AN: Let the healing begin. :)


Desmond awoke in an unfamiliar room. A strange, dimly-lit room with two doors. Almost every part of his body was throbbing, strapped down in a bed. Trapped. Genetic training kicked in and he held his breath, inwardly panicking, looking all over for an exit. If the Templars had him again, if-

Shaun?

The anxiety dissolved in an instant at the sight of the other man, slumped, fast asleep, in an armchair beside Desmond's bed. Shaun's head tilted limply to the side and his mouth was slack, breaths soft and slow. Light from the small lamp on the bedside table cast soft shadows across his face.

Shaun.

It all came rushing back to him. Standing before that pedestal, sending the others away, unable to look at Shaun, unable to even say a proper to goodbye to everyone. The world was ending, and Desmond hadn't even hesitated to do what he'd had to do. Juno would be reanimated, but the Earth would be saved, and the people who lived on, the Assassins and the Templars, would remain to fight on.

There'd been pain, light, darkness, then-

Shaun right there, above him, saying something about CPR while Desmond had struggled to breathe. To understand.

That Shaun had saved his life.

Shaun, who had dismissed him, who had acted like that night never happened, Shaun had been staring at him like he'd wanted to swoop upon him and hold him tight, tears streaming down from under those slightly askew glasses.

Desmond remembered bits and pieces after that. Shaun helping him walk out of the temple, faltering as he clung to the silent man, done in by the heat and smell of Shaun's skin so close again. He'd given in, embraced him, buried himself in Shaun's arms, grateful, honored, and flustered. He'd been about to tell him-

But then it got hazy.

And now he was here, in this foreign place.

Shaun gave a soft snore, shifting and murmuring something unintelligible before settling once more. Desmond smiled. Shaun sleeping was a comforting sight. He'd always been able to sleep better when Shaun was nearby, since the other was always the first to bed. Desmond was usually the last to fall asleep. He'd only been training to be an Assassin for a handful of months, and he'd never gotten used to the sleeping bags or stone floors. Listening to Shaun's quiet snores and being able to look without reprimand at the other's relaxed features was a great help at night.

Now, it lulled him in the most basic way.

And if Shaun was that deep asleep, then surely Desmond was someplace safe, wherever it was. He slowly attempted to sit up, but the sheets, which he'd initially thought to be straps holding him down, were tucked securely around him. Oh, everything ached, and he groaned at the sudden pain his movement caused. There was a strange numbness creeping up his right arm, and something felt strange. He glanced down, seeing everything below his elbow wrapped in thick bandages. Had he broken his arm? Why couldn't he feel his hand? In fact, he couldn't even move his arm at all. It felt like a dead weight. Something like fear slithered through him at the realization that his right hand was the one that touched the pedestal.

Had…Had it been amputated?

A pinch on the back of his other hand had him glancing over distractedly to see an IV needle piercing the skin, covered by a layer of clear medical tape. A nearly empty bag of fluids hung just upwards of that, and Desmond tried to swallow, realizing his was painfully thirsty. The action triggered a coughing fit, or as close to the act as he could manage, which was more a series of razor-sharp wheezes.

It was enough to rouse Shaun, who sat up quickly, a hand reaching up to rub behind glasses.

"Wazzit? I'mup." Shaun cleared his throat. "I'm up."

Desmond tried to stop his sort-of coughs long enough to explain what he needed, but Shaun was already looking down at him, then reaching for something on the bedside table and moving to sit on the bed by Desmond. The dip of the mattress did something funny to Desmond's stomach. Not romantic-funny.

Puke-funny.

The combination of stomach churning coughs, his too-dry, swollen, fuzzy-feeling tongue, and the sudden movement made something acidic surge up his throat.

A spoon appeared before his eyes, a small chunk of ice cradled in the curve, and Shaun was speaking softly.

"Alright, alright, calm down, Desmond, you're safe at headquarters. Open up, be a good boy, let me bloody help you before you're sick on the last of my clean clothes."

Desmond opened his mouth obediently, the ache in his throat threatening to start another fit, and then cool, slippery, refreshing, delicious ice was melting on his tongue. It soothed all the sore aching bits and took away the furry feeling, and when it dripped down his throat, he felt the bile recede. He let out a sigh of relief, closing his eyes and relaxing back against the mattress.

Shaun fed him a couple more ice cubes in silence, put the glass back on the bedside table, then stood up and bent over Desmond. A warm palm slid around Desmond's back, pulling him gently upright while another hand shifted and fluffed the pillows behind him. Shaun was close like this, and Desmond shut his eyes, the tip of his nose just barely touching the soft material of a dark green sweater vest.

Shaun smelled like deodorant and stale cologne.

He found himself breathing deep.

A hiss slipped past his lips as Shaun guided him back towards the newly raised pile of pillows, briefly forgotten aches flaring up again.

"How are your pain levels?" Shaun asked seriously, his brow creased as he sat back down on the bed. The same warm palm came up and lay flat to Desmond's forehead, then it flipped and the cool skin on the back of that hand lay flat instead. "I can get you some medicine if you need it."

Desmond took a deep breath as Shaun's hand left his forehead, shifting beneath the sheets which had been loosened during all the movement. "I feel like I've taken a leap of faith right into the ground." It helped, slightly, when Shaun snorted under his breath, smiling faintly. Desmond buzzed happily inside. His attention drifted back towards the thick gauze wrapped around his right arm. "What happened to my hand?"

Shaun's sharp intake of breath was all the warning he got.

"Your hand? Oh, your hand, Desmond? Do the words 'glowing pedestal of death' ring any bells? You, in a brilliant, not-stupid-at-all decision, put that hand, your ruddy bare hand, on something that looked to be live-wired, knowing it would kill you, and then, big surprise here, mate, you died." There was a derisive scoff as Shaun angrily crossed his arms. "If it wasn't for me and my ability to remain rational and quick-thinking in a crisis, you would still be dead. And no one really knows why you died, giving the rather lackluster databases on the First Civilization and their technology, but I'm going to take a highly-educated guess and assume you suffered a violent surge of electricity which stopped your heart and basically fried you from the inside out." The ire in Shaun's eyes was frightening. "Don't expect me to be grateful for your apparent 'sacrifice'. Most idiotic thing I've ever seen, frankly. We had no reason to believe Juno after what Minerva showed us. Did you go bleeding mental after opening that door? And what was with all that 'just leave me behind' nonsense? Trying to look good and leave a good impression?" Another harsh snort, then Shaun was looking away. "Well, you can look elsewhere for praise because it didn't work on me, you insufferable prat."

Desmond stared up, wide-eyed and surprised. That…had been a lot to take in.

Shaun wasn't looking at him, in fact, he seemed to be looking at anywhere but him. It suddenly clicked. Shaun was angry at him for what he did. Shaun was upset he had died. Shaun was now fervently scolding and belittling him because he…

Hadn't wanted to lose him.

Something loosened inside his chest. Some great big, heavy knot he had ignored since Shaun had sent him away that night. He didn't want to hope that Shaun wanted... But there was something there. At the very least, Shaun cared for him deeply as a friend. And that was much better than 'a colleague and nothing else'. Desmond fought a grin. "I'm sorry I scared you." He murmured honestly.

Shaun sputtered at that, his hazel eyes whipping back accusingly. "Who was scared? I was merely… I just, you-" His jaw clenched visibly and his expression was defensive.

Before anything else meant to hurt or deflect could be said, Desmond smiled openly. "And thank you for saving me." Feeling lighthearted for the first time in a while, Desmond said teasingly, "You're my hero, Shaun."

With seemingly nothing to say to that, Shaun looked quickly away, staring down at his lap, frowning slightly. Then, softly, and surprisingly heartfelt, he muttered, "You're welcome."

All Desmond wanted at this very moment was Shaun acknowledging him. After being ignored, Shaun's attention was like a warm ray of sun after a snowstorm.

But before he could bask in it any longer, Shaun was standing and briskly clearing his throat, smoothing his palms down his trousers in vain, attempting to remove the wrinkles. "Right, well, let me go fetch a medic, we'll get you another dose of meds, and then I'll fill you in on the last couple days." Then he was at the door and out it, shutting it behind him without another word.

Shock warred with the warmth in Desmond's chest. 'Days'? Had he really been unconscious for that long? Days since Shaun had lead him out of the temple?

No…wait, Rebecca had been there too. Right? And then, his dad-

Desmond jumped a little. His father. Now he…vaguely remembered. Being pulled into the van, feeling weak and loose and like he was simultaneously floating away and made of lead. His dad crying and hugging him. Then his dad was sleeping near him? That must have been later. There were brief flashes of scenes he couldn't really understand. How had they gotten here? He didn't even know where headquarters was located, but had they driven the whole way? Or flown? He had no memory of that at all.

A soft click drew Desmond's attention back to the door. Shaun had returned, a neatly dressed woman at his side. She was quite tall, with dark skin, long black hair, and big kind eyes. Her gaze made Desmond feel safe.

"Glad you're up, Desmond." She greeted amiably, coming over to the far side of his bed and checking his IV drip.

Shaun had remained by the door where he was leaning against the wall, his arms crossed once more, peering stoically at her over his glasses.

"My name is Naomi," She said with a smile aimed down at him. "And I've been looking after you. Shaun said he's yet to fill you in on your ailments, but let me assure you that you're going to be fine. You've got some of the best medics at your beck and call here. Now, Shaun tells me you're experiencing some discomfort?"

Desmond nodded, unable to keep from smiling in return. "Yeah, uh, I feel like I've taken a leap-"

"Just tell her where it bleedin' hurts, Desmond. She doesn't need your stupid jokes." Hissed Shaun from the wall.

That stung. Especially since Shaun himself had laughed at the remark earlier. But Naomi didn't even falter.

"Don't be a jerk, Shaun." She said without turning around, still smiling at Desmond. "I heard you are experiencing some discomfort, so I'm giving you a small dose of painkillers, enough to dull the pain," As she spoke, she pulled a wrapped syringe and small bottle of a clear liquid out of her pocket, opening the needle and extracting some of the liquid with precise and practiced efficiency. "But I cannot give you any more than the minimum." The painkillers were injected into the small port inches away from the IV needle in Desmond's hand.

Like a switch being flipped, all the hurt places dulled considerably, and he left out a sigh of relief.

"Now that you're awake, we want to keep you alert. HQ is probably the safest place you'd ever want to be, but it doesn't mean we're invulnerable. You need to be able to defend yourself now if there comes a need." A penlight appeared from Naomi's other pocket. She sat down, mirroring Shaun's earlier position. "I'm just going to give a quick check-up, then I'll let you get back to resting, though you may get up after you've eaten and go about normal activities."

Naomi checked Desmond's pupils, his reflexes, the bandage covering most of his right arm, and then asked him some simple questions. Seemingly satisfied, Desmond was given a huge smile. "Everything looks great, Desmond. No signs of head trauma, brain damage, loss of mobility or reflexes, and except for your arm, you're in very good health. I'm going to remove your IV drip,"

There was a pinch as the needle was gently removed from Desmond's skin, and pressure as gauze was pressed over the hole.

"-and as soon as you feel able, I want you to get some food in you. Something filling, but light, in case your body rejects it. Soup would be the best choice, and I'm going to put you on a dose of daily vitamins. I'll talk to our head chef,"

Desmond arched a brow at that. Head chef?

"-and get a menu planned out for you for the next couple weeks. We want optimum cell regeneration, and your body will be nutrient-starved unless we're careful." She checked the needle mark, then pulled a thick adhesive bandage from her pocket, where she apparently kept a never-ending stash of supplies, unpeeled the paper strips, and carefully laid it over the wound. Then her fingers shifted to grasp Desmond's, and she was practically glowing at him. "And thank you, Desmond. We've all heard about what you did." Her head turned minutely to Shaun as well. "All of you." She squeezed his fingers gently. "But especially you. We are all eternally grateful for your hard work and your sacrifice." A laugh had her smirking back to Shaun. "And this one here, we're pretty impressed by how he saved you. Makes me wonder if we should get you off Tactical, Shaun, and put you on the medical squad instead."

Shaun made an obvious, exaggerated sound of disgust, his mouth a scoffing sneer. "Ugh, not bloody likely. You keep your needles and stitches away from me, thank you very much. I'd much rather deal with people that are already dead."

Naomi laughed, her hand slipping away, and she was standing and wishing Desmond a good day, wheeling the IV stand and bag out with her.

Shaun shut the door behind her and sat petulantly back on the bed. "Slag." He muttered, glaring at the door with his arms crossed.

Desmond wasn't sure what a 'slag' was, but it was clearly meant to be something horribly offensive. "Hey, she was nice. What's your problem?"

Shaun was rolling his eyes, turning back to Desmond, one brow pointedly arched. "Oh, she's plenty 'nice', Desmond. She's so 'nice', that if I wasn't here, she'd have asked you to strip and give her a 'proper view'. Do you know I caught here trying to take your shirt off yesterday? Oh, she tried to cover it up, made some excuse that you should be changed into 'clean clothes'. Tch, go out and get some if you're so randy you'll practically jump a colleague. Pathetic."

Desmond flushed, biting back the retort. Luckily Shaun hadn't seemed to notice his own words, or what they brought up memories of. Clearing his throat and desperate to change the topic before Shaun did remember, Desmond asked, maybe a little too loudly, "You, uh, said before that I've been out for a couple days?"

Shaun turned back, mildly distracted. "Hm? Oh, right. Well, since we left the temple, it's been about, oh," Shaun let out a slow breath, eyes up to the ceiling as he seemed to be counting in his head. "Fifty…no, wait, Sixty-three hours. You've been out for most of that. It's afternoon now, about…" He checked his wristwatch. "1:16, to be precise."

Wow. Desmond slumped a little, surprised by how much time he'd lost. Something like that would have bothered him before, but… After the decision to give up any future for himself, those hours seemed like nothing. He was here, he was breathing. He was alive.

The smile was involuntary, and he shook his head, processing what it truly meant to have been brought back to life. Glancing at his bandaged arm, he shifted to look at Shaun, who was staring back by this point. "What happened after the pedastal? Did I lose my hand? Because at this point, I'd be pretty pissed that wasn't the first thing anyone's said to me." He was only partly serious, though the numbness near and beyond his wrist was very concerning.

Shaun had followed Desmond's line of sight, expression pensive. "No, you haven't lost your hand. It's still there, but…" The expression morphed into something else. Something more restless. "Everything's still were it should be, but that pedestal did something to you. Something no one can explain. When I found you, there were dark marks like bruises from your fingers to up past your elbow. I thought belatedly that maybe it was broken. But nothing was broken. Those marks were burns. Burns like no other anyone's seen before. Your tissue hadn't just melted, Desmond. It had disintegrated and left behind black scorches. That's what we were seeing. You'd also lost about a pint of blood but had no open wounds. And your entire body was dehydrated. It was a mystery as to what exactly happened to you when you touched the pedestal."

"Jesus…" Desmond whistled, gingerly lifting his arm, relieved that there was still a hand underneath all the gauze. "How bad were the burns? Will there be bad scarring?" Desmond wasn't asking to be vain. But scars would impair flexibility, which he needed to keep mobile and dexterous.

Shaun thankfully looked like he understood his real concern. "Actually, no. You won't have any scarring. Except from the surgery. Here's the thing, Desmond, and it's a hell of a thing, let me tell you. You had burnt tissue inside your arm. What I thought to be bruises was actually the blackened material under your skin. I don't know how that happened, and neither do the medics, but you're going to be out of commission for a bit. They had to excise the dead tissue, lots of nasty scraping around, I'm sure, and it'll be quite a while before it heals into new, healthy, useable flesh." Shaun's brow was furrowed. "That means no more parkouring for you. Not for a long time." Beneath the sternness, there was a quick flash of something else. "And you know what that means, Desmond dear?"

"Uhh…more Animus sessions?" Desmond asked in confusion, still processing how much Juno fucked him up. Not that he needed his hand for the Animus anyway. His memories weren't reliant on his own physical health. He'd be able to continue normally in that respect.

But Shaun snickered, suddenly grinning. "No, sadly not. I mean, eventually, we might need more information from your ancestors to see if there are other P.O.E.s in your genetic past, but Desmond," Shaun's smile was a bit too smug for Desmond's liking. "You're time in the Animus is mostly finished. And until you can get back out into the field, you've got a much more exciting job waiting for you."

Bracing himself for the worst, Desmond waited. Were they going to make him a janitor or something? Scrubbing toilets or cleaning up blood from practice fights? What could possibly have Shaun so satisfied?

Shaun's smirk put the Chesire Cat's to shame. "You're going to be my personal assistant."

Desmond blinked in surprise. "That's it?"

Shaun blinked, then scoffed. "'That's it'? What do you mean, 'that's it'? I'll have you know my work is quite important, and even someone as brilliant as I am still requires assistance. There's still much to be done and you're bloody useless like this, so count yourself lucky, you git, because I had to-"

Desmond held up his unbandaged hand placatingly. "Whoa, calm down, Shaun, I know, jeez, you know I know. I meant, just, why…" Well, why had Shaun been so excited? Desmond had thought maybe, the way Shaun had been acting, he'd been assigned something particularly horrible. Something Shaun could gloat about while watching Desmond suffer.

Then again… Shaun wasn't really like that anymore. Sure he was snark and biting wit, but Desmond couldn't say things hadn't changed between them. Before that night, they'd been friends.

Maybe Shaun was really just excited that they were going to be working together. Closely together by the sound of it. And Desmond could understand that. He'd love to help Shaun with all his research and history stuff. He'd been telling the truth when he told Shaun it fascinated him.

And, well, he wanted to be near Shaun.

Couldn't really explain it. Maybe he was just grateful Shaun had saved his life. Maybe he just liked Shaun. Heck, maybe he was falling for him. And that last thought didn't make his stomach squirm uncomfortably like he thought it would. Suppressing a smile, Desmond shook his head. "…Nevermind. I'd honestly enjoy helping you out. It'd be a nice change of pace from all the blurred frenzy of the past few months."

As expected, Shaun was staring at him with a mixture of confusion and unease. "You're not disappointed?" He snorted. "You just have to take all the fun out of everything, don't you, Desmond." A sigh, then he grabbed the glass of melting ice and brought another piece to Desmond's lips. "Open up."

Desmond once more obeyed, realizing that he was quite capable of feeding himself ice by now, and he was kinda sure that Shaun realized the same. But, there was something nice about this, and Desmond certainly wasn't going to make Shaun stop being so nice.

"I really don't mind, you know." He blurted suddenly, once the ice had melted to a small sliver on his tongue.

Shaun was chasing another cube with the spoon, and only half-reacted. "Mind what?"

"Helping you." And Desmond found once he started, he couldn't stop the words from coming. "I think it'd actually be really fun. I'm all about history and you're so smart," He could practically feel Shaun preen from that. "And I'm so sick of being strapped in the Animus all the time. I know I have responsibilities as an Assassin, but this is a chance for me to try something new. And," Now or never, he decided. "I want...to..." Before he could lose his nerve, he reached across his lap with his good hand and lay it over Shaun's where it rested on the redhead's leg, watching Shaun's eyes go wide. "I don't want what happened between us to just be 'stress relief'. I want it to be more than that. I want it to happen again." Please don't bolt, he silently begged, seeing how the other's cheeks grew darker. Hell, Shaun's whole face was turning red. "I don't know when it happened, but you're more than just a colleague to me. You're more than just a friend. And no, this isn't just some hero worship because you saved my life. I felt it before then. I was willing to die because, despite the whole world about to be destroyed, one single thought ran through my head. What would Shaun do without his computers? I know that sounds dumb, but…Fuck, Shaun, I can't stop thinking about you. I don't know what you feel for me, if anything, but I know you enjoyed what we did. I'll take that, if it's all you can give."

Silence fell between them, and Desmond suddenly acknowledged how hot his cheeks were. And doubts began to creep in. Had he just royally fucked everything up?

At least Shaun wasn't leaving the room, though he was awkwardly looking anywhere but Desmond, and then coughing oddly into his closed hand.

"Uh, right, that, uhh…" Shaun took a deep breath, eyes slanting back towards Desmond. "A tad desperate, don't you think?"

Any hope he had died right then and there. Desmond shifted to pull his hand away, something tight and painful in his chest as his fears were confirmed. "Jesus, Shaun, cut me some fucking slack." Thank god his voice hadn't cracked.

"N-Now hold on," A shadow fell over Desmond as Shaun bent over him. "I didn't say I was bothered, did I? More like…" The other's face was inscrutable, but Shaun was angling his head down ever so slightly, lips mere inches from Desmond's, making his heart race. "Impressed. And flattered, if I have to be honest. But, christ, Desmond, could you sound any more like a preteen girl?"

Then Shaun's mouth was on his, and Desmond forgot to bark back, tilting his head to deepen the kiss, wanting more of Shaun's mouth, of his taste. Just as their tongues touched, a quiet knock that might as well been a gunshot had them jerking apart, panting guiltily, faces flushed. The door slowly opened, and Desmond was glad the room was so dark, because Rebecca was peering in. Her face instantly brightened as her eyes landed on him.

"Oh." She exclaimed softly, lips spreading into a huge grin as she came into the room. "You're awake. I was just coming to relieve Shaun." She nodded at Shaun, who was pointedly keeping his face turned away. "How're you feeling, Desmond?"

Surprised at how steady his voice was, Desmond said, "Not too bad. Shaun got me a dose of painkillers, and told me what happened." In an attempt to pretend she hadn't just interrupted anything, Desmond gestured around his room. "So this is HQ, huh? I didn't think we'd ever actually get here."

Rebecca made a sad sound. "You almost didn't, Desmond. But…gosh, I'm just so glad everything's okay." She came over and bent to hug him, kissing his cheek, and then straightened back up. "I mean, with the exception of Juno."

Desmond nodded, remembering those promising words. "She lied. Which, I shouldn't be so surprised about, but still." Alternately looking between Rebecca and Shaun, he grimaced. "She said it wouldn't hurt, but I've never felt anything like that before. The second I put my hand on the pedestal, it was like it was burning me away from the inside." He glanced down at his damaged arm. "And according to Shaun, that's exactly what happened. We already knew she was dangerous." Looking up again, he said, "But since she lied to me, we can be assured she's willing to do or say whatever it takes to serve her own interests. I mean, I was getting weird vibes from her already. Those emails she sent me were like pure hate, and the visions she kept showing me were so accusing. I don't know why I was surprised when she gave me the ultimatum." Desmond stared glumly down at his hand. "I shouldn't have been."

There was movement in the corner of his eye as Rebecca shifted towards him. "Desmond…"

But he looked back up, resolute. "No, I'm okay." Taking a deep breath, he gave her a small smile. "We can talk about all this later. I want to get out of this room. I'd like to hear what's been going on while I was sleeping. But first I need to shower, and I need to eat."

Rebecca spoke first. "Do you need help with your shower?" Her tone was concerned, a frown on her lips. "The last thing we need is for you to get hurt from a fall or something. Shaun can help you."

Desmond briefly met his eyes, but had to look away. Nudity in the heat of the moment was one thing, but having Shaun see him naked, with the delicate state their…relationship-whatever was in, he didn't quite think it would be a good idea.

Shaun's faint blush and the seemingly casual way he was looking anywhere but at Desmond told him the other shared his feelings on the matter.

"Uh, no, that's fine, I'll just get my dad to help me. Could you go get him? I haven't talked to him since I technically said goodbye."

Rebecca gave him a farewell hug and quickly left with the promise to get his father, but Shaun lingered, still not meeting Desmond's eyes.

It was an awkward silence, Desmond not quite knowing how they should act around each other after that almost would-have-been-amazing-if-uninterrupted kiss.

Apparently 'like awkward teenagers' is how they would act.

Desmond picked at the blanket draped over his legs and waist. Shaun could be heard shuffling by the door. Then, when William Miles' voice was audible and growing louder from outside the room, Shaun pushed off from the wall, cleared his throat and, still blushing faintly, said in voice trying to be nonchalant. "I'll see you later" Then he left, and Desmond had only a few seconds with his thoughts before his dad came in.

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After a short, but meaningful, talk with his father, and a wonderful 34-second phone call to his mother, Desmond had let his dad wrap his bandages in plastic, walk him into the attached bathroom, and had then taken the longest shower of his life with the water cranked as hot as he could stand it.

It had been awkward, washing with his own father standing just a few feet away and keeping guard, but Desmond had felt dizzy and shaky the entire time, so he'd made no complaints. And once he'd turned the water off, he'd been so loose-limbed and weak that he hadn't even been able to leave the shower stall of his own volition. Practically carrying him back to the bedroom, his father had then helped him get in clean clothes.

Desmond had felt like a kid again, sick and helpless while his dad took care of him. But he was fine with the special treatment after their cautious and chaotic time at the temple.

Now, after being dressed in a soft long-sleeve shirt, a pair of baggy sweat pants, and thick socks with rubber grips on the bottom, his dad strapped his arm in a tight sling that hung from his neck but also looped around his back and under his free arm.

"Naomi's given orders to leave that on at all times. Even when you're sleeping."

Desmond nodded, the painkillers, the shower, and the clean clothes all making him feel human for the first time in months. Now all he could focus on was the empty feeling in his stomach. Not that he remembered it, but he hadn't eaten in almost three days. And his last meal had been a rushed couple of protein bars and some too-ripe apples in his haste to get back in the Animus and find the key. His entire abdomen felt hollow and sunken. He laid his free hand over his stomach, watching his father collect his dirty clothes and stuff them into a small cloth bag. "I've got to eat something, dad. Where can I get food?"

"I'll take you to the kitchen and get you something, but I won't be able to stay with you." William's face was an apologetic grimace as he slung the bag over his shoulder and came back to Desmond and wrapped a supporting arm around his back. "I have to get back to passer."

"Who's Passer?" Together they left the room, Desmond clinging to his father's shoulders because he was still shaky and weak.

"Not who, Desmond, what."

The hallway was brightly lit with frosted wall sconces and long, with many doors identical to his. They all had numbers on them. A glance back showed Desmond his room was number 12. "Well, what then?" He asked distractedly, head twisting back to study his father's profile.

"P.A.S.R. It stands for 'Planning and Strategy Room. We call it 'passer' for short. It's the control room of this whole place, where we contact and monitor the teams. We're in the dormitories, and this," The hallway ended in a large warm-toned room with lots of armchairs, coffee tables, and high desk tables on wheels. "Is the lounge. Over there is where you can sit and eat."

A wide table surrounded by about 20 chairs was angled in a corner, near an archway door through which a massive fridge and grey countertops were just visible. Desmond could hear soft voices from inside.

William helped Desmond to the table, pulled out a chair for him, then crossed over to the archway. "Let me see if anyone is-Oh. Could you get something for Desmond to eat? I'm needed back at passer."

Desmond's stomach twisted suddenly. He both wanted and feared that the person in the kitchen was Shaun. But Rebecca was the one who came into sight, still smiling, a short, messily-dressed man at her side.

"I knew your stomach would lead you here, Des." Rebecca said with a snort. "And I gotta say, you're looking good. Definitely smelling better, to be sure."

Desmond scoffed, grinning back. "Hey!" He said in mock-offense. "You're one to talk."

Rebecca belly-laughed, giving him a fond wink. Then she seemed to remember William had asked her something and turned back to him. "I'll take care of him, Will. I'm heating him up some stew already and I'll keep an eye on him until he's eaten it all." She spared a semi-threatening look to Desmond.

William nodded once, looked down to his wristwatch, then returned to Desmond and leaned down to kiss him on top of his head.

Desmond blushed, almost managing to keep from ducking away. "Dad, jeez."

But William made no acknowledgement of his embarrassment. "Eat what she gives you, Desmond, then, when you feel strong enough, meet me in passer. I'll show you around and introduce you to my base team."

Then he was gone, quick strides taking him off through some other archway down another hallway.

Desmond scowled and rubbed at his head. Rebecca was going to say something. He just knew it.

But when he risked a look up, she had an sympathetic expression on her face.

"I think he's finally realized that being a father is more important than being a boss." Was all she said, sighing slowly and shaking her head.

Which made Desmond squirm uncomfortably. He loved his dad and all, but really wasn't into him suddenly attempting to make up for all the lost time between them.

"Oh!" Rebecca said with a slap to her forehead, jerking Desmond from his thoughts. "I'm an idiot! Sorry," She said to the man at her side, smiling in apology. "Father-son bonding moments and all that, you know."

The man smirked, nodding at her. They both turned back to Desmond.

"This is Izanagi, an Assassin and almost as good as me with electronics."

Extending a hand and chuckling, Izanagi greeted him in slightly accented English. "It is an honor to meet you, Desmond."

Desmond shook his hand and smiled in what he hoped was a gracious way. "Uh, thanks. It's nice to meet you too."

Letting go, Izanagi stepped back, and moved to whisper something in Rebecca's ear, something that had her smiling and crinkling her nose, then he aimed another smile at Desmond. "I shall leave you to your meal, Desmond. And I will wait for you in the workshop, Becca."

"Sure thing. Bye, Iz."

Then he was gone, and Rebecca was back to the kitchen, returning with a tray of steaming food. She set it in front of Desmond and sat across from him at the table.

"I'm not much of a cook, but I can handle soup and crackers, at least."

Desmond's stomach growled as he inhaled deeply, his mouth watering at the sight and smell of a thick chicken stew and some oyster crackers. "Thanks." He said and meant it, crumbling a handful of crackers into the bowl then picking up his spoon and scooping up a heap of chicken and vegetables.

Good god, it was delicious.

"Now eat slow," She advised, watching him with her chin propped up on one raised hand. "I don't want Shaun scolding me for giving you a burnt tongue."

Even just the other's name had Desmond jumping slightly, his neck feeling hot. Feigning nonchalance as he blew on the steaming stew, he asked, "Where is Shaun, by the way?"

There was a snort, and Rebecca shook her head. "I'm not sure. Haven't seen him since I shooed him away from your door. He was lurking outside while you were with your dad and showering, being useless. He's probably in his new office by now. I honestly don't know how he kept away for so long."

Desmond swallowed a mouthful of chicken and peas, and went for another, brows coming together in confusion. Shaun had a new office and hadn't holed himself up in it immediately? "What do you mean?"

"Well, he hasn't really left your room since we got here. When I came in earlier, I was making sure he got out to eat and stretch his legs. Been having to do that a couple times a day. He wouldn't leave if I didn't make him. Man, he's even been sleeping in your room."

Desmond's mind raced, his spoon suspended mid-scoop, the information like a slap upside the head. Shaun hadn't left his side the whole time? For three days, he'd been watching over him? He recalled Shaun's outbursts earlier and his anger at Naomi. And when Desmond had confessed, Shaun hadn't rebuked him. Hadn't told him no. Had kissed him. Had been willing to do more, maybe.

"Des? You alright."

Blinking quickly and forcing a smile, Desmond nodded. "Yeah, sorry, just…thinking." He rushed more stew into his mouth, wanting the excuse not to talk.

Nothing was said for a few minutes, then Rebecca was tilting her head at him, and Desmond could practically feel the speculation in her gaze. "You know," She began, her tone setting off warning bells in Desmond's brain. "If I didn't know any better, I would think Shaun might have a…I don't know, a sorta thing for you."

Nothing he could do kept the rapid rise of heat from flooding his cheeks, and Desmond ducked his head and shoveled more stew into his mouth, not trusting himself to say anything.

"Whoa. Wait, did you… Do you..." Rebecca sat back in her chair, her mouth dropping open. "Wait, no way! I was only joking! And I didn't think that you-"

This is not how he wanted anyone to find out. Because there wasn't anything to find out. There really wasn't. Shaun might not actually have feelings for him. It only seemed like he did. And even if Shaun did feel the same way Desmond did, he had still pushed him away that night. Still ignored him, and still left him to sacrifice himself to Juno.

Okay, that wasn't fair. Desmond had forced them all to go.

And Shaun had come back for him.

"Desmond. Hey, Earth to Desmond."

Fingers waved in front of his face, and he jerked up to see Rebecca, forehead crinkled with worry. "Look, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to freak you out. It's cool. I'm just… I didn't know…"

"That I'm attracted to guys?" Desmond muttered, looking away.

"What? No, who cares?" He heard her scoff and looked up to see her shaking her head. "To each their own, dude. I'm not one to put people into groups or care anyway. I'm just surprised that Shaun is capable of human emotion."

Laughter bubbled up unbidden at that, and he dropped his spoon to cover his mouth, snorting into his palm. Gasping, he managed a breathless, "Me too."

That sent Rebecca into a fit of giggles too, and they laughed together, eventually settling quietly to smirk at each other. Thank god. She just made this a whole lot easier.

"So," Rebecca , tapping her fingers across the table as he resumed eating. "How long have you two…"

Desmond swallowed his mouthful and stammered, "We haven't, I mean, we-we aren't. Well, not yet. I mean, uhh," He let out a frustrated breath, frowning down at his bowl. "I don't know what I mean."

Quizzical eyes roamed over his face. "Then you're not actually dating? But you like him, right?"

Desmond let out a soft, "Yeah."

"And he likes you. Or at least, it looks like that from where I'm standing. I've never seen Shaun care so much about anyone other than himself, and I'm probably his closest friend. No, wait, I know I'm his closest friend." Rebecca was biting her lip, concentration clear in her expression. "Now, you've been asleep this whole time, so you didn't know he stayed with you. Something happened in the temple, didn't it?"

Desmond marveled at her, wide-eyed at her shrewdness. "…Yeah. About a week before the solar flare."

Rebecca's hands shot up. "I don't need to know the details. I just didn't notice anything was going on. Except… Hmm."

"What?"

"I thought it was just because we were running out of time, but I did think you two were acting a little off. Like you didn't want to talk to each other or something. But none of us were really up for conversation by that point, so I didn't really think anything of it."

Desmond had no desire to explain why they'd been awkward around each other, and he chose instead to finish the last bits of his meal, then drinking deeply from the glass full of clear water most definitely not from a stream. His stomach felt close to bursting and he sat back to exhale in satisfaction.

"Are you still hungry?" Rebecca asked.

"No," Desmond murmured, rubbing his stomach. "I'm stuffed. That was probably the greatest thing I've ever eaten."

"Just you wait." She said, wiggling excitedly in her seat. "When you've got your normal appetite back and Naomi gives the all clear, you can eat with the rest of us. Though, she can definitely whip you up something fancier than canned soup. Marguerite's an amazing chef, and she cooks for everyone. Oh man, you've never had anything like it."

So Marguerite was the head chef Naomi had been talking about. "Sounds great." He said, smiling. But what else was there to know about HQ? He turned his head to examine the room more closely, seeing the large windows framing each wall. The glass was frosted, but there was a warm glow from beyond.

Wait, how could there be windows on all four walls? "What's up with the windows?"

Rebecca matched the direction of his stare. "Oh, those? Those aren't windows. We're underground."

Desmond's head whipped around so fast, his neck cricked. "What?"

With a laugh, Rebecca gestured with her nose back at the windows-that-weren't-windows. "Yeah, crazy, right? Those are modeled to look like windows, and there's these light fixtures behind them set to a timer. It's supposed to replicate natural light based on what time of the day it is. Keeps the people who are down here for extended periods of time from going insane, I guess."

"But, underground?" That was outrageous. The place looked like a hotel.

"Yeah, like, pretty deep. Too deep for any cell detection, at least. I'm not sure exactly where we are, because William made us wear blindfolds and drove us the rest of the way here. But I'm pretty sure we're somewhere in New York state. Could be anywhere within the state, though. All I know is we were leaving the temple, headed north, then before anything became recognizable, he was making us sit in the back with you, taking the wheel and then, when we were allowed to see again, we were in this huge parking garage, then inside this place."

"Are we safe here, though? How do we know the Templars don't know about this place?"

"Well, they're not here, which is a good sign. And if they do somehow find us, there are over a hundred tunnels to escape through. Apparently they all come out to random places. Reminds me of how Ezio and Connor would go traveling through sewers. Luckily, no sewers here." She gave a short laugh. "Damn, I just realized. We went from one cave to another."

Desmond's smile was brief. "Yeah. Though this is certainly an upgrade."

"You're telling me. This place isn't that big, there's only the dormitory wing, passer, the lounge and the kitchen, and a small gym, but yeah, a definite upgrade. Hot water, warm beds, plenty of food." Her voice took on a wistful note. "And old friends."

She sounded like he felt when thinking about Shaun. "Izanagi?"

Something soft came into her eyes, and her lips quirked. "Yeah." Still wistful. "We used to date, sorta."

"Sorta?"

"We're the two best electrical engineers with the Assassins, so, we have a lot in common. We get along, but… It's never been serious. And we both know that. We don't get to spend a lot of time together."

Desmond searched her face, but could only see acceptance. What if that was all that happened with him and Shaun? Something casual.

He wasn't ready to consider that possibility yet.

"Okay, we've gossiped enough." Rebecca said suddenly, moving to stand and reaching for Desmond's tray. "William's going to tear me a new one if I keep you too long. He really wants you to talk with the lead team and fill them in on what happened in the temple."

Desmond moved to stand as well. "But you were all there too. You know what happened."

"True, but we were only along for the ride. All that was meant for you, and you're the best one to retell it firsthand." Tray in hand, she brought everything back to the kitchen.

There was the sound of dishes knocking against what Desmond assumed was the metal of a sink. Then Rebecca was coming back out and lending him an arm. After his meal, he finally felt stronger, and he only needed to grasp her forearm, letting her lead him to the same hallway his father had gone.

"You've met Naomi and Iz, but there's about… Uh, 17, I think, other Assassins. Most of them should be in passer with your dad, but I think Dale and Christian are in their rooms sleeping because they did night patrol. You might feel a bit overwhelmed at first. We haven't been around this many people at the same time without the threat of being murdered around every corner. I almost had a panic attack the first day." She joked as they drew nearer to a set of high double-doors. "Brace yourself. Everyone is going to want to meet you."

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Hours later, exhausted and achy, his muscles protesting all the activity after being unused for so long, Desmond managed to excuse himself from all the people clamoring to talk to him and make his way – on his own, thank god – back to his room. Embarrassed that it was only slightly after six o'clock, and he'd only been up for less than five hours, he hobbled down the dormitory hall, hand braced on the wall to steady himself. Once actually in the room he'd woken up in, Desmond realized that he wouldn't be able to get his sling off to change his shirt by himself. Which wasn't actually an issue after weeks of sleeping in the same clothes he'd worn every day. At least this outfit was comfortable. Certainly more comfortable than dirty jeans and sweat-stained shirts.

The bed was soft as he climbed in, settling under the covers and lying back. The moment his head touched the pillows, he was falling fast asleep.

An unknown, but significant, amount of time later, his door was being opened, the sound jolting him awake, his heart thudding in alarm.

"Relax, Desmond. It's only me." Came Shaun's hushed voice in the dark.

Desmond exhaled loudly, once more calmed by the other's presence. "Whas wronn?" He slurred, still half asleep.

"Nothing. Go back to sleep."

Shaun clicked on the small lamp from before, then moved over to the far wall facing the foot of the bed. Desmond watched through slit eyes, the other's blurred shape doing something by a familiar-looking rectangle hanging on the wall. One of those windows that Rebecca had told him about. But it was dark. That was why he hadn't noticed it before. Even when he'd woken up before, it had been dark.

Something Shaun did made a faint clicking sound.

"Mmh?" He hummed questioningly, his tired mouth not wanting to make proper words.

"I said go back to sleep, Desmond. You need your rest."

But Desmond continued to watch as Shaun went into the bathroom for a moment, then came out again, walking quietly around the bed towards the door. Desmond didn't want him to leave. Their conversation when he'd woken up had been so wonderful after the days of silence back at the temple, and he wanted more. He whined deep in his throat, wanting to reach for Shaun, but unable to lift his sleep-heavy arm.

"Shut it, Desmond." Shaun said sharply before sitting in that armchair again and crossing his legs. "If I have to tell you one more time to go to sleep, I'm going to smother you with your pillow."

Something like a laugh vibrated out past Desmond's lips at the welcome sound of Shaun's snark. He defied the other's orders and turned his head on the pillow to watch him more closely. Shaun's arms were crossed, and Desmond was sure he was being glared at for disobeying. The thought had him grinning.

"What could you possibly be smiling about? Do you want to be smothered?"

Rousing enough to open his eyes further, Desmond chose not to answer the first question. "Wha cha doing?" He asked haltingly, swallowing the sleep from his mouth.

"Sitting here in this armchair. What does it ruddy well look like?"

"Why?"

Shaun made a frustrated sound. "You are such a child. Go. To. Sleep."

This was too amusing. "Why aren't you sleeping?"

"Desmond!" Shaun whispered sharply. "Fine. Be a brat. I'm not sleeping because I'm not injured or ill and I don't need sleep as much as you do. And I'm here because I want to make sure you don't hurt yourself like a bleedin' idiot by rolling off the bed or turning onto your bad arm. There. Happy? Now go to sleep."

Shaun was here to watch over him, to make sure he was safe. Desmond felt warm all over. Though that might have been the combination of blankets and the beckoning pull of unconsciousness that lapped at the edge of his awareness. "All night?"

"What?"

Desmond had to fight to stay awake now. "You'll be here…all night?"

"Yup. Should be thrilling watching you kick in your sleep like an infant."

With the last dregs of strength he had, Desmond pulled the blankets down beside him. "Here." He said, thumping his hand on the sheet. "Sleep too."

Then he was floating, in and out of consciousness and slowly falling deeper, everything quiet and dark.

TO BE CONTINUED


AN: Lots of slow build-up for these two. I hope you don't mind! But don't worry. There will be lots of boinking. You won't even know what to do with yourself.

If you have a moment, please leave a review. Letting me know what you like (even if you only liked one thing in the whole chapter) or didn't like (even if you didn't like the entire thing), lets me know if the story is making people happy. Thank you in advance, even if you read-and-run. 3