Summary: Rorschach’s not afraid of dying.
Ratings/Warnings: Hurn… PG 13, I guess.
Notes: Filler for Etherati’s Zombie!verse. Last stanza is directly from Now, as Before. Can’t seem to stop playing in that sandbox… ‘Thanatophobia’ means the fear of dying, for those wondering. It refers to a terror of the ‘act of dying’, not of being dead. Also! This was originally part of a drabble series that got unweildy. I changed the drabble, but liked this too much to give it up.
Death has never been anything Rorschach would consider worth being afraid of. Death is always somewhere close, lingering in each alley, hanging at the side of every knife-wielding piece of scum, loitering in the barrel of a hidden gun.
So he’s not afraid of death when he’s surrounded by the pack of things-that-aren’t-people. He’s afraid, yes- he’s sane enough to be terrified of the gnashing teeth, sane enough to be afraid of the drawn out process of bleeding out under their claws, dying to the sound of them eating him. Dying badly is worthy of his fear.
Later, he won’t be sure exactly how he managed to get away from them. He remembers fighting, and it’s obvious he did- remembers one falling and then another, the crack-crunch-slump of breaking necks and the solid, hideous crunch of skulls breaking. But there had been so many. He doesn’t- maybe never will- remember how he managed to get away. It’ll taunt him; now as he leans against the brickwork, struggling to move on, and later, when he’s deader and saner.
Hospital, he thinks, feeling he blood rushing hot and heavy down his leg. He’s been bitten, and badly, and yet the pain can be forgotten; pushed back far enough by the need to get off the streets. There is a hospital nearby, and it wouldn’t be hard to shuck his mask and incriminating pieces of costume and go there.
But those things came out of humans, he’s sure. Nature doesn’t make horror shows like that, people do. And he’s never trusted doctors—they’re likely to kill him as cure him, simply because it’s easier. No, the hospital is a bad choice.
Daniel, he thinks, flooded with sudden worry. Daniel he can trust. As long as Daniel is safe.
Another thing he’ll never be able to clearly remember is how he managed to get from one place to another. How did he get from downtown to the brownstone safely, when he was still bleeding and hot with life? They should have tracked him, weak prey that he was.
It’s not until he’s been pulled inside with his partner that he feels fear again. He’s dizzy and nauseous and in a world of agony, but looking at Daniel he finds room to feel abject terror.
Those things were people once, infected with something to make them less, to make them into literal monsters. Whatever changed them could be in him now, working its alchemy. He could change, just like that. Hurt Daniel.
And Daniel, innocent and ever optimistic, acts surprised when he suggests he get a gun. Keep it loaded. Acts like he’s being paranoid. Even as he’s suffering and a hairsbreadth from death, he will not admit how nice it is that Daniel trusts him so deeply.
His last rational impression before he’s lost to the haze of fever and infection is of Daniel, trusting and caring and playing at humor, curled over him, trying to help.
He’s not afraid of death, but dying suddenly terrifies him. Death is a state. He always imaged ‘dying’, verb, would be something too quick to hurt; a burst of violence that would sweep him from existence before he could question it. Not worth over thinking, much less fearing.
But dying like this, burning to death, drowning in sweat- dying by slow inches… dying like this is wrong for someone who has lived as he has, and it terrifies him.
Even more because Daniel is right here, all the time. Always in or near the room, changing bandages and sheets and talking and being kind. And what if he dies and turns into one of those monsters on the streets? Something mindless and hungry and unaware of friends or enemies, aware only of food and meat and easy prey. What are people but constructs of meat?
He fades in and out, and sometimes Daniel his gone, somewhere else in the apartment, and sometimes he’s lurking by the window and sometimes he’s sitting right next to him on the bed. When their skin touches, Daniel feels too hot, like he’s made of fire, and Walter – Rorschach won’t die fever-struck and bed-ridden, so he’ll be Walter now – wonders if Daniel has gotten sick too.
Daniel is leaning against him. He can’t open his eyes or move, but he knows it’s Daniel because he can smell him. Daniel is leaning on him, hand pressed to his chest, forehead on his hand, and Daniel is shaking. He wonders if he’s dead and doesn’t know it.
“Don’t do this,” Daniel murmurs, and his voice is soft and wavering like morning light.
Do what, he wants to ask, but he has no lips.
“Please,” Daniel begs.
He slips into darkness again.
When he wakes again, he’s dead. Daniel will insist it’s not true, but it’s better to be honest. And if Daniel is right about this, about how he can stay in control of himself, then he can protect Daniel all the better this way.
Daniel thinks he’s reckless, but that’s not it at all. Daniel is all the connection he has – all the connection he wants or needs – to normal, living people. If anything happens to Daniel, he has nothing left.
And Daniel – he keeps seeing the other man behind his eyes, caught in early morning haze, pressing a hand to his chest and seeking life in him. He can’t remember (there are so many things he can’t remember) if this was real or a dream or a combination. But he knows somehow – knows by the smell of fear that surrounds Daniel when he’s stitching him up, knows by the anger softened by worry in his voice when he berates him – that Daniel will be absolutely destroyed if he lets this unlife end.
It’s a hard and bitter pill to swallow, but he realizes suddenly, as Daniel is stitching closed a long gash on his forearm and implying he has death wish, that he feels fear every second of every patrol, knowing death is lurking in each alley, in every knife, in the barrels of hidden guns. Knowing that he’s suddenly afraid of dying, afraid… and it’s not for him, not really, because death might be better than this freezing, hungry state. He’s afraid because Daniel needs him, and he can’t hurt him.
"Good night, Daniel," and Dan isn't sure, can't tell from looking at the carefully blank face, if it's a genuine well-wishing or a dismissal.
He nods, heads for the door, has it half-closed behind him when he hears an indistinct mutter from inside the room, muffled by one side of a pillow.
"Good," and it's no less a mumble, but he's certain that it carries.