Walter hesitated before the entrance to the bathroom. Both of them had been here so many times before, sewing each other up on numerous occasions. Something in his gut signaled danger. Something tugged at him to proceed no further because this was the point of no return.
Daniel weaved in past him with a quick "Scuze me, buddy." and began to rifle through the medicine cabinet. Satisfied with a bottle of ibuprofen he also picked out a toothbrush and set it on the sink. "I've got an extra one for when my old one wears out. You can go ahead and use that." He closed the medicine cabinet door and began to weave by again. "I'll grab some extra towels. Go ahead and help yourself."
The mirror on the medicine cabinet stared back at him ominously. He stood in the doorway peering at the ugly reflection that leered at him. Greasy orange hair stuck out in every direction above ears that were a little too big and stuck out a little too far. Deep lines cut through a stony expression that was littered with rusty freckles as an ironic addition to his dour visage. Bright red stubble scattered along his jaw line, the happy color mocking his saturnine appearance. Piercing blue eyes beheld him accusingly.
In the reflection behind him, Daniel fumbled in the hallway with his selection of bath towels. Introspection sprouted over his raw mind like cancer as he wondered who he was anymore. Walter had died with poor little Blaire Roche, just as weak, just as pathetic. Rorschach had fled him in disgust. His inadequate ability to maintain their standards and tenets revolted him. Here he stood, ugly and small, in someone else's bathroom in someone else's house looking at someone else's semblance. Did that filthy visage really belong to him? Was that really his pathetically small frame of insufficient stature? Was his hair really that ridiculous in its tint of red? Is that dirt or freckles? Don't open your mouth. No one wants to see those chipped teeth. After all these years, was he really this deficient?
Daniel had finally picked out a set of towels and was shuffling a few items back into the snug linen closet. He noticed from his peripheral vision that Rorschach was standing fixed in the doorframe of the bathroom. He hadn't moved an inch. Daniel stood up with bath linens in hand and moved to deposit them on the lid of the toilet. Is he giving his reflection the third degree or something? Daniel wondered. His heart twisted at the thought that maybe Rorschach hadn't had the luxury of a bath in a while and was self-conscious. He had to admit he would have never thought such dark strength could emanate from a ginger. He tried not to think that Rorschach should have had black hair. Perhaps his appearance is what ultimately led Rorschach to be so good in combat. Being small meant he probably got picked on and had to develop thick skin at an early age. Small and red headed. Small, red headed, and socially awkward. Dan's heart broke and melted at the same time.
"Uh, okay, buddy. I'm, uh, gonna find you some clothes. You can toss your old clothes outside the door and I'll wash them for you. I have to do laundry anyway and we should have enough hot water for both." he rubbed the back of his own neck as Rorschach continued to stare destitute at his reflection. Daniel moved to stand beside him and peer into the mirror. The addition of Daniel's face jolted Walter from his brooding. He stiffened visually and shifted slightly in the other direction.
"What do you see?" asked Daniel.
"I don't know." said Walter, barely audible. He was now looking at the reflection of a deep fuchsia orbit around Daniel's eye. The eye creased as Daniel smiled softly at him.
Dan's chest ached. He did not anticipate having a confrontation with Rorschach tonight let alone having one with a good outcome. Now, he wasn't really sure if this could be considered a good outcome. His friend looked lost and empty. Had he not seen his reflection in a while? Maybe he should have just had Rorschach go to sleep on the couch and then grab a shower in the morning. No, Daniel thought, He's probably been without amenities like this for a while. He would just have to continue to be supportive. It's worked this far. He wanted to give Rorschach reassurance. Would he mistake Dan's intentions for something else? Dan wasn't homosexual and he was damn sure Rorschach wasn't but he was also damn sure Rorschach was wrestling with a lot of demons these days. When your brother (Dan wondered if this was what having a brother was like) has reached rock bottom, he'll need a shoulder to lean on and a helping hand. He gently nudged shoulders with the shorter figure and laced his thick warm fingers into the weathered knobby ones.
Slowly, Walter turned to look up at Daniel with a mix of confusion and horror.
"I don't know who I am."
"I do." said Daniel. What was he saying? He barely had the last hour to take in the face of this man he knew virtually nothing about outside of their vigilante activities. But in his heart, Daniel knew this was not entirely true. He'd spent the last decade carefully interpreting Rorschach's tics and inarticulateness. He knew his emotional map and, after all, true friends don't need to know histories in the end anyway. This was his partner and best friend. This was the brother he never had and yes, he did love him. Rorschach never would let him, but he showed it in his own gentle way. He kept the cupboard stocked with canned beans and sugar cubes and there was always a cot and a blanket in the Owl's nest.
Walter's eyes glittered as tears gathered in the lids. He was not crying. His heart stung and it was a natural reaction of the body to flood itself and put out the fire. Why was Daniel doing this to him? Why was Daniel's kindness making him hurt so badly? He couldn't will his lids to hold anymore and great fat tears leaked down his cheeks again. A tinge of pitying sadness spilled into Dan's eyes as he instinctively lifted a hand to Walter's face but Walter flinched.
"Don't touch. Don't touch, Daniel." he was trembling.
"Why?" Daniel asked softly. His first thought was that maybe he should leave Rorschach to have a private moment but his heart rooted him to the spot. He genuinely felt for Rorschach. He wanted to hold him close, stroke his back, and maybe even kiss him. Wait. Kiss him? Daniel registered the ache in his heart and its implications.
"Oh." he looked down at his hand entwined with Rorschach's and looked up at Rorschach. His face was almost as red as his hair and contorted with the sobs he was trying to hold back. "Oh." Daniel said again as realization hit him.
He knew. Now Daniel knew. Now Daniel knew the perversion that he tried to hide for the past two years. His dirty body betrayed him. For all his penance, the aberration would not leave him and now Daniel knew. A violent sob burst from him as he trembled. It was over now.
A broad flat palm cupped against his cheek and he hated himself for pressing into it.
"Shh." said warm pink lips gently. Tender brown eyes were so close. It tore Dan up inside to watch his friend fall apart. Soft lips leaned in and timidly kissed the streaming tears.
"So, I will wash you."
"Why?" the split in his heart was agonizing and his voice shook with it.
"Because I love you."
"Why?" a sob broke from him as he lamented his loss of self-loathing. This didn't make sense. This was wrong. Love was not reserved for Walter Kovacs. His mother even told him that she should have had an abortion. Walter wept bitterly as he fell apart in pieces that Dan held together with his hands. As his soul bled out of his eyes, Dan kissed it back together again.
He kissed his forehead.
He kissed his eyebrow.
He kissed his cheeks.
"Because I do." he whispered softly and then kissed him again.
The confirmation of something he knew all along but kept trammeled deep down hurt unbearably as it ripped its way to the surface. Walter's throat was accustomed to coarse guttural mutterings but twisted halted mewlings were supposed to be lost to childhood. Broad flat thumbs gently stroked back the tears. Chaste gentle kisses pressed to his cheeks as new tears flooded down again. He lifted his chin not knowing what he was doing. Want returned to him that he had not felt since he was six years old.
This should not be right. It should not be right to be held by Daniel, but how could this be wrong? This was not what the red light district peddled. Or was it? This was not the lewd salacious pawing he had witnessed in the streets and in the crack of his mother's bedroom door. It wasn't a rough heated exchange of two animals exhilarated by the prospect of getting caught in the satisfaction of their carnal rutting. It wasn't these things. It was about proximity. It was about warmth. It was about two people. It was about compassion. It was about the peace of two people shoring each other up against the torrents of life. Why was this the first time he felt right since he was a boy? He felt as if his soul was being sutured back together with Daniel's kisses. How could this be wrong? Why would it be wrong to feel safe and protected in the company of another human being for the first time since he was born?
Daniel's soft lips pressed gently and carefully again and again. He wanted to try his best to return the gifts with his own. It was everything but it was not enough. He clung to his savior and bathed in sweet kisses. He feared his innocence in these ways would earn him rejection but his partner seemed to delight in his clumsiness and wrapped around him with gentle surety.
His wet eyes closed, he breathed, "I don't know who I am."
The chest that his arms encircled vibrated closely, "I do." A chin and nose nuzzled into his crown and warm arms pressed around him. "And I love who you are."
Dan's heart had swelled to match his black eye. He was flooded with all the emotions he'd been yearning to give to Rorschach. He felt responsible for the broken man that he was holding together in his arms. He could finally feel like he was holding his friend up instead of the other way around. He thought his heart might burst with it. His own eyes were moist with empathy. It was an overwhelming sensation to be needed so much. Dan might have been inclined to wishing Rorschach had let him do this sooner but then, nothing Rorschach ever did was the easy way. Instead he was grateful. His large arms wrapped gently but firmly around his partner. Even through the layers of jacket and dress shirt he could feel the solidity of Rorschach's ropey sinews. His heart broke as he could also feel his boney shoulder blades jump with the hitch in his partner's breathing and the way he could count ribs with his fingers. He didn't know why his friend was so long suffering but Dan resolved to end it tonight.
Walter's tears had run dry ten minutes ago. His head lay heavily against Daniel's chest. Daniel cradled the back of Walter's skull with one hand, his cheek pressed to Walter's forehead. Daniel's other arm pressed him close. Walter released a rattled sigh and Daniel breathed one in turn. Each wished silently that time would stop. That would be fine. Neither felt compelled to move from the serenity each had found. In the end, it was Dan who gently lifted Walter from him. He gave a reassuring smile as a questioning look flashed across the blue eyes.
"We need to get you cleaned up." Dan whispered. He looked down at his blood saturated sweater vest and gave a soft chuckle. "I need to get cleaned up too." He continued quietly as if he were in a library or a graveyard, "I, uh . . . I can help you . . . if you want. I mean . . . I don't want to make you uncomfortable . . . or . . ."
Walter stared at the floor as Daniel muttered. As Daniel's words died away he quietly picked Daniel's hands up with delicate fingers and rested them at the top of his dress shirt collar. His gaze crept up to meet Daniel's. Searching eyes were intense and imploring as if desperate for a name to justify and validate what he was feeling. Daniel had seen that look so many, many times in the victims that they rescued night after night. How sad it made him feel to see it reflected so intensely in his friend.
With great care, he unfastened the minute buttons of Rorschach's collar. Careful blunt fingers unbuttoned Rorschach's suit jacket and gently draped the garment over his arm as if he were a servant. He nimbly but slowly disengaged the fastidious buttons of Rorschach's tailored waistcoat. The garment was perfectly fitted to him and Daniel got the impression it was like armor around the trim torso even though it was only pinstripe fabric and silk. Why did it remind him of a clerical vestment? As the last button was unfastened, Daniel could feel Rorschach's belly move with a sharp intake of breath and a shift of the warm fabric beneath the shell. He respectfully laid the suit jacket atop the hamper near the door and delicately folded the waistcoat atop it as well. As he turned around, Rorschach reached out and nimbly lifted the glasses from Daniel's nose and folded them neatly on the sink ledge. He carefully lifted Daniel's blood soaked sweater vest up and over him in a way Daniel found charming, echoing the care that Daniel had used with him. Dan smiled to himself softly. They took care of each other in the streets, why not at home? He realized this was the dim question that had always been flickering ethereally at the back of his mind. He had never allowed himself to pursue it because he had known even on a subconscious level that Rorschach would never have entertained that notion, and yet . . . here they were.
Without his glasses, everything had a cast of softness to Dan. The blur could not hide the angular sharpness of his friend's outline or the brilliance of his carnelian hair. He placed his hands on Rorschach's shoulders and then hooked his fingers under the dark suspenders. He slid them down to lay slack against the purple dress pants. Again, his hands slid atop the fabric containing rigid collarbones until they met at the shirt collar. He heard Rorschach swallow as he began to unbutton the sweat stained dress shirt. He felt trembling fingers creep up and begin timidly unbuttoning his own rumpled button-down.
Walter was nervous. He was glad Daniel didn't have his glasses and that didn't make sense. Daniel had seen him bare-chested on plenty of occasions when he'd been slit open like a dinner fish and Daniel needed to patch him up. He'd done the same for Dan as well but right now it was too much. It was too much but it was not enough. He wanted proximity but now that Rorschach had abandoned him he didn't have the strength to hold himself up under his own crushing shame. Beautiful Daniel should not have to be burdened with the map of scar tissue that stretched over his revolting dappled hide. It was okay now, maybe. No glasses. He thought as he concentrated on Daniel's shirt buttons. He perceived the reflection of light that the little faux shell buttons on Daniel's shirt cast. Daniel's weak eyes probably could not pick up fine details. He will feel them though. He himself could feel the warmth radiating against his knuckles from Daniel's belly and it made his hands tremble more. Unlike him, Daniel wore no wife beater. He'd always hated that term but could never bring himself to boycott them. As he undid Daniel's last button, Daniel moved to open Rorschach's shirt and slide the covering away from him.
Dan draped the garment across the neatly folded pile on the hamper and with loving fingers began to hitch up Rorschach's wife beater. His thick knuckles rode the ridges of Rorschach's ribs and scars all the way up his trunk as he lifted the thin fabric away. Even without his glasses angry discolored streaks leapt out visually from the pale speckled skin. Dan had his share of contusions and lacerations from their fieldwork, but his armor absorbed most of the wounds. Rorschach had to bare the brunt of every blow. He'd patched him up more often than not. He hoped he wouldn't fail in his pursuit sew Rorschach's heart back together.
Walter had gingerly folded Daniel's shirt back behind his broad shoulders. He lightly pulled the sleeves down away from Daniel's thick arms and his eyes flickered over the coarse dark hair that covered them. As the shirt fell away in Walter's grasp, Daniel leaned forward to embrace his friend. The touch of skin against his shocked him enough to drop Daniel's shirt. He was hyper aware of the way Daniel smelled (was that aftershave?) and how warm he was, how he himself smelled (was that garbage?), and how cold and clammy he must feel. As if in answer, Daniel's embrace tightened and Walter let his fingertips settle and splay on the wide shoulder blades of Daniel.
Dan would have ventured to help Rorschach out of his slacks but the trembling body and pounding heart under his embrace told him that it was already too much. He pressed a reassuring kiss to the crown of red hair and loosened his hold to begin running the water for the shower.
Walter wrapped his arms around himself as he shivered in the bathroom. He looked away from Daniel at the discarded shirt on the floor and then accidentally in the mirror. He tore his face away from the reflection at once as collection of pale freckled skin and scars leapt into his vision. Daniel was rising.
"I'm going to find you some clothes to sleep in tonight." he said gently, looking Walter in the eyes. "You go ahead and help yourself." He gave Walter's arm a squeeze before shutting the bathroom door quietly behind him.