Genre: Drama, Romance
Characters, pairings: Dan/Laurie/Walter
Universe and time period: Comic-verse, follow up to Clockwork Eden, Post-Karnak AU
Warnings: Slash, and early 'OT3'
Disclaimer: Don't own it
“He’ll never learn.” Dan rubs the bridge of his nose. “Stubborn as ever.”
Laurie snorts, unable to hold back a rather poor but still amusing imitation of their new traveling companion. “Even in the face of terrible motion sickness…never compromise.”
Dan chuckles dryly at his wife’s sense of humor, he appreciates it more than he can find words for. She laughs in return, but at the sound of some particularly violent retching a couple of feet away, both of their smiles fade.
“Dan,” She begins gently.
“I know, Laurie. I know what you’re going to say.”
“He hates motels, so he hardly sleeps. He eats almost nothing, then gets carsick half the time. Dan, he’s only been traveling with us for a few weeks and he looks like he’s dropped fifteen pounds.”
Dan lets out a ragged sigh. “Do you really care, Laurie? Or are you just trying to get to me through him?”
Laurie’s brows furrow deep and her fierce eyes flare.
“Look, I’m sorry, that was wrong, I-,” Dan starts.
“Sometimes I think you want me to hate him, the way you never believe me when I tell you I’m okay with this.”
“No! I’m more grateful than you know. It’s just hard to believe sometimes, and I know how badly you want to settle somewhere, and I…” Dan pauses. “I still can’t believe I have him back, and I still have you, and we’re okay…and it’s like I’m just waiting to loose it all, and I’m afraid if we stop, somehow I will.”
Laurie’s expression softens.
“Dan,” She says quietly before glancing out the widow to check if Walter is returning. She looks back to her husband when she observes that he is lying on his back in the fallen leaves with an arm over his face, apparently trying to recover before returning to the vehicle.
“I know Ror-, Walter, and I never really got along, and that we still don’t a lot of the time, but I meant it when I said he could join our family.” She’s silent for a moment, her pensive eyes following a fire colored maple leaf as it drifts down from above to alight on the hood of their vehicle. “I walked across the surface of Mars, and I walked through the streets of New York after that, both were red. Life is far too precious and short to allow petty differences to divide us, especially when we are the only three people, save Adrian, who know each other as we truly are.”
“So you really think of Walter as… him?’
“Yes, I do. You?” She answers simply. It is not the first time he has asked this question.
“Yeah,” Dan replies hoarsely with a nod. “I can wrack my brain over it all day, but when it all comes down to it, it doesn’t matter, ya know? He remembers everything, he has all the same hang ups, if he wasn’t told how he came to be he’d never think he was anyone other than Rorschach. Its him. That’s all there is to it.”
There is a rustling sound and Walter returns to the car, mumbling some indiscernible apology as he crawls into the back seat.
“Hey, Buddy, feeling any better?” Dan inquires in a chirpy voice that makes Laurie roll her eyes.
“A little,” Walter grumbles as he curls up across the seat, back to them, face buried into the upholstery, thin arms wrapped tightly around his queasy stomach. Dan’s worried eyes linger on him for a tense span of seconds before he exhales unevenly and turns to face forward, shifting the vehicle into drive. In his periphery he can see Laurie’s taut ‘I told you so’ expression, but he says nothing as he pulls back onto the road.
“God, I’m starving! I’ll have a cheeseburger, with the steak fries please, and a Jack and Coke please,” Laurie says as she hands her menu over to a fifty-something, no-nonsense looking woman wearing just a touch too much makeup.
“And for you, Sir?” The waitress turns to Dan.
“The barbecued chicken, side of fries, house salad with ranch dressing, and a beer, err, Heineken, please,” he replies with a smile and hands over the menu.
“How about you, son?” The waitress peers down at Walter who is still hunched over his menu. He looks up at her, revealing his lined and weathered face with its haggard sunken cheeks and hollow eye sockets. Dan insisted on dying his ginger hair dark brown, still afraid that his prominent features, coupled with that fiery mop, would raise suspicion, even if all three of them had been formally pronounced dead months prior.
“Oh. Excuse me. How about you, Sir,” she corrects herself in a flat tone, only marginally phased by her mistake. Laurie bites her lip and just barely holds in her characteristic cackle, Dan elbows her lightly under the table.
“Will have-” Walter’s voice comes out scarcely above a whisper. He stops, coughs into his napkin, clears his throat and begins again, his voice clearer but still very quiet. “Two eggs over easy, white toast…coffee.”
“Walter!” Laurie scoffs.
He stares blankly at her across the table.
“You have got to eat more than that! Its dinner time for Christ’s sake!” She glares back at him before shifting her gaze to the waitress.
“Steak and eggs. Medium on the steak, and a side of whatever vegetable you’re serving, and a coffee,” Laurie says quickly, yanking Walter’s menu out of his grasp and handing it over to the waitress, who’s lip is twisted up in a smirk.
“Sure he’s not your son?” She chides, giving Laurie a playful nudge. Dan’s face falls into his hands but he is grinning wide. Walter scowls at Laurie.
“You need to eat!” Laurie snaps once the server has left with their orders.
“Not very hungry, still not feeling well. Will never finish what you ordered for me,” Walter grumbles.
“You need to try! You’re getting so skinny. I’m sure you weigh considerably less than me now!”
Walter says nothing, but his eyes shift to Dan.
“She’s right, Buddy. You need to eat,” Dan says earnestly, his voice heavy with concern. It feels like something is twisting up in his chest when he looks at Walter, dressed plainly in a green plaid button-up shirt, loose on his ever shrinking frame.
“Why aren’t you eating Wa-” Dan bites his lip nervously and corrects himself. They are in a public place after all. “Tom. Why aren’t you eating, Or sleeping? Are you unhappy…being with us?” the question seems ridiculous as it falls from his mouth. Rorschach was never really happy, and Walter is technically the same person. There are only varying degrees of discontentment.
“No,” Walter replies quickly.
Laurie is restlessly tapping her fork.
“No. Want to stay with you. With you…both. Just don’t like this,” he continues.
The tapping stops.
“The traveling, you mean?” Dan says slowly.
“Yes. Everywhere is unfamiliar, can’t sleep in unfamiliar places. Don’t like motels. Filthy. I am tired, don’t feel well, confused about what has happened to me…what I am. Apologies, do not mean to be a burden.” Walter’s voice is quiet, almost a whisper, and heavily laced with an insecurity Dan can only recall hearing a handful of times during their past partnership, but now hears almost everyday.
“You’re not! Don’t ever think that,” Dan replies swiftly.
Laurie reaches across the table and grasps Walter’s shoulder. He tenses up, still uncomfortable with a woman’s touch. She gives him a stiff shake, forcing him to meet her sharp cobalt blue eyes.
“You are part of our family now. The three of us. We are all each other has in this fucked up joke of a world. Do you understand me? You are one of us and we are sticking together.” Her voice is firm and resolute; commanding. She sounds like her father. She sits back and shifts her penetrating gaze to Dan.
“We need to talk about this, Dan.”
“Don’t call me that here…and we’ll talk about it later, Sandra, this isn’t the place.”
“Sam,” she growls.
“Look at him, Sam! Why are you doing this to us? Why--”
“Enough, Sandra….” Walter interrupts, his raspy voice breaking through the tension. They both stare at him in unison. “Will try. Will try to eat more tonight. Better to talk at motel. Da-Samuel seems uncomfortable here, and Adrian’s people could be anywhere.” He stops and looks over to Dan. “But Sandra is right. Do need to talk.”
Dan’s expression breaks into a warm smile. The notion of Walter, the man who could be Rorschach, being the voice of reason is something of a small miracle. He is reminded again how lucky he is to have him back, and to still have his wife.
“Okay, tonight. When we get back to the motel. I promise, we’ll talk about this.”
“Love you, Honey.” Laurie says casually and slips an arm around her husband’s waist to give him a squeeze. She does not miss the vague expression that creeps across Walter’s hollow features, although it seems to entirely elude Dan. She pulls her arm back and straightens, eyeing Walter across the table curiously.
It is nearly ten pm when they arrive back at their motel room. It is a slightly nicer place than some of the others they have stayed at. Dan picked it hoping that Walter would sleep. Walter and Laurie are on the couch, with a chaste space of about ten inches between their bodies. Dan has pulled over a chair and is sitting in front of them.
“So,” Dan begins cautiously. “Where should we go from here.”
“Wherever it is we need to stay there. At least for a few months. I can’t take this, the constant running. It was romantic at first, going from town to town busting a fe-” She stops. Dan’s eyes are locked on her. This was not something they discussed since Walter had joined them.
“Busting what, Laurel?” Walter interjects coolly, his voice almost sly.
Dan sighs miserably. This was not where the conversation was intended to go.
“Crimes Walter. Laurie and I, before we err….found you on the side of the road…would sometimes, when we were in bigger cities, go out at night and you know…play the old game.” Dan answers honestly seeing no sense in hiding it now, but he’s all nerves. He’s sure vigilantism is the last thing that would be good for Walter at the moment, and he’s terrified of awakening the old Rorschach; one who would almost certainly leave.
Laurie’s posture is tense too, nervous that she has taken the entire conversation off track, perhaps ruining her chances of getting Dan to agree on stopping point this night.
“I get it…” Walter nods, his icy gaze shifting between them both. “You don’t want to bring back Rorschach…understandable.”
“Wal-,” Dan begins.
“Do not worry Daniel. Rorschach died. Journal was published. Truth made available for those who will listen. Justice served. For the moment, I would prefer to leave Rorschach with his honorable death. Deserves as much. Deserves better than what I am now.”
Laurie exhales slowly, and focuses on her husband’s stricken face. “See Dan, its alright. Now, where do we want to live?”
“No, Laurie. Don’t you get it? He says ‘for the moment’. Once we stay somewhere long enough, he’ll turn back into Rorschach and run off to purge world of evil. You won’t like him being his vicious old self again and will go off on your own. You’re smart, I’m sure you’ll find a job and meet people in no time and won’t need me any more. Or who knows, maybe Adrian will just figure out where we are and have us assassinat--”
“DAN!” Laurie snaps, rising quickly to her feet. “Get a hold of yourself! I’m sick of your bullshit! Of your goddamned paranoia! I’m sick of you doubting us!”
“I’m sorry, Laurie” Dan says softly, looking wounded.
“We’re sticking together, the three of us. Even if bad things happen, it can’t be any worse that what already has!” She exclaims, her voice strong but beginning to crack.
“It could get worse. It always can,” Dan whispers, unable to meet her eyes.
“How?! We were one inch from fucking Armageddon!”
“I could loose you both…loose him a second time. I can’t…I can’t take that. We’re safe like this.”
“Safe?!” She shrieks, her slim yet muscular body all tension and fury. “Walter is going to fucking waste away to a skeleton, and I am going to end up mad as he is! If you are afraid of loosing us, you could have fooled me!”
“Please, Laurie. Just try to understand where I’m coming from. I only want to hold us together, keep us protected--” Dan pleads hopelessly but Laurie cuts him off.
“Dan, we love you. Don’t you get it?! We love you!!” Laurie shouts, her eyes filled with tears. Furiously, she rubs them with the back of her hand. “I need a cigarette,” She mutters venomously and storms out of the motel room.
Dan watches her go, his lips move to call out to her, but his dry throat refuses to vocalize. Her final statement seems to hang in the air after the door slams and Dan turns to face Walter. The smaller man has gone from pale to ashy white, and his posture is rigid as a board. The two men’s gazes lock for a moment until Walter tears his eyes away.
“Should follow her, Daniel.” Walter whispers. “Think that is what she wants. Behavior is meant as reverse psychology.”
Dan’s stricken expression melts at this. Walter’s blunt analysis of the situation reminds him of the manner in which his partner would draw a conclusion from a crime scene. He reaches out and cups Walter’s bony shoulder, smiling earnestly.
“I’ll be right back. Sit tight.”
Walter says nothing, but nods slightly, his sullen features offering only the scarcest reply.
As expected Laurie is in the parking lot, her tan trench coat wrapped tightly around herself, leaning against their car as she takes a long drag off her cigarette. It saddens Dan to see her smoking. He knows she wants to quit and the stress he’s putting her through is of little help in the endeavor.
“Laurie,” Dan begins carefully as he approaches her. He pauses a few feet away when she does not respond and scratches his short beard, as is his habit when he is nervous. He still is not used to having it.
“I’m sorry for upsetting you,” he tries again.
Another long exhale of pale wispy smoke into the frigid autumn air is all he gets in reply.
“I’m sorry for not having faith in you.” He whispers and steps a little closer.
“That’s better,” Laurie answers coolly and finally turns to face her husband.
Sensing he has received permission, Dan practically lunges forward to embrace her, causing her to drop her cigarette. She kisses him gently on the mouth and allows him to hold her there for a while; her way of accepting his apology, before she pulls back and looks him sternly in the eye.
“Dan. We need to talk.”
“I know, Love, I know,” Dan replies softly.
“Not just about where we are going…but…about Walter.”
Dan feels as though his heart has dropped into his belly. Even in the wake of her vehement statement that the three of them must remain united, he still cannot quell the constant fear that at any moment she might make him choose between the two of them.
“What,- what about him?” he stammers.
“Dan,” Laurie says his name with the utmost gentleness. “I meant what I said in there. We love you.”
Dan’s jaw drops slightly as he begins to unravel the implications of her statement.
“He loves you, Dan. Like I love you. I think he has for a very long time, but now that he’s not using Rorschach as a distraction it’s harder for him not to be consumed by it. You can’t tell me you never noticed.” She tilts her head and narrows her eyes.
Years of denial crumble away under her sharp penetrating stare, and so many things that were muddled up in recesses of his mind for decades are in that moment perfectly transparent.
“How did you figure it out?” is all he can manage to say amid the sudden wave of turbulent emotions.
“Dan, I’m a woman, we like have some sort of radar for when other people are looking at our mates that way,” Laurie laughs genuinely and lights another cigarette.
Dan chuckles in return, but its nervous and fades quickly. “What does this mean,” He says slowly.
“It means we need to love him, Dan. Or at least you do. Eventually he’ll leave or kill himself if we don’t,” Laurie replies as she taps the ashes from her cigarette.
“Laurie,” Dan gapes. “Seriously, you mean…the three of us…a threesome? Y-You would, you would love him?”
“HA! Dan, my last relationship was with an all-powerful glowing blue demigod that could offer me a threesome with himself. Honey, this is nothing,” she cackles briefly, and takes a hit off her cigarette before pausing to meet his astonished gaze and answer resolutely: “Yes. I’ll love him. If he will let me. I’ll admit that not long ago I wouldn’t believe myself for saying it, but yes. He’s so damaged, Dan…and I’ve seen too much death. I want to believe that the three of us aren’t ruined by 1985.” She pauses to look at the little glassy watch on her left wrist. “I want to believe that Jon sent him to us for a reason.”
Her eyes shift from the watch to her wedding band, which she idly spins with her thumb.
“Just us though, just the three of us. I’m still your wife. I don’t want us to turn into swingers,” She says with a playful laugh, but her tone quickly grows serious. “That is, if you can do this, Dan. I’m just suggesting, for Walter’s sake, but if you can’t, its understandable…I mean, you’ve never been with another man, have you?”
Snow crunches under Walter’s boots and his breath exits his white, chapped lips in wispy puffs. It is mid-afternoon in late November and the sun is already low on the horizon, turning the ashy sky ruddy pink. It has been two weeks since they came to this isolated rural place somewhere in the northeastern United States. Dan says that they are only a two hour drive away from New York City, but Walter finds this hard to believe.
It is the first day Walter is well enough to go outside since they moved into the hundred year old farmhouse. His inability to sleep in motels, coupled with inadequate diet, finally broke his immune system and he fell victim to a severe flu. He knows his poor health factored into Dan’s quick decision to buy the remote property, and he feels some level of guilt for his weakness. He can remember almost nothing of the day they moved in, only his body on fire with fever, Dan’s arms around his torso lifting him out of the back seat of the car, and Laurie saying to him in a sweet gentle voice that does not sound right coming from her: “It’s okay, Honey. We’re home now.”
Walter shivers in his trench coat as he wanders aimlessly across the rolling expanse of the property. He has lost every meager trace of insulation his body once possessed, and in spite of having little concern for his looks he is disgusted by his condition. ‘Thin’ does not even begin to describe the skeletal appearance he has taken on.
The terrain is baffling to him. On one hand massive and mysterious, on the other void and empty. Most of the property is weedy untended farmland, with the exception of some woods on the north side. Dan informed him with boyish enthusiasm over breakfast that these woods run into a state park eventually, and that there are trails there that they can explore when he is well. He reaches the line of trees on the north side and peers into the spreading darkness of the forest. The late autumn sun is nearly gone, and it is very cold. There is a sane and logical part of his mind that tells him not to go any further, that it is late he will only get lost. But then there is also the part of his mind that his governed his actions for the last decade, the part that has a unexplainable need to wander the dark spaces of the world.
Walter takes one crunching step forward, breaching the line of stark trees which are dotted sparsely with the very last of the autumn leaves. It is eerily quiet under the canopy of spiky branches, the silence only broken by an occasional bird call, or rustle of foliage beneath the tiny feet of a squirrel or chipmunk. Walter is reminded of the deepest parts of central park. It is the only place he can equate to such alien terrain, but even there you could always easily find the glittering spires of skyscrapers beyond the branches.
Ahead there is a massive tree, toppled over onto its side. Walter stares at it for a while wondering why it fell over. He knows nothing of forests, or what would make a tree fall.
“Dead now,” he mutters and sits down on the log, all at once aware of his own exhaustion.
His can feel his jaw vibrating, making his teeth chatter, and it annoys him. His barren blue-gray eyes focus on what he can still see of the sun, a fiery blaze glittering through the black silhouetted trees. It will be dark very soon. Should find my way home, could freeze to death out here, he thinks to himself, but still does not move from where he is seated on the fallen tree, only closes his eyes and exhales slowly, his breath crystallizing in the air around him. He remains there, beneath the spidery tree branches as the sky gradually dims, and all begins to slip into frozen stillness.
There is a crunching sound coming through the trees behind him.
“WALTER!” Dan’s voice shatters the frigid silence, but Walter does not answer.
“WALTER!” Dan yells out again, His clumsy footfalls growing louder.
Walter hears him pause and curse to himself before calling out a little softer than before. “Rorschach! Where the hell are you?! I know you came in here, I saw your tracks!”
“Walter is fine, Daniel,” Walter replies quietly and looks over his shoulder to see his partner a mere ten feet behind him, his cheeks flushed with panic.
Dan gasps and rushes over to where Walter sits on the fallen log. “Damn it, you blend right in with that brown coat.”
“What are you doing all the way out here, Laurie and I have dinner ready back at the house. I thought you were just going to take a little walk around the yard. It getting dark out here, and it freezing.” Dan plops down beside him. “C’mon, Buddy, we need to get you back inside. You freeze to death out here.”
“Hurm… am I not already there, Daniel?” Walter rasps coolly.
“N-no, but you will be if we don’t get you inside where its warm,” Dan stammers.
“Died, Daniel. Died last year. This…thing…sitting here with you. Do you honestly believe-”
“Of course! It doesn’t make a difference, Man. You remember everything,…you’re Rorschach, you’re,…Walter. You’re my best friend. Its all the same,” Dan cuts him off with hurried but sincere words.
Walter is silent for what feels like a very long time before turning his tired eyes to his friend. “Daniel,…I am not certain I belong here with you and Laurel, with…living things. Think, perhaps, Osterman made a mistake.”
Dan can hear his wife’s words from a month prior echoing in his head, and he leans forward to take cup his partners rough unshaven cheek, running a thumb gently across the hard bone around the hollow eye socket. Walter’s muscles tighten on contact, his posture suddenly rigid.
“You belong with us Walter, you belong with us because…we love you.” He moves forward, and he can feel Walter’s quick nervous breath puffing against his face, and a swift surge of heat to the cold cheek under his palm. “I love you, Walter.” He whispers reverently just before he presses his lips those of another man for the first time in his life. And Walter is all nerves, closed-mouth and unyielding, but he does not jerk away, only closes his weary eyes and shivers there as Dan embraces him beneath the soaring branches; silhouetted like spilt ink on the milky canvas of a fading November sky.
Author's Notes: Please tell me how you felt about this one, good or bad. I've had a rough week and this thing emerged out of my sad longing for happy endings. I felt really good about Clockwork Eden, and if this just feels like too sappy a follow-up to it please tell me. As so many of you know, I'm generally of the Rorschach is dead and should stay that way mindset, but i broke my own convention with Clockwork, and now this takes it one sugary step further. If enough people like it I'll post it to my master as the follow up to CE, if not I'll scrap this. I go back and forth! one minute I like it a lot, the next I feel like I committed Watchmen treason.