|1. acceptance||2. breakfast||3. defenestration||4. fantasies||5. mistakes|
|6. sight||7. smell||8. taste||9. sound||10. touch|
|11. over easy||12. scrambled||13. poached||14. runny||15. toad-in-a-hole|
|16. Laurie||17. Adrian||18. Jon||19. Eddie||20. Hollis|
|21. mirror||22. cover||23. white||24. revolve||25. to run|
|26. to climb||27. to fall||28. immersion||29. back on earth||30. archivist|
|31. Blades don't
|32. No place is
safe, only safer
|33. They feel
no fear, why
|34. Four things to
keep: moving, low,
quiet, and alert.
|35. "Ow, stop it!"|
|36. radiator||37. denim||38. howling||39. annoying||40. rats|
|41. pinion||42. barter||43. ticket||44. slippery||45. circle|
|46. friends||47. enemies||48. lovers||49. strangers||50. teammates|
|51. feathery||52. incinerated||53. queasy||54. back-handed||55. sting|
|56. milky||57. forgotten||58. mural||59. 30th floor||60. overpass|
|61. suburban||62. crowds||63. dead end||64. rain||65. moon|
"This is okay?"
Daniel's nosing at the nape of his neck, palms smoothing over his chest. It burns. He feels a shock of panic; an answering shock of lust, hard and blunt like a railroad spike buried in his gut. "I always thought..."
Words mouthed against his throat, slipping over diseased skin. "I thought you–"
Rorschach cuts him off, hissing for silence, arching against the cage of arms and sensation swelling from somewhere dangerous–
It's not okay. But for this acceptance, for these hands running over him like there's nothing they'd rather touch, he can pretend that it is.
“What the hell did you – nevermind. I don't think I want to know." Dan closes his eyes, presses fingers over them. Keeps walking.
His waffle iron sits on the stove, desecrated, fuming greasy black smoke. Fat pink globs of raw ground beef decorate the counters, the floor. The ceiling. There's a sickening stench – meat and maple syrup, in unnatural union.
"Missed waffles," Rorschach mutters by way of explanation, dejected, pushing the horror around his plate with obvious distaste.
Dan doesn't hear him; is already in the next room, trying to forget so that he doesn’t explode.
Meat waffles. Fucking hell.
It feels like poetic justice – he's only ever purposefully taken one life and it was just like this – then he's in freefall and the thug watching through the window disappears, is replaced with–
He doesn't know how much time he has, here – doesn't know if he'll survive this, suspects he won't. Daniel won't take it well. Won't be–
Then an arm is around his middle, cutting like steel cord, stopping the thought dead. A shout of pain as the grappling line goes taut. Time swings out; karma hangs suspended in the air, and every possible future is there.
4. fantasies (reused, sorry, I just like it too much)
There are things he doesn't ask for.
Risk is an addictive creature, all slithering opiate shivers and blood in his ears, liquid lightning in his veins. But it's called risk for a reason, and no matter how tempting it gets on these nights, he knows how it would break Rorschach to feel even a single drop of blood, burning with iron and loss, under his tongue.
But there are still teeth at his throat, teasing the skin between huffs of cold breath – and Dan can almost feel, in these dark moments of wantneeddesire, the moment when they (never) bite down.
It falls apart so quickly.
It’s happened before: a hidden gun, an unexpected knife. One of them gets hit, the other takes the attacker out, there’s a shuffling moment of ‘are you hurt?’ and patrol ends with the smell of antiseptic and a patient, looping needle.
This is different. Rorschach wants to scream, to howl in a way no human animal ever has, because the blood isn’t slowing and Daniel stopped responding to his voice three minutes ago, and it’s his fault. The cold slowed him down. Made him sloppy. Made him–
Daniel’s blood is warm on his hands.
It doesn’t work well on patrol – the mask blocks too much – and mirrors don’t catch it, that glint of ephemeral moonshine.
There’s a blackout the first time it’s obvious, and Daniel’s just rammed his knee into a piece of furniture, is swearing and grousing and hobbling towards the kitchen. The basement stairs creak.
Rorschach’s left standing in the living room, brows pinched, mask pushed up to his forehead. He sees the offending chair clearly, and doesn’t understand Daniel’s difficulty. Outside, a stray cat pushes its face against the window, and its eyes catch the starlight and shine like hollow moons.
The doorbell rings. It's obnoxiously early.
Dan stumbles out of bed, runs a hand through mussed hair, gropes for his glasses. Bathrobe – good enough. Finds his way downstairs to where a courier is waiting.
The boy sniffs the air. Smirks. "Been enjoyin' a cold one there, Mr. Dreiberg?"
"Uh." Dan signs for the package, blearily uncomprehending – and it doesn't even hit him until he's returned to the icy cave of his blankets–
(a cold one)
Oh. Oh god, could he–
He lifts his hand to his face, inhales, and there it is: copper and leaf-rot, clinging to him like musk.
He can still taste sugar, and he isn’t sure why.
The meat makes sense. There are things he can taste in it now that surprise him, subtleties he doubts anyone else picks up. Age, injury, illness.
Daniel, who is also meat, makes sense – tasted through sweat and adrenaline, tongue roughing over his pulse. Nothing like the flavor of food, not even close, and he tells himself it’s because this is raw and uncorrupted life, muscle and skin and blood that move and jump under his mouth. Really, it’s because it’s Daniel.
The sugar, though – that makes no sense at all.
Daniel’s kind, he reminds himself. A good man. Good people exist. Daniel asks these things because he’s good.
The girl had screamed and screamed, and she was already terrified when they’d appeared in the doorway. The man jerking her along by the hand threw her to the floor so hard Rorschach was sure she’d split her skull.
Even after the man was tied and gone, she’d screamed; huddled into Daniel’s arms, burrowing away from the hollow black shadows of his face. He’d lifted his mask. She’d screamed harder.
"...fine," he says, cradling the headache in one shaking hand.
"Shit," Nite Owl keeps saying, "Shit, shit."
World feels hazy, disconnected, like it's knocked loose in its fittings. "Dnnl," he slurs, then remembers himself, and tries to force out 'nite owl' instead. It fights him.
A hand at the back of his head, feeling through his mask. Something hurts. There'll be no bleeding. "Well, you know me," Daniel says. "That's good. What about you?"
"Who are you?"
This should be easy. It isn't; it feels like a question with multiple answers
(Rorschach, Kovacs, Walter. Hero, vigilante, monster. Creature.)
and only one is right.
The container's lid creaks open, slowly and theatrically, and Dan can almost imagine someone inside, squinting as the overhead lamp pretends at daylight—
No. Whoever is inside isn't seeing anything. The crowbar hits the planks, a dull thud.
"Jesus," Dan breathes.
A furious noise; Rorschach reaches past the splintered wood to move aside layers of cheesecloth. It's exactly what it looked like—human pieces, all a too-familiar dull grey—and Dan has to cover his mouth to keep from vomitting.
The moment passes, and then he is Nite Owl again, because there is a world of vengeance to be had.
Rorschach doesn't get sick, anymore.
They've figured this out, because quarters are often impossibly close – like now, twisted together under Daniel's sheets – and Daniel has sometimes been ill with one seasonal bug or another, also like now. Rorschach never picks up so much as a sniffle.
It doesn't stop him from suffering, though. His undershirt is wet through this morning, Daniel's face buried in his stomach, snorfling.
"Disgusting," Rorschach grumbles.
Daniel snorts, a sucking inhalation against congestion. "Sorry."
"Will have to do laundry, now."
"Travesty," Daniel agrees, and slides down to drag his runny nose over Rorschach's boxers too, grinning.
Adrian prides himself on being observant, but somehow he’d missed this.
They've always leaned together to exchange words, private asides, shared observations. A hand up from the table when none is needed; fingers resting on a shoulder. It's never been enough to make assumptions.
Then Rorschach is unwrapping a sugarcube, mask up, and Nite Owl says something that hits him off guard, elicits an embarrassingly public half-smile.
Adrian catches a glimpse of crooked teeth, sees the shadow of a bruise just barely showing under the edge of Nite Owl's cowl, and wonders just how long this has been going on.
It's not that he's afraid. Well, maybe a little, because they're like rabid wolves sometimes, and a man'd have to be stupid to not be a little afraid of that. But they're just another enemy, one he takes as much joy in destroying as any other.
Trouble is, all these people who don't realize he's doing it for their own good, or maybe because he doesn't want to have to deal with them when they do go apeshit – and they always do, eventually. 'Safe carrier', his ass. My son, bystanders scream, my wife.
Gives him a goddamned headache, every time.
He doesn't intend to keep them forever—kids at his age, and three of them!—but time rolls on and they claim his kitchen chairs and couch cushions and heart. Then Child Services refuses to take Jacky (unadoptable, they say) and it'd just be cruel to split them up.
And sure, he knows nothing about kids, and between the Lucky Charms and the sirloin they're gonna eat him out of house and home. The place needs cleaning and childproofing. There are a dozen reasons not to do this.
He still finds no regrets, filling out the guardianship forms by hand.
He dislikes mirrors; avoids them whenever he can, letting his eyes slip off their surfaces as if they were greased. Sometimes, though, the city gets tricky.
He’s wandering, surveilling, and a glint of motion through glass catches his eye; traps him before he realizes that it’s just his own reflection. Gaunt face. Dim, dry skin, stretched where sutures pinch his brow. So close to dead.
Then Daniel’s reflection comes up behind him, their lunch bundled in hand, and he’s flush and smiling and oblivious, and the contrast is as stark as black on white – and just this once, it’s beautiful.
Rorschach talks about heat like it's water, these days—something he feels like he could drown in but somehow never manages to. Something that fills his lungs and heart, drags him down.
Dan almost drowned once himself, as a child. He remembers the way terror turned to calm once the water closed over his head, and he wraps Rorschach against himself some nights, holds him down in all the warmth and water until he stops struggling; soothes him against the instinctual bolt to the surface until the tremors wrack him and leave him and he goes lax and still, calm.
29. back on earth
Like this, Rorschach can mostly ignore the howling in his head. Glass in front, metal all around, and beyond, just air—dispassionate and undesiring except for the occasional greedy gust of northeasterly wind. Suspended in space, cradled in the ship’s cool belly, they weave between chimney plumes and cool stars. But nothing lasts.
“Everything okay?” Daniel asks, bringing the ship down.
Rorschach shrugs; there’s nothing to be done for it. As soon as his feet touch earth, he can feel the city’s restless hunger beat into his body, and he takes a long, slow breath against its blistering red drumbeat.
35. 'ow, stop it!'
"Ow, stop it!"
It's a goodnatured complaint but Dan still regrets it immediately, looking up sharply to make sure Rorschach doesn't take it badly.
Rorschach raises an eyebrow from across the bare expanse of Dan's body. His mouth is half open over the curve of Dan's hipbone, one canine comically visible, and he tries them all against the skin again in response, gnawing idly. Dan squirms.
"Sure that's what you want?" Rorschach asks finally. He drags his teeth down Dan's thigh, scrapes them just inside.
"No," Dan laughs, a little shivery. "Never been less sure of anything in my life."
Stakeouts are always taxing on their endurance and spirit. Winter stakeouts are the hardest.
Across the street, a broken window gives a view of a tenuous, high-volume drug deal, and they've been sitting here for three hours, unmoving. Dan's starting to feel like a popsicle.
Rorschach, oddly, seems perfectly comfortable on his perch near the window, and when the gang finally moves and they can too, Dan sees why. It's not another crate. Rorschach's been planted on the bony spine of a radiator, steam chugging away.
"Heat hog," Dan says, shivering, and Rorschach snorts—but still moves over, makes room.
In the weeks since the outbreak, Rorschach has felt himself grow quiet. His thoughts are long and careful now, controlled, lest they trip him headlong out of himself, a 12-story plunge into madness and blood. It's precarious.
He stands by the livingroom window, one hand on the frame; hears Daniel come up behind him. Hears the cautiously drawn breath, reluctant to break his silence.
"It's alright," he says before Daniel can form the apology, meeting dark eyes with pale livid ones, answering some question that echoes in them. It's alright.
Outside, the monsters howl, and the city howls with them.
They're watching the news, a man-on-the-street op-ed between real stories. A woman Rorschach recognizes as an old neighbor is onscreen, microphone in her face, being asked if the presence of the metabolism-impaired affects her housing choices.
"Forget zombies," she says, "What I'm worried about is rats! My last place was crawlin' with 'em! Anyway, zombies only bite sometimes."
Rorschach snorts a laugh. Daniel grins like he gets the joke, probably hoping it's dirty.
"What's funny?" he asks.
"Just true, is all." Rorschach shifts on the sofa, lets out a theatrical shudder. "Rats the size of housecats. Terrifying."
He finds it in the gutter, dirty grey and with blood up its stem like some grotesque quill pen. He's no expert but it's too large for a pigeon, wide for a gull, and that it might be an owl's seems like a bad omen.
He takes it to Daniel, naturally.
"It's not an owl's," Daniel says. "There's no fluting. That's how they—"
Fine, but the blood is still worrisome; smells like rot in a way that’s too familiar. Daniel nods, tugs idly at the spines until they separate, like a mouth snapping open—ridged with countless tiny teeth.
The underground has always had its own strange currencies. That hasn't changed now that most of them are metabolically challenged—only what they want has.
Chemical handwarmers do well, down here. Jerky, canned spam. The little propane heater Daniel gave him to trade is, apparently, worth its weight in gold or secrets.
It slips between the bars of the drainage grate, the girl on the other side receiving it like this is Christmas morning, face lit, eyes disbelieving. Even if she had nothing to trade—she does, information that could save lives—Rorschach thinks he would let her have it.
When Dawn of the Dead releases in '78, the opening's predictably bogged down with picketers and protesters—mostly college students, mostly a solid 98.6—upset at its 'staggering tastelessness'.
And Dan's never been one to cross a picket line, but they've had a hell of a week, full of double dealers and drug dealers and dealers of all manner of bullshit, and he's cross. He still politely elbows them aside; he doubts Rorschach's being half as careful, doesn't look back to check.
"Two," he says, pulling Rorschach up alongside; the harried ticketseller hands them over, and they disappear gratefully inside.
There's a circle of salt on the ground.
Rorschach crouches, drags his fingers through it, tastes it to be sure. It conjures half-memories of old voodoo stories about zombies. Salt was supposed to set them free, be their salvation, but the dead boy sleeping here seems anything but free.
"Need to ask you some questions," he says, gentle as he's capable of, "about what you saw."
The boy stirs—eyes go wide for a moment in fear, but then it's like he can feel the cold coming off of Rorschach in waves, understands: we are the same, nothing to fear.
The first time—the last time, because he won’t fall for it again—Dan wakes up to find Rorschach standing motionless over the bed. He’s looking down like he doesn’t know who Dan is, and when he hears a low, hungry growl and Rorschach shambles forward a step, it’s all Dan can do to not shrink against the headboard.
He freezes, digging for nonlethal defenses, and then the red-eyed shadow lunges—
Only to drop bonelessly onto the bed, and the harsh wheezing noise coming from pillow is, in fact, laughter.
“You asshole,” Dan says, breath coming back, heart still jackhammering.
Rorschach makes fun of the bizarre specificity of Daniel's costumes sometimes, but no-one can deny how well they're made. His feathery arctic suit, for instance. Not real feathers, but not just fluff either. Fleece formed into feathers, imitating their insulative qualities. Genius.
Rorschach snuggles further down into the depths of the fluff, holding it closed around his face. At his back, bare hot skin and muscle, a furnace. The mockfeathers tickle at his nose, but he is too drunk on the warmth to care.
Arms settle around him; lips touch his thoat. He sinks into Daniel's feathers and is gone.
He pulls the truth out of Daniel, months later: his pinstripes are gone, burned. Unsalvageable and a biohazard, it'd been the smart thing to do.
Rorschach has seen many people destroyed, though—by fire or otherwise—for the same reasons. Damaged. Dangerous. He almost lost himself to another fire entirely, but that was his own doing, and Daniel's kindness that saved him.
No, he thinks, watching the sunset lick over both their bodies, running them together and dancing like flame. More than kindness. A willingness to reach into the furnace after something precious, and Daniel will always bear those burns.
The patrol injuries are so much of nothing, now. He can feel them just enough to know he's taken damage, and Daniel's careful stitching is just a burning tug, all the sharp edges of pain numbed away.
(This time it wasn't even a knife or a gun; just Rorschach being careless on a fire escape, and the exposed metal edges had split his wrist clean open.)
No, it doesn't hurt, but it's these moments, when Daniel looks at him with frustrated uncertainty—what's the point of putting him back together if he'll just keep breaking himself again—that really sting.
It's graffiti they find in the underground tunnel, but also art. Teeth and smiling reptilian jaws, gnashing, smiling and bloody, twisted up together and slipping through the grips of disembodied fingers. Hands reach up, break the surface of the water, only a fraction of their chilled anguish showing.
Blotted handprints in the paint, too, but when Daniel touches it, the colors don't smear. Dried, inert. Just a painting.
Rorschach still reaches out, bare white hand pressing to the image--feels the cold in him do something to the paint. Pulls it away in surprise, smeared blue and black with solidarity.
Nite Owl hangs back as instructed, tracing a nervous path along the end of the underpass. Let him handle it, they'll talk to him, they're his people, he catches himself thinking – and there's more wrong with that statement than he can deal with right now.
Against the curve of the far wall, Rorschach is talking in hushed tones with the skittish pair of carriers huddled over a burning oildrum. People are disappearing from the underground, and they're investigating.
"Docks," Rorschach says simply when he returns, and the fire lights the underside of the bridge, paints it like an inferno. "Tonight."
It's an irony: in the crowded streets, he feels the most isolated.
By himself, or only under Daniel's eyes (slow and dark against the dawn, tracing his lines and secrets and finding nothing wanting) he can believe that he still belongs to the city, its people. Touched only by hands that don't flinch, he is something touchable.
In the churning crowd, flowing to and from its living distractions, brushed aside and ignored in a sea of faces more rich with life than he will ever be again, shuffled carelessly from one empty space to another—that's when he is alone.
The night's getting on into purple and dark, brilliantly ugly where it's cut by the toothy line of buildings. Electricity's still patchy in the worst neighborhoods, but the moon hangs low and full and fat, makes up for the lack of streetlight.
"No idea where he went," Daniel says, bracing his weight on his knees, turning a Cheshire crescent up at him. Daniel's not out of breath yet, not weary; the expression casts his face in mischievy.
"Should keep after him," Rorschach says, breath even, easy.
The light glints in Daniel's goggles, paints him a silver-moon hunter, and they move.