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: Part Two of Homonym. Enjoy!
Part II: Something More
Dan and the ginger-haired man meet again eighteen days later.
Coming back from coffee with an old college friend Dan strolls lightly down the sidewalk. The weather had become unseasonably warm the past few days and he swings his arms, happily unfettered by his normal winter clothes. He uses this rare movement to gaze up at the sky, searching for any birds that pass overhead. When he finally spots one – a flash of yellow against the clouds – he's paying far more attention to the beat of its wings than the color of the traffic light.
He feels the grip of hands at his back the second before his front feels the wind of a speeding car.
Dan goes flying backwards, falling onto something hard. Only it's a 'something' that happens to move and smells faintly of sour milk. Dan rolls to his left, expecting to see some average bloke who's face he'll soon forget and instead meets the eyes of his ginger-haired friend.
For one beat, the two of them simply look at one another.
"God I-" Dan pats himself down, laughing shakily. "I didn't even realize… thank you. Just-"
Startled by the sound, a sort of pained whine, he looks up and finds the man staring at his own palms. Dan realizes he's shaking.
"Hey, are you oka- wait!"
He's off like a shot across the street, paying no more attention to the traffic than Dan did earlier. Dan tries to call to him above the shrieking of tires but the man never turns, just keeps running as far and as fast as he can.
It's only after he's completely out of sight that Dan stands. Turning, he trips over a piece of wood and nearly looses his footing all over again.
Looking down he realizes the man forgot his sign.
O Rose thou art sick.
Walter doesn't stop running until he reaches his apartment. Scaling the fire escape and rushing to the end of the roof, he more slides than drops over the edge, swinging through the open window. It's a risk to take this unique entrance in broad daylight but right now there are more pressing matters running through his mind.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm
Has found out thy bed
Reaching the sink he throws the tap, allowing the cold, slightly brownish water to pour forth. Both hands are plunged beneath the spray and are rubbed until the dry skin along his knuckles begins to crack. When it's not enough he pulls off his jacket, made of a cheap, scratchy material, and uses it as an abrasive.
It's only when the water runs brown, clear, and then pink that he finally stops.
Of crimson joy
He knew. He knew that Daniel would become a liability. It's just-
Walter has followed Daniel since he left the coffee shop, giving a hearty goodbye to his friend… He sees the light change and the continued, forward momentum of Daniel's steps… he has his hands around his partner's chest, pulling him backwards, violently…
It's the first time they've truly touched.
(Two years in the past Daniel offers his hand after their first night's work together – it is resolutely ignored. A few days later he'll make a stupid joke… and then choose not to touch his partner's shoulder. A few months after that they'll nearly stumble together during a fight - but Rorschach will dodge at the last moment. Later, two years later, Dan will place a bowl of beans beside his friend, knowing now not to let their fingers touch.)
They fall together, Daniel's body covering all of him. When he rolls off Walter suddenly feels like he's burning. It's a cold heat, not so much of the flesh but of the mind. An understanding. It's not Walter who nearly lost his life today but memories are still flashing across his vision, all of them encompassing movement: Nite Owl, taking out a group of Knot Tops. Daniel, bending to pick up a penny. Both of them, extending little things like coffee or beans or gauze or paper or soap or sandwiches or a hand-
With a growl Walter throws the tap again and continues scrubbing.
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
Dan suddenly hears his mother's voice in his head, telling him he'll catch flies, and snaps his mouth shut.
"You're… wait, what?"
His partner stands in the shadows of the tunnel, hands stuffed deeply into his coat pockets. He didn't come up to the kitchen or even wait at the worktable and now he's planted himself in the dark, refusing to come forward. This sudden desire for space, more than anything else, tells Dan that something is very wrong.
"Not well." He growls. "Sick. Need time to recover. No patrol tonight."
"Ah… okay. Yeah, sure." But Dan is still dumbstruck by what he's being told. During all the time they've partnered together Rorschach has never once backed down from their nightly duties. At least, not willingly. There was the time he broke his leg and was – obviously – out of commission for a while and last winter he caught a bad case of the flu and Dan had to basically tie him to the bed. But now…
"You uh, you don't sound sick."
It's the wrong thing to say. The moment the words are out of his mouth Dan wishes he could take them back. Rorschach's entire body has seized and his knees bend slightly, lowering him into the floor. It's the stance he takes when he expects to be attacked.
"Oh hell," Dan raises his hands, a sigh of peace. "I-I didn't mean that. I'm just… surprised, you know? I'm not, not judging you or anything, okay? Look, just get some rest alright? Spend some time here if you want. I've got the guest room upstairs – and you can lock it! – and maybe I can pick you up some soup or something…" Dan trails off. By now the shadows have nearly engulfed his partner and he can't see much more than the white of the mask. But God, maybe Rorschach is sick because what he can see - he's shaking.
(There's a brief flash of memory – the ginger-haired man who saved him today – but Dan shakes it off.)
"Rorschach-" Dan takes a step forward. Rorschach takes a step back.
They haven't done that since the early days.
"Just… take care of yourself buddy. Okay?"
"Hurm." He's granted a shaky nod and then Rorschach is gone, walking down the tunnel with far more speed than is acceptable for a man who's supposedly sick. But Dan lets him go, hoping that whatever it is that's tormenting his partner is something he can work out on his own. It doesn't seem like he'll be letting Dan help anytime soon.
Sighing, he strips out of his costume and heads upstairs for a hot drink, thinking that he needs it.
Dan doesn't notice that the sign he'd propped against the tunnel wall – the one the ginger-haired man had dropped. The one he had every intention of retuning – was gone.
He is ill. That cannot be denied. There is a reason those of a sentimental nature call it being 'love sick.' There is a reason Shakespeare named this condition a fever.
So Walter does everything he can to treat himself.
He takes cold showers at all hours of the day, cleaning himself more times that week than he has in the past year. He denies himself what little luxuries he'd previously had: at night the thick, warm throw that was given as a Christmas gift (he won't think of who gave it to him) is tossed to the floor and in the morning he refuses to fill his pockets with Chariot sugar cubes. Sin is a slippery slope and one vile habit always leads into another. Perhaps, if many are denied, it might help to deny the one.
Of course, it doesn't work.
Walter, despite what many would believe, has always understood lust. Like all young boys he came to terms with his own on a practical level and learned the rest from witnessing encounters on the streets. The lust itself is not a sin – How can it be? It is an action as unconscious to the body as breathing – but acting on it, especially towards one who doesn't wish it…
Lying in bed, Walter forces his mind to spin possible scenarios. Nite Owl, confidently and politely saying 'no' but all the while trying to hide his disgust behind the mask. Or Daniel, awkwardly muddling through a rejection that, because he was caught off guard, is far more honest than Rorschach can handle. But it's not enough, so he continues weaving until the images in his mind are realistically detailed: Nite Owl, throwing a hard right against the side of his head. The ink of the mask shoots outward like a spray of blood and his partner is so far gone in rage that he aims for Rorschach's left eye. Half the world – half of him – suddenly goes black. Or Daniel again, screaming in his kitchen, his voice rising to a level Rorschach has never heard. He pulls a Coke from the fridge – one that, before now, would have been handed over with resigned affection – and throws the past gift so that it shatters above Rorschach's head. Glass and soda rain in cold torrents down his spine.
None of it is enough. Worse yet, each image is accompanied by a movement. Nite Owl turns fluidly after completing his punch. Daniel's arms are bare in a t-shirt, bunching in preparation to throw the bottle. The shaded lines of his muscles are less distinct than those of his armor but Rorschach gives them both equal attention. It seems wonderful… and then deteriorates into reality. The heterosexual male, terrified by the homosexual advance.
Grimacing, Walter deliberately squeezes his thighs together and weaves possible consequences for the rest of the night.
A week. A whole goddamn week.
Dan paces the floor of his bedroom, note crunched tightly against his palm. Ever since Rorschach had claimed to be 'sick' he had yet to lay eyes on him. However, he had seen all the evidence that his partner was apparently well enough to be up and about.
Two days into this strange 'illness' he'd found a pair of muddy footprints on his stoop. It didn't take a Sherlock Holmes to realize someone had stood there for a while, looking up at the house. The day after that their notes on the latest drug ring mysteriously disappeared from the dining room table and two days after that they just as mysteriously reappeared in the kitchen. Dan had been meticulously checking the cupboards for missing food but to no avail. It worried him more than he'd like to admit that Rorschach hadn't snitched his usual handful of sugar cubes or can of beans. Dan wasn't an idiot, the guy was practically homeless and got most of his food out of others peoples' pantries. If he wasn't eating… well, Dan just hoped that this sickness his partner had was some kind of stomach bug.
Now though, early this morning, Dan had awoken to a piece of newspaper propped on his nightstand. The article itself wasn't important – just an ad for polo shirts – but the little mirrored 'r's in the side corner made him breath a sigh of relief.
So… what? Rorschach had snuck into his bedroom? That in and of itself wasn't entirely unusual, he'd often play alarm clock when he thought there was something significant that should be brought to Dan's attention, before their nightly patrol. But even during those rare times when Rorschach didn't wake him – "Sleeping in is for the weak Daniel. Work to be done" - he'd always leave an actual note: writing with a date, time, or place. This was the calling card he used for the police and nameless victims. What the hell did he mean, giving this to his partner? Was this Rorschach's anti-social way of saying 'Hey man, don't worry, I'm not dead! See you soon'?
Shaking his head Dan heads for the kitchen. There he catches sight of a bowl half-filled with milk and numerous cans lying empty. Well, that was something at least. The rest… if Rorschach didn't want to be seen than he wouldn't be. The only thing Dan could do was wait.
With sluggish movements Dan flips on the stove and watches as the blue flames spring to live. After a moment's hesitation he burns the note.
No use leaving evidence.
It's eventually the need to eat that breaks his cycle and there's always food at Daniel's.
Walter tells himself that this is not just an excuse.
What happens that night is no different from what's happened a hundred times before. He breaks the lock, eats cereal and beans in Daniel's kitchen, heads up to his bedroom…
Why does that only now seem wrong?
That's where his routine changed. Normally Rorschach would walk to the dresser, grabbing a bit of Nostalgia to cover the scent of his body and rotting clothes. But he's taken so many showers this week that his stealing can't be justified and so he stands, lost. Daniel's breathing fills his ears and Rorschach sways to it, dizzy from too little food and denying himself other, more significant things.
Eventually he sits on the floor, his back against the bed's side. He spends the night trying to think of what he can tell Daniel, what excuse he can use to explain things without revealing this sickness. Each time he discards a possibility he tells himself that it wasn't good enough. It has nothing to do with the fact that, were he to actually write this note, he would have no reason to stay. He'd have to get up, removing his touch from the blankets that are touching Daniel.
So when dawn starts breaking he pulls a bit of newspaper from his pockets and just scribbles his signature instead.
He wonders what Daniel will make of that.
"Well hey there stranger!"
He seems so happy to have him back and for just a second Rorschach reels. He wonders what Daniel would do if he expressed his own contentment in such blunt terms. If he were to admit to – not all – but the little things, like the fact that Daniel doesn't eat frosted cereal but had some stored in his cupboards anyway…
But no. Publically speaking of the sickness is nearly as bad as acting on it. In his nightly weavings he'd never acted, only admitted, and always the reaction has been violent. He heard a saying once: what you don't know can't hurt you. Sometimes, the public masses are smart. He would not hurt Daniel. Never Daniel.
"Hurm. Good evening Daniel. Apologize for absence."
"Oh hey, hey, no problem." Daniel's grinning at him and adjusting is goggles, eager to get going. To normalize everything. "You uh, feeling better?"
"Great! Then let's take Archie out, yeah?"
He hesitates, but finally says: "Still stupid nick-name, Nite Owl."
Daniel laughs, loud and long. It's obviously more out of relief than genuine humor but even so, Rorschach spends the rest of the night trying to ignore the spark of pride in his chest. He's always been good at making Daniel laugh.
Maybe it's the fact that he's worried about his partner, or maybe he's just a little less naive, but that night Dan is aware how much Rorschach watches him.
Did he always stare like that?
I he's honest… yeah, probably.
They sit in Archie, still relaxing from their shared joke, and Rorschach is scribbling madly in his journal. But every once in a while his head tips just so… and Dan knows he's looking his way. It seems fitting that the only person Rorschach would dare give his attention to is the one person capable of recognizing it.
The latest question – one in a very long string – is whether Dan should acknowledge this.
That night they stop an attempted rape. Dan topples the guy, pinning the scum's arms with his knees and using gravity to better his punches. He knows that if he asked, Rorschach would mutter about him being able to handle it - it doesn't take the both of them to stop a guy his size. But even so, as Dan breaks the man's nose he can feel his partner's eyes on him, cataloguing each movement. Was it always like this? Dan recalls a similar situation – him against a group of Knot Tops. Rorschach, choosing to watch instead of participate – and thinks, yes.
Dan doesn't answer all his questions that night, but he does realize one thing:
He likes this.
For a long time they do not speak of it.
Rorschach monitors his own movements: Don't stand too close. Don't walk right behind. Don't offer your hand too often when he's fallen. If he does take it don't grip too hard. Or too soft. Don't let it linger, but don't break away like you're disgusted either. Because you're not. But don't let him know that. Find a balance, let him be a friend. It's the truth and yet it's so hard to maintain.
He monitors his own movements and still freely catalogues Daniel's.
Dan, for his part, still wonders what was up with Rorschach that one time. He questions his partner's gaze and the frequency with which they're now touching and what kind of 'sickness' Rorschach actually had.
He continues questioning, with little bits of hope sneaking inside.
As with so many other moments in their relationship, the next change is a soft one.
It's a slow night, warm and breezy with spring almost upon them. They've left Archie in his nest with an unspoken agreement to enjoy the night air. Between the weather and the little crime that crosses their path it's about as pleasant as New York City ever gets. They're determined to enjoy it.
However, all this is shattered for Rorschach as they come out onto the main street. There, across the way, is a couple snuggled together on a bench. He has to look twice before he realizes they're both men.
He turns away.
Daniel however, coos.
"Ah, young love." He says it half seriously and the rest is bound up with a self-conscious chuckle.
Rorschach stops, something threading through his veins.
"That," Daniel continues, oblivious. "is why we do this. Why it's worth it, you know?" He looks down at himself, still chucking. "That is why I dress up like a goddamn owl and beat up idiotic kids every night. It's the little things and all that."
When Rorschach speaks it feels like glass is being pulled up from the hollow of his throat. "Two men Nite Owl," he snaps.
"Huh? Oh, yeah I know." Daniel peers at him. "Hey uh, that doesn't bother you does it? I mean," he coughs. "I know you can be… forceful about certain issues but you didn't strike me as real homophobic. I mean come on! With all the shit we see are you really going to reject two people loving each other just because they're the same se-"
"Not homophobic." Rorschach cuts him off. "Not. Just… didn't realize you approved."
"Me?" Daniel laughs. "Jesus Rorschach! What ever made you think I might be homophobic?
He shrugs, feeling like he's completely lost his footing. All of this is happening so fast and the rest just comes pouring out, "White. Wealthy. Jewish. Many not comfortable with such lifestyles. And…"
Rorschach shrugs again, trying to make it look indifferent. "Thought you were heterosexual."
"Oh, I am."
Whatever had been threading itself through Rorschach's veins dies.
"But, just between you and me, I had my wild nights in college. That aerospace engineering major wasn't a compete hardnose. I've been known to make exceptions." Daniel winks, a young cheeky action. He saunters ahead of Rorschach, light on the memories of partying and experimentation.
Turning back around, Dan continues the conversation, unaware that Rorschach will neither register nor remember his words.
"So…" He begins. "Are you…?"
"Hnk. No Daniel."
Rorschach is in another place, where something is threading itself through his bloodstream. His response to Daniel's aborted question is a reflex and bears no significance in his own mind. A minute later, the words are forgotten.
For Dan however…
Well, it may be stereotypical but the only times he'd ever heard someone be that vehement in their response is when they are.
It may not have been the admission Rorschach imagined but right then, with the comfortable acceptance of a rare friend (soon to be something more) Dan begins to assemble the pieces, one by one.
That night, as Rorschach becomes Walter, he pulls his sign out from under the bed. He's barely touched it since that day on the street but now, now, he suddenly likes the idea of it having spent time in Daniel's home.
Walter… he rationalizes. To act on this sickness is wrong but now making such a statement is paramount to saying that Daniel is wrong. That Daniel – good Daniel – is sick for his past actions and cheeky winks.
This is not an option.
Rorschach, (and Walter) he doesn't believe in grey. There is good and there is bad and there cannot be compromise.
But one can outweigh the other.
Daniel… he is more good than the sickness is bad.
So Walter searches until he finds an old sharpie tucked inside the closet. On the back of his sign, so tiny no one will see, he draws his double 'r's in one corner and the initials 'D.D.' in the other.
It feels like a promise.
After this there are no grand revelations, but things do start moving forward. Slowly.
It's a Saturday night and they've all gathered together for a photo. For some strange, inexplicably human reason everyone is willing to put aside their hostility in order to commemorate a group that none of them truly feel they're a part of. Perhaps they do this so that in the future, when they're wondering why and whether it was worth it, they will have something concrete to look back on. An image, filled with smiling faces that say 'yes, we're happy together' and it really doesn't matter if it was as much a lie then as it is now.
Walter has no need of such assurances. The only reason Rorschach comes is because Daniel wants him too. It's just one more compromise (though he doesn't call them that) in a very long string.
The photographer makes a sweeping gesture with his arms, motioning them closer. Rorschach moves slightly to the left and as he does, his shoulder brushes Daniel's. He can see the hard plate of the armor and imagines the flesh underneath. He has flashes of both those arms moving, no longer throwing punches and Coke bottles but swinging lightly at his sides as he winks.
They're in a perfect position but Rorschach has never bowed to authority before. Ignoring the photographer's irritation he takes one more step to the left. One step closer to Daniel.
Dan watches as Rorschach presses against him. Most people would look at his face, always shifting, always changing, and give up on trying to read it.
Dan isn't most people.
He watches as the ink suddenly pools around Rorschach's cheekbones, picking up speed. He thinks back to one of their older conversations over coffee; Rorschach explaining that the mask responded to pressure and heat. Dan had commented – innocently at the time – that it must go crazy when he blushes.
Here and now, Dan smiles for the camera.
Three weeks and there's another moment, another camera, standing outside the police station. The newspapers – quick on their feet for once - have caught them in the middle of the action, demanding that they pose. They too want something tangible to solidify this victory.
Rorschach tries to slip away but Dan's already got his arm around his shoulders, reeling him in. Everyone cheers at this camaraderie, the exposure of humanity from beneath the masks. The cameras capture a series of platonic imagery.
These partners however, they capture something entirely different. Rorschach, somewhat disbelievingly, notes how possessively Dan takes hold of his arm. Gloved fingers slip between the folds of a trench coat and find purchase there. Dan, for his part, notes how willingly Rorschach accepts this.
They give to the cameras but take far more away. This time, both of them smile.
There's one more moment, six months after this one, when Dan is mending a cut on his partner's shoulder. The protective layering of clothes has been stripped away and, noticing this, Dan nods thoughtfully himself. If ever he were to do it, it should be now.
Dipping his head he places a single, quick kiss on Rorschach's back.
Yes, he's attracted to Amy at the drug store, handing him his purchases with rings and manicured nails. He was also attracted to Jason at Harvard, curled together under the oak tree outside his dorm. But of course, neither of them is Rorschach. Why try to quantify this? Neither of them are his partner.
Never been fond of redheads, he thinks, tracing a series of freckles. But as said, I'm willing to make exceptions.
"Close your eyes."
"Oh come on!" Dan laughs, shaking his head. Rorschach makes an unhappy sound in the back of his throat.
"Daniel, you don't get your Christmas present if you don't close your eyes."
He looks over Archie's consul to where Rorschach sits, hands gripped tightly in his lap. They're far above the city, hidden in the clouds, but his partner has been on alert all night. Obviously, he's nervous about whatever this gift is.
"Okay, okay." Dan closes his eyes.
"Promise not to open them."
He can't help the chuckle that escapes. "I won't."
Slowly, eyes still closed, Dan nods. "Okay. Yeah. I promise."
The next five minutes pass in complete silence. Dan doesn't know if Rorschach is testing him or just gathering his courage but either way, his eyes never open. Dan sits, waiting patiently. He gives Rorschach as much time as he needs.
When the kiss does come it's not a surprise. Being a masked vigilante builds one's awareness of those around you. Dan knew when Rorschach got close, when he got even closer, and was well aware of what he planned to do before he did it. They both know that had he wanted to stop the kiss, he could have.
The first touch… it's a child's attempt. Rorschach puckers his lips too much and hits Dan's nose and obviously has no idea what to do with his hands. So he takes it slow, barely grazing the surface and putting as much feeling behind those simple actions as he can. When Rorschach's mouth does finally open – more an involuntary gasp than an invitation – Dan's tongue immediately finds a chipped canine. He wants to ask Rorschach how that happened but then there's a brief taste of cinnamon mint and Dan realizes that his semi-aqua-phobic partner brushed his teeth before initiating this.
He's so immersed in that little detail that when his hands move to pull Rorschach in they don't immediately register what they're touching: stubble, acne scares, wiry hair that curls around his fingers. Dan realizes that his partner is unmasked – in so many ways – and revels in it.
When Rorschach finally pulls back there's a pause… and then his presence leaves Dan's space completely. He makes sure not to open his eyes until he hears the slide of latex over skin.
"Heeey," Dan reaches out, catching a bit of the trench coat. It's likely the craziness of the moment that makes him ask, "will I ever get to see you?"
"Mmm. Take Archie down Daniel."
He does, but Dan is kicking himself the entire way back to the nest. Stupid, stupid, stupid. There's silence throughout the flight and Rorschach walks right past him when they land, not even bothering to acknowledge his presence. He's probably ruined everything now. Rorschach won't even look at him. He just picks up that sign he left in the basement and starts heading down the-
Daniel looks again. He sees the painted words – The End Is Nigh – and pictures them in the hands of another man, one with ginger-hair and a habit of following him around.
Rorschach hefts the sign casually over his shoulder.
"Already seen Daniel." He says, and walks out.
Rorschach leaves Daniel's thinking about definitions; how one word can have a multitude of meanings and they're not always understood all at once.
He's still not sure how to be a friend.
He is, however, an excellent partner.
The poem in the second part of section 1. is William Blake's "The Sick Rose."
Paraphrase of "My love is as a fever" is from Shakespeare's Sonnet 147