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We Live For Today

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It had been almost a week. Billie had pulled the Outsider from the Void, impossibly, but it had still meant they’d ended up in the middle of the mountains, among no one but the dead. He had been… erratic, in those first days on the peak. Barely functional, barely coherent. But she had gotten him out of the Shindaeray’s thrall, and he had started speaking in sentences again. And now that he was back to being, well, adequate at carrying on a conversation, there was a question Billie had been holding for him.

“What should I call you?”

He gave no response, save a stare. She continued, “Your name. You’re no longer ‘The Outsider’ and you can’t very well introduce yourself like that.”

“My name?” He felt something familiar welling inside him. Despair? Frustration? Desperation? “I have a name, Billie Lurk. You’re the one who found it.”

“But Daud’s the one who spoke it,” she pressed, her eyes following him as he began to pace the alley they stood in. “The existence of your name hasn’t changed the fact that it’s in the language of the dead, which we are not.

He opened his mouth to say it. He had spoken it, so long ago, but the words that were built in his throat now felt foreign and strange. This, at least, should be easy. But his mouth felt as if it had been tied in knots, lashed to a ship bound for another shore. He froze.

The last language these lips had spoken, and his name, were now lost to him as well.

“I…”

Billie made an effort to soften her tone. “Hey. Come up with a new name. You’re... different than you were before, and new name will be there to reflect that.”

“For the past 4,000 years, I’ve had no use for a name.”

“...So you say.” Billie let out a breath, unsure what advice she could give. Meagan Foster had been an escape, after all, and Billie Lurk had never quite fit inside her skin. “Give it some thought. For now, though, I’m in need of something to call you.”

“Then a conundrum lies before you, Billie Lurk,” he said, spreading his arms. “...For there are few things I haven’t been called.”

Billie Lurk appraised him, this petulant, expectant foundling. Maybe this was easier than she thought. “Foster.”

“Foster?” His eyes narrowed, as in his mind he considered it. “Am I a childhood pet, named for your favorite character in a story? Can you only spare the imagination for one pseudonym?”

“I’ve still imagined one more than you have,” she replied, smirking. “Now, you have the incentive to come up with a name of your own.”

“Foster,” he said, studying its feel on his lips. It was strange, but not unwelcome. As she said, it would do for now.

“I’ll stay with you a while longer. After all, I haven’t got anything else to be doing.” This, was true. With Daud at peace and the Outsider outside, her agenda had frankly been wiped clean. And frankly, Billie didn’t trust him to be out on his own just yet. She had already caught him putting dirt in his mouth to feel the texture of the grit and verify that it was, in fact, disgusting.

“You’ve nothing better to do than shepherd a former god through the normalities of life?” His arms were folded, but there was something in the manner of his expression that was thankful. His new eyes were easier to read, unobscured by the Void’s ichor.

“For now,” she replied. But there was another question, one she’d carried with her since she’d found his name. Perhaps even before that, when other young girls had whispered of the eyeless god would live forever, apart. She never thought she would be asking him now.

“...All those years,” she broached, “Is there anything you’ve wanted to do?”

To her surprise, his answer came more quickly than any response he’d given so far.

“I want to ride on a ship.”

 

----

 

It had taken a few favors, but Billie hadn’t brought herself to give a damn. She had found them a ship, bound on a trade route to the north. It was no Dreadful Wale, but nothing was. Nothing ever would be.

He had been uncharacteristically cagey about exactly where he wanted to go on a vessel, but when she’d chosen a ship bound for Dunwall, he’d reacted with… the only word she could think of was excitement. Perhaps in a way, his heart lay there too.

They had been in Karnaca for just over a week, and for someone who’d watched 4,000 years pass before him, his profound eagerness to depart this particular island had not been lost on her. It had taken a while to make the rounds to her contacts, find out who would be leaving port soon, and it had only conpounded his already manic behavior.

They had been staying in an inn near the water, while Billie had done her work. She’d be damned if she let the kid sleep on anything but a warm bed, but in the end, he didn’t do much sleeping there. She’d gotten him to stop pacing the floor at night, but still he would wake her with strange questions, or soliloquies he didn’t realize he was sharing.

“Billie.”

“What...” She rolled over to face him, rousing herself from near-sleep. He had yet to make it through a night of sleep, which meant she hadn’t either. At least he’d stopped using her full name so much. “What is it?”

“There are those who would slit my throat anew, if given the chance, but there are also those who simply who despise me. Do you?”

She let out a groan. “Are you asking me if I hate you?” For a god, he still managed to be such a child. He was waiting expectantly for her answer, so she obliged him. “...No. I don’t hate you. I don’t agree with the things you did, but... if I had been in your place, I don’t think I would have been any better—done things any different.” She closed her eye. “Now, try to sleep.”

He stared at her in the dark, his face half lit by the small fire they kept going all night, on his insistence. Like a child, he refused to lie in total darkness. He’d already spent dozens of lifetimes without the reassurance of warm flames, and he would not be deprived of them again.

He looked at Billie’s face in the darkness, a corner of her dead eye glinting. She had begun to cover it with a cloth at night. “Why have you helped me, I wonder? Why take me to Dunwall? Is this another chance to—”

Billie let out a breath, but didn’t open her eye. “Void almighty, do you like to talk. I… feel responsible for you. Go to sleep.”

She turned over, ending the exchange. Responsible. “You are responsible for many things, Billie Lurk. Me, and a profound, irrevocable change in reality itself.” He was about to continue, but stopped. This was far from the first time she’d interrupted him or told him to be quiet. People rarely back-talked the Outsider, save Billie Lurk, who did it often. Early on in Karnaca, outside, she’d snapped and told him to think about what he was going to say before he said it, damn him, and he had decided to give it try, when he cared to.

He let her sleep.

 

-----

 

The next morning, they were standing on the dock. Billie turned to him. “There’s nothing else you want to do here?”

“‘Here’ is where my throat was cut, and what home I had died with me thousands of years ago. There is nothing for me here.”

Those 4,000 years had passed beneath him, silent as the tides, and it had been easy to forget the things they were washing away. The buildings here were stacked upon ruins upon graves of the dead upon histories long since forgotten. He didn’t know if it would be “home”, but there was something waiting for him in Dunwall.

He looked at the sun reaching into the sky. The sun. Its very presence excited him. He’d forgotten what it had been like. Light on your skin and warmth felt in every breath drawn. The smell of bright days and the promise of a life lived outside unending dark. Soon, he would leave this island—forever, he hoped. He realized he didn’t, couldn’t know for certain. But hope was something he’d thought himself even more incapable of.

Many sailors in Karnaca had come to know Meagan Foster, and when Billie Lurk had come to cash in on favors owed her, they did so without much contention. And when she’d introduced her strange new charge as another “Foster”, they’d let it slide with brief smirks, and few questions.

It wasn’t a perfect day for a voyage, the sailor was telling Billie, but the sea should be forgiving enough. “Foster” looked out at the surface of the water. In the Void, its depths had pulsed and churned through him. He had heard every whalesong, and every mournful wail of the beasts that would die to light the world. Now, on its very shore, he felt more apart than ever.

“...Ready?”

He gave a start, dragged from his ruminations and up for air. “What?”

Billie repeated herself. “I said Foster, are you ready?”

He looked between Billie and the sailor—a lean, muscular woman walking on a leg of whalebone. Her name was Ayden, and she had lost her leg as a girl, wading into the midnight sea that had called to her with strange voices and songs. The same voice whispered within the whalebone of the first leg her father had carved for her, and every one she’d had made since. She—

“Foster.” Billie was glaring at him. He squinted back, trying to find her meaning. Her eye darted to Ayden, and back again. He followed it.

Ayden’s mouth was agape. “H-How did he… That was...”

Ah. He’d said all that aloud. They were both staring at him.

“I’m sorry, Ayden, Foster… sees things. He’s somewhat of a fortune teller, but… doesn’t always control what comes out. It won’t happen again.” The last part was firm, and directed at him.

In the dark that night, she never saw the thing that took her leg, but the Outsider had known its face. This, he managed to keep inside his throat, and he pushed out a lie instead. “It... won’t happen again.”

 

----

 

The ship was bigger than the Dreadful Wale, though much of it was devoted to storage compartments. Aside from Billie and her charge, there were nearly a dozen people on board—most of them members of the shipping company, with a few other passengers looking to make a discreet voyage to Dunwall.

Billie had worried that “Foster” would have no sealegs to speak of, that she’d spend the voyage supervising his retching, but in truth he was more contented than she’d ever seen him on land. He was less intrusive, less talkative with the sea there to draw his thoughts.

Still, the eccentricities of Billie’s guest were not lost on anyone. He had poor motor skills, and, due to his propensity to drop the things he was holding after he’d finished using them, he was only permitted metal or wooden tableware. Billie had put these measures in place soon after they’d arrived in Karanca, when he broke one of the inn’s drinking glasses on their first night there. “The force you call gravity functions differently within the Void.”

Word of his “clairvoyance” had spread quickly enough, and the less religious sailors of the ship had begun approaching him for “readings”. He had proceeded to ask each of them if they would also like to know the hour and manner of their deaths, which had put an end to most of their inquiries.

“Do you really know when everyone is going to die?” Billie asked, once they were alone.

“I never had any say in the visions I received,” he said, pacing their small cabin. "Many pertained to events that would alter the flow of history, but there were still many whose significance was never apparent to me. The smell of perfume on a lover’s neck, a misremembered recipe that soured a distant family’s last reunion, a—”

“So you said that to scare them,” Billie said, an eyebrow raised. She could tell he was getting especially worked up over this.

“I spent generations being accosted by unwanted solicitations. The weak asking to be powerful, and the powerful asking for power greater than I was capable of giving. Nothing I gave would be enough, and in the end, most were given nothing. Quickly, I grew tired of the blood spilled in my name, the rituals, the sacrifices. For what distinguished them from my own murderers? Surely not the inclusion of the Outsider’s name.”

The last line had been spit from his mouth, bitter to the tongue. He was not looking at her, but in profile she could see his face wretched, twisted with emotion. He tried to continue, but the words caught. “The Outsider. The one who would—”  He drew a sharp breath, and it escaped his lungs as a sob.

He spun to face her, and she could see his eyes welling with tears. “Billie, I—I can’t see, my eyes—” He had begun to panic now, and his sobs were making the tears come faster.

“Hey. Hey” she said, quickly standing to take his arm. “There’s nothing wrong with your eyes. You’re crying.”

The day she pulled him out of the Void… He had cried then, too. But in that haze of humanity, there wasn’t much he recalled of those first days. To return to human emotions, after being so long dead, it had almost been too much to bear. But there, in him, Billie had seen the profound life, the sublime bliss of the murdered, permitted to walk the earth again. She had thought of Deirdre. If she had housed any regrets about letting him live, about guiding him now, they had all been wiped away on that mountain.

She stood with him, her arms around him, and when he could no longer stand, she eased him onto his bunk. “You don’t have to answer to anyone, ever again.”

 

----

 

Foster had taken a liking to pacing the upper deck. He would walk, bow to stern, starboard to port, and look out at the water on every side as if he was trying to find the answer to a riddle written out across the waves. Billie often had to bring him a cloak, for he wouldn’t realize he’d started to shiver until his nose was cold and running. When at last he came inside, he told the crew stories of long forgotten voyages at sea, as Billie told them he fancied himself a novelist. She had never seen him so full of… life. Here, surrounded by the smell of the sea, he drew every breath as his first.

Whenever he could, he would hover around the sailors as they went about their work, charting the ship’s course, adjusting its rigging. Too often, he would lean over the railing, gazing into the depths of the water until she or another sailor felt it necessary to grab him by the collar and pull him back as they would a curious child.

“You don’t want ta slip into these waters, lad. Y’might very well never come out.”

 

----

 

They had been at sea for a few days now, and while Foster lingered on deck, Ayden had struck up a conversation with Billie about the trading crew would be doing in port, the kind of people she’d be seeing while they were there, how long she’d planned to stay in Dunwall before shipping out again. “How long will you be there, do you think?”

“Can’t really say,” Billie told her. “Dunwall carries a lot of weight for me. I don’t know how ready I am to return just yet.”

“It’s a heavy place, Dunwall,” Ayden said, absent-mindedly running her fingers along the smoothed wood of the railing. “Even now, even after all this time. Lost my older sister to the rat plague. …My father, too. He’d shipped out to see her and the new baby.” She trailed off for a time, staring at the grain. “Voids, she would have been a teenager by now.”

Billie looked at Ayden. Windswept, inky hair showing the first inklings of grey. A face weathered, characterized by the barrage of strife. A face like her own.

Then she heard a splash. “Outsider’s crooked cock.”

Ayden turned, but Billie was gone.

In the water, Billie’s eye sang. Its echoes whispered through her skull. She couldn’t feel her arm, only the knife as it harmonized with the song of the deep. But her vision was clear, even in the dark water.

She saw him, just as he closed his eyes. He lay there, suspended in the glinting water, as if he were falling asleep among the stars.

Idiot.

As they breached the surface, shouts came swirling into Billie’s ears. Something splashed in front of her. A rope. She heaved Foster onto her shoulder, and took it.

 

----

 

The deck was a sea of hands, all hanging in the air as if by strings. Everyone was ready to steady them, but none dared touch, save Ayden. She help lay him down, his dark hair now plastered sideways to his face, and Billie began chest compressions. I didn’t pull your ass out of the Void for this bullshit, you bastard, she thought as she pushed her breath into his lungs.

Finally, violently, he heaved, coughed, and retched. Everyone drew breath with him, realizing they’d been holding theirs. Foster looked around, but his eyes didn’t see until they met Billie’s.

She eased him up, and Ayden draped a blanket over his shoulders. “Why did you—”

He was already wrapped around her, cold, shivering, and as wet as she was. She heard whispered words at her ear. “T-T-The V-Void, in th-the depths, I t-t-tried to see it.”

“There’s nothing for you down there, Foster.”

 

----

 

Foster was placed under constant watch for the remainder of the voyage, and every precaution short of tying a rope around his waist had been put in place. Billie was with him now, as his current supervisor, and made an attempt at levity.

“What were ships like, before?” she asked him.

The ships he’d seen on the water back then were slender, spindly things. As a boy on the streets, he had only glimpsed them from afar, twinkling spiders dancing with the sun’s reflection upon the water. They had been made with bones, he’d heard, the bones of the first creatures to cross the seas. But he had never learned how they worked.

Billie thought he had been quiet for too long—for him, at least. “...Do you not know?”

“History books can be very informative, Billie Lurk.”

“On ships that existed 4,000 years ago?” she snorted. “They barely remember what happened last week.”

He smirked at that, and when she recalled what had happened these last weeks, she chuckled.

 

----

 

They would be in Dunwall tomorrow.

He had snuck outside, to walk on the deck alone. This time, his eyes were raised from the water, toward the sky. Far from the city, nights here were spent under the stars. Some had come and gone, but the cold constellations that webbed the sky remained unchanged. The cult who had killed him had looked at these same stars, and decided they were wanting, thirsty for spilled blood. For a god. Looking down now, what did they think of their world? Of him?

“I can’t really say.” Billie had appeared beside him. He must have been talking aloud again. “But for their sake, I would hope they’re satisfied. I’ve killed gods before.”

He looked at her. She shifted. They both turned to lean on the railing. As they stared out at the dark waves, neither of them said what they both knew. She had killed him, somewhere. The blood he’d tasted in his mouth in those first moments... it had been fresh.

He changed the subject neither of them had breached. “...As a girl, you dreamed of being the captain of a ship. And Meagan Foster lived that dream. Billie Lurk did not.”

Even with his connection to the Void severed, he still had a talent for being intrusive, and he’d retained an unfortunate amount of knowledge pertaining to Billie Lurk, specifically. “And?”

“Billie Lurk dreamed of a life at sea, away from the dirty streets and cold stones. She dreamed of a life that wasn’t hers, one of plenty—”

“What are you getting at?”

“— where the fish she caught filled her belly and she never wanted for food. She dreamed of adventure, of family, of home.”

His words were digging into her, deep as hooks, and she remembered the times she’d hated him. He had not turned from the sea, but when she saw the moon reflected in his misty eyes, Billie understood. “...You did, too.”

“Meagan Foster lived that dream, for a time,” he continued. “She wasn’t forgiven, she wasn’t free, but she was alive.”

For once, Billie was stunned by his words. He finally turned back to her, and his eyes were as clear as she’d ever seen them.

“There is… nothing that would be enough to thank you for what you’ve done for me, Billie Lurk.”

“...You’re welcome, Foster.”

With his departure from the Void, he had lost his skill for graceful exits, and so he lingered there by the railing, stiff, until he realized that he would have to make the walk back to the cabin himself. He had no smokescreen, no Void magic to mask his escape, save his parting words. “Ayden watches you, when she thinks you aren’t looking.”

Chapter Text

"You say he's met the Empress?" Ayden looked from Billie to "Foster", her odd new charge who was presently bent over, occupied with running a hand along the algae that clung to the underside of one of the dock posts.

"He says he's met the Empress. And the Royal Protector. Says they owe him something." Billie followed Ayden's gaze to eye him just as incredulously, but for a different reason. Yes, they owe him for the heretical powers that could crumble their hold on the empire if anyone found out.

"Empress Emily Kaldwin, and Royal Protector Corvo Attano."

"I know he's..." Foster brought a slimy hand toward his face to better observe the residue's viscosity as the two women watched. "But he's also serious."

"I trust your judgement to the Void and back, Billie, but him—"

"Foster!" Billie barked, seeing that he'd opened his mouth to sample whatever he'd gotten on his fingers.

He straightened, eyes narrowing, and brushed the dock slime onto his pant leg. "Billie Lurk."

She walked past him, onto the bricks that made up the fringe of Dunwall's ports, and lowered her voice beneath the white noise of the water. "Ayden's meeting a client in Dunwall Tower. I've asked her to let us come along so you can... whatever it is you want to do there."

She didn't need to gesture for him to follow—he was already at her heels. "We're going to Dunwall Tower?" He sounded concerned. Nervous?

"What?" she prodded. "Isn't that what you wanted?"

Ayden piped up behind them, having followed them to the pier. "The meeting is scheduled for after sundown. We have a few hours."

Ayden and Billie started talking, going over plans. Foster had gone somewhere else.

A few hours . The words echoed in his mind. Centuries. For centuries he'd waited, for something . They'd given it to him. And now, he could be in a room with them. He could touch Emily's hand, running warm with the blood of her mother and father. He could finally know what Corvo smelled like. In a few hours.

When he came back, Ayden was gone. He looked around, bewildered. His hand was warm. Billie had placed it in hers, a tow leading him back ashore.

"I asked Ayden to give us some time. We'll meet her later." Now she was guiding him to a couple of chairs circled around a small card table on the pier. "Sit down."

He did.

"I lost you again," she continued. "I don't know what concerns me more—you blurting out a record of every passerby's forays into the dark arts, or the silence."

They sat there as he tried to find words again. Finally, he settled for repeating Ayden's. "A few hours."

"You don't have to do this. If you aren't ready to see them yet, they'll still be there after Ayden and I are done with her business."

Slowly, he processed her words, their deflection. "You won't come with me."

Billie looked up at Dunwall Tower. "Emily and I said our goodbyes. On the best terms I could hope for." She looked at the deep shadow it cast as it loomed over the water. "We killed her mother."

And what had he done? His vision swam with streams of memories from the Void, rivers of blood and dark paths of chaos that strung themselves around Corvo's reddened hands. And Emily's. He had to remind himself that they weren't real. But they could have been.

It hadn't mattered before. But now he was sitting in a Dunwall that still stood while somewhere, there was one that didn't.

He'd left again. Billie tried to catch his eye. "You aren't ready. You can wait in—"

"No." The word had already left his mouth before he'd thought to stop it. "I have to see them."

Billie let out a breath. "And do what? What do you need to say to them?"

He opened his mouth several times, sifting through words to find any that worked. None did. "...I have to see them."

The two of them sat in silence, taking in the sound of the waves beating against the docks. It was Billie who spoke again. "Listen, just because I brought you back to life doesn't mean I'm going to tell you what to do with it. I just want to know you aren't throwing it away. I want to know I can trust them not to... I don't know. Arrest you. At the very least. "

"Meagan Foster trusted Corvo to help her find Sokolov, her closest friend," he countered. "Billie Lurk trusted Emily to know her past."

"Meagan Foster and Billie Lurk aren't the Outsider ."

"Neither am I."

She didn't have a retort for that.

"To out me as the Outsider would be to reveal their own allegiances to the Void, its heresy. They've proved cleverer than that."

Bille stood, sighed, and placed her dead hand on his shoulder. "Then let's get you ready."

 

----

 

"A few hours" passed, too quickly. Billie first procured a false sling for her arm and a cap she could pull low over her face, successfully masking her most eye-catching features. Then, she had Foster wash off the grime of the sea at a bathhouse—one with scented salts and no gang emblems darkening its walls—before getting in touch with Ayden. She rendezvoused with the pair a little earlier than planned so she could help Billie get Foster into the hands of a seamstress who could outfit him in something other than the clothes he'd been wearing since Billie had pulled him from the jaws of the Void.

They were in a hurry, so Ayden chose a shop that was well-stocked, filled with simple yet stylish garments that coincided with the current fashions of the capital city. Foster's average build meant that it would be simple enough to outfit him without the need for a tailor.

Billie and Ayden took a pragmatic approach, outlining the pieces they'd need with the shopkeeper. Meanwhile, Foster loomed around the store, taken in by cloaks of vibrant reds and greens. Anything that would most distance him from the cold, steely tones of the Void. He ran his hands along each new fabric, fingers tracing the garmets' delicate stitching and embroidery. He wanted to commit each to memory.

Fearing he'd spend hours browsing, Billie and Ayden chose a deep forest green coat adorned with brass buttons and brown accents. Billie helped him change as Ayden passed them new pieces of clothing, replacing his world-weary garments one by one. They stepped out of the changing room to examine the completed look.

Ayden nodded, satisfied with their choices, the coat in particular. "This one brings out your eyes."

Foster's head swiveled, searching for the nearest mirror. In his mind he envisioned inky pools, reflected in the glossy slate of the Void, but that wasn't what she had meant.

Hazel eyes stared back at him, their gold flecks echoing the coat's buttons. He took a step towards the mirror, watching them shift and glint in the light. The ornate, polished mirror before him was nothing compared to the reflection he'd seen in Billie's handheld compact, the inn's rusting vanity, the glass of shop windows, the water of the sea.

A young man stood before him, bereft and confused, but familiar. The lines of his face, so long frozen in time, now quivered and changed like the surface of a pool. His cheeks and ears had pinkened during his time out in the open water, and the inklings of freckles had appeared across his skin. The coat they'd chosen for him spoke of rich wood that burned brightly in warm hearths, and lush vines that scaled buildings to stretch their leaves closer and closer toward the sun.

After 4,000 years, the Outsider had grown to hate his face, evergreen and never-changing, with black eyes that marred every emotion he could think to express. It was a tepid, stagnant, lifeless face, no matter what names artists and poets had given it through the ages. But as he looked at "Foster's", he saw something else, and as he did, he saw Foster's eyes spark with it too.

"We won't need it tailored, it fits well enough," Billie was telling the shopkeeper, with Ayden at her side.

"That it does!" she said. "I'd say your son cleans up quite nicely!"

Billie snorted, then realized the woman was referring to both her and Ayden, who was looking at her quizzically. Expectantly? "He's not our son," she amended, letting the "our" fall between them, testing its waters.

Ayden didn't retract it. "But you're right about cleaning up, to be sure!" she said, effortlessly smoothing the conversation. "I'm more used to him looking like a sour, drowned cat."

This yielded an aghast, "No! Him?" from the shopkeeper, and she and Ayden shared a hearty laugh.

Oblivious, Foster was just now realizing the prices painted in delicate script above each rack. He turned to Billie. "How are we to pay for this?"

Billie ignored his attempts to catch her eye, and tightened her jaw. "You didn't expect me to keep the paintings I collected? Lug them up and down that terrible mountain? Don't concern yourself."

And that was the end of it. He watched her turn back to the others and join their playful banter, at his expense. To Corvo and the Empress, money meant nothing. They could use it to buy every garment in this shop and not notice its absence. To Billie, money meant something. Not having it meant burying a knife in the chest of someone who did.

He ran his fingers along the brass buttons of his new coat, taking in their smooth, cool shapes. To be here, to have hands and mind to command, was all thanks to Billie Lurk. And as she tried to suppress another smile in front of Ayden, he wished her every happiness the Isles had to offer, and more.

 

----

 

As they approached the tower that evening, Ayden went over what her meeting would entail. "I'll be meeting with one of the tower's foreign ambassadors. She's contracted my ship to transport written and audio correspondences, as well as the occasional parcel, in addition to my usual odds and ends."

"And the catch?" Billie asked, using her free hand to adjust her cap over her face before glancing behind them to make sure Foster was still in tow.

"I assume I'll also be informing on the other Isles upon my return," Ayden continued, quietly. "Likely in hopes of preventing more Delilahs and Luellas."

"Luellas?" Billie repeated, trying to place the name.

"Apparently the Empire had their hands full a few weeks ago, dealing with an anarchist bomber called Luella Price."

Luella Price. The name struck a chord deep within Foster's chest, reverberating through his memories of the Void.  His eyes had been turned to Billie, to his end, but he could remember when somewhere far away, new bone charms had itched at the corners of him. "They wore rats for faces and sought to make Dunwall their pyre."

Ayden and Billie both looked at Foster, Ayden's face holding questions she didn't ask, while Billie's held only the word "Don't."

"I suppose that's... apt," Ayden continued, hesitantly. "Rumor has it Price used Void magic as a catalyst for the explosions. The man I spoke to even said she and her gang managed to injure the Royal Protector."

Billie's eyes flicked to Foster, whose expression had deepened into a scowl. "He was mistaken. Corvo would never fall prey to such base vermin."

Ayden had opened her mouth to contest him, but Billie caught her eye first and gave her a slight shrug. When they looked back at Foster, they saw that he had gone again, steps slowing until he stopped.

The Royal Protector... injured. He should have been able to see it. Feel it, through all the fibers he'd strung through the Void to lead him back to Royal Protector Corvo Attano. The Void that had been shorn from his soul. He had felt its lack , certainly, but suddenly the finality of its absence struck him. Corvo's future, Emily's—they were no longer his to see.

Billie looked both ways to ensure they weren't blocking anyone's path, then said his new name. His hazel eyes were focused intently on something too distant to see. When he didn't respond, she guided him to a nearby bench that faced the water and sat him down. "Looks like he needs a minute."

"I don't think he's ready, Billie," Ayden said quietly, shaking her head. "I've seen this, in folks who went to the darkest corners of the Isles and saw things that'll never go away."

You aren't far off. Billie leaned back against a nearby wall. "He won't be mended overnight. But seeing the Tower might be enough to patch a few tears."

Ayden crooked her leg to rest it against the same wall, revealing the whalebone that began at the knee. "...I hope you're right."

Billie turned her eye on Ayden. "Why agree to bring us? Has he managed to endear himself to you?"

"All he's done is spout nonsense and try to eat things he shouldn't."

"Which you've asked alarmingly few questions about."

Ayden brushed a strand of hair from her face, averting her gaze. "I just..." She leaned to stroke the whalebone of her leg. "All my life, this leg's told me things. I couldn't explain it if I tried. But... when I listen, things turn out all right. Listening is the reason I'm still here. I look at that boy, and... I look at you, and I hear it sing."

Billie's eye traced the false leg, an elegant arch of bleached whalebone. If her arm was the void's fractured shadows, Ayden's leg was the light that cast them.

"You can hear it, can't you?" Ayden had shifted immeasurably closer to her.

Billie closed the gap and ran her living fingers along the exposed bone, and felt them prickle with energy from the Void. Yes, she could hear it.

 

----

 

Once Foster was ready, Ayden had stood up, but this time it was Billie who stopped them. "They aren't going to let me in, looking like this. This face was plastered across wanted posters in Karnaca, and there's no reason to expect they didn't make their way north."

"And that's enough to stop you from joining us?" Ayden asked, incredulous.

"I didn't say that."

"Well, they will notice if a third guest suddenly joins us."

"Which is why I'm going to have to do something... unsavory."

Ayden raised her eyebrows, waiting for an explanation, but not going so far as to expect one.

"I'm going to need someone else's face."

 

----

 

Foster and Ayden waited near the first guard post of the Tower. A few times, Ayden looked at Foster, as if to say something, then let out a breath before glancing away again.

"I won't ruin the surprise," Foster finally said.

Moments later, they were joined by a dark-haired woman dressed in the well-tailored clothes of a merchant, her breast pocket embroidered with the emblem of her guild. She carried herself strangely, movements more calculated and precise than any tradesman Ayden had seen. When she reached the pair, Billie's low voice crossed her lips. "Let's go."

The woman nudged Ayden's arm, propelling her forward as Foster followed behind. She procured her name from the identification papers she'd stolen from the woman she'd left on a balcony, pocket filled with a bribe hopefully sizeable enough to keep her mouth shut once she came to. "I'm Jane Highgrove, and Foster's surname will be... Marksworth."

Foster scoffed. "I see Jane Highgrove possesses even less of an imagination than Billie Lurk."

Ayden, too dazed to make sense of the exchange, focused instead on arranging her own face as if nothing was wrong.

Foster and Ayden were checked for weapons, but Billie, who had chosen her mark well, simply presented her papers before being waved in. It wasn't as if they would have been able to find her blade, but she couldn't be sure if the illusion would last the scrutiny of a pat-down.

Once the guards had logged their reasons for entry, they were ushered into a waiting room. As soon as they were left alone, Jane Highgrove seemed to crumble before them, and only Billie Lurk was left in her place.

"Billie... How did you..." Ayden managed, shifting weight off her false leg, which thrummed in tune with the Void energy still emanating from Billie.

Foster had already moved toward the door, murmuring to himself. "Dunwall Tower, still echoing with the footfalls of empresses, usurpers, reclaimers..." His excitement was clear.

"Tell them Jane wasn't feeling well and Foster offered to take her for a walk through the gardens. When she doesn't return, you can tell them she backed out of negotiations. I'll rejoin you outside once you've finished your business."

She drew close to Ayden, and brushed a stray hair behind her ear. "That's when you'll hear everything. Mark my word."

----

Billie Lurk left Foster in the gazebo, banishing its memories from her mind as best she could, even though seeing Jessamine Kaldwin's name rended in cold marble made that all but impossible.

“I won’t be far,” she said, stopping herself from adding: if things don’t go well. Briefly, she had flashes of him in shackles in dungeons, under scalpels on tables, bleeding out in the street, his new eyes glossy and red. If it came to that, no matter what it took, she would be back for him. And she would stay near until she knew for certain that he would be all right.

"I used a guard's face to send word about a delivery from Meagan Foster. That should be enough to get their attention."

"Thank you, Billie Lurk."

"Don't thank me just yet, there's still—" she had turned to leave, but her sleeve had caught on something.

It was Foster's hand.  "You will accept my thanks, Billie Lurk." He swerved to get in front of her, a mortal mimicry of the Outsider's habit of using teleportation as punctuation. "You... You..."

And so unlike the Outsider, words failed Foster, and he cried. And so unlike Daud's assassin, Billie stroked his hair and said, "You're welcome."

Chapter Text

The former Outsider stood beneath Jessamine's memorial gazebo, pulse thrumming beneath his collar. Who would they send to greet him? A guard? Someone to shackle him and send him away in chains? Would he even be able to see Corvo? Emily?

Imagining how Corvo would look within his new eyes set his chest in a vice. "Seeing" things through those soaked eyes had been different. Above all else, the Outsider saw in possibility. In cities and oceans he saw it run thick and deep, syrupy and slow. In people, it twisted and swirled like whirlpools and currents thought the sea. And Corvo... Corvo had been a hurricane, drifting with Dunwall's flotsam and jetsam to create forms too beautiful to describe. Corvo had been the freedom he wanted for himself.

He had seen him only through the eyes of a stranger, through the eyes of others, in reflections in Dunwall tower, through spirals of possible futures visible all at once and compounded in a single form. In a way, he had been blind, seeing the shapes a thing could make, yet not the thing itself. And now...

 

As soon as a guard had sent word of a delivery from Meagan Foster waiting at the gazebo, Corvo had hurried to investigate. That name wasn't used lightly, if it was known at all. When Delilah's dust settled, Emily had recounted what had transpired with Meagan Foster, with Billie Lurk. What she had done. Emily had said that was the last time she expected them to see each other, so now that Meagan Foster had come calling, Corvo had to find out why. Emily would be in sessions for the remainder of the afternoon, so it fell to him to get to the bottom of this.

Corvo arrived at the gazebo, expecting Billie Lurk or Meagan Foster there to greet him, but someone else stood there, alone.

The young man was turned from him, attention cast down to Jessamine's memorial. He shifted his feet as he folded and unfolded his arms, as if unsure what to do with them. Even standing still, the man seemed to thrum with energy looking for a means to escape his skin. It wouldn't be long until the sleeves of his new clothes—for they were new—began to fray beneath his touch.

The strange visitor moved like a bird in a cage, the pillars of the gazebo encircling him, and Corvo couldn't shake the feeling that they'd met before. He tried to place the silhouette, the motions, but they seemed to drift somewhere deep inside him, in a dream.

Then Corvo caught a glimpse of the man's profile, of eyes shaded by the gazebo, and the sight echoed through his memories, to a dark and nameless place and the strange thing that lived inside it. The thing with black eyes who made history his plaything, yet paced like trapped hound.

Corvo let out a soft sound of disbelief that sounded something like a chuckle. What tricks had reality left to play on him?

The man turned to look at him, wrenched from his reverie. And there he was. The lines of his face were echoes of the ones etched onto Corvo's soul as a younger man. It was a timeless face, one that belonged to a marble statue pulled from the depths of the sea. It had spent thousands of years beneath the water, laid in the dark ruins of a forgotten world.

Yet his skin told a different story, its surface now sprinkled with tiny imperfections, warmed for the first time by sun.

But above all, his eyes—those vacant, pitch-black cores—were gone.

 

Foster stared at the man in the sharp coat. Though his beard was peppered with grey, his posture was straight and steady, a boat mast unbent by battering winds. Foster's head swam with faces, trying to match him to the infinite procession of lives he remembered from the Void. And he guessed who it must be, who it had to be, but he didn't dare believe it.

"You..." the man's voice came out rough and heavy, bewildered, cautious. He was no longer a young man, but his voice rang deep in Foster's chest.

It was his hurricane. Foster traced his eyes over each scar and imperfection, now stitching them into the webs of histories he still held inside his mind. That one from his training with the previous Spymaster, that from Jessamine's first would-be assassin. The Corvo before him was possibility frozen in an instant, and Foster could trace the strands of time that had created the man before him. He understood now, why humans loved paintings. They were tableaus of life, a moment captured in a still frame, a single possibility recorded forever.

 

The eyes were there, bright and clear, pulled from the black, oily pit of the Void. They were impossible. Corvo thought they looked foreign on his face, a distortion of... everything. But then they began to shift, shapes twisting into something so raw, so human that for a moment he forgot they had ever been anything else. Their edges began to blur, and the tears came.

He moved towards Corvo unsteadily, his body unmoored, and Corvo stepped forward to catch him.

 

The tears came in torrents that shook Foster's body like a ship abandoned to a storm, and Corvo held him steady, an anchor at port. In his arms he became a ship brought back to shore, safe at harbor.

 

Seeing the Outsider for the first time all those years ago, in the warped realm of the Void, he had been impossibly inhuman. Something alien and unkowable in the shape of a man, something that waded in ripples of reality to chart his own course through the channels of history. And even then, the more Corvo learned of him, the less he understood. His actions were neither those of a god who wanted Dunwall brought from the brink, nor a demon who wanted it reduced to ash. Instead he had made Dunwall his chessboard, and Corvo his Queen, watching as he knocked pieces from the board or removed them from play. Had he had some grand design, or had it all just been for love of the game? Had the black-eyed thing been bored? Lonely?

Corvo had thought of him as a ruler of the Void, but seeing him now, feeling his trembling form against his shoulder, he knew that the Outsider had been its prisoner.

The sound of the man's sobs took him back into his dreams, when, if he listened closely, he thought he could hear a voice crying in an echo chamber of its own despair. Any doubts he still held were washed away under the torrent of those tears.

 

Corvo, Corvo, Corvo—the word echoed in his mind, filled his thoughts. He heard his own voice saying it.

"Yes," came Corvo's, low and warm near his ear. So close, so real, and he felt as if he'd spent 4,000 years waiting for that word from Corvo's lips. It was all he could do to keep from dissolving into sobs again.

It was Corvo—his Corvo. The one and the many he'd seen in the eye of history's greatest storm, the point around which he could see the fates bend.

Corvo finally drew back, examining Foster's face like a document written in a language he didn't fully understand. He brought a thumb gently to Foster's cheek, which still trembled beneath his touch. His thumb brushed up and pressed down on Foster's lower eyelid, widening his eye to examine it as a doctor would. And he knew what Corvo would see—an eye red from crying, but undeniably, irrevocably human, the darkness of even the pupils not so deep as the fathomless pits of Void they had once held.

"They're real," Foster said, repeating the words he'd given to Billie's small compact mirror, to the stream at the base of the mountain. "They're real," he said again, as the man pulled his hand away.

"How?" Corvo asked, gaze focused on the eyes themselves but not yet what they contained.

Foster was gone, lost in the contours of Corvo's face. He was so close now, closer than he had ever imagined. Corvo was tangible before him in a way the Void had never permitted, in a way his eyes hadn't been able to see until now. This close, this clear, Corvo's face was littered with smaller markings, nicks and scratches from the years he'd spent with a blade in his hand. The Outsider thought he had seen each one, but Foster found a small slash on Corvo's chin that was a mystery to him. It parted his beard for just a moment, like a dock cutting into the sea.

His face was moving, he saw. Lips parting and forming shapes with tongue and teeth. Foster realized he was saying something.

"—Outsider," Corvo urged, under his breath, trying to reclaim Foster's attention. "How did you get here?"

He looked away, gathering his drifting thoughts back together. "I crossed the sea on a ship that charted waters I had known well, but never seen or felt beneath me," he said, his voice twinged with the slightest excitement.

But that wasn't the question Corvo was asking, he realized. "No. How did you get here. How did you get outside."

"Daud's work was left unfinished. He sent his knife into the Void to rid it of me."

"Daud's behind this?" Corvo's voice had lowered, dipping into dark waters of anger and grief. "Why? What does he gain from this?"

"But Daud's knife had a mind of her own, and a heart that still held pity for all the wretches who hadn't been given a choice. She found the answer in the deepest reaches of the Void, at the beginning of everything, and had the dead speak my name."

"What?" Corvo's eyebrows knit together. "Who?"

"Billie Lurk."

Corvo's face remained in a scowl that sat twisted between anger and confusion. "Daud sent her... to kill you? But she let you out?"

Foster's eyes drifted to the spot they had parted ways, just outside the gazebo. Billie Lurk. The woman splintered by time, by him. Why had he done that? Already the morality of the Outsider felt like a cold and distant thing, choices made by someone else.

Billie Lurk, torn asunder by Emily's meddling in the past, had been a problem, a shard in his eye. She held heavier possibility than he could bear, infinite selves ricocheting through fractured mirrors that other people had done the work of cracking. He had been one of them. He had tried to shatter her.

Foster, the Outsider, had spent these past weeks with his thoughts trained firmly on the present, on the future, but now he was being pulled back into those depths. Billie hadn't spoken a word about it, hadn't asked any questions about the things that had come before. She had given him peace, trust.

Why had he done that to her, knowing she would bring about the death of the Outsider?

Death. He remembered that he had wanted it. He had wanted to see her try. He had seen the point at which all possibility stopped, the veins of his vision cut off from their blood. He had wanted to see it when it happened, that end—if only for a moment. All of Billie Lurk's possibility converged at the end of his sight, each thoroughfare ending in darkness deeper than even that of the Void, and it had excited him.

"...Daud. Where is he?" Corvo asked softly, the currents of his voice still running deep.

"Sunken to the depths of the Void, ashes twisting in the waves of the sea," Foster said, though in truth he didn't know what had become of Daud. "His voice rings in my ear with words I no longer understand."

 

"Daud..." Corvo's mind returned to where they were, where they stood. Upon old blood that arguably still lingered on the Outsider's hands. He looked down, eyes skimming the script of Jessamine's memorial.

"We should finish this inside." He took Foster's arm, and began to guide him back to the Tower. Jessamine's remnants would be there too, but the wound of her memory would not be so raw.

 

Foster's mind sang as they crossed the thresholds of the Tower's inner rooms, as in his head he heard the cacophony of deliberations, scandals, affairs, peace and war and everything that made humans so fascinating still thrumming within its chambers and hallways. He heard his own footsteps joining the echoes of all who had walked here before him, and it seemed like only moments had passed before Corvo led them into a distant foyer and closed the door behind them.

 

"What happens next?" Corvo asked him. "Without you there?"

What had Billie been thinking? Why had she done this? More questions flooded Corvo's mind, but their tinder was short-lived. What mattered most was what came next.

"The Outsider is no more," the Outsider said. "He was the knife that cleaved out portions of Void to those he deemed worthy. And now..."

"The butcher is absent from his cutting block."

His shifted, perhaps uncomfortably. "Not quite, Corvo. Without a knife, the butchers can sling their offal where they please, with no knives or blocks to deter the arcs of their carnage."

"Emily—what does this mean for her?" Corvo pressed. He should fetch her, immediately, but he himself couldn't think of a way to explain all this. He needed more information.

When the man's face remained expressionless, Corvo went on. "You were the one to give her influence over the Void." He recalled what had happened during their conflict with Price, when Emily's powers had malfunctioned. "With you gone from the Void, she's a mill with no water. Isn't she?"

Corvo was certain neither they nor the man before him had ever given thought to what would become of the Outsider's marked if he ever ceased to be. He had always been, and it was only this recent anomaly, this impossibility, that had changed that.

Corvo knew Emily could brave this, could rule her empire without the Void to assist her. He had seen her do it, in all the years that came before Delilah, and there was no reason to believe she couldn't do it again. If the Outsider himself had no answer, then they would have to chart those waters together.

The man remained silent, transfixed in thought, and Corvo knew he wasn't going to get an answer, straight or otherwise, so he changed the subject. Corvo eyed the former Outsider up and down. "Do you... get hungry?"

"My form has been returned to flesh, and all that it entails."

A yes, then.

Corvo rang for the waitstaff to bring them some refreshments. When a dish of pastries arrived, he sat it in front of the Outsider, eyeing him warily. What must his manners be like, after 4,000 years in that black pit? Corvo supposed he was not one to judge, recalling the crimes against cuisine he'd committed on the streets of Dunwall all those years ago.

The man eyed the spread hungrily, but showed an incredible measure of restraint as he carefully picked a small fruit pie from the tray, holding it with both hands as he brought it gingerly to his mouth.

"I suppose I didn't..." But the Outsider wasn't listening. In fact, he didn't break eye contact with the pastry until he had finished it, crumbs strewn across his lap. Only then did his attention return to Corvo, who tried again.

"I... said I didn't expect you to eat food so... deliberately."

The Outsider was looking at the platter, with an expression Corvo thought might be "rueful". "...Gravity so often does the work of soiling it," he muttered.

Corvo blinked at him, processing his words. Then, he imagined the Outsider, omniscient god of the Void, dropping his sweets on the ground because he'd forgotten to consider the effect of gravity, and Corvo began to laugh.

It began small, but as he truly considered the absurdity, the flagrant impossibility of the pair of them, here together in a waiting room with a dish of dainty hors d'orderves, the laughter grew in his chest until he had to cover his mouth to muffle the sound.

The Outsider was staring at him, but his gaze couldn't pierce like it used to. Perhaps he didn't mean for it to.

Delilah had sapped the mark from his hand, but nothing could change the fact that, to Corvo, the two of them had been bound forever. They had won back Emily and all of Dunwall together, the Outsider in his own way. Corvo had known even then that the Outsider's interest had little to do with Dunwall's salvation and everything to do with Corvo's role in it. Corvo had accepted the power gladly, and in return he had done what he could to make a show of it. In that way, they had used each other. Still, the Outsider had chosen Corvo above all others, and stitched himself into his soul. Corvo didn't know what to call it, this thing they had, but when the man who had been the Outsider brought his hands to Corvo's face and drew closer, he didn't pull away.

 

Foster didn't perceive what he was doing, at first. He had been lost in Corvo's features again, mapping them to the snatches of memories he had held in the Void. This time he'd found a soft white line that marked Corvo's lower lip. It had only showed when he smiled. The mark was so unlike his other scars, delicate and soft. It was Corvo's knuckles brushing away Jessamine's hair, his blade sliding silently between ribs.

And then Foster was kissing him, with the fervor of a broken dam rolling its heavy waters out to sea. And Corvo kissed him back, with a practiced ease the Outsider had seen through other eyes, felt through other lips. But that had been nothing like this.

Foster imagined his senses alight, like a whale oil lantern burning in a moonless night. He felt Corvo's warmth on his mouth, the brush of his beard across his skin, and on his lips he could taste the sea. Most of all, Foster took in the way Corvo smelled. He smelled like Dunwall as it is after a storm, of still and shallow waters in the aqueducts and thoroughfares. And he smelled like Karnaca, ladened with spices and exports. Like cool, salt-soaked wool of nights spent on docks to the sea. He smelled like everything that the Outsider had imagined through those cold forevers inside the Void, trying to piece a picture from scattered snatches of memories that found their way to him there.

Millennia passed between them, 4,000 years in moments, and then Corvo was pulling back, a ship casting off from land, marooning Foster on an island uncharted. A brush of fingertips across his face brought his eyes open again to see Corvo, still impossibly before him, trying to look again into his bright, hazel eyes.

Corvo looked at him for a long time. "What do you plan to do?"

It was a question Billie had posed him, gently, not often. It was a question he had asked himself. His answers had come in waves, lines penned as he invented them. The ship. Dunwall.

Corvo. He had been his plan, Foster realized, something he had charted deep inside his chest without realizing it. Without his sight, he had no way of knowing what outcomes lay before him—pity and forgiveness, retribution and reckoning. But he had still brought himself here, at Corvo's mercy. He had to be here, before he could fathom what came after. That leap of faith felt like the most human thing he'd done yet.

"Don't tell me the Outsider is at a loss for words."

"Foster."

"That's one, at least."

"It's the name Billie Lurk chose for herself, when it was time to bury a killer beneath her skin. She thought it sounded unassuming, trustworthy. It sounded like someone with a place and a family and a home."

Corvo was watching him, waiting.

"It's the name she gave to me. Foster." He tried to press conviction into his voice, though he wasn't sure if he'd gotten the nuance right.

 

The Outsider—Foster—looked so serious. Corvo supposed he always looked serious, dour, but now it seemed intentional. His expressions were easier to read, now, and it looked as if he really meant it.

Corvo shifted in his seat, and drew a hand across his beard. "...You said what Billie thought of the name. Do you feel the same way?"

"What?" It seemed the man had already lost his train of thought—he seemed rather prone to doing so, but that was nothing new—and Corvo continued.

"What did you expect, coming here? What did you want?"

"To stay."

Just two words, spoken clearly and evenly. They were perhaps the last thing Corvo expected, set down between them without cryptic soliloquy, riddle or disguise. Simple and untwisted.

 

The words had surprised Foster too—out before he could think to elaborate, to explain his meaning, so he did.

"I spent centuries blinded, bombarded by visions of places I could never go, things I could never have. All while I watched those who sought me use my power to rend their worlds asunder and live as I never could. I watched each one chart their course into abyss and ruin. All except one. Then two."

He fixed Corvo with a long, hard look. "All but Corvo Attano, and Emily Kaldwin, born of his flesh and raised under his guiding hand. The two of you... changed everything, as if it were a simple thing. You were undeterred by impossibility.

"And when Billie Lurk did something doubly impossible, and dragged me from the Void, I chose to chart my own path. It led to rising suns and the feel of soil between my fingers, of tiny cakes and the smell of the sea. My path led here, as so many do, all converging on the single point of Dunwall Tower, at the cornerstone of—"

 

"Tell me what you want," Corvo cut in. He was tiring of this, these cycles back into habit. "Prove to me you can do that much. Give me a straight answer."

Foster's mouth was still ajar from the interruption. He closed it again, drifting deep in thought, and Corvo thought he wouldn't actually do it. But then he spoke again.

"I want to stay with you."

Corvo had known those words for a long time, long before they had been words. He had known them every time the Outsider appeared before him, while other men begged and bled, screaming his name. And yet they still surprised him, laid bare between them like a fresh cut, honest and clean. The Outsider, a mortal man now, had changed in a thousand ways, in large and small measures, in unpredictable and impossible ways, and Corvo realized he wanted to be there to see the rest.

"Then stay."