Title: No Place Like Home
Author: Jewels (bjewelled)
Fandom: Assassin's Creed
Disclaimer: Assassin's Creed is created by Ubisoft.
Summary: At age 16, Desmond Miles ran away from the Assassins. That wasn't the first time he tried to run.
Notes: I was experimenting with a new software package for organising writing ideas, and in the process of experimenting, came up with this. Short but sort of lurking in the back of my head for a while.
Desmond Miles hated the desert. Sand was forever getting in places he would rather not have it, and the water always tasted stale and too-warm from sitting in plastic containers for weeks on end. His mother, when he'd made the mistake of complaining in her presence, simply smiled, twisting her necklaces around her fingers, and said that it reminded her of home. He hadn't bothered complaining to her again.
Every day seemed to blend one into another. Every day, for as long as Desmond could remember, he rose with the dawn, like every other boy and girl in the compound, and was assembled in ranks by age in front of senior instructors, who led them through various exercises. By the time the sun was fully ascendent in the sky, Desmond would already be sweating with exertion, and they would be sent off for a light breakfast followed by being split up into different groups, again, usually by age, and sent off to different parts of the compound.
Desmond could see the older kids as he and his age-mates, a small group of six, were herded in a line to their training area. They would be engaged in more intensive physical training, hand to hand combat or fighting with short staves or knives. Others were assembled in the outdoor range, practicing marksmanship. Desmond and the other youngest children would be taken to a cordoned off area filled with balance beams, boxes and nets, and would spend time improving their balance and coordination.
Not that he knew that was the goal at the time. In those days, it had just been what everyone did, what everyone expected, and for many years, he didn't know any differently.
The compound while almost entirely 'off-the-grid' (Desmond's mother, trying to explain this to him, would point skyward and smile, saying, 'What The Eye don't see, The Eye don't know'), was near enough to a road that it was possible to reach a town where water, food and other necessary supplies could be bought. If you looked out across the desert at the road, from the compound's hidden position, tucked away out of sight in the mountains, you might just be lucky enough to see a vehicle passing.
Desmond was ten, sitting out late at night, learning how to keep his eyes and ears open, learning how to watch his surroundings, when the glint of headlights in the distance caught his eye. Mark, who had been teaching him in a low voice, handed him the binoculars and asked him what he saw.
When Desmond described it, Mark smiled and nodded and said, "It's a motorcycle."
"Motorcycle?" The compound had several trucks, used for ferrying supplies and, occasionally, people, but motorcycles had never been part of their tiny fleet.
"They're awesome," was all Mark would say. "Maybe you'll eventually get to drive one."
Not much chance of that happening. Every day was the same. Training in the morning and, in the heat of the day, they would retreat indoors, into the broad canvas tents that made up the communal rooms. They were easier to pack up and move in a hurry, he was told, though this particular compound had been in place for years. Inside, they would receive their schooling, learning numbers and letters, and what Teacher Vadir called 'the really important things'.
Nothing is true, they would say, Everything is permitted.
Desmond didn't understand, none of them did, but Teacher Vadir said that was alright. They would all learn in time, he said.
At age twelve, Desmond got fed up of 'learning' and ran away for the first time.
"Where you going, kid?"
The van had pulled up next to him as he trudged along the dirty, dust-covered road. The driver had spoken leaning out of the window. A woman was in the passenger seat, chewing on something and twisting her hair around her fingers. There were voices in the back. All of them were young, as far as Desmond could tell.
"Where you going?" he asked, in return.
The driver snorted with laughter, apparently thinking that Desmond was trying to be funny. "Next town over. Gonna gas up the van, get some food. We're heading west tomorrow."
Desmond stared along the road. He'd prepared for his little desert excursion, prepared to walk all the way to a nearby town, which he knew had to be somewhere along the road. This was an unexpected gift.
"Sure," he said, "Next town over sounds good."
"Awesome," the driver said, and then yelled over his shoulder, "Hey! Minny! Open the door!"
The side door of the van slid open, and Desmond peered inside to see three people, two men and a woman, sitting inside. The woman, Minny presumably, was smiling broadly at him. One of the men was absently strumming a guitar.
"Hop in," Minny said, cheerfully.
Desmond mumbled something resembling thanks, and clambered inside the van, sliding the door shut behind him, using his backpack, stuffed with a change of clothes and his water canteen, as a makeshift seat.
The two men in the back were Alonso and Bryant, the woman up front was Emory and the driver was called Joseph. They were, they told him as the van rumbled down the road, students driving around the country during the summer break. They spoke about checking out the 'scene' in the cities out west, Alonso (the man with the guitar) mentioning that he was going to try and get a 'gig' playing in bars to pay his way.
"Chicks dig guys who can play," he said, winking at Desmond before 'oof'ing in mock pain as Minny drove her elbow into his side. Desmond was just confused.
Night had fallen by the time they pulled into a gas station just outside of town. Desmond could see the glimmering lights of a town active at night. It was strange, alien. There was no lights in the compound after dark save the dim lanterns that were hidden in the tents. Too easy to be spied by The Eye, his mother said. The glow almost blocked out the stars for the first time in his life.
Joseph started filling the car with gas, Bryant and Minny headed inside to stock up on snacks, while Desmond hung around Emory and Alonso as they lit up cigarettes, though he shook his head when offered. Alonso shrugged, unconcerned by the refusal, and kept on smoking.
"So what you running from, kid?" Emory asked. Even as she smoked, she tangled her fingers in her hair. It was a dangerous thing to do, Desmond couldn't help but think. What if she got attacked? She'd have to untangle her hair before she could fight back.
"I'm not running from anything," he said, a little too quickly, earning a smirk from her.
"Sorry, let me rephrase," she said, "What are you heading away from at a reasonable non-panicked speed?"
"Family stuff," he said, shrugging awkwardly, "Sick of their shit." He didn't know much in the way of swear words, but he knew that was one.
"I get that," Alonso said, nodding sagely. "Family can be a total pain." Then he blinked, leaning sideways to look at the van still being filled with gas. "Huh. When'd that truck pull up?"
Desmond swore again with what limited vocabulary he possessed, and tried to run. He made it all of three steps before he was yanked to a halt, the pain in his shoulder a testament to his failure to escape.
His father had a tight grip on his arm. Desmond hadn't even seen him approach. Desmond looked around. Three others from the compound where there, glaring at Emory and Alonso with a look Desmond had never seen before.
For the first time in his life, he was afraid of these people.
"Thank you for finding my son. We'll be taking him back home with us," his father said, in a low, even tone, "It would be in your best interest to forget you ever met him."
Emory stirred, looking like she wanted to say something.
She stopped when Desmond's father looked at her. She paled, and shut her mouth as he said, "Disposing of five bodies is an awful lot of effort to go to, but if it's necessary, I'm perfectly willing to take the time to do things properly."
"We never met the kid," Alonso said, looking even more scared than Emory did. He had a grip on Emory's wrist so tight that it had to have hurt, but she said nothing, just nodded in a frightened fashion.
Desmond's father pulled him along by the arm, and Desmond knew better than to say anything as he was pushed into the truck, sandwiched between two of the others, and driven back to the compound.
Desmond's mother was sitting in the main area of their family's tent, her hands folded calmly in her lap. His father paced back and forth, while Teacher Vadir sat by, looking disgruntled. All three had apparently forgotten that canvas walls let every word spoken be easily overheard, and while they'd at first kept their voices to harsh whispers in an attempt not to awaken him, they'd not managed to keep it up.
"We didn't bring the two of you together so you could create a disappointment to the Order," Vadir said, scowling.
Desmond's mother sighed, rolling her eyes. The metal in her necklaces tinkled with the heaving of her bosom. "If you start going on about scions of great lines again, Yusef..."
"He has shown no manifestation of the talent, has he?" Vadir interrupted.
Desmond's mother and father looked at each other. His father stopped pacing to answer. "No," he said, slowly, "But he is still young."
"The Templars will not wait for him to grow up."
Templars. Desmond had heard whispers of the name around the compound. He knew they were the enemy, but no one had ever explained why. He knew that they were fighting the Templars, but that was all he knew.
Through the small gap in the canvas, Desmond saw his father grit his teeth and turn his head away.
"He ran away," Vadir continued, "Why?"
"He resents the limits this life places on him," his mother said, spreading her arms. "He would rather run free. I don't blame him."
"None of us are 'free'," his father spat. He resumed pacing, his feet kicking up dirt ground into the carpet that served as the tent floor. "And we'll be even less free if the Templar's..." Apparently, the thought was so agitating that he couldn't bear to finish it.
Vadir addressed his mother, frowning. "He is an Assassin," he said, "He must understand. Make him."
His mother's mouth twisted into a small smile. "If I needed confirmation that you don't have teenage children, Vadir, I just got it."
"He's not a teenager, he's not your son," Vadir bit the words sharply, his accent showing all the stronger for his ire, "He is an Assassin. And we are at war. He will fight, because that is his purpose, his destiny, like all of us."
Desmond waited for his mother to object, to argue, to say something, but all she did was rub the ring finger of her left hand and say nothing. His father put a hand on her shoulder, speaking for her. "We will make him understand, Teacher."
Desmond, feeling physically ill, crawled back to his bed and spent the night curled up into a ball, knees pulled up against his chest, sick with the realisation that he was nothing more than a pawn in some great war he knew nothing about.
In the years that followed, he came to understand a great deal, about Templars, about Assassins, and about the skills they sought to teach him. The fact was, though, that he just didn't care.
At sixteen, Desmond's second escape attempt was far more successful than his first.