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Five Times Adrian Veidt Surprises Dan Dreiberg

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1) And the Superhuman Crew

Dan turns around and goes back in the meeting hall, because it's just rude to leave your host with a mess. It's more usual for the mess to consist of dirty plates and beer glasses than carefully-drawn charts set on fire by a vigilante, but you deal with what you've got.

Captain Metropolis--Nelson--has already left. (And it feels strange to know his real name. It's an expression of trust, Dan supposes, but he didn't ask for it; none of them did.) Apparently Dan and Ozymandias are the sum of the volunteer cleanup crew.

Ozymandias is grimly sweeping up ashes and bits of paper. Dan stacks chairs.

Ozymandias keeps up a muttered diatribe as they work; how it wasn't a bad idea, just would take more organization and a better presentation and obviously better screening of the invitees.

Finally he goes silent for a minute or two. And then surprises the hell out of Dan by blurting, "The Comedian is such a fucking asshole."

Dan can't help it, he bursts out laughing, even though it's probably a bad idea to anger the world's smartest man. And Ozymandias blinks at him for a moment, then grins.

2) What Immortal Hand or Eye

When it's looking like the Keene Act is going to pass, Dan has a sudden urge to...introduce himself. He can't quite bear the idea of all of them going underground, disappearing, without ever knowing who they are, without the option of finding each other later in time of need.

He's choosy, of course. He doesn't hand his real name over to the Comedian.

And when he gets to Veidt on his list, it seems almost pointless. Veidt's outed himself already, so there won't be that moment of ritual reciprocity. And with Veidt's money and his vast organization--it seems like a fair bet to assume that he's got spies everywhere, eyes everywhere, that he already knows.

Dan makes an appointment with Veidt's secretary under the name "Nite Owl,' which feels extraordinarily juvenile, and arrives wearing sunglasses, a fedora pulled low and a scarf pulled high, which feels even more so. Maybe it really is time to let it go, the costume and the silly name and the doing of stupid things in the middle of the night. He passes the time, in the long elevator ride, trying to guess whether Adrian will say, "Mr. Dreiberg!" the moment he walks into the office, or wait until Dan introduces himself and give him a pitying of course I knew that look.

Adrian does neither. Dan closes the door and walks up to the desk; he takes off the sunglasses and unwinds the scarf and stuffs them in his pockets. Then he sticks his hand out and (ridiculously, unnecessarily) says, "I'm Dan Dreiberg."

And Adrian stands up, shakes his hand, and without a trace of sarcasm, says, "I'm honored."

3) If You Gaze for Long

It was just a stupid whim, coming to the con; wandering around through aisles lined with those pirate comics his mother threw out years ago, now going for astonishing amounts of money.

But while he's here he might as well get in the line to see Adrian.

There's a pretty-girl assistant working her way down the line of people, handing out free photos of Adrian holding a jar of some kind of muscle-building powder. And as Dan works his way to the front of the line, he sees that Adrian's signing all the photos with the ad-campaign slogan for the stuff: "Build a new you, build a new world." Dan winces a little at the sheer cheesiness, but what the hell, most of the money the guy makes goes for the greater good.

When he reaches the table, he holds out the photo the girl gave him, smiles and says "Dan."

Adrian looks him in the eyes for a fraction of a second, flashes the huge glossy smile he's given everyone in line, grabs the photo and raises his pen.

Dan's neck goes hot and itchy with embarrassment. Stupid to think that Veidt would remember him, after that one unmasked meeting years ago, stupid.

Veidt hands him the photo back and smiles at the next person in line, and Dan has stumbled out of the convention center before he looks down at the picture and sees that it's signed, "Dan--We are all heroes. Adrian."

4) A Companion to Owls

Dan's not as surprised as he maybe should be when Adrian shows up at his door the next week. It's strangely comfortable, having the smartest man in the world, probably the richest man in the world, sitting at his kitchen table drinking hot tea and eating stale vanilla wafers, the only remotely appealing thing Dan could dig up in his cabinets. He usually gets Gunga takeout.

Adrian talks a little bit about global marketing strategies, but he doesn't seem like his heart is in it, and within a few minutes he's moved on to the old days, the cape-and-dagger days. "I miss everyone," he says, suddenly. "Even...even the Comedian."

Dan shrugs. "Far as I know he's still around," he says. "I never knew his real name. But I bet you do." He grins, says, "You should drop in on him. I'm sure he'd be thrilled."

"Doubtless," Adrian says, and laughs. "Maybe I will. What about you? Do you ever find yourself missing...all of it?"

"I don't know, exactly," Dan says. "Sometimes...sometimes I miss taking Archie out."

And Adrian moves so quickly it's startling, almost a blur the way he's up out of his chair and standing behind Dan's, a hand on Dan's shoulder, patting comfortingly. "And Archie...he was your...?" he says, gently.

"He--what?" Dan says. "Archimedes. Just a goofy nickname for the owlship. An it, not a he. Oh. Oh. No, I'm not--I mean, I haven't--"

Adrian just stays there for a moment, though, patting his shoulder, rubbing at it a little, and then Dan says desperately, "You want some peanut butter on your wafers?"

"That would be lovely," Adrian says, and goes back to his chair.

5) The Hand that Mocked Them and the Heart that Fed

Dan can't quite make himself believe it, the whole thing. A frantic voice in his head keeps repeating "some kind of mistake, some kind of mistake," even while Veidt punches him, punches Rorschach, even while Veidt stands there and confesses to genocide.

It's only when Veidt hurts Laurie that it really begins to sink in, that cold horror of the fact that the smartest man in this world is crazy, that he really has imagined the unimaginable and then, then paid for and project-managed and engineered the unimaginable.

And then Adrian, Adrian who's always seemed so weirdly respectful of all the humans around him, all those people he could outthink, outfight, out-anything. Adrian raises both fists in the air, gleefully, joyfully; cheers himself for his plan that took out half of New York.

There are voices echoing around Dan, talking of compromise and silence and Armageddon, but he can't understand any of it. Adrian lowers his hands and just looks at Dan. No smile, no charm, no expression at all, but it's somehow a question.

Dan reaches out and grabs Laurie's hand, holds on tight. It's all he can do.