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 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 notes: Thus completes the
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