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Daud sat on the roof opposite the pavillion where Jessamine was being put to rest, her procession conspicuously empty without her bodyguard silent and grim. She’d been carried through the city, first, so the people could say their goodbyes and throw flowers at her feet, and now she was being entombed in the marble, facing the sea that the servants always said she loved.

There were, he learned, a few rites from across the isles mixed in with the usual Gristol dourness in her funeral, much to Campbell’s surprise. He hid a sneer, badly, behind a cough because even though everyone was wearing black, and she’d been taken through the city as Gristol did for its leaders, there were bright, sweet-smelled flowers like in Tyvia, and slow, sadly celebratory music like in Morley, and a few ritual items burned and buried with her like in Serkonos.

Daud assumed that was from Corvo, and that Burrows - looking annoyed, but then he always looked annoyed - either didn’t suspect it was or was too put off by the inclusion of all the other deviations to think about it too much. There was, Daud noticed, a carved love spoon laying on her chest while a few advisors and trusted, favoured servants said goodbye - intricate but crudely carved - and a rough-hewn crow beneath her hands folded across her belly. Daud was surprised Burrows had allowed them to be there, but maybe he didn’t know who it was from. Maybe it was his own bastardised respect for her, the same that let Emily’s nanny put a drawing of Jessamine, Corvo, and Emily herself inside the tomb.

Gently, Jessamine’s body and all the gifts she’d been given, from the people she loved and the servants who loved her and the one man she’d been close to in all the world, were put inside the tomb, and she was sealed inside. The plaque bearing her name gleamed in the dim, grey light as the sky gave a rumble like it, too, was as angry at Daud as Daud had been.

An officiator said a few words - should have been more, but Daud laughed to himself because what words were there for someone so good? It was hard to sum up a woman like her, who stood between the poor and the nobles and tried so hard to keep both safe and happy, protecting them both from the worst parts of the other because she was smart enough to know that, as things stood with the plague ripping its way through the slums and the sewers and everywhere else the rats got to, they’d destroy each other and Dunwall with it. She’d curbed the nobles’ demands for more money as best she could get away with, and built on the laws her father had started to protect the workers. She’d done a lot of good for the empire.

If not for Daud - he tipped his head back against the wall and smiled at the grim clouds - she could have done a lot more, and her daughter could have continued the work, and her child after her and so on, and so on. Ah, but he was an idiot, too blinded by gold besides, to know it until she’d fallen from his blade and he looked to Corvo and realised, Oh fuck.

After the officiator was finished talking and all the chairs were put away, servants gone back to work and Campbell left to let the mourning bells sing out through the speakers, announcing the final rest of the empress, Daud still sat on the roof, watching the sky get darker as it prepared to rain, and shoved his cold, numb hands into his pocket, annoyed with himself. Going to her funeral hadn’t helped, at all. Thomas was still hanging around at the edge of the roof, patiently waiting for Daud to be ready to go home, Burrows was still regent, Corvo was still in prison, and Emily was still lost somewhere in Dunwall. Or maybe dead, a child Weeper shuffling through the sewers with all the others or a corpse floating at the bottom of a river, her soul wandering the streets while she wondered why Corvo hadn’t been there to save her, or wailing in the Void, trapped because she’d died too young and without the proper rites to see her pass safely into the world of spirits as she was meant to.

Daud wondered how many of the old ways Corvo knew, if he knew any at all. He wondered if he’d taught Emily any of them, told her about the world of spirits where all souls came from and returned to on the anniversary of her grandfather’s death; about the souls needing to be helped through the Void because sometimes, in its confusing pathways, they got stuck and needed help.

“Sir?” Asked Thomas when Daud got to his feet and made power burn across the back of his hand, aching in the bones of his forearm and gleaming gold-blue even through his gloves.

Daud shook his head at him. “Let’s go.”

-:-

He woke from his bed fully clothed, padded out onto his balcony, and looked up through the hole in the roof of his office to see a whale drifting over head like a cloud drifting across the sky. Daud sighed “Damn,” To himself, because he’d hoped to avoid the Outsider. A stupid hope, to be sure, but it didn’t stop him wanting it - he only ever showed himself when Daud’s life was going to go ass over teakettle again, and he’d done enough of that to himself recently.

But, he sighed again, he was in the Void and he wouldn’t leave it until the Outsider was satisfied, so he took a step out into the waiting empty space where a wall and floor should have been and stepped out onto the path that unravelled for him. He passed through a handful of scenes of his recent past - the letter Burrows had sent him on his desk, lit by a frozen candle, and Jessamine’s corpse cold on the pavillion’s marble floor, a letter by her head screaming his own guilt back at him - but didn’t stop to look. He’d seen enough of them in his dreams the past few months.

Towards the end of the path - a few transverses across some islands because of course the Outsider wanted to be difficult, the night of the Empress’ funeral of all nights - he found himself stood in front of something that was probably the present, or at least a near enough future that the distinction didn’t matter.

Corvo, a frozen statue in the Void as the small island beneath his feet disintegrated into the waiting, endless emptiness beneath them; melting from human to wolfhound, pulling at the chains and lunging at the torturer with outstretched jaws. A guard, tripping over himself and falling into the waiting emptiness, was nursing an arm torn to shreds, and an Overseer was dead on the floor beside the torturer’s chair.

Corvo’d been a wolfhound in defence of the Empress and Emily, Daud remembered suddenly. Snapping and lunging, never afraid to fling himself at them despite their bullets and swords. He leapt, not seeming to care if his jaws closed tight like a vice on empty air, an arm flung out defensively, or an unguarded throat, then leaping back out of range and taking with him whatever torn out bits of flesh was trapped against his teeth. Sometimes he used his full, towering weight against them, knocking them down to bite more easily at anything in reach or using powerful hind legs to kick at their belly, disemboweling them as best he could with blunted dogs’ claws.

He’d flowed just as easily into other shapes too. A crow biting and pulling at their masks, more of a distraction than a threat but still effective. Even some Pandyssian animal, black and scruffy and skinny but unfathomably strong, vicious as he clawed and tore and bristled, lips pulled back in a silent, furious snarl; some kind of cat it seemed, but the size of a horse. He’d been just as terrifying when human, just as quick to strike and dodge and find the most vulnerable parts of their armour, sword and bolts driven deep into joints.

It was hard to feel scared of him when his wolfish, black eyes were blown wide in his own terror, tortured to within an inch of his life.

He was bleeding, Daud noticed - the dark fur half formed, pelt flowing down from his completed wolfhound’s head, was matted and stained a rusty red-black, ripped through with open wounds, and the wounds that weren’t open were smoking and lined with singed fur and skin, all in neat little rows. Daud didn’t have to imagine how he’d got them; the Void was helpfully showing him all the tools neatly lined up over his head. An odd thing to notice - of course Corvo was going to bleed. Burrows wanted to force him to confess to a crime he didn’t do, and he’d use anything to force that voice even if he killed Corvo in the process.

“Hello Daud,” Said the Outsider.

“What do you want?” Asked Daud, not really expecting an answer and not surprised when he didn’t get one. The Outsider liked to answer questions ten steps after the question was asked, if he answered at all. He turned to watch the Outsider hovering in the Void, staring at Daud with the closest he’d come to interest in years. He turned soon enough to Corvo frozen between them.

The Outsider smiled. “He’s an interesting man, Daud. So like you in some ways, so much cleverer in others. His mother loved him, of course, but she could never love the blood in his veins that gave him power; ashamed of her family gifts, skipping her but expressed in her children, no matter how she tried to suppress them. She hated that she was happy to see him cross the sea to Dunwall." His head tilted. "Across all the futures I’ve seen, all the possibilities that are and could be and never will be, only Corvo has ever been able to save or doom Dunwall. Despite your best efforts,” He added, his bland smile turning sharp, all his teeth hidden but Daud uncomfortably aware of them anyway, like a whale’s cutting-sharp teeth lining its jaws when it came close to the ship that first took him to Dunwall as an unwilling immigrant. “Dear Corvo,” The Outsider sighed, “Did you know I’ve given him my Mark, Daud?”

Daud crossed his arms, wondering if he should be annoyed or not. On the one hand, the Outsider was being obscure and mystical just to mess with him, and on the other, what could Daud being annoyed with him do to a god? He pressed lips tightly together against all the insults building behind his teeth. “Is there a point to all this?”

The whale, in the distance, floated serene, half between worlds and probably the only living thing other than Daud in the Void. The Outsider didn’t count - he was a god, and a dick, and Daud wasn’t feeling all that charitable with the reminder of his stupidity stood between them, a frozen moment of Corvo’s agony for Daud to enjoy and made far too easy for him to remember that for Corvo the session had probably lasted or would last hours. All because of him, and he had to wonder if it was the Void showing him because it couldn’t help reflecting the real world and all the things he felt and couldn’t help wondering, or the Outsider just trying to get a rise out of him.

“He’ll learn well enough on his own. He always does.” The Outsider tilted his head, and Daud tried not to shiver with how much it looked like the Outsider was going to eat him, and not in the fun way. “He might choose to use my gifts, he might not, but he always survives in the end. He’ll learn better with you to teach him, don’t you think? You’ve done so well with your Whalers in the past.”

“If this is about Billie!” Snarled Daud, absolutely not willing to put up with that!

The Outsider was unmoved. “My last gift to you, Daud. You’ve filled the river with blood and choked the streets with corpses. You’ve ruined so many lives as the blade in the dark, the wolf in the flock; not least your own. And now you want to change.” He spread his hands wide in a mockery of friendliness, a true nastiness in his face now, in his empty eyes that didn’t reflect light. “Here’s your chance, Daud. Corvo’s Mark is chained to yours. Save him, and save Emily. Then we’ll see.”

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry,” Said Rulfio, “What?”

“I want to know everything about Coldridge,” Continued Daud. He pointed to the floor plan of the prison, looked to Thomas who was worrying his mask between his fingers. “Guard patrols, guard rotations, when and where they go to sleep, when they piss, I don’t care. Everything you can find. Rulfio, you’re there for any locks. Finn, full sweep for documents. Burrows’ torture notes are a priority - get away with nothing else if you have to, but I want them.”

Finn, arms folded behind his back, nodded deeply and took a copy of the floor plan for himself just in case he needed the help getting around and none of the others were near enough to tell him. Daud didn’t much care if he was going to take a few novices from his squad to help with all the legwork - as long as they were competent enough to not get caught Finn could take a handful of colourful Pandyssian birds if he wanted. Considering it, they’d probably be a lot more useful than some of the trainees Monty was trying to make useful.

Rulfio flung his hands to the air with a shout. “Sir! First it’s business as usual, then you’re telling us not to kill people, then Overseers, and now you want us to rescue Corvo and the Empress? Corvo, the guy whose wife you killed? Ring any bells?” Then he paused. “Is this about Billie? You know we’d have told you if we knew, she’s just-”

Thomas punched him, hissed, “Shut. Up.” To Daud he said, “Right away sir,” And grabbed Rulfio’s arm to drag him away. “The Outsider visited him,” Said Thomas in an undertone, right before the two of them - Rulfio pulling at Thomas’ tight grip on him - disappeared. For a moment Daud waited for the sound of something breaking that said a fight was going to start, but in the silence Daud assumed either that Thomas had taken Rulfio far enough away that he couldn’t hear, or that for once Rulfio was being sensible.

He shook his head, waved permission for Finn to disappear too to prepare for his trip to Coldridge. Devon, the last remaining, was young in the deep blue of the masters uniform, and not a very good assassin besides - he didn’t really have the stomach for killing. But what he was damn good at was making gossip spread exactly how he wanted it to, and just for that Daud had made him a master because otherwise it was hell getting everyone in the same place long enough to give an announcement, and even then there were always a few coming to him like puppies because they’d been to see Ike with black eyes and bruised jaws and hadn't been there for the news.

“Spread the word of what we’re doing. I want everyone to know by sundown. When we get Attano here I want it known that anyone who hurts him answers to me. Understood?”

“Yes sir,” Said Devon, nodding so sharply his fluff of brown hair bounced excitedly.

And then Daud was alone, and he leaned back in his chair with a sigh while Ryan nosed through the carpet, licking up crumbs. “Stop that,” He told the dog, so Ryan came trotting up to him and put his head on Daud’s knee, looking for a pat on the head. He woofed a soft demand, skinny tail whipping from side to side, and Daud had never been very good at saying no - it was how the Whalers started, after all - so he gave in.

Ryan had a lighter coat than Corvo did. More sandy to Corvo’s brown-black, and shorter, too, to Corvo’s more wavy, sleek hair. His legs were skinny, but not so long as Corvo’s, and his shoulders were bigger, more meaty. His face had less harsh angles, even Ryan’s wide cheekbones not so wide or sharp or high as Corvo’s. Ryan couldn’t melt into different forms, flowing from the real to something almost fantastical, a blur of teeth and fur and feathers, completely silent even as he opened jaws bristling with teeth in something that might have been a roar.

But Ryan was just a dog - a cute one - and Daud shooed him away to get some work done; pulling maps towards him to memorise and, when that proved more boring than usual, he looked through a few job offers while Ryan curled up against his feet beneath the desk.

-:-

Devon wasn’t a very good assassin, and he was somehow worse at being a thief. He always seemed to be in the worst place at just the worst time - once, on a hit with Daud and Thomas for them to see how he was shaping up, Devon’s suggestion they look through a room for valuables somehow turned into an hour of perching on top of a chandelier, having to stifle awkward giggles while the man they were stealing from fucked a woman from the Golden Cat on his desk right beneath them. And then, of course, Devon’s luck continued to work against them and they had to endure another hour on the chandelier because the man’s wife had suspected he was cheating on her and had been watching in horror right up until he’d finished and then burst in, starting a truly impressive shouting match while the poor prostitute looked like she very much regretted taking the job.

So no, Devon didn’t take any jobs. Daud wouldn’t let him, and anyone unfortunate enough to be saddled with him would probably, conveniently, ‘leave him behind’. But ever since he’d come to Daud, a tiny little scrap of a boy with a reddened cheek, unwanted by a young serving girl mother who couldn’t afford to keep him, and said that Lord Chapman was making a mess of himself at a dinner party halfway across the city, Daud knew he was good at getting and spreading gossip. He was so damn good at knowing who to go to for word to spread, mostly unchanged, that by dinnertime everyone knew what Daud was planning and, even if they disagreed, knew not to question him about it.

-:-

It took a week to get everything he needed, days of sorting through whatever Finn’s runners brought him, no matter if it was documents he found or notes scribbled with a Watch Guard’s stolen pencil from one of the others, and nights of his usual dreamlessness. He should have been comforted by it, but the Outsider’s silence was now making him uneasy.

But Thomas had the guard’s rotations and rounds all mapped out, and he’d found Corvo’s cell and confirmed, yes, he was Marked; delivered a note telling him that a friend was on his way to help, that as long as Corvo was patient and willing to work with them he’d have Emily returned to him soon enough. Finn had stolen all of Burrows’ torture notes, from every prisoner dangerous or important enough to be tortured, that mostly went to the fire keeping Daud warm. Devon had confirmed that everyone knew Corvo would soon be joining them. Ike had set aside a bed for Corvo, because it was guaranteed he’d need it, and a few other Whalers had made up a small room for him.

Everything was set, so Daud called in a favour with Lizzy and had her take them to the sewer that ran underneath the prison. It was only Thomas and Rulfio with him - too many others was too risky, and might startle Corvo into a violence he might not otherwise resort to - and it was easy enough to slip inside and trot along the overhead pipes, blinking to higher perches and crossing wide open spaces. It was even more insultingly easy to get inside the torture room where Campbell and Burrows were eagerly, viciously explaining to Corvo how they’d been the ones to order Jessamine’s death, that his coming home early was an unexpected bonus; watching from high overhead as they waited for them to finish so they could knock out the torturer.

“Sir,” Said Rulfio quietly, peering down at Corvo trapped in the chair far below, “Are you sure this is a good idea? He might still kill you for the hell of it, and I wouldn’t blame him.”

Daud looked at Corvo, noted with a small bit of worry that he was entirely human - no wolfhound’s teeth along his jaw, no cat’s claws screeching across the cold metal arms of the torturer's chair, no anything. Either he’d given up trying to use his different forms to escape, or he was too far gone - far too weak with the blood bubbling from his mouth, sticky over his chin and puddled around his feet from open, bleeding wounds Daud was grateful not to be able to see too clearly - to even be able to.

Campbell had a sneer twisting his mouth as he talked, and Daud wondered what he thought about the revelation that Corvo was a heretic, a Mark branded black on his hand and the older powers that gave him his different forms, unique in all the world. He couldn't have known - would have brought the long arm of the Abbey down on Corvo long before now if he did. But he'd clearly worked out a way to smother it, it seemed.

He was very glad, suddenly, they’d brought a few extra Piero’s elixirs. He didn’t know if it would work for Corvo’s innate ability - Piero’s might only work for the Outsider’s - but it certainly couldn’t do him any worse harm than had already been done.

“It’s worth a shot,” He answered Rulfio, because it didn’t matter if Corvo decided to kill him or not, it was the principle of it that was important. If Corvo attacked then Daud absolutely would not feel guilty about killing him because Corvo had gone for him first; but if he didn’t, if he was every bit the soft-hearted fool Burrows said he was, far too forgiving of wrongs done to him as long as it wasn’t against his family too, then Daud owed too much to him not to try and make those wrongs right.

He was tired of death, didn’t want to surround himself in it anymore, wanted to be free of it the way Corvo usually was, his crossbow full of sleep darts and would-be murderers sent to Coldridge instead of the waiting Void. He was... He was tired, and old; his back complaining because of how long he’d been crouched. Murdering Jessamine had taken the last of his will to kill, and Billie betraying him, giving their base up to the Overseers in the hopes he’d be taken out and the survivors would fall under her command, had taken the last of his will for most anything. Rescuing the Empire was the first thing he’d wanted to do in a long while.

Campbell and Burrows, finished with their little speeches, stalked away while the torturer, a smile twisting his fat, piggish face, held a hot iron to Corvo’s face. The torture chamber echoed with Corvo’s voiceless howl.

Rulfio and Thomas both looked guiltily away as they carefully padded into position, Rulfio working loose the grating of a vent that would take them to where Lizzy was waiting for them and Thomas in front of the door, peering through the keyhole to keep watch. Daud knocked out Burrows’ pet torturer easily enough, and fired a sleep dart into his flabby cheek to keep him under, and turned to Corvo with an uncomfortably hard beat of his heart.

It was one thing to see him in the Void, where all the reflections of the real world were poorly rendered at best, missing detail and nuance; it was entirely another to see him up front and real, a mess of blistering, charred skin over bruises and the open welts left by a whip, a neat laddering of new scars down his forearms. Hair matted close to the scalp, one eye bruised and swollen shut, the other blurred and muddy, unfocused as he stirred a little. He was so close to death Daud could almost see the grave reaching around him. “Hello Bodyguard,” Said Daud, sitting back on his heels.

Corvo’s eye sharpened as much as it could, a deathly bone-rattle like a snake’s threatening hiss coming from behind his teeth. He lunged, but the straps around his wrists just yanked him back down; another hiss, pained this time, and Daud watched a trickle of blood creep down Corvo’s chin, down his throat. Corvo coughed wetly.

“All clear, sir!” Said Thomas.

“Now,” Said Daud, watching Corvo almost as intently as Corvo was watching him. “Burrows just told you he hired me to kill the empress, and before anything else I want to say I’m sorry; I’m a stupid old fuck who thought keeping my men safe was worth her life. So here’s what’s going to happen: I’m going to let you out of this chair, and you can decide if you want to go your own way, with all the Watch hunting you down and nothing to your name, or you can come with us, and we’ll help you find Emily and put her on the throne. We help you, you don’t kill us, deal?”

Corvo ducked behind his curtain of greasy hair, or maybe he passed out a moment, but Daud watched him think while Thomas kept watch and Rulfio worked loose the last of the screws on the vents’ grating. He nodded. Daud undid the straps and Corvo - a shudder all down the length of his back, fur flowing down his shoulders in fits and starts - half-fell into the form of a rat, smacking into the concrete in a little splatter of blood. Despite the way he went stiff, fur bristling under Daud’s hand, he didn’t bite when he was scooped up and put in Daud’s pocket.

Chapter Text

Daud’s hunch that Corvo was not at all as well as he might have pretended was almost completely confirmed by Ike’s thin mouth pressed even thinner in a long, grim line, deep wrinkles carved in his face gone even deeper. As equally not encouraging was his sigh.

“It’s not looking good,” Said Ike, sitting down in a chair that groaned a little beneath his weight. “He’s… Well, you said yourself - he had trouble even turning into a rat. Don’t know how his magic thing works, but it seems to me he’s fucked and I don’t...” He scratched his jaw, the side of his head. “I don’t know if I can help him, ‘n that’s the truth of it. Got a few fractured bones, mostly his ribs but a break in the left radius, a shit ton of bruising, his arms, mostly, to fuckery; all that broken shit, that I can handle, but… Four months he’s been in there, Daud, an’ not even the rats eat the food they give prisoners. Even for a skinny fuck like him, I shouldn’t be able to count bones.”

Daud looked at Corvo, dead asleep on the bed Ike had put aside. There was a stained curtain keeping the curious Whalers from looking at him and bothering him, but they may as well have not bothered - Corvo’d been out of it the entire time in Daud’s pocket, not asleep but certainly not awake, and now he may as well have been a corpse. Even in the soft candlelight of Ike’s makeshift infirmary he looked awful; worse, maybe, than he had in the torture chamber. The soft moonlight showed  far too much, all the hollow places in the shadows of his bones where healthy meat had been and wasted away, bruises stark and awful on his skin. The deeper cuts were bleeding slow and constant - a faint, wet sheen across his skin - even after Ike had given him a Sokolov’s Elixir.

It didn’t look good - Daud agreed with Ike on that much. “There’s nothing you can do?”

Ike rubbed his mouth. “Didn’t say that,” He said slowly. He grimaced. “Just… don’t expect a miracle this time. It’s not like your Thomas an’ the shit his da did to him; damage like this, it’s... ” Ike sighed, got to his feet and started rummaging through the medicine he’d lined up on the bedside table and all along the floor. “This isn’t some drunk fuck slapping his kid a few nights a week ‘cause he’s pissed as a fart and just wants some control of his life, alright? Months, Daud, and even if his body turns out fine he might not-”

He sighed, set down a Sokolov’s elixir. His broad back was tense beneath his shirt. “I’ll do my best,” He said; watching Daud from the corners of his eyes. “That’s all I can give you. It’ll be a fucking miracle if he survives, an’ don’t hold out hope he won’t go mad and hit you, but I’ll try.”

He put a few things on the bed, next to Corvo’s hand. Daud knew Ike would try - Ike always tried, even when it was hopeless, because Ike was a huge, grizzled bear of a man, a patchy beard on his jaw gone white from age and a handful of scars on his face from shrapnel and Void knew what else that had carved into him in those ancient naval battles. He was terrifying, more than a head taller than even Corvo, and perhaps twice as strong. But he cared about people; picked up Corvo’s hand when he thought Daud wasn’t watching and gave it a squeeze.

To save Emily was just as hopeless, he knew that. Daud had handed her off as he and Burrows had agreed at a drop point, and he and the Whalers had disappeared because their job was done and their money was waiting for them at the collection point. He had no idea where she was, no tracks to follow or even a name to hunt down to get that track to follow. Daud may as well have left him in Coldridge for all the good he’d done Corvo - but to think that was just as intolerable as the last four months, and maybe it was hopeless, maybe he and Corvo were just chasing butterflies to their deaths like lunatics but, like Ike starting to mix his sharp smelling poultices, to try was all either of them could do for him to make up for what Daud had done.

He sighed, leaned back in his chair with his ankle over his knee; Daud would start fulfilling his half of their deal in the morning. Thomas already had his orders to gather some of the other masters in the mess hall early, and everything else could wait until then, when the moon dimmed behind some clouds was low and the hidden sun just started to rise. He had nothing else that was urgent, and there was something low in his gut that said Corvo was the urgent thing he had to attend to. Daud shook it away; watched Ike settle into the work.

A few of his assistants - two young boys, a young girl, and a young woman - melted from the darkness, and Ike set them to work gathering hot water and antiseptics and some leaves whose names Daud didn’t understand. “Desmond!” Ike barked, “Clean rags! Dimitri! Dilute the antiseptic, one part iodine, two parts hot water. Quinn! Help me make the poultice, the Morley one!”

Daud wondered, dimly, if the few times he’d had to be healed while unconscious Ike had healed him the same way, perhaps with the same assistants; Ike took a rag soaked in water stained a pale orange and, gently, started cleaning away the blood on Corvo’s skin. The larger, open wounds he edged around, while the smaller ones he ignored entirely. After a few minutes Ike gestured the young woman forward, and Daud had to look away when she started sewing shut the open wounds - he didn’t know why, but it made him feel ill to watch her patch Corvo back together the way he vaguely remembered his mother patching his clothes.

“So,” Said Ike while he looked over the young woman’s work and nodded at her, pretending not to be proud of it or pleased by the way she beamed happily at him, “What made you bring him here? Desmond! Rags to the wash basket and get the scissors, help your brother to cut out the matting in his hair! An’ don’t give me that shit about the Outsider - Void knows you never listen to him anyway.”

Obediently the boys set to work, one twin combing up from Corvo’s scalp to save as much of his hair as he could and the other cutting away all the stubborn matting that refused to be brushed out. They worked quite quickly - Daud thought he recognised them as the two who usually did the Whalers’ hair, because unlike Daud most of them didn’t seem to like going to a barber. Or liked Daud going; Thomas always complained it was an unnecessary risk. But, the Whalers’ resident hairdressers or not, they had Corvo done while Daud tried thinking of an answer; Corvo’s hair shorn close and short, not much longer than Daud’s but much darker.

Daud fiddled with a bonecharm, listening to it sing softly to him about the fates in his favour, bullets and bolts and darts left abandoned just for him. “The Outsider did visit,” He said - stalling, and they both knew he was, but Daud didn’t really have an answer for him. Or, no, no way to answer with the desperate hurt aching inside his heart, the way all his thoughts felt slow and disconnected, his scars throbbing with every beat of his pulse when he looked at Corvo because it was his fault Corvo was hurt at all, and he’d done the same to other men in the past but Corvo was different because they were the same in so many ways.

He had no way to say any of that in a way that didn’t make him sound like a madman, so all Daud answered with was a shrug, a trite, “I’m sorry for killing the empress. I want to make it right.” None of that was true; he couldn’t make it right no matter what he did because killing her was unforgivable - what he’d done to Emily and Corvo was unforgivable - it was just that he wanted to make the awful pain in his soul go away. Selfish, fucking selfish, like how saving the Whalers from the Overseers had been selfish; not wanting to lose the only people who had ever been happy to see him.

It was awful of him, and he knew it was awful even as he felt it, but there’d always been something beneath his heart that wanted Corvo, something dark and hungry and greedy; he’d seen Corvo each time he was sent on spy business, for Euhorn and for Jessamine, and even without the Mark burned black and stark on his dark-skinned hand he was a terrifying force, flowing across rooftops sometimes human for the hell of it, sometimes a huge cat to test his limbs, sometimes a bird just for the joy of flying, and Daud wanted that. Still wanted it, black in his gut, because Daud always wanted what he didn’t deserve.

He looked away from Corvo’s harsh face that had always been harsh, weathered by Dunwall’s changing whims and whatever had happened to him to bring him to Gristol from Serkonos’ homely shores. Something was sat high in his heart and he knew what it was, he just wanted it gone, and Ike gave him a look like he knew exactly why hurting Corvo was hurting Daud in return. But he said nothing about it - let Daud watch as the last of Corvo’s wounds were stitched up, the burns on his jaw and all down his arms all clean and bandaged with little pockets of Ike’s herbal poultices underneath to leech away the painful heat in them.

Ike turned his attention to Corvo’s arm, carefully feeling around the break. “Well, best I can tell it’s clean,” He said to himself while Quinn set down a splint and another roll of bandages - Daud would need to send the Whalers off on another hit of the Overseer’s warehouse at this rate. “Still aligned, good.” Splint set, Ike wrapped up Corvo’s ribs, set his assistants to cleaning up, and it was all done; Ike sat on Corvo’s other side with a deep sigh. “That’s that,” He said, heavy and weary. “Can’t do more for him now - best hope the Outsider likes him, ‘cause otherwise… well. Already told you all that.”

“You really think it’s that hopeless?”

Ike’s lips twisted thoughtfully. “I don’t know,” He said. “Attano’s always been a special case, or so I heard. According to the court physician he healed back from anything and everything - s’ppose it’s his magic thing, the shapeshifting. Physically, he might turn out fine. He was better than I thought he was under all that blood.”

That… Didn’t sound good. “And mentally?” Asked Daud, not up for Ike beating around the bush when usually he didn’t bother. It was the question he was leading to, and neither Daud or Corvo would thank him for wasting time stalling like they needed the time to brace for it.

“Mentally,” Said Ike, “Can’t say, I’m not a fuckin’ phsyciatrist. But I think you’ll have your work cut out gettin’ him to even like you - man like Attano, well. Everyone knows he doesn’t trust easy.” His jaw clenched a little. “Coldridge holds all the worst men in the Empire, Daud - you an’ I both know that’s not an easy thing to say. No one knows what they do to prisoners there - Corvo might turn out insane an’ you’ll have to put him down ‘fore he hurts you or himself. Might turn into a wreck that doesn’t care if he lives or dies, and you’ll end up having to find someone to take care of him ‘cause he sure as hell won’t. Might be he’ll come out of this drug coma a bit scared of his shadow, but still willing to work with you.” He laughed shortly. "Keep your fingers crossed, Daud - it's the best damn chance we've got."

“Comforting,” Said Daud as he settled in with Ike to keep watch for the last of the night; taking a cauterising sip of whatever Ike had in the flask he pulled out from somewhere in the folds of his shirt and handed over.

Chapter Text

For once Dunwall’s night skies were clear over the Flooded District. Without the distilleries running the smog wasn’t so thick over the ruined quarter; it was thick across the rest of the city, curling around high buildings and making the distant Wrenhaven shores vague and hazy, but in the Flooded District, at least, the night was pleasant enough. It wasn’t Serkonan evenings, Daud thought; sweet with summer flowers outside the cities, and cooler than the daytime streets inside them, but it was enough to enjoy the stars through the hole in his washroom’s roof so Daud couldn’t complain.

He was, frankly, a lot more grateful that hot water still ran through the pipes than for the stars. There had been washrooms and bathrooms that he’d had to order be shut down when floodwater started coming through the taps, both when the Whalers first settled and in later years because rust ate away at the pipes. But, so long as the boilers were running on the reserves of whale oil stolen from the abandoned refinery, things ran well enough and Daud was allowed his late-night - he squinted at the sky, early morning? - showers. Between paperwork that dulled his will to live and his actual work that he’d now given up in favour of stealing, which was still a sin but at least less of one than murder, he didn’t often have the time during the day.

Water drummed down on his shoulders, spat at him from overhead because he kept forgetting to get one of the men to get rid of the limescale choking the showerhead. He supposed he could go over to one of the other stalls, all lined up next to him, but the end stall with the missing roof was his, and he didn’t want to move.

It always had been; he ran his fingers over the cracks in the tiles where a Whaler, young and stupid and new in the ranks, mistook Daud for any old fart he could use his bulk against to get him to move. He’d ignored Thomas’ hissed warnings - so young then, Daud remembered fondly; a shock of bright blond hair on a skinny little child, not yet old enough to be a full recruit but a year in to his stubborn residency - and tried to force his way in, and looked hilariously shocked when Daud easily sent him ass over teakettle out of the washroom.

Void, how long had it been since then? Ten years? Twelve? They’d only been a small operation then, Daud the Knife just starting to make a name for himself, and the Whalers only just begun from a handful of grubby, scruffy children; some street orphans and some, like Thomas, not welcome at home, all of whom for some reason thinking Daud an appropriate adult to follow. Thomas had been the first; Daud had felt sorry for him when he saw the kid sat on a step crying and talked to him a little, which seemed to make Thomas decide that if his real dad didn’t want him then maybe Daud would make a better one and followed him, ungainly and inexperienced and unskilled as a little kitten but trying no matter how Daud tried to shake him off, back to Daud’s makeshift home in the Flooded District.

And Daud had thought he’d succeeded losing the thing - he huffed a laugh to himself, reaching for the soap - and had made his food over the tiny grill, ate while looking through some jobs he’d been offered while sat on the narrow mattress he’d shoved into the tiny office, and went to sleep with the setting sun. He’d woken, quite some time after midnight and not long before morning, with Thomas curled up like a feral cat in the curve of his body, head tucked underneath Daud’s chin.

The first Whaler, no matter how Daud tried everything short of abuse to send him home, stubbornly refused to leave - following him on jobs, even, so then it just became easier to teach him to be quiet and Out Of The Way so Daud could actually do his work to feed them both, and of course children talked so more strays followed him back, and more, and then adults started looking to him, and suddenly Daud was taking care of twenty people, fifteen of them young children when he had no idea how to care for children, so just taught them like he taught Thomas so they wouldn’t get caught following him into work.

Thomas wasn’t the first to become a true Whaler - didn’t even go on his first job for five years because Daud was an awful piece of fuck, but he wasn’t a complete enough degenerate to make children murder - but he was the first to stand out enough that Daud made him someone of rank, gave him the blue uniform to make him obviously different to the rest. And that was that - pecking order established the Whalers were born to no fanfare and a sudden influx of jobs.

Gently, too gentle to be noticed, Daud ‘tapped’ the strings that made up the web tying them all together, Daud at its center like the strangest fucking spider in the world; sent a little vibration through the thread that led to Thomas, closest to the center because he’d been the first ever to get a copy of Daud’s Mark pale on his hand, because he wanted that faint echo to come back, like a flicker of warmth across his Mark. Tried to feel out where Billie had once been, but if her thread was still there connecting her Daud, letting her share his power, then it was too weak to send awareness of her back at him.

He felt for Corvo, then - curious, mostly, because the Outsider had said he’d tied that Mark to Daud’s and he’d not been sure the Outsider could even do that - and got back a garbled mass of feeling. Where Thomas was a clear ringing like a bell, and Rulfio a joyous bounce, and Finn a heavy softness, Corvo was a mass, spilling and chaotic, too many things at once; pain and anxiety singing across Daud’s nerves in a vague echo, a touch like feathers and like Dodge the wolfhound affectionately holding Daud’s forearm in his mouth, teeth pressing gently into his skin but no more force than that; a returned tap! like a cat butting its head into Daud’s hand. He rang the clearest of any Whaler like he was- oh damn that absolute fucker!

A thick shining bond between their Marks, singing with the power of the Void! When had the Outsider ever thought that was a good idea? It was bad enough Daud was asking Corvo to trust that he wanted to save Emily, this surely had to be a step too far! It didn't even seem to really do anything - that was almost more annoying than anything else about it!

Daud sighed, let the anger fade because he was tired of being angry all the time. He’d been angry when he was stolen from his mother, trained to kill as just another dog in the fighting pits. He’d been angry when he came back from killing Jessamine, locking himself in the training room and destroying three dummies across four days before he stopped wanting those dummies to be himself. He’d been angry when Billie, thinking he was weak - knowing he was weak, he had been falling apart at the seams and they both saw it - deciding to strike and calling in the cavalry because she could never do it alone. He didn’t have the energy for it anymore.

He turned to a mirror in the corner - floor-length and incongruously ornate, a gift from Akila after the success of her then most daring job to date - and studied himself in the moonlight that shone through the roof. Daud huffed, curling a lip at his reflection because somewhere between walking the rooftops as the Knife of Dunwall, the wolf among the sheep, and this tired old fuck looking back at him he’d become an old man made of scars and meat and stories of the glory of bygone years. Poked at his stomach and found the softness of all old men over the steely centre; still fit and fighting strong, but not the handsome young thing he used to be. Leaned close to the glass to look at his face, scratching at stubble on his jaw, and found wrinkles carved deep around his mouth and eyes and brow, grey starting to come in at his temples; noble said Thomas once, flattering just because he loved Daud enough to overlook the sad old dog he’d become.

He was too old to be angry at the Outsider now; why should Daud fault him for stirring this pot of shit life had become when it was only in his nature to stir it, same as Daud’s nature to ruin everything he touched? A regular king Midas of destruction was he, same as the Outsider just being plain old bored like any other youth with nothing better to do.

Daud sat beneath the spray, putting his head under the water because he liked the feel of it beating his skull. It wasn’t Corvo’s fault the Outsider was messing with them both. It wasn’t like any of the faint copies on the Whalers - Daud could feel the difference in them, felt the Void channelled directly through Corvo’s Mark in exactly the same way as Daud’s did and the Whalers’ didn’t, the soft songs of old humming along the bond like a guitar's plucked string. Maybe their god just thought it was funny to link them together, have something more tangible bridging the vast divide between them than Jessamine’s shared corpse and a common cause. Maybe it was his odd way of helping them, same as giving the Mark to Corvo directly was a way of helping him, though Daud wouldn’t put money on it.

He wondered what Corvo had made of him, over dinner. They’d not talked to each other - Daud didn’t know what to say, and Corvo was faintly woozy after Ike drugged him to the gills to keep him upright - but Daud had talked to the others; had smiles for the children that darted in and out of the mess hall to reassure them that he was mostly back to himself, no harm done, and let Thomas convince him into a game of cards with Rulfio. Wondered if Corvo believed him when he said he was going to return Emily to him.

Well, why should he believe? It wasn’t fair to ask that of him, not after murdering his unofficial wife and kidnapping his unofficial daughter and letting him be tortured for four months just because Daud was upset and falling apart like the buildings in the Flooded District were falling apart, ruined by his own inability to care for himself when he was miserable and grieving the same way the Whalers hadn’t the ability to care for their own home because they were bound to be pushed out eventually. Outsider’s eyes, Daud ought to be grateful that even high as fuck Corvo didn’t take up the knife he was using to butter his toast and drive it through Daud’s eye! He certainly deserved worse.

Daud sighed again, leaned back against the tiles. He shouldn’t want to help Corvo, not as much as he did. He barely knew the man, had nothing friendly between them except the fact that Daud had rescued him from Coldridge, and for a man like Corvo that meant very little because he was bound to have escaped sooner or later, so long as he still believed Emily was out there waiting for him. Daud looked to the scars on his off-arm, the deep, jagged lines where Corvo’s wolfish teeth and jungle-cat’s claws had scored deep - that was all they had between them; pain and blood and teeth gritted against curses, hands locked around the hilts of swords as Daud stood on one side and Corvo the other, glaring across the space between.

He could admire Corvo as much as he liked, his kindness as he slipped a woman begging on the docks some coin, his stubbornness as he stood like a bulwark between Daud and his family. He could be as attracted to Corvo as he’d been attracted to few others, that strange beauty of his in hooded, Void-black eyes; cheekbones high and wide and cutting sharp beneath dark skin so wonderfully familiar; harsh and weathered and severe as the cliff-faces in Tyvia, not a handsome man by any means but certainly a striking one. He could want Corvo like anyone else, in bed or out of it or up against a wall if Corvo so fancied.

He could do all that, but it meant nothing because Daud was an awful piece of work who’d done nothing in his life but awful work, and Corvo should- would have better than him.

Chapter Text

Thomas sat by his desk, watching and waiting for Daud to finish thinking about the plan while they crunched through some toast Cook had brought them. He was always waiting for Daud to finish thinking - his silent disapproval heavy in his eyes and on the air around him whenever he thought that thinking was bad for him. It was a very familiar thing between them, now. Daud sighed, and ate another slice of toast just to make Thomas happy - he wasn’t all that hungry, but Thomas was a boy best kept on his side if he didn’t want snide little comments about how thin his wrists were getting or his blows more weak.

He read through the files he’d been given, diligently put together over the week Corvo had been stuck in Ike’s care (and sometimes Daud let himself laugh about it, after visiting Corvo - he did about as well confined to a bed as Daud did) by a handful of Whalers who, like Devon, couldn’t assassinate for shit but were damn good at things that had surprised him with how necessary they were. He’d not realised until embarrassingly late into his tenure as as leader of the Whalers that having a handful of people who could read, write, and organise was much more useful than a person who could stab.

The files were, unfortunately, very thin in his hands. “This all?” He asked Thomas, waving it at him, who nodded a little sadly.

“I’m afraid so, sir. I think Burrows swept through every archive he could reach to get rid of anything useful.” He fiddled with the mask on his lap, turning its face this way and that to make a beam of light shine across the floor to entertain Ryan. “Should we focus on Campbell, sir? I know it’s a risk,” He hurried to add, even though Daud didn’t react - more than willing to listen to anything his Second thought was important, even if he didn’t agree all that much, “But we saw him with Burrows in Coldridge - they were in it together, I think - and I’ve heard some of the servants in the Abbey talk about this black book he keeps with him. It might be worth a shot.”

Daud grunted to show he understood, flicking through the pages a third time. He pressed his lips together, because, well, Thomas wasn’t wrong - Burrows was too secure a target at the moment to go after even if he probably had something squirrelled away somewhere - but he didn’t exactly like the idea of going after Campbell either - not with the Overseers carrying those music boxes, their songs a shivering weakness rumbling in his bones.

“CORVO ATTANO HAS ESCAPED COLDRIDGE PRISON!” Boomed the Tower announcer; faint across the water because the first thing Daud did was disable the speakers, but clearly they’d turned the volume up to make sure even the Weepers understood. “IF ANYONE HAS ANY INFORMATION REPORT TO THE CITY WATCH IMMEDIATELY!”

Thomas leaned back in his seat, wiggling his fingers to call Ryan to his side. “Well,” He said, “That was slow of them.”

“Expected different?” Asked Daud, smugness curled up warm in his chest when Ryan, tired of Thomas petting his velvety ears, trotted up to Daud to be scratched beneath the chin the way he preferred.

“He’s been missing a week,” Said Thomas. “I’d think they’d want the announcement out as soon as they could, see if they couldn’t catch him before he found somewhere safe.”

Well, Daud supposed they could have, but he shook his head, enjoying Ryan trying to worm back under his hand when he stopped petting enough to give in again. “Not when they don’t know how he got out, and without killing anyone. They’d want to keep it quiet, first - might think Attano’d be hiding somewhere in the prison to wait out their panic, might think they could get him back quietly without having to admit they’d lost him, I don’t know. This is just them admitting they couldn’t keep him locked up.”

Thomas huffed a short laugh, crossing his ankle over his knee to look out across the ruined the ruined buildings. “Suppose so, sir.” He took another piece of toast, spread some jam across it with a rueful smile at himself - usually he didn’t, because he had an awful sweet-tooth and could happily eat nothing but sugar for days, but sometimes he let himself indulge and always kept an eye out for people watching him like he thought he should be ashamed for giving in. He sighed, ran his hand through his hair and left a faint trail of jam. “What do you want to do about Attano? I spoke with Ike earlier and he said he’s well enough to be moved to his rooms.”

He had absolutely no idea. He’d been by a few times to see how he was, and Corvo remained more stubbornly silent than even the silence of a mute would account for - hands folded in his lap, or wrapped around a chipped teacup full of Ike’s Void-damned herbs, knuckles going white from how tight they’d clenched at the sound of Daud’s voice. Not even a short, snapping gesture of Fuck off, and Daud didn’t know how to handle it so he ignored it, and kept visiting to tell him that they were trying to find a lead but weren’t quite there yet.

It was, he sighed, almost definitely a futile hope to get Corvo to relax around him; he didn’t blame Corvo for it, but when he didn’t even reply to an honest question about his health it said volumes about how well things were going to go when they started working together. And Ike would release Corvo no matter what Daud said, because as much as Ike was a closet mother-hen and would happily take Corvo on as a semi-permanent resident for the next six months he knew as well as Daud that Corvo would go slowly mad if he was kept in the infirmary too long.

“I’ll take him to the training ring,” Said Daud, “See if his skills haven’t gone rusty.” Corvo, from what Daud remembered of the Tower servants’ gossip, liked to fight almost as much as he liked blades; a little friendly competition would probably do them both some good, and maybe getting a few bruises would be enough to get Corvo to trust they weren’t enemies anymore. “You scope out the Abbey, see what you can find out about Campbell’s book. Take Rulfio and Galia with you, and I want a report by next week.”

Thomas inclined his head, “Sir,” And stood to go tell the others.

-:-

“Should I leave you alone for ten minutes, or are you good?” Asked Daud while all Corvo did in the training room was fondle the sword Daud had handed him.

To be fair to Corvo he was doing all the proper tests, checking the weight and the balance and giving it a few swings to feel how it sliced through the air; fearlessly running his thumb along the dulled edge and doing the same to Daud’s, too, just to be careful; the line of his mouth twisted. Daud just wanted to tease him a little - chase away the tightness around his mouth, the wolf’s teeth behind his lips like he was preparing to change defensively.

Ignoring the jibe Corvo frowned a little at his sword, held up its side for Daud to see and asked, No fuller? Like he thought every blade should be as quick and light as he was. He swung it again, mouth a displeased line as he adjusted himself to the weight.

Daud shrugged, not really sure what answer Corvo was looking for. “Rickard doesn’t exactly have a lot of time to bother with that.”

Corvo’s lips twisted, somewhere between amusement and annoyance, as he held up the sword again and showed off the patterning along the blade, tapping the brass butt and bostler. Daud huffed because, well, he wasn’t wrong - Rickard might not have enough time for fullers, to make their blades light and durable, but he had enough time to make them look nice. But still, it wasn’t up to Daud to tell Rickard how he made his blades - as long as they were sturdy, strong, and killed when they were supposed to, Daud didn’t really care.

“Do you want to fight or not?” Said Daud, taking his place in the ring while Corvo continued to be unhappy with his weapon. Not that he wasn’t glad Corvo was starting to talk to him, either because he’d finally realised Daud knew Serkonan Sign or because he was starting to warm up to him, but his offer of a fight wasn’t entirely about getting Corvo to like him - he did need to know how Corvo’s skills in the ring had held up before he set him loose with Connor for an assessment on his sneaking and to teach him to use the Mark. He rolled loose his shoulder while Corvo took his place, falling into a loose stance.

A handful of novices milled around, on top of bookcases like lounging cats, half-lidded eyes amused as they took in Corvo’s delicate, lean form; Daud didn’t blame them for underestimating Corvo, though he shared a glance with Julian that said they both knew Daud wasn’t going to come out of the ring a victor. Stuck in the middle of his pack of children, whose lessons had been interrupted for their teacher to play referee, Julian pushed his whaling mask higher on his head; called out, “No Marks, no shapeshifting - fight clean, fight dirty, I don’t give a shit, but no magic. Good? Right, three. Two. Fight!”

Corvo struck - vicious-quick, too quick to dodge and Daud had never, ever thought he’d be grateful for the Pit Master’s teachings but there was a first time for everything and he brought his blade up to parry, metal screeching across metal as Corvo’s sword slid to the side and just as quickly as he struck he was dodging back, blade crossed across his chest. Daud circled one way, watching; Corvo mimicked him, each step a deliberate thing like a hunting cat’s, silent and sure. His face was utterly, horrifyingly blank, too intent and focused and unblinking to be anything but creepy.

Another strike, and Daud saw it and slipped to the side, jabbed to where Corvo had been and suddenly wasn’t, having to bring his sword close to avoid a stab to the gut (ha, the irony!); angled to send Corvo’s blade skittering across Daud’s, momentum carrying him off-balance but of course Corvo wouldn’t do that, pain stabbing through the bone of his jaw as Corvo hit him with the butt of the handle, skidding agile as a Pandyssian cat to the other side of the ring and back to his watchful circling while Daud tried not to bring a hand up to his face.

Damn, he’d forgotten Corvo could be lethally fast. His blows didn’t have the same strength in it as Daud used and tried to teach the Whalers to use, but he didn’t need to when he was slipping beneath any defence almost too fast to see - a weak hit was still a hit, and Corvo got a lot more hits into the space of a breath than a stronger blow could ever hope to match. Shitting hell - a quick glance at the Whalers showed them staring narrow-eyed at Corvo, something almost like worship starting to show in their faces.

Strike and Daud would have an interesting bruise slashed across his forearm, another before he could get over the pain shuddering in his bones and Corvo had him up against the back of a bookcase, a Whaler’s boot hastily moved away before Daud was accidentally kicked in the head and Corvo’s sword to his throat, and Daud thought shit. Corvo was not a handsome man, strange and eerie looking as the Outsider, made harsh by years on the streets, harsher still by Dunwall and its nobles who didn’t care to learn to speak to man with no voice and skin darker than theirs, as animal as the forms he took when he grinned a happy snarl.

He was not handsome but there was only an inch or so between them and if he wanted to brave Corvo’s good mood or the blade to his throat, or could stand Rulfio’s inevitable teasing when he caught up on the gossip like a fishwife around the laundry, he could lean forward and kiss him. See if those chapped lips really would be so gentle as Daud thought, Corvo’s scruff of beard so rough against Daud’s chin, his mouth. Wondered if Corvo would kiss hard or soft; teeth against Daud’s lip, the leaping pulse in his throat; mouthing wetly across his collarbones with hands pressed to his heart thudding against the insides of his ribs like it was doing now, loud in the space between them.

Corvo stepped back, eyes shining with his victory as he picked up Daud’s blade where it had fallen dully to the sand - flipped it one-handed with a grin to offer it hilt-first like a show-off. Good fight, Said Corvo, and there was not a trace of wryness in the wrinkles starting to come in at the corners of his eyes.

Daud decided to take it in good faith - he could stand to be honest with himself a little more, and even he had to admit that wasn’t his best fight; would probably be dead if it was a real one - and nodded at him, close enough to a respectful bow that he delighted in the way Corvo’s eyes went wide. “Connor will see you after lunch with his novices, start teaching you to use that Mark of yours,” He said; turned to go but was pulled back by Corvo’s hand tight on his wrist.

He hesitated a moment, chin tucked to his chest while he thought. Corvo’s jaw went tight, something as hard and strong as Serkonan steel taking shape behind his eyes. Rematch?

Something in his gut swooped low as Corvo the crow swooped, wingtips fearlessly skimming roof-tiles. “Why not?” Said Daud; it was Corvo offering to spend time together, extending his hand across the divide between them even with all Daud had done having made that divide. He didn’t have to - for all that Daud was extending his own he didn’t expect or want to force Corvo to take it, was more than happy to live with mutual ambivalence if it meant he undid some of his mistakes, but that didn’t mean he was going to not take the opportunity. Daud was an idiot - would be the first to say so - but he wasn’t completely stupid.

Chapter Text

In occasionally overseeing Corvo’s training with Connor, Daud discovered quite a few things about him. One, he had a horrifying tendency to fling himself from the top of whatever he perched was on, things he had no business flinging himself from the tops of, purely because it was shorter than taking a ladder or because he wanted to morph into a bird halfway down and skim the concrete as he barely avoided splattering himself across the floor. Two, when at his table in the mess hall eat quickly or not get to eat. Three, he had a wickedly subtle kind of humour; all his jokes told so straight-faced it was hard to know if it was a joke or not until he allowed his grin to shine through. And four, he had a surprisingly dirty mouth and an even more surprisingly casual way of insulting people just because of the signs he chose for their names.

Daud discovered that fourth one because he and Corvo had fallen into the habit of sparring together in the mornings for the young trainees to watch and learn; usually picked him up on the way and so he’d gone to Corvo’s ramshackle little room - what had once been an office that the Whaler’s had fixed up for him, boarded up windows softened by colourful fabrics and threadbare, faded cushions and blankets piled up on his bed like they were imitating the bedroom of an old Serkonan king - and he’d caught Corvo asking Rulfio where he was.

Silhouetted against the soft morning light stained a gentle red-pink by the thin scarf one Whaler had tacked up for him, strange face made all the stranger by the dim glow outlining it - ruggedly handsome in his way with mussed hair stood up on one side, the scruff on his jaw a little deeper and interrupted in patches by burn scars - Corvo’d asked, Where’s Asshole? which surprised Rulfio into enough startled giggles it seemed he was going to pass out.

“Not that I don’t disagree,” Said Rulfio, leaned helplessly against the wall as he clutched his sides,“You really shouldn’t call him that,” He warned, entirely ruined by the way he said it so breathlessly delighted in between laughs.

Corvo just raised an eyebrow, looked to Daud as he stalked forward from his hiding place behind a corner; grinned when Daud signed, Morning Fuckwit, and aloud only said, “Rulfio, go find Thomas. I want to know where Campbell will be in the next week and when he’ll be vulnerable. Now,” He’d added when all Rulfio did was beam at him, and when he was gone he walked with Corvo to the training ground - the longer, more difficult paths that needed a Transversal or two just to see how he was shaping up.

But, Daud sighed, leaning against the railing of Lizzy’s ship to watch a flock of pigeons carefully winging across the floodwater, swift enough to avoid the krusts' acid spat from their clusters on the banks, Corvo’s good mood with him faded fast into wary scrutiny. He was only given dulled swords during their fights - Daud knew for a fact he hung them back up on the rack after each one, too - and he hadn’t found a spare one lying about, or attached a wristbow to his off hand, so Daud wasn’t afraid of being killed. It was just-

He growled to himself, biting deep into his sandwich because he’d thought things were going well. They’d shared a few evenings drinking whiskey in his office, sharing a cigarette or two between them, while Daud told him about what Thomas and Rulfio had told him about Campbell’s movements, how he was planning on killing Geoff Curnow and it wasn’t ideal - they barely had a rough sketch of guard movements - but Curnow was one of the few good Watch officers left and they had to take that chance. How Connor was a damn hard man to please and that Corvo’d impressed him with how quickly he picked everything up, how well his sneaking skills had held up - so well that Corvo’d skipped the normal grey uniform for novices and gone straight to the master’s jacket.

He’d looked good in it, whaling mask abandoned in his room because he said it interrupted his sight too much to be worth it. Strangely beautiful in the light of the set sun still spilling across the horizon- Daud huffed a laugh to himself, because even in the ugly grey light of Gristolian rain Corvo was beautiful enough to make him wax poetic like a lovesick teenager.

But he’d thought things were going well, and yet now Corvo had gone back to his silence on the very day they were striking at Campbell; nerves or anxiety or remembered pain making his hands shake when he thought no one could see, Daud didn’t know, but it was making things horribly difficult when all he wanted to do was cuff his shoulder like Corvo was any other Whaler and promise that even if it didn’t work, even if the little black book Campbell kept tucked in his pocket didn’t help one whit, they’d find another way to get Emily back to him.

“Well, well, old dog,” Said Lizzy, as slimily as hagfish as she came up to him grinning with her filed-sharp teeth on full, horrifying display; hip-cocked and leaning against the railing, too, like she wasn’t nervously watching the Watch barges drifting past. “What’s stepped on your tail today, eh? Did that little crow on your Thomas' arm peck you?”

Daud looked over his shoulder, saw Corvo perched on Thomas’ wrist across the dock and out of earshot, turning his beak up at some peanuts one of Lizzy’s crew offered him but allowing Thomas to scratch the soft feathers on his throat. His wings flicked in irritation, yes, eyeing Thomas’ fingers warily, but he still allowed the petting. He’d wanted to be something else, something more useful in a fight, but he’d been talked down to a bird just because Campbell probably wouldn’t expect him to be one, and because while Lizzy was generally very good about what Daud brought on her ship she probably wouldn’t have put up with some monstrous horse-sized cat.

So he looked back to the water, grunted, “Not your business, Stride,” And ignored her while she continued to try and needle information from him, partly because his personal life wasn’t actually any of her damn business and partly because this problem, at least, was for himself. Throwing her hands to the air, defeated by his stubborn silence, Lizzy left him alone to take her place back at the wheel. All the day they travelled upriver, timed so they could move through the streets during the chaos of the changing of the guard, he smoked and thought and wondered what would have happened in another life where, like Corvo, he'd been smart enough to realise that killing always changed things; that the bodies stayed with him, phantoms on his shoulders, even after he'd abandoned them in forgotten corners. That maybe he would always carry them; he didn't know how to put them down.

He sighed; shook those thoughts away. Things with Corvo were going better than could be expected. They were talking, at least, and maybe half of it was Corvo swearing at him but sometimes Daud caught the twitch in the corner of his mouth, a smile in his eyes, that said it was only friendly teasing. They’d avoided old history, shared and not, and avoided everything about the plague, and Campbell, and Corvo avoiding the holding bay full of upended dog-cages, a tremble in his hands and shutters drawn over his eyes when Connor locked him in a room to see how well he could get himself out.

And now, Daud smiled bitterly, it was back to the silence, the watching with head tilted as he listened to whispers Daud couldn’t hear, the Void a soft heartbeat in his hand.

Daud tapped the ash from his cigarette over the railing, ground it out beneath his boot; he’d just have to trust that getting rid of Campbell would prove Daud’s promises were genuine.

-:-

The Abbey was just as grand, gilded, and nauseatingly expensive as it had always been, and full of hiding spaces for the people clever enough to see them or had the magic to reach them. Corvo rode on Daud’s shoulder, for the most part, inside the confines of the Abbey’s halls; his wingbeats as a crow would have been too audible to make the risk worth it, and Daud didn’t know if Corvo could become something more silent, like an owl, or if he only had the one form for each class of animal, but it was still too much a risk to experiment here of all places.

At least getting to the Abbey was easy enough - guards really didn’t look up, and the rooftops were high and bare and perfect for running across right into the Abbey compound; up to a ledge and into the mostly undefended library at the top and working their way around from there. Corvo’d flown with them, then, lower than he might have wanted to, Daud suspected, but always in eyesight. When they’d come to the window leading inside Corvo had swooped down, settled on Daud’s shoulder, and stubbornly refused to be moved to Thomas’, who Daud sent ahead to rough out a path to where Cambell would soon be killing Curnow.

The meeting room was nice enough, Daud supposed, a bit grudgingly. Although the best he could say about it was that the fire kept the space warm enough that Corvo stopped ruffling his own feathers and tickling Daud’s ear each time. And that sitting on the shelf of pipes just a few inches below the coving was a perfect, if deeply uncomfortable, vantage point to watch Campbell and Curnow enter only for Curnow to discover the glasses had been tipped over, whiskey staining the table and plush rug.

“Blasted servants!” Said Campbell. He sighed, muttered something to himself; turned with a too-wide smile to Curnow. “I suppose you’re in luck - I’ve got a nice red vintage from Tyvia I had stored for a special occasion. Please, follow me- no need to call the guards!” He hurried, smile becoming wider, “Or else they’ll all want a glass too. Best leave them there, I think.”

Curnow adjusted the lie of his jacket, shrugging his shoulders so it fit more comfortably. “Alright,” He murmured, and followed.

Corvo’s little claws went tight on his coat while Daud trailed after them, wings half-mantled like he wanted to hiss; through some windows in the walls whose purpose Daud couldn’t begin to fathom but thanked with every bit of piety he still had left, trotting across the pipes and a few Transverses to some chandeliers, always a step or two behind so they didn’t happen to catch any flickers. The stairs proved a problem, but he just waited until they were out of sight before he dropped to the floor, passed through the doors, and kept waiting until they were well below the chandelier hung from the ceiling high overhead and jumped to that.

Campbell continued to make things easy for them while Thomas hunted down the runes and bonecharms Daud could hear hissing at the edges of his hearing, like the flash of a figure he didn’t know at the corner of his vision, and Rulfio - because Corvo had rattled out a delighted hiss when they came across the book explaining the rite - worked on getting the Heretic’s Brand. Really, Daud thought as he picked his way across the open space, into the shadow of the stairs leading to Campbell’s basement hideout; what kind of idiot sent away the guards in the main area of the Abbey? Especially with a dangerous, pissed-off ‘murderer of the empress’ loose in Dunwall, very much left angry by Campbell's cruelty, the sting of the scars only half-faded on his back, his shoulders.

He shook away the thought, and followed doggedly in Curnow’s shadow while Corvo slid from his shoulder, first a rat so his feathers wouldn’t make a noise and then an absolute stranger settling into the shadow of a painting while Campbell called attention to a Sokolov work he had hidden leaned against a wall, what-?

The man with Corvo’s black eyes and Corvo’s dark skin but none of his bizarre, harsh beauty shook his head, flexing his wrist to get the wristbow locked into place and then, staring grimly down at it, flexing his wrist again to send it back into rest. Turned his square-jawed face to Campbell and Curnow admiring the painting, Campbell’s blade shushing softly from its scabbard, gleaming like Corvo’s nasty smile. “Don’t you find,” Said Campbell while Corvo rose to a crouch, hunched and stalking to a shadowed spot just behind him, as much violence in his hands clenched to fists as there was patience in every deliberate footstep, “The brush strokes to slash -!”

Corvo jammed his forearm hard into Campbell’s fleshy throat, as unmoving as mountains while he thrashed and clawed and choked garbled pleas to a Curnow who’d turned and watched Campbell’s blade falling useless from his hand, understanding and disgust bright in his sneer. Corvo picked it up - extended it to Curnow, who took it a little bemusedly while he watched Campbell fall limp to the carpet, snoring to himself.

“Don’t know who you are,” Said Curnow gruffly, eyeing Campbell awkwardly slumped and looking like he desperately wanted to smile when Corvo kicked him, “But I suppose I should thank you. Guess it was foolish of me to think men would be decent in these times. Not like you.” He stared at Campbell for a long while, then rolled his shoulders and stepped back with an amused snort. “I don’t know or care what you do to him - I never saw you.”

Nodding, Corvo kept an eye on Curnow’s retreating back, for long enough that Daud knew he was using Dark Vision to follow him all through the main hall and out into the streets in Holger Square. His face melted back into the true Corvo’s, or at least the one Corvo always showed. Either way, he dropped to his knees and started pawing through the pockets sewn on the inside of Campbell’s jacket, pocketing the coins for himself and triumphantly holding out a tiny black book for Daud to take.

Daud tucked it away in the small bag he had on his hip. “Figure I should ask, before I forget; is that your normal face, or is it just the one you use most often?”

Corvo glanced at him, in between breaking open a display case for the rune inside that Daud waved for him to take. It’s my birth face, yes. It’s… hard to hold a different one for very long . He ran a hand through his short hair, scratching the close-shorn scruff at the back of his head. I could look like you if I wanted, He said, But the shape of your face is wrong for me, so it hurts.

“But turning into a wolfhound is just fine?”

He shrugged, tracing the lines in the Sokolov painting before he took out a small knife and started to cut it away from the frame. Don’t know what to tell you, He said. It’s just the rules. I could look like a different wolfhound if I wanted, but it would still hurt in the same way. It’s just that there’s a way each body of mine is supposed to be, and trying to change it into someone else is painful. I don’t fucking know; it's magic - I never thought about it. Corvo rolled up the painting and carefully stored it away in the satchel on his own hip, turned to kick Campbell again and asked, Think Rulfio’s done? So Daud swallowed the rest of his questions because clearly Corvo wasn’t in the mood to answer more.

“If he isn’t, he’s on guard duty for the rest of the week,” Daud told him, which at least cracked Corvo’s awful blankness of face enough to let a grin shine through. “Do you want to go back to being a bird, or are you good to take him?”

Corvo was good to take him, so Daud led him all the way back up to the room with the chair like the torturer’s chair in Coldridge, enough like it that he and his men pretended not to notice it made Corvo flinch. Daud's eyes, for a moment, caught on the burn on Corvo's jaw, healing too quick for a normal man; if the scars stark and obvious, slashed and branded across his face and hidden beneath his uniform, pained him at all, he didn’t complain.

Maybe his faster healing couldn’t get rid of them, Daud thought while he strapped Campbell to the chair - Corvo deciding that, yes, he’d rather be a bird and perching on Campbell’s shoulder, viciously biting at Campbell’s eye so Thomas had to shove a sleep dart into his arm to stop Campbell waking - but it could soften them enough that they didn’t cause problems. Kept them from healing too tight and stiff.

After everything the Abbey had done to the Whalers, hunting them down and finally succeeding in finding them with Billie’s help - and that betrayal was still a wound on his heart, maybe always would be because she was his and yet she’d turned on him, on all of them - and after attacking their base, barely pushed back and by the people who shouldn't have had to push them back; so many little bodies next to the bigger ones of the novices, floating on the floodwater in a bastardised funeral and burned with some of their personal things like Serkonos used to do for its knights of old. After all that, Daud felt black satisfaction curling around his heart like a smug cat’s tail as he held the brand to Campbell’s face, right over where Corvo had plucked out his eye.

Fluttering to his shoulder, Corvo bristled with a voiceless noise of delight.

Chapter Text

Annoyingly, the little black book was written in code. A part of him, irritated that he’d have to waste even more time on it, wanted him to throw it to the Wrenhaven all through the hours it took to get back to base. He didn’t, of course - would become a lot more annoyed than he already was because it would be a waste of so much effort - but it didn’t stop him from feeling a little satisfied after he threw it at his office wall before he had taken it to his decoders.

Thorpe, Yuri at his side, peered down at the pages with an eyebrow raised when he handed it over. “Make anything of it?” Daud asked, arms crossed because it was always irritating when his enemies were sensible and if he didn't then he was still tempted to throw it to the river.

Thorpe hummed thoughtfully, pacing around the wing of offices the two of them had taken over as a makeshift study, though Daud could see a bed shoved into the corner half hidden by a floral screen - Yuri’s doing, he had a surprisingly soft spot for Tyvian art. Otherwise it was like most other studies Daud had seen; filled with books on every surface, dusty, and made gloomy by the threadbare patches of light that filtered through. Although it was softened, a little, by Yuri’s paintings proudly hung on one wall.

They were, Daud thought fondly, another two who, like Devon, couldn’t at all be trusted on a job, mostly because they spent most of their time staring lovingly at each other too intensely to notice the bullets just starting to graze their armour. Even aside from that, Thorpe was not a man made for leaping fearlessly across buildings - tall and skinny with about as much meat on his bones as Corvo half-starved from prison, soft hands stained by ink and callused on the side of his index where a pen would rest. A student who’d run into trouble and then by luck into Daud, who’d had need of someone with his skills. Yuri had just happened to part of the Thorpe package; a guard hired by Thorpe’s father.

“It all depends on the code he’s using, I’m afraid,” Said Thorpe, and showed the pages to Yuri. “Might be a simple job where the letters are swapped, or it might be something a tad bit more complex than tha- Aha!” He called triumphantly, peering closely at the back page and adjusting his wire-framed glasses. “Well, well, some notes on how to write in it - our luck is in sir!”

Well, Daud had supposed, that was something at least. “How long’s it going to be before you’ve got it translated? It’s urgent.”

Thorpe disappeared behind the book, only the neat parting in his dark hair showing above it. He waved Daud’s words away, saying, “Yes, yes, your deal with Attano, I’m bored of that already. People haven’t shut up for weeks about it. Like fishwives, all of them - you’d think Rickard of all people wouldn’t have the time for it, fixing all those swords of yours, but there you go.” Yuri rolled his eyes fondly - used to it, after five years by Thorpe’s side. “Well, I’ve got Cole’s novices coming by for a while - for their reading lessons - so… hmm. Might have it for you by the end of the week. Shouldn’t take much longer than a fortnight at the latest.”

Daud nodded, even though he knew Thorpe couldn’t see it. “Good.” To Yuri he said, “Don’t let him starve,” Because they both knew how Thorpe got when he was given something to do - to see him waste away into something even more skeletal once was more than enough for all of them - and it had always been a joke among the Whalers.

Yuri only smiled at him, answered, Yes mum, As he guided Thorpe to his desk, dragging a stool over with him to hover at the ready.

After that, of course, there wasn’t much Daud needed to do, and he’d found himself half wanting another Overseer attack - they’d been surprisingly quiet ever since they’d first failed - or even for Corvo to come melting from the shadows, spitting furious and begging for a true fight, with sharpened swords and curses and blood splashed against the ground, turning dust and dirt to slippery mud beneath their feet, Corvo absolutely radiant in his anger. Instead, infinitely more dull, he stared down at the little scrap of paper Anatole had shoved in his hands before dashing off, satchel of letters bouncing on her hip.

An invitation to discuss work, too sensitive to be told through writing. Daud had recognised the names, smiled in thin-lipped humour as he retreated from Thorpe's hallway back to his office because it sounded like the start to a bad joke; a nobleman, an admiral, and an Overseer walk into a pub. He sat; leaned back in his chair, tapping his arm thoughtfully.

There wasn’t, he didn’t think, harm in going to hear them out. The Overseer was certainly a risk, but he knew who Daud was and was still willing to sign his name to a promise of work; he probably wouldn't want to incriminate himself. So, three of the ‘most upstanding’ citizens of Dunwall were asking for him and his people specifically - either it was a trap or they were doing something very illegal indeed, something they couldn’t arrange on their own and so needed to hire a professional, though there wasn’t any hint of murder being involved. Yet. A small guard to keep him company then, just in case it was a trap, and witnesses to a possible contract if it wasn’t.

If he accepted.

He pulled on the bond to Thomas; looked to his Mark as the gold-blue faded from it. Would he be able to summon Corvo in the same way? No reason not to find out - he called for Corvo too, bit down on a grumble as the Mark warmed, drowsy warmth in the bones of his forearm like it was lounging in a patch of summer sunshine. Sodding Outsider - probably thought it was funny.

“Sir,” Said Thomas with a bow.

Corvo waved, yawning and sleep-mussed. Asshole, He said, ignoring Thomas’ sharp, outraged hiss.

“Admiral Havelock’s asking for the Whalers. He’s got a job for us, didn’t say what. Treavor Pendleton and Overseer Martin are with him,” Daud told them, leaning back in his seat while Corvo, almost exactly as unperturbed by the news as Thomas was perturbed, dragged over a stool to sit too, legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles.

“An Overseer asked for us, Sir?” Said Thomas faintly. “It’s almost certainly a trap.” He wrung his whaling mask between his hands, tugging on the straps. His eyes narrowed at Daud. “You aren’t thinking of going, sir? It’s far too risky - what if this Martin talks, or Pendleton? And this Havelock - I’ve heard of him, he’s the type to give us up to the Watch once we’re not useful. Sir.”

Daud got a shrug from Corvo. He won’t be alone, He said to Thomas, maybe reasonably and maybe sarcastically - it was hard to tell with a mute who could blank their face as well as Corvo could. He’ll have you. And probably that redheaded Whaler, with the burn scar. If it all goes tits up- another shrug -I’ll turn into something big and eat them, no harm done. A bear might be fun, He mused, looked to his hand and wriggled the toes of the enormous paw he had there, inches long claws sharp as blades, before he let it dissolve back into human shape. Corvo sighed, then, at the look Thomas had on his face. Look, if they’re actually serious about wanting to give you a job they’ll let you pick the place to meet them. Choose the right place and if Overseers do attack you see them from a mile off and leave.

“And where should we meet them?” Demanded Thomas, pulling on his hair.

Why would I know? Corvo demanded back, equally agitated. You’re the people who know every inch of it, if those patrols of yours go actually go everywhere like they seem to. I just know how to get places, that’s it. Euhorn and Jessamine didn’t exactly ask me to do a ‘how good is this place to meet shady people’ survey.

Thomas just rumbled frustratedly, pacing in a neat little circle when Daud didn’t contradict Corvo, because his hunch was true and they both knew it; Daud would never go anywhere dangerous without Thomas by his side, and he’d take Corvo with him because Corvo was looking a little healthier since dispatching Campbell and the trip would probably do him more good, and Rulfio would come along with because Thomas needed to have him there to distract him a little, keep him from burning himself out, and because Rulfio needed the help keeping focused.

But he hadn’t actually made up his mind to go; Thomas was right too, it was still a risk. And a risk with the very real possibility of no reward at the end of it, not like getting Corvo on his side had been - the trainees were getting better and better at fighting, and Daud was just starting to get into the habit of keeping Corvo locked and close so he couldn’t slash and leap back out of range. Going could make the Overseers remember they were there, and try their luck again since Daud was separated from most of the others; cut the head from the roach and, yes, maybe it wouldn’t die right away but a headless roach was still a headless roach and they were damn easy to squash under the Abbey’s steel-toed boot. Dunwall’s history was full of Void-worshipping roaches killed that way. It could just as easily be that the pay wouldn’t be worth it, or they’d be asked to kill even when they weren’t in that business anymore.

“It’s unnecessary, sir!” Thomas cried, while Corvo huffed, flinging his hands to the air. “We’ve got enough coin to keep shipments coming in for another month at least, and if we need anything else we can go steal it. It’s an Overseer - they don’t make deals with us.”

Fine! Why ask for my opinion at all then! Said Corvo, no voice to make it shout but the snap of his hands giving it volume, anyway. He whirled to his feet, wolf’s teeth bared in irritation as he stalked from wall to wall. Go, don’t go, who gives a fuck? It’s not like you’ve got the option of fucking off if you don’t like it, is it? Not like you’ve got time to kill while you get that book translated and my daughter is rotting wherever-the-Void you’ve put her! Corvo turned sharply on his heel, jacket flaring in his wake like raven’s wings mantling when he sat on Daud’s shoulder and delighted in giving Campbell a taste of what Corvo’d been put through in Coldridge. Not like money’s something you turn down, is it?

“Enough. Attano - get out.”

Corvo turned on him, teeth bared in a proper snarl now, cat’s claws curling into his palms even as his hands shook with the pain of holding two wildly different animals in human shape. Oh sure, He said, a nasty twist to his mouth, Let’s just pretend she’s not dead because of you. Everything’s all wonderful now, isn’t it? Just because you got me out of Coldridge. Not like I should be dead for not doing my fucking job, for letting you-!

Get. Out,” Hissed Daud, as dangerously venomous as Corvo was and he knew, he fucking knew he was losing whatever ground he’d earned but damn him Corvo was right, and he didn’t have the energy to deal with it because damn them both, he’d hoped it could have just been water under the damned bridge. Stupid, shortsighted hope, yes, but he’d thought they were getting there - Corvo had followed orders, had clicked his beak when an Overseer was rounding the corner and none of them noticed, as vicious as he needed to be when he protected Curnow, even more vindictively vicious in letting Daud brand Campbell. Fought with him every morning, wry humour in his mouth and sarcastic expansiveness in his gesturing hands over breakfasts and dinners.

Why do I bother? Demanded Corvo to the sky. Of course you’re not going to talk about this! That’s the proper thing to do, isn’t it, and when have you ever bothered with that? Should have guessed an assassin would be a fucking coward-! Thomas leapt forward and grabbed Corvo’s arm, disappearing and reappearing in a moment nursing his jaw.

Daud picked up his chair where he’d sent it clattering to the floor, settled slowly down into it. Stretched out his leg while Thomas bowed his head, hands behind his back - standing up so sharply had made the muscles seize, and he may not have noticed before with anger a dull red behind his eyes but he certainly noticed now. He’d have to go see Ike.

Thomas shuffled his feet. “Sir..?”

He breathed out, tried to let some of the anger go with it. Daud had promised himself he’d change, those first four days after he’d killed Jessamine when he’d finally realised how badly he’d fucked up his life and was still fucking up and would continue to fuck up if he didn’t. He’d decided that part of that was trying to actually act his age; forty seven was a bit old to let his anger control him like that. “Go see Ike for that jaw,” He said. “I’ll have my decision by morning.”

“I… Yes sir.”

Chapter Text

He did, in the end, agree to a meeting. It was in a shadier market square than Pendleton clearly would have preferred, but not so obviously criminal that it marked any of the three out for judgmental stares from the cautious milling of people all around them. A comfortable middle ground, with Whalers all hidden and out of sight, ready to loose a volley of bolts if they had to. It had been spared the worst of the plague, for the most part, but the entire city knew it was only a matter of time before gangs and disease and the Weepers took over - the crowd jumping and freezing in little fits and starts whenever anyone coughed too loud.

Corvo was not in his room when Daud went to look for him. He wasn’t there for meals, or for sparring in the mornings, and after three days a handful of the children came up to Daud asking where the Protector was, because apparently he’d been helping Misha take care of them and, even though he didn’t have a voice to tell the stories with, made an excellent prop werewolf or griffin or, on a rare nice day, a small kraken in the floodwater. Four weeks, Daud had huffed to himself - four weeks was all it took for him to settle in, adopt the children as his, and start parenting them as doggedly as Misha did even though neither of them actually needed to.

After that he sent out scouts, who reported seeing men and even women - and that had to be incredibly painful if what he’d said about different faces and bodies was true - with Corvo’s distinct black eyes, but no sign of Corvo himself. He stopped after two days, not needing Thomas’ reminder that it was hopeless.

Corvo didn’t want to be found, obviously, and there was no way for Daud to actually track him down without resorting to a blood ritual he’d only heard fragments of how to perform, using tufts of Corvo’s fur and feathers and ultimately a lot of time and effort wasted because even if they did find him Corvo could be a bird, or a rat among thousands - there’d be no way to pick him out unless he chose to be picked out. He could come and go as he pleased, and it was only because he chose to let himself be seen when human, even in his different disguises, that Daud even knew he was still in Dunwall. There was nothing to do but wait for Corvo to be ready to come back, if he even would or wanted to, and until then Daud was going to continue to fulfil his end of the deal because he was absolutely certain he knew the crow that sometimes followed him about and it seemed like the best way to prove he wasn’t spiteful about their spat.

It took a week before Thomas was convinced the ‘Loyalists’ really were a genuine underground movement wanting to restore Emily to the throne, and in the meantime it was an easy enough business to hamstring Burrows politically by turning down a contract on Slackjaw, give up the hirer’s name to him, and suggest that Daud would easily forgive the debt between them if Slackjaw would only, quietly and more or less harmlessly, make the Pendleton Twins disappear.

Thorpe was still working his way slowly through the translation of the book, his work interrupted by the reading and writing lessons Daud insisted the Whalers have, and while Daud was more than happy to take on the lessons himself with Corvo still elusive it was probably better Thorpe worked in bits and pieces to give Corvo the time to come back on his own, if he was ever going to. Emily wouldn’t thank Daud for showing himself to her, and he didn’t exactly relish the idea of frightening her without Corvo by his side to reassure her.

In the end he decided to go to their base, as their letter asked for in the first place. He would take Thomas, and Rulfio, and Finn, and a handful of whoevers Finn thought was a crack shot with a crossbow, and he’d hear out the Loyalists more thoroughly than a random square would allow. Cautiously, of course, and he there would not be any sort of agreement, but he would go.

-:-

There were many ships and boats and barges floating on the Wrenhaven, abandoned as people took to the water to outrun the plague and ended up quarantining themselves in with it instead. It was an easy enough thing to find one, clear it of the dead rats long since starved to death with no fresh bodies to feed on, and bring out a Whaler who knew how to drive it. It was easier, of course, to ask Lizzie to take them, but he’d called in one too many favours with her already and he didn’t want to exhaust them just yet, not for something so trivial.

“Really think this is a good idea?” Asked Thomas, stood by his side at the helm while Rulfio played strip cards further down the deck. It was hard to tell if Rulfio was winning or not - he seemed as equally delighted to lose his clothes, grinning in nasty humour as he took off only one single sock to the endless frustration of the others, as he was to keep them on and watch Leon take off his shirt with a shiver.

“Can’t hurt,” He said, because it couldn’t. He was as certain as he could be they weren’t walking to trap, and they had the means to disappear if it was. If something went tits up then there would probably be the crow overhead, following too closely in the wake of the boat to be a coincidence, and even if it went well Daud could always turn them down if he wanted. It was one of the better job meetings he’d gone to in a long while, but maybe that was just his last one with Burrows souring things. “Did the scouts spot anything odd?”

Thomas leaned against the railings with a defeated sigh. “Nothing out of the ordinary, sir. A few Weepers, but not many - kept out by the barricade, mostly. As for Corvo, well - you said to only keep an eye out, not go looking, so they notice even less than they used to. If he’s still in Dunwall, sir, then he’s keeping himself hidden.”

Behind them Rulfio groaned, and they turned to watch him take off his trousers with a snide little quip about not really noticing the cold. “Whoresons,” He said, “The lot of you.”

“You’re the one who said it ain’t fun if there’s no nudity, Rulfio!” Said Leon, utterly delighted by Rulfio’s streak of good luck coming to its end. “Come on, you pasty prick - get your kit off, them’s the rules! Deal us in then then, Scott!”

The smog was thick and curling, unusual for the time of day with the sun high overhead; even with the factories and refineries in full swing some of the early morning fog should have long since burned off, made it so that the opposite banks were at least visible, though unlikely to be clear. Daud rubbed the ache behind his eye - bloody Outsider; he better damn well enjoy Corvo’s spat because it was the best he was going to get if Daud had his way. Or maybe he was just as entertained by Rulfio’s game as the rest of them were - who the hell knew what the Outsider liked to do when he wasn’t interfering.

Thomas adjusted the lie of his coat, smoothing down the shoulders even though the thick leather couldn’t wrinkle. Opened his mouth with a sharp breath, closed it again and fiddled with his gloves instead. “Out with it, Thomas,“ Daud growled, not in the mood to put up with Thomas’ usual pussy-footing around Daud’s personal problems.

“Are you sure you want to find Attano, sir?” Said Thomas. Behind them Rulfio hissed between his teeth like a threatened cat - suddenly not so confident in his hand. “He’s… If you don’t mind me saying, he’s right to be angry, about everything. Maybe it’s better if we just give him the translated black book and let him do it on his own? It might be kinder for all of us to just… ignore each other - go our separate ways.” He ran a hand through his soft hair, sighing sharply. “I don’t know, sir, it’s just… he reminds you of what you did, we both know it, and it’s clearly making both of you unhappy. It might be best to just leave him to it.”

“Not what he and I agreed, Thomas,” Said Daud, in place of all the things built up behind his teeth. He watched the crow swoop low overhead, watching intently their boat as they continued chugging doggedly along downriver.

“Damn what you agreed!” Said Thomas, suddenly furious when he turned on Daud, jabbing his finger into the railing. “It’s you I care about sir! The Whalers! Yes, sir, I think you and Attano can move past the empress, but right now you’re both miserable!” He hissed, mouth a thin, grim line. “He’s going to show up at some point - he’d surprise me if he didn’t - but please, sir, either sort this out between you or tell him to go because even Rulfio’s noticed you’re pining.”

Rulfio called an end to the game, because he was starting to get frostbite in places he didn’t know it was possible to get frostbite and he’d rather not live without it. It was impossible to tell who the victor was - all their clothes, at least for the blue-coated masters, were mixed together and all of them were half-naked anyway. Thomas sighed again while Rulfio counted out his won coin from their first, non-strip card game.

“I know you like to pretend we don’t all care about you, sir,” Thomas murmured, almost too quiet for even Daud to hear. “But we know you’ve been lonely, and you’ve been attracted from Corvo right from the beginning. Just… please be careful, sir - I don’t think Attano would hurt you like that, not by choice, but I… We love you, sir.”

The Hound Pits Pub crept into view, vague and indistinct in the thick smog, and Tynan carefully guided the small ship in close to the concrete walls along the bank to make sure they didn’t veer out into the middle of the water. Havelock, Martin, and Pendleton stood on the tiny dock, watching them drift close - it was hard to tell from the distance, but it looked like Martin had a pistol on his hip, a precaution just like Daud’s sword and the Whalers’ wristbows were a precaution.

Daud put his hand over Thomas’ where it rest on the railing. Rubbed the rough pad of his thumb across the back, bumping over his knuckles and making circles over the tendons that stood out sharply when Thomas’ grip tightened. Daud squeezed, once, and pulled Thomas’ mask over his face the way he used to do when Thomas was a tiny little scrap of a boy no taller than Daud’s elbow, keeping his face from sight so he was at least a little protected from the thick smoke of grenades thrown by the more ruthless, more paranoid guards.

Havelock inclined his head in polite greeting when they disembarked, started talking right away about their plan to break Corvo out that had still needed another two months to put in place because the guards were proving tricky to convince and was now redundant. Daud’s skin crawled when Martin looked at his Whalers, looked at Thomas, but he did nothing except offer a shallow bow and said, “We’re not enemies here, Master Daud. After you.”

He didn’t know if Thomas understood, if he knew that Daud didn’t have the words and even if he did there was a grip tight around his heart as unyielding as a Tyvian chokehold that stopped him from saying just how fucking much he loved his Whalers back, too much to let them follow much further in his footsteps. He hoped he did - thought he did, with Thomas as loyal at his side as he always had been, ever since that first night he’d snuck into Daud’s tiny little makeshift-apartment and decided it was better than his father’s home.

Chapter Text

It was getting well beyond evening and very far into late by the time Pendleton called an end to the talks, nothing decided even after the intolerably long day locked in a room with Martin trying to get an agreement together. “We hardly need to rush,” Pendleton pointed out, and Daud wanted to punch him right in his sneering fucking mouth. “I’m sure our… allies would welcome an overnight stay, Admiral Havelock? At this late hour?”

Havelock, either not noticing or choosing to ignore the barbs, stood up from where he’d leaned over the table, studying again the mess of abandoned contracts, and nodded slowly. “That would probably be best. I had the attic room prepared for the Lord Protector when we managed to get him out of Coldridge, but since he’s beaten us to it I don’t suppose he’d mind you taking it over for the night, Master Daud.”

No, Daud thought. Corvo, wherever he’d hidden himself away in Dunwall, wouldn’t mind Daud taking over a room he’d never stepped foot in. “And my men?” He said, because if this was some ploy to separate him from them then he’d call them out from their places at his back, pump the Loyalists full of sleep darts, and leave them there to wake in the morning tortured by the knots grown in the backs of their necks from the way they’d slept.

“There’s a spare room on the top floor, near the stairs, if they don’t mind sharing?”

Daud nodded before Rulfio could make a smart comment about Thomas always leaving the window open overnight when he knew, he knew Rulfio hated it. “Thank you. If you don’t mind, we’ll take our leave.”

For once Rulfio was quiet when they retreated to their rooms, hungry but not all that willing to trust the pub’s food or drink just yet, though he did look back just before crossing the threshold to share a long-suffering look with Daud. Daud ignored him, continued upstairs feeling tired, and out of place, and desperately missing his usual bed because even though his bed was terrible it was his bed, and he couldn’t quite shake the discomfort of sleeping somewhere he usually didn’t.

Corvo was there when Daud pushed open the door to the attic room, had obviously shoved the bed even further into the corner than it already was - there were scuff marks on the floor - and curled up tightly around the gold locket in his hands. He looked… well, Daud thought. Not good, certainly not great, but his face was a little more filled out, his frame a little more lanky and a little less simply skeletal; the break had done him some good.

Strange of him to come back now, and how did he know Daud was at the Hound Pits?, but those were questions that didn’t need asking when Corvo looked so drawn and tired, a heaviness to his shoulders that wasn’t often there, or at least one that he didn’t often let Daud see. So Daud just took off his jacket, hung it up on the back of the chair at the desk. Said, “You’re back,” Because there were a lot of other things he could say, most of them accusatory and hurt and deliberately nasty, but nothing that would smooth over Corvo’s anger still burning in the thin-lipped set of his mouth, the tight-wound grimness at the corners of his eyes.

Corvo nodded. I’m back, He agreed, staring deep into the heart of the locket, but despite the utter lack of tone in the expression of his hands, the stillness of his face, Corvo didn’t stop Daud from drifting cautiously closer, or from taking a seat - well within strangling reach, if Corvo’d been of the mind to. He turned the locket, let Daud see the portrait inside; Corvo and Jessamine, both young, new parents, cradling a tiny Emily. Sokolov - even in miniature his work was distinctive.

Jessamine, Corvo said - or maybe My Love was just an affectionate endearment, hidden in plain sight because so few people understood his Signs - and carefully unwound the links from his fingers, passing it over for Daud to take, Adored the Tower gardens. The ones her mother took care of. Took me out there for walks all the time when she wanted out of court for a few minutes. Used to ask me to be butterflies and Pandyssian paradise birds. He smiled down at his hands, wrapped his arms tight around his knee pulled close to his chest. Emily used to ask me to be dragons. Huge sky dragons, and little scuttling ones. Could never be the sea dragons though - bit hard to miss a whale-sized dragon in a place full of guards.

Daud, obligingly, looked close at the portrait inside the locket, rubbing his thumb along the rough scuffs and dents in the casing. “Cute little thing,” He said, although he didn’t know if that was true or not - all babies looked the same to him.

Like hell - looks like a tiny gremlin, Corvo said, a fond twist to his smile. Screamed like banshee when she was lonely - I ended up just sleeping on the rail of her crib to keep her company. Always seemed to like it when I was a bird. Jessamine used to ask if that was her gifts coming out.

“Gifts?”

Passed down through my mother’s family. Little things we’re born with. Void-Touched, always have been. He scowled when he noticed that Daud still didn’t understand. Outsider hasn’t always been around. Some pregnant ancestor got too close to this place where the Void was coming through, had twins, those children could do magic, been passed down ever since. So the story goes, anyway, Said Corvo. Grandad could have just been making it up. Void-Touched, anyway. Most of us always have been - Emily, too, but she hasn’t done anything obvious yet.

“So, what, all of you are shapeshifters?”

Just me and a cousin, from what I know , Said Corvo. And my cousin can only turn into a dog, protects his chickens. Grandmother could almost always predict the weather. My sister has a knack for finding secret places. Little things like that, usually. Had an uncle who could bring animals back to life as long as it wasn’t old age and they’d been dead less than ten minutes. And intact - he learned that the hard way. He shrugged, like it was that common, like Void-black eyes like his - and Daud would bet a lot of coin that it was shared across his family too, as unique to them as the Void twisting around Corvo when he changed into different shapes - really were as unremarkable as Corvo thought it was.

He fell silent, staring down at the bed - shifted to make himself more comfortable, stretching out his leg with a wince - so Daud looked at the rest of the attic room. If Corvo had done more than shove the bed into the corner and move the desk so it blocked the view of the wide, empty room, then it was hidden well. It just looked like any of the other empty attics Daud had hidden out in, with the same inch-thick layers of dust and furniture covered by sheets.

I’m sorry, Murmured Corvo, the gestures small and held close. For what I said.

Nice enough to hear - more because it was genuine than because Daud cared to have the apology - but unnecessary. Corvo was right - Daud shouldn’t have pretended he hadn’t murdered Corvo’s lover, or hoped that gratitude would at least keep things civil. They should have talked about it before anything else, and the fault was entirely Daud’s. “Not like I didn’t give you reason to,” He said reasonably. “My fault. All of it.”

Still shouldn’t have shouted, Said Corvo. So. Sorry. And before you ask, no, it wasn’t anything you or the Whalers have done. Not really. He ran a hand across his hair, scratching the back of his head. It was just getting a bit much. You probably know what it's like - people think murderers don't really care, but we do and I... He scratched his shoulder, his throat. I don't know how to grieve. I just... don't. I miss her and I don't know what to do about it, and-... You don't need my problems - I wasn’t doing well, is the short of it. Corvo sighed, took the locket when Daud gave it back and stared at the portrait inside, a tiny, sad smile on his lips. I should hate you, for what you did.

Daud could understand that - should probably hate himself for it, too - and he watched silently as Corvo looked at him like he expected Daud to object, to say that it was unfair or something because Daud was helping him now, was making up for it the best way he could, and didn’t that matter more than one dead woman?

But it wasn’t just one dead woman, and that was the problem. It was one dead woman on a pile of other dead people, another cup of blood added to the flood; the straw that broke the camel’s back. She was one more mistake in a lifetime of other mistakes, had become the one that finally showed him that if he carried on he was going to doom everyone he loved, that he was going to make the Whalers a bigger and bigger target, draw more and more of the Abbey’s ire, and that one day he’d be killed and Thomas would have to fill his place when Thomas wasn’t old enough to.

Or he’d take the Whalers down with him because for some fucking reason they all loved him back enough they'd die to keep him safe even when they probably shouldn’t; all of them loved him, the ones he’d had since they were children because he was the first adult to give a shit about them - if they lived or died or were happy with their little bedrooms and the food he managed to get them, helping them put up their drawings or listening to their stories - and the adults because he gave them food, clothes, a safe place to stay, a job when they were kicked from their old ones and were made homeless because they couldn’t afford to pay the rent.

“But you don’t,” Said Daud, crossed his ankles to get comfortable. Leaned forward attentively, elbows on his knees, because the twist to Corvo’s mouth said he thought the answer to the unspoken why? wasn’t as interesting as Daud might think it was.

I saw you, Said Corvo, looking away and out through the windows. You were with that kid, the little one with the scar on her arm. You… She loves you.

Oh, Daud thought. Oh, little Andrei, a foot too small for her age, too frightened of her whale-butcher father to stay alone in her house with him for reasons she’d never shared with anyone, but were easy enough to guess by the scar. A mousy, plain little thing, but devilishly quick; destined to become the world’s best pickpocket, and he’d told her so. Sometimes the children found things in the floodwater silt when it receded a bit with the tides - brought him some of them sometimes - and Andrei had found a ‘lucky’ five-penny coin with Euhorn’s face printed on both sides instead of the one. Brought it to him, because apparently everyone knew Daud wasn’t himself and thought he needed the reminder that not all of them were Billie, unsheathed blades in the dark as they looked for an opening in his armour.

But her story wasn’t one for him to tell, so he shrugged and said, “Rescued her from the streets,” Because it was entirely true. “Most of the Whalers were street kids before I picked them up. Didn’t even choose to have them at first,” He added, in the vague hope his humour would stop Corvo looking so serious with his eerie-intent, too-old eyes. “Some of them just followed me back to base one day. Thomas did, stubborn little shit.”

It’s hard to hate someone when they’ve got kids that love them, Corvo told him, tucking the locket beneath his jacket. You know I know what it’s like to be a dad, and they can be fucking annoying sometimes but we’d do anything for them. I can’t hate someone when we’ve got that in common.

“This you telling me Emily’s yours, then?” Daud grunted, not really sure what else he could say because now there was something sat uncomfortable in his chest, the air too heavy between them, and he wanted to get back to safer grounds.

Corvo smiled thinly, not happy but not unhappy either; a strangely neutral kind of smile, but warmth in it. What gave it away? There was the teasing back in his face, in the gleam of his eyes in the sharp glow of whale-oil lamps, so Daud let himself relax, easing back into the chair with the silence more comfortable between them than it ever had been.

Chapter Text

“You’ve been very slow, Daud,” Said the Outsider, sitting an inch or so over the sink Daud was just about to shave over. “It’s been most disappointing. Perhaps the old wolf has lost his touch after all, wouldn’t you agree? Such a shame,” He sighed.

Daud ignored him, taking his razor and the shaving cream from the shelf and waiting for the Outsider to finish reappearing on the toilet seat behind him, visible in the dirty mirror. He poked at his teeth, scratched his chin - he always looked annoyingly scruffy in the mornings, just woken up and still with his hair a mess and the beginnings of a beard on his jaw. Made him look like most of the unmarked fanatics driven mad by bonecharms.

The Outsider was undeterred. “All these weeks since you’ve rescued dear Corvo, wasted trying to get him to like you. If you wanted to know about the bonds between you, you could have asked.” He tilted his head, like Corvo did sometimes - like a bird. The Outsider smiled thinly. “He would say yes, you know. All those years in Empress Jessamine’s shadow and in her bed, a young man brought too soon, unwilling, from his home to serve a woman who didn’t know where his eyes sometimes strayed. Sweetest Corvo - he never denied her anything.”

A grunt, because Daud wasn’t interested but the Outsider had stopped and looked like he was expecting Daud to answer while he lifted his chin to scrape away the stubble along his throat, from beneath his ear to his Adam’s apple. “There a point to this, or are you just bored?”

“He would say yes, if you told him,” The Outsider repeated, for once endlessly patient - amused, though Daud didn’t see how his attraction to Corvo was any business or amusement of his. “Even surrounded by your Whalers, by the murderers he would have cut down in a heartbeat in another life but finds himself liking in this one, he has found himself lonely. An emperor and an empress tried to take him from Serkonos’ streets by giving him nice clothes and food he didn’t have to steal, but he’ll always be that little boy taking unwanted loaves from the baker’s bin; will always hate to be alone, remembers too clearly running through Karnaca's streets with his sister, she finding ways through the dust and the bloodflies and he always there to protect her, and what happened to him when she became bored of her birthplace. He hasn't been alone since; not since that first nobleman who picked him out from backstreets and gutters, and certainly not since the empress found she could love even his violence.”

“Have you always been this tactless, or is it just for me?” Said Daud, irritated because Corvo’s past was his to share or keep secret as he chose and the Outsider so casually sharing it, like it wasn’t more than just an idle anecdote, rubbed him the wrong way, itching up his spine in an uncomfortable ache. Corvo’s past was his past, and probably best left there, anyway; abandoned in Karnaca’s ruined districts that was the only places the city’s poorest could afford. Whatever he had been before, whatever he was now, it was not Daud’s place to know it until Corvo decided he could know. He said as much, added, “And my sex life’s none of your damn business.”

“He thinks you already know.”

Daud started shaving the other side of his face, and in the mirror the Outsider went back to looking bored, sat a handful of inches in the air so he neatly fit in the small patch of empty space in the corner. The shadows flowing from his shoulders like a cloak rippled, rustling silently like Corvo as a crow rustling his wings in agitation, impatient. Daud gave up, said, “Fine, you want to talk; what does being ‘Void-Touched’ mean?”

The shadows drew up like a puffed-out chest, looking almost exactly as pleased as the Outsider’s face looked placid, benign. “Not all magic comes from my Mark; in every living thing there is a connection to the Void, in the minds of all things that have thoughts deeper than the ones they hear; the sleeping mind was always the one to see clearest. Dearest Corvo, and all his family before him, has a waking connection to it, that is all.”

“No catch?”

“Slow, Daud,” Said the Outsider with a smile. “You of all people should know there is a price for power - for the Mark I gave you both, it is mana. For Corvo, the price for his gift was his voice. No matter the creature there is not one where he can speak without his Signs. For his sister, it’s that of all the secret places she will find in all the corners of the world, not one will be a home for her. For Little Emily? Who knows - perhaps the price she paid was her mother’s life at your hands.”

The Outsider turned to the window, arms crossed languidly over his chest. Turned to look at the patch of sunlight warming the tiles on the wall like he was fascinated by the patterns cast by the spider’s-web cracks. “She thinks he’s dead,” The Outsider said, as blandly as he always did; Daud felt proud of himself for not losing his grip on the razor. “Custis and Morgan Pendleton told her so, and they weren’t wrong about her being trapped no matter how she tried to escape. She looks to every crow and cat and pigeon, and to the stray wolfhounds in the streets abandoned when their Overseers fell to plague and swore their only friends wouldn’t be doomed to serve the Abbey that failed them. She’s disappointed each time when they don’t turn into him; is starting to believe that they never will be, although she tries not to.”

“Guessing it’s going to be too much to ask you for a hint of where she is, isn’t it?”

The Outsider smiled again, repeated blandly, “You’ve been very slow, Daud. Do you think Corvo will be upset when he learns you met with these Loyalists to stall for time, waiting for a man that doesn’t belong to you to come home?” He spread his hands, palm out like he thought it made him look thoughtful, like he didn’t already know what was going to happen, or at least have an idea about it. “Or maybe he’ll be grateful, to know that you made sure the first face she sees in freedom is his.”

“Right,” Said Daud, drying his face on an old-stiff towel and starting to comb his hair back. “So this is just you telling me to get the fuck on with it before I die of old age, then. Got it - now fuck off.” He turned, not really expecting the Outsider to have actually disappeared but, then, there was a first time for everything - he dissolved away, just like that.

Well, thought Daud, that was thoroughly unpleasant. He squared his shoulders and pushed through the door leading to the hallway, met Thomas and Rulfio and a very-much-himself Corvo at the base of the stairs. If either of them were put out by Corvo’s reappearance, they didn’t show it when they sat at a table and waited for the Loyalists to show.

Either he was willing to trust that the Loyalists wouldn’t spend so much time trying to earn their trust to poison them when Martin could easily have just sent in a suggestion to his officers that the Whalers were weakened after the last attack, or - because Corvo was exactly like his namesake in that any food in arms reach was in danger of disappearing down his gullet, no matter if it belonged to him or not - he was hungry enough to not care if it was or not, Corvo ate what the maid put down in front of him.

“Sir?” Asked Thomas, while Rulfio only stared down in despair at his own plate as Corvo ruthlessly started stealing his sausages.

“We’re leaving,” Daud told them. “They’ve not got anything we can’t get ourselves except a decent boatman, but Tynan will do fine when he gets a quieter ship. Thomas, get some of the novices to find one - about the same size, but a decent enough engine it won’t tell the whole damn city where we are.” Thomas nodded. “Rulfio, wake the others. Tell them to meet at the boat in half an hour or they’re walking home - no excuses. Corvo...” He hesitated, but he didn’t know if it was because it was something he should wait to stay until he knew for certain, or if it was because it was something probably best told in private, away from watching eyes. “Stay with Tynan at the boat when we get back.”

Corvo, utterly disinterested, nodded his head; turned to stare with the usual wicked twist to his mouth when he smiled nastily at Havelock and Pendleton frozen as they rounded the bar, staring at him.

Well, Daud supposed, they couldn’t have known Corvo was safe with him. He’d have preferred they never know, but it wasn’t exactly a terrible fate they’d found out. It wasn’t like Daud was going to just give him up like their glances at him seemed to ask him to - that was just unfair, and laughable because who the hell had that kind of authority over Corvo?, and Daud was selfish, would be the first to say so; black and greedy behind his heart, holding on so stubbornly it was always painful when he noticed the gaps in the ranks, the Whalers that took the brunt of Billie’s betrayal. He couldn't give up Corvo, not when he'd been willing to come back, a crow sleeping perched on the bars at the foot of his bed.

He watched Corvo cheerfully salute a greeting, the teeth in his smiling mouth too sharp, the harsh angles in his face gone harsher, more strange; a pointed reminder that he was not and never will be some dog to order around, following on the heels of anyone who was handed his leash.

Damn the man, and himself - even Corvo’s fucking ugly grins were attractive. Daud sighed to himself, stood to face Havelock and Pendleton when Havelock drifted close, though Pendleton kept wary distance. Probably wise. “Lord Protector Attano!” Said Havelock, and Daud may not have known him long but he was damn certain the man had never looked so obviously shocked in all his life. “Welcome to the Hound Pits.”

Morning Lockjaw, Said Corvo, in between shoveling Rulfio’s beans into his mouth.

“Yes, well,” Said Havelock, jaw clenched in discomfort because he clearly didn’t understand a word of what Corvo said. He rallied himself quite valiantly, managed a smile, though Daud didn’t know where in the piss-frozen Void he’d dragged it up from to make it so obviously forced. Turned to Daud, and something in his face eased. “I suppose that makes the first half of our contract redundant, but have you considered the rest? Lord Pendleton is willing to pay you quite handsomely for you help.”

Daud hmphed. While it would be nice to be paid for work he was already doing, there was something in Havelock’s face - the small, piggish eyes and too-big frame, the calluses on his finger from decades of pulling pistol triggers rough against Daud’s knuckles when they shook hands in friendly greeting - that warned him off agreeing. And there was Pendleton, sneering at Corvo’s forced silence, or maybe he just always sneered, and Martin, too, wherever he was at the Pits. There was Thomas’ warnings that Havelock was not a man who would leave them be once their purpose was over.

“A nice offer, Admiral,” Said Daud. Thomas hissed from behind his mask, the sound too muffled and tinny for it to travel far but there, anyway - always the worry that Daud was taking an unnecessary risk, putting himself in danger. “But we’ve decided we’re not interested. Goodbye - and sorry to hear about your brothers, Lord Pendleton,” Daud added, delighting in the way he went flushed, near purpling, before paling when he worked out that the only way Daud could know was if he’d been connected to it, even if only a little. “I hear they're doing quite well in Karnaca's silver mines.”

Chapter Text

Tynan didn’t take them all the way to the port near to the Golden Cat when Daud retrieved Thorpe’s translated copy and showed the bookmarked page to Corvo, not with the ship so obvious and loud that even the dumbest, newest guards - recruited from the frightened people who only wanted their half-dose of elixir - could ignore them. It would take a day or more for Thomas’ scouts to find a decent ship, and while Lizzy would probably quite happily take them Daud didn’t think she was all that appropriate for a frightened child.

So, a nearby district abandoned to the Weepers and the dead. Unfortunately that meant the long way ‘round, and Tynan didn’t look all that happy about it, glancing nervously up at the concrete walls spanning high above them where the Weepers were moaning softly to themselves. Corvo didn’t seem to notice the weeping faces turning to watch them; didn't seem to care, staring at the pages Thorpe had marked out that said where his daughter was hidden.

You found her, Said Corvo, his face slack in disbelief. You found Emily, He repeated, and her name was possessive and affectionate and encompassed most of his heart. His black eyes were wide when he turned them to Daud with a soft, shivery sigh of relief - so dark it was hard to tell where the pupil ended and the iris began. Thank you, He said, repeating it over and over like he’d thought he’d never have got to, that it wasn’t possible Daud could have or would have done it for him, helping rescue his daughter from whatever hell Daud had put her in.

Daud leaned on the railings, turning his shoulder to Corvo because he didn’t really deserve his thanks. It was Daud’s fault she needed rescuing at all, that Corvo, who had once been so neatly groomed, had ironically given up completely on taking care of his appearance, short beard on his jaw because he’d stopped shaving and his hair long enough now to show their wave and not so long its weight smoothed it out. Daud’s fault that Corvo broke the lock on his own door, even though it was on the inside, and looked a missed meal away from starving.

The evening fog was on its way in, thick and cold over the water. Daud watched a hagfish drag a seagull below the waves, eerily silent in the faint glow from Watch barge floodlights. “Don’t thank me yet, Bodyguard,” He said. “Need to get her, first. And deal with Burrows, but I figure both are best left to you.”

But you found her for me, Said Corvo, and the shine in his eyes was one of complete and utter joy. His hands clutched at the air needily, settled like a shock of warmth on Daud’s wrist, Mark humming pleasantly with the song of the Void, when he closed his eyes and leaned his head tiredly on Daud’s shoulder; even though the most difficult thing he’d done today was fend off Misha’s pack of children when they came dashing up to him demanding to know why he’d missed an evening telling them stories. But then, to be fair, Misha’s lot were about as vicious as a pack of wolfhounds and just as cute, and since Corvo obviously didn’t want to offend them he didn’t have the choice to turn into some animal and hide out on top of the ship. Thank you.

There was something giddy-bright in him as they crept closer to their stop, something that reminded Daud that Corvo was a lot younger than his beginning wrinkles and his harsh face and lean, imposingly tall frame said he was. Couldn't have been more than a decade or so younger, but it was still quite the surprise; Daud wondered how young Corvo had been when Emily was born. Everyone knew Jessamine was the elder of them, but by how much seemed to change depending on how many people Corvo'd killed in one week, if he was sent out to spy on someone in the last two months, and how many people had seen him fighting in the Tower training ring that day.

He was a rat when they pulled up to the tiny port crumbling into the canal, warm against the side of Daud's neck and little rodent’s heart leaping thud thud thud and little rat hands digging into his skin, his coat. Daud tried not to shudder - rats had such creepy little feet. He picked Corvo up and found a pocket on his chest for him to sit in, safely away from the biting wind. Corvo poked his head out from beneath the flap to watch as Daud started scaling a nearby ruined apartment building, Transversing from foothold to foothold to get to the top and work his way from there.

Luckily for them both it was a short enough trip through the district; an easy, tireless lope across the rooftops well above the notice of the Weepers shuffling through the shadows far below, shivering miserably to themselves, and a short jump to the top of the railcar that would take them almost right alongside it in the Distillery District. Another trot across the rooftops but careful, now, because there were guards patrolling the balconies and Daud was on a level barely above them.

But the Distillery District was a popular one, all its apartment blocks and offices and even a nobleman’s manor across the road had all built up and was leaning on each other, crowding each other out as best they could. It had escaped more or less unscathed but Burrows’ tightening grip still showed, obvious in the abandoned apartments Daud crept through to find a safer route to higher rooftops, out of sight of the Watch, and the cracks starting to show in the buildings' foundations. If the plague went on much longer even the relatively safe Distillery District would start to fall.

He found a path that would take him (them? Corvo was in his pocket, watching raptly) invisibly to a stone lip running right along the outside of the Golden Cat’s facade. A careful drop down behind one of the guards, on-duty and looking all the more miserable for it, to choke him out - with another even more careful path to a safe room to store the man - and then it was simple enough to find an open window to slip through, a Transverse up to the landing to their right out of sight of two guards below them, and they were inside; now a simple matter to find Emily. Corvo slithered out of his pocket and glanced around himself, human again.

Probably not the best time for it, but then he’d forget if he didn’t and Corvo looked like he needed the distraction while he used Dark Vision to scan the floors below them, his mouth thin and grim, frustration lifting the corner of his lip like a grimace. Bodyguard, He signed, clumsy because he hadn’t needed to do it for a hell of a lot of years. Your clothes - where do they go when you turn into an animal?

Magic, Knife, He said. To the Void, turns into fur or feathers, fucking Pandyssia, I don’t know. I don’t think about it - see her anywhere?

Dark Vision slid into place. Nothing obvious. Try upstairs first, work our way down, Said Daud, so Corvo led the way.

Daud knocked out one of the girls in her room while Corvo peeped through the keyholes; just a sleep-dart to the back of her leg and catching her before she fell to the floor, carefully arranging her in her bed like she’d just gone to sleep. It was unlikely, but Daud didn’t want to test the soundproofing of such a threadbare, worn little bedroom, and if someone shouted and the woman, hearing it, went running off to get any number of the tens of guards downstairs then he and Corvo would be in a Void-damned amount of trouble.

Corvo whistled sharply; was stood in front of a door holding the doorknob, hood pulled low over his face, when Daud left the whore snoring quietly on her bed, comfortable as he could make her. This one, He said, swaying a little as Daud came to stand by him. She’s here, Daud. I… His hand, the Mark black and obvious hidden beneath his glove, shook a little. It gripped tight when Daud reached for it, squeezing a little.

“You want me to go?” He asked, quiet. He would absolutely leave if Corvo asked him to, but a part of him wanted to see. Wanted to stand by his shoulder, hear him tell Emily what Daud had done for him, for them both; that Daud was terrible and had done terrible things but he was trying his damnedest to make even some of it right, to fix even the smallest, most forgotten of his many, many, many mistakes.

His head shook, just the once, and he opened the door. Emily noticed immediately, cringing away into the corner while Corvo stopped dead just inside the threshold, utterly frozen. “Who are you?” She demanded, eyes going when when she realised just who one of them actually was. “What do you want? What do you want? I’ll call the guards if you don’t go - they’re not afraid of you!” She took up the fork on a nearby tray of food, pointed it at them like it was a pirate’s sword.

Her room, Daud noticed, was covered in drawings - mostly of Corvo and monsters, but also one of Jessamine. There was an especially creepy drawing of herself and the Pendleton twins, who were no doubt enjoying their enforced holiday working in their own silver mines after Slackjaw dropped them off - it couldn’t have happened to better people - and a cheerfully bright and colourful rendition of Dunwall Tower next to a fairly cute golden cat. There was one of Corvo in a dark jacket opening the door to what looked like the room they were in, and another nearby where he was playing the loyal wolfhound with her against a Whaler; obviously playing, the Whaler didn't seem so threatening as Daud would have expected if it was a true fight. Two others showed her holding hands, the first with Corvo and her mother and the second, wrinkled so badly she'd had to have crumpled it into a ball before she taped it up, with Corvo and another man swinging her between them. Must have been her gifts giving her things to draw, Daud supposed, though he didn't know what those gifts could be - impractical precognition?

Corvo pushed his hood back from his face, knelt down on one knee while Emily’s Void-black eyes went wide. “Corvo?” She murmured, hesitant. A bright grin crept across her face, suddenly beaming when she lunged forward with a delightedly shouted, “Corvo!” And launched herself into his arms, swept up and settled on his hip. Daud knew shit all about children, but he thought she must have been a little old to be carried like that. Corvo must have agreed, or maybe he just wanted to free up his hands, because he set her down soon enough; grinning back just as fiercely.

I’m here, He said. I’m here, I’m alright. You know my wounds don’t stick around that long. Emily, He added, back to the possessive, clutching sign for her name. Corvo turned to Daud, then; edging to the side a little so Emily could see them both. He helped me. He found you for me.

“What? But… I thought- I thought you were dead because of him, and he killed mother, why…. Why did he help?” Emily clutched Corvo’s hand, not even both of hers able to fit entirely around Corvo’s large palm Void she was tiny - there was the some of Jessamine in her, more than the shape of her face and her black hair cut into the trending bob, delicate hands so much more fragile, her pale skin so much more like a noblewoman’s porcelain doll’s, in Corvo’s swordsman’s grip; his dark skin all the darker against his daughter’s.

Daud didn’t try to come close. Corvo might let him, might even think the light from the bare lamps at their feet might make him look just like any other sad old man with too many regrets and not enough years left to fix them, but Emily wouldn’t, and he didn’t want to frighten her any more than she already was. So he knelt down instead, met her eyes from behind the threshold of the door.

“I’m sorry,” He told her, because it was entirely true and it was rare he ever gained anything by lying. “It doesn’t make it right, it doesn’t change what I did, but I’m sorry. I made a deal with Corvo when I broke him out of prison; to save you, and put you on the throne.” He waited, but she only stared at him, too-clever in her eyes for someone so young. “I’ve got a boat waiting to take us back to my home. Corvo-” He glanced up at him, saw Corvo utterly focused on his daughter hiding behind his legs, “- Can you turn into something to carry her? A dragon or something? Giant Eagle? Railcar’s going to turn off for the day if we don't hurry.”

Corvo nodded, swept his hand out to say, After you, So Daud did, and it turned out that even through the grimace of agony wrinkling his mouth Corvo could actually become a dragon, and carry Emily on his back at least as far as the railcar before the pain made him turn back and cough out the blood bubbling up in his throat, complaining, Damn, too big to hold - Pandyssian dragons are small. Why do I listen to you? To Daud when he met up with them. Emily sat in the cradle of Corvo's crossed legs, tiny hands kept safe from the biting cold by Corvo's wrapped tight around them - even safer from falling off, or at least from hitting the ground, by Corvo wrapping her up in the folds of his jacket, holding her tight against the Railcar hurtling along its tracks.

Chapter Text

Corvo circled, as agile in rubble as he was in the training room’s smooth floor; sword loose at his side, not so much its own weapon as a part of Corvo the same as his claws were, flexing against the air, clicking against the hilt when he passed it from hand to hand. He was grinning, bright and awful - goading in the upwards jerk of his chin. He’d laugh if he’d had the voice to do it, and Daud was more than happy to take the bait, cutting into Corvo’s side and taking a step even closer when Corvo tried to roll away with the blow; was there when he got back to his feet, shoving even closer and locking blades, pushing him back dangerously close to the edge of the circle.

The pommel strike to his jaw wasn’t a surprise - turned his head so it was the meaty side of his neck, still painful but not lancing through bone and into his teeth - and got his own backhand to Corvo’s cheek, a punch to his gut, before Corvo dodged and was back at the other side of their little arena, too quick for Daud to follow again. Still grinning, even more delighted with the shine of blood on his whale’s teeth, hot on his lip,

Strike to Daud’s gut, his knees, his knuckles - quick and rapid, too quick to follow or block so Daud just held onto the hilt and crossed the blade across his chest, a guard that Corvo didn’t test, darting quick as a Transversal to just behind him; kick to the backs of his knees fucking Void Corvo, but Daud rolled away, knelt on his good knee just in time to catch Corvo’s blade before its dulled point jabbed into his throat, sending it off the side and Corvo recovered, of course he did, but not before Daud got his leg back under him and launched his shoulder into Corvo’s belly, bowling him over.

Another quick recovery, too quick to ever beat - he caught Daud’s blade right back and punched his chin, got his feet to Daud’s stomach and kicked him back to the floor; a roll out of the way before Corvo’s sword stabbed into the moss just beside his ear, up as fast as he could, not nearly so fast as Corvo retreating, a laugh in the flourish of his sword.

He was getting faster the more his health came back to him, something almost like a healthy weight in him now, filling out his cheeks into something less than a gaunt, hollow kind of gawkiness and more like something the Overseers used to teach, about the spirits trapped too long in the Void and became something… else. Something thoroughly inhuman. His reflexes had finally caught back up to the animal’s quickness that made him such a good fighter. Not strong, he didn’t fight strong, but damnably fleet-footed.

Daud held his ground, held his sword loose by his side - just as much a goading thing as Corvo had done, and Daud didn’t know if it worked or if it was just Corvo deciding to take the chance, but Corvo dashed forwards, feet betraying the feint and so Daud dodged by a hairsbreadth, had just a moment of Corvo’s surprise to hook his ankle around Corvo’s and send him sprawling to his back, dulled blade edge right to Corvo’s long throat, knees on his wrists so Corvo couldn’t reach for the weapon just beside his hand.

One of the few things Daud had on Corvo in a fight - and they both knew it, too - was that Daud was heavy, and strong, and he wasn’t going to fall for Corvo falling limp again; it was a rare victory against Corvo, although he knew that in a real fight he would last exactly four and a half minutes.

Corvo tapped his knuckles twice against the ground, grinning in utter delight by his defeat. Daud pulled him to his feet, picked up the sword and called over Jenkins lurking on the sides to take both back to the training room. Had enough, old man? Said Corvo, and he was back to human, pulling the tough jacket tighter around his shoulders against the cold.

“Unlike some people, I’ve got shit to do,” Daud told him, stretching a little to enjoy the burning pull in his arms. “Go see Misha - you’ve got a weird kid and she doesn’t know what to do with her.”

She’s not weird, Said Corvo immediately, frowning.

“She is when she made a drawing about one of our informants getting caught by the Watch two days before we heard the news.” He shook his head against Corvo’s displeased little moue. “Oh don’t pout, bodyguard,” He said, shoving him towards one of the walkways. “Doesn’t suit you. Go see them, Corvo. Emily knows she’s got this ‘Void-Touched’ thing of yours?” Corvo nodded. “Good. Help her out a little. Or just… I don’t know what fancy people do - play with her or something, I’m sure Misha’s kids would be happy to join in. Need to see Rickard, but I’ll get you if I need anything.”

Corvo disappeared, because of course he was going to go to Emily as soon as Daud said she might need him - Daud didn’t begrudge him that, or feel annoyed by the fact he didn’t say goodbye. Corvo never said goodbye - if he did then something was clearly, horribly wrong and Daud refused to imagine it.

He made his own way down to Rickard, in one of the abandoned workshops that had been flooded when Daud moved in but had since had the water pushed back to behind their own makeshift dam and cleaned of the muddy, smelly silt coating the floor. Most of the equipment had already been there, but Daud pretended not to notice that everything else - up to and including a power hammer of all things, and how in the Void had he managed that? - had been stolen, the Abbey's seal peeling off in the corners of things. It was not his business to question how Rickard cobbled together his forge, only pop by occasionally and ask for a repair or drop off a new blueprint for him.

Rickard, when Daud found him, was pouring oil into a trough he’d set on the floor. He was a short, stocky, boulder of a man, wider than he was tall and with enough beard, eyebrows, and hair pulled back into a severe bun to make the Morley stories of dwarves pale in comparison. Void, Daud was half convinced he was a dwarf - he was certainly short enough for it - and had mistakenly left his mountain hold for a world of riches that wasn’t there for such a traditional smith in Dunwall. Lucky for Daud he was more than willing to make assassin’s blades instead.

“Daud?” Said Rickard, squinting over at him. “Ah, shit!” He added, setting down the jug of oil before he over-filled the trough even more. “What can I do ye? Well, more’n the sword I’m making your Corvo, anyway.”

“Came to see how you were getting on,” Daud said, taking a seat on a too-low stool to watch Rickard start to potter about, taking a drawn-out billet of steel from beneath a mess of diagrams and calculations and turning on his forge with a grumble about how it was gas, he much preferred coal. “Walk me through it? And he’s not ‘my Corvo’.”

“Aye, keep tellin’ yerself that,” Said Rickard blandly, starting to heat the metal and bringing Daud one of the diagrams. “Well, you asked fer a light but sturdy sword for ‘im - there it is! A beauty, ain’ it? Serkonan pattern-welded steel; tyvian high-carbon - thanks fer fetchin’ tha’, by the way - layered with nickel alloy. Makes a damn beautiful pattern when I etch it in Krust acid. Finally a use fer the damn things,” He added, “More’n the pearls they make, anyway. Never saw the point of ‘em ‘cept nicking from some noblewoman. Single-edge Morley seax styled sword,” He continued, taking the steel from forge to anvil and starting to hammer it into shape. “Point’s aligned with the spine, though, and no curves - think it makes a nicer profile, but tha’s just me. Good all-’round fer just about anythin’ ‘cept beating down doors with. Nice and quick, it is.”

Daud looked down at the diagram, roughed out in charcoal. Other than shape he didn’t know what really set it out from the Whalers' swords, but he figured Rickard knew best and Corvo would certainly know that it was a blade best suited to him, more than the heavy-sturdy ones Daud preferred, so he handed it back to Rickard when the man reached for it, comparing the drawing to the steel taking shape.

He watched Rickard work, legs stretched out because otherwise they’d cramp and he’d never stand up on his own. Rickard worked surprisingly quickly, had it roughed out in about two hours. Daud supposed he could go see to the men, make sure they all were actually at their rounds instead of avoiding the rain starting to come down by hiding with Cook in the mess hall, ‘helping’ her make some jam tarts, but he didn’t strictly need to do anything, and the break would do them good; he was feeling indulgent, watching Rickard starting to grind the sword into shape and polishing it up for quenching on the belt sander, which went about as well as it generally could - Rickard didn’t complain, anyway, as he put it in an oil bath for tempering.

“There,” Rickard grunted, stepping down from the stepladder and taking a seat on its lowest rung. “Not too long, don’t wan’ to take too much hardness from it. Now come on, you’ve not just sat there ‘cause you wan’ to know about your blade to woo Corvo. Out with it.”

“There’s nothing to tell.”

Rickard laughed at him. “Bullshit,” He said. “You might be a sad old fuck, but I’ve been wi’ you long enough to know what yer like when you get some lass or lad on yer mind, an’ Corvo’s got you bad.” He took a long sip of the drink he had in a chipped, dainty teacup; Daud grimaced, because it had been there the entire time Daud had sat watching Rickard work, obviously long gone cold.

“There’s nothing, Rickard,” Said Daud, crossing his arms. “Met Emily yet? I heard she’d stopped by a few days ago, asked you for something.”

“Corvo’s lass? Aye. Sweet little thing, she is,” Said Rickard fondly, scratching his beard. “Strange, but sweet. Asked me fer a pirate’s cutlass, don’t you know. An’ Corvo said ‘twas good fer her tae have one, too - never met a da who let their kid have a sword before, an’ mine le’ me swing a hammer when I was a wee thing. Odd folks, them Attano’s. Good, mind you, but odd. Didnae know folks could have black eyes, ‘fore they came by. Void’s damn strong in ‘em.”

Daud nodded, because it was true, the Void was strong in the both of them, a faint song like a bonecharm’s hiss but somehow not, Corvo's song different to Emily's but with much the same shape; the both of them singing the same notes but all of them played in different orders, like an anagram. Louder than even Daud’s Mark sometimes, but it wasn’t any real comparison; Corvo and Emily had been born with their connections to the Void, if he was willing to trust the Outsider’s word.

“Aye,” Said Rickard again, glancing at the clock to keep time. “Void’s damn strong in ‘em. More’n this-” He showed off the back of his hand, the Mark a weak echo, unusually faint-grey even for the Whalers’ normal pale copies, like the smear of charcoal or soot across his forehead or the old bruise on his arm, “-anyway. An’ Corvo, well. He terrifies me a wee bit. Don’t know if I should pity or laugh at the damn fool tae harm his lass - no offense to you, 'course,” He added hurriedly, “But you were jus’ protectin’ us, he knows tha’. Wouldnae come back if he didn’.”

When he’d decided the sword had had enough time to temper he took it out, cleaned it of oil and dried it, and moved to his belt grinder to finish profiling it, giving lethal bevels to the edge. "Corvo's lass, uhh... said she talked to ye, the other day. 'Bout her mother, an' all that." Rickard swallowed. "How'd it go?"

Daud thought about it, and about a few of Monty's 'pain in the ass' novices patching everything back together about as well as it could ever be patched back together. "Well enough," He said, which meant, Emily was terrifying.

Rickard nodded, sighed to himself and dragged his hand through his greying beard, making it snarl around his head. “Ain’t my place to say, Daud,” He said. “But I havetae say somethin’ ‘cause Thomas won’ and Rulfio’s shit at it; he’ll be good fer you, we all kno’ it. He’s a scary fuck, to be sure, but he’s a damn nice one ‘neath all that. Saw ‘im with your wolfhounds - loves ‘em to pieces already, an’ there ain’t too many scary fucks who like dogs an’ the dogs like ‘em back.”

“There a point to this?”

Rickard remained silent, thoughtful as he finished polishing the sword and put it in the krust acid, stayed that way for much longer as he waited for the etching to take and took it out, cleaned it, and started fitting the handle. “The point, Daud,” He said eventually, “is tha’ you’ll be good fer each other. He’s… No’ a man who likes to be alone, I don’ think. Needs someone tae guard. An’ you need someone to remind you that you ain’t some Void-awful piece of shit, that you’ve done good helpin’ us all out - helpin’ him out an’ I know it’s 'cause you’re guilty, no need tae remind me, but I don’ think someone not you would do it, an’ he likes you fer it. Ain't tha' many folks who'd turn on their heel like tha' when they kno' thye've done wrong, but you did; if Corvo's got any sense he'll respect tha'. We all will.”

He took the sword back to the grinder, started shaping the handle and smoothing it out while Daud stayed quiet, watching him work; treated the wooden handle so it gleamed, dark and beautiful. Sharpened it, murmuring to himself as he thought, and when it was finished offered it to Daud. Said, “Ye’re a good man, Daud. Better tae learn to be good than do no wrong - Corvo’ll love you fer tha’, I kno’ it.”

Chapter Text

He gave it a week before he called Corvo to his office, the sword safe in his chest at the foot of his bed, next to a letter from Billie Anatole had delivered that he'd not been willing to read. Mostly because he wanted to give that time to Emily and Corvo, let her settle down a bit in her rooms next to Corvo’s, give her the space to get used to him, sharing his table with Corvo during meals; careful as she padded into his office with Corvo loyal hound at her side, holding his fur and asking why, why kill her mother. He always annoyed her with the answer, To protect his Whalers, because he knew she was looking for an answer that would let her hate him, but it was an answer he didn’t have because the gold had only ever been to feed them, to protect them with bribes to the Watch and a steady supply of elixir because they didn’t have quite the same resistances he had. She always turned away, came back to re-word the question like she was just trying to find the right combination that would make him tell her something different.

It was for Corvo, too, to get him used to giving Emily up to Misha in the mornings for lessons, walking her to and from the makeshift classrooms she’d set up before he joined Daud in their space on the roof of his office, borrowed blade in hand and a handsome grin on his mouth, eager for another fight. He didn't mind taking a whole line of children with him, all of them used to making new friends out of the new recruits Daud brought home - following Corvo like ducklings as they asked Emily about anything and everything that took a child's fancy - but he minded a lot more when he had to let go of her hand, Emily clinging to his fingers because she still wasn't quite so used to the older Whalers as she was the young ones.

But it was also partly because Daud needed the time to think, to wonder if he really was going to try it with Corvo; to decide, yes, Corvo was the only person at this point who was charitable enough to overlook that Daud wasn’t handsome, sensible, or particularly stable, and that they’d be a good enough match because at least they understood grief and hurt and old wounds that stung in the rain; at least they had seen some of the worst parts of each other, so from there they could only go up. To remember that he wasn’t the kind of man who found ever themselves as poetic as when he found Corvo staring across the water - made small and unhappy by the weight of his missing Jessamine in his heart, stood in the cold rain because he was in one of his rare sombre moods and didn’t care that he was chilled to the bone - and that it said a lot of terrible things about his heart that he did find himself poetic, tugging Corvo beneath the shelter of an overhang and lighting a cigarette for them to share.

A week, before he decided that he’d regret losing the chance to know, to know if Corvo was willing to try to love him, more than he would any hurt feelings, any sneer twisting Corvo’s thin-lipped mouth as he snarled that he wasn’t one of them.

He stared down at the sword a moment, gleaming cold on his desk. Gritted his teeth because could he really?, and moved to his balcony to summon Corvo; power burning across the back of his hand, feathers beneath his palm and a heart beating against his fingers. Hello Knife, Said Corvo, leaning his hip against the makeshift railing, arms crossed across his chest. Need something?

Corvo was looking a little older than his years - a touch of silver just starting to show in his beard. He'd look noble, first, and then just sad when he was more silver than black-brown and couldn't go lighter than that. “Got something for you,” Daud said, took Corvo to his desk and handed over the sword, gleaming dark as a sea storm and as beautiful as Corvo when he, eyes gone wide and delighted, slashed it through the air; the blade quick and elegant and every bit as lethal as Corvo in the training ring, never afraid to strike as hard as he liked because he trusted Daud to know how to take the hit and make sure their swords were safe enough for that. “Rickard’s work. Do you like it?”

Beautiful, Said Corvo, turning it so the light danced across the flat of the blade, burning coldly down the razor edge. He turned it with a laugh in the wrinkles around his eyes. Still no fuller.

“Rickard hates them,” Daud told him. “Don’t ask me why - said something about people calling them ‘Blood Grooves’ annoying him so he stopped adding them.”

Corvo turned back to the sword. Beautiful, He said again. Serkonan pattern welded steel; always makes the most beautiful swords, you know. And the toughest. Used to be common for Serkonan knights to have Serkonan steel double-edged leaf blades. Well, He smiled, The good ones, anway. They didn’t waste good swords on idiots. He examined the handle, the way it fit in his hand, balanced perfectly for Corvo to leap and slash, the weight taken from the blade making it terrible for heavy hitting but excellent for Corvo to recover quickly. It’s perfect, he said, flipping it one-handed and easily catching the hilt, cutting through the air again, bringing it up across his chest in a guard. Changed his grip so the bolster was against his littlest finger, edge-out, and miming cutting across a throat. Thank you.

Daud leaned against his desk, coughed a little. “It’s nothing,” He said. Ran his hands through his hair until he noticed Corvo watching, a soft, amused twist at the corner of his mouth, and stopped. “Rickard made it for a reason - I’ve decided to go after Burrows tomorrow,” Daud told him, watched Corvo’s face go still, smoothed over like ice. “It’s… I’m not going to pretend I know how you feel about him,” He said, watched Corvo’s jaw clench, all of his soft heart buried underneath anger dull and rusted like an unused blade. “I don’t. That’s up to you, if you want me to know or not.”

Corvo bared his teeth, hissing a little.

I hate him, Said Corvo, looking away across the floor. I fucking hate him, alright? More than I ever hated you. Why else did I turn into a rat when you came to get me? I don’t break the knives when I can smash the teeth in of the people that use them. He took the belt Daud handed him, fit it around his waist and slid the blade into the scabbard so oddly plain against the beautiful sword it held.

He nodded, because he’d worked that much out for himself. “I know; he’s the head rat of this fuck ugly king of rats, and he loves it,” Daud said, watched Corvo play with the hilt in agitation; half-drawing it and then sheathing it again, restless like the flex of a cat's claws. “He liked to torture you, didn’t he? He always said it was his favourite part of the job. But I know what it’s like to be tortured by someone who gets off on that pain-” He lifted his sleeves, showed Corvo the ancient scars ripped across his arms from so long ago when the Pits Master thought Daud was some dog who wouldn’t bite back to a kick, “-too much to not know how far his rot goes. I asked Rickard to make you the sword because it’s up to you how you want to deal with him. If killing him is something you think you've got to do, then I won't stop you.”

Corvo stayed silent a moment; let out a long, slow breath and leaned against the desk with him. I don’t know what I want to do, He said, looking down at his hands.

“It’s your choice,” Daud told him, because he was only the hired help - if Corvo wanted Burrows shoved into a crate and put to work in Tyvia's northernmost quarries then he’d arrange it no questions asked. “There’s always your blade if you think that’s the right thing to do. I won’t blame you for that. But if you don’t want to kill him then Finn has said we can use the broadcasting tower, see if we can’t ruin him that way. It’s up to you,” Said Daud again.

Corvo smiled, small and sad as he touched the locket beneath his shirt, fingers edging around the hard lump of it. What I wouldn’t give to go a year back, He said.

“You and me both.”

They watched the clouds, heavy and fat with rain, for a long while. Corvo was warm along his side, leaning against him and for a moment Daud wondered if he really could turn his head and kiss that thin, pale-pinkish mouth; break apart their too-new friendship of shared pain and humour and grief, their friendship of blood and loss and realising too late that both of them weren’t young anymore, had children and families they loved and couldn’t just leave when the ropes keeping them tied down were too many, too tight.

But he was a selfish bastard, kept looking and looking, admiring the cold light on Corvo’s face, the lovely-harsh angles, the creepy eyes with just enough whites to prove it wasn’t the Outsider messing with him in an unusually realistic dream, the scruff of his beard and the mess of his hair, scars bright and awful on his pretty skin. He looked, and Corvo noticed, of course he did; the corner of his mouth lifting but not a smile.

This isn’t just a sword, is it?

Daud thought about lying, though he forgot it just as quickly. Lying to Corvo was a bad fucking idea, almost as bad as killing Jessamine had been; there was trust between them, enough that Corvo had been willing to sleep on Tynan’s ship as they crawled back to base, leaving Emily awake in the small hollow Corvo’s wolfhound’s body left for her, but not enough that Daud could lie about something that maybe wasn't as big as their efforts against Burrows but was still plenty big enough that lying about it wasn't nothing. Corvo didn't seem like the kind of man to take lies well, not from people he trusted to keep an eye on his daughter while he had a nap, nudging his wolfhound's head into Daud's palm when he passed him by to talk to Tynan and gave him a pat.

So Daud kissed him, just the once, and leaned back to give Corvo the space to look quietly stunned, like he’d expected the sword to be a gift bigger than just Daud giving him a choice in a world that didn’t give him choices, but hadn’t quite thought it would include that. Oh, Said Corvo, and Daud squashed a hysterical laugh at how utterly shocked he looked. Oh.

“Don’t worry about it,” Said Daud, not really upset that Corvo wasn’t kissing him back. ”Just thought you had the right to know. I’ve been trying to change - you know that,” He said, and Corvo nodded so it was nice to see that Daud’s effort hadn’t gone unnoticed, “But I’m a selfish dick, and you’re one of the most handsome men I’ve ever met. Strange,” Daud allowed, “But anyone with eyes can see you’re beautiful.”

Never been told I was beautiful before, Said Corvo, and looked to the hilt of his new sword. I’m guessing this is you fucking up the traditional courting gifts and forgetting you’re meant to give me hideously decorative sweets first. He kicked his heels a little, hands folding across his knees, unfolding just to talk. It’s not that I don’t want you, Said Corvo, and his hand settled warm on top of Daud’s, their Marks a faint heartbeat where they overlapped, the rhythms coming into something close to sync. Just… Not yet, alright? I don’t want to tonight, not with Burrows still out there. I will- His hand squeezed -I will want to. I really do want to try, if you think we can hide it from the Abbey, but… Ask again when Burrows is gone.

It was the easiest thing to nod when Corvo looked to him, because Daud wasn’t enough of an idiot to think it was Corvo outright saying no. It was not yet, it was, please wait, not a no, and that was good enough for Daud. It was better to know it was in his future, that possibility of standing beside Corvo as they watched the Whalers starting to fall more and more in love with Corvo’s daughter, taking her on as one of them as they always did with new kids Daud brought home; just another little sister to play with, only one they had to protect a lot more because she didn’t know how to fight or climb or sneak around like they did, the empire's crown a massive target on her back when Daud and Corvo could finally give it to her.

Chapter Text

Corvo was fully human as they rounded the Tower, settling in its shadow near the waterlock because Burrows was suspecting something, or finally starting to realise that rats they may have been but the poorer people beneath his boot were as many as and were starting to get very, very angry at him, and had closed off the actual entrances. Mostly an uneventful trip, though Daud did have to go find and then drag Corvo back to the boat after he thought finding a nearby bin and eating old tins of food was a good idea. In full view of the guard at the mouth of the alley, too, if the man'd turned around - Corvo'd been perched, still human, on the lip of the bin exactly as he did when he was a bird.

They left Tynan with his new, quieter ship - under orders to run if the guards happened to catch sight of him, and never mind the rest of them - and it was an easy climb up the inside of the waterlock. He sent a few of the novices to collect the bonecharms hissing at the edges of his hearing, and two to go far ahead of them to scout out the path and look for the rune rumbling from halfway across the yard. Further up, through a room with an arc pylon easy enough to deactivate, up the stairs to the roof, and an even easier Transverse to the unguarded roof Daud had sat on, waiting for a clear shot to the empress and mourning her as she was put to rest.

The security was definitely tighter - up to and including Tallboys , and that was just unnecessary at this point, people without magic would have found it impossible to even climb the damn waterlock, let alone reach the entrance to the Tower across the yard. They waited a little while for Pick and Jenkins to come back, and Daud waved for Corvo to take the rune - he didn’t need it.

“I think,” Said Pick, taking off a glove to scratch beneath her mask, “I saw a way into the Tower. There’s a ledge that goes around the walls, and there might be an open vent or something - maybe big enough for us to climb through, I don't know. Didn't see it that clearly. The watchtower-” She pointed to it, “-is the quickest way to it, I think.”

Daud looked to Corvo, who shrugged and nodded. “Good work - Transverse one by one, and only when it’s in range. I don’t want to have to summon you after you’ve alerted every guard down there if you fall.” He made the leap easy enough, though Corvo fell a little short of landing true on the platform and Daud had to help him up from where he’d slammed into the edge, and the Whalers all followed, finding space on the tiny platform and the floodlight and the huge, rumbling engine. He stretched out his magic, found it was another easy leap and said, “Follow,” As he Transversed.

Pick, the last to appear, pointed out the vent so Daud ducked down inside it and crawled through, hating the narrow squeeze of it and hating even more Corvo as a dark-furred rat trotting jauntily across the back of his hand to lead the way, bald tail waving from side to side as he came out into the light first.

Daud turned his attention from whatever was happening below - he didn’t think he’d need to pay attention and if he did then Thomas was doing it for him, peering over the lip to stare. What now? He asked, because he’d feel better with a more definite plan than ‘find Burrows’ and ‘leave it to Corvo if he wants to kill or not’. He tilted his head, listening. There’s a bonecharm and a rune if you want them first.

Corvo sat back on his heels, rubbing his hair. I know where the bonecharm is, He said. Jess asked Sokolov to make a secret room for her - a study. We’d drink whiskey together in it sometimes. You won’t know how to get inside.

Send Pick for the rune?

Yes, Corvo nodded, Pick for the rune, and… His bedroom is the top floor, there - He pointed to it - Get rid of the guards. The maids won’t be around now, I don’t think - use the servant’s hallways to hide them in, if you have to. I don’t want anyone to know we’re here until we’ve found something to use on the broadcasting tower.

Ah, so he was going to ruin Burrows utterly and completely through the good old tactic of publicly releasing classified and incriminating information. Daud nodded at him and waved for the Whalers to start work, told them, Meet at that balcony when you’re done, and followed as Corvo led the way; a Transverse up to the chandeliers overhead, a leap to the hallway and back up to another chandelier, and they followed the corridor, just out of sight of the patrolling Overseers. Corvo stopped near an empty fireplace, turned the gaslamp on the wall and looked utterly unsurprised when it opened. Stay up there. Please, He said, so Daud did, and watched Corvo duck through, the fireplace closing behind him.

-:-

Daud pretended not to listen to the audiograph playing just behind the entrance of the fireplace, rubbing his aching chest like it was only the cold in the hallways making it hurt like that, and waited for Corvo to show from his place on top of the chandelier. But it was so hard to not hear it, even with distance and stone between them, that he didn’t try; just let it wash across him, because the words weren’t meant for him and he was hearing by accident, yes, but that didn’t mean he would pay attention.

It was still impossible not to hear; to ignore Jessamine’s fear, the terror she’d felt of the plague still ripping through her city, her love for her child, her Corvo when even in the privacy of an audiograph, meant only for her daughter’s ears who surely had to know what Corvo was to her, she didn’t outright call him a father. Couldn’t not hear the crack in her voice, the guilt that she might have wasted so much precious time with her only child tending to an empire. Not to hear her wonder if maybe she’d failed her daughter somehow, if she’d been too distant, too far apart, if she’d made Emily wonder if maybe her mother didn’t really love her if she spent so much time away from her, making Corvo the parent in her stead. The unhappiness that the thought caused her.

He pretended not to listen, even with Thomas and Rulfio and Finn bowing their heads to her at his side.

Corvo was in the room for long after the audiograph finished, Jessamine’s voice fading away, but he seemed calm when he came out from the fireplace. But then he was a crow, wheezing a little from the ash as he fluttered up to the light and managed to wrench it back into rest, the stone panel grating back into place to hide Jessamine’s secret room, and it was impossible to read a bird’s face. Whatever it was he was feeling, whatever hurts Daud suspected were reopened on his heart, when he slid back into human shape it didn’t stop him from reaching for Daud’s hand and pointing to the other chandeliers that would take them back to the entranceway, his face calm and placid and everything smoothed out into his Work Face, horrifyingly unmoving.

They Transversed, always careful to be out of sight of the Overseer patrolling below them just in case he started playing the music box. Void help them if Corvo was caught in its awful song - it was bad enough with the Mark gifted to him, Daud didn’t want to think about what would happen to a man born to the Void singing softly in his blood, one with magic as innate and as much a part of him as his darker skin, his distinctly Serkonan shaped eyes. Or maybe Corvo could turn into a wolfhound and he would be fine with the music boxes blasted at him, hiding his lack of voice in the shouts of the other hounds and pretending to bark at a figure not there down the hall, leading the Overseers away to chase invisible targets.

Best not to take that chance; up to the chandeliers hung high above them, on a level with the top floors where Burrows’ rooms were, and they waited for Burrows to appear.

It took a long while for him to finish his paranoid inspection of the security, but finally he was there, ambling around his room for a few minutes then simply standing, staring at the fire. Corvo Transversed to the balcony, hiding behind the wall, so Daud called the others to follow and joined him; watched Corvo point Rulfio to the door. Lock, He said, and Rulfio carefully slipped inside while more Whalers, jobs done, joined them on the balcony, taking up hidden positions around the room when Corvo directed them to.

Daud nodded when they looked to him, because they were only black-coated novices and they’d done well sweeping through the top floor for any guards that might happen to come across them, might hear Burrows shout for them. He was proud enough of them to ignore the way some of them touched his arm, bouncing a little on each step because they knew he was proud of them, when they passed him by.

Rulfio, finished edging around the room, locked the door with a snick loud enough to get Burrows’ attention. “You!” He said, “You’re one of Daud’s men! What on earth are you doing here?” He demanded, then seemed to notice the rest of the Whalers, watching him as deathly still as pandyssian jungle cats, swords out and gleaming like teeth in the light of the fire. “I’ve not called for your master - go!”

He turned to each them, startled at the sight of Corvo - but, then, Corvo had transversed bright and obvious into the middle of the room; forming out of the Void, sword gleaming long and lethal from his hand.

Morning Mole-rat, Said Corvo with a too-friendly grin, all whale’s teeth in his jaw and exaggerated angles and bone, as inhuman as the old stories of the witches of the deep, singing to the monsters of the deeper seas where only the oldest, strongest whales hunted. Hope you don’t mind I invited myself in - my dear Daud’s been very good at helping me get this far.

“Guards!” Burrows called - louder when the hallways outside remained quiet. “GUARDS!”

Corvo twirled the sword, an idle flourish. No guards, He said. No Overseers, either. No torturer to stick burning iron in my skin or hot pokers in my mouth when I nearly killed you last time. Just us, and my dear Daud, and our Whalers. Sit, He said, gesturing to the chair he used Pull to drag out from behind the desk. We’ve got a lot to talk about, you and me.

Burrows huffed, puffing out as he stood straighter and turned his nose up at Corvo, smoothing down his jacket. “I hardly think a criminal has the authority to order me around!” He sniffed, circled Corvo like he thought he was imposing, like Corvo hadn’t made himself taller, stretching out bone and sinew because the pain was worth less than making Burrows so obviously uncomfortable. “And I hardly think you’ve got the coin to make dear Daud’s time worth it - what has he offered you, hmm? I’ll double it - triple it!”

Think? Said Corvo, a laugh in the twist of his mouth. What do you think is going to happen, Mole-rat? I’m the one with the sword here, not you. I’m the one with men here, not you. He grinned nastily. Daud was the one to offer their help, you know - free of charge - to get my daughter safe. They answer to me, not you. Sit. Down.

Burrows sat, hands neatly folded in his lap; nonchalant like Corvo’s too-black eyes, keen as a hunting wolf’s, hadn’t already seen the shake in them. When Burrows looked to Daud he leaned his hip more comfortably against the edge of the desk, arms crossed across his chest; raised a brow, because if Burrows expected help from him then he was a bigger fool than they all thought, and Burrows must have finally understood that it wasn’t Daud’s place to intervene one way or the other because he turned his attention back to Corvo, sneering.

“A mute threatening me in my own home - out with it then! What do you want? If it’s about where the missing empress is then I don’t know where she is; she’s gone - probably dead by now.”

Corvo’s grin went wide, still idly flourishing his sword. I’m not here for her. She’s already safe with me. He studied the blade while he walked, pausing the gestures in his hands when he knew Burrows couldn’t read them as he circled. You hate that my blood is as strong as it is in her, don’t you? Common born like me, a dirty fucking rat from Karnaca? What right do I have to make a child with an empress I loved more than anything else in the world? But she’s mine - I know you suspected, He added, and Burrows sat back down, chin ducked to his chest. She might not know how to turn into living things like I can, Said Corvo, and there was something proud to him now, the awful gleam of his smile softened a little, But she’s strong. She’s got a rare power; saw what’s going to happen to you - what’s happened to Campbell already.

Burrows eyed Corvo warily when his stomach growled; went white with terror when Corvo blurred across the room, fur and feather and white, gleaming bone; snatching up a rat and crunched down through its head sweet Void Daud had kissed that mouth! Corvo continued to eat, licking the blood from his pointed teeth - swallowed fur and all, as casually as he did everything else he ate so bloody hell, he was used to it!

Well, Daud supposed while the Whalers all looked away, delicate Pick probably a crunch or two away from vomiting into her mask, it was certainly effective. And probably couldn’t do Corvo any harm considering the things he pulled from bins and declared edible just this evening - it was just hard to remember sometimes that he wasn’t a normal person, that the Void singing in his blood wasn’t just the Mark black and bright on his hand; glowing warmly as that song sang for the both of them when Daud held his own out and Corvo took it, delighted at the look on Burrows’ face as he rubbed his thumb across Daud’s knuckles. He’d have to wash his mouth out with brandy before Daud would ever kiss him again, but at least it was effective at making Burrows sway dangerously in his seat, mouth pressed tight against sickness.

Corvo sat on his heels in front of Burrows, blade across his knees to free up his hands to speak again. Daud gave me this sword, He said, Said it was my choice to kill you or not. But I won’t - it’s too nice for that, don’t you think? The pattern’s too beautiful to be hidden under your blood. So here’s what’s going to happen, Mole-rat. You’re going to give us the combination to that safe. You’re going to keep that door locked, and let yourself be arrested when the Watch breaks through, and if you’re ever let out of Coldridge and you come near my daughter again I’ll cut you nipple to nuts and throw you to the rats myself. Deal?

Burrows stared at him for a long while, surprise in the bright whites of his eyes. Had he not known that Corvo was utterly terrifying? Had he not guessed that after everything Corvo was, made of wolfhounds and Pandyssian cats and too-clever crows, a violent life since a childhood on the streets fighting over food he could eat and shelters safe from the hungry bloodflies and the choking dust, that he would know the best way to make a point with his kill? It wasn’t an empty threat, they all knew it.

Daud wondered if he should pity Burrows - it could so easily have been Daud there in that chair, pinned by Corvo’s blade-sharp gaze as he was told exactly how Corvo could and would kill him, if he was forced to. Burrows rubbed his throat, the distinctive tearing bite of a wolfhound bright and angry beneath his fingers.

“Nine three five,” Said Burrows, looking away.

Corvo nodded, once, even though Burrows couldn’t see it - wouldn’t see it, wasn’t willing to see the satisfaction curving Corvo’s mouth, not smug but something close, something black with vicious delight as he called for Daud and the Whalers to transverse with him back to the broadcasting tower, the little audiograph in Thomas’ hand shoved into the reader and Burrows’ sins blaring across the city.

Chapter Text

Corvo rode into his office on Emily’s shoulders, a crow gently preening her hair while, with a familiar stubborn moue, she took her bundle of paper and pencils over to the middle of the room, dumped them on the floor with a cushion to sit down on, and started to draw while Corvo hopped to a space opposite her; melting into human shape to draw with her too.

Daud didn’t know if she expected him to object - her glances at him said that maybe she did - but he didn’t much care. If he could handle Rulfio drunkenly singing and giggling to himself while Thomas tried to heave him to his feet and take him to his room, then he could handle a little empress quietly drawing with her dad. “More paper here if you need it,” He told her, setting a stack down on the corner of his desk and turning back to looking through his reports.

The city was in uproar. He’d expected it, of course - there was no way Burrows literally murdering half the population was going to go down well - but he’d not expected the riots, or for those riots to be against everything from the poor fucks of the Watch patrolling the abandoned districts outside his base to the nobility high and dry across the city. But he thought his Whalers had handled the worst of it, because as much as he hated them Dunwall did need the aristocracy and the gentry, or else all the factories were going to go tumbling down and Dunwall would lose everything. As it stood no serious harm had been done, and at least they’d been frightened by the workers, realised just how much true power the people held when they gathered in numbers big enough a bribe or two wouldn’t quiet them.

A few more reports said that Burrows was in interrogation, and that while his audiograph shared the gist of his plans it didn’t share everything, that he was going to ship the rats all across the isles once Dunwall was cleaned. Daud supposed it was probably for the best his plan had failed; at least it was only one city hurt by his stupidity - not even the whole of Gristol, just Dunwall - and not the entire empire.

They’d need to move quickly, though, to get Emily in place to take the throne. The Watch, because they’d been just as angry as the common people and they all knew it, and were clever enough to use that, were getting things under control quickly and if Daud didn’t move fast then the nobles might get a regent on the throne before they could bring Emily out of hiding, and that just made things infinitely more annoying.

He scrawled out a note for Thorpe. While his family name was diminished a little from what it had been when he came to the Whalers it was still a family name, respectable enough because his father loved his son enough to keep his alliances secret. If Thorpe came forward and said that he’d found little Emily and taken care of her without knowing who she was - Thorpe was well known enough to be a recluse that no one would question the fact he didn’t know - and that she was willing to come forward to take her mother’s throne the nobles would eat it up. They always loved a nice, romantic little story.

Hmm… No; he scratched it out and wrote a different one.

It was important to get most of the facts true, clear Corvo’s name. Thorpe had found Corvo, first, and took him in without knowing that he was the disgraced Lord Protector, simply thought Corvo was… what, a man looking for his lost daughter? No, too close to the truth. Jessamine and Corvo had done a terrible job pretending Emily wasn’t Corvo’s by blood, true, but they’d still tried to keep it quiet and Daud would keep that going. Corvo was a guardian looking for a friend’s daughter, that was better. A man looking for a friend’s daughter, and so Thorpe let him stay in his house, gave him food and shelter and the same for Emily when Corvo found her, and with Burrows arrested Corvo had been willing to tell the truth about who he and Emily was and how they both wanted to put things to rights, return the throne to its rightful owner.

Yes, that was good; he summoned Anatole and gave her the note. “For Thorpe,” He said, and she nodded and dashed off.

“Here, Corvo, what do you think of this one?” Asked Emily, holding up her drawing for Corvo to see. It looked somewhere between a whale and a sea serpent and an enormous dragon, long and snake-like with a whale’s barbels on its jaw and stubby little legs and enormous wings rising from its back like the sails of the wooden ships of old. “He’s twenty times the size of the blue whale and sleeps on the bottom of the sea, only he’s been asleep a very long time because he ate a Tyvian battalion once and they take a long time to digest.”

Corvo peered close, gave the drawing its due attention. It’s very good, He told her. Nice and scary. What about mine? He asked when he handed it over.

“It’s terrible!” Shouted Emily, and while Corvo couldn’t laugh the beaming grin on his face said he would if he could. “What is it?”

At this point, Said Corvo, taking it back. I don’t know, and I’m too afraid to find out.

Daud looked away from them, back to his reports that were a slog to through but someone had to do them. Idly looked at a few jobs and burned the ones that asked him to murder people. The others, mostly simple thefts and finding blackmail on someone or other before the someone or other could find blackmail material on them first, he set aside for Bertram to take down to the notice board in the mess hall.

The one good thing about being so well known was that they didn’t have to take every job that came their way, desperately trying to make just enough money to keep alive. They could afford to miss the ones that weren’t good enough, or that Daud had lost the stomach to do.

“Evening sir, Corvo,” Said Rulfio, stepping through the door. “Nothing interesting to report - no Overseers or Watch on our doorstep for now. Had a scrape with some poor sod desperate enough to try to catch you for the reward, but we knocked him out and delivered him to his wife telling her to hit him if he tried it again because we wouldn’t be as nice about it and hello, little miss empress, that’s an excellent drawing!”

“You think?” Asked Emily, turning it around so Rulfio wouldn’t have to crane his neck at an awkward angle, looking like a drunkenly curious owl. “Corvo likes it.”

“Didn’t peg him as a connoisseur,” He told her, smiling; knelt down to join her, mask abandoned by his knees and Corvo and Jessamine had done a good job with her; Emily didn’t even blink at the sight of the awful burns covering half of Rulfio’s face, taking most of his shock of gingery hair and one eye with it. “Good use of abstract impressionism to get across the sense of scale and agelessness. Really good colour balance here, nice use of scribbled purple to make it look the patchy kind of old, and angry with the yellow eyes.” He picked it up, turned it into the light to admire it some more. “You should show Yuri - been complaining he’s got a bit of art block lately. Might cheer him up a bit.”

“If you could focus?”

Rulfio waved Daud away as he stood, gallant as he pulled Emily to her feet. “Focus shmocus,” He said. “Already told you it’s dull as floodwater outside. Mind if I borrow your kid, Corvo?”

Corvo tipped his head, shooing them away. Both Emily and Rulfio beamed at him, dashing away because ten years her senior Rulfio may have been but he was just as much a child as she was when the mood took him. The mood always took him, when Thomas wasn’t around to temper him.

He shook his head, pushed away his reports because it was getting late and he was too bored of them to continue; watched Corvo lean against his desk, smiling fondly. And here I worried Emily’d be frightened of them. Fits right in, doesn’t she? He turned to the open roof, admiring the rain starting to come down from the dark clouds. They’ll take care of her, won’t they?

“At this point you’d have to kill them to stop it.”

Corvo huffed, nodding. Crossed his legs at the ankle, all of him a long line of easy strength, skinny and lean and wiry, Serkonos’ harsh streets written into his face even two decades removed from them. Damn handsome fucker - he must have known how good he looked against the dark grey light of the rain, elegant as his wolfhound’s form when he tilted his head, asked, Thought any more about it? Us, I mean?

Void, what a question to ask. Had he thought any more about it? Of course he had! “That implies I’ve stopped,” Daud told him delicately, enjoying the amusement warm in Corvo’s face.

My poor dear, Said Corvo, a mocking twist to his signs. Who’s had to wait so long. Come on, answer.

“Thought I already did,” Daud told him, leaning back in his chair, a bit more when Corvo rounded the desk because Corvo was very naturally tall and otherwise Daud wouldn’t get to see his face, which would be a damn shame. “Yes, bodyguard, I’ve thought about it. Even knowing you’re a scary fuck that eats rats, I want to have sex with you, Void knows why. If you’ve changed your mind about it-” Daud shrugged, “-tell me now, or lean down and kiss me.”

Could make you wait a bit longer, Said Corvo, sitting on the desk, legs idly crossed at the ankles between Daud’s knees. Not Emily’s bedtime yet - she might come back and catch us, and I’m not going to be caught dead having sex with you when she never caught me and Jessamine. He nudged his foot to Daud’s, pink socks absolutely out of place against his Whalers uniform and Daud’s tough old boot. Got a streak going - not breaking that just for you. Might have to use my Mark to summon you to my room later.

“Or,” Daud told him, hooking his hands around the backs of Corvo’s knees and he knew Corvo knew what Daud was going to do, and it was probably only because he trusted himself to be right and Daud not to hurt him that he let it happen; catching himself against the edge of the desk to stop his back smacking into it when Daud yanked him down, folding Corvo up so he wasn't quite so tall, “I can do this,” And kissed him.

Corvo kissed softly, smiling into it when Daud put hands to his ribs, felt the long lines of his back. Curled his own hands into Daud's jacket, neck at awkward angle; little breaths of voiceless laughter as he unfolded himself enough to sit on Daud's lap without stopping the kiss and being absolutely terrible and graceless doing it.

Oh, he was wonderful - slow and sweet as summer tides, turning his head against Daud's palm when he threaded it through Corvo's wavy hair, the weight and feel of him nice to hold and the press of his smiling mouth even nicer because he laughed at himself; at the both of them when they knocked noses and chins, the catch of Corvo's always-pointed fang a sting of pain on his lip making him bang Corvo's elbow against the edge of the desk. Daud hadn't had many partners who were willing to laugh at him when be did something stupid.

But Corvo broke it too soon; stood up with his hand burning hot on Daud’s, Marks glowing softly for each other. Come on, Said Corvo, tugging a little. Come on, my room. Desk sex is all fun and games until you get ink stains on your dick, and I don’t want to try that again.

Daud let Corvo tug him to his feet, dragging him along to Corvo’s rooms nearby. “Again?” Asked Daud while Corvo put his shoulder to his door and shoved it open, shoving it closed the same way and putting a chair beneath the handle.

Jessamine had odd tastes, Said Corvo, in between taking off his jacket and his belts and hanging them on hooks by the door. She was allowed to go shopping sometimes, as long as I was with her. She found this… His hands faltered, trying to find the words, Sex shop. Wanted to try fucking me for a change. First time… didn’t go well, let’s say.

“I don’t want to know.”

You do, Said Corvo, taking off the rest of his clothes and folding them neatly on the floor, on top of a pile of other neatly folded clothes. You really do. She used to read all these dirty books with me and they’re terrible, they were the worst things I’ve ever had to listen to, but she loved them. And she really loved this one book where a woman fucked a man, and the guy who wrote it has obviously never had that sex with anyone because it left Jessamine a bit… optimistic about my ability to take a dick as long as my forearm.

No, no, Daud never wanted to think about that - didn’t want to imagine, he was horrified enough already as he dropped his clothes in a pile on the floor, boots shoved next to Corvo’s. “Did she really?” He asked faintly, shuffling over in the narrow bed to make room for Corvo to slip in beside him, covered in hair and scars and wiry muscle, leaning against Daud’s hand when he put a palm to Corvo’s chest, loving the feel of it.

Corvo nodded, then wobbled his head from side to side. Well, He allowed. It wasn’t that long. Still too big, though. It got... stuck. Sokolov wasn't exactly happy when Jessamine got him to help. She'd bought a small one too, though, so it wasn't like it was a complete waste of time. Corvo mimed the size of the smaller one, which Daud thought was maybe a bit too small but, then, it hadn't been his ass it had been going in, and he wasn't exactly a big enough fan of that kind of sex to find out if a smaller dick was something he'd like. It was a lot more fun for both of us until she thought desk sex was a good idea, which is good in theory but in practice meant she’d forgotten she’d left an open inkwell on the desk that I knocked over, and. Well, you know. Took a week to wash off. And I nearly have myself a heart attack when I got up in the middle of the night for a piss - don't ask how, just know that it was black.

Daud kissed him, mostly because he didn’t want any more horrible stories of Jessamine trying to reenact her terrible porn books but also because Corvo was good at kissing, not spectacular but good - lovely when he rolled to his back and pulled Daud half on top of him. Unexpectedly sweet when he rubbed his hands down Daud’s arms, squeezing like he was admiring their bulk; kissing the tip of the scar that nearly took his eye, nosing his cheek with an urgent sigh when Daud fit his palm to Corvo’s dick and gave a careful squeeze, trying to find what he liked, what he didn’t with Corvo’s hands mostly trapped between them, unable to make signs when they kneaded into Daud’s chest like an affectionate cat.

Maybe it was better to leave a bit of space for Corvo to speak; just in case he wanted something, or needed something to stop. Daud shifted back a little, leaned on his arm. Shivered a little in the cold it left, but Corvo had a mountain of blankets and had made something almost like a bird’s nest for himself, so it wasn’t too cold, especially not with Corvo arching up on a shivery gasp, lifting his leg with an impatient scowl and a nod at the vial on the bedside table. Come on then, He said, Gone this far.

“You sure? I don’t care either way,” Daud told him, because he really didn’t - mostly just liked kissing Corvo, feeling along the strong bones of his ribs, his hips, watching him twitch into Daud’s hold that was gentle because Corvo seemed to like gentle, thumb to the head of his cock. It was more than good enough for him to have Corvo’s hand on his dick, fingers clever as they wrapped around, sure as his grip on the hilt of his gifted sword; running his thumb along the underside the way he always checked the edge of a blade.

Y E S, Said Corvo, spelling it out and letting his arm fall across his eyes, Now, before I kick you out of bed.

Daud took the oil, clear and slippery on his fingers, and watched Corvo flinch a little at the cold touch. “You always this demanding?” He twisted his fingers a little, trying to find the space that would actually let Corvo enjoy himself, instead of put up with it with an annoyed sigh. “There,” He said; finding it and watching Corvo twitch, hands squeezing and pulling at the blankets piled up beneath and around them.

Just get on with it, Said Corvo, rolling to his side and reaching back, pulling on Daud’s arm and at this point it was easier to go with it, pressing himself flat to Corvo’s back and pushing inside in a long, fantastic glide; fucking him, slow because of the strange angle, when Corvo tapped his hips back impatiently. Corvo was good; affectionate as Daud’s partners were never affectionate, fingers knitted together over Corvo's stomach and the slow pulse of magic glowing gold from their Marked hands keeping time.

Daud squeezed him close, too little room to move because Corvo was burning hot, tipping his head back to rub his skull against Daud’s head when he nosed into the back of his neck, put his mouth on him in a kiss and kept it there because Corvo was lovely and Daud was an idiot for never looking for him during a Fugue, asking Jessamine if maybe she’d let him borrow Corvo, would share; Corvo trapped between them, utterly wrecked as Daud fucked him from above and Jessamine fucked from below, the curve of her mouth on Corvo’s leaping pulse, or maybe kissing Daud just to make Corvo whine.

But the slow pace didn’t suit him, didn’t suit either of them because he wanted slow but not slow, so he pressed Corvo down flat and the angle was better, so much fucking better when the magic changed, speeding up and humming in his bones, the awareness of Corvo in the shining bond coming back to him a faint echo, fur and feathers and want, bright and clear; wolfhound’s teeth to his throat like a claiming bite. Corvo turned over - didn’t like being pressed flat on his front so much, liked much more holding on to Daud, liked Daud biting his lip; the sting of it shivering across the bond in reflected pleasure.

Corvo grabbed the back of his neck and held on, not rising to meet him but easy in the rocking of their bed, headboard beating against the wall in matching thump thump thump to the restless song of their Marks singing together next to Corvo’s head on the pillow, hands locked together and it was the best, absolutely the best way to have sex with Corvo; his eyes shining like the spaces between stars, endless and old as the Void but filled with so much heat when he put his face close to Daud’s, nosing into the join of neck to shoulder and helpless, wonderfully willingly helpless. He couldn't quite help sharp little gasps, couldn't help arching up, pushing back against the hold and nipping with too-sharp teeth when Daud didn't make the space for him to get his hands between, only-. Daud batted him away, put his forehead to Corvo's because close was good, more than good, and got a hand to his dick; got him off quick and rough and graceless because Corvo needed the help, could never come just from Daud fucking him on its own, so he let himself come too, right alongside and a beat before.

He groaned low against Corvo's cheek, working through it because no, he wanted more, just a bit longer. Wanted more of Corvo petting his hair, his shoulders, fingers curled around the bone of his hip in a bruising grip. But their Marks quieted slowly, just a murmur of gold light rippling beneath their skin, when it was over; Corvo easing down with a wince for his strained back and Daud shivering at the shock of cold after the searing-vicious squeeze of Corvo’s body. Eased down too, arms shaking because damn, he’d feel it in the morning - more than Corvo would, his weird magic kept his joints and bones younger than they should be, or so said Ike after a routine check-up of them both when they came back from the Tower.

Daud called up idle power through his Mark, looked to the web tying the two of them to the Whalers, and nodded to himself, satisfied, because the fading song from he and Corvo hadn’t rippled outwards through all the threads. The Whalers would know, of course - one of them was bound to have heard them - but they wouldn’t know, and that was good enough for him. The bond settled after a long while; stopped thrumming like a plucked string long after Corvo got up and moved into the nearby washroom to clean himself up, came back with a rag to politely clean Daud, too, and tossed it to the laundry bin. Curled up under the curve of Daud’s arm.

"Alright," Said Daud, patting his shoulder, "I can hear you thinking - what is it?"

What do you want to do now? And don't ask me, Corvo added, scowling, before Daud could say anything. I'm up for what you want. If you want to go our separate ways, that's fine by me. If you think we can make it work, then I want to try. He settled deeper into Daud's hold, pressing a kiss to the side of his chest. What do you want to do?

Daud stroked his flank, shoulder to narrow hip and fingers itching for a cigarette to put between his lips. Thought about saying no, and leaving with his Whalers for Serkonos - making a living there away from being the Knife of Dunwall, just another pack of thieves on its streets, carving up the Batista District so that one space was theirs. But he'd already made up his mind that he wanted more than just sex from Corvo, wanted to watch him over dinner, over the rim of a glass of whiskey, as he turned into dogs and cats and birds, patient with the young Whalers who wanted to play with him. Wanted to stand with him at Emily's shoulder, paying for the death of her mother with service - dying in it, if it came to that.

So he pulled Corvo closer, pressed a kiss to the short waves of his hair all mussed and splashed over Daud's bicep. Said, "You think I've gone to all this effort just for one fuck? I'm keeping you here for as long as you can put up with me."

Satisfied, Corvo held his hand; mangling the signs just so he wouldn't have to let go. Well, don’t think you’re leaving tonight after that performance, my dear - I'm sure we've got time in the morning for a round or two. He grinned, hooking his ankle over Daud's shin. Rulfio said you were good, but he didn’t say that good.

Daud put his hand over his face with a groan because damn it Rulfio, his sex life was none of his business! “Thought I told him to stop gossipping. Does enough of it with the rest of the Whalers; ‘Caught Thorpe and Yuri going at it in the kitchens and Thorpe’s terrible at blowjobs!’, ‘Leon and Misha shacked up last night, you owe me fifty!’ - he doesn’t stop.”

There was a laugh in the flash of Corvo’s teeth for Daud’s terrible impression. I won’t tell him anything then - promise.

“Good - and if I hear him make one joke about us you’re sleeping on the floor.”

Chapter Text

“So,” Said the Outsider, for once not making Daud traipse through half the damn Void before he showed up - just there, immediately, when Daud blinked around the study ornate enough it probably belonged to the Tower, though not any part of it he’d been in yet. “You finally worked it out.”

“Is my love life really interesting enough for you to interfere?”

The whale, singing silently, drifted past his little island, swooping through the cold of the Void and towards an island far across the howling empty space, glowing warmly like a fire was burning on it, but an island if island had masses of jagged rock and stone jabbing outwards from the plateau, curving over it to make a shelter from the howling winds. The Outsider turned to it, his shadows rippling and flowing, but it was impossible to tell if it was just their usual flowing or if it was showing what the Outsider was feeling like they sometimes did.

"Because of you, Corvo has lived long enough to rescue his daughter, and put her on the empire's throne. His mercy has taught her patience, and kindness; you have taught her that even the worst men are redeemable. She may live to regret learning that lesson," Said the Outsider, amused, "And she might not, with you and Corvo to guide her steps." He stepped close to the edge of the island, where the wooden floor splintered and split apart into the yawning emptiness; looking out across the Void. "Because of you Dunwall has survived the rat plague better than it has in other worlds. Emily will order Sokolov to find the cure, and he will hate it but he will meet with his old rival Piero Joplin, and together they will bring back the people who can be saved and make the end quick for those who can't. Because of you," The Outsider smiled, looking back over his shoulder, "Corvo will be happy, and he will mourn for the rest of his life but he'll not become so bitter or lonely. Together you protect the empress of the golden age of the empire, Emily the Wise."

The Outsider turned back, arms folded languidly. “My dear Corvo,” He said. “I gave him more than a Mark, you know; a heart, molded by my hands to share the secrets of the world with him.” The Outsider tilted his head, watched the whale drift back around from behind the egg island and float to further away in the Void. “The empress always said Corvo was the one man who held her heart.”

That was disgusting, even for the Outsider. He must have been in an especially cruel mood when he thought that was a good idea - more than when he thought tying Corvo’s Mark to his was a good one, because at least their bond was a pleasant reminder they were together now. At least their Marks felt pleasant when they curled up in bed together, had sex. How was holding the creepily not rotting heart of a murdered lover in any way a ‘gift’?

Daud wondered if maybe the Outsider heard his thoughts, the Void repeating them back to him the same way it reflected the real world, or if maybe he was just good at guessing, because the Outsider watched him intently, shadows drawing close.

“She isn’t unwilling,” He told Daud. “They always knew they would never grow old together - one of them was always destined to die first - but to go so soon? She loves him too much to want to be separate for so long. I offered, and she told me that Corvo would find humour in her words becoming so literal.”

Across from them distant shadows took vague shape, maybe other worlds at the edges of Daud’s, maybe just futures not so distinct and certain as the one he stood in, a slightly older Emily dashing, frozen, through the doorway with a grey-muzzled Ryan trotting on her heels. “I gave it to Corvo to let him see into your heart,” The Outsider continued, floating serene and calm as he always did. “I wanted to see what he would do. The empress told him your secrets just as dear Corvo had once told her the secrets of her nobles; it’s why Corvo was so willing to work with you. She saw your guilt and your remorse, and told him.” He tilted his head, watching coldly. “She doesn’t forgive you.”

Daud grunted, “Don’t expect her to,” Because he’d a top tier dick to think he deserved it. He didn’t - he’d be guilty for the rest of his days and no matter how loyally he served Emily, the spymaster’s coat strange on his back here in the Void, showing what he was going to become soon enough, it would always be a black mark against him. He'd made his peace with that.

The whale circled back, or maybe it was a different whale, it was impossible to tell.

“There are worlds where Corvo couldn't look beyond her murder,” Said the Outsider. “Worlds where you freed him and he killed you, burned down the whole of Dunwall looking for his daughter because the world is that much less important than his child. There are worlds where he didn’t want you in his bed, and there are worlds where you never freed him, where he was executed and Dunwall fell to Pandyssia's doom and where he came to the Loyalists and was betrayed by them. On the far edges of the Void there is the unlikeliest of futures; one where you never killed Jessamine, and doomed yourself to walking the forgotten paths of the Void with all other souls too covered in blood to pass on; one where Billie succeeded in killing you, and took the Whalers for herself only to fall to the Abbey who turned on her. There’s one where you realised on your own the danger of the path you were walking down, and sought pardon from the empress herself. She and you and Corvo stood against the rest of the world and made it better, made it so Dunwall never knew the plague - Burrows found a new pet to kill Jessamine, and the two of you were sent to Coldridge together; Emily calls you father there.”

Idly, the Outsider gestured to the huge island across from them where a figure - where Corvo was walking the more horizontal spires, the warm glow following him. Jessamine? Hard to tell, but probably. She would want to walk with Corvo. He wondered if they were talking to each other - if in the Void, where all dreams came from and died in, Corvo had a voice to speak with.

“He will always love her,” Said the Outsider, a sigh like he knew he should sigh at the romanticism of it, but didn’t quite understand the how or why. “But dear Corvo was never a man to love only once; he will love you too, soon enough.” His shadows rippled, the patterns seemingly fond. “He will love you as he loves Jessamine - always and forever, until you are reunited here at the end of his life. There will be no one after you.”

Daud frowned. “He shouldn’t, I’m not worth that.”

Corvo deserved to have someone to have when he was old, someone better than Daud because Daud was an old fucking man already, new wrinkles where he didn’t remember there being any when he looked in the mirror, old wounds and bumps and scrapes aching in every storm, every early-morning chill - his body telling him he was a decrepit old fuck every time he got up in the middle of the night for a piss when he never used to, slower to get hard even for Corvo and even slower to recover, wrists and jaw sore as he worked Corvo when his own dick didn’t understand the opportunity.

The Outsider smiled like he was pleased, though Daud didn’t know what about. Maybe just the fact that Corvo was going to be happy to have Daud by his side, extra swords and crossbows against a world that would push back against such a young empress in himself and in his Whalers, who’d all decided that Emily was one of them and being one of them meant sneaking her out for marksmanship lessons; given how often he called Corvo ‘dear’ he must have had enough of a soft spot for him to give his Void-mangled shovel talk.

“You will wait for him, when you die,” The Outsider murmured while Corvo and Jessamine’s spirit disappeared from view. “He and Emily and your Whalers will give you a funeral with all the rites of old, because only Corvo’s mother turned her back on them in his family. He will try to send you on, but you will wait for him, there on that island, with empress Jessamine by your side. The two of you love him too much to let him walk these paths alone; she will show him the little crow he gave her that took her to me.”

There was a ballroom where there hadn't been one before when Daud turned to look at it, open to the endless sky of the Void. No dancers spinning on its floor, but there was a band frozen in one corner and lights suspended from the ruined ceiling. Corvo took Jessamine over to it, started dancing even without a tune to follow - the empress laughed, loud enough to carry even to where Daud was watching.

Daud looked to Jessamine’s glow, faint across the Void. “She doesn’t mind I’m a man?”

The Outsider tilted his head again, eyes narrowed a little, before he smoothed back out into amusement. “She read his secrets, too. Read his heart when he looked at you and realised you were someone he came to like, came to want. She’s only upset it took you so long.”

He turned to watch Corvo and Jessamine spinning together, all the frozen figures at the edges of the room watching them dance. Daud couldn't see him too well, from far across the Void, but he would bet his last coin that Corvo was looking up at Jessamine with the face he always wore for her; like she was all the stars splashed across the sky, every delicate flower pushing up through cracks in the concrete in every abandoned district. "You know that he doesn't forgive you, either?" Said the Outsider, also watching Corvo's puppy-foot-clumsy steps, made awkward  as a teenager and the both of them laughing at that awkwardness as he folded himself up into Jessamine's arms. "Corvo is many things, Daud - he has never been forgiveness."

"I know," Daud said. It wasn't something Corvo could do - for all that he could look past Daud's sins, knowing that they were stains on Daud's soul same as the whiskey stain on the sleeve of Daud's old red jacket, he wasn't an Overseer offering absolution for a handful of coins, like the only way to redeem himself was throwing the gold Burrows had paid him to the hungry Wrenhaven. He wasn't a man who could forgive that even when he was willing to offer himself, sweet when he held on to Daud's hair and kept him close, the thudding of blood through their Marks the same beat as sex; he wasn't someone who could offer forgiveness on Jessamine or Emily's behalf, wasn't able or willing and Daud knew that. Whatever rise the Outsider expected to get from making him think about it wasn't there.

The Outsider, maybe knowing it and maybe just bored, disappeared and reappeared a little ways away on a splinter of flooring leading out into the waiting emptiness below, endless seas shifting overhead. Looked over the edge a moment, looked back with a smile. “A warning for you, Daud, in the years to come while you use my gifts to protect Emily; you and Corvo are not my only Marked, and there are more threats that face an empress than just the schemes of ambitious noblemen.”