Desmond had remained positive. Despite all the horror stories of his youth, the Templars treated him decently enough, actually.
There was no torture or starvation, the food he was served was excellent, better than he would've ever bothered to make for himself. He was even given entertainment in those days when for reason or another he wasn't put in the Animus. Just books and magazines, no electronics – but at his request he even got a daily newspapers and got to keep track of current events so that was something. Honestly, his prison at Abstergo was levels above his actual apartment in New York. If it wasn't for the complete lack of freedom and personal liberty and the encroaching madness of the genetic memories bleeding into his reality, honestly he would've said it was a step up.
The encroaching madness kind of put a damper on things, though.
Still, Desmond remained positive, taking every bit of news as good news. Assassins falling in their assault on the building meant that out there someone was still thinking about him at least – out there someone still cared. Animus sessions getting longer and longer meant that he was getting stronger – his mind was adapting and it took less out of him. Vidic being around less was a boon just by itself – but it also meant they'd gotten most of what they wanted out of him. They might eventually let him go… right?
Okay he's not that optimistic – but he still counted it as a tentatively positive thing. And so as long as he was still alive and in reasonable control of his faculties… there was hope.
"You're lucky, having so many important ancestors," Lucy murmurs to him quietly. "Altaïr, Ezio, now Connor… most Subjects can offer only one or two at most – and once they have nothing more to show us…"
"Well now you're just making me nervous," Desmond says with a slight grin. "Because it sounds like that's a sentence that ends with they were never heard from again, and I'm just not about that sort of endings. They lived happily ever after, now that's more my speed."
The look Lucy gives him is full of guilt and grief and Desmond really wishes she'd stop doing that. It makes it really hard to concentrate onto the positive side of things.
It also makes the writing on the walls glow that much brighter.
Desmond had kept track of the dates. It's easier now that he gets his daily dose of news, but even before that he kept track as well as he could.
He was kidnapped on first of September and as far as he knows he was put into the Animus directly the day after. It's hard to know for sure because he was knocked out in between, but it's close enough to count in his books and he doubts they bothered to keep him out cold for too long. He wasn't that sore or hungry when he woke up, and it didn't feel like they had him on life support so… a day seems right.
From there on he lived Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad's life for about seven days before they got what they wanted from him. He didn't get much of a break before they moved onto the next one – Ezio Auditore da Firenze, whose life took much longer to go through. Unlike more hardened Altaïr, Ezio had too many traumas to be so straightforward – and Desmond was getting too empathetic to just breeze through them. Ezio took a month, even with longer and longer sessions. Vidic wasn't happy.
They got what they wanted from that one too, though. First a map from Altaïr detailing locations of some ancient superpower objects or whatever. Desmond didn't really get it, it all seemed like sci-fi fantasy at first. By the time they got to Ezio having a bout of goddamn fisticuffs with a pope over similar ancient superpower objects, he was starting to get it.
History, it turns out, is all sorts of messed up. What do you know.
And then Desmond collapsed, month and ten days into his imprisonment. It wasn't exhaustion because all he really did day in and day out was lay down and sleep – but at some point, his mind just had it, and it collapsed in on itself. Considering all the hallucinations he was seeing up until that point, Desmond supposed he sort of had it coming.
So that was fun. Especially since Vidic's solution to it was to put him back in the Animus
"Walked right past me."
"What the – who are you, what is this?"
"What – you some know? Haven't you seen my artworks all over your bedroom walls? I put so much effort into it, you wouldn't believe."
"You're – they had you in that room too? You're another subject, the one who came before me."
"... you have no idea, no idea at all, how ironic those words really are. You will though – you will. You can call me Sixteen – I am, indeed, the one who came before you, Seventeen. And you have much to learn."
Sixteen now hovers on the edge of the Animus, whispering, "What's the date, Seventeen, are we there yet?" before writing incomprehensible calculations all over that white space and cackling; "They are going to be late, isn't it glorious; they're all going to be late!"
It's unnerving in more ways than one but the guy had helped Desmond piece together his own broken mind so he isn't inclined to stop him. After nearly three weeks of coma and sharing mind space with Sixteen, he's almost used to it by now anyway – even if the guy is an actual doomsday clock personified and makes it really, really hard to not give in to the hopelessness.
At least after he woke up Vidic was gone. They got their Apple of Eden from Rome, led there by Ezio's memories before Desmond's collapse. He can't bring himself to care too much – it's not like there's much he can do about it anyway, locked up as he is. All he can do is hope that they finally will let him have some peace and quiet… as much as of that there is to be had with Ezio and Altaïr on one side, and Sixteen on the other.
It's starting to get bit crowded in his head these days.
"I don't suppose you guys would like to give me a peaceful night's rest tonight?" Desmond mutters to the ghosts anxiously pacing the length of his room, with the glow of Sixteen's writing-on-the-wall at his back. Neither of the two Master Assassins answer, pacing on and on like a couple of caged predators.
Desmond sighs and lies down, wondering whose memories he will dream of today. He hopes Ezio's. Ezio's memories are like feverish sex dreams most of the time and they leave him hollowly wanting, but at least they're definitely better than Altaïr's sharper, bloodier memories. Ezio might've had higher body count – but Altaïr lingered on his kills for much longer, dissecting them endlessly. It… got a bit rough on the psyche, after a while.
Desmond closes his eyes, ignoring the whispers and the feeling of being watched that's now ever-present. Sixteen's writing seems to glow even through his eyelids, but like everything else, he can't do anything about that either.
Well maybe tomorrow would bring some good news.
No such luck.
"They've ran simulations and the Eye Abstergo Project won't be enough to block the Solar Flare, not by a long shot," Lucy confides in him grimly the next day, leaning her elbows on Vidic's desk while Desmond peers at the city below them through the windows behind her. "Which makes sense – the Precursors must have tried something similar, right? Who knows how many Apples they had and they still got wiped out."
"Yeah, those are some pretty bad odds," Desmond agrees, as if his opinion even matters. It's a nice sunny day outside – Rome looks nice in sunlight. He kinda wishes Abstergo Tower didn't have industrial strength air conditioning – it looks so much warmer outside. "So what happens now?"
"They're hoping that there is still some Precursor technology out there that will make a difference. And the key to finding it…" Lucy trails away and glances at him from the corner of her eye.
Desmond glances back and smothers a sigh. Of course. "... Is locked away somewhere in my DNA, got it," he says. "So where – or when – am I going next?"
"That's the question – we don't know," Lucy admits and runs a hand over her face. She looks more and more tired these days – she's no longer bothering to put on much make up, and she's forsaken the business suits and pencil skirts for leather jacket and jeans. Without Vidic there, she's more casual.
It makes her look more and more hopeless.
"We're hoping you might have…" Lucy trails away and sighs. "Desmond, you're by far the best Subject we've had. Your memories are pristine, so much clearer than any other Subject's so far. We're – I am hoping that by now you might have sense of… awareness of your ancestors."
Desmond doesn't say anything, looking at Rome instead. That's almost amusing. Almost. Except how it's so not amusing. "Lucy, half of the time I don't know up from down," Desmond admits. "I'd love to help you but…"
Sometimes he steps out of his bed room and finds himself standing in the streets of Rome, looking down on the Tiber River. Sometimes he's standing like this at the windows behind Vidic's desk – and it's Masyaf under him, sometimes under siege, sometimes on fire. He'll wake up in the morning from memory of a meeting in the Mentor's office, and he's confused about who that Mentor is – isn't it supposed to be him/Al Mualim/Machiavelli, what is he/Al Mualim/Machiavelli doing on that seat.
"Desmond," Lucy says quietly. "The world is going to end."
Desmond tucks his chin in. Yeah. "Guess I should get in the Animus, then."
At least Connor doesn't get under his skin the same way Ezio did. So much of Ezio was like looking into a mirror – a distorted mirror maybe, which showed him could have beens and would have beens. Connor is and remains his own entity though – and not once is Desmond confused about whether he is Connor or not.
It might be a side effect of Sixteen help, what they did in the Nexus to wrung out the last details of Ezio's and in lesser part Altaïr's life out of Desmond's DNA, but… who knows. He's glad of it anyway – two men vying for that sort of space in Desmond's head are more than enough, as much as he likes Connor, he really doesn't need a third.
Thank god Sixteen is only present in the Animus. That would have been too much to handle on top of everything else.
"Rude," Sixteen tells him before Desmond sinks into Connor. "I died for you – how about gratitude?"
"I am truly very grateful, sixteen, I can't even describe it," Desmond agrees obligingly. He is too – hallucinations aside, at least he's coherent, most of the time, and usually he can tell what is a memory and what is reality. Sixteen gave him that, at least.
The man peers at him suspiciously and then nods. "Better," he says. "Now go play and pretend the world can still be saved – distract them until the very end."
Yeah, Sixteen is a ray of sunshine, alright. Desmond had been a bit of a let down for him, though. Somehow Sixteen had known he was coming – and he had high hopes for him, hence the writing on the wall, hence the clues, the puzzles, the glitches in the Animus leading him to the grisly ancient truth. Only, Desmond hadn't lived up to the expectations.
What else is new?
Think positive now, Desmond thinks to himself and takes a breath, preparing to plunge into the memories. Connor's life is harsh and cold, the atmosphere of it reminds him a lot of Abstergo Tower actually… but at least he's free, and he has home, friends, sort of family he's building in the Davenport Homestead. That's something.
Desmond thinks he wouldn't mind dying while playing out Connor's life. If the world came to an end while he was in the Animus, that would be… alright. Bliss in oblivion and all that.
"Desmond," Sixteen calls after him. "It wasn't supposed to be like this. You weren't supposed to get stuck in here. Lucy betrayed you. She betrayed all of us."
"Yeah. Maybe she did, maybe she didn't – maybe she had her reasons," Desmond says and shrugs. "It doesn't really matter either way."
"It does to me," Sixteen mutters and glances at him. "It should to you too."
"You realise I betrayed the Assassins long before she did?" Desmond asks, and falls into the eighteen hundreds.
Yeah, positive thinking is getting a bit harder the further along they go.
They find a Temple – Lucy shows him the emails, even lets him watch the video they'd taken of Vidic opening the door with Ezio's Apple of Eden. There are pictures and written reports and whole lot of analysing on the place – it's pretty impressive. The Grand Temple is apparently over seventy five thousand years old – it's where Those That Came Before tried to save the world.
Sixteen was right – it is bit ironic.
"They think they need some sort of power sources to activate the place," Lucy says. "Pretty much every branch of Abstergo has been turned to looking for them all over the globe. Hopefully there are enough of them still around to fully activate the Temple, before it's too late."
"Mm-hmm," Desmond agrees, as they eye the picture of the power sources. It looks like glowing high tech puzzle piece. "Well, good luck to them, here's hoping they can save the world and all."
"Yeah," Lucy agrees, folding her arms on the desk and bowing her head a little. "Here's hoping. And we need to find the key to let them in the final chamber. Are you ready to go back in?"
"You know me, always happy to help," Desmond agrees.
Honestly, it would be pretty awesome if Abstergo did manage to save the world. Sixteen doesn't think they can, though – they're all missing something and it's making Sixteen so damn gleeful. They're all too late, somehow. Something, according to Sixteen, has gone wrong. Something to do with Desmond.
Positive thinking, now.
Wonder if Abstergo has doomsday bunkers?
Lucy tells him her story, five days before the cosmic deadline. They sit under the windows behind Vidic's desk, which Vidic himself hasn't been using for over a month now thank god, being all busy at the temple. It's late in the night and all the lights are turned on low – Lucy has probably even messed about with the cameras. She does that sometimes.
Under them, Rome is all lit up with street lights.
"I was pulled aside for it," Lucy admits. "Singled out when I was fifteen – by seventeen I was all on my own, all my ties to the Assassins cut. It took two years for Abstergo to recruit me – for Vidic to recruit me. Before then I was… always between places, houses, schools, never sure of anything."
"Sounds rough," Desmond says. Sounds familiar, really – it had taken him few years to find his footing too. Homelessness was a bitch.
"I think he knew right from the start that I was an Assassin, or at least suspected it," Lucy admits. "I was too perfect for the job, really. Who works on things like genetic memory, really, except whack pots and Abstergo? For everyone else it's a complete pseudoscience, and Abstergo is going to keep it that way. So as long as only they have access to history, they can rewrite it as they see fit. And they have a lot of history to rewrite."
That's a cheerful thought, Abstergo having monopoly on something like whole of human history. Desmond shakes his head, running his hand through his short hair. "So when someone pops up, looking into this stuff… it's a bit suspicious. I get it."
"Yeah," Lucy agrees. "Still, Vidic took me in despite everything. I know why he did it – he wanted a double agent and he got it, but… he treated me well, made me his assistant. There were never any demands, any torture, nothing. I was given work, place to live in, actual livelihood…" she trails away. "And there was still my mission. I thought I could do it."
"But… you couldn't."
Lucy doesn't say anything for a long while, as they stare at the city. "Why did you run away, Desmond?" she asks then.
Desmond shrugs. "Hell if I know now," he mutters. He thought it would be better. They way they treated him at the Farm, the way his parents were, how everything was… in parts it had scared him and in parts it had frustrated him. They had small library of books at the farm, carefully screened and censored probably – and by chance there was one that had slipped trough, about cults, namely suicide cults, how they isolated their members, pressured them, manipulated them… turned them into their private religiously motivated militaries…
It had hit a bit too close to home.
Lucy nods like she gets it and says nothing to that. "Eventually we found out about the solar flare," she then says. "How bad it would be and that's… that's not something the Assassins can stop. Abstergo has resources, though, satellites, technology. I thought, if there's any chance of saving the world, a billion dollar corporation is the safer bet."
And now the said billion dollar corporation is hopelessly excavating ancient history for a solution. Very comforting.
"Well, humanity survived it once," Desmond says. "Maybe we'll survive it again."
Lucy laughs at that, quietly and wretchedly. Desmond looks away and tries to ignore how wet and miserable her laughter sounds.
Desmond finds the key, watches Ratonhnhakè:ton bury it in the grave of Connor Davenport. The information goes out to the Abstergo team at the Grand Temple before Desmond is even out of the Animus, and together with Lucy they follow up on the events afterwards – how the grave is excavated, the key located and transported to the Temple.
They've found the power sources, bought or stolen or blackmailed them from their owners and holding places. The key is the last thing they're missing, and Vidic carries it in like it’s the Olympic torch and he's about the lit the fire. On the flat screen of a computer, the image lagging and fracturing after being transmitted half around the world, it doesn't look half as impressive as the man probably thinks it should.
They open the force field keeping them from their prize, from the pedestal that is supposedly going to save the world. Vidic motions everyone to stay back and while Lucy holds her breath and Desmond folds his arms, the good doctor takes his place by the pedestal. Slowly, he sets his hand on it.
And nothing happens.
Lucy lets out a sob and Desmond closes his eyes. He knew. He knew it wouldn't. Still… the disappointment feels real.
"I want to go into the Animus," he says quietly. "There's someone I need to say goodbye to. Can I do that, Lucy?"
"Yeah, sure," Lucy says and wipes at her eyes. "I think after everything, you deserve that much."
"Time to hit the cosmic reset button on the Earth," Sixteen says as Desmond appears to the white space of the Animus, maybe for the last time. "Are you ready for deletion, Desmond?"
Desmond looks at him. "No," he says. "I'm really not."
Sixteen laughs, laughs, and laughs, and then he falls to his knees and like Lucy, he cries. "Fuck you, you positive piece of shit," he almost howls at Desmond. "You were supposed to save the world – it was your fucking hand that was supposed to go on that thing. The hell are you still doing here?"
Desmond pushes his hands into the pockets of his hoodie and sighs. Why me, he wonders but doesn't bother to word it. It doesn't matter anymore. "Can't tell you that – it wasn't exactly my choice," he admits and looks up. Animus feels different when there's nothing to load. It feels empty, somehow. "I'm sorry, Sixteen."
"Yeah, like that makes any difference," Sixteen mutters and lies down on the white nothingness that serves as a floor here. "Seventy five thousand years and what do we have to show for it? Fuck all."
"The Precursors didn't do any better," Desmond comments.
"Well fuck them too."
Cheerful – though it's not like they have much cause to be.
"Would you have saved the world, if you had the chance to?" Sixteen asks, peering up at him.
"Probably," Desmond says and sits beside him.
"Even if it killed you?"
Desmond shrugs. "Yeah, probably."
"That's damn sad," Sixteen answers and says nothing for a long time, staring up at the ceiling. "I didn't want to. She made me. Fuck, they all made me, twisted me around and pulled me apart. I died for you and now you can't even do anything. What the hell was all of this for ?"
Desmond says nothing – there's not much to say to that. It's not like he knows any better, despite what the gods or Lucy or anyone thought. His DNA didn't give him any insights; all it did was drive him up the wall these days.
At this point, death would probably be a damn relief.
Except that it isn't.
"I don't want to die," Desmond says.
"I didn't either," Sixteen says flatly. "Suicide and self harm aside, I really didn't. Didn't want to lose my mind and smear it all over the walls. Shit happens, Seventeen, and life sucks. Kill yourself or get over it." Then, as if realising what he said, he laughs, loud and hysterical.
Desmond looks at him for a moment, leaning his chin on his arm. "Yeah," he agrees. "I'm going to get over it. Where's your code?"
"What?" Sixteen asks.
"Where's your code?" Desmond asks and motions at him. "This, you, this whole thing. Whatever you are – where's the data stored?"
Sixteen gives him a wary look. "What are you thinking?"
Desmond stands up. "I'm getting out of here," he says. "And you are coming with me. Now, where's your code, Sixteen – where can I back you up?"
For a long moment his predecessor just stares him. "You positive piece of shit," he then says, and gets up too. "You're going to get killed."
"I'm going to ride out the end of the world, or die trying," Desmond says determinedly. "Now are you coming with me or not?"
When Desmond gets out of the Animus, Lucy is by the windows leaning onto the glass with what looks like wine glass in hand. On Vidic's desk there's a bottle – and for a moment Desmond hopes it's for celebration, that maybe while he was under something good happened.
The redness of her eyes kills that hope pretty quick, though.
"Lucy," Desmond says and goes to her. "What say you we get out of here?"
"It won't make any difference, Desmond," she says quietly. "You know how bad it's going to be. It's going to start soon, anyway – couple of hours and the flare will start. And they can't stop it, nothing can stop it."
"Yeah – so?" he asks. "Do you really wanna die here, not even trying? You survived the Assassins and the Abstergo – you're really going to give up now?"
"Desmond…" she trails off, eying him hopelessly.
"I'm going," he says. "Come with me. Please."
Lucy opens her mouth, closes it and then laughs weakly. "You can't even get through the door," she says somewhat helplessly. "The building is guarded, there's –"
Behind them, the doors all hiss open, Desmond's bedroom, the meeting room, the door leading to the hall… all of them. Desmond glances back at them and then nods to the camera – which actually nods in answer before turning off. Lucy stares at it in confusion and then turns to Desmond.
He holds out his hand. "Come on," he says. "Let's go. Let's get out of here."
"But what's the point?" she asks, hesitant.
Desmond shrugs. "What's the point of staying? Here we'll die for sure – out there, at least we might have a chance." She still hesitates, the wine glass slipping in her fingers. "Come on, Lucy. Let's live."
Her expression twists with what looks like physical pain – and then she takes his hand. Desmond grabs it before she can second guess herself and then turns to the door, all but dragging her with him.
"We're going to live," he says, grinning fiercely, "even if it's the last damn thing we'll do."
Lucy lets out a hysterical little sob at that.
Then they run.