Genre: Drama, Romance
Characters, pairings: Dan/Laurie/Walter
Universe and time period: Comic-verse, Clockwork Eden AU part 3
Word count: 2800ish
*note: yeah I know, this was originally 1 of 2, then 2 of 3, now it's 3 of 4. It just keeps taking longer than I originally anticipate to get the ideas across without it all feeling rushed, and I think in general fic go down nice in 2-3000 word chunks. I'm am pretty sure that part four will be the conclusion of this story arch, so i am saying 3 of 4 with reasonable confidence.
“I don’t like to talk to Dan about this, he’s held up so well, and I don’t want to scare him.”
Outside the wind whistles through leafless tree limbs and icy snow spatters noisily against the old leaded glass window panes.
“Dan needed to talk about you a lot after,” Laurie hesitates. “You died.” Dan will not use that phrase anymore in regard to Walter, not since they found him, but she says it anyhow, because she knows it is the truth, and because in saying it she is highlighting what is so fundamentally different about her and Dan.
“I listened. I listened without saying a word while he reminisced about you on those endless highways. He kept saying things like: ‘If only I got to him before ‘75’ or ‘It was that case in ‘75 that drove him mad.' He explained it to me, and what he thought happened. He said that he believed it was the first time you committed murder.”
Walter says nothing but Laurie thinks she can feel his pulse quicken under her palm.
“There was always so much guilt in Dan’s voice. He blamed himself for everything. That’s why I don’t talk about this with him, why I can’t let him know.” Her voice trembles slightly, but she breathes, swallows, and steadies it all in one action. She is accustomed to willing herself to be calm, to choking down the upheaval of horrors always threatening to break the surface and shatter her illusion of self control.
“When Jon teleported us back from Mars, it was to New York that we went first…and the streets, Walter, they were full of bodies, everywhere you looked, and it was red…everything was red.”
Her grip on Walter’s hand tightens.
“It was…Hell. Only it wasn’t, because it was real, and Hell is just a storybook place that people make up so that they can believe bad deeds are punished and good people are rewarded. No. This was real, and it was worse. It felt like the whole world was turning to ashes and disintegrating around me. There was nothing to believe in. Not anymore. There was a body at my feet, a man. He had a gun, and I just knew. I knew I wanted it.”
She can feel heat under her eyelids and she knows that there is no good fighting it, so she lets the tears leak out from the corners of her closed eyes as she continues, clutching Walter’s hand as if it is the only thing holding her to the earth.
“When I understood that it was a human that did that, a man, it was like I knew what we are. We are savage things, and savage actions call for equally savage reactions.”
The tears are running freely from her eyes now, but her body is remarkably still as she lays there on her back, clutching the hand of a man who died over one year ago.
“Why didn’t I unload that gun into his awful body!?” She chokes through her tears. “I felt like an angel when I pulled the trigger; powerful. I could at least control one thing: I could make him pay.”
She pulls in a long shuddering breath.
“And that’s the thing, Walter. I wanted to kill him then, I was ready. I regret everyday that I didn’t fire twice. And even though I value my life too much to run off and waste it on a scum bag like Adrian, I know if I were to see him again, or if anyone were to threaten us…that I could do it. I could kill someone. When Dan talked about you, on those long cross country highways, I wished so much that you weren’t dead, because you understand what happened to me.…you know--”
She is cut off by Walter’s gravely whisper.
“I know what it feels like to look into that abyss. Yes, Laurel…I know.”
Wood snaps and crackles in the fireplace, and the great beast noisily grooms itself, unconcerned with the momentous tension strung between her master and the unassuming man at the door. She cleans scrupulously between each of her velvety pads, entirely absorbed in her ritual, and only after the initial shock fades does Dan notice that she is smaller than he remembered Bubastis being.
“She’s just a kitten. Even though she is genetically engineered, she still must grow up. How did you ever manage to get yours age so fast, Daniel?” Adrian inquires coolly from across the polished table.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dan mutters, his gaze still fixed on the cat, reluctant to look upon the unchanging face before him.
“Don’t make a fool of yourself, Daniel. You’ve already established your precious nobility. There is no need to waste your breath on what, I can promise you, is an already futile effort to keep your little family hidden from me.”
“You know where we are,” Dan says grimly, still unable to meet Adrian’s eyes.
“Of course I know where you are. I’ve always known where you and the Comedian’s little pup were. Do you really think I’d ever let you out of my sight?”
Dan’s face flushes at the description of his wife as his fingers curl reflexively into fists. He looks up, finally taking in the man he so loathes, the man responsible for the destruction of everything that was his life before 1985.
Adrian breaks into a silky laugh.
“You’re so cute, Daniel. Although, honestly that blond looks terrible, it doesn’t compliment you at all. The beard though, I must say, I think it works. Far better than that dreadful mustache you were sporting last year.”
“I’m no threat to you, and neither is Laurie. You should know by now we aren’t giving away your secret. Please, just let me go.”
“I know you are no threat. You are a man of logic and reason. I don’t entirely trust her. She’s a bit of a loose cannon like her father, and she didn’t seem as sold on the whole agreement as you and Jon, not to mention she did try to kill me. However, you seem to be able to keep a good leash on her, and I want to give her the benefit of the doubt that she might have some menial amount of common sense.” Adrian pauses, as if to soak up the seething fury emanating from his subject. “She is not who I’m here to talk to you about anyway, and please, stop playing dumb. It just makes you look like some sorry little fat man, and really Daniel, I know you’re better than that.”
“He’s not what you think. His name is Tom. He’s just a man that we found, a hitchhiker. It’s a long story, but he’s nobody, Adrian, and honest to god, how could he be anything else?!” Dan can hear the desperation in his own voice and he wishes more than ever that he was stronger and faster, that he was the Nite Owl from twenty years ago, or perhaps just that he could be more naive to how grossly outmatched he is.
“I’m sure you saw what was left of Rorschach on your surveillance cameras, Adrian. How could you possibly think--”
“I know what happened to Rorschach, Daniel. I know he was blasted to atoms outside of my complex, but I also know you are keeping something from me. I’ve been watching you very closely ever since this ‘hitchhiker’ joined you, and I will tell you I was very unwilling to believe what I was seeing, because yes Daniel, how is such a thing possible? But if you will, please look at this and tell me they are not the same man.”
Dan stares unwillingly at the table as Adrian produces a leather bound folder, opening it to reveal a photo of Walter standing on their porch, his frigid eyes unmistakable. Beside the unsettlingly recent image is Rorschach’s prison mug shot, the same chill hollow eyes glaring back in stark black and white.
“The census worker…” Dan breathes, and a wave of nausea comes over him.
“Yes, he was one of mine, camera in his pen, all very James Bond, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about.” Adrian nudges the folder forward and locks eyes with Dan, holding him fast under his fierce and scrutinizing gaze. “Who is the man on your porch?”
“He’s not Rorschach, Adrian.” Dan whispers, pleading now, loathing the perfect face that holds him captive, but loathing himself more for being so powerless; so unable to do anything to protect the last two people in the world he loves.
“Who is he?”
Dan does not answer.
“I don’t think you understand me, Daniel.”
All the playfulness drains from Adrian’s voice, and it is as if a disguise is melting away to reveal something terrible and merciless.
“I can kill them with a phone call. You will tell me what I need to know or they will both be dead before you leave this room.”
It’s fucking freezing, Laurie thinks to herself bitterly and curls ever tighter under layers of sheets and woolen blankets. The bed feels huge and empty, making her long for Dan, for his heavy body beside her, the tranquil sound of his breath and soothing warmth of his skin. Jon never felt warm like Dan. He gave off some heat, but not in the same way, not in the soft human way, made real by the sent of sweat, hair and skin.
She is ashamed of herself for how much she misses Dan, for how much she needs him, but all at once she is full of fear at his return. Her conversation with Walter tugs at her mind like an unfinished sentence.
Walter only offered a few carefully chosen words in response to her confession, eerie in their easy and knowing delivery. They laid their until it was she who finally stood, but he quickly followed, quietly retreating to his room. She was left standing alone, reeling in his silence, and for a moment she imagined he left tracks of black ink behind him as he ascended the stairs.
If she allowed herself to fall asleep would she find him down at the kitchen table in the morning? If Dan returned and he was gone, would he ever forgive her, would she forgive herself? She rolls onto her back and stares up with red sleepless eyes at the shadowy corners of the room, illuminated only by the faint golden glow of a tiny nightlight. Dan put it there after the second time she stubbed her toe on the desk chair in the dark.
Snow hits the windows in icy gusts, tree limbs rattle, the old house buckles and creaks. She is reminded of being very small. She thinks of her mother and finds it comforting that she can admit to herself she misses her.
There are feet padding down the hall, light and feline in their step, almost soundless on the worn floorboards. Laurie listens, waiting. Will he turn the corner at the end of the hall and whisper down the stairs, out the front door, and away? Simply vanish into the swirling blizzard, gone as though he was never more than an apparition among them.
The steps stop. She stiffens, her breath catches in her lungs and she holds it, fearing to release. The seconds pass and she does not hear him move. Slowly she exhales and centers herself.
“Christ, this is fucking ridiculous," she thinks to herself, her usual irritability getting the best of her.
“Walter?” She says as she pushes herself up from under her mound of blankets and swings her legs over the side of the bed. For as cold as she was under the covers, it feels three times worse out from under them, and she wraps her arms around her chest, pulling Dan’s flannel pajamas tight to her skin.
“Walter, are you out there?” she steps towards the door, pushing it open to peer into the dark hallway. A slim shadow is moving swiftly for the room at the other end of the hall; the room Walter sleeps in.
“Walter! Hey, did you need something?” She chases after him, careful not to slip on the smooth wood floor in her wool socks.
She catches him at the door, her hand flashing out to snatch his wrist.
“Why were you just hanging outside my door like that? What’s wrong?”
“Apologies, Laurel. Did not mean to disturb you,” he replies very quietly without meeting her eyes.
“Did you need something?” she tries again, careful to manager her tone, knowing she won’t get anywhere by sounding accusatory or annoyed.
“I...” He starts and stops, lightly shaking his head. Laurie’s eyes move to the thin arm held tight in her grasp, with its fair, rust colored, hairs standing on end. He is shivering, and so is she.
“Walter,” she begins carefully. “Come to bed with me. It’s so damned cold. There’s plenty of space, you won’t even have to touch me, but it will be warmer that way.”
“You are Daniel’s wife. It is not right for me to lay with you while he is away.”
Laurie rolls her eyes and exhales loudly.
“Walter, Daniel is also my husband and I let you make out with him. It’s just --”
“And that is wrong too,” Walter spits back quickly, shaking his head furiously. “Broke your vows for me.”
She sighs and yanks at his arm, pulling him down the hallway towards her room. He is strong in spite of the weight loss, but she is stronger. She thrusts him through he door and shuts it swiftly behind her.
“Go on, just lay down. I won’t touch you, I promise,” she commands, pointing at the bed.
He quietly obliges her, slinking under the covers on Dan’s side of the bed, and she follows, shutting off the light on her way, only allowing a little grin of victory to play on her lips once the room is enveloped in darkness.
The space between them is enormous. Dan was right when he said the bed would sleep three with room to spare. Laurie shifts restlessly, but Walter is entirely still, a huddled lump as close to edge as he can manage without falling off. The minutes pass, marked only by the endless wailing of the wind through the trees. After what Laurie is certain must have been at least half hour she begins to wonder if he is sleeping. She rolls over yet again, faces the window, and shuts her eyes.
“It used to be even colder than this in my apartment. Don’t understand why it is bothering me so much now.”
Laurie turns over, startled to see that Walter is facing her, the faint yellow light catching the whites of his eyes. She shifts closer, closing the space between them to inches.
“How did you live like that?” she whispers.
“I just did. Rorschach did not need to be warm. He did not need a lot of things that Walter Kovacs seems to require.”
“And you are him now, right? Walter.”
There is a long pause before he answers her. “You don’t have to worry, Laurel. Your confession did not awaken a sleeping monster.”
“Do you think anything could?”
“Know that I could be Rorschach again if provoked, but am no longer compelled as I once was.” He pauses, sinking resignedly into Dan’s downy pillow.
“I released myself when my body came apart and the light took me away.”
The meager glow of the nightlight casts deep unforgiving shadows across his gaunt features and catches on bristly graying stubble. She reaches out to touch him, and he draws back only slightly as her fingers trace his jaw, finding their way to up to his temple where she smooths back his tousled hair.
“Would it be alright if I told you that I love you?” she whispers.
He stares at her in the dim light, dry lips parted, eyes fixed and unreadable. She continues to thumb the soft hair just above his ear, the only place his coarse wiry curls turn silky.
Finally he wordlessly answers her, shifting forward and allowing her to fold her arms around him, pulling his small frame against hers. As she gathers him close, she feels the entire lean expanse of his body tense and shudder as his chest presses against her breasts.
“Can’t do this, Laurel. Not without,…not…” He stammers helplessly as she pulls the layered blankets snugly around them.
“Shhh, It’s okay, Honey.” She soothes in the gentlest voice she can manage, placing a kiss on his forehead. “We’ll wait for Dan. Tonight we’re just going to sleep. It’s okay,…everything is okay…”
Outside, the wind howls.