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though the stars walk backward

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He liked to be touched, curled into contact like a cat. Jessamine had known that, and so, during those rare evenings when neither of them had pressing matters to attend to, she would rest her arm around his shoulders or against his back. And after a while, if nobody was watching, he would lean into the touch until his side pressed against hers, warm and solid. And they would stay like that, quietly, holding on to those small moments of peace in their otherwise restless lives.

He liked to be touched, but he wouldn’t admit it. Jessamine took years to ferret the truth out of him, years of light brushes and polite handshakes, years of thoughtful furrowing of her brow as he neither leaned in nor moved away. There had never been a single moment of acknowledgement - she had simply begun letting her hands linger, sitting a little closer, until they both knew what the other wanted. He wasn't sure why he never just told her. Perhaps it was pride. Perhaps it was professionalism. Or perhaps he was afraid to be so close to her, when at any moment she could be—

(just like that, steel in the belly and blood so much blood)

Don't think about that.

He liked to be touched, and the Outsider figured it out in weeks. "Going to a party, Corvo?" and a hand settled on his shoulder, barely felt through the fabric of his coat and yet somehow still enough to set his nerves on fire. (Like before, he neither leaned in nor moved away.) He told himself he was lonely, touch-starved from six months in a prison where the gentlest hands he felt were the ones that shoved him back into his cell. That didn't stop him from dreaming of pale skin and eyes that ripped holes into the world for days after.

"Going to a party, Corvo? Is that what you dreamed of, all those months in Coldridge Prison while waiting for the executioner?"

No, he thought, sprawled on his bed only half-undressed and exhausted to the bone. He pressed the warm Mark to the palm of his right hand and pretended it was someone else's skin, and the whisper of the bone charms their breathing, and let those small lies lull him to sleep. That night his dreams were full of drowning, except the water was warm and the whales sang him into the dark.

The Outsider touched him again when he went for Burrows, and again as he laid half-conscious in the river with poison working its way through his veins. Light touches, infuriating touches, made worse by loneliness and neglect and his own stubborn refusal to react. A hand on his arm (so easy to reach and cover it with his own, skin against skin) or at the small of his back (he just had to lean in) and he never twitched, willed his breath and his heart to be steady. He wondered if this, too, was interesting - if the Outsider took some perverse pleasure in watching him hunger for contact and never take it, the same way he hungered for blood even as he kept his blade sheathed.

Sometimes he thought the Outsider smiled after those interactions - not with his mouth, but suggested it in the set of his shoulders or the look in his eyes. Other times he wasn't so sure.

Sometimes when he lay feverish and sweating from the poison, he thought he saw dark eyes watching him.

When his fever finally broke, he dreamed of tasting pale skin and seeking galaxies in black eyes, of the welcome pressure of another body over his. He woke shaking and ashamed for reasons he couldn’t name, and cradled the gently beating Heart to his chest as he listened to the footfalls of the assassins above him.

(“What have they done to me?” it whispered, and Corvo asked himself the same question.)

The journey from the Flooded District was long, and made longer by poison-induced fatigue and assassins and river krusts. By the time Corvo spotted the telltale lamps and drapes of a shrine, his mind was foggy with exhaustion and he was stumbling over his own feet. Somewhere in his tired brain the shrine registered as safety, respite, and he pulled his mask off to gasp in air like a beached fish. A few faltering steps forward and he was leaning on the altar, where he quietly convinced himself that the shaking in his arms was a trick of the flickering lights.

The Outsider appeared then, startlingly close. Corvo was tired enough – or perhaps accustomed enough – that he didn’t even blink.

The deity talked, and as he did Corvo noted the way the shadows writhed at his back, the folds and stains in his clothing that made him almost look real until you saw his feet hovering a few inches above the ground. He noticed the Outsider’s rings, the gleam of his jacket’s buckles in the surreal light, the odd echo of his voice. Little details that never used to interest him, except that now they commanded his attention, demanded it. Something had changed.

Corvo thought again of fever-dreams and cool dark eyes.

Something had changed. Maybe that something was Corvo himself.

"You fascinate me," the Outsider said and he leaned forward just so, until he was close enough that - close enough for Corvo to—

(he wanted to know what his skin felt like, and whether there really were galaxies in his eyes)

--to reach up and touch. Warm fingers to the god's cheek, which was surprisingly real and solid, and then sliding down the Outsider's jaw. The pale skin was soft and felt oddly thin, and Corvo was struck with the mental image of a fragile paper doll hiding the endless void. A thrill ran down Corvo's arm and he wasn't sure if it was the Outsider's power or just his nerves singing with human contact at last. Shifting forward, he curved his fingers around the god's neck and found prickly short-shorn hairs at the nape.

The Outsider watched, black eyes unreadable.

(and he was close, so close, the thrumming shadows at his back singing like runes)

Corvo considered what he wanted to do, found it incredibly unwise, and did it anyway.

The Outsider's lips were cold, and tasted like whaleskin and seawater. For a moment Corvo had a sickening sensation of drowning – but then it subsided, leaving nothing against his mouth but cold, dry skin.

The Outsider made a small sound - encouragement? Corvo couldn't tell - and parted his lips. Corvo took the opportunity to deepen the kiss, closing his eyes and sliding his hand up to tangle fingers in short brown hair. Sometimes as he crept along the rooftops, he felt like he was drifting. As if his mind was just barely tethered to his body, being dragged along like a balloon on its string. But this felt real, and he was alive, alive, alive.

When Corvo pulled away for air the Outsider didn't even have a flush on his cheeks. (Then again, Corvo hadn't expected one.) But those black eyes were half-lidded (still watching though, always watching) and that brown hair, usually so neat, was tousled. And somewhere along the way the Outsider had stopped floating and was now standing - standing! - with both feet firmly on the ground. Like this, the god looked almost human.

Corvo wasn't sure if he was proud or terrified of what he'd done. Perhaps both.

"Oh," the Outsider breathed, "is that what you dreamed of? Kissing, sex, pleasure to keep your mind off the pain?"

"No," Corvo snapped, and leaned in for another kiss - but it was brief and sloppy and he soon found himself mouthing along the Outsider's jaw, and then his neck, trying to find the right words.

It’d never been about lust. With Jessamine it had started with the touches, growing familiar with each other’s hands and finding out what it was like to lean into each other, back to back or side to side or head to shoulder. They’d been comfortable, and when it happened the kisses were comfortable too, just another way to lean. Comfort, familiarity – if he had to condense his relationship with Jessamine into two words, it would be those.

This, with the Outsider, was more like desperation. But its roots were the same.

Lips pressed against a too-still vein, Corvo said, "I dreamed of not being alone."

Cold fingers carded through his hair, somehow failing to catch in the tangles that Corvo knew were there. With some imagination, the gesture might be called affectionate.

"My dear Corvo," the Outsider whispered, "you are never alone."

And then he was gone, save for the faint sound of whalesong and a breeze that tugged at Corvo’s hair.