Genre: Drama, Romance
Characters, pairings: Dan/Laurie/Walter
Universe and time period: Comic-verse, Clockwork Eden AU part 3
Word count: 5100ish
“Stranger than fiction,” Dan mutters under his breath.
His eyes are downcast, brows knit. He exhales slowly and slides into the chair opposite his stately adversary.
“There really is nothing I can do to bargain with you, is there, Adrian?” Dan whispers, his tone low and venomous. “You’re just playing with me. You’ll threaten to kill the people I love to get the information you want, but in the end there is nothing I can say or do to influence you. If I tell you nothing, you'll kill him; if you don't like the truth, you'll kill him anyway."
Adrian raises a golden eyebrow and cracks a sly grin. “Ahh, Daniel. I always knew you had more spirit than you have let on in the past. So, are you implying that you intend to continue to withhold the truth from me?”
Dan eyes the taller man coolly. “I didn’t say that. I’ll tell you the truth. It’s the only shot I have at keeping him alive. I just wanted you to be well aware that I know what you are playing at, and I'm not blindly groveling at your feet."
“Fair enough. Now, if you please.”
“Wha-, what time is it, Walter?” Laurie grumbles.
“Too early.” She groans. “Mmmm, you feel so nice and warm…stay under the covers a little longer.” Her voice is rambling, still heavy with sleep and not entirely self-aware. She wraps an arm around Walter’s skinny chest and pulls him closer, pressing her face into his shoulder.
He forces his eyes open and stares at her quiet sleeping face, slightly blotchy from lying on the other side, free of makeup. Only her golden hair is artificial in the pale light of dawn.
She is good. Not like that. Good. She said,…
“What?” she answers without opening her eyes.
“Said something to me last night…wanted to ask you if you meant it.” His stomach flops. He does not quite know why he feels the need to ask her this, and the embarrassment of it makes him sick.
Her eyes flick open, brows knit. “Walter, I wouldn’t lie about something like that.”
“Apologies, did not mean to insult your integrity, I-”
“You just need to relax. Relax and accept that two people love you very much.” She closes her eyes again and sinks into the pillow before adding in a feather light whisper:
“It’s not as complicated as you think.”
“He didn’t.” Dan shakes his head wearily. “Rorschach’s journal was published in a source that Walter found to be viable, and even if most people dismiss the article as the ranting of a madman, Walter believes Rorschach died with honor. He doesn’t wish to change anything about Rorschach’s life, or how it ended. He only wants to live out the rest of his own in anonymity. Jon has seen our future, Adrian. He never would have sent Walter back if this was not the truth.”
“Interesting.” Adrian is quiet for what feels to Dan like hours. He idly strokes his pet’s enormous head and stares at the photographs in the folder, his hand cupped under his nose, his eyes narrow and calculating.
“Adrian, pl-” Dan starts when he can no longer endure the silence.
“You love them so much, Daniel,” Adrian interrupts, his posture straightening. “But you look at me with such complete loathing.”
There is something strange in the untouchable man’s tone, something Dan cannot place. Adrian pauses, as if anticipating a response, but when none comes he continues.
“You are a good man. Noble. You try to live with integrity, you have devoted so much of your life to doing ‘good’, but yet, you keep company with demons.”
“Demons. Well, Adrian, I was never aware, but I guess it takes one to know one,” Daniel retorts icily, surprised at his own nerve.
“I suppose, yes, you might be right about that, but hear me when I tell you: I have never killed out of anger, or malice, or…revenge. I have never harmed another person unless it was for the benefit of countless more. Yet these two that you love so dearly, they have both sought murder out of spite, they have both killed or tried to kill for purely emotional or selfish reasons, and yet you love them…and you vilify me. Where is the logic in that, Daniel?”
“Do they really, Daniel? Or do you simply want them too?”
“No…you destroyed everything. My whole life in New York is gone because of you. Mine and so many others. Selfishly washed away, all because you insisted you knew what was best for us.”
“But you are happier now, are you not?”
For a moment Adrian looks legitimately confused. At this Dan feels a sudden rush of irrepressible fury and he rises to his feet, causing the chair to scrape loudly across the floor, and the great cat to snarl defensively.
“You fucking murdered my mailman; Joey Thurston, along with Amelia Lindt; the nice lady at the twenty-four hour corner store, and Bernard; that chatty news vendor near the Gunga Diner. Oh and while we’re on the subject of the diner, how about Sonali and Hanish, Sonali was expecting a baby. You murdered them, all of them, Adrian. All because you insisted you knew what was best for everyone, but did you ever ask yourself: What gave you the right to make that decision?”
Adrian stands, rising up to his full height, and he is no less the terrifying paragon of humanity than he was moments earlier, but Dan continues, spurred on by repressed grief and the memory of a ceremony broadcast across America, where every name was read, one after the other.
“I agreed to be silent. I agreed because it was already done, Adrian, but I cannot forgive you for all the innocents you slaughtered, my entire life, everyone I knew, everyone except two! And Hell, for the sake of argument, you did murder one of them too!”
“I didn’t kill Rorschach.”
“Of course you would say that, you soulless bastard! What, because you didn’t do it directly, that means it wasn’t you? You want to pin the murder on Jon? No, even he was more human than you that night,…what he did was an act of mercy.”
It happens in the blink of an eye, with a speed humans should not possess. Adrian covers the space between them before Dan is even fully aware that the man has moved. Unnaturally strong fingers curl around Dan’s wrists and he is slammed brutally against the locked door. His eyes snap shut as his skull hits the wood, and when he opens them The taller man is leering over him, violet eyes blazing.
“Hate morning,” she grumbles to herself on the way to the bathroom before wandering down to the first floor, her brain entirely consumed with the thought of a steaming mug of coffee.
At the bottom of the stairs she is greeted by a pleasant aroma that suggests her wish has been granted. By the time she reaches the dining room she can hear the sound of something sizzling, and for a brief moment she thinks that Dan has miraculously returned home early, but this is short-lived as she enters the kitchen to see Walter fussing over the stove. It is the first time she has ever witnessed him cook anything more complicated than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and she hangs back in the doorway observing with curiosity.
“I didn’t know you knew how to cook anything,” she replies, helping herself to the coffee before taking her usual seat at the small kitchen table. She notices that there are two plates already set out with utensils ready, along with all the applicable condiments: cream and sugar for the coffee, jam, butter, salt, pepper, and ketchup. Her eyes linger curiously on the table spread. It would be nothing out of the ordinary for Dan, but for Walter such care is truly outside the norm.
“Used to cook for myself many years ago, got harder when I started working at night. Only know how to make a few simple things though. Nothing special,” Walter mutters absently and drops two slices of bread into the toaster.
“What do you mean it got harder when you started working nights?” Laurie inquires, for the sake of conversation as well as to feed her now ravenous fascination with the origins of a man she has been aware of most of her life, but only recently come to know.
“Worked a day job, eight to five. Packed myself a sandwich for lunch, but that was the extent of cooking for me. I was too tired to make anything when I got home, I would usually sleep until seven or eight, and then meet Daniel for patrol by nine. Daniel often fed me. When I quit my job, I couldn’t afford sandwiches anymore so I lived mostly on canned goods. Pre-cooked, no need to fuss. Cheapest thing I could find.”
Laurie cringes. “Walter, that sounds awful.”
“Had very little money. Few options.” He shrugs and turns away from the stove, carrying the skillet with him. He scrapes a pile of scrambled eggs onto Laurie’s plate, giving her slightly more than he does himself. He sets the skillet aside and fetches a plate of toast, setting in the center of the table.
“It’s fine! Honestly, I’m shocked,” she exclaims, digging into the eggs. They are heavily marbled with yellow and white, not perfectly uniform and fluffy as they would be had Dan prepared them, and she is certain her first bite came with some shell, but they are still edible, and the gesture itself has her so stunned that she hardly notices.
“Bleh! You and Dan with the ketchup, I can’t get over that,” she remarks at the sight of Walter dipping his eggs in a little pool of the red stuff.
“Learned it from Daniel.”
“Ha! It figures.” Laurie cackles and refills her cup, spooning an extra mound of sugar into the black liquid.
As she sips her coffee, her gaze shifts to the window. Her mouth drops open and she lowers the mug, setting it quietly on the table.
“Jesus,…Walter. Don’t look outside.”
There are sparks popping before Dan’s eyes, and dizzying pain emanating from the back of his head, but more than any of it there is a feeling of bitter resignation. It was as though he where playing a chess match with a dangerous opponent, and he made a move too brazen for his own good.
“Daniel.” Adrian hisses. His voice is uncharacteristically raw, and it is as though his faultless face is suddenly riddled with cracks.
Dan glares back fiercely, liberated in the certainty that he will die.
“Go on. Get it over with.” He spits through his clenched teeth. The hands on his wrists curl tighter, and his fingers grow numb under the pressure.
“You…you can love them. Horrible things like them…evil things.”
Dan’s body seizes up and he stares in blank horror at the ceiling as Adrian works his way along his jugular and across his jaw, searching for his mouth.
“Adrian, please. Don’t do this. You are a lot of awful things, but you are not this. Not this…” Dan chokes as cold lips close over his mouth.
Adrian lingers on the closed and unwilling kiss for a long span of seconds before pulling back swiftly, releasing Dan’s wrists and lifting his hands in a universal gesture of surrender.
“I must apologize. That was vulgar of me…and shameful.”
Dan staggers away, his hand clamped hard over his mouth, coughing.
“This is my cross to bear; I must except my fate with dignity, for you are right. I have earned it.”
“Your fate?” Dan replies incredulously, still reeling.
Adrian is all at once composed as though nothing had occurred. He gives his pet a reassuring pat on the head and returns to his seat with a slow easy grace.
“You are the only person alive on this planet that I have any respect for who knows who I am, Daniel. Forgive me for letting my emotions get the best of me, it will not happen again.”
Dan watches him for a long time, uncertain how careful he needs to be, or if it even matters anymore; Adrian’s mind is almost certainly made up.
“You’re alone.” Dan breaths.
Pale lips part in an eerie grin. “I have her.” He reaches down to his left to scratch his cat behind the ear. The smile fades and Adrian lifts his eyes to once again meet Dan’s.
“I will not kill out of malice, or vengeance, or jealousy. If I am to trust Jon’s foresight, than there is no reason to harm your family, but I will be checking in. Remotely and discreetly, of course.”
A cool wave of relief, like desert rain, rushes over Dan, and he breaths deep, filling his tight lungs with much needed oxygen.
“Daniel, before we part, I must add that you really ought to train him better. He might not be bringing about Armageddon, but he is awfully rude to your neighbors.” Adrian says, his tone once again casual and charmingly sly.
Adrian smirks at Dan’s baffled expression. “One of my men reported a most amusing encounter between your Walter and some poor unsuspecting local. Don’t worry, no one was hurt, but your dear partner is well on his way to being one of those isolated country psychopaths.”
Dan’s stomach does a little turn at this, and he hopes that whatever happened was not too awful.
“Um, thanks for the information,” He replies flatly.
“Of course. Also, you don’t need to find a new accountant. Dear Rafael simply thought that he was helping me orchestrate a surprise meeting between two old friends.”
Dan nods stiffly. “And you’ll keep your word? You’ll leave us alone.”
Adrian tilts his head and leans back slightly in his chair. “What are you going to do when I unlock that door? And I want you to be honest.”
“I’m going to go back to my hotel. I’m going to order a scotch, and I am going to go to sleep. Tomorrow I will go shopping as I planned, and the following morning I am flying home.”
“And when you get there, what will you tell them?”
“That I had a lovely trip,” Dan answers resolutely, without even a hint of hesitation. “You are right about them, Adrian. They are what they are, and there are things that it is better they do not know.”
“And yet they have your love.”
“All of it.”
Adrian nods, and for a brief and fleeting moment Dan catches what could be the slightest trace of sadness.
“You have my word.”
“Where the hell is our car?” Laurie gasps, staring in shock through the frosty window at an endless expanse of blinding white, punctuated only by icy sagging trees.
“Is that it over there? The mound on the left.”
“Oh my god. It is!! Holy shit!”
Laurie steps away from the window and looks to Walter with a kind of frantic desperation.
“How the fuck do we get it out?!”
“Dig, I suppose.” He replies, but everything in his tone suggests he is going on a guess.
"DIG?! Walter, even if we clear off the car, there is like fifty yards of driveway! How do we get out?! Plows will come, right?” She is talking to herself as much as she is to him and pacing frantically about the kitchen.
“Would imagine they must come, people live out here.” Walter replies quietly, and looks back to the window.
“Must get out somehow, need to pick up Daniel tomorrow,” Walter mutters and shuffles off to find his boots.
He closes his eyes and tilts his head back, relaxing as pungent smelling dye is rinsed from his hair.
“It will match with original color. Very nice, better than blond. Was mistake, yes?” The female salon worker says brightly.
“It’s just time to go back, I think,” Dan replies with a smile.
He takes photographs about town, has lunch in a quaint little bistro, and purchases what he knows Laurie and Walter will tell him is an excessive amount of chocolate.
His last stop before retiring to his hotel room is a jewelry store. He spends nearly an hour deliberating over countless necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, before finally settling on a piece he thinks will suit Laurie the best. It is a necklace, a smoky black diamond solitaire with smaller white accents set in yellow gold. It is almost too expensive, but when he imagines her wearing it, her hair once again the color of polished ebony, the piece feels so right that he does not give the price another thought.
The winter air burns in Walter’s lungs raw as he heaves another shovel full of snow over his shoulder. He stops to cough, and spits a wad of something thick and foul-colored on the snow beside him. He glares at it, annoyed that even now, over a month after having the flu, he is still hacking the stuff up. He shovels it away, irked.
“Walter! You’re doing it wrong!” Laurie snaps from the other side of the car. “You’re going to hurt yourself! Stop tossing it over your shoulder. Just push it out of the way.”
“Don’t know what makes you an expert.”
“Well don’t say I didn’t warn you when you throw out your back.”
“Do I ever complain?”
By sundown the car is free along with a surrounding area, a path to the house, and about ten feet of driveway. Laurie staggers over to Walter and the two of them stare in exhausted defeat at fifty-some odd yards of untouched snow between their car and the road. Laurie wants to scream, but instead she leans on Walter and chokes out a little sob of utter frustration. He wilts despondently under her weight.
“What are we going to do, Laurel?”
“I don’t know…we don’t even have a phonebook yet.” She mentally curses Dan for forgetting this one crucial detail, and it occurs to her for the first time that Dan too is only just learning to exist in this strange and remote place.
“Let’s just go to inside, its dark, and we’re both cold and sore as hell. We’ll just have to try again tomorrow,” she sighs miserably. Walter nods and follows her, tossing his shovel into a snow mound near the corner of the porch.
It is already dark when Dan stumbles off the train, heavy bags in tow, his warm breath crystallizing in the frosty air. He checks his watch. It is half past five, he’s right on time. He scans the platform, eyes falling on the spot where they stood when the train pulled away four days prior. There is nobody waiting. He sighs and drags his bags into the station, seeking refuge from the cold.
They’re just running late, he thinks to himself anxiously and takes a seat on a bench near the entrance.
No more than fifteen minutes later and he cannot seem to control the tapping of his right foot.
By six pm they are forty-five minutes late and he finds himself on the verge of being sick.
Could be anything; traffic, a flat tire. He gave me his word. They are fine, They are fine, they are…
A voice echoes through the station, sending shockwaves up his spine. Laurie is running towards him from the main entrance, her cheeks flushed and pink from the cold, an ear-to-ear grin spread across her face. She tackles him, leaping into his open arms, laughing and covering him with kisses. Walter follows close behind, hands in his pockets, his posture displaying all his usual stiff formality, the only exception being a smile, worn ever so cautiously on his unaccustomed features.
“Dan,” Laurie tilts her head as she pulls back from a long kiss. “Your hair, it’s brown again.” Her dark blue eyes narrow in concern.
“We can talk over dinner, I’m starving. Lets find a place to grab a bite.” Dan chuckles. He doesn’t miss Walter’s expression of cool suspicion as he blows off his wife’s question.
“We’ve only been to the train station in this town, I didn’t see anywhere too- ” Laurie starts.
“We’ll find a place.” Dan interjects with a smile.
They leave the station, Dan offering to drive and Laurie gladly accepting, his offer prompting her into a long winded rant about icy roads, fallen tree limbs, insurmountable snow and all manner of frozen horrors that had delayed their arrival. He half listens as he circles what seems to be the downtown section of the city, searching for a particular sort of establishment.
“Ah, perfect! Open late too.” He exclaims, pulling into the crowded and poorly-plowed parking lot of ‘Lucky Garden Number 1 Chinese Buffet’.
Laurie raises an eye brow at the tacky sign and flickering neon. “Do you think this place is any good?”
“Eh, they’re all the same, and I’m in the mood for noodles,” Dan replies with a shrug and guides them inside.
The restaurant is busy, the patronage consisting mostly of families with noisy children. Dan selects a table in a corner near a bubbling fountain decorated with plastic flowers and filled with fat orange and white goldfish.
When they have all returned with plates full of a variety of mediocre Americanized Chinese fare Laurie stares at Dan sharply from across the table.
Dan pauses, his eyes making one last sweep of the restaurant. “I ran into Adrian. After that, concealing the color of my hair seemed silly.”
They react in almost perfect sync, shifting to total alertness, Laurie dropping her chopsticks, and Walter halting mid slurp in his wanton soup. Dan chuckles softly, dipping his egg roll in a pool of duck sauce. “Easy there tigers. We’re safe, safer than we’ve ever been, but he thinks I’m keeping you two in the dark about our encounter. Sadly for him, one thing he’ll never be able to understand is partnership.”
“That’s why you brought us here. Afraid the house and car are bugged?” Walter mumbles through a mouthful of pork fried rice. Laurie wrinkles her nose at his bad table manners.
“I don’t think our property is bugged. I’m betting the census worker was the closest he bothered coming, but I’m not taking any chances. I’ll do a sweep tomorrow to be sure.”
Walter swallows and reaches for his drink. “Assume he wanted to know about me?”
“What did you tell him?” Laurie interjects.
“The truth. God knows it’s stranger than fiction,” Dan replies with a light shrug, slurping down a greasy noodle.
“I think the whole notion that Osterman sent Walter here on good faith and precognition was enough to convince him to leave us alone, and I know this might sound overly sympathetic, but I think Adrian has exhausted his capacity for murder. I just want you both to promise me you’re not going to go off hunting him. It’s not worth it. It’s over.”
“Don’t worry, sounds like you took care of things just fine on your own, Nite Owl,” Laurie replies with a playful nudge. Dan’s eyes shift to Walter, who is poking at a gooey blob of General Tso’s chicken with his fork.
“Chinese food is better in New York. Never appreciated it before,” He mutters.
“No kidding!” Laurie interjects.
“Walter,” Dan urges.
It is nearly midnight by the time Dan sinks, loose and boneless with exhaustion, into the sheets of his own bed. It's not lost on him that his day started six hours earlier than an American one.
“I still feel terrible Laurie, about the snow. I should have better prepared you two,” he sighs, gathering his wife up under his arm.
“It’s all right. Jim left is phone number when he plowed us out. I still can’t get over him showing up like that, just out of the goodness of his heart. People here aren’t so bad. You would have been in that train station all night if not for him,” Laurie replies with a yawn.
“And Walter apologized to him, right?”
“Yeah. It was a ‘Walter’ apology.” She laughs and rolls her eyes. “Naturally followed with another warning about hunting here. I gave Jim some money for his trouble. I get the impression that allowing him to hunt on the property was how the old owners paid him for plowing the place.”
“Ahh, well I’m glad to hear--”
Laurie silences him swiftly with a hand to his mouth. His eyes flick to her face in confusion and she makes a little gesture with her head towards the door. In the silence he can hear the sound of something shuffling across the hall, pacing.
“It’s Walter,” she whispers very quietly, releasing him. “He wants to come in, but he’s nervous. He slept in here with me last night.”
Dan looks at her in complete shock. “What--he really came to bed with you, I mean--seriously?”
“Shh, I’ll give you the details tomorrow.” She hushes him, tossing the covers aside.
“Walter,…Honey?” Laurie slides out of bed and carefully makes her way to the door. Dan still can’t get over her use of endearing language for the man she once loathed so completely, and it makes his heart flutter a little every time. She opens the door and disappears down the hall, returning after a few minutes, dragging a very uneasy little man with her. She guides him over to the bed, coaxing him in on Dan’s left side.