Connor was dying.
Haytham regarded that fact with perhaps less emotion than he should have.
“A few hours at least,” The doctor estimated in a quiet voice, in the hallway just outside the room. “A few days at most.”
“There’s nothing you can do?” Haytham inquired.
“I’m afraid not.”
“No chance he might make a miraculous recovery?”
Haytham had found him in the snow, gagging on his own bile and blood. Connor had been shot twice; one bullet from a musket had shattered his upper ribs, near his heart, and the other had pierced his stomach. Upon getting a closer look at the injury, Haytham found fragments of bone in the wreckage of skin and muscle that used to be Connor’s abdomen. The bodies of four dead redcoats were slumped on the ground nearby; no doubt the injuries had come from some incredibly ill-advised attempt at an ambush.
It was always galling to see a man who made a habit of dodging death’s grasp finally fall. Haytham had seen Connor duck swords, swerve through the wreckage of a burning building, and kill Templars whose skill in combat should have exceeded that of a cheeky young Assassin. The worst he’d ever come away with were bumps, bruises, scratches and burns.
Now he laid in a spare bed in Haytham’s household, wheezing painfully, forehead shining with sweat. In reality, Haytham hadn’t needed the doctor to confirm anything: It was obvious that Connor was in his last hours of life. There were injuries one could miraculously recover from, and then there were Connor’s, which- quite frankly- were severe enough that it was a wonder he was still alive.
“With your leave, sir,” The doctor said, “I’d not try to treat him anymore. There’s nothing I can do beyond administering some pain medication, and at this point he can only be made comfortable.”
Haytham nodded. “Of course.” He paused. “There’s no reason for you to stay- if you can estimate how much of the painkiller he’ll need for what time he has left, I can administer it to him.”
“Of course, sir.”
The kinder option would have been to smother the boy. Or shoot him. All he had ahead of him for the next few hours would be a terrible suffering that would inevitably end in his death. Logic- and compassion, if he was being honest- dictated that he should put a pillow over Connor’s face once the doctor was gone and end his suffering now.
Haytham thought about that, lingering in the doorway and fingering the bottle of the pain medicine, as he watched Connor struggle to breathe. His skin was eerily pale, sweat making it glow in the dissonantly bright, sunny day outside. His eyelids flickered open and shut, unable to focus.
Not for the first time, Haytham wondered how it might have been if he had raised Connor from childhood, if the words ‘father’ and ‘son’ had meant more than just blood. Undoubtedly his emotions regarding Connor and his impending demise would have been a great deal less ambiguous: Had Connor been raised a Templar, he would not have suffered from the foolish Assassin politics that, frankly, would have led Haytham to kill him at a later date anyway- though Haytham had assumed that end to come amidst some sort of conflict, a match of (near) equals. Although, if Haytham was to be completely (and privately) honest with himself, he had truly hoped to win Connor to his side so that such unpleasantness wouldn’t be necessary.
He would not have minded having his son at his side, were they of a mind philosophically and politically. And with more time, he might have been able to sway him, save him.
Connor gave a particularly strained gasp, and his face twisted into a groggy expression of alarm that… It did something to Haytham. He shut his eyes for a moment, squeezing the bottle now. He found himself torn between two powerful impulses: To quickly and painlessly end Connor’s life, and to keep him alive as long as humanly possible in the hopes that maybe the boy might have one last surprise in him.
Haytham was not sentimental man, and he understood that the latter impulse was an irrational emotional reaction to Connor’s agony and impending demise; still, the idea of killing Connor, however merciful the killing would be, left a bad taste in his mouth. Could he not muster enough compassion to be kind to his son in what remarkably little time he had left? Would it be so terrible if he allowed himself a little sentiment, if only to ease the boy’s passing? Connor may not have been his son in the emotional sense, but he’d been a decent partner and a worthy opponent. Haytham could honor that, if nothing else.
He approached the bed, set the bottle down on the nightstand and carefully sat on the edge of the bed. Connor’s gaze wavered, darting from Haytham’s face to his shoulders to his chest to his forehead, unable to muster the energy to focus properly. There was an unpleasant smell that had become apparent when Haytham had gotten closer, and he gently peeled the blanket away to get a look at Connor’s chest.
Connor’s injuries were tightly bound with bandages, but even though they’d been changed less than half an hour ago, it was clear that the wounds were growing more rotten as time went on: Haytham could see reddish-yellow stains on the bandages, a mixture of blood and pus that he might have made an attempt to clean away if there were any point to it.
Haytham carefully lifted the edge of one of the bandages, and the smell grew worse. Connor whimpered and twisted slightly in the bed; evidently even minor prodding near the wounds were enough to be painful. But for a moment, it seemed that the pain sharpened Connor enough to focus, and his eyes met Haytham’s.
Despite his barbs to the contrary, Haytham did not think Connor was stupid- remarkably naïve, yes, but not stupid. The boy knew he was dying, and he was a far cry from the big, strong, stoic Assassin that Haytham had pinned with a knife in that old church. Connor was scared, eyes wet like a child afraid of the monsters lurking in the dark hallway outside of his room. And Haytham, to his irritation and distress, was now feeling paternal.
“Shh,” He whispered, gently replacing the bandage with one hand and pushing the other through Connor’s hair. “Everything’s fine. Don’t strain yourself, or you’ll make it worse.”
“Raké:ni,” He croaked. “Raké:ni.” He babbled something else in broken Mohawk that, even if Haytham could understand him, would have been too quiet for him to hear anyway.
“You’ll be fine.” Haytham didn’t know why he was bothering with such an obvious lie. He certainly wasn’t a stranger to lying, to twisting the truth to meet his needs, but it was obvious that they both knew what was happening.
The look Connor gave him said as much.
Haytham eyed the bottle on the nightstand. Once Connor took the medication, the pain would be alleviated, but he would also probably pass out. And Haytham was reasonably certain that if Connor slipped into unconsciousness that he would not be coming out of it again. If there were anything he needed to say, needed Connor to know before he died, now would be the time to say it.
“I do wish we could have had more time to talk,” Haytham said, the words coming without a great deal of thought. “I would have liked to bring you around to my way of thinking. I might have, eventually.” A pause. “Your heart was in the right place, I think- Just poor methodology and philosophy. Had I gotten to you before Achilles, maybe things would have been different.”
That was all Haytham and everything he was would permit him to say, inasmuch as regret. He did not regret his actions, he did not regret being a Templar, and he still deeply believed that the Templars fought for the betterment of the world. But he did wonder how things might have been if Connor had been on his side from the start.
“In a way,” Haytham continued, “I must confess I’m proud of you. Impulsive, irrational, and naïve though you might be, you’ve also proven yourself to be strong, and courageous, and to be the sort of man who stands by your convictions- however wrong they might be,” Haytham added flatly, and he would swear for a moment a ghost of a smile crossed Connor’s lips. “I can appreciate that you turned out to be a decent man, even if we don’t see eye-to-eye on the more important issues in life.”
Connor’s focus was slipping again. His hand, shaky and uncoordinated, lifted from the bed and resettled on Haytham’s knee, from whence it migrated to the hand that was sitting on his lap.
Yes, Connor was definitely scared. And Haytham could hardly blame him for it; the young were never ready for death. After a moment of consideration, Haytham covered Connor’s hand with his own, squeezing lightly. He figured that he could allow this bit of affection, given the circumstances. After a few minutes, Connor seemed to calm down a little, moving slightly to lean his head against Haytham’s shoulder, keeping his hand on his father’s.
They sat like that for a time. Haytham didn’t speak, watching as the daylight shifted against the buildings and street outside. Connor made no attempt to move or speak either, though his breath continued to be labored.
Finally, Haytham- with his eyes still fixed on the window- said, “I have something that can help with the pain, if you’d like it.” He lifted the hand he had on top of Connor’s and took the bottle off the nightstand in one swift motion.
Connor lifted his head a little examining the bottle with bleary eyes before looking up at Haytham with a look that was unreadable. He did not attempt to take the bottle, or move for it.
“It will help the pain,” Haytham repeated.
Another long pause.
And then Connor’s head bobbed awkwardly in a consenting nod, and he tried to push himself up.
Haytham hyper-focused on everything he did after that, without thinking very deeply about any of it for fear that he might give too much over to sentimentality. He uncorked the bottle, he braced Connor with an arm around the young man’s shoulders, and he helped him drink down the liquid in the bottle.
All of it.
The act was done. No changing it now.
Haytham set the empty bottle down on the nightstand, considered removing his arm from Connor’s shoulders, then decided against it. What was he worried about, after all? It wasn’t as though anyone would ever know about this.
Connor leaned in again, head returning to its place on Haytham’s shoulder. Minutes ticked by, and his breathing seemed to grow a little less labored, his body a little less tense. The pain was seeping away; soon he would sleep.
Haytham waited for the sleep. There wasn’t anything in particular he planned to do when Connor drifted off, but it felt like a milestone that would soon be reached, one more before they came upon the inevitable. He checked periodically, keeping track of time by watching the window and seeing the bright sunlight outside becoming warmer and dimmer.
But Connor’s eyes remained open, he remained just on the edge of consciousness, and Haytham had already resolved that he would do nothing until Connor had at least gone to sleep.
And at some point during that waiting, it was Haytham who managed to drift off.
He dreamed of nothing in particular, scattered images flashing through the darkness of his mind. There were no prophetic dreams, no turbulent nightmares to reflect the reality with which he was currently dealing, nothing to mark this sleep as different from any other sleep he’d had before.
As such, there was no particular fanfare when Haytham awoke. At first, all he took note of was the fact that the sun had very nearly set and that it was taking some time for his eyes to adjust to the limited light in the room.
Then he took note of the ache in his right arm, which was stretched around…
Haytham nearly started as everything came back at once.
He immediately turned to look down at Connor, the pressure of the younger man’s head against his shoulder rendering the area numb with pins and needles. Something seemed off, seemed terribly wrong and out of place as he looked at Connor’s peaceful, sleeping face…
It suddenly became clear:
Connor wasn’t breathing.
Haytham got off the bed. For a moment, his mind could not process the implications of what he was seeing: Connor, still, silent, no longer struggling to breathe, eyes half-open and unblinking. Haytham stared for a long, long moment until the truth of the situation settled in:
Connor was dead.
A small pang of what was undeniably grief stabbed at Haytham’s heart. It would have been much stronger if he’d raised Connor himself, cradled him in his arms as a baby and held his hand as a child and mentored him as a young adult. But the grief was just powerful enough that for a moment, he dearly, dearly wished they’d had that time together, that Haytham had been a part of Connor’s life in the way that fathers were supposed to be, the way Edward had been to him before his untimely death.
There was no point in lamenting what was done and gone. No amount of weeping or waxing on about what might have happened otherwise would change anything at all, so what was the point in it? It was a damn shame that he and Connor had parted on such terms, and Haytham was sorry that he had been unable to pull his hot-headed, wayward son to the side of reason.
“And you’re ‘sorry’.”
Connor’s words from the night they’d infiltrated the fort and killed Church were clear as a bell in his mind. Haytham remembered the way those words had bitten him, had- accompanied by the news of Ziio’s death- managed to penetrate him in a way most things didn’t anymore. The knowledge that Ziio was gone, and that Connor put the blame for her demise squarely on him had, in some small way, hurt, especially since it ultimately hadn’t been Haytham’s fault.
‘Sorry’ hadn’t been enough for Connor that night. And were he alive right now to hear it, ‘sorry’ probably wouldn’t be enough now either.
So no point in it, Haytham thought with a long, deep sigh. No point in ‘sorry’ if nothing can be changed with it, unless it’s to alleviate your own guilt.
And Haytham had no guilt.
Connor had been reckless, on the wrong side of history, and now he was gone. That wasn’t Haytham’s fault.
He would need to make arrangements: A coffin, a service, a funeral. Decency said that he should notify the Homestead where Connor had been living; there would be no way to contact his village, and even if there were, Haytham would get an arrow through his head before he could speak. The Kanien'kehá:ka had long memories.
But for now… For now, he would leave Connor be. The necessary arrangements could be made in the morning.
Haytham hesitated, but then carefully reached out and straightened Connor’s head on the pillow. He moved his arms down to lie by his sides, closed his eyes fully, and then- after permitting himself a last moment of looking, his last look at Connor before he was gone for good- drew the sheet up over his head.
There was nothing else to be done. The darkness had fully settled by now, and it was nearly impossible to see anything in the room. He could light a candle and get some work done, or he could sleep, but either way, there was no other excuse to remain in this room with his dead son any longer.
Haytham was possessed by the persistent, irrational urge to say goodbye. Talking to a corpse, whoever that corpse may once have been, was an exercise in foolishness and futility- talking to anything that couldn’t talk back to you was. It was, additionally, just as pointless to say ‘goodbye’ to someone who was already gone- you wouldn’t say ‘goodbye’ to a man an hour after he’d set off on his horse, would you? And Haytham had already said what he’d needed to say earlier, when Connor had been at least somewhat able to hear him.
And still, the urge persisted.
It was that damnable sentimentality again. Imagine if he had raised Connor; it would have been far worse.
So Haytham did not say goodbye. He briefly set a hand on Connor’s sheet-covered head, but he kept his silence, and after a moment he finally left the room, locking the door behind him.
Haytham did not sleep well that night, nor any night afterwards.