As Clear As Night
You can't become a costumed adventurer without attention to detail. It's never been as simple as putting on a mask and jumping straight into the action. The public liked to think that Hooded Justice suddenly sprung onto the scene spontaneously, stopping the crime on a mere whim. Everyone else knew that was patently false, and Daniel Dreiberg learned so when he took up Hollis Mason's mantle. Every single thing had to be meticulously planned, from the costume to the weapons you used, and you were certainly screwed if you didn't know how to read body language.
Charging into battle could perhaps work on street muggers, but when it came to those of a higher class you really needed to see the small things. How if they leaned to the left it meant that, if they brought their arms back it meant this. Sure, sometimes you were completely wrong, but most of the time it truly helped to be able to examine the things other people might throw away as minor.
The same went for evidence, but in this case Daniel could not see where all of it was pointing and he doubted any of his machinery or gadgets could do a single damned thing to help.
Rorschach was acting strangely. Now some could very well laugh at that; it took a very strange sort of person to dress up and fight crime, and in most people's opinion Rorschach was one of the strangest, even with Dr Manhattan in the mix. But Daniel knew his partner, even if he had changed rather dramatically in the last year or so. And something was most definitely off.
Their exchanges had always been curiously muted; Rorschach unwilling to hold detailed conversation and sometimes leaving when Daniel had thought nothing of importance had been discussed. But lately small signs were becoming more and more pronounced, though their apparent insignificance meant he couldn't bring it up, lest the other vigilante think him insane.
The main one was his hands. Rorschach's stance had never been particularly relaxed, but his hands had always been at ease, whether unwrapping a sugar cube or just hanging loosely by his side. Lately Daniel had noticed they were more often than not balled into fists, even when battle was long behind them. Even during their- usually short- conversations, his arms were straight down, fists clenched at his side. And it was tense, the leather of his gloves stretched right out- Daniel had no doubt that, if he had not been wearing them, his nails would be digging into his palm, and painfully at that.
It was rare indeed for Rorschach to even look the slightest bit at ease, and in those few times when his hands were not so tightly clutched in on themselves, they went to the grappling gun instead.
It made no sense to Daniel- where was the connection? Rorschach was a boxer by nature (Or so Daniel had grasped; personal questions just weren't asked when it came to Rorschach) and the fists he was making were not exactly suited for fighting, even he could tell that. Unless there was something else he was discounting, the only other option was that he was containing himself… What a strange thought… Why would his partner need to do that? There had always been anger issues, but nothing so bad that- and Daniel remembered the few times he had seen Rorschach lately without the man noticing he was there at first, and his hands had not been balled into fists then.
Had he really changed that much, along with his voice, that he now had to stop himself hurting Daniel? That couldn't be true, could it? They were partners, the Nite Owl/Rorschach team, weren't they? Weren't they? No, not anymore, not since that night he had found Rorschach, covered in blood, almost completely alien to the man he had once thought he knew. And Daniel remembered something else, something that had happened not that long ago:
They had been on a patrol, of sorts. Not a successful one in any way. There were no bad guys to beat up, and conversation between the two had fallen away into nothingness. It was only when they turned a corner in a dank alleyway that they actually exchanged more than a few words, but surprisingly Rorschach had started it all off.
'Sick,' the man with the inkblot face had growled. 'Disgusting. Should tear it down.'
Daniel- or perhaps more correctly, Nite Owl- had turned then, adjusting his goggles so he could see more clearly in the darkness. Rorschach had no such aid, but he always seemed to do fine, declining goggles of his own when Daniel had offered. It turned out that Rorschach was looking at a wall, and for all the life of him Daniel thought the blots had arranged themselves in a rather glaring, vengeful fashion. But all there was on the wall was a few posters and graffiti.
'W-well, I suppose we could wash it off,' Nite Owl had replied uncertainly. Graffiti was hardly the worst crime to befall the city, but it was something to do at least, and if it got Rorschach talking a little again…
'Not that.' His partner shook his head, and a gloved hand pointed to one of the posters. Daniel squinted, despite the help he got from his costume, and saw a rather tattered advertisement for a self-help group. 'Disgusting,' Rorschach repeated again, as Daniel racked his brains for an explanation.
Finally, he saw it. Homosexual Help; that's what it was called. An odd name, despite the alliteration, but it seemed harmless enough, except for the 'faggot' somebody had scrawled beside it.
'Oh...' Suddenly Daniel felt a lot more uncomfortable. Rorschach had a few extreme views, but that one hurt. His uncle was inclined that way after all, and it was pretty much written in the stars with Veidt… He might not like men himself, but saying that… It was almost akin to racism… 'They deserve to have- I mean... Um…' Shit- this was very awkward. 'There's nothing really wrong-'
'Not wrong Daniel?' Rorschach had really turned on him then, and Daniel had known, somehow, that his eyes were blazing intently underneath that mask. But it wasn't quite anger in his voice, just something different…
'Sure… Two men loving each other… Who does that hurt?'
Daniel had had to scowl. All this time trying to rebuild their working relationship, and it was just devolving into an argument.
'No, no it doesn't,' he countered. 'It's better than prostitution, isn't it?'
Rorschach had stayed curiously quiet, his mask reforming into a rather splattered pattern, much more separated than usual.
'Rorschach,' Daniel said finally, with something like sigh hidden on the edges of his voice. 'You can't be serious…We have a job to do. We clean up the streets. It's got nothing to do with sexuality.'
'It's filth,' came the reply.
'Moral filth. Wrong. Very wrong. Dirty. Unclean.' That fathomless mask just continued looking at Daniel, those dark depths revealing nothing about the person underneath. 'Those sorts of feelings, those sort of thoughts. Shouldn't be practised, should be locked away.'
'For God's sake Rorschach! What if I were gay?!' The words had just sprung out of his mouth in a fit of fury. They meant nothing, just an angry question, but Rorschach recoiled as if Daniel had slapped him square in the face.
'You…?' For the first time Rorschach's voice sounded unsure. 'If you…?' A bubble of a question seemed to be forming, but suddenly popped, disappearing completely. The masked man shook his head strongly. 'No. You are not like that Daniel. No games.'
Daniel couldn't help but continue. 'You don't know that. I could be,' he had said quietly.
For the longest time, Rorschach had just stared.
That was the first time he had started to clench his fists, just like that.
'You aren't,' he had snarled finally.
Hardly anything had changed in his position, but suddenly Daniel had realised he looked like a man close to breaking into pieces. Rorschach was swaying, ever so slightly, and his mask still had an odd, fractured pattern, as if he was all over the place in his thoughts. Of course that was idiotic, it reacted to heat, nothing else… But it only helped his strange appearance.
'No,' Daniel had simply said, and suddenly felt very, very tired. 'I think- I think our rounds are over now… I'll see you- oh God I don't know- whenever I see you… We should just call it a night…'
So he had left, the weight of the cape on his shoulders, not at all feeling like some rescuer of damsels, some upholder of the law. He was just a guy in a suit. And so was Rorschach, though tonight it really didn't seem as if he was.
But, right before he turned that fateful corner, there was a voice.
'You really don't think it is wrong, Daniel?'
'No, I don't,' Nite Owl had replied wearily, not noticing the softer edge in his partner's voice. Neither did he notice Rorschach staring after him after he had gone, or the fact that the inkblot mask had become slightly damp half-way through proceedings.
Daniel Dreiberg being Daniel Dreiberg, he could only see one meaning to this. His partner, the one he had worked with for so long, the one who had helped him put Big Figure behind bars, now loathed him. And why? Because he had changed, suddenly become a lot darker, a lot grimmer, and couldn't even accept the fact that Daniel was a little more liberal than him.
There seemed to be no other option. No other explanation. So that was that. It pained him, but if Rorschach felt like punching him every single time they were close… Well… What could he do? There was nothing…
Being a costumed adventurer meant that Daniel Dreiberg was good at picking up small details, but it didn't mean he was any good at interpreting them.