellent pacing and characters! I loved every moment!
etherati
Apr. 13th, 2009 12:55 am (UTC)
Thanks! Pacing is one of my weak points, especially in longer pieces, so I'm glad to hear that it worked out in this one. :D
lady_wormtongue
Apr. 13th, 2009 04:08 am (UTC)
Wow, you were spot on with the cracky concept taken seriously note at the top! I honestly wasn't sure what to expect, but ended up loving it. This was all kinds of exciting and sweet and sad and wonderful. :D
etherati
Apr. 13th, 2009 04:15 am (UTC)
Thank you! And thank you for giving it a chance despite misgivings - that's all I'm hoping people will do heh, give it a chance.
_audrey
Apr. 13th, 2009 12:56 pm (UTC)
Oh holy shit, this was amazing. :D I love zombie AUs a stupid amount, so I was totally clapping my hands with glee when I saw this. :D :D
etherati
Apr. 13th, 2009 03:22 pm (UTC)
Zombie!nerds unite!

Thanks :) Zombie AUs are a guilty pleasure of mine as well and I did my best to do it justice.
im_unloved
Apr. 13th, 2009 02:24 pm (UTC)
this is a work of grnius.

and you've worded it extremely well.
etherati
Apr. 13th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
Thanks!
bionic
Apr. 13th, 2009 07:16 pm (UTC)
Great story, really enjoyed it. Wonderfully written and I loved how you kept the suspense going in the beginning days, will he turn/won't he, etc. Loved that the bonds of their friendship and partnership were strong enough to hold them through all of this, that Dan never gave up on Rorschach.

Also, I am fascinated by zombie-anything, so this was definitely an interesting read.
etherati
Apr. 13th, 2009 07:34 pm (UTC)
Thank you :) That's what I find myself loving more and more about Dan, the way he is just one of those people that doesn't give up on people. Even when he almost gets eated. D: D: D:
tentaclees
Apr. 13th, 2009 10:35 pm (UTC)
great fic. i think you handled the prompt in, well, the best way i could have imagined it. ay, made my heart ache in parts. <3
etherati
Apr. 14th, 2009 03:03 am (UTC)
I feel bad making people have achey hearts. D: But thank you; I tried to do it the best justice I could. It's just hard to avoid the acheysad with these two under normal circumstances, let alone ones like these.
elspethdixon
Apr. 14th, 2009 01:49 am (UTC)
This fic blew me away. I was expecting cracky zombie fun, and instead this is beautiful and atmospheric and full of a sort of tight-stretched tension that wouldn't let me stop reading until I got the end and everything was, if not okay, at least a certain value of okay (and what does it say about Watchmen that a zombie apocalypse actually improves Rorschach and Daniel's lives?).
etherati
Apr. 14th, 2009 03:10 am (UTC)
It says a lot, I think. It's funny, when I started, I had a handful of scenes and snapshots in my head - I wasn't intending to 'fix' their lives with it(in as much as they could be fixed) but as I was working through what was going on and what effects it would be having, I realized... crap. I think I made things *better*. Wonderful surprise to stumble across halfway through writing a story heh.
(no subject) - psion_dynamo - Apr. 14th, 2009 04:37 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - etherati - Apr. 14th, 2009 04:53 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
etherati
Apr. 14th, 2009 04:52 am (UTC)
Hah, I actually considered that, buuut I couldn't think of any good reason for him to have done so. I'm not fond of Ozy but even I have to admit he always thought he was doing things for the right reasons.

Thank you! I'm always worried about stuff staying in-character, especially when I haven't written much for a given fandom.
lovemyfaceoff
Apr. 14th, 2009 05:24 am (UTC)
Oh wow, that was just FANTASTIC. I'm such a sucker for zombie AU's. They are my favorite things ever.
etherati
Apr. 14th, 2009 05:29 am (UTC)
I know, they are such intense awesome. This is just the first time I've actually written one XD Thanks!
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( 148 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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