I stood atop the old apartment building, looking out over the city, or rather, Nite Owl did. Even as I stood there I was cursing myself, reminding myself of how stupid this whole thing was. I was retired and happily so. But all the same, it did feel nice to brush the dust off my feathers once in a while.
I didn’t plan on actually doing anything; the days of the costumed hero were over. Simply, as silly as it felt to be parading around the city in the dead of night dressed up in an owl suit, I couldn’t quite make myself quit the adrenalin rush of just wearing the costume and feeling the night air on my face brought.
The moon was full, shining down on the dirty streets, its light pale and weak against the few street lamps that still worked in this part of town, the stars were entirely invisible, and the usual late night New York sounds echoed through the air. I turned my back on all of it. I climbed down the fire escape and headed along the back alley, toward the tunnel that would lead me to my basement, where I can take off this silly costume, fix myself a hot cup of tea, and go to bed laughing at myself and my stupid midlife crisis.
“Daniel?” The word was quiet, slightly stilled, coming from a particularly dense patch of shadows I’d just passed. I recognized it immediately, though it had been a long time since I’d heard it. I turned, only to confirm my suspicions. There he stood, coat, hat, mask, same as always.
“Rorschach.” I returned, my voice must have been hard to read, because not even I was sure what emotion I was feeling.
“Been long time.” He observed.
“Since the Keene Act.”
“Thought you retired.”
“I did,” I shifted, embarrassed and uncomfortable; “I’m just… stretching my wings.” It was a pitiful joke and neither of us laughed. He studied me silently with that intense gaze, made all the more unnerving by the lack of visible eyes in that infernal mask of his. It was a look I’d never gotten used to, and probably never would.
The silence stretched between us for a long time. He seemed content to remain as we were, regarding each other from a few feet distance, but I was awkward, embarrassed, and self-conscious. Even after all the years of us working together I’d never become truly comfortable in his company. He was just like that, strange, an outsider, and an enigma.
“Well,” I finally said, unable to bare his scrutiny any longer, “I was just headed home. It was, uh… nice to run into you.” My words sounded hollow, insincere even to my own ears, but the thing was, I wasn’t sure they were. Some strange, indefinable part of me really was pleased to see him again.
“Yes. Nice.” He agreed, and weirdly, I think he was sincere too. “Should visit.”
Those words brought to my mind an absurd image of Rorschach and I sitting comfortably across my kitchen table from each other, one of my nice china cups held in his gloved hand as he piled it full of more sugar than tea, he’d always had a strange thing for sugar cubes, having polite conversation. It was more like a scene I’d expect to be having in one of my evenings with Hollis and the absolutely ridiculous absurdity of it almost made me laugh out loud. I contained myself, barely.
Instead I nodded, “That would be nice.” It was a polite, noncommittal, just like the rest of my side of the conversation had been. I’d followed the script for a conversation with an old acquaintance that you hadn’t seen in a long time but had run into by chance, and would probably never see again. Like that was all we were, all we had ever been.
“Nice,” he repeated again, commenting on my ineloquence, and I think it was a quiet acceptance of my insincerity.
Unsure how else to bring this thoroughly unsettled encounter to a close, I just nodded, turned, and walked away. I could feel his invisible eyes watching me as I went, could feel the shadow of their looming presence even long after I’d turned the corner and left him face behind.
And as I left him like that, alone on the dark street, the thought occurred to me that Rorschach probably didn’t have many friends, if any at all, and it hit me, with almost shocking force how sad that was.
We never had our ‘nice’ visit.