On their first patrol together, Windham barely says a word. Darion gets the feeling that the eyes behind the stylized curves of the mask are narrow and resentful, and his attempts at conversation are met with sullen monosyllables or, more typically, outright silence.
But silence makes Darion uncomfortable and he’s used to the easy camaraderie of his fellow watchmen, and so he finds himself filling the quiet with nervous chatter.
He tells Windham about his family, about his father’s haberdashery, his brother’s upcoming marriage to a pretty seamstress, how he still misses his mother even though it’s gone on two years since she passed. He tells Windham about the wolfhound pup he had as a boy, until it got too big and unruly and his father made him sell it to the Hound Pits. He talks about how he hates the taste of Sokolov’s elixir and sometimes wonders if it even works, but he’s too scared of the plague to take that thought to its logical conclusion. He talks, every night they patrol together he talks, and slowly, eventually, Windham starts to answer back.
Darion learns that Windham has a sister he hasn’t seen in years, that he’s originally from a little village outside of Whitecliff. He learns that Windham was sent to Dunwall as a reward for exemplary devotion and demonstration of practice, but he misses the clean, towering walls of the Whitecliff Abbey and the quiet he’d found there. He learns that when Windham was just an initiate, newly past his Trials but still small and scared and alone, he’d tamed a white rat that had crept into his cell for crumbs, and that he’s named his wolfhound Temperance in memory of it.
Their assigned routes vary from night to night. Sometimes, they meander through back alleys and Darion marks the plague houses while Windham stands ready with his pistol. Other nights, he helps Windham tear down shrines and collect contraband bone charms for destruction. Windham sneaks Temperance bits of food from his pocket while Darion smokes a cigarette from his slowly dwindling supply, and they talk about how the city is going dark, bit by terrible bit, and how it makes them afraid.
Darion’s day post is a lot more boring. His brothers in the Watch want to talk about things that are normal and reassuring, like girls at the Cat or rumors of the playhouse reopening, the upcoming execution of the former Lord Protector.
He realizes, with no small amount of surprise, that his scheduled night patrols with Windham are what get him through the rest of the week. The strange tightening in his stomach, it’s not dread. It’s anticipation.
“You want to hear something stupid?” he says one night as they’re making a loop around Clavering Boulevard.
Windham shrugs. “It doesn’t really matter if I say yes or no, does it? You’re going to tell me anyway.”
Darion grins nervously and finds that he suddenly can’t look at the other man. He stares at the streetlight instead. “This is my favorite part of the week. I mean. I look forward to it.”
He regrets saying anything when the only response is silence, and he’s frantically trying to think of a way to backtrack and undo the damage when Windham says, very quietly, “Me too.”
So that’s all right.
It’s odd. He knows the line of Windham’s shoulders before he knows his face, learns the many variations of his voice before learning the color of his eyes. The Overseers wear identical masks and identical uniforms, but Darion could pick Windham out of the crowd anywhere.
A long time ago, before the plague and the Empress’s murder and the slow collapse of the city, he might have worried about what that meant. Now? He has so many other things to worry about that his growing affection for his sometimes-partner is the least concerning of the bunch.
Four nights a week, they patrol together. He’s never seen Windham’s face, but he knows when the man is tense. Worried. Relieved. When they have a close call with one of Slackjaw’s boys and Darion takes a bottle to the side of the head, Windham is as close to panicked as Darion’s ever seen.
“It’s fine,” Darion said, simultaneously annoyed and touched at the way Windham is fussing over the gash above his eye. “These things always bleed worse than they are. Just leave it.”
“It is not fine,” Windham snaps, sounding harried. His voice is shaking and his hands are even worse. “He almost got your eye, you idiot, you could’ve—“ and Darion catches Windham’s hands with his own and holds onto them until he stops talking.
“I’m fine,” he says again. “Really.”
Windham huffs a protest but doesn’t argue.
He doesn’t pull his hands away either.
Windham watches him when he smokes. It’s…not unnerving, exactly, but it’s definitely different and so Darion flips the case open and holds it out in wordless offer. Windham just shakes his head.
“I can’t,” he says. Something like wistfulness creeps into his voice. “It’s against regulations.”
Darion thinks about a different offer he might make – standing close and leaning in, breathing smoke out against the golden curves of the mask so that Windham might draw it in. His hands on Windham’s shoulders, shared breath. But that’s—
Darion shakes himself and tucks the cigarette case back into his pocket, sucks in the last remaining scrap of smoke before dropping the butt to the cobblestones and grinding it out. “You know, I gotta say…I’m curious about what you look like behind that mask.”
Windham leans back against the wall and reaches down to scratch Temperance behind the ears. “Ugly,” he says, and Darion’s horrified for a moment by the ease with which he says it until he realizes that the odd note in Windham’s voice is actually humor.
“Outsider’s eyes,” he says, marveling. “Did you just make a joke?”
“Of course not,” Windham says, deadpan. “Having a sense of humor is in violation of the Seven Strictures,” and Darion is so startled that he starts laughing and after a moment, Windham joins him. It's the first time he’s heard the man laugh in the few months they’ve known each other, and it’s the most wonderful sound he’s ever heard.
“Impossible,” he says, when they’ve finally wound down to intermittent chuckling.
“What?” says Windham. “That I have a sense of humor?”
“No.” Darion grins crookedly. “That you’re ugly.”
There’s a weird little catch in Windham’s voice, too rare for him to identify. “You can’t possibly know that.”
“Sure I do,” Darion says. “You don't sound ugly,” and then they’re snickering again and Temperance is winding anxiously around their legs, whining like he wants to know what’s happening. It’s…Darion could definitely get used to this.
The barricades are the worst. There’s not much for them to do but stand around and keep an eye on things, and while he enjoys the quiet moments they get to spend together – especially when it means nothing is trying to kill them – barricade duty always means there are a few too many people around for comfort. He finds himself making up pretenses to go talk to Windham – he needs a smoke break, he needs to discuss some numbers, he can’t remember the words to the Litany on the Cliff – and while the other watchmen roll their eyes they don’t offer up any complaints and he suspects they’re just as bored as he is.
Windham doesn’t complain either. He seems as happy with the distraction as Darion is to offer it.
“Do you ever get days off?” Darion asks. He’s not sure why the question pops into his head. Something about wishing he got to see Windham more, maybe when patrols aren’t involved.
Windham swivels to look at him, the lines of his body open and curious. “Of course,” he says. “Don’t you?”
“Yeah, no, I just…” Darion plows ahead before his mind and good sense have a chance to catch up with his mouth. “I was thinking that maybe you wanted to come get a drink with me? On your day off. I know a good little pub, they’re clean and the drinks are cheap and—“
“We’re not supposed to drink alcohol.”
Darion says, “Oh.”
“Leave is meant to be a time of reflection and prayer,” Windham says, quiet and awkward, and from the angle of his mask he’s staring at his boots and there’s a weird clenching in Darion’s chest, an uneasy mix of humiliation and disappointment and sadness.
“Right,” he stutters, “right, of course, I apologize, I didn’t mean to—“ and Windham says, still not looking at him, “Okay.”
Gloved fingers brush against his own. The touch is so soft and so fast that it almost doesn’t register, and if not for the exquisite tightness in Windham’s shoulders Darion thinks he might not have noticed at all.
“Okay,” Windham says again. He sounds as nervous as Darion feels. “I’ll come get a drink with you. When I have leave.”
No one is looking at them. Heart pounding, Darion carefully moves his hand, inching over the rough surface of the wall until their fingers bump. Windham inhales sharply and his whole body jerks, and for the briefest of moments their fingers are tangled together, Windham’s grip panicky and tight, and then they separate again, enough distance between them so as not to arouse suspicion.
“When’s your next day off?” Darion says. He should be embarrassed, he thinks, over how shaky his voice is, but he can still feel Windham’s fingers wound through his own and he can’t bring himself to care.
“The night after next.” Windham sounds a little shaken himself. “I’ll meet you outside the main gate to Holger Square.”
“Okay,” Darion says, and he doesn’t think he could stop the smile from stretching over his lips if he tried. “Okay.”
It turn out that Windham isn’t handsome.
He’s fucking beautiful.
It’s horribly unfair.
Darion had met him outside the gate like they’d planned, and if it wasn’t for the fact that he would know Windham’s body language anywhere he wouldn’t have believed that this lean, sharp-featured wolfhound of a man was his assigned Abbey partner. Dark-eyed and all angles, looking much smaller in a plain black coat than he did in his usual Overseer accouterments. Darion thinks about his own broad, scarred features, his muddy green eyes and a nose that’s been broken too many times, and quietly despairs.
“Oh, shut up,” Windham says. He’s got two spots of color high on his impossible cheekbones, and Darion’s not sure if they’re from the pint he’s already downed or the fact that Darion can’t stop staring at him. “You’re handsome.”
“You’re only saying that because you’re drunk,” Darion mutters, and Windham just laughs and laughs and slumps against Darion’s side.
“You’ve got pretty eyes,” he mumbles. When he turns his head, his hair brushes Darion’s jaw and it takes all his willpower not to press his nose into the messy softness of it. “I always did like green eyes.”
“You’re drunk,” Darion says again, more softly this time. “I should probably get you back so you don’t get into trouble.”
Windham makes an irritated noise and rubs his face against Darion’s shoulder. “I’d rather stay here with you,” he says, and he’s so plaintive that Darion can’t bring himself to argue. So they stay, and they drink, and eventually Windham falls asleep with his cheek smushed against the wooden surface of the table, snoring like he doesn’t have a care in the world. His hair is a wreck and he’s drooling a little, and he’s the most stupidly beautiful thing Darion’s ever seen.
Windham wakes up when they’re halfway back to the Overseer dormitories. He seems terribly confused as to why he’s being carried.
“You fell asleep,” Darion tells him. He puts Windham down when the man starts wriggling, but keeps an arm looped around his waist so he doesn’t faceplant on the cobblestones. “I wasn’t sure if you had a curfew or anything, so…”
Windham leans against him, warm and bleary and trusting. Darion aches with something he’s not sure he can name. “I just,” he says, and it feels like he’s shattering, “I just wanted to make sure you got back safe.”
“Thank you,” Windham says. Turns his face into Darion’s neck and just…stays like that for a moment, breathing in and out like there’s nowhere else he’d rather be. “You’re a good man, Darion. The best.”
And Darion says, “You too.”
Something…changes, after that. Curnow ups the patrols and starts doubling their shifts, and Darion finds himself on daytime patrols four days a week and on nights with Windham for six, and when one of them has a day off they’re both too exhausted to do anything with it but sleep. But Darion hasn't forgotten about the night they went out and he doesn’t think Windham has either, not if the looks the other man keeps shooting him are any indication. There’s a weird tension between them now.
It’s not entirely a bad one.
Darion remembers how vulnerable Windham looked while sleeping, the way his face opened and lit up when he laughed. He remembers Windham leaning heavily against his shoulder, wistfully talking about green eyes.
There are so many things he wants to say, but he can’t bring himself to say any of them. The city is falling to pieces and the plague is getting worse, their patrols are more and more dangerous with each passing night, but every time he thinks about breaking his silence Darion remembers what he stands to lose if he’s wrong about this, and he’d rather—
He’d rather have what they have.
He’d rather that than nothing at all.
And in the meantime he stands too close (and Windham doesn’t move away) and his touches last too long (and Windham leans into them) and their silences brim with too many words and not enough time and he breaks a little more every night because he wants…
Oh, how he wants.
Until one night they’re on the edge of Rudshore in the old financial district, nudging through the refuse of an overturned dumpster to make sure no dead bodies are lurking there, and it occurs to Darion that this could end at any moment. Weepers, or rats, or a panicked civilian with a gun. Bottle Street boys, Whalers. Bullets or blades or teeth, all it would take is a few seconds at the wrong moment and one of them might be bleeding out in the street, their last breath bubbling wetly in their lungs, and suddenly it’s too much and he blurts, “I want to kiss you,” before he can think better of it.
Windham straightens, very slowly, and moves away from the dumpster so they’re facing each other.
“I know,” he says softly.
Darion’s throat goes tight.
“You know?” he snaps. “You know? And you still let me flail around like this, like an…” He covers his face with his hands, awash in self-loathing and embarrassed horror. “Like an idiot, fuck, thank you for that, Windham, that’s really wonderful—“
“Don’t,” Windham says. Agonized, and halting. “Don’t, please. Please don’t be like that. You’re not an idiot.”
“No?” Darion glares at him. “I’m not really sure what you’d call it, then, given that I’ve been mooning over you for months and instead of saying something you just let me.”
“I didn’t say anything because I want it too!” Windham yells back. “Only Overseers aren’t exactly allowed to want that sort of thing, so I’m sorry, Darion, all right? I’m sorry I let you think I didn’t know, I’m sorry I didn’t say anything, I’m sorry that I…that I…”
And then he’s ripping his mask off and pressing Darion into the wall, his mouth wet and urgent and hungry, like he’s dying of thirst and Darion is the first water he’s had in months. Darion moans and winds his fingers in Windham’s hair. They really shouldn’t be doing this – it’s the worst possible time for a first kiss and they’re in an alley for fuck’s sake – but Windham is clinging to him and licking into his mouth and making desperate little noises in the back of his throat, and Darion doesn’t think he could stop even if Captain Curnow himself walked up and ordered him to.
In fact, he thinks he’d probably shoot the man.
They do stop, eventually, more out of necessity and need for air than anything else. Windham breathes shakily against his mouth, mapping the planes of Darion’s face with his gloved fingertips. “Sorry,” he says.
“For yelling at you. For not saying something earlier.” He gently bites Darion’s lower lip. “For jumping you in an alley.”
“You don't really have to apologize for any of that,” Darion says. “Although I’m not the one whose mask is sitting in a pile of garbage, so what do I know?”
Windham groans and drops his forehead to Darion’s shoulder. “Shit. I have to put that back on.”
Still, neither of them moves. Darion sweeps his hands over the long line of Windham’s back, up and then down again, liking the way it makes the other man arch. And even though he doesn’t want to ask, he feels like he has to, because he needs to know if this is something he can have: Windham’s laugh and his smile and his kisses, the flex of his muscles under Darion’s hands. He’ll be okay if he can’t – he’ll adjust, he can adjust to anything – but he needs…he needs to know.
“Are you sure you’re okay with this?” he says.
Windham pulls back just far enough to make eye contact. His expression is open and honest, and one of his hands is still curved behind Darion’s neck. “I think so,” he says.
Windham’s smile goes a little nervous around the edges. “I haven’t done this before,” he says. “I mean, there’s the Fugue Feast, but…” He trails off, looking unhappy, but Darion thinks he gets it. Sex is one thing, relationships are another, and anything outside the Fugue sanctions is something else entirely. If they do this…
Darion presses his lips to Windham’s temple, breathes in the scent of him. Skin and sweat and metal. Warm. Familiar.
“We don’t have to,” he says. The thought hurts, but he forces the words out anyway, because he needs for Windham to know this, to know that he’d rather have him safe than afraid, that this is more than just sex. “We can be like we were. It’s safer that way,” and he makes a startled noise when Windham hauls him down and kisses him hard and angry and very, very thorough.
“I don’t want,” Windham growls against his mouth, “to be like we were. I don’t want that, okay? I want this.”
And so Darion wraps his arms around him and squeezes, because everything else he wants to do involves fewer clothes and isn’t appropriate for a rotting horrorshow of an alley, and Windham laughs in relief and hugs him back and they’re…
They’re all right.
It’s going to be all right.
To Darion’s utter shock, very little about their relationship changes. He wonders if this is what it’s like for normal people.
They still go on patrols. Sometimes it’s boring and sometimes it isn’t, and occasionally it’s absolutely terrifying and Darion finds himself wanting to touch Windham constantly, as if to make sure he’s still there. And he’d done that before, sometimes, but now Windham leans into it in a way he never did previously and it makes Darion’s mouth go dry. They count the days until one or both of them has leave, and they spend those precious hours in Darion’s tiny apartment and his even tinier bed, learning the shapes of each other’s bodies and the pathways of desire.
Their progress is slow, halting at times. Windham’s nervous about his fellow Overseers and with good reason, and there are days where they barely see or speak to each other, much less touch. Much of their relationship is conducted in shadow, in the spaces between words and in the shape of breath. The whisper of a leather glove against an elbow, the faintest brush of their shoulders as they walk next to each other on patrol. Darion stores the memory of these touches and at night he gives them all back, tongues them into the crease of Windham’s thigh and the dimples at the base of his spine, breathes them into his ear as Windham shudders apart beneath him, and on some nights Windham is the one pressing him into the bed, teeth in Darion’s shoulder and hands grasping his hips.
Sometimes, when their schedules match just right and nothing has gone wrong, Windham actually stays and they share the pillow and they sleep, curved into each other like nesting dolls with their limbs tangled and fingers entwined.
Such moments are the ones Darion likes best. Those early morning hours when they’re barely awake, sooty light just beginning to filter in through the window. When sleepy, Windham is warm and pliable and prone to clinging, like he doesn’t understand why he and Darion can’t occupy the exact same space at the exact same time. He likes slow, languid kisses, likes to leisurely grind himself to completion against Darion’s stomach, and when he’s done he smiles and slides down Darion’s body and uses his mouth until Darion’s wrung out and gasping and shivering all over.
He knows it won’t last, he knows it can’t last, but…
He wants it to, anyway.
When things fall apart, they all do so at once.
The Lord Protector escapes, a masked felon starts terrorizing the city, watchmen start dropping left and right from drinking contraband elixir from Slackjaw’s still. He and Windham get careless, and although Windham manages to talk their way out of it Darion’s not foolish enough to think the danger is passed. The look on Windham’s face when he left was both apology and warning, and Darion’s still not sure what that means for their future.
Fortunately – or unfortunately – he doesn’t have time to think on it, because the city is in disarray and Captain Curnow’s disappeared and it’s all just…
What the fuck is happening?
That first day they go on full alert and they stay that way the second, and on the third day they hear about the attack on the High Overseer and Captain Curnow turns up in a dumpster, confused and battered but very much alive, and Darion’s beginning to panic because he hasn’t heard a thing from Windham since the last day they were together and—
He knows he shouldn't go. He knows. But there are too many rumors flying about what happened at Holger Square and no one seems to know if anyone actually died, and all he can think about is that day by the dumpster when they first kissed and he’d realized just how quickly and easily things could end. When the knowledge of their own mortality crushed down upon him and stole his breath.
He needs to find out if Windham’s okay. Even if it means they never get to see each other again, even if it means they’re over, he needs to know if Windham’s okay.
The security around the Office of the High Overseer is a mess. None of the Overseers seem to know who’s in charge, and there are enough members of the City Watch around that no one questions him when he makes his way towards the backyard and the dormitories.
He’s coming around the corner of the dorms when a dog barks, and there’s suddenly a big, spindly shape sprinting across the grounds towards him. Darion freezes instinctively, but even as he does he knows it’s already too late, these hounds are trained much too well and he was stupid to do this without an escort, he—
He lands on his back in the mud and Temperance plants his paws on Darion’s shoulders, his whole body wiggling with nerves and excitement as he whines and licks Darion’s face. The relief that washes over him is almost suffocating in its intensity. Windham has to be okay. If he wasn’t, Temperance wouldn’t be acting like this. He must be okay.
Temperance lets Darion shove him off, but he plasters himself to Darion’s legs again as soon as he gets up. That’s…a little more concerning. Temperance’s ears are back, his whipcord tail lashing uncertainly. Darion swallows thickly and scratches the hound’s heavy ruff.
“C’mon,” he says. “Let’s go find your master, huh?”
Windham, as it turn out, isn’t in the dorms at all.
He’s in the infirmary.
His eyes widen when he sees Darion in the doorway, and he looks awful – he’s pale and exhausted and there’s a dark, horrifying bruise around his throat – and from the expression on his face Darion thinks he’s about to be kicked out.
Which is okay, really. Windham may not be entirely all right, but he’s alive and that’s the important thing.
When Darion takes a step into the room and finds himself with an armful of Overseer, he’s not entirely sure what happened.
“By the Void,” Windham says. “I’ve been so worried about you. When you didn’t show up, I thought—“ His laugh is raw and cracked, so sandpaper rough it makes Darion’s stomach hurt. “They keep talking about a still that got poisoned. A masked felon who’s killing watchmen.”
They seem to be alone, and Darion carefully pulls Windham in the direction of the bed because the other man is shaking so hard he thinks it might be better if they’re sitting. “None of our men are dead,” he says. “Plenty are sick because of the still, but…” He trails off and clumsily tries to smooth some of the hair out of Windham’s eyes. “What happened? Who hurt you?”
“I never saw his face,” Windham says.
He’d been on rounds, he explains, patrolling the backyard with Temperance near the workshop. There had been a strange noise and then Temperance yelped and collapsed, and when he’d gone for his gun something blue flashed in his peripheral vision and there was suddenly an arm around his neck.
“I woke up on a workbench,” Windham says, “with Temperance up there with me. Everyone was panicking – something about the former High Overseer and the Heretic’s Brand – and a good ten or fifteen men were like I was. Unconscious, either choked or knocked out with sleeping poison.”
Darion looks over at Temperance, curled in a lanky ball near the door. The hound thumps his tail, tongue lolling. He looks okay now, at least.
“He was groggy for about twelve hours,” Windham says, “but I think he’s fine.”
Darion buries his nose in the other man’s hair, tries to breathe past the iron bands wrapped around his chest. He’s not sure why the attacker didn't kill anyone – or anything – but he’s certainly not objecting. The things he’d been thinking—
“Listen,” Windham says hoarsely. “I need to talk to you. About the other day.”
“It’s okay,” Darion says. “I know why you said it. You had to, and it worked. It’s okay.”
“It is not,” Windham says. His voice is fierce, anguished, and Darion blinks in surprise as Windham scoots up to his knees and cups Darion’s face in his hands. “It was all I could think about when I woke up,” he says. “That the last thing I’d said to you had been…” He shakes his head. “You could’ve died. I could’ve died.”
“We didn’t, though,” Darion points out, because the miserable guilt in Windham’s expression is awful and he can’t take much more of this tonight. “We’re both alive. We’re both…well, not all right, exactly, but it’s close enough for counting.”
Windham shakes his head again and creeps forward until their chests are pressed together and his forehead is nestled alongside Darion’s neck. It’s not the most comfortable position: Windham’s knee is perilously close to a part of Darion’s anatomy he’d rather it wasn’t, but Windham’s shaking again, all nerves and adrenaline and fatigue, and Darion wouldn’t ask him to move for the world.
“We’re okay,” he says, because he thinks Windham needs to hear it and maybe he does too. “We’re okay.”
“The entire city is falling apart,” Windham says, muffled against Darion’s shoulder.
“Sure,” Darion says. “But we’re not.”
Darion’s voice is firm. “No.” After a moment, he feels Windham’s mouth curve against his collarbone. The smile is a tiny one and more than a little tremulous, but the fact that it’s there at all is a miracle and the iron bands in Darion’s chest ease, just a little.
And Windham says, very softly, “Okay.”