Characters: Rorschach, Dan
Word Count: 2,028
Summary: Rorschach asks for a favor and receives something unexpected in return.
Rorschach chucks the suit at the table, watching stoically as Daniel make a wild grab. He's a bit too slow and the edge of a pant leg lands in his soup.
"Reflexes need work, Daniel. Sloppy."
The glare he receives isn't terribly intimidating, not when it comes from a bespectacled man in a sweater and khakis. Even so, Rorschach keeps the knife rack in easy reach. It wouldn't be the first time they got into a tussle over one of his remarks. All of which escalated purely for training purposes, of course.
"Dammit, Rorschach." Daniel gazes at his ruined meal before giving up, dipping the suit leg into his water glass. Some of the tomato soup leeches out. "It's your own fault if this stains. And you realize I'm doing you a favor, right?"
He does. Two days ago, after they'd dealt out a particularly vicious brand of justice, Rorschach had been high on the adrenaline and had let slip that he had a job interview the following week. Nothing fancy, just another rundown tailor's with marginally better pay, but even without those details Daniel had correctly inferred that he'd need to look his best. This meant cleaning and ironing clothes that hadn't seen detergent since Dollar Bill was on the streets. And this in turn meant dry cleaning he couldn't afford. A washing machine he didn't have. Not even an iron that would potentially blow the electric in his entire apartment complex. At the time, these things seemed impossibilities.
Not that Rorschach cared. After all, they should be judging him on his skill set, not his appearance. He'd just finished resigning himself to applying in a wasted suit when Daniel had pulled off his goggles, flashed him a smile and said,
"Want me to do it?"
So here they were.
Daniel pulls the pant leg from his water glass, frowning at the persistent red stain. "I uh, won't take it to the dry cleaners," he says. They'd already agreed that handing out personal belongings was an idiotic risk, no matter how slim any consequences seemed. "I've got my washer upstairs, and an ironing board. Mom taught me, you know?" Daniel narrows his eyes. "I've got stain remover too. Nice job, Ror." He snorts, dropping the garment back onto the table where it settles pathetically. Both of their eyes are drawn to a rip in the knee and another, unidentifiable stain on the front pocket. Daniel winces. "And uh… you're sure this is the suit you wanna wear, huh? Anything else I can tidy up for you?"
He's obviously trying to be tactful and Rorschach is… appreciative. But he only owns two suits and there is a good chance Daniel will recognize the green one from his daylight wanderings. Too often he'd given the redhead coffee and bagels, always claiming that he'd bought too much. So yes, this suit, the blue one Daniel had never seen, was the one he'd be wearing.
"Right then… right. I'll just take care of this…"
They stare at one another. Until,
"I'll take awhile, Rorschach."
He grunts again, seating himself.
"And by 'awhile' I mean, 'not in the next five minutes.'" Daniel shrugs. "Sorry. I've got a load of whites."
So Rorschach makes one more inarticulate noise and hoists himself up from the table. He heads for the basement door, snatching Daniel's last jelly donut along the way.
"You're welcome to stay…"
"Hm. Thank you, but no. Things to do. I'll be back late afternoon. We can start early tonight."
"You sure that's safe?" He doesn't need to turn to see Daniel's skeptical eyebrow.
"Fog coming in. Will be more than enough to cover me."
"Huh." An arm sneaks into his peripheral, switching on the TV. Some trash starts talking about the benefits of moisturized razors for women. Rorschach scowls.
"When did you have time to check the weather?"
"No need. Can feel it coming."
"… Right." Which in Daniel's educated speech meant something more like, "of course you can feel it coming, nut job. I love you, but please don't infect me with your crazy."
Rorschach hums an affirmative. "See you, Daniel."
"See you, man."
As promised, Rorschach returns hours later. He'd been right, around lunch a fog had swept in, covering his movements from the apartment as effectively as any moonless night. Even so, it's only when he's entered the tunnel connecting to Daniel's basement that he allows himself to relax. Constant, constant vigilance.
There's a light off to the far left, near the workbench where Daniel stores his miscellaneous equipment. Coming from that corner is a sound Rorschach is intimately familiar with, but had never thought to hear down among Archie and Daniel's suit.
It's a sewing machine.
Daniel - now almost entirely Nite Owl, except for the cowl - is hunched over the worktable. Through the space made by his partner's arm Rorschach can see a swatch of blue that he immediately recognizes as his suit. It has changed though. Even from this distance the material is noticeable smoother, lacking the fuzz and wood chips that he'd gathered over the years. Even the pockets, whose bottoms had once bulged with physical debris as well as the idea of griminess, now lie flat. Daniel finishes the job, deftly weaving a pocket under the thread until its puckering hole disappears.
"That was useful," Rorschach says. He isn't sure if he means it as an accusation.
"Oh yeah?" Flipping a switch Daniel gathers up the suit. "How's that?"
"Think strategy, Daniel. The thugs, hookers, dealers - each is just a strand in a massive web, leading in. We want the spider at the center." Daniel stills, cocking an eyebrow at the unexpected metaphor. Rorschach ignores him. "This spider, he won't come to us - too dangerous - but we can come to him. Just one-" He holds up a single finger, pointing to himself. "One Mask. This Mask is overwhelmed by these strands, conveniently so, and is dragged to the center. During this journey something is left behind," his finger dips into the ever-present trench coat, revealing a small hole in the left pocket. "Pebbles, drops of paint, anything that will remain. Inconspicuous. When the center is revealed the Mask escapes, lies low, lets it all settle, then he gathers... others," he gestures towards Daniel, stumbling briefly over the word. "The web has stilled and now there is a path, invisible to all but that one Mask, just waiting to be used." Rorschach shrugs. "The spider is vulnerable."
"Huh." Throughout this speech Daniel folds the suit, carefully tucking the sleeves in so they don't crease. Now he stands, wrapping it in plastic for the trip home. "Is that how we found Logos's hideout last spring?"
"And that would explain your sprained wrist a week earlier."
"And you've read Hansel and Gretel." No response to that. Not that Daniel was expecting one.
"Well, regardless of how useful it was," Daniel smiles, plopping the package into Rorschach's arms, "it's gone."
Daniel's right. Rorschach stares at the pocket and, even through the plastic, he can see the neatness of the stitches. An excellent job had also been done in selecting the thread: it was obvious Daniel hadn't had the correct blue, so he had deliberately chosen one two shades darker. Now there was a flare of personality, with the stitches continuing all along the pockets' edge, far past the actual hole. It gave the allusion that this was a stylish detail, not a repair. Something Rorschach had never had in his wardrobe before. He was so lost in this anomaly that it took him a moment to realize that his partner was speaking.
"-machine. Wool is a pain in the ass. Seriously though, I hope you don't mind that I fixed the holes. And to be fair, you will need to look your best if this is for an interview-"
"... Don't mind, Daniel. I ... didn't know you could sew."
"Oh yeah. Sort of a necessity in our line of work, you know? The costumes and all. Hollis made sure I knew the basics before I moved on to the more practical stuff." He taps one set of knuckles against the plate of his chest. "Did you make your suit?"
Walter had, in the dead of winter, crouched in the cold of his apartment. His face was all he'd cared about so he'd stolen whatever bolt of cloth was least likely to be missed at work. Style was irrelevant. It was only when dawn broke and he had enough light to see by that Walter got a look at Rorschach's garb - a fascinating purple pinstripe.
"No," he says.
"I guess a suit would be pretty ambitious. I couldn't manage it. My preference goes towards oil and tools." To demonstrate, Daniel twirls a wrench deftly in his hands, like a weapon. Rorschach is once again struck by the merging of his partner's job and his more commonplace passions. For him, pieces of civilian and vigilante life fit seamlessly together. It was rare.
"You sew at all?"
All the time. It's Walter's job. Handling the clothes of strangers. Cloth, buttons, zippers - they were the only things Walter was capable of fixing.
"No," he says.
"You want to learn?"
The question is so unexpected that for a moment Rorschach's fingers slacken, almost allowing his suit to hit the floor. The next second his reflexes kick in but the sudden hunching of his body – the dip of his head – looks like a nod. Daniel takes it as consent.
"Great! It's a useful skill. I can show you the basics when we get back."
Daniel tugs the cowl over his head and, just like that, he's Nite Owl. All at once he's something not quite human, padding confidently where, before, his gait held a touch of hesitance. For a brief second, the silhouette in Archie's open doorway contrasts sharply with offer to teach him such a feminine craft, yet Rorschach knows that, given a few minutes, Nite Owl will have soft jazz playing from the ship's speakers and later that night, there would be hot chocolate with those ridiculous miniature marshmallows.
Nite Owl is a contradiction. He is unexpected.
"We'd better get going."
Rorschach tries to think of a way to decline the invitation, to tell Daniel that he already knows how to sew without revealing anything about Walter's life. The interview, letting that detail slip, had been bad enough. But getting out, it seems an impossibility. So instead, he gathers up his newly cleaned suit – being careful not to bunch it – and takes his place at Nite Owl's side.
"Ready?" His partner asks.
Later that night, they've returned to the same workbench, the sewing machine humming once more.
"See? Threading can be a liiiiitle tricky. Left, down, up, down…"
"Now just place this here…"
Daniel's pinning was sloppy.
"I know. Seems lame. But it really is a handy skill. And it's uh… cheap too. Making your own stuff? Not nearly as expensive as buying it. Not that you couldn't buy things of course…"
Of course. Other then socks and underwear, Walter hadn't bought a piece of clothing in years.
Rorschach sits, watching as Daniel happily takes him through stitching a scrap piece of fabric. He nods in all the right places, yet wonders why he continues to sit here. There is nothing to be gained from hearing an amateur speak on a craft he's already mastered. But the basement is warm and there's still half a pizza remaining from dinner. There's also something about the way Daniel smiles – a mixture of contentment and pride.
He tells himself that it's best if Daniel know nothing of Walter's existence. Best to play ignorant. But there's a part of him, a part that's growing the longer he stays, that knows this is merely an excuse.
Rorschach doesn't want to think on this, so he doesn't question why he deliberately allows his fingers to slip against the fabric. Daniel winces.
"Yikes! Don't worry, I did that a lot at the start too. Here-" and as he shows him again how to steer his hands.
"Daniel?" he asks, not even bothering to look at the machine.