Authors note: I own nothing bar an imagination that goes all weird when I write at 4am.
"You will tell me, Desmond…won't you?"
Lucy, sweet Lucy, so concerned about the man she met not long ago. So worried about what's going on in that traumatised head of his, about what they're doing to him. About what she's partly to blame for. And she feels the weight of that bearing down on her shoulders every time she sees him twitch whilst in the Animus - every time she hears him screaming at night. But she can't show it, she dare not show it. Because if she worries, then Desmond worries.
And then he tries to hide it by working even harder, pushing himself closer and closer to the breaking point. "Desmond," it breaks her heart, "are you listening to me?"
"Hmm? Sorry, what?" He's even more distracted today than he's been for a while, he hasn't heard a word she's said because he's too busy remembering things that weren't his to remember. Seeing things that aren't there.
He can feel them in his head, the two eagles, he knows everything they've seen and done; he's tasted the food they ate, drank what they did and yet none of it ever reached his stomach. Ezio had a meal with his mother and sister once on a rare evening of peace and quiet, he saw it in a dream. But because Ezio ate, his brain thought that Desmond had eaten too and so he hardly touched his meals that day.
He could feel himself slipping, becoming like so many of those drinks he made. The part that was Desmond, the part he worked so hard to be, was mixing with members of his family long since dead. One part bartender, two parts assassin. And you can't un-mix a drink. Once you put the rum with the coke, you can't have just the rum or the coke.
That machine, it was stripping him away and replacing him with bits of Altaïr, bits of Ezio. A patchwork creation, the perfect assassin but an imperfect person.
But no, he wasn't listening to what Lucy was saying and he felt guilty for that. She knows he can't help it but she doesn't know how much he's trying. He keeps it to himself, tries to control the bleeding effect or hide when he can't. But it gets harder.
He wakes up slightly less Desmond than when he went to sleep.
And it scares Lucy, even though she doesn't let it show. She's watched him wake from the Animus, from a sleep that's not a sleep at all, and she's seen someone else looking through his eyes for a moment. And then he's back and he smiles at her in a faraway fashion and goes to talk to Shaun or Rebecca. Sometimes he goes and stands and stares at the Altaïr statue for a while and she wonders what's going through his head - but even he doesn't know.
He stands there, looking up into the cold stone eyes of the man he was - no, he's Desmond.
But he was Altaïr too, in his head, in the machine.
And Lucy pretends that everything's fine when Altaïr lets loose a colourful string of curses in old Arabic at Shaun after the Englishman's said something sarcastic; playing it down as if it never happened. She tries so hard not to cry when Ezio tries to charm her in dated Italian, playing along until the moment ends.
And Desmond must not know. None of it reaches him, she silences her companions with merely a look; they know to keep quiet about it. It will only worry him, she says, it has the potential to make him worse.
But he's slightly aware there's something wrong, that he's missing time. He finds himself glaring at Shaun and he doesn't know why, feeling the need to apologise even though he doesn't know what for. Or he's standing by Lucy who's acting like nothing's wrong and he doesn't know how he got there or how long he's been there; she never tells him, only smiles and says to go and sit down or have something to eat despite the feeling in the Sanctuary is tense.
Sometimes he will go out and sit on the roof of his - no, not his - Ezio's bedroom at the top of the villa and just watch the night tick by in Monteriggioni. But he can't just sit in peace, everywhere he looks there are ghosts passing, going about their business as Ezio saw them going about their business. Then the man himself will sit beside Desmond and he'll remember why he comes up here to clear his head. It's exactly what Ezio used to do in his youth. Yet another thing that's not Desmond, just another mirror image of an ancestor.
But unlike his ancestor, Desmond is not allowed to watch the sun rise no matter how much he yearns to. Just to see the sun peek above the horizon again, something he feels he hasn't seen in so long, to feel it's warmth on his skin. He's seen it many times through Altaïr and Ezio's eyes but over these past months he doesn't feel as if he's seen it at all. The familiar voice will tell him to return to the Sanctuary through his ear piece and he obeys like a good dog - back to the smell of dust and stale water, echoes of the past in a place that once had a floor of polished stone and gleaming marble; back to that machine.
He doesn't realise he responds to her in Italian so he's puzzled when she asks him if he's ok as he walks past. He frowns and answers with a simple "I'm fine, why wouldn't I be?" and a faint, confused smile. Lucy doesn't press the issue.
Without any input from the others, Desmond simply sits down on the red and white machine and waits to be plugged in. He sinks deeply into that familiar non-sleep and Lucy watches him with a heavy heart because she too knows that he'll be slightly less Desmond when he wakes up.