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Title: Clean (1/3)
Author: MustInvestigate
Disclaimer: I only own action figures.
Rating: eventually NC-17
Character(s)/Pairing: NiteOwl/Rorschach
Warning: Graphic m/m sexual activity
Summary: Hrm...I wanted to get Rorschach naked. So I packed every possible cliché around that idea and called it a story.

What is it about crime bosses and saunas? Nite Owl wondered, watching from a handy rooftop as the police first discovered then officially arrested Big Figure and his crew of comically oversized thugs. You trace them back to their lair, their inner sanctum, and nine times out of ten, you’ll find a tubby globe of body hair steaming his genitals under a loose towel while he gives his simmering brutes their marching orders.

He grinned behind his fist. And the shrinks say us masks are exorcising our secret perversions out here…

It had been a fascinating exercise, at least – the rush of cold outside air making swirls of steam between them and the sweating, fully suited thugs; bodies jostling in the tight space, unable to draw a weapon or even grapple properly; Rorschach, grabbed from behind, kicking off from the wall and knocking three down like soft dominos…

His partner was more suited for this close work, eeling between bodies and leaving twisted limbs in his wake. Nite Owl had dropped back after his first few punches and kicks were embarrassingly truncated by their short arcs and simply hauled bodies out to give his partner more room to manoeuvre, to make his way closer to the diminutive man that had wedged himself in the upper, hottest corner.

It had been far, far harder to finally bag Big Figure than either of them expected. With the walls protecting two sides and his feet at nose level, he kicked and twisted and generally made it impossible to get a grip on him, even after his towel had fluttered cheerily to the floor.

Nite Owl *snng*ed and stepped forward to help his partner, who’d jumped several feet away as the fabric fell, revealing Little Big Figure nested in a primeval forest of pubic hair.

“Mine!” Rorschach growled, before Nite Owl could force his way into the limited space, and dove back into the fight.

Nite Owl had shrugged and went back to secure the thugs who were slowly coming around. He could have sworn that the blots of the mask, almost totally black now from the heat, looked like someone trying to glare through tightly shut eyelids. Rorschach had done most of the legwork on this one, after all, following the tainted batch of heroin along a trail of dead schoolkids, both junior junkies and runners who’d learned too much about Figure’s supply chain.

Let him have his closure, Daniel thought, also more than a little happy escape the intense funk of fermented sweat for the moderately clearer back alley air. Rorschach had eventually dumped Big Figure, who looked like someone who’d dressed both at gunpoint and mid-shower, on the pile of trussed criminals with a mightily displeased grunt and stalked up the fire escape that would take them to Archie’s hiding place with more looping gusto than usual, leaving Nite Owl to phone in the standard anonymous tip.

Nite Owl winced now as a fresh-faced uniform grabbed the small man by his ankles and pitched him bodily into the back of the riot van.

That’s just bad form, he thought, automatically listening for his partner’s grunt of approval.

It didn’t come. Nite Owl turned to see Rorschach swaying on his feet.

“Hey,” he said, almost violating one of the man’s many unspoken cardinal rules by reaching out to steady him. Daniel let his arm drop and hovered instead.

“Fine,” Rorschach grunted. “We’re done for tonight.”

He turned and hoisted himself into Archie with the same loose motions he’d used on the fire escape, overreaching and catching himself on the rebound, settling into the co-pilot’s seat expectantly. Nite Owl took three careful breathes before following. Both tired, he told himself. Home. Sleep.

He snorted. When did my inner voice start dropping pronouns?

Daniel pushed back his goggles and cowl as he settled Archie in her cradle. Rorschach had spent the brief trip home staring grimly out the front window, which wasn’t exactly unusual, but he’d hoped his partner would be in what passed for a good mood after finally putting his latest nemesis away. This usually involved slightly more upbeat muttering about filth and depravity, over coffee (Rorschach’s two-thirds sugary sludge), while the sky lightened toward dawn outside his kitchen window. It wasn’t much, and it didn’t happen very often, but Daniel had been stocking sugar cubes in bulk for the previous four years.

Not going to be one of those nights, he thought regretfully, powering down the ship. His hair was tacky with half-dried sweat, and he didn’t even want to think about the state of his feet under layers of socks and armoured boots. The amusement factor of fighting steamed-dumpling thugs had completely worn off, and he wanted nothing more than a hot shower and cool bedsheets in his immediate future.

His daylight desires had narrowed so damn much since he’d seriously taken on the cowl. There’d been a time when he had a social life, awkward dates with co-eds who needed to be signed back into their dorms by nine, even more awkward liaisons with a handful of strangers in alleys behind Village bars that needed to culminate before a police’s flashlight swept the narrow space. Now, he slept until nearly noon, tinkered in the basement and watched the news until dusk, sometimes making minor adjustments to the fiscally continent portfolio his father had left him until just before the market closed. It was a frighteningly solitary life, while the sun was up, and he was continually surprised by the growing isolation. Hollis had warned him, but it was still unbelievable, how little he could stir himself to touch base with the ordinary world he was defending.

He met new people every night, of course, but he didn’t make many new friends.

Rorschach didn’t move when he turned off the lights and stood up. Daniel smirked – the Scourge of the Underworld had nodded off like a kid on the way home from Grandma’s.

Somehow, on the good nights, this partnership almost made up for it. Captain Metropolis was offputtingly eager to be a mentor, the Comedian and Ozymandias bugged him in entirely individual ways, and the teenager and the god were embarrassingly wrapped up in their little romance, but the faceless psychopath who mooched his kitchen bare – even the thought that he’d been there before and would return soon enough – chased the loneliness away.

Exactly how that happened, Daniel didn’t want to examine too closely. He suspected it was like a pinned butterfly: concrete from a distance, but the merest breathe of close attention would disintegrate it.

Now – how to wake him up without having my ballsack relocated to my throat?

“Rorschach?” he crooned. “Wake up. We’re…um…we’re home?”

No movement. “Rorschach?”

Still nothing. He risked a quick poke to the shoulder. When even that failed to get a reaction – particularly the roundhouse to the jaw he was expecting – Daniel began to worry.

He gingerly worked his fingers into the space between the scarf and mask, expecting with every heartbeat to be kicked into the console, and checked for a pulse. It was there, beating fitfully, but the skin was hot and dry. He turned on the internal lights and tugged the scarf away to reveal a red, flushed neck.

Momentarily distracted by the closeness of ginger stubble and freckles, Daniel though back to his lifeguard training from nearly a decade before. He remembered with growing guilt the long stake-out through the muggy July night – he’d had a canteen, which Rorschach refused, as usual – before they were sure the bulk of Figure’s force was inside, the effort of incapacitating the outer ring of security, the coup-de-grace of an extended tussle in 180-degree heat, in what had to be at least five layers of fabric.

He pummelled his tired brain, thinking first of the treatment for heat stroke and dehydration (put in cool environment, push clear liquids, remove restrictive clothing, seek professional medical attention) and cross-indexed those results with known actions that would bring Rorschach to a murderous rage (all of the above).

Daniel rubbed the bridge of his nose and came to a decision. First – get him out of Archimedes.

He levered his partner out of the seat into a fireman’s hold, staggering under the unexpected weight. For a little guy, Rorschach was solid. Daniel found himself hoping he’d stay in a medically dangerous swoon at least as long as it took him to get up the stairs.

Daniel settled Rorschach on the spare bed, wincing at the marks his shoes left on the cover. The guest bedroom was one of the few rooms with wiring that could handle a window ac unit, and now he turned the machine on high. The cold air suddenly blowing on his belly made him shiver.

Next, he thought, Next, remove restrictive…force clear liquids. Yes, definitely liquids. Are the next step.

Daniel filled his mother’s fancy pitcher, a vaguely art deco piece like a fishbowl with a spout, with lukewarm tap water in the kitchen and brought it and a mug into the rapidly cooling room. He propped Rorschach up on headboard like an oversized doll and carefully touched the edge of the mask – now almost entirely black – and when that didn’t get a reaction, rolled it up over the mouth.

Huh, he thought. Latex. Makes sense, I guess. How does he breathe, though? How does he even see?

Rorschach almost roused when Daniel put the mug to his lips, trying to remember exactly how you forced liquids on an unconscious person without drowning them. It had only been a ticky box on the multiple-choice test, needed to pass to get his certification to sit in the high chair ogling wet classmates all summer: force clear liquids. He thought it might have been option ‘B,’ or maybe had fallen under ‘D’: all of the above.

Some liquid went between the cracked lips, spilled across the clenched teeth and down the chin. The unconscious man moved his head and mumbled, weakly clenching his fists. Daniel shifted to grip Rorschach’s jaw and tried again, thinking that almost a mugfull made it into his mouth this time. Maybe.

A loose fist landed on his knee before his partner slumped into unconsciousness again.

Right, so, that was liquids, he thought firmly, setting the jug and mug on the coffee table within easy reach of the invalid. They’ve been forced.

Fuck, he thought, fisting his tired eyes. I know how to suture a knife wound and wrap up broken ribs and minimise visible bruises, but I had no idea I should have been studying up on desert-manoeuvre emergencies.

Daniel warily eyed the unconscious man as if he would spring back to wakefulness and strangle him at any second. Next, he told himself reluctantly, remove restrictive clothing.

He tugged off the leather gloves first, then the shoes and socks. His partner’s feet were narrow, white, and vulnerable. The socks were more hole than material, sad things that almost disintegrated without toes to give them shape. He left them on the carpet.

The rest…

It was difficult enough to get the trench coat off. It wanted to stay wrapped around its familiar body, the belt’s buckle catching on the cover and pillows, and crackled when Daniel folded it over his arm and set it on the armchair.

Daniel shuddered.

He was used to the smell. He patrolled a few feet from the guy in all seasons, and Rorschach always smelled like someone who slept on a pallet of rotting newspapers and worked double shifts on a garbage truck. For all Daniel knew, he did. He knew the way that scent changed after a fight, shot through with the oily-iron tang of spent adrenaline, and thought of it as a daybreak marker, more reliable than birdsong. Daniel didn’t know where he slept when Rorschach didn’t sack out for a few hours on the cot in the basement, what he did during the daylight hours, what name everyone else called him.

Meanwhile, he suspected Rorschach knew his social security number and the state of his stock portfolio better than Daniel did.

It was strong – old blood, lived-in sweat – but what grabbed Daniel’s attention was the grime worked into the seams of the dark purple trousers. The knees were shiny with the slime of a hundred alleys. The cuffs were black with – he didn’t want to think what could have stained them that shade.

Daniel twitched.

His father had always hated that. Neatness was certainly a virtue in a son, a boy who would hang up his clothes instead of leaving them in a trail between bedroom and bathroom and would leave dirty dishes in the sink instead of his bedsheets, but fastidiousness was another matter. No father wanted to catch his teenage son ironing his shorts, and he certainly didn’t want to hear it was because his wife didn’t use the right amount of starch.

There was no chance those clothes were comfortable.

Well, he can’t just take them into a laundromat, can he? Sure, plenty of men wear pinstripe suits and trench coats, but not blood-stained ones that smell like roofing tar. Would he take that risk?

Daniel rescued the once-white scarf easily enough, trying not to linger on the suddenly exposed neck. He dropped it with the socks and paused, uncomfortably certain Rorschach already lay naked in front of him. There were still at least three layers to go.

The man would end up in the hospital if Daniel didn’t cool him down, but Rorschach would kill him for doing so.

He found himself thinking of his sophomore-year girlfriend, an “outdoorsy” girl who’d been the sweeper on the school field hockey team, who made him attend her yoga class at the Y for several interminable weeks, who actually enjoyed getting up at dawn just to go running. Marsha – her name was Marsha. A nice girl. Last he’d read in the alumni newsletter, she was still doing social work. A department supervisor already, if in the Bronx.

What had she told him? About the locker room, after practices? He pictured her snickering, her auburn hair glowing in candlelight, the little tea light on the table of what he thought was a properly fancy restaurant for taking out one’s girlfriend of six months. Marsha’s team had just washed out of the collegiate semi-finals, but she was laughing over her teammates, the girls who blushed and wrapped up like mummies, while Marsha took a real shower and changed her clothes – “like a normal human being.” The other girls barely ducked under the shower head in a communal washroom, and changed with towels larger than themselves clutched around their lovely young flesh, not even touching their own skin while they whipped off uniforms and slipped on street clothes underneath that shelter.

Daniel hadn’t gotten any that night, if he recalled correctly. It had taken more than a pricey dinner and a Broadway show to get into her pants – a late-night espresso-fuelled cram session had done the trick, though, a few weeks later. He grinned nostalgically as he manhandled Rorschach under the covers and set to work.

* * *

Rorschach woke a few hours later, all at once, to a world turned terrifyingly inside-out. He struck out at what looked like a leering enemy next to his bed, registering the peculiar chime of thick glass striking a hardwood floor but not breaking. It made him think of goldfish.

Then, he realised that he was naked, covered only by a flimsy beige sheet, and not even on his own bed but a thick soft mattress, but not until he’d jumped to his feet.

His leg muscles chose that moment to point out to him that they had all been on the verge of cramping, and – what the hell – all spasmed in one go.

He fell back on the mattress, which gave under his weight and deposited him on the floor.

He touched his face and was relieved to feel the gentle give of latex over his lips.

So, most likely not prisoner, he thought mushily, before noticing that the bulbous water pitcher lying next to his elbow still contained at least half its water, just as he realised he was dying of thirst.

The scum always went for the masks, when having the upper hand. As if they’d recognise the false faces underneath, to tell underworld or media.

Made for easy regaining of said upper hand. Bastards always used one hand to reach for face, leaving part of you free…bad mistake. Waking up with face unmolested meant he was not at the mercy of one of those…freaks.

He nearly choked on the water, sucking down two quarts in ten seconds flat. It flattened the fishhooks in his throat. As he put the pitcher aside, he suddenly hoped it had not been drugged, and cursed himself for his weakness.

It was not the best morning he’d ever had, but far from the worst.

The room was chilly, but not cold enough to fog his breath. Walter scrambled to his feet, wrapping the sheet tightly around himself. Rorschach growled and kicked it loose, needing to prepare for the inevitable ambush even though his legs trembled painfully. Walter clutched the sheet around his shoulders before it could slip away.

Rorschach looked around the room and – the way a vase suddenly becomes two profiles – recognised it as a room in Daniel’s townhouse, just vulgar with bright colors when it should be shadowed in dark greys. He relaxed, infinitesimally. This wasn’t home – it was the basement and, somewhat less, the kitchen that offered the same comfort level of a long-ago institutional dorm – but he wasn’t likely come under attack here.

Attack. He remembered – Big Figure. They’d got Big Figure, after all these weeks…the red and blue lights in the alley below them, and the steel in his bones that had kept him upright turned to water.

He remembered – Nite Owl, suckling on his horrible Boy Scout canteen, holding it out as if an instrument of vengeance could ever be prey to the petty weaknesses of thirst and hunger. His eyes lingered on the place Daniel’s lips had touched.

He remembered – the sucking, sapping heat. The…towel…and underneath…

Rorschach shuddered like a wet dog and forced the image from his mind, but other sensations invaded in its place: skin slick with sweat twisting under his gloves, leaving little hairs behind on his sleeve…legs spreading in a kick, opening a dank maw in between…

He gagged, forcing himself to keep the lukewarm water in his stomach. “Filth…displaying…why…ngh!”

Someone knocked tentatively on the door to his right. Rorschach threw himself against it, listening to the rapid breathing on the other side.

“Um, Rorschach? You’re awake?” Daniel’s voice, of course. Sounding tired – still running on adrenaline, even in his own house.

“Where are my clothes?” he growled, bracing himself against the wood in case Daniel had any ideas of opening it. Rorschach would throttle him soon enough. When he was covered. Armoured. Which would be very soon.

“You were unconscious, Rorschach – I had to!” Daniel’s voice squeaked, and Rorschach had the sudden intuition that Daniel was bracing the door on his side as well, knowing what was to come.

“Could have woken me up. Not – not…where’s my –”

“You were completely dehydrated and probably had a heat stroke – and if I didn’t get you cooled down here, I’d have had to take you to the hospital.”

Rorschach grunted.

“I’d have had to remove your face, to get you into a hospital,” Daniel offered hopefully.

Rorschach belatedly realised, with a painful rush of blood to his cheeks…and…elsewhere…that Daniel had undressed him. Clothes didn’t just disappear…they were removed. By hands. He’d stripped…he’d seen…

“Give back my clothes!” Rorschach roared, punching the door.

“I just put them in the dryer!” Daniel yelled back, and Rorschach heard light shuffling steps as his partner retreated from the door and fell into a defensive stance.

Rorschach shifted his weight to kick the door open but lost his balance, bracing himself on the sofa. The cramps were easing, but leaving horrible, crawling pins and needles in their wake. His head throbbed sickeningly. So did his…what shouldn’t be rubbing tantalisingly against the small movements of the sheet.

“My clothes, Daniel,” he groaned. “Mine!”

“They really needed a wash,” Daniel insisted, from down the hallway.

Rorschach rested his burning forehead on the door. He lifted a hand from underneath the sheet, expecting to see it steam from the heat under his skin, and grimaced at the milk-pale fingers. He tried to think of the next steps, steps that would lead to those shaking hands around that throat until the eyes bulged, but nothing came to mind.

He couldn’t hurt Daniel. He was going to kill Daniel.

“Rorschach, I – ” the voice came a little closer. “If it matters, you were covered up the whole time. I wouldn’t…y’know…look. And I wouldn’t leave you, er, exposed.”

“Oh.” Rorschach was not disappointed. He didn’t believe Daniel, anyway.

“There’s clothes outside the door you can wear until yours are dry, okay?”

Rorschach didn’t answer, instead mulling over exactly what “covered up the entire time” could mean in some degenerate code.

“Look, I’m really sorry, but you’re my partner, man! I couldn’t just dump you on the tracks downstairs to fend for yourself.”

“Should have.”

Daniel snorted. “Well, I didn’t. What I’m doing is making breakfast, if you want some. Or the bathroom’s across the hall if you want a shower first.”

Did Daniel sound hopeful in that last sentence? Really hopeful? Yes. Yes he did.

Silently, Rorschach snarled while Walter cringed. “Leave, Daniel.”

He waited until the footsteps had retreated and the faint rattle-hiss of pans on an elderly gas range had continued through a count of one-hundred before ripping the door open and snatching up the pile. It looked like a suit – lush twilight blue, a color that would not suit Daniel’s complexion, Walter-the-dressmaker immediately appraised – and a light herringbone trench. Vest. Soft black socks. Y-fronts, still in plastic. Something glinted next to the doorway. Two somethings, in fact.

Walter slammed the door before popping the cap from the first sweating green bottle of ice-cold cola and decided Daniel could live another day.

Part two here.

Date: 2009-03-31 04:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Walter slammed the door before popping the cap from the first sweating green bottle of ice-cold cola and decided Daniel could live another day.

As in "American Love, like coke in green glass bottles. They don't make it anymore."

I love you! And I am loving this fic - insanely much. *rushes on to next part*

Date: 2009-04-01 09:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks! I did wonder if they still made it in green bottles whenever-the-hell-exactly this is set. And now I'm picturing that and wondering, since cola is dark brown, how exactly you'd know the glass color until you finished it anyway?

Hrm. Clearly, I need to go sleep now before I type any more. Glad you're enjoying it :)

Date: 2009-08-21 06:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Well, you can see the bit of glass at the top?

When did my inner voice start dropping pronouns?

I've been wondering this exact thing ever since I discovered this fandom. XD

This fic is great. *Runs off happily to read the next part*

Date: 2009-08-24 05:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Glad you're enjoying this! (And I'm still having the dropped pronoun problem too :)

Date: 2009-04-04 09:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
win win win!
I love how Rorschach can be bought with such trivial things like coke.
great story so far.
now I gotta go read the rest.

Date: 2009-04-06 02:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

I was going to list my favorite parts but there were far to many.

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