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FIC: Dissolution (Adult Content Warning)

Title: Dissolution
Fandom: Watchmen
Characters/Pairing: Dan/Rorschach
Date Written: 2009
Summary: The world only ends once for each of us. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
Rating/Warnings: R for violence, swearing, vaguesex.
Notes: Written for a prompt over at zombie_fest. AU’ed from the normal Zombie AU, split off sometime shortly after Lilacs. Yes, I have AUed my own AU, AGAIN. This didn't happen, this doesn't happen. This could have happened.

*

I. Breaking Apart

*

It’s almost a year to the day since the crisis was declared officially over, since things finally seemed to settle down, since life returned to some kind of normalcy and the city was bolstered and made bold from its brush with blood and terror, that everything unexpectedly goes to hell.

It’s hard to say exactly what’s happened, beyond the obvious fact that history has not learned from its mistakes and has in fact improved upon them, swelled them to grander proportions. It’s been four days since the local radio stations stopped broadcasting; about twelve hours since Dan’s long-range shortwave receiver stopped picking up stations in England, France, the Soviet Union, all the reliable standbys. The sound of human voices had been comforting no matter that the tongues being spoken were often incomprehensible to him. Language barrier or not, they all said one unmistakable thing: there were people out there, alive, thinking and breathing and operating radio transmitters and still with something they thought was worth saying.

Six days of hiding, hoping supplies would hold out, realizing very quickly that they weren’t going to – and the meat chest went empty yesterday, which raises possibilities more frightening than starvation. A week since the first body turned up, savaged and half-eaten, and the dispatcher taking the call had skirted around the obvious, superstitious and evasive and not wanting to evoke last year’s horror anew.

Now, though, it’s like some horrible twist on déjà vu, mirrored and inverted and turned inside out, because this time Rorschach’s in his civilian clothes, the broken-off stump of his signpost clotted with gore – and he’s been torn apart, covered head to toe in blood that can’t possibly be his own. Dan’s still grabbing for the medical kit before he can think.

“Don’t,” Rorschach says sharply, holding one warding hand up in Dan’s direction, and it sounds like it used to, back when disobeying his instructions could lead to broken noses or worse, like he means it. The other hand still clutches the splintered stick, and it hangs there heavily like a broken limb. “Throw the kit, will take care of it myself.”

“But you’re–“

“Different virus,” he reminds, impatience coloring his tone. “You know that. Doesn’t need direct path to bloodstream.”

He does know. The voices on the radio had made that abundantly clear, in the hours before they went accusingly silent. They had pleaded with last year’s outbreak survivors to not get overconfident, not get cocky – and they’d still thought this new epidemic was restricted to the city, then. He’d kept up a map, pulling pins out as each station died, tracking the wave of this thing as it roiled outward from lower Manhattan. When North America had gone completely silent, he’d hoped that would be the end of it. Then he’d lost London, Berlin, Tokyo. His map is empty now, the pins scattered across the table where they’d fallen.

The map is empty and Rorschach’s covered in blood that isn’t his, in contaminant, and all Dan would have to do is idly rub at his eye, swipe the corner of his mouth, or just forget to wash his hands, and that would be it. Hell, Rorschach can’t even just go take a shower to clean the stuff off, because then it’d get into the water system. It probably already is in the water system, because people have been turning while locked inside their homes, the last reports said, with no outside contact, and that’s the only explanation that makes sense.

“Will be fine, Daniel,” Rorschach says, voice suddenly quieter, more metered. He’s holding his hand out now, to catch the kit. “Looks worse than it is.”

Dan complies finally, brows furrowed. “I told you not to go out in the middle of this. I mean, Christ, we don’t even know for certain that you can’t be reinfected–”

“Reasonably sure. Close enough.” He’s shoved the stick under one arm, is pawing through the kit for as many antiseptic swabs as he can hold in one hand. Pulls the bottled isopropyl, too. Alcohol’s no good against a virus, Dan knows that much, so he’s pretty sure Rorschach’s planning on using it to burn his clothes.

Dan sighs heavily, cradling a headache with one hand. He looks almost as dead as Rorschach, between rationing out the food supplies and the lack of sleep and the way the solitude has been wearing on him these last two hours, the way the worry had chewed and gnawed and taken out whole chunks when he wasn’t looking. “Why did they even go after you? The other ones never did.”

A short noise, pain or frustration or both. A whole handful of suture packets, juggled with the swabs. “Might not be keyed to body temperature this time. Must still smell like meat.”

Which is exactly what they need and don’t have, and Dan’s voice is heavy with that awareness. “You didn’t make it to the store, I’m assuming.”

“…no.” A pause. “Six blocks. Made it three.”

*

He goes to the roof through Dan’s attic access – doesn’t want to contaminate the house – and demands that Dan lock the door after him because the roof is connected to many others and if even one of those bastards has managed to climb up a drainpipe anywhere along the line of the building–

Dan sits with his back to the door, waiting, shaking just a little, wondering how things could ever have gone this wrong.

When Rorschach comes back down an hour later, mostly clean and nearly naked and smelling of disinfectant and fire, there’s more black thread in his skin than Dan’s ever seen all at once, and to his weary mind it looks like a map – like his empty radio map downstairs, like their subway directory all scabbed over in dark ink where the tunnels are infested or collapsed or choked with bodies, impassible. Like a map of the downfall of humanity, stitched taut across a dead, grey canvas, an abstracted diagram of exactly how their world will end.

*

“Laurie’s probably safe with Jon, but I have to try to contact Hollis somehow,” Dan says, breaking in on another of what’s become an endless sequence of long silences.

“Phones are down.”

“Anything could have happened, his place isn’t secure at all against this kind of thing–”

“Phones are down, Daniel.” There’s something hard and uncompromising in Rorschach’s voice. “Not safe to leave the house. Not without Owlship.”

Dan scrubs his palms down his face. “Which is in the Nest. Which is currently behind enemy lines, in case you hadn’t noticed.” As if to drive home the point, there’s a loud thud against the reinforced basement door not four feet from where they sit; it says a lot that Dan isn’t even jumping anymore. The monsters swarming downstairs test it every few minutes. They have short memories. “Probably safer to go on foot – there's no way in hell we'll be able to take the basement back. Won't even make it down the stairs."

Rorschach peels the lid off of a can of ancient tuna that Dan had found in the very back of his pantry; it’s questionable, but it’s all the animal protein left in the place. He picks at it slowly, probably hoping to make it stretch. “You don’t understand. Not letting you leave the house without Owlship.”

“What?” And there it is, all the stress of the last six days bubbling up, breaking for the surface. It’s not exactly defiance for the sake of defiance, but damn it– “Rorschach, I’ll do whatever I damn well please. What makes you think you can just–”

A cold hand suddenly winds into his shirtfront, fresh wound over the palm still gaping and puckering behind the sutures. “Was just out there, I saw how…” An inarticulate grunt, something like disgust shot through with fear. “Not going out unprotected. Not up for argument.”

And Dan can see it, in the way Rorschach’s expression is twitching between determination and fear, can feel it in the shaking of the hand in his shirt: he will comply, or he will be handcuffed to his own plumbing for the duration.

There’s another thud against the door; one against the kitchen window, where a double layer of boards has been nailed into place. Any building less reinforced than this would have fallen in the first few days. It’s an ugly, unpleasant reality, but they’re going to be facing a lot of those: Hollis is very likely already dead. Or worse.

Dan’s eyes are unfocused, gaze settled somewhere over Rorschach’s left shoulder, when he finally asks: “All right, well. See anyone you know out there?”

The hand loosens and releases him. Settles back around the can as if nothing had happened, poking through the desiccated grey-pink flakes. “Old landlady. One of the newsvendors. Neither very recognizable.” A pause, considering. “…also, Ozymandias.”

Dan bites his lip; the obvious question hangs. He doesn’t have to ask it. He can just believe that Adrian had been out there as a mask, protecting the streets, fighting off the infected hordes like Rorschach had been, and not… “How was he doing?”

Rorschach doesn’t answer immediately, staring evenly back and tracing a finger idly over one particular line of stitches, a violent and uneven mess of thread and mauled flesh. He doesn’t seem aware that he’s doing it.

“…not well.”

*

They’d attempted one patrol since this all started, just one – too brazen, too confident in Dan’s armor, in Rorschach’s general invulnerability, remembering how easily they’d cleared the streets last time, how many people they’d been able to save.

But there’d been no one to save this time. Just bodies, piled where they’d fallen and lit in the strobing flash from abandoned and disabled rescue vehicles, and anyone who’d survived but been injured was already as good as lost. The incubation on this virus is measured in hours, not days; there’d been a lot of hard choices that night.

Then Rorschach had almost lost his hand, and Dan’d gone down under a pile of the things, shouting panicked and sharp from underneath them, and he hadn’t remembered Rorschach ever seeming so furious, so afraid. By the time they’d broken away and were running, running, being chased like scurrying rodents through the streets and the tunnels, Dan’s armor had been chewed to pieces, useless. It’d been a miracle – and he doesn’t believe in miracles, not anymore – that they hadn’t broken skin.

But the tunnel doors hadn’t held; the basement had breached. It’d been all they could do to shove and rush each other up the stairs to the kitchen and slam the door shut behind them, to lean against it and breathe, to press their ears to the wall and listen to the creatures prowling restlessly around below.

*

“We’re all out of food for you, after that there,” Dan mumbles, head feeling like it weighs two tons where it sits in his hands. He doesn’t really need to say it, because they both know, they’ve been over this. But saying it feels like facing it and that seems important, right now. From downstairs, he can hear a dull rhythmic thump and the sound of things breaking. “How long do you think you can manage?”

A considered silence. “Week. Week and a half, possibly. Too much healing to do,” he adds, and it sounds apologetic, but he’s not going to pull any punches, not when the truth is this important.

And the truth makes Dan laugh, a dark and ugly sound. “So I’ve got a week and a half to live.”

“Not funny, Daniel.”

“Yeah, well.” There’s another jolt at the door; it holds. “Not much about this is.”

*

The tuna lasts another day; after that, he starts in on the most nutritionally useless, physically filling things he can find. Creamed corn, bottled olives, saltines – anything that won’t do Dan much good and will keep his stomach full and his mouth busy.

They finally find a station that’s still broadcasting, somewhere deep in the police bands. It’s a pre-recorded message, and Dan’s heart just about jumps clear out of him when the static resolves itself into a voice.

“…petites are voracious and they will not desist in pursuit of a food source unless dispatched. Use of lethal force authorized in all cases. Message repeats. This is a general warning to all NYPD officers still attempting to maintain order. Persons infected with the Corona-S virus have been declared a Class One biohazard by the World Health Organization. Capture and quarantine are not recommended. They are observed to be indiscriminately violent, their appetites are


Dan turns off the radio. Sits back in his chair for a moment, then laughs.

“What.”

“Just… I don’t know. Violent, persistent and hungry. Sort of reminds me of someone I know.”

A huff of indignation around the spoon Rorschach’s using to clear out a can of syrupy old peaches. “Not funny,” he says again, and his chastisements are repeating themselves, and that’s probably not good, overall.

“Yeah, I – no. It’s not.”

*

He realizes, then: he’s been laughing at a lot of things that aren’t funny, lately.

*

Dan’s jolted awake – it’s mid-afternoon, but their sleep schedule is random and disjointed, more so than usual – by a sound he can’t identify right on the edge of consciousness. He hears the roof door shut, hard, and for just a moment, he can’t breathe.

Then he hears the locking bolt slam home, takes in the fact that he’s alone in the room, and even if any of them were clever enough to figure out how to work a lock, they’d really have no reason to shut out their brethren. It makes sense, but…

“Rorschach?” he calls, cautious, moving to open the door and peer down the hallway. A crumpled heap falls through the attic hatch, missing the ladder entirely. Dan’s rushing down the hall before he can think better of it.

Rorschach pushes to his knees before Dan can get there, one hand holding the other arm to his chest, and he’s missing his shirt- and suit-sleeve from the elbow down. He’s heaving breath, hard and fast – doesn’t need to be, but the brain has its own habits when faced with a massive adrenaline dump. On the hall floor nearby, Dan’s pistol, and the sounds that had woken him make sense, suddenly: gunshots, three of them.

“Roof no longer safe,” Rorschach grits out, shoving to his feet and elbowing past Dan to the stairwell. Probably heading for the downstairs bath to clean out what Dan can see is a nasty bite wound, right around the inner curve of the joint. The water supply is not really a concern anymore.

“What happened?”

No response. Rorschach just wobbles unsteadily at the top of the stairs, hand shaking as it seeks out the handrail. Shuffles down on feet that seem ready to pitch him over at any moment.

“Rorschach? Come on, man. Talk to me here.”

The steps pause just before they hit the landing. In the dim light, he can just about make out embarrassment on Rorschach’s face. “…tried to find food.”

“What, on the roof?”

“Thought…” he trails off, and yes, it’s definitely embarrassment. “Thought pigeons, maybe. I didn’t want to tell you. Know you have a fondness for them.”

A long silence, broken up by the sound of something heavy clambering around up on the roof.

“…we had four rounds in that thing. You used up three of them on pigeons?”

“One for the pigeon,” and his breath is evening out, but he’s obviously still in pain. “Two for… nng. First shot drew its attention. Sloppy. Apologies.”

Dan takes a deep breath, lets it out. Tries to process the fact that Rorschach has gotten desperate enough for food to take potshots at passing birds and hasn’t actually bothered to tell him so, and how dangerous this is actually getting. He doesn’t have much luck.

“Did you hit it?” Dan finally asks, rubbing a building ache from behind his eyes.

A short sound of annoyance. “Which?”

“Either.”

“Hit the… thing.” Rorschach says, eyes glinting with something fierce. “Missed the bird.”

Dan closes his eyes; lets his head fall heavily back against the paneling, a hollow thump that echoes. “…damn it.”

*

“We could probably make it there working together, you know,” Dan says the next day, peering through a crack where two boards are nailed unevenly over the window. “We’ve been able to take… what, fifteen guys at once, that one time?”

Rorschach doesn’t respond; he’s sitting with the shortwave set, rolling the dial all the way to the end and back again. Any previously dead station coming back to life would be a sign of this thing tapering off, but he’s had no luck so far, and it reads like a deliberate distraction tactic.

“And I mean, it’s only six blocks. We can maybe...”

“One misstep,” Rorschach mutters. He looks up from the radio, and it’s hissing with static. “One mistake. Even if you survived, would still have to–”

“Yeah,” Dan says, cutting him off; he’s seen enough late night horror flicks to know where that’s going, and he remembers the early days after the first outbreak, the heavy weight of a pistol in his waistband, the way the thought of actually using it had seemed even heavier. “Immunity must be useful out there.”

From outside, a whooping howl that they’ve come to associate with a whole pack of them, descending like jackals, and the sound of someone screaming. Dan can feel a tiny muscle under his eye twitch. There was a time when they wouldn’t have just ignored something like that.

Rorschach sets the radio on the coffee table, stares it down in its uselessness. “Don’t like what you’re suggesting, Daniel,” he says, and starts running the dial again. The look of concentration on his face is as much a mask as anything he’s ever worn.

Dan reaches to snap the switch off, silencing the rising and falling burble of white noise. Waits until Rorschach actually deigns to look up at him. “…you have a tactical advantage here, and one that you can pass on. I think that’s worth making a goddamned suggestion.”

Disease,” Rorschach grits through his teeth. “Not ‘tactical advantage.’”

“Civilization’s falling down around us. There’s probably less than a million people left alive in the world. I think that distinction depends on where you’re looking at it from.”

A long moment of tense silence, and then Rorschach shrugs – and it’s that resigned apathy that’s starting to worry Dan the most. “Wouldn’t help. Packs are getting larger, thirty strong. Would tear us both to pieces before immunity became a concern.”

A rough sigh, and Dan crosses back to the window, peeks through again, and Rorschach’s right – the density out there is a lot higher, and the half-eaten bodies are starting to pile up beyond his ability to easily count. It’s so wasteful, some bizarre part of his brain volunteers. Most predators eat everything they can, squander nothing.

Most predators are driven by instinct, not madness.

Rorschach growls lowly at the radio, and Dan shudders.

*

Lying in bed that night, Rorschach’s lean cold body wrapped against his back, Dan is startled out of half-consciousness by the feeling of a hand, rough with bristling sutures, working its way into his own. “Hm?” he prompts, muzzy with almost-sleep.

“Wasn’t lying, today. Really would do no good.”

Dan tries to focus through the darkness, to make sure that shifting shadow by the door had only been in his imagination. The myopia’s too much to overcome, and he gives up. “Didn’t think you were.”

He’s pulled in tighter, and a mouth settles into the crook of his neck. “Only warm thing I’ve ever…” the words trail off, and Rorschach sounds almost like he’s talking in his sleep, voice stripped of its affected growl. “Can’t ruin you like that.”

It’s late, and it’s been a long day, and exhaustion breeds more honesty than he’d like. Dan closes his eyes. Through the walls, they can hear hunting noises, bloody murder rendered in a landscape of sound like something prophetic. He wonders how much it hurts, to go down like that. “I think we’re both going to be ruined before this is over.”

No answer; just a hesitant press of lips against his neck, and the starvation shakes have already started.

*

It’s been two weeks and the power’s died and the sun doesn’t come in, and he could try to blame the candlelight for the fine-edged glint of predation catching in the fiery edges of Rorschach’s eyes, but he knows that it’s no illusion, that it’s actually there. He’s seen it a hundred times before, but circumstances are reinterpreting it into something more real and serious than any of the fucked-up fantasies he’s harbored. Rorschach’s staring at him like a starving man stares through frosted glass at the meal he knows he can’t have, and it’s terrifying them both how close the metaphor is to truth.

Eventually, Dan realizes that night, studying his weary, washed-out reflection in the sharpness of the bathroom lights, anyone would get hungry and desperate enough to just break the damn window and be done with it.

*

II. Falling Down

*

“How many people do you think are still alive?” Daniel asks him, and it’s an idiotic question. Rorschach has no more information on the subject than he does. He’s either desperate for conversation or looking to wallow in morbidity. “In the city, I mean.”

“Not many,” and Rorschach surprises himself with his willingness to indulge either impulse. “Only about a thousand of us immune, and even those would only survive long-term in a secure location. More secure than this.”

Daniel doesn’t respond; just sips idly at his coffee. It’s the last of it but that will probably not matter for much longer. He sits crosslegged on the floor while Rorschach paces – the furniture is mostly gone, cannibalized to reinforce the windows and doors, and even those are starting to give out under the now-constant assault.

Rorschach realizes, detached, that it isn’t just Daniel’s morbidity he’s indulging.

“Also,” he continues, because talking keeps his mouth busy and distracts him from the smell of coffee and fear and flesh, from how badly he’s shaking now, all the time. “Many people will be hiding the fact that they’ve been bitten, to gain shelter. Entire strongholds will fall when they turn.”

“I guess it’s human nature to be afraid,” Daniel says, but it sounds like a question, like he’s seeking confirmation or reassurance or permission. The mug in his hand is shivering.

“…yes. It is.”

*

The thing about fear, though – it cuts both ways.

When Daniel first catches him at it, he doesn’t say anything; just angles the heel of his hand out of his mouth, wincing at the way he’s managed to bite clean through the already abused flesh. There’s no blood but it’s still a mess, crooked half-moons sliced into the skin.

“Don’t do this to yourself,” Daniel says quietly, eyes soft and gentle in the poor light, and his voice sounds like pity.

And that’s–

He doesn’t

“Better me than you,” Rorschach growls, broken, and it’s the first time in three weeks either has acknowledged it aloud, put their finger on the inevitable endgame here and held it still long enough to see the shape of it.

Daniel holds the damaged hand in both of his own, looking down at it as thumbs soothe over the wound. “It won’t… Rorschach, it won’t do any good. Anything you get from it would just be spent on fixing it.” Then, more resigned than he can bear to hear: “It won’t buy us any time.”

And Rorschach ducks his head and takes his hand back and there’s something tight in his throat because Daniel doesn’t understand. It’s not about net energy in and out, not anymore; It’s about putting his teeth into something that struggles and thrashes and finally goes still, about skin and muscle splitting apart in his mouth and if it can be his own

Daniel doesn’t understand, not yet. But he probably will.

*

Rorschach catches him at the same game, just once, lying on his side on the kitchen floor and pressing his teeth into the underside of his arm as hard as he can bear – looking at the marks with a thoughtful expression, like he’s trying to gauge just how bad it will be and–

It’s not something he can deal with, the way the image makes his stomach tighten and roll with emptiness, so he backs silently out of the room and spends the next two hours hammering more and more nails into boards that are already as secure as they can possibly be.

*

It’s been three and a half weeks, and that’s more than twice as long as he’d guessed, staring across a kitchen table that’s since been broken apart and nailed across doorframes and windows. The locks and boards and barricades keep the bad things out but they also keep the bad things in, and it’s been three and a half weeks because Rorschach’s self-control and discipline and pain threshold are near-legendary but everyone eventually hits their limits.

They’re sitting on Dan’s bed and they came up here to take it to pieces, add it to the reinforcement, but it seems ludicrous here and now, in this dark and honest space. There’s been too much truth here, spoken and unspoken, soaked into the walls, and the lie that they can just keep boarding things up and bandaging them over and ignoring them feels intolerable. A dozen more planks will do nothing but delay…

Dan thinks about the bodies they’ve seen, the sounds they’ve heard, and he knows that these monsters are too mindless to have any sense of mercy, of making it quick. He wonders, idly, if they leave you alive and awake while they eat you.

“Should leave,” Rorschach’s saying, his voice chopped up and ruined by how badly he’s shaking. “Can barely be in the same room without wanting…”

“I know.”

Have to leave. Can go through the roof access. Won’t let them–”

Dan reaches across, sets his hand on the back of Rorschach’s neck, fingers working into muscle knotted by tension, by the way he can’t stop trembling, by the flight instinct rising in him because of course he wants to run, thinks it will be better if he runs. There’s no room here for that lie, either.

“…Daniel,” he chokes out, hands wringing.

“They’re going to break through in the next few hours. We know that. You leave, and I’m as good as dead.”

“Good as dead if I stay,” and there it is: the truth they’ve both been dancing around for weeks. Dan can see the control shuddering out of him, can see the way he’s shaking off whispers and impulses and all the things that ride in instinct’s belly. Can see him losing the battle.

“We could go down fighting,” he suggests, and it seems so natural suddenly, to be making these kinds of choices. “If you can keep it together that long.”

Rorschach cringes under his hand, mutters. “You don’t – don’t really want that. No fight left.”

“Not really, no.”

A long stretch of silence in the wake of that admission, and for once, it’s comfortable – like the bizarre quiet just before a storm hits, before the blade drops, it feels like respite.

Rorschach shifts suddenly, shuffling onto his feet, and he’s so unsteady that he almost falls over when Dan grabs him by the wrist, pulls him back down. He looks so lost and empty, too far gone even for fear.

And if he’s going to die tonight–

“Stay,” he whispers, honest and desperate. “Whatever happens – god, it can’t be worse than what’ll happen if you leave.”

A strangled noise, too loud between close walls.

*

He wants to scream, because he needs to leave but he’s staying instead, staying and letting Daniel double-lock the door and peel him down to skin and he knows, he knows–

He knows how this will end and it’s killing him but how can he deny Daniel anything right now, how can he–

And he–

And they’ve never done this, he’s never allowed it, but they won’t ever be this close again and Rorschach can’t find any fight when Daniel presses him back onto the bed, covers over him like a blanket, pushes inside him with a look on his face like this is something he’s always, always wanted. It’s like something out of a dream, broken fragments and moments coming out of order with all the in-between pieces missing, and after some time has passed he thinks he can make out a stream of nonsense tumbling from Daniel’s mouth, chopped up by the way he’s rocking, by breath coming rough and choked with fear.

“It’s okay,” Daniel says, but it isn’t. “It’s all right, I understand,” he says, but he can’t. “It isn’t your fault,” he says, then again and again, “Not your fault,” and Rorschach’s being pushed further out of himself with every thrust and Daniel won’t stop talking, rationalizations and circumstances and not alone, not alone, as if he can hold this off indefinitely by not ever being finished with what he needs to say, by not being ready.

“It’s not your fault,” he says again, insistent, loud enough to be heard over the sound of glass breaking and boards snapping downstairs, and Daniel’s got his hands on narrow hips, holding Rorschach still, stopping him from setting a pace that will make this hurt, make it punishment. “We tried. It’s okay.”

Punishment. Penance. Good try. Not good enough. Rorschach stares at the ceiling, and he’s shaking and freezing and it’s strange and good like he imagines it’s supposed to be but he can’t focus past the feel of the face under his hands, a thousand tiny muscles working in concert to create this fragile, expressive thing. Disconnected images, thoughts: They will be pouring into the living room soon, they will be scenting the air and climbing the stairs and the bedroom door is heavy but it will not hold forever. Daniel is kissing him; Daniel’s hips are rolling against him, deep and slow and gentle. In the house, the monsters are gathering. It is the end of the world, and Daniel is muttering assurances and forgiveness into his mouth and into his ear. “It’s okay,” he’s saying, “I don’t blame you.”

He’s drifting – pushed so far out now that his eyelids are twitching and he’s growling, low and constant, and his hands are moving on their own, clawing possessively and demandingly and crying for violence and this does not hurt and it should, should be tearing him to pieces like he’s going, like he’s going to tear–

Shouldn’t feel like a warm swell of life heavy in his gut, shouldn’t make him feel like he’s living even as he’s dying, as they’re both dying, and–

“Not your fault,” Daniel is saying, and it’s barely comprehensible because his voice is wrecked and his body’s pulling taut and his seams are coming undone, all of them, like he’s the one stitched together in quiltwork. Pain and doubt and regret are leaking out alongside release; and anger, and a terrible tenderness. Rorschach can feel moisture when Daniel ducks his head to press his face to his throat, a warm tracking of salt because the body always knows, and does not care what the brain has decided, and finds the fear, lays it plain. His hands shake against Rorschach’s sides, anchoring into the sheets.

Time feels broken. He has no idea how long they just lie like this, Daniel’s chest heaving against his, skin flushed and alive and it will never be this warm again, ever. Hours or seconds. Flat planes of muscle, hot under his hands. He can hear them scratching around the door, digging at the hinges, trying to work the handle.

Rorschach feels his fingers clamp down somewhere, feels the knobby ridge of spine under them, doesn’t know why he’s holding on so hard. Words are mouthed, warm and silent, against his skin: Better this way. Not alone.

Forgive you.

And a sound is trying to escape, like some half-formed word, thought, idea – but it won't shake free. His body is screaming at him, is demanding, unrelenting, throat clenching around the naked depth of the need rising up it. His hand tightens and he can feel things breaking apart in his head and somewhere in there, he hears a breath catching too hard and tastes meat and iron and feels something giving far too easily between his teeth and from somewhere far away, things are ending, ending – but he isn’t there for any of it, not really.

*

It's only when he comes back to himself, blood still drying on his face and his hands and caked under his fingernails, soaked deep into the mattress, that he realizes the word was probably trying to be 'goodbye.'

He screams then, wails and howls for what feels like hours, babbles apologies and condemnations and nonsense to empty air, and he retches and heaves but his starved body refuses to purge–

And he falls and falls and falls.

*

In the end, his voice gives out before the door does, and he lies shaking on the bed, one arm curled over the cooling mess of what was– what had been–

[Quiet smiles quiet eyes, good man, gentle hands working a needle through his skin, working the evil out of the fabric of the city, working his secrets out from under all the layers – working magic, in that way they had of taking things apart and putting them back together better than they were before. Trusting him on the street, in the air, in this room, and something worth trusting in return, something good and incorruptible and–

Go back further: they are standing, in uniform and triumphant, for the only publicity photo they will ever have taken – the Underboss and his hirelings at their feet, gift-wrapped for the police and off the streets, so many lives saved, made safer, made better–

And outside, the world is dying.

It’s all been so futile.]

And he waits, staring at the ceiling, at the delicate pattern of rust-colored spatters on the wall behind him, feeling how cold these blankets will always be now,

At the hour when we are trembling with tenderness–

because he can hear the wood splintering around the lock, the hinges starting to pull out of the wall, and when they come prowling in here they will not see him as one of their own. He will just be more meat, to be rent and torn and consumed.

Lips that would kiss–

He has his absolution. He has his inheritance. Both are paid in blood, chilled and sticky on his skin.

This is the way the world ends. This is the way–

This is the–

This–

The door wrenches out of its frame, and it’s so, so quiet.

It will all be over soon.

**

*

*

Quotes in last section courtesy ‘The Hollow Men’, T.S. Eliot, 1925.

 


Comments

( 123 comments — Leave a comment )
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brancher
Sep. 7th, 2009 01:09 am (UTC)
Fuck.
etherati
Sep. 7th, 2009 05:25 pm (UTC)
We have discussed the full contents of 'fuck' elsewhere, but, yeah. :\
bane_6
Sep. 7th, 2009 01:21 am (UTC)
And now I'm gonna spend the rest of the day yelling "GAHHHH!" for no reason. Like the neighbors don't already think I'm weird! But still... this is painfully sad and bizarrely sweet.
etherati
Sep. 7th, 2009 02:32 am (UTC)
Thank you. Writing it broke me up pretty good, but now that it's out it feels like it needed to be written.
wednesday42
Sep. 7th, 2009 02:59 am (UTC)
Jesus fucking...

God.

No words can encompass what this did to me. It was real enough that I'll be expending one hell of a lot of energy to refute that it was real, if that makes any sense whatsoever.
etherati
Sep. 7th, 2009 05:27 pm (UTC)
It does make sense. I've been doing the same thing. I have to keep catching myself and reminding, no, no, it was just a bad dream. It didn't happen. I almost need to actually WRITE one of them waking up from this as a dream, in order to really believe that.

Thank you, though. I'm still having trouble finding the words to explain what writing it did to me, too.
daylilymoon
Sep. 7th, 2009 03:15 am (UTC)
oh boys ;_;

This hurts so bad. The unspooling horror and slowly unwinding truth of what's going to happen to them is done so well. I kept thinking maybe they'll find a voice on the radio or something will let up--but you kept it honest to where it had to go, and I appreciate that. Really glad you didn't veer away.

Also happy at how long this is, in case you didn't know. :D We would have missed out on brilliant little pieces of the story like Dan experimentally biting his own arm, or Ror scanning the radio dial as a distraction, or missing the pigeon.

Oh god the ending ;_; exactly what it should have been for this. I can't describe very well my feelings about it now but what you should know is I'm seriously floored and impressed. That little memorial to Dan between the brackets was pure love and now I need to call the people I love just to appreciate and say hi because wow.

Favorite line that isn't the ending:
The monsters swarming downstairs test it every few minutes. They have short memories.
Because that's where the horror sinks in.
etherati
Sep. 7th, 2009 05:37 pm (UTC)
The weird thing is, it was the little character moments that killed me the most to write, because I knew how futile all of it was. The length really got away from me, but yeah, I thought it was important to really show the progression towards not just realizing the danger but also realizing its complete inevitability, and realizing that aside from something completely unexpected like Jon popping in with a hamburger on a silver plate, it was just about the best ending they could hope for in the situation. The idea that Dan knows Ror's going to kill him and still all he wants is to be as close as he can be before it happens and to try to get Ror to understand that it isn't his fault, which is utterly futile against the magnitude of realizing you just murdered your lover of course, but he still has to try because he is who he is, even right up at the end like this. And even having written it, that whole sequence just hurts.

I did not set out with the intention of making people appreciate and reach out to those they care about, but I am very glad if I've done so.

Thank you for, as always, a beautifully thought-out and content-and-depth-packed comment that makes me want to write a wall of text in response.
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acidicfog
Sep. 7th, 2009 04:25 am (UTC)
Oh God.
... Oh. God.
]: Fucking amazing. As always. I love you. Now I'm going to go baww in the corner.

Also I have some of The Hollow Men on my journalmajigger. This is probably the only context in which Rorschach's world would end in a whisper. :>
etherati
Sep. 7th, 2009 05:41 pm (UTC)
Yeah. Mostly because he's too numb to recognize a bang. I'm sure the door coming off its hinges was actually very loud, but he's pulled so far into himself at this point that everything's just fading out down below the noise floor and nothing is anywhere near as loud as the screaming in his head, so it's all whisper-quiet and I honestly doubt he'll even feel it when they go at him. :\

God I am fantastic at depressing myself.

Thank you, seriously. I've been baww in the corner since I wrote it, so you have company.
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circleswithin
Sep. 7th, 2009 05:22 am (UTC)
Holy shit. This is some of the scariest stuff ever. The new zombies are terrifying and WE DON'T EVEN SEE THEM. And the growing fear between them about the inevitable end... I gasped a little when they talk about Ror possibly infecting Dan because I hadn't even thought of that, and I was sort of hoping they would even though it wouldn't do any good.

OMG Dan wanting to be killed by Ror instead of the others...sweet in a beyond fucked up way. And the bed meaning too much for them to break it apart. Broke my heart.
etherati
Sep. 7th, 2009 06:02 pm (UTC)
It was less the bed itself and more just the level of honesty it brought to mind, and how it made them be honest with themselves about how completely futile what they're trying to do is, face this ugly truth that it's pretty much game over and all that's left is to choose how to go out. D: And yeah, I specifically tried to avoid showing the zombies or describing them, because I think the effect they're having, the sounds and the visuals through the cracks in the windows and the way the assault is unrelenting, is more effective than like, a physical description.

Dan... yeah, I mean, at least this way there was a chance that the one killing him would retain just enough of a scrap of lucidity to make it fast and relatively painless. And he gets to not be alone which is I think the biggest thing. Ughhhhh it hurts. I need to go write something fluffy now.
unimagine
Sep. 7th, 2009 05:30 am (UTC)
Oh...

Just...oh.

I am horrified, heartbroken, and deeply, deeply impressed all at once. The way it slowly becomes apparent what will happen, and the ending. Dear god, the ending.

Thank you for this, so much. Your writing never fails to move me to tears. Every single scene is perfectly placed and beautiful beyond words. It makes me remember just how delicate and precious life is.

It feels almost trivial to point this out, but this sentence 'feels the knobby ridge of spine under his them' has a typo and some of your paragraphs aren't double spaced.
etherati
Sep. 7th, 2009 06:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you. That unraveling was something I really felt needed to be very gradual, and that's a large part of why it ended up so long, because so many spots needed bridges, needed smoothing points. And while I didn't set up to present a picture of the careful fragility of life, it is not exactly a statement I am ashamed of making. Because it really, really is.

(I fixed the typo but I'm not seeing the paragraph issue? they all look spaced, at least in my browser)
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neuroticsquid
Sep. 7th, 2009 07:15 am (UTC)
Oh God.

This is beautiful and terrifying and it hurts, and I'd leave more coherent feedback but I keep going back to reread Rorschach biting himself and Daniel coming to terms with knowing he's going to die, and oh God I love this.

I love everything about your zombie AU, really. ♥
etherati
Sep. 7th, 2009 07:23 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much. I'm. actually getting kind of incoherent and broken going through these so I apologize for also not being super-eloquent right now.

Dan in this, the more I reread it and read people's reactions, is just really breaking me. god.
junkie_murderer
Sep. 7th, 2009 10:23 am (UTC)
These things you write... they are so beautiful. I don't know what to say.

I never thought cannibalism could bring me to tears.
etherati
Sep. 7th, 2009 07:32 pm (UTC)
I don't really know what to say anymore either. This is getting harder and harder. Thank you.
cdiar
Sep. 7th, 2009 04:05 pm (UTC)
Think Brancher pretty much summed up my thoughts.

I love stories that do not have happy endings. Because that's life. Even with zombies.

I dunno what to say except that you've rocked my world yet again with these fics. I don't think I've ever commented before-- which makes me feel like a jerk and if I had time I'd totally go back and comment on every one of them-- but you're just... I have no words. <3
etherati
Sep. 7th, 2009 07:31 pm (UTC)
I think there's something really powerful in exploring/acknowledging the worst-case ending, just how bad it can really get. I don't know. This isn't the worst. I can't really go much worse, though. I'm screwed up enough over this as it is.

Thank you. It's fine. I don't comment on as much fic as I should. I don't interact as much as I should in general. Should tell the people I think are awesome, how awesome they are.
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radishface
Sep. 7th, 2009 05:09 pm (UTC)
indulgent, sensual, and relentless. ugh. it did have to be written, didn't it? it was a good ending for the both of them.

i love how it was inevitable from the start-- that i knew how it would end, but you somehow still managed to draw me in, give *some* sense of hope... only to ruthlessly crush it later. D: ow.
etherati
Sep. 7th, 2009 07:36 pm (UTC)
It was as good as it could have been, short of somehow making it to the ship and getting out. and it did. there couldn't be any options, any good choices, any deus ex machina. life is bad sometimes.

thank you.
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quietprofanity
Sep. 7th, 2009 05:24 pm (UTC)
Wow. I really enjoyed this story. I loved the last scene of them together and the ending and the growing tension that just leads up to ... yeah. Once again, you've taken something that is NOT MY THING and made it into MY THING and that is awesome. Cheers.
etherati
Sep. 7th, 2009 07:40 pm (UTC)
thank you. i'm sorry I'm not thinking very well right now to reply properly. them being together at the end of things was the only way i could not want to beat my head into a wall for writing it, afterwards. i still kind of do.
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tuff_ghost
Sep. 7th, 2009 05:43 pm (UTC)
This fic keeps making me think of like, Old Yeller, and Of Mice and Men. Stories where a beloved friend has to die because the world is a hard, messed up place, and the death of the friend means the end of a dream of happiness that once seemed so in reach and realizable. It's an old, simple kind of sadness, but it's always been really famous and memorable when it's appeared in fiction. I think this fic fully evoked that kind of sadness, with all the richness of any famous story, and that in itself is an amazing accomplishment for a work of fanfic.

The pattern's changed a bit here though - it's even more cutting and compelling because both parties know what's going on. That's where it changes from a child's experience of loss to epic romance. The loss of an idyllic happiness to the hazards of a hard world is still there, but the full awareness of the process is a new, adult element. The defeat's not just due to the heroes' powerlessness; it's the result of their power, all their wits and efforts, being insufficient. I find that even more painful to contemplate.

The other thing I want to babble about is your demonstration of all their wits and efforts, how you actually showed them considering their options and struggling to get out in a totally believable way. Which is another thing that is simple, but also rare - at least in the context of HURR MAYBE I SHOULD RUN UP THE STAIRS schlocky horror movies (of which zombie flicks are a staple, right!). It does amp up the sense of defeat, getting to see how much they really tried and being able to honestly think, "You know if that was me, I would probably be just as fucked."

god, there's even more brain barfing I want to do, but I think I should save that for IM. Don't be too miserable for too long, ok?
etherati
Sep. 7th, 2009 07:40 pm (UTC)
We've talked in IM about all of this. Still are. don't need to go in depth here. you're a beautiful person and I'm so glad I know you.
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jeppa
Sep. 7th, 2009 07:34 pm (UTC)
You strip them down and take away all of their options, and yet you still allow them to make their last choices in a moment of full honesty and sincerity.

grats, this is beyond beautiful.
etherati
Sep. 7th, 2009 07:41 pm (UTC)
Thank you. really. that's the only choice that ends up mattering, I think. Things can go wrong in so many ways, and the last choice you have is how to deal with it.
steals_thyme
Sep. 7th, 2009 08:42 pm (UTC)


etherati
Sep. 7th, 2009 09:07 pm (UTC)
Thank you. Really. I needed that so, so badly. Between this and boozed-up cocoa I think I'm getting back to being okay again.

God, the look on his face. What a terrifying thing to wake up from, and what a sense-obliterating wall-of-water hit of relief it'd be when it sinks in that none of it happened. I'm feeling that face, right now.

You're sweet and wonderful and <3 and I dono how I'd get along without you. :3
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( 123 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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