~*~

Rorschach sat in Daniel's kitchen and waited for him to come up from the depths. He'd raided Daniel's cupboard again and deliberately made as much of a mess of wrappers and cans as he could. Daniel's kitchen was always far, far too clean for his liking, too distant from his own crowded and cramped but sufficient room.

Dan's house paled in comparison to his basement, however. Down there, despite the darkness, everything gleamed. He'd explained the need for the cleanliness and order to Rorschach the first time he returned, in halting sentences. He'd gone into vicious detail about how messy Grice's place had been, how cleansing he'd felt the fire was. And Rorschach did not deny the impulse for cleansing or that the cleverly crafted weapons he kept down there were useful and brutal.

He understood the gnawing desire to wash away the filth; but so much metal and clean made his skin crawl.

"Rory!" Daniel burst out of the doorway, cheerful as Daniel always was, and threw his arms around Rorschach, making him stiffen, before sweeping away the mess that Rorschach had created. "It's been long since I've seen you. Over a week. What brings you here?"

"A comedian died tonight," Rorschach informed him.

"Really." He stopped cleaned and twisted around, eyes gleaming. "I've been so busy working, I didn't… What are you thinking?"

"Conspiracy. Possibly." He looked up from the sugar he was unwrapping. "Maybe a mask killer."

"Guess I should change my locks, then." He paused and it was Nite Owl who grinned and caught the badge that Rorschach flicked his way. "Tell me what you know."

~*~

Eight years earlier, Rorschach had told Daniel what little he knew, told him about an address. And he'd been bleeding and they'd worked together long enough that Daniel had persuaded Rorschach to let him check the place out. He was rested and could handle himself, he'd told his partner. He'd let him know as soon as he found something out.

Then he'd gone off into the darkness and never quite come back.

~*~

It didn't take long for Rorschach to relate what little he'd found out, with his partner nodding at all the appropriate places.

"Thanks for telling me first," he said with another grin. "I appreciate it."

"You're a good friend," his gravelly voice growled. "Good partner. Kept it up."

"Well if there's a killer looking for us, I wish you would let me give you something better than that old grappling gun. I can watch your back when we're on a mission together, but when you're roaming the city alone there's nothing but that jacket between you and the edge of a knife or a bullet. Besides, I've learned a lot since making that thing." He tugged Rorschach's arm like a boy on a beach ready to show off a sandcastle. "Come see what I was working on before you came over! I think it'll be something really special when I get the kinks worked out."

He fumbled with a lock and the door to his abyss opened.

"Of course, I'll have to see about my doors first. Silly, isn't it, not worrying about security? I've always kept my secrets from everybody but you, so I never thought I had much to worry about. But the times are changing." He prattled on as he led the shorter vigilante down a flight of stairs. "I'll make sure that you can get in though. Wouldn't want you to starve to death out there."

"Can find own food," Rorschach protested benignly.

"I know, you just like to make sure I have company, right?" Daniel led him over to a bench with metal pieces spread out across it. "When I'm done, it should be able to take out all the lights and electronics in a hundred yard radius. Trying to get it up to more. Useful for sneaking around, launching surprise attacks, all that." He sighed and looked up at the wall. "Still, sometimes I think the old ones will always be my favorites. You know? Like your grappling gun. They have a special place in my heart."

Rorschach nodded with tacit approval at the various, oft-used instruments. He preferred a simpler, more hands-on approach to death, but he appreciated the neat symmetry of the justice the Nite Owl doled out.

~*~

He saw the remains of the Roche girl through his goggles and it struck him then at how useless all of his gadgets were. Playthings. Nothing more than toys, he was nothing more than an overgrown child in a costume, playing games with other silly people who thought they were tough or hard or clever or had something to prove. It was a ridiculous fraternity.

The dogs fought over the bones and Daniel Dreiberg turned and vomited. Then the Nite Owl saw the knives, useful tools, grabbed a cleaver and got to work. The weight of his arm brought down the blade with a satisfying thud, splitting the skulls open like melons.

There was dirt everywhere but he intended on cleaning it up. And in the night, the metal glistened and the owl flexed his talons. He sat on the side, watching the building set alight like a phoenix, but with nothing rising from the ashes. Sparks drifted into the sky and he watched them each flame and go out until there were none left.

When he got back, he described the scene to his partner, watched the blots shift on his face. He was disturbed by it, upset, changed.

But Daniel had fractured.

~*~

"Should go now." Rorschach pulled his coat up around his ears and walked towards the exit. "Ought to talk to others."

"The others?" Nite Owl frowned. "The others who?"

"Adrian. Jon and his girlfriend. If there's a conspiracy, they should know."

"If there's a conspiracy they could be in on it," Nite Owl warned, putting pressure on Rorschach's shoulder with his hand. "That's the idea of a conspiracy. You don't know who to trust. Some of them didn't like Blake. And they definitely don't like us."

"Paranoid."

"Keeps us alive. Besides, they'll never listen to you. Adrian thinks he's too damn smart, Jon won't give a shit and Laurie – what was it she called us the last time she was asked to give an interview about unsanctioned costumed heroics?"

"Vicious faggots."

"Exactly." He drifted away from his partner's side and went to go polish one of the metal pieces set out before him. "Why would you want to help somebody like that?"

"Still. Deserve to be warned. Not in my hands. Might not know."

"They'll know. But I can't stop you," he sighed. "Be careful. And let me know if you need help on patrol any time soon. I know my patrolling has been spotty lately, but I've been working on a few other projects too. Talked to Hollis about cars and radio waves and hydraulic systems, got all sorts of ideas." His smile was back. "Sometimes I think I make him nervous, but he still chats. And you'll be really impressed with this, Rory. It'll be better than Archie."

"Hurm." He took a few steps away. "Going to the funeral?"

"No. I couldn't go in a mask and if a normal person showed up, people might start to ask the wrong sort of questions. Besides, I've got better things to do. Don't you?" He began sliding sharp, curved pieces of metal into place.

Rorschach grunted again and slipped off into the darkness.

~*~

When the Keene Act passed, apart from the government sanctioned heroes, two stayed active illegally. Rorschach sent his notice on the body of dead rapist. Nite Owl used no words and instead went on a three day bender of decapitations and mutilations. Even the experienced cops who found the bodies couldn't help feeling slightly nauseated upon seeing corpses that had been sodomized with some bizarre object that had torn them apart from the inside, caused every vital organ to spill out.

Rorschach was pleased. Nite Owl relied too much on gadgets, but he knew what had to be done and wasn't going to put up with being told to stop either. But deep down, Walter was a little bit worried.

~*~

In the daylight, Rorschach walked past Daniel's house with his sign. There were no external signs that the door was being worked on, but once he thought he heard a clang that might have meant something. When he returned still later, this time with his face on, he attempted to kick in the door but met with resistance that could only be metal. He did hear a shuffling beyond the door and after a few dings and clicks, it opened.

"Warned you I'd increase security, Rory," Daniel said, quickly pulling him inside. "Here, take a key." He pressed a metal object into Rorschach's hand. "I don't want you breaking your leg."

"Saw Moloch today. After funeral. Talked about Blake."

"Well then tell me what he said!" Daniel eagerly pressed him into a chair and sat down next to him, passing Rorschach sugar cubes and listening with the rapt attention of a child hearing a bedtime story.

"Said Blake visited him. Babbling. Something about an island." Rorschach reached for another cube.

"An island?" Nite Owl leaned back thoughtfully. "Anything else?"

~*~