Genre: Drama, Romance
Characters, pairings: Dan/Laurie/Walter
Universe and time period: Comic-verse, Clockwork Eden AU part 3
Warnings: Slash, and early 'OT3'
The smell of mineral spirits burns the inside of Dan’s nostrils as he cleans the sticky wood finish from his brushes.
“That thrift store dining room table looks brand new now; don’t you think, Walt?” He asks cheerfully and looks over his shoulder to see his partner cleaning up the stray tools scattered about the porch. Walter nods and sits down slowly beside Dan, pulling his brown overcoat tightly around himself.
“Is getting late, will it be dry by dark?” Walter rasps softly.
“Probably not, but we can just let it sit out here tonight, it’s not going to rain, and the weatherman says it won’t get real cold again until Tuesday.”
“Feels cold to me.”
“Well, it is December, and you need a better coat.” Dan stops swishing the bristles for a few moments and turns to his friend. “This is kind of fun, don’t you think? Restoring all this secondhand furniture for our house.”
“Yes, suppose so. Is something to do anyway.” Walter replies with a slight shrug of his thin shoulders.
“It saves us a lot of money, and I don’t like most of the modern styles anyhow,….seems like half of them have his name somewhere on them.” Dan says as he dips the brushes back in the mineral spirits. “I’m sentimental too, something feels good about taking things that nobody wants and cleaning them up; giving them a new home.” He stops a little short, becoming aware of the unintended analogy forming.
Dan sees little good in trying to back peddle.
“I love you, Walt. You and Laurie. You two are everything to me.” He turns to catch Walter’s reaction, always hopeful when he says such things that his friend will reply with the same. He is usually disappointed, but not this time.
“Please don’t go,” Walter whispers in a voice that is on the verge of pleading, and it is so uncharacteristic of his ‘tough as nails’ partner that it is almost unbearable to hear.
“I have too.”
“Is dangerous, could be a trap. Airport, security cameras, customs,…not safe.”
Walter’s chill gray-blue eyes never fail to hold Dan captive with their striking irises, stark and frozen as a winter dawn. Dan leans sideways, hands still busy with the brushes, and gently, cautiously even, presses his mouth to his long time friend’s. Walter only yields ever so slightly, his lips just parting enough to receive the kiss, but his eyes close, and when Dan pulls away he feels the smaller man follow him a bit, unwilling to break contact.
“I have to, for us. It’s only four days. I’ll be okay. I’ll come back to you and Laurie. I promise.”
Walter looks away, everything about his posture indicating his disapproval. Dan opens his mouth to speak but stops when he hears the sound of a car engine and tires crunching gravel. He looks up to see their Chevy rounding the curve of the long driveway. He is not surprised, he was expecting Laurie home at any minute. What he was not expecting is a second vehicle pulling in, a few yards behind her; an unfamiliar black sedan.
Walter is on his feet immediately, and Dan recognizes the stance. Even though he is still so frail and painfully thin from his illness weeks prior, Walter reacts exactly as he would were he in perfect form. It is a sobering reminder to Dan that in spite of Walter’s apparent passivity, he is still the man that could be Rorschach; still a killer.
“Easy…,” Dan says evenly and rubs Walter’s shoulder, attempting to calm him. “Go help Laurie with her bags, it looks like she has a backseat full. I’ll see what this guy wants.” His tone is the same one he would use back when they were on patrol, just before splitting up on some dangerous mission. He often finds that conjuring Nite Owl is what works best with Walter.
His partner’s icy gaze holds him a second longer before the smaller man tears himself away and proceeds to the brown car. Dan turns to the second vehicle and the smartly dressed young man emerging from it.
“Are you Samuel Hollis?”
“Yes, That’s me.”
Behind him Dan can hear Laurie and Walter squabbling. Walter is grumbling about wasteful spending as he extracts a large well-stuffed shopping bag from the backseat.
“There are things in there for you too! People need clothes, Tom!” Laurie snaps back fiercely, using Walter’s public name on account of the unknown visitor.
“Not this many, Sandra. Is self-indulgent.”
“Oh for Christ’s sake, it is not extravagant to own more than two pairs of pants,” she scoffs, heading down the gray slate walkway towards the front door with a heavy bag in each arm. Walter follows, bristling and muttering something about decadence and senseless vanity.
“I’m sorry,” Dan shakes his head with a slight chuckle. “How can I help you?”
The stranger’s eyes linger on Walter and Laurie a moment or so longer than Dan finds acceptable, and he takes what he hopes comes off as a casual step sideways to block the view.
“Um, yes, I’m with the local Census Bureau. I’m just hear to confirm the residents of this property, this will only take a minute.” The young man says with a polite smile, fumbling a clipboard under his arm while retrieving a click-top pen in the breast pocket of his overcoat.
“So you and your wife, Sandra, just moved here a few weeks ago, correct?”
“Yes. One month ago as of yesterday,”
“And it is just the two of you?”
Dan hesitates, but only briefly, deciding that in being honest he will rouse less suspicion, and hopefully be left alone.
“No, Tom lives here as well.”
“Tom?” The Census worker leans to the side to catch a glimpse of the small scruffy man watching them with eerie vigilance from the porch.
Dan laughs. He hopes it sounds genuine.
“No, but he might as well be. Old friend. Down on his luck.”
“Ah, Okay. Well that is fine, Mr. Hollis. I just need you to sign here, confirming that these are the residents of this property, and that is all I’ll need from you today.” The young man extends the pen and clipboard to Dan who receives it with without any hesitation. He quickly scrawls the name which he invented for himself on the line and hands it back with a smile.
“So we are official members of the community now?”
“Ha, ha, yes, I’d say you are, even if you do live in what’s got to be the most remote house in the county.”
“I like it. It’s peaceful.”
“We’ll see if you’re still saying that after you’ve put in a full winter way out here,” The young man laughs heartily and turns back to his car. “It was nice meeting you Mr. Hollis, have a good evening.”
“Soup is served!” Dan announces jubilantly.
Laurie approaches the stove to peer into the large silver stock pot simmering with a rather loaded homemade chicken soup.
Is this what home is supposed to be like? She wonders to herself as her senses take in the pleasant aroma of rosemary and thyme. The kitchen is the warmest room of the drafty farmhouse, and with the quirky owl painting Dan picked up at a local flea market, and the homey spice colored curtains, it is the one place in the house that’s starting to feel like it belongs to them.
“Think you made enough, Hun?” Laurie laughs sarcastically.
“Well, with me flying out tomorrow morning, I wanted to make something that would leave you two lots of leftovers, so you won’t have to worry about cooking as much.”
Laurie’s smile falls slightly, but she quickly nods and turns to the soup pot to ladle herself a bowl.
“It’s going to be alright,” Dan murmurs and rubs her shoulders.
“I know. Its just hard. We haven’t been apart for more than a few hours since…the disaster. Why can’t you just fax your signature over?”
“Laurie, it’s a simple matter but it needs to be taken care of, and I should be there in person. I just need to sort out the paperwork, talk to my accountant, and everything will be fine.” Dan pauses. “I have to secure access to these funds or we’re going to run out of money. Do you want us all end up checking groceries down at the A&P? I can’t use my ornithology degree, and last I checked ‘ex-costumed hero’ didn’t do much for you on a resume. ”
“I can sew,” A soft gravely voice cuts in.
They both turn to see Walter standing in the doorway to the kitchen, his eyes flicking nervously between them. Laurie raises an eye brow. Dan cracks a wide grin.
“And…process fabric and garment orders. Press and steam. Sort shipment…” Walter’s voice trails off when neither of his housemates seem to know what to say to this.
It is Laurie that breaks the awkward quiet.
“That’s good, Walter,” She nods with a kind of confused approval. “So you worked in a garment shop in the past?”
“Yes…from 1956 to 1975.”
“Wow, so you did have a job through most of our partnership. I thought you did, up until-” Dan shakes his head. “No matter. I don’t think there are jobs like that close by here, Walter. And you don’t have to work anymore.” Dan walks across the kitchen to where the smaller man is standing, grim expression set. He loops an arm behind him, and guides the thin body into the kitchen with a gentle and understated persuasion that seems to work on Walter. “It’s dinner time, Buddy. You need to eat. And don’t worry. When I get back from Switzerland everything will be fine.”
Dan lays on his back, panting heavily, gulping for air as his wife rolls off him with a languid grace. He slides his arm around her, pulling her close, inhaling deeply to savor the fragrance of her soft, sweat-matted hair.
“Was that a good send off?” She whispers silkily.
“Mmm, the best.”
They lie together, side by side, naked on the scattered sheets, bathed in a sliver of cool blue moonlight from the window until finally their sweat dries and their heartbeats slow, and the chill of the room settles on their exposed skin. Dan pulls the quilt over them and gathers Laurie up in his arms. They are silent for many minutes before Laurie speaks.
“You haven’t done this with him yet, have you?”
“No. He’s still too shy. He’ll let me kiss him, and hold him for a little while but that’s all.” Dan sighs. “He understands that you know, and that we are okay with the whole ‘threesome’ thing, but he has so many issues with intimacy. You can tell he wants to be touched and loved, but there is so much misplaced guilt and paranoia in him." Dan pauses. "I think it all goes back a long way, probably to his childhood.”
“I’m sure,” Laurie replies quietly.
“I just wish he’d sleep in here with us tonight, before I go.”
Dan takes her hand and squeezes it tightly, holding it against his chest so she can feel the steady rhythm of his heart. They are silent for many minutes before he speaks again.
“Watch over him while I’m gone, okay?” Dan whispers solemnly. “Try extra hard not to argue, make sure he eats, and keep an eye on him if he goes wandering around outside. I’ve also noticed he’s kind of arthritic, in the mornings especially. He’s so used to just swallowing his pain that he never says anything, but you can tell by the way he moves. Just slide him the bottle of aspirin and say ‘take two’. Don’t make a big deal of it or he--”
“Dan, I know,” Laurie cuts him off, pressing two fingers firmly to his lips. I’ll look after him. Don’t worry. I helped take care of him when he was sick, right?”
Dan sighs and nods, nuzzling his face into the space between her jaw and shoulder. He lays there in silence, wrapped closely in the warmth of her body, and feels sleep begin to take him.
“Love you…” He says softly into her hair as the velvety darkness folds in around him.
He has to take a train to the airport. Laurie drives him to the station, and Walter comes along. As he turns to leave the Amtrak platform he looks over his shoulder at the two of them. They stand side by side, and although they are two of the fiercest people alive, he thinks they look tiny in that moment. Walter is thin and feral as ever, bristly chinned and in terrible need of a haircut, his shaggy mop a strange mix of faded chestnut dye, vivid ginger, and gray. He should be wearing a hat. Its cold, Dan thinks to himself. Laurie is more put together but there is still something in her eyes that makes her look like a lost girl standing there on the platform, and as Dan’s gaze lingers on his two loved ones, he almost does not board the train. Not until he sees Laurie, without saying a word, or even looking down, reach to clutch Walter’s hand.
Dan hangs back one moment longer, freezing the image of the pair in his mind's eye, tattooing it into his memory, before turning to board. He smiles and waves at them out the window as the train pulls away, and he can see the anxiousness in their postures and worry in their eyes. For their sake, he hopes that he has hidden his own terror well.