It was late November in New York City which meant that the bitter chill of winter had not just begun but had in fact already settled upon the city like a blanket, covering edges in frost and lining the streets with the grey gunk of polluted snow slush that just couldn’t be removed no matter how many snow trucks plowed. The wind alone felt as though it were leaving little whips across whatever exposed skin was there, quietly but surely digging away at your skin like it was soil being turned to make a new grave. Dan was more than eager to return home after a day of forcing himself to wander New York.
Since the beginning of his relationship with Laurie, things were...complicated, and it didn’t bode well with him. And what didn’t bode well with him usually didn’t bode well sexually later on. So he was trying to be calm. Trying to keep himself busy. Which was hard for a rich, unemployed man to do as Dan was finding out.
He’d paid a few bills at the bank, read the newspaper at a local coffee shop, and even went so far to go to a museum, a favorite past time of Dan’s. Back in the day, Dan had made very few friends, which was made worse by his fascination with museums. Most kids his age could barely last five minutes with the ancient exhibits, but not Dan. He really loved learning of worlds and cultures he could fall into. He was excited by the idea that even minerals and rocks have lives, the journeys they would take from igneous to metamorphic. Mummies and stuffed mannequins, meant to represent people from long ago, stories of worlds he could barely imagine but he was willing to try. It was all so exciting and new at the time.
Dan could hardly concentrate. The museum made him feel restless. He didn’t want to feel too haughty, but he’d lived quite an interesting life now. He’d cracked cases with logic and brilliance, not to mention with his clever and stoic partner, and now it gave him no comfort to imagine the lives of these famous people in history. Sure, Charles Darwin discovered the theory of evolution, but did he bust local thieves nearly as famous as Bonnie and Clyde. Oscar Wilde wrote some famous works, but at least that newspaper article about Nite Owl was a little less homosexual than The Picture of Dorian Gray. What about Ben Franklin? Did he stop what would have been nuclear war across the entire planet?
It all felt so boring in comparison. I guess that’s how an addiction works. Everything pales in comparison to a life in a mask.
Blowing on his glove-covered hands, he reaches his doorstep, relieved to find his door still locked. He pulled out his keys, unlocking the door, immediately aware of the smell of coffee being brewed. He walked into the house cautiously, closing the door behind him and reaching the kitchen. Unsurprisingly, Rorschach sat at his table, The New Frontiersman ’s newest issue sitting in front of him. He had already finished off a can of green beans by the looks of it and had moved on to pinto beans. A cup (the black cup with the chipped handle that Rorschach always used) was full of black coffee, no milk or sugar, although many sugar cubes had obviously been taken from Dan's supply after further inspection.
“Mind sparing a few for a good cause?” Dan asked, pouring himself a cup and resigning himself to the idea that Rorschach would always come as he pleased and he would never ask him not to.
Wordlessly, Rorschach reached into his pocket, giving up a few of his sugar cubes, and continued scarfing down the pinto beans with a speed and ferocity that made Dan almost worried the other man would choke. He sat across from the half-masked man, taking him in again.
“The door is still in working order,” Dan commented, sipping on the coffee. “For some reason, I don’t think it was an act of mercy. What’s up, buddy?”
“Had to bandage up my arm,” Rorschach replied by way of an answer, leaving Dan to deduce the rest from the statement: Rorschach was in some sort of altercation that resulted in hurting his arm, unable to break the lock due to injury he used the back entrance by way of the Owl Cave and decided to stay for dinner.
“Well, let’s take a look at it,” Dan said, rising to collect the empty cans and throwing them in the trash, and pulling out some canned corn, handing it to Rorschach, who had now taken off his coat. The black spots on his face were unreadable, for sure, but Dan had learned to read between the lines after years of trusting this man and expecting his trust in return. And seemingly he got no where. It had taken years before Dan had finally been struck by a realization that changed everything.
Back in the early days, he and Rorschach seemed to be going down a one-way street. Every time Dan opened up, Rorschach seemed to become more rigidly closed. Dan, in his trusting, naive way, had no way of stopping himself from opening his cave and then his home to the other man. It seemed only natural to discuss things in the cave and to heal up in the kitchen. While Dave wanted his anonymity, he also valued having what he’d grown up going without: a friend. One person to confide in, to joke around with, to be his true self around. While Rorschach rarely encouraged the stories and jokes, Dan couldn’t help himself. He knew from the beginning that anonymity would be impossible with Rorschach.
Coming home from a particular scathing fight (that they’d won of course), Rorschach followed Dan out of Archie. With some embarrassment, Dan took off his goggles to reveal a particularly bad black eye. He took of his cowl, wincing and cursing along the way.
“Look like shit,” Rorschach revealed, to which Dan tried (and failed) to give him a glower. The eye was swollen shut, turning dark black and purple in color. He had a busted lip too and bruising along his cheekbones.
“Good thing I’m not in the TV industry,” Dan joked, but the swirls of black on white laytex were all he got in response. He felt a little unsteady, perhaps from the many blows he’d taken tonight or maybe the fact that his vision was being obscured by swollen skin. Either way, he felt too ashamed to admit the stairs would be a struggle. “Nothing I haven’t dealt with before. I’ll be seeing you, right?”
“Hurm,” Rorschach replied. Dan had no way of knowing if the guy was looking at him, but his mask was turned in his direction. It took a minute or two of a staredown before Rorschach continued. “Daniel, do you have peas?”
“Peas? Tonight?” Dan forgot that Rorschach usually stayed for dinner these days. He started showing up and just eating weird shit; Dan found him crunching on uncooked noodles and finally had enough. Rorschach could eat, but he would eat a proper meal. Dan would be sure of it. Now, he guiltily wished Rorschach could have a full meal at his own house. Still, he nodded and moved towards the stairs, shame touching his neck, making it hot and a little sweaty.
Rorschach didn’t say or do anything except follow behind him as Dan slowly and carefully used the stairs, stopping briefly half-way when the world started spinning. He didn’t move to hold his elbow or shove him to make it go faster, which would be an entirely Rorschach move. Finally, upon reaching the clearing, Dan opened the door and shuffled over to a chair as Rorschach retrieved not the canned peas that he usually ate without being warmed up, but the frozen peas.
“Those aren’t edible buddy, you have to heat--” He’s interrupted as a very careful hand pressed the frozen peas to bare skin. Dan flinched back from the cold, and Rorschach dropped the peas on the table.
“Your eye is swelling. Applying cold will help,” Rorschach explained, a growl in his voice as he turned his back to start up a pot of coffee. It was then, as Dan took the peas in his hand and pressed it to his black eye, that Dan realized how different people can tell you that they matter. Dan was so certain that the friendship was one-sided, from Dan’s blubbering mouth while the other man stayed silent to the way that Dan opened his home, secret identity and all, while Rorschach never even fully took off his mask. It wouldn’t feel so frustrating if at least one thing had changed. If Dan knew Rorschach’s name or birthday or even his favorite color.
But things had changed, just not as drastically as Dan was used to. He knew his own presents of friendship and hadn’t realized Rorschach had left his own, albeit much smaller. He recalls a Watchmen meeting weeks ago when Rorschach didn’t eat a single thing, his arms across his chest in a silent refusal. Now, in his kitchen, the man lifted his mask enough to show a clean face with chapped lips. Hell, the fact that he even had his back turned to Dan, that he allowed Dan to watch his back every night in very dangerous situations, was proof that the man trusted him. They seemed like such small things to Dan but to Rorschach they must have meant the world. Even now, Rorschach couldn’t place hand on him, couldn’t connect in the way Dan constantly tried to with his partner, but he did guide him up the stairs, patiently following to make sure Dan didn’t fall along the way.
“You’re a good partner,” Dan had wanted to say, but he didn’t. It didn’t feel timely or right. It didn’t feel like something Rorschach would accept, and hell, Rorschach still seemed utterly unpredictable back then. Dan didn’t need another black eye.
In the present, Dan started rolling up his partner’s sleeve, giving the man a look when he found the blood had completely soaked through both the bandages and the shirt. He sighed, giving Rorschach a pointed look before fast-walking to get his first aid kit, grumbling about his helpless partner, purposefully avoiding taking the steps to medically treat himself the way he knew he should have.
When he returned, Rorschach had obediently taken the shirt off as well, along with his gloves and hat, now down only to a dirty wife-beater and the bandage on his right arm. Light-colored hair ran up his arms but it wasn’t thick. Freckles lined his pale arms, which never failed to surprise Dan. Sometimes it felt like Rorschach was an alien and there should be more swirling inkblots lining the rest of his body.
Dan put on his glasses before unraveling the bloody bandage, breaking out Hydrogen peroxide to dab around the wound before jumping into the stitching. The masked man always responded better to medical attention when he was too busy eating to notice. Dan and Rorschach had done this for each other many times before, for many years, although perhaps not in a very long time. Not since before he quit. He didn’t know how he’d ever convince himself to retire again when the time comes. Perhaps, like Rorschach, he would just wait until the job killed him.
Once finished, Dan frowned at his handiwork. “You’re left-handed. You could have stitched it yourself”
Rorschach didn’t respond to the accusation, pulling his mask over his face, having finished his meal. “There’s crime to be stopped.”
“You’re hurt. You can’t possibly be thinking of going out until that’s healed up,” Dan shook his head, moving to the sink to wash his hands. Rorschach followed, washing off some of the spilled blood from his arm and using a towel to dry off.
“Can’t. Not while cockroaches infest the streets,” Rorschach replied. “Festering in the dark, skittering at our feet, just in the shadows, and thriving under the premise that none shall be the wiser. That none shall know that boundaries have been crossed, cockroaches have invaded--”
“Yeah, gotcha, man, you’re going to show those bugs who’s boss,” Dan interrupted, earning dark energy from his partner, who goes stiff, hands turning into fists. Dan’s not a afraid; Rorschach, in all their years, had never hurt him. “Speaking of boundaries, we’ve gotta talk.”
“Hmmm?” Rorschach grunted in response, leaning against the counter as Dan poured himself more coffee. No such thing as too much, he reminded himself, purposefully ignoring his gut. Some push-ups tomorrow would help alleviate the guilt he felt when Rorschach slipped him some more sugar cubes generously.
“Laurie has informed me that the way things are currently make her...a little uncomfortable,” Dan explained somewhat nervously. Not because he feared this would not go over well with Rorschach; he didn’t really expect him to take anything personally. It was just an awkward topic to breech, and he didn't actually agree with Laurie. He had taken care of Rorschach for years, and it felt really nice to have his friend back. Still, his girlfriend was uncomfortable. “The whole breaking in, our dinner routines, all the nights spent sleepless out there busting crime. She said that perhaps, since she and I are dating now, it should feel less like ‘a boys’ locker room and more like her boyfriend’s home.’ Her words, not mine.”
Rorschach didn’t respond, instead opting to put his shirt back on and beginning to button it.
“I think...you know, she’s a little harsh, and I know you two don’t really get along which is why I set up a little Thanksgiving dinner thing for the Watchmen,” Dan ventured on, earning a snort from Rorschach. “What?”
Rorschach turned his face in Dan’s direction. “Not sure how a naked man in your house will make her feel like it’s not a locker room.”
“You mean Jon?” Dan inquired.
“What other men do you have running naked in your home?”
“N-none,” Dan stammered, a little alarmed by the tangent they’d taken. “Just naked women. Or woman, just one. You know the one. Uhh, I mean, well, fuck, this isn’t what I meant. So you’ll come?”
“Inviting Silk Spectre’s first love. Isn’t that a poor choice on your part?”
Dan thought it was now. He had been trying not to think too hard about it, why Laurie kept insisting the Watchmen meet up for the holidays, why she was so anxious to get Doctor Manhattan back in Manhattan. He didn’t want to be controlling and besides, he’d be happy to see Jon again too. The man was confusing and always sounded a little resigned, as if the future he knew never had a happy ending, but then again, it never ended so maybe not. Still, it would be nice to have the gang together...if only it didn’t feel like Laurie had different motives for calling Jon back to New York City.
He shoved the idea from his mind. He’d made it a point not to worry about that sort of thing. “She said she wants to be with me, and I believe her.”
“No you don’t,” Rorschach replied without hesitation. “Stupid isn’t a good look on you, Daniel. A detective knows what comes out of a filthy liar's mouth.”
“She’s not a liar,” Dan snapped, but he only let his mind finish the sentence: She’s not a liar but she is lying. “Whatever, man, I’m just asking you to show up. I’m not asking for couple’s counselling.”
Rorschach growled in response. “Wouldn’t give it if you asked. Advice would be for you to leave that sinful w--”
“Okay, okay, I’ll see you this Thursday. Bring your appetite,” Dan sighed. “And please rest that arm if you’re going to be patrolling. Call me and I’ll bring Archie.”
He didn’t get a response, just a grim nod as the man left the house.
Rorschach was freezing, but boiling with rage. Daniel had started patrolling again, but he refused to become Rorschach’s partner again in the way he wanted to. Daniel would help him in a bind, but they were still as separate as if Daniel had never returned, and Rorschach’s suspicion had been confirmed: Silk Spectre.
She was on the phone with a friend of hers, if Rorschach could hear her conversation properly. She actually had a lot of female friends, which means she had manipulated Daniel to take her in when she left Jon. Or at least, Rorschach wanted to assume that, but he knew friendship did not mean closeness. He knew because he should be patrolling with Daniel in Archie but instead he was on the roof of a building, staring at the Silk Spectre in her apartment and trying to read her lips as she spoke.
He didn’t agree with her, that much was obvious. He didn’t expect someone like her to understand. Sure, he knew from her back story that she had lived a somewhat complicated life. She learned from her whore mother to rely on men for their needs, manipulating them like his mother did except not for money, just for financial security and food on the table. Laurie was at least trying to change her patterns which Rorschach begrudgingly commended her for. She had her own apartment and got a job at some sort of office. She did respectable work, lived modestly, and still fought crime from time to time.
Despite this, it felt like she was the cause of every wrong change he’d been feeling in the simple parts of his life. He got Daniel to return to crime-fighting with him, but there was a vast distance between them, Daniel’s mind occupied now by this unimpressive woman. She was beautiful, he supposed. A beauty mark near her eye, long silky hair, and of course Daniel couldn’t resist her in that slutty superhero uniform. For God’s sake, Rorschach wore more clothes on night patrols and he was still quick and efficient when taking out criminals. Hell, Daniel was far fatter than he’d ever been and he was still capable of attacking criminals with great efficiency. Was it too much to ask the Silk Spectre to wear some pants?
He shook his head, trying to clear it of annoyance. No, it didn’t matter how beautiful or ugly she was. It was the fact that she ruined his routine, or at least parts of his routine he thought he’d have a chance of retrieving. Day in and day out, Rorschach lived the exact same way, and he’d felt a loss when Daniel had finally quit. The loss felt larger now that Daniel was back, and yet he wasn’t back at all. There was no way to explain it, except that this was his partner. He felt a claim towards the other man. The purity in Daniel’s soul was something Rorschach had yet to find in another man, and the trust he’d put in him felt like it’d been a waste. Rorschach was not someone who wasted things for no reason, not things that could be salvaged.
Further away, Rorschach could see Archie through the clouds, just enough that Rorschach knew where Daniel was. He touched his own arm, where it was still tender from being stitched. Daniel was always so careful with him, as if Rorschach wasn’t as terrifying as the night. As if he hadn’t seen Rorschach kill dozens of men. As if he could somehow see the Walter Kovacs living far below the surface.
Daniel’s tender touch could be felt deep within his skin, infiltrating the furthest depths of his mind. It lit up areas Rorschach had forgotten he’d had, lit up dark alleys in his mind he was too scared to visit. The way Daniel looked at him with all the many expressions that touched his face. Reproach. Amusement. Disappointment. Annoyance. Confusion. Oh, but never fear. Rorschach had never seen fear, not at him. Perhaps, for him. Which was worse. It made things in his chest move around.
After hearing the curses of a drunk man, he left his post at Laurie’s house. He didn’t usually stay there that long, just to observe and try to find something worthy of condemnation to tell Daniel about. Nothing yet. He couldn’t waste more time on her, not when the city was brimming with evil people living evil lives. Not when he couldn’t reveal, even to himself, the reason why Daniel’s touch haunted him and why Laurie deserved his suspicion.
Not good enough , Rorschach tried to explain to himself, but then he had to think, had to remind himself. He’s not good enough for Daniel either.
Getting up early on Thanksgiving day was actually a huge joy for Dan. Of course, He spent much of the night prepping the turkey and making sure he had all of his dishes in place to be made for the next evening, but that’s what coffee was for. He liked having a purpose, something to focus on and create for the benefit of others. In a lot of ways, he was a family man with none of the family. Never close to his parents before he died, he was an only child who never married and never had children. He had always wished to fill his house, have a wife and three or four kids. Maybe even five.
He’d had that conversation casually with Laurie before though.
At dinner, when Laurie was still dating Jon, she’d brought it up herself. “I don’t know...sometimes when I think about the future, I just...you know, what if I want to have kids?”
“Can...I mean, it’s still possible for Jon to have kids, right?” Dan had asked. It was a fair question. Obviously, as Doctor Manhattan, Jon could do so much more than any regular human but that simple act seemed odd. Would the kid come out with glowing blue skin? Did the God-like man even...cum? If he did, what did jizz like that look like.
Dan shook his head. His thoughts were getting off topic.
“I don’t know. I don’t think it’s really a thing for him. You know, for me, I guess having kids is the next step after marriage or whatever, but for him...it’s like the future isn’t worth his time and effort. I don’t know…” She trailed off, playing with her food.
Dan contemplated this. He was surprised to find that Laurie wanted kids, although it didn’t sound like she really wanted them; it sounded like she just felt it was a necessary evil. He was surprised to hear so much about their relationship, but it seemed to be the only thing on Laurie’s mind.
They revisited the conversation a couple weeks ago, meeting up for coffee before Laurie went to work.
Dan watched a kid run and tag a little girl, who squealed darting after him. “You can’t just have one kid,” he commented. “You need another one, at least, for them to play with.”
Laurie glanced, rolling her eyes. “We were both only children, and we ended up fine.”
“You’re right,” Dan said agreeably, but he didn’t really believe her.
“At that point, why have even one?” Laurie sipped her coffee. “I was so screwed up, and I was only one kid. Imagine if my mother had another one? No, there’s no point introducing children to this fucked up world. Hell, we almost couldn’t stop millions of people from dying. Imagine if one of them had been ours,er, mine or yours.”
“Yeah, I can’t imagine,” Dan let her change the subject, but he really couldn't. He couldn’t imagine loving someone so much that the world wouldn’t be the same without them. He couldn’t imagine creating another little human with the intention of helping them grow and loving them and teaching them how to live in this world which frankly was a little fucked up. But imagine showing them the beauty in it, despite all the fucked up shit. Imagine teaching another human being to combat the ugliness with their own beauty, introducing it to people who probably needed it. Imagine Dan for once not being alone, but surrounded by love and warmth and family , enough to fuel him night after night to make the city safe, not just for the good of mankind but for the good of his family. That was beautiful.
Laurie, still naked and asleep in his bed, would not appreciate waking up at four in the morning to start cooking, so he let her sleep. He got up, brushing his teeth and washing his face. He shuffled into his slippers, yawning slightly, and put on his cooking apron, eager to get started on his cooking. He washed his hands, and oddly enough he found what looked like sand clinging to his forearms. Weird. He didn’t think much of it though, choosing instead to brew some coffee and get to work.
Rorschach, surprisingly or perhaps unsurprisingly, was the last to join. It was surprising because Dan had felt like he was being watched all day, and that usually meant that Rorschach was nearby. If he was nearby, he could have even showed up early, gotten some eating in before he inevitably sat sullenly, maybe scribbled in his journal angrily, for the rest of the night. It was unsurprising, though, because Rorschach had never been eager to spend evenings with any of the Watchmen. The Comedian was the only one that had earned Rorschach’s respect, which is surprising because the man was nearly as cruel as any of the criminals they beat up and the man was clearly an anarchist. Sure, he fought in Vietnam, fought for his country, but something told Dan that Edward Blake didn’t need a war to convince him to shoot someone. The man seemed to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted to.
Doctor Manhattan seemed to be a neutral presence to Rorschach. He respected the man enough to not complain about the way he did or didn’t bring justice to the city, but he clearly didn’t enjoy Jon’s naked display nor did he care to indulge in the man’s confusing musings on the future. And don’t get Rorschach started on Adrian or Laurie. He’d never really had a huge problem with Laurie, feeling she was neutral like Jon, up until recently. Dan couldn’t figure out why but as of lately Rorschach had nothing but suspicions about Laurie. Meanwhile, Adrian had always been a suspect in Rorschach’s eyes. The man is clearly a homosexual , Rorschach had once growled distastefully. Dan hadn’t commented. He wondered what Rorschach would think when he discovered Dan had had intimate encounters with men, back when he’d been trying to find solutions to his impotence.
Men or women, it didn’t matter. The problem remained.
Adrian was the first to arrive, looking as confident and sleek as always, in an expensive-looking suit. Dan had changed into a nice pair of pants and a long-sleeved button-down shirt, but now he felt underdressed in the presence of this wealthy man. It didn’t matter what Adrian did; he could have successfully ended the world and he’d still find a way to profit. “Champagne? Adrian you didn’t have to.”
“This is real champagne, made from France. Of course I didn’t have to. You’re welcome,” Adrian grinned, taking off his gloves and patting Dan on the back as he moved to the family room, turning on the television.
“Hey, make yourself at home,” Dan teased, but the man barely heard him, already invested in what he was watching. Doctor Manhattan was second to arrive, although Dan didn’t realize he was there until he turned and saw him sitting on the couch in the family room, having a near staring contest with Adrian, although not entirely voluntarily. Adrian had looks to kill.
“Where’s your thong at?” Adrian snarled.
“I prefer not to cower behind the brittle attempt of humans to hide the shame they have for their own image,” Jon replied honestly, his face unchanging and his voice unwavering. He showed so little expression, much like Rorschach. But he felt, Dan had learned at their visit in Karnak. Like Rorschach, Jon showed his emotions in much smaller ways than the rest of them.
“Jon, is that you?” Laurie hurried down the stairs, and Dan tried to will the jealousy that struck him in that moment to go away. It didn’t. Hope lit up Laurie’s face, the beautiful silky black dress falling down her body perfectly. Her heels were stylish and simple and her copper hair fell down her back effortlessly. Laurie was never excessive; it was in the simplicity that she showed how extraordinary she was, in her beauty and intelligence. But she wasn’t looking at Dan with that hopeful smile. He swallowed, his throat getting tight as her heels clicked across the kitchen, moving to the family room to join the two men.
Dan continued cooking.
The Comedian arrived a few minutes later, followed shortly by Rorschach. His old partner is the only one who stays in the kitchen instead of joining the rest in the family room to catch up. He lifted his head, sniffing loudly.
“What are you cooking, Daniel?”
Dan brightened at this, glad for a distraction from the sinking feeling in his gut. “All the classics! The turkey is almost finished cooking. We have stuffing, mashed potatoes annnd gravy, brussel sprouts, green bean casserole, corn casserole, sweet potato casserole...let’s see, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, pecan pie. And beer bread. Now I know you’re not much of an alcohol drinker bu--”
“Hmph,” Rorschach harrumphed. “Liquid that instills impure thinking and leaves man without mental defenses? No thank you.”
“Yeah, buddy, I know, but the alcohol isn’t potent in the bread,” Dan informed him. “It’s just to give the bread a little taste to it. I seriously doubt it will cause any impure thoughts. Here, try it.”
Rorschach turned his head slightly, eying the others from the side of his face, but they were absorbed in lively debates, probably still arguing over the past few events that happened, if Dan was hearing them correctly. He turned back to Dan, removing his mask from his lips and accepted a slice of bread, taking a bite off experimentally before shoving the rest entirely into his mouth, a growl of approval rumbling in his old partner’s throat. I take back what I said about it not causing impure thoughts , Dan thought to himself, mostly joking but to be honest there was always something very attractive about that grumbly, monotonous voice.
Plus , Dan thought, still feeling a little petty. At least he has the decency to ask about the meal I’m cooking.
“Good thing I made you a plate before you got here,” Dan set a plate in front of his partner, heaping with all the food he made. “Tell me how it tastes. The turkey’s nearly finished, so save room for--”
Rorschach didn’t wait, already digging into the food with vigor. It was...disgusting to say the least, watching a grown man shovel food into his mouth like that, but Dan was flattered nonetheless. He’d worked damn hard on all of this food. He peeked into the oven, taking a look at the temperature, before turning back to his old partner. His cheeks were dusted with a mix of dusty and gray bristles on his cheek. Not shaven for once. Dan was struck my how ridiculous it was that this man was shorter than him. Rorschach always made his presence well-known, to the point where he’d barely noticed the man’s height, but he was certainly on the shorter side. Still, the man was strong with muscular arms and legs. Hell, just the other night he’d been here, down only to the wifebeater…
Dan continued bustling around, until the turkey was finished. He ordered everyone to get ready to sit down for dinner and went upstairs to grab his jacket, maybe look a little more dressed up like Adrian. He found his bedroom a bit messier than it was this morning when he’d left Laurie in bed. She wasn’t the make-her-bed type, but he definitely was. He began gathering her abandoned clothing, dropping it carefully into the laundry basket, and he began tucking in the sheets. That’s when he noticed sand. It wasn’t a large amount, but it was enough that Dan began to feel a little uncertain. The sand was red after all.
He returned down the stairs after making the bed, the sand still on his fingertips. He shook it, but his mind was whirling. He didn’t know what it meant or his mind was trying to save itself from the heartbreak that would ensue if he figured it out. If he finally realized.
“Took you long enough, Danny boy,” Edward sneered.
“Hey, only Hollis can call me that,” Dan sent him a look, but his heart wasn’t in it. He sat at the head of the table, Laurie on one side and Rorschach on the other. Edward sat beside Laurie and Adrian beside Rorschach. Across the table was none other than Doctor Manhattan himself. Doctor Manhattan who now spent his days on the Red Planet.
“So are we gonna dig in or what? Looks like Rorschach had a head start,” Laurie eyed Rorschach with poorly-hidden disgust.
“Yeah, I’ll cut the turkey in a second. Why don’t we say a few things we’re thankful for,” Dan forced himself to seem pleasant. He cleared his throat, forcing a smile.
“I’ll start,” Laurie offered, clearly oblivious to the turmoil lurking beneath the surface of Dan’s facade. “I’m thankful that we are alive to have this food, that that blond idiot didn’t blow up all of New York City, to new friendships and to old ones.”
New friendships .
And old ones.
Dan would have grabbed the champagne and chugged it right there, but he wasn’t the impulsive type. He didn’t act out in anger, in a destructive nature. It just wasn’t his style.
“I’m thankful that the Keene act was repeal and I can pick up babes on a daily basis, even at this age,” the Comedian snickered. Laurie gave him a look and he smirked. “What? Girlies love men with a good sense of humor not to mention a massive--”
“Disgusting,” Laurie said, but it was less incisive than it had been years before, back when they met up. Back before she knew he was her father. “What about you Jon?”
“I am thankful to find my empathy for humanity was restored and somewhat disappointed to find, as I knew it would, that it was not entirely there to stay,” Jon said bluntly.
“Okay, awesome, not depressing at all,” Edward chuckled.
“I’m thankful for my empire and thankful that my supposed friends stopped a perfectly good plan to save humanity from themselves,” Adrian snapped passive-aggressively. “And definitely thankful that, despite it, my reputation remains in tact.”
“Wow you guys really are in the Thanksgiving mood,” Laurie said sarcastically, earning a snort from the Comedian. Adrian sniffed indignantly.
“What about you, buddy?” Dan asked.
“Not participating,” Rorschach replied.
“Not surprised,” Laurie retorted, glaring into the face of his mask, before looking away.
“This holiday was created in selfishness, in the nature of man’s greatest evils. Given a great meal, but it’s not good enough. After, they kill the people who saved them and raped their women. Devoid of virtue, these men reproduce, creating the vermin that roam these cities tonight. Women with breasts pressed against the windows, for all of America to see. Men curling their bodies over them, like a dog that’s about to vomit. Disgusting display of their transgressions, but it makes good television doesn’t it? Their fathers would think so.”
The Watchmen all fall silent, contemplating this. Laurie seems slightly horrified and more than a little creeped out. Edward doesn’t seem at all surprised, smirking slightly as if Rorschach told a joke instead of a speech on the true meaning of Thanksgiving. Adrian’s face is full of anguish, but he also looks a little smug. He always looks a little smug.
Dan’s focused on Doctor Manhattan’s face though. It’s completely blank but his eyes are caught on Dan’s too. Dan still couldn’t read him, but he knew that Jon was aware of the future. He stared, his shoulders drooping as Jon nodded. “I’m sorry, Dan.”
“Jon?” Laurie glances back and forth between both men.
“I’m thankful that my now ex-girlfriend can get back together with her first love,” Dan said with a tight smile, raising his glass of champagne. “Because I’m thankful that you are all happy and healthy. Who’s ready for turkey?”
He got out of his seat, starting the grueling process of cutting the turkey meat. Behind him, all he can hear is the sound of people piling food onto their plates. People chat eventually, but the mood has been ruined. Laurie doesn’t try to deny it, and Jon supplies no explanation, no big excuse. The truth is they were human, and humans were very selfish by nature. And Dan should have known better that no matter what he did, he would never be good enough.
Rorschach was brimming with rage. Watching Daniel’s face, lined with sadness. He’d seen it before. He knew Daniel to be a very sad man, a man who was very lonely and so full of defeat. But Daniel was also a person full of hope. It hurt to watch him, his tail between his legs, made an example by a more alpha male. Silk Spectre left with Doctor Manhattan at her side, like the proud whores they both were, promising to call Daniel, but he didn’t seem to hear her. He continued packing away his food and stacking it carefully in the fridge. Now it was just the two of them.
Daniel sighed, as he turned on the sink, scrubbing away at the dishes. “Look, man, you don’t have to stay. I’m not going to be patrolling tonight, not after what an entire mess it was. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“Was thinking of unity. Not your fault,” Rorschach shook his head slightly, crossing his arms over his chest.
“The thing is, it’s gotta be my fault. It’s like I wear a sign on me that says, ‘kick me.’ And Liz left me too, now that I think about it--”
“Ugh,” Rorschach sounded his obvious disapproval and disgust. “Twilight Lady was defiling the youth of New York. A despicable woman, not worthy of Nite Owl, let alone Daniel Dreiberg.”
“I’ve only dated two women. Don’t you think that’s a little sad?”
“What’s sad is that perfectly respectable young women looked up to Twilight Lady and were rewarded with leather whore’s clothes and their legs being pried open by vile politicians,” Rorschach spat out.
“I get it. You didn’t like her.” Daniel was still scrubbing the dishes, not looking at Rorschah. He was tall and broad. Thick. Chubby fat around his midsection but his arms and legs were still all muscle. His hair was still thick despite his age, but it was slicked back with that despicable hair gel. For a man that had so much power in his blow, for a man so large and strong, he looked undeniably fragile. It was something Rorschach had always known. That this man was so undeniably good that it would be the death of him some day. Justice never prevailed it seemed.
“No, Daniel. Not good enough. They were not good enough.”
“Then why am I the one alone in this goddamned house,” Daniel snapped, dropping the plate in the sink, turning to face him. He looked so distraught as he wiped his hands on a dish towel, pushing his glasses back up his nose. His eyebrows were furrowed and his jaw clenched. “Why does Liz now have a harem of partners and Laurie still has Jon, and I’m still…”
“Not alone,” Rorschach argued, his tone frustrated. “Two of us in this room, Daniel.”
Dan chuckled humorlessly. “Oh, man, I appreciate the thought, but you’re not going to raise children with me.”
Rorschach bristled at the implication, at the thought of having multiple children with his partner. He tried to imagine it with a lot of difficulty. It wasn’t hard to imagine Daniel as a father. Rorschach had seen fathers in the newspaper before, hugging children that were returned after Rorschach and Nite Owl saved them from evil scum of the city. He knew from books he’d read that fathers threw baseballs and went fishing and ate meals with their children, and in that idealized image, he could easily see Daniel hugging, small similar-looking children. But Rorschach could not imagine himself there, couldn’t imagine the man he was now ruffling a boy’s hair or twirling a little girl around by his finger. He couldn’t force himself to pretend that affection was something he could easily or willingly give to another person.
“Hey, but if you ever have a change in heart, you know where to find me,” Dan joked, winking and chuckling at his own joke. Rorschach cocked his head.
“Daniel,” he growled. “Our duty is to bringing justice, to watching over the city. We already have millions of children. Why would you need more?”
Daniel guffawed at this, a hint of surprise in his eyes as if he hadn’t expected that response. It was good to hear him laugh, after an awfully awkward and depressing dinner. The food was undeniably delicious though. Frivolousness was what Rorschach tried to call Dan’s cooking, as it was unnecessary to cook most canned items; they were completely edible plain. Still, he couldn’t deny that it tasted even better, assaulting his tastebuds with flavors he never had the luxury of enjoying. He admired Daniel in this, in his ability to make such delicious meals despite the fact it was a fruitless skill to have.
“Yeah we’ve got our hands full,” Daniel agreed, playing along with the scenario. “A bunch of bad kids that need some disciplining. You know what? Fuck it. Let’s go patrolling. I was too sick to really enjoy the meal and I want to work up an appetite to try again.”
Without waiting to consult his partner, Daniel left through the basement door. He left it open, and Rorschach moved to close it, only to see Daniel stripping down, already slipping into the tight confines of his suit. Rorschach enjoyed watching, probably more than he should have, and Daniel, snapped on his goggles, finding Rorschach’s gaze. “You coming or what?”
A leap of joy for a somewhat joyless masked redhead. He hadn’t been in Archie since their trip to Karnak. He felt the distance between them fall as he joined his best and only friend, the only man in the world he trusted. He felt something so powerful in his chest that he almost regretted eating all that food, but he quickly realized the feeling would have been there regardless.
He had Daniel back again.