Chapter 5—Homecoming

Author's Note: Thank you to user spittlebug for helping me write this chapter and user solarmoon59 in general.

Daniel Dreiburg sat in the hospital waiting room, staring at nothing while rain beat on the window pane. He was waiting for Rorschach to pick him up.

Physical therapy hadn't helped at all. Well, he could wiggle his big toe a little, but the doctor and therapist had both said the same thing: You'll probably never walk again. His life as a masked vigilante was over and he knew it. He couldn't ever go on patrol, let alone walk around on his own two feet.

He wondered what Rorschach thought of all of this. He probably won't say anything, Dan thought. His partner was a man of few words, especially when it came to something as touchy and as tragic as this. Dammit all to hell, he hated this. Hated feeling helpless, hated being held down…and what's more, how would he spend all his time now?

Dan was still sitting there, feeling depressed and hating himself, when someone tapped him on the shoulder.

He looked behind him to see a tall, muscular, red-haired man wearing a rather dirty tweed jacket over a suit and tie. "Daniel," he said. "Are you ready to go?"

Nite Owl was shocked. He had assumed that Rorschach would come in unmasked, but he hadn't expected him to look like this. "You're…you're…" he stammered.

"Yes," the homely, red-haired man replied. "Had to go in without face. Would have aroused suspicion. Are you ready, Daniel?" he repeated.

"Yeah, I guess," Dan replied resignedly.

The man Dan knew as Rorschach said nothing more but wheeled his friend out of the hospital and into the rainy afternoon. Rorschach's shoes made squelching sounds in the puddles, and the large wheels of Dan's wheelchair splashed water about the wet pavement. Finally Dan spoke up. "Where are we going, Rorschach?" he asked uneasily.

"Hurm," his companion replied. "You will see."

After being pushed for a few blocks in alleys and through side streets, Rorschach's partner saw, parked behind a building… Archie?!? "Uh…" Dan stammered, "…what's Archie doing here?"

"I do not have a car and your place is too far from the hospital. This is the only way."

Dan submitted a muttered okay, and his friend plucked him from his wheelchair as though he were a ragdoll. Rorschach carried Dan up the ladder and set him down in a seat. "Be back in a few minutes," Rorschach said, descending the rungs of the ladder.

So now Nite Owl was alone in Archie, his pride and joy. But now anxiety pulsed through him. Now that I'm disabled, who will fix Archie? Who will tune him up from time to time? Then Dan just sighed. It's not going to matter, anyway. My life as a crime-fighting hero is over.

Rorschach came back up, costume on and Dan's folded-up wheelchair in the crook of one arm. "Nite Owl," he said, "I can pilot Owl Ship, but I am assuming you would want to?"

"Yes," Dan said excitedly. He could do this, at least. "Yes, please."

Rorschach got his partner situated and Dan piloted Archie to a quiet stillness. Finally, Dan broke the eerie silence. "I feel so hopeless, Rorschach. This just…sucks. Now my whole way of life is ruined. I'm never going to be able to go on patrol again; hell, I'm not even going to be able to get in and out of bed without help."

Silence pierced the air once more. After a minute, Rorschach replied to Dan's rant. "Daniel," he said. "I know what it is like to feel hopeless."

"You do?"

"Yes, Daniel. I feel it every second, every minute, with every heartbeat. It is the core of my being."

Nite Owl said nothing. Who knew Rorschach could be so philosophical?

"But," his friend continued, "there is also the hope. The truth. This is what keeps me breathing, Daniel; not the hopelessness." He paused. "I think we're almost there, Daniel."

"Yeah," Dan replied, breathless. "Yeah, we are."

Dan landed the Owl Ship expertly in his basement. "There," he said. "It's all done." Rorschach helped him into his wheelchair and then… Nite Owl swore. "Shit!" he said loudly. "How am I going to get up the stairs now?!? Dammit! Dammit, dammit all to—"

Dan ceased his excessive cursing when his friend placed a hand on his shoulder. "It is fine," Rorschach said. "I will carry you up again."

"Oh, Rorschach, you can't. You've already done so much."

Rorschach didn't reply, but picked up Dan and began to carry him up the stairs. He brought him up to the—what the…? It looked like an elephant had stampeded through his apartment. Dirty dishes were piled in the sink, flies buzzed in circles over overflowed garbage, and muddy footprints were scattered about the kitchen floor. Dan tried hard to hide his anger and disgust. "Three words, Rorschach: WHAT THE HELL."

Seating his friend in his wheelchair, the moody superhero attempted to explain himself. "Didn't have rent. Landlady kicked me out. Decided to stay here while you were in hospital. Sorry about mess."

Dan was fuming. "You're sorry, Rorschach? That's not good enough. You just don't do stuff like that. Just—just get out of my house. Just—go away, okay? Go away."

Rorschach left without even closing the door.

Dan looked around, surveying the kitchen again. He shook his head and wheeled into the living room.

The living room was as he had left it, free of Rorschach's mark except for the couch, which showed telltale signs of a hasty makeshift bed. Dan sighed. It wasn't as though he was upset enough…playing the scene of that night over and over in his mind, hating himself, blaming everything and everyone…

He still couldn't believe it, though. If Rorschach had simply asked Dan… He would have said yes. After all, that's what friends were for. To help each other out.

And that mess… Dan started to get a headache just thinking about how many hours he would waste having to—wait, never mind. Cleaning was on the ever-expanding list of things he couldn't do now.

Dan flicked on the television, flipping through various channels but not finding anything worthy. He turned the television off and chucked the remote on the couch. He closed his eyes and quickly fell asleep.

Author's Note: Thank you for reading, and please do review!