Actions

Work Header

When It's Right It'll Find You

Chapter Text

The anxiety is something he never expected to see. 

He must have missed its arrival. He doesn't recall seeing it enter. Before he realizes how the act might be misinterpreted he's pushing Corvo gently up and away from him, getting enough distance between them to focus on his eyes. What he sees there, the trepidation—he’s suddenly doing his own worrying. That he misinterpreted something. That he's been reading the signals all wrong. Or that he himself has done something wrong and Corvo has changed his mind. 

So perhaps Corvo isn't the only one here experiencing some anxiety. 

The boy who used to be the Outsider curses inwardly as he feels a surge of what's become an unpleasantly common kind of frustration. 

He hasn't been human for very long, and it's been thousands of years since humanity was a state he lived in, and he doesn't think he's very good at it yet. Possibly he won't ever be. Although—he barely recalls anymore, but he gets the distant sense that he might not have been so good at being human to begin with. 

Perhaps that's why they chose him. 

He shoves that thought firmly away. It comes to him so easily and he hates it. Memories are something else he's not used to; when he was still the Outsider he didn't remember things as he does now. He saw, saw everything as one massive and infinitely complex Present, and there was none of the unreliability of human memory, none of the total lack of control over when and how the memories come, and now that it's all he has, he feels nothing for it but confusion. Disorientation. 

More of that frustration. 

He reaches up, lays his fingertips lightly against Corvo’s face. The pleasant roughness of the stubble under his fingertips, far beyond what would be the neater lines of Corvo's beard and verging on scruffy—the novel sensitivity of the nerves woven into his skin, profoundly incomplete compared to what he used to have and yet so much deeper. Corvo doesn't quite tense up at the touch but he doesn't quite not, and the boy who used to be the Outsider lets out another silent curse. 

What a mess they both are. 

With the kind of wry amusement that was once a nearly constant frame of mind: Maybe they just deserve each other, then. 

“Do you ever shave?” 

No, that's wrong. That's the wrong kind of thing to say. Shit. He’s very bad at humor now too. Doesn't know when it might be taken amiss, might even hurt when he wants to do anything but. He's bad at memory, he's bad at humor, why in any world at all is he trying his hand at this? 

At what, until a few seconds ago, he was genuinely certain Corvo wanted? 

Corvo huffs a laugh, looks away. The evening light from the huge window high above the bed is cascading down on him, cloaking him in a warm golden glow, deepening the light brown of his skin and throwing the angles of his face into sharper relief. Bringing out threads of auburn in his hair. The Outsider—he still is that, he's still outside everything even now, even with his name, damn it all to the very Void—gazes up at him, fingertips resting against his face, and is suddenly breathless. 

You're beautiful, he wants to say. But the words don't seem to be able to make it as far as his tongue. You're so beautiful and you always have been. I just didn't know how to see it before. With everything I saw, I couldn't see that. 

Can you imagine, I thought you were merely interesting. 

Corvo isn't looking at him. Braced half over him, close enough to bathe the Outsider in his warmth as if he's transfiguring the light that soaks him and passing it through, so warm even though there are still two layers of clothing between them, and not looking at him, and suddenly that's unbearable and the Outsider presses a little harder against that flushed, coarse skin and turns Corvo’s face back to his. 

That anxiety. Please, please let that not be his fault. 

Oh for the love of everything, just ask him. 

“Is this all right?” Amazing how uncertain he sounds, despite his best efforts to scrape together any of the old blithe confidence. “Is it… Do you still want to?” He stumbles on before Corvo can answer. “We don't have to, it's fine, we can just—”

What they can just do, he has no idea whatsoever, but Corvo cuts him off with a shake of the head, a sigh, and the Outsider can interpret neither of those things and now his own anxiety is edging into real fear. The near-conviction that he has done something wrong after all and he's still doing it. 

But. “It's not you.” 

The Outsider releases a huge breath. Doesn't mean to and it escapes him anyway. Is that relief he's feeling? He's not sure. 

“No?”

“No, it's just…” Corvo ducks his head. The corner of his mouth twitches. “You know this is so damn strange.”

“You think it's strange for you?” The Outsider arches a brow. He hasn't stopped touching Corvo. He doesn't want to. Somehow he believes that he might cause some species of disaster if he does. “I've only been like this for less than a month, you have no idea what strange means.”

Again, he doesn't mean to slap back like that, even lightly, but Corvo only laughs again, gives him half a nod. “I suppose that's true.”

“Corvo.” Perhaps this will be easier if he just stops thinking quite so much. He’s human. Humans simply act. They can let it flow through them, their emotions and their desires. Once he must have known how to do that. And for a few seconds something breaks through and he does, he can, and he strokes his fingers up to the ridge of Corvo’s cheek. “I was in the Void—I was part of the Void—for so long. I saw things… You can't even imagine. Trust me.” He manages a smile. Smiles are yet another thing he's still figuring out but this feels like a real one. “This is the strangest thing I've ever felt.”

“This,” Corvo echoes. Glances down—at them, at the two of them spread out and arrested in the process of tangling together on his bed, at the implied story of how they got here—two and a half weeks of the boy who used to be the Outsider in the halls and rooms of Dunwall Tower, wandering around and stumbling over things, getting all manner of Looks from Emily, lost and bewildered and floundering, and spending more and more time with the only person here who actually makes him feel even remotely safe. Until this moment. The apex of the strangeness. 

But also all the rest of their history. The first touch. The smooth, sharp lines of the name he can see out of the corner of his eye, Corvo’s hand on the pillow beside the Outsider’s head. The name he etched into Corvo’s flesh like a declaration of ownership. 

It's as though another person did that. But it was him. 

After all, it's his fucking name. 

“This.” Don't think. Just don't think. You've done this already, you've done this much and more. He leans up and brushes his lips against the edge of Corvo’s mouth, gets an inhalation and a slight shiver in response. “I want this. If you don't, that's… that's all right. I promise.” He quirks another smile. “I just might not be very good at it, it's been a few thousand years.” Pause. “If I… If ever.”

Corvo’s eyes widen the smallest bit, great dark pools one might tumble into. “You didn't say that.”

“I don't remember.” Uncomfortable now. Like perhaps it would be better to wriggle out from under him, get some distance between them. Like perhaps they have to work out more of this beforehand before they go ahead. If they do. “I did tell you that, it's all in pieces.” 

Except the moments before the knife tore his soul apart. Those are so clear. 

He passes through them in his dreams and wakes up screaming. 

Anyway, yes, he might be a virgin. But even if he hadn't been one then, he is now. Fuck’s sake, he was just born. He's a damn infant. 

Which makes him want to break into peals of absurd laughter. Why, Corvo Attano, you literal cradle-robber. 

“I'm…” He shrugs awkwardly, which is the only kind of shrug one can do lying down and half covered by someone else. “I don't know. I don't know what I'm doing, all right? I do know…” He pulls in a slow breath. Corvo is listening. He's not pushing him away. He’s not telling him to get out. This might be okay. He might not be ruining this. Just tell him the damn truth. “I know I trust you. I know I trust you to… to not kick me out of bed if I get everything wrong.”

This time Corvo’s laugh is more than a huff; it's rich, rolling through him, vibrating into the Outsider’s frame, and stirring… 

Stirring something which, as of a few minutes ago, had begun to calm down and stop taking quite so much interest in things. 

That this man’s very laugh can get him hard. When it's a laugh like this. Unguarded. Unafraid. 

“I won't kick you out of bed.” Corvo’s hand is moving then, moving like it was before they both froze—running up the Outsider’s side, hip to his ribs, nudging under the hem of his shirt and making his breath hitch. “You're not the only one who might get things wrong.”

The Outsider blinks at him—through the mounting arousal starting to cloud the more thoughtful parts of his perception. “I thought you said you'd done this before. With a man.”

“I have. But it’s been a while.”

The Outsider looks at Corvo for a moment longer. That light gilding him, his hair and face and powerful shoulders, the lovely and slightly rueful curve of his smile. The entire room, looming shelves and a great slab of a desk, a vast expanse of carpet, the whole place so big for two people let alone one, and not for the first time the Outsider doubts that Corvo has ever been fully comfortable in this room, that he's ever felt truly at home here. It doesn't fit him somehow. 

We should be doing this on a beach, he thinks. A blanket on the warm sand. The crashing ocean. Salt on your lips, on your skin. Someone playing a guitar in the distance. Spices and fresh bread and wine. The sun lying down with the horizon and the stars coming out one by one.  

But dear Corvo, your bed will more than suffice for me.

Void knows—I know—it's more than I deserve.

“We can work it out together, then,” he whispers, slides a hand around the back of Corvo’s neck and pulls him down. 

It was a little clumsy, the first time they did this, and it's clumsy now, but not as much, and in truth this was never as clumsy as he thought it must be. The way their mouths fit together—not a perfect fit as far as it goes but it's in the difference that he discovers pleasure, exploring the lines, suddenly bold and parting to trace the seam of Corvo’s lips with his tongue, how little pressure he needs to exert before the seam opens and he's welcomed inside. The wonderfully bizarre sensation of Corvo’s tongue sliding against his, curling, pushing back into him; he moans and gropes at Corvo’s shoulders and then that weight is fully on top of him, leg slung across his thighs and levering a bigger body over his. 

And he feels so delightfully pinned. 

He sighs, yields, combs his fingers into the grey-flecked black tangle of Corvo’s hair—not as long as when they first spoke but longer since the last time—and tugs him in harder. Scrape of teeth against the corner of his mouth and then his chin, his jaw; he arches and gasps, and now every part of him is definitely awake and interested, and wouldn't you know it, the boy who used to be a damn god is rubbing his cock against the jut of Corvo’s hip, blocked still by too many clothes, practically mewling with need getting fiercer by the second as Corvo growls and closes his teeth on the soft skin where the Outsider’s jaw dips into his throat. 

He wanted this. He wanted all of this but now he understands that he wanted this: to be pressed down like this, kept there by someone so clearly stronger than he is, by this someone in particular, as if he's perhaps even allowing him some kind of retribution. 

Hitting him all at once, as Corvo bites him again and insinuates a knee between his legs and gives him something more to grind against, that it might be good to be handled roughly by this man. He doesn't know if he's ready for it just yet but oh, it might be sweet to be taken by him. 

“Wouldn't know it had been a while for you if you hadn't said it,” he groans, digging his nails into Corvo’s biceps through the thin fabric of his shirt. That muscle. Corded, more powerful somehow for the age of the frame. Strength that's been beaten into someone by years of harsh treatment. He twists his head, nods their mouths together again, closes his teeth on Corvo’s bottom lip and sucks, because he senses that might be a good thing to do—knows it is when Corvo shudders and rolls down against him and he feels a hard bulge pressing against his pubic bone. “Corvo…”

Canting his hips to find the friction, the resistance of Corvo’s upper thigh. Trying, at the same time, to line them up just right. The image of no cloth there, just two stiff cocks sliding perfectly against each other, just that much, what it would be like to come that way, and it's dizzying, the world opening up in his mind, all the configurations, all the combinations, the ways they might be together. Give each other pleasure. 

Thousands of years of seeing forever and he never knew this was so good. 

Corvo’s grin, teeth bared against his throat. Hands clamping around his wrists and shoving them onto the bed at either side of his head, and now he truly is pinned, whining and greedily seeking another kiss. 

Hot hiss in his ear. “Never would have taken you for a slut.”

Oh. Oh, there it is. He’s grinning too, shaking with silent laughter and uncontainable lust; yes, some of how it could be. Things it never would have occurred to him that he could enjoy. Not just manhandling but insults, slaps like caresses, so many delicious kinds of torment. So many possibilities. 

“For you, sweet Corvo,” he breathes. “Only for you.”

“You mean that.” For a split second Corvo actually sounds almost awed, as if the Outsider has said something remarkable, but he barely has time to peer up at him, looking for visual confirmation, when Corvo is gripping the waistband of his trousers and yanking. “Get this off, then.”

He might have expected this process to be slow, gentle—maybe Corvo would be careful with him, introduce him to everything bit by gradual bit, treat him like a shy bride on her wedding night. But of course it was never going to go that way. Corvo accommodated himself to gentility well enough but it only took the Outsider a glance to see that it wasn't who he really is. This is a rough man from rough streets, even with Jessamine he frequently wasn't gentle and she didn't want him to be, and it's also true that…

Corvo is a little bit angry with him. Still. Under everything. 

So this is fast. It's careless. Corvo tells him to get his clothes off and he does, scrambling, shoving at his trousers and smallclothes while trying to pull off his shirt at the same time and hearing both tear, laughing as he flings them aside and arches again and forgets, for the briefest of moments, how strange this is…

Until he looks up and focuses, and watches Corvo’s body revealed. 

He felt that corded muscle. He sees it now; the golden light is fading into gray but it's still bright enough to see perfectly well by, and his gaze travels down from stark collarbones to a well-defined chest, stomach—a bit of softness there, age and years of good living before it all went to hell again. But lean. Too lean. Again, that sense of repeated beatings, figurative and otherwise.

So many scars. 

A landscape of them. A map of misery. Craggy coastlines, channels, meandering rivers, long mountain ranges. Blades and burning. A lifetime of fights, of course, but more than that, and worse. 

He saw those six months in Coldridge. He saw every second of them. He was an impassive observer to the worst tortures. He watched and never interfered as monsters in the guises of men made effort after enthusiastic effort to destroy Corvo Attano’s body before they took the last pathetic remnants of his life away from him. 

Now, as he pushes up to sit and reaches out to run a hand over Corvo’s terribly mutilated chest, he thinks he might start crying. 

Corvo stares at him. The Outsider doesn't miss the abrupt self-consciousness there, a door swinging partially closed. “What?”

I'm so sorry. All he can summon is a murmur. “What they did to you.” 

Corvo shakes his head. “Don't.” Unspoken: Don't let that hell in here.

“All right.” He pulls in a breath, lifts his other hand and frames Corvo’s face. He's forgotten himself. He's forgotten that someone else is seeing him naked and exposed like this, his own body in which he doesn't recall how to feel at home, his cock erect and the head glistening with precome, so wet and so ready for something, anything, and all he can see and feel and want is Corvo Attano, and for nothing like that to ever happen to him again. 

“Kiss me,” he says, and Corvo hooks his arms around the Outsider’s middle and pulls them nearly flush, and he kisses him so hard he can't breathe. 

The rest of his clothes. The rest of that beautiful, wounded body. The scars extend down his thighs, must be all over his back as well, and the Outsider looks at him and considers what it might be like to lay him out and kiss each one, trace his tongue over them, try to soothe them even if they don't really need soothing anymore. 

Then no more scars, because all he can see is Corvo’s cock, jutting up thick and dark from the black nest of his pubic hair and so fucking hard, bobbing with his breath and the beat of his heart, and as the Outsider watches, utterly entranced, a clear droplet of precome wells at the slit and overflows the tight rim of foreskin, and drips onto the sheet. 

And his mouth is watering. 

Just tell him the truth.  

“You're so beautiful,” he whispers, and Corvo lets out a ragged, broken sound, not far from a sob, and falls on him again. 

The Outsider spreads his arms, his thighs, everything loose and open, as those delightfully rough hands make their way over him, over the plane of his belly, and when Corvo’s fingers close around his shaft and give him one tortuously slow stroke, he doesn't attempt to muffle his cry as he bucks his hips up, desperate for more. 

“You are a slut,” Corvo grates, stroking him a second time, a third, finding a ruthlessly unhurried rhythm, rolling the Outsider’s foreskin over the head with his thumb, squeezing so tight it almost hurts, jerking down to meet the rise when the Outsider starts to helplessly fuck his fist. “Shit, just look at you, look at what a fucking slut you are…”

The Outsider moans hectically, tosses his head, crumbling inside. Trying to watch what Corvo is doing to him but the world keeps swimming away on a blurry sea of pleasure. More. Yes, more, tell me, tell me what I am, tell me so I know who I am, tell me. 

“You want me to make you come? Is that what you want?” Another cruel bite against his throat and another harsh cry forcing its way out of him. “Tell me. Damn you, you bastard, tell me what you want.”

Those words shouldn't hurt the way they suddenly do. 

What I want is to undo it. What I want is to unmake it all, make it un-happen, leave you be, leave you to live your life freely. 

Except then I never would have met you.  

He wrestles with it, struggles—like he's trying to escape, except he's trying to do nothing of the kind. Groping one-handed between them, shuddering violently when he finds Corvo’s cock and that gloriously thick, impossibly silky length flexes in his palm, spills slick wet onto his fingers. 

What I want.  

“I want to suck you,” he gasps, and he doesn't intend to say it and once it’s out he knows that there's nothing he wants more in the world. Not to come. That would be so nice, but he wants this more. The weight of that cock on his tongue. The taste of it. His lips stretched around it. Corvo watching him do it, staring down at him with hooded predator eyes. 

Corvo is staring at him now, but he looks vaguely stunned. “You…”

“I want to,” he repeats, panting. His mouth feels swollen and tender, like he's been struck. His mouth. Use it. I want you to use it, Corvo. I want you to use me. “Please. Please let me.”

“You're sure.”

The Outsider barks a laugh, and his hand flies down and around to slap at Corvo’s firm ass. A hint of that old smug gratification when Corvo jumps. “Fuck, yes, I'm sure, come on.”

The stunned expression vanishes. Darkness rolls back in like a storm. Corvo seizes the Outsider’s jaw, jams his cheeks painfully against his teeth. Thumbs his swollen lips. As if he's evaluating. 

“Stay like that.”

The Outsider stays. Trembling, expectant, almost anxious again as Corvo rears up on his knees and maneuvers himself up the Outsider’s body, and stops at his chest, straddling him. All at once his cock is inches away from the Outsider’s face, the musky smell of it, the shining head, another droplet of precome extending in a long strand from the tip and falling like a liquid glass pendulum to his breastbone. 

Fingers tangled in his hair, tugging his head up. Reflexively he clutches once more at Corvo’s ass but there's no smugness in it now. Licks his lips. Between his ears he seems to hear the distant sound of the surf throwing itself against the beach. 

“You wanted it,” Corvo growls. “Go on, then. Take it.”

Suddenly hesitant, suddenly nervous, suddenly fiercely determined to make himself neither of those things, he opens his mouth as Corvo grips himself with one hand and guides him in with the other, and takes it. 

This part is slow. Giving him a chance to taste, to lap at the head—although that one remaining cognizant part of the Outsider’s mind guesses that it's less out of consideration for him and his inexperience and more that as he thought, Corvo simply wants to watch him. So he gives Corvo something to watch, leans up further and licks at him, flick of his tongue at the slit and then a longer cat-lap up the underside of the shaft. Salt-sweet and tangy—he likes it more than he expected to, likes it a lot, swirls his tongue and tries to coax out more, and he's still not certain he's doing this right but if the tight, strained noises Corvo is making are any indication, he's doing pretty much fine so far. 

Thinking about what he'd want. Thinking about what he'd want Corvo to do to him. 

Shit, that he might have that. 

“Stop playing around,” Corvo mutters, yanks hard enough at the Outsider’s hair for it to sting, and somehow that only makes it better—and worse, because he's undulating his hips, humping uselessly at the air, and Corvo is chuckling as he pushes into the Outsider’s mouth, slow—but not that slow. 

“Do it right and I'll get you off,” he breathes. “C’mon, now.”

It's heavy, thick, stretching him like he thought, and yet it's nothing like he could have imagined, so much more vivid and more real, sliding further and further into him until Corvo bottoms out against the back of his throat and makes him gag—withdraws and thrusts in again. Shallow but only just enough to keep from gagging him, and maybe Corvo told him to do it right but he's not really doing anything much at all, except sucking awkwardly at him as Corvo speeds up his thrusts, grips the Outsider’s head and fucks his mouth, the muscles of his ass working under the Outsider’s hands as he moves. 

The jolt through him like a fucking arc pylon in his spine as Corvo reaches back with his free hand and takes hold of him, jerks him into that overwhelming rhythm. 

Won't be long. He feels like he should wait, wait until Corvo’s taken all the pleasure he wants, maybe even given him explicit permission, but he isn't going to be able to help it. Corvo’s hand is scorching, brutal paradise and he's powerless under it, his own thrusts weak and shaky into that merciless circle—and nearly an afterthought, because the cock in his mouth is monopolizing his attention, because how could it not. He's trying to lick at it as it glides back and forth over his tongue, getting himself caught against his own teeth, half scared that he's going to use his teeth in exactly the wrong way and also not scared at all. The soft, slightly wrinkled texture and the heaviness of Corvo’s balls against his chin; it might be good to get those in his mouth too, lick and suck and tease them, but right now Corvo seems interested in using that mouth for one thing and one thing only. 

And his thrusts are beginning to stutter, his breathing ragged, grunting half formed curses, his fist clenched around the Outsider’s cock and so fast it's like one single wave of pressure and friction, and it's too much, it's all just too much; a muffled shout bursting out of him as that arc pylon goes off a final time and light explodes in his head and he convulses, sobbing, dimly aware of the spurt of his come over Corvo’s fingers and onto his quivering stomach.

Corvo isn't upset with him. Corvo is laughing, tossing his head back and laughing in the last ghosts of the twilight, gorgeous and wild and ageless, shooting thick and hot down the Outsider’s throat. 

The light goes out and he's tumbling into the kindness of the dark. 

~

He's made himself come since he was reborn. A few times only, but he has. The first time more as an experiment than anything else, the second time because the first experiment was a rousing success, the times after that because, well, one must continue to repeat experiments in order to verify the results. And every time it's been decidedly pleasant, a good time has been had by all concerned—especially that one time, which has ended up being significant in ways he never could have anticipated—but it has never, not once in his new life, been like this. 

Like he's been kicked in the fucking head. 

Could be that he's merely not accustomed to having real nerves yet, but yes. 

Gradually he's aware that he's lying collapsed and limp where Corvo dropped him, streaks of come cooling on his belly, a comfortably solid presence pressed along his side. Fingers working through his hair. His scalp is still stinging. His lips feel several times their proper size and his jaw is aching. He smells like sweat and sex. He's a wreck. 

It's perfect. Or about as close as he's likely to get at the moment. 

Big warm hand spread over his chest, moving. Almost petting him. He sighs. 

“You all right?”

The Outsider hums. Nothing but darkness overhead, the faint glitter of stars. There were never stars in the Void. It was so empty. “Mhmm.”

“That was.” The tremor of a laugh into the hollow of his throat. “That was good.”

“You didn't kick me out of bed.” The words are slurred. He sounds drunk. He feels drunk, or what, in his very limited experience, being drunk is like. Only he suspects he'll escape a hangover. 

Another laugh. That deep, rich laughter that the Outsider thinks he might love. “No, turns out I didn't need to.”

“We didn't even…” He lets out a long, slow breath, reaches down and slides his fingertips through his congealing semen. It should maybe be distasteful, that texture, but it's not. He marvels at it. He marvels at everything. “We didn't even do that much.”

Long pause. He's largely finished being worried that he's done or said something wrong, so he simply exists within it and leaves it be. He recognizes it now as meditation. 

“No, we didn't.”

The Outsider rolls over, faces him. Rubs his own come between his fingertips. Doing his own meditation, and idly admiring the way Corvo’s face and body look just barely illuminated this way, the hints of his outlines rather than the outlines themselves. Not just the lean muscles but the soft dark hair trailing from his chest down to his groin, the coarseness of his skin even in the few places where no scars mar it, the essential maleness of him. 

He can't remember if he ever fucked anyone before this, so of course he can't remember if he had men or women or both. But he's beginning to suspect that in the life that was so hideously stolen from him, his preferences ran decidedly in one particular direction. 

He won't get that life back. That boy is dead. That boy was murdered centuries upon centuries ago. 

And the truth is that not too many people are allowed a second beginning. He gets to do it all over again. 

Maybe better this time. 

He presses a splayed hand against Corvo’s breastbone and bites his lip, abruptly and ridiculously shy. Although in fact he doesn't doubt what the answer to this will be. “We can… do more?”

No hesitation. Corvo reaches up, covers his hand. Curls his fingers between the Outsider’s and squeezes. “We can do a lot more.”

Smile. Perhaps the faintest bit sly. “People will talk. Corvo Attano and his friend. His young man.”

Corvo leans in, nuzzles at him. Barest edge of teeth. “Let ‘em.”

“The Overseers will be murderously offended by our wanton flesh.”

“I'll murder them.”

The Outsider’s laughter is surprised, delighted—could be that delight has a dark edge to it. Not all of that other self is gone. Although he doesn't actually imagine that Corvo means it.

But he doesn't actually imagine that Corvo doesn't. 

“It might be difficult to explain it to Emily,” he says softly after a wordless moment or two, swiping his thumb across Corvo’s skin. The raised line of a scar. More serious now, more solemn; he knows Emily isn't sure what to make of him, is reasonably certain that she doesn't trust him yet, is definitely certain that she doesn't like him. But he does like her, really he always has, was hoping she would win in the end despite his affectation of neutrality, and was glad when she did. 

He would like her, he realizes now, to like him. Or at least to not be upset with this development. The surreality of it—that her father is sharing his bed with a creature at once thousands of years and less than a month old, who physically appears to be less than half his age. 

Damn right, people will talk. 

Corvo’s lips graze the corner of his mouth, with all the gentleness that wasn't there not long ago. “I'll do the explaining.” Beat of silence. “I think it'll be all right. Weird at first but… not forever.”

The Outsider exhales. He's snuggling—every whale in the Void help him, he's literally snuggling—into the concave curve of Corvo’s body, where he does indeed feel safe, where he feels safer than he ever conceived he could feel anywhere.

“Nothing is forever, Corvo.”

Not even me.

“No, it isn’t.” Corvo curls an arm around him, presses his lips to the crown of the Outsider’s head. “But we have right now.”

 

Chapter Text

“So what do I call you, though?” 

For a long moment the boy who was the Outsider merely stares at him. This is a question he knew was coming, couldn't not know; it is, he understands, the most basic of questions. Who are you? That's a version of the query that has a thousand different answers, but what's your name is so profoundly simplified, it should be capable of being answered in a single word only. On its own it rarely reveals anything much… but in his case nothing could be further from the truth. 

And yet it might be the one answer he isn't prepared to give. 

He knows it. His name. It echoes through his mind even almost two weeks later, like a cry from the depths of an immense canyon—a call from the heart of the Void, a whisper of Daud’s old, gravelly voice. The last word that particular worthy man ever spoke to him—and he was worthy. It would be terribly unfair to blame him for wanting this creature dead, terribly unfair to blame him for his bone-deep resentment. Even for his hatred. 

Not so deep that Billie couldn't fight through it with the strength of her own mercy, but still. 

He knows his name. It was given back to him. But since the reception of that gift, he hasn't been able to say it himself. He tries, has tried many times, but it never comes. His tongue goes numb in his mouth, a slab of meat that refuses to move no matter how desperately he coaxes it. It's maddening. Sometimes it makes him want to despair. What good was it, being returned to him, when he can't give it to anyone else? When he's being forced, for reasons he can't begin to comprehend, to continue to keep it a secret from the world?

So he's been lying. People have asked him his name—an ancient peddler driving an ancient cart pulled by a horse bony with weariness, passing through the foothills and willing to pick up an extra rider to take the reins when he wanted to sleep. The captain of the trade ship who took on a pathetic urchin begging for passage to Dunwall in exchange for whatever labor might be required of him. A lady with a garishly painted face leaning against a wall by the docks, regarding him with a mixture of scornful amusement and mocking disinterest. 

Every time, he's lied, and every time it was a different lie, and he no longer even remembers which name he concocted for which time. 

Then there was the Watch at the gates of Dunwall Tower, and there he didn't bother with a name that would have meant nothing to anyone. His answer: Tell the Lord Protector it's a friend from the old days. The very old days. 

Friend. He wanted to laugh at that. He was certain it was madness. He was certain that Corvo would either fail to recognize him and send this bedraggled little street rat away with a crust of bread and a few coins, or recognize him immediately and send him away with a threat to cut his throat a second time if he ever dared to return. 

As it turned out, Corvo did neither thing. 

And now they're sitting in the yard between the water lock and the entry into the grand front hall, and his hands are clasped between his knees and he can't seem to stop looking at them, and he has no answer, no plan, because he honestly never believed he would get this far. 

His hands are filthy. He must stink of kelp and fish. He came straight from the docks. It didn't occur to him until now that not stopping to at least wash his damn hands might not stand him in such good stead. 

What do I call you, though?

“I,” he says, and stops, and fights back a giggle. I. That might work. That might work as well as anything. At any rate it's appropriate in technical definition if nothing else. However: He looks helplessly at his hands, helplessly up at the sky, watching a flock of ravens diving in lazy spirals over the parapets. 

“I don't know.”

Corvo coughs a laugh. He's still staring. It would be nice if he didn't stare quite so much. It's difficult to keep from thinking of what it must have felt like for Corvo, being fixed repeatedly by an all-seeing, all-pervading night-black gaze. He must have felt like an insect pinned to backing in a frame. He must have felt something like this. 

Empathy remains a bafflingly unfamiliar experience.

“You… don't know,” Corvo repeats slowly. They're seated opposite each other at a small table on a terrace overlooking the water, and Corvo leans back in his chair, crosses his legs, his thick brows drawn together but his expression otherwise unreadable. He's sent a footman for refreshments, and the footman in question now seems to appear from nowhere with wine and two glasses on a perfectly polished salver. He sets them down on the table and vanishes into whatever corner of reality he makes his home. The wine is red as blood in the decanter. There's something unsettling about it. Corvo fills both glasses in silence. The as-yet nameless boy sitting across from him looks warily at his own and makes no move to touch it, although part of him is dimly concerned about being insulting. 

On the ship from Karnaca he got extremely drunk on bad whiskey, and then got extremely seasick, and experienced for the first time since being reborn the true and sincere desire to die. 

Corvo raises his glass and turns it between his fingers. It's not a toast. “How can you not know?”

Shrug. 

“You told me you got your name back,” Corvo says with an edge of impatience. “You said that's why you're like this in the first place. So you must know what it is. Why don't you just tell me?”

“I can't.” He doesn't mean to sound as unhappy as he does, but he is in fact unhappy, about the whole name business and about the entire situation. He still doesn't know how to deal with this, having emotions in the way he does now. He always had them, but they always felt as if they existed slightly apart from him, beside him but a few steps to the left. He was aware of them, but for the most part they never really meant anything. 

Amusement. Boredom. Cold irritation. Those were the primary and immediate features of his emotional life. Now in this new life he's by turns terrified, exhilarated, bewildered, mortified, elated, crushingly depressed, furious at himself, at the people who hurt him, at the world.

Lost. Hopeless. 

He used to know everything. It used to be that nothing could touch him. Now it’s like he knows nothing at all and everything is touching him all the time—he's one gigantic raw nerve inside and out and he can't make it stop. 

But he doesn't want to go back. That's one thing he does know. 

He'd rather die again than go back to that. 

“What do you mean, you can't?” Corvo pauses with his glass halfway to his lips, frowning harder. “You either know it or you don't. Or,” he sets the glass down again, “are you refusing to tell me?”

What he's not saying here, but what's very clear: You always did love to keep things from me. You taunted me with what you knew and I didn't, you black-eyed bastard.

Even if now the eyes in question are a clear, almost colorless gray.

In Karnaca he found a mirror in a shop window and didn't move for almost a quarter of an hour. Simply struggling to process. 

“I'm not refusing. I'm not refusing anything.” He swallows. He's thirsty now but he doubts the wine would help matters. But it seems presumptuous to ask for water. Corvo might be a few unsatisfactory responses from tossing him bodily over the edge of the terrace and giving him more water than he could ever drink. “I can't…” Another unhappy shrug. “I try to say it and I can't. I can't write it, either, at least not so anyone could read it. I don't know why. It just won't… it won't come.”

“But you know it.”

Nod. Daud said it to me, he spoke in my ear, but that's a detail he left out of the initial story, and he senses that it might be the wrong thing to say, that it might open up an entirely new line of conversation that he is categorically not equipped to handle. 

“Well.” Definitely impatient now, the kind of impatience he doubts he would have heard from a younger version of this man. The gruffness that comes with age, with having seen too much of the world in general and having therefore just about given up on the vast majority of it ever behaving itself. Corvo drains a third of the glass in one go, sets it down rather heavily. “Look, I can't just call you the Outsider.”

“I've been making up names. People keep asking.” He pauses. “I don't like any of them. Not so far.”

Corvo cocks his head like a great graying raven, appears to consider him. There's a wry glint in his eye. “You know some people would kill for that. The freedom to choose any name. Some people have.”

The boy who was the Outsider shoots him a look. “You try being nameless for four thousand years. It wears on you.”

Corvo picks up his glass again. “Did you want one then? A name?”

“I… No,” he says, hesitantly. “I don't think so.” Pause. “I don't… I don't think I really wanted anything.”

“You sure as shit seemed to want to be entertained.”

“That was different,” he says, and it sounds like a weak defense and he sighs. “It wasn't like… It wasn't like how you want things. It wasn't like wanting things now.”

“What do you want now?”

Another long silence. The truth is that he hasn't thought much about that; as far as conscious thought goes he supposes that it hasn't felt as if it matters. After he left the mountain, he wanted what he imagines all living beings want. Food. Sleep. Shelter. To not be afraid constantly, and probably managing three out of four on next to no resources isn't too bad. 

He's seen plenty of people who couldn't manage any of those things. 

Once before he lived alone in the streets. He does remember that. Once he had nothing but the rags on his bruised back and whatever he could steal or beg or scavenge. This shouldn't even be new to him. Perhaps part of him remembers how to do it, and that's why he's kept himself together for this long. 

“I think,” he says carefully, “that I want to figure all of this out.”

“Figure what out?”

“This.” He gestures vaguely at the air. “All of it. You know.” Crooked smile. “Being alive.”

“So why are you here, then?”

Because you're the only thing even remotely like a friend I have left.  

He looks at his hands again. “I didn't know where else to go.”

“You're pathetic,” Corvo says, and he sounds more wondering than anything else, and the boy who used to be the Outsider—and for all intents and purposes still is—breaks into a short peal of laughter and gives up and reaches for the wine. 

“Yes. Yes, I probably am.” He takes a sip. Then another, larger one. It's very good wine, or he guesses it is. It tastes good, anyway, and he's reasonably certain that they wouldn't serve anything but good wine in Dunwall Tower. 

His gaze wanders past Corvo, then, to the pavilion in the distance, the early afternoon sun glinting off its dome, the shade between its pillars. He can't see the memorial he knows is there, and he's suddenly glad of that. 

Guilt is another thing he feels a fair amount of these days, and of all these wretchedly powerful emotions wracking every part of him, it might be the most repulsive. 

And the most completely deserved. 

“You can make me leave,” he murmurs. “I knew you probably would, I knew coming here was stupid. Tell me to go and I'll go, I won't argue. You don't owe me anything.”

“No, I absolutely do fucking not,” Corvo says mildly, and although the boy’s glass is only half empty, Corvo picks up the decanter and refills it. “Emily would likely want me to,” he adds, his tone thoughtful. “She knew you weren't helping her out of the kindness of the heart you didn't have. You were toying with her. Same as you toyed with all of us.” 

Corvo’s eyes aren't quite black, but they're close, and he fixes the boy with them again, and the boy thinks of those ravens and their keen, relentless gazes, ever-calculating, ever in motion. 

“I was,” the boy says softly. “Yes. I was.”

It's not as if there's any point in denying it. 

Those near-black eyes, piercing him through like the point of a sword. “You think you'd make it out there on your own?”

This time the crooked smile is pained. “I did before.”

“You knew how to be human then.”

“Did I? Does anyone?” He swallows more wine, a bit too much, suppresses a cough. He's drinking on an empty stomach and too little water and he knows from miserable and recent experience that it's a bad idea. “I don't think I'm very much worse off than I was. At least no one will try to sacrifice me now.”

“I wouldn't be so sure of that,” Corvo says, still mild. He drains the last of his glass. Not a drunk but not a sipper, Corvo Attano. He's been able to hold his drink since he was fourteen years old. “It’s a nasty world out there. They never needed you as an excuse to do anything horrible.”

“As much as the Abbey loved to pin it all on me,” the boy says, a trifle bitterly. 

“Self-pity doesn't become you.” The corner of Corvo’s mouth curves. “But people always want someone else to pin it on.”

“You never did that.” Suddenly he can look at Corvo, really look at him and not be overwhelmed with the desire to look away, and something is aching deep in his chest, twisting a knot around itself and catching on his ribs. “You never blamed me for anything. You could have, I gave you every reason… But you never did.”

“I made my own choices,” Corvo says quietly, and it's all in those five words. The pain. The fear. The wounded rage. The blood he spilled and the blood he spared—less of the former and more of the latter than might ever have been expected of him. “You were right about that. You didn't make them for me. And you never lied.” He heaves a sigh and briefly closes his eyes, and it's not a relief. 

The boy waits. As if for some kind of judgment. 

“I should hate you,” Corvo says finally. “Not blame you, maybe, but hate you. You played with my life, played with my daughter’s, because you thought we were interesting. You had no right, you knew that. And you did it anyway. I should hate you with everything in me.” He lays a hand on the tabletop, taps his fingers. It's big, that hand, and strong, the scars on it pale white lines slashed through a fine covering of dark hair. Not the same lines as on the back of his other hand, which the Outsider suspects he might have trouble looking at now. “Seeing you like this… I don't.” Wondering once more. “I don't at all.”

“You pity me.”

“No. No, I don't pity you either. Perhaps you don't deserve my pity.” Another one of those sharp, dry smiles. “I doubt you'd want anyone’s pity anyway. Wouldn't do you much good now, that's for certain.”

The boy huffs a laugh. He's beginning to intuit which way the conversation is heading. Well, it's nothing more or less than he expected. He straightens himself, regards his remaining wine with no small degree of skepticism. Best to leave it and risk the insult. If he's headed back into the city, he'll need his wits about him. 

“I don't suppose I can ask you for a glass of water before I go?”

“Go?” Corvo sounds surprised. “I didn't tell you to go.”

The boy blinks. “…But you were going to.”

“Don't put words in my mouth, you don't get to do that kind of thing anymore.” Corvo pushes briskly back from the table, adjusting his coat as he rises. “I'll have a maid make up a bed for you in one of the guest rooms. If you want water you'll find a pitcher of it in there.”

The boy who used to be the Outsider gapes at him, utterly speechless. 

Something else he couldn't be less used to. 

“Emily,” he chokes after a few more seconds of gaping, and Corvo waves a resigned hand. 

“Leave it. I’ll figure something out.” He pauses, that thoughtful look returning. “I suppose I could just start by telling her the truth. It'd serve you right. But you do have to come up with something for me to call you.”

“But—” Corvo is turning to go. The bottom is dropping out of the boy’s stomach, as though Corvo has seized him and pitched him head-first over the wall into the river. He shoves himself up from the table so hard he makes the decanter wobble and clink. “But why?

Corvo glances back. The smile the boy sees there could mean a hundred things at once, not all of them friendly. 

But not all of them not. 

“Let’s say,” he murmurs, “I think I find you interesting.”

The boy who used to be the Outsider watches Corvo walk away, his broad shoulders straight, strides long and graceful. A man in his mid-fifties, many years that haven't been especially good to him, and he still moves like a dancer. 

That strange ache again. The confusion, a thin thread of fear… and the ache. Not altogether unpleasant, that particular pain. 

Odd. 

But by the Void, he really does need some water. More, abruptly, than he did before.

 

Chapter Text

He has memories of the sea. 

They're fractured, those memories. All of them. Two sets of them now, but a different quality to each. There are the memories of the Void, the memories as the Void, and those memories are much like the experience itself had been: immense, all-encompassing, and impossible to explain. How he remembers not only one life but glimpses of all lives, not only one time but glimpses of all times, a vast tapestry of infinitely tiny threads spread out in front of him and the innate knowledge that he might pull one or tug at another and completely change the image. The memory of watching all of human history and histories of what came before and what would come after humanity, and the searing, violent birth of the universe and its cold, brutal death. Every moment that ever had been or ever could be, collapsed into a brilliant singularity, a gleaming shard of bone in his hands. 

There are no words in any language, of the dead or the living, that can articulate what it's like to be a god. 

Now, the sensation of even a few of those memories trying to pack themselves into his puny human brain is giving him literal headaches. Yet he doesn't seem to be able to stop it from happening. 

And then there are the other memories. 

Those are smaller, rougher, far more ragged. But vivid in a way none of the memories of the Void could be. He remembers the awful hollow gnawing of a belly that was hardly ever full. He remembers huddling in doorways as he sought any shelter he could find from rain beating like beads of ice on his bare skin. He remembers lying in a pool of dirty water in some dim alley while dark, faceless shapes circled above him and laughed, an impact in his gut and blood in his mouth. He remembers a fire-lit face red and twisted with rage—man or woman? Father? Mother? Someone else? He doesn't know. He remembers the crunch as his nose broke. He remembers the sweet gush of stolen fruit between his teeth. He remembers the spiraling wave of vertigo before the pain as he was flung down a flight of steps. He remembers crouching on slippery rocks and staring out at a slatey expanse of water, and he remembers that not all the salty wet on his cheeks was the spray. 

He remembers a child wondering bleakly why he was so hated by the world. 

And he has memories of the sea. 

What city did he live in, then? Or what ruins on which countless new cities have been built? He can't recall that either. It might have been where Dunwall now stands. It might have been Fraeport. Even Dabokva. He rather thinks it should have been in or near Karnaca, given where he was killed, but he can't be certain of that. It doesn't matter, he thinks, but more than once in the last two weeks he's wondered if maybe it actually might. 

But the wretched and forgotten of any city are ultimately all the same. They're of the same kind, the same blood—the blood that spills unmemorialized into the gutters. And those people have always been his.

A lonely boy and his rat. 

He doesn't want to think about those things. There are moments he would prefer to not remember, despite what they might tell him about himself. He leans on the deck railing and gazes out over the water as the oncoming storm licks the waves into whitecaps. There were storms in those days. There have always been storms. Seeing this one now, the black towers of the clouds rising like rootless mountains, the flares of lightning, thunder crashing in the distance like guns. He knows he should be afraid of this, that a storm this big can break a ship this size in two, but it's exhilarating; he wants to spread his arms and howl for it to take him. Dare it to. He doesn't actually want it to; that's not the point. 

The point is that part of him doesn't give a shit anymore. He's already died once. It's not so bad. 

It's what comes after that really kills you. 

But he thinks that maybe, just maybe, when he dies a second time he'll be allowed to slip away into the peaceful oblivion that should always have been his.

He doesn't spread his arms, doesn't howl. He clings to the railing as all around him the deckhands rush and shout and curse at each other, coiling and knotting and uncoiling snaking lengths of rope, securing and battening. The ship is already rocking so hard it's all he can do to keep his feet, and the waves break around them and spout up before him and on all sides, the wind-whipped spray sticking his clothes to his body and plastering his hair to his face though he was soaked long before now. His spine is like a wire down which the lightning spikes, his heart is thundering against the walls of his chest. A scream is locked tight in his throat. 

He's not afraid, but he has to live through this. He does give a shit, or the greater part of him does. He has to live through this and make the crossing, and step off onto the docks in the one city he dares to hope might still have him. 

The one city. 

The one man. 

The cuff against the side of his head is so sudden that at first he only experiences it as a pulse of light and the world going even more sideways than it already is; his feet slip out from under him and he goes sprawling onto the deck, groping for a handhold—and sure for a moment finally saturated in panic that one of those waves is going to rear up and seize him and carry him over the side. 

Then someone is grabbing him by the back of the shirt and hauling him up, shoving him against a stack of crates. A thick hulk of a man, a scowling face ringed with bristling red whiskers, eyes the color of sun-bleached blue fabric. 

The first mate. Who doesn't like him and hasn't from the beginning. 

“Getcher scrawny ass to work, boy,” the mate snarls, voice raised over the thunder and the crash of the waves. “Outsider’s dick’n’balls, you don't make yerself worth more’n a puddle of stale rat piss, I'll toss ya over the side myself, an’ don't think for a bleedin’ second I wouldn't do it!”

He doesn't argue. There's nothing to argue with. This man—whose threat he absolutely credits—tells him to get his scrawny ass to work, and so he does. Fetching ropes, holding canvas in place so it can be secured, tying off straps, whatever they yell for him to do. It doesn't matter. He’ll do it, because it's what he promised, because he has to make it across that deceptively narrow stretch of ocean to the far shore, and all he has to offer as fare is himself.

The scrambling pace bleeds into a blur. The storm is nearly on them. But the thunder seems to have moved past them somehow, and what he hears now, he's almost sure, are the cries of leviathans surging out of the deep, rolling their great graceful bodies through the dark and singing their haunting songs. 

He doesn't see them, if they're there at all. But later, curled in the nest of threadbare blankets he's made for himself in the hold and listening to the grind and clank of straining machinery, those songs remain under everything, and he knows it's a memory. Of the Void, yes, but also of the time before, when he ran to the sea to escape everything that was happening to him, everything that was being done to him and that he couldn't stop, and he gazed out at the cloudbanks passing across the horizon and watched the humped gray backs of the whales in the distance, and he willed it to take him. 

Willed them to take him. Take him away to live with them like a character out of an old cradle-story—to wander with them through darkness that was never truly dark, over the surreal, senseless landscapes of the world beneath the waves. To be by himself, with no one else to hurt him. 

To be alone.

He wraps the blanket around himself and shivers. It's never warm down here, never dry. But he can bear it. He's borne worse, and here he is. 

He’ll make it across. What comes after is more than he can imagine, but he knows that nothing else will matter if he doesn't make it, and so he will. Leave the docks, find his way through the city, and reach the gates of Dunwall Tower. 

Because it's all he can think to do. Because his memories are giving him no direction. Because he knows less now than he ever has in either of his former lives, and when you're drowning you reach out for whatever has even the remotest chance of saving you. 

He still can't say his own name. But with the ship groaning around him and the whales singing in his ears, he can whisper another. 

Corvo.

 

Chapter Text

“Easy,” Corvo murmurs against his ear, and the Outsider releases a wry, unsteady laugh, because this is not easy and Corvo has to know that. 

And he wouldn't be in the least surprised to learn that for Corvo, that's a not-insignificant part of the appeal. 

Perhaps this should be easy. Perhaps he should be embarrassed that it's not. He's been here plenty of times by now, has in fact been spending nearly every night here although as yet they're keeping that very much under wraps—for all of Corvo’s short but frankly dismal track record of maintaining secrecy around his more potentially controversial private relationships. It's not as though Emily doesn't know about this, with her initially grudging approval less grudging all the time, and stars help him, she actually smiled at him yesterday and the smile was even friendly. 

There's something fun about it, though—sneaking out of his own room under cover of night, creeping silently along the deserted corridors to the door that's always open to him, and in the last ruddy glow of the fire dying in the grate, finding his way to the Lord Protector’s bed. 

To what’s waiting for him there. 

Mouth on his skin, teeth scraping, biting, sucking marks into him that he has to conceal the next day, fingers that leave faint bruises in the shape of themselves, confident hands capable of being so rough with him at some times and so gentle at others. A big, solid body pinning him to the bed, and the pleasure of squirming uselessly beneath it, pretending at wanting to get away just so Corvo holds him down more firmly. 

The way Corvo toys with him, plays with him, makes him moan and cry. 

He's realized more than once, lying weary and damp with sweat and come, tangled in the sheets and Corvo’s limbs, the afterglow of his climax dying through him like the firelight, that he's become what young men like him have become so many times over centuries he's personally borne witness to: the favored concubine of an older nobleman, living in luxury in exchange for the clandestine service his body can provide. 

It's a role he honestly savors the idea of. But he also knows that it's just that: an idea. A fantasy. 

The truth is immensely more complicated. 

And in fact, Corvo seems to enjoy giving pleasure more than he does taking it. Though he’s certainly bold about taking what he considers his share. 

So he knows this bed. And he knows this man, and his delightfully strong hands and the delightful things they can do to him. But the fact remains that particular aspects of this are new, and they aren't confined to the afternoon light cascading down from the glass ceiling, all lazy and warm and faintly decadent. He's been on his knees before but not like this, pushed up on them and braced on his elbows, legs partially spread—piercingly exposed, as Corvo’s hand strokes down his bent spine toward his raised tailbone. 

It's not shame that he's feeling. He's not past guilt, not yet, but shame so far hasn't assailed him. 

But it might not be far off. 

Fuck’s sake, what does he possibly have to be ashamed of? Why should his face and ears and neck be burning like this? Why should he be worried that anything could go wrong? 

Corvo leans over him, presses his lips to the ridge of the Outsider’s shoulder. The Outsider sighs, shivers, and somehow he both tenses and loosens. 

“We don't have to do this, you know,” Corvo murmurs. 

“I know.” Slight tremble in the two syllables. He silently curses himself. Relax. “I want to.”

He was, after all, the one who asked for it. 

“Like I said, I'm going slow. I'll stop the second you tell me to.”

His fingers are at the lower dip of the Outsider’s back now. Very close. The Outsider grits his teeth and presses the side of his face into the mattress, gazing one-eyed at the man reclining beside him. He's suddenly glad they've arranged themselves this way, glad that it's  without him having to find a way to request it. Just because—so far as he can recall—he's never done this before, that doesn't mean he hasn't seen it done ten thousand times. Corvo could be positioned behind him, holding him in place as he works the Outsider open and otherwise not touching him at all. And that wouldn't be so bad either, but this is inexpressibly better: the warmth of him, the closeness, the lips on his shoulder and the broad flat of the hand stroking over him. 

Lingering just over where the cleft of his ass begins. 

The Outsider swallows thickly. It clicks in his throat. “It's too quiet, talk to me.”

A small, amused smile he hears more than sees. “Talk about what?”

“Talk about—” He's fumbling. The bed is so soft under him, somehow almost too soft, like his own bed that first night in it. The quiet isn't total; he hears the faint mumble of two servants passing outside the door, a conversation he can't make out. The sudden suspicion that they're talking about him. “Tell me about the first time you did this.”

Corvo breathes a laugh. “You want my credentials?”

“Oh, shut up,” the Outsider mutters, and not all the irritability is a pose. “No, don't…” He shifts, and without his intending it his legs open wider. “I just want to hear it. Just tell me.”

Long silence. Corvo’s hand is no longer descending; his fingers are moving in place, drawing mindless little circles over the Outsider’s prickling skin. “It was a long time ago,” he says finally—quietly. “Back in Karnaca. Before I came to Dunwall.” 

His voice is low, gravelly though not as much as Daud’s ever was, and there's something about it that the Outsider has found soothing almost from the first—in his new life, not in the Void, where the idea of anything soothing him would have earned a smile of viciously sardonic amusement. But he feels himself uncoiling into that vibration, Corvo’s face blurring slightly, though the distant look in his eyes is impossible to mistake. 

“Who was it?”

“A friend.” Corvo pauses. Another laugh, soft and unvoiced. “More than a friend, I suppose. Not for long, we both knew I'd be saying goodbye in a matter of weeks. Maybe that's why we felt like we could. Like it wasn't such a risk.”

A friend. Dear Corvo, you keep such fascinating company. “Was he in the Guard?”

“Yes. We were in the same unit.” The little circles aren't so little anymore, calloused fingertips sweeping across the top curve of the Outsider’s ass, and with every arc he feels himself loosening still more even as subtle heat begins to seep down between his legs. “It started with too many drinks in a pub. Only kissing at first, and then it went further. Didn't take long after that, not more than a few days. He was…” A wider smile. “Ardent.”

“I'll bet he was.” A smaller reflection of the same smile is tugging at his own lips. “Corvo Attano at not even twenty, I'm sure you had girls and boys tripping all over themselves around you.”

“They liked my fencing,” Corvo says. Something in his tone that's suddenly difficult to read. “I'm not sure how they felt about the rest of me.”

He does know this part. Didn't he see it? The details resist his attempts to recover them, but he knows he did. He shifts again, wishes he could reach Corvo’s other hand more easily. “You never felt like you completely fit in.”

You never felt like you completely fit in anywhere.  

Nod. Unsurprised that the Outsider should know this. “But him, though. Alonzo.” 

“Alonzo,” the Outsider echoes. It's a good name, pleasant on the tongue. 

“Alonzo. He liked me… very much. I liked him. It was good, while it lasted.”

The Outsider groans; the heat settling into his groin is dissipating, and he'll need that heat if this is going to feel as good as it can. “This is all very touching, but I was asking about one thing in par—”

Corvo lands a sharp slap on the fullest part of the Outsider’s ass, and the Outsider jerks with a startled yelp. “I said I was going slow.”

“There's such a thing as too slow.” But there's something about that slap. The heat is flaring, rushing back in, and suddenly he's aware in a way he hadn't been of his cock hanging between his thighs, aware that although it had gone soft, it's beginning to stiffen again. He stirs once more, realizes he's near to rocking his hips. “Did he ask you to do it? Or did you ask him? Did you—”

“I fucked him.” Corvo is closer, and his voice has gone deeper, more throaty. “He asked me to. Begged me to. We had a room in an inn. I think we both knew it was probably going to happen.”

“Was he—oh.” He cuts himself off with a soft gasp, because Corvo’s hand has resumed its progress, his fingers slipping lower, nosing into the crack of his ass, fraction of an inch by fraction of an inch, and the sensation abruptly shivering through him is unlike anything he's felt so far—quivering and hot and needy, and his cock is a lot more than just stiff. It's heavy, not far from aching, and he wants to reach down and curl his fingers around it, and it feels so good to leave it be. 

“He had done it before. I never had. He had to show me… but he didn't have to show me for very long.” Teeth against his shoulder; sudden grin. “You know I'm a quick learner.”

“I know. Corvo, I—” A whine as all at once Corvo’s hand vanishes, and as the Outsider is lifting his head to inquire what the hell is the matter, he sees Corvo licking at his fingers, wetting them—replacing them, and then there's no more distance and a single slick fingertip is lightly circling his asshole, pressing just the slightest bit, and the moan that escapes the Outsider’s throat is fractured and strained. 

“It was amazing, seeing him like this,” Corvo breathes. Those tiny, insistent circles. Press. Circle again. “I didn't think it would be. I don't know what I thought. He was always so strong, and on that bed he was so… vulnerable. For me. Because he wanted me.” A kiss that parts, opens, becomes the sweep of a tongue. “You know how that feels.”

“I want you.” It's frankly amazing that he's coherent at all, wracked with trembling, lifting his ass higher and pushing back, eager. Shameless. He's all but certain that if he looked down his cock would be dripping onto the sheets. “Corvo, I want you, I want—”

Corvo’s teeth close on the outer shell of his ear. “You want me to fuck you?”

The Outsider’s moan transforms into a shaky laugh. “That is the stupidest question.”

Harder bite. He hisses. 

“Tell me you want me to.”

“I want you to.” He senses with a few remaining shreds of coherence that Corvo is expecting more specificity than that. “I want you to fuck me, Corvo, please.”

“Hmm.” Speculative, and at the same moment a firmer press, and the Outsider feels his body simultaneously yield and resist, a fine little primal spike of fear through the need, and he whimpers. What this will actually be like. Being stretched open like that. Being invaded, no matter how unequivocally he's asking for it. “I'm not sure you’re ready.”

The words daze him, and he's struggling to figure out how to protest, even though he knows there are still a couple of steps they're missing before they get down to the serious phase of this process, when Corvo is lifting himself up and maneuvering around and behind, and the Outsider lets out another wordless whimper, pushing up on his hands and craning his neck to see what's happening. 

What's about to happen. 

Which is that Corvo lays a hand against the small of his back and shoves his upper body down at the same instant he grips the Outsider’s ass and opens him wider, and the Outsider is faltering and clutching at the sheets when Corvo leans in and runs his tongue from perineum almost to tailbone in one long, agonizingly slow lick. 

The Outsider freezes. Absolutely stone. Not even breathing. This… He didn't see this coming, didn't even occur to him to imagine it as an option although of course he knows it always was one, and what it’s doing to him now… It's more than arousal, more than surface pleasure, deeper, somewhere beneath his diaphragm and surging up to the core of his chest, and he gulps and squeezes his eyes shut and sends the honey-colored afternoon into reddish darkness. 

He's had his cock in Corvo’s mouth many times, and it's never been like whatever this is. 

A second lick, quicker, a grating rumble of a laugh, and then Corvo is gripping him with both hands and practically jamming his face into the crack of the Outsider’s ass, the incredible mingling sensation of the sandpaper-scratch of his beard and the smooth, wet heaven of his tongue, lapping and flicking, swirling, and pressing, by the Void, pressing into him, and the Outsider grips the sheet as if he might tumble up to the ceiling and crash through that window and plunge into the sky, helpless keening bleeding out of him and into the stillness. 

The murmurs of the servants in the hall are gone. It might be the two of them alone together in the world, a world all their own, and his part of that world is all the delicious torture of Corvo’s mouth, wet lips and tongue and the lightest edge of teeth as if he's actually intending to devour him, and Corvo, oh please, Corvo, yes, please. 

What he's begging for, he hasn't the faintest idea. What he's getting is more than he can fathom. 

He has no clue how long it goes on. What he does know is that finally he can't take it anymore and he's wobbling on one elbow as he reaches down and gropes for his cock, finds it, sobs into the mattress and jerks frantically at himself, precome running hot and slick over his fingers and then, with almost no transition, a dense wave crashing over him and a muffled wail as he comes all over his hand and the sheets, pulsing over his fist and fighting to keep from collapsing as Corvo only continues his assault and licks and licks. 

And stops, pushing back and gasping, chuckling, landing another slap against the Outsider’s ass—that only succeeds in getting another ruined whimper out of him as he shivers on his knees, his slippery cock going flaccid in his hand. 

Wondering, vaguely, whether that happened too soon. 

More movement. The radiating warmth of a body over his, a kiss against the nape of his neck. Breath in his ear. “Turn over.”

Numbly, he does—just about flops, and gazes stunned up at Corvo as he leans over to retrieve a little bottle from the bedside table, unstoppers it and pours some kind of clear oil onto his fingers. 

“Easy,” he says softly, setting the bottle down and settling his other hand over the Outsider’s belly. “Remember what I said. I'll stop if you tell me to.”

The Outsider’s muddy attention flicks from Corvo’s glistening fingers to his own cock, streaked with come and lying limp below the heel of Corvo’s palm, to him, silhouetted in the light, haloed by it, the sun shining off glossy gray-flecked hair and the sweat-sheen on brown skin, and all those scars which, more and more, he's finding as lovely as the body they cover, and his mouth goes dry. 

You're so beautiful, he said that first night, and he's not sure why but he doesn't think it's an easy thing for Corvo to hear even after all the times he's said it since—but it's true every single time, truer, and through his mind-blown exhaustion he mouths the word again. 

Beautiful. 

Corvo blinks. Otherwise gives no sign that he noticed. Transfers the hand on the Outsider’s stomach to the back of one knee, gently pushing upward. 

“Lift your legs up.”

The Outsider does. Instinctively—and because, again, he does know somewhere in the back of his mind how this is supposed to work. He hooks both hands around his knees and lifts himself, spreads, and moans and shivers all over again at how defenseless he is like this. Like Corvo could do absolutely anything to him. 

Like please, please, he will. 

“Good,” Corvo says softly, and reaches down, presses a fingertip against the Outsider’s asshole—doesn't quite push inside. 

“Alonzo was beautiful like this,” he whispers after a moment that seems to teeter on a precipice. “I swear, he was never as beautiful as you.”

Corvo, the Outsider starts to say, and then can’t say anything at all as that finger pushes in, slow and slow and so fucking deep, and the Outsider closes his teeth on the insides of his cheeks to muffle the sounds throwing themselves against his throat and the top of his chest, tosses his head against the mattress as after an unquantifiable length of time Corvo adds a second finger and then a third and draws them back, presses in, a leisurely and unbearably gentle fucking rhythm. 

It's wonderful. It's terrifying. The Outsider grips his legs and gapes unseeing up into the light and wonders how he's ever going to take something the size of what Corvo is going to put inside him. 

That big, warm hand is back on his belly, steadying him as Corvo’s fingers thrust into him—scissoring, stretching him carefully, and after a few more minutes perhaps it's courage or sheer insanity that has him abruptly fumbling for Corvo’s wrist and babbling now, now, I'm ready, I want it now.

He's not ready. But that's fine, because he doubts he ever could have been ready for any of this. 

Corvo nods, withdraws, and there's an instant of terrible emptiness before, after a pause, the Outsider feels something nudging against him that's far too thick to be a finger. 

“Easy,” Corvo murmurs again, and lines himself up and enters him. 

No sound. He has no sound left in him to make. He stares, blind, holding onto his legs for dear fucking life until Corvo takes them for him and he lets his arms fall boneless to his sides as Corvo slides deeper, and he manages to focus enough to see Corvo’s head hanging between his shoulders, face half concealed by the shadow of his hair but sufficiently illuminated for the Outsider to make out the way his eyes are screwed shut, his features contorted with something lost between pleasure and pain. 

As if he's the one being fucked. 

“You're so tight,” he growls. “Ah, shit, you're so fucking tight, you feel so good…” He bottoms out and it hurts, just a little it hurts and it must be visible on the Outsider’s face because Corvo eases off and stops, rests, his head dropped back and his mouth slack as he gasps for breath. 

And there's really nothing to say. 

After a moment Corvo looks down, appears to return from somewhere, licks his lips. His expression is indescribable. “You all right?”

Mutely, the Outsider nods. And Corvo clasps his waist and starts to move. 

Slow at first. Not slow for long. Maybe Corvo was trying for that, but some measure of control seems to have slipped and his thrusts are uneven, each one accompanied by a ragged groan and a torn fragment of a curse. The Outsider merely watches him, watches it happening to him; the sensation is so enormous that he almost feels separated from it. But that's not right. He's riding it, being carried by it; the burning ache of the stretch, of how big Corvo is inside him, how he's making room for himself like staking a claim, and the brilliant stab of pleasure whenever Corvo strikes just the right angle, forcing out a string of broken sobs. 

The Outsider misses when he reaches down and once more takes hold of his own cock, jerking mindlessly; he's only half hard, but he is getting harder, and the idea is coalescing in his mind, what it might be like to come with Corvo fucking him, Corvo fucking his orgasm out of him, and then he's jerking himself off with more determination, tightening his grip and using what's left of his semen to slick his fist. 

“Yeah,” Corvo is muttering. “Do that. Just like that, you slut, get yourself off for me. Let me see it. Show me how much you love it, you show me—” The string of adoring abuse that almost always flows out of him at this point, words that the Outsider soaks up like parched earth in a rainstorm, because he knows what those words really mean, and because there's something about the emotion behind them, that thin sharp edge of anger that never quite goes away, and how the Outsider wants nothing more than to fall apart under it. 

Give up. Give up in the most ecstatic possible way. 

Ecstasy, yes—he's clawing himself upward and he might get there first even though he can tell Corvo is getting close, fast and hard and pounding into him, their harsh panting and the smack as skin slams into skin. Corvo throws his weight forward and bends the Outsider almost double, and the stretch in the Outsider’s hamstrings is brutal enough to make him cry out as his hand speeds up to match the rhythm. 

And it only feels better.

“Come on.” Snarled between bared teeth, so often the preamble to a bite that leaves marks; the Outsider clenches everything and knots up his breath and forces himself toward the apex. “You little bitch, you come for me, you do it now or I'll fucking split you open, I'll fuck you till you can't even walk.”

You really ought to threaten me with something I don't want, the Outsider thinks, and it might be that, the absurdity of wanting to burst out laughing in the middle of this, that tips him over the edge; he drags his climax out, the scorching force of it so mismatched with the weaker spill onto his belly. It almost hurts, dancing along the edge of pain like everything else, and he keeps his hand moving long after the point of overstimulation and it really does start to hurt—because Corvo will want to see that, and he does, and traps a roar behind his teeth as he arches his back and wrenches and drains himself into the Outsider’s quivering body. 

And half falls over him, shaking just as much, breath coming in stuttering, shallow gasps. 

It's not exactly comfortable when Corvo pulls out of him, but it’s not exactly uncomfortable either; once more there's that feeling of bittersweet emptiness, and as Corvo drops heavily onto his side, every remaining meager scrap of muscle tension leaves the Outsider all at once and he goes lax like he's been shot in the head, eyes fluttered closed, floating in the dark. 

Wrapped up. Held. 

This part is so familiar by now. And it's easy, a different kind of relaxation, uncoiling into the powerful arms curling around him and turning into that strong body, tucking his head under Corvo’s chin, parted lips pressed against his collarbone in an arrested kiss. Breathing. Just breathing. 

Nothing else for a while.

The sun is going down. Through half sleep he's aware of that. It's getting on to late afternoon, and late afternoon is getting on to evening, and soon they'll have to get up and leave this room and go out and be part of the world.

At least until later tonight. 

Presently the Outsider lifts his head, gives Corvo a loose and slightly addled smile. “So was I as good as him?”

“Mm?”

“Your Alonzo.” The Outsider kisses the hollow at the base of Corvo’s throat, flicks his tongue against his adam’s apple. “Your first paramour. How do I measure up?”

Corvo glances down at him, brow arched. “You really want to know?”

“See, now you're making me think I probably don't.”

Quiet, tired chuckle. Corvo holds him a bit tighter, and that's good. That's a good thing. “It was different then.” He pauses, and the Outsider can sense him thinking. “That was another life.”

“That's very tactful of you.”

“Stop.” Corvo slides a hand into his hair, tugs a little sharply. Amiably reproachful. “You know what I mean.”

He does. Or he supposes he does. It's difficult to know much of anything just now, with his head swimming so nicely and his body feeling as if it's following a couple of lengths behind. 

“I think,” he says after a moment or two, “that we should practice.”

“You think there's room for improvement?”

“Well.” He smiles, turns his face into Corvo’s throat—the smell of his sweat, his come, his exertion, the undefinable scent that is him. He would be more than satisfied with this. Everything else is grace. “We won't know until we try.”

 

Chapter Text

Emily won't stop looking at him. 

That in and of itself wouldn't be so uncomfortable. It would, under normal circumstances, be uncomfortable if she wouldn't look at him. He's a guest at her table, after all, even if he's not a guest she ever invited or ever would, and her refusing to acknowledge him would be a whole different order of discomfort. 

The fact remains, these circumstances couldn't possibly be further from normal, and in the brief periods when Emily isn't Looking at him—yes, it does deserve a capital L—she's turning those looks on her father, and those are a good deal less stunned and a good deal more angry. 

When she looks at the Outsider, her expression says What the fuck are you doing here. When she looks at her father, her expression says What the fuck are you DOING.

The Outsider doesn't in the least blame her. 

So far, spending the afternoon wandering around the Tower and the grounds and feeling just as lost as before if not moreso, he's gathered that no one else here has any idea who he is. Which they have no reason to, and not merely because he only got here today; very few living people would ever recognize his face, and in fact what people tended to remember, in the rare instances when he deigned to appear to them—in their dreams or otherwise—were his eyes. He doesn't have those eyes anymore, which were the one dead giveaway as to his identity, so now he's only a strange boy drifting around and lurking in corners and staring at everything like he doesn't entirely understand any of it, because he doesn't. 

His room is nice, anyway. It's not big, which is good, because he's had enough of vastness to last several hundred lifetimes. Its furnishings and decor are simple, despite the ornate wood paneling. It has a western view of the Wrenhaven, and standing at the window and watching the sun dip toward the hazy buildings along the far bank was pleasant. There was indeed a pitcher of water, as Corvo said there would be, and he drank until his stomach ached and then tried the door across the room and found himself in a small bathroom, where he made use of the tub. 

And realized that it was the first real bath he'd taken in four thousand years. 

Had to sit in the cooling water for a while with that revelation, watching his hands float. 

He got out, dried off, and regarded the pile of his dirty, ragged clothes with profound distaste; he'd sooner walk around in a towel than put those back on, not least because putting them back on would likely negate many of the benefits of the bath. So he returned to the bedroom wrapped in the towel and, because why not, opened the wardrobe by the dressing table and found several pairs of plain black trousers, gray and blue and white shirts, a couple of black jackets of fine leather. Smallclothes. A pair of new boots with silver buckles. 

He looked at them and gritted his teeth, because maybe it was unfair to Corvo to imagine that he was being gently taunted by being given clothes very much like the ones he had spent thousands of years wearing, but on the other hand maybe it wasn't. 

Well. Anyway. They looked all right and fit surprisingly well for clothes he had never been measured for. 

He thought about staying in the room. Hiding—yes, it would have been hiding. Remaining there until someone came to fetch him and maybe give him some indication as to what he should be doing next. Because again, he is utterly devoid of a plan, because this is so much further than he ever anticipated getting. 

He didn't want to hide. So he left and wandered, until a footman—possibly the same footman who brought the wine and possibly a completely different one, all of them look nearly identical to him—stopped him and told him in tones that suggested that his very presence was offensive that he was to go to the Empress’s private dining room for supper. 

He went. It was a thing to do, and he only got lost once. 

And he walked in, and Emily started Looking at him, and she hasn't stopped since. Except for when it's Corvo’s turn. 

Corvo cuts his boiled potatoes into neat cubes and appears unperturbed. Or perhaps resigned is a better word to return to; a man who has accepted that his position isn't good and simply has to bear up under it until matters improve. The Outsider doubts that this is the first time Emily has been angry with him like this—should know that, in fact, because as with everything else that's happened in the last four thousand years, he must have seen it. Angry in the way daughters get with their fathers, a melange of exasperation and annoyance and a razor-thin slice of betrayal, because how dare he. 

How very dare he. 

Should have left you in the stone, Dad, if you're going to do things like this.

He only wanted to be here. He didn't want to cause familial friction, and it should have occurred to him that it was impossible for him to do anything else. 

He prods at the blood ox steak with his fork. He was ravenous before, but Emily's looks are anti-appetite weaponry. But he feels like he should make an effort; he was worried that leaving the wine undrunk would be bad manners but he's virtually certain that leaving his plate full will be. 

Shit. As if Emily could be placated that way. 

So he cuts a piece of steak and puts it in his mouth, chews. Swallows. It's tasty, as he expected it would be, and he believes he might be able to eat more of it. He spears another piece and looks at Emily in a way he hopes is ingratiating. 

“This is very—”

Corvo.” Emily throws her fork down and gives Corvo the most intense WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING look yet. “What the—What is going—What is this?”

Corvo raises his eyebrows at her over his glass of wine. “What’s what?”

This.” She jabs a finger at the Outsider as if she'd like to use it to poke out one of his eyes. “Him. Why the fuck is the Outsider here?”

“I told you. He's not the Outsider anymore.”

“Yes, you told me, Meagan and the knife and everything, I'm not stupid. It even made sense, which I can't begin to get my head around. That's not the point, Corvo. The point isn't how did he get this way, the point is why he is here?

“He said he didn't have anywhere else to go,” Corvo says placidly. He meets the Outsider’s eyes across the table, and beneath the calm resignation is an obvious sparkle of amusement. Corvo, the Outsider learned long ago, has developed a healthily grim appreciation of absurdity. It's a coping mechanism; if you live the kind of life Corvo has lived, you do that or at some point you give up and go mad. 

As coping mechanisms go it strikes him as eminently worthy of respect. 

“And that's our problem how?

“It's not. We don't owe him anything, I know that. So does he. You should have seen him when he showed up, though.” Now the sparkle is edging toward his lips, tugging at their corners. It's somewhat remarkable to watch. “Looked like a drowned rat dragged itself out of the gutter.”

The Outsider twists his mouth. Thanks for that. 

Though he’ll admit to the accuracy.

“You could have sent him back to the damn gutter, then.” Emily glares. At him and at both of them simultaneously; it's a glare that can fill a room. A hereditary gift from Jessamine. “It's what he deserves.”

“Have we,” Corvo asks quietly, “made a practice of giving people what they deserve? Historically?”

Emily glares in silence this time, her jaw working. Corvo cuts more potato. The Outsider gazes vaguely at the painting above the fireplace and considers the merits of crawling under the table and staying there.

“You know what happened to him,” Corvo continues. He's set down his knife and his fork and is now simply looking at her, and he's looking at her with an expression of undisguised patience and love both fathomless and difficult to behold. Suddenly the Outsider feels, for perhaps the first time, as if he's seeing something that isn't his to see. “You know what they did to him. You saw it. He showed you. I know what he did, he knows what he did. The fact remains, he never asked for it. He didn't ask for this, either. Meagan could have killed him. She didn't.”

“She also didn't fucking adopt him,” Emily growls. But something in her is beginning to soften. 

“She had her own way to go. I think that's how it's always been with her. Us…” He smiles faintly. Just a touch of sadness. “We have our own way too.”

“I said I would leave,” the Outsider murmurs. His voice is rough, and he clears his throat and it sounds far too loud, and again the world under the table beckons. But he steels himself and pushes on. “If Corvo wanted me to. I said I would. I still will.” He pauses, briefly closes his eyes. “If you want me to.” His mouth quirks bleakly. “It's your tower, after all.”

Corvo and Emily exchange a glance. It's not a mutual one in nature. Corvo’s is a shrug. Emily’s is You are damn right it's my tower and I'm going to have you both thrown off the top of it.

But she sighs and scrubs a hand down her face. “I can’t believe this. I can't actually believe this is happening.” She picks up her wine glass and drains the entire thing, reaches for the decanter. “I am far too sober for it. Fine. Fine. He can stay.” She turns on the Outsider, jabbing her finger again. “You can stay. On probation. I get one inkling that you're up to something, that you're going to pull any shit on anyone—”

“I doubt we need a fancy knife to kill him now,” Corvo observes, taking the decanter from her. 

Emily snorts. But it is, at least, a laugh. 

~

The rest of supper is awkward. But it's not murderous, and at the end of it the Outsider slips away before anyone can say anything else and makes his way through the maze of corridors back up to his room, shuts the door and locks it and collapses onto the bed. While he was at dinner, someone came in and took away his old clothes, turned down the covers and lit the oil lamp by the bed. Its glow is warm-hued. Almost cozy. 

First real bed. First bath and first proper supper at a proper table and now the first real bed. Since he left Shindaerey Peak for Karnaca he's been falling back on what he instinctively knows: sleeping on doorsteps in alleyways and under bridges, scavenging the freshest scraps he can find from dumpsters in the back of eateries, begging here and there when it seems like it might be profitable and he stands the least chance of being driven away with a beating. On the ship he had his nest in the hold and the same slop the rest of the deckhands were eating. More than good enough for him, because he was so hungry that just about anything would have done, but even so. 

For his supper tonight he had rare blood ox steak and boiled potatoes with cream, stewed carrots, fresh bread and excellent wine. He can apparently bathe anytime he wants, for as long as he wants. He has a bed all to himself, a bed so soft it feels almost as if he's lying on nothing at all. So soft, in fact, that he's unsure he’ll be able to sleep comfortably in it. 

At any rate, he's not drowsy yet. He pushes himself up, scans around the room for a moment or two, then rises and goes to the small bookshelf by the window and peruses the titles. 

It's mostly histories. A couple of old novels, a general treatise on natural philosophy, several biographies of people whose names he's forgotten if he ever knew them at all. None of them interest him especially, but he finds himself sitting crosslegged on the floor with his back leaning against the bed, leafing through book after book, making note of the names as he goes.

Benjamin. Cuthbert. Phineas. Leander. Olwin. Silas. Pryor. Jack. Faraday. Nestor. Alder. Corwin. Archibald. Gerald. Gideon. Jedidiah.  

None of them work. Not remotely. He can say them just fine, but they don't work. 

He drops the last book onto the floor and rakes his fingers into his hair, pulls until his eyes water. This is hopeless. He'd like so much to be able to give people something, this one thing, and have it feel true even if it isn't. But nothing works. 

He's the Outsider. 

Maybe it's all he'll ever be. 

 

Chapter Text

So many things about this sudden turn of events are difficult to comprehend in their newness, but it blows his damn mind, how much Corvo just wants to kiss him. 

How much, and in how many different places. He gets the distinct sense that this kind of sneaking around is something that Corvo has done before, that he enjoyed it a great deal at the time—and in fact he does know that, does recall fragments of the knowledge he once had and now can't hope to fit into a mortal mind: Corvo and Jessamine in shadowy corners, tucked in out-of-the-way rooms, in her study, in her safe room, more than once in the garden. Laying her down and kissing her under cover of a thornless rose bush. Daring to suck a mark onto her throat in one of the smoking rooms, her cigar still burning in the ashtray. Bending her over her desk and fucking her until she had to clap a hand over her mouth to muffle her cries. In a fit of wild, glorious abandon one hot night in the Month of Earth, sitting on her throne as she rode him. 

Once and only once, he wondered if he was supposed to feel jealous of those images, and then he immediately concluded that it was an extremely stupid notion and dismissed it forever. 

Even if the Outsider had any kind of claim on anything here, which he doesn't, Corvo will always adore Jessamine most of all. Always want Jessamine most of all. The Outsider has absolutely no doubt that on lonely nights Corvo curls his hand around his cock and strokes himself to his climax and thinks only of her. He embraced a decade and a half of total celibacy, and it was merely because he didn't want anyone else, not in the way he wanted her. 

He still doesn't. 

But he does seem to want someone now to the point where he'll break that self-imposed barrier between himself and the rest of the world. 

The Outsider tries to get his new, smaller mind around that, when Corvo has him pressed up against the wall, lips sealed over his and tongue thrusting into his mouth. He combs his fingers into Corvo’s hair and tugs, pulls them flush when Corvo pushes closer, and he tries to conceive of what it means that this man wants him this much. It's dizzying. He can't. He stops trying and sinks into the kiss, moans softly, opens to it with everything he has. 

What he does understand is that Corvo likes doing this. Not just the kissing but the stolen moments in stolen places, the chance of discovery. Just what the consequences of that discovery would be is unclear—surely a servant could be ordered and even threatened into silence, and surely a servant would be difficult to shock, given the things servants tend to be privy to—but it doesn't matter. The risk, the keen edge of danger cutting through the pleasure of it. 

It shouldn't surprise him. The mad daring of Corvo Attano, the casual confidence in his own skill. Corvo sprinting along rooftops, silent as a cat and his balance correspondingly feline; Corvo hurling himself into the air only to flicker out of existence and reappear perched like a bird on a lamppost a hundred yards away; Corvo effortlessly leaping higher than almost any other human could possibly leap and falling like a dark and lethal star, the flat of his blade jammed across an unfortunate opponent’s throat—still able to do these things, because even if the Outsider is gone, the Void continues perfectly well on its own, and the Void was always the true source of Corvo’s power. 

The Outsider witnessed that power in the old times of war, and he bears witness to it now when Corvo practices in the yard, and it's one of his favorite things to watch. 

The morning after his first night in the Tower, pausing on his way down to hunt for the kitchen and breakfast, glancing out a window overlooking the yard and seeing Corvo dancing so deadly with that sword—though of course he restrained himself with every guard who went up against him. The Outsider stood frozen for he didn't know how long as something unexplainable stirred deep inside him. He didn't understand it until several days later. 

Desire was alien to him. This kind of desire, anyway—aching, helpless, a fierce need to merely be near him. Underpinning the other kinds of need he felt, because Corvo leaves him utterly unbalanced so much of the time, but with Corvo he also feels safe. 

Corvo is the Protector. It's what he does. Technically he has no reason whatsoever to protect the Outsider… and yet the Outsider believes he would, if protection was ever necessary. 

But it's also about more than that. 

He gets it now. It didn't take long to get. And now that they both get it, now that they've both surrendered to it, Corvo wants to kiss him and does it at every opportunity, and that's absolutely no problem because what the Outsider wants more than anything right now is to be kissed. 

Although images of what else they might do are breaking the surface of his consciousness, heady and overwhelming. 

Difficult for them not to, the day Corvo presses close enough for the Outsider to feel the hard bulge nudging against his hipbone, the stutter in Corvo’s breathing when he rolls his hips slightly and rubs it against him. The way the Outsider can't hide his own erection and doesn't want to, and he's tugging Corvo’s head back and gliding his wet, swollen lips down the arch of Corvo’s neck, stopping at his adam’s apple, sucking gently as Corvo lets out a shivering groan and rocks against him again. 

Doesn't touch his cock then. Neither of them do. It's just the kissing and the slow grind of their bodies, footsteps in the passage outside the closed door, and will he hear the squeak of the turning knob? Will someone blunder in and catch them at it? He's panting against Corvo’s mouth, breathing in his breath, and Corvo is hooking his fingers into the waistband of the Outsider’s trousers and jerking him forward, speeding up. A hot, deep pulse between his legs—it hits him that he might come like this, come in his fucking pants, that it would be so like Corvo to do that to him, and intertwined anxiety and thick lust spike into him and he sighs Corvo’s name. Moves with him, getting close, a little bundle of sparks crackling at the base of his spine, whispering yes, please—

And Corvo is pushing away from him with a wicked grin, running a hand through his tousled hair and licking his lips. The Outsider notes with hazy satisfaction that they're as swollen as his feel, that Corvo is going to leave the room looking like that, and someone might notice and wonder what he's been up to. 

Let them. They should wonder.

That would be delightful. 

In the meantime the Outsider is left with his cock jammed almost painfully against his fly and no one is going to take care of it but himself, unless he's prepared to suffer the discomfort until he calms down. 

“Fuck you,” he gasps, and Corvo chuckles. 

“Really?” 

The Outsider freezes in the act of reflexively palming himself, nonplussed. “What?”

“You heard me.” Corvo’s erection is still visible through his trousers, and he seems totally unconcerned. Well, the asshole can probably just Blink himself back to his own chambers without encountering anyone and deal with himself at his leisure. “Come to my room this evening. After supper.”

The Outsider has done that more than once in the last few days. For more kissing, and also sometimes just to be there. But everything about those three sentences feels profoundly different. 

Wordless, he nods. 

And he's left alone, leaning against the wall with his teeth clenched as his balls throb. 

Fuck you. 

Well. All right. Sure. 

 

Chapter Text

The cook pauses in the act of kneading the bread dough, staring at him as though she hasn't heard him correctly. “Beg pardon?”

“I said,” the Outsider repeats patiently, and points at the dough. “I want to learn how to do that. Can you teach me?”

The cook looks at him for another moment or two, then huffs a laugh, rolls her eyes, and goes back to it. The Outsider shifts from foot to foot, sweating a bit in the heat of the kitchen, and wonders what he's supposed to do now that this first attempt doesn't appear to have worked. 

He's not even sure why he's down here. He didn't think about it before he came. Except perhaps it simply comes down to feeling like he can't do anything, spending the last three days wandering ghost-like around the Tower and not able to work up the courage to speak to anyone unless he's spoken to first, and even then just not sure about any of it. He's been hanging around Corvo more than Corvo would obviously prefer, because an hour ago Corvo spun on him in the middle of a conference with Emily about an upcoming meeting with a group of delegates regarding a trade dispute between Gristol and Morley and told him in no uncertain terms to go fucking find something else to do with yourself or so help me.

He didn't mistake Emily’s dry smirk as he scurried out of the room. She doesn't actually hate him, not as far as he's been able to determine, but he does think she rather enjoys seeing him in this state. 

Corvo definitely does. 

Let's say I find you interesting. 

So apparently he’s found something to do with himself, standing in the middle of a hot, bustling kitchen full of people preparing for a state luncheon, and requesting a lesson in baking. 

This was a bad idea and he should go away. He isn't. Damn it all to the Void, this is not an advisable place to stand his ground but for once he's going to. Anyway, this is a servant, and he supposes that while he's not nobility of any kind, there is a kind of status system at work here, and he should be able to tell these people what to do with some expectation of being obeyed. 

Shouldn't he?

Who the fuck is he kidding, that's not in the vicinity of the case. But he persists, hesitant and trying to be polite. 

“It can’t be that complicated.” He gestures around. “You've all clearly got a lot to do, why not let someone help if they're offering?”

“Because,” the cook says, stopping her kneading again and wiping sweat off her flushed brow with a stained towel hanging from the strings of her apron. She's a large and matronly woman, exactly what you'd imagine when hearing the word cook. “You ain't offerin’ to help. You're askin’ me to teach you how to do it, and I ain't got no bleedin’ time for that, what the hell you think?”

The Outsider peers at the dough. “It looks like it's pretty much just a matter of pushing it around.” The cook balls it up, turns it over, and slams her sizable fist into it. “And punching it.”

The cook pauses once more, hangs her head and makes a noise that could be a growl and could be a laugh. The Outsider shifts again and debates whether fleeing might in fact be the best move at this point, because she punched the dough awfully hard, as if she's warming up for punching something else. 

“And is the Lord Protector gonna be cross if I don't give the young master what he's askin’ for?”

The Outsider wrinkles his nose. That's the first time he's heard himself referred to that way and he doesn't like it at all. “I'm not—No, I don't think he cares either way, I'm just—”

“Fine.” The cook rolls her eyes again, more expansively this time, and steps aside, making a mocking genuflection in the direction of the dough. “Do what I was doin’ for another few minutes, then shape it like a loaf and leave it sit for a quarter of an hour. You see them ovens?” She points at a row of ovens at the far end of the room, all of them glowing hot and he deduces the source of most of the heat. The Outsider nods. “Stick it in there on the pan with the others, you’ll see. Can't miss it.”

“I—Yes.” The capitulation was so sudden that he's slightly off-balance. “Yes, I will. Thanks. Thank you.”

“Whatever,” the cook mutters, and turns to tend to a cauldron bubbling on one of the stove tops. It's emitting a powerfully fragrant cloud of spice. Not a Gristol dish, no way. Serkonan or nothing. 

The Outsider’s lips curve into a faint smile, and he approaches the dough and regards it intently. All around him the organized chaos continues, constant motion and irritable shouts—it reminds him a bit of the ship, actually, although it's not as violent and it smells a lot better. 

Well. It didn't look that complicated, and if the cook’s directions are anything to go by, it isn't. He glances down at his hands, wonders if he should have washed them; he hasn't been doing much with them, not since he washed them last, but it's still nagging at him, the thought that it's not exactly best practices to plunge in like this. She didn't tell him he had to, didn't seem to care, but still. 

There's a row of sinks in a small alcove off the main room. He darts over to them, dodging around a cursing man carrying an immense wheel of cheese, scrubs quickly, returns to the dough. Good. That's good, that seems right. He draws a breath, tries to shut out the noise, and lays his hands on the flour-dusted lump. 

It feels interesting. It feels unlike anything else he's ever felt, at once smooth and velvety and the slightest bit sticky when he presses more firmly. It's pleasant, he decides, working down with his palms like he saw her do, digging in his fingers and pushing forward. There's something about the combined yielding and resistance of it that he likes. And it's deeply weird and more than a little embarrassing that a sensation this basic, this mundane, should so capture a being who used to spin all of creation around fingers now coated with flour. 

But then he's too focused to be embarrassed. He's losing his attention to the dough, kneading it in with regular, increasingly confident motions of his hands, and the pleasure of simply doing something is more intense than he would have guessed it would be. And doing something productive, making a thing. He made things in the Void, mostly for his own amusement: carved shards of reality, frozen echoes of the world as it was, as it might be, tableaux that he could circle and examine and, sometimes, admire. He wove dreams, formed the jagged outlines of nightmares. Plucked at the short threads of human lives simply to watch what would happen. 

Now he's making bread, and most people would consider that a step down, but it is what it is and he might as well make the best of it. 

Except then he jerks his head up, abruptly conscious of the time—conscious of how he's been unconscious of it. How long has he been at this? The cook said a few minutes. That's not an exact number, probably some leeway there, but he's filled with the uneasy suspicion that it's been significantly longer than that, and what does that mean? Can you knead bread dough too much? What are the consequences if you do? How terrible are they? 

He stands back, holds his hands level in front of him, takes a deep breath. It's not as if it's going to explode. 

He's probably fine. 

Shape it like a loaf and leave it sit for a quarter of an hour. All right. He shapes it, puts it down—wonders how he's supposed to know how long a quarter of an hour is. Again, likely some room for error there. He seems to be generally out of the way where he is, so he stands, flexing his tired hands. His fingers are getting stiff. 

That was definitely longer than a few minutes. 

The commotion around him appears to be dying down somewhat. No one is paying any attention to him. The ovens look as if they're still in full operating mode, however, so after what he guesses is as close to a quarter of an hour as he's likely to count, he picks up the dough, trying to maintain the shape, and carries it over to the ovens, wraps his hand in one of the cloths set aside for purposes of protection from the heat, grips the iron door and pulls it open. 

Blast of heat that makes the skin on his face feel tight. There's a pan set on a baking rack in the middle; it's empty, but he supposes it'll do well enough. He slides the loaf in, clangs the door shut.

It only occurs to him after he does that he has no idea how long he should leave it in there. 

Oh well. Perhaps if he hunts down the cook and asks; he'd be willing to bet that she'd be best pleased not to speak to him again, but in fairness it is the kind of thing he should know, and if he can't find her, someone else might be able to tell—

He's passing the short flight of steps up to the servant’s passage when a hand seizes his arm and pulls him up short, and he turns to find himself staring into Corvo’s confused eyes. 

“What the hell are you doing down here?”

This strikes him as more than a little rude in terms of phrasing, and he shakes his arm loose from Corvo’s grip, scowling. “You told me to go fucking find something else to do with myself. Or so help you.”

“I didn't tell you to cook.”

“You didn't tell me not to.” He's flustered. He shouldn't be. As far as he's concerned, he now has every right to be down here. “What would you have preferred me to do? Read a damn book? I've read them all.”

Corvo lifts his eyebrows. “There's over a thousand books in the main library alone and you've been here for three days.”

“I've read the ones worth reading. And yes, I know which ones are worth reading already, I had thousands of years to sample them all. I don't give a shit about the hundredth account of an expedition to Pandyssia, most of it’s lies anyway. None of you have any idea about Pandyssia, do you know that? You can't even conceive of the truth about it. I could tell you a thing or two that'd blow your brains out the tops of your skulls. Why are you looking at me like that?”

Corvo makes a mostly failed attempt to compose his expression, which is of undisguised amusement. His eyes are dancing with it… which isn't as annoying as it probably should be. 

It's not annoying at all. 

“I'm not looking at you like anything.” Corvo takes his arm again, gentler this time. “Get out of here, if you want lunch. Otherwise you'll be eating the leftovers down here with the others.”

“Maybe I'd prefer that,” the Outsider mutters. “Are you seriously inviting me to a state luncheon? Do you have any idea how weird that would be? What would you introduce me as?”

Corvo is leading him up the stairs now, and damn it, he's following. He's tired, suddenly, and it's extremely hot and he's probably too sweaty to eat lunch with any polite company even if he was inclined to do so. But for the moment he won't resist any further.  The air in the passage is fresher, less choked with spices and smoke. He hadn't realized how oppressive the atmosphere in there was.

Although he still thinks he didn't hate it.

“I probably wouldn't have to introduce you at all,” Corvo says. “No one would notice you. Or if they did it would only be for a minute or two. These people have the attention span of drunk sparrows and they're all here only to be seen and talk at everyone else.”

His tone is getting progressively more irritable as he goes on, and the Outsider studies him with new interest. “You don't like them.”

“No, I don't. Neither does Emily.”

“So why do you put up with it?”

Corvo shoots him a look that indicates that he considers this a ludicrous question. “We have to. It's one of the things people in our position have to do. You do understand that, right?”

The Outsider shrugs. He does, in the most academic way. But on another level he doesn't grasp it at all. Why would one do such a thing if one was sufficiently powerful? What good is power if you can't use it absolutely any way you want? 

That's Delilah’s logic, whispers a voice from the back of his mind. You saw where that got her. You've seen where that's gotten countless people. Never anywhere good. 

And what did Corvo and Emily do when you gave them the Mark? They could have slaughtered hundreds, merely because they wanted to. There was nothing stopping them but themselves. Wasn’t that the entire point of your little experiments?

“I still don't think I should,” he says presently. “I don't… The kitchen is fine. I do think I'd like it better anyway.” 

Corvo looks at him again—more keenly. Searching him. “Why were you in there? Really.”

“Because—” The Outsider abruptly halts, turns to Corvo as Corvo halts as well, crosses his arms uncomfortably and takes a nimble step out of the way of a maid as she passes. “You told me to find something to do with myself. That's the whole trouble. I don't have anything to do. I'm just this… this nobody slouching around, being useless, and I don't mind being a nobody, that part is actually kind of refreshing, but I do mind being useless. You see?” 

Corvo nods slowly, but before he can say anything the Outsider is rushing onward. Something in him has been jarred loose and it's all spilling out, the anxiety and the frustration, and the fear, terrible directionless fear of something he can't hope to name—and the freedom, for a few minutes or quite a lot more than that, which comes with no longer having to deal with a brain chasing itself in circles like a wolfhound gone mad. 

A brain that's suddenly so much emptier than it was, and also full to bursting. 

“I know you hate when I'm around you, I'm sorry about that, but you're this… You're the one thing I know, except for Emily, and she doesn't like me, so you're what I've got, you're all I've got, and I just don't know—” He stops. He's breathing a little hard. Maybe this was a mistake. All of it. What he's saying. The kitchen. Corvo. Coming here. Leaving Shindaerey Peak at all.

For an awful, morbid instant, an instant he barely wants to acknowledge: Maybe she should have gone ahead and killed you.

“I don't know what to do,” he finishes weakly, and looks away. “I don't know what to do. So I… decided I'd try to do something new.”

“I don't hate when you're around me.” 

Corvo’s voice is quiet and level. That amusement hasn't completely vanished, but another element has joined it, a kind of seriousness that feels sincere. The Outsider stares at him, scanning for a lie—but why would he tell a lie like that? Corvo has been enjoying seeing him this way, no question, but it doesn't follow from there that Corvo would be cruel to him. 

He's never seen Corvo be cruel to anyone. Not ever. Undoubtedly he's capable of it… but every time, he makes the choice not to.

The Outsider exhales. “You don't?”

“No, I don't. You just can't be around me all the damn time,” he adds, a hint of his former exasperation. “But you usually keep your mouth shut, and you tend to stay out of the way. I don't hate it. I don't hate you, I told you that. I just…” He purses his lips, looks thoughtful, and the Outsider has to fight to keep from squirming.

There's something about the bent of this discussion that's making something inside him want to squirm. 

“You just what?”

“I don't really know what to make of you,” Corvo says simply. “You show up out of nowhere, like you did, and you're… you're so different. That has nothing to do with whether I want you around me, it's just true, is all.”

The Outsider feels his mouth stretch into a thin, unhappy smile. “I don't know what to make of me either.”

“That much is obvious.” Corvo pauses again, then jerks his chin in the direction of the kitchen. “If you want to be down here, if you want to be a scullery boy, I'm sure as hell not going to tell you that you can't.”

“Excuse you, I wasn't being a scullery boy. I was baking bread.”

“You were—” Corvo looks at him for a moment longer, then breaks into a sudden and faintly incredulous bark of a laugh. “Baking bread. All right. I see.” 

The unspoken implication, of course: You, who used to behold the whole of forever.

“Yes, I know.”

Corvo doesn't seem to have to ask him what he knows. He continues as if the Outsider hasn't said anything. “You want, what, cooking lessons?”

The Outsider shrugs again. I guess?

“I'll tell one of the cooks to help you out, then. One of the less busy ones. Yolanda is older so we give her a light workload and she should have the time.” He inclines his head down the passage, toward the door leading to the hall. “Let’s go. We’ll be late for lunch and Emily’ll be annoyed with me. She's annoyed enough these days as it is.”

“I told you,” the Outsider starts, “I wasn't—”

“Come on.” And then there's a hand on his shoulder, not grasping or pulling him along but merely resting there, heavy and solid and comfortable, and Corvo is smiling at him, small but unguarded and utterly uncomplicated, and that thing inside him turns over again, flipping in the pit of his stomach, and later…

Later, watching Corvo in the yard as he's taken to doing, he'll think Oh.

Oh dear.

“Like I said. I don't hate it when you're around me. Hell, come and be someone I can stand to talk to. Stars know there's pretty much no one else like that there. Except Emily, and she’ll be busy Empressing most of the time.”

Mutely, the Outsider nods and follows. Because even if he wanted to argue with that, he hasn't the slightest idea how he would approach it. 

Two days hence, lying in bed in the sleepless dead of night and staring blankly at the ceiling with his cock going soft in his hand and his fingers sticky with come, drifting in the afterglow of a dizzying fantasy he should have seen approaching and didn't at all, he'll think So was that a first date, or what?

What the fuck is this?

But of course, he'll know. He'll know exactly. 

~

“Well.”

The Outsider hisses in a breath, bites his lip and nods. “Yeah.” He picks up the loaf of bread. It's like picking up a short, thick branch. He knocks it a couple of times against the edge of the kitchen table and it sounds like a branch. It's not quite black but it’s not far from it. Across the room, the cook looks up, huffs scornfully at him, and goes back to the pudding she's pouring into a mold.

“It's not supposed to be like this, is it.”

Not a question. 

Corvo tosses him a glance. His expression is solemn. “I think the important thing is that you tried.”

The Outsider drops the bread on the table. It clunks. Bread isn't supposed to clunk. He raises his head to the ceiling as if to implore something for guidance and closes his eyes. “I'm not going to try again.”

“Why not?” He looks down in time to see Corvo gesturing at the appalling parody of bread—dismissively, as if it doesn't matter. “First tries are always terrible. Remind me to tell you about the first time I picked up a sword and almost cut my right foot off.”

The Outsider coughs a laugh. “This has got to be worse.”

“Don’t be so dramatic. Trust me, it’s not, you're not bleeding to death.” Hand on his shoulder again—a light, encouraging clap. “Keep at it. You'll improve.”

The Outsider looks at him for a moment, once more searching for any trace of a lie and once more finding none. “You think I should?”

“I think you should. And even if you don't improve, it's not like we have to eat any of what you… produce.” Small smile. It's actually… It's warm. “Don't worry about it. If you like doing it, you should do it.”

The Outsider looks back at the bread. As tries go, it's a miserable one. But now that he reflects, he can identify where he likely went wrong, see what he might do differently. See how, if he made an alternate choice, events might change. 

He used to consider that kind of thing all the time. But it was never about himself. 

“All right,” he says softly. Except now he's not thinking about the bread. He's thinking about the hand touching him, the warm weight of it, and how, when Corvo takes it away, he's going to miss it. He's going to want it back. “I will.”

 

Chapter Text

“The Mark is my name, you know.”

Corvo starts, stares at him. The Outsider perceives this from the corner of his vision, doesn't stop walking. Doesn't slow. He's working on maintaining the pace of his breathing. He didn't really expect to say that this evening, but he did figure it would slip at some point, and now that it has… 

He's almost relieved. 

Now whatever happens will happen. 

They're walking along Kaldwin’s bridge—the Watch posts long since dismantled and the houses built back up, and now it's an attractive thoroughfare of stately buildings, the street and broad walkway populated by people out for a stroll, and here and there a few vendors in their stands selling fruit and cheese, sweets and and various sundries. They walked all the way here, down through the Estate District—walking rather than taking a carriage, because the Outsider wanted to walk. Too long cooped up in the Tower, he said, and he's been spending too much time gazing out at the lights of the city and yearning to stretch his legs, and the runs across the rooftops are wonderful but sometimes you want to pretend to be normal, just for a change of pace. No particular place he's wanted to go, but he likes to look at the river, and the bridge seemed like a natural destination. And it's a mild, clear evening—evenings are apparently his favorite time of day—with the sun sinking toward the water, and while he does like it… 

It's making him feel some other things. He's not sure how to define them, except they're not altogether pleasant. 

Melancholy? That might be it. It's been a full four months now but he still doesn't quite get emotions. 

So maybe it was simply time to say it. Time to let go of it, and let this be whatever it's going to be. 

“What do you mean,” Corvo says softly, “that it's your name?” 

“Just that.” The Outsider rolls a shoulder. They're approaching a flower-seller, her stand displaying a riot of color and blooms of all sizes, bold red and yellow and more delicate purple and blue, and he turns toward it, stopping and running his fingers over one of the bouquets—the pink petals soft and cool and velvety. Pink and orange and deep red and hints of purple: the hues of a sunset. 

The girl behind the display smiles at him but isn't yet trying to sell him on anything, which he appreciates. He smiles back. Then her eyes drift beside and past him, widen slightly, and she makes a quick bow. 

“My Lord Protector.”

Corvo gives her a distracted nod. His eyes, when the Outsider glances at him, are focused on nothing at all. The flowers, ostensibly, but his left hand is unfolded from behind his back and it's opening and closing into a fist, almost as if he's testing something. The Mark isn’t currently visible; Corvo has continued to cover it with the broad leather wrap when he's anywhere in public, and especially anywhere he might run across an Overseer. The Outsider gathers that he's not afraid; it's more to avoid a confrontation he would find tiresome, or possibly to keep from exacerbating existing tensions. 

The Abbey puts up with the rumors swirling around the Royal Protector for a variety of reasons. But they don't trust him, and increasingly they're beginning to suspect the Empress of being involved in some unsavory activities. Nobility has always been able to get away with things for which the common folk would suffer punishment, and at this point no one would dare touch Emily… But the tensions remain. 

And in fact, coming down the street are two Overseers right now, and as they pass, the Outsider can feel the pressure of their eyes behind their masks. 

He suppresses a wan smile. If they knew. If they only knew. 

If they knew… Then what? 

That he would be tolerated in the way Corvo and Emily are is no sure bet, not given who he used to be. They would want to drag him away and joyfully burn him at the stake in Holger Square, no matter how human he appears to be—it's not as if the humanity of their victims ever stopped them before. That Corvo would do everything in his considerable power to protect him, he has no doubt. Emily would as well. But even if they can save him, it might strain certain things to the breaking point. 

Especially if the nature of this relationship was publicly exposed. He’s well aware of the difficulties that would create on its own. The potential scandal. And the servants have to know by now. 

It's only a matter of time before secrets slip loose. He knows this better than he knows most things. Wasn't he the god of secrets, once? The god of secrets, of the hidden, of the lost and forgotten. And he saw over and over that nothing can remain secret forever. 

Except his name. 

He reaches into the bouquet and plucks out a single flower—a rose, not the deep red Delilah favored but a brilliant crimson the color of fresh blood. He fumbles in his pocket and produces a coin, hands it over; he's guessing it's more than the rose is worth, but when the girl confirms this and mildly starts to protest, he waves her off. 

What the fuck is money, anyway? It always struck him as a ludicrous construct, the human lust for it weak and stupid and pathetic, and that attitude is one of the things that hasn't changed. That he found himself begging for it as a necessity in Karnaca only increased his disgust. 

He starts walking again. Corvo follows, still not speaking. The Outsider raises the flower to his nose and inhales deeply; the scent is heady and sweet, layered in a way he can't untangle, and it washes over him in a wave of sensation. 

“You always liked blue,” Corvo says quietly. “At the shrines. They were always blue, blue and purple.”

The Outsider breathes a laugh. “The fools assumed I liked blue and purple. They were constantly getting things wrong about me, you know that.” 

“You never bothered to set them straight.” 

“And why should I have? It was easier to let them think whatever they wanted. If I'd tried to correct every misapprehension they had, it's all I would have been doing.” He sighs and turns the rose between his fingers, the heart of it spinning into a slow spiral. “I didn't prefer any color. I didn't care at all.”

“Except when you did.” The words are tight. Corvo is tight, his shoulders and his neck, his entire frame, his fist closed and remaining that way. It's anger, that anger that never totally leaves him, but it's something else. Something far more pained. It's painful to hear it, and the Outside yields under it, takes it. It's his to take. “Did you know? That you were branding your name into me? Into Emily?”

The Outsider nods. Of course he knew, even if he couldn't read it then. 

Some part of him always knew. 

They're in the center of the bridge now, and he turns again, makes his way to the railing, leans against it and dangles the rose over the water, still working it in that slow spin. They're so high.  

“If I jumped,” he murmurs, “what do you think would happen to me? Would I simply drown? Or would the impact break my neck? My back? Would it crush my ribs? How would it kill me?”

Stop that.” An iron grip on his upper arm, strong enough to hurt him, and he winces as Corvo whips him around. Corvo’s expression is a mask of fury. “That's a low fucking blow and you know it, and don't you dare change the subject.” 

“It's not a blow. And I'm not changing anything.” He draws a breath. The rose has thorns, and one of them pierces the pad of his thumb in a thin prickle of pain. “Do you know how much time I spend thinking about dying? It's not about being sad, and it's not about being tired. You don't know how it feels. You don't know how it feels to be four thousand years old. I thought I was never going to die. But I will.” 

He laughs again, and it catches on something in his throat, and the sky is blurring away. Corvo’s face, his form, his eyes. Like the Outsider is already sinking through the water. 

“No one is going to remember my name,” he whispers. “It dies with me. Billie found it but she never knew it, and Daud no longer exists. The cult is gone, but they never knew it either. You don't know it. Neither does Emily, and you two are the last who will ever carry it. Only the dead can read it. And me.”  

He reaches down and takes Corvo’s hand, nestles that clenched fist in his palm and strokes his thumb over where the Mark lies unseen beneath the leather. 

“But you have it. And I can't tell it to you, no matter how badly I want to. That hurts so much. It hurts every single day.” He closes his eyes. A spill, a trickle of hot wetness down his cheeks. He hates crying. He hates crying in front of Corvo most of all. And he can't make it stop. “I would give anything to be able to tell you. I would jump right now if it meant I could before I went.” 

A long moment of nothing. His eyes are still closed, the world red-black, and he tightens his hold on the rose and the thorn digs deeper into his thumb. He imagines the blood welling around it, sees a single drop fall onto the walkway. 

They cut his throat and took every drop of blood from him, and then they took his name.  

Fingertips light on his cheek, swiping the tear tracks away, rough and calloused with work and age. He’ll die someday, but one way or another he's probably going to outlive that hand, and with Emily he’s going to lay its owner into the tomb beside Jessamine, watch the stones close on his name and say farewell to it forever. Neither of them ever speak about it, but they both know it. That their goodbye is going to come sooner than they want it to. That they're never going to have enough time. 

He opens his eyes and the Mark is uncovered now, dark spikes and curves, and within it pulses an almost imperceptible glow. Corvo is gazing at him, into him, like he's cracked open and everything is laid bare. Those lovely dark raven eyes. Only now and then, as in this moment, the sun catches them just the right way and they lighten to deep gold. 

Even after they're closed for all time he’ll see them in his dreams until he doesn't dream anymore. 

“You wouldn't,” Corvo says, very soft. “I already showed you. You know I wouldn't let you fall.”

Corvo has always been a risk-taker, has always loved to dance along that edge. But this is a risk the Outsider wouldn't have believed he would take, and before it happens he's trying to summon the will to stop it but it's too late: Corvo’s lips covering his, almost chaste at first and then not chaste at all, pressing his apart and licking into him, and the Outsider releases his hand and clutches at his other wrist with a low moan. 

Out in the open, in broad daylight, where anyone can see. So let them see. Let them all see and make of it whatever they will. What the fuck should he be afraid of? 

He doesn't have the time to spare for fear. 

At last Corvo breaks the kiss, but he doesn't pull away, tipping their foreheads together, thumb sliding down the Outsider’s jaw. “It wouldn't matter.” Barely any air behind it, mostly just the silent shapes of the words. “I love you, so it wouldn't matter.”

It's not the first time he's heard Corvo say it. I love you, you know. But no other time has been like this, except maybe the first time, with the Clocktower and the night and the flying and the fall, and now it's too much to bear; the Outsider wrenches himself away with a sob and turns, bends over the railing, and lets the rose slip from his hand. 

A pretty scarlet thing shrinking and fading as it recedes. Going to join the reflected red of the water. Merging with it, and gone. 

Arms circling around him from behind. Solid warm body and lips against the nape of his neck, and he goes lax into that embrace and releases a breath like he released the rose—careless, and final. 

But I would still do it, he whispers to the river. If I could tell you my name. Only that. Give you the last thing I have.  

Give you all of me.

  

Chapter Text

The space behind space is cold

The Outsider didn't expect that. He should have, because it's a tiny piece of the Void, but possibly he was just never able to feel it before, because foundational coldness was simply his state of being, and in any case there's a world of difference between knowing and feeling. Now Corvo wraps his arm around the Outsider’s waist and Blinks from one rooftop to the other, and those fractions of a second between are like being hurled into freezing water, a shock stabbing up his spine to his brain and the air crystallizing in his lungs, and all around him whispers like blooming frost. 

Corvo releases him and he stumbles back, looking nervously around as if he doesn't quite trust anything he's seeing. 

He's known for a very, very long time that thin air is anything but. 

Corvo pushes back his cowl and arches a brow. “You all right?”

“Yes. No. Maybe.” He swallows and draws himself up. This is ridiculous; if that's the Void, he lived in there for quite a while, was a part of it, and this shouldn't be a problem at all. 

Except it makes sense to suppose that returning there, even for a fraction of a second, could be a significant problem for him. 

Corvo cocks his head, studying him in the dimness of the streetlamps below and the moon above. “I'm leaning toward no, personally. Was it really that much of a shock?” He lifts his left hand and flexes it, and the Mark glows a faint blue-white beneath the leather that spreads around his fist like an aura. Then it subsides. “You're the one who made me able to do this in the first place.”

“Yes, and I was kind of different then. Remember?” The Outsider takes a deep breath. Slow. There is no reason for his heart to be hammering this way. Possibly this whole proposal was yet another in a string of bad ideas. The fact is that he rarely seems to have good ones. “You act like it's nothing. Was it always like that for you?”

Corvo frowns slightly, thoughtful. “No, it… It actually wasn't, now that you mention it. I got used to it quick but at first it was…” He rolls a shoulder. “Pretty much like it is for you now, I guess.”

“Cold.”

Corvo nods. “Like ice water.”

The Outsider coughs a laugh. “Yes, that's exactly it.” He steps past Corvo toward the edge of the roof. The building they're standing on is fully five stories high, but as he peers over the edge at the steady stream of people passing below—one of the last of the warm nights before the rain rolls in and then the cold arrives on its heels and they're taking advantage, seething in and out of dance halls and theaters and pubs, drinking at tables outside, smoking cigars, laughing, singing—he isn't nervous about that, anyway. 

As far as he can recall he never had much of a fear of heights, and it's nice to know that's still the case. 

Corvo draws up behind him, lays a hand on his hip, and the Outsider presses into it with a little sigh. “Do you want me to take you back?”

“No,” the Outsider says immediately. Quietly. “No, I don't.”

He doesn't. The Blink wasn't even vaguely pleasant, but now he's looking out over the city again, all those lights so much closer than before, the Clocktower rising over everything all top-heavy and oddly skeletal, Kaldwin’s Bridge in the distance, and the mixed, powerful odor of smoke and spilled whiskey and roasting meat. And he doesn't want to leave. He wants to see more of it, be in more of it, and most of all he thinks it might be good to feel Corvo so solid against him as the Outsider clings to him, feel safe even through that ruthless cold. 

Corvo leans closer, presses a kiss to his temple. “If you're sure.” 

“I'm sure.” The Outsider turns and slides an arm around him, hugging him tight—and it might be preparation for another jump, but they both know it's not. He meets their lips in a brief kiss and Corvo sighs. “Do it again.”

Corvo does. And it's not as difficult this time, although the Outsider doesn't like it one bit; that instant of dead coldness—but also now he discerns a sensation of blinding, impossible speed, and understands that it's not winking out of existence and winking back in; it's movement, merely too rapid to see, and that…

Third round, rooftop to a balcony to a lamppost to another rooftop, and he's beginning to grasp why Corvo has grown to love this. Why he seeks it out. It's power, he can feel that for certain and it's undeniable, but it's also the sheer exhilaration, being beyond and above everything in a way totally unlike what he felt in the Void. 

Even if it's the Void flowing through Corvo’s veins and woven into his flesh that allows him to do this. 

They stop to rest on an awning three floors above the street and Corvo crouches and breathes deeply, gathering something in himself. Recovering it. The Outsider crouches too, but his breathing isn't coming quite so smoothly, and when he looks down at his hands he sees that they're shaking. 

A pair of buskers are working the crowd beneath them, a man playing an accordion and a woman handling a fiddle and singing. They're not bad, and the Outsider forgets his pounding heart for a moment or two as he listens.

Corvo nudges his shoulder. “Seems like it’s getting easier for you.” 

The Outsider nods absently; he's still distracted, and now it's by more than the music, and more than the steady stream of people dressed in their bewildering range of clothing as the aristocracy mingles with the commoners, adventurously slumming for a drink in a pub. His gaze is being pulled back up to the rooftops and beyond, to the glowing artificial moon not so far away now, its great spindly hands making their ponderous circles. 

He points at the Clocktower. “Have you ever been up there?”

“A few times. Emily, too.” The Outsider glimpses Corvo’s fond smile—so often present when he talks about her this way. “Couldn't really do what we can do and not want to try, eventually.”

“How hard is it?”

Corvo rolls a shoulder. “Not so hard once you know the trick to it.”

The Outsider turns to face him more fully, searching him for any doubt. Because if he sees any, any at all, he's calling this off and no second-guessing. “Do you think you could do it carrying someone?”

Corvo lifts his brows and looks at the Outsider for a long moment in silence. Looks him over, eyes traveling up and down his body in a very different way from how they normally do—not hungry but evaluating. Calculating. 

“Probably.”

The Outsider gives him a look. “Probably isn't yes.”

“I'm almost totally certain.” Corvo raises a hand, see-saws it back and forth. Eh. “Say ninety-nine percent. You have to leave room for error, I'm sure you understand that.”

“So there's that one percent where we fall and die.”

“You fall and die. I'd probably be fine.”

“What if I did fall?” the Outsider asks softly. Seriously. Because this seems like a contingency he should know about, but also…

He merely wants to know.

What would you do, if you were about to lose me?

Corvo is silent for another moment. Then he lifts his hand and the Mark flares, surrounds it, and immediately across the street it's twin swirls like a mist around a flower pot sitting on a balcony. Another flare, a blur, and the flower pot is in Corvo’s hand. 

Oh. Of course. 

Corvo turns to him, holds it out. It's full of pink carnations. The Outsider accepts it and looks down at it, hefts it. It's fairly heavy. 

He looks up, gives Corvo a crooked smile. “You could have just bought me flowers like a normal person.”

“Right, because we're so normal.” Corvo straightens up; given his size and muscle mass he's not exactly light, but the awning is supporting his weight like he's nothing. He reaches down a hand. “So. That's an answer.”

“You'd be fast enough?”

Corvo nods. No hesitation. But then his mouth quirks. “It did take me some practice to be able to actually catch it.”

The Outsider arches a brow at the carnations. “Oh, really?”

“Yeah, I took a few things to the face. Were you not watching me?”

“Very likely I was.” The Outsider sets down the carnations—which slide a bit but don't drop off the end of the awning, although ten to one it’s just a matter of time—and takes Corvo’s hand, allows himself to be pulled up. It might be his imagination but it feels as though the awning is bowing a bit beneath him, and he steps closer, curling his arm around Corvo’s waist once more. “Very likely I was laughing at you. I just don't remember.”

“I’ll say that’s a good thing.” Corvo pulls him in, seals their mouths together and kisses him for a while, and the Outsider lets out a low moan and allows himself to be kissed in plain view three floors above a street full of people, when there's no reason to assume that the two of them aren't attracting a pack of enthusiastic onlookers. 

Until the kiss breaks and he glances down, and no one seems to have noticed them at all. 

He grazes his lips down the line of Corvo’s throat. “Take me away from all this, then.”

Corvo flies them both away. 

~

It doesn't take long. It takes a considerably shorter time than he might have thought. The reach of Corvo’s Blink is, of course, limited, but that range is still respectable, and the Outsider suspects he's stretching it to its very limit—whether out of an attempt to impress or the sheer pleasure of it, the Outsider isn't sure, although he'd bet far more of the latter. Corvo has never in all the time he's known him displayed any particular inclination to impress anyone. 

He simply does things. He merely happens to be extremely good at a lot of them. 

Over and up and up, into the Estate District and across the glass and slate rooftops of enormous mansions, snatches of a view into the luxuriously appointed rooms below—crystal and drapery and gold filigree, and the Outsider feels a strange cool contempt for them, for how thrilling and exciting someone might suppose their lives are, when for no wealth at all he's soaring high above them in Corvo Attano’s arms. 

But with power. Power bought dear. 

He won't think about that. He turns his face into the hollow of Corvo’s neck, not from fear this time but from a sudden desire to be as close to him as he can, to nestle inside him if it was possible, and then he's feeling the lurching drag of gravity as Corvo angles their trajectory more steadily upward, and he lifts his head and looks down to see the ground receding at an astonishing rate as Corvo hurls them up in leap after leap. Beam to beam, effortless and as graceful as Corvo moves on his feet, and when the Outsider shifts his gaze to Corvo’s face what he sees is so much more than pleasure. 

It's joy. Pure, unadulterated joy. His eyes are glowing with it. Glowing blue-white like a star in the center of their dark.

Perhaps now and then the power was worth the price.

Up and up and up. Until all at once they're at the top, standing on a narrow platform above the clockface, and as the Outsider pulls in a huge, ragged breath, the clock strikes and the ringing vibration of it shivers up his spine and into his teeth, the top of his skull, and he has to close his eyes at the sudden surge of nausea. 

But then it's fading, echoing into the night, and there's only the wind. 

Corvo hasn't let go of him. He's very glad of that. But he turns and looks more fully, soaks in all that world, so much of it in view at once. Dunwall spread out below them like a glittering pool of dark fabric, and beyond it, the Wrenhaven expanding into the sea, tiny lights passing over the water as the ships come and go. 

He knows that they're technically no higher than the top of Dunwall Tower. He's taken in the view from there a hundred times by now. But somehow it was nothing like this. 

He lays his cheek against Corvo’s shoulder. “It's beautiful,” he murmurs.

Corvo grunts. Nothing romantic in that sound. “Everything looks beautiful from a distance. Get close up and it all changes.” 

“That's not always true.” Awkwardly, trying not to pay attention to how near the edge he is even if it's not exactly scaring him, the Outsider turns in Corvo’s embrace and tilts his head back enough to see him clearly. Reaches up and strokes his fingertips down Corvo’s jaw. “It's not true with you.”

Normally this is the kind of thing Corvo would shrug off. For reasons the Outsider doesn't quite have a handle on, Corvo seems to find it difficult to hear that he's beautiful, to hear that he's physically attractive at all. Which surely he must know; a second’s glance in a damn mirror should make it piercingly obvious to him. In fact he's certain that Corvo does know it in the most academic sense. That he was handsome at eighteen, that he was handsome at forty, and that at fifty-five he's as handsome as he's ever been. 

It's not about age for him. Corvo is serenely unbothered by age. It's something else. It's deeper. 

The Outsider has accepted that there are mysteries hidden in Corvo Attano that even he might never unravel. 

At any rate, in this moment Corvo isn’t shrugging it off at all. He's merely meeting his gaze, staring into the Outsider’s eyes, and his own are still practically glowing, remnants of that joy, but now there's a look in them that the Outsider doesn't know how to begin to describe. 

It might be a kind of glorious madness. 

Corvo takes his wrist, doesn't pull it away. Holds it in place and caresses it with his thumb as he tips their foreheads together. 

“I love you, you know.”

I love you. 

The Outsider jerks. He can't help it, it's as if he's been slapped; he jerks backward at the same time as he clutches at Corvo’s coat, gaping, eyes so wide they nearly hurt as the wind sweeps up the tower and rattles the platform. I love you. He totters, sways. I love you. He's shaking his head, mouthing no, no, not because he's denying that it can be true or because he's rejecting it but merely because he can't, there are so many things he doesn't understand anymore but he is absolutely certain to the marrow of his human bones that if two months ago someone had stared into the lightless pits of his eyes and told them they loved him, he would have had no more notion of how to process it than he does now. 

Somehow he's slipped free from Corvo entirely, his hand fallen away from his coat. The wind is pulling at him, and Corvo is lunging for him with a cry but he's stumbling one last time and tripping and going over the edge, not falling but weightless in the air, and he believes he might simply drift away on the wind like a shed kingsparrow feather and be borne out to sea. 

Down. 

He doesn't understand this either. He spins, grabbing at nothing, and part of him is panicking but most of him is merely confused. By all of it; somewhere back under the Clocktower he lost his grip on everything and he has no idea how he's supposed to get it back, except at some point he has to land, and perhaps things will make sense then. 

The ground rushing up at him. That makes all the sense in the world. 

He doesn't land. He never lands. Searing, whispering cold blooms around him, time seems to grind to a halt, and he's rocketing backward and upward, his eyes squeezed shut as all the blood in his body packs into his head, and then the cold is gone and it's only arms around him, clasping him so tight he can't breathe at all, and that sensation of unreal speed. 

Solidity under him. He's not released. His knees are melting and giving out and Corvo isn't releasing him. 

Corvo won't let him go.

A burning face jammed into his throat, lips moving. He can't hear but he can feel the shapes of the words: Don’t ever, don't you ever fucking do that again, don't you ever do that to me, you bastard, don't you fucking dare. 

He can only shake his head. 

At last Corvo is pulling back, staring at him. Trembling all over, all the joy gone from his eyes and awful terror flooded in to replace it. His jaw works—and, absurdly, he laughs. 

It sounds like choking. 

“Well,” he says, “I wasn't trying to kill you.”

The Outsider merely looks at him for a long time. Still bewildered, still trying to work out the key to this new puzzle. Turning it over and over in his mind, examining all its angles and corners and coming up with nothing. 

I love you, you know.

“One percent,” he whispers, and collapses onto the rooftop. 

Corvo goes down with him, arms still wrapped around him—holding him, and after a few seconds the Outsider holds him right back, because through the adrenaline fog he senses that it's Corvo who needs to be held now, who feels watery and weak, who's trembling and perilously close to tears. 

The Outsider holds him and looks up at the clock. No way it's been an hour, but it's chiming again, no longer sickeningly loud but low and musical. 

Only beautiful at a distance. Except that's not true of everything. 

There is only one answer, and it was never killing himself. Not that he'd been trying to do that, but still. 

He buries his face in Corvo’s hair, kisses the crown of his head. Kisses everywhere he can reach. They'll go home now and he’ll do what he wanted to do that first night they leaped beyond kissing, and he'll lay his mouth on every scar, map that landscape, lose himself in adoration of it. 

I love you, he breathes. I do know. Oh, I love you too.

Because he does. 

Perhaps he always has. 

 

Chapter Text

“Hi.” 

The Outsider jumps, whips his head around, nearly jumps again when he sees who it is. That it's anyone is bad enough, but that it's her—and he didn't hear her come up behind him, which is unsurprising, given that he's seated on a bench overlooking the yard where Corvo practices, watching Corvo practice, and finding it increasingly difficult to do anything at all other than watch Corvo practice. 

Such as breathing, maybe, because suddenly he's just about panting as if he's been holding his breath, and he knows that has to seem weird, although his one saving grace right now is that Emily already thinks he's extremely weird and he's unlikely to do anything to sway that opinion in one direction or the other. 

At any rate, he exhales deep and slow in an attempt to get everything under control, but Emily doesn't appear to have noticed. She says nothing else, does nothing else—except she sits down on the bench beside him, which is somewhat jarring, and he tries to stare at her without staring at her and feels like he's probably failing. 

She flicks a loose strand of dark hair out of her eyes and glances at him, her expression unreadable. “He's as good as he ever was, isn't he?”

The Outsider frowns, confused. He? What he? What is he? But then his train of thought finds the track again and he coughs, rolls a shoulder. Not looking at Corvo. Not at all looking at Corvo. Not looking at Corvo as he spins and feints and parries, lunges and dives, dances with the sword and no visible partner, because he doesn't need one. And he doesn't need power from the Void to do this, to be this gorgeously deadly. 

The Outsider is not looking at that. He's looking intently at a loose rock under one of the bushes. What kind is it? Granite? Quartz? Once he would have known instantly. It isn't a question of retaining knowledge; he simply would have looked at it and known, and known everything about how it got there and where it was going next and what it was all going to mean. 

Emily waves a hand in front of his face. “Hey.” She snaps her fingers. “Are you all right?”

I can't stop looking at what your father is doing with his body and it's distressing. He coughs again. “I'm fine. Yes.” He gives her a single nod and what feels like a decidedly feeble smile. “He's very good.”

“You'd have his entire life to compare it to, wouldn't you?” She doesn't sound snappish. Maybe the smallest bit sardonic. But her tone, like her expression, is difficult to read. “You were probably watching him since he was a baby.”

“I was watching everyone,” the Outsider says quietly. It could be a mistake to pick up this particular ball and carry it into this particular territory, but he's never been good at deflection. Or he hasn't been good at deflection in the past couple of weeks or so, which is all he has to go on. “I just paid more attention to some people than others.”

Emily grunts. Once more unreadable. It might be in the general vicinity of a laugh. 

“You're very good too, you know,” the Outsider says after a few seconds of silence. “I watched you when you were fighting to take back the throne, of course. I've seen you with him. You're every bit as good as he is.”

Emily swings her gaze back to him, sharper now, and also questioning—questioning herself rather than him directly, and he can guess what she's asking. Is he genuine? Or is this some kind of a game he's playing?

“I do mean it,” he adds wearily. “I actually do mean most of the things I say. I always did, in fact.”

Corvo said it. He wasn't wrong. You never lied. 

Slowly, Emily nods, and something in her face clears a bit. She still isn't about to get friendly with him, but she does believe him. “You never did lie,” she says in an unknowing echo. “You were manipulative as all hell, but you didn't lie.”

In the yard, Corvo is swiping the toe of his boot across the gravel, smoothing it to something that's more to his liking. Taking up another pose and snapping himself forward in a thrust that puts the force of his entire form behind his sword. The sun is high, and it's shining on his hair, making the buttons on his coat gleam. Most people would take off their coat for this. Corvo never does, and the reason why is obvious. 

He doesn't have the luxury of getting comfortable. 

“Why are you out here watching him?”

The Outsider nearly jumps again. Partly because he'd been close to losing himself once more, but also because that's a question that he had been dreading in a half-articulated kind of way, and now it's out in the air and he has to answer it somehow. 

He shrugs in a way he desperately hopes looks casual. “Oh. You know. Nothing better to do.”

Emily’s eyes narrow again—but there's also a smile hovering around the edges of her lips, and it's neither an unpleasant nor an unfriendly one. “Is that so? I'm told you're taking cooking lessons.”

“I—I am, yes.” He fiddles with the hem of his sleeve. Across the yard, two of the Tower Guard are leaning against the wall and observing Corvo as well, and he wants to gesture wildly in their direction and say see, see, they're watching too, can't someone just watch something if they want to without it meaning anything? “We’re done for the day, though.”

“What are you learning to cook?”

“Stew,” he says absently. The line of Corvo’s back. The easy way it bends. The turn of his hips. The set of his shoulders, how they seem to be straight no matter what he's doing, as if every part of his body is controlled independently and all parts work together in smooth precision. That can't be true. Corvo can't actually be that perfect. No one can. “Yolanda said we should start me on something simple. I seared it, I'm very bad still.”

Definitely a smile now, tiny and more than a little wry but he's certain of it, and he's not sure what to think about it. “I was told that too. About the… bread incident. Also the stew.”

He jerks his attention away from Corvo and everything Corvo is and shoots her a look. Nothing to even distantly match the power of her Looks, but regardless. “Do you have spies on me?”

“Of course,” Emily says simply. “I'd be stupid not to.” 

“What about your Spymaster?

“Mm.” She's gazing thoughtfully at her father, rubbing her thumbs over her knuckles. It's something she does when she's in a meditative frame of mind and has since her early teens. Not from Jessamine, or from Corvo; that little tic is all her own. “I'm not sure.” Her mouth twists. “I think he might like you too much.”

“He doesn't—” the Outsider starts, mildly aghast, and then skids to a halt. Because there are a lot of things going on right now, but in particular there was the other day in the servant’s passage, and then there was lunch, and Corvo isn't exactly talkative even in his most expansive moods but the Outsider does recall distinctly that Corvo spent most of his conversation on him. 

Thought he can't for the life of him recall anything Corvo said. 

“He does,” Emily says. She still sounds thoughtful. “He's trying to not let it show, especially with me, but he does. He lets you hang around him, for one. He doesn't let anyone do that, and it's not just about protecting me.”

The Outsider simply looks at her. Looks away. Back at Corvo, who's pausing to take a swig of water from a jug on a nearby table. He tips his head back and the muscles of his throat work as he swallows, his skin gleaming with sweat, and the Outsider’s mouth is dry as old bones. 

She's going to see. On his face, she's going to see. He's not even completely certain what she'll see, but there's no way she won't see it. 

And then something terrible will happen.

“Why are you talking to me?” He shifts uneasily. “Maybe he likes me, but you don't.”

“I’m not sure what I think about you yet,” Emily says, her voice carefully even. “I'm trying not to have any preconceptions. He's right about one thing, it really does seem like everything with you is different now. Most things, anyway.” She leans forward a little, catches his eye. “I'm sorry I threatened to kill you at dinner that first night.”

The Outsider waves it away. He'd say he was wrong-footed by this, but he doesn't remember what it feels like to have either of his feet be right. “It's fine, he's been doing it too.” 

“Yes, but I'm not apologizing for him. He's his own business. I'm talking about me. So I'm sorry.”

“It's fine,” the Outsider repeats softly, and then doesn't know what else to say. 

Corvo is moving again. He looks as if the laws of gravity don't quite apply to him. Probably because they don't.  

“So,” the Outsider adds, “you're not going to kill me, then?”

“Well.” Emily grins at him, and it's deeply unsettling. She doesn't grin as a rule. It's just not a thing she does. She has many teeth and they're all extremely white. “I suppose you might still give me a good reason.”

~

The first night in his room, instinct told him that he might have a difficult time coping with the softness of the bed, and his instinct wasn't wrong. He had to accommodate himself with a nest on the floor, not unlike the one on the ship except a massive improvement in every respect. Since then it’s been a process of gradual acclimation, and last night was the first night he got in bed and slept straight through until morning. Although he never would have admitted it to anyone, he was fairly proud of himself. 

He should have guessed he'd slide backward a bit the next night. That he's lying here fully awake after two hours of trying not to be shouldn't in the least surprise him. 

But by the Void, it's obnoxious. 

He should just give up. Go back to the floor for now, give it another shot tomorrow. Worry about getting some fucking rest rather than trying to squeeze how he does it into some kind of mold which is, after all, alien to his every human experience up until now. Yet he's not giving up; he's stubbornly lying here and staring at the shadows thick on the ceiling like he has something to prove to someone. 

Who? Who gives a shit? Who gives two shits where he sleeps and how? 

Fuck it, he mutters, thrashes a little, and comes to rest on his back again with the sheet pushed down low around his waist. As if he might be about to get up after all but can't quite commit. The air in the room is cool but to him it seems oppressive and even without a shirt he feels overheated. 

There is one thing he can try. 

He's done it a few times in this round of living, but not since he got here. All those times before it was quick and furtive and more like a release of tension than anything else, but it felt very good even if it was somewhat utilitarian, a few minutes where the sensations his body was giving him overwhelmed all but the most primal part of his brain. He doesn't know that he'd exactly call it fun, but it's at least been relaxing.

He could do with relaxing. It might not be enough to knock him to sleep, but worst case scenario, he'd feel better about being awake.

He kicks the covers down lower and reaches into the light cotton pants they've given him for sleeping. 

When he gets going, he tends to come fast. Getting himself to that point is usually the difficulty. Orgasms he can clearly do, but arousal before he's touching himself seems beyond him so far. This is yet another part of his body that he's learning all over again, but it appears to be marked by a kind of capriciousness that other physical needs don't carry. It's like emotion only it's not. It's like hunger only it isn't. Just what does he like, anyway? What does he want? Almost everyone wants something, from the prudishly conventional to the baroquely perverse. Void knows he's seen it all. He’s seen beauty and grace. He’s seen hideous acts. He's seen things that would get the most pious Overseer hard enough to cut diamond and other things that would wilt a normal man’s prick for the rest of his natural life. 

But when it comes to his own preferences, he's fumbling as badly as with anything else. 

At least the fumbling isn't literal. He has this part pretty much down. He slides his fingers over his flaccid cock, only stroking—light, almost lazy, and it hits him that he doesn't have to be quick or furtive now. This is his bed in his room, and he doesn't have to conceal anything, nor is he operating on anyone else’s timeframe. He can do whatever he wants with himself, and he can take as long to do it as he cares to. 

The sheer freedom of that is dizzying. 

It's also apparently something else, because he's stiffening now, and he curls his fingers around his cock and squeezes and toys with it a bit, tugs at his foreskin, idle and with no real direction, and the enjoyment of feeling the blood flowing into his groin and the heat beginning to pulse there is entirely new.

His eyes flutter closed. He doesn't have to think. He can feel, and let his mind drift wherever it wants to. 

He can let it drift back to the yard, into sunlight unusually bright for Dunwall on a day unusually fair even for the season, and Corvo performing his lovely danse macabre, sword flashing in the sun, all of him flashing as if he himself is a weapon—which he is, all of him whether or not he's armed, perfectly formed and perfectly honed. 

No one else is here. It's just Corvo. 

And him. 

He's not on the bench. He's walking down from the doorway, and he's not trying to hide his presence; he has nothing to hide, nothing to be afraid of, and he can watch Corvo do this if he wants to, and no one will see, so he has nothing to explain. He can watch and let it soak into him like the sunlight, that powerful, graceful form in flawless motion, and he doesn't even have to do it from a distance. One wants to maintain a safe distance, of course—Corvo does have a sword, after all—but he can edge right up to that line and stand and watch. 

And if Corvo sees him… Well. Apparently Corvo likes him. 

So surely he wouldn't mind. 

He doesn't. It's clear that he doesn't, because he's pausing and lowering his sword and turning to face the Outsider, breathing hard and yet somehow as controlled as everything else he's done, and he's not angry, he's not annoyed; that's something like a smile curving his lips, and now he's flicking the sword closed and coming toward where the Outsider stands and watches, those long and unhurried strides. 

But very close, very fast. Like the Outsider blinks and he's there. As if he did Blink, only there was no flare of blue-white glow. He's simply here, in front of him, and the Outsider glances down and sees that they're almost pressed chest to chest. Which is strange, because Corvo has never been this close to him, and even if Corvo does like him, he can't possibly like him this much. 

I was just watching, he's starting to say, for the first time here feeling slightly uncertain, and Corvo doesn't speak and also doesn't let him finish before he's raking his fingers into the Outsider’s hair and yanking his head back and kissing him, kissing him, forcing the Outsider’s lips apart to make way for his demanding tongue, and the Outsider lets out a muffled, slightly panicked groan and gropes for Corvo’s shoulders. His waist.

His hips. 

Something hits his back. The wall. Somehow now the wall around the upper garden and the rosebushes dangling their heavy blooms over it, and their dense scent swirling all around him as Corvo traps his body against the wall and keeps kissing him, hand snaking between them to palm the Outsider’s cock through the thin fabric. To squeeze. 

Somewhere, altogether elsewhere, his own hand doing the same.

To trace up and down its length. Because suddenly the fabric isn't there anymore. He's naked, completely, and Corvo is still fully clothed and why that fact alone sends a jolt of blue-white lightning straight down his spine to hum between his legs is more than he can hope to explain. It simply does, and he shivers against the wall and rolls his hips helplessly into Corvo’s hand, whimpering, pleading for something, for anything at all—that strong, sure hand. He's felt it on his arm, his shoulder. He's felt it entirely too much. And this is exactly how he imagined it would feel gripping his shaft and stroking roughly, because didn't he imagine it? How could he not imagine that? How could he not imagine Corvo Attano pinning him to a fucking wall and biting at his lips and throat as he jerks him off in sharp, merciless motions of that marvelous hand? 

His whimpers and moans are bleeding together into a steady stream of incoherent noise. Beneath that noise he's dimly aware of the wet smacking sound as his own hand does what Corvo’s isn't doing, rising to a furious pace as he rocks his hips up, fucking his fist. No, fucking Corvo’s fist, because there is absolutely no mistaking that hand and what it can do, what it's doing to him, what he desperately wants it to do to him; his head falls back and his mouth stretches open as he starts to shake from the base of his spine to the top of his skull, and Corvo swallows his jagged cry, grinning, teeth bared against his as the Outsider comes all over his amazing, paradisiacal, hellish hand. 

I do like you.  

I like you very much. 

Fuck,” the Outsider gasps into the dark. Still gripping himself as the last tremors race through him, pants rucked halfway down his thighs and come spattered up to the apex of his ribcage, his eyes wide and his breath coming in shallow bursts. “Oh, fuck. Oh fuck, oh fuck.” 

This is terrible. This is the terrible thing that he thought would happen. No one needed to see it in him. He just needed to lie down and let it roll over him. 

Fuck. 

He stays there for a long time. After that long time is finished, he turns over and with a burning face he uses a corner of the sheet to clean himself up as best he can. He has no idea how much of an indication of anything this is, but there is no way that he's ever ejaculated with this much force to this degree in all his recent experience with this particular activity. 

He probably should have gotten up and washed off in the bathroom. When she takes the sheets to be laundered, will the chambermaid somehow spot it? Will she know? Will she, through some kind of demonic second sight, know not only what he was doing but what he was thinking about while he was doing it? 

Will everyone know? 

He rolls over and faces the wall, drawing his knees up and his arms in, as if he's trying to avoid someone’s notice or someone’s blows. But it's not that. The fear he's feeling now has nothing to do with that. It's a new kind of fear, as if he needed a new one, and he hates it…

Except part of him doesn't. Not wholly. 

You had to invite me to lunch, he thinks. For some reason that's what he's fixated on now. You had to go and do that. Or you didn't have to but you did. So was that a first date, or what?

What the fuck is this?

But of course, he knows.

He knows exactly. 

 

Chapter Text

“What are you doing?”

Corvo looks up with faint annoyance as the Outsider snatches the papers out of his hands and scans them in the assertive light of the late morning sun—Serkonan sun, coastal Serkonan sun, which seems to be of a particular kind and which the Outsider personally can't get enough of. He's actually less pale than he was, although still paler than he should be, certainly next to the skin of Corvo’s bare torso—browner now even than usual—which he's mostly resigned to at this point. 

What he is not resigned to is the papers he's taken from Corvo—rather suspicious-looking papers from all the way across the terrace in the villa’s doorway, and now even more suspicious up close. He leafs through them, frowning. 

“‘My Dear and Most Esteemed Lord Protector, it would honor me beyond measure if you could—’ ‘Honorable and Gracious Lord Protector, it is with some diffidence that I write to—’” He lowers the sheaf of papers, now close to glaring, although it's at the papers more than at Corvo. “Are these petitions from the nobility?”

Corvo sits back in the chaise lounge chair, jostling the spindly little table and rattling his coffee cup in its saucer, and sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. “What gave it away?” 

The Outsider shuffles through them again, although he no longer registers the words. They're all practically identical anyway. “I thought you said no one knew we were here.”

“I thought no one did know we were here. Clearly someone let it slip.” 

“Who? The carriage driver? The porter? The woman who opened up the house? I didn't like the look of her. You should kill them all just to be safe.”

Corvo rolls his eyes extravagantly and picks up his coffee. “I'm not killing anyone, we’re on a holiday.”

“We’re supposed to be on a holiday,” the Outsider points out, and flings the letters onto the terrace. They scatter satisfyingly across the flagstones, stirred by the warm wind coming off the ocean. “But I think you were almost doing something that looked way too much like work.”

Corvo looks up at him, turning the coffee cup in his hand, squinting a little in the sun. “I wasn't going to answer them individually.”

“You're not going to answer them at all. Not even a form letter. You're going to pretend they don't exist. I'll throw them into the sea if I think you can't control yourself. I might do that anyway.” He settles himself lightly on the arm of the chair, angled toward Corvo, and plucks the cup out of his hands, taking a sizable swallow. “Stars, this is good. Why don't you have anything this good in Gristol?”

“This kind doesn't travel well.” Corvo shrugs. “Or so I've been given to understand. It's not like I'm an expert.” He appears to be tolerating the theft of his coffee with placid amiability, and he nods at the letters. “What if one of the people who sent those decides to pay a personal visit when they don’t get a response? Because it does seem like they know where we are.”

“I told you, you can kill them. If you're going to read their letters you can damn well cut their heads off.” The Outsider leans closer. He's perilously near to sliding into Corvo’s lap, which might be part of the plan he's formulating. “So the nobles spent no time reconstituting themselves after the Duke got locked away. See, that's what you get for not killing someone.”

Corvo runs two fingertips up the Outsider’s bare arm and earns himself a very slight shiver. The lap option is more and more attractive. They've already spent the better part of the morning in bed and not using it for sleeping in, but the Outsider has remarked more than once on Corvo’s impressive stamina for a man in his fifties. His theory is that Corvo is simply making up for lost time. 

“Why are you so eager to see me kill someone? I thought you were proud of me for not doing that all the times I could have.”

“But the times you did, you made it look so good.” The Outsider leans down further, buries his face briefly in Corvo’s hair. Fine milled soap and just a lingering hint of sex. “You make everything look good.”

Corvo closes his hand tighter on the Outsider’s wrist, tugs, and the Outsider raises his head to meet serious dark eyes fixing his. The tiniest bit reproachful. “You shouldn't be cavalier about something like that.”

“I know.” The Outsider exhales and looks away—off down the short flight of stone steps descending to the beach and the expanse of sapphire-blue ocean beyond, fluffy white clouds drifting off-shore. It's not a large villa and it’s not a large beach, but it's all theirs, no one else for miles, and there's something unbelievably luxurious about that. “I'm sorry. It's just… It’s so easy to take nothing seriously here.” 

“Of course it is.” Corvo releases his wrist, lays his fingers against the Outsider’s jaw and turns his face back to him. A smile is pulling at the corner of his mouth. The letters rustle like leaves. “That's the whole point.” He pauses. “You look happier. You have since we got here.”

“Not Karnaca.” The Outsider makes a sour face. “I know it’s your hometown and everything but I've had enough of that place to last a hundred lifetimes, thank you very much. But this.” He brings his cunning plan to fruition, sets the coffee down in its saucer and slips into Corvo’s lap, curling an arm around his neck. “This is nice.” He glances at Corvo. “But I thought we were here for you.” 

“Emily did tell me to go.” Yes, Emily, with her exasperation at a breaking point, instructing her father in no uncertain terms to go on a holiday for once in his fucking life or he’d need protecting from her. “But I gave in because of you. You were starting to think too much again.” 

“That's very considerate of you.” The Outsider brushes their lips together. “It's hard,” he says after another moment. “Not thinking. I used to do it all the time, you see. I don't even know that I'd call it thinking, it was so much bigger than that. When you know as much as I did, you're always working through it.” His gaze returns to the beach, the waves, watching their regular swell and collapse. “It was like… assembling a puzzle that can fit together a hundred thousand different ways. I saw all the pieces. I saw the pictures they could make, where they could go. Now and then I was actually surprised… but it didn't happen that often.”

You. You never stopped surprising me.

Corvo runs a hand down the Outsider’s thigh to his knee, gets another shiver. The skin there isn't bare, but the trousers are made of light Serkonan linen, ideal for hot days, and sensation passes through them almost as if they're not there at all. “Old habits die hard, then.”

“I can't see anything now. I like it that way. But it's still difficult to stop.”

“But this is helping?”

The Outsider ducks his head and kisses him again—longer this time, a little harder, a playful flick of tongue. “It's helping.” He combs his fingers through Corvo’s hair and gazes down at him, the way his face is lit by brighter sunlight than Dunwall almost ever gets. It's all in full relief, every fleck of silver-gray at his temples and in his beard, the lines around his mouth and eyes—from smiling but a great deal more from cares. Worries. Anger. Grief. 

You need this more than I do, he thinks, and don't try to tell me otherwise. 

“It's almost lunchtime,” the Outsider murmurs, casting a glance at the sky. “I have redshark fillets in the icebox.” 

Corvo raises a brow. “Is that so.”

“Mmhm. And olive oil.” He shifts in Corvo’s lap, maneuvers himself around to face him—straddling him, hands on his shoulders and smoothing them up to the base of his throat. Corvo leans his head back and hums, curling his hands over the Outsider’s hips. “And peppers.” He leans in, kisses the hollow where his thumbs rest. “Tomatoes.” Corvo’s adam’s apple. “Garlic. “ Scrape of teeth under his jaw, and Corvo sighs and angles his face to allow the Outsider more access. “I was thinking I'd bake them. Sauté the rest, you know, but the redshark, that's delicious baked.”

“That sounds amazing.”

“I think it will be.” The Outsider flashes a wicked smile and drops his hands, flicks his thumbs over Corvo’s nipples, and now it's Corvo’s turn to shiver, a soft moan escaping him. “But I’m hungry now.”

But he doesn't move, not immediately; he's fitting so perfectly into Corvo’s lap this way, rocking his hips a bit and feeling the hard length pressing against him—greedy, but Corvo can wait. He can wait while the Outsider looks at him, makes idle circles around Corvo's tightening nipples and simply looks his fill at the lazy pleasure spreading across that beautiful, well-loved face, the way the lines seem to even out as he relaxes, the long black lashes lying against his cheeks. He's looked at Corvo like this so many times—in pleasure and in sleep, and that last has taken up a tremendous and possibly embarrassing amount of the Outsider’s time, but it's in those moments of pleasure, quiet even he's working Corvo with his hand or his mouth or his ass, that he finds it most difficult to get his head around the sheer reality of this. 

That he dragged himself off the docks that day and up to the gates, and they opened for him and admitted him in… to someone who now tells him, as if it's no big deal, that he loves him. 

Corvo’s eyes flutter open. He gives the tops of the Outsider’s thighs a gentle squeeze, his brow furrowing. “Everything all right?”

The Outsider smiles again. It feels like it wells up from every part of him, that smile. 

“Everything is perfect.”

I'm not, but apparently that's not a problem for you.

He kisses the base of Corvo’s throat again and starts to move lower.

It's slightly clumsy—but then again it usually is, and the chaise lounge isn't helping; it’s old and not especially sturdy, and it squeaks a protest as he half-crawls slowly down over Corvo’s body, marking his path with more easy kisses, but the structure holds, and by the time he reaches Corvo’s groin, it's forgotten. 

Everything else might be forgotten as well. But it's not. He noses his fingers into Corvo’s fly and draws out his cock, gives it a leisurely stroke, and Corvo’s heavy groan is mingled with the wind whispering through the high beach grasses and the cluster of weathered pines arching over the villa’s red tile roof, the crash of the waves, the distant calls of the gulls. Gliding his tongue up the underside of Corvo’s shaft and lapping at the slick tip, tasting salt, thinking of sea water drying on his skin, a pinch of it sprinkled over the redshark, the tracks of tears.

Not so many of those now, but possibly he doesn't hate them the way he used to. 

Corvo murmurs something undecipherable and curves his hands over the Outsider’s head—not too aggressive, not pushing demandingly the way he loves to do sometimes, but trembling, trembling like all of him as he arches and lifts his hips, seeking more of the Outsider’s mouth, and the Outsider obliges, stretching his lips around him and sliding down and down until Corvo nudges the back of his throat, lifts up again, slides down and finds an unhurried rhythm, holding the base in a firm, spit-slippery fist. 

Doesn't take long. It rarely does like this, but it also seems to happen in very much its own time, neither fast nor slow, and Corvo rolls rather than bucks upward and tangles his fingers in the Outsider’s hair and comes in a deep, unhurried wave, a ragged sighing moan as he tenses and releases, and the Outsider swallows everything he's given. 

Peace for a while. He lies half on the lower part of the chair and half on the flagstones, resting his cheek against Corvo’s thigh, his swollen lips still feather-light against Corvo’s cock as it softens, and strong, sure fingers pass loosely over his scalp. 

“What about you?”

The Outsider raises his head, draws a deep breath. “I want something else.” And abruptly he's pushing himself up and somewhat awkwardly to his feet, pulling his shirt off over his head and shoving at his trousers. Corvo watches him, his hooded eyes bemused. 

“What?”

He slaps Corvo’s thigh. “Get up, old man.” Naked and shameless, he spins on his heel and then he's running, kicking at the letters as he passes them, glancing back only to make sure Corvo is obeying him—which he is, although he's moving a little unsteadily, as if he's dazed—before he swings his gaze forward again, his feet thumping down the steps and onto the beach, the hot sand sliding between his toes. 

Their beach. Their ocean. All theirs, all of it, and that's an illusion but it's such a good one, he thinks as he sprints into the surf and dives to meet an oncoming wave, letting it take him and tumble him and buffet him against the bottom before he breaks the surface, gasping, turning back toward the beach and watching Corvo coming down to join him. 

He used to rule an ocean. It was vast and dark and immeasurable, and for centuries upon centuries he stared into its depths and brooded over it and took no pleasure in it at all. It's infinitely better to be ruled by this one, for a short time to be at its mercy, and feel how much stronger and bigger than him it'll always be. 

And Corvo’s arms, strong too, wrapping around him and hauling him up onto the sand, pressing him down and kissing him as another wave swirls around them. 

This may not be perfect. But it's about as close as he's likely to get at the moment. 

It's as close as he's ever likely to get for the rest of his life.

 

Chapter Text

The knife is cold. 

Somehow he feels that most of all. It's insane to focus on that, on any of the details—the weight of the rings on his fingers, the scratchiness of the robes they've dressed him in, and he should be lost in terror as they stretch him out on the altar, as their bony hands hold him down, as they bind him. He should still be struggling, even as the ropes cut into him. He should be fighting, screaming. Something. Something more than staring up into blackness that seems eternal, blackness like a malevolent dead eye gazing straight into the core of him, and feeling the unbearable, ineffable cold of the knife. 

They didn't tell him this was coming. But he knew. 

It was the only thing they could have been intending. No good for him, not ever. All his life, he's been getting what he's been getting, all the pain and the loneliness, and now these strangers scoop him off the street and give him a bath and new clothes and a hot meal? Out of the kindness of their hearts? 

No such fucking thing. 

He knew. He should have tried to run. He should yank his hands loose no matter how much of his skin the ropes take with them, reach up and seize the knife and plunge it into the man’s chest, and run, run, run. For fuck’s sake, survive.

But it's so cold. And he can't move. And that Eye is boring a hole straight through him, drilling into him, piercing his heart and freezing it solid, and the knife is so sharp that he doesn't feel the pain at first when it slices his throat open. 

Then he does. 

And he can't scream anymore. He's drowning in himself. The last thing he hears is their ecstatic chanting, and the gurgle of the blood pumping out of the gaping wound, and the faint echoes of the scream he'll never be able to voice. 

And then there's only the Eye. 

The black in his eyes. 

~

He's shivering as he leans over the wall. He doesn't care. He categorically does not give a shit. If he can shiver it means he has a body, he has nerves, he's capable of being cold and he has muscles that can vibrate in an attempt to warm himself, he's not dead and he's not worse than dead, so far above and beyond dead that death becomes meaningless. 

The wind rushing up the sheer drop to the river is drying the tears on his cheeks, but not fast enough. He wipes angrily at them. He remembers that he always hated crying, before. If he cried it meant something got to him. Got through the defenses he erected against it. It meant he was weakened. Weak people die. 

He was weak and he died. 

He's standing at the edge of the terrace where Corvo first received him nearly a week and a half ago, shirtless but wrapped in a thick, soft dressing gown. That's good, that it's soft; if it was scratchy he wouldn't be able to wear it and it would have nothing to do with discomfort. It's still too close to that nightmare of a memory. He's too close. He's awake and he knows where he is but the membrane between the world and the Void can be so hideously thin and such awful darkness can bleed through, and the cold is so, so close to him. 

He had this dream a few times back in Karnaca, but he hasn't had it since he came to Dunwall. He actually dared to hope it might be gone. 

Now it's possible if not likely that he's woken up the entire Tower with his screams. 

Finally, the screams.

He wipes his face again and looks across the river at the streaks of reflected moon and the lights shimmering on the far bank, and then over the edge at the waves crashing on the rocks below. At a distance their sound is distorted beyond echo, surreal, like something else out of a dream. He seems to see faces in the foam, black dead eyes staring up at him. Staring into him. He shudders and turns away; it was a mistake coming out here and he doesn't even know why he did, except that the air in his room and then in the corridors and passages was too dense and he couldn't breathe, and he thought he heard a gurgle in his throat that made him want to scream all over again. 

He should have run then so he ran. He ran all the way out here, the slap of his bare feet thudding in his ears like the beat of an immense heart.

Now he doesn't know what the fuck to do. 

He closes his eyes. There was a cliff by the altar, cruel jagged rocks. He would have hurled himself over it. He would have killed himself rather than be killed by them. Ended his own life on his own terms and kept his fucking name, and gone smoothly and calmly into the endless dark. 

“Hey.”

Hand on his shoulder—that hand, there, there all too frequently these days and he's really starting to wonder how much more of it he can handle before he goes totally insane—and he jumps and yelps, whirls, his own hand flung up and clapped over his mouth. Dark eyes staring at him, black in the moonlight—but not dead. Not malevolent. Nothing of the kind. Only perplexed, and concerned. 

And gentle. Stars help him, they're so gentle, and he wants to curl up in a ball and squeeze his eyes shut tight until it's all over. 

Corvo is stepping away, though, hands raised. All right, all right, take it easy. He's not dressed in nightclothes, the Outsider notes; he's all in black, his black coat, and his cowl pushed back—no death mask in evidence, but he's been out prowling. Like Emily, he goes out sometimes, the Outsider knows; he did before Delilah’s coup and he's continued to do it after. Part of him is too restless to sleep through every night. Emily goes out because she finds the walls too restricting and too much freedom is calling from the rooftops, but Corvo goes out for far darker reasons. Part of him wants the dark, wants to sink into and merge with it. He's been that way since he was Marked, but it was seeded in him before. 

The yearning for the dark, and an icy and well-controlled thirst for blood. 

He wants to kill when he's like this, Corvo does. He merely doesn't. 

But now his eyes are gentle. 

“Is something wrong? You're—” His eyes pass down and up the Outsider’s body, and the Outsider clutches the dressing gown tighter around himself, suddenly and unaccountably embarrassed. The clothes he was given on the first day fit perfectly fine, but the dressing gown is too big and he's swimming in it, and he feels half the size he really is. “You're shivering. Why aren't you wearing a shirt?”

Because I had to run. I had to get away, it was so cold and I had to run, can't you understand that? He swallows, shaking his head. He didn't want to bump into anyone like this, but now that he's face to face with him, Corvo Attano definitely tops the list. 

For a whole host of inexpressibly awkward reasons. 

Corvo reaches out for him again, slower this time, as if he's trying to calm a frightened animal, and the Outsider sees his lips start to move—and knows what it is, what he's instinctively searching for and doesn't have. You say someone's name in a situation like this. You say it to toss them a rope, to draw them in, to reassure them of who they are, that their name is known. That they're known. Real. That they're safe. 

Corvo has no name to say. The Outsider hasn't even given him a placeholder. Corvo hasn't been calling him anything. 

Now he has no rope to throw. 

The Outsider stiffens but doesn’t flinch, and he manages to suppress a pathetic little whimper as Corvo touches him—his shoulder, his upper arm, so light but as always with that weight and solidity, the strength behind it. He’s been haunted by the possibility of that hand on him in other places, both hands touching him everywhere, and at this moment it's not even about desire, not even about lust except in the most distant way; it's how it might give him some of what hearing his name could, how you can't touch someone who isn't real, how Corvo could make every part of his body real and present and whole with those strong hands alone. Hold him and hold him down. Keep him here. Cover him and make him believe that they won't rip him away again and send him back to that imperious, reptilian coldness. 

Protect him. 

“What happened?” Corvo murmurs, and the Outsider does pull away because it's too much, it's better to not have any of it, he's too raw and too scared. He ducks his head and makes to push past. 

“Nothing. I'm fine.”

“You're not. Wait.” That gentle, brutal hand again, and this time the Outsider can't fight it; he stops when it takes him and sags, his head hanging between his shoulders. “Look, you're not even wearing slippers. Why won't you tell me what happened?”

The Outsider doesn't attempt to escape a second time. He lowers his face into his hands, presses his fingertips against his closed eyelids until white-green fireworks explode behind his eyes. “It was just a dream. It was nothing.”

“Doesn't seem like it was nothing,” Corvo says quietly, letting his hand drop. He's still covering the Mark, but it might be the Outsider’s imagination, or it might be a trick of the moonlight, that he'd swear it glows. Just for a fraction of a second. “If it sent you out here like this.” He touches the Outsider’s shoulder again—again, for the love of the ashes of every dead star in the heart of the Void, why can't Corvo stop fucking touching him—and exerts light pressure, urging him back toward the door. “Come on, come back inside. I'll get you some whiskey, you can talk it out if you want.”

In the days since that moment in the servant’s passage, Corvo has been a little kinder to him, a little warmer—as if something broke open between them then. And it's been good, although it's also been difficult to cope with, but it's never been like this, and the Outsider releases a short, hard laugh and turns away, toward the wall. Toward the river and the night. 

Your timing is atrocious in every respect, Corvo, honestly. 

“I don't want to talk it out,” he mutters. “I don't want to talk about anything, can't you just leave me alone?”

“Tell me,” Corvo says, his voice low—and firmer than it was, though no less gentle, “what’s going on. And don't try to say it's nothing, you have never since the first time you spoke to me told me to leave you alone.”

“Right, it's what you were telling me.” He's getting petulant. He's getting petulant so he doesn't have to feel quite so afraid. Shit. He hates every single molecule of this. 

“I'm not telling you that now, remember? I don't want you to. I just want you to tell me what happened to you. Because something did. Was it really just a dream? Was it something else?” Huff of an exasperated laugh; the Outsider glances back and sees Corvo spreading his hands in a helpless what else can I do gesture. “Either way, I'm not leaving you out here.”

The Outsider rolls his eyes, turns away again. “I'm four thousand fucking years old, Corvo, don't treat me like a child.”

“Slinging you over my shoulder and carrying you back to bed kicking and screaming like I used to do with Emily—that's treating you like a child. Don't push me that far.” Hint of a narrow, wry smile. “If you don't want to talk, fine. But I'm not leaving.”

The Outsider releases a breath, so heavy and so long his lungs feel like shriveled balloons, and begins to walk along the terrace running parallel to the water lock. 

Up toward the pavilion. Because why not make this as horrible as possible. If you must go to town, go in a gilded carriage.

Corvo follows in silence and then draws up alongside, his boots crunching over the gravel—which feels sharper here and hurts the Outsider’s feet more than it did, and really he's running out of ways for this to be miserable. A freak blizzard out of Tyvia, maybe. A typhoon from Serkonos. Another plague. 

The pavilion. Her tomb.

It's bleached in the moonlight, all bone-white and gray, granite and marble, the slate hue of the dome. The Outsider stops at the base of the steps, staring up at it, and then, like a man walking to his execution, he climbs, and the sound of Corvo behind him is like a thunderstorm in his head. 

He hasn't been to the pavilion since he got here. Hasn't seen the memorial. But he knows what it looks like. As always, fragmented memories—of little Emily sitting beside it with her knees drawn up against her chest, her tear-streaked face toward the water so that no one will see her cry. Corvo bending on one knee to lay a rose over Jessamine’s name, and not trying to hide his weeping from anyone. 

Delilah scrawling her bitter rage across the flagstones. Throwing back her head and cackling. 

It's quiet now. Clean. Simple. The plaque, and the name. 

“Do you remember your first moments in the Void?” the Outsider whispers. His lips pull into a parody of a smile. “The first ones I let you remember, anyway.”

“I was here,” Corvo says softly from beside him. He's nothing more than a shadow in the periphery of the Outsider’s vision. “She was here. Lying… the way she fell.” Something falters in his voice—almost imperceptible, but unmistakable. “There was the letter. But it didn't say what it really said.”

You cannot save her.” The Outsider releases another breath—not as huge this time. His hands are loosening around the dressing gown and it's slipping a little, leaving the top of his chest and his collarbones bare. He's no longer shivering. He doesn't feel much of anything at all. “I left it there for you. I wanted to make sure you were in the… right frame of mind.”

He doesn't have to be touching Corvo to feel him tense. Is this the Outsider fighting back, striking against the nearest target in his pain and his fear? Is that what he's doing? 

Or is it something else? 

“What frame of mind was that?”

“Weakened. Desperate. You had to be ready to accept what I wanted to give you. Without resistance, without question.” Another smile, twisted like a scar. “I always Marked the lonely ones, the outcasts, but they were also always strong. Even if they didn't know their own strength, even if their strength was something no one else could see. But I couldn't come to them at their strongest. That's how I work, you see. That's one thing the Abbey did have right about me—I found the weak places, the cracks, and I slithered inside.”

Corvo stands silent. His face is thrown into shadow. He's a man-shaped hole in the world. 

“Why do you think I gave you her heart, her voice? What do you think I was intending to do to you with that? Surely you don't imagine it was a gift.” A laugh, thin and cutting as a blade. “I wanted to hurt you with it. To shape you with pain. And I did. And I knew—I knew—that even if you wanted to cast it away, you would never be able to. I trapped you with it, just like I trapped her spirit. I did the same thing to Emily. Because I wanted to see what you would do. Because I could.”

“Why are you doing this?”

Corvo doesn't sound enraged. He doesn't sound wounded. He doesn't sound confused. There are no words suited to describe what's in his voice—something steady and smooth and deep as dark water, with immense, wise creatures drifting through those depths. Singing songs no one but they can hear. 

“What do you mean?”

“You’re trying to make me angry. Why?” Pause, and when Corvo speaks again it's in the tone of someone who's solved a puzzle. “You're trying to make me forget how you were just now. You want me to only see the other. You want me to only see the Outsider.”

“I am the Outsider,” whispers the Outsider.

“Are you?”

“Could I ever not be?” The Outsider whirls on him, the motion dislodging the dressing gown and sending it sliding the rest of the way down his arms. He's standing there, exposed—a tall skinny boy, black hair making his pale skin even paler, sharp features, colorless eyes. Age difficult to place on sight; he didn't appear fifteen when he was murdered, and he doesn't appear fifteen now. Strange-looking, but undeniably human. 

But strange. 

“Look at me. Look at me, Corvo.” He gestures at himself. “It doesn't matter how human I am, it doesn't matter about my eyes, it doesn't matter that I have nerves and blood and a heart that beats. It doesn’t matter that I can starve, or drown, or get shot through the head. It doesn't matter that you could kill me right now and I would stay dead. It doesn't matter because as far as you're concerned, I don't even have a name. I'm not one of you. I never could be. I'll never stop being the Outsider. Never.” 

He stops, gasping for breath—gasping, because his chest is tightening up and once again those hateful tears are threatening. 

Corvo's words that first day: You're pathetic. 

But Corvo still isn't speaking at all. He's merely looking, as he was instructed to do, silent. 

It's as though he's a wave breaking himself on Corvo’s rocks. Given millennia, he might be able to wear them down. But waves never last beyond the point of their breakage. 

Unless they only travel back out to sea. 

He slumps. Collapses in every way short of actually collapsing, and the dressing gown drops into a heap on the flagstones and he turns away, hugging himself. 

“I was dreaming about dying,” he whispers. “I was dreaming about when they killed me. I was dreaming about when they cut away my name.”

Soft, indrawn breath. “Do you often dream about it?”

The Outsider shakes his head. “A few times in Karnaca. This was the first time here.”

“That must be terrible.”

The Outsider barks a humorless laugh. “No, I told you, it's completely fine.” Pause. “It's the worst thing. I can't… I can't even say how bad it is.” His arms loosen and drop to his sides and he stares out over the water. The moon is setting behind the city, huge and golden. “It's not even just remembering being killed. It's remembering being… unmade.”

“You're here now,” Corvo murmurs, and those strong hands are on him again, on his bare shoulders, calloused thumbs stroking over his skin, and the Outsider can't help it anymore, can't stop, can't stop the moan that escapes him as his face tilts up to the pavilion’s curved roof and the sky.

“Please don't do that.”

“Why not?”

“Because—” He hauls in a hitching breath. He's still teetering on the precipice of tears, Corvo’s hands feel hot enough to be burning him, the bones beneath his own skin like glass, and this is all so catastrophically unfair. “Because I don't want to do something I can't take back.”

I don't want to ruin everything. Please don't let me ruin everything. Please don't let me ruin this. Us. Whatever we are. 

You’re all I have.

“What would you do?”

Hands turning him, and he turns with their insistent pressure, facing Corvo at last, and he's not shorter by much but standing in front of this man, now, broken open beyond repair, he feels so small. 

But not weak. Somehow he doesn't feel weak. 

Corvo’s face remains mostly in shadow, only the outlines of his features visible—craggy yet elegant, like something carved. His eyes are dark and glittering with moonlight. The Outsider reaches up a treacherous hand and lays it against Corvo’s chest. The drumming of the heart beneath his spread palm. 

“I think you already know.”

“You're not dead,” Corvo whispers, and frames the Outsider’s face with those sweetly ruthless hands and nods their mouths together. 

It's falling. It's letting go and falling, plunging up through a sky brighter than the Void could ever be, that moth-light brush of lips, and then the Outsider clenches his hand in a fold of Corvo’s coat and surges into him with a heavy groan, lips parting and tongue licking out to curl against the one emerging to greet him. 

You're not dead. I'll show you, I'll show you how alive you are.

He's falling. But this beautiful, incredible man is holding onto him, kissing him until he can't breathe, until all the cold leaves him and his skin is on fire and the moon expands to banish the darkness and fill the world, and he's no longer falling alone. 

~

The knife is cold. 

And he smashes through the membrane into the waking dark, screaming, clawing at his throat and screaming, and for a horrible few seconds he's fighting the arms circled around him, because not again, not again, they won't take it from him again, he'll slaughter them all and kill himself before he'll let them do that to him again. 

Low, husky, beloved voice in his ear, whispering. That he's all right. That it's over. That he's safe now, he's safe and he's loved and he's not alone and he's not dead. 

Gradually the terror bleeds out of him and he goes limp, curls into the body pressed against his, and he still hates crying in front of Corvo but it's all right. For now it's all right, here with this beautiful, incredible man who has somehow for some unfathomable reason fallen in love with him, who’s cradling and rocking him like a child, because he was one, he was only a child when they took everything away from him and he can never be a child again. 

But he has this. At the end of one world and the beginning of another, he has this. 

You're so alive. 

My love, you are so, so alive. 

 

Chapter Text

“I think I know,” the Outsider says softly. 

Corvo raises his head. The Outsider looks away from the rain falling in sheets in the yard and sees that Corvo is blinking, slightly disoriented; he was nearly asleep. The Outsider doesn't blame him; there's always something soothing about the rain, even rain this heavy, perhaps especially rain this heavy, no wind but thunder and water and plenty of the latter. 

They were in the garden near the yard when the storm rolled in all at once and with practically no warning—as the rain does in the month named for it. They could have sprinted for the door or for the shelter of the water lock, but instead for reasons that he can't parse and probably doesn't have to, they made for the pavilion and there they've remained for the last half hour. 

No real reason to go anywhere. Maybe in a while, maybe they'll make a run for the Tower if the rain doesn't let up soon, but for now they're perfectly content to stay where they are and watch it and listen to the growl and rumble overhead and the low steady drumming all around. 

And apparently nap a little, if you're Corvo. 

But he's pushing himself up on one elbow, running a hand through his hair and focusing as he peers at the Outsider, curious. “What do you know?”

The Outsider looks at him for a few seconds longer, then looks away and back out at the rain. It's coming down nearly hard enough to obscure the hedges and walls and towers, blurring it all away into a sea of falling gray. He's sitting beside Corvo with his knees drawn up against his chest and his arms wrapped around them, and he's been thinking. 

And suddenly he just knew. 

“What I want my name to be.”

Corvo is silent for a long moment. He sits up, rubs at his eyes, studies the Outsider with a faint frown. Nothing bad there, no negative reaction. Merely a bit of confusion. It occurs to the Outsider that Corvo had very likely given up on this. Simply accepted it, as someone learns to accept the defects of the one they love. 

But now. 

“What—” Corvo says presently, stops and draws a breath. The Outsider is mildly surprised to detect a tremble in it. “What do you want it to be?”

“Have you ever heard the legend of the Binding?”

The Outsider tips Corvo another glance. Gets a shake of the head. He nods, returns his gaze to the rain, and continues. 

“It's old. It was old when I was first alive. I don't recall a lot of it, but I think I still have the major points.” He pauses, running it though his mind. Remembering. “There was a man who communed with an ancient god, sought favors from it. The god wanted to see how far his devotion went. So one day it instructed the man to take his only son up on a mountaintop, and bind him to an altar and sacrifice him.

“The man told his son they were going hunting, and once they were on the top of the mountain he struck his son on the head and stunned him, bound him, laid him on the altar and raised his knife, ready to strike. But at the last moment the god appeared and told the man to stop, that it was only a test, that he was never supposed to kill his son at all.”

Corvo is closer now, not quite touching him but fractions of an inch away. Perhaps close enough that the space between them no longer makes a difference. 

“The man untied his son, and in his relief he started to embrace him. But his son snatched the knife from him and stabbed his father in the heart, cursed the god’s name, and went away into the wilderness. The legend ends there, with his rage at being toyed with that way and with his vengeance, and with his freedom. No one knows what happened to the son afterward. The rest of his story is his alone.”

He exhales deep and long, and closes his eyes. This is right. This feels right. It's not true, but it feels true, or true enough, and maybe that's all you can ever hope for. 

“His name was Isaac,” he whispers. “That's what I want my name to be.” 

He tilts his head back and a tiny smile breaks across his face. It feels like a sunrise. “I am Isaac.”

Another long silence. It stretches out, and the boy who is finally and truly no longer the Outsider simply exists within it and is content there, feels it collecting all around like a blanket settling over him, between him and the rain. Comfortable. 

He doesn't have to say any more. 

“Isaac,” Corvo echoes at last. He says it as if he's trying it on for size, feeling how it sits in his mouth, working his tongue around the two syllables. The boy who will never be the Outsider again isn't worried about how it'll be taken. Because it's near enough to true, and even if he won't ever be able to give the man he loves the truth…

The man he loves never needed that truth anyway. 

“It's good,” Corvo murmurs, and wraps his arms around him, around the boy who is beginning to be Isaac, and gathers him close. And the rain goes on. “I like it. It feels right.”

“Yes,” says Isaac. “It does.”

“I love you, you know.”

Isaac smiles. Wider than before, and deeper. A new smile. Everything is new. Every day, everything is new. Every day you get to start over. Every day you get another chance to do it right. And it’s not a bad thing when it's all done and there are no more days. Because no one ever really gets it right. No one ever really figures it out, being alive.

But the important thing is that we try. 

“I do know. I love you too.”

It rains all afternoon. 

 

- the end - 

 

And even stars will pass away
But not before they paint their flames
Across the canvas out of space
Our love will leave a mark
Against the dark 

— Tyler Lyle