A/N: Lucy is a character that I did not like at first, but after the Lost Archives and well, several interpretations of the person she was and who she could have been had Ubisoft given her a voice, I've since had a change of heart. To the reviewer who once asked if what happens to Lucy in this story will be like in canon, I retract my earlier decision. It won't.
On a side note, I don't claim to be a good writer. Most times, I think my pacing is horrible and I end up mulling and stonewalling myself until it's right whether it be now or later. As such, I recommend going back to reading previous chapters. Some have been edited. Others have had large portions redone. (But, it's up to you.) Either way, nothing is entirely grammatically correct. Everything is un-betaed.
In this chapter, several people have nice, long talks.
Lucy sees the photograph and wonders why it looks familiar.
Feelings, (all things considered) are best handled systematically. It's…soothing to think of it as such—like she can logically take her anxiety and fears apart and rationalize them out piece by piece. It's simpler that way because it's in a manner that she can take.
'Excuses.' A part of her whispers and she squashes the thought viciously even as her breath hitches, quivering when she tries to take a deep breath.
Yet as fast as it had come, Lucy grounds herself, reigning in the evidence of her lapse of calm with ease (because god knows how many times she's done it already so it wouldn't hurt).
(Once upon a time, Lucy has everything.)
It feels like so long since she's been back with the Assassins again. After those long, unbearably long, years away from home she expects to feel joy, yet all that is inside her is a bone deep tiredness. She feels old, not like that same bright-eyed and ready-for-the-world girl anymore. That person feels long buried. She hadn't been that foolish, so overwhelmingly stupid person for years.
(Then upon a time, Lucy loses everything.)
'It's not in vain.' Lucy thinks of the past, cast on blades. She thinks of her future laden upon a cross. 'It's for the better.'
And yet her heart pounds against her breast, restless and desperate. Lucy hates it.
Two teams. Eight lives. People that were hers—
(She comes upon two masters and treads on different sides of the world.)
—had been hers. No, are hers, right? Right?
(She wants them all. She desperately doesn't want to lose a single one—not again.)
Lucy will sometimes laugh at it all; laugh at the knowledge that she's been set to play a losing game from the start and it's too late to stop when the end is looming ever closer. What more is there to do now but survive until it's over?
(She mourns—gasping for breath and so horribly alone.)
Sometimes, Lucy will remember people long dead. She'll dream of peace and long lives and permanence…
(If that's what it takes.)
'Just a little longer.' Lucy thinks, staring blankly at the deceased assassins report on the computer screen.
She wonders why they look like her team.
Lucy sees the photograph and feels like she's looking into the future.
"Hey. You okay?"
Lucy gasps, jumping violently as she is seized out of her thoughts. Her hand immediately goes to the steel, collapsible baton strapped to her thigh before she recognizes her visitor.
Desmond has the decency to look apologetic. "Sorry about that."
"Ah…" Lucy blinks at him owlishly in momentary confusion before casting a quick scan around them. She distantly realizes that she's the only one in their main workroom save for the other assassin and from the lack of light coming from the warehouse windows, it's late. She hadn't realized that she'd overextended. "What are you doing still up?"
"I could ask the same thing to you." Desmond counters, and glancing up at him, she pauses momentarily at the curtain of grief lining his eyes. It disperses to concern when he looks at her. "You look… troubled. Are you okay?"
"…Yeah. I'm fine." The report taunts her, chortling in her face and she powers down the screen a little harder than she should. "Everything's fine." Her voice feels mechanical even to her own ears and the blonde takes a deep breath, willing the fitful dance of her heart to calm.
"Lucy…" Desmond's tone calls her out on it and Lucy's resolve to appear unaffected wavers.
"…We lost two more teams last night." Lucy confesses after a moment of weighing the pros and cons of telling him. He has to understand the reality of their war, she eventually decides. Her hands wring together anxiously in her lap. She hopes it doesn't sound like her voice is shaking and focuses on the crooked zipper of Desmond's hoodie. "That's eight more of us just…gone."
She can feel rather than see Desmond turn somber. "I'm sorry."
"I don't know what to do anymore." The admission slips out from her before she's able to take it back and somehow, talking about it feels worse and that careful control she has over her emotions stutters. "It just keeps getting worse and worse."
"Hey..." She glances up at him when he risks a small grin. "We're all here, aren't we? Safe and sound."
"Safe and sound?" Lucy repeats, mouth cracking into a brittle smile and it's like the funniest thing in the world because of course Desmond would be horribly naïve like that. She lets out a chuckle, giving in to the bubbling hysteria in her chest. Before long, her laughter takes on a strained, crackling bite that sounds raw even to her ears. Of course he would think that.
She'd forgotten that he had been gone from the game for nearly ten years, living virtually oblivious to the war they had had to fight—to survive by the skin of her teeth—everyday. There was credit for Desmond for having come back to them, yet that did not dispel the fact that the novice arrived practically unprepared for their world.
'So naïve.' Lucy thinks scornfully once her laughter subsides. 'So foolish.'
And she both pities and envies him.
She expects Desmond to be offended, but to her surprise, he's neither slighted nor upset. His grin is gone, but his gaze is unwavering as he considers her in bemusement.
"For how long?" Lucy asks impulsively, lips drawn like a jagged knife and she knows from the slight widening of Desmond's eyes that he knows she's not entirely talking about the Templars. She drags a loose lock of hair over her ear. "And when they find us? Then what?"
Desmond shrugs and just as simply, "When that happens—if it happens. We'll deal with it." His lip twitches upwards, the pale scar down his lips stretching as if to offer its own smile. "I'll keep you safe."
There's sincerity in the Desmond's voice—such conviction and for a moment, Lucy wants—
"Just like that?" Lucy means to say it with a huff—playfully wry and just a tad skeptical—but it comes out more like an accusation.
Desmond cocks his head, face perplexed. "What? Don't believe me?"
"Yes." She frowns. "No." I want to. I can't. Lucy chuckles humorlessly. She feels like they're at a crossroad. "I'm being realistic. I've seen what the Templars are capable of. In the war we're in—the loosing war we're in—no one can promise that. You're an idiot to think you can."
(Once upon a time…)
And it's possibly the slightest of shudders in her voice or perhaps the furtive, desolate twist of her lips that causes Desmond to sober.
"Doesn't mean I won't damn well try." Desmond says steadfastly and it sounds so much like a promise that Lucy rears back in surprise, marveling at the fervor so openly displayed. "Doesn't me that we won't damn well try. 'Cause yeah, the Templars have us practically outgunned and the Assassins aren't doing so cool, but Lucy, at least we're all here. You, me, Shaun, Rebecca, and yeah, even Altair. We're going to get through this and we're gonna do it together…" He looks at her earnestly. "…and that's gotta count for something, right?"
(Once upon a time once upon a time once upon a time…)
"But what if we don't?" Lucy implores in a hush, her eyes like bright crystals in the lamplight. "What if it doesn't matter what we do?" She licks her dry lips and the beat of her heart feels loud in her ears. "You sound so confident that we're going to make it out of this all alive, but you don't know that."
Were you lonely?
"No, I don't." Desmond admits quietly, yet there's an unyielding edge in his voice that has Lucy reflexively straightening and hyperaware. "But let me fight for you anyways. I'll keep you safe. I'll keep all of us safe, somehow." He meets her eyes, certain and resolute, and the corners of his mouth quirk up in a lopsided grin that makes Lucy suddenly out of depth. "Safe and sound. Have a little faith, Luc'." The other assassin's scarred lips widen cheekily. "Who knows? I might just surprise you."
Despite herself, Lucy giggles and has to physically refrain herself from the childish instinct to smack Desmond for his impudence when his own grin broadens in amusement at her response.
"Confident already for being an assassin for little over a week?"
Desmond's smile turns impish as he haughtily states, "I like to think I'm in the top 1% of novices."
Lucy simply scoffs, lacing her fingers in front of herself. "Right."
'So naïve.' She thinks again, but her eyes are soft and the words more thoughtful. 'So foolish.'
"Safe and sound, huh?" Lucy hums wistfully in a long, wan sigh as she rests her hand on her cheek. The words are marmalade on her tongue even as her mind is wrought with a dizzying sense of conflict.
"All of us." Desmond agrees. He cocks his head. "And it's not like I'm alone in this either, right?"
And when she glances up at him, there's something in the gold of his eyes—in the curve of his nose and contours of his face—that makes Lucy realize that maybe…they—she isn't at a crossroad after all.
(She comes upon two masters…)
(…and sees another side of the world.)
It isn't long until they bid each other goodnight.
Lucy isn't at all surprised when—as Desmond gets up from a borrowed stool to leave the work area—she catches sight of Altair's silhouette nestled against a support beam a little further away. Rather, she's more unnerved than anything. It certainly doesn't help that the other assassin is scrutinizing her, mouth drawn in a thin line and eyes narrowed with just the subtlest hint of iciness.
(And Lucy just gives him a slow smile, chin rising oh so slightly.)
Desmond on the other hand, seems utterly unsurprised about Altair waiting for him and Lucy doesn't bother to hide her snickers when the novice goes as far as to admonish the older assassin for it. Altair, for his credit, doesn't seem particularly perturbed if the twitch of his lips is any indication.
She isn't able to hear Altair's reply, but the way Altair's face—as stony as it was before when she and he made eye contact—visibly softens, is telling enough. It makes Desmond's expression shift to one of mild exasperation, the fondness evident in the crease of his eyes.
It gives Lucy some pause and she watches them interact longer than she should, noting the easiness of their conversation which had descended into soft, foreign phonetics that were nonsensical to her ears. It isn't until their voices fade with distance down the Hideout's halls before she releases the breath she hadn't known she had been holding and moves to return to her own quarters.
Desmond dreams of her again.
He doesn't sleep much that night.
"So I managed to get those recordings that Desmond supposedly heard." Gavin announces the moment William enters the ship's map room.
"And?" The Miles patriarch asks as he hangs his jacket on the nearby coat hanger.
"And, you're not going to like it." Gavin sighs. The audio device in his hand is a beat up old thing made of cheap plastic and covered in duct tape, but it makes a resounding noise when it meets the metal surface of the table. Gavin clicks it on. "Hear for yourself."
Immediately, the audio erupts into a frenzy of clamor and chaos. Over it, someone speaks with urgency to the recognizable voice of Warren Vidic. However, William is less interested in what they are saying and more interesting in what they are speaking over.
It's almost in a systematic manner that William mutters the IDs of the distinctive gunshot sounds during the recording. His head bobs, as if cataloguing each and every sound. When the recording cuts at the end, he looks to Gavin, pursing his lips.
"They're all military grade. We don't use that."
Gavin leans over and shuts the player off before it can repeat itself. "Not to mention that this took place inside Abstergo. So…"
"So, unless Abstergo has padded walls—"
"—which we know it doesn't—"
"—then the concussive noise would have had less room to dissipate and the noise would have been bouncing off the walls. We shouldn't have heard him speaking through the gunfire." William laughs as Gavin smirks.
"It's a fake." They say together.
"But now we have another puzzle on our hands." Gavin points out, leaning forward conspiratorially. "Why? And why show it to Desmond like that in the first place?"
"I don't know." William admits, turning the information in his head. The Farm's destruction, the fake recording… He shakes his head before getting up and retrieving his coat. "But I'm going to find out."
That startles a surprised gawk from his best friend. "Eh? Where are you going, Bill? We've just left port!"
"I am going to go see Susan to request a visit to Port Patras." Bill announces before the hatch closes behind him.
"But—" Gavin can only blink owlishly at the sudden decision before sighing amenably. Well, he had suggested he visit her in the first place. It wasn't like this wouldn't happen eventually.
Besides, it's been a while since he's last greeted Helena Miles.
The corner of his mind where Altair can sense Desmond's presence is occupied by a feeling of loss. It is persisting, layered under several other conflicting sentiments that that eludes Altair stubbornly when he attempts to disentangle them and figure out why. When he asks, Desmond just waves him off with a strained smile; gaze touched with a sort of longing that makes Altair frown.
He doesn't get the opportunity to figure out why until Desmond is in the Animus and only when the younger assassin's thoughts level to a calm thanks to the machine does Altair try again. When he focuses hard enough, he's able to decipher it's in the shape of a name.
He rolls the name on his tongue. It is familiar. He's heard it before but when? Where? (In his past? Or perhaps his future?) The Master assassin releases a slow, deliberate breath, eyes narrowing in contemplation…when he realizes just who might know.
He stands from his seat, mouth curling upwards shrewdly as he stares ahead at his intended target.
"So…what's going on with Des and Alty?" The question is asked the moment the Syrian leaves Shaun's desk with a hefty folder of notes on one Maria Thorpe.
Rebecca leans on Shaun's desk, her arms braced behind her on the wood as she watches the two said assassins. Desmond is still in the Animus, experiencing a portion of memory with a low mental stability threat level. His eyes are closed but shifting erratically underneath his eyelids as if in REM. In the chair that Altair had long claimed as his own on the other side of the Baby's terminal, the Syrian is deep in his reading of the papers inside the given manila folder. Rebecca half wonders how Shaun had the foresight to print out that particular file in French.
Shaun makes a noncommittal noise from the back of his throat. "Whatever do you mean?"
"Oh I don't know." Rebecca drawls leisurely. "Maybe the fact that just yesterday they were all buddy-buddy but today they're skittish—Desmond in particular." She raises a fine eyebrow, crossing her arms. "You know anything about that?"
"No, I do not." Shaun says punctually, reaching over to grab a pencil and cross out a line of incorrect information. "Pass me that folder over there, would you?"
Rebecca hums, retrieving the packet and dropping it onto the brunet's waiting hand. "Nothing to do with Altair and Desmond sucking face?"
"Oh my god." Shaun cringes; making a disgruntled face that turns Rebecca's sniggers straight to full out giggles. "Please never say that again."
"Well, good to know I'm not the only one who sees it." Rebecca smiles after she can breathe again. "You think Lucy knows?"
"What am I, a gossip mill?"
Shaun rolls his eyes. "I don't know about Lucy. Maybe?" He glances at the aforementioned blonde, seeing her working at her own station. There's a line of strain along her face and Shaun wonders if it has anything to do with the work orders received from earlier this morning. The brunet shakes his head ruefully. "I honestly have no idea why I'm surprised that you know."
"I mean it's pretty obvious." She grins cheekily.
"And you're okay with it?"
Rebecca, the free spirit that she is, smiles, shoulders twitching up in habit. "The heart wants what it wants."
Shaun reflexively opens his mouth to scoff and ask her, 'was that a quote you found online because you haven't read an Emily Dickinson book in your life', but pauses when he sees her staring at him a little longer than necessary. The words die in his throat and Shaun coughs to fill the void.
"Whatever you say, 'Becca." Shaun says finally. "It will end."
"Assuming he goes back to his time, you mean." Rebecca says coolly, unsurprised when Shaun shoots her a startled look.
"'Assuming?' Rebecca, he has to go back eventually." He knows Desmond has complete lack of reason (the idiot) but not Rebecca too!
Rebecca shrugs. "You know how Altair is (well, historically and presently.) If he wants to, he will. If he doesn't, he won't."
"And that's supposed to be okay?" Shaun says skeptically. He chances an apprehension glance at the Syrian assassin, before scoffing. "There is no 'want.' Only need. You've seen it. He is a piece of history, Rebecca—of the past set in stone, not our present. That's how it's supposed to go."
But Rebecca just laughs at that, shaking her head at him like he's just walked onto the punch line of something. His lips curl to a sneer.
"I'll never understand you historians." The woman merely answers, the grin playing on her face more teasing than malicious. He gets the feeling that he's just confirmed something she'd been wondering of for a long time. "You guys have no talent for the likeness of any situation. You see history like a peepshow; with two-dimensional characters against a distant background."
"…Is that so wrong?"
"I would think that with the Animus," Rebecca admits simply, "You'd already know the answer."
When Altair opens the parcel of the requested information from Shaun, he's more surprised initially by the material the information is written on than the information itself. It's neatly bundled with colored smaller pieces of paper (somehow) attached to their larger, colorless counterparts here and there. The material is immaculate, far superior to that of the linen and flax fusion that was paper in his time.
The file is a heavy weight in Altair's hand. He recognizes some of the terms on the file—the Apple (safe with Malik), being the most used and underlined with a gratuitous amount of ink. He reads the information like a storybook with a morbid sense of curiosity, matching the tales with what he has in memory and making a note to correct the Scholar on things that aren't. He gets as far as his conflict with Abbas after the fall of Rashid when the story shifts into unfamiliar territory and now when Altair reads along, it is with a sense of detachment from the file's 'Altair'—which makes sense. At this point in time, this other Altair in this story is not himself. He is a separate branch in the river and as far as Altair is concerned, there is nothing more to it. He is, however, fascinated in this life he could have led and consumes the knowledge of what could pass with interest.
'And what a pity,' Altair thinks idly in the back of his mind, 'that this other Altair had not been favored with what I have now.'
A few passages later, he stumbles upon the name.
'Maria…'Altair tests the name again and finally he remembers the hiss of steel—of her, clad in armor that is much too large for her slender frame with fiery eyes as rebellious as her fighting style. 'That Templar woman.'
He reads the paragraph once, twice, and then three times, his eyebrows climbing when he notes the names accompanying hers and their various records branched out in red ink on a colored scrap of paper. One name is slashed out in one hard line and much significantly shorter than the other name that is stretched and heavy with history.
Children. The other Altair had children with her.
Altair hums underneath his breath, gaze drifting to the assassin swimming in another's memory.
Now this…this explained much.
It is entirely a surprise to everyone when Desmond is booted out of the Animus.
It happens automatically, which is unusual, as ejection from the Animus doesn't work like that. It's typically Rebecca that releases Desmond from Baby,either for a reprieve for the sake of his mental stability or to check up on him. So when the assassins hear the telltale whirring sound of the machine decreasing and Rebecca is not at his side to take out the IV needle, they are rightfully confused—none more so than the Animus' occupant.
Desmond wakes up abruptly, gasping with eyes wide open at the unexpected scene change. He feels his heart pound against his chest and the adrenaline that had been coursing through his veins feels horribly dulled in his own body. He experiences a mild sort of panic when his limbs don't move as fast as he thinks they are supposed to but pushes it to the back of his mind.
He hears Lucy and Rebecca asking if he is okay and feels Altair's concerned gaze but he ignores them in favor of closing his eyes and bringing the heel of his hand to press against the angry pounding in his temple.
So, getting booted out of the Animus without synchronizing into a save state felt like the equivalent of falling off a chair while simultaneously getting punted by an elephant. Good to know.
"Che non era divertente. (That was not fun.)" Desmond mumbles with no small amount of annoyance as he feels Rebecca takes his arm. "Cura di spiegare che cosa è stato? (Care to explain what that was for?)"
That startles a reaction from Rebecca and the needle that she had been carefully about to slide out is instead yanked out of his skin.
Desmond twitches at the slight pain, rubbing his arm briefly. "I said, what was that for?"
"But you…" The woman chances a glance at Shaun and Lucy and sees them exchanging significant looks. Even Altair appears puzzled. She makes to elaborate but stops when Lucy shakes her head firmly with a meaningful stare. "Nevermind." Rebecca says instead, offering Desmond a weak, reassuring smile. "Forget I said anything."
Desmond frowns, brow crinkling as if to call her out on it before thinking better of it. "Okay… Anyways, why'd you bring me out? I was kind of in the middle of something…" Well, in the middle of paragliding over Venezia to the Palazzo whilst trying to avoid flaming arrows to be exact.
He hears a bark of laughter on his left but when he snaps his head to look at Altair with wide eyes, his expression is of indifference.
The corner of Altair's mouth twitches upwards.
Desmond scowls, deepening further when he feels Altair grow more entertained.
"—listening, Desmond?" Shaun's voice cuts in, causing Desmond to look away.
Shaun had been speaking? "Huh?"
"Of course you weren't." Comes the acerbic reply along with an irritated sigh. "As we were saying, we didn't bring you out. The Animus did. We're not sure what happened to cause it to malfunction like that, so, while Rebecca and Lucy are going to do a quick maintenance check on it, you—"
"Actually, just Rebecca will." Lucy interrupts, throwing a pile of papers on the table and making the others turn towards her in question. "I've just looked over our progress and we're going to need some adjustments to our timetable. I need to make a couple calls for our next rendezvous. So, in the mean time, Desmond, you have some free time until we're set."
"I…okay." Desmond stammers mechanically, craning his next to watch as she swipes something off her desk and strides out of the room. Something about that seemed…off. Even Shaun seems to share his sentiment—his mouth set to a contemplative frown while an inscrutable expression develops on his face.
"In any case," Shaun continues after a pause, "Would you mind doing something for me?"
Sensing Shaun's disquiet, Desmond frowns. "Sure? What's up?"
Shaun crosses his arms and shifts his weight from one foot to the other. He glances at the door Lucy exited. "I need you to check the outer alarms around the Hideout's perimeter." The Brit pauses and seems to glance at Altair as if he were a side note. "Bring Altair, would you? Knowing your luck, you'll break your neck falling off a lamppost or something if you're off gallivanting alone."
"Shut up, Shaun." Desmond glares but it's without its usual heat when he reads the shadow of grimness behind Shaun's smirk. "You think there's something wrong?" Desmond ventures carefully.
"Just some minor interruptions with the audio feed. Could be the wind or strays, but I'd rather have it checked up on." Shaun divulges instead with a brittle sort of smile that makes the historian's countenance appear almost strained. "You can never be too careful."
There's a feeling of caution/alert/suspicion sieving from his connection with Altair and when Desmond peeks at him, the Syrian's head is tilted to the side pensively, eyes narrowed shrewdly as he studies the modern assassin.
"…We'll get on it." Desmond acquiesces firmly, wanting to alleviate the apprehension betraying Shaun's otherwise unruffled tone.
Shaun observes with mild fascination as Altair and Desmond share a look—a conversation happening almost on a different plane, before they're moving in unison out; Desmond's steps harried in contrast with Altair's reserved pace.
There's a rustle from behind. Shaun is able to decipher it as the sound of tools being neatly put away and a latch being pulled and secured—probably to Baby, Shaun induces.
"Paranoid, much?" Rebecca comments once Desmond and Altair are out of earshot. He hears her grunt as she rises from her crouch and the sound of her hand patting the dust off her jeans.
"We all knew the risks." Shaun discloses derisively at last.
"And I still think you're wrong."
"Oh, because you're such a good judge of character." Shaun rolls his eyes. "I don't remember seeing Eagle Vision manifesting in your family tree."
"Doesn't matter. I'm good at this sort of thing."
"Cold reading is hardly a reliable source of information."
"It's called having faith in people, Shaun." Rebecca chides and laughs when he sputters at her accompanying wink. "You should try it more often."
"That's blind faith, more like." Shaun scoffs, looking away. He closes his eyes, takes a heavy breath in and releases it with a heavier heart. "If they're right… you know what we have to do, Rebecca."
He doesn't dare look at her to see the beginnings of a crack on her smiling face. "I know."
The outer alarms that Shaun speaks of are a mix match of motion sensors and tripwires rigged up to ping an alarm to the modern assassins' computer terminals if triggered. Alongside them were palm-sized audio feeds that would broadcast from the alarm location to their computers, continuous until disabled manually. The set-up is surprisingly sophisticated despite being so makeshift, speaking for the modern assassins' resourcefulness.
("It's only a temporary base." Rebecca had admitted days after his and Altair's rescue. She had seemed apologetic, as if embarrassed at its state before it had turned into a bashful preen when Desmond had looked well impressed instead. "When we got wind of you being in Templar custody, your dad relocated us here on very short notice. We had to make due with whatever we had.")
It hadn't been until both assassins had stepped out into the cooled evening air did Desmond realize suddenly that while Shaun had given them instructions to check on the alarms, he hadn't given them any information on where they were.
Thus had ensued a small-scale scavenger hunt around the Hideout—with just a little cheating.
Considering how well hidden the assortment of sensors were, Eagle Vision was a godsend.
The alarms were placed relatively even apart, peppered from the chain link fence surrounding the Hideout to as far as a quarter mile past the canal separating the Hideout from the main road that lead to the more urban side of the Tor Tre Teste district. Most were hidden alongside nooks of nearby road, while the more sensitive of instruments hidden high above ground on the roofs of adjacent warehouse.
So far, everything seemed well in order.
Desmond grunts, digging the toes of his shoes into the building's side for purchase before finally managing to haul himself up. He takes care not to put too much pressure onto his right side, letting out a small, 'oof' when he flops unceremoniously onto the Hideout's tiled roof.
"You think we missed any?" Desmond asks once he's able to drag himself up into a sitting position. He doesn't have to lift his head to know that Altair is standing above him, having arrived much earlier and more gracefully to their agreed upon meet up point. A small part of him is embarrassed for the comparison, but he's too breathless from the pleasant ache of his muscles at the workout to react accordingly. He ignores the deliberating look Altair gives him as he stretches his arms above his head, wincing only when it pulls at his still healing appendage.
Altair eases down, shifting to a cross-legged position and from the way his eyes seem to glaze over in the light, Desmond can tell he's doing a sweep with his Eagle Vision.
Desmond inwardly grimaces at that. There was no doubt that Eagle Vision was useful, but that didn't mean that he had to like it. Perhaps it was because of the trauma he experienced when it first manifested, but Desmond could never contain the minute flash of panic when it activated and muted his world. Who wouldn't, really, when the sky would blacken and color went a deadened gray?
He did, however, wonder exactly how that happened on a neural level. Why red for enemy and blue for friendly? Did this have something to do with the wavelengths of light? What was going on with his retinas when that happened? Color was a perceptual experience, technically, so what would he see if he were colorblind?
'It makes no sense.' Desmond's face pinches, regretting taking those online community college courses. (He idly wonders how he was even got into it considering he hadn't technically even achieved a GED.)
Then again… the fact that the Pieces of Eden even existed in the first place were an affront to science itself, so there was that.
So lost in thought, Desmond doesn't realize the elder assassin's shoulders had begun to shake at the beginning of his inner tirade until Altair throws his head back, chest quivering in time with his chortling.
"What are you…?" Then realization hits him and Desmond scowls darkly, but it's ruined by the furious flush climbing up his neck. "Damn it, Altair—stop snooping!"
"Ap-Apologies, Desmond." Altair covers his mouth with one hand but it fails to suppress the sniggers that escape between his fingers. "Your confusion is just amusing. I had…thought about it briefly before, but had not considered the intricacies of our ability like that." Altair considers it for a moment longer before shrugging. "It is something that just is—like another natural sense."
Desmond's eyebrows rise. "Seriously? I assumed you'd have it all figured out. I know it's genetic—your dad never mentioned anything about it?" He regrets asking it immediately, when something in Altair seems to violently shutter close, like a castle portcullis falling down.
"Sorry." Desmond gasps out quickly through a deep pain, dulled with agethat ebbs through his mind. There's a ringing in his ears that sounds like a child's wail and when he blinks, he sees uniforms in varying shades of red. He swallows the lump in his throat, vividly remembering the memory of Altair's youth and inwardly berates himself for going onto that subject. "I…that was me being stupid. I'm sorry."
Altair does not answer verbally; instead opting to roll his shoulders in a half-shrug that belies the hardness of his eyes.
"There are no records of anything like we have." Altair says finally. "I cannot go off on intuition alone."
"I see your point." Desmond replies, if not a little uneasily. "I bet Gavin or Dad knows the finer details of it, then. Wouldn't put it past either of them."
"You grew up knowing that man?" Altair asks, remembering the salt and pepper haired assassin.
"Yeah. He and Dad worked together a lot. Still do, it looks like." Desmond replies, glad at the change of subject matter. "He used to drop by the Farm frequently, but that slowed down when the…" He takes it back. "…the Purge happened."
Altair frowns, eyebrows creasing. "The Purge?" He has a bad feeling of the spoken event.
He's proven correct when Desmond tucks his hands into his hoodie's pockets, mouth twisting into a grimace. "I…don't know all the details. I was 13 when it happened and no one really wanted to talk about it." Especially to a bitter kid. They had all been too busy trying to salvage whatever and whomever they could. Desmond shudders, recalling the fear and anxiety filled atmosphere following the news of the tragedy. The ambience around the Farm had never fully recovered and along with the immediate fervor in recruitment and training that followed, tension (so thick that made it so damn hard to breathe) was a constant reminder of the calamity.
The Farm had not been a target of the Purge. If that had been the result of the aftermath of the Purge at a compound that was not directly affected, Desmond could hardly imagine what it would have been like to—
He feels the slide of pale, shaking hands over his face—of trembling lips against his skin as his mother holds him together. There's something running down his face that tastes like copper and reminds him of heavy pounding against the ground and siphoned air that he can't help the small whimper that escapes his throat. It's swallowed by the noise outside, but even then, he feels his mother tighten her grip on him as her eyes peer intensely through the slit of the door—watching the snapping shadows dancing across the background of crackling and spitting flame…
The abrupt call of his name is accompanied by a mental slap that jars Desmond back to reality with a terrible lurch.
Startled, Desmond blinks rapidly, acutely aware of the steadying grip on his shoulder and Altair's gaze on him—focused and assessing.
"It's okay." Desmond shakes his head as if to dispel the aftertaste of the memory. "That was just—" He stops; the words fading in his throat as his mind draws a blank. He can't…quite recall what that was, actually. Perhaps it belonged to an ancestor. "—another Bleed." Desmond settles at last.
Altair studies him for a stifling minute longer before humming vaguely, hand withdrawing even as his expression remained apprehensive.
"It's not that bad." Desmond says, distantly. It had been tamer than yesterday's episodes had been at least. Glimpses of the past… "Could be worse." Glimpses of the future…
The playful tilt of her mouth beckoned him to follow and even when he was an arms length away, she evaded his grasp, teasing taunts slipping from her lips. A slender hand open invitingly and he made to meet it, murmuring—
"I care for you."
The sudden admission, hushed and solemn, makes Desmond blink.
"Nary is there a day that I do not think about the future." Altair continues evenly, leaning back against his arms just as Desmond stiffens. "And for however long I have looked to it, I am sure that the future has looked back, trying to make sense of the fiction we will have become."
Desmond wets his lips, evaluating the words warily. Through their connection, he feels something tentative, venturing out like an arm outstretched—waiting.
"The future is hardly a mystery from where you're standing." Desmond says carefully, eyeing Altair cautiously.
"Records, of any sort, can only be accurate to a certain extent." Altair points out.
"Different path, same destination." Desmond shrugs.
"But the journey there is not any less important." Altair refutes. "Just as what we do in the present is not any less significant than what happens in the future."
"Now 'present' is a relative term, isn't it?" Desmond shoots back, grinning almost scornfully. "But the future? Ah… That doesn't mean you shouldn't heed it if you're unlucky enough to see it. Exhibit A: My memories… Exhibit B: In our archives. For all things notwithstanding, it is set."
"And yet here I am here, the 'future' having changed the moment I used the Apple."
"Not enough to matter." Desmond mutters ruefully.
Altair's head cocks in interest, eyes keen and intent. "'To matter?'"
A sharp inhale is the only thing that denotes Desmond's misstep, before he recovers, reiterating tightly, "There are things that you can't change. They're…. they need to happen no matter how much…" He releases a terse breath, fingernails digging crescent moons into the palm of his hand. He focuses on that pain. It's better than feeling like being repeatedly punched in the gut.
For all their maneuvering through this unfamiliar territory, it's the ensuing silence that is the most draining. Desmond closes his eyes, letting the air that seemed much too thick in his chest to disperse in a quaking breath. In his mind, he hears Shaun's words again, cryptic and uncharacteristically gentle. He remembers mulling over the odd tone underlying the historian's voice, laden with sympathetic compassion and pity that had reminded Desmond of condolences.
He thinks that Shaun had been far too kind.
Desmond curses him because of it.
The feeling of a light brush against his fingertips pulls Desmond out of his reverie. A glance down reveals it to be Altair's hand, planted against the hard material of the roof but extended enough to be a hairsbreadth away from Desmond's own hand. Thinking it an accident, he ignores it until happens again, startling Desmond when Altair's fingers grow bold enough to graze the back of his hand, leaving a warm trail in their wake. When Desmond chances a look at the other man, Altair is unperturbed.
Overhead, a bird laughs at them, watching them with beady eyes from its perch upon the efflorescence of a nearby chimney.
"Maybe one day." Altair admits once the avian passes and the beat of its wings escape audibility. "There is much about my fate that I cannot control, but other things do fall under the jurisdiction. I can decide how to spend my time, whom I interact with, whom share my body, my life, my energy with. These are mine." Altair turns his head to meet Desmond's eyes fully and deliberately. "The past and future are real illusions. They exist in my present, which is what there is and all there is. And here…" The Syrian dips his head, the motion like a contract in the still, chilled air. "I care for you."
Desmond licks his suddenly dry lips.
"And that's enough for you?" Desmond challenges. Even if you loved her?
He feels the pad of Altair's index finger again. It reminds him of the tentativeness of the connection in the back of mind.
Altair inclines his head. "It is enough." Is it enough for you?
Desmond isn't sure.
Yet, his finger still twitches, curling around Altair's.
/How is their progress?/
Slow. There have been some…obstacles.
/Well, fix it! Is there any way you can hurry it along?/
I can convince them to keep him under longer, but the sequences won't be done for another—
3 days, at least.
/You have 2./
/2 is being generous. I can't hold the higher ups off for long./
We'll never get enough in that time.
/Then use that program./
/As much as./
But the risks—
/—are of no great concern. I'm sending it to you, now. You have 2 days before we arrive, whether you're ready or not. Make it happen./
/Do you understand?/
…I'll have it prepared.
/See that you do. Keep me informed, Ms. Stillman./
…Of course, Warren.
A/N: It is important to note now that, from here on out, I will be taking certain liberties with the AC timeline. This is where we venture more from 'somewhat follows the games' to 'what is canon but something I will butcher to my heart's content.' Either way, I hope we'll have fun.
Thank you to all, both old and new, who are still reading and following this story even though updates between chapters have been so long. Would you prefer long chapters, but long waits? Or, are shorter chapters with shorter time between updates more desirable?
Please leave a review to let me know what you'd like/think thus far!
Till next time,