Title: Time For Good Behavior
Characters: Dr. Long, Rorschach/Walter Kovacs, second Nite Owl/Daniel Dreiberg
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Devastating, I know.
A/N: I've been working on this one for a while now, and by 'a while' I mean friggin' months. This story has been written from roughly three different perspectives, I've done away with sections, brought them back, threw them out, brought them back again, and originally this thing was about half as long. Ever had a plot bunny that seemed great at the time but then you try to write it…? Yeah. This is that story. Someone. Anyone. Take this story and read it. I don't want it anymore. /end rant.
Dr. Long stands behind the protective window that separates him from his patient - one Walter Kovacs. He watches, fascinated, as the inmate repeats a series of actions without pause or deviation: reaching into a pocket that doesn't exist on his prison garb, pulling out something that isn't there, twisting his fingers – folding? Unwrapping? - and popping an imaginary substance into his mouth. He chews, swallowing only saliva, and repeats the movements. Long wonders, somewhat morbidly, what Kovacs is so used to eating that his subconscious continues to consume it even after everything else he owns - food, clothes, freedom - has been stripped away.
"Daniel Dreiberg, sir. At least, I'm pretty sure that's the name he gave."
Long spares a quick glance for the guard beside him. "Dreiberg? Sounds Jewish."
"What's a right-wing extremist like Kovacs want with a Jew?"
"Don't know, sir. But the rules are pretty standard: all inmates are allowed one vi-"
"I know what the rules say, son."
Long shakes his head, pulling hard at his lower lip. There'd always been the chance that something like this would pop up. After all, bureaucracy had never gone hand in hand with delicate, psychiatric research.
"Damn it all."
The guard relaxes his posture somewhat, allowing curiosity to overshadow duty. He peeks at the window before settling in fully next to his superior. Fingers play at the tip of his nightstick, eager for use.
"Isn't this good, sir? I mean, if he wants to chat with a Jew doesn't that show… I don't know, tolerance or something?"
"Hardly. The exact opposite, in fact." Long peers closely at the redhead before them. Kovacs has slipped another two fingers into his imaginary pocket, claiming a fistful of air. "This man is sick, boy. Verysick. It's going to take him decades to recover - if recovery is even possible. That he wants to speak with a Jewish man now when just last week, he was giving graphic accounts of how they're gleefully planning the destruction of our society..." The two share a look, amusement tinted with horror. "You see? This sudden desire, it's..."
The guard shrugs. "What's the worst that could happen?"
The worst? He could break. Cost me my study. My work. God above, anything but that.
And yet Long raises one eyebrow, allowing it to glide steadily up his face. It's a look he'd perfected back in grad school, knowing that one-day, his expression would have to reflect the degrees next to his name. Never show the commoners anything but an educated, knowledgeable mask. The guard squirms.
"A major setback for one, my boy. Kovacs may have little, perhaps no chance of recovery. But as his doctor I'm charged with the responsibility of getting him the care he needs." He pulls in his stomach, puffing out his chest. Just a bit. "The best we have to offer! It's my duty and I for one take that very seriously. Putting him in the same room with a man he claims to hate could only be detrimental - for him and Dreiberg both. Didn't think of that, now did you?" Long smiles thinly. "What this could do to Dreiberg?"
The guard shrugs again, though it's smaller than before. His knuckles skim the wall in choppy sweeps.
"Guess not. Nothing much that can be done though. We can't refuse Kovacs his visitor or hell, I just as soon would. You want my advice?"
"Cover your bases. Make sure to give this Dreiberg guy fair warning. That way, you're not taking the heat if the old mutt in there decides to bite." The guard smiles, all gums and crooked teeth. Long tries to convince himself that there's sanity in that grin.
"Besides, I'd be re-e-e-eal interested in knowing who this guy is." The guard jerks his thumb towards Kovacs. "Sir." He adds.
Long waves him off.
"In all truth, I'm quite interested to know the same thing." He returns his attention to Kovacs. Still reaching and unwrapping, chewing and swallowing.
"Tell me then, son - do you think a guy like that is capable of benefiting from something as mundane as a social call?"
"Sure I don't know, sir, but... everyone needs a pal, right?"
An image of the ginger worms its way into Long's mind. He's chugging a beer next to a large, faceless man. Both of them are lazing on a couch in stained briefs while a TV with static lines ebbs in the background. Kovacs grunts something about hunger and the man retrieves chips from a nearby cupboard. This, the sharing of salt and carbohydrates, is the highlight of their week.
Long snorts, dispelling the image.
"Even the jailbirds," the boy continues, "they've got groups in here and gangs out there. Fellows who follow some sorta code. Even if it's not our law. Something. I mean, everyone's gotta have something."
He can hear Kovacs whispering to him, commenting on befriending the other masks. Back when they were 'soft'. Long hadn't believed him then, no more than he now believes the naivety of the guard.
"Yes," he lies, "Everyone needs someone. But do you think someone like Kovacs is capable of having friends?" Long throws him another glance, edging him towards the correct answer. "'Fellows,' as you say."
The guard hesitates.
"Nothing, sir, it's just... Kovacs didn't make him sound like a friend. Not really."
"No? What then? Is Dreiberg a relation?" He mentally flips through Kovacs's file but finds nothing regarding living relatives. Certainly not one who'd be willing to visit.
"No, sir, not that I'm aware of. Kovacs, he just..."
"He just said he'd seen Dreiberg around. The newsstands, Gunga Diner, places like that. Kinda sounded like he was stalking the guy."
Long stops, pausing in his mental notes. He flips back two chapters.
Yes. Yes, perhaps that makes sense. Given his history, it isn't likely that Kovacs managed a stable, healthy relationship. I'm still surprised he conducted a partnership with the bird fellow. Night Bird? Night Wing? Hmm. Perhaps the boy's right then? Maybe Kovacs did stalk him, and the poor man's got nothing to do with this. But if that's so, what's Kovacs's game? His nature is obsessive, enough that he tends to focus that energy towards the intangible – justice, morals, a sickness that he believes is rooted deep in society. What happens when that focus is channeled towards another human being…?
Long thinks of papers and imagines a prestigious keynote address.
Let's find out.
"Well go on then." He shoos the guard away, suddenly animated. "You heard our patient! Go find this Daniel Dreiberg and tell him that the terror of the underworld wants to have lunch."
As the guard hurries off Long returns his attention to Kovacs. The man stares straight ahead, nothing moving but his hands: pause, reach, unwrap, swallow, repeat. He'd have to add this repetitive motion to his files. Maybe, if Dreiberg had known him, he could possibly shed some light on this behavior…
Unless he's as damaged as Kovacs is, a part of him smirks. Unless he's the shattered lid to Kovacs's cracked, pottery glaze. The boy, he said they met at newsstands and the diner. Could they really have never spoken?
Unlikely, he answers himself. Kovacs is reserved but not shy. And he's thorough. If he was interested in Dreiberg, he'd have approached him. If only for a moment.
So maybe they're pals. Right then, publicity aside, let's think this through: who exactly are you letting in to see your patient?
"Knowing my luck," he mutters to the walls, "another psycho. You're probably crazy as Kovacs, aren't you?"
He shifts subtly from the window. Unwrap, swallow, repeat.
"Dreiberg? Probably as crazy as they come."
"Dr. Long? It really is a pleasure to meet you."
This was not what he expected.
Long peers at the man before him, the one who is frighteningly normal. With a hesitance born of working with the city's greatest criminals, Long eyes such a commonality with suspicion. Appropriate but paunchy clothes hang on Dreiberg's frame, accented by his thick, unfashionable spectacles. Untidy hair, a bit overweight... he is the poster child for nearly half the men in this city.
Despite this though, there is… something, about his look. Some kind of confidence, if you will. Long doesn't detect the savage, desperate aura of those who realize early on that their lives are meaningless. Rather, this is the man who, having never learned your name, still smiles politely when you make eye contact on the street. The kind of sweet, dorky boy who'd make a perfect husband yet was probably rejected by most girls he met. Dreiberg's laugh lines are deep. His handshake is as warm and sturdy as the rest of him. He's normal, except for the fact that he lives here and might actually be happy.
Long jumps in shock as he realizes he's said that last bit aloud. Dreiberg yips a sudden laugh, loudly and with embarrassed release.
"Yep, that's me all right. Mr. Normal! Were you expecting something else?"
"Well no, but, one has to wonder..."
"Oh," understanding dawns in the widening of his eyes. "Because the vigilante – Rorschach, was it? - he said he knows me? That's it, isn't it? You must have thought I was a nutter!" He laughs again, shakily running a hand through his hair. "Jesus! No, no just - god no. Me?" He gestures to his whole body, shaking. "No."
Long nods. "Right. Okay then. Mr. Dreiberg-"
"Dan then. How is it you know Mr. Kovacs?"
"Is that his name?" Dan brushes one finger against his lips, the image of surprised interest. They begin to make their way down the corridor and Long is unsurprised when Dan's feet rebel, nearly tripping him. He grins with an acceptance only the terminally clumsy can obtain.
"-sorry! No, I'm good. No really. Um, what were we– oh. Yeah. Well, I glanced through the papers a while back, but I really only saw his picture. Didn't read anything. I'm not big on the news, there's just too many details. All that fighting and stuff… it makes me a little queasy, you know?"
"Of course, of course, but back to your acquaintance with Kovacs-"
"Acquaintance? I didn't know him, if that's what you mean. Not really. We just met on the street a few times."
"You've spoken then?"
Long absently steers them towards the left where the next block begins. A few of the inmates fill the air with obscenities. "He didn't mention as much."
"Well, he's not exactly Mr. Social. He used to walk around with this sign," Dan moves both hands as if hefting something heavy over his shoulder. "I'd see him patrolling around, always staring and banishing the damn thing. It's kinda creepy. But yeah, we didn't speak a whole lot; did thank me once though."
"Thanked you?" Long tries to picture the redhead smiling politely, murmuring a gentle, 'thank you, Mr. Dreiberg.' The image it too unstable and fades quickly.
"For picking up his sign after he slipped in the rain. Although, come to think of it, it was less of a 'thank you' and more of a 'hrmph!'"
"I see." He doesn't. "And the sign...?"
Dan spreads his arms somewhat dramatically, deepening his voice until it echoes off the prison walls. "THE END IS NIGH," he intones and for just a hair's breath Long can see a presence beneath the flab. But then the words have softened and Dan is blushing scarlet along his neck and ears. "Sorry."
"No, no. I've heard it before. Revelation?"
"The Apocalypse of John. I always thought he was a bit eccentric," Dan eyes the corners where his voice still reverberates. "Rorschach, I mean, not the author. You know, strange, but essentially harmless."
"Looks can be deceiving, son."
They've almost arrived but for a moment Dan straightens, and the transformation Long had glimpsed moments before rears itself again. From the corner of his eye he witnesses twenty pounds and a lifetime's worth of emotional baggage fall away. Dan's skin clears, his joints lock, and now there is something dangerous in the forward motion of his weight. Even his dorky glasses sparkle with a new shine, reflecting the mischievous light that has crept into his eyes. But when Long turns fully to his right, allowing this man to fill his vision, all of that has dropped away. Dan is gazing at the cells above him, his features slack with morbid interest. It is the look of a common, uninspired man who has never ventured far from his front porch. Certainly not the look of someone with a skeleton in his closet, let alone the graveyard Long had been prepared to start digging.
Even so, his next words seem loaded with more meaning than Long can name.
"Oh yes, Dr. Long. Looks can be very deceiving."
Dan stands just inside the door, fingering his coat. His hands scramble against the buttons – pushing them in, pulling them out, twisting them to and fro. An unruly specimen towards the bottom – a predictably brown button with four, even holes – pops from its thread and flies across the floor. The ping! of its landing is the loudest sound in the room.
"… Oops." He pulls in on himself, shrinking against the wall. His knees scrunch, giving him a pigeon-toed look. He is small. "I didn't mean to-"
Dr. Long feels his face inching towards the glass, drawn beyond his control. There is Kovacs, standing and marching towards the wayward accessory. He grasps it from the floor with a far more delicate touch than Long would have ever given him credit for and then-
He's heading towards Dan. Strolling along, easy as you please. The last man who got that close to Kovacs received a broken wrist and the handle of a fork through his eardrum. He'd left whole fingernails on the floor and flecks of blood in the cafeteria's stew.
There's a conflicting pull originating in Long's chest and back. Part of him edges away, aware that he should call a guard. He should have someone stationed inside the room, just in case. To stop something like this, before it starts. That other side of him though – the one taking notes on Kovacs's eye contact and the set of his shoulders – leans closer still. He wants to see what happens. What Kovacs will do. How Dan will react. Naive Dan, who's still just standing there-
All three look towards the new sound, a metallic rustle emanating from Kovacs's feet. It's the chain that encircles his ankles, connecting him to the bolted table. Six feet from where Dan stands, Kovacs is forced to stop.
Oh thank god. Long thinks.
Then – Dammit.
Dan lets out a soft laugh that steadily grows until it fills his chest. He smoothes the damaged jacket, looking for all the world like he's calling on his first date – all red cheeks and dipped stares. With that same solemnity he closes that last bit of space, extending his hand with surprising ease.
"Thanks," he says, and Kovacs hands over the button. Just like that.
Long's head bumps against the glass.
Who is this guy?
The action is completed in mere moments but its implications are endless. Kovacs has just touched another man, naturally and without hesitation. A Jew no less! He's willingly touched what he sees as corruption and Dreiberg in turn has walked away without a broken bone or a demolished sense of safety. Long notes once again the normality of the exchange, as commonplace as the man who received it. It was the standard, acceptable movement of one boring civilian interacting with another, something he'd never have thought Kovacs capable of. The walls, chains, prison garb, it all melts away and Long can imagine this scene playing out on the street below. This Dan guy, he just clasped the hand of the devil.
And you've got no idea, do you?
They both sit, Dan pocketing the button with a smile.
"Thanks, Rorschach. I-" he jerks, glancing quickly towards the glass window where Long stands, unseen. There's a tension hovering in the air as all three of them unknowingly make eye-contact.
"I mean… can I call you Rorschach? Tha-that's the name you use on the street, right? I could call you Kovacs, though, or Walter if you prefer-"
The sound Kovacs makes balances itself between a gasp and a strangled cough. But there's something else there too, buried underneath. Something remarkably like a…
Laugh? Is he laughing? My god! Well, it's something close to it I suppose…
"Rorschach." He growls, lips just barely tilted upwards. "Call me Rorschach, Da-" he too stops, eyes widening. It is the most extreme demonstration of emotion Long has seen in him yet. Strangely, Kovacs also glances towards him – or where he stands – before giving Dan his full attention. "Can I call you Daniel?"
"Can-? What? Oh..."
That unnatural strangle may have been Kovacs's version of a laugh, but Dan isn't nearly as restrained. He throws his head back, roaring at the ceiling. By the time he's done he's bent double over the table and his glasses are fogged from tears.
"Jesus – yes! Yes, you can call me Daniel. Man, here we are – and I never thought-" He shakes his head, smiling at the convict. "Besides," he continues, as if his previous statements had made any sort of sense, "what else would you call me?"
Kovacs pulls a face. "Dan."
"Nooo. No, that – that just doesn't work."
"Great. So, Daniel and Rorschach. I like the sound of it." Dan smiles again, settling comfortably into the steel-backed chair.
They're both insane, Long thinks, and presses closer.
"Well. I uh- spoke to Dr. Long." Another glance his way, this one, at least, justified. "He's the one who said you wanted to see me. He's curious about why. I mean, we both are. Of course. So… yeah. What's up?"
"I wanted to speak with you."
"You gave me a sandwich."
Dan blinks at the non sequitur. His lips pucker, as if he's not sure whether he should be laughing again. "Wha-"
"A reuben. In March of last year, near the drycleaners. Fresh bread, thick meat, not too much dressing. A good sandwich. Even better since I hadn't eaten in two days."
Kovacs stops, peering at Dan. It's the same stare Long had found himself receiving these last few weeks, the one that made him feel like Kovacs had frozen his insides into blocks of malleable ice. He'd then chip away at them, trying to carve out something useful – something good – but in the end Long was always found wanting. At the conclusion of each session Kovacs gave up, shattering the ice instead of attempting to work with it. Long went home jagged, with a cold seeping into his bones that his wife was having a harder and harder time warming.
Dan though, he's alert, barely uncomfortable under the gaze. He looks like a man whose been tortured by heat and is only now encountering a cool breeze. He nods seriously, giving Kovacs both eye contact and an attentive posture.
"Yes," he says, "I remember that day. You uh, looked like you needed a little something. And I had extra cash." Dan shrugs. "Didn't have any sugar on me."
"Wasn't the first time though. Wasn't the last either. You gave me many things, Daniel."
"Ditto man. I mean you'd have done the same-"
With one sharp movement Kovacs rattles his chains, silencing him. His gaze sharpens and Long pulls in a deep breath, nervous at how little space there is between the two men.
"Don't-" Kovacs snaps, but then cuts himself off. "Listen. There was food. Lots of it. Have you ever been hungry, Daniel? It's a terrible feeling. You can do some things to help – a cold glass of water is tricky on an empty stomach – but having only a little is even less desirable than having none. It teases the body. Produces cravings and weakness. Worse, it tortures the mind. Makes it hard to concentrate on other tasks. That food, Daniel – it was ? I couldn't-" his jaw works, searching for a word. "I couldn't work without it."
Dan's hands clench, forming solid, straining fists, and he nods.
"Shelter played a similar role." Kovacs eyes jump to the glass again, a single jerk to his right. Long contemplates the possibility that Kovacs could have spent time in Dan's home – and immediately dismisses it.
But Kovacs is still speaking, skirting around the subject as quickly as he introduced it. Dan's second nod though, seems to have cooled him.
"Gave me an umbrella once too, do you remember?"
"Hell, yeah." Another smile is creeping onto Dan's face. His hands relax a bit, one slapping the table. "It had that ridiculous panda bear on it! Sorry 'bout that by the way. I picked it up at a convention."
Kovacs shrugs. "Serviceable. That's what matters. I used it to knock out a man trafficking exotic wildlife. Never guess what he was shipping that day-"
"Oh you are notserious-"
"You are not! You're bluffing."
"Seriously? What could they possibly want with pand– no wait. You know what? I don't want to know. Wow. That's just… yeah." Dan rubs at his eyes, pulling disgusted faces. "Eww! But still. I'm glad that ugly thing came in handy for something. Heeeey. That reminds me. You remember that time, back near Third? We found those girls with the chinchilla coat-"
"Daniel. Not done."
The words are soft but laced with enough resonance to fill the room. The good humor suddenly drops and Long tears his gaze from a grinning Dan to see Kovacs with his head dipped low. He is staring at his hands, doing that movement again and again. Unwrapping a million little somethings atop the prison's table. The action, so impulsive, gives his entire frame a nervous look to it.
But that's ridiculous. This is Kovacs. What has he got to be nervous about? Long clenches his teeth. No one at the conference is going to believe me when I tell them about this. He's like a new case study all together. Complicated reversal doesn't even begin to cover it.
During his musings Dan has leaned forward, reaching his hands out. Long's watches, shocked, but when he's about an inch away he stops. At the last moment Dan pulls back, whether because he recalls the warning about not touching the criminals or because of Kovacs's flinch, Long isn't sure.
"You gave me a lot of things, Daniel. All of them important."
"Food, shelter. You're wealthy. Cannot possibly understand-"
"Watched my back – essential-"
"I know!Rorschach, God! Would you shut up a minute?"
Kovacs slams both hands on the table, catching the metal with his nails. For a moment it looks as if he will scream with frustration, tearing whatever is sticking in his throat out by its heels. Mimicking his patient, Long also grips the window ledge before him. He watches as Kovacs's lips pull back and – there - he really is going to scream-
Dan's hand shoots out but he stops once again. Instead of touching, he snaps his fingers under Kovacs's nose. Once. Twice. Three times.
"Are you listening to me?" Dan barks. His tone makes Long, safe in the next room, jump.
"Well? Because most of the time you damn well don't! You need a reminder? How about Barney's setup in July? Or the warehouse three blocks from the cemetery? You remember those? You should! You've got stitches in your back and shoulders because you didn't listen to me." Dan shakes his finger. The action should be amusing – mother vs. errant child – but its nothing but intimidation. He wields it with authority and Kovacs warily eyes the barrage.
"You know what?" Dan growls, "Most of the time, I really don't give a damn. Whatever. I'm happy to let you do your own thing, patching it up when everything go south. It's what I'm good at. So screw it! But right now, Rorschach, you're up shit's creek and I'm telling if, if only this once: to listen to me."
Dan pauses, sucking in a deep breath. Kovacs has maintained eye contact throughout the rant but his gaze is now rounder. The whites of his eyes are prominent in his freckled face.
"Good." Dan relaxes. His head dips and the tinniest of smiles starts peeping back again, like it missed being there. "Right. Here we go. I get it, see? I've always gotten it. You don't have to-" he waves his arms in a complicated motion, gesturing everywhere, "you don't have to do this. Okay? Just- hell," his arms pull back in, reaching for his hair. "Don't say anything! Come on. That's never worked! Just… Remember when you got in front of me? That said something. Letting me patch you? That says something too. And the couch. And, yes dammit, stealing all that food… So yeah. I don't need you telling me, man, all right? I know."
Dan shrugs, and as his words fade they seem to take his frustrated energy with him. Long watches as he sags, his cheeks taking on the reddish hue he'd come to expect. Dan gazes at Kovacs with his shoulders pressed back against the chair, still tense enough that Long can read his expectations: a violent lunge any moment. An inmate, with his hands around a candid man's throat.
But Kovacs takes one breath… and then another. He looks anywhere but at his visitor. By inches, his face runs back into its normal, impassive form.
Then, inching towards a non-existent pocket, his hand wades like it moves through molasses. It dips, taking out something that's not there. He twists his fingers, opens his mouth, and pops air inside. Dan gazes on, something knowing lighting up his eyes. His shoulders release from the chair's back and he sighs.
He also smiles. Kovacs gives a remarkably softened glare in return.
What the hell just happened?
"You know," Dan grins, for no reason that Long can understand. "I've got a friend who does that. He's a Sweet Chariot guy."
Like the sugar?
"Ha! Good taste. Yeah. Sure, why not."
"And this friend…" Kovacs pauses, unwrapping what Long is now picturing as a bright, sparkling cube. "He's a good friend?"
"Yes." There's no hesitation in the word.
Kovacs's shoulders inch downwards until they level with his neck instead of his ears. It isn't much – to Long, he still looks like he expects a bat to come swinging his way any moment – but it's the most relaxed, unguarded position he's adopted yet. Sensing this, Dan dips his hand into his own pocket and emerges with a fist. Smartly, for he is indeed approaching something feral, he slowly snakes his hand towards Kovacs's and this time he doesn't stop. The three appendages intertwine before Dan's comes away, empty and open. Kovacs's stubbier hands are now curled, hiding something small enough to fit in the palm of a man who accepts no gifts.
I should go in there. What does he have? I should go in and see. Take it away from him-
But he doesn't. Long watches the men watch one another, their thoughts wandering lazily across their features. He sees surprise that might actually be shock. A dollop of satisfaction follows until it's replaced by more resignation then any one man should swallow. There might be something like pleasure skirting the edges of his eyes but it's muddled. Twined with too many other emotions. It's dulled, and Long gets it all in a wash until he can no longer tell who's thinking what. He steps back from the window, acknowledging that pressing himself closer won't unravel the mystery before him.
-forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but please, deliver us-
With a start he realizes that Dan is standing, pushing his chair back and flicking his eyes towards the door. The three movements are sharp, implying determination and purpose that goes beyond a mere exit. Kovacs stands as well but makes no move to offer a formal goodbye. There are no handshakes, not even a nod of the head. No eye contact is made. Instead, Dan turns with the sluggish motion of a man who has finally disposed of a great weight, only to find that he's inadvertently taken up another. He leaves the room quickly, but eyes his surroundings like he means to return.
"It really was wonderful to meet you," Dan says, but his smile is blunted. Long realizes with a start that he's now looking up at Dan, shrinking before the guy who has unaccountably gained three inches.
"You'll let me know if he asks for me again, right?"
Prisoners aren't allowed a second visit but this isn't a question. Long nods.
Dan twists his neck towards the image of Kovacs, seated quietly at the table. He is starring at his clenched fists.
"I'll be seeing you."
Dan strolls away, confident and firm in his gait.
Long doesn't notice his visitor's exit. He misses how his stride has lengthened and how he now watches everything with a quick, bird-like attention. This is because a movement has caught Long's eye. There, deep in his room, Kovacs opens his fists to reveal a small square of sugar, wrapped in Sweet Chariot green. He looks up. He finds Long's gaze even though it's impossible for him to see through the glass.
Handle. Twist and unwrap. Kovacs chews his sugar with the air of a man who has won.