He sat in the kitchen as usual, slumped over the table in the dark, half-interested in the beans he was eating. His mind pushed out the sensation of sound: the clank of the spoon against tin, the sound of cars passing by outside. Daniel sleeping in the other room. He snored lightly, but it was a soft sound, like a restless bird muttering worriedly to itself. The TV buzzed dully, too, turned down so low that it couldn't be comprehended beyond static. Rorschach chewed another spoonful of beans.
Tendrils of blue light snaked around from the hallway and into the kitchen, painting the floor in flickering gray. The masked vigilante at the table wiped his mouth dully and set the finished can aside, absently bumping the other can he'd already eaten. There were more in the cupboard, and Rorschach considered it for a moment before he decided against it. Fat. Fat people eat more than enough. Fine with two. His half-empty stomach growled unhappily at his decision as he glanced around the kitchen, ignoring it. Fine with two.
Dan Dreiberg's kitchen was anything but exciting. The wallpaper was faded and peeling in places, the floor scuffed from careless boots, the table nicked and dinged and wobbly. A single cup sat near the sink, just remnants of coffee at the bottom. Rorschach got up stiffly and walked to the counter, running one gloved hand absently over the clean surface before he snatched the lid off of the sugar bowl and pulled several cubes out, stuffing them in his pocket greedily. Daniel never seemed to mind.
Rorschach reached up and tucked his thumbs under his mask again, pulling it back down over his mouth to the point where he was comfortable. His teeth still tasted of kidney beans, and he could smell his own breath against the fabric. It was…not nice, but fine, he decided. Few things were nice about his city. Fine was a good word to describe it. A thick smell. Beans and human hormones. He liked the flavor of red kidney beans. Daniel bought a lot of them. Maybe he knew that. Maybe he just guessed. Maybe those were the cheapest kind.
Bored with the kitchen, Rorschach moved on. The front door hung weakly on its hinges, shut by a chair and some old phone books propped against it. Rorschach eyed the setup for a moment. "Hrmh," he grunted. Daniel wasn't safe like that. But then again, the lock had been weak enough for Rorschach to break in…he hadn't been safe like that, either. In a few days, it could be called doing him a favor.
He shuffled into the den, and there was Daniel, slumped on his stomach on the sofa, one arm dangling over the edge, his neck tilted back and his mouth half-open against a cushion. His glasses were still on his face, knocked askew and digging into the bridge of his nose, now. Rorschach grunted at the sight, following the trail of light from the TV and looking at the news broadcast. Talking heads. Rorschach gripped the arm of a chair and settled down into it, staring back at Daniel. He'd broken in nearly four hours ago, and they'd talked for a while before Rorschach had muttered that he was hungry. Dan had offered to cook for him, but as usual Rorschach had turned him down.
"No need," he muttered. "Fine cold."
Daniel, awkward as he was, had stood in the doorway to the kitchen for a while and watched Rorschach start to eat his first can of beans before he'd left to go and wait for him in the living room. The kitchen had been dark, even then, and Rorschach had been able to tell that Dan was contemplating turning the lights on, but he hadn't, for some reason. Too ugly to be seen in light, Rorschach's mind grunted, and he grimaced in amusement. Dan was too nice to say something like that. Or else too stupid to even think it in the first place.
Rorschach tapped his foot restlessly, now allowing himself to stop thinking for a moment just to take in the sound of Daniel's snoring. Spit crackled in his throat, his nose vibrating with each breath: low whines and grunts. "Hrmh." Rorschach leaned back in his chair, uncomfortable but not annoyed. He was too used to discomfort to pay it any heed. And the worrying of the Owl was soothing, somehow.
He and Daniel had been working together for such a long time, and yet they seemed to be anything but friends. Accomplices, allies, yes. But not friends. Friends were people that you went to the corner coffee shop with: people you joked with about old times over burgers and shakes at the diner. Friends were people you asked for advice. Rorschach was a spirit who sometimes came to visit and eat Daniel's beans in the middle of the night. They smashed faces in together. They did not joke or tell stories about the good old days. The good old days were right now, and they didn't need to have stories told about them.
The TV flickered and the low whine of a commercial started up: a familiar one with a popular song playing in the background. Rorschach ignored it, disinterested. Daniel twitched on the couch. There was a wet spot between his lips on the couch cushion, probably seeping back through the fabric onto his face. He smushed his nose further into the cushion: his glasses dug into his eyebrows. In one fluid motion, Rorschach leaned forward and reached out, tugging Dan's glasses off in a way that wouldn't disturb him while he was kneading his cheek into the seat of the couch. He set them on the coffee table, looking again at Daniel as he settled: he looked peaceful, now, instead of concerned. Even his furrowed eyebrows seemed only arbitrary, as if he had nothing to worry about and they just naturally slumped over his eyes when he was relaxed. Dan's hand twitched against the floor.
Some dream, Rorschach thought. Arm shaking. Face tense. Must be fighting.
Dan had never been the most powerful of fighters, but he could get in the mood and let adrenaline drive him when the time came. He had a sort of grace about him, which was odd, considering his physique, yet in a way it still made sense. He loved birds, and he loved their beauty. He fought with the speed and dexterity of a bird in flight. Rorschach admired that, in a way. He himself was about power and wit. He'd never been one for speed, like Dan or Ozymandias, or even Silk Spectre. In a way, he found himself more comparable to the Comedian, which perhaps was why he and Dan made such a good team. Speed and accuracy combined with strength and skill. Deadly, in the right combined dosage.
Dan rolled over, his hair pressing into the wet spot on the couch. He'd once asked Rorschach what his dreams were, while they were flying back to base in Archie after a successful interception of a robbery. Rorschach had felt Dan's eyes on him through those goggles before, but at that time, it had been a stronger gaze than ever before. He was genuinely curious. Hoping for an answer.
"Dreams, Daniel?" Rorschach had asked gruffly. Dan had nodded.
"You know…for after you retire."
Rorschach tensed now as he had back then. A long, painful pause, and Dan had gotten uncomfortable. "Retirement. Hrmh. Dreams happen with sleep. Sleep for the lazy. Not lazy. No dreams."
Dan had seemed utterly shocked, even through all of that fabric and plastic. "…Really? You've never thought about retirement?"
"Crime never retires, Daniel. Blood and sewage always flowing in gutters. Always needing cleanup crew."
"Why does it have to be you?"
It had been then that Rorschach had realized that Dan was going to let him down. When he had used you instead of us. He wasn't planning on doing this forever. In a way, Rorschach couldn't be disappointed. He should have expected it. Humans were all such fickle creatures. But Dan…Nite Owl…
Sally Juspeczyk had retired because she was a whore and had gotten pregnant. Hollis Mason had retired because he was stupid. Laurie Juspeczyk and Dan had filled their slots. Hope disappoints, Rorschach thought to himself. Not worth hope, or love. Human beings wallow in shit by choice. Choose to dream, choose to complain. No action, no satisfaction. Dreams and shit-swimming.
"If toilet left alone, shit overflows," Rorschach had snarled. "Floor ruined. Bathroom ruined. Ceiling in lower floor ruined, house ruined. Property value down. Neighborhood suffers. Town suffers. Businesses die, people leave, city grieves. Chain reaction. Cannot be allowed. Need to turn water off and unclog toilet."
"But why you?" Dan had asked again.
Rorschach had blinked behind his mask. In the present, he mouthed the words again.
"Everyone else dreams."
Dan rolled over to face the TV in his sleep, again, his brows now tilted upward between his eyes, making him look terribly restless. He sighed unconsciously. Rorschach shifted his gaze back to the TV, where someone was trying to sell something useless. Dan had seemed so sad when Rorschach had said that. As if it were the most disappointing thing he'd ever heard. But how could that be, Rorschach wondered? What was disappointing about justice never sleeping?
Dan, his ally, his accomplice, his partner. The man he both respected and looked down on. Dan seemed to feel the same way about Rorschach, but for such different reasons. Rorschach scowled behind his mask, glaring at the glowing TV screen. "…Daniel," he growled. Dan didn't stir. Rorschach continued anyway. "Daniel, so stupid at times. So weak like civilians. When I stand by Nite Owl, energy is different. Daniel is not Nite Owl. Nite Owl is not Daniel. Should be same person. Or else Nite Owl should kill Daniel."
That wasn't entirely true. Rorschach was somehow fond of both civilian Daniel and his partner, even though Daniel seemed to be the dominant force, and Daniel annoyed him to quite a large degree, at times. Daniel reflected some of what was nice about the city, Rorschach had decided long ago: so long ago that he tried not to even think about it, now. It was a decision made and done with. It was shameful and disgusting to dwell on the fact that even though Daniel was stupid and weak and far too forgiving, he was kind and gentle and loving. Loving. Rorschach grimaced, almost in pain. What a terrible word.
"Nite Owl kills no one. Brainwashed by Daniel. Perhaps Rorschach should kill Daniel."
He would never, though. He could never. The death of Walter Kovacs had been orchestrated on a field beyond the physical: one that couldn't have been reached by anyone else. In that sense, only Nite Owl could kill Daniel Dreiberg. But he wouldn't. So Rorschach was stuck with him, if he truly cared about Nite Owl. Rorschach growled angrily to himself.
Dan jerked on the couch and sat upright, blinking stupidly to clear his vision, though it would never work. He fumbled around on the cushions and then reached for the coffee table when he realized what was wrong. "R-Rorschach," he muttered embarrassedly. "Sorry. Fell asleep."
Rorschach stared at him for a moment: just long enough to make him feel awkward before he spoke again. "…What are Daniel's dreams?" he asked quietly.
Dan was utterly taken aback by the question, but he composed himself quickly, still looking somewhat sheepish. "…O-oh. Well…well I guess I'd like to meet someone. That's all, really. That…yeah."
Meet someone? Rorschach blinked. Did Daniel—did Nite Owl—really think about sex…? For some reason, that surprised him more than anything else.
An accusation. Dan's cheeks turned purple in the strange light from the TV. "I don't want to die alone."
"Not alone. You have me."
Dan was red as a beet. He licked his lips and swallowed a lump in his throat, turning away and smoothing his hair over his head. "…I figured you wouldn't get it."
Perhaps not. But sometimes, Rorschach thought, it was just not worth it to understand human emotions, or even to grasp for understanding.