Two men in a washroom, one leaning the other over a mildewed bathtub. It isn’t what it looks like.
One man is tall, stocky—pudgy, he’s secure enough to admit it to himself—and blond. He’d been growing a moustache, but the other man objected to it so strenuously that he’s now letting it grow into a stubbly beard, which itches his jaw. He hates it, but it’s a small annoyance in the greater scheme of things.
As for the other man, the one bending into the tub, black streams from his scalp and runs into the yellowed tap water, splashing over the ceramic in random patterns, like inkblots. The blond man, Sam Hollis, according to his driver’s license and birth certificate, feels more than a little ill, thinking about it like that. Like he’s erasing everything that the other is, when really, what he should be grateful for is that there’s running water at all.
Oh, and their lives. He should be grateful for their lives. It’s too easy to forget it sometimes, even when he looks through the cracks in the boarded-up windows at the apocalypse outside.
The other man—and Dan has an easier time accepting the idea of Sam Hollis than he does of Victor Szadz, seriously, he wasn’t thinking at all when he came up with their emergency identities—wriggles free of his slippery grasp and sits up on the edge of the tub, dye still dripping over his forehead. Dan throws him a towel and he stares at it, draped over his hands, as though he’s not entirely sure of what to do with it.
Dan stifles the urge to laugh. There’s nothing to even smile at anymore, whatever the Comedian would have said. But he can’t help it. “You look ridiculous.”
Rorschach stands, stiffly. Both of them are still bruised from the fight in Antarctica, and exhausted, barely sleeping on the way back to New York. It’s hard to remember sometimes that they’re both in their forties now, that their bodies don’t recover from beatings and sleep deprivation the way they used to.
He stares over Rorschach’s shoulder into the mirror. His dye job isn’t as effective at disguising his identity as Dan’s is. It doesn’t match his complexion, for one thing; he looks paler and even more severe, and with the pictures after his arrest published all over the place, his narrow, ugly face is unmistakable.
“What do you think?” Dan asks.
He has a hard time reading the facial expressions of Rorschach-pretending-to-be-Kovacs-preten
After Antarctica, they had argued about what to do. No one who had survived the horror in New York will care very much about two vigilantes wanted for murder. Even assuming that anyone survived who could put them away, murder and jailbreaks, these days, were as trivial as mutually assured destruction. But Veidt won’t let them go so easily. He’d let them escape, Dan is sure of it because Veidt could have stopped them if he’d wanted to, but that doesn’t mean he won’t kill them if they breathe a word about where the monster actually came from. The only course of action that Dan and Rorschach can agree on is that, at least for the time being, Daniel Dreiberg and Walter Kovacs died in the city along with everyone else.
Rorschach wants to keep fighting. He will keep fighting, for truth and justice, despite the costs, and if Dan doesn’t keep a lid on him, Veidt will kill him. Dan knows this, and it’s this close to breaking his heart, because the crazy little bastard is all he has left.
It’s mutually assured destruction, after all.
“You’ve got crap all over your face.” Dan grabs the towel from where it’s fallen on the floor and, when Rorschach just stands there, he wipes the dye from his ex-partner’s skin. Random black stains on white. It doesn’t mean anything. He sees Dr. Manhattan holding Laurie. He sees a nightmare of tentacles and blood. He’s not sure if he sees the man standing in front of him. “There. You still look like hell, though.”
“Thank you,” Rorschach says, then: “Not joking.”
“No, I know.” He clears his throat. “They’re asking for volunteers downtown. You know, digging out bodies, keeping an eye out for looters, that sort of thing. I was gonna go down there and help out.” Stupid, he knows, as soon as the words leave his mouth, stupid and pointless after they failed to save the world. Or failed to fail to save the world. Whichever one it was. But what else is left for them, now? There’s no room for heroes in Veidt’s utopia. Not their breed of hero, anyway. All they can do is clear away the rubble. “You, uh…”
Rorschach brushes past him, out the bathroom door and into the apartment that’s been their hiding place for the past few days. He stands by a window overlooking the deserted street. Light floods in from gaps in the planks of wood that they nailed to the windowsill.
“Will be another crime wave. Peace only lasts so long. Opportunities for criminals.”
Dan takes that as a yes, and they leave together, to save the city again.
The fabulous illustration is by the utterly fabulous jackiemei.