"you fit into me
like a hook into an eye
a fish hook
an open eye"
“Downshift! No, not that, the other way.” Dan grabs his partner’s hand, white-knuckled on the clutch, and shifts the car into second gear. “Pull off to the side. You’re going to get us killed.”
“Your idea.” Rorschach turns the wheel so hard that Dan all but flies into the passenger-side window. Dan manages to regain control before they go spinning into the ditch and they roll to a stop.
“How is it that you can pilot Archie but you never learned how to drive a car?” He runs a hand through his hair, now damp with sweat. “Never mind, I think I can guess. Just—I’m going to take the wheel now, okay? You scare me.”
Rorschach shrugs and unlocks the car door, utterly unaffected by his own terrifying driving. “Thank you, Daniel. Was educational.”
“You’re psychotic,” Dan retorts. “And when this snow melts, I’m going to teach you to drive. In a parking lot. Preferably one very far away from any actual people.” He means it as more than gentle derision—it’s a promise, somehow, that they’ll live through this winter, that the world will last long enough to thaw.
His heart still pounding wildly, he switches places with Rorschach and starts the engine again. The poor car has been through enough. He strokes its steering wheel, silently asking it to forgive him for letting Rorschach abuse it, willing it to take them the rest of the way to Missouri—and back—without breaking down again. He hasn’t considered the return trip, hasn’t thought much lately about going back to New York, what their lives will be like then.
He pays for a motel room off the I-70. It’s too late to visit the archives, too late to do anything besides lie in bed and half-listen to the news on TV, drifting in and out of sleep. Rorschach paces restlessly for a few minutes, makes a faintly annoyed sound, and climbs into bed next to him, close enough that Dan can feel the hairs on his arm, but not really touching him.
On the television, two pundits are having a debate about whether the city should drop the ball in Times Square on New Year’s Eve in a week. Dan wants to smack them both. It’s his city, his and Rorschach’s and the city of every would-be rescuer in a particle mask and coveralls. And now it’s the property of the same country that, before the monster, scorned it as a hotbed of crime and corruption. Of the world for which it was sacrificed.
“Does it get to you?” he asks, an absurd question when he’s fairly certain that Rorschach would have rather died along with most of the city than live in the aftermath. But his partner just takes the remote from him, his hand lingering for a split second too long over Dan’s, and shuts off the television.
“Vultures,” he says. “Feed on bloated carcasses left by real killer. Save your rage, Daniel.”
“Hey. Good advice,” Dan replies, and Rorschach glares at him.
He wakes up to the sound of running water; still groggy, tries to figure out where it’s coming from, and then snaps wide awake when he sees Rorschach emerge from the bathroom, face shaved, his hair leaking droplets of water on the shoulders of his rumpled, but relatively clean, pinstriped suit. Dan blinks, trying to reconcile a great number of incongruous things simultaneously, and bites his tongue to avoid asking the obvious tactless question.
“Records stored at military archives,” Rorschach says, trying, and failing, to slick down the damp spikes of hair that insist on springing back up. “Presentable?”
“Um,” Dan says, because throwing Rorschach on the bed and having his way with him when there’s a real bed present and he smells good for once is apparently the wrong thing to do, though his brain can’t quite tease out the reason why. “Yes.”
“Should shave as well. And cut hair. Look like hippie.” He’s about to protest when he catches a glimpse of his own reflection in the mirrored bathroom door, and, okay, Rorschach might be a jerk, but it’s sort of true.
Several hours later, caffeinated and looking almost like respectable citizens, they’re in front of a desk, having a terse discussion with the resident archivist about the minutia of the Freedom of Information Act. She huffs a great deal and finally retrieves a thin file with everything she’s allowed to tell an utter stranger who won’t reveal his interest in the man in question.
Lieutenant Charles Dewitt did not, as his son grew up believing, die fighting the Nazis. He stepped off a navy vessel in San Diego with an honorable discharge and shrapnel still embedded in his eye a year before Truman dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There’s service number, and a photograph of him, the flag draped in the background, and he has brush-cut hair that won’t stay down, and freckles, and the archivist looks at Rorschach and says, “Oh.”
Dan puts a hand on his partner’s back. Rorschach shrugs him off, but there’s no effort in it. He studies the face—handsomer than his own, but the eyes just as cold, staring off somewhere beyond the camera.
“Date of death?” he asks.
“There, uh.” She shuffles through the papers again, but there are only a few sheets, and it’s more a gesture than anything else. “Isn’t.”
“He’s still alive?” Dan splutters.
She frowns and types something into the computer. “There’s no record after 1971. That could mean a lot of things, but…” She taps her fingers on the counter and bites her lip. “Look, this probably isn’t going to change your mind about anything, but, I’m adopted too, and a few years ago I tried to track down my biological parents and—it’s just heartbreak, you know? Your family’s the people who raised—”
Dan shoots her a look that he genuinely hopes says: Lady, don’t even think about starting this conversation.
“There’s one other thing,” she says, her voice hushed. “I don’t know if it’s current, but there’s an address in the database. It might be contact information. Probably a place of work.” Before she can protest that she isn’t allowed to divulge it, that her very job is on the line, Rorschach twists the monitor around, startling her, no longer the vulnerable lost son seeking his father, but someone else, a stranger with murder written in his eyes.
And then he’s gone, a whisper of pinstriped fabric and footsteps retreating down a polished floor. Dan stares at the archivist, her fingers pressed to her lips, her day far more interesting than she’d probably bargained for. And then he looks at the computer screen and once again, feels the great machinery of other men’s plans creak into motion.
“I don’t get it,” the woman says. “What is it? What’s Dimensional Developments?”
“Nothing.” He glances down the lobby as the revolving door slows to a stop. “Just forget about it.”
“No.” He remembers, abruptly, that he can be frighteningly intense too, when he wants to be. “I mean forget about it,” and steps, grudgingly, back into a life that, he has to admit, never really belonged to him anyway.
Somewhere, there are three very different men, bound to trace the steps of a complicated dance. None sees the complete pattern traveled, only where he crosses another’s path— a shadow falling across the face of the sun, a sudden reversal where the lover becomes the beloved. Each of these men believes that he is free, but the moment one pulls away, another draws him back in—they are trapped together like this—and he tells himself that this is what he has chosen.
They will perform this dance forever. Until they are dead, until the world dies with them or else leaves them behind, relics of a lost era.
He sits on the hood of his electric car and gazes up at the stars, though he knows they hold no answers, that the secrets of the cosmos belong to other men and women, are only matter and dust and space anyway. Still, he looks up at the sky and thinks it must mean something more than that. Something has to.
Not for the first time, Dan wishes that Hollis were still alive. Everything’s coming apart at the seams again. He needs sanity now. Instead, he has Rorschach.
“Shouldn’t be out in the open,” a gravelly voice says from behind him. “Being watched.”
“He might be bugging the motel room too.”
“Hurm. Probably right.” It almost sounds like approval, and Dan feels guilty as hell for encouraging his partner’s paranoia. But it isn’t paranoia, is it? Not if every road, even this innocent detour, leads somehow back to Adrian fucking Veidt. They live in an age of gods and monsters, and Dan has no doubt in Veidt’s practically infinite capabilities. But there has to be a limit to how much one man, even the smartest man, can manipulate.
He lies back against the windshield, arm trailing off the side of the car to nudge Rorschach closer. His partner slumps against the front wheel, his head just beneath Dan’s fingers. Nothing’s real, he thinks, not this tenuous bond between them—that, too, was Veidt’s doing, though probably inadvertent. Or maybe not. If the conspiracy goes back to Rorschach’s father, how real is Rorschach?
“Where were you all day, anyway?”
“Went for a walk. Needed to think.”
Dan twists a curl of copper hair between his thumb and forefinger, and Rorschach lets him, which is probably a bad sign. “You’re going to run away again,” he says.
“Conspiracy deeper than initially assumed. Personal now.”
“Or a really big coincidence.” Except that Dan himself doesn’t really believe that. “Don’t go. Whatever it is, whatever the reason, it’s in the past. It’s all over—everything’s over. Veidt won, and there’s no one left to save.”
“Can’t ignore this. What would you have me do?”
Stay with me, he wants to say. Not in New York, no, too many bad memories there, too much temptation. We’ll go somewhere else, somewhere far away where no one knows us, some small town like the kind that only exists in commercials, where people leave their doors unlocked and if a neighbor cries out in the night, they come outside to help.
“Not get yourself killed,” he says lamely.
He feels Rorschach lean into his hand, ever so slightly. “We never die in bed, Daniel.”
“What if I stopped you?”
He can’t see his partner’s face, but he hears the dismissive snort. “Never could. Wouldn’t anyway. Veidt chooses agents poorly. Loyalties divided.”
“I’m not…” He hates that Veidt’s interests and his own align so closely, hates that he’s a traitor, against his own will, without having to do anything at all. He hates that Rorschach, who has never given up a grudge in his life, forgives him for it. “I was trying to get you away from him. Keep you safe.”
Rorschach climbs to his feet. He looks tired, Dan thinks, the lines in his face pronounced. “Sentiment appreciated, if misguided.” He takes Dan’s hand in his gloved fingers, presses it in his palm. Dan is reminded of how cold he is, not at all dressed for this weather, but maybe it’s for the best. Maybe this pain, this constant slow burn that threatens to devour him, will freeze along with his skin. “Thank you for this, Daniel. Have always been a good friend.” He lets Dan’s arm fall back against his chest and jams his hands into his pockets, hunches against the wind as he heads for the highway.
He drives for an hour, rehearsing in his head what he’s going to say, pulling over to the side every now and against to thump the steering wheel in frustration, before he sees the lone figure following the road, the collar of his suit jacket turned up though it can’t offer much warmth in this wind. Dan flashes the lights, startling his partner, slows the car to a stop, and pushes the door open.
“Were you planning to walk all the way to California?” Rorschach stands there, head down, kicking at the snow with the toe of his boot like a kid caught stealing. “Get in.”
“Won’t talk me out of it.”
“I’m not trying to. Get in. You must be freezing.”
Rorschach hesitates, leaning heavily on the doorframe, as if evaluating something in Dan’s voice. He must have passed the test, though, because Rorschach exhales sharply and slips into the passenger seat, slamming the door shut.
“Not entirely without resources. Can take Greyhound. Hitchhike. What are you doing here, Daniel?”
“You left your hat in the motel room,” Dan says.
Rorschach stares at him, and if he were a different sort of person, they would both be breaking into peals of laughter right about now. Even still, Dan feels that old glimmer of camaraderie return, tentative though it might be. Rorschach turns around in the seat and there it is, his fedora sitting like a smug cat on top of the duffle bags with their meager possessions hastily crammed inside.
“So, here’s the thing. I know you were beating up criminals before I showed up on the scene, and long after I quit, and you do stupid heroic things on principle and I’m never going to be able to change that. You’re right. It’s why I—anyway.” He slams his head back against the headrest; this isn’t how he’d meant it to go at all. “What were you going to do? Storm the building and start breaking fingers until you found out what the connection was between your father and Veidt?”
The silence from the passenger side tells Dan that this was exactly what Rorschach had in mind.
“No. Just…no. He’ll kill you.”
Dan wants to reach over and hug him and tell him that his life is worth more than that, that there’s a time when it becomes harder to survive in the world, in all of its imperfections and shades of grey, than to die in a bright flash of martyrdom. But Rorschach is right about that, too, he won’t change, and Adrian Veidt is more of an obsession for him than Dan could ever be.
“I’m coming with you, then.” He starts the engine, stares down the desolate stretch of road in front of them. In the dim corona of the headlights, it retreats into eternity. It’s a long way to the warehouse in San Francisco, if the place is even still there. He desperately hopes that it isn’t.
“Not your fight. Made that much clear. Willing to compromise.”
“Isn’t that what I’m doing now?”
“Hurm.” Rorschach considers this, though it’s a moot point—they’re driving, and Dan doubts that his death wish extends to jumping out of moving cars to avoid conversations he doesn’t want to have. Though one never knows with him. “Always worked better as a team,” he manages, and Dan has a hard time not grinning a little at that. Rorschach made him feel invulnerable once, more than even the costume and the gadgets did, back when they were young and fearless and the fate of the world didn’t hang in the balance.
“Besides,” Dan says. “No one would ever pick you up hitchhiking. Especially at this hour. You’re kind of terrifying.”
The other man is quiet, and Dan is momentarily worried that he might have pushed too far, hit another sensitive spot. They were only just barely friends again in those awful days between Blake’s murder and the monster’s death throes, and the weeks since have been…unpredictable. He glances to his right and sees that Rorschach is watching him, expressionless and unblinking.
“Glad you’re here, Daniel,” he says, his voice softer than usual.
“Me too,” and mostly means it.
The first light of dawn breaks over skeletons of trees, and Dan, his driving rapidly becoming as questionable as his partner’s, pulls into the first rest stop he can find across from a rusting pickup with a bumper sticker of the Manhattan skyline, the words “Never Forget” in red and blue below it. He leans his face against the window and closes his eyes. He drifts in and out of sleep, exhaustion fighting terror, the nightmares coiling at the edges of his consciousness. Rorschach twitches beside him, making strange noises and scowling in his sleep. He manages to somehow curl up so that he’s lying against Dan’s arm, the emergency brake pressing into his side, and Dan doesn’t have the heart to move him. He watches the sky blossom into purple and orange, and feels his partner shudder awake with a muttered “Nrg.”
“Hey,” Dan whispers, too gently. Rorschach mumbles something and sits up, avoiding Dan’s eyes, like he’s embarrassed. “It’s okay,” Dan tells him. “I get nightmares too. Everyone does. The monster—”
“Not,” Rorschach says, “about monster.”
“Unimportant,” and that should end the conversation, even though he’s still shaking. But Dan can never leave a scab unscratched, even when he knows it will heal faster if he just leaves it alone.
“You can tell me about these things, you know,” he says, feeling pathetic even as he says it. That earns him a huff, a warning. “You don’t have to be alone all the time.”
“Not alone.” Rorschach grumbles. “Also not writing tell-all memoir.”
“I always wondered what you were writing in that thing.” His partner glowers. “Never mind.” He reaches over, puts a hand on Rorschach’s arm.
“Daniel…” It’s practically a growl, and Dan knows he shouldn’t push it. They’ve only just made up, again, but he never thinks clearly first thing in the morning. He climbs over the emergency break to kneel in the cramped space between the dashboard and the pushed-back seat. Rorschach makes one half-hearted attempt to shove him away and then lets Dan slide his hands inside his jacket, barely whispering across his chest before trapping him against the seat. He squirms, and Dan holds him still until he finally looks up, eyes wide, irises swallowed by black. His fingernails bite into Dan’s neck to draw him closer.
Dan hasn’t done anything remotely like this since he was a kid—grown men with their own townhouses and airships don’t make out in cars—and it’s significantly more uncomfortable than he remembered. His shin bangs against the clutch as he tries to balance over his partner without crushing him, the seat caging them in. It means something, he thinks, this fumbling in the dark, cold fingers pressed together as he strokes his partner to arousal through the thin purple cotton of his pants, feels his own skin electrify beneath his sweater. Even if their fates were decided long ago by something much greater than either of them, a force more powerful than that which beats a mugger into submission or rescues a woman walking alone at night—at least, he thinks, at least they chose this.
There’s a loud rap on the window. Rorschach recoils, twisting his face into the seat, and Dan jerks his head up to see a cop tapping the glass on the driver’s side. Belatedly, heat rising to his cheeks, he remembers the other reason why he doesn’t screw around in cars anymore. He flails over to the door and unrolls the window. “…Hi.”
“Move along,” the cop says, not in the least bit taken aback by the less-than-attractive spectacle of two middle-aged men in a compromising position. A frustrated rattle escapes Rorschach’s lips, and Dan is mildly relieved that he never got his grappling gun back from the evidence locker.
“Yessirabsolutelysir.” He floors the pedal, drawing a whine from the engine, and swings the car drunkenly out onto the highway. Wind blasts through the opened window, and when he glances at the rearview mirror, the road behind them is clear. He turns off at the next side road, laughter convulsing his shoulders.
“Not funny,” Rorschach snaps.
“Oh, come on.” Dan slides across to his seat. “It was, a little.”
“Could have been recognized. Could have—”
“Rorschach,” Dan says. “Shut up,” and sweeps him into a bruising kiss.
This time, the laziness of his early morning stupor evaporated, they don’t linger. Rorschach is frantic as he tugs at Dan’s belt, nips Dan’s throat, struggling and gasping like he doesn’t know the difference between fighting and fucking. Dan’s wrist bangs against the lid of the glove compartment before he manages to open it and retrieve the lube. When he slides inside his partner—moans as the muscles convulse and Rorschach hisses through his teeth—it’s an act of mercy.
The world explodes into patterns, mirror images of light and dark. He bites into his sleeve to stop himself from crying out. He feels Rorschach go slack beneath him, liquid warmth between their bodies, dazed enough that Dan can hold him and thread fingers through his hair.
“You okay?” he asks, like a complete idiot.
Rorschach, gone completely quiet, nods against his chest. Dan thinks he’s fallen asleep, pressed up against the seat, and then he murmurs, “Daniel?”
“Dream about the dogs.”
Dan doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but he squeezes his partner’s shoulder and stays there, just a moment longer.
The pyramid, carved from pink stone and long-abandoned, casts a shadow that stretches across the dirt road, almost to the car. They stand by a bullet-riddled sign forbidding them to climb it, and look up at the square-jawed face carved in its side.
“It even looks a little like Adrian,” Dan says, amused despite himself.
“Would never grow beard,” Rorschach replies.
“He would have in the 1880s.” And Dan immediately pictures Veidt with a monocle and top hat and has to pretend to cough into his sleeve to hide his snicker. “God, can you imagine? I bet he’d have built himself one of these things.”
“Has unusually large sphinx in Virginia,” Rorschach deadpans. “Built after return from Mediterranean.”
“You’re kidding. Oh God. You’re not kidding.”
“Carved own face on it.” Rorschach glances up at the monument to forgotten men’s egos, the pyramid in the snow in the middle of nowhere, its portraits crumbling and splattered with bird shit and graffiti. “Never saw pictures. Imagine something more dignified.”
“I can’t believe you were sitting on that kind of blackmail material. Why didn’t you ever say anything?”
“Have much more on him now,” Rorschach says dryly.
“How did you even find out? He didn’t—”
“Comedian told me,” and suddenly, it isn’t quite so funny anymore. Dan hopes fervently that Blake got in at least one cutting remark before Veidt hurled him out of his own window. He hopes that they will, when it’s their turn to die at Veidt’s hands.
Two days lie between this moment, standing with his partner beneath a tacky roadside attraction, and whatever waits for them in South San Francisco. There’s a part of him—the part that always was a coward—that wants to take a wrong turn, to surrender his will to the gods that inhabit the empty places along the highway and let the car guide them a million miles away, to the mountains in Denver or the Mojave Desert. To let someone else take up the fight because hell, he doesn’t know himself whose side he’s on anymore, and he wants so very much to live. For both of them to live.
When they die, he thinks, not even as much as a half-ruined pyramid will stand in their memory, though once, they almost saved the world.
“Yeah. Just a second.” He takes a pocketknife and, kneeling by the side of the pyramid, scrapes a small crescent into the face of the rock, beneath declarations of love between couples long parted, disconnected phone numbers and gang signs. He hands the knife to his partner. It’s nothing to say, “I was here, I mattered”—but Rorschach nods and, beside the crescent, carves his own symmetrical symbol.
As they walk back towards the car, the snow is already rising to bury their tracks.
Illustration that never fails to crack me up by the awesomecakes snarkitysnarks