“I like President Truman, the way Dad would of wanted me to. He dropped the atom bomb on Japan and saved millions of lives because if he hadn’t of, then there would of been a lot more war than there was and more people would of been killed.” – Walter Kovacs, age 11
Dawn again. Rorschach is asleep, still wearing his rumpled clothes from the night before, belt unbuckled with his jeans half slipping off his hips. Dan props himself up on one elbow on the mattress beside him, not because he’s watching his ex-partner sleep. No, it’s because even though there’s no room for both of them to sleep comfortably and there’s another mattress three feet away, it’s a cold night and the heating’s busted again and okay, he doesn’t need to make any excuses—they’re both adults and if they want to destroy each other, well, it’s no one’s business but their own.
And besides, sleeping is overrated these days. Who wants to sleep when the psychic residue of the monster is still giving everyone nightmares?
He wonders what Rorschach dreams about.
God, he hates the man sometimes. Not as much as he hates himself at the moment, though. What was he thinking? Rorschach wouldn’t have let last night happen if he’d been planning on living long enough to deal with the fallout. It wasn’t like he and Dan were going to end up picking out china patterns or something. Things like whatever the thing is between them never end well.
He leans over and smoothes a stray curl from his friend’s face. Despite everything, it’s hard for Dan to hate him for very long.
He leaves in the morning, before Rorschach wakes up, and catches the first post-curfew subway to Ground Zero. It’s half-empty; most of Manhattan is still closed for business, and the only people up at this hour are headed to reconstruction sites. Like he is.
The anarchists are up early too, which surprises him a little, but maybe they didn’t sleep either. They huddle by their little stand, a pockmarked table that they dragged out of the wreckage of a public school, serving undifferentiated lentil goop that steams in the crisp winter air. Everyone has a plan for what New York will become when it awakens from its nightmare. Theirs is typed out neatly in bullet points, Xeroxed, and handed to passersby.
He takes a flyer and hands them back a crumpled piece of paper.
You wouldn’t expect it, given their radically different worldviews, but Dan and Rorschach never argued about politics all that often; maybe three times in the last decade or so. Once, near the end of their partnership, Dan found a copy of the New Frontiersman in Archie’s bathroom and threw it out the window as they flew over the docklands.
“Problem?” Rorschach had asked, looking up from the controls.
“Well, yeah. I’m Jewish.”
Rorschach had shrugged. “Nothing personal,” he’d said, and Dan didn’t talk to him for almost a week.
The second time, it was about President Truman, who Rorschach still inexplicably idolizes, and Dan admits now that it was sort of cruel to make fun of him for that.
The third time, if you could call it an argument, happened in Antarctica and was almost the same disagreement as the second, except that the destroyed city in question was New York and not Hiroshima. The irony isn’t lost on him, that they’re always on different sides about the calculated choice to kill many to save many more.
Dan still doesn’t know the answer to that one. He sits outside what, in a better world, would have been the Gunga Diner, and watches his breath cloud and disintegrate. A woman’s shadow falls over him as she lays a wreath on one of the many impromptu memorials springing up across the city. He tells himself that Veidt has to be right because the alternative is even more depressing.
Tonight, an explosion will take out Pioneer Press. It’s clearly the work of the not-as-harmless-as-they-look anarchist group that’s been making so much noise in front of the building lately. It’s likely to disrupt the fragile peace that has settled over New York since the monster; he not only imagines violent retaliation, but he expects it. No one should be working there, not that late, but then, they’re running up against a press deadline.
He tells himself that he’s done it in the name of world peace, and if you look at it from that point of view, he’s not really betraying anyone at all.
After the blast, he’s standing on the rooftop of his apartment. Electricity gets restored in fits and starts and it’s all very unpredictable, so on some clear nights you can actually look up in New York City and see the stars.
He thinks the brightest star might be the planet Jupiter. In some other reality, it’s Laurie who’s standing there beside him, and he’s looking up at the night sky and wondering where Rorschach is.
“Veidt no doubt has agents here. Explosion not a coincidence.”
“Why do you think I want you to keep a low profile?” Dan breathes out a harsh sigh. “Come on, Rorschach. You don’t really think that Veidt’s working with a bunch of hippie anarchists, do you?”
“Not paranoid. Investigating all possibilities.”
“Can’t you just—” Dan starts, but no, he can’t just. Not ever. Already, Rorschach is planning some other scheme to take down Veidt. Of all the people to be left standing after Armageddon, Dan winds up with the guy who’ll wage a one-man Sisyphusian struggle as long as he lives, just on principle; someone who’ll never retire or be normal or live in the world on the world’s terms. The worst thing is this is what drew him to Rorschach in the first place and now he’ll always crave that.
In another reality, Sam and Sandra Hollis are planning to visit Sally Jupiter at Christmas.
In the reality where Heinz has 57 varieties, Dan is married and has two kids. That Daniel Dreiberg’s idea of a grand romantic gesture is roses and candlelight, not blowing up the office of a far-right newspaper to save the life of his erstwhile partner, who really wouldn’t appreciate it if he knew.
“Look, about last night…”
“No need to discuss. Work to do.”
A gloved hand barely brushes over his fingers, just enough to blister in the cold. Rorschach doesn’t meet his eyes, but Dan’s okay with that. Used to it, even.
“Said there was work to do,” and drops onto the fire escape, trenchcoat flapping.
Dan smiles for the first time since Antarctica, and follows Rorschach down into the sleeping city.