Characters: Rorschach, Daniel.
Rating: Worksafe, gen.
Word count: 1677
Summary: AU. Nite Owl breaks into Walter's home to tell him about the death of the Comedian.
Walter often works late because he's never in a great rush to get home, so it's usually dark when he takes the train back to his apartment. He watches the other passengers carefully while pretending to read a book. When he exits the subway station, he's always a little relieved to be out in the night air.
His apartment building is okay, nothing special. Money isn't such a problem anymore, but he doesn't see the point in spending more than he needs to. His rent is reasonable, he has enough space, and his neighbors mind their own business. He's as content as he's ever going to be.
The building is quiet. It's some time after midnight, so most of the normal people are asleep. Walter ascends the stairs and paces along a short hallway, moving soundlessly so as not to disturb anyone. Old habits die hard; he still prefers to wear shoes with soft soles.
When he unlocks his apartment's door and steps inside, he first notices that it's unusually cold. There's a breeze, as if a window has been left open.
The kitchen door is ajar, and a sliver of light spills through the crack.
Walter grips his keys in his fist, stalks up to the kitchen door, and peers through it.
There's a man in a strange costume sitting at Walter's kitchen table. He's reading one of Walter's criminal psychology books and eating a slice of cold pizza that Walter was saving for later.
Walter breathes out, although it isn't really a sigh of relief, and steps inside the room.
The man in the strange costume looks up at him.
"Hey, Rorschach," Nite Owl says.
Nite Owl's costume is impeccably clean, as always, and Walter wonders how he manages to keep it that way. It could be said that the costume is in much better condition than its owner, as Nite Owl himself looks tired and worn out. His shiny goggles have been pushed up onto his forehead, so Walter can see the shadows under his eyes, and his cowl has been pulled back, revealing a mess of sweaty brown hair. When Nite Owl grins, Walter notes that two of his front teeth are missing.
As suspected, the kitchen window is wide open. Walter feels his temper rise. "My window?" he says.
Nite Owl blinks. "Huh?"
Walter points in the window's direction.
"Oh. I didn't damage the lock, if that's what you're worried about," says Nite Owl. He holds up a device that looks like a slender brass tube with a needle sticking out of it. It's oddly beautiful, like one of those expensive fountain pens that Walter used to covet as a child. "I made a new pick gun, so I was testing it. I lost the old one somewhere in Harlem, but this one weighs less, has better frequency control, and cuts down on resonance. Want to see?"
"No," says Walter. "Why are you here?"
Nite Owl looks slightly disappointed, and puts the lockpicking device back in a utility pouch. He then places something on the kitchen table: a yellow smiley face button, smeared with reddish-brown. Walter has seen the button before, although his mind falters when he tries to process its significance.
"I was looking into the murder of a guy named Edward Blake," Nite Owl says. "You're not going to believe this, but... well, to cut a long story short, it turns out that he was the Comedian. Someone threw him out the window of his apartment. The forensic team had to scrape him off the sidewalk and put him in a bag."
Nite Owl isn't lying, Walter knows that. Walter suddenly feels very strange, so he slumps down in the nearest chair, and just says, "Oh."
Nite Owl sits there and continues eating pizza.
"The Comedian. That's.... Hrn. You're sure it was him?" Walter asks.
"I checked his apartment after the cops had gone. It was like a bachelor pad crossed with an armory. There was testosterone running down the walls, man. If I'd opened the fridge, it probably would've been full of beer and steak... although, come to think of it, I can't really imagine the Comedian eating steak. He probably thought steak was for sissies. I bet he just broke into a dairy farm and bit a chunk out of a live cow whenever he got hungry. Anyway, I went through his stuff - I even found his guns and costume. So yeah, I'm pretty sure it was him."
"What makes you think it was murder?" It's a stupid question - Walter can't really imagine the Comedian resorting to suicide - but it has to be asked.
"Signs of struggle, of course," says Nite Owl. "Judging by the bloodstain patterns, someone beat the living shit out of the guy before doing the deed."
"You said that someone threw him out a window," Walter says, slowly.
"How do you throw a grown man of the Comedian's size through a tempered glass window?"
Nite Owl grins again. "Exactly. It's a great case, isn't it?"
Walter doesn't know what to think. Nite Owl is a fantasist, but there's usually a grain of truth in his delusions.
"You think he screamed on the way down?" Nite Owl asks. He's never liked the Comedian much.
Walter frowns at him, and says nothing.
For a moment, the kitchen is silent, save for the hum of the refrigerator. It's quiet enough that Walter can hear the distant wail of police sirens outside. The sirens sound as if they're a few blocks away, and the noise soon recedes into the distance, but Walter still clenches his fists and digs his fingers into the palms of his hands.
"It's not safe for you to be here," he tells Nite Owl.
"I've been careful," Nite Owl says, mildly affronted. "I'm not stupid."
Walter would agree, but that doesn't mean he trusts Nite Owl's judgment, because Nite Owl is as certifiably insane. Crazy as a loon, as they say.
Nite Owl would make an interesting study, actually. He's a man who had almost every possible advantage - wealth, intelligence, charisma, connections - and yet he's still a maladjusted risk-taker with delusions of grandeur. Walter isn't qualified to make a diagnosis, but he sometimes suspects Nite Owl of being (among other things) a pathological narcissist. It would certainly help to explain his need for a heroic persona at the expense of his physical and mental well-being.
Walter tells himself that the two of them no longer have anything in common.
"Hn," says Walter. "So. Why would someone murder the Comedian? Political killing?"
"Could be," Nite Owl says. "But it doesn't add up. I mean, they threw him out a window. That doesn't seem like an impersonal assassination to me. It seems more like someone had a serious grudge. If they'd only wanted him dead, then they could've shot him, right? That'd be quick and simple. But no, they chose to beat him up first, then killed him in one of the messiest ways possible. So, I was thinking... maybe someone's got it in for masks. "
Walter snorts. "No-one cares about masks anymore, Daniel."
Nite Owl gives him a strange, vacant, ugly look, then smiles, and says, "C'mon, buddy - he was active for forty years. He made a lot of enemies in that time. We all did."
"We fought hoodlums and eccentric gangsters; pimps, perverts, and freaks. The dregs of society. I doubt that any of our old adversaries would have the resources to take out an extra-normal government operative."
"For a guy who's been retired for the last eight years, you seem pretty sure that you know what you're talking about," says Nite Owl. He sounds petulant - perhaps Walter's use of the name 'Daniel' has ruffled his feathers. Nite Owl rises from his seat, and yawns (rather too deliberately), then makes a painfully obvious attempt to get under Walter's skin: "How's the investigative journalism schtick working out for you these days, anyway?"
It's difficult and slow and soul-destroying. Journalism is a field that actively punishes people for being truthful and good; Walter frequently wonders why he persists with it. The mainstream news media is a toothless beast, seduced into servility by its liberal masters and made to perform for the highest bidder. Walter feels unclean by association. And he hates his colleagues.
"It's fine," Walter says.
"Hmm," says Nite Owl.
They stare at each other across the kitchen table.
Nite Owl taps a finger against the criminal psychology book that he was reading earlier. "Y'know, given that your name is 'Rorschach', you should've become a psychiatrist when you retired, not a journalist."
"That's not my name anymore," Walter says, a little too quickly.
Nite Owl smiles. Walter has the urge to break all of Nite Owl's remaining teeth.
Before Nite Owl has the chance to speak again, Walter says, "So, are you done here?"
The terse question has the desired effect. For a second, Nite Owl looks like a kicked puppy. "I guess. I just came here to warn you in case someone was gunning for masks, that's all. So, uh, I'll get going. I've got places to be."
Walter just nods.
Nite Owl glances about, sheepish, as though he doesn't really want to leave. Then he meets Walter's stare, and gives him a hollow smile before turning away and heading to the window. It's a small wonder that Nite Owl manages to fit through it, but he does, and he disappears onto the ledge beyond. There's the hiss and whir of a grappling gun, and the sound of a cape flapping in the wind, almost like wings.
Walter stands up, and goes to looks outside. He sees a shadowy figure dart through the alleyway that's adjacent to his apartment building. From a distance, the figure could be perceived as being strangely romantic and anachronistic, like a character out of an adventure film serial; a refugee from one of the better parts of Walter's childhood.
"Delusional pervert," Walter mutters, and slams the window shut.