That night, after they made camp, the seven time travelers gathered in a circle a little ways away from the rest of the group. "So do we stay here- er, now, I mean?" Lucy asked.
"We have to," said Altair. He sounded tired. "We have no way to be sure that all the Abstergo agents are taken care of."
"I'm staying, anyway," said Ezio. Desmond looked at him, surprised. "I talked to my dad, earlier, and- well, it won't be the family I remember. But it will be family." He seemed to be having a hard time looking anyone in the eye, but Desmond could see, even in the near pitch blackness of the night, that he was smiling.
"But wait," said Lucy. "Do we even have a choice where we end up?"
"The Initiative's had their time travel device ready to go for a while now," said Malik. "They've just been waiting for someone stupid enough to volunteer to try it. Now that they know it works, they can start taking people back to their native times. I don't think it matters where or when any of us want to go."
"So this is it?" Desmond was surprised by how sad he felt. "We're splitting up?"
"I know I am ready to go home," said Altair. Malik nodded.
"We were talking, earlier," said Connor. He sounded hesitant as he nodded at Haytham. "We might go back together. Maybe a little farther back, actually. I would like to meet my grandfather and- well." He shrugged.
Desmond nodded, and turned to Lucy. "And you?" he tried to smile, and didn't quite manage it. "Are you leaving me too?"
"There's still Juno to worry about," she said. "I'd like to help stop her. As long as you promise not to stab me again."
This time he did smile. "No promises."
"Maybe a different sort of 'hidden blade'?" Ezio suggested, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.
"Shut up," Desmond muttered.
"I didn't hear a no."
Lucy punched him.
"So this is goodbye," said Desmond. "More or less."
"Not quite," said Altair. "If you want to stop Juno, there is something we need to take care of first." He looked Desmond in the eye and said, "We need to make sure you survive."
"They have it calibrated," Malik announced. They were back in 2004, in Haytham's Initiative apartment. "New York State, December 20, 2012. Just before midnight. He glanced at Desmond. "You'll probably show up first, since you're the only one actually alive at that point in history. But we'll follow."
"Some of us will even help," said Ezio.
"He can't help his DNA," Altair said reproachfully.
"Can we just do this?" Desmond asked, a little tetchily. Even if he hadn't technically died the last time he saw Juno, the thought of facing her again still had him nervous.
"Yea," said Malik. "We just need to wait for them to-"
His voice cut out abruptly, and Desmond stumbled backwards, because the floor of the grand temple was uneven, and pitched more steeply than the apartment in Italy had been.
He was back. He was 25 again. The others were gone, as though they had never been. For just a fraction of a second, he wondered if he had imagined the entirety of the last year, it seemed suddenly so impossible. But then he dismissed the thought. They would come.
They had to.
"Shit, Desmond! Are you okay?" That was Rebecca. He'd almost fallen into her."
"Yea." That was a lie, of course. "Where were we?" The Initiative's time travel was precise, up to a point, but he had no idea when exactly he'd come back to. Hopefully he wouldn't have to sit through all the exposition a second time.
"Are you taking Juno's side or Minerva's?" his father asked.
"We're at that part already?" He'd expected to show up a little earlier, give the others a chance to catch up. Shit. He'd have to improvise, play for time. "Well, to be honest," he said slowly, "I'm not too hot on either choice." Delay. It was his only chance now. If he was forced to make a chance before the others came, he was dead. Literally. "Killing millions of people or giving Juno free reign to do whatever she wants with humanity? Pass."
"You think you have another choice?" Juno sounded almost amused.
"Sort of," said Desmond. "See, I'm not going to be responsible for the death of most of humanity. But the only way I'm taking your option is if I know I'll be around to stop you after." He locked gazes with her, and was rewarded by a flash of uncertainty there.
"You'll be dead," she told him.
He ignored her. "This thing-" he gestured at the pedestal that had been designed to free Juno- and kill him. "It feeds off Precursor DNA. Like a battery. I don't have enough to power it and survive, but if there were more of us with some of that DNA, I might just make it. And then I would be able to come for you, Juno." He smiled and shrugged. "At least, that's Altair's theory. And he's pretty good with this kind of stuff."
"Desmond," Shaun started. "Altair isn't-"
"I'm not crazy," Desmond assured him. Then he realized that was exactly what a crazy person would probably say. "Or Bleeding."
"But you are running out of time," said Juno. "In sixty seconds, you'll be late to save anyone."
He hadn't allowed himself to think about what he would do if the others didn't come. But really, there wasn't any choice. He'd told Juno the truth. He wouldn't allow humanity to die out needlessly. Not just for Juno- she wasn't worth the lives of millions of humans. She wasn't worth the life of a single human.
And then there was a crackle in the air, and somebody stepped through time to join them in the already crowded room. Malik. Desmond let out a sigh. "You are literally useless to me right now, you know that?" It wasn't the nicest way to say hello, but he could feel the beginnings of panic. He was going to die anyway.
"What's going on?" Rebecca demanded.
Malik ignored her. "They're coming," he told Desmond. "Thirty seconds."
"No," said Desmond. "That's too late. Tell Lucy-" but the words stuck in his throat. "Never mind." He turned to stare at the pedestal, feeling his final precious seconds tick away. He shook his head. "Fuck it," he said, and slammed his head down onto the shimmering surface.
For a single, endless moment, he felt unendurable pain roar through every nerve in his body, knew his life was slipping away, and no matter how hard he might fight, this was one battle he could not win. In other words, agony.
Then he felt the press of bodies close around him, and saw his ancestors, the way he had only ever seen them in the animus, at the height of their power- Altair, stern face nearly completely hidden by his hood; Ezio, flashing Desmond a reassuring smile; Connor, determined as ever to give all that he could for what was right; even Haytham, tall and proud, standing as an equal among them. And, through the press of bodies, he could see Malik and Lucy on the other side of the circle, powerless to help but still there.
The pain lessened, but Desmond could tell that it wouldn't be enough. The others couldn't quite give what was needed, they were just a little too late, and now they were all going to die.
They were just that much short.
And that was when William thrust his hand into the mass, slapping his hand down next to Desmond's. His father- through whom he had inherited most of his Prescursor DNA.
It was enough. Just barely, it was enough. Whatever was happening finished happening, and Desmond found himself ready to fall, and incredibly grateful to be sandwiched in between family. He knew they wouldn't let him drop. His eyes sought out Juno. She was still there, exactly where she had been, but in some undefinable way, more solid. She looked terrified. Too tired to do anything else, he smiled, and watched as she fled.
They gathered in the main hall of the temple, more or less in silence. "So anyone else having flashbacks to when the apple blew?" Ezio asked cheerfully. They'd been in another first civilization structure then, but gathered in defeat, not victory.
"Oh yea," Desmond said.
"Does somebody possibly want to explain what's going on?" Shaun asked.
"Not really," said Malik.
"I will." Ezio grinned.
"Somebody else do it," Altair said. "Or we will be here all night."
Ezio shot him a look that was way too innocent to be real.
"You never shut up," Altair told him bluntly.
While they bickered, Desmond glanced over at his father, who was sitting on the floor beside him, looking as tired as he felt. "Thanks for jumping in," he said.
"And I'm sorry."
Desmond hesitated. Everything he had seen and done over the past year or so- did it still count? Had it even happened, or was it confined to some sort of off shoot universe? He didn't know, and didn't care. "For stuff," he said.
"Good enough," said William. And that was all that was said.
Eventually, after the entire story had come out, Ezio announced that he was leaving. "I'm overdue for a trip home," he told Desmond.
"No kidding," said Desmond. "Good luck."
"It'll be fun." As always, when Ezio smiled it was infectious. "See you around."
"Yea right," said Desmond. "I got the impression this was kind of a one way trip."
"Then you got the wrong impression," said Ezio, and he actually winked. He held out a small grey box with no distinguishing features a part from a red switch in the very center. "This is why the rest of us came through after you did," he explained. "We actually stayed in 2004 a couple days longer."
"Stupid time travel."
"Right? But anyway, we were waiting on these. Customized to take us between your time and home. So don't be surprised if some of us show up from time to time."
"I'll be very surprised," said Desmond. "I've seen how you are with modern tech. That thing won't last a week." But he was smiling, because this was the difference between 'goodbye' and 'see you later'.
"We'll see," said Ezio- and vanished.
Altair and Malik were the next to go. "But you might see us around sometimes," Altair said as they made to go.
"Ezio already told me about it," said Desmond.
"He literally cannot stop talking, can he?" Altair asked, after a moment's silence.
"Ah well." Altair shrugged, and the two of them vanished.
When it was Connor's turn to go, Lucy distracted Haytham while Desmond talked to Connor alone. "You'll be okay?" he asked. "With the Bleeding? And your father?"
Connor nodded. "Seeing Altair again helped with the Bleeding, and I can handle my father. I can handle this."
"I don't doubt it," said Desmond. Connor was by far the most stubborn of his ancestors, when he wanted to be. "But you know, if you ever need to talk..."
Connor nodded. "I know."
And then it was just Desmond and Lucy; his father, Rebecca, and Shaun were elsewhere, packing up supplies, already making plans to head out after Juno, throwing Lucy the occasional suspicious glance. Desmond supposed that was fair. Until a little while ago, they'd still thought of her as working with the templars. "What about you?" Desmond asked her. "Do you have a little box that lets you vanish on me?"
"Nope," said Lucy. "You can't get rid of me that easily."
"The others aren't going to like it," said Desmond. "To them, you're still a templar and a traitor."
"Then I'll have to prove to them I've changed," said Lucy. "I proved it to you, didn't I?"
"Absolutely," said Desmond, without hesitation.
"Good," said Lucy. "Because I'm not going anywhere."
And just for that moment, whatever other challenges might be headed his way, Desmond believed that it would all turn out alright.
And... end! There goes three months of my life. ;) Hopefully at least one person out there enjoyed it. One person not counting me.
...Yea I'm done.