If he'd known what would have happened, he had to admit he probably wouldn't have done it the same, he would have avoided it all if he could. Because there really was no aloofness to be found in sticky sweet feelings, or fluffy cotton candy touches, or even heady messiness.

His sarcasm couldn't have shielded him from it all, especially once he'd been trapped in the God awful kaleidoscope of sharing with another human being.

No, to do it all over again, he knew he would have avoided everything, turned away and let fate mess with someone else, because damn it, he didn't like the feeling that screamed 'you're stuck with this, and you don't really even mind, do you?'

But he couldn't do anything over again, and he couldn't go back in time, and he couldn't change how things had turned out.

He could dress it up and pass it off nonchalantly, but he didn't want anything to be different. He didn't regret a single thing, and man, he was fucking pitiable.

Shaun was so doomed, he was more than doomed, he was throwing away his barrier of prickliness in favor of gushy warmth and smiles and-

Well, he thought with a trace of hysteria, it wasn't all fuzzy and he supposed there was enough violence to keep him happy. Yes, he nodded, letting the grimace fall off his face a little.

He caught his head in his hands.

He was doomed, he had been from the start.


Three, Shaun checked his watch, groaning; it was three in the bloody morning. He blinked drowsily, unable to figure out what had woken him. He slowly went over a mental checklist: no bad dream, no fit of hunger and no annoying bladder, but he was still staring at the ceiling in resentment as the answer evaded him.

He scrubbed a hand over his face. Without his seven hours a night, he was transformed into a weapon chock full of projectile sarcasm that fired off with the slightest provocation. He was no doubt a frightening sight to behold indeed, when snarling and at the full height of his derisive mood.

Now thoroughly annoyed that the sleepy feeling had slithered away, he sat up grudgingly and swung his legs around to the edge of his makeshift bed. He rubbed the back of his neck tiredly and stood up, deciding to see if Lucy had stored any more yogurt in the mini fridge.

He stopped in the Sanctuary when he became aware of another presence in the room. Looking over at the glowing light in the darkness, it wasn't hard to make out who it was.

Desmond was peering into the fridge, bent over thoughtfully.

Shrugging and deciding not to avoid social interaction at the moment, he opened his mouth, "This is why you're getting fat, you know-"

Before he'd even gotten his entire sentence out, Desmond had pivoted on spot, snapping the fridge shut, crouching and moving so fast Shaun missed the motion, seeing nothing but a vague whirl. He blinked, his eyes attempting to readjust to the darkness.

Then Desmond was startlingly close, near enough Shaun could see him outlined clearly against the black. His left hand was extended pointedly near Shaun's throat, (the same arm wielding the hidden blade, he noted with a significant spike of fear), fingers flexing for his neck, while his other had grabbed a fistful of Shaun's shirt, hauling him close in a decidedly threatening manner.

"And this," Shaun said as evenly as he could, making sure to stay still, "is why you'll be admitted into the loony bin. Desmond, I'd prefer you didn't strangle me."

His sarcasm seemed to be useful, proving itself as a life safer in the face of danger just this once, because the reaction it produced was thankfully instantaneous.

Desmond gave a sharp intake of breath, immediately straightening and letting Shaun go. He took a few staggering steps back, and even in the relative blackness Shaun could somehow sense how tense he was.

"Oh - I, uh, sorry, really - I didn't mean…" he trailed off, sounding agitated, which was rather a mild word to describe the grating frustration in his voice.

"Save me the Oscar winning speech," Shaun shrugged, pushing past the man to amble over to the fridge.

And that, he thought a touch smugly to himself, was how he rolled. He could brush off an attempted strangling from his colleague, no problem. He was just that kind of guy.

"Right." There was silence, but Desmond didn't leave like Shaun half expected him to.

"What are you doing up?" he asked, sounding a little too perfectly awake himself.

"I don't know." The historian turned to face the other, knowing they were obviously going for the 'let's pretend that didn't just happen' strategy. "What are you doing?"

At this, Desmond stepped around him and gently eased his hand into the mini fridge, opening the small compartment for the freezer. He pulled out a carton of ice cream and revealed the spoon he had in his other hand.

"Late night snack, is it?" he asked, eyeing the ice cream with doubt. "And just how did you get them to buy you that?" He was, of course, referring to Lucy's stingy money habits and Rebecca's apparent policy on forgetting her shopping lists or simply listening to Lucy when she reprimanded various requests for 'luxury' food items. Shaun had been denied his chocolate biscuits many times as collateral.

Desmond scoffed. "Not telling you, you'd just exploit my methods."

Shaun grinned in amusement. "Actually clever of you, for the first time in your life, perhaps."

"Thank you," Desmond replied dryly, ignoring the jab at his intelligence. Shaun rolled his eyes, and considered going back to his room (there was no yogurt, unfortunately) but Desmond cleared his throat, obviously gearing up to say something more.

"You can have some, if you want. I'm feeling strangely magnanimous."

There was something in Desmond's voice that sounded off, and Shaun didn't know why that particular tone set off the warning bells in his head, but he figured there was no harm in staying, the ice cream weighing in as a huge incentive. Shaun agreed and they sat side by side against the ancient stone of the Villa.

"I've only the one spoon," Desmond ventured after a while, happily tackling the first few bites on his own.

"That's disgusting," Shaun sneered, eyes inadvertently drawn to how Desmond sucked the frozen substance off the spoon.

"Don't be a girl," he retorted.

"Can't you find another one?"

"Being a girl," Desmond reminded.

"Oh, fine, let's just throw personal boundaries out the window with everything else, yeah?"

"Sounds good to me," Desmond quipped.

Shaun rolled his eyes. "Give me, then." Desmond obligingly passed him the carton.

After Desmond valiantly proclaimed Cookies n' Cream as the reigning Champion of ice cream, there was nothing much left to say.

After a while, with the ice cream continually making its rotations, Shaun peered at the assassin as best he could in the dark.

"So, you really are pregnant, then? Middle of the night cravings and everything."

Desmond actually reached out a hand and whacked Shaun upside the head, which Shaun promptly returned ten times harder (in such an obvious arc he knew Desmond could have stopped him if he wanted, though he didn't).

It felt strange to Shaun, who hadn't before had any physical contact with Desmond; he didn't know when they'd become familiar enough to josh around like a couple of frat boys. They weren't exactly friends, and Shaun was certain he emitted enough of a 'I-like-my-bubble-thank-you-very-much' aura that it was clear human contact was not something he encouraged.

"No, I," Desmond paused to rub his head, presumably glaring for the exaggerated act of violence. "I just like the stuff. I used to be suspicious as hell back when I was on my own, but there was this one girl who worked at an ice cream parlor. I got into the habit of going there, because she was pretty and the ice cream was good."

Shaun, half scowling because he had not asked for the personal back story of the century, set aside his disdain and voiced the most prevailing question, easy to pick up from Desmond's tone, "But…"

"Turned out to be a manipulative harpy," he said factually as if that was explanation enough and he needn't delve any further into that statement.

The historian chortled. "Isn't that the way. So, tell me again, why are you so obsessed with the stuff?"

"Well," he paused, scooping a dollop from the carton. "Ezio didn't know what ice cream was."

By those quiet words, Shaun felt understanding poking him in the ribs. He pictured a cartoon character, with the perfectly round-lipped expression, accompanied by the overly loud 'pop' of the mouth opening in sudden dawning, and he thought ah, the bleeding effect. Of course. All of a sudden, Shaun felt an unexpected wave of concern and tenderness wash over him (though he would deny the use of those adjectives in his head).

Shaun conceded of course Ezio wouldn't know about ice cream, and he spieled off quirky facts stored in his brain about the frozen substance, such information something he could always fall back on, his reasonable brain perpetually ready to bail him out.

"That and it's really good," Desmond said, the smile and casualness back in his voice. "If I could pick my eternal sugar intake - I swear, I would never get sick of it."

"Need I remind you again those pants won't just grow with you."

"Shut up," Desmond growled, his voice having that uncanny ability to sound completely intimidating when he pitched it just so. Shaun thought it was definitely all the traits he was picking up from his ancestors, and felt a bout of envy that he couldn't make his voice do that, no matter how angry or dangerous he was feeling.

"I'm just saying," Shaun smirked, searching for a big chunk of biscuit in the cream.

"Yeah, yeah. Hand over the ice cream and watch me thoroughly enjoy the road to obesity."

Shaun scoffed and under the amusement, there was maybe a little bit of fondness. He did thrive on banter that was verging on insulting, but lately not many were happy to put up with him, so at least Desmond was playing along.

They shared quietly for a while longer, thoughtless, easy conversation (civil, by Shaun's standards) punctuating the silence as their shoulders lightly brushed. The spell was broken when Shaun yawned loudly.

"I'm finally feeling tired. I'll see you in the morning, yeah?"

"Bright and early," Desmond agreed.

As the historian stood to leave, he turned back curiously when his companion didn't follow his lead.

"Aren't you going to attempt to salvage what's left of the night?"

Desmond merely stood up to return the ice cream to its frozen confine, and gave an unconvincing, "Yeah, I'll sleep soon."

Not really knowing what he else he could say, he settled for, "Alright," and then left. It wasn't like he could just say I know you're lying, and I don't know why you seem to be avoiding sleep, but I'm slightly worried. So, uh, go to bed now.

Yeah, that wasn't going to happen. Shaun didn't do gooey concern, or heartfelt words, he really didn't.

The next day, Shaun was amazed by how lively Desmond was. He traded friendly banter with Lucy and easily acknowledged his other two colleagues, (though Shaun was beginning to wonder if colleagues was really the word to use anymore, because like it or not, which he didn't, close quarters was very conducive to something disgustingly close to camaraderie). He listened attentively while Rebecca told him about a new update on the Animus and left Shaun with a simple, but polite 'good morning,' and everything seemed bafflingly normal. Somehow, his brand of dry humor combined with his smiles detracted from the bruises under his eyes and the way his hair was sticking up everywhere and even the way he walked reminiscent of a zombie.

Of course, as soon as he was settled in the Animus, he no longer could smile and joke, and the room fell quiet with the pervading still that signified it was work time.

Shaun monitored his progress today, adding information to the Animus database about the many significant landmarks and people in Rome, factoring in things for Desmond's benefit, leaving little sarcastic witticisms that he couldn't entirely hold back.

It wasn't long until the sun had set and Desmond was stretching and enquiring about food. In an even shorter amount of time everyone was retreating to their respective rooms for some much needed shut-eye, everyone except for Shaun.

Cursed with clean up duty, he hankered down for a tedious experience. His lack of sleep from the other night was already getting to him, and so he hoped to get things done quickly.

About half way through the process, he heard footsteps behind him.

"Hey," Desmond greeted, slouching out from the shadows effortlessly. "Want some help?"

He fixed him with a look for a moment before turning back to his work and throwing over his shoulder, "Sure, do your selfless deed for the day, God knows why, but I won't argue."

Desmond nodded, smiling a bit. "I was actually just planning to get some fresh air, but you look like you could use the help."

Shaun baulked slightly, again unaware of when they'd become close enough that Desmond felt comfortable insulting and teasing him. That was, after all, his area of expertise.

"What's that supposed to mean?" he demanded, indignant.

"Nothing," Desmond smirked, irritating the hell out of Shaun.

With a huff of annoyance, he let Desmond help, and within half an hour, they were done cleaning up.

Shaun wanted to go to sleep, but instead of wishing a short farewell and going to collapse on his bed, he stayed where he was. As they both stood there in the growing awkward silence, he knew he'd missed his window of opportunity.

"So," Desmond ventured, like Shaun knew he would, that pleading undertone back in his voice. "You want to come with me?"

He didn't know what to say to that, either.

Desmond wanted company. It had been obvious last night, just as it was obvious now, and contrary to popular belief, Shaun did have a heart. The twinge of some unnamable prodding told him that there was something wrong, and so he listened, and to this day, he still didn't know what exactly had compelled him.

"So long as we're back by sunup," he pretended to accede grudgingly.

Desmond smiled widely and headed for the stairs without another word, expecting Shaun to follow. With a slightly put upon sigh, he did only too easily.

Once they were outside the Villa, Shaun did find himself waking up, fully appreciating the unstuffy air and the stars overhead.

"Have you ever been on the roof?" Desmond asked suddenly, eyeing the top of the structure.

"No," Shaun replied slowly. "And if you suggest I give it a go and climb to the top, well, I'll have you know that would be like asking an elephant to pirouette, mind you, not that I'm as heavy as you are."

Desmond scowled, but visibly pushed aside the fat joke. "You can't climb, but I can."

He laughed a tad mockingly, but by the serious expression on Desmond's face, indicating he was, well, serious, his laughter died away into something like horrified uncertainty.

"Honestly? You want me to hang off of you while you scale a building?" He was a little bamboozled, not only at the concept (which was bat-shit insane) but mostly because the whole ordeal seemed terribly personal, something out of a bad chick flick to further along the romance. It also, he realized with a sneer, put him in the role of the female.

Desmond shrugged, his hands digging into his pockets. "I know the easiest way up, with lots of footholds. Wouldn't take long." As an afterthought, he added, "the view is really nice."

Shaun scrutinized the assassin, and was half appalled that he was even taking time to consider this.

He sighed in a long suffering manner, even if this borderline neediness was a completely recent development from Desmond.

He started to say, "You know I don't think-" but he stopped because Desmond might as well have been wearing a sign with 'don't ditch me' emblazoned on his forehead. A very sad, pathetic 'don't ditch me.'

"I don't think," he continued, a small nudge away from hating himself for being inappropriately decent, "that you can manage my weight and your own, but if you want to risk discovering the sad state of your delusion, be my guest."

Desmond grinned, relief in every twitch of his lips. "Come on." With that, he was practically sprinting around the side of the Villa and Shaun followed, having to jog to keep up.

He distantly wondered where his sanity had run off to.

At last, they came to a part of the wall that had rubble and debris leaning against the structure and creating an impressive heap.

Shaun, however, began to have some trepidation as he gazed at the wall, which seemed suddenly a lot higher up,

"Well," Desmond stopped before the hill of rubble. "It'd be easier if you," he seemed to struggle with phrasing, and instead bent down a little and smirked hesitantly, "…piggy back."

Shaun cursed his fate, the heavens, God and everything he could think to curse, but mostly, he damned himself. This was quickly becoming ridiculous and then simply nonsensical -surely he was having a nightmare?- as he awkwardly approached Desmond, getting closer than he'd been to anyone in so long he couldn't remember. He stared at the slight platform Desmond's body made and grimaced as he hopped like a cripple onto his back, tightening his arms around his neck and wrapping his legs around Desmond's waist.

Desmond staggered a little under his weight, and reached behind to hike Shaun further upwards. Then, with surprising ease, he straightened and asked, "Ready?"

"For what? To possibly fall to my death, or at the very least break some limbs? Or this humiliating exercise in how to destroy a fellow's manhood 101?" he snapped peevishly, a small part of him admitting that this was embarrassing. Here he was, a grown man, forfeiting his pride for...he didn't even know for what.

When Desmond laughed, Shaun could feel the vibrations at his back and through his chest. "Hold on tight, and stop being such a girl."

Shaun snarled, but he couldn't follow up the sentiment with an insult, because in an alarmingly short amount of time, Desmond was gripping at window sills and jamming his feet expertly into little nooks and cracks in the wall, and Shaun was forced to hold on tighter, the air cool against his back. Unable to help the fear, he clutched progressively harder the higher they went, until Desmond said, "I'm not going to fall, stop choking me."

"Riding piggy back vertically is not exactly the safest thing in the world," he defended, offended he wasn't allowed to be frightened and angry that he was.

But Shaun couldn't deny that the way Desmond moved was confident. He could feel his muscles bunching and clenching underneath him, could feel the strength and power in each reach and pull and push, and he was a little surprised at the lithe frame, just as he was reassured by it.

He still clung to Desmond like a limpet, even as he attempted to allow him enough freedom to get up the damn wall. It seemed a safe bet they would make it when they reached half way, and it was vaguely interesting to feel Desmond's body moving beneath his, interesting because he was on the guy's back and he was scaling a bloody wall.

Finally, with a huff of effort, Desmond pulled them up to the roof, gaining his balance and crouching carefully to let Shaun down.

"There, you see? No death, no broken bones. Not sure about your manhood, though."

"Shut it," Shaun glared, immediately going to the middle of the roof, where another large addition to the Villa sat, presumably containing a room, and sitting against it. He breathed deeply, half to quell his irrational fear of heights and partly because his heart was beating too quickly and he wasn't able to pinpoint why.

He had to admit though, the view of the entire place was pretty, somehow clearer this high up, the stars a little brighter. The country side stretching out on all sides of them, even with the paved roads, was still lush and grand.

Desmond came and sat beside him, not too close, but just close enough that they could share exuded heat in the crispy air surrounding them.

Time passed along sluggishly, and Shaun felt the tension leaving his muscles with every breath of fresh air he inhaled. Silence settled around them like a blanket and Shaun wasn't sure how long they went not speaking, but eventually he yawned obnoxiously and blinked owlishly, grit making his eyes dry.

"Hey, I'm tired," he said.

There was no answer. It was at that point that Shaun realized Desmond was actually sleeping, eyes closed in some semblance of peace and chest moving steadily.

Shaun scowled, opting rather reluctantly to watch the horizon and keep track of time. He was hesitant to disrupt this genuine moment of rest when he had a suspicious feeling they didn't come along often, if the perpetual bags under Desmond's eyes said anything at all.

A while later, when Desmond's body slumped sideways and came to rest awkwardly against his own, he decided that he could find it within himself to disrupt the tender moment, because no, he would not leave it alone, thank you very much Billy Joel.

Desmond's head lolled against his shoulder, his nose brushing against his neck. His body was warm, half melded to his side, and he could feel the breath trickling lazily in and out. He could feel…

Oh, this was -his eyes widened- this wasn't good at all. Not fucking good.

He was feeling, and the words crept up on him, warm and cozy, definitely two adjectives that didn't belong in his vocabulary, much less warrant usage. He had to take serious action.

"Wake up!" he practically screeched, his voice rising an octave on its own accord.

Not to his surprise, Desmond did wake up. What did surprise him, however, was the way the assassin startled, jolting violently out of sleep, virtually throwing himself in front of Shaun in a crouch, one arm thrown out as if to protect, the other arm coiled and ready, the hidden blade drawn. It was as if he'd never been sleeping in the first place.

"Who do I need to kill?" he said rather dangerously, all low pitch and death-intent, even with the feral snarl he'd let loose upon waking.

Shaun gawked for a good minute, and Desmond's defensive position never faltered. His voice had been all wrong, not quite his own, though that was stupid because how could his voice be anything but his own?

"Desmond?" he ventured cautiously. "There's no one to kill right now."

Nothing happened, in fact Desmond tensed even further, extending his senses all around. "Why did you sound panicked?" he asked in clipped tones, sparing a quick glance Shaun's way, looking at his expression.

"You wouldn't wake up, and look, it's almost dawn, it'd be a huge risk," he improvised. Like hell he was about to admit his sense of comfort had caused him distress; it sounded moronic even in his own head. Though it was true the sun was almost on its way.

"You sounded scared," Desmond grit out, edging backwards unconsciously, caging Shaun in with his body, unsure which direction the threat might come from.

Shaun felt like groaning and then possible crying himself to sleep in an attempt to erase this from memory.

"Look, forget how you thought I sounded, there aren't any enemies right now. Calm down, idiot," he reached out tentatively and lightly touched between Desmond's shoulder blades.

Slowly, as if unbelieving, Desmond relaxed his battle-ready stance and turned around to face Shaun. His eyes were narrowed and angry.

"Don't do that," he spat harshly.

"Do what?" Shaun had crossed his arms, an automatic response.

"Startle me! You shouldn't have yelled, you shouldn't have scared me like that! You could've poked me, pushed me over, but don't…do that!"

"Oh, shall we add Drama Queen to the list now? Stop bitching and get me down from here." Inside, Shaun didn't know how to process this; it wasn't as though he'd told a scary story or done something cruel to scare Desmond, apparently giving the impression that he himself was scared was enough to cause the same reaction in Desmond.

"Fine, you prick."

Shaun rolled his eyes, though he was irrationally worried now. "Stop having a hissy fit, I'm sorry, okay? I won't yell at you in your sleep anymore, big baby, now: solid ground, pronto." Though he was clearly using his polished mocking tone, the apology was genuine. Hopefully Desmond could decipher that.

Though Desmond only glared at him and bent down without a word. Shaun started the awkward procession of getting on his back.

Shaun could feel an adrenaline-fueled heartbeat pounding underneath him, in no hurry to calm down, and he felt a small twinge of guilt.

"Hold on," was all he said, muscles bunching underneath Shaun in a familiar pattern of strength.

The way down was more terrifying than the way up, Shaun promptly learnt. The initial descent over the edge was nerve wracking, and it felt more like he was being positioned so that his fall would be high and lethal.

But soon they were making a steady, slow path down, Shaun's limbs choking the life out of Desmond all the while, though this time he didn't complain.

When Desmond's feet finally touched down, Shaun was so grateful he let go right away -with the intention of gracefully stepping to his feet- but his legs were mysteriously wobbly and so he ended up a flailing mess until he was on his ass.

Without a backward glance, the assassin started making his way to the entrance of the Sanctuary.

Shaun picked himself up hastily, catching up to the disgruntled man.

"Lookit, I don't know why you're so pissy. It isn't as though reflexes like that are anything to be ashamed about."

"Screw you," was the polite reply.

"Well honestly, other than giving you a fright, what are so upset about? If those invisible enemies had suddenly materialized, you were right there, ready and strategically placed-"

He thought back to the near stifling electricity in the air, the power that thrummed and screamed I will protect. Desmond's body had turned into a shield, a weapon, but not just any old battle-gear, he'd done that for Shaun. The historian couldn't quite see it solely that way because hell, reflexes were reflexes, and Desmond had gained an overload of them…but maybe Desmond was…

"You're embarrassed?" the incredulity was too strong in his voice to miss.

"No," was the curt answer, though the way his pace quickened and he turned his face to the side was answer enough.

"Hold on, seriously? Why?" his usual eloquence and knack for playing with words had completely evaporated, leaving the bare minimum in his confusion.

"Not embarrassed, asshole," Desmond growled, "You're a prick, you had no weapon on you," here he spared a fleeting once-over of Shaun, "and I don't know how good your hand-to-hand skills are, but up against armed opponents the odds would've sucked. And you're a prick."

Shaun frowned, annoyed. "That doesn't explain anything, especially why you're all tragic and tortured. Just spit it out so I can tell you you're an idiot."

"Weren't you listening before? Screw you." They were nearly back towards the entrance to the Sanctuary, and Shaun knew he had to improvise.

"You know these mood swings have got to count for something, at least as proof that you really are pregnant. Why else would you be embarrassed-"

It was at that moment that Shaun discovered just how hard Desmond's right hook could hit and how much it could damn well hurt.

"Shut up already!" There was something dark and ferocious that said don't go there but Shaun had a sore jaw and a nasty habit of rising to the challenge.

He regained his balance, standing a little straighter. In an almost unconcerned way he said, "So, you weren't sure about my hand-to-hand skills, yeah?"

It was a short fight.

Shaun landed two good hits to Desmond's gut, a sideswipe to his jaw, but he was fast and Shaun shouldn't have been so surprised. Desmond pressed each advantage, taking hits and twisting into the motion to change them to his benefit. Soon Shaun was raising his arms to shield until Desmond swept a strong leg underneath his knees, hard enough to make him grunt and fall. The scuffle continued on the ground, and after a power struggle, Desmond won with a elbow jammed painfully into Shaun's ribs, keeping him from moving, or breathing really, because that hurt like a bitch.

"This convinces me you're not embarrassed," Shaun coughed, the pressure on his ribs, the hand digging into his shoulder and the weight of Desmond's body unpleasant, to put things mildly.

"Drop it," Desmond warned, his glare turned on to its full potency. Though Shaun was used to glares and had built up a sort of tolerance.

"If it's not embarrassing, why can't you tell me?" he returned the glare with some venom, thoroughly annoyed at the world in general.

"It's not-"

"Then what?-"

"I thought you were someone else!" Desmond screamed, moving to grip Shaun's shoulders and force him into the ground roughly, his face contorted in a snarl.

They stared at each other, panting, until Desmond let up his grip a little, glancing away. "Happy now?"

"Not particularly, no."

"Tough," he muttered.

"So…who did you think…" he trailed off, knowing he'd probably gotten his fill of cooperation for the evening. Luck, however, seemed to be on his side. Though when he got a good look at Desmond's face, he wasn't too sure, because he'd never been good at dealing with…emotions and stuff.

"You said something in exactly the same way. The memory was there, and then it became…not a memory -real. I woke up, just like I did…but it wasn't me, of course…ages ago, and I remember panic and urgency and blood and someone getting hurt when it was my fault-…." Desmond dropped his head slightly. "You scared me."

The grip around Shaun's shoulder became biting and painful. Shaun acknowledged again that this was the bleeding effect, this was all the stupid bleeding effect messing him up, but his thought process seemed to end there. There was an odd stirring in his limbs, despite the throb of pain, that commanded him to reach out, touch him.

"Hey, would you mind getting off now?" he said instead with as much consideration as he could bear.

Without any hesitation, Desmond nodded curtly, rolling away and onto the ground beside Shaun. Apparently, his lack of empathy was not deterring in the least.

"You know it's not real, right?" Shaun rentured after a while.

"Sure I do."

Shaun frowned. He'd overheard Lucy sometimes grilling Desmond when he referred to himself as though he were Ezio, 'you know you're not-' she'd start.

Sure I do, it was the same answer every time.

Shaun shrugged away his unease. This wasn't his problem.

"Which one was it, then?"


"Your ancestor."

"Oh, Altair. He fell asleep. Malik woke him up. They'd been tailed after a hard battle by a few bitter guards who wanted blood and revenge. Altair was wounded, but so was Malik; of course, he only had his one arm at that point," Desmond explained, his eyes far away.

"Could the bloke still fight?" Shaun asked, intrigued despite himself.

"Yeah, it was like he learnt a completely different style of fighting, he had to deal with loss of balance and strength, but he got that much stronger and quicker. Gave Altair a hard time when they sparred."

They fell silent until it started to rain. And rain. And rain.

"C'mon, we should get back now." Shaun was a little too sore to want to try moving, but it was still true. Under the drape of rain clouds, the sun was starting to peek over the horizon.

"You'd give this up?" Desmond asked cryptically.


"A shower," he breathed in contentment, closing his eyes. Showers, even a natural one, were luxuries of course.

Shaun scoffed. "You act like you never clean yourself." But he closed his eyes too, against the fat drops of water, his glasses fogging and his body straddling the line between tepid and chilled. It felt nice.

They stayed like that, getting soaked and too cold, until the promise of the sun sent them on their way. Shaun had some trouble getting off the ground, and Desmond only smirked, the murmur of 'prick' on his lips as he began walking away.

Shaun, already able to feel the bruises taking form, went briskly through the downpour, face tilted skywards.

The collateral was: no sleep, risking certain peril while hanging off Desmond's back, a fistfight and then glimpses into the lovely business of the bleeding effect, but he still…

He felt oddly light, like this natural shower had washed away all the stress - which was just bloody preposterous. It was still there, of course it was, but his shoulders somehow felt a little looser, and the slightest bit less tense.

He watched as Desmond, hunched against the chill, disappeared into the Villa.

In a rare moment of sarcasm-free sobriety, he wondered just what in the hell was going on.

Shaun's eyes snapped open and his body jolted awake. As his senses came to life, he had a hunch he'd just solved the mystery of his nocturnal disturbance the other night.

Screaming, there was screaming and it was loud.

Shaun recognized Desmond's voice, but only barely. The sound was completely disconcerting, and in a bout of frustration, he knew he wouldn't be getting back to sleep with all the racket.

What frustrated him more, however, was the same sense of worry, sharper than it had been before, causing him to tense and fret. He briefly toyed with the notion of counting sheep, but what with the screaming, he knew his sheep would be getting comically decapitated or something, instead of jumping over fences and smiling dumbly.

He sat up, scrambling out of his bed, shivering at the rush of cold air. He followed the sound, walking fast, his step gaining speed the closer he got, his unease escalating with the volume.

As soon as he came upon Desmond's room, however, his feet couldn't decide what to do and he became cemented to the floor, and he even wondered at how lovely a statue he'd make in addition to the Villa.

Somehow, it would have been better if Desmond was thrashing around and having a fit, but instead he was curled in on himself, his knuckles white from gripping the sheets, his face contorted as he let out hoarse, gasping pleas that Shaun couldn't decipher. He couldn't even tell if he was in pain, scared, or just simply screaming for the sheer therapeutic joy of it.

He padded hesitantly into the room, his damn feet faltering and stuttering, making his approach almost laughably slow because he was unsure of why he'd even come, or what he expected himself to do; the thoughts ran circles in his head until he decided not to think.

Close now, close enough to touch and feeling like an idiot, he carefully fastened a hand around Desmond's quivering shoulder and shook (in a sadly meager fashion).


He decided that he didn't like this, and never mind the assault on his ears. The way the noise splashed and reverberated wondrously off the old walls, annoyed him; good acoustics be damned. But the tense, shaking frame, the hands twisted violently in perfectly harmless blankets, and the expression on Desmond's face…it was painful and he didn't like it at all.

"Hey!" he repeated, louder this time, grip tightening, anxious to make this stop.

He stumbled backwards as Desmond suddenly sprung up, kicking back the covers as he fell into a loose crouch, unseeing eyes targeting Shaun. Not good, Shaun decided, considering what had happened the last time he'd surprised Desmond.

Desmond was out of bed and hurtling towards him with as much speed that could possibly be gathered in such a short distance. Bracing himself, fully expecting another violent assault, he flinched back and shut his eyes, shamefully enough.

When the sting or thrust or death didn't come, he was momentarily flummoxed instead, until he was rudely prevented from pondering over his thoughts anymore.


Tackled, he assessed dazedly, he'd definitely been tackled.

He knew it hadn't hurt as much as it should have, so Desmond must have somehow cushioned the fall. He quietly took a moment to thank the ceiling that there were no hidden blades involved.

As he caught his breath, a strangeness began to nag him, and then he remembered 'oh right, you walked in on the guy screaming in his sleep and now you're sprawled out on the floor!' Evidently, it was time to take in the damage.

Searching for clarity, he forced the strangeness he was feeling to snap the fuck out of it, so that he could understand. The feeling promptly decoded itself under Shaun's mental abuse.

He realized that the arm crushed under his back, clutching tightly, the head on his chest, and the body in between his legs would all seem to suggest something very unusual, as strange and otherworldly a concept that this tackle hadn't been intentional of violence, not much of a tackle at all really, but rather something distantly mimicking the mechanisms of a hug. Shaun felt blank for a moment, because it was plain there was more than a suggestion here.

He was on full alert within nanoseconds, because guys didn't hug, not if they could bloody well help it.

There was something else Shaun recognized, with a sense of exaggerated horror. This was not a position that was brave and courageous, this spoke of smallness and fear and Shaun found it odd to attribute this to Desmond, however low his opinion could be of the guy.

"Uh, Desmond?" His snark was almost non-existent, blocked out by the ridiculous instinct to use a quiet voice and speak slow, and it was unnerving as much as annoying. He had the feeling this was beyond the realm of witty comebacks and remarks, and felt a deep dislike making itself known in the form of a headache at the center of his forehead.

At his voice, Desmond gave a full body shudder and his free hand knotted in his shirt, the grip threatening the seams. His breathing was off - hell, he was practically hyperventilating.

"You're really heavy, you know," he tried, which only made Desmond press his face hard against his stomach. The shaking was back now, and Shaun could feel how tightly strung Desmond's body was.

"Hey, uh…it's alright," Shaun ventured cautiously, the platitude sounding more like a question.

When he was greeted with nothing but distraught breathing, he held his tongue and raised an unsure arm to rest on the heaving back, not entirely sure what he was reassuring or why.

Idly, he guessed that the arm underneath him was falling asleep, but Desmond gave no indication that it bothered him, and the unrelenting strength of the grip made sure their bodies were smushed together. Shaun really did feel heavy under the weight.

Slowly, Desmond's breathing started to slow and his hold loosened marginally. He gave an odd, clipped sound and then he hastily pushed himself upright, scrabbling away from Shaun with none of his usual newfound grace.

"I'm sorry," he gasped, as Shaun sat up warily to watch him. "Oh fucking hell, I'm sorry, I'm so - fuck, I'm sorry," his voice was strained, his breathing speeding up again like a broken metronome, and Shaun had the eerie feeling Desmond wasn't even talking to him.

For a moment, Shaun wanted to see the ghosts in the room, he wanted to know what had happened that incurred such a reaction in Desmond. Though the rational part of his brain was quick to interject, telling him that by he way Desmond was fast on his way to straightjackets and padded rooms, it wasn't a good idea. At all.

"I didn't mean to," he choked on a sharp gulp of air, his hand reaching up to tangle in his hair brutally. "This is - this isn't, I didn't fucking mean to. Shaun, I didn't mean to," his voice was harsh, his body visibly shaking again and his breathing loud in the silence.

Desmond's other hand came up to join the first in pulling his hair, as though torturing his scalp would help somehow.

The historian felt helpless and completely out of place. This wasn't right and he shouldn't be here and Desmond shouldn't be crumpled in on himself in such a open display of vulnerability.

He decided that he didn't want to sit here haplessly as Desmond was painstakingly coming apart at the seams, and a gradual conviction of what he had to do stirred in his veins. It was foreign and rarely saw any use, but Desmond had gone quiet, the only sound now the sharp hissing of his frantic breath, and Shaun knew that this was inherently bad.

Astonished at how he was condemning those pesky lines and screwing staying on the right side, he reached out his arms awkwardly and put them on Desmond's shoulders, (ignoring the wince that meant Desmond was well aware of how fucked up this was). He made eye contact and thus his intention clear: silently assuring this was okay. He waited precariously, his fingers tightening on tense shoulders as he tried to hold Desmond's flittering gaze. He gave a small tug, half trying to encourage and half trying to gauge whether Desmond would take what he was offering.

"Desmond, hey, calm down, yeah?" he spoke, his voice sounding more assured than he did.

As if a giant flip had been switched in Desmond's brain, he seemed to absorb the hands on his shoulders and the touching distance between them, because he lurched forward into Shaun's outstretched arms and enveloped himself in a cocoon of limbs and warmth and solid mass. His arms twined around him almost too tightly, and he pressed almost too hard against Shaun, but the historian would allow it because Desmond was still sucking air in frantically, his muscles coiled and striving for control.

Shaun knew this was probably more degrading for Desmond, but the mere fact that he wasn't pushing him away meant a great deal of gravity; meant that it weighed more than any kind of humiliation.

As for him, he was loathe to admit the infuriating tendrils of worry twisting in his gut. He wished they'd go away, or better yet, that they were never there to begin with. It'd be much easier to peg all of this on being somewhere inconveniently, otherwise.

It was a long time before Desmond's body stopped shaking with fine tremors and his breathing calmed. The tension never quite left either of them, and in the resulting silence a very awkward still settled.

Shaun cleared his throat just as awkwardly. "So."

"I'm sorry," Desmond muttered shakily. Shaun had heard enough of that particular sentence, so he interjected.

"I've told you before, I'm not big on the speeches. It's fine."

Desmond snorted, though his voice was hoarse; bitter. "No, it's not."

They were still crushed together, courtesy of Desmond's death grip, and as a result he could feel the vibrations from his voice at his chest. It almost tickled, which Shaun felt inappropriately silly given the situation.

He let himself scoff exasperatedly, resolved to be blasé about this. "Now who's being a girl?"

It registered that he should have found it weirder that they were having a conversation while essentially engaged in a very intimate embrace, but he supposed he liked venturing off the beaten path like that.

Desmond tightened his grip, if it was even humanly possible (Shaun was starting to feel like some poor rabbit caught by a Boa Constrictor) and he could feel warm breath tickling his neck where Desmond's head was buried.

"I'm really sorry-"

"Shut up already!"

"But isn't this- Aren't you freaked out?"

Shaun considered this. "With what, exactly? The fact that you've gone completely round the bend and terrified me for a good half hour, or that you're now squeezing the life out of me?"

Desmond was silent. "I scared you?" He didn't sound smug or teasing like Shaun expected him to, and that, he decided, was another bad sign.

"Yes, for one death-defying, made-me-wet-my-panties moment I thought you were going to maul me, but after that I was mostly concerned, you know, on account of the fact you were having a panic attack?"

The assassin groaned into his shoulder despairingly. "That's why I'm apologizing!"

"Don't care," Shaun said, happy that Desmond didn't sound quite so pathetically heartbroken anymore. What sort of guy didn't revel in being able to frighten another? Fear was such a powerful instrument, always readily used in this glossed over ideal of humanity, and it was testament to how everything was all wrong that Desmond neglected the gift, opened and gleaming already.

"Of course you do," he muttered.

"I don't. Now let go of me." Shaun admittedly didn't do well with people situations, much less prolonged ones.

"I can't."

"Oh for - just let go of me, you simply unclench your fingers and extract yourself."

"I can't." Desmond sounded angry again, and in fact if the historian didn't know any better (which he usually did) the tone in his voice was desperate in the way that Shaun was beginning to hate.

"Desmond," he frowned. "Be a big boy now. Let go."

"I can't," he hissed, a puff of hot air whooshing against Shaun's neck. "I- Ezio, he - I can't," Shaun could hear him grinding his teeth. "Please let me."

Shaun could feel the panicked heartbeat against his chest and though he really couldn't fathom why his own heart seemed to be twisting and expanding in response, he sighed in resignation.

"Let you what? Just stay here like this until you get bored?"

"You're warm," he reasoned, offering it almost nonchalantly as if it explained and excused everything. Quietly, he added, "It helps." And Shaun knew he wasn't referring to temperature.

Regretfully, the decision to be completely obliging had been locked and set in place now (in truth, the moment he hadn't ran out of the room had sealed his fate), but that didn't mean he had to like it, or act all sugary and shit. He made sure his voice sounded harsh when he said, "Well, I don't want to sleep on the floor."

For the first time in what seemed like hours, Desmond's grip let up tentatively and he pulled back to inspect Shaun.

"You'll stay?" he asked, his voice embarrassed but his eyes unrelenting, studying him.

"Because you're being such a wuss, yes. Now I'd really prefer to sleep."

Shaun didn't really mean it, he realized. He would demean and insult until he was blue in the face, but the bleeding effect was taking its toll on Desmond, and he knew that if he could, he would make it all go away-

-so that he wouldn't have to deal with all of this, of course. There was nothing more annoying that coaxing someone's insanity back like it was a frightened animal unwilling to enter a dark cave.

But in truth, he had to begrudgingly admit that the echoes of Desmond's screams were enough to make Shaun chip off some of his sarcasm in favor of body heat and squished limbs, a small price to pay when he forced down his scruples.

"Okay." Carefully, as if afraid to move too fast, Desmond eased back, save for one hand that stayed knotted in his shirt, as though afraid to disengage completely.

They both lied down on the small, poor excuse for a bed (really just an old platform of stone with some hay, a sleeping bag and a few blankets) and situated on their sides, facing each other. The grip Desmond had on him, unrelenting even when he tried to twist away, forced the position. He let go to allow Shaun his space once they settled, but if he tried to turn away, the hand would dart out again and hold him firmly, the tight fingers whispering stop already, stop making me look weak even while the fussy action radiated undercurrents of frailty. Shaun relented quickly, if not without aggravation.

Shaun sighed, peevish despite his best gallant-gentlemanly efforts. "Why am I here again?"

Desmond's eyes were closed as he murmured, "Because Ezio didn't have a friend named Shaun."

So, Shaun thought, they were friends. It was official now, on the eve of Desmond's waning sanity and their impromptu sleepover. While this situation wouldn't exactly win any prizes in the category of 'been there, done that' he still wondered if they could behave anymore like a couple of teenage boys.

Shaun felt distinctly pathetic.

Then, there was a hand circling around his wrist and fingers pushing against the tender inside. Desmond peered at him in the dark, tightening his grip minutely, carefully. "Is this okay?"

There was nothing okay about anything right now, Shaun thought, but what was one more discrepancy with normalcy? He was already sleeping freakishly close to another guy, and beyond that, all in the name of comfort. Shaun knew this even if he tried not to think about it too much.

"If you feel the need to hold my hand, then I suppose there's nothing for it. Rest assured this will forever be a deep reserve ripe for mocking material."

"I'm not holding your hand!" he retorted, sounding laughably defensive compared to everything that had happened over the course of the night.

Shaun shrugged; whether it was the wrist or hand, it amounted to the same damn thing.

Once they were nestled under the sleeping bag and blankets, a hush fell and Shaun could barely restrain himself from complaining about how cold Desmond's hand was, or how warm it was getting under the covers, or how stupid everything generally was.

Huffing one final "you owe me for this so badly," he succumbed to the almost uncomfortable warmth and shut his eyes, unwittingly relying on the reassuring lullaby that was Desmond's steady breathing.

His life had not been a particularly happy one, though he would never complain, he couldn't afford to. He dealt in facts, separating the raw emotion to make things easier. The facts detailed a sketch of his life, one in which he'd been wrenched out of familiarity, comfort and security in a sickening blur, still young and having barely lived, and once the facts were established, he could concede the rest. He'd been left angry, broken and unsure, but so angry, it overpowered the rest.

Though he refused, with Auditore stubbornness, to lock himself away within his own mind, to linger and fester because he was a creature of fight and instinct, he was a creature of struggle. Gather the facts, act, run, always towards a goal, an end. Concentrate on the rest as it came.

And so he'd transformed his uncertainty into a harnessed knowledge, had practiced patience and murder and stealth until it was effortless. He'd gone through the motions with scary intensity, taking from all around him, so that he could return some of the pain that had been inflicted on him. He'd turned his anger into an aggressive power, an almost infallible reservoir of strength that he could draw on, and over time the wild fierceness had been refined into calculated, cold precision. The pieces had started to come together for him, and if not in perfect imitation of what he once was, then certainly into something he could live with.

He was confident and self-assured, strong and experienced, with years of ragged, ugly scars to shape the person he was; each scar an incentive and reminder, a token of pride in the knowledge that yes, I've survived.

He represented a perpetual danger, a threat that could not be taken easily, and he was good at what he did, more than good.

Yet still he'd watched as his first love had died in his arms, held her as her skin grew cold and her heartbeat stopped.

Oh God, I'm sorry, I never meant for this, I didn't mean to…

He'd fought and struggled and overcame, though for all his acquired skill, all his strength, there were things he could not conquer. It became difficult to separate the facts from everything else, because no matter how many scars he obtained, he would go on surviving while someone else suffered.

He tried to hide behind logic and reason, but the deluge of his loses kept him floundering in angry comas, always that anger burning and clawing at his insides.

He'd been helpless at the attack of Monteriggioni, helpless to save Mario. He'd been helpless to prevent the capture of Caterina. He'd been utterly helpless to save his father and brothers, and he had failed to protect Leonardo from being wheedled into serving the Borgia; in fact, had been oblivious for the longest time.

And now, he had failed to prevent his oldest, dearest friend from being captured by a group of deranged cult members.

The facts told him coldly that he could not be everywhere at once, could not conceivably control the workings of the world, could not succeed each time, could not predict the random patterns of life, could not save every life. The fury, a dark deep wounded thing tinged with hatred, easily suppressed the facts into oblivion.

As he ran full tilt through the underground tunnels of their lair (hiding in endless catacombs, the damn cowards), blood already slick on his hands, he felt the always leashed fury bubbling in his veins. The facts melted away until there was nothing but the drive to hurt them, annihilate them all. He would not suffer any more fools tainting and harming the people he cared about, stripping them away from him and hurting them, he would not allow it anymore.

I didn't mean to let this happen, I didn't mean for this to happen. I could have done something.

He thought of his family's corpses, of the painful weight of their bodies in his arms. He thought of Cristina and her lifeless eyes staring at him. He thought of Mario and how he'd had to leave his body to be trampled at the entrance of Monteriggioni. He thought of Caterina, too battered to even walk properly once he'd finally rescued her. He thought of Leonardo, kindly and gravely telling him how to destroy the war machines he hadn't wanted to create for the Borgia, and too poor in the service of that damn family to afford a service to a friend.

He grit his teeth, and only when he came upon Leonardo's cell did he feel a tiny chunk of relief dislodge from his knotted tangle of warring emotion.

When Leonardo saw him, he smiled, but it looked ugly because of the meticulously placed bruises on his face. "You look horrible, my friend. What have you been doing with yourself lately?" he greeted, his voice hoarse but still casual and teasing, joking.

He frowned and bit his cheek hard, words like a distant memory as his mind catalogued the damage.

Leonardo's arms were bound behind him in an awkward position, the rope tight and biting. He was left in only a dirtied white linen undershirt, hardly long enough to reach his thighs. He was visibly shivering and there were markings on nearly every available surface of skin he could see, bruises that were discolored and lacerations red with infection. Leonardo's body was a mix of colors, some areas blotchy and dark with old blood, while other cuts were still glistening lazily, wounds fresh. The grime and broken skin and burst blood vessels did not belong on Leonardo, and the protectiveness roiled over him in waves.

I'm sorry, I'm sorry. You don't deserve this, it's all my fault.

The facts, telling him he was near blame-free, didn't stand a chance.

"Come now, don't just stand there. My arms hurt." Still, that ugly smile was tenderly fit on Leonardo's lips, and he approached slowly, reaching out with his hand to wipe a smudge of dirt from the artist's cheek.

He'd forgotten his hands were bloody and he only ended up smearing red all over.

He grimaced a "sorry," as he ducked away and cut the ropes binding Leonardo's arms, the resulting wince from the man easy to spot as he stiffly stretched.

"Where else are you hurt?" he asked curtly, because his throat had closed up and made it difficult to speak.

Leonardo shrugged, wincing again as he did so. "It all feels the same to me right now, but I wouldn't mind a shoulder to lean on."

By the time he'd gotten him off the floor, the shoulder to lean on was quickly cast aside as an impossibility, simply because Leonardo was barely able to stand at all; he clutched at him with numb fingers, panting and hunched over with effort as his legs shook.

"It would be easier to carry you, and it would be the quickest way getting out."

Leonardo nodded, looking relieved, too tired to keep up pretenses of pride or consideration.

He fiercely wished there had been more men to kill, more to hold responsible for the mistreatment of his friend. He could remember a select few moments when the blood on his hands could snake around him and bother, bite, and sting, but now with the anger suffocating and cloying, the notion was foreign.

He needed a diversion, he needed someway to control the emotion, some way to separate them from the facts like he always did. Because it was so difficult now, the blood was nothing but soothing, pacifying, satisfying.

He unhooked his cape and handed it to Leonardo, who couldn't even manage to wrap it around himself without gasping out a sharp cry, hissing through his teeth at some sudden pain.

He whispered something he didn't remember saying and gently draped the cape around Leonardo, helping his hands hold the fabric under his chin. He lifted the man as carefully as he could to his chest, but his face was still pinched in discomfort and pain.

The long walk through the dark, damp passageways was silent, and at some point Leonardo had simply passed out.

He didn't even dare hold tighter when the swell in his chest threatened his composure, not even knowing that Leonardo couldn't see him. He felt that the slightest change in his grip might falter or crush or simply hurt even more, and Leonardo's forehead was already damp with sweat against his robes.

He soldiered on, like he always did, and once Leonardo was safe and taken care of, the cracks would all be covered up and he'd be back to his cocky smirks and easy swagger. For now, just for now, he'd allow the anger, he'd allow it all.

I'm so sorry, I'm sorry, I didn't mean for this to happen to you, I should have protected you, I should have come sooner, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, damn it, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!

The facts never stood a chance, never stood an inkling of a…


He blinked rapidly, becoming fast aware that he was not trudging though dark catacombs and that the dull ache in his chest was residual of nothing but a memory.A memory, he reiterated for the thousandth time.

Really, it shouldn't be possible to relive memories that weren't your own, to be an observer and yet soak it all in, the tangible feel of the ground, the greaves sturdy against your calves, each hurt sharp and real. But it wasn't real, and it wasn't fucking fair.

Desmond breathed in as deeply as he could, forcing the exhale to be slow and measured. He closed his eyes and concentrated on forgetting about Leonardo and Ezio, even if he couldn't forget who he was freaking out in front of.

Not. Fucking. Fair.

"What?" he croaked harshly, opening his eyes to glare, ready to defend himself, the embarrassment choking him. He was met with a rather pissed off Shaun.

Though mysteriously, the historian's face smoothed out at the sound of Desmond's voice.

"First, stop squeezing so tight," he indicated the wrist Desmond still held, "And second, stop apologizing. You sound like some scared Catholic school boy getting spanked."

Desmond's eyes widened and he found himself astonished to be barking out a laugh, short and measly, but a laugh nonetheless.

"Sorry," he said tiredly, and Shaun gave him a glare in the darkness.

"Right, well, I'm going back to sleep. Do me the favor of shutting up."

He wordlessly shifted a little closer, making their bent knees knock together.

Desmond's lips formed a half smile. "I aim to please," he sniped a little weakly, to which he could sense Shaun's eye roll.

"Just shut up."

Desmond did, surprised at the cavalier treatment from Shaun, but grateful the historian hadn't said much, hadn't made things worse. An unexpected warmth spread from his toes up and he wondered if it had to do with how his foot was brushing Shaun's.

He settled slowly, genuinely relieved for the extra presence reminding him that his hands weren't sticky with blood, and that his arms weren't heavy or empty or numb. There was no one to let go off, no one to carry, no one to hold on to. Just his fingers curled around Shaun's wrist, feeling his steady pulse.

That ceaseless thrum, the warm gushing life helped push away the regret and guilt, the words circling and bumping against the confines of his skull in his own voice - even though he knew they weren't his apologies and sentiments, it was getting harder to remember that. As tired as he was, the consistency under his fingers and the soft breathing beside him was nothing but comforting.

Before he fell asleep he heard a muttered, "Whoever you're apologizing to probably forgave you anyway. Said it enough, Christ."

Desmond remembered Leonardo's smile and a sleepy "I knew you'd come."

Soothed, he drifted into a significantly more restful slumber.

Shaun made sure to wake Desmond up early, so that they wouldn't be seen coming out of the same room together. All he offered was 'Rebecca would never let me live this down' as he stretched and yawned.

He left his room without so much of a 'good morning' and simply went about his morning routines.

Soon everyone else was up and buzzing, and after breakfast was eaten, it was back to work.

Just another normal day, only it wasn't.

Desmond had discretely stalked him with imploring eyes throughout the day, and it was a silent tip off that was too marked to be mistaken. Shaun knew he wanted company again (and that's all he would term platonic sleeping with another bloke). It wasn't only the significant glances, it was the implication behind them, and the fact that he was sending them at all. Why not Lucy, or better yet, why not forget anything had happened, like proper, mature, problem-avoiding adults? He wasn't sure how he felt about the idea of another stressful night with Desmond.

"Lunch's here, finally," Desmond sighed in relief, eyeing the bags of groceries with hungry eyes.

"Desmond, you're in charge of sandwiches today, no pickles on mine, thanks." Lucy glanced up distractedly from her computer, and the assassin nodded.

"No pickles. Everyone else?"

Rebecca proudly announced she wanted everything on her sandwich, and Shaun gave a brief comment about not caring either way.

While Desmond was busy slapping together sandwiches, not exactly a master chef by any stretch of the imagination, Shaun found his gaze drawn to the circles under his eyes, the skin that was a few shades too pale for his liking.

"Here," Desmond had walked over to his work station, holding out a paper plate with a messily put together sandwich, some of the fixings falling out between the bread.

With a sudden fierce glare, Shaun snarled under his breath, "This sandwich better be fucking delicious," he snatched the plate away roughly, adding, "And fine, alright?"

Desmond blinked, keeping his face carefully blank, though his shoulders seemed to relax a little when he realized what that 'fine' was for. "You're welcome, for the sandwich," he said dryly, smiling lopsidedly.

And the smile, rather than an add-on to his sarcastic 'you're welcome,' held a very clear 'thank you' in it.

Shaun scoffed and ignored Desmond until he walked away, hesitantly taking a bite out of the sandwich.

As he chewed, he couldn't help but agonize at how much he didn't want to become Desmond's comfort blanket, or comfort-anything for that matter. He didn't like the thought of giving in easily, even if it were true, and even if he'd been doing it since that night with the ice cream

But damn it, he would keep this clinical, everything carefully weighed and balanced with concessions and reasoning and annoyance. The only real reason he was doing this was because Desmond needed to keep his grip on reality, for the sake of their mission, for the sake of the world.

Desmond needed sleep, and Shaun's presence would somehow provide prolonged rest, even if he didn't quite understand why. It was a simple equation of sacrifice and gain, Desmond was the idiot they were relying on (as painful as that fact was) and he knew damn well they couldn't have a psycho running around when they were supposed to be fighting off the demise of humanity.

He finished his sandwich, staring helplessly at the clean plate.

It had been really good.

At the end of the day as he inconspicuously waited for the ladies to go to their own rooms, he thought about how honestly weird this was.

He could somehow get past sleeping in the same bed as Desmond, he could even justify it neatly in his own brain.

The weird part was how, instead of giving rise to a whole new wall of animosity and defense in him, and for that matter, Desmond as well, all this was doing was making them closer.

He could feel the invisible thread gaining strength between them and he was fairly disgusted.

Because he wasbeing kind, his arms were metaphorically open wide (how he hated metaphors) and Desmond was allowing it, was swallowing his pride and letting someone see him at his worst and most vulnerable, letting someone help. Shaun was that someone, he was now a fucking someone, and he got the sense he would now be the only someone.

He rationalized that it was simply because he had been there first; it could have easily been Lucy or even Rebecca who had chosen to walk into his room that night. It made sense, because there was no pretending nothing had happened, of course barring the possibility they chose to be purposefully ignorant. So Desmond was simply taking a chance, hoping that Shaun wouldn't pussy out.

Luckily for Desmond, Shaun had never fancied pretending for anyone, he hated the niceties and masks and social contracts and all of it, and he'd spent too long going against anything he could think of to start following convention now.

"Hey…I know this isn't really…" Desmond trailed off, squinting at him.

Shaun rolled his eyes. "I had my doubts at first, but obviously without foundation. Could you be anymore of a girl?"

"Still had my man bits last time I checked," he replied.

"Right, just get in the damn bed."

Desmond did, and Shaun crawled in after.

Trying to ignore the very tiny smile Desmond granted him before closing his eyes, Shaun drifted into a dreamless sleep.

Shaun had attributed that first night he hadn't been allowed to move as the result of the heat of the moment, and he didn't blame the guy, disoriented as he'd been after god knows how many nightmares, he'd wanted the reassurance of touch and proximity. It was understandable, it made sense, and that was why Shaun had allowed it.

But now this whole deal was planned and agreed upon, in as little words as possible naturally, but Shaun figured he was allowed to sleep however he liked now. What mattered was that he willingly got in bed with Desmond at all, and that should have been it.

Shaun quickly caught on that there was never just an easy 'that's it' with Desmond.

On the second night, he'd tried to sleep with his back to Desmond. At first, it hadn't been a problem, though only because Shaun later realized Desmond still had some pride left intact, an impressive feat, he had to admit.

What seemed like much later, Shaun had woken to knuckles and sharp ridges digging into his back, what he identified drowsily as the impression of a tightly clenched fist twisted in his shirt. He groaned, annoyed despite himself because it hurt a little, even the less bumpy areas pressed harshly against his spine.

"Desmond," he rasped. "Let go."

There was no sound other than a sharp exhale, and then Desmond's fingers felt like they were leaving puncture wounds through his shirt as nails scraped down.

With a great huff, he turned himself around, his insult dying on his lips when he saw Desmond's face.

It was obvious he hadn't closed his eyes for more than a moment, they were wide and the bruises underneath were shadowed even more garishly in the dark. His lips were pressed firmly together and he tried (and failed) to look like he wasn't in need of something.

Though Shaun couldn't read his mind and thought rather helplessly that something could be anything.

When Desmond slurred out "I'm sorry," and brought his arms almost protectively underneath his chin, Shaun realized he didn't need to be a mind reader.

He prided himself on being a genius and he was damn good at putting two and two together, making connections, as it were, and the figurative light bulb glowed strong even in his sleepy mind.

Knowing what had to be done, he carefully extended his own arm, letting his fingers uncurl so they barely brushed Desmond's own, an invitation. Within nanoseconds, a hand shot out and gripped his wrist, fingers coiling in a familiar way, pressing against his veins too tightly, his skin getting pinched.

I was right, Shaun thought smugly with a wince.

He cleared his throat, not wanting to make this any harder than it had to be, and thankfully Desmond got the hint and loosened his hold. He said nothing more and resolutely shut his eyes.

Not for the first time, Shaun understood how utterly fucked up this was and used his discretion, meaning he did not tease and he did not deny, at least not in the pervading still where things were raw and secret.

For one thing, he was good at knowing how far to push and when to do so; whenever he went beyond 'too far' he was making a conscious choice and usually good and truly pissed off. People seemed to forget to distinguish between thoughtlessness and awareness a lot when it came to his abrasive personality.

It still made him feel like a mush, though, because he didn't like censoring himself out of actual care.

In any case, as the tips of Desmond's fingers warmed against his skin, Shaun had learnt a valuable, sleep saving lesson: never turn your back on a sleeping Desmond.

Whether it was the first time or not, Shaun couldn't even remember, but he'd felt a strange protectiveness distilling in his heart, faint at first but spreading until his vital organ seemed to expand with it.

Never turn your back on Desmond, never turn your back on Desmond, it ran like a mantra.

I never would, Shaun thought with a grim determination.

"What's going on with you and Desmond?"

Shaun looked up at Rebecca, appalled that this music swapping experience had turned thusly.

"What do you mean 'what's going on,' that's awfully vague and not to mention rather presuming. Something's actually got to be happening for there to be things going on, yeah?"

She rolled her eyes at him. "That's not what I mean. You just seem to be getting along is all."

He scoffed. "Hardly, he's still as imbecilic as when he first came."

Rebecca was momentarily distracted, muttering something about 'a good tune' before she replied, "You don't believe that."

He narrowed his eyes at her. "Are you all of a sudden a mind reader? I wish you'd told me earlier. Could have saved a lot of talking."

"We've both seen the tapes from Abstergo, and we've been around since then. C'mon dude, we've watched our little tike grow up! He's practically badass now, so you can't tell me he's still the same."

"I can say whatever I want," he said peevishly.

"Oh, you like him, admit it! He's grown on you, it's time to face the music, man. You were the last to jump aboard the Desmond-express, but now you're speeding along the tracks at high velocity and-"

"Your metaphors are rubbish Rebecca, please refrain from using them."

"Please refrain from avoiding the subject," she mocked. "Deflecting like the wuss you are."

"Oh God, what are you, ten?"

"A couple years past that, actually."

Shaun rolled his eyes and huffed, seriously considering escape routes. "A couple?" he scoffed.

She ignored him.

"But really, I think it's nice. He always did seem a little put off by how much of an asshole you were."


"I'm just saying. It's both a shock and a wonder to find out you're not always a jerk. Now that he knows, he seems happier."

"Yes, he seems to glow with elation, doesn't he. Are you done now?"

"No, this is actually too much fun, you're all flustered to admit you actually have a heart!"

"I'm not flustered," was all he had to say, which didn't do much for his insistence of the contrary.

"Oh, you're in deep shit, my friend, you are in deep shit," she was grinning manically at him, all teeth and cheek and evil glint.

Shaun scowled at her steadily and then left without another word.

In the next few nights, Shaun was adapting to a new pattern and set of habits. Crawling into bed with Desmond still took some getting used to, but he never had to remind himself to stick out his arm and wrist for easy access.

He caught on fast that, while being some sort of requirement for Desmond to sleep, it also served as his own personal barometer. There were times he woke up briefly to the slight pressure from the fingers around his wrist, and he'd mumble a curse in agitation, which had the inexplicable result of coaxing Desmond's fingers into relaxation. It was the only way he could tell anything was wrong, because Desmond would never wake in these instances, his fingers acting as the only sign of distress as they gripped reflexively.

Other times, Desmond would wake and whether Desmond could temper it or not, or whether he even wanted to, the grip around Shaun's wrist would tighten painfully to the extent it jolted him awake.

Faced with Desmond's wide eyes and staccato breathing, Shaun had to be a bit more creative than swearing half coherently.

The first few times this had happened, Shaun had had no concept of what to do, but with both of them awake in the middle of the night, Shaun soldiered on with a sense of duty. The fingers wrapped vice-like around his wrist would never let up otherwise, and that look on Desmond's face wouldn't go away, either.

He was not a tactile person by any stretch of the imagination, but after some hesitant experimentation, he found that letting his fingers rest unthreateningly on the curve of Desmond's neck worked beautifully. He touched and held, systematically brushing hair or the cusp of an ear, and the sole purpose was to let Desmond feel his presence. It was easy to monitor his heart rate from there, too

When Desmond would relax, as indicated by a jell-o-effect that extended through his body and down to his fingers, they would both drift back to sleep, without ever saying a word, if it could be helped. Shaun would retreat back into clearly marked (or maybe not so much) boundaries, only leaving his wrist, which seemed somehow normal.

Despite the weird pseudo-intimacy they were sharing, they rarely talked. Shaun wasn't keen on flowery words of comfort or encouragement, and Desmond wasn't about to start detailing exactly how he was losing his mind, or the unspoken agreement they'd come to share. It was probably the reason Shaun remembered the times they did speak so clearly.

Like the night Desmond had said, "I can think of five different ways to kill you right now," out of nowhere.

Shaun didn't know what to say to that, and Desmond went on regardless. "Ezio, Altair, they couldn't exactly turn it off, the instinct and readiness, and now I can't, either."

The historian understood that this was probably unsettling, but there was nothing he could do or say that would make it any better.

"At least you won't be a wimp in a fight," he said instead, because with all the shit that came with it, the bleeding effect was handy.

Desmond nodded against the sheets. "I can protect-" he paused. "I can protect everyone."

Shaun felt his lips quirking. "There, you see. Just because you can kill me right now doesn't mean you will. I know that and besides, you're a moron if you think I'd go down easy."

The way Desmond said, "Oh, you're a prick, I could take you with my hands tied behind my back," sounded a little bit like 'thank-you.'

Shaun's smirk melted into a sappier smile, much to his consternation.

"Shaun, I need to talk to you." It was Lucy's voice, and Lucy's glare that was pinpointed on him, in a way that said 'you will not argue with me.'

They were alone in the Sanctuary.

Well, hell.

With a distracted glance at the way to Desmond's room, Shaun felt a trickle of annoyance, because the idiot would no doubt complain about being kept waiting with all the finesse of a child.

"What can I do you for?" he asked and as an afterthought, he added: "I don't want to try out the Animus anymore, if that's what you're after."

"No," she shook her head, nevertheless looking pleased at the last admission. "It's about Desmond."

He groaned internally; it was this again, it was a bloody epidemic.

"What about him?" he felt himself fall into a defensive stance and cursed himself, because Lucy was brilliant at reading body language, especially this kind.

"I wanted to know what was going on with him," she started mildly, and Shaun knew this strategy, she was saving the hardballs for later.

"Why are you asking me?" Shaun wondered innocently, hoping he pulled off the air of ignorance believably.

She gave him a level stare. "You're not being anymore of a jerk than usual to him, are you? Because if you are, I-"

"No! Why does everyone treat him as some sort of victimized sap, and think of me as the big bad bully? I'm not tormenting him, for Christ's sake, it's the opposite! I'm-" he bit his lip, realizing he'd said too much, and by the gleam of victory in Lucy's eyes, he'd said just enough.

"You're helping him," she nodded. She still looked severe and so Shaun didn't let down his guard.

"If you knew," he said, maybe a little petulantly, "why didn't you come out with it right away?"

Lucy made an impatient gesture. "You would have denied it and then devolved into sarcastic remarks. I couldn't have that, now, could I?"

He sighed. "Well?"

A sudden change came over Lucy, and all the hard edges were gone when she said, "He doesn't scream anymore."

Shaun supposed that was true. For all the fits and various freak-outs, Desmond didn't scream. Just as good for him, or he was sure he'd have hearing problems, the way Desmond could holler.

He shrugged. Her eyes had turned practical and steely again within moments. "It's good, what you're doing and I'm thankful. We need him," (I need him, Shaun translated) "but if you mess him up, I will hurt you."

"Look, I can't mess him up anymore than he already is. The bleeding effect is a bitch, but you don't have to do that, thank me like I'm some kind of hero. One of us would have taken on this job sooner or later."

"I suppose that's true," she said with a distant look. "Funny to think it'd be you, though. I could always hear him in the middle of the night but I never…"

Shaun looked at her through slightly narrowed eyes, feeling an unmistakable bout of protectiveness raise his hackles. If Lucy had been aware of Desmond's nocturnal problems and had done nothing (he wondered how anyone could listen to that screaming and will it away) then she had no right to be worried.

He'd always been a heavy sleeper, but the first time he'd actively realized what was happening, he'd gone to…do something. He may have been irritated, sleepy and reluctant but he couldn't have ignored it even if he'd tried, and he had bloody tried.

"Rebecca said he's like our kid, and with kids everyone pitches in. Takes a village and all that. Or three people."

She smiled. "Not quite a kid anymore, but he does need someone to look after him. We need him," she repeated again.

"Right, we done? I'm not sure about you, but I've had my fill of serious conversation, at least until tomorrow and it's back to work."

"Yes, Shaun, you can go now," she said wryly, knowing that their dynamics were different and there was a great deal more respect here, or fear, depending on how one looked at it.

"M'off to be the dream police, Chief, wish me luck," he mock saluted, a strange anxiousness compelling him to hurry to Desmond.

Before he could take a step back, however, he found himself enveloped in a rib-creaking embrace.

"Thank you," Lucy whispered hurriedly, gone in a flurry the next instant.

Shaun sighed.

Desmond may only have three allies at the moment, but they were three people who cared a great deal.

He felt smugly validated when he walked into Desmond's room to a groused, "What took so long?"

Shaun told him to shut up, told him that the world didn't revolve around him, but he still snuck under the sheets without further prompting.

Maybe a little bit, their smaller, more confined world did revolve around Desmond.

Shaun was pulled from the sweet nothingness of slumber and came out of the mugginess like a pro.

What now, he thought snappishly, briefly noting the flash of pain and the unbearably tight grip on his wrist.

"You know-" he stopped in alarm, because something was wrong, he could tell by the startled flinch that effectively propelled Desmond a few inches away.

Desmond hardly ever tried to put distance between them anymore, especially if he woke up distraught and panicked, he only seemed to latch onto Shaun more fiercely, pushing and clutching as though the contact could keep him from drowning.

The historian frowned, scrutinizing his bed-partner.

It didn't take long to figure out what exactly was wrong, the suppressed noises were unmistakable.

Desmond was crying.

Shaun's sole comfort was the lack of sobbing, or anything romantically picturesque, and he thanked God it was nothing obtuse. But that was his only comfort. The consuming potion of shock and panic promptly overrode everything else until he could only think 'guh.'

What the fuck was he supposed to do?

This was against some bro code, it had to be. You did not cry in front of other men, and especially not newly-established-tentative-but-sleeping-in-the-same-bed-friends.

"Desmond, hey, Desmond," he half whispered, half hissed, his ears strained on the sound of wet breathing.

The assassin sucked in a sharp breath and though his face was crumpled, he did seem aware that he was, in fact, in 2012, in a room with another dude and openly crying - crying, the taboo of all manly taboos.

Desmond heaved himself up, trying to scramble away with a cut off curse. And if Shaun had any doubt about Desmond's odd relationship with his wrist, it was put to rest with the way he stubbornly held onto him until he had to stretch, and only when he could sustain the contact no further did he yank his hand away.

Responding on autopilot, Shaun jumped into action right alongside the assassin, stopping his progress. He felt a twinge of irrational fear to let Desmond run off somewhere in this state, and so he kept him. Or maybe he was taking his duty as sanity-patrol a little too seriously.

"Fu-fuck off," Desmond's voice came warbled and choked, harsh and embarrassed.

He was straining against Shaun's hold, and the historian knew he could have easily overpowered him, though he also knew that by the sound of it, Desmond's tears were the exhausted kind, the type that caused the throat to close and the chest to tighten, making it seem like the only relief from the pressure was to cry harder-

Shaun needed to make this stop before it turned into an outright sob fest. He was starting to hate waking up to this - this - Desmond trembling and broken and slowly cracking.

So Shaun reached out, ignoring the slippery wetness under his fingers and the hands that half-viciously came up to paw at him, holding Desmond's face steady between his hands on instinct.

"Stop," he commanded.

And maybe it was that same intrinsic prodding that caused him to swoop forward and kiss him.

It was wet and chaste and tasted of salt, but Shaun held the position stubbornly until Desmond reacted, his mouth opening in a gasp, a garbled sort of sob getting trapped in their mouths. He tried to move away, but Shaun forced him to stay lip-locked until his breathing evened out slowly, out of necessity alone, because there was no way you could heave and moan and sob when you were sharing air with someone. Finally, Desmond jerked away.

"Stop crying already," Shaun told the silence in a weird, scratchy voice.

Desmond sniffed messily, face turned away and body language completely closed off. For a few anguishing seconds neither of them moved, until Desmond sagged forward, the exhaustion deflating him like a balloon. He bumped their foreheads together and Shaun swallowed loudly, uncertain if Desmond realized he'd just been kissed or hell, if he was even aware of reality. His eyes were closed and his breathing was thankfully light (if a little nasally), but the quiet was unnerving Shaun into a frenzy; he didn't know where to put his hands and he didn't want to move and this sucked.

"Look, I'm all for the awkward silence thing, but-"

Shaun was interrupted by a few fingers shushing him, pressing rather rudely against his mouth. It was a wordless entreaty for sleep and still, and Desmond's bleary eyes slid open to tell the same message. Shaun reluctantly acceded, part of him wanting to run for the hills screaming his lungs out.

They sank back down to stretch out and Shaun was rigor mortis compared to Desmond's boneless, pliable limbs.

In a procession that seemed to take eons, Desmond slowly, cautiously snaked his arms around Shaun's tense form, hands curling slightly, anchoring him to the historian. He kept their foreheads close so that their breathing was mingled, and it was a long time before Shaun could relax into the intimacy.

He didn't remember saying 'go ahead and use me as a life-sized teddy bear' but apparently Desmond didn't need the go-ahead. The historian tried and failed to feel genuinely disgruntled about it.

Desmond had fallen asleep again almost immediately, but Shaun was kept awake by thoughts of kissing and weirdness, and he wondered how things had gone to hell so quickly.

The unsettling part wasn't the impromptu kissing, as much as he wished it were, it was the fact that this closeness, this transition into trust and comfort and unquestionable intimacy had been effortless, it was almost natural.

Shaun was scared shitless.

In the morning, Shaun was gone and Desmond woke pissed off.

It had become habit to wake up with the other man, and even if he conceded how that sounded, Desmond appreciated any sort of habit he could keep up when his life refused to stay the same.

Throughout the rest of the day, Shaun was pointedly ignoring him for the short time he was out of the Animus and Desmond was definitely several degrees past annoyed. By the time the sky gave into the stars and purple-black bruised color, Desmond found himself alone in his makeshift bed, and for a while he was content to seethe in indignation. He waited until he could fight off sleep no longer.

The morning came without incident, at least to his knowledge, and yet Desmond felt as though he'd had one of the worst sleeps of his life.

The initial annoyance had now churned itself into a petulant anger, and he was fiercely resolved to beat the shit out of Shaun, if he must, in order to get him to…to what? - the reasonable part of his mind, if a little scornful, interjected impudently - to sleep with you, you want some crusty guy to sleep with you, you want to hold his fucking hand.

Not hand-holding, he protested weakly to his mind in a knee jerk reaction.

With a deep sigh, he let his head thud painfully against the nearest available surface, which happened to be the wall. He closed his eyes and sulked, standing there as though he were a child in timeout.

He felt as ridiculous.

Not only had he somehow degraded into nothing but a huge blob of pitiful goo, but now he couldn't even save face. The niggling ache had already settled well beneath his skin, maybe even to the bone, and he couldn't pretend it wasn't there, or shrug away the connection it had to Shaun.

Oh yeah, and he'd clutched and keened and cried, and Shaun had been the one to witness it all.

Fuck, he scowled at the wall. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

As he finally dragged his creaky bones out of his room, the first person to talk to him was Lucy. Shaun, as expected, ignored him completely.

"Did you sleep well?" she asked distractedly, her attention focused on something on her computer.

Desmond smiled, her voice soothing in its familiarity. "Yeah."

When she looked up, her eyes widened infinitesimally and then narrowed. Desmond could tell only because he'd been around her so long. "Are you sure? You look…" she trailed off.

He laughed easily, rubbing the back of his neck. "I know, I know, okay? My hair is a mess. Not much I can do about that, but I did hear 'hobo' was the new chic this year."

She smiled at him, though it was strained. Desmond was quick to get situated in the Animus, careful to avoid Shaun's eyes.

The fucking prick was not going to dictate anything as petty as embarrassment or anger, not over this. Wisps of disapproving voices circled in his head, hissing out words like weak, dependent, and pathetic. He glared at the ceiling as Rebecca muttered something to him. He didn't even notice when she inserted the catheter into his arm.

Well, the solution was obvious, wasn't it? If Shaun was done with their admittedly weird agreement, then there would be no elaborate beat-down or battle of wills, he wouldn't do anything. Simple and clean; it was fine, and on the off chance that maybe, a little bit, it wasn't, there was no way he'd let it show.

He clenched his fists absently, realizing how much he'd let his guard down, how he'd trusted and let Shaun in. Desmond wanted to rage against that thought on principle and instinct alone, but it didn't make it any less true. It still felt like a damn girly thing to say, as though he were some damsel who needed saving and-

He closed his eyes with something like relief as he immersed himself in Ezio's world, where things were sometimes painful, usually violent, but always free of Shaun.

Leonardo smiled and smiled and smiled, no matter what. Whether the artist knew it or not, he kept Ezio sane.

Desmond wondered what it was like to have someone like that, to have unconditional care and affection and a fall back when everything else failed.

Though Desmond didn't have to wonder too hard, because he did experience it all, every burst of warmth and laugh held hostage in Leonardo's workshop. But he still wanted to experience it for himself, what it would be like to share something so wholly with another person. He'd never had a real bond with anyone before, not really, not anything that mattered and it seemed silly to be discovering the potency of relationships now that he was in the middle of a war.

As he watched and felt and moved with Ezio, he sensed his own emotion of jealousy burning in the back of his consciousness.

As Leonardo smiled and the world slowed down so there was nothing but that smile, Desmond felt his chest expand with Ezio's, felt the lightness and ease that the expression automatically caused. Desmond knew Ezio couldn't help to grin back, knew because he couldn't help it either.

"-and at the market, I found this exquisite paintbrush, a real bargain!"

Ezio smiled and nodded. "Show me?"

Leonardo's face was alight with pleasure. "Of course! I'll paint you some eagles, I know how you like them and I'll…"

All the while he felt the tingling contentment buzzing in the memory, he distantly wanted Shaun to- well, he wasn't sure what he wanted Shaun to do, but he wanted, and he missed the pulse under his fingers.

The ache in his chest turned sharp and mean, and he knew without a doubt that it was his own, and not Ezio at all.

He scooped a very large spoonful of ice cream and licked at it lazily, his head lolling against the stone behind him. He wasn't sure what time it was, but he knew it was early enough in the day that the sun wasn't risen yet.

Heaving a sigh, he focused on the sugary taste of the ice cream and the cooling effect it had on his tongue. The quiet, consistent melting in his mouth and the way his salivary glands reacted to the delicious taste was all familiar and lent itself back to a time when things were Uncomplicated and life was mostly Good.

He was rather quick at adapting to restraints, he'd had a hell of a lot of practice lately, but sometimes he caught himself thinking dazedly about Cookies n' Cream, Rocky Road, Triple Fudge... The cravings were incessant.

Sometimes, after weeks in the Animus, it was as though the ice cream was some grand and hefty reward. He'd always end up thinking, will this be the last time I ever eat ice cream?

As such, eating his frozen treat turned into something like a ritual, something reverent.

Desmond knew it was silly, but the truth was that the container of ice cream was sacred, it rooted him solidly to his current life while providing a sort of minimum comfort that deeply soothed, just as the cold treat would slowly instigate itself through his body and leave him shivery. It was like a hug, almost.

Ezio hadn't known what ice cream was, so it was always safe to indulge in, safe to remind him where he was and where he was not. Especially when he failed to see the present, when the past was his only focus and his lens was full of near solid figures weaving and speaking around him in perfect regularity. It was worse in this place, this place that had barely changed since Ezio had lived and fought here.

And there was always fighting, too - his ancestor darting to parry a stab and brutally shove his sword through an enemy's spine - yes, the ice cream cemented him.

It was also a luxury and maybe it would be the last real luxury he experienced in this war he was in. He was fighting a battle, and he was more aware than ever of the possibility of death and danger.

Rebecca had her music, Shaun had his incessant research, which he threw himself into wholly, and Lucy had violent bouts of training and they all held the same purpose. None of them would dismiss their role in the war, or the sometimes gargantuan struggle stretched before them in impossibility, but on the off days they all had their reprieves, little things to keep them strong.

For Desmond, it was ice cream, and the thought was often enough to make him grin toothily in self-ridicule and indulgence, but that was only an added bonus. When he could laugh at himself, it helped.

And now there were no grins and the ice cream didn't seem to be doing its job.

He took the utensil out of his mouth and stared down at the half-eaten container of ice cream.

With a clatter, he threw the spoon clear across the room, glaring it down as though it had personally offended him. He grit his teeth, half conscientiously setting the ice cream on the floor and away from his flexing, clawing hands.

He didn't notice the growl that scratched his throat as he stood up, his body seeming to roil with anger, almost as though a secret reservoir had been blown open. With slow, deliberate steps, his feet carried him blindly and he didn't even have to try to hide any sound his movement made.

And then he was standing over Shaun's sleeping figure, perfectly at ease and oblivious. His lip curled back and something was howling inside him, screaming need and want, but he couldn't make out the words any better than he could understand a windstorm. He found himself unable to move, certain of little and feeling progressively more frazzled. Because really, what the hell was he even doing here?

Desmond, he reminded himself harshly, get a fucking grip, he's seen you freak out enough. Too much, a quiet part of him added scornfully, easily dragging up resentment and shame for the reliance he'd placed on Shaun.

And that's what it was, wasn't it? He'd become accustom to the prickly man willing away his nightmares and being next to him.

He squeezed his eyes shut, fists mechanically coming up to push into his sockets, hard enough to hurt. Behind his lids, there were disjointed flashes of panic and blood and anger, but there were no pictures, nothing in color, it was all a tangled mess; it was too familiar.

He grit his teeth, his face scrunching in a grimace because Shaun was supposed to be…why wasn't…why couldn't he feel his warmth?

When had he gotten so weak?

There was a sting behind his eyes, sharp and biting as a whip, and he gasped, staggering away until his back hit the wall. He slid down bonelessly, the ache in his chest causing him to dig fingers into the spot where it was localized.

Fuck Shaun, fuck Shaun and his always being there, except now, when Desmond needed him, when he was able to admit it. What a time to cop out, that fucking prick. Fuck Shaun for kissing him, for tasting like his favorite flavor of ice cream.

Desmond spent the next ten minutes harshly calming himself down. It was hard work and he was exhausted, restless nights piling up with all the anxiety and anger.

He knew that he couldn't leave Shaun's room now. Though he was still angry, he was tired. He was tired of not being able to sleep properly and his eyes had already begun to droop.

Shaun's here, he told himself, and when his eyes closed there was only darkness.

He smiled humorlessly, amazed (bitter) that such a simple phrase actually helped.

And he still wished he was closer to the historian, if only because it was getting colder the longer he sat on the floor. But he knew this desire was more than missing shared body heat and reassurance.

Idiot, a reproachful voice hissed.

He missed more and he wanted more and damn, he wanted Shaun.

Waking up had always been a precarious business ever since he'd been introduced to the Animus, but right now there was something distinctly missing it caused his heartbeat to reverberate panic through his body .

That, and his head hit had just hit the wall with a loud enough crack to tell him he was being shaken roughly.

He blinked, his body half coiling to strike out, until he somehow recognized the shape of the hands gripping his shoulders.

The self-restraint ended at the physical part, "What the fuck," he growled, glaring up into eyes hidden behind a pair of glasses.

"No," came the curt reprimand, "What the hell are you doing?"

Desmond forcibly shrugged off the hands that had been knocking him back and forth. "Trying to sleep," he replied with a little less venom.

"No, really?" Shaun hissed scathingly, seemingly fond of negations at the moment. "What are you doing in my room, on my floor?"

Caught between irrational anger and the subdued knowledge that he would lose this argument, he stuck out his chin, sneering. "I couldn't sleep." Maybe a bit, just a little, he was blaming Shaun for that.

Shaun stared at him in astonished incredulity, like he couldn't believe Desmond was actually in front of him, until he grunted and stood up from his crouch. "Go away. You have your own room."

He was already walking away, already disinterested. Desmond felt something stir beneath everything, something that was dangerous and immovable.


Frustrated, Shaun settled into his own bed. He wouldn't argue and he figured the cold shoulder would be damn freezing enough for now. Let the idiot sleep on the floor.

Though in the parts of himself that he loved to keep neatly tucked away and contained, he felt flustered. This wasn't right, because the moment he'd silently walked away from their forged closeness, the matter should have been left. Now here was Desmond, refusing to relent in his own stubborn way.

"Why are you here?" Shaun finally grit out, breaking his self-imposed silence. He turned his gaze on Desmond, huddled against the wall.

But Desmond didn't have an answer to that, at least none he felt like divulging out loud.

Instead, he shook his head and closed his eyes, a marked dismissal in the hopes of affording some more sleep.

The second time he was shaken awake that night, seemingly not long after he'd closed his eyes, his arms snapped out and enclosed his disrupter, preventing further jostling.

"What now," he droned in a groggy voice, his eyelids lifting heavily.

Shaun was peering at him. "You're shivering."

So he was. "Okay." He only wanted to go back to sleep.

"You were muttering to yourself."

That was less easy to hear about. When he didn't say anything, Shaun said, "You're keeping me up."

"I could say the same to you," he replied mulishly.

But even he knew that there was an unspoken something being communicated right now. He shifted the arms already around Shaun and pulled him closer. The words were tumbling out before he could stop himself.

"You're a jackass and probably as stubborn as me, but I'm fed up with it already. Enough." The coded message was very obviously I want to go back.

"Stop being a prick," he continued, pressing their bodies flush together, unable to help himself in reveling in the lost touch.

"I'll be a prick if I want to," Shaun huffed, though with none of his usual bite.

"You didn't have to run away," Desmond hushed out, feeling the full brunt of longing that had left him with this aching. He'd missed this warmth so badly, it was actually scary how much.

"I didn't run, you're the one who's going crazy, it is not my fault you're dragging me down with you. Temporary insanity, I believe it's called."

"Yes, well, I don't scare easy, especially since I've got the up on you in mental instability," as if to reaffirm this point, he pulled back to run his fingers over Shaun's lips, reminding them both of the deciding factor that had ultimately caused the rift.

"Fine," Shaun allowed the contact, but it wasn't the sort of 'fine' that meant they'd start dry humping in the next instant. "I'm tired."

So was Desmond, he was desperately exhausted and sick of missing this.

He smiled, "My legs are numb." Shaun rolled his eyes and hauled him to his feet.

Once they were settled in Shaun's rather more comfortable bed (well, closer to a bed than Desmond's had been) Desmond felt something untwining inside his chest. There was still a slight pinch and he felt like he had to-

"I'm sorry," he said. He wasn't sure for exactly what he was apologizing: his weakness, his obvious dependence on this, putting Shaun through it because he couldn't handle sleeping on his own anymore, the residual awkwardness that sometimes reared its ugly head to make them both uncomfortable, really the list went on. "I'm sorry," he said again, gearing up to repeat it when firm lips bumped into his, obliterating his words into a gasp.

"Shut up," Shaun rumbled lowly, his voice pitched dangerously.

"Oh," Desmond said, feeling a warmth that quickly turned into a distinct heat. "You are a prick."

And because really, Desmond had apologized enough for a few lifetimes, and the words didn't suit his voice or attitude anymore than they suited Altair or Ezio.

"Grumpy and tired, to top it off. Sleep."

Desmond wordlessly shifted closer and Shaun wordlessly enveloped him in his arms. He thought he might have trouble falling asleep, unable to reach the familiar pulse point in Shaun's wrist, but he soon found something better.

His hand pushed under the historian's shirt, and he ignored the shiver it caused for sanity's sake. He rested his palm over warm skin, and underneath he could feel the steady thrum of a powerful rhythm that ran up his arm and seemed to connect with his own life-beat.

He felt more relaxed than he'd been in ages, and though the promise of fear and new situations and feelings threatened them both around a near corner, Desmond slept dreamlessly, though most of all, he slept knowing he had someone to make the screams go away.

Desmond momentarily felt concerned at how mushy this all was, but when he could feel Shaun's heart pick up its pace a little, he decided he really didn't care.

Shaun's here, and he grinned in precious self ridicule and indulgence, positively exalting in the mushiness.

"Hey Luce, isn't this Desmond's?"

Rebecca was inspecting a melted container of ice cream. She murmured 'a shame, a pity' because ice cream was never good after sitting out like this.

"That's his alright, I wonder why he left it out like that?" she came to join her friend, both of them staring at the sticky liquid.

"No clue," Rebecca yawned. "Whatever it was, must've been important, you know how he loves this stuff."

"Yeah," Lucy said softly. "I do."

"Ah well, guess he found something better than ice cream," she grinned, all teeth and cheek and evil glint.

"I suppose he did," and Lucy had to concede that, at least.

She had to concede it even more when Shaun and Desmond walked into the Sanctuary together.

Whoa. 50 pages. Fif-freaking-ty. This…this thing has been re-written, re-worded, edited, and torn apart for the better part of a few months, on and off as my motivation waned and my inspiration struck at random intervals.

Let's just go ahead and call this an extended drabble, shall we? =)

I think I busted my mind. Not even sure if I'm satisfied with this, but here it is, it its freakishly long entirety.

I could not leave this notion alone, as soon as read the 'emails' in the game between Rebecca and Lucy about how they could hear Desmond screaming at night, this fanged plot bunny was born. Also, I started writing this before I played the DLC, and though currently I have completed the Da Vinci Disappearance, I kept to my original speculations about how things went down.

So, please go easy on the bunny. It has fangs. In any case, if you stuck with me through that rollercoaster and admittedly lengthy oneshot, I give you all cookies! & Ice cream!

Constructive criticism and thoughts would be greatly appreciated, and with this, I leave you all to go and sort out my life. -whimpers-

I may elaborate on this later if the inspiration strikes me, most likely for some R-rated fun, but that's all still in the woodworks, so this is complete for now.

Anyway, yeah, I had fun, please review and enjoy! =)

PS - Courtesy of a very wonderful review, I'm thinking about extending this for another chapter soon to get some more DesShaun love in the world.