He shoved his hands in his pockets, following Shaun into the dining room. The other pirates were already there, and when they entered, the room fell silent. Shaun straightened, set his shoulders, and walked to his seat, Desmond following more like a lost puppy. He slid in beside Alex, and as Shaun folded his hands, looking out at the pirates with that scrutinizing stare, the chatter started to return, until Desmond found himself in Alex's lap in the library, looking at maps and drawings of the Empire's castle. He found them fascinating (Shaun had promised him that they would be), and he stored them away for if he ever got to go to the Empire so that he could compare the older drawings. He thought it was fascinating how the building had been built on a swamp, and it has stayed for so long.

He spent almost a week buried in books Shaun recommended, ignoring the others. He didn't mean to ignore Altair outside of their training sessions (he actually could hold his own against Altair. He was proud), but he couldn't wait to finish the books in the library. He filed away all the facts and pictures, reading happily in his chair by the fireplace. Meals were a wonderful time, full of loud talking and cheerful story-swapping, and Desmond couldn't help but wonder why Malik and Altair still seemed as if they weren't going to get back together.

Of course, then at the end of the week, Shaun came in for dinner, throwing the doors open and almost glowing with eager greed and pride. Gilberto paced silently behind him, slipping into the seat beside Altair. Shaun sat down and smiled warmly at them all, cane in hand.

"I have your next assignment, thanks to Gilberto."

The entire hall was silent, and Desmond was watching eagerly. Shaun's happy aura changed into something much darker, and he pulled back slightly when those eyes landed on him.

"And this time, all of you will go."

His eyes grew wider. He couldn't believe he was going to get to go on a mission. He could feel Alex's hand in his tighten, hear the soft growl coming from Altair, but he was captured by the wicked promise Shaun's eyes had. He could see them go from dark to satisfied, then the man leaned back, folding one leg over the other and resting his hands in his lap, looking over the pirates.

"And this time, boys, our mission will come to a close."

"That's what you said last time," Malik growled.

"I said if. I didn't know for certain."

"And just what is it?" Cross asked, raising an eyebrow.

Shaun chuckled breathlessly. "This time, you find the book within the walls of the Empire. It's there or nowhere."

"And where is it?" Altair asked, looking to Gilberto.

"He doesn't know. All he knows that it is within castle walls. Find it, bring it back, and our contracts are over."

The table was silent, and remained silent, until they started leaving.

"Desmond, I must speak with you in private."

Desmond jerked, looking at him surprised, but nodded. Alex hesitated about leaving him alone, until Altair nodded for him to come along, and it was just the two of them in the dining hall. Once the door closed, he looked at Shaun, who inhaled deeply and rose with a smile.

"Come. Let's go for a walk."

He took Desmond down through the servants' passageways and out into the streets, where they walked along the cobblestone roads until they hit the small café they had gone to so many times. Shaun seemed perky and happy all of a sudden as he ordered two of the frozen treats. Once they were served, Shaun leaned forward.

"Desmond, I need you do an extraordinarily important different mission for me."

He tilted his head, his stomach twisting as he took a bite of the tasty frozen treat.

"I need you to outsmart the men who have been outsmarting me."

He jerked, swallowing wrong and choking on the treat. He pounded on his chest as he started coughing. He held a fist to his mouth to keep it from spewing as he continued to cough. When he finally swallowed and gasped for breath, he managed to look at Shaun.

"W-what?" he breathed.

"You don't honestly think I just gave you those maps for your reading leisure, do you? Desmond, think rationally here."

He blinked. He had found the maps and the pictures fascinating, he mused as he pulled up all the pictures he had stored away. Of course everything Shaun did had a second purpose. Of course that's why Shaun would want Desmond to go. He blinked again, staring at the man, who was resting his chin in his hand and watching him carefully.

"Y-yeah, but why me?"

"Because I know your brother. He's not going to let you anywhere near the castle. But that's okay, because the book I need isn't there."

"Then where is it?" Desmond questioned, frowning.

"I don't know," Shaun hissed. "And that's what I need you to find out. It's nearby, but that's all I know."

Desmond was silent, watching Shaun carefully. He could feel his gaze boring into him, and he had to admit that he was slightly unnerved with being given such a huge task.

"Why me?"

"Because, Desmond," Shaun sighed, as if he was just supposed to know why, "you are, quite possibly, one of the most intelligent people I have ever met. And I do believe that this mission will open up so manydifferent paths for you, Desmond. I believe that this will give you more options in your life than Altair or Gilberto ever could."

Desmond leaned back in his chair, quietly eating the sweet treat and observing the man. Shaun sighed, adjusting the cane at his side and leaning back carefully, stiffly, and fixing him with a scrutinizing look.

"I'm fully prepared to fund you for whatever you need, and I am fully prepared to fund you in the development of whatever job route you choose to take. There will be no contract necessary, just know that every expense you have, from here until the end of your days, will be covered—if you succeed."

Desmond straightened slightly and quirked an eyebrow. That was a good deal. "And you want this book why?"

"Because then I don't have to worry about a picture being the deciding factor in my life. All I must worry about is myself."

Desmond studied him. There was no telling what the real reason was, and he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to know. "So…"

"Let me sum it up: you get me the book, and I back you one-hundred percent on whatever it is you want for the rest of your life."

"And the others?"

"They'll get their contracts broken."

"And there's no contract?"

"None whatsoever, unless you want one."

"Not yet."

Shaun chuckled. "Not yet?"

Desmond frowned. "I'm going to have to talk to—"

"No, you don't. This is not Altair's decision, Desmond, nor is it Alex's. It's yours. You can either accept or reject my proposition, but I think you're going to accept—and not because of what I promised you either."

He cursed the man internally, hating how he could see right through him. Of course he would do it, reward or not, because Desmond was dying to read that spell book. He wanted to know what happened in that spell book ever since he mentioned it. He frowned, looking at Shaun.

"You're dying to see it. And what makes it even more appealing to you is that you know, subconsciously or not, that there is no one else who's gotten to see it still alive today."

He couldn't help but swallow. He couldn't believe that he was really so open in his expressions—or perhaps Shaun was just good at reading people. He took another bite of the frozen treat, and the other man smirked, relaxing in the chair.

"Anyway, take your time. They won't leave until you've decided what you want to do."

"But you said we all have to go. So I have to."

"Desmond, you have been given more privilege than any of the others. None of them would be surprised if I changed my mind and kept you here."

"But in the library, you told Altair—"

"Altair is a pawn. What I say and what I do are two different things. This decision is up to you. Think it over carefully, Desmond."

He sat there and watched the man carefully as he finished the frozen cream. He did really want to see the book. He wanted it almost as bad as before this whole adventure began and he wanted to meet Zeus. Now, he was being given that chance. Of course, he had to work for it, but there was nothing to stop him. Not when he had Shaun's backing and whatever he could need. But the question was if he could actually do it—if he was actually smart enough to outwit the people who bested the best. When he was done with the treat, Shaun raised an eyebrow. Desmond inhaled deeply.

"I'll do it."

"Excellent," the man purred. "I knew you would. You're good man, Desmond. Now then, just tell me what you might need, and I'll have it for you by the time you leave. And you'll have to come with me: you're going to need a weapon."

"Where will we get one?"

"Back at the house. I store them in the cellar."

Desmond blinked. "You have a cellar?"

Shaun rolled his eyes. "Yes, Desmond, I do."

"Just how much of the house haven't I seen?"

"Just the cellar."

"Just the cellar," he deadpanned.

"And the rooms connected to it."

Desmond's eyes narrowed as Shaun rose, stretching. "No secret tunnels?"

"None that I'm willing to share yet."

Desmond blinked before getting up to follow him. His curiosity was peaked—and then he realized just how easily he was being played. If this was what Shaun did for a living, he did it damn good. He played Desmond's curiosity and now he knew that he couldn't leave until he was completely satisfied with everything Shaun had. He was being lured in little by little, and he was completely powerless. Of course there were tunnels, and of course Shaun didn't want to share them yet because that meant that he would have to return to see them later.

And of course Altair wouldn't let him near the castle because infiltrating a castle was beyond his league. But if the book wasn't in the castle, then that would mean that the others would provide a distraction for him while he tried to figure out where it was. Which meant that the Empire probably already knew they were coming, which would mean that they would be putting up a strong line of defense underhandedly, and that meant that they would be dropped off on the outskirts of the Empire. Desmond frowned. Oh, Shaun had played his cards well. He knew how to lead people to believe in things they didn't want to.

But just how that tied into the painting and the spell book is what Desmond wanted to know. Still, he followed the man up to the room with the painting, and from nowhere produced a door in the wall, and led him down a dark stairway to another door, and then the door was open and there was a flood of light.

Desmond had never seen so many different weapons. There were walls and shelves and display cases packed with different swords and knives. There were all kinds of guns he never even imagined existed sitting there, untouched for who knows how long. He was floored. Shaun led him through the maze of weaponry to a small case near the far back corner. The case was lit with the same light as the picture case. It was filled with hand-sized contraptions that looked vaguely like the rifles the military used.

"What are these?"

"Advanced guns from the time before this. I collected them and had every intention of distributing, but thankfully, I caught myself and hid them."


Shaun sighed as he reached into one of the cases. "Yes, Desmond, it was weapons that brought about the first apocalypse, and it's weapons that will bring about the second. Mark my words: hinder them now, and you're buying time until a group of scientists makes a new weapon and 'Oopsies! You mean, we weren't supposed to test out that weapon on our enemy?'"

The man held up the nasty-looking creation, examining it.

"And by then everyone will be screaming to stop, but the rulers won't care. Hell, it's war, and armies are their toys! They don't honestly care for their people. They'll promise you the sun and the stars, which, mind you, are more than one lifetime away from the earth, just to get into their position and protect their asses!"

The man made a disgusted noise, lowering the gun and holding it out. "Brutish, nasty lot, the whole bunch of them. Here. Let me show you how to shoot. Follow me."

He followed the man through another door hidden behind a rack of nasty looking clubs to a room with long stalls. He listened carefully as Shaun instructed him on how to use the machine gun, which sounded a little redundant to Desmond, but then again, it might have made sense way back then. He picked it up in no time, and Shaun was proud of him. It was almost hard to tell, but that glimmer in his eye and that arch in his back, those were the signs of pride. He grinned, watching as Shaun taught him how to carry the extra ammunition and then took him back out to his room through the servants' corridors. He popped out next to the fireplace, not realizing there had been a door there it blended in so well with the wall. Of course, if it was supposed to hide the presence of the maids, it did a damn good job.

He hid the weapon and the ammunition as best as he could and threw together a small bag for the trip. He was going to go, and he was going to succeed because damnitall he was better than Altair realized. He was going to prove his worth to La Volpe, and he wasn't going to let Shaun down. Not when Shaun had him backed against the wall, warm lips pressed against his in a slow kiss and hands smoothed, feather-light, over his chest and stomach. Not when Shaun was telling him how smart and wonderful he was in between kisses and the press of warm, gloved hands against his skin. No, he couldn't let Shaun down, because as much as he loved Alex, Shaun was just…

"Shaun," he breathed when the man backed away, looking a little disheveled and slightly out of breath.

The man adjusted his glasses, calmed his breathing, and lightly smacked Desmond's foot with the end of his cane. "Now, it's best we stop before that beast catches us."

He swallowed thickly and followed him out into the library. He settled down in a chair, closing his eyes and tilting his head back. He wanted to say he hated Shaun and give up on this adventure, but Shaun was playing him and his emotions in all the right ways, and that was absolutely okay by him. He jumped when several scrolls were dumped in his lap, and he looked to see Shaun looming over him, frowning.

"Maps. Present and past. There's a few journals somewhere in there. Do with them as you see fit. If you need anything else, just let me know."

He nodded, settling down to skim them. Halfway through, he got distracted as Altair came in, talking in hushed tones with Malik. There was no bite to his words, he noticed, listening in.

"I don't plan on letting Desmond come with. He's human."

"The way I see it is one of two ways, then," Malik murmured back. "Either Shaun is planning something outside of our mission for your fledgling, or else he's making sure he gets roped in by having him memorize all those maps."

"Or else he's trying to force me to contract him so he won't die."

Malik was quiet as they settled on a couch a ways off. They sent a quick glance to Shaun, who was reading by the fire, ignoring them. Altair saw Desmond, but Desmond was sure he looked much too engrossed in the map he was looking over of the swampland surrounding the kingdom. He saw all the gravestones marked down, the trees and the stumps—it was incredible.

"I hadn't thought of that," the man murmured as he settled in Altair's lap as they stretched out on the couch. "Congratulations, novice. You one-upped me."

Altair scoffed quietly. "It's just easiest to see all the possibilities."

"The one that really stumps me, though," Malik said, his voice dropping even lower and making Desmond's head begin to hurt with the amount of concentration he needed to listen in, "is why Shaun is keeping Desmond around uncontracted. Or you, for that matter. As a matter of fact, his actions have seemed much more out of place ever since we picked Desmond up."

"What is he planning, do you think?"

"I have no idea, Altair. I haven't seen where the two vanish to together. There's no telling what Shaun does to him."

"You don't think it's anything bad, do you?"

"Undoubtedly not, otherwise, either you or Alex would have heard of it by now."

"You don't think he's trying to win Desmond over, do you?"

"What good would that do him?"

Altair was quiet for several minutes. "I… don't know…"

"You don't think he's actually…"

"No, there's no way. Not with a man like him. We're just not thinking like a criminal mastermind enough. His plans will reach their culmination soon."

"So it's a race to the finish now. We have to beat Shaun before Shaun beats Desmond."


They fell silent after that, and Desmond turned back to his maps. His gut was telling him he had no reason to worry, but the apprehension that settled in his stomach and heart made him nervous. He wanted to know just what was going on. After a while, he sighed, setting the map down after realizing there was nothing more he could focus on, and he looked at Shaun as he read. He was going to need something to carry these in, and preferably something to wade around the swamps in.

"Hey, Shaun?"

The man responded with a hum and a quick side-flick of the eyes.

"Can I have a pack of some sort to carry these maps in?"

"Of course, how big?"

"I don't care. Big enough to store these in."

"Consider it done."

The man closed his book and walked a few paces away.

"Is there anything else you might need?"

"Something for swamp exploration."

Shaun nodded and vanished. Desmond smiled at Altair before turning back to the maps, hoping he could lure them into speaking again.

"He's definitely got a side mission for your fledgling."

"I can't take him with me, though. Not unless he's under contract."

"But you aren't going to let him be contracted."


"Then there's no telling what the mission could be."

There was silence for a little bit. "But what if this is him trying to get me to contract him?"

"Don't go there, Altair."

"What if it's all a game of mental mindfuck, like everything else he does?"

"I said, 'Don't go there.'"

"He's making me second guess. He's going to drive me crazy."

Desmond frowned. He had a mission, damnit. He sprawled out in the chair, his shirt hitching up as he scratched his belly and flopped over it. When Shaun came out with the pack, Desmond grunted a "Thanks" and packed it all away before going back to his room. He was absolutely exhausted, and as Alex grabbed him and pulled him onto the bed, he was glad he didn't have to think, just enjoy the feeling of Alex pounding into him and the lazy coil of lust that never seemed to go away when he was around the man.

Still, two days later, he found himself in Shaun's private rooms as the man instructed him how to put on and take off the thing he called a wet suit and some really big pants that tucked a certain way into big boots to keep him dry and protect him from leeches. He slipped his pants and shirt on over the wet suit, in no mood to take it off a fifth time, and stuffed everything else into a large bag Shaun gave him to keep all the gear in. He threw it into his room on the Blacklight and came back out to get some extra pocket change. Everyone else was watching the exchange closely, out of the corner of their eye or what have them, but Desmond chose to ignore it in favor of catching the pouch of money.

"Will that be enough?"

"I would think so. For inns overnight, right?"

"Precisely—for you, Kadar, and Pariah only."

"Got it."

He looked back up at Shaun and nodded. He hugged Shaun goodbye, pleased to feel an arm around him in return and the exhale of the man's breath on his neck. He straightened out, swallowed, then tucked the money into his pocket, nodding to himself, because he could do this, and this was his chance to shine. He'd wanted his own moment in the spotlight forever now, a chance to become a sky pirate—to steal, to fight, to be something other than the crazy kid who lived down the street.

This was his chance—and he'd sooner die before he'd let the limelight be stolen.

After he boarded the ship, he watched as it took off into the sky and began its journey to the heart of the Empire. He waved goodbye to Shaun, who was watching with his back straight and his eyes glued on Desmond. He could feel Alex move beside him, and he could feel him watching him as he stared out the window. There was a tense silence, and he knew in his gut he was going to get questioned eventually. Still, he pushed it aside to enjoy the passing scenery, wondering what it felt like to have the wind whip around him.


Oh, here it came.

"You realize we care about you, right?"

Desmond hummed nonchalantly. "Yup. I'm glad, too, 'cause I've got the best family to support me and my decisions."

Alex was quiet for a moment, and Desmond inhaled sharply as he watched a farmer plowing his fields. Then, he heard Alex step away, down the hallway to the engine room, and he was content to stand there, watching, until the sun went down and the stars were out. He looked when he felt a soft tug on his wrist and saw Alex standing there, and he grinned, letting him be led into the bedroom and cuddled with on the bed. While it was strange that he wasn't being stripped and turned into a slut, Desmond did find it enjoyable that he was doing nothing more than cuddling. He stretched out along Alex and closed his eyes.

When he woke, he realized that these beds weren't nearly as comfortable as the beds at Shaun's house. He grunted as he stretched, and he could feel Alex alongside him, one arm over his waist and the virus itself slowly wrapping around him. He squirmed a little bit, and he heard Alex chuckle. He rolled on his back to look at him, and those icy eyes were staring straight at him. He smiled sleepily and yawned before stretching again. He yelped when he felt the water suit snapped against his skin.

"What is this?"

"It's a wet suit. I'm going swamp exploring. Shaun said I could."

Alex hummed, and Desmond shivered as a tendril slid over his side. "I don't like the idea of you going into the swamps behind the castle."

"Why not? Shaun said that they hadn't changed—even after a hundred years of travelling."

Alex hummed, pressing his lips to his ear. "I don't like you walking in those swamps."

"Why not?"

"There could be some—"

"I can defend myself."

He wanted to glare at Alex, but the way he was pressed against him and the way he was murmuring in his hear made it hard.

"Desmond, you know that I'm just looking out for you."

I swear, honest to God, this isn't dead. I'm not dead. I'm just... slowly down considerably. I'm sorry.