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Desmond woke on the floor of the temple and immediately wished he'd actually died.

He screamed. 

Alone, confused, and radiating pain from every pore of his very being, it wasn't so much a conscious decision as a visceral, instinctive reaction.

The others hadn't left, apparently, or were still close enough to hear his agonized cries. He could barely think for the fire boiling his blood, but he remembered feeling the vibrations of running footsteps, hearing indistinct voices, high pitched and fraught with worry.

The pain reached a crescendo when he felt a grip on his arm, and then blissful darkness swept over him in the next moment, unplugging him from harsh, cruel reality.

When he woke the second time it was to the sterile, artificial surroundings of the Animus.

Of course. Desmond was getting a little sick of the solution to any of his problems being 'slap him in the Animus', but he supposed their resources were limited.

He rose to his feet slowly, surprised to feel faint aches in his body. The Animus was all mental, but maybe even it couldn't protect him from the effects of the Apple. When Desmond reached out a hand to brace himself, he froze, sucking in a sharp breath.

His right the hand, the one he had last seen gripping the apple, was almost unrecognizable.

The burns...they were bad and distinctly other. Desmond quickly shed his coat and shirt, shocked to see the marks traveling all the way up to his shoulder. Script, very similar to the glyphs he'd hunted for in Renaissance Italy once upon a time, were branded into his skin. He touched them, but only felt a phantom pain. Inwardly, he quailed. He didn't even want to imagine how badly they must feel in reality.

Ooookay...that's there. That's something I have now.

"What the fuck?" Desmond asked any God benevolent enough to answer him.

And then, like some cosmic joke, Shaun said, "Desmond?"

"Shaun?"

"Oh, fucking—Thank God."

Desmond smiled. His fondness for Shaun was difficult to explain but easy to bask in now. After all, the last time he'd seen Shaun, he'd thought it would be for the last time.

"Miss me?"

Shaun laughed, a sound Desmond realized he'd never heard before. It sounded a little hysterical.

"Yes, well," the sound of an unsteady cough, "I already miss the silence, I'll admit that much."

Desmond's smile grew, and he opened his mouth to respond but was interrupted.

"Desmond! Oh my God, you scared the shit out of us!"

Reality was slowly becoming more concrete, and Desmond could feel something akin to panic blooming in his chest. He was still alive, and it was beginning to really sink in. His eyes went to his arm, now forever marked with the evidence of his intended sacrifice.

"Yeah, I think I know the feeling."

Silence rang for a beat, and then a new voice came.

"Son."

Unbidden, a lump jumped to Desmond's throat. In front of Shaun and Rebecca, he could pretend he was fine. But his dad...something about a parent's presence just made Desmond want to break down.

Steeling himself against the urge to burst into tears, Desmond took a deep, calming breath.

Voice subdued, he said, "Dad."

Rebecca spoke next. "Your vitals are holding surprisingly well, so I think it's safe to pull you out. Ready?"

"As I'll ever be."

There came the familiar pull as his surroundings bled away into darkness, and then Desmond was blinking harshly, suddenly exhausted. The glowing screen of the animus retracted to the side of the chair he was in, and his vision was replaced by three wide-eyed, staring faces.

Desmond managed a chuckle and a weak wave of his unscathed hand. "Hey."

Rebecca laughed, the sound more akin to a choked sob. Shaun shook his head, the exasperation in his eyes tinged with a stronger, deeper emotion, and his father's shoulders fell a bit as the tension drained out of him. It could have been the exhaustion talking, but Desmond would swear he saw tears in all their eyes.

Rebecca was on him in the next second, wiry arms winding around his shoulders. Desmond grunted in surprise and she only tightened her grip, burying her face in his neck.

"I'm so glad you're here," she whispered fiercely.

The lump came back, bigger than before. Desmond couldn't respond because in the next moment, his father was there, large hand cupping the back of his head and angling it so that their foreheads touched.

The display of emotion was shocking, but not nearly as shocking as his next words.

"I'm proud of you, Desmond. You did well."

They were words Desmond hadn't even realized he'd been aching for until he'd heard them. Blindsided, he stared at his father's face, but William's eyes were screwed shut tight, mouth pressed thin into a grimace, like the force of his relief was painful.

Reeling, Desmond was completely defenseless when Shaun's hand slipped into his own. He couldn't look at him since his father's grip held his head hostage, but he had no problem hearing him.

"Welcome back, mate. And..." Shaun's hold tightened. "Thank you, for what you did back there."

Desmond was almost glad he couldn't see Shaun. All of this emotion, all of this attention on himself—that in itself was overwhelming, but gratitude? From Shaun?

Desmond was barely holding it together. His near-death experience, the new marks on his arm, and now this? How was he supposed to be strong and unflinching in his duties if they were trying to break him down at every turn?

Desmond's eyes fluttered closed and he allowed himself this moment, to soak in the love and support of his friends and family. By all accounts, he shouldn't even be here, but he was going to cherish every second while he could.

The explanations—what there was to be found—came later once a few eyes had been dried and many throats had been cleared.

Desmond had been out for nearly two months, brain kept active by the Animus. Assassins were only growing more sparse as time passed, but there were still enough in the shadows to send reports back. And ever since Desmond's attempted sacrifice, they'd gotten bizarre. Definitely more interesting.

For one, each and every Piece of Eden ever recovered, be it by the Assassins or Templars, was out of commission. William had even brought over Desmond's own, but it was true. The metal was faded to a dull grey and didn't resonate whatsoever when Desmond touched it. For all intents and purposes, it was a glorified paperweight.

It was obviously connected to Desmond, but how, or why, remained to be seen.

"What about Juno?" Cold dread made Desmond's hands tighten into fists over the blankets of the bed he'd been relocated to.

"Nothing," Rebecca said. Her dark eyes shared the same worry. "She's been as quiet as this thing," she said, flicking the Apple.

While Assassins and Templars hardly needed a reason to kill one another, the driving force of their conflict had been abruptly and ruthlessly extinguished. There would never be peace between the two, not while the other existed, but a weird sort of limbo had sprung up. The Templars master plan for worldwide dominion had been obliterated overnight. They were scrambling, and the Assassins were using the time wisely, to attack and recover themselves in turn.

It was the closest to boring the hidden war had ever gotten.

As a result, Desmond was rewarded some recovery time himself. He had physical therapy, partly for his comatose state and partly because of his burned arm. That kept him busy for a few weeks, but it didn't last long, especially with his Dad gone back to headquarters. He'd never been one for idleness and he felt as good as he'd ever feel, all things considered. His arm had been his biggest concern, but aside from some weakness, he still had complete motor control. He tended to keep it covered since people stared, but it was hardly a hindrance day to day. Even the pain had faded to a manageable amount.

Besides, part of his rehabilitation was catching up on current events, and he'd learned all about this Conduit Initiative going on in Seattle. Conduits had always fascinated Desmond. He'd never met one, of course, since they all tended to either get locked up or went underground, but he felt a kinship to them. It was probably weird, but he understood how it felt to be alone, isolated, to have to hide a part of yourself in case the strangers around you turned to enemies. Besides, for a lonely kid growing up in South Dakota, the thought of people with superpowers, fighting for their freedom, had been infinitely more inspiring than one of the hundreds of lectures his dad had given him on the history of the Assassins. It was part of the reason why he eventually left; they'd taught him that no one would just give him his freedom. He had to take it.

And now these Conduits were finally given a chance to walk freely, to seek a fresh start, running from a dark past and trying to better themselves—Desmond had been there, had lived it, and if he was going to be banned from missions for the foreseeable future while he "recovered", he didn't see why he couldn't help others in the meantime.

"Hero complex," Shaun had muttered. Desmond pretended not to hear him.

Nonetheless, Rebecca and Shaun followed Desmond when he made the move from the underground bunker they'd hidden him in. He'd worried he'd have to fight more to relocate to a big city, but his dad had rubber-stamped him with hardly a blink.

Apparently, Desmond's usefulness had diminished significantly in the Templars eyes without Pieces of Eden to discover and exploit. While he'd still have to be careful not to be spotted on camera, he didn't need to check his shoulder every few seconds.

That was probably the best news he'd received in far too long, and he was eager to sink back into the familiarity of losing himself amongst a sea of strangers.

But things would never be the way they were before. Desmond wasn't unchanged by his experiences. The Bleeding Effect was hardly a thing of the past. He still saw phantoms, and he still had to focus at times to make sure the language that left his lips was English.

He tired more often. Randomly, without reason, he would simply have to...sit down and breathe. It was as if his body hadn't gotten the memo that he actually wasn't dying. And his arm ached at times, a sudden soreness as if to remind him once more of that scorching, merciless heat that seared him from the inside out.

Shaun and Rebecca treated him differently. It wasn't necessarily a bad thing, just weird. Shaun's comments weren't quite so biting, his eyes openly warm when he looked at him. Rebecca was more affectionate, slinging an arm around his shoulders or playfully bumping hips. Desmond couldn't control the helpless, confused expression he'd adopt when they pulled something like this, but it only seemed to incite this behavior more.

Perhaps watching a friend die had left scars of its own. His heart ached for them and he tried to look happy and alive when they were around, like he couldn't feel a deep weariness weighing him down at every moment and phantom grief didn't plague him randomly and absolutely.

Despite all this, Desmond smiled the day they arrived in Seattle in a beat-up, nondescript van. They'd all hopped out when they'd reached the industrial apartment they'd soon call home, stretching in the rain.

"Of course it's raining," Shaun said, frowning heavily.

Desmond held out a hand, his burned one, and watched the warm water splash on his palm and trickle between his fingers. He smiled.

"I've got a good feeling about this."

Shaun made a derisive noise. "Spoken like a true optimist."

Desmond grinned, turned to Shaun so he'd get the full effect of his obnoxious expression.

"Damn straight."

Chapter Text

Delsin had never craved infamy. Sure, he wanted his voice heard and he wanted to fight back against oppression, but he'd always seen himself as more of a face amongst the rebelling masses, ready to tear down the establishment. 

Yet somehow, here he was: the poster-child for Conduits across the country.

In those seemingly endless, emotionally charged moments after Augustine's capture, Delsin had only thought about the future in the vaguest terms. Going back to the Akomish to begin healing, looking forward to the coming days when Augustine was exposed and Conduits could finally start taking back their right to live free.

But he hadn't thought about the fact that in the public's demand for answers, they'd also demand a representative. Delsin hadn't exactly kept a low profile since his arrival in Seattle, and that came with consequences. The whole city seemed to know his name and soon enough suits were knocking on his door, wanting interviews and answers.

Delsin had been swept away in the publicity before he could blink. He'd plead the Conduit cause more times than he could count, on TV and in public arenas, and the only thing that kept him from turning to smoke and making for the nearest bolthole was the fact that he was making a difference.

With every word he spoke out for his people, he raised awareness and sympathy for the cause. The city itself had drafted a charter, as well as a fund, for helping Conduits, and soon a slew of donations were pouring in all over; either from sympathetic people who wanted to help, or bigger businesses that wanted to look good in the public eye. Subjectively, it was great, but it became exhausting fast. It wouldn't be so bad if he had a little more help but, once, he'd tried to pawn off yet another interview on Fetch and Eugene. Fetch had snorted in his face and Eugene had gone so pale Delsin hadn't had the heart to force him.

He missed Reggie what felt like every second of every day, but he wistfully thought of him when he was shaking hands or giving formal, grateful thanks for grants. Reggie would have handled all the bureaucracy and red tape with a lot more ease than Delsin.

Still, Delsin gritted his teeth and went through the motions. If this was what it took to see Conduits given a future, then it was well worth it.

He lived in Seattle now. It had become a city he loved and fought for, and was basically the hub for Conduits that wanted to be accepted. There were still issues of course, and there were some people who weren't thrilled they were outnumbered by Conduits four to one these days, but it was mostly manageable. The city was recovering.

There were days when Delsin would get out of bed and hardly recognized himself in the mirror. It wasn't exactly a bad thing, just...weird. He wasn't that angry kid anymore, throwing up his middle finger just to prove he was different. So much had changed since that day that transport had crashed in his small town. Humility didn't come easily to him, but Delsin could admit that he'd grown up and lost a bit of his selfish streak, the one that got him into trouble because all he could see were his own private injustices and slights and tagged walls in retribution.

But this cause he'd found himself pioneering—it was everything to him. He lived and breathed it, these people and easing their pain. He understood it and could finally do something about it. He could deal with artificial smiles and stilted conversations and peacocking for the camera. He'd shaken hands with the President for God's sake, and if that didn't scream mature, he didn't know what would.

Six months have passed since Delsin overthrew the DUP, and his pet project has flourished beyond his wildest dreams. All those donations had to go somewhere, and he'd wanted to do something that would both please the public while still keeping his priorities straight.

So he'd created the Conduit Reintroduction Initiative. It was a big fancy title that some suit had come up with, but the result was a large facility located just on the edge of the city. A glorified half-way house, Conduits the world over could come and find a place to stay, free of prejudice and abuse, to get them stable and adjusted to a routine before going back into the world to rejoin society.

Delsin had pictured a dorm sort of set-up. What money he had left after building he'd assumed would go to the upkeep, stocking the fridge and keeping the lights on. But he'd underestimated Seattle.

Volunteers poured in left and right. They went through a rigorous screening process to ensure no one just wanting easy access to Conduits could get in, but they accepted more than they turned away. A lot of local businesses kept up a regular donation of goods, whether it was eateries catering to them or electronics stores donating TVs and retro consoles for entertainment. Nurses volunteered for any treatment new admissions might need, and even a craft store had donated quilts.

Here, Conduits and everyday people worked in harmony and showed the world that peace could be achieved, that at the end of the day they were all the same—people who wanted a safe place to call their own. The project exceeded Delsin's wildest expectations and was going a long way to restoring his faith in humanity, a faith that had been tested sorely since he'd first encountered Augustine.

For once, Delsin felt as if his life truly had a purpose. Usually, it was more than enough and he was grateful to be doing work he was passionate about.

Other days, however, his new status only highlighted the distance between him and anyone else. He had to be much more careful about what he said now that thousands of anonymous faces were reading his quotes in magazines and on blogs. He could still joke around with Fetch and Eugene, but while their bond was solid and he trusted them beyond a shadow of a doubt, there was a difference between knowing someone's deepest trauma and knowing them. And despite how much shit Fetch gave him at times, at the end of the day there was no escaping the fact that they both looked up to him as the person who'd saved them and offered them a chance at redemption. There would always be a bit of that admiration and even now they looked to him for guidance.

So, while they were definitely his friends, he almost felt like their boss and it wasn't quite the same. The public and the recovering Conduits from Curden Cay saw him as a hero, so even though he met so many new faces, none of them were looking for the punk, asshole tagger who snored in his sleep and couldn't resist a challenge, but Delsin, the Champion of Conduits, passionate and driven and determined to lead them all to a new future filled with hope.

Most days, he could convince himself it didn't bother him, that it was a worthy exchange to help the oppressed and beaten. Other days he wished he could dissipate into smoke and reform somewhere that made sense, where he could turn his head and Reggie would be there, rolling his eyes with the longhouse silhouetted against the setting sun behind him.

But the fact remained that without Reggie, there was no one he could completely and truly be himself around.

And then he met Desmond.

Chapter Text

The shelter was just on the edge of the city, far enough removed to give the illusion of space without actually exiting the limits. The moment Desmond had heard about it he'd wanted in, but had been surprised that he was the only one interested.

"As cool as it sounds, I'm not really a warm and fuzzy kind of person," Rebecca had explained ruefully. "They kinda look for that in people who apply at those sort of places. I'll stick with what I know." She'd tapped on her headphones significantly.

"Oh, yes, I can't think of a more serene place to spend my time after several years of constant death and violence than an enclosed space filled with emotionally unstable people with superpowers." Shaun had sounded so dry Desmond had considered offering him a glass of water. Instead, he'd rolled his eyes.

"You're such a drama queen; just say 'no' like a normal person."

"I believe I just did."

Desmond found himself alone in applying (with quite a bit of his resume padded with Rebecca's expertise). The form had been online, so he'd simply sent it Rebecca's way when he'd filled out the basics for her approval. He didn't have any idea what she'd added, but it must have been good because he'd gotten a call back the very next day.

His first day went great. He'd gotten a tour first thing, where he was shown the expansive, impressive facilities and told a little bit about everyone's part and their goal to help these people get back on their feet. He received about a hundred handshakes, witnessed a woman teleport across a room, and ate the most delicious fish and chips he'd ever had the pleasure of tasting when his tour took him through the cafeteria.

He smiled for so long his cheeks ached with it. He never wanted to leave.

His first week was like the gift that kept on giving. Every day was new and exciting. Even though he was relegated to mostly grunt work, cleaning or cooking or delivering packages for the few residents that had friends and family outside of the facility, he never knew what he was going to see, who he was going to meet, where each day would take him next.

Shaun and Rebecca were already shooting each other exasperated looks as Desmond regaled them with tales of his shift. He supposed it wasn't as interesting hearing about what he saw versus seeing it first hand, but until they told him to shut up, he wasn't going to stop.

He just couldn't help it. The powers were one thing—which, okay, wow, what he wouldn't have given to be able to fly whenever he faced templars; the tactical advantage alone—but even though he was part of something larger than himself, the Conduits and the volunteers who helped them—there was a sense of community there that he loved more than anything, that was fiercer and stronger and more openly present than anything he'd ever experienced with the Assassins. These people, hurt and weakened, jaded and lost, Desmond witnessed them all slowly breaking free of their shells, allowing others to help them heal, to find sturdier footing in a world that had always been ready to knock them down.

It was admirable. It was intoxicating. Desmond couldn't get enough. Sometimes, he would just lean against a wall and look at them, all these people working in harmony, struggling and fighting and laughing and crying and healing and he would remember what he'd almost sacrificed back at the temple, and they all gave him hope. They reminded him why he'd been so sure the world would have been worth it.

His first week went by in an exhilarating rush of new experiences and new faces. He was friendly with just about everyone there, although he was careful not to make any real friends; as much as he was coming to love Seattle, he hadn't forgotten who he was, or his place in the grand scheme of things. Not to mention the uncertain, ominous element of Juno. His work was hardly over.

But then that week passed, and Desmond reported for his shift as usual. He hadn't thought anything of it at the time, but one little action changed his mostly-obscure status at the compound.

The thing was, he'd only been doing what he thought anyone else would do. He'd spotted someone alone, isolating themselves and crying, and when he'd learned of a fear of pain, of weakness, of being at the mercy of another person's whims, he'd reacted practically. Just a few pointers, really, on how to defend yourself, where to strike to inflict the most pain with the least amount of technique, enough to run away and call for help.

He'd left that evening with the whole experience little more than a footnote in his mind and a lingering worry that he hadn't done enough.

But then the next day happened, and Desmond was all but jumped when he walked in the door.

Conduits, most of them kids but several teen and adults as well, clamored for his attention, half-begging, half-demanding he teach them how to fight.

Flummoxed, Desmond had looked around the room for help, only to be told by his boss to get on with it and that someone else could cover his usual rounds. Awkward, and a little shy, Desmond agreed and allowed himself and his group to be led to the large gym.

They took up only a small portion of it, and for a moment Desmond stood before them all, nervous and unsure as several pairs of eyes watched him in turn, thinking God-knew-what about him, probably judging him—

He'd taken a deep breath and reached for his memories back at the compound when he'd first started his own training. He moved his feet shoulder-width apart and brought his hands up in a classic boxing pose.

"One of the most important things to remember," Desmond had said, "Is your stance."

Once he started, all of his nervousness and uncertainty fell away. Desmond couldn't claim to be very competent in many things, but when it came to fighting, he liked to think he rivaled the best. Something about reliving thousands of years of memories of the most accomplished assassins in history tended to lend someone that kind of confidence.

By the end of the day, he'd taught three different groups, everyone leaving the gym flushed and sweaty and with a determined, excited glint in their eyes. Desmond couldn't help his own feeling of satisfaction, how it curled up warm and deep in his chest. He'd never thought he'd teach anyone anything, but now he could only feel grateful for the opportunity. It was rewarding, and it felt like a good outlet for all that he'd learned in the animus; it certainly felt better than all the killing he'd done with those skills.

"You wanna do this tomorrow?"

The question came to him as he was leaving for the day, slinging his backpack over his shoulder.

Desmond blinked, turning to face his shift manager of the day, a woman named Roxie. She had her ever-present clipboard with her, messy hair twisted into a haphazard bun, and even though she worked a more administrative position, her worn jeans and flannel made it clear she was ready to roll up her sleeves and pitch in at a moment's notice.

"...Really?" Desmond couldn't deny that he liked teaching, but—"Is that a good idea?" Desmond lowered his voice. "I mean, won't it look bad if people learn we're teaching Conduits how to fight?"

Desmond had educated himself before he'd ever set foot in the facility, so he knew that the general public still needed to be placated, that they needed to be constantly reminded that Conduits were people and harmless so they could sleep at night. The last thing he wanted to do was unravel all this hard work and progress just because he wanted to feel important.

Roxie shrugged, a bit of steel creeping into her voice. "Hey, it's not fighting, it's self-defense. If anyone has a problem with it, it's not as if they can't go take a class on their own." When Desmond still looked unsure, she tucked a strand of grey-streaked black hair behind her ear and gave Desmond a look. "It's fine, I promise." Her expression turned wry, the smile lines on her face becoming more pronounced. "Besides, you're already in high demand. You don't really have a choice."

And that was how Desmond found himself graduating from glorified errand-boy to self-defense instructor.

If he loved his work before, it really didn't compare to how he felt about it now. More and more Conduits heard about his classes through word of mouth and he ended up booked solid, basically until he died. He tried not to think about the people he'd disappoint when he inevitably left and focused more on being the best teacher he could be. Already he taught a few groups that were all adults, and if he was lucky, he could teach them enough to instruct others in his place.

As a result of his newfound popularity, he now ended up at the shelter before dawn and didn't get home until well into the night. Shaun and Rebecca expressed their worry that he was overworking himself so soon after his physical therapy, but he waved off their concerns. His arm barely bothered him anymore (lie) and he felt fine (another lie, his insomnia was still going strong and showed no signs of letting up.) Most of his lessons were the basics, anyways, and he could do that in his sleep. (True.)

It was a little bewildering at times when he thought about it; the position was created for him, and now people tended to smile and wave and generally get happy about his presence in a way he hadn't felt since—well, ever. More than once he'd had to stop himself from simply walking out of the room when his class of kids looked at him like he made rainbows and fought villains in his spare time.

What they didn't tell you when you signed up, however, was that everyone by default had two jobs when they came to the shelter. The main one being what was assigned; the second, however, was counselor.

While the training was exhausting at times, it also had the side-effect of bringing up old memories and trauma. Desmond's interpersonal skills had always been good, almost as if in spite of his upbringing, and he tended to leave the class to stretching and sparring while he pulled someone aside and coaxed a story from them. He always made sure to remind them of their new start, of how things would be different now that they had the skills to fight back. So far he hadn't been fired for being an insensitive asshole, so he guessed he was doing all right.

It was emotionally taxing work, but thoroughly satisfying. For the first time in a long time, he truly felt like he was making a difference.

In theory, Desmond knew he'd been fighting the good fight for a while now, had already made a difference every time he stopped Abstergo in their tracks, but it was much better, so much more rewarding up close, where he could see people visibly improving, growing confident in themselves and shaking the shadows of fear.

His second and third week went by even better than the first, and it was on Wednesday night, at the end of his last class, that he met yet another new face.

"Great job," Desmond said, not even hiding his pleased grin. Tired smiles and thumbs up greeted him around the room. "Don't forget your stretches in the morning, or trust me, you're going to feel it. Oh, and Kevin? Get better shoes, all right? Tomorrow it's relays."

Desmond's words were greeted with a chorus of groans and he shrugged, unrepentant. "Better get over it now, it's happening." This was his adult class, so he wasn't inclined to go easy on anyone.

Desmond made his way over to the far wall, where his pile of post-workout stuff waited for him. He swiped up his forgotten towel, wiped the sweat from his face, and took a swig of water, tossing a careless wave to the few people who still had enough energy (and goodwill) to say goodbye.

"So, you're Desmond, right?"

Desmond capped his bottle and turned around.

Tall, was the first thing his tired mind supplied. Quickly followed by handsome and trouble.

The tall and handsome thing was true enough: dark skin, darker hair, and muscled forearms peeking out from his pushed up sleeves—all things that were objectively attractive. His brown eyes were so dark they appeared nearly black, and Desmond couldn't meet them for longer than a second, suddenly aware of how sweaty and gross he looked after teaching all day.

The trouble angle was due in large part to the tattoos and the vest and the beanie and the chain and—well, he had a whole punk, 'fuck the establishment' kind of vibe that Desmond could definitely understand but was used to being more subtle about expressing.

He chastised himself a second after the thought struck him; the guy could have a heart of gold, what right did Desmond have to judge him based on his looks? Since when was he such a hypocrite?

"That's me," Desmond replied, hoping none of his thoughts were showing on his face. He offered his hand, since that seemed to be what people did around here, and sure enough the other man gripped his hand firmly and pumped a few times.

"Delsin."

"Interested in a class?"

Desmond didn't think he was and was confirmed a moment later when Delsin shook his head; Conduits, no matter how far they'd come, tended to have the same hunted wariness that never fully left them, there in sudden silences and sharp, appraising eyes. This guy looked comfortable in his own skin, a second away from smiling, easy-going in a way Desmond hadn't seen in anyone else so far.

"Nah, I just kept hearing about these new self-defense classes and had to take a look for myself." Delsin grinned, showing off white, straight teeth. "You guys looked pretty bad-ass."

Desmond chuckled. "Thanks. That's pretty much the goal. The real-world application's just a bonus," he joked.

"No doubt, no doubt," Delsin agreed as Desmond grabbed his jacket, throwing it and his towel over his shoulder. "Where'd you learn to fight like that, anyway?"

"Uh..." Desmond hedged, wracking his brain. Assassins were trained in subterfuge, but Desmond had never gotten the hang of these little white lies. He settled for a bit of the truth.

"Just uh, picked it up, here and there. I was a runaway, so it was learn to defend myself or get mugged all the time."

"Wow," Delsin said, appraising Desmond anew. He was obviously curious, but didn't press. "I can respect that. We're definitely glad to have you, though."

So he worked at the shelter. But for the life of him, Desmond couldn't place him even though the more he looked at him, the more Desmond was sure he'd seen him before.

Delsin noticed how Desmond was hovering, all his things gathered, and gestured to the door.

"I won't hold you up, we can walk and talk."

"Oh!" Desmond's eyebrows flew up, surprised, but Delsin clearly intended to talk. "Uh, all right..."

Delsin walked with him to the front, keeping up a steady stream of chatter that Desmond fell into easily and happily. He kept giving Desmond mock-scenarios of different fights, what to do when cornered or outnumbered, and listened avidly and with clear appreciation as Desmond responded with his own hypothetical answers, gesturing often, his water bottle shaken mercilessly in the shuffle.

They chatted as Desmond walked into the employee locker room, and as he gathered his belongings and snagged his backpack. Someone walked by, noticed Delsin, and clapped him on the shoulder as he went by.

"Good to see ya, Del, keep up the good work."

"Thanks, man."

That was the fifth time some random passerby interrupted to offer some sort of greeting to Delsin, either giving him vague thanks or insisting he visit certain areas more often. Desmond had regarded it all curiously but hadn't said anything when Delsin immediately returned to their own conversation, but this time he raised a brow as they left the locker room.

"Okay, what's that about?" When Delsin shot him a confused look, Desmond elaborated, "I mean, why do people keep thanking you like that?"

They were at the front of the large glass doors leading into the center, and Delsin stopped and stared at Desmond. Then, something seemed to click and rueful comprehension smoothed out his expression. He shrugged nonchalantly, decidedly not making eye contact.

"Well...I'm...kinda the guy running this joint," he said casually. When Desmond stared, not quite understanding, Delsin held out his hand. For a bizarre moment, Desmond thought he wanted him to hold it, and then smoke and embers burst from his palm, wisps of it diffusing into the air, smelling of fire.

That was when it all clicked for Desmond. He'd read up on the conduit issue at large, but hadn't looked very much into the specifics. Like, say, the names and faces of the people behind it. Vaguely, he could recall an Augustine and more than a few mentions of the name Cole, but it was honestly embarrassing that until now, he'd completely displaced the numerous mentions of one Delsin Rowe.

Jeez. No wonder he'd looked familiar. Desmond had seen pictures of him, all of them declaring him a hero, an irreplaceable advocate for Conduit rights. He was the reason this shelter was even standing in the first place.

"Oh my God," Desmond said. "I'm an idiot."

Embarrassment hit him, but in the face of seeing those smoke powers up close and personal, excitement and awe quickly overshadowed it. A wide smile stretched his face before he could stop it.

"Sorry—I definitely should have realized before, but—" Desmond faced Delsin fully and met his eyes squarely. "It's awesome to meet you, seriously. This place," Desmond turned to sweep a hand in front of him, encompassing the whole facility, "It's amazing. I'm floored by it every single day. You've got a really good thing going on here." Desmond met Delsin's surprised eyes and his smile softened. "You're saving lives."

Delsin's eyes were wide. He didn't say anything for a moment before that rueful smile was back. He made an aborted gesture with his hand, then dropped it, palm slapping against his leg, smoke powers extinguishing.

"Thanks, man. I appreciate it. But I'm just...you know, trying to do the right thing, I guess." Delsin's eyes drifted to where Desmond had gestured earlier. "I haven't been a conduit for very long, but most of these people have been dealing with prejudice their entire lives." For the first time since meeting him, an almost grim, serious expression took over Delsin's features. "This feels like the least I can do."

Desmond could recognize a guilty man when he saw one; it was a sight that greeted him every time he looked in the mirror. Empathy moved him to reach out, to place his hand on Delsin's upper arm and catch his eyes with his own.

"Hey, this may not feel like enough to you, but it's a damn good place to start. Trust me when I say how rare it is that a place with access to these kinds of resources actually does what it's supposed to." Desmond shook his head. "I'm amazed that you're nonprofit, honestly." Desmond squeezed a little, trying to convey his sincerity. "You should be proud."

Delsin's lips twitched, a phantom of his usual smile. Lowly, he admitted, "I am."

Desmond smiled back, glad to see he'd managed to help even a little bit, and for a moment they just looked at each other. Desmond's job these days was talking to people, but this was the first time in longer than he cared to remember that he'd just talked to someone. Not about Assassins or Templars or temples or the next mission. Just two people, passionate about something they believed in, trying to make the world a better place. It felt good.

Plus, it helped that Delsin was so easy to talk to. He was fun, and kind, and quipped with the best of them. He wasn't too bad to look at, either—not that Desmond was going to do anything about that even on the off-chance Delsin was single. But there was nothing wrong with looking, right?

Those thoughts brought Desmond back to the present, where Delsin was smiling at him and Desmond was still gripping his arm.

Trying to look as casual about it as possible, Desmond pulled his hand back, internally rolling his eyes at how weird he was being. Keep a guy underground for months at a time and suddenly he's pawing at the first attractive person to shoot him a smile.

"Hey, Des!"

Startled, Desmond tore his eyes from Delsin and twisted to the doors, where Rebecca was waiting with her fists on her hips. Her dark eyes appraised Delsin for a moment, but she didn't say anything, attention focused only on him.

She jerked a thumb over her shoulder. "Ready to go?"

"Y-yeah," Desmond called back, suffering acute mental whiplash. Desmond preferred to walk to work in the mornings and take in the city, but in the evenings Shaun or Rebecca tended to pick him up after the first few times Desmond walked back and didn't get home until well after midnight. He hadn't even noticed her come in.

God, he hoped she hadn't caught him staring.

He shot Delsin one last glance. "Um, it was nice talking to you." There. That didn't sound too stupid.

"Right back at ya." Desmond took a step back, but didn't get any further when Delsin stopped him with a, "Will you be back tomorrow?"

Desmond blinked. "...yeah."

His answer was rewarded with a pleased, dazzling smile. "Then I'll see you tomorrow, Desmond."

Desmond didn't even try to articulate himself, furiously forcing down a blush. He trusted himself with a smile and a wave, and all but ran out the door, Rebecca shooting him furtive glances as they walked to the car.

As soon as she started the engine rock music blared through the speakers. But it wasn't enough to chase away the memory of Delsin's smile nor his parting words.

The way he said it...kinda made it sound like a promise. He'd never put much stock into promises before, but now he couldn't help but be just a little hopeful.

Ugh. Frustrated and exasperated with himself, Desmond shoved the thought far, far away and turned to ask Rebecca about her day.

He couldn't afford any distractions.

Chapter Text

For a moment, Delsin was confused when he woke up with a lingering feeling of excitement. But then he remembered meeting Desmond and a smile flickered to life on his face, a typically rare sight so early in the morning.

Jeez. Why am I acting so middle school? It was embarrassing how much he was looking forward to seeing Desmond, especially after such a short conversation, but...

There was something there. Delsin was sure of it. Call it a hunch, but from Desmond's easy smiles, his warm eyes, the earnest, proud way he'd talked—this guy was different from anyone Delsin had ever known, he'd bet his smoke powers on it.

Plus, he couldn't remembered the last time he'd talked to someone for so long before it turned to work; yesterday had been a refreshing change.

When Delsin walked into the center that morning, his good mood was immediately apparent. He got more than a few raised brows from his chipper smiles and waves, and even a comment or two about how he must have a good night's rest, both with and without innuendo.

Even Roxie couldn't resist teasing him when he came over.

"Delsin Rowe—showing up before ten and smiling, without a cup of coffee to be seen? I must be having a stroke."

Delsin scowled halfheartedly and crossed his arms.

"Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. Can't I technically fire you?"

"Technically, sure." Roxie shrugged, eyes going back to her ever-present clipboard. She wrote something down, voice distracted as she spoke. "I'm not really worried about it."

"Yeah, I noticed," Delsin said dryly.

A few other people checked in with Roxie, getting their schedules and work assignments, and Delsin side-stepped away, greeting them but letting everyone have space enough to talk without him standing there just watching awkwardly.

When the third person was done and walked away, Roxie's dark eyes flicked to him.

"Did you actually want an assignment today?"

"Oh. Uh, no..." Delsin rubbed the back of his neck, looking away.

As practically the owner of the shelter, Delsin didn't really have to do any work at all. But he had always been the type to get his hands dirty, and this whole project was his baby, in a way. While Roxie was in charge in the day-to-day running of it—divvying up the work and schedules, Delsin was the sole exception to the rule and tended to go where the wind took him each day, from serving and cooking in the cafeteria, to playing games with the younger residents to keep them entertained.

Having free reign over the duties worked best for him and getting assigned something specific really limited his movement. But Roxie was watching him and he didn't have an excuse to give her as to why he was lingering near the front of the building.

Roxie arched a brow, but before she could question him further, her eyes flicked past him.

"Oh, good morning, Desmond."

Delsin turned and sure enough, there was Desmond, closing the distance between them with a smile on his face and a bag slung over his shoulder. He wore a plain t-shirt and a zip up hoodie just like yesterday, as well as a pair of black athletic pants and sneakers. He wore a glove, the same as before, one that was plain to see—long and disappearing into the sleeve of his t-shirt—when he led his classes and took off his jacket. Delsin wondered if it was a fashion choice, or something more personal.

Objectively speaking, Desmond still somehow managed to look almost unfairly attractive, a fact Delsin couldn't help but notice yesterday and confirmed today.

"Morning," Desmond replied, hands slipping into his pockets. He turned his attention on Delsin and his smile warmed, tinged with pleasure. "Hey, Delsin."

There was something about Desmond's manner that was just comfortable, made him answer that smile in kind with far more honesty than he intended.

"Hey," Delsin replied. "Long time no see."

Desmond's smile widened. "Yeah, no kidding. I didn't actually think I'd run into you again so soon. Figured the big shot who ran the place would be too busy for us peons."

"Oh, I am," Delsin assured him, grinning. "But I made a promise, and I always keep my promises."

"I'll have to keep that in mind." Desmond spared a glance to his wrist and shot Delsin an apologetic look. "I gotta get going; see you around?"

"Of course. Um," Delsin aimed for a casual tone of voice. "Wanna meet up for lunch? My treat."

"Oh." For a moment, Desmond's smile was wiped away, an expression of honest surprise clear on his face. But then the smile broke out again, warmer and happier than any Delsin had seen yet. "Sounds great. What time?"

"Noon good?"

"Yeah."

"Okay. Cool." Delsin probably looked like an idiot, smiling like he was, but Desmond didn't seem sick of him yet.

Desmond took a step back, then gave Delsin a little salute and walked away.

"See you then!"

Delsin watched him go for a few seconds, unable to deny the excitement that bloomed in his chest at the thought of getting to see Desmond again, in only a few hours time.

The sound of a cleared throat broke Delsin out of his thoughts, and he blinked to see Roxie, staring at him with a Look on her face.

"...What?" Delsin asked suspiciously, feeling vaguely guilty.

Roxie's lips curved into a small, devious smile.

"Oh, nothing," she said loftily. "I just think it's cute, is all."

His cheeks grew warm. "What's cute?"

"Your little crush."

"Crush?!" Delsin stared at her, mouth agape, and Roxie's smile grew into a grin. "I—I don't—You're joking, right?" Seriously, was this middle school?

"Honestly, it's sad you don't see it."

"He's a friend! I literally met him yesterday."

"Wow. That makes it even sadder."

Face red, Delsin scowled at Roxie—for real this time, but she didn't looked cowed in the slightest.

"Why am I even talking to you right now?"

"I don't know, you obviously got what you came here for."

Delsin decided he was too mature to dignify that with a response. He walked away to find some work to do, willing the heat from his cheeks and writing Roxie off as completely insane. Insane, or bored.

A crush...

The thought was ridiculous. Delsin was hardly a blushing virgin; he'd had more than his fair share of hook-ups, and this was different. He just wanted to spend time with Desmond, that was all. Sure, the guy was hot, but Delsin's first thought hadn't been hooking up.

Well...maybe that wasn't true, but it wasn't a thought that lingered once they'd started talking. If anything, he was happy to have made a potential new friend. He could admit that he was maybe a little too emotionally invested in whether or not Desmond liked him, but—still.

Delsin didn't get crushes because he was a grown-ass man. Roxie was just seeing what she wanted to because she was a terrible gossip. End of story.


It only took a week before Delsin was forced to grimly face the facts:

He definitely had a crush. Actually, not to be dramatic or anything, but Delsin was pretty sure he was in love.

Had he ever been in love before? No. But what started out as admiration had quickly grown into something far more intense, given new life by Desmond's every smile, his laugh, moments when he was teaching and he lifted his shirt to wipe the sweat from his face.

The thing was, Delsin was used to banging it out. If he felt attracted to someone, he hit on them, and if things went well, he went home with them. That usually resolved any feelings he might have had, and everyone left more or less happy.

But this thing with Desmond? He could already tell it was something completely new.

For one, Delsin actually cared. It had only been a week, yet he was incredibly invested in everything that had to do with Desmond.

It almost felt impossible not to, though. Desmond was just such a great, interesting guy. He was funny and modest, kind and considerate—Delsin had shadowed a few more of his classes and felt some pretty unmanly warmth in his chest when he saw Desmond on one knee, helping his little group of kids learn how to throw a punch.

Not to mention the skill. Desmond was a very competent fighter, yet even when he was teaching his more advanced groups it was easy to get the sense that he was holding back. That lean, muscular build wasn't just for show, that was for sure.

All of it made for one drool-worthy, impressive package. It was enough to be intimidating, but Delsin also didn't think he imagined the way Desmond's eyes lit up when he dropped by for a visit. There was hope.

He had a rough plan. Muster up the courage to make a move, and in the meantime avoid Roxie and her smug looks like the plague.

For a few weeks, he made good headway on the avoid-Roxie part of the plan. The other—was a work in progress.

In all honesty, just hanging out with Desmond at the shelter was good enough for him that he didn't feel a need to rush and change things. He had time, and for once he didn't want to jump headfirst into an impulsive decision. Desmond made him want to be better than that, and he deserved as much.

But then one day Desmond unknowingly raised the stakes.

They were eating together in the gym, backs on the far wall and legs stretched out on the floor. It wasn't the most comfortable of seats, but Desmond was usually too hungry after a class to care and Delsin liked both the informality of the setting and getting Desmond all to himself.

They tended to eat lunch every day together, mainly for the convenience of the location, but also because the volunteers who worked the cafeteria always did local fair and Desmond quickly developed an addiction for fish and chips.

"Oh my God," Desmond said around a mouthful of hot, thick-cut fries. "This is so good. Why is this so good?"

Beside him, Delsin snickered.

He washed down his own food with a swig of water and grinned. "Should I leave you alone, or...?"

"I'm not ashamed," Desmond returned, flashing Delsin a grin of his own. Desmond popped a piece of fish in his mouth and looked as if he were having a religious experience. "I can't believe I've gone my whole life without this." His tone was a touch wistful. "I'm gonna miss it."

...What? 

Mirth abandoned, Delsin straightened from his slouch against the wall, whipping his head to look at Desmond properly.

"Miss it?" he echoed, something like fear settling over him. "You going somewhere?"

Desmond froze for a split-second, expression dropping from ease to a weird tension. It was clear he hadn't meant to say that.

"Well...yeah," Desmond said slowly. He looked distinctly uncomfortable, setting aside his food and rubbing a hand self-consciously against his mouth.

He cracked open a water bottle and drank from it, but Delsin couldn't help but feel he was just stalling for time to find the right words. He hadn't met Delsin's eyes once since his accidental confession.

Which was probably for the best, because Delsin knew he probably had some awful, panicked look on his face that he didn't have a prayer of changing.

"I'm not sure when, exactly, but yeah. I'm gonna move on." Desmond shrugged, a slight, listless smile raising his lips. "I'm not really the 'staying in one place' type."

Appetite completely forgotten, Delsin desperately attempted so say something halfway articulate amidst the reeling, tangled jumble of thoughts his brain had become.

After a belated moment of struggling, Delsin managed to ask, "But—why?"

Delsin knew Desmond liked Seattle. Loved it, probably. The food, the people, the environment—he dropped little awe-tinged compliments more often than he realized, taking in his surroundings occasionally with the air of someone truly content.

So why was he planning on leaving? His work here had become essential and he loved teaching. He spent more time at the shelter than he did at home, especially now that he was hanging out with Delsin, and so far he'd never heard him complain once about anything about living here.

He liked the rain, he liked the company, he liked the experience—it just didn't add up.

Beside him, Desmond grimaced at Delsin's question, his shrug tight and jerky.

"Just—it's a—work thing," he claimed, but the words rang hollow.

Delsin just stared at Desmond, beyond dismayed—leaning more towards devastation.

Obviously, Desmond was hiding something. He'd never mentioned a different job before working at the shelter, and there was nothing in his voice or body language to indicate there was any love lost there. But for some reason, he was willing to leave a place he loved for it.

And Delsin was going to lose him before he even had a chance to know him the way he wanted to.

"It—look, it probably won't be for a while anyway," Desmond said, rubbing the back of his neck. He stared into the middle distance, frowning as he made excuses. "I mean, I don't know for sure, but—I mean, I like it here, a lot, but I have other responsibilities—"

But Delsin wasn't listening, not really. He was simply looking at Desmond, soberly aware of the fact that his days with him were numbered. That he only had so much time before he could no longer see Desmond, sit beside him and talk and laugh.

He was going to leave, and if Delsin didn't do anything, didn't at least try to change his mind, he'd never forgive himself.

"Don't go," Delsin interrupted. Desmond stopped mid-sentence, looking at Delsin for the first time since they'd started this conversation. When their eyes met, Delsin pushed away his food where it sat between them, the tray scraping on the polished gym floor as he swept it aside. He leaned in close, gaze imploring.

"Don't go," he repeated, just a few inches separating them.

Surprised, Desmond's brown eyes went wide and Delsin knew, It's now or never.

"You're really making a difference here, Desmond. I don't know much about what you did before," Delsin admitted, "But you're happy here, I can tell. So—don't go. Everyone'll miss you. ...Me especially." The last sentence came out quiet, heart-racing and intimate, and Desmond broke eye contact, shoulders hunching against the words.

"I..." Desmond sighed, and he suddenly looked so tired. "Del..."

Delsin could feel the denial in the air, surrounding them, could feel the words about to fall from his lips.

So Delsin did what he'd held back from since the moment he first saw Desmond:

He acted, and didn't think about it.

It took less than a second to lean over and kiss him, and when he did, it was nothing like he'd imagined. When he'd allowed himself to wonder, daydreaming or late at night, what it would be like to kiss Desmond, he hadn't thought he'd be this scared—scared to lose him, scared he was making a mistake, scared that he was trying to stop the unstoppable.

But that fear didn't outweigh the relief. The relief of finally doing something, of knowing that for better or worse, he knew now what Desmond felt like against him, what he tasted like and how smooth his lips felt against him.

Desmond went rigid in shock, a short gasp escaping him, and with a mental shrug, Delsin decided, Might as well earn the punch I'm about to get.

With that gasp, it was a simple thing to deepen the kiss, to push that much closer and part those lips with his tongue to dip inside. His arm reached out to him, dragged him closer so their chests pressed together. Their legs bumped against the other's and the feel of him was—intoxicating in a way he wasn't expecting. Desperation played a part in it, sure; he didn't want to lose someone who'd become so important to him so quickly, who made him feel normal.

But, mostly, it just felt good. Really good. Better if Desmond kissed back, but—he'd savor this moment while he could. At least he'd have the memory.

Delsin almost froze himself, however, when a long moment passed and Desmond finally lost his tension. He thought, This is it. This is when he hauls back and decks me.

But then Desmond's lips moved against his and his hands come up, grasping onto his arms tentatively. There was hesitation in every ounce of his movements, but he was responding. He was kissing back and reaching out and making these noises-

The low-banked, smoldering heat in his chest ignited into an inferno and Delsin stopped holding back.

With a groan, he slid a hand up to thread through the short strands on Desmond's head, tilting his head just where he wanted him to he could ravish him like he'd thought about for weeks now. His other hand, before holding Desmond against him, now stroked down the length of his back, pressing insistently, molding his body to his so that not even air had a whisper of a chance to get between them.

Delsin's goal moved from Take A Chance to Make Him Feel Good. So good, he won't even think about leaving, won't even remember he was going to.

And for a small eternity, he did. Tasting that hot mouth, pressed so close their clothes seem pointless, drinking in those quiet, aborted sounds of pleasure Desmond kept trying to choke down—it was clear they were both feeling good.

But then Desmond suddenly wrenched back, cutting everything off with a jarring abruptness.

Delsin almost fell forward, barely stopping himself from an embarrassing face-plant with a quickly thrown out arm.

"What—?" Confused and turned on, he had to take a second just to reorient himself. But when he looked up, Desmond was shaking his head, flushed, with panic clear in his brown eyes.

"I—I shouldn't have—I'm sorry—"

Oh, shit. Alarmed by the sudden change in attitude, Delsin tried to soothe him, unsure as to what went wrong so quickly, but hating the fear he saw.

"Whoa, whoa, Desmond, calm down—"

Desmond leaned away, looking thoroughly shaken, eyes wide as he stared at Delsin.

"I'm sorry," he repeated. "I—It's not you, I—I can't—"

"Desmond, it's okay." Delsin wanted nothing more than to have Desmond back in his arms, to soothe whatever caused his panic and make him feel good again. He tried to close the distance between them, saying, "Here, just—"

But the moment he moved, Delsin saw how his eyes zeroed in on his hand reaching out, could see his fucking pupils dilate. He looked terrified.

In the space of a split-instant, Desmond was simply gone—leaping up and sprinting out the door without a prayer of Delsin catching up.

It happened so fast, Delsin was simply left there blinking at the empty air. For a moment, there was only the muted shock and the oppressive, cacophonous silence.

But soon enough, the confusion, frustration, worry, and embarrassment made themselves clear as the last few minutes caught up to him.

He'd ruined everything. At least before, he had some time with Desmond. Come tomorrow, he wouldn't be surprised to hear that Desmond turned in his resignation letter and left Seattle without another word.

Delsin threw his head back against the wall, hard, but the pain of that was nothing to the turmoil inside.

Deeply, heartfelt, Delsin closed his eyes and yelled, "Fuck!"

Chapter Text

"Okay, what's up with you?"

Desmond blinked, looking up from his bowl of cereal. Shaun and Rebecca watched him back, equal parts shrewd and worried.

"Uh...nothing?" Desmond swirled the floating bits of his cereal unenthusiastically, noting that it had long grown soggy.

"Then why are you being so quiet? It's kinda freaky."

Desmond limply raised and dropped a shoulder. "It's early. I'm tired," he explained simply.

Shaun and Rebecca exchanged a look, seemingly unaware that Desmond's peripheral vision worked.

"I very much doubt that," Shaun commented, one brow raised over the rim of his glasses. "You're the most annoying morning person I've ever met. And even if that were true, that doesn't explain yesterday."

Desmond tensed, cursing for giving himself away in the same second—there was no way they hadn't caught that.

"What about yesterday?"

"Well, something must have happened. You practically skipped to work that morning, but when I picked you up you didn't say a word. And you always regale Rebecca and I with the latest gossip, trials, and tribulations of your day."

"Figured you'd be happy I didn't, then."

Unexpectedly, Shaun snatched up the tablet resting at his elbow and promptly smacked Desmond upside the head with it.

"Ow!" Desmond leaned away and glared, rubbing the side of his head tentatively. "What the hell, man?!"

"Stop being a prat," Shaun scolded, meeting Desmond's glare with one of his own. "Just tell us and get it over with so I can make fun of you and you can go back to waxing poetic about rainbows and we can all get on with our lives."

"Boy, Shaun, you always know what to say," Desmond said caustically.

Shaun opened his mouth, another retort on his lips, but Rebecca nudged him with a pointy elbow, shooting him a stern look.

"What Shaun's trying to say, Desmond, is that we're worried about you." She met his eyes and the concern and affection he saw there muted his earlier annoyance. "We're your friends, and we just want you to know that you can talk to us about anything, okay?"

"It's..." Desmond sighed. "Okay. Yeah. Thanks."

A beat passed where they stared at Desmond and Desmond stared at the table. Shaun drummed his fingers on the surface.

"And will you be deigning us with words anytime this year?"

Desmond shot a glare at him. "Wasn't planning on it."

"Des-mooooooooond," Rebecca groaned. She leaned forward, arms stretching the length of the table in a graceless flop. "Come on! If you can't tell us, who can you tell?"

"I wasn't planning on talking about it at all, actually."

"Desmond, that's worse." He'd been glared at more this morning than he'd ever been in his life. "Ignore Shaun, tell me, at least."

"Hey!"

"Plus, you forfeited the right to keep it to yourself when you made it obvious you were moping."

"Moping?"

"Yup. So spill."

Desmond debated a moment on just walking away, but...he did want to talk about it, if for no other reason than to get perspective. He could use a little advice.

"Okay. So...yesterday, I was eating lunch with Delsin, right?" Rebecca and Shaun stayed quiet, both of them well-used to hearing Delsin's name at this point. "Well, I kinda let it slip that I'd be moving on eventually, and he got upset, I guess. He told me he wanted me to stay and then he..." Desmond hated that he was blushing, but he couldn't help it. This was a situation he'd never quite been in before, and it had been longer still since he'd gotten that sort of attention from someone.

Words failed him and when it became clear he wasn't going to speak again, Rebecca reached out and poked him.

"What? What'd he do, Desmond?"

"Do we need to kill him?"

Desmond slid his bowl to the side and planted his head face-down, caving into the urge to hide.

"...he kissed me," he mumbled into the table.

Rebecca gasped and Shaun simply said, "Ah."

"No shit, really?!" A pause. "So, wait, he assaulted you? That's why you're upset?"

"What? No!" Desmond jerked back up, eyes wide. "I mean, it was unexpected, but he didn't force himself on me."

Well, he kinda did, but it was in a good way. A very good way. That first kiss had been him testing the waters, and it was only once Desmond returned it that he got particularly hand-sy.

...God, just remembering it made Desmond's face burn. It was one thing to know someone was hot, to wonder what it would be like to be with them in that way. It was quite another to know.

The way Delsin had kissed him—Desmond couldn't have stopped him if he'd wanted to. And he definitely hadn't wanted to.

Which was why he ran away.

"So a hot guy kisses you...and thaaaaaaaaaaat's...bad," Rebecca summed up. "I think I'm missing the part where the problem comes up?"

"It just...it seems selfish, starting something up when I know it can't go anywhere."

Shaun and Rebecca glanced at each other, sharing a look Desmond couldn't decipher.

"It's not that big a deal," Rebecca shrugged. "You're pretty much on vacation anyways. Might as well enjoy it."

Desmond stared at her, but Rebecca didn't suddenly realize how ridiculous she sounded and take it back. She just kept eating her cereal. Shaun seemed bored of the topic already, eyes back on his tablet.

Desmond looked back at the table, frowning.

Maybe...maybe Rebecca was right. Not about the 'enjoying himself' part, obviously. But maybe he was making a big deal out of nothing. That kiss...it had awakened feelings in Desmond he'd all but forgotten. The fire and passion, the addictive intimacy of someone pressed close—to Desmond, it had felt like a taste of sunlight after years in darkness.

But what about Delsin? He was young, smart, talented, practically the spokesperson for an entire revolution—what could Desmond be to him but a passing interest?

The longer he thought about it, the more it made sense. Desmond...was simply blowing things out of proportion. After his little freak out yesterday, Delsin had probably lost interest, anyways. No one liked a project, and that was the kindest way Desmond could describe himself to anyone who'd want to be close to him.

"Yeah," Desmond said slowly, considering. Shaun and Rebecca looked at him, and he smiled. "You're right, Rebecca."

Rebecca smiled back. "See? I told you—"

"It's not a big deal. He probably didn't mean anything by it, really. It was just a mistake."

"Uh, that's not—"

"Thanks," Desmond stood from the table with his bowl. "I guess I was overthinking things," he admitted.

"Desmond, I didn't—"

He glanced at the microwave and the time made him start. "Aw, crap, I should get going. See you guys tonight?"

"Wait—!"

Shaun stopped her with a hand on her arm and Rebecca paused, half-risen out of her chair. Shaun shook his head.

"There's really no point," he told her. Shaun looked to Desmond. "I'll be picking you up tonight," Shaun reminded him.

"Uh, okaaaaay," Desmond replied. He hesitated a second, eyeing Rebecca, but when neither of them seemed inclined to explain themselves, Desmond shrugged it off. If it was important, they'd tell him.

"See ya!"


 

Despite his earlier resolution to Get Over It, Desmond was plagued by a nervous hyper-tension the moment the facility came into view. He practically went through the five stages of grief just forcing himself through the door. Thank God Shaun or Rebecca weren't around to see him acting like a highschooler.

Even harder to resist was the urge to call out, but pure shame kept him from it. For one, he was a grown ass man; he could handle a little awkwardness over something so dumb.

Second, he had responsibilities here and while he had no delusions that the shelter couldn't run without him, he wasn't about to miss an opportunity be here, not when he didn't know how long it would last.

It's not even a big deal, he told himself as he pushed through the front doors. If Delsin doesn't avoid me for being a total weirdo, I'm sure we can both just laugh this whole thing off. He panicked. I overreacted. End of story.

The pep talk got him through the building and to the gym. It got him through his first few classes, and settled into his usual groove, muscles loose and low-burning adrenaline keeping him warm as he moved through each demonstration.

See? Just like any other day.

Desmond did his best to not look at the clock too often, even after lunch came and Delsin was nowhere to be seen.

And that's fine, He told himself firmly as he ate alone. He could have eaten in the cafeteria, but just the thought of possibly running into Delsin made him want to crawl inside a hole and never leave. This is what I get after the stunt I pulled.

His worrying was cut short, however, an hour before the end of his last class. Desmond was threading through his students (his late-teens group) and correcting stances here and there as they steadily worked through their forms.

He knelt by Katie—short and thin for her age, but agile in a way that could be lethal if she kept at it—and nudged her elbows up higher, got her arms into a better blocking position.

"Draw your elbows a little closer together," Desmond told her, "And don't forget to twist your wrist as you extend."

Katie nodded, "Right. Got it."

Just as Desmond looked up and smiled at her, he caught sight of a figure entering the gym straight across from him.

It was Delsin. Desmond froze, the smile dropping from his face in surprise, and Delsin found his eyes immediately.

He looked...uncomfortable, warring with utter blankness. For the first time, Desmond didn't greet him with a smile—he couldn't—and was hyper-aware of it.

Wow. This feels shittier than I expected. Certainly worse than what he'd braced himself for. After that addicting, easy camaraderie he'd forged with Delsin, to have it suddenly gone was like a blow. He couldn't recall connecting with anyone that fast or easily, and it seemed he'd well and truly destroyed everything.

"Are you okay, Desmond?"

Katie's question jerked Desmond back into the present and he realized everyone was still in their last position, waiting for direction.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm great," Desmond patted Katie on the back, giving her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. He straightened. "Let's pair up and do some sparring. I'm looking at form and execution more than wins here, so keep that in mind."

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Delsin talking with a few other people who caught him just outside the door, some residents, other staff. He seemed normal, smiling and laughing, but Desmond thought he spotted a certain tension in him, a stiffness to his smiles. But he could have been projecting.

Even as Desmond re-focused on his class, there was no helping the way his heart was racing no matter how steadily he breathed in and out, nor the hyper-focus that kept Delsin in his field of view. Delsin was here for a reason, and Desmond speculated almost obsessively over what he would say, each possibility worse than the last.

Worse than the knowledge of an imminent confrontation, however, was when Delsin wrapped up whatever conversation he was having when Desmond still had half an hour to go until the end of his class.

He moved away from the doorway, close to Desmond's group, and settled against the far wall. He pulled out his phone, seemingly engrossed, but it was clear to anyone he was waiting—and from his position, for Desmond specifically.

Oh, God. Please leave. If Desmond thought he was stressed out before, it was nothing compared to now. He's probably making sure I don't run away.

The thought made Desmond grimace, and he couldn't resist glancing at Delsin in the vain hope of gauging his mood and preparing himself for whatever he was going to say.

In a stroke of bad luck, he managed to catch Delsin's eyes just as he glanced up, too. Their eyes met, but Delsin didn't look away. He just—kept watching him back, eyes dark and unreadable, but unashamedly keeping contact, almost daring Desmond to look away first.

Desmond didn't even pretend to meet the challenge, looking back at his students even as embarrassment swept through him. His cheeks were warm, but it was obviously from the exertion. Obviously.

He looked at the clock. Ten more minutes. He wasn't sure if he wanted the clock to slow down or speed up. Either way, he doubted he'd last much longer.

Desmond felt those eyes on him as he led everyone through their cool-down and stretches, as he finally ended the class and patiently answered the questions of those who lingered.

Desmond had the space of a breath to steel himself when the gym finally emptied, and then Delsin was suddenly there, just a foot or so away, a nervous-tension clear in how he fidgeted and frowned and shifted from foot to foot.

"Look, Desmond," he started straightaway, "I'm really sorry about yesterday. I shouldn't have—"

Suddenly, hearing Delsin confirm outright that he regretted his actions, that the kiss was a mistake, was the last thing Desmond wanted to hear, even though he'd already known it.

He held up a hand. "I'm going to stop you there. Del, if anyone should be apologizing, it's me."

That shut him up. Delsin's expression was one of acute confusion.

"I shouldn't have reacted like that yesterday. I didn't mean to make you feel bad, or anything. I was just surprised."

"Uh...alright?" Delsin still stared at Desmond in confusion, eyebrows wrinkled as he tried to understand. "So...?"

"Look, Delsin, I was—flattered, believe me. But I can't...I can't start anything like that." It was hard saying it, and harder still to maintain eye contact, but he did. Delsin had to get this. There couldn't be any room for doubt.

"Oh." It was a small sound, but Desmond held back a wince from how hollow it sounded. A part of him desperately wished he could jump back in time and stop that stupid kiss from happening.

Delsin didn't speak for a moment, hands shoved deep in his pockets as he looked away and processed.

"Um. Yeah, I get it." Delsin blew out a sharp breath. "Well, still. I'm sorry for basically attacking you like that. That was," Delsin grimaced, a look of self-disgust on his dark features, "Pretty creepy, actually. I get if you kinda hate me now."

The thought of Delsin putting himself down over something Desmond certainly hadn't minded was intolerable and he felt a bolt of dismay that he was making Delsin think ill of himself.

"Delsin, stop. I'm not mad, and you're definitely not creepy. Besides," Desmond looked away then, crossing his arms. "It's...not like I hated it," he mumbled.

It was a stupid thing to say to someone he was trying to turn down, but he felt like he had to. It was better than letting Delsin believe he was some sort of predator, or that Desmond found his touch disgusting. Desmond wasn't about to let him punish himself over something so innocuous.

Delsin's frown returned, as well as the same spark of hope he'd had in his eyes just before he kissed Desmond. "Okaaaaay," he rocked back on his heels, "Then I'm confused. Is there someone else? A boyfriend? Girlfriend?"

"Er, no," Desmond rubbed the back of his neck, uncomfortable. He didn't think he'd have to give a reason, and he definitely hadn't thought this far. "It's nothing like that."

"Are you just...not into guys?" But Delsin sounded doubtful even as he asked and Desmond blushed; they both remembered the kiss well, and saying that Desmond had been...willing...was putting it lightly.

"No—I mean, I am—"

Delsin took a step forward. "Then, what? If you're into me, and you're single—?"

"Look, that's not the point," Desmond cut in, trying to regain control of the conversation, but Delsin wasn't having it.

"—Uh, it kinda is? Is it me? Did I just get the wrong impression? If you're really not interested, I get it."

"No—look—Delsin—" Desmond paused to let out an aggravated sigh. Why was this conversation deteriorating so fast? "It's not that I'm not...I mean, it's obvious you're a great guy, and attractive—"

"—Yeah, okay, you're into me, I'm into you, what's the problem?" Delsin looked just as frustrated.

"Me!" Desmond replied sharply, almost yelling. For a long moment, that one word hung over them, heavy with implication, and Desmond sighed. He shrugged a shoulder and broke eye contact, hating how pathetic he was about to sound.

"I can't be in a relationship," Desmond confessed quietly. "They just—it wouldn't work out. Never has. I tried, once. I'm not willing to go through that again."

Desmond squeezed his fist against the phantom-feeling of heat on his skin, of the warm trickle of blood sliding over his wrist, coating his fingers.

"It's better this way," Desmond reasoned. He turned his back on Delsin to retrieve his jacket and phone. He kept his voice light, but his grip was crushing on his phone, betraying him. "I've got a lot of baggage; I'm saving you the hassle of learning it the hard way, really."

Desmond slung his coat over one shoulder and faced Delsin with a resigned smile. It was late, and his ride would be here soon. He needed to wrap this up and head out there.

"Let's just forget about this, all right?" Delsin glanced at him and away, clearly unhappy, but he didn't protest, which was progress. Desmond walked towards him, body angled towards the exit, but couldn't help hesitating beside him.

"...I...still want to be friends, though." Desmond held his breath as Delsin looked at him, but his heart sank when their eyes met. Delsin looked so angry.

"Not interested," Delsin said darkly, scowling.

That...yeah, that hurt, Desmond couldn't deny it to himself. He hadn't thought Delsin would just end their friendship like that, but. Well. Okay. That was that, then. He'd get over it. Hopefully, Desmond would still have a job after tonight.

Before Desmond could start mentally planning long-term, where he'd work next or if he'll even want to stay in Seattle, Delsin moved.

His sight blurred in sudden motion, a burning grip locked around his waist, and then he was across the room, pressed against the wall.

Delsin was everywhere, pressing against him, filling his vision as the scent of acrid smoke stung his nose and black embers drifted past his face.

Desmond's head shot up in shock and he found himself looking straight into Delsin's burning eyes.

"You can't just do that," Delsin practically growled, giving Desmond a light squeeze in emphasis. "See, that's not how it works. You can't just decide you don't want a relationship because you're too chickenshit."

Ignoring the part of him that was pleased to find Delsin in his personal space, Desmond mustered a frown.

"I'm not—"

"—Yeah, you are," Delsin steamrolled him, eyebrows furrowed. His scowl was back. "You don't get to decide for me that you're not worth the effort. That's my decision."

Desmond wanted to be angrier. He wanted to be angry, period, but the most he could muster was frustration. The feeling of those burning hands on him, of his body crowded close and the way Delsin was looking at him—it all combined to form a formidable enough force that Desmond was having a hard time stringing two coherent thoughts together.

He tried to, anyway.

"Look, Delsin, I'm not—you don't really want this—"

But that was the wrong thing to say, especially after Delsin just told him exactly how much he appreciated having decisions made for him.

Delsin kissed him like he was punishing him. It was all hard pressure, insistent and demanding reciprocation, and, after a moment of electric shock, Desmond succumbed to the embrace, of Delsin pulling him so close it was as if he wanted to sink into his skin, of the all-consuming heat of it.

The kiss was forceful, but it grew slow and thorough, hot, questing tongues and searching, wide caresses, mapping out every inch of his body Delsin could get at.

Desmond wasn't proud of how little of a fight he put up, how quick he was to open his mouth and touch Delsin in turn. But more than the electric attraction that sprung between them at the slightest touch, there was simply something too intoxicating about Delsin's touch to deny. It honestly scared him a little.

Delsin only pressed him more firmly into the wall in response, kissing him over and over, each time a little longer, each time stealing a little more of his breath.

Feeling almost drunk from it all, Desmond surfaced, tried to reason.

"Delsin, wait—"

Delsin just kissed him again, unwilling to hear his protests. Desmond made a low noise of pleasure, eyes slipping shut.

"You're being dumb," Delsin berated him lightly between kisses a small eternity later. He nipped at Desmond's bottom lip before kissing him again, slipping a hand underneath his shirt with fingers that felt scalding. "Why fight something that feels so good, huh?"

Swept in the moment, Desmond couldn't have agreed more. He wasn't proud of it, but he let Delsin take him away, let him distract him and crash over him and wipe every thought from his head that wasn't Delsin's touch, his lips, his hands on him and the next breath he could steal before Delsin tried to take it all over again.

The way Delsin made him feel was dangerous. His thoughts, always a cacophonous riot of worries, doubts, painful memories and regrets, were silenced just from the slightest touch, endorphins raised to new heights just from a glance. He couldn't think of a single drug more addicting, a high more euphoric. If he let Delsin have his way, he probably would have died right in that spot, making out with him like a pair of teenagers until they died from oxygen deprivation.

Instead of going down in history as the world's most useless assassin, however, the angry crackle of his earpiece made him jump as it came to life. 

"Ready when you are, Desmond."

"Um." Shit. Delsin searched Desmond's face, trying to find a reason for the sudden cold feet.

"I—my ride. They're waiting." Desmond said breathlessly. He didn't dare look at the clock, already knowing he couldn't escape a classic Shaun Hastings Bitch-Out.

In the distraction, Desmond managed to wrangle himself free with a well-placed jab and a push once he placed his foot against the wall and heaved—no doubt reminding Delsin that he taught self-defense classes for a reason.

Even still, half crouched over and clutching his side, Delsin reached out and Desmond only barely danced away from those searching fingertips, heart still racing.

Delsin's eyes were completely black and blazing with desire.

"Desmond," he started in warning and Desmond's heart leapt to his throat.

"Uh—I—uh, gotta go!" Desmond returned brilliantly, and then he was sprinting away and out of the door before Delsin could stand straight. However, he wasn't fast enough to escape Delsin's parting call.

"This isn't over!" Delsin yelled, voice full of promise, and Desmond swallowed, torn between excitement and guilt.

That's what I'm afraid of.

Chapter Text

Thoughts of Desmond kept Delsin up well into the night, and not just the good ones.

Of course, it couldn't be helped how he was haunted by the kisses they'd shared, the addicting feel of being pressed close, of Desmond's arms clutching him desperately and the breathless, pleading way he'd panted Delsin's name—

But as good as those memories were, what stuck out the most was the fear.

Desmond wanted to act like he was sensible and mature and content to divorce himself from any and all chances of human connection, but he couldn't see the way he looked when given a simple kiss, how it took him apart and left him raw. Lips kiss-swollen and in Delsin's arms, he didn't have a poker face for shit, and it was painfully obvious he was afraid of that intimacy, of the loss of control when they were together.

It bothered Delsin, more than he knew what to do with, to remember how much Desmond responded to his advances, yet so obviously feared that pleasure in turn. To crave touch that badly, but be scared of it...

Delsin frowned, pondering the night skyline from his perch atop a billboard. Seattle sprawled out before him, pulsing with light and life, but the city's beckoning didn't move him tonight, too caught up in worry.

Delsin was no therapist, but signs like that rarely meant anything good, and his thoughts grew darker, imagination running wild with the implications.

A part of Delsin—the sensible, very small part that sounded a lot like Reggie—thought that maybe he should take Desmond's advice. Stop things before they could really start.

After all, what did he know about relationships, or helping someone through what was clearly a deep-rooted mental trauma? Sure, he'd reached out to others before just fine, but he only saw flashes. Emotions. Intent. He gleaned a person's true nature in seconds and just sort of winged it from there, but how was he supposed to convince someone that they were worthy of affection? Of care and patience and desire? That was a tall order to fill, and arrogant besides; feelings or not, Delsin wasn't so self-absorbed that he thought anything he did or said would magically heal Desmond from a troubled past.

But that other, much louder and more often listened-to voice said, Fuck it. It firmly refused to abandon Desmond just because being with him wasn't going to be easy. Since when had Delsin ever, ever, chosen the easy option when given the chance? So Desmond had a few hangups—who didn't? If they spent enough time together, Desmond would realize Delsin had his fair share of issues, too.

Besides, chemistry like that couldn't be faked. When they touched, it was like pure electricity licking up his spine, dancing over his fingertips. He'd never felt passion that intense until he'd met Desmond.

...And he could admit that looks certainly had something to do with it. From that lithe, trim build to those gorgeous, happy brown eyes, it wasn't exactly a hardship to look at him. But when Delsin thought of Desmond, he never stayed focused on the purely physical.

Desmond was a man who was truly kind in a way that few people ever were. His patience and understanding were obvious when he taught, but there was never a moment when Delsin spoke that Desmond didn't seem one-hundred percent focused on him, attentive to a fault. His outlook on life was relentlessly optimistic in a way that came across as more refreshing than naive, and while he'd clearly seen his fair share of pain and injustice, it miraculously hadn't—justifiably—twisted him into someone much more bitter and guarded.

He tried to keep personal things about himself close to the chest, but Delsin noticed. The far-away, almost sad looks that would steal over his face when he thought no one was looking, the careful avoidance of any mention of his past, the arm he kept covered and the minute flinches he'd give before expertly and subtly moving before he could be touched—

All of it created a complex picture of the man who'd easily stolen Delsin's heart, and there wasn't a single bit of it that Delsin didn't treasure, wasn't grateful for. All of it boiled down to what made Desmond who he was, and Desmond was all he wanted.

Resolved, Delsin rose from his brooding and launched off his perch to head back home, soaring in flashes of spark and smoke.

After some time alone to think, it had become clear to Delsin that Desmond had given up on any real happiness in his life. Luckily for him, Delsin was just stubborn enough to try to change his mind.

He wasn't stupid, though. Going in guns blazing and demanding Desmond be his boyfriend would be a surefire way to guarantee Desmond fled the state. Maybe even the country.

He'd have to wear him down, make him see that being alone wasn't his only option. He'd been hurt before, clearly, but that was never a reason to give up.

Delsin had never been a fan of taking anything slow. Fast-paced, exciting, and risky had always been more his style. Slow was intolerable. Slow was atrophy. Slow felt like a creeping death.

But Desmond—

Flashes of him bombarded Delsin, of his dorky smile, the calm, typically happy cadence of his voice, the strength of his body, the touch of his skin, the deep loneliness in his eyes that cleared away when he looked up and spotted Delsin—

For this, Delsin could be patient. More than patient; Desmond was worth the wait.


 

 

Desmond had clearly spent just as much time awake last night as Delsin had if the yawning and dark bags were any indication. Delsin winced to see him, hesitating outside the open double-doorways to the gym as he took Desmond in.

While he'd had the luxury of making up his mind and resolving his feelings, Desmond didn't look like he'd approached anything like a peaceful resolution.

He looked...exhausted. Tired in a way that spoke of more than a single late-night, a bone-deep weariness that was clear at just a glance. He sat on the gym floor, miserably curled around his coffee, and drank it like a man looking for salvation at the bottom. His eyes occasionally flickered to the clock on the far wall, probably biding his time before his first class started and he had to pull himself together.

Delsin couldn't help but feel guilty, even if he didn't regret his actions the night before.

He looks like that because of me. Spent, worried, anxious—none of these were looks that suited Desmond. Still didn't stop Delsin from wanting to kiss him, though.

In any case, it wasn't a great feeling, knowing that he'd stressed Desmond out enough that he'd slept poorly, but at the very least it meant that Desmond was thinking about him, right? Whatever concerns he had, it seemed he was taking Delsin seriously now.

Still, he looked so miserable...

God, I really wanna kiss him. Delsin got ahold of himself, taking a deep breath. But, no. Not now. Patience, he reminded himself. Patience.

Clearing his mind and focusing on projecting nothing but a perfectly normal, friendly aura, Delsin moved further in the doorway and knocked on the wall.

Instantly, Desmond jerked, head twisting to the side fast enough Delsin got sympathy-whiplash.

An expression of half-wary alarm spread across his face, but Delsin spoke before he could do anything more.

Sheepish, Delsin didn't have to feign the slightly-awkward smile that crept on his lips.

"Uh...hey..."

Desmond continued to eye him suspiciously, tense. After a pregnant pause, he ventured, "...Hi...?"

Desmond looked ready for an attack, and Delsin couldn't blame him; after all, his last words to him had technically been a threat.

"Okay, so," Delsin took a few steps in, but stopped when Desmond visibly recoiled, alarmed.

Delsin held out his palms. "I just want to say something! Okay? Best behavior, I promise."

Hesitantly, Desmond nodded.

Delsin took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and decided to just say it straight.

"Your friendship is important to me," he started. By the widening of Desmond's eyes, he hadn't expected that.

"I know we haven't known each other long, and this probably makes me look stupid or dramatic or whatever, but I don't care. Yesterday was...a lot. For both of us. But I want you to know that I'm not just messing around."

Desmond kept staring a Delsin, shocked past the point of speaking, apparently. His mouth was parted but no words came out, and his expression only grew more bewildered, as if Delsin were speaking another language.

Delsin dared to take a few steps closer and when Desmond didn't flinch, he sat down next to him, close, but not too close.

"Look." Delsin clasped his hands together in his lap. His eyes dropped there, to his fingers, twisted together. "I was...I want you to know how I feel, but I also don't want to lose you." Delsin looked up, looked straight into Desmond's eyes. "So, I guess I just wanted to say that even if this," Delsin indicated the space between them with a vague, hand-waving gesture, "—doesn't work out, I don't want to ruin what we already have, you know? I just—" And here Delsin looked away, feeling vulnerable in a way that made him squirm, "—I still want to be your friend." Quieter, he repeated, "I don't want to lose you."

Silence stretched, and for a moment Delsin was sure that he'd gone too far, said too much and scared Desmond away.

But then he felt a touch on his shoulder and Desmond was there. He was smiling. A small one that transformed his face and made something warm spread in Delsin's chest.

"Delsin. I—of course, I'll still be your friend. You're important to me, too," he said, simple as that. He gave a self-deprecating shrug, his smile twisting with wry bitterness. "I'm not gonna lie, I came in today pretty much resolved to just avoid you—"

Delsin's heart jumped in fear at the very thought.

"—but that seems pretty childish, now," he admitted. "If you can come and talk about this like an adult, I can handle it like one, too." Desmond met his eyes and his smile grew—into his normal, happy one, the one that first made Delsin stop and take notice from the beginning. "Thank you, Delsin."

Delsin blinked, blind-sided, as always, by these little moments when Desmond was just—Desmond.

He cleared his throat, meeting Desmond's eyes almost shyly. "So...we're cool?"

Desmond's smile grew, the hand on his shoulder gripped a bit tighter.

"We're cool," he agreed happily.

Then it was Delsin's turn to smile, relieved. "Awesome."

For a moment, the two of them just smiled at each other like idiots. But he forced his eyes away, instead stealing a glance at the clock.

"I'd better go," he said wryly, gesturing to it.

Desmond followed his eyes and started. "Oh, yeah. Um. Thanks for coming by and clearing this up." Desmond gave a great sigh as his shoulders fell. "I feel a lot better," he admitted.

He looked better, too. Nothing could be done about the bags, but he sat a little straighter, his eyes were a bit brighter. Gone was the melancholic, miserable cloud that had hung over him, as well as the overall look of stress.

Delsin beamed. "No problem. We still on for lunch?"

Desmond looked for surprised for a moment, which was incredibly frustrating; had Desmond not heard a word of what he'd just said?

Well. Delsin had known this wouldn't be easy.

"Uh—yeah!" Desmond agreed. "Sure."

Delsin didn't let his frustration show, just kept smiling.

"Cool."

Before Desmond could react, Delsin leaned over and planted a quick kiss on Desmond's cheek.

Immediately, he popped up, shooting for a casual, disaffected tone.

"'Kay, see you then!" He threw a careless wave over his shoulder, but couldn't resist looking back when he reached the doorway.

Desmond was staring at him again with a half-shocked, half-scandalized expression. His hand was raised, fingers just barely brushing his cheek, and he had a furious blush on his face.

Delsin couldn't help the smug grin that overtook his lips and made a point to meet Desmond's eyes when he winked.

He caught just the beginning of Desmond's expression taking a turn towards indignant before he was out of the doorway. Delsin sauntered away with his hands in his pockets, utterly uncaring that Desmond could hear him loud and clear as he chuckled. Poor guy looked like he hadn't known what hit him.

Delsin felt a thrill of excitement ripple through him; this was gonna be fun.

Chapter Text

Desmond jogged across the gym floor, stopping every so often to scoop up a stray dodgeball. He'd focused on hand-eye coordination this week for his younger groups and was pleased with the progress they'd made.

"See you tomorrow, Mr. Desmond!"

Desmond smiled and waved, watching the last of the kids leave as the large double doors swung closed. For the first time in hours, the gym was silent, the only sound coming from the dodgeballs as Desmond tossed them one by one into the large netted-bag he dragged along.

He needed to hurry, however, since it was definitely lunchtime. Ever since The Incident, Desmond had made a point to meet Delsin in the cafeteria. They were cool now, but that didn't mean Desmond was going to create a reason for the two of them to be alone.

After all, Delsin had made it clear that he wasn't going to give up on having—something with Desmond, and until he realized that he wasn't worth the effort, it was Desmond's job to at least try to keep them on the straight and narrow.

It also didn't help that Delsin—

"Hey," a voice said right in his ear, low and sly, scaring the shit out of him.

—kept ambushing him.

Alarmed, heart jump-starting at break-neck speed, Desmond whipped around.

He took an automatic step back, shocked that Delsin was so close without him even noticing. Some assassin he turned out to be; that's what he got for letting himself get distracted.

He raised his free hand.

"Wait—"

Delsin kissed him, there before Desmond had a prayer to stop him.

Not that he wanted to. Whenever Delsin touched him, his mind was immediately emptied of everything but how good he felt, from the addicting taste of Delsin's skin and the sheer force of Delsin's desire when he held him so tightly, to how heated and insistent every touch was.

It was embarrassing, really, how quickly Desmond succumbed. He tried to resist, hesitated with his free hand hovering awkwardly, but when Delsin didn't pull away and only stepped that much closer, he was lost.

With a muffled groan, he dropped his bag, uncaring of the dodgeballs that escaped to bounce and roll away on the floor. He was too busy winding his arms around Delsin's shoulders, too busy shuddering when Delsin pulled him even closer so that they were completely flush. Delsin's tongue was hot and wicked in his mouth, and whenever he pulled back, it was only for a second, just enough time for Desmond to suck in a gulp of air before Delsin was back, kissing him breathless again.

This...had become an alarming pattern. Every day, without fail, whenever Delsin caught him alone, there was no preamble, no warning—just a merciless attack of unbridled passion and relentless touch.

The gym wasn't safe, obviously, and Desmond was developing an almost Pavlovian response to being alone anywhere in the complex, all tension and guilty, flushed cheeks. Delsin had even caught him in the hallway once, for God's sake, shamelessly pressing him against the wall for a quick, very thorough make out before footsteps drew near and he slipped away, cool as can be, a smirk on his lips as he left Desmond with nothing but a rumpled shirt and kiss-swollen lips as proof anything had even happened in the first place.

In his short life, Desmond had been kidnapped, comatose, and sacrificed. But this thing with Delsin? He'd never felt more out of control in his life.

He'd just—never planned on anything like this. Move to Seattle, start a new life, maybe get lost in it a bit—That was the plan. He could never forget being an assassin, but he could take a break at least. Just for a little bit.

That was all this was supposed to be. A break.

But now everything felt bigger, somehow. Real stakes, things he had to lose.

His sense of purpose, for one. Mental stability was a close second, but that had been touch and go for so long it didn't even register as a concern anymore.

The smart move would be to leave, he told himself, even as his fingers slid up to run through the thick hair at the nape of Delsin's neck.

Leave the city entirely—hell, the state, even. Remove temptation, keep Delsin from investing any real time into a lost cause.

But the urge was borne of guilt, of duty and fear. His feelings for Delsin were only growing stronger with each day and just when he started gaining ground, started convincing himself that a swift exit was the best choice, there Delsin would be, warm smiles, warmer hands, and that look in his eyes that Desmond couldn't get enough of, the one that saw him as something special, something worthy of pursuit.

Living hand to mouth in various caves and bunkers had left him a little touch-starved, sure, but until Delsin, he'd never considered that maybe he'd been this way his entire life.

Because no one had ever lit him up from the inside out the way Delsin did. No one's touch had ever made him more hyperfocused on his own skin. No one had ever walked into a room and emptied Desmond's mind of anything but pure, agonizing want like Delsin did.

It was maddening; it was addicting.

When it got to the point that his circling thoughts grew louder than his desire for touch, Desmond reluctantly broke the kiss, eyes shut as he struggled to regain himself. He pressed his forehead to Delsin's and huffed.

"You...really need to quit doing this," he murmured, already mourning the moment when they would step apart and Delsin's arms would fall away.

"I really don't," Delsin said dismissively. He sounded unbearably smug. Desmond could hear his smile, could feel it against his forehead when Delsin shifted to press his lips there. "'Sides. I'm no quitter."

Desmond laughed, short and quiet. "Yeah, I think I'm starting to get that."

"Mm. That mean you'll let me take you on a date?"

Desmond's eyes flew wide and he jerked back. But when he looked at Delsin and he didn't take it back, he blushed.

"You're joking." Delsin just looked at him. "...You're not joking. Why aren't you joking?"

"That's a dumb question. Not a 'no', though," Delsin was leading him, trying to get him to say yes, and that's when Desmond finally stepped away, denied that teasing smile.

"It's a no," Desmond said firmly, shaking his head and trying to ignore the guilt of his words. He glanced at the sports equipment that he'd abandoned but elected to leave it for now. It would keep, and he did want lunch. "I'm not—I'm not trying to encourage you."

"You're not telling me to stop, either," Delsin pointed out. He quickly caught up with Desmond as he walked away and drew close, head hovering over his shoulder. "I think I've got a good chance. Few more days, even."

"Pretty cocky," Desmond muttered, cheeks red.

The next thing he knew, warm lips were pressing against the side of his neck.

"Delsin!" He went rigid and came to a brutal halt right in front of the doors. He spun, hand flying to his neck. "You can't—!"

He was ignored. Delsin's arms went around his waist, tugging him closer, and his lips were reclaiming him with an ease Desmond would find insulting if it didn't feel so good.

Desmond didn't let himself fall into it this time, however, and pulled back after a few seconds.

"Del..."

"Is it cocky if I'm right?" Delsin wondered with faux-curiosity. Desmond glared up at him.

"I hate you."

Delsin's grin only grew wider. He leaned close and pecked Desmond on his nose.

"I know."

Thankfully, Delsin behaved himself once they got to the cafeteria, although he tended to stand just a little too close, his hand lingering on the small of Desmond's back just a beat too long to be mistaken for a casual touch. Desmond's cheeks were warm when they found a table to sit at.

Around them, the cafeteria was noisy and chaotic, filled with conversation, laughter, and more than a few children, running around and screaming. It would have resembled a standard mall food court if it weren't for the flashes of electricity or the sharp breeze of those enhanced with some form of super-speed displacing the air; no area in the center was boring with Conduits around.

He willed away his blush as he speared some chicken and rice on his fork and tried to come up with something to talk about, anything that would chase away that knowing smile.

"So, what do you even do when you're not at the center?" It was something Desmond was genuinely curious about since Delsin seemed to be here every time he was.

Desmond came so often because he had nothing else to do, and it gave him something to focus his energy on. No baggage, no past creeping up on him with memories best left forgotten. But he couldn't imagine Delsin having the same motivation. Surely he had a life outside of this.

"Mm," Delsin's eyes absently glanced around the room. He took a thoughtful bite of his hotdog. "Tag, mostly," he said around a mouthful.

Gross. Desmond hated that the thought was blatantly, sickeningly fond. Then, Delsin's words caught up to him and he frowned slightly in confusion.

"Tag?"

"Yeah," Delsin swallowed and took a deep pull of his drink. He raised his free hand, forefinger and thumb curled around an invisible object. He mimed shaking it. "Graffiti and junk."

"You're an artist?" He didn't even try to hide the fact that he was impressed.

Delsin's lips curled as he shrugged, but it wasn't his usual cocky smile. This one was pleased, a touch shy.

"Yeah. They're all over town at this point." Delsin laughed. "I'm surprised I haven't been arrested yet. I'd love to see a cop try to catch me, though." He looked wistful, as if he genuinely wished someone would try, just for the novelty of a chase.

Desmond shook his head. The thrill of the chase had long since stopped being exciting for him; something about being relentlessly hunted by templars and spending months without sunlight had killed the spark.

"I'll have to keep my eyes peeled for it. Is there a signature I should look out for?"

Delsin glanced at him quickly, surprised. "Oh, uh, no. Not really. I don't sign them or anything. When inspiration strikes, I just roll with it. I don't even know what I'm painting half the time until I'm done."

Desmond smiled, but something decidedly melancholy squeezed his chest, eyes going distant.

Losing himself in his creation, the soft, absent smile on his lips, the spark of excitement as he spoke—all of these were tells of honest passion, and all were achingly familiar.

"What an inspired idea!" It was funny, and slightly alarming, how swiftly he faded to the background as soon as he handed Leonardo a Codex page. His eyes devoured its contents ruthlessly, his shoulders hunched as if to shield it with his very body from any external attack. "A numerical code and—ah! A language change! Clever, very clever. I'll have to cross-reference the contents with the others to determine a pattern..."

Frustrated words, but Leonardo sounded nothing short of delighted. His eyes were bright when he glanced over his shoulder.

"This may take a bit longer than usual, Ezio. Please, rest. I will have it ready by morning."

"Very well. But you are right, it is late. You need not feel compelled to work through the night, Leonardo."

Leonardo stared at Ezio as if he had said something utterly inconceivable. "Sleep? When you have brought me another Codex page? I can not imagine a worse waste of my time."

Ezio threw up his hands, an exasperated smile tugging on his lips. He knew better than to argue with Leonardo when he had that look in his eyes. Ezio could see how he loved this work, this work with numbers and science, that pained Ezio to look at too long. Who was he to part a man from his passion?

"Des?"

Desmond wrenched himself from the memory, looking up from the cold chicken and rice he'd apparently been staring at while he slipped into the past. The modernity of his surroundings was jarring and he had to fight past a sharp pang of loss to dig up a sheepish smile.

He's not your friend to miss, idiot. How many times did he have to tell himself that? How many times would he have to do so again? He was Ezio's friend. Ezio's to miss. And they're both long gone. Get a grip.

"Sorry. I was just—thinking." Wow. Was he really this bad at lying? Had being in a bunker with only his dad and two other people really made him that rusty?

Delsin's dark eyes were searching, missing nothing, and Desmond made himself focus more on the present, loosened the tense grip he had on his fork. He glanced at Delsin's eyes, praying he'd let it go.

After a moment, he seemed to take pity on Desmond because he dropped his eyes and finished the last of his hotdog; Desmond didn't sag in his seat in relief, but it was a close thing.

"What about you?" Delsin asked, wiping a few bread crumbs from his mouth with a thumb. His eyes were nothing but curious. "What do you do outside of work?"

Internally, Desmond cringed. He should have seen that coming.

"Nothing much," he shrugged, pushing his food around. He always lost his appetite after a Bleed. "I'm pretty boring."

"Oh, come one," Delsin scoffed. He nudged Desmond's foot with his own beneath the table. "I'm not buying that. No one learns how to fight like you do because their life is boring."

Wryly, Desmond smiled down at his food, taking a bite more out of necessity than desire; Delsin had no idea how right he was.

"Well..." How to answer his question without giving too much away. "...I hang out with my roommates, usually. And I run. At night." He paused, glancing at Delsin, then admitted, quietly, "...on the rooftops."

Delsin blinked. He stared. When Desmond didn't say anything and allowed that to sink in, a slow, wide smile stretched his lips.

"You parkour?"

Desmond's nose wrinkled. Parkour didn't feel quite right. That made it sound more like a hobby, or for a challenge. He'd used the skill too many times, in both memories and reality, to associate it with anything as simple as that.

Training, or Keeping his skills sharp, would be more accurate, but then Delsin would ask 'For what?' and he couldn't really answer that, could he?

"Uh, I guess?" Desmond answered, unsure. He'd told Shaun and Rebecca that's all it was, but he mostly did it to avoid sleeping.

And in any case, even if Delsin did think that was a cool hobby, it felt wrong to mislead him into thinking anything he did was cool.

"I just—need to burn off energy sometimes. It helps."

"That's awesome," and Delsin even seemed to mean it. "You gotta let me come with next time."

Desmond's head snapped up. "Seriously?"

"Hell yeah! And I can take you tagging sometime!" Delsin was getting excited, leaning as close as he could with a table between them. His eyes were practically sparkling. "It'll be fun! The two of us, painting the town—Say yes." He braced his palms on the table, angling his upper body closer, "Say yes."

And despite the sensible voice in his head telling him that planning to see Delsin outside of the center would definitely send him the wrong message, would only encourage him, Delsin's excitement was too infectious to ignore. An answering smile was already on his lips and he nodded, the idea only growing more appealing the longer he thought about it.

"Yeah. I think...I think I'd like that."

Delsin pumped his fist, grinning. "Seattle won't know what hit 'em!"

Desmond chuckled. "If the cops show up, I'm leaving you," he warned.

"Ha!" Delsin crossed his arms. "I'll trip you before you even get the chance."

The very idea was laughable. "It's cute that you think you could."

Delsin eyebrow rose. "Is that a challenge, Miles?"

Desmond shrugged, meeting Delsin's dark eyes with wide-eyed innocence.

"Of course not, Delsin. Just a fact."

"Ohhhhh, you're asking for it."

Desmond smirked, taking a sip of his water. "Hm. For some reason, I'm not too worried."

Putting that look of fiery outrage and determination on Delsin's face was more fun than he expected. It was like teasing Shaun, but with the added bonus of someone who was willing to put their money where their mouth was and compete physically with Desmond, a challenge he hadn't felt in too long.

The amused smile died a moment later, however, when he realized he was letting Delsin sweep him up into this fantasy that he could flirt, and make future plans, and act as if they had all this time, like any of it was harmless. Like any of it really mattered.

I'm getting too used to him. To being around him. As much as Desmond loved his job here, maybe he needed to distance himself a little. A day, at least, so he could get his head on straight, put things into perspective.

"I...I should go. Next class starts soon," Desmond said, piling all his untouched food and napkins on his tray.

Delsin started, then began gathering his stuff, too. "Oh, yeah, I don't wanna hold you up. Here, I'll walk you—"

"No!" Desmond winced, lowering his hand from where he'd thrown it out in alarm.

Smooth, Desmond. He definitely won't be offended by that at all.

Delsin was indeed staring at him, arched eyebrow conveying easily how weird he thought Desmond was being.

"I mean—I don't trust you not to jump me, alright?" He forced a smile. "And if I let you near me, I'm gonna be late."

"You worry too much," Delsin said easily. He seemed to buy Desmond's excuse this time around.

"Do I?" Desmond wondered dryly.

They both walked to the exit, emptying their trays in the trash cans just by the doors, and Desmond pivoted to face Delsin when they'd dumped them.

"All right, well...I'll see you later?"

"Yep. Oh, wait!" Delsin slipped a sleek phone out of his pocket and unlocked it, thumbs tapping away. "Give me your number so we can plan a day to meet up."

Desmond rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, uh...I don't have a phone."

Delsin froze. He slowly raised his head, eyes wide.

"You don't have a cell phone?"

Delsin's voice was a touch too loud. A few people nearby glanced over and Desmond rolled his eyes, trying not to feel self-conscious.

"No, I—I prefer to be off the grid."

"That's stupid," Delsin said brutally. "What? Are you wanted by the FBI or something?" Before Desmond could panic and struggle to come up with a response to that, Delsin continued, "Desmond. This is a problem. A serious problem because you're inconveniencing me."

He smiled despite himself. "Oh, if only I'd thought of that before I'd decided to work here."

"Desmond! I'm being serious! You need a phone!"

"It's...really not that big of a deal."

Delsin opened his mouth, indignant, but Desmond stopped him with a raised hand.

"I'd love to get yelled at right now, I really would, but I need to get going."

Delsin frowned but nodded reluctantly, tucking his phone away.

As Desmond turned around, however, he said, "This isn't over! I'm not dropping this!"

Desmond just tossed a wave over his shoulder, shaking his head as he jogged away. He already knew a lecture was in his future. He only hoped that Delsin yelling threats at his back wouldn't become a regular thing.

The afternoon sped by after that. He pushed away every stray thought that wasn't about fighting and defense and lost himself in teaching. Delsin didn't drop by again, a fact he was a little grateful for. He'd already learned that his concentration was pretty much shot when Delsin was around, and the last thing he wanted was to have twenty or thirty people witness him trip over his own feet and turn into a blushing, stuttering mess. He'd lose everyone's respect and you couldn't teach anyone anything if they didn't respect you.

By the time night fell, however, and there was still no sign of Delsin, Desmond started to worry. Delsin always stopped by, even if it was for a quick hi and to sneak in a kiss between classes. This was really unlike him.

The only positive had been the fact that, without Delsin nearby, Desmond was able to find Roxie. Asking her for the day off tomorrow without Delsin nearby made it much easier.

"Sure," she said straight-away. "You know, you're actually supposed to get two days off a week, but you've been too stubborn to take them. I've been planning an intervention." She appraised him head to toe, slate-gray eyes sharp. "Not that I'm complaining, but what brought this on?"

"Nothing! Just—personal stuff, I guess?"

"Ah," she'd said. "Well, consider it done. We'll try to survive without you, but no promises," she'd teased.

"Thanks. And...Could you not mention this to Delsin? At least until tomorrow?"

Her eyebrows flew up at that request. "...Sure."

He should see this as an opportunity to get a head-start on getting some space from Delsin, but he couldn't deny the simple fact that he'd been looking forward to seeing him one last time before his day off.

But as he lingered in the gym, double and triple-checking everything was put away and the floors were spic and span, he was forced to admit defeat and head for the entrance, where Rebecca was no doubt waiting for him.

He'd no sooner slung his bag over his shoulder, however, when he heard the door opening and the scuff of shoes on the gym floor.

"You're still here! Thank God."

"Del!" It was stupid how his heart tripped in his chest, how honest and relieved his smile was, but neither could be helped. "I thought you left."

"Yeah? You miss me?" Delsin asked slyly. Desmond huffed and rolled his eyes.

"You wish. Guess I just got used to you stalking me."

"Ouch!" Delsin grabbed at his chest. "This is how you treat me? Even though I come bearing gifts?"

Desmond paused at that. "Gifts?"

"Yup." Delsin stopped just out of reach, smile too pleased for Desmond's liking. "You'll have to search me for it, though. I can't remember where it is..."

An incredulous smile tugged at his lips. "You're joking, right?"

"Humor me. I got you a present," Delsin pouted.

"Oh my God." Against his better judgment, Desmond stepped into Delsin's space, half-glaring, half-smiling at the way Delsin's grin grew to see Desmond willingly putting himself so close. "You're ridiculous."

Delsin hummed. "You wanna start with the pat-down or get right into it?"

Desmond hated the laugh that was startled out of him; he was only encouraging Delsin.

Cheeks beginning to warm, Desmond's eyes dropped. He felt Delsin's front pockets, but they were empty.

"Of course," Desmond muttered.

"That's too easy," Delsin chided. "Ya gotta earn it."

"I'm going to kill you," Desmond promised. He felt the vest pockets, but there was nothing in them. His blush deepened. "You're really going to make me grope your ass?"

"Well, you want to find your gift, don't you?"

He could walk away...But Delsin's smarmy, confident grin was too annoying to allow him the satisfaction. Besides, Delsin was always teasing him; wasn't he overdue to return the favor?

"You're right. After putting up with your crap?" Desmond pressed himself completely against Delsin, delighting in the wide eyes he got in return, the way Delsin's smile dropped in surprise.

Hoping he looked even half as seductive as he was aiming for, Desmond hooded his eyes and licked his lips, pausing to leave a lingering bite to the corner of his bottom lip. His arms wrapped around Delsin's waist before he slowly slid his palms down, curving over the firm, slight swell of Delsin's ass and sliding into his pockets. His fingers bumped into something on the left side and he smiled.

Voice pitched low, he said, "I think I've earned it."

Delsin swallowed, eyes seemingly transfixed on Desmond. His face was decidedly redder than it was a moment before, and Desmond's smile grew smug; years underground or not, it seemed he hadn't lost his touch.

"Uh, yeah," Was Delsin's articulate response, and he sounded so gone, so dazed, that Desmond laughed and stepped away, arms falling to his sides with his 'gift' intact.

Desmond looked down at his hand and paused, his own smile quite forgotten.

"Did...did you get me a phone?"

Sure enough, in his hand was a small, black cell phone—a flip phone, to be exact, a model so old he was shocked that Delsin was able to even find it.

A long pause followed his question and when Desmond looked up, Delsin started from where he'd been blatantly staring and cleared his throat, tugging his jacket and vest straight.

Privately, Desmond smiled to himself. A flustered Delsin was a sight he could definitely get used to.

"I—Yes. Yeah. I figured, you know, it's the twenty-first century, but I remembered you wanted to be 'off-grid'," Delsin used air-quotes, disdain clear in his tone, "So I figured this was a good compromise. Look," he leaned into Desmond's space and flipped it open. He pressed the button to display the contacts. "I'm the only number listed, so unless you start handing it out, no one's going to be reaching to you. What do you think?"

"I..." Delsin had clearly put some thought into this, and it was flattering, in a way, that he was willing to go to all this effort just for a way to reach him, but... "I can't accept this, Del, it's too mu—"

Delsin held out a palm. "Let me stop you right there. You see this action?" Delsin plucked the phone out of Desmond's hand and opened and closed it several times in quick succession. When he was done, he dropped it back into Desmond's hand.

"This is a flip phone. They practically paid me to take it. Trust me, it's fine."

Desmond supposed he had a point. "Still..."

"You wanna make it up to me? Text me. Call me. Whenever, okay? And I'll call it even?"

Helplessly, Desmond looked between the phone and Delsin's earnest face. He gears himself up all day to pull away from Delsin, and then he pulls this...

How did he explain that trying to have any sort of connection with Desmond was a terrible mistake? How did he show Delsin that he was only asking for pain and heartache just by associating with him?

How did he tell him to stop?

The answer was...he didn't. He couldn't. Not without a lot of explanation, the kind of explanation that would drag him into his mess anyways.

Aiming for thankful, Desmond smiled and closed his hand around the phone.

"Thanks, Delsin."

Delsin looked relieved, probably worried that Desmond was going to cut and run again. If Desmond had thought it would make a difference, he would have.

"No prob. Just text me, all right?"

"I...Yeah. Okay." He could send a harmless good morning text or something and then ignore his phone for the rest of the day.

God, knowing that he was going to be off tomorrow and that Delsin would be expecting him...he felt like a dick.

"Awesome." Delsin rocked back on his heels. He took a small step forward, then another. "Don't you think I deserve a thank you kiss?"

Desmond had never met a person more gluttonous for affection. He kinda loved it. He kinda hated it. 

Cheeks hot, Desmond found he couldn't maintain eye contact and answer at the time. He slid his new phone into his pocket.

"...I guess so," he murmured.

Delsin didn't make a move; after a belated moment, Desmond realized he would have to initiate it, something he'd never done before.

Heart racing, Desmond stepped closer. Reluctantly, he peeled his eyes from the gym floor and trailed up the length of Delsin's body to meet his dark brown eyes. Because Delsin was a jerk, he was smirking.

"Well?" he asked. His hands were still in his pockets, just watching, and he looked like that cat that got the cream, all confidence and satisfaction.

God. Desmond hated how attractive he looked in that moment. Might as well get it over with.

Reaching out, Desmond placed a hand on Delsin's cheek, tilted his head up, and caught his lips.

As content as Delsin had seemed to wait for Desmond to approach him, he certainly wasn't passive in the kiss. He leaned into it the moment it started and parted his lips instantly. He slipped his tongue out just as quickly, and it made Desmond shiver a bit, he was so greedy for it.

But maybe Desmond was just as greedy, maybe greedier, because his own mouth fell open at the barest touch, he pressed himself that much tighter, drinking in the contact.

They spent a long time like that, parting and meeting again in long, savoring kisses, insatiable, decadent. When Desmond finally stopped, Delsin brushed against him, nose nudging against his.

"Text me, all right?" he urged quietly.

Desmond sighed quietly; not one of tiredness, but an attempt to steady himself, to not sway back into Delsin's arms and never step away, his relentless want was so intoxicating.

Desmond didn't trust himself to speak; he nodded.

Delsin made a sound, a huff of amusement, and raised his head to brush his lips against Desmond's forehead.

"See ya," he said. He took a step back and for a moment just watched Desmond, drinking in the way he looked, flushed and—he didn't even know what. Something that made Delsin want to commit it to memory, apparently. Then he smiled, gave a little salute, and left.

Desmond just stood there, staring at the door for a long time, heedless of the fact that Rebecca was probably waiting. He was trying to calm himself, to make his heart slow down, but despite the fact that Delsin's hands had stayed in his pockets, Desmond could feel his phantom touch all over him and his body was lit like a livewire from it. In his pocket, his new phone burned against his thigh.

A clean break? What a joke.

Desmond was beginning to realize that the time for that had passed long ago.

 

Chapter Text

All self-defense classes have been canceled for the day. Sorry for the inconvenience.
 
A part of Delsin had expected some avoidance. The cell phone wasn't an extravagant gift by any means, but the meaning behind it held a lot more weight. After their kiss last night and with the time and distance night would bring, Delsin had assumed Desmond would overthink, would worry, would panic and try to avoid him again.

These things, he was prepared for. Another talk, and he was sure he could reassure any doubts Desmond had. Until Desmond really opened up he couldn't put them to rest, but for now, damage control would just have to do.

But this? Straight up not showing up for his job? This, he hadn't counted on.

Well, shit.

Delsin sighed and turned away from the sign on the gym door. He checked his phone, perhaps masochistically, but there was still nothing from Desmond. 

Well, so much for waiting for him to make the first move.

 

 

>>hey, its delsin

>>just saw ur not coming in 2day???

>>r u ok?

 


  
Hopefully, Desmond would respond, but Delsin wasn't going to hold his breath.

"Hey, Rox?"

Roxie looked up from her desk when she heard Delsin's knock. A flash of something—maybe pity, maybe resignation—crossed her face. It was clear she knew exactly why Delsin was here.

Still, she said, "What's up?"

Delsin propped his shoulder in the doorway of her office, the nonchalant stance at odds with his eyes, focused and intent.

"Saw the sign," he said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. "Know anything?"

Roxie set down her pen, giving Delsin her full attention. She leaned back in her chair with crossed arms.

"He told me yesterday afternoon," So, before Delsin had given him the phone; at least he didn't have to worry that he'd tipped him over the edge with it, "Said he needed the day off. 'Personal reasons,'" She shrugged. "It's hard enough just getting him to take his breaks, I wasn't about to fight him over finally taking a day. I didn't pry."

"Cool," Delsin said, nodding dumbly. "Cool."

His mind, however, was buzzing with possibilities. Did Desmond really need the day off, or was he trying to avoid Delsin again? It wasn't as if Delsin felt that Desmond should run his schedule by him every time he wanted to do anything, but he had good reason to be suspicious. If Desmond really did have some stuff to deal with at home (wherever that was) then Delsin could respect that; until Desmond told him otherwise, it wasn't his business.

But the timing just seemed a little too coincidental. He suspected this sudden need for time off and the weird zoning-out episode yesterday were connected. 

He'd looked so...scared. Scared, and desperate that Delsin not say anything about it.

"All right," Delsin said when he realized he was still hovering in the doorway. He pushed off the wall. "Well, I'll leave you to it."

"Delsin?"

Delsin paused, half-turned away. Something like sympathy colored Roxie's frown.

"He seems like a good guy, and I don't know exactly what's going on between you two, but..."

Delsin twisted to face her. She met his gaze for a moment, and she seemed to war with herself before settling on a small, rueful smile.

"Just...good luck. I've got a feeling you'll need it."

A part of Delsin wanted to ask her what she meant, but he decided he didn't want to know what gossip might be going around about the two of them to make her say something like that. It was that, or she had some insight into Desmond he didn't; either way, he'd already made his decision.

He quirked a smile her way. "...Thanks."

She waved him off, eyes already dropping to her paperwork, and he left her in peace. 

He'd only managed a few steps, nodding at passerby who noticed him and smiled, when his phone started vibrating furiously in his pocket.

His heart leapt to his throat and he shoved his hand in his vest pocket to dig it out, berating himself all the while for getting his hopes up—

Betty flashed on his screen, a selfie of the two of them glaring back at him. Betty's face was surprised and her eyes were on Delsin, who was hunched down and pressed close, a huge grin on his face. Her lips were pursed in the middle of her question, What are you doing?
  
Oh, boy.
 
Reluctantly, Delsin accepted the call. "Uh. ...Hey, Betty?"

"Don't you 'Hey, Betty' me!" Delsin winced. Yeah, pretty much what he expected, but he deserved it. "Do you know how long it's been since you've visited? Since you called?"
  
"Betty—"

"Now, we all know you're a bigshot over in Seattle, and we couldn't be prouder—"
  
"Betty."

"What you're doing over there is important, no one knows that better than us, and we wouldn't dream of telling you to stop—"
  
"Uh-huh."

"But that understanding isn't an excuse to forget your family!"
  
"I know, I know! I'm sorry, Betty."

"I don't want you to apologize, Delsin, I want you to do better."

Delsin hung his head, stopping to lean against the nearest wall. "Yeah, you're right. Still. Sorry. I've just...had a lot on my mind lately."

"Oh, Delsin. I'm sure you do," Betty's voice grew soft; she could be a real hardass when she was pissed, but she always laid off when she sensed Delsin was down. "That's why you can't let yourself become a stranger. Whenever you're overwhelmed or lost, you need to remember that you're not alone. We're here for you, just as you are for us."

Delsin smiled, for a moment so overcome with fierce love and homesickness he felt dizzy with it. He cleared his throat.

"I'll remember. Thanks, Betty."

"Thank me by coming home. Surely they can spare you for a day? A weekend?"
  
"I—" Delsin hesitated, looking around him. His first thoughts went to his responsibilities at the center, to Desmond. Right now, there was nothing more he wanted than to be here when Desmond got back—but this was important, too. Besides, maybe the extra time away would give Desmond space to come to terms with a few things? Hell, maybe Desmond would even admit to missing him.

"Okay, all right! I'm coming—today. You're right, they can live without me for the weekend."

"Great!" Betty sounded so pleased; he'd definitely made the right choice. "Come hungry, okay? And you might as well come straight to the longhouse, everyone's going to want to see you."
  
"Betty!" Delsin was laughing through his words. "Let's not make a big thing out of this, yeah? I'm just coming for a visit. It's not like I'm healing everyone's concrete again."

"You're out of your mind if you think I can stop any of these people once they have a reason to throw a party."  Delsin had to concede the point. "We'll see you soon, Delsin, take care."
  
"Yeah, you too, Betty. Bye."

Delsin shook his head, a rueful smile still on his lips as his thoughts turned to his impromptu trip and seeing Betty again after all this time. 

He needed this, he realized. As eager as he had been to put home behind him and strike out for the big city, too long away from Salmon Bay, away from the tribe and the longhouse, felt like an itch under his skin, a small thing that eventually grew into an ache, a hollow emptiness that craved the forests, the rich golden sunlight painting the canal a vibrant shimmer, the smell of smoke and seawater. 

He loved Seattle, and he'd probably live here for the rest of his life. But home was where his people were, simple as that. A part of him would always belong there.

Delsin gave his phone one last fruitless glance before spinning around to let Roxie know about his trip.

In any case, it was clear Desmond needed space; would probably always need space every time their relationship took a small step forward. Leaving would give Delsin something better to do other than pining miserably and, hopefully, time would fly by until Desmond reached out to him.

He firmly refused to use the word if. Desmond would reach out. The alternative was too depressing to think about, and part of pursuing Desmond was remaining relentlessly optimistic.

Still...Delsin could admit that seeing Desmond making a little effort himself, like that kiss last night, would be nice. 

Delsin finally shoved his phone away, forcing himself to ignore it for now.

Ball's in your court, Desmond.


 
The first time Delsin went back home, he'd taken the bus. He'd been recognized, of course, but no one had demanded he get off, or refused to ride the same bus as a 'Bio-Terrorist'. 

Instead, he'd shaken hands, posed in a few selfies, and even given an autograph. Without Reggie, though, the small victory had felt hollow.

This time, Delsin wanted nothing more than to clear his thoughts. He decided to run.

He ditched the Neon once he exited the city limits, flying in bursts of smoke and launching himself from tree to tree. The solitude felt grounding, nothing but wind and the trees and each second as it passed by, flying high above the forests and diving down into their shaded embrace over and over again. He reached Salmon Bay in what felt like no time at all and he drank in the sight of the cannery, the billboard, the longhouse—all of it practically glowing in the setting sun, the bay shimmering like gold.

Delsin barely made it a single step into the longhouse before he was swamped; his back was patted within an inch of its life, he'd been hugged enough times for it to feel like he'd been tackled every other second, and his arms felt ready to fall off after the thousandth or so handshake. 

He broke away, begging and pleading for a little air, but Betty caught him before he got too far; he didn't mind that so much, though.

"Jeez, I don't think I got this much of a welcome when I came back with concrete powers," Delsin complained, a touch bewildered.

Betty smiled up at him fondly. "That's because you left so quickly. Everyone's been wanting to thank you for the longest time now."

"Oh." 

Delsin blinked, then looked around. Excitement and joy seemed to suffuse the very air. The longhouse was packed tight, full of smiling faces and dancing bodies, good food and better music. It was a celebration all right, but for the first time, it really sank in that it was for him.
 
When he'd come back to heal his people, he'd done so slowly, painstakingly, hyperaware that he was using a power he was still learning, unwilling to cause anyone any more pain because of his actions. He'd worked ceaselessly through the night, refusing to stop until every last person was concrete-free, and the moment he'd accomplished that, he'd gone nearly comatose, exhausted, weak, and utterly drained. 

When he'd awoken, he'd slipped away in the middle of the night to pay his respects to Reggie's grave alone. After that, sticking around, wallowing in grief, had felt abhorrent. He'd left without saying a word to anyone.

He hadn't thought much about it then, too quickly consumed in the center and the Conduit Initiative, but now guilt ate at him, realizing how it must have looked for him to run away like that, like he didn't care.

Words failed him. He wanted to apologize, but just like the last time he was home, it felt far too inadequate. 

Betty rubbed his back in a soothing motion and gently pushed him towards the buffet spread near the wall.

"Come. Eat. You look starved."

The night was better after that. He tried to accept everyone's gratitude with grace, although he constantly wanted to remind them that he was the reason they'd been hurt in the first place. The negativity couldn't have been less welcome, he knew, so he kept it to himself even as guilt slowly chipped away at him.

Accepting the condolences for Reggie was even harder. There was an understanding that Delsin didn't get from people in the city, simply because they hadn't known Reggie. Here, in a community so close-knit, everyone felt his loss and it became increasingly hard to look everyone in the eye and see his own grief mirrored there.

Even still, he was glad he came home. He hadn't been gone too long, but there was something distinctly nostalgic about being back, eating Betty's cooking and catching up on the latest gossip. Knowing that he could leave but still be welcomed back into the fold—it soothed something inside him that he hadn't even noticed fraying.

The party lasted well into the night, although it mellowed over time. Families left early, kids fast asleep on their parent's shoulders and older residents giving Delsin a wave as they departed. Delsin didn't stick around much longer after that, but he did find Betty and gave her a parting kiss on her cheek in thanks.

Reggie's memorial was just as he left it—immaculate and vibrant as ever. Not nearly enough time had passed for Delsin to worry about touching it up.

Delsin sighed, staring up at his brother's face. He could feel the grief creeping up over him, as it tended to when he was alone, but this time he welcomed it, only looked down when his eyes began to sting.

He mustered a smile. "I miss you, man. Every day." 

Reggie kept smiling down at him, arm slung around a Delsin who didn't yet know the pain of losing him. 

Delsin sat down—suddenly tired—on the roof. 

"It's hard without you. Harder than anything. But." Delsin took a deep breath. "But I'm doing good things. I'm helping people. I—I want to keep doing you proud. I hope I am."

Delsin didn't know how long he stayed up there, just reflecting and remembering, when the vibration of his phone pulled him out of it.

 

 

hey<<
 

 


Desmond. Until it had happened, a part of Delsin expected Desmond to ghost him. The sight of it made him smile, just a little.

 

 

>>hey, urself

>>enjoy ur day off?

 

 

There. Casual, but enough of a hint that Desmond would see that Delsin knew exactly what he was up to pulling a stunt like that. He wondered if his passive-aggressiveness translated well in text format. It took a few minutes for Desmond to respond. 

 

 

not really. it was pretty boring.<<

 

 

Delsin snorted. Of course.

 


 
>>well u won't be bored 2mrw

>>everyones gonna want answers 4 why their fave unofficial counselor was a no show
 
not you?<<
 
>>my interrogations gonna have 2 wait

>>out of town 4 the weekend
 
oh, yeah? what for?<<
 
>>visiting home

>>catching up with everyone 

 

 

Delsin paused, looking up in contemplation. 

 

 

>>at my brothers memorial right now.
 
I can text you later if I'm interrupting?<<
 
>>nah its cool i was wrapping it up neways. i just miss him. a lot
 
he must have been a good brother.<<
 
>>he was

>>better than I deserved
 
tell me about him?<<

 


 
Delsin blinked at that, then looked at his brother's image, where the same warm smile waited for him. He started texting.
  
He told Desmond a lot of things about Reggie. About the good things; camping trips and dragging him to concerts, celebrating his promotion to Sheriff and his quiet support no matter what Delsin went through. 
  
He talked about the bad things, too; the rift that sprung between them when Reggie first became a cop, the countless, embarrassing arrests, the fights that shook the walls and Reggie's disappointed, angry words, reprimanding him for his selfishness, bringing up their parents and what they'd think of their son now.
  
Most of all, he talked about Seattle and the fights they had there, too. But always Reggie stood beside him, always Reggie had faith in him. 
  
The warmth of his palm, his dark eyes clear of fear or regrets. The way they shone steadily, almost burning with fierce pride. I love you.

 


 

>>its still so hard getting used 2 him not being around

>>sometimes it feels impossible
 
that feeling never really goes away.<<

but you're doing all the right things.<<

your work at the center, keeping yourself busy, that's important.<<

he'd be happy for you.<<

 


 

It was obvious that Desmond was speaking from experience and he couldn't resist probing. 

 

 

>>u lost someone?

 


 

Desmond took a while to respond. 

 

 

yeah.<< 
 
 >>does it get better?

 


 

He took even longer to text back this time. Long enough Delsin was worried he'd given up on the conversation entirely.

 

 

you learn to live with it.<<

one day at a time.<<

 


 
It wasn't the most encouraging thing he'd heard, but there was something refreshingly blunt and honest about it, and Delsin found comfort in the words. He wouldn't have been satisfied if Desmond had said yes, anyways. Losing Reggie would always be a wound never fully healed, but carrying Reggie's memory with him every day—it felt right. Like he was being honored properly. 

 

 

>>wish u could have met him

 


 

This time, Desmond responded right away.

 

 

me too.<<

Chapter Text

"Look alive!" 

Desmond craned his head up from the hardwood floor of their living room where he was sprawled. He held his palm out at the ready and caught the foam ball he'd been tossing as Rebecca approached.

Held out for him to take was a sleek silver tablet. He raised a brow in silent question.

"It's the Mentor," she said simply, and Desmond's stomach dropped.

"Thanks," he muttered, sitting up quickly. Abruptly, he became aware that he wasn't ready to go. Which was stupid, of course. It was his own fault for getting attached when he knew better.

He scrounged up a smile, one that grew a little more genuine when he saw the quiet warmth in his father's dark eyes—still weird, yet appreciated all the same. The desk and walls of his office were unfamiliar to Desmond, and he wondered if it was just standard routine that he'd moved locations already, or if they'd been detected. He supposed if it was the latter, he'd have been called.

"Sup, Pops?" He couldn't help the teasing twist to his smile, the childish impudence radiating from him. "Got a mission for me?"

William Miles gave him a very dry look. "Funny. And no, not yet." William glanced away, shifted in his seat. Their relationship was on the mend, but moments of sincerity didn't come easy. "I just wanted to check on you." His eyes came back up, assessing him with a sharp assassin's scrutiny. "How is your injury?"

Reflexively, Desmond's hand went to his gloved arm, resting lightly over the thin fabric. "It's fine. Barely any pain these days." 

"And the headaches? The nightmares?"

Desmond jerked. "How did you—?" He cut himself off. His roommates reported to his father; it was stupid to think they wouldn't say something. "They're...there." Desmond shrugged, smiled sardonically. "Not much different from when I used to bleed, really."

William inclined his head. "I see." He stared at Desmond for a moment, thinking. 

Sunlight spilled through the window directly behind him and made his gray hair shine silver. It reminded Desmond a lot of his childhood. Where gray hair would make others seem old and frail and weak, it only highlighted the air of wisdom and power of the Grand Mentor. Desmond remembered thinking of him like that much more often than as his father. Cold, calculating, and completely focused on the cause.

"We've had some reports from West Africa," William said, finally dropping his gaze as he consulted his papers. 

From there talk went to work, to missions and scouting and funding. Desmond had never been a part of conversations like this before and he was torn between appreciating the gesture and resenting it. On the one hand, it showed his father's trust in him, something he hadn't realized he'd wanted until he'd obtained it. On the other hand, it felt a lot like grooming. And while the Order didn't stick to inherited leadership positions, he had a sneaking suspicion an exception was going to be made—if he accepted. He wasn't sure he wanted to. 

After that, talk inevitably turned to Desmond's current situation, but he didn't have much going on except for the center and his classes. He couldn't puzzle his father's expression of approval at first—it was fun in practice, but pretty boring to listen to—but then it clicked that he was teaching and clearly showing an aptitude for it. No doubt he'd be doing so for the Order very soon.

Discussing their work—it was as close to small talk as they ever got, and it was nice. Different, at least, and leagues better than sullenly obeying barked orders, or speaking up just to be punched in the face, that was for sure.

It couldn't have taken more than ten minutes, and the moment their call disconnected, Rebecca popped back into the room, a curious look on her face.

"So? What's up? We leaving?"

"Nah." Desmond held out the tablet and Rebecca plucked it from his grasp. "Just—wanted to talk, I guess." 

Rebecca smiled at the helpless expression on Desmond's face.

"Crazy, right? A parent, checking on their child?" She mused sarcastically. "So weird."

"Shut up," Desmond shook his head and went back to lying down, eyes tracing the foam ball as he resumed tossing it up over and over again. "We...we've never done the father-son thing, all right? I'm allowed to be weirded out over it."

"You like it though, right?"

"...Yeah," Desmond admitted. He kept his voice bland as he added, "Oh, and thanks for ratting me out, by the way."

"What are you talking about?"

"Dad asked me about my headaches. The nightmares." Desmond glared at the ceiling, fighting to keep his tone from getting too caustic. It hurt, sure, that the people he called his friends were telling his dad this stuff behind his back, but he knew better; they were Assassins first, just like him. "Loved the reminder that my roommates are spying on me."

Rebecca sighed loudly. The sound of footsteps, and then she was standing right beside him, catching his ball right at the height of its rise.

Reluctantly, Desmond met her eyes, found worry greeting him.

"It's not spying, Desmond; it wasn't Assassins reporting to their Mentor. This was—two people, worried about their friend, all right?"

Desmond had to look away from her sincerity. "...Well, don't worry. I've got it handled."

Rebecca frowned. "Do you, though? Because from what I've heard the nightmares might be getting worse if all the screaming says anything—"

Agitated, Desmond rose to his feet. 

"Well, this was fun," Desmond said in a light tone. "But I just remembered I have to fuck off somewhere. Later!"

"Desmond—"

Desmond ignored her and was out the door in seconds. Tugging his hood up, Desmond half-walked, half-jogged out of the building before Rebecca followed him—or worse, made him talk about his fucking feelings.
 
Outside, the setting sun cast rich splashes of orange on every bit of concrete it could reach between the buildings. Being out was helping already, but more than anything, Desmond wished he could go to the center and throw himself into work to get his head on straight. But it was Sunday, the official off day—no classes, no one but the basic staff to keep the place running. 

Desmond understood the necessity of a day of rest. He still hated it.

The fact that Delsin wouldn't be back until tomorrow made it worse, too. He could text him, obviously, but it felt...weird to when he'd all but resolved to distance himself. He didn't want to string Delsin along for something that could never happen. Guilt was the only reason he'd reached out that first time on Friday. Delsin had gone to the trouble of getting him a phone, the least he could do was honor his promise to text him once.
 
He hadn't counted on texting so far into the night, however. Not that he would have been sleeping anyway, but still. They'd found themselves in a surprisingly deep conversation pretty early in and, after talking about Delsin's brother, they'd just...kept talking. Little anecdotes about their lives, the things that were similar, the things that were different. Desmond had to amend a lot of his answers, but even keeping it vague hadn't stopped the conversation from losing its momentum. He actually didn't remember falling asleep and had woken up with his phone half-tucked beneath his cheek, still open to their conversation. He'd forced himself not to text him again, but when Delsin didn't reach out either, he'd been left feeling surprisingly...lonely.

Saturday had been filled with more self-defense lessons at the center, and while that distracted him at times, he kept dwelling on thoughts of Delsin. What he was doing, if he was enjoying being back home, if he was angry with Desmond for ditching that shift Friday. So many times he'd turned to say something to Delsin, or had loitered in the gym, used to Delsin popping in, before realizing he wouldn't be there.

God, I'm so easy.

Desmond sighed, coming to a stop at a busy crosswalk. Losing himself in the ebb and flow of Seattle wasn't helping like he thought it would. His mind was still so muddled, oscillating between thoughts of Delsin and his aborted conversation with Rebecca. He was kidding himself if he thought he could avoid talking about this forever. But he could buy himself time—a perk of being out in the world instead of crammed in a bunker.

Desmond twisted around, head tilted up, and spotted a skinny rusted fire escape tucked into a shadowed alley.

Perfect. 
 
Hoisting himself up was a cinch and Desmond was up the stairs in the space of seconds. It was a low building, squat and pale and probably filled with a thousand cubicles, all crammed together to maximize space. But at five stories, it was high enough that he could imagine himself above his problems—at least for the moment. And what do you know? A slightly taller building was just next door. 

Desmond shifted from foot to foot, rolled his neck, cracked his knuckles. He bounced once in place, flicking out his hands, and breathed out in one long, slow exhale. Then he burst into a sprint. He pushed off on the ball of his foot and tucked and rolled onto the next roof.

Without slowing his momentum, Desmond pushed off half-way through his roll and kept running. He jumped, climbed, ran, and did it all over again. And again. And then again.

After a few buildings, Desmond started veering towards obstacles, vaulting over industrial vents, jumping between buildings to climb higher, launching himself across larger gaps as his muscles got warmed up.

Before long, his tangled thoughts fell away. His focus was purely on ignoring any higher brain functions, on finding his next hand-hold, pushing his feet forward, scanning the skyline for a taller, more challenging building to climb.

I've missed this.
 
So caught up in the center, Desmond had let other aspects of his training fall to the wayside. Not that he didn't enjoy teaching—he still felt it was likely to be the most worthwhile thing he'd do on this earth—but, more than anything, Desmond simply—liked to run. And sure, running had gotten him in quite a lot of trouble when he'd tried to ignore his past, but he was still an Assassin at heart. A beckoning breeze, open skies, flying through the air—these things would always call to something deep inside, something that would forever yearn for the simple pleasure of freedom.

Desmond didn't stop until nightfall cast dangerous shadows and he failed to spot the loose gravel right when he made his next jump. 

It fucked up his balance and the force he pushed off with was way less than it needed to be. He had a split-second moment of gut-lurching inertia, trapped in free fall, and then he managed to grab the next rooftop—but only barely.

Desmond slammed into the brick with a grunt of surprised pain. That's gonna bruise. The forced stop finally made him take stock of his shaking arms and legs, the frantic slam of his heart against his chest. He wasn't panting so much as he was greedily gulping for air.

Arms trembling, Desmond pulled himself over the edge and collapsed on the smooth concrete, still sun-warmed against his back. He stared up at the night sky, too saturated by light pollution to show any stars, but the moon was nearly full and shining.

"Shit," Desmond panted. He closed his eyes. 

That could have been bad. He knew better than to keep running that long, especially when he was distracted—he knew better. But the emptiness in his head proved to be an addicting feeling. He hadn't wanted it to end.

He supposed a broken neck would have gotten him that result, too, but he'd prefer to die in a less lame way.

At first, all he could hear was the rush of blood in his ears and his own heaving breaths. But a persistent sound made him rise on his forearms, frowning. That was when he spotted it—a blinding streak of pink light and the after images of a person mid-run—headed straight for him. Desmond flinched but could barely manage that, drained, and that's when he finally heard it—his name—shouted across the rooftops.

Before Desmond had a chance to do more than gape, too spent to move, they were suddenly there, landing on the roof like fucking superman—arms outstretched, feet gracefully touching down on the ground. The light coursing around their body became less blinding as it faded and recognition mixed with shock kept Desmond stock-still.

"Desmond?" Delsin asked, sounding confused and wary. His eyes glowed bright pink for a moment before that too faded into familiar dark eyes. "I thought that was you! Jesus, were you trying to give me a heart attack?!"

"ME?!" Desmond sputtered, lurching to his feet (and swaying only a little). He thrust an arm out, gesturing to all of Delsin. "I'm the one that's gonna have a fucking heart attack! What—you just showed up here, like that? I thought I was gonna get abducted by aliens or something!"

Delsin furrowed his brows. "I told you about my Neon powers, didn't I?"

"That's not the same!" As if words could have ever prepared him for that.
 
 Delsin rolled his eyes and stepped close, hands going to Desmond's shoulders. His dark eyes were worried.

"Are you okay? I was headed home and then you missed that jump—I thought you were gonna splatter on the pavement for sure—"

Desmond swatted away his hands from where they were roaming over his torso, searching for injuries. Now that he'd confirmed he wasn't hallucinating, the weariness came rushing back. The timing was bad, considering Delsin's appearance, but it still felt good, in a strained-muscles, limp sort of way.

"I'm fine, man, it was just a stupid mistake." He gasped sharply when Delsin prodded his ribs and a lance of pain nearly made double over.

"Uh-huh. Fine." Delsin's touch was gentle as he slid Desmond's shirt and hoodie up. He hissed in sympathy when he revealed the dark bruise already blooming on his stomach.

"Yikes," Desmond said, actually impressed by the size of it and the rich, dark red of his skin. It was definitely going to be purple tomorrow, if not black. He reached up and tugged his shirt back down. "Still, not a big deal. Gonna be a hassle teaching tomorrow, though," he mused thoughtfully.

Delsin frowned, worry furrowing his brow. "You should at least ice it."

"Yes, mom." It was so easy to fall back into their banter and Desmond shook his head, fixing Delsin with a probing look. "Wait—Delsin, what are you doing back? I thought you were visiting your family?"

"I was," Delsin agreed. He looked off, rubbing the back of his neck. It was annoyingly endearing. "And then I decided to head back a little early. It was nice, seeing everyone, but..."

"But?"

Delsin shrugged. "They all kept, I don't know, treating me like a hero. I couldn't really relax, you know?"

Oh. Desmond definitely understood. More than Delsin could know. That lonely, discomforted look on his face was like looking in a mirror.

"Well." Desmond nudged Delsin lightly, smiled tiredly up into his face when he had his attention. "Welcome back."

Delsin blinked, and then a smile bloomed on his face. Desmond's heart absolutely did not skip a beat.

Like the world's grabbiest octopus, Delsin's hands were back, this time settling low on Desmond's hips, bringing them flush. Desmond hated the way he looked at him when he got like this, eyes half-lidded, lips curled in a sultry, satisfied smile. Desmond wasn't a fucking teenager and he was getting sick of all this blushing. At least it was dark—although he had a feeling Delsin could tell anyways.

"Thanks. You miss me?"

Desmond looked off to the side. Rubbed the side of his nose. Delsin holding him took a lot of pressure of his own legs and leaning against him, stable and rock-solid, felt pretty good. He wasn't going to say that, obviously.

"Not really. No."

Delsin's smile grew and his head dipped. 

"Liar," he said against Desmond's lips.

The kiss was firm, yet gentle. Desmond sank into it without a thought, unable to deny that he'd been waiting for it from the moment he'd realized it was Delsin joining him on the rooftop. Which was stupid. Really stupid. But it seemed Delsin made him stupid.

Desmond broke the kiss before it could go any farther, angry with himself.

"Sorry," he mumbled. His hands came to rest on Delsin's wrists, but he didn't push him away just yet. He knew Delsin wouldn't let him. 

"Why?" Delsin stayed close, nosing at his neck, lips brushing against his skin.

"I—I keep sending you mixed signals." Guilt made his stomach churn.

Delsin straightened at that, looking down at Desmond with an unreadable expression.

"Well...you could stop," he suggested.

"Yeah. Yeah, you're right. Sorry." 

Desmond tried to pry Delsin's arms away, to step back, but, just as he'd thought, Delsin wouldn't let him.

"Whoa, whoa, I meant stop stopping." Desmond shot him an exasperated look, giving up on freeing himself for the moment. "Can't you just tell me what's up? Whatever it is, I can handle it."

Could he? Desmond wondered... But it didn't matter. Delsin couldn't know, simple as that.

"I can't." Desmond gave him a look that was half angry, half pleading. "Can't you just trust me when I say I'm not worth the effort?"

"Uh, definitely not. I can't even trust you not to almost kill yourself doing parkour."

Desmond scowled. "That was a one-off thing. I don't usually overdo it like that. I know it's not safe."

Delsin made a considering noise. His hand slowly ran up and down Desmond's back in a very distracting manner.

"So...why did you? If you knew better?"

"I...didn't want to stop." He broke eye contact and let his head fall in the center of Delsin's chest. He sighed, feeling the ache all over. Suddenly, it wasn't so cathartic. "I didn't want to think anymore," he whispered.

He could feel Delsin's lips press into his hair. They both stood there in silence, holding one another as those words settled around them.

Quietly, Delsin asked, "What's wrong, Desmond?"

Desmond gave a bark of amusement, harsh and bitter. He screwed his eyes shut. "Everything."

It was more than Rebecca's words, more than this thing that was growing between him and Delsin despite his best efforts. Ultimately, it was the hard, irrefutable, ugly truth that something was deeply and irrevocably wrong with him.
 
Despite what Delsin thought, Desmond really, truly wasn't worth all this effort. It wasn't about refusing to see his own worth—it was simply that there wasn't any to see. 

The center has been great, but he'd quickly realized it was one of the few things left in his life that let him pretend he was still a person. Apart from that, he was a mess. Rebecca was worried about the nightmares? Well, so was he. Half of them weren't even really his nightmares. Some nights, it was being held in a crushing grip and searing hot pain as the world disintegrated around him, of being a puppet in his own body, of the temple and the blistering, inescapable pain scorching up his arm to pierce his heart.

Other nights, it was watching his family hang, their necks snapping in awful unison to abruptly silence their cries of fear. Of holding Maria in his arms as she bled out, cradling Malik's head in his shaking, weak hands. Of fire, reaching for his mother, watching flames lick up her back and being useless, just watching.

Then there was the Bleeding. He still slipped into Italian and Arabic from time to time. He hadn't done it in front of Shaun and Rebecca yet, thank God, but he'd caught himself dozens of times since he woke up, choking back the words and consciously forcing English from his mouth. It was exhausting.

Most days, he felt as if he were just going through the motions. Wake up. Eat. Make a joke. Smile. People had all these expectations for him, and he couldn't let them down, not when they were counting on him. So he had a few nightmares? Big deal, the templars weren't going to take it easy on them because Desmond didn't get his full eight hours. He was fine. 

Desmond might be a shit liar, but he'd been suppressing his real thoughts and feelings since he was a child.

But more often than not, when he looked down at his arm, he wondered how much of himself he'd left behind in the Animus, in the Apple. Because it shouldn't feel like he was being spread so thin when he wasn't even on any active missions, when he was just existing.

But it did, and every day it felt as if he was losing a bit more of himself and soon, he wouldn't have any more.

"Delsin?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm...pretty fucked up."

Delsin snorted. "That supposed to scare me off?"

"It would if you really knew anything about me."

Delsin rocked them from side to side, humming as he rested his chin on Desmond's head.

"Tell me, then."

His lips thinned, but he wanted to talk to Delsin about this stuff. He wanted to talk to someone. But everyone else in his life...they were too close to it all. He needed to be strong for them. And he didn't want to go back to being treated like he was crazy. Like the most innocuous thing could trigger him and he would shatter into pieces.

But Delsin...he'd never given Desmond reason to believe that he'd treat him differently if he didn't have it all together, or as if his weaknesses were distasteful. Already, Delsin had seen him at less than his best, scared or panicked or flighty, and he still came back, every time—even when it was clear that Desmond wasn't exactly stable. 

Desmond didn't have a clue these days who he was. But he felt like he was the closest to being that person when he was with Delsin.

"I'm...tired," he finally confessed, nearly whispering the words into Delsin's chest. "All the time. I have...nightmares. A lot. And I'm dangerous, Delsin. Everything about me is dangerous." Desmond paused, mustering his courage, and finally confessed what laid at the heart of his reluctance to fall into this thing with Delsin, "I'm afraid I'll hurt you." His hands came up, grasping fistfuls of Delsin's shirt and squeezing. "I'm going to hurt you."

It was difficult getting the words out, and it felt terrible, admitting any kind of weakness. But it was such a relief at the same time. For once, he didn't have to lie. For once, he didn't have to pretend to be okay.

"Hey. Hey," Delsin tugged Desmond's chin up until their eyes met. Desmond knew he looked pathetically upset and tried to look away, but a negative noise from Delsin made him stop. His eyes were defeated when he looked up.

There was no disappointment, no doubt in Delsin's dark eyes, however. It felt like he was staring straight into the very core of Desmond. Honest, unwavering, passionate—the only way Desmond had ever known him to be.

"In case you forgot, I'm not the type to run away when things get hard, all right? So, you've got baggage," a shrug, "Who doesn't? You're more than that, Desmond. You keep trying to convince me that you're like, a bad person or something, but I'm not buying it." Delsin smiled. "You're just going to have to accept that you deserve me," his smile grew warmer, "Because I sure as hell deserve you."

Desmond stared, shocked. A part of him wanted to argue, to insist that Delsin was in over his head, that they both were, but Delsin's words kept the protests stuck in his throat. 

He'd known that Delsin was interested in him, of course, but he'd had no idea that he thought of it like...that. 

I sure as hell deserve you. 

Desmond wasn't sure anyone deserved to deal with him, but Delsin's words resonated nonetheless. He wanted Delsin, craved Delsin. This whole time it'd felt selfish, felt wrong to indulge in something that was doomed from the start. 

Maybe seeing Delsin's powers put things into perspective, or maybe it was his determination. But it was obvious Delsin wasn't some delicate flower, a stiff breeze away from falling apart. He was handsome, and kind, and generous, yes, but he was also brave, and stubborn, and incredibly powerful. He'd taken on an entire city single-handedly and won. 

Something like hope stirred in his chest, bloomed despite all this time spent trying to kill it. For all his powers, Desmond knew it wouldn't protect Delsin from a knife at his throat or a bullet to his head. But maybe he could trust Delsin to do the one thing he'd asked from the beginning—to make his own choices about Desmond, about them. And if Delsin walked away, well. Desmond wouldn't blame him.

But...it was finally sinking in that trying to protect him was not only hurting both of them, but it was insulting Delsin. And after everything he'd done, after the care he kept showing Desmond, he deserved better than that.

Desmond stared up into Delsin's eyes, heart racing anew, mouth dry.

Jesus. Am I really doing this?
 
"You...you're right," Desmond finally croaked.

Delsin blinked, went still. 

"...What?"

"You're right," Desmond repeated, slightly louder but still gingerly. He didn't want to take it back, but it still felt wrong.

A small smile twitched on Delsin's lips, but it was subdued, unsure. "So...does this mean you're done with the whole Houdini routine? Don't get me wrong, I love that wide-eyed Bambi look when I spring a kiss on you, but—"

Desmond hit Delsin on the shoulder. "Yes, it means I'm done." Oh, God. Is this a mistake?

"For real?!" Delsin broke out into a grin. "Does this mean I can take you on a date?" he asked, eyes and smile wide with excitement. He looked like a child—aware they were pushing their luck but unable to resist asking for more.

Desmond blushed, but he was smiling, too.

"Yeah. You can take me on a da—"

Delsin exploded.

"HELL YEAH!" 

Delsin seized Desmond around the waist and jumped. Not some excited jumping around the roof, jostling Desmond around, oh, no. One moment, Delsin was tightening his grip around Desmond's waist, the next thing he knew, he was being enveloped in a bright, searing shimmer of neon pink light and they were flying, spinning in the air, high, high, above—anything.
 
Desmond let out a yelp, hands scrabbling at Delsin's shoulders. He gaped at the streaks of light that enveloped them in vibrant swirls. Sparks trailed around him, threaded through both their clothes and hair, but it was only warm. It didn't hurt at all. Below them, Seattle stretched, vibrant and sprawling and teeming with energy. Cars and people weaved between one another in the night, ignorant of the two floating above them, hundreds of feet in the air.

Awed, he looked up and met Delsin's eyes, glowing and already watching him, sparkling in the glittering cascade of light.

"Desmond," he said, a trace of warning in his tone. His smile was wide. "You better prepare yourself now, because I am going to date you so. HARD."

Wide-eyed, Desmond stared for a beat—then burst into laughter. 

It could have been the act of finally giving in, or it could have been just simple relief, but it felt so good to laugh. He hadn't in a long time, and it was all thanks to Delsin. Patient, ridiculous, sweet Delsin.

As they began to fall back down to earth, Desmond rested his forehead against Delsin's and pressed their smiles together.

"Do your worst," he dared.

Chapter Text

"So...I was thinking."  Desmond nonchalantly flicked his straw. He watched it spin around the rim of his plastic cup. 

Across from him, Delsin tangled their legs together beneath the table and popped another french fry in his mouth.

"What's up?" he asked.

The cafeteria was packed, but that was the norm. It was loud, dozens of voices speaking at once, and Desmond couldn't think of a more casual setting to make his suggestion.

"I'm really glad that you're taking our first date so seriously," he started. Delsin's chest puffed with pride.

"It's gonna be awesome," he said confidently.

Desmond shot him a fond, exasperated smile. "And that's great. I'm super excited, but since it's taking a while for our schedules to line up—"

Delsin's expression went mournful. "I know, God, I'm sorry—"

"It's not your fault!" Desmond was quick to reassure. 

The last thing he wanted was for Delsin to blame himself. After all, they were both adults, they both had their own lives. Desmond's was simpler, perhaps, until he was cleared for missions, but he literally only had one day off a week unless he requested ahead of time. Delsin was pretty much on seven days a week and only some of that was because of the center. He was still very much an activist for Conduits across the country—the world, even—and dealt with a lot more red tape and bureaucracy than Desmond cared to think about. 

It had already been two weeks since Desmond had agreed to a date, but between both of their jobs, finding the time was hard. It also didn't help that Delsin was dead-set on planning the perfect day. So, no trips to the local coffee joint or food truck, no walks in the park or meeting at the beach. 

No, according to Delsin, it had to be just right.
 
Which—Desmond could appreciate the sentiment, really, it was sweet, but—

"It's just, you know, what if we just went out for a little bit after work?" Delsin opened his mouth, looking incredibly aghast, and Desmond scrambled to speak before he lost his chance. "It doesn't have to count as a date!" He was quick to assure. "I haven't had a drink in forever and I figured, you know, if I'm already going out, and you know the area..."

"Well...all right," Delsin still looked like he'd been cheated somehow, but he'd agreed.

Desmond smiled, gave Delsin's foot a playful nudge. "Thanks."

Delsin smiled back, moved his legs so that he had both of Desmond's ankles trapped between them. "No prob. Can't leave you to the wolves, can I?"

"Of course not."

"What were you thinking? Bar? Or a club?"

Desmond shrugged. "Just—somewhere good, I guess. And socially acceptable to get blackout drunk."

Delsin's eyebrows flew up and he whistled. "You tryin' to get shit-faced, Miles?"

"I need it," Desmond said heavily, running a hand through his hair. "Can't have alcohol at the apartment. It's a 'rule'," he said sullenly, making air quotes. 

"Why?"

Because my friends are afraid I'll become an alcoholic. Which—okay, fair, Desmond saw the logic. After a nightmare or Bleed, getting drunk enough to numb himself sounded heavenly and it wasn't like they didn't have the files, the notes. He knew the kind of dependency the Animus could cause. And most of the time he didn't even blame them for the rule. He didn't want to turn into another Daniel Cross.

But god, sometimes he just wanted to—drink. Just a little bit. Enough to feel happy, enough to get out of his head, enough to stop thinking.
 
He couldn't say that to Delsin, though. 

"They, uh, just don't like to keep it in the house." Desmond straightened up, casting Delsin a hopeful look. "So you'll come with me?"

"Hell yeah," Delsin agreed, grinning. "It's been a while since I partied anyways. You've heard of The Croc though, right?"

"Nope," Desmond said, shaking his head.

Delsin's smile went pleased and devious. "Oh, we're definitely going."

Delsin still insisted on walking Desmond to his next class despite having his own meetings to get to and he stole a kiss at the door before he left, snagging Desmond by the waist to pull him close. 

Of course, it had to be in front of his class of teenagers and they were merciless, whistling and clapping and shouting, "My EYES!" 
 
"Oh my god."

Unrepentant, Delsin ignored them, looking pleased by the spectacle. "Should we meet there? I can text you the address."

"Yeah, sounds good."

"'Kay. See ya, babe."

Desmond shoved his shoulder, grinning. "Get out of here!"

The rest of the day flew by. Once he put on his Teacher Face the teasing stopped and the work began. All of his students were at different levels, but he was pleased all the same with how far they'd all come in such a short time. It warmed him to see the self-doubt and fear fall away, to see confidence and pride instead. It was even better to be a part of that journey, as conceited as that might sound. A little more time, and he'd feel confident about some of his older students taking over once he left. After all, it'd already been—

Two months. The thought made Desmond stop short, blind-sided. It was a little over two months, when he did the math. Such a short time, but he'd already gotten so...comfortable here. This teaching gig, living with Shaun and Rebecca, meeting Delsin—it felt simultaneously like he'd barely gotten settled and like he'd lived here all his life.

Which was stupid. Very stupid, letting himself getting lulled into thinking that. I really need that drink.
 
A question from one of his students made him push those thoughts away, firmly, and focus on the present. He could worry about that later.

Delsin only popped by once, between classes when he knew Desmond would be free. They'd managed a few stolen kisses and some small talk before their schedules pulled them away, but it was enough to have Desmond biting back a gross, sappy smile all day because he was that easy. 

His night hit its first snag soon after he was home and showered. He stood in just his underwear and single glove and stared at the modest pile of gym clothes spread across his bed—the totality of his closet.

"Shit," he said quietly, with feeling.

Desmond liked to think at this point in his life, he was prepared for a myriad of situations, the least of which included being ready to stuff his entire life into a duffle bag and disappear in less than five minutes flat. But buying nice clothes for a date? Hadn't made the shortlist of his priorities. He didn't think he'd need to make it a priority. Yet here he was, about to turn up to a bar in his least-stained hoodie and sweat pants.

"Uh, hey, Shaun?"

"No," Shaun called back. Desmond rolled his eyes and strode into the living room. 

Shaun was pulled up at his computer desk, glasses catching the glare of the bright screen as he typed. Desmond glanced at his work but knew it was mostly historical stuff that would go right over his head.

"You don't even know what I was gonna ask," Desmond pointed out, leaning his hip against the desk.

"If it would make you feel better to ask first before I say no, then by all means." Shaun pushed up his glasses absently, consulting a page of notes before looking back at the monitor. "Ask away."

"I uh, have a date. Thingy. Kinda."

"Hoo-ray," Shaun said drolly.

"Yeah, and, uh, I....don't really have anything to wear..."

"Absolutely not."

"But Shaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaun—"

"No."

Desmond squatted, fingers curled over the edge of the table, eyes as big and pathetic as he could make them as he looked up.

"All I have are gym clothes, man. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, or even something you like."

"Why would I keep clothes I don't like, idiot?"

Desmond didn't respond, simply waited, and when the silence stretched and Shaun finally spared him a glance, he dialed up his puppy-dog eyed, I-nearly-sacrificed-myself-for-you-and-your-children-and-your-children's-children-and-I-would-do-it-again-in-a-heartbeat look to an Eleven.

Shaun grimaced; Desmond tucked away a sly smile of victory.

"Oh, all right, then," Shaun stood from the desk, scowling, and Desmond popped up.

"Really?!"

"Don't make me regret this."

It should have been simple, but half an hour passed without any results before Rebecca came home from work in time to interrupt them arguing.

"What's going on in here?" she asked, bracing her forearm in the doorway of Shaun's room.

"Oh my god, Beccs, please make him see sense." Desmond shot Shaun a withering, disgusted look. "He wants to put me in khakis."
 
Shaun was fuming. "You're acting like a complete prat; you're lucky I'm even letting you borrow my clothes in the first place, and yet these are the thanks I get?" Shaun shoved the offending garment back into the closet. "Wear your sweaty gym clothes, see if I help you again."

"You're so dramatic, god—"
 
"Why are you borrowing Shaun's clothes anyway?"

"I'm meeting someone at a club," Desmond said, shifting uncomfortably. 

Rebecca blinked, then grinned wolfishly. "With that Delsin guy, right? Well, all right, Desmond!" She moved close enough to pat him on the back a few times. "Way to go!"

"Please stop."

Still grinning, Rebecca inspected Shaun's closet with a considering look and, with a glance at one another, they left her to it.

"What you need is something nice, but simple." She leafed through a few hangers before settling on what had to be Shaun's only white t-shirt. She threw that on the bed. "You're a simple guy, Des—"

"Extremely simple," Shaun muttered. Desmond elbowed him in the side, hard.
 
"It'll look like you're trying too hard if you try to dress too differently." She pulled out a pair of jeans and rifled through the bottom of the closet and pulled out a pair of black slip-on sneakers. "Put these on. Oh! And make sure you tuck your shirt in a little in the front."

With a shrug, Desmond did as he was told. After so long spent under surveillance, both with the Templars and the Assassins, he stopped feeling self-conscious about things like modesty. Rebecca watched him critically but Shaun still averted his eyes politely, clearing his throat; Rebecca and Desmond exchanged fond grins.

Once he was done, he held out his arms. "Well?"

"Hm," Shaun said.

"Meh," said Rebecca.

"Wow, I feel great."

"It just needs a few finishing touches," Rebecca soothed, stepping closer. She dropped to one knee, tugged on his pants. "Maybe if we just..."

Desmond let himself be manhandled, watching as she rolled the pants up a bit past his ankles. She stood and took a step back, appraising him.

"Almost, just needs..." She dug through Shaun's closet again and pulled out a denim coat that was lined, on the inside and at the collar, with fluffy sherpa fleece. Desmond shrugged it on, glad that it made his glove stand out a little less, and she smiled, clapping her hands together. "Perfect."

He pivoted slightly to face Shaun, eyebrows raised.

"Well. You don't look completely ugly."

Desmond smiled widely. "Aw, thanks, Shaun!" Quickly, he seized Shaun around the upper arms and pulled him close. "You're the best!"

"Let go of me before I break both of your arms."

"We love you too, Shaun!" Rebecca yelled, plastering herself to his other side in a grip that belied her skinny frame.

"Oh—God, really? Let go, you heathens!"

Rebecca and Desmond laughed and despite how valiantly he tried to hold onto his scowl, Shaun couldn't quite conceal the upwards twitch to his lips. Behind his back, Rebecca shot Desmond a wink.

Like cringy, overly-doting parents, they insisted on driving him to meet Delsin. Well, Rebecca insisted since it was so far and Shaun joined in when he saw that Desmond didn't want her to. Even still, he made them drop him off once they were several blocks away, wanting to walk off his nerves. 

In the front seat, Rebecca faced Shaun with a mournful expression.

"I think he's embarrassed of us, Shaun."

Shaun gave her a pat on the knee, voice low and reassuring. "He's simply at that age, Rebecca, you mustn't take it personally."

"You guys are riots, seriously. Bye."
 
The walk did help. It put things into perspective, at least. At the end of the day, this was still Delsin. Maybe the setting was different, maybe there were a few new expectations in the air, but he didn't have anything to worry about. He already knew a lot about Delsin, already knew that he liked more than just what was presented on the outside. He couldn't imagine anything other than having a fun time with Delsin at his side.

The Crocodile was hard to miss. It was huge, lit with bright green neon lights, towering at least two stories over the nearest buildings. It had an old-world style to the architecture, something Shaun would probably be able to name off-hand. Maybe it was a converted opera house? A hanging, glowing sign proudly and simply proclaimed, Crocodile, while the building's namesake glowed in fluorescents just beside it, an over-long red tongue curving wickedly, all of it a searingly bright green and red.

"Wow," Desmond mumbled, staring up at it. Already, he was starting to get excited.

As he approached his eyes fell, looking for a familiar face, hands shoved deep into the jacket's pockets. It was April, but still plenty cold, especially now that the sun was down. He couldn't wait to get inside.

It only took him a minute to spot Delsin, half-sitting on the stone railing that bordered the top of the steps leading into the building. He was on his phone, foot-tapping absently in what Desmond had learned to recognize as one of the many ways Delsin stayed in motion in even the most minute ticks, ever ready to burst into action.

The sight of him made Desmond stop in his tracks for a moment, surprised. A little flustered.

Delsin was wearing all black—skinny, ripped up jeans, boots, t-shirt. Gone was the usual vest and in its place was a leather jacket, sleeves pushed up to allow access to his every-present chain and show-off the tattoo on the opposite side. Delsin always looked a little dangerous, but like this? That danger became a promise.

He looked...really good. Good enough Desmond—very briefly—considered calling the whole thing off. 

It just—hit him, suddenly, that Delsin was here, looking like that, for Desmond. It...was a little overwhelming.

You already knew he was hot. Quit being a baby.
 
Delsin glanced up once Desmond was a few steps away, but when he realized who was approaching he straightened immediately, shoving his phone away.

"Hey," he said easily, smiling. He reached out with one hand and slid his finger through a belt loop on Desmond's pants and pulled him a little closer. "Man, I get you all to myself tonight? Looking like this?"  he praised, smile teasing and pleased.

Desmond's face felt warm and he was grateful for the darkness. "You do," Desmond agreed, smiling ruefully. He gave Delsin's jacket a pat. "And, you..."

"What?"

"You look good. You're..." Desmond wasn't a shy person by nature, but right at that moment, crowded in just by Delsin's presence...he was definitely feeling tongue-tied. "...really tall," Desmond murmured, suddenly overcome with the urge to kiss Delsin within an inch of his life. His face was burning.

Delsin's grin went wolfish and he stepped even closer, ducking his head so their noses bumped. 

"Yeah?" he asked lowly, eyebrow raised.

Desmond swallowed, smiled back. "Yeah."

It was a natural thing to push up and catch Delsin's lips with his own and it felt so good it hurt because he couldn't remember anything feeling so good and easy in his life. 
 
When they broke apart Delsin smiled down at him and gave his hand a tug. "Come on."

Desmond had never been to The Crocodile before, but the second the doors opened and the music washed over him, it felt like stepping back into the past. The subtle black padding that sound-proofed the walls, the soft, atmospheric lights, tame here at the entrance and pulsing frantically towards the dance floor, the hot press of bodies packed tight, the yelling and laughing and the throbbing bass that traveled up the soles of his feet to rattle his bones—

Desmond grinned, a low thrum of excitement making him do a little bounce as he followed Delsin through the crowd towards the bar. This was gonna be awesome.

The bar was huge, a long, silver, gleaming countertop that stretched the entirety of one wall, manned by several black-clad bartenders. It was mirrored on the two floors above it, all of them swarming with eager drunks demanding another shot. 

They squeezed into a free space and Delsin's hand came to rest at his lower back beneath his jacket, heavy and warm, and Desmond had to release a small, silent sigh to get ahold of himself.

"What do you want?" Delsin's lips danced over his ear, close enough so he could be heard of the music and cacophony of people.

"Beer." A beat, then he tugged on Delsin's shirt. "And a shot of tequila."

At Delsin's raised brow and amused look, he shrugged. "It'll keep me from bolting," he explained, looking down.

"Ouch!" Delsin put a hand to his chest. "Are things going that bad already?"

He waved down the closest bartender and asked for Desmond's drinks as well as a jack and coke before Desmond could say anything; behind his back, Desmond gave a slight grimace. Bartending had given him the opportunity to refine his drink taste and he definitely wasn't a whiskey person. 

As soon as he finished, Desmond lightly touched Delsin's wrist where it was resting on the counter.

"It's not going bad," Desmond assured with a smile. He tapped his temple in a vague gesture. "More to keep me out of here. I don't wanna...run away this time," he explained, glancing up at Delsin hesitantly.

Understanding bled into those dark eyes and Delsin's expression grew a few degrees warmer. He leaned over and pressed a kiss to Desmond's forehead and Desmond smiled. He really didn't have anything to worry about, did he?

Drinks in hand, they moved further down the bar and away from the eager press of the line. They hovered around until a few stools became available and they swooped in for them before they got taken. Grinning like a couple of kids at their victory, they drank and talked facing each other instead of the counter, knees falling between the other's. Desmond spun idly side to side, bumping his legs against Delsin's, sipping on his beer. He'd taken the shot before they'd even left the counter and he could feel that familiar buzz as it coursed through his blood stream, loose and warm and easy. He was nowhere near drunk, not even tipsy, but he could feel it all the same, making his thoughts a little less chaotic, a little more mellow and happy. 

His next smile at Delsin was genuine and lazy, pleased as he leaned against the counter.

"Thanks for coming out," he said.

"No prob," Delsin said, watching Desmond with that same, earlier amusement. "You like it, huh?" he asked, gesturing to the club with his chin. "You look like you're already havin' a good time."

Desmond's smile widened. "'Cause I am," he said with satisfaction, taking another drink. He glanced away for a moment, looking over the dancefloor. "It's familiar, I guess." He shot Delsin a side-long look. "I used to be a bartender."

"Wait, really?" 

"Yup. Back when I lived in New York."

"Oh, yeah?" Blatant interest shone clear in Delsin's eyes, but Desmond could tell he was trying not to bombard him with questions. Probably afraid Desmond would bolt again.

Well, he did say that he would try; he could tell Delsin some stuff.

"Only job I'd ever had before I came here." It was weird to think of it like that, but it was true. 'Prisoner' and 'Guinea pig' weren't exactly valid as far as job history went, and the Animus certainly didn't count, no matter how much it felt like work. And BOY, did it feel like work. 

"Really?" 

"Yeah. Did that for a while, then—" Got kidnapped. "I had to leave. Personal stuff," he tacked on lamely. He took another sip, avoiding eye contact. "Traveled for a while before I came here." He perked and looked over. "I saw the Conduit Initiative in the news. It's why I came here in the first place, actually."

"Wow. That's awesome," and Delsin looked happy, too. "Well, I'm glad you came. Pretty sure everyone loves you at the Center."

Desmond played with his cup bashfully, knee bouncing again with nervous energy. "I like what I'm doing there," he admitted. "I feel like I'm making a difference, at least a little bit."

"You kidding?" Delsin put a hand on Desmond's knee and squeezed, leaning a little closer. "We've seen so much change since you came here. Trust me, you are."

"Thanks. But I can't take all the credit," he pointed out, giving Delsin a nudge of his own. "I just work there, I'm not the guy who founded it." Desmond didn't bother hiding his admiration, delighted when Delsin blushed, visible only because they were sitting so close.

"Yeah, yeah, alright." He shook his head. "It's still weird to think of you working at a bar, though. Figured you were in the army or something."

"The army?!"  Desmond sputtered. He couldn't imagine it, not even a little bit. Just the thought made his skin crawl.

"I mean!" Delsin shrugged. "I know you said you were on the streets, but, I don't know! You fight like you're trained."

Oh, he'd been trained, all right. "...Definitely not the army," he settled on answering. "And I was really good at my job!" he defended belatedly. "I was practically famous."

"Huh." Delsin watched him curiously, trying to imagine it, Desmond supposed. "I guess it makes sense. You give off bartender vibes, the more I think about it."

"Bartender vibes?" Desmond's smile went amused. "What does that even mean?"

"You know," Delsin teased, knocking his knee against Desmond's. "Friendly. Talkative. Easy on the eyes," he added, expression smug and confident.

Desmond shook his head, chuckling. "That was so cheesy."

"Maybe," Delsin agreed. He drained the last of his glass and left it on the counter. He stood and offered his hand. "Bet you're still gonna dance with me." 

Desmond didn't hesitate to slip his hand into Delsin's, but he did pretend to sigh long-suffering. "Only because the bar was getting boring."

"Uh-huh."

Desmond ended up pulling Delsin onto the dance floor, scoffing when Delsin seemed about to stop near the edge. With an insistent tug, Desmond led him past countless bodies until he felt satisfied, as close to the DJ as possible without physically fighting someone for space.

He twisted to face Delsin, smiling, and guided his hands to his waist. After that, Desmond, well—he showed off. The entire club scene was more than familiar—it almost felt like home. It was the one place he one-hundred percent knew exactly who he was and what was expected of him. After years of bartending, he knew exactly how to move his body to draw eyes, when to wink and when to throw in a body roll, how to throw a glance that could pull someone in, the perfect smile to coerce someone back to the bar and to tip well. It had all been part of the job, but it was a job Desmond was good at. It felt good to fall back into a role so familiar.

Even better was the look on Delsin's face when Desmond started to dance, stock-still in surprise when Desmond pressed their bodies close only to move away slightly, moving to the beat of the throbbing music in enticing sways and small dips. He rested his forearms on Delsin's shoulders, took one look at Delsin's gobsmacked, blown-eyes, and grinned in private delight; parking his ass in the Animus for days on end hadn't made him lose his touch, apparently.

His smile seemed to snap Delsin out of it, because he clamped a big, heavy hand on the back of Desmond's neck in the next instant, pulling them flush with a grip at Desmond's hip as he moved with him.

"Dude," he said, and there was something incredulous and turned on in his tone. "What the fuck?!"

"Sorry," Desmond half-shouted back, grinning. He affected a mock-sympathetic air. "Too much for you to handle?"

Delsin's expression went downright wicked. He ran a hand up Desmond's arm, took his hand in his, and spun him before Desmond could blink. Desmond gave a cry of surprised delight, stumbled, but Delsin caught him around the waist before he could crash to the floor. His brown eyes danced with mischief and happiness.

"Oh, I can handle it," he practically purred, and Desmond laughed.

They couldn't keep their hands off each other, always touching, lingering over hips or touching skin where it was bared by questing fingers sliding beneath shirts. It didn't take long for Desmond to feel sweaty, for his heart to race with exertion and his lips to stay ever-parted, panting for breath, but he couldn't bring himself to ask for a break, too in love with the heat of Delsin's body pressed close, his hands and eyes fixed just on him. No words, no misunderstandings, no thinking. Everything was so much simpler on the dance floor, just intent, just desire, just—them. 

Desmond's hands trailed over Delsin's taut stomach, felt the firm abs there as he swayed with him to the music, licked his lips as he glanced up and felt his heart stutter to see Delsin watching him, a small, hungry smile on his lips. He took Desmond's chin between forefinger and thumb, took his time as he let his eyes rove over Desmond's flushed face.

"You," he said, just loud enough to be heard, voice dark, "are so fucking hot."

Desmond closed his eyes with a shiver, had to turn his head away. Letting Delsin see exactly how affected he was by that was too embarrassing to contemplate. 

He felt more than heard the rumble of laughter in Delsin's chest. In the next moment, Delsin guided his head back up and then those lips were being pressed to his.

Desmond pulled him that much closer, mouth falling open as the taste of liquor danced across his tongue. Delsin's hand swept underneath his clothes, marking a wide path up his back and Desmond held on with a grip at his neck and at his upper arm, flushing to feel the muscles straining beneath the leather, sinking into the sensation of being crowded completely by those broad shoulders and wide chest.

Delsin pulled back after a few lingering nips, pressing his forehead to Desmond's. They stopped dancing, just panted inches from each other as they caught their breath.

"Jesus," Delsin muttered. He pressed a quick kiss to Desmond's lips. "We should..." He breathed out a quick, heavy sigh, trying to steady himself. "Let's take a break," he said with a smile, "Before we scandalize a lot of innocent people." He stepped away finally, hand slipping into Desmond's.

Blushing and very aware of the fact he wouldn't be heard over the music, Desmond mumbled, "I don't mind."

"Huh?"

Desmond bit back a grin and shook his head. "Drinks!" he shouted back instead and Delsin nodded.

The bar was like a breath of fresh air, enough to make him realize exactly how far gone he'd gotten out there and how close he was to just dragging Delsin to the nearest dark corner and getting them both banned for life.

"Hey," he tugged on Delsin. "I'm gonna head to the bathroom real quick, okay?"

"Yeah," Delsin tapped on the counter. "I'll grab you a drink. What do you want?"

"Don't care. Whatever you're getting."

Desmond slipped away with a parting squeeze to Delsin's hand, tried not to smile too goofily at the reluctant way their fingers tangled before finally separating. God, he really was easy.

He felt like he took his first real deep breath when he reached the relative quiet of the bathroom. He only passed one person on his way in and it seemed pretty deserted when he glanced over the long row of empty stalls. A single long mirror stretched across the opposite wall and Desmond drifted over to it.

Hands braced on the sink, he took himself in, face burning to see the obvious excitement on his face, the flush to his face and the brightness of his own eyes. The phantom sensation of Delsin's touch made him bite his lip and wince against a sudden wave of intense arousal. 

He hung his head, a near-silent, breathless laugh echoing in the empty space. 

All he'd wanted was a fun night out, but actually getting it was sort of throwing him for a loop. Life had taught him that when things were going good, they were about to go bad. But it was undeniable that despite his own pessimism, he was genuinely enjoying himself. 

Desmond grabbed a paper towel, soaked it, and wiped at his sweaty face, hoping to unearth a slightly less horny, level-headed person when he was done. God. The way things were going, he couldn't help but wonder if Delsin would ask to take him home; he wasn't sure what he'd say if he did.

The door opening made him glance over. The first person's head was turned away, talking to whoever was behind him, but Desmond only got a flash of bright, burning red and then he was moving on silent feet, throwing himself into an empty stall, feet and hands bracing him up off the floor by firm grips on the narrow walls.

Fuck. He'd just—reacted. If he'd just kept his head down, he could be out, but now—

"—the point if we can't even use P.O.E.s now," one of them was saying and Desmond went completely still. 

Shit. Shit, shit, shitshitshit. He'd hoped he'd been wrong, caught a strobelight as it passed by, but no. Templars. Fuck.
 
"That's not why we're hear and you know it," another man was saying. There were footsteps, drawing closer—peeking beneath the stalls for feet. They passed right by Desmond's and he sent a silent thanks that these were the types of stalls whose doors were shut by default and the slits on either side of them were too narrow to see through.
 
"We're clear." The sound of zippers, and then they kept talking over the sound of the urinals, sounding tired and exasperated in equal measure. "Anyways, keeping an eye out for artifacts is only part of our mission."

A scoff. "Yeah, recruiting freaks. Are we that desparate?"
 
What?
 
"Hey, I don't like it either, but orders are orders." 
 
A flush, and then the sink started running. A moment later, a second flush echoed. "Aren't they...unstable, though? I'm not trying to get my head blown up on my way back to HQ."
 
"If they're a liability, we take them out, same as anyone that's more trouble than they're worth. Besides, it makes sense, recruiting Conduits." Desmond's eyes went wide; No. "They're the next best thing to a P.O.E. these days."
 
"Man, if you say so."
 
FUCK. Recruiting Conduits?  They'd speculated over what the Templar's next move would be once the P.O.E.s were out of the question, but indoctrinating new blood hadn't even occurred to them when the Templars already numbered so many. But the Templars were always good at seeing human lives as sums to be weighed and calculated and he could see why Conduits, only recently being introduced to society, would have an appeal. Skill was valued in their Order, but to have actual powers? Without the corrupting influence of a P.O.E.? It did make sense. 
 
It was sickening. And not only because Desmond had a personal investment. Powered or not, they were targeting a very vulnerable group of people. Sure, Desmond had taught a lot of them self-defense, but that was nothing compared to a highly-trained Templar agent or a full squad, one that specialized in grabbing people right off the street and dragging them into one of their nondescript vans. 
 
Desmond needed more information; what they were doing here, if they'd recruited anyone so far, if there were more around. 
 
Silently, Desmond slid underneath the stalls until he was directly behind where the two Templars stood at the sink, still chatting idly. He pulled himself over the top of the stall, balanced on the edge, and took a moment to steady himself in that split second before they'd notice him in the mirror. They were a bright, searing red, so he didn't feel bad when he leapt from the top of the stall and landed on them. 
 
He did so with precision, grasping them both by the back of the heads to slam them into the mirror. It splintered into dozens of cracks—which worked in his favor in case they tried to use it to get a look at him. There was some cursing and Desmond had to dodge a few wild haymakers, but he knew he had to keep it quick if he wanted to stay anonymous. He couldn't even imagine the shitshow that would rain down on Seattle if they reported a Desmond Miles sighting.
 
He focused on blinding jabs and throat punches. Taken by surprise, it was a brutal, but fast fight. When they slumped to the ground, knocked out, Desmond felt confident he hadn't been recognized.
 
Killing them was tempting, but he refrained. Dead Templars were the exact kind of attention he wanted to avoid, so he contented himself with frisking them quickly before they woke up. 
 
The first guy only turned up an earpiece and a gun; useless. The second, however, had a small tablet in his cargo pants pocket and, after pressing his limp hand to the touchpad, Desmond was in.
 
He didn't have time to really pour over it so he opened the most recent files—they looked like mission orders—and took pictures of them with his phone. He gave himself sixty seconds, then cleared it, locked it, and slid it back where he found it. He stood, considered them for a moment, then pulled out their wallets. He grabbed all the cash and threw the wallets back carelessly onto their slumped bodies. Hopefully, they'd treat this as a mugging, maybe even be too embarrassed to report it. 
 
The door opened behind him and Desmond twisted, falling into a defensive stance—
 
Delsin's mouth hung open, brown eyes wide and shocked as he took in the slumped men, their discarded wallets, the cracked mirror and Desmond standing over them—fist full of cash.
 
Desmond blanched.
 
"I can explain!" he blurted.
 
"What the fuck?!"
 
"I know, I know!" Desmond rushed over to Delsin and half-dragged, half-pushed him out the door. "It's not what it looks like, okay?"
 
"Yeah?" Delsin asked incredulously. "Must be one hell of a misunderstanding, then!"
 
"Okay, look—" Desmond started to drag Delsin towards the bar, but another flash of red made him freeze. 
 
One heading their way—probably to check on the other two. Desmond averted his gaze, eyes darting to the exit, and grimaced to see another figure shining bright red. 
 
And one on the balcony. And two at the bar.
 
Oh, for fuck's sake, is it the Templar's night out or something?!
 
It was unlikely so many would all be in one location even on a scouting mission, so why—
 
That's when he remembered what he'd heard in the bathroom, about recruiting Conduits, and sucked in a sharp breath. 
 
Delsin. Had they been watching him? Were they here for him?  The Center was locked down tighter than a fortress against anyone who didn't have explicit permission to be there, all to dissuade anyone who would impede their progress—reporters, fanatics, idle spectators. But who would be a better way in than the man who ran the place? Whether they'd aimed to ingratiate themselves to Delsin and slowly worm their way in, or threaten him, Desmond wasn't sure.
 
Either way, he'd have to keep an eye on him.
 
Desmond sorely missed his hoodie. He dropped Delsin's arm and decided he'd have to skirt the edges until he reached the nearest door. Any second now, those bodies were going to be discovered and then there'd be no way of getting out easily.
 
"I'm sorry, Delsin," he looked away, rubbing his neck. This wasn't how tonight was supposed to go and if Delsin decided to wash his hands of everything 'Desmond', he wouldn't blame him. "I know this looks shady but I have to go, all right? And you should, too." Luckily, Delsin could take care of himself. If the Templars got wind of their unconscious agents and decided to get aggressive, Delsin could handle them. Desmond would circle back to make sure, but he wasn't worried. "I'll call you."
 
Delsin's hand darted out whip-fast and stopped him short, expression as disbelieving as it was angry.
 
"You are not just leaving after that!" He squeezed Desmond's arm. "What the hell is going on?!"
 
"I don't have time for this, Delsin!" Desmond tried to shake his arm free but couldn't. "Look, there are people here that—they can't see me, all right? They'll start shooting and they won't care if anyone else gets hurt."
 
Delsin's brow furrowed but he seemed to be listening, at least, instead of calling Desmond crazy.
 
"Okay, fine, but I'm not letting you just leave when there are people around here who want to hurt you."
 
Desmond scowled up at him. "I can handle myself, Delsin!"
 
Delsin's face settled into a familiar, stubborn look of determination. "Yeah, but you don't have to."
 
And then without so much as a word of warning, Delsin swooped in, lifted Desmond clear off his feet, and flew.
 
Desmond didn't even have time to gasp; those arms came around him, and suddenly they were breezing straight through the crowded dance floor, out the doors, and into the crisp open air of the night. They stopped a few blocks away from the club, neon crocodile still visible in the distance, and startled more than a few poor passing pedestrians when two men suddenly appeared in a cloud of smoke and embers.
 
"Holy shit," Desmond muttered, heart racing. Delsin grinned down at him.
 
"I know," he bragged. He set Desmond down and stretched out a hand to a sign hanging over a pawn shop just beside him. It was incredible to see him absorb the light into his skin, to see how his arm glowed as tendrils of light twined around it, but it was nothing to the look he shot Desmond a moment later, face devoid of that earlier joviality, determined and serious. His eyes were glowing. "Now, I think you've got some explaining to do."
 
Shit. "Uh—"
 
Once again Desmond experienced the unsettling sensation of leaving the earth without any warning or his consent. Delsin swept him right back up into his arms and they streaked up the nearest building and across the rooftop.
 
"Oh, shit—" Desmond scrabbled to hold Delsin around his shoulders, heart jack-rabbiting in his chest. "You did that on purpose!"
 
"Can't hear you!" Delsin shouted, clutching Desmond a little tighter. "Too busy being awesome! Oh, better hold tight!"
 
"What? Why—DELSIN NO!"
 
Delsin laughed as he stepped off the edge of a skyscraper and they went into freefall. A moment later, he kicked off, glowing a searing pink, and ran straight across thin air until they landed on another rooftop.
 
"You okay?" Delsin asked, glancing down at him with an evil, sly look.
 
Desmond punched him on the shoulder. "You're a fucking asshole." A grin stretched across his lips. "Do it again."
 
Delsin traveled across the city like that, jumping off buildings and running across Seattle like it was his own personal playground. It was more fun than it had any right to be and Desmond whooped and hollered along with him, not even noticing the cool brush of the night air with his adrenaline pumping as hard as it was. 
 
But Delsin seemed to have a destination in mind, one that became apparent when they reached the Space Needle and Delsin carried him straight up to the balcony, where tourists could stand at a railing and look out over the city.
 
"Wow." Once he got his feet back under him, Desmond walked to the edge, held onto the railing as he stared at the skyline. Even at night, seeing the city from this height was incredible. "I'd been meaning to come here," Desmond remarked. "Just haven't had the time."
 
"It's 'cause you're always working," Delsin complained. He leaned on the railing next to him, but his back was to the view, eyes firmly on Desmond. "Or robbing people, apparently..."
 
Desmond grimaced. Time to face the music already, huh? He cast another glance over the edge, this one decidedly longing. It was hard to spot one, but maybe there was a dumpster somewhere waaaaay down there...?
 
And inkling of his thoughts must have shown on his face because Delsin elbowed him.
 
"Desmond."  Reluctantly, Desmond turned to face Delsin and held his arms out in a helpless gesture. "Just—tell me what happened back there."
 
Ugh. Such a simple question, but it felt impossible to answer.
 
"I don't...they..." Desmond blew out a harsh sigh, crossed his arms and stared hard at the ground as he tried to say the least without giving anything away. "They're...bad people...?"
 
"Uh-huh," Delsin encouraged, frustration leaking into his voice. "I got that. What kind of bad are we talking here?"
 
"Really bad." His fingers dug into his arms. "Probably the worst people you'll ever meet." Delsin didn't speak, just waited, and Desmond shifted nervously. "Um, so, just to be clear, I wasn't mugging those guys. I just wanted it to look like it."
 
A very mild expression crossed over Delsin's face. He was clearly trying to reserve judgment until he heard Desmond out fully, but it looked like a struggle. Desmond was kind of amazed he was even trying.
 
"Okay...Why?"
 
"They'd...look for me, otherwise."
 
"Desmond, you're not making any sense." Delsin took a step closer. "Why are these people looking for you? Why do they want you?" He shook his head, brows drawn together in confusion. "Is this...like a witness protection kind of thing?"
 
That would be such a convenient excuse. "Uh...yes...?" he lied, quite possibly his worst attempt ever. 
 
Delsin looked like he was seconds away from punching him. "You're obviously lying!"
 
"Well!" Desmond said defensively. "It's not that far off from the truth, actually!" He cast his gaze back over the skyline. It was easier to face. "Look, it's not like I don't want to tell you—"
 
Delsin scoffed, "Coulda fooled me."
 
"—BUT," Desmond stressed, shooting Delsin a glare, "It's more of a safety thing, all right? You're better off not knowing."
 
"I have superpowers," Delsin said, throwing up his hands. "I'm not the one who needs to be protected here!"
 
"It doesn't matter," Desmond cut him off brutally. "The resources these people have—you wouldn't stand a chance. Trust me."
 
A loaded silence stretched after that.

"This is why you said you'll have to leave, isn't it?" Delsin asked quietly. "Because of these people."
 
Desmond's heart felt bruised in his chest. He kept staring out at the city, unwilling to face whatever expression Delsin had on his face, sad and serious as it sounded.
 
"...Yeah. I don't want to," he confessed. "I've never...nowhere's ever felt like home like it does here," he said quietly. 
 
And it was true. Even when he'd carved out a new life for himself in New York, he'd spent so much of it with this hanging sense of dread and paranoia, so scared his father was gonna show up at his apartment one day and drag him back to the Farm. Nothing about that life had really been his—fake name, fake past, fake everything. Only dealing in cash, every conversation feeling like a tense, one-sided interrogation as he tried so hard to blend in. Here, there was none of that. He was just...Desmond. A guy who could throw a decent punch, who loved fish and chips and had a job he liked and even a few friends. It still didn't feel real.
 
"Then stay,"  Delsin encouraged, like it was that easy. "Let me help you."
 
Desmond tilted his head up to the sky, a wistful smile on his face. That sounded so nice. "I really wish you could."
 
Delsin took another step closer. "I can."
 
But Desmond just shook his head. "It's not your problem, Delsin." 

"I don't care."
 
"But I do!" 

This was how it always started; he let himself believe and then it all went to shit and Desmond was tired of people getting hurt because of him, dying because of him—
 
—a grip iron-tight, a voice laced with pain, pushing the words out nonetheless as the world crumbled around them in blinding light, "GO! GO!"
 
—blue eyes wide with a silent scream, wet with tears unshed, dimming even as he stood inches away, useless, so fucking blind—

—"Please, please," he begs, scrabbling at Desmond's shirt, eyes desperate, unseeing, fevered, "I can't live like this anymore, you have to do it, just kill me—"

Desmond raised a shaking hand to his face. "I can't do this," he said shortly. He turned around to find the doors, mind a chaotic jumble of anger and guilt and fear and pain. He felt like a fucking nutcase and Delsin—he had a real life, one Desmond couldn't be a part of. Tonight was way too close and if Desmond hadn't gotten the drop on them, if they'd seen them together—

Rushing footsteps, and then Delsin was there, pulling Desmond against his chest, squeezing him hard as he rubbed a hand up and down his back.

"Easy," he muttered, ducking his head down press the words to Desmond's forehead. "It's okay, Desmond. It's okay."

He should have stepped away, but he was pathetically weak and only held Delsin back fiercely, burying his face into that wide chest.

"I don't want to lose you, too," he whispered. 

"I'm not going anywhere," Delsin assured him and Desmond held him even tighter, face screwed up against the pain those words caused.

"You can't promise that," Desmond argued bitterly. He'd lived so many lives and couldn't remember a single time someone made that promise and it worked out in the end. Life didn't happen the way you planned, no matter how hard you fought for it. That fact used to kill Desmond, but he'd learned that getting upset over it was pointless. The war didn't end because it took lives and until it took his, the only thing he could do was keep fighting.

"Watch me," Delsin vowed. Desmond couldn't muster the strength to argue anymore. He focused on Delsin right here, right now in his arms, warm and safe and alive. He hated that he was savoring it, like he was wishing Delsin ill by doing so.

This was why Desmond had wanted to get out, just for one night. A few stolen hours without thinking about all this shit, about the depressing mess that was his life and the inevitable pity party he threw himself every time he thought of the past, of his future. He was so sick of himself.

Delsin rocked them both back and forth slightly in a slow shift, arms around Desmond's waist, chin resting atop his head. It took some time for Desmond to master himself, to feel as if he could open his mouth without completely losing his composure. When he felt a little steadier, he pulled back, just enough to meet Delsin's eyes.

"Can we stop talking about this? At least for now?" He was begging but pride wasn't even a factor in this moment; he was too drained.

Delsin frowned, probably seconds away from protesting, but one look at Desmond's face and he only sighed in reluctant acceptance.

"Yeah. All right."

Desmond sagged in his hold, closed his eyes. "Thank you."

"Mm." Delsin pressed a kiss to his forehead. A beat passed. "...Pretty wild for a first not-date, huh?"

Desmond huffed. "Yeah." The urge to apologize came over him, but they'd literally just decided to move past it. "It's...never boring around me," he half-joked. 

Delsin chuckled. "Never," he agreed. "Can't wait to see what happens next time."

That made Desmond twitch. He opened his eyes and stared up at Delsin. "What—you want to do this again?"

Delsin raised a brow. "I mean, I thought it was going pretty good until you thrashed those guys in the bathroom. Although fights aren't a deal-breaker with me, just so you know."

"I—that's—" It was hard to even form a coherent sentence, he was so taken aback. "But I ruined it? Why would you—?"

"Psh, nothing was ruined. Definitely not what I was expecting, but it was fun!" God help him, Delsin even looked like he meant it. "We shoulda stuck around, knocked some heads together." Delsin's face went dreamy just from the thought. "I bet we could kick so much ass together."

A short, startled laugh left Desmond and he shook his head. Just a minute ago, he'd been on the verge of a panic attack. How did Delsin do it?

He smiled up at Delsin and gave his chest a pat. "Has anyone ever told you that you might be a little crazy?"

"Oh, all the time," Delsin said breezily. "It's part of my charm."

"I guess it is," Desmond mused softly and Delsin's smile warmed.

Kissing Delsin felt easier every time it happened. That little voice in the back of his mind that urged him to break it off, to stop before it was too late, grew smaller and smaller, fell beneath the waves of passion and contentment that washed over him each time their lips met. 

And yes, it was a momentary bliss; he still had a Templar problem to deal with, he still spent most days feeling like only a fraction of a person, Delsin couldn't be patient forever; he had every intention of dealing with it all, one problem at a time. But right now, he didn't have to be Desmond-the-Savior, Desmond-the-Assassin, or even simply pass as a well-adjusted adult. He could be a little broken, here in Delsin's arms. He could let himself enjoy this.

He moved his hands to Delsin's face, pressed his lips more urgently, parted them so their tongues could touch. Delsin responded by hugging him closer and taking the invitation to deepen the kiss, stroking into his mouth with deep, languid licks that made Desmond sink even further into that hazy headspace that was only desire and the aching catharsis of handing over the reins for a little bit. Even when they had to pull back for air, he kept pressing small pecks to Delsin's mouth, so full of gratefulness and desire and a deep, deep affection for this person that was being so accepting of him when anyone else would have washed their hands of him the very first time he proved to be less than whole.

He fisted his hands into Delsin's shirt, the cold kept at bay by his body heat, and panted, catching his breath as Delsin's nose skimmed across his face.

"You okay?" Delsin asked, voice a low, intimate murmur, and Desmond nodded without opening his eyes.

"Yeah. Yeah. I'm just..." he pulled back, eyes searching over Delsin's handsome features with a warm smile that was embarrassingly transparent, adoring and thoughtful in equal measure. "I'm really glad I met you," he confessed.

Delsin's smile grew on his face the way the sun crept over the horizon: Beautiful and slow and overwhelming for its intensity. 

There wasn't a doubt in Desmond's mind that this was all gonna go to shit. But seeing that look on Delsin's face? Being the reason it was there in the first place?

It almost felt worth it.

Chapter Text

Something changed after that night at the bar, and it wasn't anything good.

Although it wasn't fair to say that it was all bad. Unraveling the mystery of Desmond's past was like pulling teeth, but Delsin wasn't discouraged. Even if progress was incremental, he felt closer to Desmond now more than ever. Slowly but surely, he was letting Delsin in and at the very least, he felt like Desmond let him in more than anyone else. That was something.

Most days, Desmond seemed tired. Maybe not always in appearance, but certainly in demeanor. It threaded itself in his voice, echoed in his eyes at times when he'd go distant. It was worse when he was present though, looking straight at Delsin like he was already saying goodbye.

But now? Now it was obvious. He had visible bags underneath his eyes these days and he was quieter, stewing on some private worry that was clearly stressing him out. But getting him to talk about it was pointless. If Delsin asked, he deflected.

"Stayed up kinda late last night."

"I'm good, just thinking."

"You worry too much, man."

These lines were always delivered with a warm smile, a playful nudge or a quick, sweet kiss, so convincing it was disturbing. Desmond was a surprisingly gifted liar in those moments, but the quiet always betrayed him when he thought he was alone and what Delsin saw on his face troubled him greatly. Any attempts to ask about what had happened in the club—who those people were, why they were looking for Desmond, why Desmond had beat the shit out of those guys in the bathroom—were shot down almost before Delsin could finish the question, and no amount of guilt-tripping, cajoling, or seducing would make him talk. Delsin wanted to press, but didn't want to risk Desmond avoiding him again. But just watching him suffer was wearing on Delsin.

This went on for a few days and Delsin knew something had to change. And since his schedule was taking forever to give him the time he needed for the Absolutely Spectacular Date he had planned, he'd have to settle for something low-key.

"Hey, Des," he spoke up. 

"Hm?" Desmond asked absently. He kicked his feet over the open air idly, eyes on a beat-up notebook as he tapped the edge of a pen to it. He was recording the progress his classes were making, brainstorming different techniques to teach and ways to test them on what they'd learned so far. He looked incredibly cute when he was concentrating on something and Delsin almost didn't want to distract him.

They were sitting side by side on the roof of the shelter, one of the few places they'd come to learn they would be left alone. Neither had announced anything, but at this point, it was an open secret that they were together. And, barring that, everyone had quickly come to the realization that where one was, so was the other. Their chill hangouts at mealtimes were almost always interrupted, either with a student wanting to talk to Desmond or someone seeking out Delsin from anything between a request for more supplies to a story about his days when he first came to Seattle.

And any other time, Delsin was happy for the attention, to help out where-ever he could. But during his increasingly rare, precious Desmond Time? Not so much.

"What are you doing tonight?"

"Uh," Desmond raised his head and blinked, visibly struggling to switch mental tracks. "Nothing? I mean, I've got classes until six. But that's it."

Perfect. Delsin already knew since he'd made sure to check Desmond's schedule, but it never hurt to be sure.

He bumped their shoulders together. "Come to my place."

Desmond jerked and his expression was so alarmed, cheeks slightly flushed, Delsin had to laugh. He could almost see Desmond's thoughts turning towards the bedroom, being lured into Delsin's nefarious clutches the moment he entered his lair, never to return.

He nudged Desmond again, grinning. "Get your mind out of the gutter, Miles," he chastised, smile widening at the embarrassed scowl he got in return. "We won't be alone if that's what you're scared of." Desmond started to deny it (weakly) but Delsin just kept speaking over him. "My friends are coming over and I want you to meet them. I mean, they're practically family, so. Yeah. Figured it was about time. What do ya say?"

"Oh." Desmond looked surprised, then touched. "I...sure. If you want."

Delsin kind of wanted to scream; he wasn't the one sending mixed signals, why wouldn't he want to introduce Desmond to the people closest to him?

But pushing past frustration was becoming a honed skill at this point, so he didn't cave in to the urge to shake Desmond and demand he understand that Delsin wasn't just messing around. 

"Cool," he said instead. 

"Should I bring something?"

"Nah. Seven-eightish, good for you?"

"Yeah." Desmond winked. "It's a date."

"NO! This doesn't count either!" Delsin yelled in protest, and Desmond laughed.

 

 

Delsin knew he didn't have anything to worry about; his apartment was nice, nicer than anything he'd thought he'd ever live in, honestly. Being an ambassador for the Conduit cause certainly had its perks and he was grateful for it—he'd never have been able to afford such a nice place downtown otherwise.

He'd cleaned, did his laundry for once, even did some actual grocery shopping so his fridge wasn't filled with fragments of leftovers—just in case. But despite all this prep, he still couldn't get rid of a lingering nervous energy.

He didn't think that Desmond would take one look at his place and leave him over a stray sock or some dust, but. It didn't hurt to start off on the best foot possible, right? Desmond was going to be in his home. Everything had to be perfect.

After checking (for the third time) that he didn't have any underwear just laying around on his bedroom floor or something, Delsin walked back into the living room and dumped himself into an armchair, leg hanging unceremoniously over the side.

Eugene had come early, like he always did when Delsin invited him over. He brought his gaming system and about a thousand cords and claimed the TV immediately so he wouldn't have to battle for it later. Not that anyone ever even thought of the TV when he had people over since the usual goal was to talk to each other, but Eugene had quirks. Quirks that included needing a screen to cling to during social situations that made him feel out of his depth. Delsin never made him stop since it was kind of amazing he even showed up in the first place. Delsin privately suspected it was more because it was him inviting Eugene rather than him wanting to get out, and that touched Delsin enough he didn't have the heart to make Eugene leave his comfort zone.

Eugene shot him a glance from his spot on the rug, the light of his game dancing across his glasses. 

"When's Fetch getting here?" 

"Should be—"

A harsh knock, like the damn D.U.P. were at his door, echoed like a gunshot and made them both jump. Delsin made a 'there you go' gesture and rose from the seat.

"Now, apparently."

Delsin answered the door with an exasperated expression. "Do you have to knock like that? Every time?"

Fetch grinned. "Yes. Yes, I do." She held up a case of beer. "Now let me in."

Rolling his eyes, Delsin stepped aside and Fetch flounced past him, immediately bee-lining for the living room.

"Eug!" Delsin heard her shout as he locked the door. "How the fuck ya been, man?!" 

"Please don't—shit—!"

Delsin entered the living room to see Fetch on her knees, smothering Eugene to her chest in a half-hug, half-chokehold. Eugene flailed, one hand still gripping his controller, the other waving around uncertainly, clearly wanting to pry Fetch off but too scared to lay a finger on her. His leg kicked out as he sought balance and Fetch cackled, drinks abandoned not far from them on the floor.

Delsin swiped the case of beer to get it out of the danger zone and couldn't help grinning at the sight of them. He felt for Eugene, he really did, but Delsin also agreed that there was something so fun about messing with him.

Still. "How come you're never that happy to see me?" he pouted.

Fetch glanced up at him. "Eh. You're too tall. I don't feel like gettin' a ladder every time I wanna tackle you. But Eugene,"  She hooked an arm around his head to keep him close and planted a loud, sloppy kiss to the side of his face.

"Gross!"  Eugene sputtered, blushing. "Come on!"
 
"Eugene here is the perfect height for some forceful lovin'! Plus, he's been dodgin' my calls." She gave him a noogie, hard enough Delsin winced in sympathy. "I know  you're gettin' my texts, asshole!"

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"

"Yeah?" Fetch asked, merciless. "You gonna answer the door next time I knock?"

"Yes! I will, I promise!"

A satisfied smile stretched across Fetch's pink glossed lips. She gave Eugene's head one last ruffle before finally releasing him to topple on his side, groaning.

"I know you will," she said smugly.

Delsin set the beer on the coffee table and faced them with a wide smile. 

"God, I've missed you guys," Delsin admitted, hands on his hips.

"Aw, right back atcha, D," Fetch said, punching his shoulder. Eugene shot him one of his rare, genuine smiles as he gingerly raised himself back into a seated position.

"Y-yeah, it's—I like hanging out with you guys, too."

He was so busy at the center, running around Seattle doing interviews, meeting new Conduits and making public appearances, he barely saw his friends these days. They were so busy too—Fetch with her work at the soup kitchen and Eugene with his private project, conducting online interviews with other Conduits, gathering testimonials of their treatment during their time in Curdun Cay—that getting the time to just hang out was scarce unless they made time for it.

It took a while just to get caught up, but when Delsin's turn came up, he shifted in a totally not nervous way whatsoever, straightening up from his slouch in the armchair.

"So, uh, I need to tell you guys something," he said, glancing at the time on his phone. 

"Uh-oh," Fetch drawled, crossing her arms behind her head. She reclined on the couch, legs outstretched, heedless of the fact that she was still wearing her boots. "This'll be good."

"Okay, so...there's this guy—"

Fetch whistled, a long, teasing sound of disbelief. 

"Oh, shut up," Delsin groaned. He reached out and knocked her boots with the side of his hand, scowling. 

"I can't help it," Fetch said with a shit-eating grin. "You look like such a fuckin' high schooler."  She hopped upright and seized Delsin's face before he could dodge, smushing his cheeks. "Oh my god," she said, affecting a valley-girl accent with a distressing amount of accuracy, "Tell me about his eyes, I bet they're soooo dreamy!"

"Oh for fuck's—really?!"  Delsin wrenched his head out of her grasp, glaring and seriously considering wrestling a girl on the floor of his apartment like he was five years old. From the twinkle in her eye, Fetch seemed prepared to give as good as she got. 

Before they could make a mess, Eugene's flabbergasted voice stopped them.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa wait—you're gay?!"  He looked completely blindsided, staring at Delsin like he'd never seen him before.

Delsin and Fetch glanced at each other.

"Uh, no?" Delsin scratched at the nape of his neck. "I don't really have a preference, you know? I mean, usually I'm good with whoever but...this is the first time I've felt this way for someone, period," he explained slowly. He'd never had to put it into words before and it was a bit of a struggle; Delsin much preferred to let his actions do the talking, but he needed them to understand why tonight was so important to him.

"Wait, really?" Fetch was now shooting him an identical look of surprise. 

Delsin's shoulders hunched near his ears, discomforted by the scrutiny.

"Yes, all right? I never really clicked with anyone on the rez and I wasn't really 'looking for love' when I came to Seattle." Delsin stopped himself there with an impatient gesture. That wasn't the point they needed to be talking about anyways. 

He pinned Eugene with a frank, stern look. "Whatever, girls, guys—that doesn't really matter to me." He looked Eugene straight in the eyes. "That a problem?"

He was aloof on the outside, but inside he was a tense ball of stress. He hoped to God he wasn't about to find out one of his closest friends was a homophobe, not after all they'd been through...

Fetch leveled Eugene with a glare far more accusing than the blank front Delsin was projecting and the combined effect of their stares made him pale visibly. 

"N-no! I don't—I'm not a dick or anything, I'm just surprised, is all," he hedged awkwardly, looking down at his lap. His fingers were clenched tight enough around his controller Delsin expected it to crack any second now. "I never would have guessed..."

Crisis averted, Delsin fell back in his seat with a shrug. Fetch opened the pack of beers Delsin had moved, passed them around, and settled on the arm beside him, idly swinging one of her legs, an arm over the back of the chair. 

"What can I say?" Delsin asked smiling easily. He laced his fingers behind his head and affected an air of utter nonchalance and leisure. "I'm an enigma."

Fetch snorted and shoved at his head. "Yeah, okay, Mr. Engima, cut the shit. Spill. Who's the vixen who stole your heart?"

"Vixen?"  Delsin grumbled, shooting Fetch another glare. He could feel himself blushing. Who the fuck said shit like that? She read too much. 

He shook his head. "All right, you guys heard how we started teaching self-defense at the shelter?" 

"Yeah, I heard through the Conduit grapevine," Fetch said. "I think it's a kick-ass idea." She looked away, cool as can be, but her eyes gave her away, dark with anger and remembered pain. "This world's full'a monsters. Havin' powers isn't enough. They should be able to protect themselves."

Delsin gave her knee a squeeze. Fetch visibly pulled herself back from those memories and gave Delsin her undivided attention.

"Yeah, well, the guy I was talking about? He's the one who started it."

"Oh, yeah?" He could tell he'd sparked their interest with that, Fetch with her raised brow and Eugene with his 'Huh!' expression.

"Yeah. His name's Desmond. He started doing the regular volunteer stuff, cleaning, cooking on the line, whatever. Then I hear this story, right? About some guy who talked to Casey, our Dreamer?"

Eugene and Fetch both nodded, similar grimaces on their faces.

Casey was one of their harder cases and the harder cases tended to make themselves known. Ten years old and cute as a button with her big brown eyes and bigger, wild curly hair. Her powers manifested in memories; whatever she imagined when she slept, dreams or nightmares, became reality. If she could control them, they'd be an amazing asset in a fight, but she was always too terrified to utilize her abilities properly. Didn't help that without control, her own parents had all but disowned her, too disturbed that their little girl could make monsters. They'd tried beating it out of her, like her powers were something that could be corrected with enough discipline, but the moment they'd heard of the center they'd dropped her off with hardly a look back. 

Didn't take a rocket scientist to guess how traumatizing it was to associate using her powers with being hurt and she barely spoke, barely left her room, often too scared to even sleep. She had a therapist, a whole building full of people who understood her, but she didn't trust anyone, so sure it was a trick. 

"Well, according to Casey, Desmond found her when she ran out of group therapy. He had no idea what powers she had, probably didn't even know that she was supposed to be in Group, but he talks to her. Somehow, he gets her to talk back, enough to tell him that she was afraid of being hurt again. So he teaches her a few things to defend herself if someone gets too close and won't go away, even lets her punch him."

Delsin's smiling as he tells the story, unable to help himself. It's just—such a Desmond thing to do. 

"A few people saw them and got curious and once Casey talked about it in Group—boom!  Word got around and suddenly everyone wanted a class." Delsin huffed. "I'm pretty sure he's booked solid for the next few years."

"Wow," Eugene said, looking impressed. Fetch had an expression to match.

"I think I like this guy already," she mused. 

"Yeah, he sounds cool," Eugene agreed. 

Delsin smiled, grateful. He was sure Desmond and his friends would get along fine but he had no problem smoothing the way.

"I got curious, so I went to meet the guy and," Delsin shook his head, smile turning wry. "I don't know, it was like—as soon as I saw him, there was something there, and I know that sounds cheesy—!" Delsin stressed, pointing a finger in Fetch's face where she was already opening her mouth, "But it's true. I mean, he's hot as hell, don't get me wrong. But when we started talking and hanging out I realized I liked him as a person, too. He's funny and nice and he doesn't talk to me like I'm some big hero." 

Delsin crossed his arms as he thought. "Most people's eyes kinda glaze over when I talk about home and the Akomish, you know? But he like, listens, really listens when I talk, even when it's stupid shit. Plus," Delsin said, smiling wider, "Did I mention that he's super fuckin' hot?  God, and when he's teaching? Seriously. He doesn't know it, but he definitely has a little fan club. And he has this habit of trying to hide his smile when he's not ready for it so I've been trying to get them out of him ever since..."

He trailed off when he realized they were staring at him. Eugene's eyebrows were high on his forehead, watching Delsin with that same earlier look—as if he'd never really seen him before. Fetch's expression was easier to understand, if no less confusing, exasperated and fond in equal measure.

"...What?"  he asked, defensive. 

Fetch shook her head. "Man, you're really gone on this guy, huh?"

Face warm, Delsin found himself at a loss for words, suddenly aware that he'd been waxing poetic about Desmond like some love-struck teenager. Well, that's embarrassing.

Delsin looked down at the beer in his hand and rotated the bottle in his hands. A small smile curled his lips.

"...Yeah. I kinda am."

Fetch laughed lightly. "I'm happy for you, man!" She elbowed him. "Looks like you're growing up, settlin' down, probably gonna start couponin' soon..."

Delsin found it was his turn to laugh. "We're all growing up," he said, raising his bottle. 

"You got that right," she said, sounding half-proud, half-worried. They both leaned forward to tap their bottles to Eugene's. 

They drank companionably, talking and playing Eugene's weird, yet oddly addicting game until Delsin glanced at the clock.

"He should be here soon," he started. "Look, can you guys do something for me?" he asked, taking a pull of beer. Fetch mirrored him.

"What? Want a foursome or something?" Eugene asked, not glancing away from the TV.

Delsin and Fetch both did a spit-take. Fetch fell off the armchair she was laughing so hard and Delsin gaped, aghast.

"EUGENE!"

Eugene took one look at them and cracked up. "I'm sorry," he said between chuckles. "But you should have seen the looks on your faces!"

"Jesus fuckin' Christ, kid," Fetch wheezed, picked herself up. 

"You're telling me," Delsin agreed in an incredulous mumble, wiping at his mouth. "We've created a monster..." He cleared his throat and jabbed a finger in Eugene's direction. "NO." Eugene snickered. "Desmond's got...baggage. He's had some bad experiences with relationships before," was how Delsin decided to put it since it was easier than saying 'he's crazy traumatized'. "It took forever just to convince him to go out with me, let alone come to my place. So just—don't make a big deal about it, okay? I don't want to freak him out."

"Don't mention you're fuckin', got it," Fetch said blithely and Delsin groaned, blushing, and sank into his seat until his butt was barely on it anymore. He covered his face with an arm.

"What?" she asked. "It's true!"

It wasn't, but Delsin wasn't about to tell her that. She'd tease him or try to shove them in a closet or something—maybe both, the animal. 

"Okay, but you don't have to say it like that," Delsin groaned. 

"Seriously," Eugene agreed, sounding just as embarrassed.

Fetch just smiled evilly, delighting as always in making them uncomfortable. She shrugged and reached for another beer.

"Pussies."

Chapter Text

Someone knocked on the door.

He's here. Immediately, Delsin's heart leapt to his throat. He must have had some deer in the headlights expression to match his thoughts because Fetch took one look at him and rolled her eyes.

"Want me to get it?" she offered, hopping off the couch.

"No, I can—" Delsin started, standing.

But Fetch was already walking away, curiosity and excitement gleaming in her eyes. 

"Too late!" she sang, and then she disappeared around the corner.

Uncertainly, Delsin hovered above his seat, unsure if he should sit and look casual when Desmond came in, or if he should be standing. Would that be weird? Was it already weird since he wasn't answering the door? Would sitting down make him look like an asshole?

"Hey, welcome!" he heard Fetch greet. "You must be Desmond! Delsin's told us so much about you," Fetch said, the shit-eating grin on her face audible. 

Delsin's scowl dropped from his face at the sound of Desmond's voice.

"Thanks," Desmond said warmly, sounding amused. "Nice to meet you...?"

"Everyone calls me Fetch. Don't ask."

Hm. Maybe I should just make a run for it. Delsin wasn't even sure where this sudden bout of nerves was coming from. It felt so high school to be this hung up on the fact that Desmond was about to be in his living room, in his home, but he couldn't help it. He really, really liked him.

Eugene was watching him and Delsin's panic was causing a mirror expression on his face. 

"Be cool," Eugene hissed, like the secondhand embarrassment was manifesting itself physically between them. 

"I know, you're right." 

Delsin heaved a deep sigh to steady himself and rose to his full height. "I'm cool. I'm totally cool," he said quietly, pumping himself up. 

Fetch rounded the corner in the next second, eyes knowing as they alighted on Delsin, enough so that he had to resist the urge to give her a noogie. 

"Your guest brought company," she announced, stepping further into the living room with a grand gesture behind her.

Company?
 
Desmond came around the partition and Delsin didn't think he imagined the way his entire expression brightened. 

God, I love him. 

Behind Desmond, two people came close to flank him, looking around at their surroundings curiously, drinks in hand. Although, they weren't complete strangers; Delsin recognized them as the two who alternated picking Desmond up from work. He'd always seen them at a distance, but this was going to be the first time he officially met Desmond's roommates.

They were certainly a pair. Not to say that they were crazy in appearance, but between the girl with the headphones, dressed in stream-lined, athletic wear and the red-head, posh and with a mild expression on his face as he considered them all with a cool gaze, altogether they looked less like a group of friends and more like the random people who were only in the same place when they were riding a bus or in line for coffee. 

Desmond gave a little wave that had no business being as cute as it was. "Hey," he said.

Just the sight of him chased Delsin's nerves away, replaced with a wave of fondness so strong he felt momentarily paralyzed by it. 

"Hey," Delsin returned, smiling. He gestured behind him. "Make yourself at home. Mi casa es su casa and all that."

"Thanks," the girl said happily, stepping forward with her hand outstretched. Delsin shook it, surprised by how hard her grip was. "I'm Rebecca, the fun one."

"The deluded one, perhaps," the red-head said, revealing a surprising British accent. He didn't offer a hand, only adjusted his glasses as he met first Delsin's eyes, then Fetch and Eugene's. "I'm Shaun, the only one with common sense in our happy troupe."

"The dramatic one," Desmond clarified with a teasing smile.

"I believe you have me confused with yourself, Desmond."

Shaun stepped away to where Rebecca was introducing herself to Fetch and Delsin used the opportunity to sidle close to Desmond, who greeted him with an apologetic smile.

"Sorry for inviting people over to your place without asking," he said, chagrined. "They kind of insisted..."

Delsin shrugged easily and took Desmond's hand in his. "Hey, the more the merrier, right?"

"Glad you think so!" Rebecca interrupted cheerfully, flouncing back to Desmond's side. "It didn't really matter how you felt about it since we were coming anyway, but it's nice to know the welcome mat extends to us, too."

Beside him, Desmond groaned, covering his face with his gloved hand. "Rebecca..."

"Appalling manners aside, we didn't come empty-handed." Shaun held up the paper-bagged bottle in his hands and pulled out something brown and expensive-looking. Rebecca waved her own case of beer. 

"Ooh!" Fetch swooped in and plucked the bottle from Shaun's grip. She whistled as she appraised the label. "And you brought the good shit, too!" 

In Delsin's humble opinion, Shaun looked too stuffy to tolerate any sort of rude language, but he didn't even bat an eye. In fact, he seemed smug in the face of Fetch's praise as he casually stuck his hands in his pockets.

"Well, it is a party, after all," he said loftily. "It won't do not to get pissed on anything less than decent liquor."

Fetch looked up at him and grinned, an omen of ill things to come if Delsin knew anything.

"Oh, I like you."

Delsin shook his head, smile wry. 

"So you've met the trouble-maker, Fetch," and she bowed with a flourish in Desmond's direction. "And this sweet, angelic, completely respectable guy in the hood is Eugene."

Shy from the sudden attention, Eugene glanced over at them all, barely letting his eyes land on the three new guests.

"Uh, h-hi," he said, hand barely raising from his lap in a limp wave.

"Hi," Desmond returned, smiling that warm, infectious smile of his that seemed specifically created to put people at ease. Eugene wasn't immune to it either if the way he straightened a bit from his gargoyle hunch over his controller meant anything. 

"Is that Heaven's Hellfire?!" Rebecca suddenly dropped to the floor beside Eugene, eyes on the TV. 

Eugene blinked. He looked a little flustered, as he always did whenever a girl spoke to him, but he nodded. "...yeah. You play?" he asked tentatively, expression that specific sort of wary whenever he expected to be ridiculed for being a 'nerd'.

Rebecca shook her head mournfully. "Nah. I mean, I used to, but work's kept me away. I haven't even touched it since the..." she tapped her chin in thought, "the third update, I think?"

"The third?!" This news was apparently shocking enough to break Eugene of his near-crippling shyness. His eyes practically bugged out of his head. "Oh my god, it's gotten so much better! Look, even just the improvements on the A.I.—"

From there, Eugene descended into a familiar rant/lecture on his favorite game and all its merits, but Rebecca at least seemed genuinely interested, asking questions in turn and nudging Eugene into giving her a practical demonstration. Lasers and inhuman screeches filled the living room, competing with volume with their loud, excited conversation.

"Well, we've lost Rebecca for the night," Shaun observed drolly. 

"Let's crack this bad boy open," Fetch suggested, holding up the bottle she still hadn't given back. She shot Shaun a sly side-eye. "I don't think Sweatervest here can actually hold his liquor. Looks all talk to me."

Shaun smirked darkly, and expression that screamed, Challenge Accepted.

"Well, I certainly can't turn down the opportunity to make someone look like a complete fool."

Fetch's returning smile was savage. "Oh, is that what's about to happen?" she asked, walking past with a dangerous glint to her eyes.

"Simply an observation of fact," Shaun said, following her, and they disappeared into the kitchen.

Delsin blinked, then looked at Desmond, who wore a similarly bemused expression.

"Well," Delsin started.

"Yeah," Desmond agreed. "I'm glad everyone's getting along...? I just wasn't expecting it to go so well," he said, laughing lightly.

"Me either, but I'm glad. Beats it being awkward and shit." He snaked an arm around Desmond's waist and dropped a quick kiss on his cheek. "Welcome," he said.

Desmond smiled up at him, naked fondness in his gaze. "Thanks."

Delsin looked around, to Eugene and Rebecca on the floor, Shaun and Fetch just visible past the partition in the kitchen, and the myriad of drinks sprinkled around. "Okay, we need food to balance out all of this alcohol." Especially if Fetch really was about to start up some drinking competition.

Pizza was the unanimous decision, but Delsin almost regretted it once he got everyone's orders.

Veggie for Rebecca; Hawaiian for Fetch; macaroni for Eugene; chicken and bacon ranch for Desmond; and Neapolitan for Shaun, with added black olives.

Delsin looked around at them all, thumb hovering over the call button for the local pizza joint.

"What's wrong with you people?" he asked, disgusted. 

Desmond scoffed and elbowed him. "Like you can talk, Mr. Hamburger Pizza."

"It's good!" Delsin argued, defensive. 

"It's weird," Desmond decreed. "Just eat a hamburger, weirdo."

Delsin shook his head woefully. "You have no idea how stupid you sound." 

Desmond punched his arm, although that didn't stop him from laughing, and Delsin drank it up, grinning.

Delsin gave Desmond a quick tour and his chest puffed in pride when Desmond complimented his home, especially the balcony. Which was probably a little dumb, it wasn't like he built the place, but his home was the result of his work, and he was proud of it. He'd earned his place here. 

After that, everyone settled in the living room and it was...good. Really good. It was impossible not to like Desmond, so he'd never worried about that, but it was still so satisfying to see how easily conversation flowed between his friends, the way Fetch gave him a subtle nod when no one was looking that spoke volumes of her approval. 

Even better was how well Desmond's friends meshed, too. Eugene seemed genuinely happy talking to Rebecca, although Delsin would bet his last dollar that a pretty intense crush was being fostered with every passing second; looked like he'd have another 'aim for level one before taking on the final boss' advice session in his near future.

Shaun and Fetch...he didn't know what to make of them. To passerby, they seemed like destined mortal enemies from the way they bickered and tried to out-drink each other, but the image was ruined by their smiles, Fetch's wide and delighted, Shaun's smaller, but no less pleased. They seemed to get no better pleasure than being assholes to one another. Masochists. Or maybe, sadists? 

"Introducing our friends to each other might not have been a great idea," Delsin murmured into Desmond's ear. 

Desmond was squished into the recliner with him since the couch was now a Shaun versus Fetch warzone. He was half-sprawled atop Delsin and looked pretty comfortable, sagging against Delsin's side and part of the chair's arm, especially with Delsin's arm holding him close securely. One leg dangled over Delsin's lap and he bounced it absently as Delsin spoke.

His brown eyes were considering as he glanced at Shaun and Fetch.

"You might be right," he agreed wryly. "I've never seen Shaun smile so much. It's kinda creepy."

"I'm more worried about Fetch."  They watched as she drained her beer, tossed it in a tight circle to catch it by the neck of the bottle, and used it to point at Shaun with emphasis. "That look on her face? The last time I saw it, she blew up a building. I'm not even kidding."

Desmond chuckled around a swallow of beer and when he lowered the empty bottle Delsin tugged it out of his grasp.

"I'll get you another," he offered. "Hop up for a sec."

Desmond smiled. "Thanks." 

"Anyone else need a refill?" Delsin asked when he managed to untangle himself from Desmond. 

Pretty much everyone shouted their agreement and Shaun rose from his seat on the couch.

"I'll help. I need a break from babysitting certain children who are far in over their heads," he said with a smirk, jerking a thumb in Fetch's direction. She responded by blowing a raspberry, but pushing his glasses up didn't disguise Shaun's smile half as well as he probably hoped. 

Delsin took everyone's empty bottles and led Shaun into the kitchen. 

"Drinks are in the fridge," Delsin said, pointing with his foot. He made a beeline for the trash can and heard the fridge door opening behind him as he let the bottles cascade from his arms.

"The challenges of our work have taught Desmond some...bad habits," Shaun suddenly said behind him, apropos of absolutely nothing.

Bemused, Delsin faced him. "Uh..."

Shaun didn't spare him a glance. He retrieved another six-pack and set it on the counter. From the living room, sounds of explosions greeted them, Rebecca's encouraging, disturbingly graphic shouts of advice and Fetch's laughter. 

When Shaun finally met his eyes, they were dark and hard and serious to a fault. Delsin's what the hell are you talking about died on his lips. Whatever this was, it wasn't the nonsensical ramblings of a drunk. He held his tongue and waited.

He was rewarded a moment later when Shaun affected a casual air. He tucked his hands into the pockets of his slacks and rested the small of his back against the counter. He crossed his legs at the ankles.

"I'm sure by now you've noticed how...different Desmond is, yes? How disinclined for indulgence he can be."

"...Yeah," Delsin answered, unsure where this was going but trusting there was a point. "Seems like he thinks the world will end if he has too much fun."

Shaun frowned, dark eyes darting away for a moment. A strange expression crossed his face, gone too quickly for Delsin to decipher before Shaun's seemingly default placidness hid it away.

"Yes. Well. Desmond certainly hasn't had an easy time of it, especially lately." He crossed his arms, eyes going distant. "Rebecca and I, we've tried out best, but it's not always enough." His voice lowered a bit, probably in deference to Desmond's proximity just in the other room. "Two people alone can only do so much. Especially with someone as stubborn as Desmond Miles." Shaun's lips thinned in a frown. "Especially when he's given up on himself."

That...was a lot to unpack. Delsin frowned, beginning to feel the stirrings of a familiar frustration, the same one he always felt around Desmond whenever he'd carefully dodge any mention of his past.

Shaun sent him an almost sympathetic look.

"I'm not making any sense, am I?"

"I mean...no. But I get the gist, I guess." Nothing Delsin didn't already know, that was for sure. It was glaringly obvious Desmond had more than a few skeletons in his closet. Even more obvious was how much he beat himself over it. Delsin wanted nothing more than to help him, to ease that burden, but Desmond had to let him in first. 

Shaun's eyes narrowed. 

"Do you now?" 

Shaun kicked off the counter and stepped closer, and for a posh guy in a sweater-vest, it succeeded in being intimidating. Just a little.

"I'll be frank. Desmond's been hurt before. Some of them people he expected it from, and some not. I played a part in it myself," Shaun admitted, gaze flitting momentarily to the ground. "It took me far too long to see that Desmond was more than just a lazy sod with delusions of grandeur."

Delsin's brows rose; it was hard to believe Desmond could ever give that impression.

Shaun's eyes rose again, a little softer. "Rebecca and I, we've noticed a change in him these days. He's...happier. He's getting a little more rest at night and he seems...settled, in a way I've never seen before," he said, tone thoughtful. 

"Desmond..." Shaun's lips pursed. "He's been in a dark place for some time. He doesn't think we know. I'm sure he doesn't want to worry us," and an edge of frustration leaked into his words, such a mirror of Delsin's that he felt an instant kinship, "But we do." Shaun shook his head. "It never ceases to amaze, honestly, how much a bloke can hate himself for the most basic of human needs."

It was Delsin's turn to look away then, affected by the truth of those words. Desmond was the warmest, kindest, most selfless person Delsin had ever met, but it was clear that showing himself even an ounce of that kindness was abhorrent to him. It killed Delsin to have it confirmed that Desmond thought so little of himself.

Shaun seemed affected by it too. He heaved a deep sigh and seemed to visibly shake himself from whatever memories were playing behind his eyes.

"What I'm getting at is that we're trusting you, I'm trusting you, not to bugger this up." He glared at Delsin, as if daring him to make a mistake. "Desmond has done more for the—he's done a lot of good," Shaun hedged, visibly biting back his words, "and he deserves that much, at least."

Asking about that little slip-up was pointless, he knew. "...yeah. I understand," Delsin said, quiet and serious.

Not everything, obviously, but what mattered. He knew better than to try and question Shaun since he seemed to be just as cagey as Desmond about his past, but he'd still spoken up about this. Still wanted Delsin to know Desmond wasn't just messing around with him, at least. The feeling was mutual. "I just want a chance," he answered honestly. "That's all."

Shaun watched him with eagle-eyed scrutiny, trying to discern the smallest hint of doubt. But there was none to find, Delsin knew, and after a tense silence, Shaun relaxed marginally with the slightest inclination of his head.

"Then I'll leave it to you, then," he said, slipping seamlessly into his usual nonchalance. 

Delsin smiled. "Thanks."

Shaun smirked. "Don't thank me yet," he said mildly. "One toe out of line and I'm afraid you'll find me right back here," he said cheerily, "To personally castrate you."

And suddenly there was a knife in his hands, glinted wickedly in the light as he gave it an absent twirl that spoke volumes of careless, effortless skill. The look he shot Delsin above his glasses sent a very real chill down his spine.

Shaun, however, seemed to dismiss him entirely from his mind, as if the conversation had never happened. The knife was tucked away in its mysterious hiding place, he swiped the case of beer from the counter, then sauntered out of the kitchen without another word.

...Jesus. Despite the fact that Shaun was just a regular human, Delsin found himself actually feeling threatened. Maybe it was because Shaun just didn't seem the type to have a knife on him. A pocket protector, sure, maybe even a protractor. Between Desmond's fighting skills and this little display, it made Delsin wonder, more than ever, exactly what kind of secrets Desmond had.

It also helped explain why Shaun and Fetch got along like a house on fire. The thought made him feel vaguely queasy, imagining the kind of trouble they could get up to. He and Desmond really had to keep them apart...

With an explosive sigh, Delsin swiped another beer from the fridge and popped the cap with a flick of his wrist. He gulped nearly half of it in one prolonged swallow and steeled his nerves with it. 

Since he wasn't a jerk and didn't actually have any plans to break Desmond's heart, he didn't have anything to worry about anyways. It was just a shovel talk from a concerned friend, that was it. Plus, he might have even gotten a little approval from Shaun somewhere in that conversation, a feat he suspected wasn't easily gained. He'd take what he could get.

Internal pep talk executed flawlessly, he'd barely taken a step out of the kitchen when he bumped firmly into another body.

"Whoa!" he said, catching—Desmond—by the shoulders. He smiled, lecherous, eyebrows wiggling. "Well, hey there."

"Oh, sorry," Desmond apologized, wry. "Just—Shaun came back and you didn't..."

Delsin's grin grew even more mischievous. He looped his arms behind Desmond, carefully angling his beer away. 

"Aw, did you miss me?"

Desmond colored adorably and glared up at him, though a smile tugged his lips despite himself.

"You're unbeli—"

Unable to resist that cute scowl anymore, Delsin claimed Desmond's lips in a slow, lingering kiss. It wasn't even their filthiest one, but he took his time with it, enjoying the feel of Desmond's body pressed close, the warmth of his skin and the slick, hot slide of their tongues. Desmond tasted faintly of pizza. 

Delsin pulled away after a moment with one last loud, obnoxious smack and released Desmond in an instant, smirked to see how Desmond stumbled, still dazed from the impromptu, thorough makeout. 

"Missed ya too, babe," Delsin said. He spun around and walked backward for a few seconds, just long enough to send Desmond an impudent wink. 

To Delsin's delight, Desmond shot him the bird in response, but he couldn't hide the exasperated smile on his lips. He shook his head.

"You're lucky you're cute."

"I am, aren't I?"

Drinks refilled, the night went well—almost weirdly so. For all that most of them were meeting for the first time, it felt like they'd all been friends forever, everyone settled in so quickly. Rebecca was surprisingly funny and she shared a few stories about her extreme snow-boarding days that had Delsin on the edge of his seat—although Shaun and Eugene looked vaguely nauseous. Fetch was happy, he could tell, but there was also something Delsin wasn't used to seeing, a strange quiet that would overcome her when Shaun's attention was elsewhere. Delsin caught her eyes once when it happened and she flushed and flipped him off.

Oh. The shit-eating grin that stretched his lips made her blush harder and she made a point of looking away, ignoring him.

"What's that face for?" Desmond asked. They'd resumed their aggressive cuddling on the armchair and Desmond was somehow even more boneless than before, sprawled across Delsin's lap like a lazy cat. He'd lifted his head up from Delsin's shoulder to better see his face and his hand came up to catch Delsin's chin and angle his face closer. He tapped Delsin's smile with a curious finger.

The temptation to embarrass Fetch was strong, but he really liked this apartment and didn't think it needed an explosive, neon makeover. His hand slipped beneath Desmond's shirt to rest against the heated skin at the small of his back.

"I'll tell you later," he murmured into Desmond's ear.

Desmond shot him a look that said that his wandering hand hadn't gone unnoticed, but he didn't complain or tell him to stop, only settled right back where he was. The easy acceptance made desire flare in an electric shock through his system, made him want to push it, but this wasn't the time or place. Not yet, he told himself. Not yet.

Another hour or so passed where they chilled and drank, buzzed but not yet drunk, stomachs full of greasy pizza and laughter. Eugene even gave Rebecca his controller and they laughed—probably too hard—at how bad she was, falling off cliffs and getting killed by the supposedly easier enemies. He'd never seen Eugene smile so wide.

Catching his breath, Desmond nudged Delsin. "Bathroom?"

"Down the hall, second door."

"Thanks."

Delsin's hands twitched the moment Desmond's weight left him, itching to drag him right back. 

Easy there, boy. To distract himself, Delsin straightened up in his chair, dug into his pocket for his phone. His eyebrows flew up to see the time, he hadn't even noticed...

He glanced around the room, thinking to gauge everyone's energy levels, but caught Fetch's eyes almost immediately. Something about his bearing must have alerted her, because understanding washed over her face.

She set her half-drained beer on the coffee table and came up behind Eugene in a few quick steps. She shoved at his shoulder lightly and he twisted to look up at her, surprised.

"Time to head on home, buddy," she said, eyebrows rising significantly.

Eugene's mouth opened, closed, and he glanced between Fetch and Delsin. 

Finally: "Ah. Uh, right. Yeah." 

Eugene made quick work of turning off his game and unplugging everything. Rebecca watched, bemused, as he coiled cords and stuffed the console into his backpack.

"You're leaving?"

"Yep," Fetch called. She met Delsin just as he stood and gave him a quick hug and a pat on the back, as well as some embarrassingly knowing eye contact. "It's a little too warm in here for my tastes."

"Really?" Delsin shook his head and hugged her back. "Thanks," he said, quieter.

Fetch smiled, this one small but warm. "See ya, D."

"Bye, Delsin," Eugene said, shouldering his backpack. Delsin held out his fist and Eugene bumped it after a split-second of hesitation and a warm smile. Even now, these small overtures of friendship seemed to take him by surprise.

Shaun stood as well and when Delsin glanced his way he was looking away from the hallway Desmond had disappeared into, expression thoughtful.

"Yes, I daresay it's time we left as well," Shaun agreed, idly rubbing his hands together as if wrapping up his work. "Come along now, Rebecca, some of us have work in the morning."

Delsin walked everyone out, waving and calling goodbyes, but Rebecca stopped in the doorway.

"Wait, what about Des—"

"He's a big boy," Shaun said, unsubtly ushering her out. "I think he can manage to find his way."

"But—"

"I'll take care of him," Delsin assured her. 

Rebecca blinked up at him and Delsin saw the instant she understood.

"Oooooh." She grinned, her expression downright lecherous. "I bet you will!"

"That's quite enough of that." Shaun pushed her, exasperated. "Are you actually a child?"

Rebecca cackled and Shaun shook his head, looking very much like a beleaguered parent in that moment. His dark eyes met Delsin's for just a moment, a reminder of their earlier little chat, and then he left, Rebecca playfully elbowing him as they went down the hall and around the corner—and out of sight.

Delsin closed the door behind him with a slow exhale to steady himself, half-of it from nerves, the other half from excitement. 

He finally had Desmond all to himself. He barely knew what to do with himself, the thought was so overwhelming. Oh, but he had ideas... 

Abandoned drinks and pizza boxes littered his living room and the kitchen, the typical post-party refuse. He should clean it up and get it over with so he wouldn't have to deal with it tomorrow.

Be responsible, or have a little fun. Decisions, decisions...

Chapter Text

Desmond managed a single step out of the bathroom before Delsin jumped him. 

Delsin fell upon him with the force of a cresting wave, arms sweeping him up, the hard, warm line of his body suddenly all Desmond could see, could feel. A large hand brought them flush together with a firm touch at the small of Desmond's back and the other cradled his head as Delsin attempted to steal the very air from his lungs.

Oh—Jesus—
 
Resisting wasn't even an option. All he could do was hold on as his defenses crumbled in the wake of Delsin's passion. And for a long moment they stayed like that, Desmond pressed against the wall while they made out like teenagers. 

But Delsin was in a mood tonight, it seemed, because he didn't pull back to gloat as he usually did when Desmond caved into his touch. Those hot hands fell, slid down his body until they caressed the slight swell of his ass and held on with a firm, possessive squeeze.
 
Desmond jerked back from the kiss, gasping, and Delsin simply hauled him up, lifted Desmond in a move so fast he found himself clinging, arms and legs reflexively wrapping around Delsin for desperate purchase as his gravity shifted.

Desmond got a glimpse of Delsin's triumphant, satisfied smile before he was back against the wall and those sinful lips were pressed to the sensitive skin of his neck—kissing, sucking, biting.
 
"O-oh fuck." The cry was involuntary, but he managed to keep it at a low whisper—although that self-control wouldn't last long if Delsin kept this up.

Delsin's teeth scraped at his neck, just shy of pain, before he placed another hot kiss there. Desmond's heart lurched at the intimate caress and his shoulder hiked up when Delsin kneaded his ass, shoved him closer in a delicious, deep grind.

Desmond gasped, tried to find some reason as he scrabbled at Delsin's shoulders. 

"Wa-wait," Desmond panted, flushed. He slipped a hand to the back of Delsin's neck, tugged at the hair at his nape. "Delsin—stop—the others—"

"Gone,"  Delsin interrupted, breath hot against his skin. 

Alarm made Desmond go rigid. "What?!" He jerked slightly, head snapping to the end of the hallway, and he realized he couldn't hear—anything. Not Eugene's video game, Rebecca's cackling or Fetch's yells. Sonuvabitch!

"Mm-hm."  Delsin raised his head and the look he gave Desmond made him stop breathing, it was so satisfied and covetous. He kissed Desmond again, longer, slower, with savoring licks into his mouth. "You're all mine now," he murmured against Desmond's lips.

...Fuck. Abruptly, Desmond became aware of the fact that Delsin had him neatly trapped and that he had no control of the situation. But that seemed pretty par for the course for his life, didn't it? Even as his mind told him this was a bad idea, the rest of Desmond's body screamed an emphatic, Yes!

Part of him was still in shock—some friends Shaun and Rebecca turned out to be, ditching him like this! Embarrassing, too, since there was a certain, undeniable implication that came with them leaving him at Delsin's place. God, they were going to be so obnoxious when he got back...

Delsin was relentless. If Desmond thought he'd been bad before with all of his surprise attacks, this just showed that he'd been holding back. His kissed were firm and persistent and when he finally returned his attention to Desmond's neck, he still couldn't catch his breath because Delsin seemed determined to mark every inch of his neck with harsh bites and countless, sucking hickeys.

"S-shit," Desmond sighed. His eyes slipped closed and a shudder overtook him, overwhelmed by Delsin's thoroughness, his roaming hands and the increasingly hot rolls of his hips. He was thankful Delsin was already supporting his weight. "Hold—hold on, give me a second, christ—"
 
"No way," Delsin denied, trailing light kisses at Desmond's jaw. "You'll just leave." 

Well, YEAH, Desmond wanted to say, but Delsin wasn't interested in his protests. Those lips were right back, stealing the words from Desmond's mouth, replaced them insistently with desire and heat and ruthless lust. With the wall at his back and Delsin an unmovable force in front of him, Desmond couldn't deny he didn't feel perfectly fine right where he was, but the fact that it felt so good by default made him want to take a step back.

Delsin rolled his hips again, gripped Desmond harshly to make sure he really took it, and Desmond couldn't bite back a moan.

"Oh, god,"  he groaned.

"There we go," Delsin murmured, lips skimming over Desmond's lips, his cheek, over his temple to press firmly at the hollow behind his ear. "Relax," he coaxed, voice dark and sinful, the devil on Desmond's shoulder. "Let yourself feel good for once."

Those words made Desmond flush hotter. "Delsin—"

"Mm,"  Delsin slipped a hand underneath Desmond clothes, curled his finger around his waist before slipping down, dipping just the slightest bit beneath his jeans. "Yeah?"

It was only a hint of touch, but the implications robbed Desmond of words as intense desire made his head spin. He gave up on trying to escape for the moment, slipped his hands around Delsin's shoulders, tilted his head, and nudged Delsin into another kiss. 

"Fuck yeah," Delsin said, and then they really were making out like teenagers, hot and heavy, catching air in tiny snatches, trying to get as close as possible while still wearing clothes.

The wall suddenly was gone from his back but he was already so tightly caught in Delsin's arms that the move didn't even make him falter. He vaguely registered Delsin walking, but Delsin wasn't giving him time to think about it, lips all over him, murmuring encouragement in between breaths.

Desmond only truly understood they were moving when Delsin came to a stop and dropped him—onto a bed.

Desmond gasped at the sudden reintroduction to gravity and bounced on the mattress. He looked up, panting, into Delsin's dark eyes and swallowed to see the desire there—he looked like he wanted to eat Desmond whole.

That was all it took for his nerves to resurge and when Delsin leaned down, hands falling on either side of his hips, Desmond scrambled back across the thick comforter.

"Shit—uh, wait—"

Delsin was smirking. He didn't seem deterred by Desmond's avoidance. He crawled onto the bed and approached Desmond slowly, lazily, on all fours, confident now that he had Desmond right where he wanted him.

"Problem?"

Desmond backed into the headboard, heart in his throat as he watched Delsin approach.

"Do you—do you even have condoms?"

"Yup." Delsin nodded to the small, wooden table at his bedside. "Right there."

Fuck. "We can't."

Delsin raised a brow, still smiling. He crawled forward just that bit closer and then he had Desmond caged, hands planted on the bed just beside his hips. He looked down at Desmond with eager promise.

"Oh, we can,"  he assured easily. 

Desmond shot him a look that was equal parts exasperated and flustered. "Delsin—"

"Give me one good reason why not," Delsin demanded, lips brushing Desmond's. 

"Because—" Panic stripped him of his usual deflections. "I'm scared, all right?!"

They both froze at that admission. Desmond looked into Delsin's similarly wide eyes and thought, Shit. I didn't mean to say that.
 
Seeing the desire bleed out of Delsin's expression, only to be replaced with worry and dismay, made Desmond regret the words immediately. Why couldn't he keep his big mouth shut?

"Desmond..."

"I know,"  Desmond interrupted quickly, unable to meet that look on Delsin's face. "Sorry. I just—" He heaved a deep breath, grateful Delsin didn't move or speak up. He needed that tiny space of silence to collect himself.

The darkness of the room helped, only slightly lit from the wide-open door and the light spilling in from the hallway. He looked down, brought his hands over his stomach, and watched as they tightened into tense fists.

"If we do this," he said slowly, carefully, "It's the point of no return. And that scares me. I know I said I would give this a chance, but—" He finally looked up, let Delsin see the deep-seated fear and indecision on his face, in his eyes. "I'm really not playing games or—or acting hard to get. It won't end well if we keep going and it's—" Desmond's face screwed up in frustration. "It's not fair to you."

Delsin was frowning when he chanced a glance, eyes searching, waiting for Desmond to elaborate and Desmond shook his head, feeling defeated.

"I'm going to mess this up," he murmured, more to himself than Delsin. "You deserve more than a project."

There was another long pause, the death of the hot, passionate mood. Desmond hated himself for it, but not enough to take back Delsin's choice. So many vague, cryptic warnings and hesitations when there should have only been happiness and easy acceptance—Desmond suspected that doing this now, so close to Delsin getting what he wanted, had to be the final straw. Finally, he would give up.

Delsin's touch made the breath stall in his chest. Delsin didn't push him away, instead curling his fingers around Desmond's elbows, nudging him closer.

Desmond didn't resist the coaxing and let himself be pulled against Delsin's body, buried his face in Delsin's chest as those strong, incredibly powerful arms came around his back to hold him close. Delsin's fingertips, whisper-soft, brushed across Desmond's cheek, tucked under his chin to guide his head up and Desmond followed the move reluctantly.

Delsin searched his eyes, his expression one of rare seriousness. His lips were turned down in an unhappy frown. 

Without a word, he let his eyes slip closed and he pressed his forehead to Desmond's, hand slipping to the slope of Desmond's neck where his thumb caressed the skin lightly, and the faint twinges there reminded Desmond of the marks Delsin had left there just moments ago.

Tentatively, when it seemed Delsin wasn't going to speak, Desmond let himself hold Delsin back, one arm slipping around his waist, the other going over those broad shoulders. The warm clasp around his neck felt amazing—half for the intimacy, half because it should have made his instincts flare with the need for space, to defend himself, but caught in Delsin's grasp it only felt cathartic, relieving a pressure he didn't even know he was carrying. 

Delsin's breath ghosted across his face, warm and carrying the faintest trace of alcohol. 

"I don't know what to do," he admitted quietly, sounding so fucking sad. Desmond had never heard him be anything short of confident and this made alarm flare within him, itching to make it stop. "I don't know how to get through to you," he said, and Desmond's eyes squeezed shut. "How do I show you I don't care about any skeletons in your closet, or whatever the fuck? I just want you, Desmond, that's it."

Delsin cradled his face, leaned back just enough so they could see each other properly and Desmond held onto Delsin's wrists, lips shut tight against any sound that threatened to leave him.

Delsin looked into him, determined and rock-solid, a steady calmness about him that Desmond clung to amidst the old, familiar feelings of guilt and inadequacy that resurged and threatened to take him under.

"What do you want, Desmond?" Delsin asked. "Honestly."

Desmond's eyes went wide. That question—how could Delsin not realize how absurd it was? Who even gave a shit about what Desmond wanted? What did it matter?  Compared to the lives at stake, the work he'd left unfinished?

"I don't mind what we've been doing," Delsin continued. He didn't let Desmond pull away when he tried to tug Delsin's hands away, a firm warning in his eyes to dissuade the attempt. Desmond bit his lip, resigned himself to it. "Chasing after you, it's fun. I like it, but...I don't want to force you, Desmond." Delsin's expression went rueful. "We probably should have talked about limits before..." he said, sounding guilty, and that was more than Desmond could stand.

"No, no you've been great, seriously." The last thing Desmond wanted was for Delsin to doubt all the moments they'd shared before, perfect as they were. "More than I could ask for, really, but—"

Delsin hushed him. "You're avoiding the question."

Desmond looked away, unable to argue because Delsin was right. He wasn't used to being called out on his deflections...

"Desmond." Delsin's thumb traced over his lips. Desmond looked up reluctantly. "What do you want?"

The words wouldn't come. Desmond's mouth opened, but no sound came out. He struggled with himself, feeling more like the broken tool he'd long suspected himself of being in that moment. 

He was caught between twin desires: to admit the truth or to vehemently deny himself this for fear of losing Delsin forever. Choosing Delsin—it felt worse than selfish, knowing what he knew, being an Assassin, destined to leave one day without a trace or die by some Templar's hands without even a grave to remember him by. What right did he have to subject Delsin to that? 

Besides, wasn't it smarter to say no? He already felt weak to Delsin's touch, plagued by memories of their kisses and the times they'd held one another close, but to know him so fully—it would hurt all the more when it was over, he knew it. It was tantamount to choosing his own pleasure and happiness over any possible consequences—there was no way he say that.

Delsin hummed quietly, still caressing Desmond's cheeks with slow, absent passes of his thumbs. 

"My bad," he said. "That was the wrong question, wasn't it?" Desmond glanced up at him, wary, and Delsin smiled slightly and made it simple. "Do you want me? Right here, right now?"

Desmond's breath hitched, caught, but when he turned stricken eyes on Delsin he found him simply waiting, ever patient.

Desmond swallowed past what felt like a boulder in his throat. There really was only one answer to that question but it still felt like the hardest thing he'd ever done to open his mouth, to force himself to manage a quiet, thread, "...Yes."

Guilt swamped him immediately, but the smile Delsin rewarded him with made it a distant thing.

Delsin kissed him again, slow and sweet and tinged with no little relief. Desmond returned it, feeling wretched for caving in but so, so glad this wasn't over. 

"Then you have me," Delsin murmured against him. "Easy as that."

"It doesn't feel easy." 

Delsin pressed his lips to Desmond's cheek. "Give it time."

Desmond sighed. "Yeah. Okay. Okay."

He was rewarded with another kiss. Delsin's hands swept down his shoulders, over his arms in soothing rubs.

"You're tense," Delsin observed, voice low in the scant space between them. "We don't have to—"

"No, I want to. I do." Desmond had been thinking about it since the first moment he saw Delsin. "It's just hard to—let go. If that makes sense."

"Hm." Delsin kept up the calming, slow caresses on Desmond's arms as he considered what he'd said. "Well... what if we took the choice out of your hands?"

At Desmond's confused look, Delsin held up his arm. He untucked a link from the chain wrapped around it and tugged it out a few inches, eyebrows up with a silent question.

Oh. The realization of what he was proposing made the air stall in Desmond's chest. Just thinking about being restrained, helpless and unable to fight whatever Delsin wanted to do to him—it should have been a scary prospect for an Assassin, and it was, a little. But he trusted Delsin and, more than anything, it made Desmond breathless with want.

He tried to swallow past his dry throat, face burning. He raised his eyes from the chain to Delsin and smiled. Nervous, but game. 

"It's worth a shot," he said, trying not to betray how very much into this he was. 

Delsin searched his face. "Sure?"

"Yeah. Yes."

"Okay, but," Delsin kissed him, chaste and lingering, before Desmond felt his hands encircle his wrists; his stomach clenched in anticipation. "If you want to stop, say the word, all right?"

Desmond nodded, heart already racing. "Okay."

"Promise?" 

The worry in Delsin's face made his smile come easy, sincere and fond. This time, he initiated the kiss and was glad to feel how it seemed to soothe the tension Delsin had started to gain during their talk. Hell, it was soothing him.

"I promise," Desmond whispered when their lips parted. Delsin smiled.

"Awesome." His smile turned devious. "You look flushed, Desmond." He tugged on the zipper of Desmond's hoodie. "Let's get these stuffy clothes off of you."

The laugh bubbled up without his permission; Delsin truly had a gift for setting a mood, and getting him out of his own head.

He grinned, ran a hand through Delsin's hair and swept his beanie off, delighting in how mussed his thick black hair ended up as a result.

"You look pretty warm yourself," Desmond teased. He unzipped his jacket and shrugged it off without looking away, "You should do something about that, too. I'd hate for you to get overheated."

"Yes, sir."

They were both grinning as they stripped out of their tops, but the smiles fell slightly when they saw each other, bared for the first time.

"Damn," Delsin muttered, eyes tracing over Desmond's skin. 

"Right back atcha," Desmond muttered, particularly arrested by the broadness of Delsin's chest, the hypnotic vee of his obliques as they disappeared beneath the low-slung waistband of his jeans. He suddenly felt a sharp, intense resentment for all the layers Delsin typically wore, that hid that hard, muscled body from Desmond's gaze.

Delsin's eyes fell to Desmond's gloved arm and Desmond froze. Right. That. His black glove disappeared into a thin compression brace that covered his entire shoulder, with a small strap that held it securely to his chest. He hardly ever went as far as wearing the brace, but knowing he was going to see Delsin, he hadn't wanted to take any chances. But until this moment, he'd forgotten he was even wearing it. Only Delsin could make him forget about something like that.

His panic must have been obvious because Delsin took his hand in his and squeezed, reassuring him. 

"You can leave it on if you want," he said gently and Desmond almost passed out from the sheer force of his relief.

"Please?" His voice came out half-grateful, half-pleading. "Just—I don't—I can't—"

"Hey, I get it. No big. When you're ready." 

Desmond smiled at him, although it wasn't exactly a happy smile; resigned. "How are you real?"

"Isn't that my line? Look at you!"

Delsin surged against him, kissing him with renewed fervor and Desmond let himself get swept up in it, rapidly losing himself in the touch of Delsin's skin against his as they pressed tight. 

"God," Delsin's palm swept a wide path from his shoulder to his waist, mapping out his skin with a broad, greedy hand. He pushed Desmond flat on the bed, returned his attention back to the vulnerable skin of his neck—as if he'd missed a spot and was set on claiming it. "Do you model? I'm seriously asking."

Desmond blushed, eyes fluttering shut for a moment when Delsin laved at a bite. "You're already getting into my pants, Delsin, you don't have to say that stuff."

"What, because we're fucking I have to keep that shit to myself now? Nah, fuck that." He paid special attention to Desmond's abs, clutched him tightly around his waist. "God, you're gorgeous."

Another involuntary shake overtook him and he felt that crawling itch under his skin, the one that said, no, you can't have this, stop. 

He turned his head away, laid a palm on Delsin's arm. "I—wait—"

"Nuh-uh," Delsin scolded lightly. He took Desmond's wrists again, pushed them over his head, flat against the bed. "You already said I could and you're gonna let me." He switched his hold to one hand and Desmond heard the musical ring of the chains more than he saw them. Delsin's smile was dark and expectant. "Aren't you, Desmond?"

Oh, fuck. Why was Delsin so hot? How the hell was he supposed to survive him without passing out? Delsin didn't move past that, though, and Desmond realized he was waiting for his answer. 

Face burning, Desmond nonetheless nodded. "Yeah," he said, voice very quiet.

"Atta boy," Delsin murmured against his lips. Despite the aggressiveness of his words, the kiss was sweet and slow and went miles to easing some of the nerves that had sprung up. 

Once Desmond was relaxed, Delsin shifted up slightly, turning his attention to the wrists he held imprisoned. He heard the chain again and then he felt the cool links slide across his arm and his breath caught as desire made his stomach bottom out.

Delsin, close as he was, heard him. He chuckled, low and deep, as he started looping the chain around Desmond's wrists, binding them together before he wound it around the metal rungs of his headboard.

"You like this." Not a question. A teasing, certain observation of fact. Embarrassed, Desmond tucked his face against his arm, eyes unfocused. His pants felt unbearably tight. 

"Delsin..."

"What? I'm right," he said impetuously. He gave Desmond's wrists a tug and the feeling of meeting resistance, utterly unyielding despite any fight he might put up, made him shudder again. Smugly, Delsin said, "You definitely don't look like you hate it."

"It—it's not the worst," Desmond managed. 

Delsin laughed and moved back down to eye level. His smile was aggravatingly knowing, but no less handsome for it. "You're all mine now," he taunted. His touch returned, hands flat against Desmond's stomach and chest as he touched every inch of available skin as if it was laid out just for him. "No running away this time," he said, cupping the side of Desmond's neck. 

There was a quiet intensity in his gaze, one Desmond's was used to seeing—but not this close, and almost never without trying to escape it. Just the sight of it made him try to move reflexively, but the chains didn't give and his heart clenched even as another bolt of desire shot through him.

"You're not going anywhere,"  Delsin nearly demanded, and then he was kissing him again, hard and firm and forceful in a way he'd never quite been before. He coaxed Desmond's head up slightly with a touch at his neck, thumb pushing up his jaw, and as the kiss descended into wet, hot open mouths and probing tongues, Delsin slipped a hand between them, ran his palm over where Desmond was hard in his jeans and squeezed.
 
Desmond's moan was muffled between their mouths and Delsin pulled back, panting nearly as hard.

"Fuck,"  he muttered, eyes going from Desmond's face to his chained wrists and back again. "Okay, maybe it's getting to me, too," he admitted.

"I noticed," Desmond panted, and Delsin's lips quirked in a tiny, rueful smile.

"You okay?" he asked in an undertone.

Was that an actual question? "God, yes."

Is there supposed to be this much smiling?  He couldn't help but wonder when Delsin reclaimed his lips. He certainly didn't mind it, but it almost felt like they were doing it wrong—or maybe he'd  been doing it wrong this whole time? Before Delsin, he'd never slept with someone he actually cared about. He picked up someone at the bar, or they picked him up, they had a good, but ultimately quick time, and went their separate ways. And that had been years ago. It would have been one thing if he'd just hooked up with Delsin and never looked back, but all of this careful consideration, the caresses and praise and assurance—he wasn't sure he could ever go back.

It went smoother after that. Delsin never let up on his addictively casual, possessive touches over Desmond's body or the hot, whispered words of praise he'd press to his skin, but every time Desmond tried to resist, to urge Delsin away or tell him to stop, he'd end up tugging on the chains and he'd remember he couldn't escape and he'd have to surrender to the attention. Slowly, his body sank further into the bed. He gave himself over to Delsin more and more until he was struggling for air, lips kiss-swollen, hard and aching where Delsin insistently rubbed him through his pants.

"Delsin—fuck—" He wanted to reach out, wanted to touch, but he couldn't. He was going crazy.

"Yeah," Delsin agreed, looking just as far gone. He pulled back, unbuttoning his jeans, and Desmond rolled his hips up, impatient and needy.

"Delsin."

It would have been funny any other time, the way Delsin swore under his breath and ripped off his pants like they were on fire, but all Desmond could focus on was the cold air that rushed to meet him the moment Delsin had moved away, how ruthlessly Delsin had been driving him to the brink and how ridiculously turned on he was. 

Then Desmond got a good look between Delsin's legs, and it wasn't the fact that Delsin didn't wear underwear that made him pause.

"Holy shit,"  Desmond whispered, heart-stopping for an entirely new reason. 

"Hm?" Delsin asked absently. His fingers were curled around Desmond's waistband. He popped the button and started shimmying down Desmond's jeans with an absent lick of his lips.

"You...you—"

"Yeah?"

"Look at you!" Desmond couldn't tear his eyes away. He had to close them, briefly, when Delsin tossed his pants and underwear aside and he was naked, but he barely even noticed the act, still in shock. "Why are you so big?"
 
Delsin smiled, wide and smug. "Just born that way, I guess," he said, tone dripping false modesty. Not that Desmond blamed him.

"Jesus," Desmond muttered. He stared at the wicked, hard curve of Delsin's dick, flushed an angry red, resting against his stomach and already beaded with pre-cum. Desmond didn't have anything to complain about, but Delsin? He was on a whole other level. "No wonder you're so fucking happy all the time..."

Delsin burst into laughter, shoulders shaking. He rubbed at Desmond's thigh as he moved up to kiss him, still smiling. 

"You sure know how to make a guy feel confident," he said. "Keep going. Tell me more about my huge cock."

Desmond laughed, quiet and quick, despite the fact that Delsin's junk was no laughing matter. 

"What the fuck else is there to say?" Desmond asked breathlessly between kisses. "I guess they only hand those things out to the humanitarians..."

Another laugh accompanied by another kiss, where Delsin's smile was fond when before it had been a smirk of smug satisfaction. "One sec."

Delsin left and, to his credit, it really was only for a few seconds, long enough to grab a small bottle of lube and a condom from his bedside table. He tossed them both onto the space next to Desmond and covered his body again with his own.

After another deep kiss, he pulled back and asked, "How do you want to do this?"

The question made Desmond blink. He was restrained. Sure, Delsin could ride him, but—

"Delsin. How do you think I want to do this?" He couldn't keep the annoyance out of his tone, at the very implication that Delsin wasn't going to fuck him.

"Yeah, okay! I mean, I was kinda hoping, but I didn't want to assume—"

Desmond cut Delsin off with a firm kiss and wrapped his legs around his waist. He gave a roll of his hips that made them both groan and when Delsin's eyes opened again, Desmond gave him a hard look of intent, eyes hooded, chest heaving.

"Assume."
 
 "...Yeah, all right," and then there wasn't any more talking, as their flushed bodies came together and Delsin's hands stroked hungry paths across all of the newly bared skin. 

When Delsin finally wrapped a hand around Desmond's dick, he froze completely, overwhelmed. 

The hand moved, sliding up and down in lazy strokes. He felt Delsin's thumb pass over the head, spreading the slickness there and he nearly lost it then and there.

Delsin pressed his face into Desmond's neck, peppered hot kisses there. "Breathe, Des," he murmured, and Desmond shuddered, did as he was told. "Damn, I can't believe I get to touch you like this." He gave Desmond a few more strokes, cupped his balls and gave them a gentle roll; Desmond didn't understand how he was supposed to keep breathing with Delsin touching him like that, saying this stuff, words wafting hot and low right in his ear. "I'm the luckiest guy on the planet."

"Sh-shit—"  Desmond panted. "Delsin, I'm not gonna last if you keep that up."

"Eager, huh?" Delsin asked, smirk obvious in his tone. He pressed his lips to Desmond's ear. "You want this massive co—"
 
"Oh my god!" Desmond half-laughed, half-groaned since Delsin hadn't let up with his touches for a single second. "You know what? Yes. I want it." He gave another insistent roll of his hips. "Right now, Delsin."

Delsin huffed, strained with desire and amused. "You got it."

The sight of Delsin sliding down his body, his own legs nudged apart by those broad shoulders, was quite possibly the hottest thing he'd ever seen. But when Delsin pressed a blunt, slicked finger against him? The sheer anticipation and want made his head spin.

Delsin fingered him open like he had all the time in the world, cheek pillowed against the inside of Desmond's thigh, gaze practically adoring as he watched first one, then two, then three fingers disappear inside Desmond's tight hole. Occasionally, he'd press a soft kiss to his skin, at the juncture of his hips or at the base of his dick. But his fingers never faltered in their task and when he spread them wide inside him, scissoring, Desmond gasped, loud and obscene and overwhelmed.

"This is the best day of my life," Delsin said dreamily. 

A nice sentiment, but Desmond was losing his mind. "Del—"

"Shh," Delsin hushed. He curled his fingers and Desmond cried out. "I'm enjoying the moment."

I'm gonna kill him. Desmond flexed, strained, but these were chains. He really couldn't do anything other than take what Delsin gave him.

"Someone's impatient," Delsin observed and Desmond glared at him. 

"Delsin."  The deadly serious tone finally made Delsin pause and look up at him in mute surprise. Once he had eye contact, Desmond said, slowly and deliberately, "If you don't fuck me right now, I'm going to dislocate both my thumbs, slide out of these chains, and do it myself."
 
Delsin swallowed; stared. His mouth hung open slightly in shock and Desmond narrowed his eyes, body tensing as he got ready to make good on that promise. 

His expression must have conveyed that very clearly because Delsin seemed to come back to himself with a few blinks before he pulled his fingers free and rose up to kiss Desmond, all tongue, as he pulled at his thighs and guided Desmond's legs around him.

"Have I told you how fucking hot you are?" Delsin murmured. Desmond hummed against his lips, breath hitched when he felt the tip of Delsin's dick against his ass cheek.

"Once or twice." His voice was a thready, absent thing, all of his focus drawn south.

"Then I haven't said it enough." Desmond could feel the brush of Delsin's knuckles as he reached down between them, guided the blunt head of his dick against Desmond's entrance. "Still good?"

Desmond really wished his hands were free. The urge to wrap his arms around Delsin's shoulders, hold him close and reassure him without words, was incredibly strong. But he couldn't deny those chains were the only reason he'd managed not to ruin this by running away, so he let it go. Delsin's face was still close and Desmond put a soft, sweet kiss on his cheek, smiled to see how Delsin paused at the surprisingly gentle touch and met Desmond's gaze with wide eyes.

"I'm good," he confirmed. A swell of happiness filled him in that moment, to see how taken aback Delsin was by the simple, doting touch, to know the way he'd gone out of his way to make sure Desmond was comfortable this entire time. Desmond was the lucky one, and it had never been more apparent. He smiled, one tinged with mischief. "Now fill me up with your giant. Fat. Cock."

"Oh my god,"  the words sounded like they were punched out of Delsin, awed and incredulous. He ducked for a moment, the strands of his bangs brushing Desmond's chest in a faint tickle, and then he was pressing forward, entering Desmond in an achingly slow glide that made his heart leap to his throat and his fists clench. 

"Shit,"  Delsin whispered, hiding his face in Desmond's neck. "God, I l—" he groaned, pressed tighter and harder until he was completely in, balls deep. "Shit, that's good." 

Desmond didn't even try to speak; it felt like Delsin was reaching the back of his throat he was so big. The stretch only held the faintest burn because of how thoroughly he'd been prepped, but god, could anyone really prepare for that?

"Desmond?" Vaguely, he heard Delsin's voice, the concern therein. "Are you okay? Do you want me to stop—"

"I will stab you if you even think about it," Desmond choked out, meaning every word. Delsin smirked, pulled back—only to snap his hips back in. 

"AH—!"
 
"Don't worry," Delsin said, words dripping with promise. He ran his palms up Desmond's arms and threaded their fingers together. "I'll take good care of you."

Time lost all meaning after that. The relentless pace of Delsin's hips became the only thing he knew, the touch of Delsin's lips against his own, on his neck and his chest, the sound of their cries as they mingled and the feverish, insistent movements of their bodies as they grew sweat-slick and tense as they chased their pleasure. He lost count of the number of times he pulled on the chains, instinctively wanting to touch himself, and the ache of being untouched there was nearly more than he could bare.

Delsin was scraping him out from the inside, rubbing against his walls mercilessly, stabbing into his prostate like he had an axe to grind. Tears stung Desmond's eyes from the sheer overload of pleasure and he couldn't hold back his moans and cries, the needy whines and the gasping, hitching breaths as Delsin fucked into him over and over and over again.

He thought he would die when Delsin began to swell inside him. 

"Oh, god," Desmond gasped. "Oh, god."
 
"Fuck,"  Delsin breathed, panting against Desmond's neck. "I'm getting close." Without a word of warning, he took Desmond's dick in hand and started pumping it—fast and punishing, the way Desmond did to himself on the rare occasion he finally caved in to the urge and just wanted to get off. "You first," Delsin grunted.

"Ah—fu-uuuck!"  Desmond was coming before he could prepare for it, no match for the sudden attack. The pleasure overtook him like a force of nature; undeniable and unstoppable, something he could only helplessly weather and hope to god he'd live to see the other side of it. He screwed his eyes shut, moaning with wanton abandon, and trembled and shook and completely fell apart.

A harsh hold on his chin, forcing his head up, made him flutter his eyes open even as he still rode the waves and he stared straight up into Delsin's dark, blown eyes, only registered that Delsin was cumming right after him when he registered how abruptly still he'd gone, the bruising grip Delsin had clamped low on his waist as he shoved himself deep. 

The condom expanded with Delsin's release, stretching him further, and somehow he managed to flush deeper. God, he would make eye contact during. 

Unable to handle that level of intimacy, Desmond kissed him, eyes firmly closed as his orgasm slowly, reluctantly petered out. The kiss was pretty pathetic, just a limp press of exhausted lips, but he thought Delsin would forgive him for it; after that, it was the best he could manage.

Above him, faint tremors shook Delsin's body as he rode out his own pleasure before he finally collapsed on top of him, breaking the kiss so he could rest on Desmond, hot breaths puffing against his sweat-cooled chest.

Desmond felt entirely boneless and while Delsin's weight on him was heavy, he loved it. That pressure, sinking him further into the bed, accompanied by his exhausted, fucked out state, was the purest bliss he'd ever felt in his life. If he had his way, Delsin would never move again.

Unfortunately, Delsin persisted in being a considerate person. Once he'd caught his breath enough, he raised himself off Desmond's body. Both their eyes slipped shut with a hiss and a shudder as he pulled out of Desmond's sore, abused hole and Desmond panted as Delsin slipped of the condom, tied it off, and let it fall carelessly off the edge of the bed. He scooped up some fabric off the ground—Desmond was pretty sure it was his flannel—and wiped up the sticky release that coated Desmond's stomach before he tossed that away, too. He pushed himself back into Desmond's space the moment he was done, as if he couldn't stand the space between them, and Desmond was grateful for it. He was definitely a post-sex cuddler.

"Shit," Delsin mumbled.

"Ditto," Desmond agreed on a sigh, and Delsin squeezed him close for a second before he rose.

His eyes went to the headboard and he made quick work of undoing the chains. With infinite care, he brought Desmond's arms down over his chest and unwound the links from around his wrists. As he did so, he hissed, face creasing in a deep frown, upset. 

Desmond had winced when his sore arms had come back down, but he only understood when he saw the extent of the damage for the first time.

He was bruised to all hell. His bared arm was a motley scattering of chain-shaped indentions, blooming in deep, angry reds and just from the ache radiating from both, he knew that his glove hadn't protected his other arm from the same treatment. The bruises wrapped around his wrists and partially up his forearms and anyone who even got a passing glance would know exactly what they were from.

"FUCK."  Delsin's harsh, angry shout made Desmond startle and he looked up at him with wide eyes. Delsin's brow was furrowed in a deep scowl of self-flagellation, though his touch remained infinitely careful as he cradled Desmond's wrists. He stared down at the bruises like he was punishing himself with the sight. "Why the fuck did I use a chain? God, I'm so sorry, Desmond. I'm a fucking idiot."

"Hey, hey," Desmond broke Delsin's hold, ran his palms over his hunched shoulders in soothing rubs. "I'm not mad, Delsin. It's okay."

"I hurt you," Delsin said, eyes downcast, angry and miserable.
 
"Hey!"  Desmond said sharply. Delsin's eyes snapped to his and Desmond softened. He cupped Delsin's face and ran his thumbs in tender caresses across his cheeks. Delsin stared down at him like a wounded puppy and Desmond's lips curved into a smile. He really cares about me, huh?  "Delsin. You didn't hurt me. You asked, and I said yes."

"You didn't ask for these,"  he insisted, finger just barely brushing over the marks, wary of hurting him even further.

"We obviously didn't think this through," Desmond amended. "But I don't want you beating yourself up about this, all right? I loved it, every second of it. I wouldn't change anything about this."

Delsin searched his face, saw the truth there even as his mouth maintained its stubborn frown.

"I...still. It looks painful." He turned his head to the side, took Desmond's wrists and placed a soft kiss against the inflamed skin. "Sorry."

Desmond blushed as he said, "I'm not." When Delsin glanced at him, he turned his eyes to his bruises. "I'll keep them covered until they fade," he said quietly. "I don't...mind the reminder." 

Delsin stared at him. After a beat, he spoke. "Desmond. Do you...like them?"

He felt like his face was gonna melt off, he was so embarrassed. But, well, they'd already had sex. If Delsin wasn't scared off by now...

"...Maybe," he murmured, and Delsin huffed, incredulous.

"Holy shit. You're so kinky, Des!"

Desmond shot him a glare, although his smile ruined the effect. "I'm sorry, the chains were who's idea?"

"That's fair," Delsin admitted. His smile was back, smaller than usual but no less sincere and Desmond was so relieved to see it again. "Besides, I didn't say I was complaining. Just surprised."

Desmond tugged Delsin closer. "Can you shut up and kiss me?"

Delsin grinned. "Oh, absolutely."

They didn't make-out for long. The siren call of sleep their tired bodies demanded was too strong to ignore and they soon settled, entangled, on Delsin's bed. Delsin left him long enough to tug a patterned blanket over them, and then he was pulling Desmond close, strong arms wrapping around him to cradle Desmond close like a particularly treasured stuffed animal. Desmond held him back, just as clingy, and his eyes slipped shut at the warm press of Delsin's lips on his head.

"How was it?" Delsin asked eventually, voice quiet in deference to the intimate air that settled around them.

Desmond couldn't hold back his scoff of disbelief. "Are you seriously asking me that?"

"...Yes?"

Desmond pushed his face into Delsin's chest. "Delsin. It was literally the best sex of my life, okay? You have nothing to worry about."

"Hm," Delsin mused, like he was deciding if being Desmond's best was good enough. "You're not just saying that? 'Cause I could go again if it wasn't good enough."

Desmond pressed his laugh into Delsin's skin, shoulders shaking. 

"Delsin. You are a sex god."  He rubbed his back slowly, savoring the warmth. "Is that what you wanted to hear?"

"It'll do,"  Delsin sighed, put-upon. "I'll do better next time."

"If it's any better than that, you'll kill me."

Delsin laughed. "Well, I gotta be sure. Guy like you? Gotta make sure I keep you interested."

The very notion that Desmond would lose interest before Delsin? It was so outrageous he almost laughed. He settled for pressing a kiss to Delsin's pec. 

"I wouldn't worry about it," he assured.