“Oh God, it hurts.”
That was the most shocking thing Dan had ever heard him say. To admit pain and then mention God? Whatever was wrong with Rorschach was no small thing. He had been off his game all night, leaning against walls when he was usually pacing looking for clues, hanging back to let Nite Owl be the intimidating one, and being uncharacteristically quiet when heckled by a hoods and whores on the walk back to Archie. Once inside, his knees had buckled and he curled around himself on the floor.
Dan had been scared and worried, asking him if he had been hit or stabbed or shot. All Rorschach could say past his clenched teeth was a plea to be taken home. It had gotten worse. They had gone from the work bench in the Nest to the kitchen table, to the bathroom, and now Rorschach was doubled over in the tub, moaning and clutching his abdomen. There wasn’t any blood.
Dan was going over anything he could think of from ulcers to kidney stones to appendicitis before Rorschach gasped out another “Oh God!” and started clawing at his belt. Dan tried to help, but was elbowed off hard enough to knock him against the sink.
“Don’t look," Rorschach screamed, but it was a desperate sound, not an angry one. Dan looked anyway. There was a line running from just under Rorschach’s navel to an inch above the waistband of his underwear and it was oozing, not blood, but something gray. It would’ve been hidden by hair if it hadn’t opened a fraction at the next contortion. Rorschach sobbed and Dan couldn’t help but lean closer.
He was trying to ask what was happening, what was that, but Rorschach kept wailing for him not to look, to go away, and doing his best to cover it with his hands. A ripple went through him, making his back arch and his hips lift and Dan could see something moving under the skin, something small and round. The line under his belly button opened wider, like a small orifice. There's something moving in there. Parasites, he thought, Holy God, but then Rorschach doubled over again with heartrending sound and something spilled out of him.
They were about the size of ping pong balls, a milky gray color, and incased in pink jelly. They reminded Dan a little of frog eggs, only cataracted, a long string of maybe a dozen. They plopped over each other into the tub with wet little sounds, almost unheard over Rorschach’s weeping. He shuddered again and another splash of something slimy came out and that seemed to be it. Rorschach was on his hands and knees in the tub, shaking with sobs as whatever those were lay in a heap under him.
“Eggs?” Dan finally asked. Rorschach curled over them.
“Not supposed to see,” he tried to growl. It wasn’t convincing.
“Well…” Dan didn’t know what to say. “What… what now? Do they need water? They look like they should be kept wet.”
“Pointless,” Rorschach said. He gave himself a little shake and pulled himself up to his knees. His breath still sobbed, but he was getting a hold of himself. “Empty.”
“Empty.” He said it again and then shouted. “Empty! Nothing in them!” He grabbed one up and it separated from the string of jelly with a squelch. He held it up and Dan wasn’t fast enough to stop him from crushing it.
“Don’t!” he squealed but when the fist opened there was nothing but the crumpled gray sac and some fluid. It smelled faintly bad, like something not rotten enough to really stink yet.
“Empty,” Rorschach said again. His voice was back under control. He let it fall back into a pile with the others. “Because I am.”
“What?” Dan also said again. Rorschach didn‘t answer. He reached over to pull the trap out of the drain and turned on the hot water. Then, he got up and wiped off his belly with one hand.
“Nothing to give, nothing to pass on,” he said. “Dead end.”
He stepped out of the tub, probably intending to stomp away and disappear, but his legs wobbled and his hands were still protectively over his belly. Dan grabbed him.
“You can’t just walk off and leave this!”
“Hot water will take care of it,” Rorschach said, but he hung his head and wouldn’t look at him. “They’ll dissolve and go down the drain.”
“Happens every year.” He looked back at the pile of eggs and there was so much despair and resignation in those three words that Dan’s heart twisted. He remembered Rorschach‘s worst furies directed at neglected or abandoned newborns and how he hadn‘t been able to shut up about what was wrong with a population that insisted on so many abortions. All that from someone who went through an inhuman stillbirth every year?
“Jesus,” he whispered.
“Need… more than just me,” Rorschach said. “But there isn’t any. I don’t have anyone-“ He checked himself quickly. “Anything. Empty. Told you.”
“Yes, you do.” Dan heard himself say. Rorschach sneered and tried to pull away, but Dan didn’t let go. “Oh no. You’re not leaving. Not after this.”
“Am fine,” Rorschach hissed but Dan pinned him against the door jam.
“There is nothing fine about any of this!” Dan raged, but then dropped back to whisper. “Why didn’t you tell me?? I would’ve done something, would’ve helped! I could’ve-!”
“Could have what??” Rorschach wailed back. His composure was crumbling all over again. “I’m not like you, not like anybody, couldn’t ask for-Grahh!” He caught himself again and covered his face with his hands. The smell from the eggs was getting worse as the hot water broke them open.
“Ask for what?” Dan asked, low and dangerous, and then Rorschach was pressing against him, wrapping arms around, and mashing their mouths together. He was livid with shame and grief, but so tired of being empty. Dan scooped him up and carried him down the hall, away from the bathroom and the empty eggs. By the time they got to the bed, Rorschach was already apologizing.
“It’s ok,” Dan tried to tell him. “I want to. I want to. I always have. ” Then: “Am I taking advantage here? Some post-hormonal thing that would make you…?”
“No,” Rorschach groaned. “Always, too.” He hooked an arm over his eyes, like he couldn’t bear to look after admitting that and Dan started on his shirt buttons. Kissing down the pale body was like dripping aloe on a sunburn. Rorschach hissed and sighed at every touch like it was the worst pain and best relief until Dan got to the egg-slit. It was almost invisible now so his thumbs pulled the skin tight enough to part it. Rorschach jerked up with a real sound of pain and Dan released it.
“Sore?” he asked. When Rorschach nodded, he ran his tongue over it. That got a whimper, so he kept going, licking and mouthing the spot, trying to kiss the pain away until Rorschach was hard against his neck and winding hands in his hair.
“Now,” Rorschach whispered. Dan obediently sank lower, but was yanked back up. “Now!”
“I’m trying!” Dan’s protest was cut short as legs wrapped around him and Rorschach attempted to pull him into position with brute force. A leg was thrown over his shoulder so roughly that the knee smacked him in the ear. It rang for a minute but then Rorschach’s whispers became audible.
“-empty anymore. Wanted it to be you. Needed. Knew you would never. Hated feeling so hollow. Eggs the same. Empty and hard and bitter and Daniel, please!”
Dan wanted to ease into him gently, but the begging and the legs tightening and the way Rorschach’s hips rolled up in welcome made it impossible. They got tangled for a moment, but then settled into a delirious pounding rhythm that made the bedsprings cry and Rorschach wail. Dan held him by his hips, but let his palms slide over to press against his belly. He could feel the muscles rolling from the effort of meeting each thrust, feel the tremor of impact, and there was something else too, something he was pretty sure wasn’t in his own plumbing.
Sea horses, he thought suddenly. Male seahorses. Then his hands went lower Rorschach came with a scream. The clench triggered his own and he lay in a sweaty daze, only dimly aware that the arms and legs around him weren’t going to let him move for a long time.
It didn’t take a whole year, which came as a shock to Rorschach. He was used to having the eggs forced out when his cycle gave up on them being fertilized. The first time he became aware of them, he gasped and dropped to his knees.
“Moved!” He sounded horrified. “Have never felt them move befo-” He stopped and looked up. Dan saw his jaw drop under the mask. Even if they were in costume, on the street, Dan cupped his jaw and kissed him.
The next weeks were weird ones. Rorschach was beside himself with hope, but trying to keep it reined in. “Just in case,” he had muttered and Dan’s heart had almost stopped at the thought of how crushed he would be if something went wrong this time. The suggestion that Rorschach give up patrolling was meant with resistance until Dan threw a ‘just in case’ back at him. So Rorschach concentrated on research and Nite Owl did the leg work.
Luckily, they were both home when the first pain hit. They were on the couch, Dan teasing more and more enthusiastic kisses out of him. Rorschach had stopped hiding all his pains and panics and sat up with a ‘ngh!’
“What?” Dan asked. Rorschach clutched his stomach and Dan’s eyes went wide. He jumped up, grabbed Rorschach, and then carried him off like a new bride over his protests. There was a cushion in the tub now and a warm, wet blanket to catch the eggs in. Dan was pulling his shirt off him and lifting him in the tub and it would’ve felt silly if the next spasm hadn’t bent him in half.
It hurt like always, but this time there were hands on him, massaging and soothing the cramps, kisses along his jaw and down his throat, and encouragement whispered into his chest. What if it wasn’t enough? What if they were still dead and useless when they came out? How could he bear having failed again, and this time, to have failed Dan as well? Tears welled up. He wasn’t ready! He took a breath. Last time he had managed to hold out until they finished patrol, but it had taken every fiber of his willpower to do it. This time, there was no reason to hold back.
Driving that point home, Dan slid down to encourage the slit open with his tongue and it was working. The muscles responded, relaxed, and when the opening appeared Dan slid a finger inside it.
“What are you doing??“ Rorschach gasped. A muscle spasm shook him and he felt something internal tighten around the finger. When it relaxed, Dan slid in a second one.
“Does it help? I thought it wouldn’t hurt so much if you had help widening and whoa!” Another convulsion sent a wave of something warm bubbling up. They both felt it. Rorschach grabbed Dan’s shoulders digging in his fingers.
“It’s ok,” Dan said. He had cupped his hands around the opening like he has seen Rorschach do the year before. “It’s ok. We’re ready. Just let it happen.”
“Not ready!” Rorschach sobbed, but another ripple, another hot gush, and the first egg spilled out.
“Oh my God,” breathed Dan. Rorschach couldn’t look. The next wave hit, blurring his vision to a pink haze. He could feel them pouring out of him. The pain squeezed him, making it impossible to count, to ask, or to hear the answer. It wrung him and he cried out as the last bit left him. An aftershock of pain went through and then receded. He was in a cold sweat and shaking and then heard Dan’s voice, soft and strange with wonder.
“My God, look at their eyes…” Rorschach looked up, the fear sinking back in now that the pain wasn’t drowning it. Dan had them gathered in the wet blanket. The pink jelly was brighter, almost really red and encased inside, small pale creatures curled into transparent eggs. Their dark eyes were visible through their eyelids. They looked human except for their size. There were three pale empty eggs too, but that pang was smothered at the sight of the other five.
Eight was less than usual, but maybe living eggs needed more room and so there couldn’t be as many and it didn’t matter, it didn’t matter, if there had been only one it would still be enough because it was alive, they were alive. He could see their little hearts pulsing inside them and they were so warm, he just wanted to bury his hands and face in the pile and feel how warm and alive they were. He didn’t. He contented himself with stroking them gently. There was a faint crooning sound somewhere, It was probably him. Dan was rubbing his back, petting his hair, not saying anything, just radiating joy. Too soon, part of Rorschach thought. Haven’t hatched yet. Could still die. He tried to ignore it.
“I wasn’t sure what they’d look like,” he admitted when he could speak. Dan smiled and reached to wipe his cheeks with his thumbs. Rorschach hadn’t realized he was still crying.
“Thought of any names?” Dan asked and Rorschach crumbled all over again.
“No,” he wept. “Didn’t want to have names for nothingness. Still could die. Never done this before. Might do something wrong and they all die.” He pulled the dead eggs out of the string, ran a shaking hand over them once, and then pulled away. Dan picked up the whole bundle to set it in Rorschach’s lap. He curled around it, holding it to his chest. Would they recognize his heartbeat as the same one they’d been sharing so long? Dan wrapped the dead eggs in another cloth and put them in a box he had also brought. He really had been prepared for anything.
“Give it some thought,” he said. “We’ve got time.” Rorschach quivered and then kissed him hard. It was relief and joy and hope for the future. It was life out of nothing, and all those things were more than he had ever expected to have.
All through his pregnancy, Rorschach had thought Dan was working on Archie, but he’d been building a little tank, almost like an aquarium. It wasn’t deep, less than a foot, but it would hold a few inches of water and keep it at body temperature. Dan had been very careful to make it more like a cradle than a cage. And it could be hidden, which was the only reason Rorschach could stand to leave the eggs to go patrolling.
Dan had told him it was ok not to, he had every right to stand watch over his own babies, but after two months of the daily news getting more and more dire, he had suited up again and followed Nite Owl out. Dan had wondered if having something of his own to protect would make his partner even more ferocious and wasn’t disappointed. Part of it was wanting to get done as soon as possible and get home.
Afterwards, Rorschach always left a trail of his costume to the cradle-tank, not even bothering to see where it fell. This time, Dan saw him check himself before reaching in to touch the eggs.
“What?“ he asked, still undoing his own clasps.
“Filthy,“ Rorschach grumbled and hurried to the shop sink to scrub his hands and arms.
“The filter system will take care of it,” Dan reminded him, but Rorschach just made a noise. He pulled his shirt off too, splashing water over his face and chest to be sure no street grime still clung to him. By the time Dan had kicked off the last of the kevlar, Rorschach was past his wrists in the blood-warm water to touch every egg. He turned them gently, making sure the surfaces were still smooth and unmarred. Dan came to stand behind him and watch over his shoulder, wrapping arms around his waist
“Any idea how long?” he asked. Rorschach shook his head, chewing on his bottom lip.
“Maybe soon.” He kept his voice low around the eggs, but the babies still responded to it, kicking and squirming in their shells. Maybe that was a pitch they could hear better. Dan’s hand slid lower to where the egg slit was completely invisible now and rubbed it. Rorschach leaned back against him, then jumped up again with a gasp.
“Eyes opened!” He cupped an egg and held it up. Despite his faith in the filters, Dan didn’t want to touch with unwashed hands, so he cupped Rorschach’s hands and they both watched the transparent membrane of the baby’s eyelids blink back and forth over the indigo eyes. They hadn’t been able to tell genders yet. Rorschach had gotten very vague about when that would develop and Dan couldn’t blame him for not remembering his own infancy, but had dared to question him about his earliest memories.
Rorschach had been silent for a full seven minutes then, haltingly described being cold and sticky. It had been yellow, he said, slick and high-sided, and there had been a glaring light. It had taken Dan a little while to realize Rorschach was describing a bath tub. He had been left in the tub, getting water when his mother showered and left to himself like a stray sponge. When he had gotten big enough to reach the edge, he had been able to crawl out. Rorschach had been quiet again and then thanked Dan for making the cradle-tank. Dan had nearly cried.
Now, they checked each egg for opening eyes and three were blinking solemnly in the dim lights of the Nest. One still looked asleep and the last one had plastered itself against the inside of the egg, not blinking at all, just staring out at them. Rorschach was jittery with glee and Dan had to laugh, as much from seeing Rorschach so excited as from his own joy. They closed the tank so Dan could carry it upstairs and Rorschach ran up ahead of him, opening doors.
They settled it in its other stand in the bedroom, and collapsed in bed. They were both sore and exhausted from the night’s work, but not so much that the goodnight kisses didn’t turn hungry.
“Stop,” Rorschach gasped. “Stop. Th-they can see.” Dan’s tongue had made him arch up and the dim lights from the tank had caught his eye. The eggs weren’t visible, but the paranoia was immediate.
“What?“ Dan’s voice was muffled against his skin, but he stopped with a small groan and slid up to face him. Rorschach remembered his childhood dreams of conjoined bodies and lurching sounds and his breath wheezed painfully.
“Might -might have nightmares.” It sounded feeble as soon as he said it and his stomach clenched a little tighter when Dan looked puzzled and he knew he would be expected to explain.
“Nightmares of what?” Dan asked, leaning his forehead against Rorschach’s. Rorschach couldn’t help but crumble, not wanting to compare either of them to his mother or her ‘guest‘, especially not out loud. Dan took advantage of his turned head to nip along his neck, making Rorschach blush and stutter.
“They already know we belong to each other,” he whispered into the pink ear. “All of us.” His hands were in Rorschach’s hair, but traced downwards, tilting his head back for more kisses, digging a careful thumb into his chest to feel his heart hammer against it, and skating lower to stroke over the spot still damp from his tongue. Rorschach enked, arching into it again, and hated himself for it until he saw the look on Dan’s face.
The weak gold light from the tank he had made (spent weeks making) traced over the line of his cheek and jaw, highlighted the angelic expression. Dan looked as if he was seeing something beautiful, which Rorschach, who had known for most of his life that he was monstrous, could barely stand. Dan looked at him like he had never loved anything else. The only nightmare that could be born from a look like that would be losing it. He groaned and closed his eyes to reach blindly for contact.
Dan pinned him down with kisses. His hands were still busy, making Rorschach arch and buck, trying to untangle a leg to get it out of the way, make himself open, but Dan hovered just out of reach. He couldn’t tell what was intended, was too lost in the tangle of tongues and fingers to really even care until he felt Dan sink down on him, the clench of heat, and the mindbreaking sensation of tightness. He heard his own wail over the cry that came out of Dan and then they were moving, rocking and bouncing, grinding and pounding, anything to get closer and deeper.
It didn’t last long. Neither of them would’ve survived with sanity intact if it had been prolonged. As it was, they managed to knock an Audubon print off the wall and scrape the floorboards and the bedsprings would probably never be the same. The afterglow left Dan delirious, pawing at him clumsily, whispering useless endearments that still managed to make Rorschach ’s whole body flutter. His breathing was hitching like sobs and he wrapped his arms around Dan to keep him close.
“You’re so good,” he panted. “You… you didn’t leave. You take such good care of, of everything. I was, was…” He buried his face in Dan’s neck, tasting the sweat, and muffling the next word. “Worried.”
Dan made a breathless, questioning sound, still petting him. He was coming back into focus a little and Rorschach shivered.
“Father left. Didn’t want me or my mother. She didn’t want me either. Nobody ever… I had to… I-”
“Don‘t,” Dan sighed, cuddling him. “It’s over.”
“Didn’t even know what I was! Just knew it wasn’t… knew it was wrong..”
“Should’ve run when you saw, should’ve been disgusted, should’ve hated me-”
“Hush. Hush. Shhh.” Dan dropped kisses on his mouth until he stopped trying to talk. “Listen. I love you. Whatever you are, I love it.”
“And them.” It wasn’t a question, but Dan answered anyway.
“Of course them. I promise you, they‘ll never have to go through what you did, but you should know that already.”
“I do,” Rorschach managed a half-smile. “I know you’ll take care of them.” Dan was looking at him so closely that his smile started to wobble. “If… if something were to happen.”
“Something like what?” Dan asked. Rorschach didn’t answer right away and Dan cupped his face, pulling him close. He asked it again, so close their lips touched.
“I was worried,” Rorschach whispered again. He looked helpless for a moment and it made the little stab of fear in Dan‘s chest twist. “When still carrying them, and you would patrol… once turned the tv on for company. Not very much on late at night. Saw a nature show and made me wonder. Some things…” He looked away. “They die after the eggs are out. Some fish, octopus, things like that. Some don’t die until after the babies hatch.” Dan’s grip tightened.
“No,” he whispered. “That’s not going to happen. You are not allowed to die. Your job is not over.” Rorschach hugged him.
“My mother didn’t,” he said. “But it worried me. Hormones maybe. I.. was afraid for them. Until I remembered they’d still have you. You’d feed them, you’d protect them. Love them.” He met Dan’s eyes again, looked ashamed to be so relieved about that and Dan kissed him hungrily. He was tempted to explain that spawning deaths were from exhaustion and malnutrition and while Rorschach had pushed himself to unacceptable levels of deprivation before, it wasn’t going to happen again. That conversation would require removing his mouth and he wasn’t willing to do that just now.
“Crazy,” he mumbled between kisses. “Love you.” He chuckled a little. Rorschach made a questioning sound and Dan said, “Sea horses.” Rorschach looked at him like he had some nerve calling anyone else crazy and Dan had to laugh again. This time, there was an answer from the tank. They both froze, heads whipping around like deer. It had been a very faint peep. Rorschach’s expression went through a range of intense joy and something fearful. Then they were both scrambling out of the tangle of bodies and sheets to go see.
Lit up with the faint glow from the tank, Rorschach jumped when another peep came. Three of the eggs were jittering, the babies inside practically vibrating. One was moving gently and feebly, and one had crammed both hands and part of its face through the jellied sides of its egg. It peeped again.
“It heard you laughing,” he whispered, awed and clutching Dan’s arm. “Say… say something.” Dan didn’t need any encouragement. He reached into hold the egg.
“Hi,” he breathed. “Was that you?” It peeped at him, struggling harder. “Should I help..?”
“I don’t know,” Rorschach was whispering too. “I didn’t. Maybe….?” Dan bit his lip and then carefully dug his thumb into one of the cracks. The tiny hand grabbed it and the peeps became more insistent. Dan couldn’t resist pulling the top part off to free the little head. It was trying to clamber out and he had a brief, painful vision of a similar child attempting to climb the sides of a bath tub. He held the egg to his mouth, kissing and whispering to it. He felt the next peep vibrate against his bottom lip and it worked its top half free. Rorschach was enraptured, watching with wet eyes and hesitantly lacing his fingers with Dan’s around the egg.
It was tiny, barely as big as some of the premature human babies Dan had seen. He was shocked and delighted to realize it had hair. He had thought that was markings or some sort of capillaries under the transparent skin, but when he rubbed its head gently, bright red strands, fine as cobwebs, clung to his fingers. He laughed softly, full of wonder and it peeped again , kicking one tiny leg free. It looked androgynous, was very pale and dark-eyed. He had almost expected a tail, but apart from a ridge down its back and the wide, bulging eyes, it looked mostly human.
“This one is cracking too!” Rorschach gasped when he could pull his eyes away. Another baby was cramming a foot into the side of its egg. The one Dan held was now making steady stream of peeps. He held it up for Rorschach to nuzzle and leaned to kiss him too.
“Is that sound because they’re hungry?” he asked. “What should we feed them?”
Rorschach kissed him back and ran a finger down the firstborn’s back ridge.
“Live off this. Will sustain them for most of the first year,” he said. “The peeps are just for attention.”
“That long?” Dan was startled.
“Wouldn’t have survived myself otherwise.” It was said casually, but it made Dan clutch the baby close under his chin. “When they’re ready to eat, they’ll call for food. Whole different noise.” He hesitated, maybe remembering something said to him. “Annoying.”
“Bet it isn’t,” Dan nudged him again, but they were both distracted when a new peep came from the other cracking egg.
“They might all hatch tonight,” Rorschach said, breaking into a beatific smile that faded too soon. “Except for… for that one.” He reached to stroke the edge of the sluggish one’s shell. It turned its head toward him slowly. Compared to the others, it was like a sloth, moving in slow motion. Dan saw something familiar in his mate’s eye and leaned over to kiss his jaw.
“No rush,” he said. “Late bloomers sometimes bloom best.” Rorschach blushed all the way to his hairline, and Dan knew he had guessed right.
Chapter 4: dissect and
This one was written as a flashback for a captcha prompt. The prompt was 'dissect and'. I figure that even as accepting as Dan is, he had to have some anxiety about a non-human partner and what could happen if anyone found out.
Sterile smell in the air.
Faint hum of conversation from the people in white.
Dan looked around. They blended in with the walls so well that they might’ve grown there like some sort of clinical fungus. He drifted among them, invisible and unnoticed as a ghost. It was cold and the too-clean smell was starting to burn.
Finally, some color, a familiar blaze of bright red. He started pushing his way through the crowd to get to it. If anyone could find a way out of this place it was Rorschach. The crowd didn’t notice him, they were all nodding over their clipboards, taking notes. When he finally worked his way to the front, all of reality collapsed.
Rorschach was there, crucified on a table. He had been split open, layers peeled back and pinned to reveal all the organs. Another faceless figure in white was droning on about the similarities to human organs and pollution sensitivities while Rorschach lay there so pale that only his hair and freckles were visible around the gaping maw of his cleaved body.
Dan couldn’t move, looking at it. On the inside, things were breaking like an earthquake in a china shop, but he wasn’t able to lift a finger. He was frozen in a horror without beginning or end until the lecturer drove a hand into a cavity in Rorschach’s exposed belly and pulled out a plum-sized egg to show the crowd. Then everything cracked and Dan was screaming and fighting, tearing clothes and skin and breaking bones to get the egg back.
He knew very well that putting it back and closing up all the stripped layers of skin and muscle wouldn’t help, that Rorschach would still be cold and dead and that there was no putting that right. It didn’t matter. Nothing would be right ever again. He had to do it anyway. He would kill every one of the white coats with his bare hands, and-
A heavy impact stunned him and everything went dark. He could hear his own sputtering breathing, smell fear-sweat and fabric softener. The familiar planes of his bedroom ceiling came into focus. He was tangled in a sheet on his own bedroom floor and it only took a second for Rorschach’s startled face to appear over the edge of their bed.
Nightmare. It had been a nightmare. His partner (his lover, his mate-for-life, his everything) was alive and asking him if he was all right.
“No,” he answered honestly. It would be awhile before the last of the horror faded.
“Do you know where you are?”
“I hope so.” A light could come back on and everything could go white again any second now.
“Do you know who I am?” There was the very beginning of a dry edge of sarcasm there.
“You’re all that matters,” he said, and let his head fall back to the floor to get a grip on himself. There was a stunned, maybe flattered silence after that and then Rorschach slipped down to curl in the floor beside him.
“What is in your mouth?” Rorschach demanded, grabbing up one of the babies. They didn’t have names yet, because he wanted to wait until the genders developed, even though Dan had suggested a few neutral ones. They wore little smocks to keep them covered, even though they pulled off all socks or hats. This one was their last-hatched, the smallest and slowest and quietest. Right now, one of its cheeks was bulging out like a chipmunk’s. It obligingly spit out whatever it had into Rorschach’s palm and he squinted at the little box, then slowly raised his eyes to glare at Dan who was entirely too busy with two other babies to meet his eyes.
He held the suspicious stare until he was sure that Dan was deliberately ignoring him and then checked the box again. It had his symmetrical Rs on the lid, and was small and covered with leather, which is probably why the baby had wanted to chew it, unless Dan had purposely allowed the child to deliver it this way. He glared again. Dan’s pleasant humming didn’t hitch. The babies liked it when he hummed and tried to imitate the sound. The went bug-eyed and rapt when he sang. So did Rorschach, though he hadn’t admitted it yet.
He levered the lid up with his thumb, still keeping the corner of his eye on Dan. Sure enough there was a hopeful little peek over Dan’s shoulder. Rorschach caught his eye this time and opened the box without looking away. When he did glance down, he ended up staring at that instead. Nestled in the box, there was a a ring, made of the same brown bronze as Archie, smooth and lustrous without being garish or bright. There wasn’t a stone in it, just a series of symbols etched into the surface. They looked ancient, almost mystical and there were five of them. They were all similar, but a little different.
Rorschach picked it up gingerly. It felt cool and heavy. There was engraving on the inside too, more of the symbols and then words in English. Everything I love comes from you. He stared at it until the symbols seemed to twist and when he looked up, Dan was there.
“Part of it’s old languages,” he said. “Ogham, runes, things like that, with a little of my own pictograms thrown in. One for each of them.” Rorschach just stared, too stunned to do anything but look back at the ring. “All of them for you.”
Dan wasn’t sure how Rorschach would take to Mother’s Day. He wasn’t actually female, and his personal definition for ‘mother’ wasn’t something that bore celebrating. Most holidays were met with disdain for extravagance and commercialism, but Dan saw him quiver at this. The smallest baby reached carefully for the ring and touched one of the symbols. It looked at Dan who nodded.
“You remember. That’s one’s yours.” So Dan had found a way to name them without words. Not that there were many words that can do justice to the emotion that choked Rorschach. Dan’s fingers wrapped around his when they shook too hard to put the ring on and helped it slide on his middle finger. It fit perfectly, but that wasn’t as much of a strange feeling as it used to be.
After the ring, Rorschach kept a careful eye on the calendar. He hadn’t realized until a few days after the fact that the ring had been for Mother’s Day. He was determined not to let Father’s Day go unnoticed either. The only problem was that time was drawing near and he had no idea what would make a suitable gift. There wasn’t much that he could give or make that Dan couldn’t already create or buy for himself. He did stitch the symbols Dan had made into each child’s smock. They liked warm colors, reds and oranges and yellows. He wondered if those were the colors they could see best.
He wasn’t a good enough cook to make something special. Nothing that Dan couldn’t do better. He wanted and needed Dan too much to offer up anything sexual as a gift. If Dan didn’t know by know that there was nothing Rorschach wouldn’t do for him anytime he wanted, tying a bow on it wouldn’t help. So Rorschach paced the house, lost in thought and maybe out of force of habit, he came to a stop by the book shelf. He looked over the titles, saw books on poetry and mythology, and considered.
Maybe he could write a poem, but he felt his face get hot at the thought of reading it aloud or waiting while Dan read it. He looked down at his ring, the metal matching his body temperature so well it felt like part of his hand. He didn’t hope to top that, but he wanted to at least match it. He heard the shuffle of Dan’s footsteps on the stairs and grabbed a book to give him a reason to stand there. It was an old mythology book and he let it fall open to the most creased page. It was a chapter about Athena, no surprise there, but the word gift caught his eye.
Athena had two sacred symbols, the book said, the owl and the olive tree. The latter had been her gift to the people of what became Athens, giving them a source of food, lumber, and oil in one. The beginning of an idea sparked in Rorschach’s mind and he put the book away as Dan came in with his arms full of children. The one in a yellow smock, with the symbol that turned into a spiral halfway down was chewing on his thumb. Another one was sucking on his watch, which luckily was waterproof. Two of them reached for Rorschach expectantly and he stroked their heads but didn’t pick them up.
“Thought of an errand that needs running,” he said by way of greeting. Dan‘s eyebrows raised. “Mind if I go?”
“No, go ahead,” Dan said. “Need any money?”
“No,” Rorschach was already hurrying to the door. One of the babies peeped after him and he waved, ducking quickly out before the sound became insistent. He went to the nearest second hand store and dug through a cluttered chaos of kitchen wares until he found a large hole spoon with ‘Genuine Olive Wood, Bethlehem’ stamped on the handle. The hole in the spoon was big enough for his thumb and it seemed sturdy enough. He examined it so closely a few other shoppers gave him odd looks, but he was happy to see there was a visible wood grain swirling through it. He pried it off his finger and paid .50 for it.
It took days of hacking away at the rest of the spoon when Dan wasn’t around, and another solid week of sandpapering to get it smooth enough to wear, and Rorschach was fairly pleased with how it had turned out. A light oiling had given it a little luster and brought out the wood grain. Two dark burls looked a lot like owl eyes and the grain flowed around them in a heart shape that could’ve been a barn owl face if you were as used to picking shapes of out splotches as they both were.
It was both their symbols, he explained the next morning before the babies woke up, blots and owls and made from what was considered the sacred gift of Dan’s personal favorite goddess. When Dan’s eyes welled up with tears, Rorschach tried to apologize for how rough it was and for not finding a better source of olive wood than the spoon, but Dan was too busy kissing his splintered and nicked hands to let him finish. The wooden ring fit with a little twisting and then the kisses were stopping all conversation well past breakfast.
Hollis had only been sitting a moment before one of the babies found him. He had been sitting there, looking bemused at how Daniel had scurried off and a little sheepish at having dropped by without calling first. He could hear Dan’s hushed voice say something quickly and then there was the shuffle of more than one pair of feet. Oh. Company.
He had been sucking in a breath to call that he could come back another time when a very tiny hand had grabbed his knee. Hollis had jumped, some vague question of when Dan had gotten a cat in his mind before he realized that he was looking at a tiny, pale hand. It was no bigger than a cat’s paw, but there were dainty blunt fingers and transparent little fingernails. While he stared, trying to get his mind around it, a second one grabbed on, making him jump again.
It had reminded him of the old monster movies he had watched as a kid, the little fingers tensing to pull some strange creature into sight. The top of a smooth red head appeared first, then a pair of wide, staring eyes with irises so black he was reflected in them. They blinked. Hollis exhaled, not hard enough to be a gasp. There was another explosion of hushed voices upstairs, but they might as well have been on another planet. The little thing heaved itself up, resting its chin on his knee.
The face was an infant’s face except for the huge eyes and the curtain of impossible fine red hair. It had a tiny little nose and a mouth so thin that it was invisible until it imitated his stunned expression. Hollis closed his mouth with a snap and the little thing climbed the rest of the way into his knee. It swayed to get its balance and Hollis’ hands came up to catch it if it fell before he could stop himself. It flinched from them, crouching down like a frog, knees as high as its shoulders.
Hollis was getting a grip on himself. It was a baby. A very small, very quiet, very strange-looking baby, but a baby, dressed in a little smock nowhere near as red as its hair that had a weird symbol stitched on the front. It looked at him for what seemed like a long time, blinking slowly and solemnly. Then it swallowed hard and started to crawl up his leg.
He eeped and it stopped, staring at him again. When he didn’t elaborate, it kept on climbing, up over his belly toward his chest. It felt like reality had slowed to a crawl. It stopped to squat on his ribcage, at eye level now. He was distantly aware of quick feet on the stairs, heading that way. It leaned closer and he wondered if it would feel cold or slimy and what he might turn into it if kissed him. It made no move to do so, just sat there drilling holes into his head with its eyes. A shadow slid past the door along with a hiss of breath he barely registered.
“Hi,” he said, unable to look away from it.
“Hi,” it whispered back, just the ghost of a voice and there was a gasp that had them both looking up. There was a man there that Hollis had never seen before but he was lunging forward. The baby reached for him, little arms stretched up. Hollis was still trapped in the dream-like slow motion state and watched as the man scooped up the baby and called over his shoulder.
“Daniel! In here! She spoke!”
“What??” There was more running feet and Daniel burst in a second later.
“Hi,” the baby said again, still barely audible, but it sent both men into spasms of glee. Daniel lamented missing it and the other man begged the baby to do it again, which it did happily. They finally remembered Hollis, still shell-shocked on the couch. The man hurried the baby away and it waved at him over his shoulder.
“I missed it!” Dan sighed again, flopping down on the couch next to Hollis. “They’ve been making noises, but they haven’t actually used words yet…”
“There’s more?” Hollis asked faintly and Dan looked at him, mare calculating than Hollis had ever seen him. There was a sparkle of mischief there too.
“Have you considered godfathering?” he asked and then grinned at whatever look Hollis’ face settled into.
He hadn’t had the dream since before Daniel had found out, nearly three years ago. He recognized it even asleep, digging the heels of his hands into his stomach. It started small, tiny points of need flaring to life deep inside. They burned and throbbed, growing bigger, demanding more. They had to have more. His body opened like a wet flower to sunshine and an invading pressure sank in. The heat and the ache bordered on pain but he needed it. It dug deeper finding the emptiest, neediest part of him. The rest of him wrapped around it like always, trying to take in more, squirming to open wider, to finally be filled completely.
Movement rocked him, working its way in inch by sweet, burning inch. The little pulsing fires reached from the inside, trying to reach it. There was a spurt of warmth deep inside and his whole body contracted to feel it. Another thrust of movement, another hot gush, and it was absorbed, sucked in like rain on a drought plain. He arched into it, willing to bust himself open to make room for more and more until he was full of glowing, living heat. It still wasn’t enough. He wanted his skin stretched tight with it, for his lanky thin frame to be a whole, full person. He wanted his seams to burst with it, to overflow, to drown in the tiny, throbbing warm orbs. He had this dream so many times, but this time, it had a name and a face and he moaned its name when it started to move.
“Hm?” It was barely a sound at all, but it was enough to wake him up. Rorschach found himself blinking at Dan who was sprawled next to him, looking unusually rapt. It took another moment for Rorschach to realize why. The dream had splayed him out, knees spread wide around tented sheets. His hands were clutched at his stomach. Dan’s slid over them, then lower.
“Wait!” Rorschach gasped, even as his sweat-slick back eagerly lifted to push into the touch. “We can’t.”
“I’m pretty sure we can,” Dan said, grinning as the brush of his thumb over the head made Rorschach thrash. “And you were... saying some inviting things.”
“…I was?” Rorschach looked so sheepish that Dan relented.
“You said ‘beloved’ and then ‘fill me’ and then you called my name,” he said. Rorschach blushed, but the series of kisses along his jaw made him try to push Dan back enough to talk to.
“It’s… it’s time again,” he whispered. Dan looked blank so he folded his hands over his stomach. “For… for more eggs.” He saw Dan’s eyebrows raise and looked away. “The dream always comes when they’re… ready.”
"You." It was said almost shyly.
“Really,” Dan breathed. He straddled Rorschach and leaned to kiss him again.
“No!” Rorschach did his best not to respond, but the need still ate at him. They rubbed together and he had to hiss between his teeth. “Can’t!”
“Why?” Dan was so close his lips touched Rorschach’s with every word and when Rorschach hesitated, tortured him with a slow grind of his hips.
“The babies aren’t big enough to take care of themselves!” he finally sobbed. “Can’t have more until first won’t be neglected.”
“Who do you think is going to neglect them?” Dan purred, running hands up over his torso just to watch him writhe.
“Irresponsible!” he gasped. “Can’t just rut in heat! It isn’t fair to them! It’s not-”
“Stop.” It was Dan’s turn to say it. “What will happen if we don’t? Will you keep dreaming about it?” Rorschach squirmed, then nodded. “That’s torture! How long?”
“A month,” Rorschach whispered. “Give or take.”
“And then what? What will happen?”
“If they aren’t… filled... they’ll stay empty and, and…”
“You’ll have to expel them like that first time in the tub.” Dan’s voice had gone serious and Rorschach still couldn’t look at him. He remembered the pain and shame and grief of that day and shuddered. “That’s going to be a problem, love,” Dan went on. “Because I swore to myself you would never have to go through that again while I could help it.”
“Shouldn’t,” Rorschach whispered again, but Dan pulled his chin around to make eye contact again.
“You were begging for me in your sleep,” Dan reminded him. He turned impish again. “Who did you call for before me?” Rorschach went red all over again.
“Still you,” he whispered. “Even before I met you, it was always you.”
“I’ll beg back if I have to,” Dan told him, dropping light kisses between words. “And think of this, the children need to see and understand what they are and you are their only model for that. Did your mother explain things? Did you know what was happening the first time you had the dreams?”
“N-no. She never. I didn’t. I-”
“What was it like the first time the eggs came? I know it hurt. Weren't you scared?”
“Thought I was dying,” Rorschach whimpered. He squeezed his eyes shut as if not seeing would keep the memory away. “Didn’t know what to do. So much pain and it tore me open, and these things came pouring out and I couldn’t scream because I didn’t want anyone to see-”
“How old were you?”
“Twelve. I, I didn‘t know-!”
“Our children have to know,” Dan whispered, rubbing his chest. “They have to know about themselves and what they need. They need to know about you and your mother and they need to understand the consequences and rewards of their choices. And…” He bent close to nuzzle Rorschach’s ear. “More selfishly, that first time with you was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever felt. I wanted to give you everything and it felt like you were taking it, just absorbing it all.” Rorschach shuddered, feeling the dream’s insistent heat trickling back into him. Dan’s tongue flicked in his ear, then his teeth nipped along the jaw to the throat. “Felt like every beautiful thing in the world was pouring through me into you. Wanted to empty myself out into it until there was nothing left of me.” Rorschach moaned, uncurling to catch Dan’s tongue in a new kiss.
“Nothing,” Dan gasped between kisses. “That comes from us.” Rorschach’s body had forgotten his trauma and was grinding back. “Will ever be unloved.” His arms wrapped around Dan’s neck and his legs around his waist. “Open for me.”
Rorschach barely heard the last words, but his body would’ve responded anyway. He splayed out like he had been when he woke up, body arching in a shivering wave as Dan sank into him. As many times as they had done this since the first time, it hadn’t been like this. Rorschach’s body hadn’t cycled while the babies were young, but now it was making up for lost time. The eggs inside him felt like they were burning holes in him, getting heavier and hotter as if to use gravity to pull them closer to Dan. Dan could feel things moving around him with every stroke, muscles shifting and contracting. He could feel places opening up inside, new pathways and it would’ve been terrifying if Rorschach wasn’t gasping out encouragement and endearments as his eyes rolled back into his head.
Then, some last barrier opened and heat poured over them both. Rorschach wailed and those new muscles clamped down, wrapped around, and squeezed. Dan howled back, the contractions milking him out in a hot gush that didn’t stop. They spasmed against each other, trying to hold on or let go or anything that would see them through the blast of sensation. It didn’t seem to end. Their bodies were locked. It hadn’t been like this before, but that had been after the unfertilized eggs had been expelled. In the full flush of hormones it was another game entirely. Their bodies took over, rocking them into each other long after exhaustion set in.
Finally, soaked in endorphins and barely able to move, the muscles relaxed enough for them both to collapse. Dan had gotten his wish. He felt completely emptied out with only the tingle of utter, exhausted repletion left. Under him, Rorschach lay in a haze of sated joy too. The heaviness of the eggs had spread through all of him. His whole body felt weighed down and filled to bursting.
Downstairs, their first clutch giggled and bickered while cartoons played, oblivious. As soon as they got hungry, one of them would go to pounce on their worn out parents to demand food, but for the moment, it was more fun to harass each other.
The kids took the news well. They were all curious and excited and had asked questions all day. Joseph had just been relieved that he wouldn’t be the littlest anymore. They were still whispering and giggling in their beds that night when Rorschach and Dan crawled into theirs. Dan had worn an ‘I was right' smirk most of the day and Rorschach was too high on sex and fertilization to mind for now.
They collapsed, rolling against each other. Dan hooked his arm around Rorschach to pillow his head and comb fingers through his hair. Rorschach leaned into it, closing his eyes. His sigh wafted over Dan’s shoulder, too soft to tickle.
“What you said earlier…” Dan began. Rorschach opened one eye like a cat. Dan was looking at the ceiling as his fingers traced lazy spirals across Rorschach‘s temple and scalp. “About before you met me…?”
“I complain too often about how empty I was then,” Rorschach said, closing his eyes again. “But I was. And that emptiness had a shape. The first time I had the dream, Daniel, I didn’t know what I needed, just that I needed it. Tried normal ways to relieve it, like the other boys talked about. Helped a little. Next night was worse, and the night after that, but even while I burned, was realizing what I wanted.
“I… would imagine having something, someone, and all my empty yearning took on that shape. I knew the shape of your hands and the angles of your body from the time I was thirteen, Daniel. First time I got a glimpse of you, I tingled. When I got a good look at you, I couldn’t breathe. It was like seeing a ghost, or déjà vu, or having amnesia and getting that hit to the head that brought everything back. Revelation. Couldn’t let on. Never even dared hope that you’d- we’d-”
“Stop,” Dan moaned. “If I start thinking that we could’ve had this years earlier, I won’t be able to stand it.”
“First cycle after I met you, I had something tangible to dream about,” Rorschach whispered. “Scared my neighbors, I was so loud. Dreamed of you all night. Pined for you all day. Was painful to be near you without touching you. Invented excuses to patrol alone so you wouldn’t see.”
“When we could’ve been screwing like rabbits against the console,” Dan lamented. Rorschach kneed him, but not hard. Dan chuckled and scrunched his fingers in his hair again. “I dreamed of you too, you know. I didn’t have any precognition about it, but it wasn’t long after I knew you existed that the shadows in my dreams started taking a definite shape too. I didn’t think you’d ever want me either.”
Rorschach hurmed a little sheepishly and they snuggled quietly after that. The silence down the hall meant that the children had finally dozed off. Dan’s free hand slid down to trace the egg slit. It wouldn’t open until the eggs were ready and despite how hyper-aware Rorschach was of them at the moment, Dan couldn’t feel them. He experimentally kneaded a little harder and Rorschach gasped.
“Did that hurt?” Dan asked, stopping at once. Rorschach grabbed his arm before he could pull it away.
“No,” he breathed. “You moved them. They rub and it’s- do it again.”
Intrigued, Dan dug his fingers into Rorschach’s stomach. Rorschach shivered, arching into it. Dan couldn’t feel the eggs from the outside, but inside, they rolled and rubbed against places still tender from the earlier mating frenzy. Rorschach bit back a moan, amazed that everything Dan did seemed to be stimulating and too stimulated to be ashamed of it. Dan was no less delighted to see him melt that way and stopped just to hear him ask for more.
“There is something else I wanted to know,” he said, touching their foreheads together. “You only call me by endearments when you’re asleep. Never to my face. You are talking about me aren’t you?” The last one was meant teasingly, but Rorschach shook his head to fight off the glaze of pleasure the fondling put over him and tried to answer.
“Didn’enk! Think you would like it. Didn’t want to give anything away iffffffmmmmm a-anyone overheard and anhh. Oh.”
“Please?” The word was murmured against his lips, and Rorschach’s tongue flicked out to taste it.
“Beloved,” he whispered back and was rewarded with a shudder and a kiss every time he said it.
Hope was technically the oldest, having hatched two hours before Justice and Mason. Those two had only been a few minutes apart and looked enough alike to be mistaken for twins. Next was Faith, and the last hatched, nearly a full day behind the others, had been Joseph.
They all had Rorschach's coloration, pale and freckled, with fiery red hair, but Hope and Joseph had Dan’s soft face and full lips. Mason could make an exasperated look that Rorschach swore was carbon-copied from Dan and Faith was fascinated by flying birds and insects, though for awhile they had been afraid she just wanted to eat them.
The whole time they had been in their cradle, they had wanted out, and once out, they had gone to look for any other container of water to sit in. Dan had been amazed at how mobile they were. It had only taken a month or so before they were creeping around on all fours, blinking owlishly at everything and putting anything that would fit in their mouths.
Their ridges kept them from being able to sit all the way upright at first, so they crouched and crept. They could hide anywhere, being so small and quiet, but Dan learned quickly that if he hummed, they would try to hum back.
They were born mimics, copying sounds and expressions and movements. Survival skills, Dan had decided, the struggle to be self-sufficient as early as possible, if Rorschach was any indication. They did grow and develop faster than human children. Their hair was to their shoulders in just a few months and they understood things like light switches and 'don't touch' in no time at all.
By the end of their first year, the ridges had shrunk enough that their little spines were visible and Dan had started to try to tempt them with food. Rorschach had said it was pointless, that they’d eat when they’re ready. Dan had retaliated by plying him with food instead, waving yeast rolls under his nose or smearing strawberry jam on his lip to make him lick it off.
Hungry little Faith had been the first to try it and would’ve scarfed the whole sweet potato she had been offered a bite of if they had let her. Then, she started to call for more, a soft-pitched puppy-like whimper. When the others heard, they started in, except for Joseph, who just watched in silence.
“Spoiling them,” Rorschach muttered, holding Joseph.
“Feeding a child is not spoiling it,” Dan said. “That’s basic maintenance. The very minimum of care.” He raised an eyebrow, daring Rorschach to argue. Hope crammed her cheeks full of banana slices and crawled over to spit one out in front of Joseph. He looked at it, but didn’t reach for it. She chewed hers and swallowed hugely. Joseph just blinked. Hope held it out to him, but he wouldn’t open his mouth. She tried to cram it into his face, but Rorschach stopped her. She sulked and ate it herself.
“I know exactly how you feel,” Dan told her.
It took a few more months for the babies to start talking. Faith had been the first to start mimicking words after her climb up Mt. St. Hollis, and the others had followed her example. The genders developed about the same time. Both genders had little egg slit markings. Maybe Rorschach’s situation wasn’t as unique as they had thought. They didn’t discuss it. Once the genders were definite, they all got names and the boys got haircuts which made Mason cry so hard that Justice insisted hers be cut, too.
Once short, their hair curled up like Rorschach’s which Joseph got around by dunking himself in whatever wet he could find, including his sister’s apple juice, which got him bitten. After that he used his own and stayed a wet sticky mess until his hair grew long enough to keep the curls pulled straight again.
They grew fast, ate constantly, and devoured any and all information about anything. Hollis had talked himself hoarse answering questions the day he showed them around his garage, but they knew the name and purpose of every tool in the place. At age three, Hope could pass for a five year old and was allowed to start kindergarten. She was thrilled and lorded it over her siblings until Dan started explaining responsibilities. She took that seriously too. If she was going to be the oldest, she was going to do it right.
It was decided ’the twins’ could enroll the following fall. Faith was afraid of the bus and Joseph would still go into the silent stares when confronted by anyone not in his immediate family, so they could use a little more time to get used to the idea. The children could be spaced out as normally as possible, and it was working. Hope was her siblings’ scout, returning everyday with news of what was happening and usually a project that she had done to show them. Her Line Leader badge (a laminated paper circle with double Ls and a safety pin to hold it on) was treated like a treasure and her wall got so covered in drawings and arts n crafts that Dan helped her make a scrapbook to keep it all in.
When September rolled around again, Justice and Mason were dying to go, and Hope couldn’t wait to show them off and brag that she was going to have new brothers and sisters soon.
And everything was fine until the day the children were walked to the door from the bus by a staff member. The twins were quiet and uneasy and Hope had a note.
“What happened?” Dan had asked and she told the trembling tale of a policeman who had come to talk to them all because one of her classmates had gone missing.
“They think somebody took her,“ Hope had said, forehead wrinkled in distress. The note explained that the children would be walked from the bus to the door by an aide and if no one answered, the child would be returned to the school until picked up. No children were to be unattended at any time and it begged parents to report any suspicious people near their children and to keep the Roche family in their prayers.
Rorschach’s first impulse, as full of eggs and protective as he was, was to keep all their children home forever and ever from now on. Dan reminded him that that wouldn’t help poor little Blair. They argued for a moment, softly but fiercely, over who would go and who would stay. In the end, Rorschach couldn’t bear to have Dan go alone, no matter how logical it was to stay.
“Call Hollis,” he said. “Ask if he can come watch them for awhile. I won’t fight unless I have to,” he said to answer the next argument. “And there could be something I might be able to do to help. Maybe.” Dan squinted at him.
“Have you been holding out on me?”
“A little,” Rorschach admitted. He rubbed his palms against his legs nervously. “I don’t like to do it. Makes me sick sometimes, but it might help.” So Dan nodded and went for the phone.
There was something ominous about a grade school after dark. Toys stared soullessly from shelves. Brightly colored drawings looked stark and grim in the weak light of the exit signs. They found Hope’s room and inside it, Blair’s desk.
Rorschach sighed and took off his gloves. He had explained on the way over and Nite Owl was curious to see him in action, even though it wouldn’t look like much. It was one of the reasons Rorschach had learned very early to keep his hands to himself, had been so adamant about his gloves, and handshakes had meant so much to him. His palms and fingertips were sensitive and if he tried, he said, he could feel more than most people, almost taste it. His hands slid over Blair’s desk, catching her scent.
“She’s a happy girl,” he whispered, wincing as the sensation of brightness tingled in his fingers. “Didn’t have to be her. Could’ve been any of them. Could’ve been-“ He stopped before saying Hope’s name, just in case there was a security camera maybe.
“She has the same name as a rich family,” Nite Owl said. “They wanted money, not the child herself.” Rorschach grumbled about next time, and Nite Owl knew he was still worried about their own daughter. Her desk was just two rows over, her name written carefully on the nametag, each letter a different color and a picture of a ladybug inside the O. Dan had told her the one that landed on her arm was good luck, so now she drew them often to keep the luck coming.
They went out to where the police had said Blair was last seen and started to move in circles, Rorschach still barehanded and open-palmed to catch whatever trace of the girl remained. He gagged four times at the remains of the waves of humanity that had been there before and since, but only threw up once.
“Can you go on?” Nite Owl asked, hating to make him suffer this way, but there really weren’t any other leads. Rorschach knew it too.
“Have to,” he grated and kept looking. A few hours before morning, they came to a fenced-in yard. The heavy musk of dog in the air made Rorschach wince and cram his hands in his pockets. He shivered and nodded at the fence.
“She played with them,” he whispered. “Petted them. May have used them to get her here.”
Nite Owl nodded, checking the windows. All lights were out, so he kicked the door in. He heard a squeal of surprise and a weak rectangle of light reached across the floor to a startled man. They had caught him in the act of trying to light an old furnace. The man started to shout at him, threaten him, then recognized his silhouette.
“It’s not what you think!” he said, holding up his hands. There was a pair of little girl’s underwear in one of them and Nite Owl grabbed his arm and slammed his head down on the furnace. It was cold, but there was still the satisfying crunch of cheekbone against iron. Rorschach circled the room, quickly and quietly as a shadow, then ducked through the next door.
“It’s not what you think!” the man sobbed again. “I was just, just, just keeping her here! That’s all! That’s ALL!!”
Nite Owl heard the sound of duct tape being peeled off and then a child’s whimpers. She was alive. Relief made him go a little rubbery, but the sound of tears and pain made him twist the arm a little harder. What had he done to that girl? What if it had been his own Hope in there, hurt and scared and maybe raped and naked with this greasy monster taking her clothes to burn? The man heard it too.
“I didn’t do anything!” he sobbed again, even when Rorschach reappeared with the girl wrapped in his coat. He was carrying her and Nite Owl’s first impulse was to trade so Rorschach wouldn’t have to lift anything, but he didn’t want him touching this guy with no gloves anyway.
“Get her out,” Rorschach said. “Call the police.” Nite Owl nodded. Once they were gone, he looked around the room. There was a deeply scored and scarred countertop that he instinctively knew Rorschach should never touch. Now that he was listening, he could hear the pacing and panting of the dogs outside. He wondered suddenly if they were well taken care of or if they were thin and filthy too. He looked down at the whimpering man, still clutching the panties. Somewhere he could hear a siren and it was all that kept him from breaking any more of the bastard’s bones.
Once the police arrived, things happened quickly. The man was handcuffed and removed and a blanket was found for Blair when the ambulance arrived for her. Rorschach kept in partial shadow until he got his coat back, maybe to better hide the gentle swell of the eggs, even though his layers kept it from being obvious to anyone who didn’t know. He didn’t put his gloves back on, kept his fingers curled and his hands held away from himself. His usual gruff sounds had turned into choked back gags and Nite Owl knew he had to get him home.
There was a gauntlet of police and reporters to run, but once away, Nite Owl pulled him into an alley to let him yank up his mask and throw up into some trash cans until he could stand it again. Nite Owl took off his gloves to check Rorschach’s hands. He didn’t see anything but a few smudges of dirt and blood, but Rorschach flinched away.
“Don’t,” he said. “You’ll get it on you.” Nite Owl ignored him to gently rub his thumb over the palms and fingertips, to replace the taste of pain and fear with whatever he tasted like. It must’ve worked because Rorschach leaned into him to savor it for a moment. The blare of a car horn and men shouting at each other a street over broke the reverie and they hurried home.
Hollis was asleep on the couch. The sun was coming up so it wouldn’t be long before the children were awake. Rorschach went to check on them and Dan started making lunches and breakfast. He had been trying to be quiet, but a shuffle from the living room alerted him before the voice did.
“How’d it go?” Hollis asked, leaning on the doorframe.
“Found her alive,” Dan said. He tried to smile without much success. “Feels like it could’ve been a lot worse.”
Hollis didn’t need to ask for any details. He had been a cop and a mask for too long to have any doubts about what happened to children after they went missing. Finding one at all was usually all you could hope for, and alive was its own little miracle. He went around to sit at the table and Dan slid him a mug of coffee.
“It’ll be in the morning news probably,” he said. “Answer to all those parents’ prayers last night.” He glanced at the three bag lunches on the counter. “Most may keep them home anyway.”
Dan nodded. He expected an argument about that too. He didn’t want to begrudge either of them the comfort of clinging to their precious ones, even if it was just for a day, but he also had a feeling that once Hope heard that her classmate was found, she would want to be there. Blair wouldn’t be back in class that day, maybe not ever, but her friends would be making her cards and drawing her pictures to send and he didn’t want her to miss that. And if she went, the twins would go. There was already some bickering about who wasn't really oldest and who wasn't really a baby.
Rorschach appeared in the doorway, posture finally relaxed for the first time since he had taken his gloves off. He smelled of soap, which meant he had scrubbed himself down before carrying any of the awful house's taint into his own. Hollis handed him the mug since he hadn’t taken a drink yet.
“I can stay and watch Faith and Joseph while you two catch up on sleep,” he offered. “You both look beat.”
Dan left it up to Rorschach and was a little surprised when he nodded and thanked him. They went to bed, stripping quickly. Dan ducked into the shower for a quick rinse and came back to find Rorschach sitting up looking at his hands. Dan slid in beside him and took them in his own. He pressed kisses on each knuckle. Rorschach's mouth quivered, but the rest of him had pulled tight. Dan held him close and sucked gently on his fingertips. All he could taste was skin and soap, but he wondered what it felt like with Rorschach's senses. Whatever it was, it made Rorschach shudder and melt down to nuzzle into his neck. Dan wrapped arms around him and felt him hitch.
"Hey," he said. "Are you feeling ok? Is is still bothering you?" He meant the taint of the house, but Rorschach choked, shaking his head.
"It could've been Hope," he gritted out. Tears rolled down his face. Dan felt them on his shoulder. "It could've been ANY of them!"
"Think of the Roches," Dan said. "It was their Blair. " Rorschach jerked and made a noise that could only be called wounded. Dan rubbed his back in big sweeping circles. "But we got her back, buddy. She's safe now. They got her back. She's home and safe and so are ours, and so are these." He slid his hands down to cradle the soft curve of stomach over their next clutch. Rorschach pushed into it, hooking his arms around Dan's neck. Dan leaned them back to lay down and freed an arm to pull the blankets over them.
"Could still happen again," Rorschach said after a long silence. "Grice wasn't the only one in this city."
"Tomorrow we'll tell them about it," Dan said. "How to get away before anything happens. Teach them where the nerve centers are in an arm. How to kick and scratch and scream until they can get away. Improvised weapons are your specialty, I think."
"Tracking devices," Rorschach said suddenly. "Make them some. So we can find them, if, if anything-"
"What? Tag their little ears like endangered animals?" Dan said. "I'm not sure that's the best-"
"Are endangered! Would've found her within an hour of missing her if there'd been a beacon," Rorschach hissed. "Never would have had time to touch her. To, to take her clothes." He trailed off unhappily and Dan rubbed his back again. Maybe Rorschach had picked up something even more traumatic from touching Blair in the house.
"I'll see what I can make work," he promised instead. It really wasn't a bad idea.
"Wanted them so long," Rorschach said. It was just a miserable whisper. "Can't lose them now."
"I know, love. I know." Dan kissed his temple. "I'll do anything. You know that." They lay together quietly after that. The sun was up and Hollis was getting breakfast ready downstairs, if the sounds of cabinets was any indication. Rorschach was alert for a while, but settled against Dan and accepted another kiss. Dan rubbed his belly too, to remind him him how lucky they were and to soothe him. It felt like it was working. They might actually get to sleep a little.
"It could've been so much worse," Dan said, just to get it out of his head. Rorschach grunted softly without any temper. "She's alive, and it isn't as if she'll be ruined forever. She'll be ok. And so will we."
"Mm," Rorschach said.
"We'll be ok, too," Dan said again. He nudged Rorschach a little. "Let me hear you say it."
"Ok, Daniel," Rorschach said. "Will be fine. Just… just-" He gave up on the word with an exasperated sound, but it told Dan volumes. He scritched his fingers in Rorschach's hair and let the silence fall over them. There was only about twenty minutes before Hope and the twins would get up for school. They might be out enough to sleep through that commotion if they dozed off now. He pressed another kiss to nearest part of Rorschach's face and only heard a murmur. He let himself slip under too. Hollis was there. They were all safe. This time, everything was going to be fine.