At first, Daniel had felt strangely honored to discover that Rorschach had chosen to sleep on his couch, although it didn't take long for the feeling to wear off.
It was now daylight outside, and he supposed that Rorschach had broken in at around 6 am that morning, while he had still been asleep himself. Daniel had woken up at 10.30 am, wandered in to the kitchen to fix some breakfast, and heard a sort of... wheezing, he guessed, coming from the direction of his living room. Inevitably, he had gone to investigate, and found an unconscious Rorschach curled up on his couch, breathing noisily through his mouth and making the room smell faintly of rotting newspapers.
For someone who was so quiet while awake, Rorschach was a hell of a snorer. Daniel wondered if it was due to a broken nose.
Dan stood in the doorway for a long moment, frowning slightly - and then he shook his head, turned his back on Rorschach, and went about his day as normally as possible. One day, one day, he was going to say to the guy, 'look, this is my home, not some kind of flophouse you can just break in to when you want.' Just... not today. Rorschach looked like he could do with the rest, and Daniel didn't receive many guests.
Although, it would have been nice if Rorschach had entered via the door in the basement, rather than through an unlocked window that Daniel didn't remember leaving open.
He was unwilling to leave the house while Rorschach was present (and it wasn't as if he had any pressing matters to attend to), so he busied himself with trying to finish a paper that he had been picking at for the last two months. It was reassuring, he supposed, to receive these little surprise visits. At least they let him know that Rorschach was still alive. Sometimes, he wondered how guilty he'd feel if anything was to happen to Rorschach, and a nasty little voice at the back of his head would always say, probably not as guilty as you'd like to think.
It was funny. Not 'ha ha' funny, but... The other kind. There had once was a time when Daniel had been glad that he and Rorschach were both on the same side. Not so much anymore.
Daniel had a good attempt at the paper for a few hours, then gave up on the thing and decided to have a late lunch. As if summoned by the smell of frying bacon, Rorschach appeared shortly afterwards, and sat down stiffly at the kitchen table. Daniel wordlessly pushed a plate bearing a BLT sandwich in his direction, while feeling like such a damn mother hen.
Rorschach rolled up the bottom of his mask. There was a crescent-shaped cut on his jaw, like a crooked smile, and there was old blood between his teeth when he spoke. "Thought you were a Jew."
Rorschach jabbed a finger at his bacon-lettuce-tomato. The ink on his face swirled meaninglessly, although Daniel got the distinct impression that he was eyeing the food, like it was poisoned.
"I'm a lapsed Jew," Dan replied, wryly.
Rorschach gave a disapproving grunt, and ate the sandwich anyway.
The two of them ate without speaking. (Although that wasn't quite the same as eating in silence. Rorschach chewed with his mouth open, probably so that he could breathe.) Conversation hadn't always been easy at the best of times, and they had far less in common than they'd had in the old days. Daniel pretended to read a newspaper.
Rorschach was the first to finish bolting down his lunch, and then he sat there and watched Daniel.
Daniel found himself speaking, as if his mouth was acting of its own accord. "Busy night ahead, then?"
"Always," Rorschach said.
Daniel nodded, and turned the page, trying to look interested in a full page advert for toothpaste. (Developed by Veidt's laboratories, no less. The world might be going to hell in a handbasket, but at least people would be plaque-free.)
"Know you're retiring," Rorschach added.
Daniel chose to pause and consider his words very carefully before answering. "I've been considering it."
"You've hardly worked since the police strike," said Rorschach. "Lost your nerve..." Daniel wasn't sure whether the last bit was a statement or a question, and the inflection of Rorschach's voice had never sounded quite right. He had always spoken in a quiet drone, but now, it was as if Rorschach was only talking to himself. The fact that Daniel was present to hear it just seemed kind of incidental.
"You know how hard the Keene act is going to make things from now on," Daniel said. "And it's thelaw."
"Hrn. Law. If the law worked, world wouldn't need us." Rorschach leaned forwards, just slightly. His breath was sickly-sour. "Convenient excuse."
"Rorschach..." Daniel tried to keep the apologetic note out of his voice. God knew why he felt like he had anything to be sorry for; he and Rorschach had been working already been working separately for the past few months, so it wasn't like he was breaking up the partnership, because therewasn't one. "I'm burned out. I'm off my game. I'm no help to anyone like this."
"I'm going to quit while I'm ahead, Rorschach." Before I end up like you. Daniel offered a smile that didn't reach his eyes.
Rorschach nodded, very slowly, and said, "Understood."
Daniel studied him carefully, but the mask was inscrutable as ever. "Really?"
"You're angry with me," Daniel stated.
Was Rorschach being passive-aggressive? Why, yes. Yes he was. The slow, wandering monotone of Rorschach's voice gave very little away, but Daniel knew enough of his ex-partner to understand that Rorschach was not happy. Insofar as Rorschach had ever really been happy.
Daniel removed his glasses, rubbed at the bridge of his nose, and tried to remind himself that he didn't owe Nite Owl to the city. He still couldn't quite convince himself that this was true, although having Rorschach sit there and stare at him certainly didn't help.
It was amazing, how Rorschach could stare at people, despite having his face covered. It was as if his mask was one large, mad eye.
"I just don't feel like we've been making any real progress..." Daniel began.
"Not the point," Rorschach said, cutting him off. "But if you don't understand that by now, never will." Daniel opened his mouth to speak, but Rorschach wasn't finished. "Not much different from Veidt. Unsurprising; both born in to money, have luxury of treating everything as if it was some kind of game, intellectual exercise. Typical hubris endemic to privileged liberals: think you can give up on things when they become inconvenient."
Daniel tried to interject. "Ror-..."
"Don't want to get your hands dirty."
Daniel searched for something to say, but instead, he found himself thinking about the beginning of 1977, and of the events leading up to the police strike. He thought of Rorschach, and the last time that they'd worked together, and how Rorschach had curb-stomped an unconscious youth while Nite Owl - Daniel - had been shouting at him to stop. Sure, the kid was responsible for the murder of a pregnant woman during a botched robbery attempt, and jail seemed too good for the piece of shit, and Daniel refused to feel sympathy because god damn it he was sick of chasing after junkies and delinquents and sometimes he just wanted to shoot the lot of them and what the hell was wrong with people...
...But when he heard the wet crunch of teeth breaking against concrete, Daniel had realised that it was too late, and that none of that mattered.
"Maybe," he answered Rorschach.
Rorchach nodded, as if grimly satisfied that his suspicions had been confirmed, and Dan wondered when Rorschach had first realised that their partnership was doomed. Was it after the Roche case, or long before then? Was it when they had first met, and noticed the difference in each others' accents?
Daniel had no platitudes to offer, no prepared speeches about how the world didn't need them any more, that they couldn't save people from themselves. He knew that whatever he said, he would still lay awake at night (still accustomed to sleeping during the day, that was his problem) and try to figure out why he hadn't noticed things sooner.
"Sorry," Daniel said - and now, he really meant it.
Rorschach remained quite still, but the pattern on his mask shifted abruptly. Daniel quickly went over what he'd just said, trying to recall if there had been pity in his voice, something condescending that Rorschach had picked up on. He couldn't tell, and besides, it was too late to change things. Always too late.
"Thank you for the food," Rorschach said, rising from his seat. "Will be leaving. Work to be done."
It was only 1 pm in the afternoon. Rorschach wouldn't be due to work for hours yet. Daniel didn't try to stop him.
Rorschach descended the steps that led to the basement, to the hidden tunnel that would take him beneath the streets - somewhere dark and damp, unseen by normal people - while Daniel cleared up their plates, feeling oddly cold despite the cosy domesticity of the kitchen. Outside, the city carried on as usual, quite indifferent to the fact that it had just lost one of its sworn guardians. Nite Owl couldn't protect Rorschach from New York, and he couldn't protect New York from Rorschach.