It was a calm June evening, the start of summer making the New York atmosphere less cold and making its citizens welcome the warmth with open arms as they made their way down the streets, chatting, eating, hailing taxis, taking in the change of season. Many New Yorkers go out of town for the summer, begging their bosses for time off to enjoy quality time with their loved ones in neighboring cities or states, taking a break from the hustle and bustle of stress and work as a whole; for some, however, work never stops because, change of season or not, there is always work to be done.
The last words mentioned repeat themselves in the head of a young man sitting on the roof of an apartment building, dressed as an owl, arms folded over his chest, lips pouted in a manner that made him resemble a child that was just scolded or put in their place. Though he won't admit it, that's exactly what just happened to Daniel Dreiberg , also known as Nite Owl II, during a disagreement with the shadowy figure standing a few feet away from where he sat on a crate. Daniel's companion was slight in height but athletically built, though it could not be seen well beneath his thick, brown overcoat, had his back turned away from him as he surveyed the movement of the millions of people beneath their makeshift watchtower. His fedora covered head barely moved as he looked down, arms behind his back, purple gloved hands folded together, leather creaking slightly when he squeezed his hands every now and then to prevent them from falling asleep due to lack of movement.
Daniel shifted in his seat, folding his legs, unfolding them, perching one over the other and so on. Letting out a sigh, he mumbles more to himself but loud enough for his companion to hear, "It's just not fair. Nothing's even happening tonight, man." The other man's body stiffens slightly and he squeezes his hands again, the creak of leather-on-leather echoing on the rooftop, then he relaxes as he finally breaks his gaze from the city streets to meet those of the pouting youth. Daniel looked up, chest tightening then relaxing moments later, meeting not eyes staring back at him but a mask of moving black ink on a white canvas. Can't tell if he's mad at me or not, Dan thinks to himself, then sighs again and says "Rorschach, I'm sorry. I…..just…come on! First day of summer, everybody going anywhere, I don't see why we still have to be out and about!" Lifting his hand he counts of names, "Laurie is going to California to see Sally then they're heading off to San Diego, Jon is travelling, Adrian is heading to the Alps on a ski trip, hell, even the Comedian is out of town and yet here we are."
The man known as Rorschach unclenched his hands and rested them on his sides as he moved toward the disgruntled owl and kneeled beside him. Silent for a few moments, he said, "You still have to understand, Nite Owl, regardless of what the other do, we have to do our job." When a huff of frustration was heard beside him, Rorschach cocked his head towards his young companion and muttered, "If we don't watch over the city, who will?" Daniel sighed and muttered, "No one."
"So who will protect those in danger?"
"No one, Rorschach."
"Thus, who would-"
"Alright, I get it!" laughed Daniel, despite of himself. He looked at his crime-fighting partner with admiration, a smile bright as the streetlights appearing on his lips as he muttered, "I wish I was as dedicated as you." Rorschach started slightly from where he kneeled, black inkblots forming over his cheekbones so rapidly that Daniel thought humorously if the mask responded to heat and that he managed to make the renowned terror of the underworld blush.
Standing and returning to his post near the buildings edge, Rorschach merely replied, "In time, after you've seen as much as I have and more, you will see why this matter is so important."
Chuckling again, Daniel teasingly asked, "Oh yeah, Mr. Big Shot? How long have you been in the business before you found me?"
Hesitating, Rorschach shrugged as he mumbled, "A year."
Groaning so loud that pigeons perched a yard away took to the sky in fear, Daniel rolled off the crate and lied flat on his back, staring up at the starless city sky, muttering, "If I have to sit on this goddamn roof for a year, I think I'll snap."
"Hurm. Have a point there, Nite Owl."
Folding his arms over his eyes, Daniel flatly muttered, "'Bout time you agree with me tonight."
Rorschach replied, "I wasn't done with my statement. You have a point, yes, staying at a single post will be….maddening," turning and walking to stand beside his now downed partner, he finished his statement saying, "Which is why in our line of work we go through several, sometimes more than one in a single night."
Daniel removed his arms to stare up into the almost mocking blots staring back at him, mouth set in a grim frown before asking, "You get a kick out of ruffling my feathers, don't you?"
Taking off his coat and resting it on the crate, Rorschach shrugged his suit clad shoulders and said, "You are an owl so I see no harm in doing so."
His expression softened and a frown turned into a grin as Daniel said, "I never get tired of your jokes, man."
"Never joke, Nite Owl. It doesn't go with my reputation."
"Well, then I guess I never get tired of anything you say. You're just the kind of guy with a voice and wit that keeps me on my toes."
"Must be a lie because you are lying down."
Another laugh burst from Daniel as he pushed himself to his feet, cape almost making him trip in the process, and he stood before his shorter but bolder companion who acknowledges his change in position with a "Ennk," before returning to the roofs edge. Shaking his head, Daniel follows.
The city was so alive beneath their post. Daniel had his arms folded over the edge, chin resting on his arms as he gazes down and around his surroundings, taking in the nightlife. I should be down there, he thought, I'm still young so I got living to do before I start getting gray hair. Don't wanna be working all night like him. He glanced at his partner, standing perfectly straight with his shoulders relaxed, hand in his pockets, scarf unraveled, exposing a pale neck. I wonder how old he is.
"Hey, uhh, Rorschach?"
"Yes, Nite Owl?"
"How old are you?"
"Just curious I guess."
"Curiosity killed the cat."
"But I'm an owl, remember?"
Daniel smiled and said, hoping to stay on his partner's good side, "I'll tell you my age too if it makes you feel better."
Sighing, Rorschach regarded the idea before nodding.
Grinning like an eager schoolboy, Daniel stretched for a moment before saying, "Well, Rorschach, I turn 21 this November. Now it's your turn."
Rorschach was silent a moment, his attention immediately drawn to the young man before him, relishing the idea that Nite Owl, his partner, standing with him on this summer evening is only 21. He knew he was young but he didn't realize how young. Something about that caused Rorschach's chest to tighten. He barely noticed the look of concern Nite Owl had on his face until a hand met his shoulder and a voice asking if he was alright shook him back to normal; rather, whatever was normal for a man like Rorschach.
Repeating his question, Daniel smiled when his masked companion mumbled, "Turned 26 in March." Feeling bold, Daniel said, "Well how 'bout that! We met in March, didn't we, Rorschach?" His partner nodded as he finished by stating with a smirk, "I wonder if I made a good birthday present that year."
Black blots pooled over Rorschach's face (to which Daniel grinned, remembering his thought earlier this evening) and he simply said, "Have never thought poorly of you, Nite Owl."
Placing a hand on his partner's shoulder, Daniel smiled and said, "From you, that means a lot. I never thought poorly of you either, partner." Rorschach nodded then returned to looking out over his city, an unfamiliar warmth in his chest he never felt before.
The night dwelled on into early morning, the crowd thinning out every passing hour but enough movement present to give the city its usual rhythm. Daniel yawned widely, lifting his goggles for a moment to rub them. This has to be the slowest night ever, Daniel thought, even Rorschach yawned, of all things. Why can't we go home and call it a night?
Yawning again, Daniel turned towards the equally tired man beside him and asked for the time. Rorschach rolled up his sleeve and glanced down at his watch for a moment or two before groggily mumbling, "3:15".
"Christ, I don't know how much more I can take!" Daniel exclaimed out of frustration and exhaustion. Sitting back on the crate and draping Rorschach's coat over his lap he continued, "I haven't seen anyone all night. No Big Figure, no Underboss, no Moloch, nothing! This has been the least fun night I've ever had, which really is saying something. I went to Harvard, ya know."
"Fun?" The word sounded odd in Rorschach's monotone but the man really did regard his ruffled partner's statement. He did feel an ounce of pity for his young partner and wanted to cheer him up somehow. How do you cheer up someone, Rorschach thought. Never had anyone stay around me this long. The revelation caused him to bow his head in shame but for Nite Owl's sake, Rorschach breathed deeply, approach the young man who had his goggles pushed up on his forehead, revealing tired, sad brown eyes. The sight made something in Rorschach shiver, he had never seen so much of Nite Owl before, but he strode over to the brown eyed boy and shyly asked, "What do you consider fun?"
Daniel was taken aback from such a question. Did he seriously ask me that? He sighed and said, "Well, besides not being on a roof at 3 in the morning, I like to read, write, listen to music, uhh, build things, and uhh, I do enjoy playing a game every now and then." Chuckling he added, "The child in me still lingers despite starting getting into adulthood."
Shifting uneasily from one foot to another, a nervous tick he's had since childhood, Rorschach mumbled, "We could do that."
Daniel tilted his head towards him and asked, "Do what?"
"….Play a game."
His eyes widened so much that Daniel wondered if he looked like a real owl for a moment. Shaking that thought out of his head, he focused on what the masked man before him just proposed to do to take him out of his obvious slump. "You'd really do that? For me?"
Rolling his shoulders, Rorschach replied, as shyly as before, "After a night like this, I could do something to pay you back for lost time you could have spent elsewhere, in better company."
A pang of guilt hit Daniel like a bucket of icy water as he quickly stood up and said, "Now don't go saying something like that. Yes, this night was dull but it wasn't because you, man, just being cooped up here. I guess I'm just used to moving around, ya know. Running down alleys, climbing fire escapes, the whole cliché that comes with dressing up like this. The only good thing about tonight is, well, I got to hang up here with you."
Rorschach regarded everything Nite Owl just said and thought, Could be lying yet, gazing into the young man's eyes, I see nothing but honesty. He nodded before saying, "Enjoyed being in your company as well, Nite Owl."
Silence spread between the two vigilantes until Daniel cleared his throat and asked, "So, uhh, what should we play?"
"Don't know many games. Let alone on that can be played on a roof."
"Heh, yeah. Let me think a sec."
Smiling at his companion, Daniel rose from his seat and paced across the rooftop as Rorschach watched him patiently. Nothing that requires any objects, of course. Something we can both do easily, too. Just something to pass the time. Daniel turned his eyes back towards the city, the lights; the people; mixing together perfectly yet one could spy anything and everything if they tried hard enough.
Spy, the word hung in Daniel's mind a moment before he smiled from the realization and turned back to Rorschach, who had fished a sugar cube out of his coat pocket and was popping it into his mouth.
"I know what we can play!"
"You *ronch* spy what?"
"Very funny, man. The game is called I spy."
Tilting his head and swallowing the remains of the cube, Rorschach pulled his mask back over his chin before asking how the game is played. Eager to give instructions, Daniel smiled and said, "It's easy, man. Come over here." His partner strode calmly towards him and jumped as Daniel thumped his back playfully with his hand as he explained the rules.
Rorschach nodded at the end of the explanation and Daniel asked if he understood. It was simple: secretly pick an object you see, say a word that describes it and, Daniel only said so because he wanted it to be fair since he never played before, three clues can be given if the guesser has no luck finding the object.
The masked pair stood side by side on the rooftop, scanning all around themselves for the perfect items to say when it was their turn. Daniel, naturally, was eager to begin and asked if he could go first. Rorschach nodded again, confident he'd do well in the game due to his knowledge of the city and observational skills.
"Ok, man. I spy with my little eye something red."
Rorschach looked down into the streets, eyes scanning about for something red.
"Want a clue?"
"No. Thank you."
Another scan to the left and another to the right until,
Daniel smiled and said, "Nice job, buddy now for your turn. Give me all you got"
"Ennk." Rorschach thought for moment before beginning, "I spy with my eye," he refused to say the word, "little", "Something beginning with the letter T"
"We aren't near the park, Nite Owl so no trees."
"Do you want a clue?"
Sighing, Daniel nodded and said, "Lay it on me."
"Very well. It is a place of entertainment."
Daniel thought a moment, looked back down before gasping and blurting out, "Theater!"
"Right. Good guess."
"Told you I was good at this."
"We'll see about that."
"My, oh my, Rorschach, is that arrogance in your voice?"
For the first time ever, Rorschach chuckled, a sound so rare, almost like when the same man murmured the word "fun", made Daniel briefly forget what he was doing and he couldn't help but smile at such a cheerful sound emitting from such a grim character.
The rest of the night flew by the vigilantes that neither noticed the sun rising in the horizon. The game was a success, both masks enjoying themselves equally that it stopped being about who will win but rather who can make who laugh the most. Rorschach succeeded there when asked by Nite Owl to spy something large. When he asked for a clue, Nite Owl replied that it was bloated and, like perfect comic timing, a heavy set woman exited a store across the street causing Rorschach to point and say it was her. That moment will forever be one of Daniel's fondest memories of his masked partner, for he rolled back on the roof's floor and howled so loudly in laughter that several pedestrians below stopped to look up at the building, wondering what would be making such a sound. Rorschach, confused, asked if she wasn't the large, bloated thing he spotted then what was. Daniel lifted his goggles to wipe away the tears of laughter before pointing up to the sky, at the Gunga Diner blimp. Rorschach stared at the blimp for a few moments, the only sounds on roof being his partner trying to catch his breath.
Standing and putting a hand on his shoulder, Daniel said, "Hey man, d-don't worry, ha, about it. I admit that one was tough unless you-", he paused, feeling his partner quaking under his hand, and asking, "Are you ok?"
Another moment of silence and a few more trembles later, Rorschach started to chuckle again and then the chuckle turned into a hoarse laugh that he had to roll his mask up to his nose to breathe properly afterwards.
The pair sat on the roof, their feet dangling over the edge, the sun rising in the east. Stretching, Rorschach felt the warmth of the sun on his arm and rose to retrieve his abandoned coat, stating that it was time to go.
"Wait," Daniel grabbed Rorschach's sleeve, causing him to tilt his head to look at the Nite Owl curiously.
"There's still one more thing I spy and you have to guess what it is."
Still, in a pleasant mood, Rorschach put his hands in his coat pockets and waited for the first clue.
Daniel smiled a moment before saying, "I spy with my little eye, something that starts with the letter F."
Rorschach thought a moment and asked, "Fire escape?"
Daniel shook his head. "Want a clue?"
"Would be helpful."
"I would be sad if I ever lost it."
"Hahaha, nice one but no, that's not it."
"Another clue then, Nite Owl."
"Alrighty", Daniel said with a smile, "It makes me happy."
"It does make you happy, though."
Starting to feel frustrated, Rorschach threw up his arms and said, "I think I give up on this one. Can't think of anything."
Daniel rose from the edge of the building, walked over to the smaller man, placing a hand on his shoulder with a smile before saying, "The item was friend. I was referring to you, Rorschach. Hell, you aren't a friend, you're a great friend but more importantly, you're my best friend."
Rorschach froze in place. Friend. I'm his friend. I have a friend. His mind swam with the thought; his body trembled with emotion he has never felt in all his life. Because I never had friend.
Raising a gloved hand, Rorschach covered the hand grasping his shoulder as he looked up into the brown yes and said, "You are my best friend as well, Nite Owl. A very good friend."
Daniel smiled and pulled the terror of the underworld in a brief, gentle embrace before letting go when he felt the man stiffen and said, "Come on home with me, buddy. I can make us some of those pancakes you like so much for breakfast."
"Blueberries, extra butter, extra syrup?"
"Hehe, only the best for the guy always watching my back."
The two walked down the nearby fire escape, eager to get off the roof, weaving through alleys until they sat in the Owl's Nest, plates stacked with pancakes in their hands.
Whatever danger there was, they will get to it soon. All the pair wanted was the food and coffee in theirstomachs, the air conditioner in the basement, and, more than anything, each other's company. Between bites, their eyes would meet. Daniel would smile and, every so often or if he was quick enough to catch it, Rorschach would smile back.
Who needs to be out of town to enjoy themselves when I have everything I need right here? I can't imagine being anywhere else with anyone else, Daniel thought.
This night wasn't a waste after all.