Drop the Ball

“Today’s the thirtieth,” remarked Nite Owl. He and Rorschach were sitting in a derelict apartment, long forgotten. Nite Owl was perched in an old metal folding chair, and the man with the ink-blot face had wedged himself into the window frame, somehow. He was staring out the glassless window, down at the streets below. They were empty. It was a quiet night. He wasn’t sure what to make of it.

“Yes,” Rorschach finally affirmed.

“Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve.”

“The thirty-first. Yes.” Rorschach didn’t seem interested. His gaze stayed fixed on the outside world. There was fresh graffiti on the building across the alley. Gang tags. But they were painted before the partners arrived, and Rorschach had no way of knowing who the culprit was.

“Saturday is the first day of ’77.”

“Hurm.” Daniel was up to something. Rorshach turned his head a fraction of an inch, enough to see the Nite Owl staring at him with a strange look on his face.

“I’m having a small get-together tomorrow night. Hollis Mason will be coming. You, know, the original-”

“Yes, Daniel.”

“And I’ve asked Laurie over, too, and Jon. I’m not sure Jon is coming, but still-”

“Daniel.” Nite Owl stopped, mouth hanging open as he stared at Rorschach’s namesake mask. At the moment, it looked like a grimace of disapproval, but it was only an illusion. In a moment, it could be anything- a butterfly, conjoined twins, or a featureless mass.

“I, uh, I’d like it if you came. That is, I think it would be nice…” Nite Owl scratched his head sheepishly, looking away from what he knew was a dull glare, underneath that strange latex “face.”

“Enk.” Rorschach looked away, gazing out the window again. Nite Owl’s face became indecipherable for a moment, but then he continued.

“Look, you don’t have to stay-”

Daniel.” He fell silent again. The night was quiet for a full minute, and then they heard the sound of breaking glass outside. “Robbery?” Rorschach asked, almost hopeful.

“No. Cat in the garbage,” Nite Owl contradicted, glancing out his own window. “Cummon, Rorshach.”

No.” Rorschach glared at his partner again, making him very uncomfortable.

“Why not?” Rorschach (presumably) gazed back out his window. “Cummon. Why not? There won’t be anybody out here tomorrow. They’ll all be having a ton of beer and sex, and sleeping until the new year.” He thought he saw his partner wrinkle his nose under the mask, disgusted. “Just come for an hour.”

“Would rather not.” Nite Owl sighed, frustrated. “Don’t trust them.” The Owl raised his eyebrows.

“You don’t trust them.” No response. “Not Laurie?”

“Have conflicting beliefs.”

“And Jon?” Rorschach hissed, and he remembered his partner’s wariness about the nuclear man’s abilities and apparent disregard for mankind. “Not even Hollis?”

“Has German Shepherd,” Rorschach said, grating voice suddenly colder than before. The statement baffled him, but the Nite Owl knew better than to question it.

“For Chrissake, Rorschach, they’re my friends! Can’t you put up with them for one night?”

Your friends, Daniel, can’t put up with me.” With that, Rorschach dropped out of the window, landing easily on the asphalt twelve feet below, his overcoat billowing around him. He adjusted his fedora with one hand, and broodingly strode into the night, leaving Nite Owl sitting, confused, in the tenement above.

“You’re wrong!” He called after him, though he wasn’t sure Rorschach would hear him. “Give them a chance, will you?!”

The T.V. was on, showing live footage of Times Square. A large crowd was gathered, watching and waiting for the ball to drop. It had been hours since they amassed, but time meant nothing to them. Nothing could ruin the atmosphere.

The same could not be said for Daniel Dreiberg, even as he entertained Laurie and Hollis in his living room. Each held a glass of wine, and were laughing with Hollis about his days as a Minuteman. Phantom, the white shepherd, lay placidly at the elderly man’s feet, solemnly gazing up at one hero or another.

“It wasn’t too long after the incident with the manhole, though,” Hollis continued, laughter dying away, “that poor Byron dipped too heavily into the drink. Heard he wasn’t doing too good these days. The years were harder on him than me and Phantom, I’m afraid.” Laurie nodded soberly. She had seen him a few years back. He barely knew his own name, let alone what year it was, and how his old friends from the Minutemen were doing.

“Speaking of dysfunctional vigilantes, Dan.” she said, trying to steer the conversation to something even slightly less morbid. “What’s your partner up to? Rorschach?” Her nose wrinkled slightly, just saying his name. She didn’t like being around him. He made her feel… Slimy. Still, she saw him as something of a joke compared to the other masked crimefighters.

“I don’t know. Probably busting teenagers for underage drinking and making out in public,” Daniel admitted, rubbing the arch of his nose with his free hand, glasses rising with his fingers. “I wanted him to come, but he wouldn’t.” Laurie couldn’t hold back her disgust at that. Her mouth contorted into a grimace.

“I’m glad he didn’t. Every time he’s around, I want to vomit, he smells so bad, or punch him. Or both.” Daniel bit his lip, a little ashamed of her attitude. Maybe Rorschach wasn’t so wrong, after all.

“He’s not that bad… I just don’t like him being out there in the cold alone, you know? Even if he is as tough as he lets on- and I don’t doubt he is…” Laurie laughed, a short, mirthless bark. She looked over at Hollis, who held up his hands.

“I can’t say anything, I’ve never met this Rorschach fellow. He sounds… interesting.” He frowned as he said it, as if he wasn’t sure it was a good thing.

“He’s a pervert,” Laurie interjected, pulling a pack of cigarettes from her handbag. “Do you mind, Dan?- thanks.” She lit it up, and drew in its cherry smoke just as the ball dropped on the screen. “Happy New Year, you two!”

“Happy New Year,” Hollis toasted, and there was a clink of glasses.

“Happy New Year,” Dan said quietly a second later.

In the kitchen, a shadow listened to them for a minute, then popped a sugar cube into its mouth as it turned away from the closed door and sauntered back towards the “lumber room” Daniel’s workshop was disguised as. Despite his best judgment, he had given them a chance. He paused on the stairs, unsure why he had come in the first place.

That is, I think it would be nice…

Shaking the thought from his mind, he replaced the fedora on his head, and sidled down the tunnel, back into the city that might not want him, but needed him nonetheless.

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