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FIC: Five Days

Title: Five Days
Fandom: Watchmen Z!verse/Left4Dead
Characters/Pairings: Rorschach/Dan, some L4D guest cameos.
Date Written: 2011
Summary: "It takes five days to change," says the graffiti. When you don't know if you're immune or not, it's a hell of a long time to wait.
Rating/Warnings: R for language. Warning for attempted suicide, but under the circumstances it's pretty understandable.
Notes:  For hc_bingo, which I have so far utterly failed at. 'zombie apocalypse'. So of course I had to take my already-sick-of-zombies zverse boys and throw the L4D verse at them. D:


The door slams shut under their combined weight, an impact they can feel in their bones. Outside, something heavy hits the reinforced panels, sounding like a two-ton fist. It probably is.

They hold the door together for a moment, listening to it strain under the assault—letting reality twist itself back out of madness and into a shape they understand. The usual post-fight checklist hovers: shelter, security, first aid, and that is where it starts to sink in, because there can be no aid for this.

Dan slumps down against the door, unclamps his hand from around his arm. Stares down at the bite; the fabric of his shirt curls away from it in ragged tatters.

Then a strong, cold hand on his chin, turning his face up and leveling it into the light. Rorschach looks down at him, expression carefully neutral, searching his eyes for something. Scouring him.

"Stay here," Rorschach finally says and he's trying to give nothing away but they know each other too well for that. Twitch under the eye, that's fear, and the way his eyes hone in on a point just shy of where Dan actually is, keeping him soft-focus and fuzzy: That's grief.

Rorschach moves away, to the other side of the bunker. Dan closes his eyes, figures he'll hear the metallic clack of a round chambering any second now. "I'm sorry it has to be like this," he says, because it's true.

Rorschach only grunts. It echoes in the space.

"I tried to keep ahead of them, I did. I know I promised that I... I know I promised."

Again, no reply, but it sounds like a zipper running, then the rustling of Rorschach digging through something. A supply kit maybe, rations, and it suddenly hits Dan that maybe he isn't going to... to do what has to be done. For his own safety. He shudders, imagining Rorschach stuck in here with him when he turns, and reaches for the pistol jammed into his own belt, starts easing it free. No reason Rorschach has to be the one to do it, after all.

Probably better if he isn't.

"I didn't want you to end up alone," Dan says, once he's got it it out and ready; there aren't many bullets left, but he only needs one. "I know we don't say stuff like this, but I love you, buddy. And I'm sorry."

"Shut up, Daniel," Rorschach says, any possible affection drowned in anguish and that'll have to do, Dan supposes. There's a stretched out moment then, where it feels like all possible futures are coalescing down to a point, and Rorschach must hear the safety clicking off because supplies scatter onto the floor and there are sudden footfalls like the pounding of a heart, of his heart, and as fast as he can he just shoves the muzzle into his mouth and he will not open his eyes he will not look at Rorschach when he—

A sharp, sudden pain, like every bone in his hand has been broken all at once and the gun is flying across the room, out of his reach.

His bitten arm throbs, hot and relentless; they are both doomed.

Dan opens his eyes, and Rorschach is standing over him, a bloody baseball bat in his hand because he wouldn't have had the reach to get to him in time otherwise, and okay, maybe only a few of the bones in his hand are broken but jesus.

"Are you insane," Rorschach growls, and this is no longer a cryptic, deciphered twitch of fear. He is terrified, and furious. The bat drops to the cement floor with a violent clatter. "Why would you—"

"We don't have any time," Dan says, his own voice flat on his tongue. "We don't have time to fuck around here, we might only have a few minutes, I..."

"Thought you'd just say your goodbyes and be done with it?"

A long silence; Dan can hear the blood pounding in his ears, wonders how much of that is just shock.

"Yeah," he says, eyes drifting closed again, clutching his hand to his chest. "Yeah, I did."

"Coward," Rorschach spits. He crouches, reaches to tear Dan's sleeve open to the elbow, disappears again to pick the supplies back up from the floor; against closed eyelids, Dan watches the stars spin out, nauseating. When Rorschach returns, it's with needle and thread and bandages, splints and gauze, disinfectant.

I could hurt you, Dan thinks, watching Rorschach clean out the wound. But he can't get his mouth to cooperate.

"Will protect myself, if you..." Rorschach trails off, concentrating for a moment on just wicking the blood up. "Not defenseless. But otherwise..." He presses his mouth into a thin line, turns Dan's arm in his hands, and it is the most tender he has ever been. "If there's a chance you could survive this..."

There is no chance, and they both know it.

He is being asked to ignore what he knows, for now.

Dan lets his head fall against the door again. He's numb and exhausted and time isn't working right, and the rhythmic rise and fall of inhuman screams outside eventually lulls him into an uneasy rest, something right on the edge of sleep.

Rorschach tends him in silence.


They start their mad dash out of New York in the company of a hundred other refugees, crammed onto a converted Greyhound, windows blacked over and reinforced. It feels a little like human trafficking, and the men with the guns force Rorschach to sit in the back under tense, paranoid armed guard, but it's the only way out and their numbers have come up, pack your bags, time to go.

So Dan just sits as close as he can and never lets his partner out of his sight. If they can survive the scrutiny and stay together and just make it through Pennsylvania, there are transports heading west and south, away from the cities. They might stand a chance.

Then someone in the military apparently takes exception to what these upstart local cops are trying to do for their people. Prop planes, buzzing insectoid and low over the horizon, and the ground opens up in front of the bus like a yawning, swallowing canyon.

Dan has never been this close to a real explosion, not just some bit of dynamite rigged up to blow a safe but a real shell, with shrapnel and pressure waves and everything, and for a moment he thinks he's dead; for another, after that, thinks that he's blind and deaf and will be forever. Then the chaos comes back and instinct takes over, and he takes advantage of it all to shove past the guards and grab Rorschach along the way and wrench the emergency exit open and out they go, steam from a bottle, evaporating into these new, treacherous wilds.

Fog that is really smoke. Snow that is really ash. Promises to keep, and miles to go before I—

Somewhere nearby, the sound of crying, a limitless sorrow turned inside-out until all it can do is devour itself.

This is a dream, Dan realizes as they run and run, but it is also not a dream. Under his feet, the ground is too soft and springy, and the light through the trees is too sharp, casting their shapes into lurching horrors from childhood, gnarled fingers curling and unfurling. But the noises are right and the terror is right; this is how it really felt.


He wakes up some indeterminable time later, his arm bandaged from elbow to wrist, sleeve rolled up into something resembling neatness. His other hand, the one he'd been holding the pistol with, actually hurts more than the bite. Three fingers have been carefully set and splinted, something makeshift rigged up to keep his palm flat, and he's sure some of the thin bones in there are at least fractured. Bruising paints the skin like a study in violet and black, and just thinking about flexing his fingers results in a jolt of very real pain.

Pain's good, at the moment. It means he isn't numb yet, eyebrows to toes, like he eventually will be. It means he still has time.

He tries Rorschach's name, tests it against the dryness of cracked lips. It doesn't really work, just a rough whisper with most of the consonants missing, but Rorschach still appears, like he's come out of thin goddamned air. Cold fingers touch Dan's hand, his face, run through his hair.

They rest on his eyelids like a prayer, and that is the only way he knows he has closed them.


Later—he's not sure how much later, but his head feels a little clearer now, his mouth less cottony—there's a knocking against his door, frantic but human, a staccato of short sharp little raps. Panic, he thinks, but the idea doesn't stir any predatory impulses at least, doesn't make him think of exploitable weaknesses. That's good. Time estimates, scrawled on the wall in paint and magic marker, seem to range from five minutes to five days, and there's probably a reason for all the uncertainty.

An angry bellowing echoes through the metal, demanding.

"Go away," Rorschach snarls in reply, hands pressed against the door, forehead resting on the jamb. "Shelter is closed."

A rumble of voices, indistinct; then one rises through the din. "Bullshit," it says, sounding too close. "No such thing as a closed goddamned safehouse."'


Laughter then, rough, and nothing is funny anymore. "What've you got in there, a fuckin' zombie? I hate to say shit that's obvious—"

"No, you don't." A female voice, acerbic.

"Shut up. God damn, everyone's a fuckin' smartass. But look, one zombie, okay, we can take care of that for you, we've got about a million of 'em out here."

"And we're pretty chewed up, man," a third voice adds, milder, more conciliatory. "We really need some first aid, maybe some ammo..."

A long silence then, and Dan watches, detached, as Rorschach pushes away from the door, flips his hood up as he crosses to the supply shelf. "Go around," he shouts at the door, gathering up what they can afford to give away. "Will hand supplies through the bars."

Rorschach passes out of his field of view and Dan drifts; morphine will do that, and it's hard to stay focused. He hears snippets of a conversation, low enough that he imagines he's not supposed to be hearing it. Have they been bitten, Rorschach wants to know, and how long ago, and how did they... how do they know if... a weighty silence, and then someone apologizing, and—

Dan snaps his eyes open; Rorschach is in front of him now, hood still up and smelling like death and Dan doesn't remember him owning that sweatshirt but it still seems familiar, somehow. He half expects Rorschach's eyes to be gone under the folds of fabric, bloody black pits, and he has no idea why.

"Where did you..." he manages, waving the unsplinted hand in Rorschach's general direction.

Rorschach shrugs the hood down, and his eyes are fine. Of course. "From our roommate." He jerks his head to the far corner of the room; Dan looks, makes out the shadowed shape of something that should never have been walking, sprawled bloodily on the floor. How had he missed that? "Dead already, when we got here. Dead for real."

"You... goddamn, Rorschach," and Dan almost wants to laugh, because it might be his last chance. "You stole clothes from a dead zombie?"

A shrug, a little self-conscious. "Practical. Thought the hood would help disguise my appearance from speculation."

"Did it work?"

"Passably. Made a few jokes, more accurate than they realized."

The world's full of irony. It's something he might have said out loud under normal circumstances, been rebuked for its cheesiness, the reassuring back-and-forth of long habit. He's drifting too much for that right now, though, and he's not sure how many seconds or hours pass between one blink and the next.

Two blinks, and Rorschach is still there, but that doesn't tell him much; Dan's seen him perch like this on the edge of roofs for hours, unmoving. There's a quiet stillness to him since the bad old days of the first outbreak that seems out of place among the living—the long stretch between heartbeats, the way winter seems to curl up around the world's throat and stay there forever.

What were you talking about, Dan wants to ask, but he's not sure he wants the answer.

“Immunity exists,” Rorschach says, sparing him the question. “Rare. But apparently many survivors out there have been bitten, and have survived.”

“How rare?”

Rorschach sighs, frustration at how utterly helpless the situation has rendered him. “Too rare to hope for.”

A careful silence, except that it is never really silent anymore—the moans and low growling from outside, the shrieks and screams, the high-pitched doppler whine of bombers—and nothing in this life can be careful. Everything is treacherous.

“Heh,” Dan half-laughs, no energy for anything more. “You'll forgive me if I hope for it anyway.”

A hand in his, dry and cold. “Will be hoping for it with you.”


He wakes up sometime later in the night with Rorschach's cool, compact weight against his side. It's rising and falling with breath but only occassionally; he's asleep, and that is terrifying. If Dan had woken with a need for flesh between his teeth...

"Understand, now," Rorschach mumbles, still breathing in that slow, steady rhythm. "What it was like."

Dan makes a confused noise; his tongue's not cooperating again, head feels like it's on fire. Stomach wants to turn itself inside out, but that's probably just the antibiotics Rorschach's been forcefeeding him since the first night. The noise is all he can manage, shaped vaguely like a question mark.

"For you." Rorschach shifts against him, breathing picking up to something more normal. "Watching over me while I..."

A halo of lamplight is most of what Dan remembers, and so much heat in Rorschach's body, pouring out and out until he'd lost too much and would never be warm again.

"Not sure when I would get better, or if I would wake up not... myself." Dan feels himself being turned, clumsily. He's slumped low and lax. "Six days of it."

Dan scrubs his tongue over the roof of his mouth, scrapes the cotton free, because this is important. "I don't... I don't think I'd ever been so terrified."

"Have now, though?"

"No," he says, feeling a little ridiculous and brave; he opens his eyes when he feels an arm snake around his middle, gather him back against Rorschach's chest. "This doesn't come close. I mean, hell." He tries to laugh, but it comes out mostly in a cough. "Worst that happens is I turn into a mindless walking disease vector with teeth, right?"

Unsaid: Not so bad. Not nearly as terrifying as the thought of having lost you.

Rorschach doesn't say anything, resting his forehead into the crook of Dan's neck.

"Is for you, though, huh?" Dan turns his head toward Rorschach's, seeking, and the cold of his mouth when it lights on his feels like calm, tastes like silence. It's welcome. He leans into it.

Slow, careful in return. Gentle. Rorschach trails down to press his mouth over the pulse in Dan's throat, stays there for too long. He's probably memorizing the feel of it, against lips and tongue, for the lonely times ahead.

"I'm not delusional," Rorschach breathes over the spot, all of the usual gravel scrubbed out of his voice. It sounds like his hands feel, solid but not unforgiving, touching him softly in the dark. "I know what's likely going to happen, here."

Against the small of his back, the feel of something hard and jutting that Dan knows to be a pistol in Rorschach's belt—and that is also too familiar.

"I will stay here, until it does," Rorschach goes on, in that voice that is only his when he's on the waking edge of a nightmare. His free hand runs through Dan's hair, stringy and unwashed. "I won't leave you alone."

You'll be in danger, Dan wants to say. You're so close, I'll rip you apart before you can blink. But he doesn't really want him to go, and he wants even less to waste what time he has left in a useless argument. He will just have to trust that Rorschach can handle himself, that he'll be willing to pull the trigger.

"Don't let me hurt you," is what he finally settles on, hoarse.

He can feel Rorschach's eyes press closed against the skin where he's buried his face, screwing up with grief.

"It won't be you," he says, and that is all the assurance Dan needs.


He drifts in and out of sleep. Mostly it's night but sometimes it's day, light falling through the bars on the door in jagged rectangles, grazing their shoes as they pass. Rorschach is always there, between him and the cold concrete wall. He only smells like himself, now—the gruesome disguise is across the room, hung on a folding chair—and it's a comforting touchstone, mulchy and coppery and familiar. It reminds him that terrible events do not always have terrible outcomes.

It's not a useful reminder; the odds are stacked far more against them, this time. Maybe one in a million people are immune, and he hasn't ever been a lucky enough guy to think he'd be that one.

Luck. The arms around his middle tighten, a face nuzzling into his throat, and he thinks, maybe, maybe...

Sometimes there are fingers at his mouth, fumbling pills between his teeth—more antibiotics, he thinks, and painkillers, though he doesn't want them. Pain is just one of the things he can feel, and he doesn't want to stop feeling it. But Rorschach doesn't want to see him in pain, and he's going through enough on Dan's behalf already. He takes the pills.

Other times it's food in those fingers, unidentifiable rations probably from twenty years ago, flavorless. He has no appetite at all but he forces them down, past the dry catch in his throat, past the worry that there are very real reasons he doesn't want them.

Then he wakes up and there are four jagged scratches in the concrete near his face—four days, and with the light coming in through the bars colored like dawn, this is the fifth. A frission of hope sparks somewhere in his chest, like the lackluster shock of static between two sheets of paper, rubbed and rubbed. He swallows against the fear that rides right behind it, that this is probably their last day. "Rorschach?"

"Here," comes the reply, from just above his ear.

"...how sick am I?" His voice feels small, wavering. His head feels too big for his body.

Rorschach shifts, leaning around to get a better look. Fingers rest on his chin, turn his face into the light. Touch his cheeks, his forehead, brush his hair back from the hairline. "...very," he finally concedes. "But still not sure if it's... that kind of sick."

A short laugh; it hurts. "Thought you weren't delusional."

"Not." Defensive, guarded. Fingertips draw apart his eyelids, examining. "Realistic. But reality seems to imply there should be more to turning into a... than just having aches and a fever. Fundamental rearrangement of all bodily processes comes to mind."

Against his back, a single sluggish heartbeat, driving the point home.

Dan breathes in and out, slow. It isn't labored; it's not the damn flu, anyway. "What else could it be?"

"People have died from bites, from dogs and cats. Infections, government engineered strains, can't be treated with antibiotics. Designed to eradicate undesirables from society." Dan grins a little despite himself; count on Rorschach to have conspiracy theories at hand even after the world has come to a blistered, reeking end. "Can't imagine their mouths are much cleaner."

"Great," Dan says, fighting the impulse to laugh again. "So I'm a goner either way."

Rorschach doesn't reply.

"I only asked," Dan says, slurring a little through the drugs in his system, "because it's been five days."

"Fifth day isn't over yet."

"I know, I know, I just... figured if I was going to change, it would have happened by now, I..."

He twists in Rorschach's grip; already slumped half on the floor, he's now almost entirely there, head pillowed on Rorschach's bony hip, looking up at him with an expression that he can't quite feel.

"Dangerous to hope," Rorschach finally says, still touching his face, but Dan can't really tell which of them he's talking to.



It's another morning. Rorschach feels stiff from lying against the wall, arms cramped up from holding on too tightly to impossible things. He knows all about tight grips and the sand that runs out from between fingers, these days.

The noise from outside has subsided a little; a dull rumbling instead of a constant barrage on the senses, disappearing somewhere under the noise floor. Pale yellow light through the bars. No birds—they vacated to parts unknown in the days before the outbreak, the world's coal-mine canaries—but a stillness they would normally enjoy breaking.

Rorschach yawns, shifts. Feels the gun in his belt catch the concrete and drag, and it is suddenly, once again, not a morning that could possibly be good.

Daniel is sprawled on his side, head on Rorschach's thigh, curled in on himself, splinted hand hanging lax over Rorschach's knee. There is no reason to think he is anything but sleeping, but Rorschach still feels his mouth go dry, hanging open and wordless.

He waits. They are both still; the world is still.

Then Daniel shifts; rolls onto his back, back of his head cushioning itself in Rorschach's groin. It is a position he has often ended up in and, once upon a time, would have been call for some teasing, insincere snarking plastering over just how little either of them minded it. But there is a tightly stretched tension now that does not tolerate even the memory of laughter.

Daniel's eyes open; they are brown and clear, clearer than they've been in a long while. Maybe the pain meds are just losing their effect or maybe the pain itself is fading, Rorschach can't tell which. He lifts his hand, hovers it over Daniel's face, watches those clear eyes tracking the motion with the acuity of a predator—thinks about the interminable days of fever and delirium and the paralyzing terror that he would hurt Daniel, that he would... and the way Daniel had still held him and touched him even when they didn't know the shape of the danger—

He settles his fingers to Daniel's cheek, and Daniel turns his head, leans into the touch. The skin is blood-warm.

Rorschach lets out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding.

The relief is like a brick wall he's been moving too fast to see coming up on the horizon; it is just suddenly there, stopping him dead in his tracks and slamming all of the caution out of his bones, knocking him senseless. He has to close his eyes for a moment; he has no choice.

When he opens them again, when he thinks enough time has passed for his composure to return, Daniel is nuzzling at his palm; is still watching him, eyes deep and soft. He looks wrecked, still, drawn thin and exhausted, but if the antibiotics are finally working their alchemy—if that's really all this was, a violent systemic infection from a dirty bite wound—that's to be expected.

"Six days," he mouths against the rough skin of Rorschach's palm, voice barely there. He is smiling, in the way Nite Owl sometimes did after the really rough patrols when they felt not invincible but, instead, exceptionally lucky.

Rorschach takes a breath, holds it. Leans over and kisses him, upside down and backwards, the human mouth and warm breath and teeth that don't try to bite, the taste of him in this moment something like fire and ash—and it is like being reborn.



( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 8th, 2011 07:32 pm (UTC)
OMG, thank you for not zombie-ing Daniel. I don't mind if they're Brothers in Undeath, Being Awesome, but I don't want Daniel to go crazy and eat things. People. Either one. :(

"Don't let me hurt you," is what he finally settles on, hoarse.

He can feel Rorschach's eyes press closed against the skin where he's buried his face, screwing up with grief.

"It won't be you," he says, and that is all the assurance Dan needs.

This part made me melt! Awww! *cuddles the boys*
Dec. 8th, 2011 07:41 pm (UTC)
Aw, I could never do that to the guys, they've been through so much already! But I'm glad to hear that the tension was there. It's tough writing toward a question that the readers can guess the answer to anyway, just because of what a big squish I tend to be. XD

Yeah, that part was. Hard to write. They kept swinging back and forth between despair and hope and that was definitely one of the low points :(
Dec. 8th, 2011 07:56 pm (UTC)
*pets the boys gently* It's okay, boys. Etherati loves you (and her readers)!

They totally need cuddles. Lots of them.

I do love that Rorschach has gotten to the point where he could joke around with Daniel about having Daniel's head in his lap. It's good to think that Daniel would help him out in terms of helping him stay sane. <3
Dec. 8th, 2011 08:05 pm (UTC)
I do love them so, so much. I am not ashamed of that. <3
Dec. 8th, 2011 10:13 pm (UTC)
Again, your writing just makes my stomach clench and my heart seize. And when they let go, only you have the words to describe how it feels. Just...wow. Your word use is utterly perfect.
Dec. 10th, 2011 04:40 am (UTC)
Aagh, seconding the relief at Dan being not-zombified. D8 I love how you write them both as being so fragile, for lack of a better term. It really highlights how precious this thing is between them. ♥
Dec. 11th, 2011 12:46 am (UTC)
\o/ Zombi!ror Universe. I love this world. I was just thinking about this Universe today actually, *laughs* and then i open up live journal and bam :P thanks for posting as always, and its always, always wonderful to see zombi!Rorschach and Daniel. And Daniel telling Ror that he loves him, god i'm such a sap, i love shit like that. Just eat it up with a spoon.
Mar. 28th, 2012 04:33 am (UTC)
Oh wow, I somehow missed this when it was first posted. (I was pointed this direction tonight by this fanart.)

Okay loyalty on the edge of death is probably my biggest narrative kink so hnnngggg this whole thing. Wow. Nothing but grinning and happy sighing over here. The callbacks to Now as Before are lovely and got me all nostalgic for when I first read that.
Apr. 16th, 2012 04:44 am (UTC)
I was holding my breath for the entire fifth day. Just now exhaled. Oh my goodness oh my goodness oh my goodness. Woah. Also teared up. Feels like there is a fist in my chest, making it hard to breathe. Seriously, woah.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )