Characters/Pairings: Z!Rorschach, Dan
Date Written: 2010
Summary: Zombie Physiology 101, or: Why Rorschach drinks decaf.
Notes: Zombie!verse, the first autumn after the outbreak. Nonsense. Complete, utter, throwaway nonsense.
They're well above the city by the time he notices it, cutting a lazy circle through the low-hanging cloud ceiling of an autumn rainstorm in the brewing. Underneath his hands, the controls, the dash, the guts of the ship, then: open sky, and their city, the lights of cars and the animated neon of nightclubs and search spotlights showing no signs of quieting with the advance of midnight. The city is twitchy, tonight – and so is his partner, apparently. It's just a tiny motion from the corner of his eye but it’s enough, and Dan pulls the ship into a stable hover, quiets the police band radio. Swivels the chair around to get a better look. "How many of those have you had?"
Rorschach cradles the styrofoam cup between bare hands, half-masked face held close to the steam. It's still early in the night but he'd complained of cold, had consented to this short break. Adrenaline must have masked it, before. "Two. I think. Not... Two. Yes."
"Counting that one?"
Rorschach nods, a sloppy and uncoordinated motion, and the cup sloshes in his hands. It's still half full, which means really he's only had one and a half–
And yeah, Archie's coffee machine makes it a little stronger than most people are used to, but if anyone should be accustomed to it by now, it's Rorschach. "You usually go through four without so much as a jitter," Dan says, and he's a little nervous because if that's not to blame then something else is, and Rorschach's shaking like he was a few months ago, starving himself into a midsummer freeze. "What's going on in there?"
Rorschach grimaces, bringing the cup close for another sip but thinking better of it before it gets there. "Nothing. I'm fine."
"Like hell," Dan says, reaching out to pluck the cup from his hands before he spills it; Rorschach moves to reclaim it, lunging in entirely the wrong direction, a second too slow. "Come on, talk to me here. Are you hungry?"
"No," and he shuffles in the seat, something like embarrassment in his posture. "Nothing like that."
"No more than usual for the weather."
The coffee cup is heavy in his hand, and hot – he looks down at it for a moment, then up again, eyes narrowed. Maybe he'd discounted it too quickly. "Feeling jittery at all?"
Even the small motion of his head to track Dan's voice is broken into a sequence of stuttered jerks, and that's enough of an answer. But Rorschach still shrugs, a sharp, fast motion. "Lot of energy, if that's what you mean."
"How about... I don't know, do you feel kind of dissociated?" Dan crouches down to eye level, tracking the subtle list-and-correct of his partner's motion, side to side.
He's not impressed with the scrutiny. An annoyed grump, then, "Not sure. Haven't ever been 'dissociated'."
"Remember back in '68 when we went after the Dark Hands that first time, and the one guy hit you with the pop-bomb?"
Rorschach hunches his shoulders, looks away like he'd rather forget. "You're asking if I feel high."
A shuffling of coat collar, and a measured silence. "Mildly," Rorschach finally concedes, and his voice really does sound strange – sort of hollow and swimmy, like he isn't quite feeling his vocal chords, is just enacting speech through blind muscle memory. It's eerie.
Dan's doing his best to ignore it, ignore the way pale hands shake on the edge of the chair and one knee has started to bounce restlessly. "Huh. What about your equilibrium?"
"What, there's nothing wrong with it, or you don't have any?"
The ship lists lightly to one side then, caught in an unexpected air current with extremely convenient timing, and it's enough to rock Rorschach out of his chair – onto his feet instead of onto the floor, through some old battle-honed instinct. He crosses the cabin with the same tweaky, jerky motions they see in the coked-up college kids that they scare out of the park sometimes, but he's also obviously off balance. He finally comes to rest against the far wall, hands finding purchase there, clinging like a man hopelessly lost at sea – and Archie hadn't even moved that much.
"...the latter," he finally says, the admission seeming to annoy him more than his condition. He pushes off from the wall, tries to navigate his way back.
Dan catches him halfway there, halting the motion with hands on his shoulders and it's like Rorschach wants to vibrate clear out of his skin, the way he's shaking. "Hey," Dan says, gesturing with one finger. "Pull your mask up for a minute?"
A moment's confused silence, then Rorschach hooks his fingers under the latex, pulls it the rest of the way up. When his eyes come into view, they're blown wide open, reflective backlighting filling out almost the entire iris, and that shouldn't even be possible anymore. "God," Dan says, laughing suddenly, maneuvering Rorschach back towards the copilot seat. It's something like maneuvering a drunk housecat. "Here, sit down."
"What is it?" Rorschach asks, irritation clear even through the usual growl.
Dan's working to compose himself; picks the coffee cup back up and tosses it into the nearest trash hatch no matter that it's still hot, still perfectly good. Slumps down into his own chair, still laughing.
"God, man," he repeats, rubbing at his eyes. "I haven't seen this shit since finals week at Harvard."
Rorschach growls, low and steady; his hands can't seem to stay still. "Liberal intellectual stronghold, students indulging in illegal drugs. Always suspected as much. Must have been planted in Archimedes's water supply, got into the coffee from there," and he's going a mile a minute now, words tumbling out faster than he can form them–
–and it's going to be a very, very long night. Dan can only shake his head, still laughing, putting one hand up to interrupt the tirade. "No, no, look. It is the coffee. Massive caffeine high, from what I can see. It takes most people six cups to get to this state, eight maybe. I have no idea how you got this bad on a cup and a half."
Rorschach's already out of the chair again by the time Dan finishes, ignoring him, scuttling along the wall. He's following where he probably imagines the water supply pipes are running. It's really the exhaust panel. "Why did you refill it, if it was hitting you this hard?"
"Wasn't," he says, and it's bitten off. "Not until – all at once. That’s how most drugs work." Fingers start prying into the panel next to him, looking for a grip to peel it back.
That's Not A Good Idea. "Whoa, whoa there," Dan says, springing up to put a halt to what appears to be an attempt to dismantle his ship. "It's not in the water, seriously, and that's not where the water is anyway."
"Where is it," and there's a rising note of panic in his voice. He crosses the compartment with a fast, irregular tread, momentarily distracted by the sudden appearance of his own shadow on the wall he's approaching before he starts scrabbling at the next panel over instead. "Have to find it, find out what it is– find an antidote–"
"Stop taking my ship apart, Christ. " Dan stalks after him, swatting at Rorschach's hands when he gets there to direct them away from the wall. He's already gotten the panel wrenched back by maybe a half an inch, and Dan sighs, fingering the damage. "Seriously, sit the hell down. It's not drugs."
A long silence, interrupted only by the faint cracking of joints where Rorschach clenches and unclenches his fists, compulsive. The ship's innards whirr and burble away behind the wall panel innocuously.
"Coffee can't do this, Daniel," and he sounds uncertain even as he makes the assertion.
Dan shrugs, leaning into the panel to try to wedge it back into place. The metal groans unhappily. "Maybe it can, now."
Rorschach reaches for his mask – it's already above his browline and they're too far above the city for it to matter – sweeps it the rest of the way off, and fumbles it through restless fingers. "Because... hn. Because I process it differently now?"
"You process pretty much everything differently now," Dan says, abandoning the panel for now and taking him by the shoulders again, directing him to the chair. They really are comfortable chairs; you'd think it wouldn't be so hard to keep someone in them, no matter how stoned on caffeine they are. "And it's just another chemical."
"Don't use drugs."
"Yes, actually, you do," Dan says, pushing his own goggles up and out of the way. "Coffee's legal, cocaine isn't. But they'll both tweak you to hell and back in the right doses. All that means–" he cuts in, before Rorschach can say whatever he'd opened his mouth to interject with, "–is that we have to adjust that dose. Cut you off after half a cup from now on, maybe. Moderation's the key to everything, you should know that by now."
After a long, skittery silence, the bolts in the base of Rorschach's chair rattling in their fittings as if the act of thinking were itself a mechanical thing, he finally nods.
Dan makes a mental note to stock up on decaf, and goes back to flying the ship.
The gang members and drug dealers and pimps and petty thieves all have a strange story to tell tonight, to the police who drag them in or to the people they end up sharing a holding cell with, packed in like cattle. No one ever knew Rorschach could be so talkative, especially while punching them in the faces or tying them to posts or dropping like a nightmare horror from the fire escape above – blathering on about exactly what their delinquency is doing to the city, with verbal flow charts and asides and elaborations all rattled off so quickly they could barely catch a word that he said. It was bizarre, as was Nite Owl laughing at their predicament, ears talked clear off their heads until they were happy to be cuffed and abandoned and arrested for the goddamned silence it brought–
But the subsequent nights bring no similar news, all the reports indicating a return to normalcy, to the silent and efficient dispensing of justice that is this particular vigilante's modus operandi. And if there are slightly fewer calls, a less crowded cell on those later nights, well, that's back to normal too – one masked man or even two can only move so fast, can only be in so many places at once.