Date Written: 2010
Summary: Rorschach doesn't understand a lot of things. Established relationship.
Notes: For Kink Bingo(prompt: 'historical roleplay'), posted early just so I don't porn-bomb flists when I'm done. Not being crossposted until then.
It starts with a broken pair of glasses.
That's innocent enough, if annoying. It's been a long time since Dan's stepped on his own glasses in the dark – grade school, he thinks, when he'd still been prone to thrashing nightmares that swept everything not tied down off of any nearby surface. He'd gotten used to the crunch of frames twisting and snapping under clumsy bare feet back then, but he'd always had a backup pair and if his father scowled over the waste of money it was never anything that threatened to put them in the poorhouse.
He stands in the dark, feeling the snapped plastic and dislodged lenses digging into the sole of his foot, and sighs. Tomorrow. Tomorrow he'll dig out the spare pair, and right now he's just going to forget the water and go back to sleep. It's been a bad night, a blood-in-the-gutters kind of night where he comes home just glad for his sanity; the kind of night where Walter's willingness to follow him upstairs, leave his shoes and hat and coat in the landing and slip into Dan's bed with him without prompting, fills him with a hot swell of more gratitude than he can account for.
Dan kicks the busted frames aside and ducks back under the covers. They don't curl around each other in the dark – that would be more weakness than Walter could stand – but being able to roll onto his side and watch his partner stare closed-eyed at the ceiling, roving sleep-blinded vision caught up in some dream that Dan's fumbling in the dark hadn't pulled him out of, well... if it's not quite enough, it'll have to be.
He's hunched over his workdesk when Rorschach returns from wherever he spends his days, and he's caught some real sleep somewhere, Dan can read in the sound of his step without even looking up. He's never in bed when Dan wakes up, has to work during the day and sees all rest as an indulgence to be enjoyed only in small quantities, but he sometimes grabs an hour or two before patrol and those are the nights he's at his sharpest.
Dan glances up, tosses a greeting, expects the usual grumping reply and is thrown when Rorschach freezes in place like a startled rabbit instead.
Rorschach cocks his head, and it's almost predatory in a way that only he could manage. Or in a way only Dan could scrape up from the dirtiest corners of his imagination, jesus. He has to get a handle on this.
"Rorschach? Is something wrong?" he asks, tentative.
"New glasses," Rorschach finally chokes out, like articulating language is suddenly a physically painful thing.
Dan leans back in the chair, letting out a held breath. Across his nose, the lighter weight of more delicate frames, all wire, an older roundish style he'd picked out of some weird nostalgic novelty. He doesn't like them, plans to replace them as soon as he can. "Old ones, actually. Broke my others, these are just a spare."
"Look... ehn. Look nice."
Flabbergasted isn't a strong enough word. "Uhm. Thanks?"
"Haircut as well," Rorschach says, blots masking the up-and-down flick of his eyes.
Dan laughs then, because this is really the kind of stuff he would expect a girlfriend to notice, or his mother, and sure Rorschach's detail-oriented but it's still bizarre. "Three days ago, yeah. They went a little too short, though."
"No. It's good. Less degenerate-looking this way. Respectable."
"Diplomatic way of saying 'boring old fogey'."
Rorschach jerks his head to the side again, and it looks like he's been struck. "No. It's not..."
Dan puts down the pen he'd had poised over his desk, plans for Owlship improvements spread under his hands. "What?"
"You're repeating yourself." That's never a good sign.
"Nothing," Rorschach says again, more sharply. "Should get moving, it's already dark out."
Dan changes the glasses out for his goggles, pulls the cowl up, abandons the design work for another night. "Ready when you are."
For most of the night, it's easy to forget the strangeness – bury the memory of it under a wave of violence, cresting and receding but never hitting a low enough tide point to let them stew on mundane things like glasses and haircuts and the flustered silence they left behind in the basement. They're both in top form, much to the chagrin of the criminals they happen upon, and if Rorschach keeps looking to Nite Owl every time he lands a particularly good hit, checking to see if he'd been watching, if he's impressed, that strangeness can be ignored too.
"Doing good work," he says during a lull point, and they've stopped to lean against opposite alley walls for a minute, catch their breath. "Important work for the city. For America."
"Huh?" Nite Owl blinks behind the goggles.
"Making the city safe for decent, hardworking people," Rorschach continues, like he's reciting.
"Yeah," Nite Owl says, squinting. "I know."
"I know," and really, he does. He remembers this speech, from 1964, the first night they'd worked together. It occurs to him to check Rorschach for a concussion later. "Are you feeling okay?"
Rorschach levels a glare on him that burns clear through the mask. "Not tired. Always more work to do, won't let weakness of the flesh overcome that." And with that, he levers himself away from the wall and strides off into the darkness of the alleyway labyrinth.
Nite Owl follows, shaking his head.
Really, the designs need more work, so while Walter reappears from under Rorschach's mask and wanders upstairs to make them some post-patrol coffee, Dan settles back to his desk, fresh clothes a welcome relief after hours in his costume. Just a quick glance-over, he promises himself. It'll only take a few minutes.
Twenty minutes later, there's a presence at his elbow.
"Oh, hey," he says, turning around, apology on his tongue – and freezes, as sure as Walter did earlier. Walter's got his mug of coffee in hand, but more than that, he's inexplicably dressed in one of Dan's white dress shirts, a crookedly done-up tie. He's shaking a little, nothing serious yet, but it's hitting a resonance and pretty soon he'll be vibrating out of his skin.
"Walter?" Dan leans to get a better look at the cast-down face, trying to figure out what's going on here, what has his friend so spooked.
The coffee cup is held out, formally, like an offering. "Apologies for my lateness, sir. Complication with the kitchen, got here as soon as I could."
"'Sir'?" Dan arches an eyebrow, confusion quickly dissipating into panic. "Wait, wait – something's wrong with the kitchen? It's not on fire, is it?"
Walter sighs like an actor's aside, frustrated. "No, Mister President sir," he says, pointed, and now Dan's eyebrows just about jump through the roof. "Had some difficulty procuring the right brand. Hope this is satisfactory."
Shit, Dan thinks, because he suddenly knows what this is; remembers some of his failed flings in college, pretending to be a fireman, a construction worker, and he'd never been able to take it seriously, ever. Too self-conscious then and too self-conscious now, but Walter's standing there dressed like some kind of junior aide waiting for him to say something and goddamn his headcase of a partner for not coming up with something simpler. President? God, which president? Does it matter?
"Ah," Dan says, stalling. Remembers the coffee in his hand and sips at it carefully. "It's... it's fine, yes. Better than the old brand, actually. Well done."
Walter looks askance at him, like he's doing this very wrong. Dan frowns. If he'd just throw a bone out here, give him something to work with–
He does. "Working on war plans for Japan?"
Japan. World War Two. Roosevelt. But no, because FDR's administration was mostly focused on Germany, wasn't it? The European theater. Japan was later, was–
He's got it. "Yes," he says, reaching to square a sheaf of papers, then turn them over. "I am. But it's top secret. You understand."
"Of course," Walter says, deferential, something hot and unguided bubbling up into his voice. He sounds like someone extolling a lover's virtues, utterly smitten. "Great statesmen must know when to keep silent. Great Americans."
"Discretion is a very powerful tool."
Walter makes a strange sound, in the back of his throat. "And a large part of valor."
Dan runs his hand over the stack of papers, letting them fan and fall against his thumb. There's unspoken tension enough, but this isn't quite going how these sorts of things usually do. At least in his experience, the other party's meant to demand a ravishing at some point, and he's expecting it no matter how strange the fantasy is. "Mister... ?" he prompts, as if he's forgotten Walter's last name.
"Kovacs." Walter shifts, a little uncomfortable, and it's hard to tell if it's real or a put-on. If Dan's not mistaken, the discomfort's somewhere in the vicinity of... "Understandable that you wouldn't remember, is uncomfortably foreign."
"You know I'm working on a national health care plan?"
"Everyone should be taken care of," Dan says, smiling, narrowing his eyes behind those damned old-fashioned glasses in what he hopes is a suggestive manner. "Don't you think?"
Walter just looks thoughtful, the bastard, and puts his hands behind his back. Stares at the ceiling. "While the humanitarian value of providing medical care to all citizens isn't in question, the future will likely prove the nationalization of health care to be a slippery slope into the nationalization of social services, leading to a state wherein the most irresponsible citizens are the most dependent on the government's continued unearned altruism. This will lead to a degradation of the moral fiber of the country and..."
He trails off, does a quick double-blink that Dan's learned since the mask came off to be a startling back to self.
"...however, as a member of your administration, I of course support your decisions in all things."
Dan blinks, mouth hanging open, confused beyond capacity to articulate.
"Not as if you could be expected to know the future," Walter adds, again obsequious, flattery utterly foreign in that voice, in the set of his features. "Making the best decisions you can for..." And there that noise is again, like swallowing back a blast of some unmanageable emotion. "...for right now. For the country."
"I..." Dan trails off.
"Good man." Walter shifts again, and there's a flush climbing plainly up his face. "Great American. Honor to be serving with you, sir."
And with that, Walter turns and disappears back up the staircase, stride purposeful, head high.
Dan sits there, utterly dumbfounded, for a full five minutes.
After the sixth, the upstairs door cracks open, and Walter pokes his head through. "Daniel? Coming upstairs?"
"Uh," he replies, the single, inarticulate syllable echoing far too loudly. "I mean, yeah, just give me a minute?"
"Getting late. Should sleep. Time to work on Archimedes' new exhaust system later."
Dan rubs his eyes up under the stupid glasses, and laughs.
Later, lying in bed, sweaty and still coming down (and it's hilarious how often Rorschach invokes the necessity of sleep when Walter has no intention of getting any) Dan rolls onto his side, pokes Walter in the ribs.
"Nhh," Walter chides, intelligently.
"What the hell was that, back there?" Dan asks, and before the other man can reply, continues: "I thought for sure you were gonna start humping my leg any second, but you just... went off about health reform instead."
"Asked the question."
"It was intended," and Dan rolls over, leaning one arm across Walter's chest and pillowing his head on it. "As a double-entendre."
Walter's eyes go middle-distance as he looks back at the exchange, runs it forward and backward digging for what exactly Dan's referring to. When they refocus, he still seems confused. "Don't... don't understand?"
"Yeah, I got that."
"Because most people roleplay as a pretext for fantasy sex, man. That's just... it's the whole point."
Under his weight, Walter's gone tense and still, and his expression is caught somewhere between scandalized and appalled. "No," he says, too fast and too perfectly saturated with bile and disgust to be entirely honest. "Would never– great man, wouldn't disrespect his memory, cast aspersions that he would have... no."
If you can't take the heat, Dan thinks, and he rolls his hips. Walter sucks in a sharp breath.
"Are you telling me," Dan starts, talking into the side of Walter's throat, "That if I'd decided it was in the best interests of the country," a sharp little bite to punctuate, and Walter's making the sound again, so much more easily identifiable now as what he passes off as a moan, "to bend my junior aide over my executive desk and screw him right into all my top secret documents–"
Walter sounds like he's choked, and he's not really ready for round two yet but you'd never know it from the way he's moving.
"–that you wouldn't have enjoyed that?"
An unintelligible grunt, but Walter doesn't shake his head, doesn't say no. As long as Dan's known him, he's never been able to abide a lie.
"Thought so." Dan grins, then reaches over to the nightstand for the abandoned glasses, slips them into place. "Better?" he asks.
"...respectable," and it's the same word he'd used the night before but when Dan ducks to lick a trail up the center of his chest, words drop away, become unmanageable.
It's only a minute or two later when Dan ducks close to his face that he hears it, quiet and uncertain:
"...support you in all decisions, sir. Whatever... ahn, whatever is best for the country."
Dan grins against Walter's cheek, and maybe the glasses can stay a little longer after all.