HARMONY HARMONY OH LOVE (meganphntmgrl) wrote,

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FIC: "EQUALIZER"

TITLE: "Equalizer"
FANDOM: Watchmen, zombie!AU inspired byetherati 's "Now, As Before". Technically, this could be read as being in that same universe, I suppose. I sort of tried to make it that way.
SUMMARY: Regarding Ozymandias, some things change and some things never will.
RATING: PG-13 for eeeeeeeew.
WARNINGS: Zombies and all the fun stuff those entail.

Thanks to whoever contributed this idea to the kinkmeme and those who discussed it, and especially to flyingrat42  for talking about this idea with me at several incarnations of 2 AM. 




    It’s 6:15 in the morning when he finally makes it back from patrol.

    Ozymandias is close to staggering, as he has been off and on since his nightly vigil became less about preventing crime and more about keeping the uninfected out of the way of those who’ve already fallen victim to the epidemic. His schedule is set: get into costume just before sundown, go on patrol when darkness settles in properly, stay out there until it’s safe, or until he absolutely can’t do it any more. This was one of those nights that ended in exhaustion instead of satisfaction.

    The problem with dealing with infected opponents is that they don’t exhaust. Their death gives them the advantage even over Ozymandias, who has found his usual methods of dealing with uncooperative opponents- nerve pinches that render them unconscious long enough to deliver them to the police, sheer psychological manipulation to talk them out of whatever they were doing, simply immobilizing them until they give in- are useless against creatures of their type. The only consolation is the percentage of the infected population that’s managed to hold on to their original personalities, though it’s less of a consolation at all when, in many ways, all this does is reverse the roles of aggressor and victim from the “norm”.

    Last night, Ozymandias had to prevent two “clean” men from burning an infected woman to immobility. The woman thanked him profusely, clung to him like the heroine on the cover of a damn romance novel but with a far more terrified and desperate grip as he carried her to safety. She was already partially scorched, and needed medical attention. He could only hope it would be given to her.

    He sent Rorschach an apology last month, humiliating as that may have been.

    Ozymandias steps into a private bathroom he’s built just for this purpose. A clean suit is waiting for him in the anteroom- he has a meeting at 7:30, there’s no time to sleep beforehand. He pulls the circlet from his hair, pushes a few sweaty blond strands from his eyes, and starts gently peeling the spirit-gummed mask from his face. His neck hurts.

    A moment later, Ozymandias is gone, and only Adrian Veidt is standing there, looking tired and with black paint smeared over his eyelids and dressed in ludicrous musclebound neoprene and a cape. He likes the costume well enough when he’s in the moment, so to speak, but after a night on the streets it never fails to seem patently ridiculous.

    It takes him seven or eight minutes to finish peeling off the costume. He turns the water on in the shower and simply stands under it for a little while longer. The warmth feels good on his aching muscles and costume-abraded skin.

    A bit of shampoo dribbles down from his hair, and suddenly his neck is stinging. His brow creases with alarm, but he finishes showering before he allows himself to worry about it.

    When he emerges a few minutes later, he wipes a clean spot in the middle of the fogged mirror with a hand towel and leans in, head tilted to the side.

    There is a gash in the skin of his throat, the very center still red but lightly edged with black, and then edging out to a large grayish patch against his otherwise normal skin.

    His breath catches. He tries to figure out how he could have not seen it earlier, and realizes that the high neck of the costume likely covered it except for a few extreme motions on his part. It already looks like-

    No. He won’t allow himself to think it. He hadn’t been bitten by anyone infected, so there was no way he could have-

    And then horrific realization dawns, and he remembers the infected woman’s scorched, bleeding arm against his neck, and if he already had the cut on his neck, and her blood mixed with his-

    Oh no. Oh no.

    He opens the drawer and pulls out a whole bottle of hydrogen peroxide and a mass of clean cotton. He empties the peroxide onto the cotton and holds it to the wound. The stinging feeling from the soap earlier escalates into sharp, hot pain, but he doesn’t pull it away until the hissing and bubbling stops.

    When he lowers the soaked cotton from his neck, the wound is now bright reddish-pink on a gray field. He swallows and forces himself to continue preparing for the day.

   
***


    At first, the inconveniences are minor. By the third day or so, he’s getting a few concerned comments from other businessmen- even the ones who’d love to see him crash and burn- to try to get some sleep. One of them pats him on the back and comments that he looks like death warmed over, to which Adrian can only smile thinly and force a laugh.

    Some people have no idea.

    He takes his temperature that night. He’s down to sixty-seven degrees Fahrenheit.

***

    After a week of this, he starts to notice the flesh of his hands splitting around the knuckles, and finally gives in and seeks medical attention, though it doesn’t cause him any pain. It would almost be better if it did.

    The doctor he’s consulting is a woman called Angelica Crowder. She’s been on his staff for a few years now, and can be trusted with this kind of operation. The stitches she makes to seal the tears are tiny and precise, and afterward he still has the full range of motion he’s always had.

    “Mr. Veidt, pardon me if I sound disrespectful, but as soon as you knew you’d been bitten-”
    “I was not bitten, Dr. Crowder,” Adrian sighs for what feels like the twelfth time that day. “I didn’t know it would come to this, and if I had…”

    He hesitates. Dr. Crowder’s brown eyes lift from the clipboard she’s filling out to give Adrian a weary look of her own.

    “You should have sought help at the first sign of infection.”
    “And risk being herded up as some part of a science experiment-”
    “You’re as human as anyone else, Mr. Veidt,” Dr. Crowder interrupts. “Your secret’s safe with me, but I can’t say I’m not going to be keeping my eye on you.”

    As she says this, she reaches up to push back a lock of shiny dark hair that’s fallen forward and over her eyes back into her tidy updo. Adrian watches the muscles ripple under the surface of her skin as she does so, and the question of what those muscles- that meat- must taste like ripples across his mind in response, before he banishes in it horror.


***

    He’s good at hiding things.

    Gloves conceal the stitches and the fact that his hands, like the rest of him, are now only 55 degrees on a good day. In spite of his normal disdain for using anything to change his appearance, his routine before a day of work now consists of having to apply a layer of foundation over his grayish, slightly translucent skin in order to not alarm anyone. And not just his face, either- his neck, his wrists, his ears. Anything that could be seen. He tries to think of this as just a day-to-day version of being made up for a television interview.

    He’s given up on vegetarianism now. Though he hasn’t any strong cravings for human meat most of the time, he decides that it’s probably best to get accustomed to cow’s flesh just in case.


***

    Ozymandias stands in front of the mirror and pulls his circlet out of hair that is now the color of old straw, and similar in texture as well. He checks his hair itself in greater detail, half-expecting it to be a few clumps short of a full head now, but it’s thankfully retained its bulk if not its gloss and health. He peels off his gloves and stretches his fingers, paying special attention to see if they need to be rest itched, and then reaches upward to peel off his mask.

    A good portion of Adrian Veidt’s right cheek comes with it.

***

    Adrian and Dr. Crowder agree that by now, it’s useless trying to pretend that everything’s normal. His heart beats approximately five times a minute now. His skin is incapable of healing on its own. Dr. Crowder is able to reattach his torn cheek with glue (not stitches like a human being or even an animal, glue like a broken object) but cautions him that perhaps the daily application of face paint as Adrian Veidt and its removal as Ozymandias is putting a terrible strain on his skin. He can still wear it, she says, but the removal and reapplication on such a regular basis are wearing it down at an unnatural rate.

    He thanks her, and goes home to think about this for a long time.

    He has been questioning whether or not his career as Ozymandias has been doing any good for some time now. It has only exposed him to the viciousness of humanity, and its destructiveness, and its foolhardy hurtling toward certain doom.

    He looks at himself in the mirror again. He looks ghastly. Sunken, reddish eyes, grayish skin, bluish lips, little cracks forming in those parts of his face that flex the most. His hair looks draggled and limp. It slowly dawns on him that he is becoming hideous, and yet…

    And yet now he knows he cannot die. The infected, the sane infected, are immortal, probably even to nuclear fallout. This idea rises above all others.

    The factors converge into a final decision.


***

    The revelation to the public is a double one. Ozymandias is Adrian Veidt. Adrian Veidt is a zombie.

    Adrian times his public unmasking to coincide the release of a new line of products from the cosmetics line geared specifically toward the infected population, or at least the sentient parts of it. He is photographed promoting beauty after death without wearing any of the products himself, and the papers print him looking like the slowly decaying mess he is. His famously charming smile is now grotesque.

    Some people suggest that he resign, that he is promoting something unnatural and disturbing. Adrian ignores them.
   
    Two months later, he asks Dr. Crowder how likely she thinks the infected would be able to survive after a nuclear blast. She says that research is suggesting that it would have no impact on them at all.

    Adrian crosses to the window, and looks down at the living people below.

    He wonders how many of them could be safely infected within ten years, their survival thus guaranteed in the case of  nuclear disaster.

    He thinks about this for few minutes, and then quietly goes to phone a few of his most trusted contacts in the medical field.
Tags: fanfic: zombies!, watchmen
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