Disclaimer: Not Mine. The End.
Notes: AU as this was thought up LONG before I heard about Revelations. My entry for the second round of the ACBigBang on lj. Now that we're finished with it's initial run, I'm free to post it elsewhere. I would quote the entire Blue Scholars song that inspired the title, but that would imply it was a songfic...which it most definitely is not.
Italics refer to time as either Altair or Ezio.
To see the AMAZING piece of art this inspired please go here (remove the spaces when you copy pasta): rueli . deviantart . com / # / d3llvj4
Comments are always welcome.
The Least That I Can Do
By, Nicole Silverwolf
"So I give thanks to the most, the least that I can do
I wear this skin to find the me inside of you
When I dream that I'm dreaming I feel most alive
Write to survive
Proper hand gestures conjure ancestors
Drinking from the bottle that was meant
For the message that was sent from the tired and the true
I give thanks to the most, the least that I can do"
-excerpt from 'Burnt Offering' Blue Scholars
The Palisades Parkway, heading north past Yonkers on the opposite bank of the Hudson was one of the more scenic routes out of the city, though for the first hour or so it was three lanes across of crowded bumper to bumper traffic. It was slow but moving even this early in the morning. As soon as he cleared the last of the northern Jersey traffic the road opened up and the congestion thinned. He opened the throttle on the bike and slipped into the wind.
Bright sunlight filtered through a canopy of green, warm and invigorating on the back of his helmet. The wind was just shy of being too brisk but the sun was compensating to make it one of the best days for riding there could be.
There wasn't much of a rush on the day yet Desmond let the speedometer climb for the sheer joy of flying along the road. Cops were few and far between and seemed less than interested in making trouble for him. The miles slipped by without him noticing. It certainly didn't feel like a last ride and Desmond did not treat it as such.
Dwelling on last moments would become never-ending if he let his mind wander there. And he'd come to appreciate moments for their individual nature, not their number.
The sky was expansive, dotted with constellations as far as he could see in every direction.
He leaned back, palms grinding into the dust of the rooftop, at ease in a way that only came when he was surrounded by his brothers.
That thought took a long moment to process before Desmond recognized the surroundings for Masayaf. It took even longer to realize he was Altair in Masayaf not Desmond in New York. Where it once would have freaked him out (slipping so effortlessly into another's life) he'd come to take these moments in stride. They were different than the Animus. Mundane in many ways, Desmond had come to enjoy them for just that. The Animus sessions were always about a goal, a mission, rescue, death: things that the Assassins or the Templars had been desperate for.
These made him feel a little more like his ancestors.
It was a silent presence that settled beside him but Altair did not need to look to recognize the distinctive gait and brush of cloth that signified his greatest, most trusted ally. The long road to this point in time had been marred by losses. Sacrifices both necessary and sadly avoidable at times. They did not need to speak of them, there was nothing more that needed saying and both were loathe to repeat themselves.
After a long moment of contemplating the vast sky, he broke the comfortable quiet.
"I'll find you." It was both fervent and certain, like almost anything Altair said these days. Spoken like fact despite a lack of proof.
"I haven't gone anywhere," Malik commented shortly, half in jest, half snark.
Rarely did frustration ever enter Altair's tone these days; children, the responsibilities of Grandmaster and the influence of experience had tempered earlier desires for every moment to happen at that exact second.
Yet a bare edge of that old frustration bled into Altair's next words.
"When all this is over; when we have long been turned to dust. If our beings live on beyond ourselves. I will find you. It is a promise."
There was an old guilt there, compounded with something new, some inevitable fear Altair clearly felt powerless against.
"What brought this on? You of all people are not prone to sentimentalities."
"We are far beyond the age most assassins only dream of."
"That is not it though," Malik's eyes were the sharp probing he usually reserved for students he was teaching. There was worry there as well-pin-prick small and sharp-lending an edge to his tone that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. He shifted to look Altair in the eyes, a feat considering the younger had retreated into the hood he used for defense.
Altair did not exactly attempt to evade answering but it was clear there was some discomfort in continuing.
"The Apple," and here Altair hesitated. Malik and he had long argued and had long agreed to disagree on the subject.
"Speak Novice. It's clear you feel the need to." Only fondness came from the use of Novice these days, an endearment born from shared history.
"I have seen an end. A final ending I think. The Apple does not elucidate it further. And yet my mind lingers, waiting for me to understand something about it."
"Your death," Malik half asked with a mankind old fear in his entire posture. Death itself did not frighten any assassin. But none knew the exact moment of their death, not unless it was a death of their own choosing. Altair was not suicidal but Malik innately feared what knowledge like that could do to any person.
"I am not sure. A future both distant and immediate. One the Apple seems to imply is unavoidable."
Desmond was surprised to feel almost like he was desynchronizing from this flash of shared history. Something that hadn't happened before. He felt the fear and the unspoken nature of it; Altair was not talking about his own death. The fear was familiar though and without really understanding why, Desmond knew it was because of Malik.
"You are my Brother." And the tone was the closest Altair came to confessing. A hinted at connection made whole in four innocuous words he might have spoken to anyone but reserved for only one.
"And you are my friend."
There was no hesitance in the reply and the words encompassed much more than their original meaning might have ever implied.
Desmond could feel it on the edge of being his own emotion, deep in his bones.
The quiet clink of a plate being set down on the dull formica counter brought a questioning eyebrow up. The pie filling was bright cherry red, oozing warm filling onto the plate and accompanied by a scoop of generic vanilla ice cream. The woman at the counter nudged it closer when she noticed she'd gotten his attention.
"I didn't order this," Desmond gave a half depreciating smile. The last of his cash was now carefully rationed, enough for the simple but craved dinner he was consuming but not much else.
"On the house," the young woman smiled warmly. The white haired gentleman sitting next to him, on his second cup of coffee and a wealth of information on this roadside diner chuckled at Desmond's confusion.
"Lucy's got an eye for the pie eaters," he explained. "You're not hard to pick out."
He'd started to talk with Desmond out of the blue ten minutes into the young man sitting at the counter. The guy was a recent widower who'd spent a lifetime working for the local school district. Quick witted, genuinely friendly and funny he'd persisted with a mostly one sided conversation until he'd melted the young assassin's built up wariness. Desmond found the exchange remarkably easy even with a brief wonder if he'd lost the touch for such interactions after his time with Abstergo and the Order. He'd barely been evasive and the conversation stayed on topics that didn't force him to make up a cover.
"Thanks, it looks awesome," Desmond waved with a fork before tucking into it.
Lucy, thankfully did not look like Lucy. She had bright red hair, freckles, green eyes and glasses. Clearly this was a job used to get by. Every break she was offered was spent bent over a social work textbook and a battered notebook with scribbled notes. Desmond hadn't missed the subtle attempts at flirting, but couldn't return them with any real sincerity.
The reality of where he was going and why held him back even if it shouldn't have.
He marveled at how relaxed it was here, how friendly the locals were. New York had never been known in his mind as being populated by particularly outgoing individuals. This nameless diner was proving him wrong.
"So what brings you to upstate New York? Hiking Storm King?"
"Just passing through. It's been a long time since I was in New York. Figured I'd take in more than just the city."
"Picked a great time of year to come up. The weather couldn't be nicer, supposed to be clear, cool...good for hiking."
Desmond smiled down at his fork, the grin a little bitter and a little quieter than it should be.
"Good weather huh? Might have to check it out," he conceded, the facade of a carefree twenty something wanderer slipping back in place over the mission driven assassin.
"You're here to look at the book?"
An efficient twirl of the ledger and Claudia was back to tallying another table of inventory. She ignored his presence, clearly busy. Her script was elegant but quick like the experienced accountant she had trained herself to become. Giovanni would have beamed in pride no matter what society thought of a female accountant.
It was moments like these Ezio had come to dread, insignificant instants when the sharp sting of loss would sneak in and reopen wounds that he'd convinced himself were starting to heal.
Desmond had been an only child, and one of only a handful of children in his age range on the Farm. There were tons of children younger than him and similarly a cadre of teenagers who wouldn't have been caught dead with someone his age growing up.
He'd "had" in very loose terms a cat nicknamed Masayaf at one point. Nothing more than a stray who followed him around for food and the occasional scratch behind the ear. It was a poor substitute for siblings especially since his parents had sharply disapproved of his attachment to the animal in the first place.
Ezio was different. And in these instants, he wasn't so sure the young Auditore realized what he was letting slip away. Desmond had craved a family like Ezio's even if he didn't realize it consciously.
"Actually...I came to see you." Ezio was brusque as he often was these days but the discomfort was clear in his tone.
"What for?" Claudia's tone was flippant and acerbic. Designed to hurt she had long known how to manipulate and push her brother's weaknesses. Over the last three years they had been steadily drifting apart. It had started with an insistence that she could learn to fight just as well as her brother and an argument that had ended poorly regarding the matter.
It continued to widen though he could not pinpoint exactly why. Ezio missed it in some vague corner of himself that still treasured the closeness they'd shared as a family in Florence.
Shared meals around a large table, quiet nights of chess in the study, bird watching on the roof wrapped in their father's embrace, beating up unfaithful boyfriends. Ezio still hoped to reclaim the safety and peace that had been so violently taken from both their lives. Somewhere, someday, when the Borgia were defeated, his (their) father and brothers' murderer dead he would give that back.
For now, this would have to do.
"I recall that you used to wait for your birthday with anticipation that rivaled Federico's appetite for women."
There was disbelief in his younger sister's eyes when she looked up. It was late in the day, the sun already retiring behind the far mountains. Her smile was lopsided and more smirk than anything.
"You came home for my birthday?"
"Of course. I wouldn't miss it."
But the last year (the first he had started taking missions as an assassin) had meant he'd missed many important moments.
Most of Easter which had been an important family holiday, one they spent together above all other things.
The perhaps most egregious had been missing the day their world had fallen down around them. Claudia hadn't said anything when Ezio had appeared three days after, sporting a new scar and withdrawn in new painful ways from interactions they used to keep up with if only for nostalgia.
Ezio would never tell her of the night he'd laid their father and their brothers to rest. The weight of their bodies, the unnatural way they bent without control of their limbs. And he did not like to spend that fateful evening with anyone but himself, selfish as it might be. After all, Claudia had lost just as much as he had, it wasn't fair to assume she wouldn't understand. Yet he still avoided her.
Desmond almost fell out of the memory, because the Animus had dulled the grief and horror, but these waking dreams did not. He was grateful that his ancestor kept that private hell away from his sister and mother.
Perhaps the young man knew what it was like to have a family more than he could consciously admit.
She glanced at his empty hands, devoid of any gifts or contracts. Ezio had the decency to look a little ashamed.
"Apologies little sister, I wasn't quite sure what you would want for a gift."
Claudia was no little girl anymore, a far cry from the teen that had asked increasingly frantic questions that Ezio could not answer or reassure.
Her response was more forgiving and more mature than he would have expected. Closing the book with a firm hand, she drew close and into a half hug. Ezio returned it firmly, despite such a long time between visits he was still her big brother.
"How about dinner?"
"Pheasant and olives?" It was one of her favorite dishes. A small nod and quiet smile of agreement.
It was a meal like their childhood. Uncle Mario was loud, boisterous, all gestures and a little more drunk than he should have been. Maria was subdued as she always was these days but engaged; something that was hard to draw from her. There was laughter, smiles and for a moment there was no need to put up a facade to the world that life was good.
There would be exactly two meals that would feel like childhood in the rest of Ezio's entire lifetime.
The lake wasn't much of anything. Certainly not the focal point of a mission to save the world from an out of orbit sun. Overgrown shoreline crowded with undergrowth; the water murky and mostly still. The sun was peeking between overcast clouds-patchy at best. The wind was high and brisk, the only noise Desmond could hear outside of the hum from the bag on his back. Leaves turned over, exposing their lighter undersides to the promise of potential rain.
There was a small sandy strip, hardly wider than a sidewalk that led to the water. A map and GPS in one hand showed him to be exactly ten feet from the coordinates he'd memorized.
Ten feet out into the middle of the water.
So this was it.
He slung the backpack over his shoulder and fished the Apple out. It thrummed sickeningly in his hand, almost immediately inducing nausea. Long moments passed while he fought the sensation, swallowing saliva that nearly burned with bile.
He didn't have a death wish. He really didn't want to die. But this was clearly the way things were going to work out. And Desmond knew he'd lost any opportunity to make a decision about his future long ago, when he'd woken up in a white tower, people calling him assassin when he'd done his best to leave that title behind. For almost ten years he had succeeded. Now was time to pay it forward.
Raging against his fate might have been his recourse once. Maybe if this decision had been his to make a few months ago. But it seemed a bit unfair now, with the weight of two other lifetimes pressed into his mind. Compared to Ezio and Altair, he firmly believed he had sacrificed nothing.
In the instants when he was brutally honest with himself, he felt woefully inadequate to those memories.
Maybe this was some balancing of all that he had not done in service to the world.
And like all things the assassins did, no one would ever know about it.
Impatient (if a ball of metal could be such a thing) the Apple thrummed painfully, choking most coherent thought from his mind. He stepped forward like a puppet, sickeningly aware that this was how it felt before, when he'd stabbed Lucy what seemed like years ago.
The water shivered at his feet, drawing away as if pushed by some outside force. Though he didn't notice it Desmond was walking across the surface, sneakers wet as if he'd stepped into a rainstorm puddle when he would have likely been waist deep in the tea colored liquid.
It hurt, the Apple bleeding something vital out of him with every step. At the same time it screamed him forward. Every hesitation brought a stabbing sensation, between the eyes and wormed into his brain. The press of thousands of histories not his own, the millions that would never exist perhaps. He clutched the metal desperately, scared that he might drop it as the pain overwhelmed even the howl from the Apple. In the Animus he'd felt something that might have been able to call itself this. Ezio had wielded it like a weapon, shattered the minds of guards. He'd felt the drain, but it had been temporary-controlled-Ezio managing to stop the drain at will.
This time it simply took and took. Proof that the Animus was really only a construction of man, the sensation had been dulled-manageable-while now the Apple drove into every corner of Desmond, obliterating all.
Clear shafts of light were emanating, first from the cracks that patterned the Apple, then so bright there was no way to tell if hands were still around the gold sphere. The closer he came to the coordinates, the more radiant it became.
No one had written a manual on what exactly should happen in that moment. A virtual projection from hundreds of years ago was no help, vague as she had been.
The Piece knew though.
Desmond felt the exact second when its intentions, its wishes became clear. Like a puzzle piece slotting into place, he knew the exact step that brought him into those coordinates.
His arms moved without his consent, inexorable even as some small part of his mind not consumed by pain fought it. Failing to stop, they were perpendicular, then high above his head, cradling the Apple between hands clutched like talons. The ink lines tattooed over his forearm, what might have once been considered a impulsive teenager's decision filled with light as well, to rival the Apple. Proof that everything had a meaning, even without a conscious decision placed behind it.
There was brightness to rival the sun suddenly, winds blowing hard and fast draining both towards and away from the coordinates like a vortex with a lone human at its exact center. Electricity and ozone snapped into being, all responding to some cue the Apple was broadcasting. Hopefully strong enough to save the world.
Befitting any number of epic moments in any number of films, Desmond felt and saw none of it. Pain became his every instant.
Desmond Miles died in that moment.
The whole event had taken less than five minutes. A hunk of round metal, splashed into the murky water, bereft of any gold or power, its purpose served at last. The empty vessel once known as the descendant of the greatest of the Assassin order collapsed in its wake. Bonelessly folding and swallowed by the lake he sank, dyed in tea colored brown, then the murky mud of the decay at the bottom of the near bog.
The afterlife looked remarkably like the Animus loading screen. The shock of that took a moment to settle in. Desmond had to quantify the fact that he wasn't in agonizing pain, that he could think again without it being only about the instinctive desperation to escape the madness of hurt.
It wasn't soundless and every move he made brushed cloth together, clicked hollow footsteps into the air. It echoed into the infinite expanse.
"This is my punishment," Desmond muttered grimly. "Die to save the whole planet and this is what you get." Righteous anger lead the kick into the air, hoping the white would somehow manifest into a solid object he could damage.
When that didn't produce a result, he ran.
As fast as he could, straight ahead. It was close to a sprint and certainly held an almost desperate quality to it. Once he'd sprinted a good few miles and finally felt the burn in his lungs the man slowed, then stopped. Like when he ran in the Animus, it looked and felt like he had not moved at all. Eyes ground shut in a supreme effort to reassert control over something, Desmond focused on the sounds of his breath, his heart, everything he'd never noticed about himself while alive.
He could be forgiven then for not immediately noticing the two figures standing a few feet away.
Impassive at the first glance, it was impossible to really believe the two figures could ever be impassive at all.
A deliberate step from the white hooded gentleman on the right and Desmond spun on his heels, dropping into a natural defensive pose. Left hand drawn forward in a gesture so instinctive it was hard to perceive him as anything other than Assassin.
Even if it was impossible in the afterlife his mouth went uncomfortably dry, heart leapt into his throat and primal fear surged into him.
This couldn't possibly be what was happening. If Desmond kept believing it then it would come true.
His mutter was almost a plea, or warning to stay away. "Because I couldn't just be condemned to wander here for the rest of eternity, I get to hallucinate too. Fucking fantastic."
Ezio, looking somewhere in his early thirties and dressed in his father's robes seemed faintly bemused.
"What makes you think you've been condemned?" His Italian was effortless and Desmond didn't translate it, simply understood it like a native speaker. Even though he'd never spoken a word of it in his life.
Though Desmond was actually very similar in build to both the Italian and the Syrian (who couldn't possibly be Altair) he felt extraordinarily smaller than both of them. He'd experienced most of their lives, seen intimacies of them that no one else could ever comprehend.
And yet the reality that they were now standing in front of him was intimidating in an almost undefinable way.
"There's no way I'm going to anything like a heaven. I killed people, I killed a friend. You don't get forgiven for something like that. Nothing is true and everything is permitted is a way to live but it doesn't mean that the rest of creation sees it like that."
Desmond had never thought of himself as religious and certainly hadn't been raised in any formal faith. But the rest of the human race had some pretty hefty ideas on the matter, clearly having influenced him as much as he didn't believe.
When he stepped forward the man's gait alone defined him as Altair. The armor was right, the patches in clothes and scars exactly where Desmond remembered receiving them. It was clear he was in the presence of a master assassin.
It was a bit instinctive when he drew back with trepidation.
"I never measured up to anything either of you did. You gave up everything, lost everything for the Order. Compared to that, I did nothing." If it was meant to sound self-pitying or to fish for reassurance Desmond's tone did not. A statement of fact, not a little filled with awe and reverence for two lives that had shaped far more of history than his little stunt with a golden ball could ever achieve.
"You have saved our entire world from the sun in the sky. And you have sacrificed willingly what we both strived for our entire lives." Altair's voice was accented more than the one Desmond associated in his head, the lilt of Arabic lending a warm quality to it he hadn't expected.
"To give up your peace and safety, knowing what would happen, that is a courage in and of it self. I am proud to call you my descendant."
There was perhaps some truth to the stereotype that Italians were a very physical ethnic group Desmond decided. Ezio was the first to make a move, grabbing him into an embrace without regard for what that might imply.
He'd expected to be dwarfed by the man. In the Animus he'd felt dwarfed in Ezio's form. Like a younger sibling playing at assassin in too big clothes and shoes. But that wasn't the case here.
They were the same height, and similar enough in build despite the armor Ezio wore.
And it took only a second to return the embrace, Desmond suddenly and painfully aware of how afraid he'd been that this wasteland was to be his eternity.
When Altair drew him in as well, a firm embrace (one he could imagine a father having given him once) the youngest smiled.
"Safety and peace brothers," he said with no small amount of irony. In his entire life he'd never used the phrase with anyone else, even when on the Farm. It felt good, it felt like only a handful of moments ever had to him before.
"Welcome home little brother."
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Thanks for reading.