It starts when Daniel wants to go home early after a patrol. There's still plenty of darkness left, certain to be more crimes being committed, they shouldn't start going easy on criminals. But when Rorschach says this Daniel gives him a sheepish smile and says, 'I know, but I really do have to get back. I forgot to feed Walter before coming out.'
For a moment Rorschach has a vision of a maskless version of himself waiting for Daniel to return home and feed him. It's close enough to dream logic for him to surreptitiously pinch himself before saying, 'Walter?'
'My pet fish.' The sheepish look is back, and Daniel doesn't look at him as he sets Archie's course for home. 'Hollis thought I should have a pet and I really don't have time for anything bigger. But even fish need caring for and I'd hate for anything to happen to him because of me.'
'Catching criminals more important than a fish, Daniel,' says Rorschach, but Daniel says pet owners have a responsibility to their pets. They go back to the owl's nest early.
The fish is a plain little orange thing, not even pretty or impressive, and Daniel coos over it like a baby. Daniel claims Walter is a good listener and Rorschach wonders just how lonely his partner is. After the third time Daniel leaves patrol early to feed Walter he switches to wondering how a goldfish manages to be better company than him.
It's not fair, he decides while handcuffing some muggers to a streetlamp, to expect him to patrol alone just so Daniel can own the world's most pampered fish. The fish even has a miniature castle, a ridiculous waste of money even by Daniel's standards. It's not as if goldfish are capable of architectural appreciation.
The night Daniel is late on patrol because he was changing the water in his fish tank and still leaves early Rorschach reaches a descision. The fish is interfering with Daniel's crimefighting abilities and therefore aiding and abetting criminals. It will have to go.
Rorschach waits until Daniel is at Hollis' house for a beer session before acting. He plunges one gloved hand into the tank and draws the fish out by its tail, wriggling pitifully and gulping at air it can't breathe. Little bulging black eyes stare at him and he thinks he can see fear in them.
'Your own fault,' he says. 'Distracting Daniel. Making him come home early to look after you.'
When Rorschach holds the fish over the toilet by its tail it wriggles harder than ever, as if it knows what's going to happen to it.
'Will go down to the sewers. No filtered water there. Will die caught in grating, or in sewage farm,' he growls at it. 'What you deserve. Taking advantage of Daniel. Getting fed and looked after while criminals roam the streets. Can't patrol as well alone. Less effective.'
Rorschach shakes Walter by the tail, lowering him over the toilet. His voice is still quiet, but growing in intensity. 'Not fair. Useless little creature. Can't help him patrol. Can't do anything. Why does he care so much about you? Will be better off without you. Can start paying attention to things that matter. Start patrolling longer. Start acting like partner.'
Rorschach jumps, swinging around with Walter still dangling from his finger and thumb. Daniel is standing in the doorway looking confused.
Daniel watches Walter as he recovers from the shock of nearly being flushed and starts swimming around his miniature castle. Rorschach watches Daniel, hovering by the door uncertainly.
'Was setting him free, Daniel,' he says. 'All water goes to the ocean.'
'By a roundabout route, yes,' says Daniel quietly, his voice quivering with surpressed emotion as he leans his forehead against Walter's tank. Rorschach is afraid it might be anger or, worse, that Daniel is upset. But when he looks up his face is flushed with the effort of holding in laughter. 'I can't believe you just tried to murder my goldfish. Seriously, half the time I'm not even sure if you want me around. And you were - jealous. Of a fish.'
Rorschach shoves his hands in his pockets. 'Not jealous.'
'Right, that explains why you were angry about me feeding and caring for my pet.' And then Daniel is in front of him, hands resting on his shoulders so lightly there's no pressure there at all. 'I'd take care of you, too, if you'd ever let me.'
'Don't need caring for. Need a partner.' It's not something he says lightly, need, and the word hangs between them for one fragile moment along with all the things they've always left unspoken. Then Daniel ducks his head, and Rorschach lifts his instead of pulling back. Through latex the kiss is nothing but warmth and pressure.
Afterwards they lie on the carpet, tangled comfortably together. Rorschach shifts his head against Daniel's shoulder until he can see the tank and looks truimphantly at Walter, secure in the knowledge that he is much better company than a goldfish.