Daniel Dreiberg's mother always told him that he saw the best in people. Perhaps it came from his fascination with birds - to watch them he had to sit very still and be very quiet, feeding them for weeks before even considering familiarity, no sudden movements, no loud sounds.
If you see the best in people, though, evil hurts much more. The victims cried out to him while he lay safe, warm, clean in his soft bed, and he half-fancied that some metaphysical light was extinguished when an innocent suffered.
And that another light also died when the innocence we were born with twists into ache, greed and pride winning over the basic impulses that would keep us sane.
What of innocence that turns into vengeance? A soft light sputtered once, then turned into white flame, a magnesium flare blinding to look at but somehow necessary to help bear the dark?
It was easy to conclude Rorschach saw the worst in people. He could smell malice and hunt it down with the methodical single-mindedness of a terrier. Where Nite Owl swooped for a quick strike, a knockout, Rorschach worried a miscreant to shreds before handing them over.
Perhaps it was weakness in him. Rorschach was arguably the more efficient one. The most held together. Didn't lose his cool or lunch easily.
But that night in 1977, everything changed.
Rorschach returned to Archie walking slowly, shoulders slumped, staring at the ground. This, the vigilante who had always scanned the parameters for ill-deeds with his head held high.
It was not unusual for his coat to be stained with blood. It was not unusual for him to show up late to a rendezvous point - his maddening lack of etiquette also made him more ruthless and effective when the team needed him to be, so Nite Owl always let it slide. He lowered the ladder and Rorschach didn't climb up all the way. Just waited for the whole thing to retract, pulling him in as the ship gently took off. That was rare but with precedent; sometimes Rorschach was injured or especially exhausted.
The unusual - no, the God damn terrifying thing - was that he did not take the passenger seat beside his partner. He silently headed for a corner, partially hidden by a box of medical supplies, and sat on the floor. Hugging his knees.
"Rorschach, what happened?" Nite Owl asked, putting Archie on autopilot, set for home.
"You're obviously not fine. And you only talk like that when…for lack of a better term, when shit has gone down in a way it doesn't generally go." He sat next to Rorschach, awkwardly pulling his cape around himself.
Rorschach usually didn't allow so little personal space. He didn't move away. "Someone died."
"You're the one who always tells me we can't save -"
"KNOW WHAT I SAID!" The bellow blasted Nite Owl's ears and nearly stopped his heart. Would Rorschach finally snap, like Mothman? Would Nite Owl shortly get his pancreas handed to him?
Then, in the most bizarre development yet, Rorschach shrunk into himself. For the first time Nite Owl saw how tiny he was, that he could rest his chin on his head - if some insanity possessed him to, of course. The inkblots formed wide pools of black, with black streaks from eyes to chin. "Sorry. Don't know. Not your fault. Wasn't person who died, not really…" He shook like a sheet of paper in the wind.
Not knowing what he was doing and to hell with the consequences, Nite Owl put a hand on Rorschach's shoulder. The smaller man tensed, then relaxed again. "Only friend, Nite Owl."
Such a pitiful admission twisted his throat. "Rorschach…call me Daniel."
Rorschach turned to look at him. He spoke very softly. "Daniel. Lions don't hurt."
"Could - could you tell me your real name?"
Long pause. "Rorschach."
"But you weren't always called that."
"No. Name died today. Ghost under face. No face but what you see."
"Nite Owl isn't the same person as Daniel, you know? Nite Owl is strong and fearless, all that. Not insecure. Not wanting things…" He blushed under his mask as he realized how dangerously deep he treaded.
"Not wanting…but can't want. Bad. Wrong. Weak. So he died. Now only Rorschach. Black-and-white. Kill all scum." Suddenly, he grabbed Daniel by the waist and buried his face in his chest. "Something's left! There is Rorschach and then there is something…"
Daniel found himself squeezing his cracking partner, rubbing a hand up and down his back. Rorschach shuddered at every touch. "Has no one ever hugged you?"
He was pretty sure that meant "no". Understanding dawned. "I see what you did."
"I made Nite Owl because I was afraid and I was tired of being afraid. And I made him because I was too smart for my own good, unpopular, got picked on and saw others picked on and couldn't do a thing. You made Rorschach for a similar reason."
Rorschach grunted in denial and attempted to turn away.
"Oh, no, you don't. You're going to end up like Byron in the madhouse if you never let anyone l - l - like you."
The inkblots flared. "Going to say something else?"
"Rorschach, why do you so firmly believe in such conservative moral views? You don't believe in God."
"Need black-and-white. Otherwise too much."
"Becoming a mask for you wasn't a sign of insanity. It was a way to keep your sanity. To make someone who would hurt and not be hurt."
Rorschach tried to squirm away again. Daniel clutched tighter, rubbing his back, knowing that if the vigilante really wanted the contact to stop he could have dislocated his partner's arm. "Enk. T-t-too hot."
"You can take your coat off, you know."
"Can't show. Wrong. Very wrong. Pants feel…"
Dan sighed. He wondered if any of the hundreds of people Rorschach had sent to the prison or hospital ever thought, in their wildest imagination, that he was so affection-starved that a simple touch would break through years of repression?
At least a quarter of his emotions were fear. That Rorschach would lash out. Rorschach would punish him for seeing his weakness and suggesting that it was no sin.
Really, though, all they had was each other. And there is a point where to stay still would hurt more than going forward, no matter how disastrously it turned out.
So, as Rorschach squeezed himself more and more tightly, in a futile attempt to restrain every human longing, Daniel put Rorschach's hat on the floor and took his head in his hands, hoping he was making eye contact. "I'm not going to move your mask without you're permission. My god, you're shaking - listen. If you made Rorschach so you can fight, you can make someone else so you can love."
Panic laced with yearning. "Not faggots, Daniel!"
"That's just a word people use to hurt. People probably called you bad things. Didn't make them true. Out there, you can be Rorschach all you want. You can kill and maim and sterilize the city in a way I'm too squeamish to do. But in this ship, in Archie, you can be…Rory. Someone who will not be judged. Who is allowed shades of gray."
"Nobody. Ever. You can even pretend that this is a dream." He loosened the trench coat, then began peeling off layers. The skin beneath, eventually revealed to be smooth and starred with freckles, quivered with every touch.
The man that was not Rorschach took a deep breath and rolled his mask up to the nose. In terms of technique the kiss was amateur and childish. Not surprising. But in terms of hunger, Daniel had never felt so profoundly wanted.
Archie hovered above the tunnel entrance patiently, high above scrutiny. No one disturbed their clumsy yet desperate maneuvers - one lacking experience with men, one lacking experience at all. The moon saw, but kept its own counsel.
Daniel kept his mask. Kept him confidence; without it he was afraid he would scream, "I'M HAVING SEX WITH RORSCHACH AND HE'S GOING TO KILL ME IN THE MORNING!" even though he wasn't really. This was the person he sensed inside his partner and craved. This was someone who would never hurt him.
"Rory" kept the mask and gloves. Of all the things he could have held back, his face and hands were the least significant. He let himself be held and fondled and groped and licked and even, with only the slightest hesitance, be fucked until he groaned with pain and pleasure. And it was like…
Like eating after a three-day fast. Like drinking after a five-hour thirst. Like a prayer for life and death. Like the kind of sobbing so animal and fierce that it chaps your throat and drains your soul.
Daniel parked Archie in a daze. Rory followed him upstairs like a puppy, dressed in mask, gloves, and boxers, carrying the rest of his costume in a bundle.
He took off his mask in the pitch dark of Daniel's bedroom. "Please don't turn on the light."
"You know," Daniel murmured drowsily, pulling his companion close under the sheets, "there was this fairy tale…An obscure one…Called "East O' the Sun, West O' the Moon." I think the heroine marries a talking bear…or something…because he does something noble…And he says not to light a candle at night…she does…turns out he's a handsome young man…but then he gets stolen away and…she has to go find him…"
Dan smiled to himself and ruffled the hair that tickled his throat. What color was it? Ah, well. You can't have everything.
He would be alone in the morning.
Rory would appear sometimes. Not regularly. Signaled by hand on his shoulder or a certain soft sound, outside of the Rorschach grunts.
Rorschach was grimmer from then on. He fought to kill. Nite Owl supported him in his intentions and did his best to act as a check. To keep Rory from vanishing like the unknown person whose face beneath the mask belonged to.
For now, though, it was enough that he was allowed a little gray.
When you put together someone who saw the best with someone who saw the worst, perhaps…at least for a night…you could see things exactly as they were.