Chapter Two Title: Acceptance

"Ok. Great. Tell you what; you've lost a lot of blood. Let's get some food in you before we do this. Give me some time to come up with a game plan, and time for you to change your mind." He was about to turn away, when he thought of something. "Rorschach, if you do decide to change your mind, that's ok. You have to take care of yourself first, ok? I always want to respect your boundaries. I know you're strong enough to stand up for them." Respecting his boundaries sounded a little hollow, in view of the fact that he had crossed the first line Rorschach had ever drawn in their relationship, that of not touching him. That gave Dan an idea of the first thing he wanted to do.

He turned away and started to fix macaroni and cheese from a box. Behind him, Rorschach settled uncertainly into his usual chair and pulled out his journal. He was scribbling away furiously by the time Dan mixed milk and cheese sauce with the noodles and turned around. It amused him. His partner often used the journal to sort through his impressions and hunches about a case. Dan wouldn't have expected him to make a decision this momentous without working logistics out on paper.

He handed him a bowl of steaming macaroni and cheese and sat down with a smaller one of his own. Recently, the other man had gotten freer about rolling up his mask to eat in front of Dan. At first it had been drawn up just long enough to pop in a sugar cube, his hand obscuring any view of the lower half of his face, but lately he had been more lax, leaving it up long enough to finish an entire can of beans. Now he sat staring at the bowl for a long time before slowly pulling his mask up to the bridge of his nose. It occurred to Dan that he was being shy. To establish a sense of normalcy, he discussed his impressions of the status of weapons deals in the area. Rorschach hunched his shoulders over his food and shoveled it into his mouth. That, at least, was normal.

When they were both finished, Dan put the bowls in the sink and ran water into them, not bothering to wash them. He was too keyed up by the prospect of what was about to happen. It was a very good sign that the other man hadn't abandoned the food and disappeared out the door. His mask was rolled back down into position, though.

They stood facing each other. "May as well get the preliminaries out of the way. Do you have a safe-word you prefer?" Rorschach's head dropped and he shook his head. "We'll just use the standards, then, Yellow for slow down, Red for stop." Dan stepped forward. He raised his hand slowly. Rorschach's attention snapped to it.

"I'm not going to touch you. Hold still." He moved closer until his partner flinched away. "It's ok. I'm not going to touch you." He brought his hand up to within two inches of Rorschach's mask. He moved it down along his shoulders, never getting any closer. He paid particular attention to which areas caused the most tension in the vigilante's body.

"You're doing a good job. Thank you for trusting me," he said, as he moved his hand past the side of his hip and saw the other bridle. He moved around behind him, holding his hand behind the back of his neck before moving back around in front of him. "Hold out your hands."

Rorschach tilted his head, but did as he was told. His hands were covered to the wrists in purple gloves and his arms covered by two coats and a shirt. None of his skin was showing.

"Did I touch you?"

"Hurm, no."

"Did I hurt you?"

"No."

"Do you trust me?"

The answer to this question took a little longer. "Yes."

"I'm going to touch your hand. I'm not going to hurt you."

Rorschach's stance shifted a little bit.

Dan touched the tip of his index finger to Rorschach's. He drew it slowly up the palm. "You can take this," he told him. "I'm not going to hurt you."

"Would rather be hurt."

The observation shocked Daniel a little. He looked up from what he was doing, but Rorschach was still looking at the floor. "I know. But this is not a fight. I'm not trying to provoke you." He took Rorschach's hand, wrapping his hand around it, feeling the muscles rippling under the surface of the skin and glove. "Just like shaking hands."

Rorschach nodded minutely.

Dan gave the hand a squeeze and let go, moving on to the other hand and repeating the process. "I know you don't like being touched, but if you're going to trust me, you're going to have to be able to tolerate basic human contact."

"Trust you, Daniel. Know you won't hurt me."

Something in his voice made Dan ask, "Are you afraid?"

He shifted again. "Yes."

Dan considered that. He reached his hand up to Rorschach's neck. "I'm going to touch your throat. You're not going to move or resist, because this is what I want. Because you want to give me what I want, don't you?"

The black spots on Rorschach's mask crowded over his cheeks and he nodded.

Dan stretched his hand across his partner's throat. He could feel tension and muscles and a jumping Adam's apple and his partner's hammering pulse. Then, Rorschach tilted his head back, baring himself. A breath shuddered out of him and Dan felt the pulse under his fingertips, still beating firmly, but much more slowly. 'Did he just drop into Subspace? Should I ask?'

"Yes..." Rorschach breathed.

"I want you to be strong for me. You're going to take it for me, aren't you?" Dan was certain, now. His partner was floating in that blissful peace that came with giving your trust to someone else completely. The willingness to take what comes.

"Yess..."

Dan squeezed lightly. Not enough to restrict airflow, just enough to let the other know that he was in control. He exerted downward pressure and Rorschach slowly dropped to his knees.

"Mmmf..."

"Tell me how it feels to be at my mercy. Tell me how it feels to give your control to me."

Rorschach's inkblots had smoothed out into a slow, lazy swirl. "Feels good. Trust you, Daniel. Love you."

They both realized what he'd said at the same instant.

The moment telescoped. It seemed like it took all day for Rorschach to roll off his knees and slam backwards into the fridge. He stumbled and Dan, who'd jerked his hand back as if he'd been burned, lunged for him before he could recover and escape. He grabbed the smaller man's shoulders. "STOP!"

Rorschach sent up a howl like a wounded animal.

Dan pinned him against the fridge. "STOP!" he yelled again. "It's ok. It's ok. You didn't do anything wrong. It's ok. Subspace takes some people like that. Listen to me!"

His partner was keening.

Dan jerked him forward and slammed him back against the fridge, just hard enough to knock down half the magnets and force his partner to take a deep breath. "RORSCHACH!" The other man's fingers were scrabbling against his arms, his head whipping back and forth. It took another slam against the fridge and several more deep breaths before he settled.

"Shouldn't have said that, is bad, is vile. Must hate me now."

"I will never hold your feelings against you. Never hate you for telling me the truth."

"Hit me, hate me, purge me."

"No," Dan breathed. "No," he repeated more firmly. He wanted to draw Rorschach closer and run his fingers through his hair and comfort him. That wouldn't work with this man. What would?

"No," he said again to buy time while he thought. The only thing he could think of that made Rorschach comfortable was fighting crime. He certainly wasn't going to attack him after reassuring him he wouldn't hurt him. Instead he put his hand back up to his throat.

"Hold still. There is nothing bad about what has happened here. You feel the way you feel. We will work with that. I do not hate you. I...you are my best friend. I care about you, so much. I want to protect you. I want to be your partner. I want to fight by your side."

And he realized something that had been trying to express itself to his mind for months.

"I love you, too. It's ok. But you are not going to be allowed to continue behaving like this. You are going to have to be stronger than this. That includes accepting and dealing with these feelings. I know you are strong enough to take anything. Aren't you?" He emphasized this with a little squeeze.

Rorschach's shoulders rolled back and he straightened.

"Am strong," he growled.

"I trust you to take this. Can I trust you?"

"Can trust me."

"Are you afraid?"

"Yes."

"That's ok. I'm going to protect you. And you are going to protect me. We're a team. You are going to obey me."

This time the growl was just a hoarse whisper. "Yes."

Daniel stroked his thumb up and down Rorschach's throat. "So strong, so powerful, give me your control," he whispered.

From behind the mask, the whisper came again.

"Yes."