Pairing: Rorschach (Walter)/Nite Owl (Daniel)
Warnings: SLASH – though very mild. As always: don't like, don't read.
Summary: Slowly, and with great care, the relationship between Rorschach and Nite Owl grows.
A/N: First Watchemn fanfic! I adore this GN and I adore this pairing (so I hope I did them justice.) For the purpose of this fic – and my sanity in writing it – I made Rorschach more human, such is the joy of artistic license. Honestly, I don't think Canon!Rorschcach would even be capable of contemplating a sexual relationship… regardless of how much I may want him to be with Dan. Anyway, this story will be posted in two parts – Part One: Friendship and Part Two: Something More. I really hope you enjoy both - onwards!
Part I: Friendship
It starts with movement.
From the mouth of the alleyway Rorschach watches as this new mask – the second Nite Owl – works his way through a series of Knot Tops. One comes at him from the left with a crow bar… and it's caught, viciously twisted from his grip. The supplied weapon then connects with the head of a second assailant who collapses onto his knees. Nite Owl uses the man's brief position to shield himself as he drops to the ground, snatching up some gadget he'd dropped earlier in the fight. With one click the dart shoots out – some sort of miniature taser? – and hits the piece of scum who falls, seizing.
There's nothing showy in his movements. No bravado. Just the creative and sometimes desperate motions of a man willing to do anything to win.
Rorschach respects that.
Heaving, Nite Owl turns and catches sight of him. He jerks.
"Uh… hey. You're Rorschach right?"
The man with the changing face pauses for a moment… but then turns. He walks away from Nite Owl, refusing to respond.
"You could have helped you know!" The shout hits his back as he leaves but it's not accusing, just baffled. Maybe a little bit embarrassed.
He could have helped… but it was obvious this Nite Owl didn't need it.
Working his way up a nearby fire escape Rorschach replays the fight in his mind, categorizing the smooth movements.
He thinks that this mask, this man, is good.
Dan has just finished cuffing a mugger to the nearest lamppost when he catches sight of a familiar profile above him. He tries not to grin at the fact that Rorschach is following him. Again.
He'd heard about the guy long before meeting him of course, who hadn't? Next to Dr. Manhattan Rorschach was the most feared mask New York City had to offer. As soon as Dan had hit the streets he was facing criminals that – far from running in fear – were expressing profound relief that he wasn't The Terror of the Underworld. It was pretty frustrating actually. Next to the psycho who broke fingers on a nightly basis, the guy dressed up like an owl wasn't all the intimidating.
Although, having someone as accomplished as Rorschach tailing him was sort of humbling. That is, you know, if it weren't also creepy.
But still… humbling.
Giving up, Dan lets himself smile. He leaves the mugger for the police to handle and starts strolling casually down the alleyway. As he passes under the building to his right he looks up at the short figure, letting his grin show itself fully. Really, the guy was pretty damn small when you got right down to it…
"Hey!" He shouts, feeling daring. "You've gotten into this terrible habit of watching me do all the work! Ever gonna come down and help me out?"
The mask tips slightly to the left, shifting and shifting. Dan would find it uncomfortable if it weren't so fascinating. After a moment of waiting – indecision? - the mask pulls back and the figure disappears, slipping between the roof's shadows.
However, no one is more surprised than Rorschach himself when, two blocks later, he jumps from a nearby fire escape and lands at Nite Owl's side.
He's almost too big for this lifestyle. Not fat but… bulky. More of him to hit. Can't fit in tight places. Can't hide easily. Can't move swift and silent. It's a hindrance. A liability. And his gadgets are good, but he's dependent. What if one breaks? What if one fails? Then what? Too much dependence. Liabilities. And he's trusting. Too trusting. Very, very trusting. How can a man who's seen this city's face be so trusting? He smiles and waves his arms and speaks in terms of optimism. Young. Foolish. Not good. Too much hope is a potential liability. Easily crushed. Disposed of. Trampled. So many. There are so many reasons to not be his partner.
As Rorschach lands beside him he is fascinated by the steps they take. Despite the radical difference in their heights they've somehow managed to walk in sync. Each step, mirrored perfectly
Their feet sound confidently on the pavement, carrying them forward towards the same destination at the exact same time.
They've settled into a routine of sorts these past three weeks. Dan patrols. Rorschach shows up. He kicks the asses of many, many criminals and then leaves whenever it strikes his fancy.
Well, at least he was doing his share of the work.
Dan watches as his new partner finishes pounding some no-name lowlife. The buddy of this guy had accidentally shot him during their fight and the spray caught Rorschach along his face, leaving a bit of red in between the black and white of his mask. As he drops the unconscious kid an old joke rises unbidden to Dan's mind.
"Hey, Rorschach." Dan smiles when he sees his shoulders twitch. He's learning his partner's body language. "What's black and white and red all over?"
His new translation skills kick in when Rorschach's spine snaps straight and his hands clench. Obviously, he's said something very wrong.
Rorschach feels sick to hear that joke coming out of Nite Owl's mouth. His body is on the defensive a second before he consciously registers it.
The other kids around the block loved that joke. What's black and white and red all over? The mixed race whore who doesn't know how to put her lipstick on. Or another favorite: ginger-haired Walter after he's had a good pounding. Red and white and black and blue.
"Don't know Nite Owl." He growls, spitting the name. "Do tell."
"Uh…" He's floundering, trying to salvage a situation where he doesn't know what's gone wrong. But after a second his confidence – that confidence born from flipping off society's expectations to keep that same society safe – reasserts itself and he steps forward.
Rorschach steps back.
"Well, um… your mask." Nite Owl says, shrugging. "You've got blood on it. Black and white and red, get it? Sooo, yeah…"
Nite Owl twists his cape between his fingers like a child who's been caught doing wrong and Rorschach feels his nausea grow.
His partner slumps. Dan dares to take another step closer.
"I uh, didn't mean to insult you or anything."
"Not insulted." He sounds like he's swallowing something huge when he says, "Good joke."
Smiling, Dan shakes his head. Approaching the hunched figure he raises his hand to gift him a pat on the back… but then stops. Somehow, he gets the sense that Rorschach wouldn't appreciate it. At least not right now. Instead, he begins a five-minute explanation on how best to ignore him when he's stuck his foot in his mouth. Rorschach says nothing the rest of the night.
But when he oh so hesitatingly offers to share a recipe for removing bloodstains Rorschach does nod back in equal hesitation.
Nite Owl… he deserves that much at least.
Dan stands in a room filled with people and every person wears a mask.
Being a vigilante requires, in actuality, more planning than courage. While a drive for justice is certainly needed, it can only get you so far. With this in mind he and the other masks had gathered to divvy up as much of New York City as possible. After all, it wouldn't do far all of them to be patrolling within the same couple of bocks, not much of anything would get done that way.
However, attempting to find a section to patrol that was convenient without revealing the location of your house… that was difficult. After the first two hours Captain Metropolis ordered pizza and, an hour after that, their serious planning somehow morphed into an impromptu party.
Dan wasn't complaining.
Walking by a table laden with drinks and cheap hors d'oeuvres (their lifestyle doesn't exactly lend itself to maintaining decent jobs and Ozymandias, despite his supposed philanthropy, never offers to buy the food) and catches sight of Rorschach making awkward conversation with the Comedian.
"Yes." His newfound partner says forcibly, though what he's agreeing to Dan doesn't know. "Nite Owl is very good friend."
He stops, accidently knocking over an abandoned drink.
He's barely known this guy a month. They just started patrolling together. They've yet to trade names, or interests, or faces. What he does know is that Rorschach has terrible hygiene and might be an anti-Semite which, yeah, doesn't bode well for any future friendships. Hell, the first time he met Rorschach he stood in an alleyway, watching him work through more Knot Tops than he was comfortable handling and never lifted a goddamn finger. He's violent and crazy and doesn't know him at all… And yet, apparently, Dan has already risen to 'good friend' status. A 'very' good friend. God, he liked the guy well enough, strange as that may sound, but Rorschach just didn't seem the type…
Unless of course, he had nothing to compare their relationship to.
Let's be honest, how many friends did he think a guy like Rorschach had?
Suddenly the question of the night wasn't the simple 'what part of New York will we keep safe?' but rather, 'do I want the responsibility of being this guy's only friend?'
Dan spends the rest of the party having a bit of an identity crisis, most of which is spent in a corner, recalling memories of his mom yelling at him for taking in strays. But by the time the food is gone and people are yawning into their cups he has his answer. He kicks Archie into gear before sticking his head out of the hatch, beckoning to a hunched figure.
"Hey, Rorschach! Is there any place I can drop you off?"
Nite Owl doesn't understand the distinction in Rorschach's mind.
He is a good friend. Smiling and helping and brave and hasn't made crude remarks about Rorschach behind his back (and he would know) or turned away from the shifting symmetry of his face. And now Nite Owl offers a ride like it's nothing of consequence.
He is a good friend.
Rorschach is only a good partner.
He doesn't know how to be a friend. Let alone a good one.
But he still slips into Archie, weighted by his uneven role in this relationship. He stands awkwardly at the back until Nite Owl pushes a tiny blue button and a crooning sax fills the air.
I'm never gonna dance again
Guilty feet have got no rhythm
Though it's easy to pretend I know you're not a fool
I should have known better than to cheat a friend
And waste the chance that I'd been given-
Squawking, Nite Owl lunges for the consul and keeps pressing things until the music stops.
Rorschach stands there, frozen, wondering what the hell that just was. Breaking his trance he looks over at Nite Owl who's rubbing the back of his neck and shooting him an embarrassed smile. There's a flush forming on his skin, noticeable even through the costume's cowl. At the very least, that ridiculous song seems to have broken a bit of the tension.
"I uh, like George Michael?"
"That a question Nite Owl?" Rorschach is trying not to smile. It's the first time in weeks.
"No!" Shaking his head he points to the seat beside him, laughing. "Why don't you sit down? Jesus, I was looking for The Beatles…"
As Nite Owl fiddles with more buttons Rorschach slowly, hesitantly sits. It's only when they've almost arrived at his drop off point that he's relaxed enough to realize he's learned the first bit of personal information Nite Owl has to offer.
He likes George Michael.
Rorschach is convinced that he's only good as a partner.
But Walter thinks that maybe, even if he doesn't learn how to be a friend, he might learn how to have one.
They've known each other three months when the name finally slips.
Rorschach's head turns and Dan doesn't need to see his face to know he's wearing an incredulous expression.
"Archie Nite Owl? Not serious."
He immediately begins his defense (if he's honest, he's had it planned for weeks.) See here Rorschach, Archimedes wasn't just an owl, he was Merlin's owl. Merlin! The greatest wizard of all time! And, of course, the name derives from one of the most accomplished of all Greeks. Mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, astronomer… Archimedes did it all.
"So really," Dan concludes. "It makes perfect sense to name my ship Archimedes!"
But Rorschach is shaking his head. "Didn't call it Archimedes, called it Archie."
"Yeah well, it's just a nick-name…"
"Reminiscent of Archie Comics. Not dignified Nite Owl."
The kids they've got tied up snicker in agreement. Rorschach deals a few swift kicks to their ribs, which shuts them up pretty fast. When their groans die down Rorschach gestures as if to illustrate his point.
"Aw come on man. I dress up like an owl. My reputation is dodgy as it is."
"Hurm. Yes. But no need to taint mine."
However, Dan notices that despite his many complaints Rorschach doesn't look for another partner, or ask him to change the ship's name, or even to refrain from using it in front of others. He doesn't do anything to avoid 'tainting' his reputation.
And by the time another two months have passed they are no longer separate identities. The scum of New York know them only as Rorschach and Nite Owl. The Terror of the Underworld has ceased being a man and has instead become a team.
It's a year into their partnership when, with a little help from the local bar, they 'stumble' upon the latest gun dealer. During the ensuing scuffle one of the big wig's drones gets in a lucky shot, cracking one of the guns over Nite Owl's head. Rorschach is so focused on making another boy swallow his own teeth that he doesn't immediately notice. When he does… well, the man who hit his partner isn't likely to be walking soon. Or ever.
It's when the fight is through that they realize they have bigger problems than a routine concussion.
After that first ride from the Crimebusters meeting they started using Archie routinely. It's more practical than going on foot. They cover more ground; dispense more justice this way.
It is good.
But right now Nite Owl is in no shape to pilot his beloved machine. Collapsing into the chair he has just enough energy left to engage the auto-pilot before dropping into a daze.
Rorschach works on keeping his partner awake, thus, he pays little attention to that last action.
That Nite Owl set it to auto-pilot.
That the auto-pilot takes him home.
They've already passed under the water, shot through a tunnel, and landed in some underground basement before Rorschach realizes his mistake.
Dan groans, his head swimming.
"Nite Owl. Need to wake up. Now." The voice keeps pulling at him until finally, painfully, he's conscious enough to open his eyes. When he does, he's greeted with one of the strangest sights he's seen in a while.
"Rorschach," he croaks. "What are you doing on the floor?"
Sure enough his partner is… well, sitting on the floor. Cross-legged. Just a few feet from Dan's legs. He's got his head tipped low and is deliberately not looking up.
"Windows too large." He mutters. "Potential liability."
"Look at location Nite Owl."
Through the steady pounding in his temple Dan forces himself to turn his head the scant inches it's required to look out Archie's two, circular windshields. The entrance to his basement – or his 'nest' as he likes to privately think of it – greets him.
"What are you on about buddy?" He asks. "What am I looking for? It's just my-" and he cuts himself off as he realizes what he was about to say. 'It's just my basement. It's just my home.'
Dan looks back down at his partner. "And you're sitting on the floor because…?"
Rorschach's head ducks farther against his chest and Dan has the distinct impression he's embarrassed. "Not tall enough to see from this angle." He says, "Didn't want to see any more…"
Dan takes a second to process that through the painful cloud that's become his thinking process. But when he does, "Oh."
There's a long moment in which he just gazes at Rorschach wondering if, were he given the chance, he'd be able to resist the curiosity of knowing where this man lives.
Dan runs a hand through his hair. He should really take the time to think this through… but one more look at his partner sitting curled on the floor solidifies his resolve. "Oh hell man, stand up."
Rorschach whole body twitches.
"Come on, come on. This is ridiculous. You know the general area and you had to have noticed we went underwater to reach this entrance… it wouldn't take a genius to figure out where I live and you would figure it out in about five seconds flat. Don't tell me you don't have a good idea, even if you were paying more attention to me than our location."
His partner grunts.
"Besides, it's stupid. I trust you with my life on a nightly basis. This is just more of the same." Heaving himself from the chair Dan opens the hatch, gesturing towards the outside world with grandeur.
"Ta da. Come on in and make yourself at home. I'll get the coffee." Without bothering to look back Dan stumbles out of Archie, clutching his head and cursing the asshole who hit him.
Slowly, Rorschach follows.
Nite Owl never did get the coffee. Rorschach fled out the tunnel entrance the moment he knew where it would take him.
As he starts the trek back to his own apartment Nite Owl's voice replays in his mind. It's stupid. He hears. This is just more of the same.
But it's not the same.
Their masks, their identities are everything. He has to be Rorschach to deserve Nite Owl's partnership; his attention. As Rorschach he is good. Maybe not a good friend but certainly a good partner. Strong. Not weak. Free from the sins that taint Walter. Free from compromise. Those lives, they must remain separate.
But now Nite Owl's civilian persona is bleeding into his masked identity. Rorschach knows that he likes George Michael. He most likely wears glasses, given how many times he's seen Nite Owl touch the bridge of his nose. And now, now he knows where he lives.
These nuggets of information, they're dangerous…
But not dangerous enough for Rorschach to willingly give up.
Over the next two months they return to Nite Owl's basement a total of four times. Three times it's to treat minor injuries, once to conduct repairs on Archie. Each time he sits at Nite Owl's worktable he tenses, waiting for the inevitable question.
So… where do you live?
It doesn't come.
After that, each time gets a little easier. Rorschach begins moving around the place, looking at all the notes and blueprints he doesn't understand. Nite Owl brings down the coffee he promised that first night.
One day Rorschach works up the courage to mention that coming here is in fact more convenient than the drop off point he usually gives.
Neither of them acknowledges how significant this is but after that all their nights end in Nite Owl's basement. Rorschach ignores the fact that he's becoming dependant on a warm atmosphere and plenty of coffee.
It's after they've broken up a prominent prostitute ring that it happens. They've returned to the nest, high as kites on adrenaline, and are trading more praise for one another in the space of five minutes than they have in the past year.
These are the kinds of moments when anything can happen.
Thus, when Dan decides to finally remove his cowl, introducing himself in light of this accomplishment, it isn't a surprise to either of them. As he'd said before, it's just more of the same. Once you know where a man lives the rest of his life story is easily obtained.
But Dan trusts his partner not to have looked into all that. As he offers his ungloved hand for the first time he still views this moment as a turning point.
His name and face are gifts freely given.
Rorschach recognizes the gesture. Thus, he doesn't mention that he's known Daniel's name since the second time they'd come down here. On the worktable where he generally sits are a pile of ornithology magazines, all of which are made out to one 'Daniel Dreiberg.'
It is a sloppy, careless mistake.
But he doesn't mention it.
"Do you uh… want to have the coffee upstairs?"
Dan watches as Rorschach freezes on his way to the worktable. The ink of his mask pulls sharply against where his mouth would be, almost as if he's gasped. But that's a stupid thing to think. Surely he would have seen this coming? Dan's given his partner his name, his face, and the lowest floor of his home. Surely it's about time he opened up the rest of it as well.
(Sometimes, especially late on the nights when they don't patrol, Dan wonder's what the hell he's doing. Rorschach… he could be anyone. He knows no more about him than he did that first time he learned that they were 'good friends.' It should be scary. It should be frustrating. But whenever Dan gives a little more he catches the clenching of his partner's fists and the bowing of his head. There's guilt in those movements. Late during those nights Dan reassures himself that Rorschach wants to share these things but for whatever reason feels he can't. He reassures himself that his partner actually gives a damn.)
"I just thought, you know… might as well!" He gestures towards the stairs, encouraging his partner to ascend them. "Besides man, it gets cold this time of year, too cold to be hanging out in basements. Just… come upstairs for a bit. Okay?"
Rorschach has his head tilted forward, neck straining against his scarf. It's half-way between a nod and a shake and Dan waits tensely (why? Does this really mean so much to him?) for him to choose between the two.
Miraculously, he nods.
I happens almost exactly as it did before. Rorschach sits awkwardly at the kitchen table instead of the worktable. He leaves quickly as he did that first night. And, as before, it becomes easier with time.
Dan learns that his partner likes beans and starts keeping a full pantry.
Soon after this Rorschach in turn realizes that he's the only one who calls his partner 'Daniel.' Everyone else simply calls him 'Dan.'
This is satisfying.
Amazingly, Dan finds even more of himself to share.
They're standing beneath an auto repair sign, enduring the night's chill because Rorschach refuses to come inside.
"Don't worry, it's not just you Hollis." Dan laughs. "It took me months to get him into the kitchen!"
He doesn't say much, just stands and listens to these men gossip about birds and old memories. But when it comes time to leave he gladly shakes the first Nite Owl's hand, if only because this is the man who helped shape Daniel.
"It was good to finally meet you Rorschach." Hollis says, "I'm glad you're watching out for Danny-boy here. Keeping him safe."
As the soft, aged skin slides against his gloves Rorschach suddenly feels as if he's meeting Daniel's father.
"Always keep him safe." He finds himself promising, before he can censor the words. "Will not compromise in this."
There's a ginger-haired man with a sign who patrols the city's streets. Even when there is no darkness, no obvious filth, he patrols. And ever since he learned the face of his partner he hasn't patrolled alone.
He searches for it in every crowd.
He finds it.
Buying hotdogs, at the newsstand, avoiding puddles on the sidewalk. Daniel is everywhere and this man keeps an eye on him, unnoticed.
At first it feels wrong. Like… spying. The gaze is a powerful weapon, capable of tainting what it touches and to possess a gaze that cannot be guarded against is dangerous indeed. He feels dirty doing this…
But that doesn't stop him.
Two years and Rorschach walks into Daniel's kitchen as if it were his own. This slow building confidence is a good thing, especially since there is often very little food in his own apartment.
On this particular day it's a smell that's caught his attention.
"Daniel. Cooking something?" It's obvious he is. He's dressed in jeans and an apron with a large, obnoxious owl on the front. Rorschach eyes it with distaste but whatever his partner is cooking smells too good to risk loosing a taste by insulting his fashion sense.
"I'm experimenting." Daniel smiles brightly as he stirs the pot. "I think you'll like it."
Three minutes later his concoction is done and Daniel waves him into a chair. A full bowl is placed before him.
"Beans." He says, pointing with a spoon. "Hot. With uh… lets see: cinnamon, nutmeg, a bunch of chopped bacon…" He trails off because Rorschach is already stuffing his face. He hasn't had a full serving of anything in six days (he remembers) and he'd be devouring the food even if it wasn't delicious.
Daniel, despite the success, grimaces.
"Buddy… we need to work on your table manners."
Exactly six days before this Dan is coming back from the library when he spots the ginger-haired man at a food vendor. He's obviously homeless, or at least very poorly off. The green suit he wears is not only ugly as sin but mended in more places than Dan can count. He's seen this man hundreds of times and he's never worn another outfit.
He's always felt a little sorry for him. He seems nice enough, in a… forceful sort of way. It's just, he's always there. Always! God, if he hadn't already seen Jon in all his naked glory he'd think that this guy was Dr. Manhattan, capable of duplicating himself and being in a million places at once. It seems like everywhere he goes, no matter what he's doing, this guy is near. Dan realizes that he's probably harmless but still… it's a little creepy.
As he passes by their eyes lock. Dan smiles. The man does not smile back.
He hasn't gone more than a few paces when he hears it:
"Sorry man, you're a few bucks too short."
Looking back over his shoulder Dan sees the vendor retracting a sandwich, looking apologetic. The ginger-haired man nods, as if he's expecting this and without saying a word starts off.
It's none of his business. It's really none of his business…
Four dollars later and Dan has paid for that same sandwich – enduring the knowing, approving looks of the vendor all the while – and with a burst of speed that's more common of Nite Owl than Daniel Dreiberg, he catches up with the man as he rounds a corner.
The man turns and Dan shoves the food into his hands. It nearly upsets his grip on the sign but reflexes – familiar reflexes? – has him balancing them both quickly. If embarrassment hadn't kept Dan from looking up he may have noticed this and a million other little things: the tiny scar on his chin that looks a lot like his partner's. The unconscious mouthing of his name.
"Here you go!" He's already backing away, still focusing on that god-awful jacket instead of the man's face. "H-have a nice day!" And he's jogging, retreating before he does something stupid.
Six days into the future Dan serves homemade beans to his partner, so much more at ease with feeding him than that stranger. Rorschach shovels the food into his mouth, spilling bean juice all over the counter. When he gives an unexpected 'thank you' Dan has no idea that he's grateful for more than just this particular meal.
Two years into their partnership and Rorschach knows so much about Daniel. How he laughs, how he eats, how he's constantly touching his nose even when his glasses aren't there. Rorschach catalogues the neatness of his handwriting – contrasting with his own illegible scrawl – and notes that when he lets his mind wander Daniel has a tendency to hum cheesy love songs under his breath. And he's learning more each day. Bits and pieces of childhood memories. Visions of the future.
Rorschach knows much about Daniel, but it's still Nite Owl he's fascinated by.
He still watches how he moves.
One winter's day Daniel pauses to pick up a penny, his body curving as it bends towards the ground. The ginger-haired man behind him watches this movement and remembers the same graceful arc being performed in armor. Boots. A mask to hide his face.
As Dan walks away, tossing the penny into the air, Walter ignores the pleasurable goosebumps rising on his arms.