Rorschach slams his fists down on the table, his scowling eyes glaring from above the blotched kerchief covering the rest of his face. "They need to die," he states, coolly logical in his certainty.
Sheriff Dreiberg glances down at Rorschach's clenched fists, which are still threatening to punch a hole through his desk. He manages not to sigh, but his shoulders slump all the same. He feels too old for this.
Through the windows, the late afternoon sun pierces through the dust and dirt. It's the kind of lazy heat that makes him want to close up shop and take the rest of the afternoon. There's nothing going on in town; there's too much going on in town. Crime bubbles in the darkness, but there's not much he can do about it. Behind his badge, he doesn't have the kind of freedom and power that he used to.
"That's not for us to decide," Daniel tells him. He fiddles with his shirt sleeves and is sure he can feel his collar strangling him. Better than Rorschach's fingers, he reminds himself. "I can't arrest them. There's no proof."
Rorschach's eyes stare at him, blank and unseeing. "Filth in the city. Must be washed clean," he rasps.
Daniel feels like a bug under Rorschach's gaze - like he might be exterminated at any moment. Only the pistol in its holster allows him to feel even marginally safe. "I don't like the sound of that."
"Law is useless," Rorschach insists. "Only the strong survive."
Daniel pinches the bridge of his nose. When he accepted the position as sheriff, he had no idea it would involve teaching morality to psychopaths. "Promise me you're not going to cause any trouble," he asks. "You can't do this."
Rorschach stares at him like he's seeing right through him. It makes Daniel want to squirm and hide, but he stays firmly in his chair, breathing softly. Meeting Rorschach's gaze is almost enough to make his eyes water, but he does it anyway - there's something that men like Rorschach respect about that level of contact.
Men like Rorschach. It's a joke to even pretend there is anyone else like him.
If there's a staring match, official or not, it's Rorschach that wins. Daniel breaks first, looking abruptly out of the window. "What happened to us?" he asks, the question spilling out before he can control it.
He can still remember what it had been like, once upon a time, when they had been young and idealistic - or when he had been young and idealistic, and Rorschach's broken madness had seemed enchanting rather than dangerous. They had run through this whole state together, protecting those needed protecting and delivering justice to those who deserved it most.
Now, he sits on his ass all day and pretends he still thinks he's useful.
Now, Rorschach thirsts for the red blood of vengeance - and he scares Daniel more than any of the thieves out there on the street.
When he looks back from the window, he thinks he even sees a flicker of emotion in Rorschach's eyes. He's glad that Rorschach doesn't try to respond: this is one instance where he thinks he doesn't want to hear the answer.
Overnight, the saloon burns down. Three men were trapped inside, and by the time Daniel sees the bodies they're unrecognisable. A headcount of the townspeople confirms who is missing: good men, all three of them.
A terrible accident.
Just an accident, Daniel tells himself, while he pretends that black blotches don't float behind his eyelids.
He comes home to hear the familiar sounds of Rorschach in his kitchen: maybe he should be afraid, he thinks. More afraid.
Yet he walks through the door without flinching, and finds a suspected vigilante sitting at his kitchen table eating stew like he hasn't seen any food in weeks.
"Help yourself," Daniel mutters sarcastically.
Rorschach doesn't even look up. "Been busy," he says around a mouthful of meat. "Nothing but beans out there."
Daniel bites his tongue: there's no use telling Rorschach to settle down in a nice town, to pick a place and get a regular job. Normal life has no place in it for someone like Rorschach. He imagines that Rorschach has no need for normality in turn.
"What happened last night?" Daniel asks, though he knows that the best thing for their friendship would be to hold his tongue - the sheriff's badge on his chest means that he has to speak up. "The saloon burned down."
"Bad men," Rorscach answers. He's taken off his face-covering in order to eat. The sight of his skin, pale and untouched by the sun, is as jarring as seeing him nude. "They needed to be stopped. I stopped them."
Daniel feels a headache coming on. "You can't go around - 'stopping' people. It's not right."
"They took a girl. Raped her. I saw it." Rorschach's grip on his fork is tight enough to make his hand shake. Daniel sees the bloodied knuckles and bruised skin and tells himself he doesn't care about it. "Deserved to die."
"That's not for you to decide," Daniel insists - but he's shaken, and he knows that it shows in his voice. The needlessly intelligent glimmer of Rorschach's eyes examines him like a snake evaluating its prey. "If you have any further suspicions, bring them to me. I'll deal with it. Rorschach, you murdered people."
Rorschach grunts. "They're not people," he answers.
It makes Daniel feel sick.
He takes a seat opposite Rorschach and rests his elbows on the thick wooden table. For a few long moments, the only sounds in the kitchen a loud slurping as Rorschach devours his stew.
Eventually, beneath the table, Rorschach nudges Daniel with his boot. "When I find more, I'll bring them to you," he promises.
From Rorschach, that's the equivalent of a marriage proposal. Despite himself, Daniel can't help but smile, before he gets to his feet once more and helps himself to a bowl of Rorschach's cooking.
Rorschach is long gone by the time the sun rises, but when Daniel rises from his bed alone he feels lighter and happier than he has in weeks.
When he makes it in to his office and opens the door, he nearly doubles over in laughter at the sight that greets him:
Three road agents, bound and gagged on the floor. Their hats are askew and bruises adorn their faces, while they are red with the effort of muffled shouting. Attached to one of their hands is a scrawled note:
You're welcome. Thanks for stew.
Daniel chuckles as he stares at his new prisoners, and wonders just what the letter of the law says about cooperation between lawmen and vigilantes.
Whatever it is, it's a start.