Genre: Drama, Romance rated R
Characters, pairings: Dan/Laurie/Walter
Universe and time period: Post-Karnak comic-verse, Clockwork Eden AU: part 5
Word count: 3100
Notes: General creepiness and some light sexual themes.
The week drifts by slowly, days lazily blurring into each other, undefined by work schedules or nocturnal patrols. Dan continues to make plans for home upgrades, and starts a vegetable garden on the east side of the house where the sun is best for plants.
“Where the hell is the camera?” Laurie giggles, looking up at Dan in his dirty jeans and sweat-stained t-shirt, beaming proudly at his neat little rows of seedlings. “I have no idea how you went from City boy to Farmer Danny in less than a year. You’re sure as hell more adaptable than Walter and me.”
But really, you would never know that looking at her, stretched like a basking lioness on a checkered blanket spread out over the grass near the garden, paging through an archery catalog. The sun is high in the early afternoon sky and it is warm enough for her to be comfortable in a short sleeved blouse and Capri leggings.
“I want to get a bow and a target, Dan. I think it would be fun to learn to shoot with one of these things. Seems like a fitting pastime out here.” She points at the catalogue.
“Sure,” Dan replies, and scans the tree line until he finds the well concealed figure of Walter in his usual spot on one of the low limbs of a big maple, well out of earshot. “Just don’t hurt the deer. Walt is kind of protective of them, you know.”
“I wouldn’t do that, I like animals,” Laurie yawns and rolls over onto to her back.
“Maybe we should get a pet,” Dan suggests brightly.
“Nah, still too early.” Laurie shifts up onto her elbows. “Pets are a big responsibility, and I think we have enough to worry about with him.” Laurie nods towards the tree line.
“Walter?” Dan dusts himself off and plops down on the blanket beside her.
“Well I don’t know,”
They both look off in the direction of their partner, barely visible behind the spreading leaves, a book open across his knees.
“What do you make of those books he’s been reading? The ones he got from the library. Weird, don’t you think?”
“It’s like medical stuff right?”
Laurie rolls her eyes, annoyed with his lack of awareness.
“Two anatomy books, one on autopsies, and one about the brain and cognition,” she recites, her voice tight, making it abundantly clear that she is irritated. “Why is he reading things like that?”
“I don’t know, Laurie. He’s not used to having so much free time, and he never went to college, or hell, I don’t think he graduated high school. Maybe he’s just looking to educate himself. He’s not stupid. ”
“I never said he was stupid, and Walter strikes me more as the history and literature type, not a science geek like you. There’s just something strange about him reading that stuff.”
“He’s doing fine. He’s always going to be quirky. It’s just the way he is, and he’s improved a lot. If you knew him when he was Rorschach you’d know what I mean.”
“I knew him well enough, and using Rorschach as a gauge of personal wellbeing is like using a corpse as a gauge of health,” Laurie replies with a huff.
Dan frowns and scoots sideways on the blanket to slip an arm around her hip, pulling her to lean against him.
“Hey,” He squeezes her gently. “I’m glad you’re so concerned for him, but really, I think he’s okay. We’d be able to tell if there was really a problem.”
“Yeah, when we wake up and he’s gone.”
“I’m sorry.” She shakes her head and rubs her eyebrows.
She shifts her gaze from small figure in the tree to the sky above, and a breeze stirs her dark hair. On the western horizon she can see low heavy clouds gathering. ' Funny how fast the weather can change', she thinks to herself and stands up, stretching.
“We better go get him, it looks like it’s going to rain.”
The television reception flickers and rain pounds the windows in angry sheets. He can remember clearly what it felt like to be outside in rain like that, standing watch for long miserable hours as it pelted his shoulders and he willed himself not to shiver even when his clothes were completely soaked through and his skin was raw and clammy.
Walter curls on the couch. He is warm and drowsy from the good dinner that Daniel prepared, there is a fuzzy knit blanket wrapped tight around him and he is nestled deep in soft pillows, but does not forget the rain in Manhattan. He remembers being so cold, so sore, worn down to almost nothing, but strangely in that time none of it bothered him as it should have; as it would bother a lesser man; as it would bother him now.
He can hear Daniel and Laurel in the kitchen laughing boisterously as they polish off a bottle of cabernet that was opened up for dinner. They sound slightly slurred but coherent, carefree, and unabashedly loving. He doesn’t listen to what they are talking about, only the melody of their voices juxtaposed against the driving rain.
His eyes drift lazily to the screen where PBS plays on low volume. It is ten p.m. and new program is starting, one he has seen before, one he knows he should not watch.
“Who was Rorschach?” the voice of a well known journalist inquires evenly. “Unmasking this infamous vigilante has been something of an American obsession ever since his arrest and subsequent disappearance in the fall of 1985.”
He feels suddenly lightheaded and his mouth is turning dry. He should just sit up, turn it off, but he can’t. The program holds as it did the first time he saw it and the time after that. He mentally curses PBS for playing it so often.
“Walter Kovacs was born on March 21st 1940…”
He shuts his eyes.
When he opens them he is staring at his left hand, fingers spread wide, silhouetted against the screen, over his own grainy mug shot. His middle finger is crooked from where he broke it in ‘81. Countless scars, failing joints, and busted fingers, they are things left over, earned.
He pulls his hand back to himself, runs his fingers over his throat, traces his windpipe. He can feel his pulse pumping under this thin skin, moist with perspiration. The television flickers again, and when it pops back on there is an ex-con calling him a monster.
He closes his eyes again.
His hand slips beneath the blanket, and his fingers tremble as he reaches up under his shirt. He lays his palm flat over his breast bone. His heart pounds. Steady. Thunder crackles and then erupts like a bomb detonation. The sudden burst of sound silences his companion’s laughter and the television and lights cut out completely. The house is all at once dark, save the erratic flashes of lightning, and a gust of rain spatters hard on the window panes. Wind whips with reckless fury through the tree limbs, but under his spread fingers his heart ticks steady as a clock.
By morning the storm has passed and sunlight cuts through the slim space between the linen curtains, drawing a bright line over three dozing bodies; a tangle of limbs beneath downy sheets.
Dan is awake first, as per usual, and is already down in the kitchen frying up hash-brown potatoes and eggs by the time Walter limps over to the stove to peer into the sizzling pan. Laurie, who prefers to sleep in, will trudge in just as they are finishing up, but Dan is always mindful to set enough aside for her.
Walter leans sleepily against Dan, lets the delicious smell of coffee and breakfast fill his nostrils, and the and the softness of his partner’s shoulder press against his cheek. 'It’s all so simple', he thinks. So simple to be happy. Why was it so elusive? Why was it always so difficult?
Why is it still so difficult?
“Morning, sunshine,” Dan teases.
“Morning,” Walter grunts, still propped against Dan, making it difficult for him to turn the potatoes.
“Get some coffee.” Dan pecks him on the side of the head and nudges him up. “The aspirin is on the counter, I could hear you limping when you came in. Right knee again?”
“I remember when you busted that one up real bad back in ‘72. You wouldn’t listen to me about staying off it either. See, what did I tell you? arthritic as hell now.”
“Hurm, not just the knee. Ankles are bad too. Occupational hazard.” Walter sighs and picks up the plastic bottle. He flexes his leg and the joint feels stiff and grinding like a rusted hinge. He closes his eyes and lets himself take in every trace of the pain. He smiles faintly and sets the bottle back on the counter.
“Take two,” Dan urges gently.
Walter bends his knee again and winces before reluctantly shaking two capsules into his cupped palm. He throws his head back and swallows them dry, then pours himself a mug of coffee and shuffles over to the table where there is cream and sugar set out.
“Hmm?” Dan looks over his shoulder.
Walter is spooning a heap of sugar into extra light coffee. He glances up as he stirs in the granules.
“Was there any reason you named me Thomas Sullivan?” He lifts the cup to his lips and tests the sweetness. “Or,…was it just a general second identity you created, not necessarily for me?”
Dan chuckles and cracks an egg into the skillet.
“No, That name was for you. I created it in 1977. Along with one for me, and for a woman. Heh, wishful thinking paid off.”
“After the Keene Act, yeah.” Dan’s voice drops slightly. “I knew that if under some extraordinary circumstances I found myself in that suit again, I would be breaking the law. Figured I should be prepared for the consequences.”
Walter is quiet, staring into his mug.
“You still made one for,…Rorschach.”
Dan nods and looks back over his shoulder, smiling warmly. “More wishful thinking that paid off.”
Walter’s chest feels tights as he recalls a rainy autumn night in his dank New York City apartment when he crumbled on his hands and knees, shredding countless newspaper clippings collected from 1964 to 1976, sobbing and cursing and choking on the bitter betrayal of it all. It was the last time he allowed himself to shed real tears until 1985, and in that moment he never could have believed that Daniel was creating a new name for Rorschach, a way out of his self imposed hell, a second chance, just in case.
“Why Thomas Sullivan?”
“You seemed like you would prefer a simple American name like Tom, and well, you were a hell of a boxer.”
Walter warms his hands against his coffee mug and laughs softly. “I like it. Good choice.” He pauses and the smile fades a little form his lips. “You were still thinking of Rorschach, even after--”
“I was still thinking of you,” Dan corrects him. “I didn’t understand it back then, but the person I cared about, the person I wanted to protect, was you, Walt. It was never Rorschach. Rorschach is only an idea.”
“Me…” Walter muses to himself in a raspy breath too slight for Dan to catch over the crackling sizzle of the eggs. And when Dan comes over to the table with freshly prepared food, Walter tilts his head to receive the brush of his lips, and in the same moment that his heart flutters so light behind his ribs something not unlike guilt stirs heavy in his gut.
“Dan, have you seen Walter around?” Laurie asks, entering the kitchen dressed in her workout clothes. “I was going to practice kickboxing and I thought he’d want to join, but I can’t find him.”
“Not since this morning,” Dan replies, glancing up from a scattered collection of hand sketched blue prints and notes spread out over the kitchen table.
Laurie’s expression falls. “He’s not in his room, or any of his usual hiding places.” Her eyes move to the papers on the table. “What’s all this?”
“Plans.” Dan grins.
“You know how I told you I was going to fix up that garage around back? Well, I’m going to turn it into my new workshop.”
Laurie shrugs. “I figured as much, what are you thinking of building?”
“Well, I thought to start maybe those hover scooters. They would be fun to ride around out here, but looking ahead, I think I want to build another aircraft.”
Laurie lets out a little snort of a laugh. “Archie two, eh?”
“Aw c’mon Laurie, just think about it! The three of us could go all over the world and not have to fuss with airports or any of that bullshit.”
“Yeah, that would be nice," she replies with a little nod. “Sorry, I’m just wondering where the hell Walter went. You sure you haven’t seen him?”
Dan scratches at his head, thinking.
“Did you check the basement?”
“No, it’s icky down there, why would he,-wait did you see him go down there?”
“No, but if you haven’t looked there, I’ll bet it’s where he is.” Dan smiles and returns to his blueprints.
“If he’s hanging out down there, that’s an all new level of weird,…even for him,” Laurie mutters and turns to leave the kitchen, heading down the hall to the basement door.
“Hey, Laur, if you find him ask him if he wants burgers or grilled chicken for dinner tonight!” Dan calls out from the kitchen. Laurie shakes her head, vaguely annoyed, and starts down the crooked wood plank stairs to the basement.
As her eyes adjust to the dim light she scans the dismal subterranean space. At first glance the main room appears to be unoccupied and the lights are off, the only illumination coming from the two small ground level windows at the far end, and spilling in from a narrow doorway a few feet ahead of her and to the right. It’s the room they discovered a week ago, the one Dan said was a coal bin, and in a split second the memory of Walter on that day sparks in her like a firecracker, and she knows. Filled with an inexplicable sense of urgency, she moves swiftly towards the rectangle of light. There is no door left to knock on; Dan discarded the remnants, so she enters offering only her footsteps as a warning.
He is staring up at her from the dirt floor, bathed in that eerie dust filled silver light, his back to the craggy stone wall, mouth open, jaw slack, expression vacant and glazed. His fly undone, but he looks like he finished with himself long ago by the dried evidence on his jeans. His arms hang limp at his sides, palms up, and his legs are spread out straight before him, his feet bare. If she did not catch the slow rise and fall of his chest she would think he was dead.
Scattered around him are the books he checked out from the library, a few pens of various colors, and his journal which lays spread open near his feet. She can see from where she stands that there are drawings scrawled feverishly across the journal pages in red ink, mixing with nearly illegible black handwriting and a blurred section where it looks like something might have been spilled on the pages.
She takes one slow step forward, still registering what she is seeing, and he does not move, not even to blink.
“Walter,” She starts and her voice cracks. She kneels down slow, bringing herself to his level.
“Laurel,” he whispers once her face is even with his own, and he sounds like his throat is full of spider webs.
She reaches to touch his cheek but draws back quickly with an embarrassing little peep of a shriek when she notices a centipede, very much like the one she killed days ago, crawling along his collar bone.
“Laurel,” he whispers again, oblivious to the many legged creature.
Her throat constricts and she feels like she could cry, because something is very wrong with him, but instead she swallows hard and reaches out to grasp his thin shoulder and stroke his filthy dust coated mop of hair. “Honey, we need to get you upstairs, there are bugs on you, and you’re a mess, and, what in hell are you doing down here?”
“You said it was like a prison, Laurel....Rorschach went to prison,” His voice is soft and monotone and it reminds her of Jon.
She moves quickly to gather the books, and he does not move as she hurriedly throws them into a pile, until her fingers touch his journal. There is a second’s delay as his eyes focus, as if all at once the world is registering, and he snaps to awareness like a machine suddenly switched on.
“No!” He coughs, and scrambles onto his hands and knees. “No! don’t!”
She draws back quickly, eyes wide. “What the fuck is going on with you?!”
“I-” He holds the little book closed against his chest and fumbles for an explanation, but he stumbles over his words like a student caught sleeping in class, still entirely lost on what has transpired in his absence of awareness. His eyes shift down to his jeans and he sheepishly tugs up his fly. “Apologies. I-I don’t, I don’t know what I was…”
“Walter, we need to talk. You are not okay.”
“Am fine Laurel,… fell asleep. Nothing to--”
“With your fucking eyes open?!” she exclaims, heat and color surging to her cheeks.
“Hell no! I’m fucking worried about you!”
“Please.” His tone is soft, almost pleading, and Laurie lets out a long exasperated sigh. She reaches out and draws him into a tight embrace, pressing his her cheek against his temple.
“You know we fucking love you,” She breathes wearily, her voice bitter with frustration. "I just,...I don't know what to do."
He sags against her body, nuzzling into the hollow under her jaw, and his shoulders shudder gently as he breathes in the faint fragrance of her hair.
“You and Daniel, are doing fine.”