“What do you want?”
“A life away from here. Anywhere but here.”
“Are you sure?”
That was how Haytham Kenway ended conversations, or rather, your pleas for absolution. As if he needs you to understand the consequences of your requests. Then again, he was always at your threshold, hovering over the wake of a tragedy, asking if he could help you. Benevolence from the Templar Grandmaster warrants caution. But yes, yes, of course--
--and he whisks you away, and he gives you a new life with a silver ring with a crimson red cross.
He invites you into a whirlwind world filled with ghouls and demons and assassins. You’ve seen some of his Templars slip in and out of the compound with bloody teeth. Sometimes they walk and joke with you while avoiding patches of sunlight or the moon’s reflection. Everyone in his compound harbors a story that is worth a little bit of privacy from the world.
Haytham also introduces you to his right-hand man, Shay Cormac, who is unafraid to talk about black eyes and headless horsemen. The two of them leave on midnight walks and returns to the compound, with Shay often wounded, so you drag him into the kitchen and stitch up the Irishman’s wounds.
You have no idea what kind of monsters they encounter, or the extent of their powers. You only know that it is a fight to the death.
A poisoned fang later embeds itself in Shay’s shoulder and he screams in agony on the kitchen floor as you force laudanum in his mouth. Haytham holds down the struggling dark-haired Irishman until the drugs finally overwhelm his exhausted mind, and those abyss-like eyes close in the first slumber he’s had in years.
“Shay is resilient. He will heal, like they always do,” Haytham tries to reassure. Your hands are shaking as you replace the painkiller medicine on the shelves. You’ve never seen Shay in so much pain-- though you keep quiet and say nothing.
He somehow plucks the thought from your mind.
“You disapprove that I make him go through these tribulations.”
You hesitate, not looking at the Grandmaster. “I fear for his sanity. Night after night,” you say shakily, “he returns with these horrible wounds. They heal, yes, just in time for him to go on another midnight walk while you--”
Haytham appears next to you, his dark gray eyes cold. “While I do what, pray tell?”
“--while you are whole, unhurt. It does not seem fair.”
“We are not built or bestowed with these curses in a fair manner,” Haytham replies cuttingly. Without another word, he grabs his coat and leaves you, alone, to worry over the sleeping Dullahan.
Shay’s condition worsens come nightfall. Templars with healing qualities in their blood offer their assistance. None seem to work. You hold a solitary vigil by his side, a newly bound bestiary in your lap and spare candles to burn on the table. Sometimes he lashes out and screams names in the dark, Liam, Hope, Achilles, names that do not mean anything to you.
Closer to midnight, you stir awake and see a vague silhouette hovering over the ragged body. Shay lies on a makeshift cot, unconscious and vulnerable to attackers, even in the heart of the compound. Your heart skips a beat.
Then you recognize Haytham’s rich accent as the lean, tall figure presses a palm against Shay’s forehead and murmurs something in Latin or Old English. Instantly, the wounded man’s breathing seems to settle and even out, and then somehow, you hear that familiar Irish lilt, albeit hoarse--
“Haytham. I think-- I think I might’ve messed up.”
“You did,” Haytham says, smiling gently. “Missed the heart, and you were struck on the shoulder. I chased the creature off before it advanced further. You are on the mend, and you now have first hand experience on a basilik’s venom. Congratulations are in order, but I speak quickly.”
Shay groans. “So it’s still not dead?”
“It will likely have returned to the territory. I will go out and finish what we have started.”
“Wait for me--”
“I cannot,” Haytham says firmly, “and I will not.” He slowly pulls his hand away from his forehead, and Shay’s breathing returns to its sporadic rhythm, new tremors running through his limbs. “Sleep, Shay. Our time is limited.”
The spell fades and Haytham hesitates, flexing his hands as he thinks over his next actions. You shut your eyes quickly and pretend to sleep.
He is going to hunt the creature that brought Shay to his knees. Though he speaks confidently, you fear for Haytham. Will the Grandmaster suffer the same? Whereas he’d dragged Shay back to the compound, he has no allies tonight, none that you know of.
Hours later, before dawn even breaks, Haytham steps back into the kitchen, quietly satisfied with his task. He leans heavily against the door frame, half-cloaked in shadows as he nods at your candlelit frame hunched over reading material. “Any change?” he asks, voice lower, more solemn.
“None.” You poke the basilisk fang retrieved from Shay’s shoulder. “Anti-venom might be a worthwhile pursuit.”
“Do what you must.” He makes to leave, but you stand up and clear your throat.
“A moment, Grandmaster. I feel I must apologize for what I said yesterday. I-- I assumed that you come back, unhurt, after these monster hunts. I do not if you feel pain or if you hurt in some other way.” You take a shaky breath. “And I should have known, not all wounds are visible. I am sorry.”
Haytham tilts his head. “I forgive you. Tell me,” he says, “are you comfortable in my presence?”
“Yes. I have no reason to be afraid.”
“Are you sure?”
“At the moment.”
He finally steps into the room, further into the light of the candelabra, and you see the smile resting on his pale lips. But you also see a long gash along the left side of his face, deep and sunken into skin and muscle. The wound is perfectly free of blood. Haytham’s smile slips as you continue to stare, then he seats himself by the kitchen table.
“You were right,” he says, plain and simple, and begins to shed his coat and unbutton his cuffs. “I do not feel pain. I do not bleed. Shay knows this, yet he prefers to dive in the beasts’ paths, challenging death around every corner. I usually tend to my injuries privately, but would you--?”
You nod, and grab a basin and cloth. News of plague travels from faraway coasts and the people take extra caution with sanitation. Haytham pours out two glasses of whiskey in the meantime. “May I ask,” you start as you dab the cloth around the gash, “what was that spell earlier, when Shay spoke with you?”
He raises his eyebrows. “I thought I felt a pair of eyes on us. Sly devil.”
Haytham sips his drink as you work carefully, never once flinching or looking concerned. His sculpted features are cold-- from the night chill, you assume.
“I only stole a moment from the future where he is well and able. Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, Master Cormac’s health might falter. Do not be afraid when it happens. I know you care for your patient.”
“Switching the past for the future. An infinite tolerance for pain. And bloodless.” You shake your head and sigh. “I know you best for making Faustian deals, Grandmaster.”
His smile returns, cunning and knowing. You finish cleaning specks of dirt and basilisk’s blood, and set the basin aside. Already, you notice that the wound has started to seal up by itself, meant to leave nothing but a memory. Haytham slides the whiskey over to you. He gestures around with his free hand. “And are you satisfied with this new life of yours?”
“I think so,” you admit. “What about your end of the deal?”
His glass pauses before it touches his lips. “What do you mean?” Haytham asks slowly.
You flush. “I mean-- when you bargain, it’s meant to benefit both parties. Quid pro quo. I never asked… and I never wondered. Why would you give me a chance at happiness without gaining something in return?”
He thoughtfully runs a finger on the rim of his cup. “Would you believe if I said it was out of the goodness of my black heart?”
He chuckles and looks up from the drink to you. For a moment, you are trapped by the mirth in his eyes, the crow’s feet gathered round his world-weary eyes. Then he drops the gray gaze and another spell is broken. “The prospect of new beginnings made you happy. Now, I have a Templar loyal to her Grandmaster and her associates.”
You lean back in the chair, nodding. “So it was for the Order.”
“It always was, and it always will be.”
He finishes his drink, then excuses himself.
Your conversation with Haytham had been the necessary catalyst for the silence between you. The Grandmaster appears with a new bestiary or untranslated journal for your academic mind to decipher. He attends your training sessions with a fully healed Shay, his hands tucked behind his back, eyes cool and emotionless.
At night, you rub your hands together and try to remember what it felt like to tend to Haytham Kenway, the man who did not feel pain. It is easier to believe that he listened to your wishes for a new life for the sake of the Order. For power and strength. But you fall asleep, all the whilst thinking, What if, what if.
You might as well live in the kitchen, considering how much time you’re in the warm, snug room. It lacked to serve the whole compound, but it made the perfect medical bay. Access to clean water and a fireplace, with the means to prepare meals. It seemed perfect.
Hellhounds, revenants, and assassins-- Shay says these names as casually as can be, citing their glowing eyes or silver-tipped sabres. Haytham sometimes listens to him recount the battles, interrupting to add a crucial detail now and then.
One morning, after chasing Shay away with fresh gauze and a celebratory bottle of whiskey, Haytham lingers behind.
“Thank you,” he says.
“Not much else to do, but--” Your words fades as the Grandmaster softly kisses your cheek. His lips are like ice. His hand settles on top of yours, a cool and heavy weight, warmth only in reassurance.
And then he pulls away and leaves.
It happens again. And again.
You pass him an envelope from a mutual correspondent and Haytham presses his lips on the back of your hand. He comes from behind while you stitch yet another cut on Shay’s face, and swiftly kisses you on the cheek. As if you were married bedfellows. There are only unanswered questions in these kisses.
Confrontation. Ugh, the very thought of it makes you want to crawl away and hide under blankets. When it concerns the Grandmaster, the dread only doubles. But with his kisses burning like ghosts on your skin, you make your way through the compound, to his office.
“What can I help you with?” Haytham recognizes the hesitation on your face and he sifts through papers on his desk. “Well, while you’re mulling over your thoughts, I could have you sign a few papers. And a fresh edition of the Indo-European bestiary came in. Quite a lot of new information.” He gestures to a leather hardcover book that has been stained a deep violet color.
He then hands you a quill, then the papers one by one. A smudge of red on the corner of a page catches your eye. “Is this blood?” you ask. “Whose blood is this?”
“Ah,” Haytham Kenway says. “It would be mine.”
The blood trickles from the day-old gash on his chest, a hand’s breadth below his heart, sometimes crimson flowing freely, sometimes viscous and slow in a color more akin to India ink.
Haytham sits by the fireplace hearth, his white shirt neatly folded and placed on the table. With his gaze tilted towards the flickering flames, he looks like a marble sculpture. Though his hair has turned silver in recent months, he has the grace of a young Prometheus. He showed only mild concern towards the unbandaged wound, concerned about how blood would stain the hardwood floor.
You dug through the closets and found his wicker basket of medical supplies. After staunching the bleeding for a few moments and cleaning the stains on his hands, you closely examine the gash. “Sword wound,” you decide. “Shay told me you encountered some Assassins the day before yesterday.”
The Grandmaster murmurs assent. His breathing lapses as your fingers press into his oblique muscles. You try and tune out everything that defines any attraction towards him: his soft voice, his heavy gaze, the way he lets you in such close proximity. It’s a vivid change from the early routines with Shay Cormac. The Irishman teases and jokes and talks non-stop, unafraid to show off when you are together.
The idea of Haytham’s constant gaze on you echoes in every lapse of silence.
You finally look up at him. “I thought you didn’t bleed, Grandmaster.”
He grimaces. “You… understand drawing from sources of power. Correct? Mine comes from making deals.” Haytham runs a hand over his clean-shaven jaw, and then his lips draw in a wane smile. “As it turns out, it seems that I have not upheld my end of a past agreement.”
“Is it a difficult task?”
“Objectively.” Haytham suddenly winces, doubling over as the wound starts oozing fresh blood. You take his hand and let him apply pressure to slow the bleeding. Through gritted teeth, he adds, “However, I believe the task may be completed quickly.”
You rifle through the supplies and begin to thread a needle, which he eyes warily. “Well, I won’t have you bleed out in the meantime. Tomorrow, you can go to the consulate or the mayor’s home and exact whatever you promised them in exchange for power and money. Doctor’s orders.”
A pale hand, devoid of warmth, gently grasps your chin and tilts your gaze towards the older man. Your words fall away; so does the rest of the world. Haytham smiles sheepishly like a child caught stealing sweets. His fingers dance across your jawline.
“It was ours,” he tells you, his voice barely above a whisper.
“No, no,” you stammer, “You gave me a new life, and I became your Templar. That was the deal.”
Haytham glances pointedly at the stained cloth. “As I once believed, but when I found blood on my clothes and hands, I had to reconsider--” His careful, measured tone fluctuates with the introduction of pain-- “that this is the sort of deal where both parties must be content. You have your new life as a Templar--”
“Speak faster, Haytham,” you murmur, “before you bleed all over your office floor.”
“--and I must have something, or at the very least, I must be happy with you being here.”
A laugh bubbles up from your chest, nervous and unchecked. “So be happy, Haytham,” you say. “What do I have to do?”
He grasps your hand tightly. “Believe me, I am happy. I find that you are an excellent Templar, and well-read in the nightmares that surround our colonies and homes. Your marksmanship rivals those who were born into their obligation towards the Order. You are diligent and careful, and kind to everyone. Shay, myself, and all, even if we are endless beings.”
Haytham exhales shakily.
“But I am not satisfied. Not yet.”
He slowly, slowly brushes a lock of hair behind your ear and cups your face. Neither of you are sure if it is his cold skin or the adoring gesture that sends shivers down your spine. Your breath hitches in your throat when Haytham finally leans forward-- and then hesitates, moments away from your lips.
Out of the corner of your eye, you see the cloth against the wound is completely soaked through; his fingers are stained with the tepid crimson. “It’s okay,” you whisper.
“Are you sure?”
“Damned if I’d let my Grandmaster die because of a little modesty,” you tease.
And so he kisses you on the lips. The marble facade gives way into a warm mouth, this sweet, subtle taste of tea, and his hand delicately cradles your face. When he breaks away, forehead knelt against yours, though you don’t know it, he’s struggling to open his eyes, too. You resist an impulse to shove him backwards and find out the extent of how far the two of you were willing to go; instead, you place a hand on Haytham’s bare chest.
“Let me check your wound.” Haytham obliges and peels away the cloth, and you wipe away the red. You stare at the once-again bloodless wound as he sneaks kisses on every inch of your exposed neck and collarbone. Skin and muscle stitch together with unseen sutures. “That’s incredible,” you mumble. “How? ”
His thumb skates along your bottom lip. “I had your affection, even for the barest of moments.”
“How chaste, Grandmaster.”
Haytham smirks. “Witnessed in my earlier attempts. I was… unsure if this could be a mutual relationship. I thought inviting you in my life would be more than enough. I should not suffer any longer, and you-- you are free of this concern.”
The gravity of his words settle, and you shift your gaze away. His head tilts curiously. Not unlike those times when you’d learnt him a new fact about ghouls or daemons. “As if that sort of kiss could leave me satisfied with my own wonders,” you finally say, twisting your fingers together. “As if your touch doesn’t scorch me--”
--Haytham is already kissing you.
He shivers out a low, quiet moan. Not enough, not enough, it’s not enough to sate this fire under your skin. Just one kiss is never enough. Haytham lures you closer, then delves into your mouth like a lost lover. With your responsibilities flung aside, you slot your hips against his, thighs cinched around his waist. Then his hands are roaming, winding in the fabric of your dress, pulling it over your head. At the sight of your lace undergarments, he groans quietly, catching the tip of his tongue between his teeth.
He wants to scour every inch of your bare skin. His hands slide up to cradle the small of your back, and another snakes around to ensnare your locks, tugging them free of a ribbon. The two of you rock against each other, kissing and seeking new ways to hold each other, then Haytham guides you to the floor, the silver of his hair gleaming in firelight.
You drag your nails down his chest and Haytham hisses in a mixture of dread and pleasure. Your fingers brush against the miraculously healed wound, and then it completely fades, his skin once more smooth and flawless. “As if it never happened,” you whisper, still in awe.
“I’ve survived worse,” Haytham pants. His aimless hands rest for a moment against your flushed cheeks; his voice comes ragged, torn by longing for this moment. “But you, you might be the death of me.”
Haytham’s gentle kiss stirs you from the lingering drowse in his warm embrace.
His mouth finds the pulse below your jawline, then the dip between collar and shoulder. One hand twists in your mussed locks; the other presses into the curves of your hips. As his fingers dig deep, the sensations are familiar and almost painful. “I think,” you murmur against his lips, “you might have left some bruises down there.”
He laughs lowly. “You were not the sole victim, believe me.” Haytham falls back on the pillows, unceremoniously tugging your hip to follow his. Half-straddling the Grandmaster, you accept his roving, insistent kisses as they search your mouth and body for clarification and repetition. Yes, last night really happened. Yes, you were here with him.
You soak in every detail about him: the new ink stains on his fingers, suggesting hasty letterwork by candlelight; his white, unbuttoned chemise loosely cloaking his frame; and the way he smiles, brighter and happier than you’ve ever seen at the Templar compound. You slide a hand down to his side like the countless times last night, and only find smooth, unbroken skin.
“Tell me,” you say, looking back up to him. His hand is now tracing slow, languid circles on your thigh. “Did you make a deal with the devil, or are you him?”
He props himself up on an elbow and grins. “Intriguing. Which answer frightens you more?”
“I wouldn’t know. The first damns your soul, if such a thing exists, and the second, mine. My interest is purely for the records in case others ever stumble upon a creature like you.”
The slight smile never leaves his face. “There is no one like me.” Haytham leans in as if he were to kiss you, and then hesitates. His eyes are impossibly gentle. “I must… I must remind you that I no longer suffer from our contract. We have satisfied all conditions. If you were to leave, I will not force another decision.”
He’s taken off guard when you push him back on the bed and straddle him. “Mark me, Haytham,” you say with your hands planted firmly on his shoulders, “I adore the man and myth which you are. I could not leave my affection any more than I could refuse food or drink.”
His ever-constant question, Are you sure? , is silenced as you kiss him, and Haytham practically melts with relief.
Shadows nip at your heels as you slip from the Grandmaster’s private quarters and back into your own room. You wash and change your clothes, chasing away thoughts of Haytham even though minutes away from him feel like hours. Templars filter in and out of the kitchen hearth with various wounds and bruises. In between visits, you thumb through the new bestiary and make notes on the new and strange apparitions.
Morning, then afternoon passes. Shay makes a surprise visit when he drags a half-conscious Thomas Hickey through the door and throws him on the cot. The younger Templar looks wane as he cradles his left arm close to his chest. “I broke his arm during training again,” says the Irishman. “I threatened to break the other one if he doesn’t behave. Little shit was trying to go feral.”
You grab a couple of vials off a nearby shelf and hand them to Shay. “Two pinches of wolfsbane and a handful of poppy seeds,” you order him. “Grind them into a fine dust while adding arrowhead and a bit of water.” He grumbles a but but eventually follows your instructions, slowly and carefully.
While he works at the paste, you slide the bestiary over and show him a bookmarked page. “That’s Irish Gaelic,” says Shay, running a finger across a string of unfamiliar letters. “Something about a head, someone who lost their head.” He turns the page and lets it settle with a charcoal sketch of a tall, cloaked figure on a carriage.
“They call it the Dullahan,” you say.
“You think it’s me? That I’m the headless rider?” Shay smirks and tugs lightly at his scarf, showing a glimpse of his scars. “I’ve still got mine.”
“Barely. Anyways, knowing who is who or what is useful. I know that wolfsbane is like poison to you but for Thomas, it’ll just calm his aggressive symptoms.” You take the completed paste and carry it over to wounded kid. His yellow eyes watch you warily as you coat the bruised and inflamed area. Supernatural healing will do the rest, and you send him on his way. As one enters, you sense the presence of another Templar.
Charles Lee steps into the light with a bundle of familiar twigs. “Witch hazel for the witch,” he says. “Regards from the early patrol.” The shadows in the room cling to his robes, greedily sucking at the kitchen hearth. He ignores the way they dance on the walls to their personified delight. You thank him and take the witch hazel but he doesn’t let go. Instead, Charles raises his eyebrows and says, “My helpers tell me that you had quite the late night with the Grandmaster.”
“For someone who spies in the shadows,” you remark, “you gossip too much.”
The Templar suddenly drags you forward until you’re almost flush against his chest. You would try to pull away, but something cold keeps you boundin place. The fireplace seems to dim and the shadows lengthen. Volatile. Angry. “I’ve been hearing a lot about you, my dear,” Charles says softly. “And it concerns me. It worries me, because-- well, Shay, I understand his allegiance. Betrayed and murdered by people he trusted. What did the Creed ever do to you?”
“Charles, that’s enough,” Shay tries to interrupt, but the black-haired man ignores him.
“And then I think: What if you’re still working for the Brotherhood? Will you open the compound gates and have them slit our throats while we sleep?” His green eyes are like flint as they gaze at you, through you. He’s obviously jealous but he has the grounds for suspicion. The shadows never lie. “After you’ve learnt all his secrets and weaknesses,” Charles continues, “would you still have the heart to kill the Grandmaster?”
Your hands tighten around the herbs.
“No good of himself does a listener hear,” you say, words intimate on your tongue. “Speak of the devil he’s sure to appear.”
(And perhaps, you have an inkling of why Charles likes to call you a witch.)
“Master Lee. Master Cormac.”
The crisp, cold voice stifles all argument. The two men immediately regard the Grandmaster obediently, who stands in the doorway, gloves in hand, and scans the room disapprovingly. He nods at the hearth and the flames abruptly spring back to fullness, chasing away Lee’s shadows, illuminating all of Shay’s scars, and then returns his attention to the men.
“Are you ready for the evening patrol? I do not see your weapons or equipment.”
“We’re on our way to the armory, sir,” says Shay, and he seizes Charles’s elbow. They push past into the hallway without another word.
Yet Haytham Kenway lingers in the doorway. Staring-- no, gazing at you with the same tenderness as morning remembers.
You would explain yourself in the face of accusations, but he simply walks forward and sets a soft, honeyed kiss on the mouth. A second, even gentler kiss grazes your cheek. “You still know the words,” he murmurs absentmindedly. “In my life, I’ve taught many to speak the phrase but none say it with the sort of reverence in your voice.”
“I know your past. I embraced all of it.” He tilts your chin up. “If you are so eager to proclaim your fealty: Are you loyal to the Templar Order? Do you swear to uphold its tenants? Are you loyal to me, and no one else?”
“Then it is enough for me.” He presses his lips against yours once more. As if he, too, craved your every touch in the moments apart. “Be careful in all faces of friends and foe.”
“Assassins and Templars,” you sigh. “Monsters and men. We play a dangerous game, Haytham.”
“So we do, love.”
I'm not dead!
I will be working on replying to all of your lovely comments in the past few months, forgive my hiatus. Inspiration runs thin sometimes (so if you honestly throw a request at me it might become a fic who knows)
(oh god please send me requests)