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Trade Winds

Chapter Text

Desmond spends the first month making sure.

The Grand Temple is the same, just inert now, but the area around is different. The Kanien'kehà:ka aren't there, with no sign of their settlement anywhere in sight. No longhouses and no sign of campfires, the most there is are traces of long passed hunters and paths animals worn into the forest, but that's about it. Even the hunter huts aren't there, with no sign of them having been built, the area is still wild and rough.

The closest human settlement he ends up finding is Boston, and it's… different. The buildings are roughly the same, the people in turns dour and hardy and not terribly interested in answering his questions about the differences. Because the differences are marked.

In Boston harbour, there are dragons.

"Damn handy they are," one of the harbour workers says as they watch a grey and blue dragon beat its wings and lift a crate from the deck of a ship, something you'd usually need a crane for. In Boston harbour there aren't any cranes at all, just dragons.

"Used to work in Dover back in the old country," the worker says. "Old fashioned shipping business, no dragons. Can't even tell you how much faster it is, this way. Takes less men too, which the harbour master likes."

"Have they always…?" Desmond starts to ask but isn't sure how to finish the question. Existed, worked at the harbour, been just a normal part of life?

"Took a while, didn't it, but I reckon people are scared of them for no real good reason," the worker says and empties his pipe over the edge of the pier and into the water. "Wouldn't mind one of my own if I could afford the feeding."

Dragons aren't the only difference, but it's easily the most noticeable one. The dragons working in the harbour are a sight and a half, but they're not the only ones. There are courier dragons and shipping dragons going in and out of the city and occasionally, though rarely, military dragon patrol might be seen flying over the city. Some people fear them, Desmond sees one fresh immigrant from Britain go into hysterics over a small, motley coloured dragon peddling wares in the streets, but most people don't even look up, used to seeing them about. Somehow here dragons are utterly mundane.

He can't find any proof of either Assassins or Templars. Connor's tribe doesn't seem to exist, or if it does, it lives somewhere else. Haytham has never been heard of. Charles Lee, yes, but the man died on the battlefield years ago and if he was involved in anything more suspicious than war, no one knew. Davenport Homestead is a patch of wild forest and nothing more and no one knows Achilles Davenport at all. No one's ever heard of a ship named Aquila, and he'd have better luck looking for it further south.

Desmond researched as much history as he can get his hands on, finding scholars and bothering them – or helping them, whichever worked the best – until they let him look at their books. When that offers no answers, he goes after church records instead, first talking to a catholic priest and then breaking into the man's library.

Rodrigo Borgia was Pope Alexander VI and Cesare Borgia was the general of Papal armies. He died of spear wound in battle and was apparently disfigured from syphilis. What that says about history, Desmond isn't sure, but he gets the feeling neither was a Templar in life. Still terrible people but not Templars. Templars don't probably even exist here. Nor Assassins for that matter. Instead there's dragons.

It's kind of depressing how little it changes things.


 

The second month Desmond gets tired of hunting for living. He's good enough at it and he gets good price for the meat and pelts he brings in, it's enough to sustain him and fund his forays into research... but he doesn't particularly enjoy it, killing animals for money. Even if his ways are more humane than what other hunters do, it's just… it isn't necessary. And knowing how many of those animals would be hunted to near extinction just makes him feel shitty about it.

So he stops and sets out looking for other work. He works some odd jobs as Assassins do, delivering packages and such. Because he's one of the biggest guys in Boston – and slowly regaining the weight he lost in the Animus – he gets hired to do a lot of not so pleasant physical things. Tussle with some ruffians, shake up a guy in debt, threaten a group of layabouts up to no good, that sort of thing. It's not the work he particularly enjoyed, so he soon turns to other things. Letter writing earns him a bit, there are a lot of people in Boston who don't know how to read or write too well. Sometimes people pay him to read letters too. It doesn't pay enough to sustain him though, so eventually he looks for actual employment.

He finds it at the harbour, for a while, working in menial manual labour of hauling things. That's where he meets his first dragon, Jackson, who works full-time at the harbour at pretty much the same job he does. Only difference is that where Desmond hauls things weighting maybe hundred pounds at most, Jackson hauls things weighing tons.

"Honestly, I don't see what use you are at all," Jackson says, watching him as Desmond sorts through packets. "Anyone can tell that a dragon can do the job of ten men. That's why they pay us so well."

"Not so good with manual dexterity though," Desmond comments. "When it comes to small details."

"Then they ought to make the details bigger," Jackson huffs. "Where are you from, I can't place your accent."

"Bunch of places. That's probably why, I picked up a bunch of accents along the way," Desmond says and looks at her curiously. "Where are you from?"

Dragons, Desmond muses, are a lot like people. Unnervingly so, even. They can be proud of their origins and boast their lineages and they can be petty and mean too, and selfish. Jackson has worked at the harbour for ten years now, and according to the other men working at the place, she's always suspicious of newcomers, jealous that they might be butting into her territory of hauling heavy things.

Dragons are also very much not like people in a few aspects, but that takes nearly two weeks of talking with her and getting her to like him to learn.

"We learn through the shell, you know. None of this being a worm for years on end you humans do," she sniffs. "We learn to speak and think in the shell and when we come out, we're already smart. It takes us a bit to grow up maybe – but not twenty years, that's ludicrous."

"So you grow faster and live longer," Desmond says. "And you learn rapidly when you're not even born yet. How are you not the dominant species of the planet?"

Jackson side eyes him warily to make sure he isn't making fun of her and then harrumphs. "Sometimes I wonder," she says.

Desmond learns through her that his mode of speaking is sometimes weird here – which is understandable, 21st century is a lot more lax with language and has slang which this time hasn't even invented here. Jackson cares less than some people do, but she does give him weird looks sometimes. So he learns to keep quiet, which isn't that hard. He's kept quiet most his life.

So, quietly, he wonders about humans and dragons and how they fit in the history as it was shaped by the Precursors. Were dragons their creations too? Or were they something else? And seriously, dragons can live up to several hundred years, and they can have tens of tons in weight on humans – how aren't they in charge of everything?


 

The third month Desmond gets fired from the docks. It's not really his fault. There's a scuffle in the docks, couple of drunken workers taking out some frustrations against each other. Some soldiers come to intervene, it turns into a whole incident between almost all the harbour workers and local militia that Desmond gets drawn into – and then he puts an end to it.

Turns out it doesn't matter that he hasn't done much assassin related stuff in months – the skills haven't faded one bit.

But it's not a very good look, to have punched out as many soldiers as he did, and the harbour can't take that sort of heat, not with the amount of smuggling going on. So, in the end the harbour master lets him go.

"You're a diligent worker and apparently a deft hand at fighting," the harbour master consoles him. "If you have the head for it, I'd say you'd do well on a ship. You know any sailing?"

"Some," Desmond admits slowly. "But I don't know…"

"I can keep an eye about for a berth for you, if you'd like," the harbour master says. "I know plenty of good merchant vessels always in search of able bodied men. The pay isn't half bad either – and with nothing to spend it on at the seas, it piles up nicely."

Well, Desmond muses. It would be nice to see more of the world than vision had to offer, and he's exhausted all his research options here. Maybe if he somehow got to Europe…


 

The fourth month, Desmond starts on his first ship voyage as a seaman on board of an American merchant vessel, the Blue Dove. He regrets it almost immediately.

First because sailing brings back something he thought he was over by now – the Bleeding Effect. It starts with hot flashes of Eagle Vision turning on and off on its own and showing him ghosts of men and women. At first he thinks he's seeing Connor's life in the Aquila, that he's seeing the sailor of the ship. Then he starts dreaming of a ship named Jackdaw and pirate named Edward.

Well, things were going a little too well, weren't they?

And then he finds out what kind of merchant vessel the Blue Dove really is.

"See, we take molasses, cotton and tobacco and whatnot to Europe," one of the older seamen explains in tones of experience and authority to newer members of the crew, like Desmond, pointing their route in map. "Earns us a pretty penny. We get what sells from Europe, fabric and tools and such and we take that to Africa, here, the colonies here pay for it nicely. And then we load the cargo with blacks and ride the trade winds all the way back to the new world and sell them at a nice bit of profit to the plantations. And then we get some more sugar and cotton and tobacco and catch the westerlies back to Europe. It's all very tidy, really."

Most of the ship crew ends up deciding Desmond is utterly useless at sailing, with how often he's sick. He keeps his head down for that first voyage, doesn't speak much to anyone and weathers the rising Bleeding Effect the best he can, doing his work on board the ship without complaint. The other sailors probably think he's either mortally sick and hallucinating or cursed and seeing visions. Either way, when they reach Europe's shores and Desmond begs leave on the count of how badly suited to sailing he is, the captain gives it with visible relief.

"Honestly, if you did not, I'd fear for your safety," the man says. "The men talk and you're a queer one. Bad luck, some might say."

"Captain, you have no idea," Desmond mutters, watching as the Blue Dove is loaded up with cargo of good British rum to buy some slaves with.

It makes the ship burn very brightly indeed, that night.


 

Desmond gets almost a day in Bristol, and then he's found and unceremoniously conscripted into the British Navy. It's a thing that still happens, apparently. Conscription is how Britain gets most of their sailors and though United States have had their independence for a while, Britain still feels ownership over their sailors. So if an American man so happens to have some sailing experience, British Navy is quick to claim it's their duty to serve, apparently.

"You'll serve your time, earn a good salary while you're at it, and once you're done you will have nice bit of capital to settle down with," the heavy handed bosun says while steering Desmond towards what's to be his be home for the foreseeable future, a British navy ship, a brig. "Have you family, lad? Wife maybe? Sickly mother at home? You could send money to them, keep them in comfort."

Desmond could get out of it. Punch to the kidneys and he could run. Knife to the gut if it got down to it. Or if not that, then he could probably slip away from the ship while it's still in harbour, he's strong enough swimmer to make it.

He doesn't. For one, he didn't actually have any better plans as it is, and for other, it would be a way to see more of the world, maybe spot the differences, figure out what makes this world so strange. And the British Navy didn't do slaves. At least, he doesn't think they do.

Well, he can arrange a little fire in the gunpowder storage if it comes to it.

So, after landing in Britain, Desmond becomes an able seaman on board the HMS Impulsive. Honestly, the name of the ship is about as much as he needs to know that this voyage would be much more interesting and hopefully less sickly than the one in board the Blue Dove.

He spends all the pay he got from the Blue Dove on books and articles and newspapers and makes him better friends among the crew of the Impulsive by reading some of their more interesting bits out loud during their sparse downtime. They think he's queer too, but in a slightly better way than the men aboard the Blue Dove did, so that's something.


 

His sixth month is also spent aboard the HMS Impulsive. It is also spent trying to put reins on the Bleeding Effect. It's not so much getting better as he's being better at ignoring it, and with Edward Kenway being determined to show him his whole life – or at least the interesting pirate bits of it – something had to be done. As happy as Desmond is knowing how to make berserk darts all of a sudden, he can't spend the rest of his life hallucinating, and if Edward and the Bleeding Effect would be satisfied visiting him in his sleep alone, that would work fine by him.

So, he tries for some mental discipline. Not hard on board a navy ship, actually, they're all about discipline and repetitive menial tasks. The Impulsive had a very energetic bosun too, and most of the tasks onboard are done singing working shanties – and you kind of go into a sort of trance, when you're working at the beat of a hearty melody. Desmond also knows suddenly a lot of shanties, and though he doesn't have the clear voice of the Jackdaw's best singers, he thinks he does alright by them.

Still, Edward Kenway's memories keep coming. Not all of them are even all that exciting. One night he dreams of nothing but Edward and his crew repairing the broken mast on the Jackdaw and another night he dreams of Edward being a new hand on a privateer, sewing a torn sail late into the night.

He starts suspecting where the dreams might be coming from when a change in the creak of the Impulsive's ropes warns him, somehow, to the fact that the mizzen sail is about to come loose, and by ancestral instinct alone he knows how to fix it. Then he begins trimming sails just so for tacking, before the helmsman even gives the order. And eventually he's checking the spurs and instinctively knowing which ones need replacing and how soon.

It's not nothing the other more experienced sailors don't have an instinctive understanding of. But normally it takes years to get there.

Desmond stops fighting Edward Kenway towards the end of the month and starts wondering how meditation might work instead.


 

On his seventh month, his third onboard the HMS Impulsive, Desmond sees battle.

The Impulsive is mostly on channel duty, safely within a line and always within reach of backup if it's needed. That day they have a storm though, with eastward gusts blowing them away from the channel patrol lines and dangerously close to the French shores. The storm is still going even as French Man of War spots them and decides to make a go for it, storm or no storm.

There's a bit of gunnery, but the waves make aiming nearly impossible, most of the shots go wild. For a moment it seems like the French would try to ram them and probably send them to the bottom of the ocean, but they decide on mercy instead. A chain ball takes out one of the Impulsive's masts, and while they're fighting the sails to keep the ship from rolling over, the French sidle to to the Impulsive for boarding.

With the rain, guns are out and it comes down to swords – or in Desmond's case, to knives. He loses track in the storm how many he kills and how. He's half Edward, he thinks, clambering up the rigging and then he's Ezio, dropping down and taking out two with his blades. He misses Connor's bow and arrow and his rope darts, he misses Ezio's gun and crossbow and Altaïr's knives. It doesn't matter.

He loses his knife and grabs a sword from a Frenchman and then kills some more men.

The boarders are repelled. Mostly killed.

Mostly by him.

The French make a second go at them – by that time the marines and officers on the Impulsive have marked him down as their best fighter and flank him in repelling the second attack. That battle is no less bloody than the first, and this time the French are watching.

There is no third attempt.

Desmond gets commendation and promotion for what he did, from able seaman to petty officer, precise placing pending.

"You know your letters and sums, that we know. Do you speak languages?" the captain asks, while they clean the mess off the deck. "Any French?"

"With a terrible accent, yes," Desmond admits. "I also know Italian, Arabic and a bit of Latin."

The captain stares at him for a moment. "I see," the man then says briskly. "You have learning enough to warrant it, then. We'll see about your actual placing among the men. Have you any preferences?"

Desmond thinks about it. "I guess if you want to make the most of me, put me in boarding crews. Aside from that, I'm fine with anything, sir."

He's made the bosun's mate – and after that, the rumours begin.


 

His fourth month on board the Impulsive, his eighth month in this world, Desmond learns to meditate. If it really can be called that.

Maybe it's his brain being still jumbled from the Animus or maybe he's just fundamentally altered, but meditation turns out to be a bit like entering the Animus. World fades away into white flickering potential, where he thinks he can, if he wants to, load up genetic memories.

It's there that he learns what Edward Kenway looked like – a bit of a mess really – and that the man was probably Haytham's father. What to do with that information, he isn't sure, but there it is – semblance of reins on the Bleeding Effect. He also gets a feeling that he's only begin scratching at the surface of his ancestral memories – there's a sense of potential there, so much potential, just hiding behind the surface. If he reached out, he thinks he can awaken them and plunge himself into another ancestor's mind, like he's in Edward's mind right now.

He doesn't need it right now. But it's something to keep in mind, definitely. Edward is giving him a lot of useful information, maybe the others would too.

There is no way he will ever be able to pronounce Edward's Welsh though. He tried and it still feels like his tongue is knotted up with the consonants.

"So what's it then, the thing you do, where you, you know. Just sit there and do nothing?" One of the younger midshipmen asks, while Desmond checks over their sums – tasks left happily to him by the senior midshipmen.

"It's a mental exercise that helps you think clearer," Desmond says, reading through the boy's writing. "The third one is wrong, the others look about right. Try doing that one again."

"Did you learn it from the savages?" the boy asks in hushed whisper and Desmond gives him a look. "That's what everyone says, that you fight so good because you were taught by the new world savages."

"I was taught by Italian banker actually, and no," Desmond says. "Meditation is eastern practice – oriental. And please don't call the Native American tribes, or anyone else for that matter, savages again. It just makes your sound haughty and ignorant. Now do your sums."

It's not the only rumour circulating about him. Some say that he's the son of a disgraced gentleman. Others think he's a former mercenary who spent most of his life killing Native Americans. And then there are the more outlandish rumours, like him being a naturalist who learned how the world works and nearly went mad.

They don't start whispering about demons and devils until they take their first prize – and Desmond single-handedly kills twelve men in a boarding action.


 

Nine months in this world, five on board the HMS Impulsive, and Desmond meets his second dragon.

Because the Impulsive is a fairly small ship and usually patrolling the channel, they don't see much in way of dragon actions. Those are preserved for Ships of the Line and the Impulsive isn't even a third rate. So, though they have all the necessary bits for setting up a landing platform for a dragon, they haven't actually needed to use it during Desmond's service.

Then the dragon comes and it's not even a British dragon or a courier – it's a great big French dragon, much, much bigger than Jackson, one of the largest ones probably. Immediately the ship goes into disarray – they're supposed to be out of the patrolling range of French dragons and yet here it is, coming right at them.

The captain calls for pepper guns to be primed, people fret over fighting a heavyweight, and they wait and the dragon draws closer and closer and finally arrive, wheezing and huffing and exhausted. It's also injured. Pretty strange attacker, all told.

The single man on board the dragon shouts something too faint to be heard over the distance and then the dragon bellows in deep resounding French, "We surrender!"

A dragon and captain pair of deserters. Their names are Praecursoris and Jean-Paul Choiseul respectively, and according to them, they are Royalists and in opposition to Napoleon and the current direction France is going.

"We surrender utterly," Choiseul says wretchedly, once the platform had been pitched and the pair landed. He looks exhausted and relieved – Praecursoris is completely out for count. "We've been flying non stop since leaving Austria and we only escaped with our lives. I know not if we have much to offer, but whatever we can give, it is yours, so as long as we are granted some kindness and semblance of sanctuary."

It's a bit much to believe off hand, but there's prize money to be gained from delivering a whole heavyweight dragon to Britain, which makes more of the crew consider it seriously. Even if the man specifically sought them out to surrender, there would be some sort of a reward, surely? It's enough to make even the most fearful in the crew consider the dragon with interest – and seriously, most of the crew seems terrified.

Desmond watches them and then hums and goes to talk to the captain. "I don't know what their game is," he says. "But it's a ploy, somehow."

"Do you have any proof of this, Mr. Miles?" Captain Hayward asks.

Desmond eyes the French captain and dragon, both of whom glow vivid red under his eyes. "A gut feeling, sir," he says flatly, knowing he can't really say anything else.

The captain hums, watching him with narrowed eyes. "Very well, Mr. Miles. I will take it under advisement."

"Captain," Desmond nods and heads out again.

Praecursoris and Choiseul are send over the channel, to the awaiting covert in Dover where the Admiral of the Aerial Corps would receive them and decide what to do with them. Whether they take the word of a mere petty officer seriously, Desmond doesn't know. It's not his problem either way.


 

Ten months in the new world, six on board the Impulsive and Desmond wakes up with the knowledge of another ancestor. It had been coming on slowly, and he'd kind of expected it, and yet…

He's just gotten used to Edward in his head on top of Altaïr, Ezio and Connor. Now there's a fifth man, Arno, murmuring viciously bitter French into his mind. Desmond supposes it was to be expected – Edward got a lot more time than, say, Altaïr and Connor. Almost as much as Ezio, really. Another ancestor was bound to pop up sooner or later. And recently, there's been a bit more French in his life than before.

The HMS Impulsive is still on channel duty. Whether it's a reward or punishment for delivering the deserter is hard to say, half of the crew are disappointed that they weren't rewarded with something grand like being sent to a fleet, the other half are relieved. There is something going on in the West Indies and in Spain, a whole fleet action brewing. Nelson's name has popped up a lot of time. Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson's. And here they are, on board of their little brig, still on the channel.

Desmond really misses Shaun and his database right now. He's got the vague understanding of the time and place, but precise historical events… not so much. Not outside of what Connor went through and that was years ago – Connor's last memory was in 1783 – it's 1805 now. Not precisely helpful, and even this new ancestor isn't of use. Though it kind of feels like maybe he's trying to be?

Arno's memories aren't from that long ago. The French revolution, it looked like, which was less than a decade ago. But, still, a decade ago. Not exactly helpful in the now. Unless of course… maybe…

Arno wasn't that old, in his memories. He'd be in his thirties, his forties maybe, now? If he lived. If he existed.

Desmond lets the hope rise and then meditates on it, examining it. Part of him is still hoping he might find Assassins here. Part of him is still looking for his ancestors in the real world. The ones he knew or maybe new ones. Maybe anyone would do.

He should probably stop that.

With a sigh Desmond lets go and gets back to work. It would be another long month of watching the channel and waiting. In that sense, another ancestor to keep him company is almost welcome… even one as increasingly bitter as Arno Dorian.


 

Eleven months in the new world and seven on board the HMS Impulsive. Time seems to stretch on in the channel, growing longer and longer, as they count the bells and wait for something. There is something coming. They can all sense it. Or maybe it's just Desmond and some vague sense of future-memory of long-dead-not-yet-born ancestor who knew about this time. It feels like calm before the storm either way, and he doesn't like it.

Arno's memories do little to make him feel any more settled. At least Edward had moments of joy in there, even if it came with plundering other people for their riches. Arno's life is just… dour and sad and bitter in that perfectly French way that makes it almost sweet. Like wine, heady and deadly.

Desmond thinks the guy might be getting to him. Either that, or he's going insane with the silence. There haven't even been any ship battles, and as much as he dislikes the looks he gets after a good bit of action, it would be almost a relief, to let off some steam.

"What has you so wound up, Mr. Miles?" the bosun, Stephens, asks, watching him pace.

"I have no idea," Desmond says. "The quiet, maybe. I guess I miss action."

"The devil craves blood," someone mutters in the background, and it's almost a joke – except for the fact that no one's laughing.

Stephens sends the deckhands a glare and then folds his arms. "Well, if you're so at loose ends, you can give the boys some lessons with a sword. They could do with being whipped into better shape."

That makes a lot of the seamen's faces go pale, and even the few marines on board look a little ill at ease. Desmond hesitates for a moment and then someone in the back mutters, "Well, I am not a coward," to someone else's whispering and steps forward. "I'll take you on and I will take all you can teach me and thank you for it, if it makes me live longer."

And so they spar. It settles something in Desmond he didn't realise he was missing. Something of Altaïr and Ezio, the teacher in them. They all but hum within him as he takes up a sword, taken from a French man and never returned, and starts teaching his opponent how to wield it.

The deckhand survives the beating, if with bruises. It encourages some others to try it too, and soon it becomes a thing, to end a night in swordplay rather than in drinking and singing. Well, the sailors still drink. They're sailors. But they drink while watching Desmond kick the asses of their fellows, so it's a bit more entertaining.

It does nothing to settle the nervous tension in Desmond. There's something coming, and he can't quite grasp at the ancestors who know what it is.


 

And then there is the Battle of Trafalgar – and an invasion. Twelve months in the new world, eight on board the HMS Impulsive, and in one fell swoop a French dragon comes down and sets the whole ship on fire.

It happens almost too fast to make any sense. One moment there is nothing going on, the other there are dragons, ludicrous amount of dragons, flying overhead, far too high for their pepper guns to reach. And before any of them can properly react to it, or the bizarre sight of dragons carrying massive hulls over head… the Impulsive is suddenly on fire, and there's little they can do but abandon the ship.

Desmond is left with the rest of the survivors watching their ship sink burning into the ocean while above head dragons carry goddamn airships over the sparsely guarded channel and towards Britain. The only comfort they have is that after setting the Impulsive on fire, the dragons overhead don't seem to care about them much. It's not like they're in any state to offer them any opposition at this point.

"What happens now?" one of the young midshipmen asks, huddled nervously against Desmond's side. "Are they going to invade?"

"Obviously they're invading. Look at those things," a seaman says and motions to the ships flying over head. "They must be filled to the brink with men, ready to take British cities and towns. And Nelson's fleet is back at Trafalgar and we're without ship and can't do anything!"

"However did they get the beasts to do that?" someone murmurs. "How can they do that, how is that possible?"

"Dragons can carry several tons, and it looks like there's several heavyweights one each ship," Desmond says. "They can do it easily, really."

It doesn't seem to comfort anyone much.

"We must head for Britain, for Dover," someone says, the second lieutenant. "It might take time, but there might yet be something we can do, when we arrive. They mean to invade, and lord help us if we make it easy for them."

So they head back, as fast as they can on the skiff... which really isn't all that fast. Desmond peers up at the dragons flying above and wonders again, not for the first time, why aren't they the dominant species of the planet. Seriously, just looking at them… they should be.

"This world is so strange," he muses, making the men around cast him some alarmed looks.

Of course, they're late to the invasion – late to seeing it being repelled back, almost miraculously, by British dragons. There are broken dragons and broken ships on the shores of Dover when they reach it, but no French army making a foothold. The men of the long lost Impulsive are disappointed about having missed the action, but Desmond just sighs.

It seems about the right way to end his first year in this new, strange world.

Chapter Text

Following the Impulsive's sinking and the French's failed attempt of invasion of Britain, Desmond is mostly at loose ends for most of November. He sticks to Dover, helping with repairs and whatnot of the shoreline, but aside from that he didn't have much to do. Mostly he's just idle. And starving.

His pay for the months onboard the Impulsive sank with the ship, after all, and with the officers and warrant officers to be resituated it's not as if anyone cares about the pay of lowly pretty officers.

He's not particularly bothered by it. People of Dover are easy enough to pickpocket, and the downtime gives him the opportunity to do something he couldn't do much of on board the Impulsive – research.

Though he's not too hopeful about finding Assassins, not really, he still looks into Arno Dorian as much he can, trying to cross reference events here with what he's seen in his dreams of the man. Sadly, it's not as if the British have much in way of details when it comes to the French, and the grand picture of history doesn't say much. Bastille was a thing here, but whether Arno Dorian was incarcerated there for the murder of a Templar… no clue.

Templars as the order pop up, but only as order of knights, not a secret society of would be world dominators. They're still technically around, but more as a gentlemen's club as far as Desmond can tell. He's pretty sure his Templar order wouldn't be caught dead being thought of as a gentlemen's club. They wouldn't survive the humiliation.

He turns his research to other things, flexing his improving French by reading books in the language and working on his pronunciation, when he gets conscripted, once more, into the Navy. To be honest though, he was kind of waiting for it to happen sooner or later – His Majesty's Royal Navy doesn't let good sailors go easily.

It's his old bosun who does the recruiting, again. "I'll be going onboard the Undominable, starting next week," Stephens says. "It has a full complement though, but the old bosun is moving to a bigger ship and it's still in process of being manned. It's a first rate vessel, just the sort of thing for you."

"This sounds like there's a catch," Desmond says, noticing that though the man said first rate, he didn't mean First Rate.

Stephens gives him a look and then relents. "It's the dragon transport, HMS Allegiance, and they're headed for China."

The HMS Allegiance is a behemoth of a ship, especially compared to the likes of itty bitty Impulsive and to the even smaller Jackdaw. The Allegiance has four tall masts, hundred and fifty guns and is in total just a little over four hundred feet in length. One of the biggest ships in the navy, it looks absolutely colossal, looming over the smaller ships in Dover harbour.

Stephens seems to think there's something almost embarrassing about being assigned to the thing – it had a very hasty crew change because the captain slated for the thing had heard it was bound for China and suddenly became unavailable to accept the posting. Probably because of the potential length of the journey, which would at least take a year.

Desmond kind of loves the humongous ship at first glance, and takes the posting as petty officer offered to him without too much hesitation.

"I've heard – well. Things about you," the Master at Arms, Cornell, says while the bosun looks on with a frown. "Stephens calls you the best fighter he's seen. You think there's any truth to that, Mr. Miles?"

"I can say I'm not the best fighter I've ever seen, sir," Desmond says honestly.

The Master at Arms scoffs. "Good answer."


 

The third dragon Desmond sees up close is a British heavyweight – except apparently he isn't. There's some political nonsense going on about the dragon, hence the reason why an incredibly valuable dragon transport is being sent across the world and to China. The dragon is about all Desmond sees, really, for a really long time.

Allegiance isn't at all like the Impulsive was. Not only is the crew mostly new and unused to each other, the entire ship is divided into parties, more so than usual even. It's not just the commissioned officers against the enlisted men – it's the ship's crew against the aviators against the Chinese. Because there's a Chinese delegation on board. And they seem to be fighting over the dragon.

It is a very impressive dragon, granted. Not quite as big as Praecursoris, but still huge. Much more talkative than Praecursoris had been though, and speaking English too, which means most on the ship can understand him. Not all, though. Some of the Chinese can't understand English. Or pretend they can't.

There's a lot of red flashing in the group when Desmond looks at then with Eagle Vision. Not that you need Eagle Vision to know that the Chinese prince – because there's a Chinese prince on board – isn't here to make friends. Meanwhile the aviators huddle up around their captain and their dragon and it's making the sailors nervous, and yeah. It's a mess, and Desmond is glad it's not his mess.

Until it is, anyway.

The attack begins in the dead of the night, too dark for anyone to see. A dragon comes out of the darkness and then two ships, French frigates, follow it and open with battery of cannons. Everything devolves into chaos almost immediately. With the enemy only visible when they're firing and far more mobile than the big Allegiance and the French dragon being nocturnal breed, they're more than slightly outmatched in the darkened seas.

Except Desmond can see the dragon. It glows under the Eagle Vision like great red fire above head, so bright that he's not sure how it's not lighting everything up.

"Give me that," Desmond says to a shaky marine trying to load up a shot into his rifle. Not looking down from the dragon, Desmond loads the rifle and aims upwards.

The first shot goes wild, he's not familiar with the rifle's aim yet. The second shot, which he loads up with Edward's adjusted motions, hits its mark. Above them the dragon howls in sudden alarm and pain, winging away into the darkness wildly.

"Damn," Desmond murmurs. "Not strong enough to make it through the skull, huh?" Well, the dragon definitely didn't like his – or her – eye being shot out anyway. Hopefully that would keep them back for a bit.

The marine gives him a wide eyed look as Desmond hands his firearm back and goes to see if there's anything he can do to help the gun crews.

The gunnery continues though, and there's still work to do. The ships are still firing and the British/Chinese dragon can't get at them, unable to see in the darkness or safely get his crew on board.

And then the Chinese start shooting up fireworks – and under their light Desmond can see one of the Chinese delegation, watching him.


 

Capturing a prize and having both the aviators and Chinese contribute to the capture puts the crew into a slightly better mood for the following month. There's still muttering and insults being thrown where no one can hear, but having captured a ship is always good for morale.

It's hard to say if the Chinese think it's good or bad luck, the battle, but whatever. Definitely doesn't make them sympathetic to the French, which in turn makes the British, who are engaged in the action of trying to please the delegation and their order happy. The whole thing is a big mess of elbow rubbing and attempt of overtures of friendship or whatever, and really really not Desmond's problem – not until one of the Chinese approaches him.

"You shot a dragon's eye out," the man says via a translator. "In the dark."

"Lucky shot," Desmond says awkwardly – the Chinese aren't really minding who's overhearing them, which is most of the current watch, really.

"Sun Kai saw your take aim," the Chinese man says while the men around them start leaning in with interest. "And it hit. You can see in dark – you have Lung de Yanjing."

Desmond blinks. "I'm sorry – I have what?"

"Lung de Yanjing," the translator says and then hesitates, looking at the heavyset Chinese man he's translating for. The man says something impatiently in Chinese and the translator tries again. "The Dragon's Eye?" the translator offers hesitantly.

Desmond blinks – and then he thinks he gets it. He can feel his own confusion fall from his face with the realisation and the heavyset Chinese man nods in obvious satisfaction.

"The honourable Liu Bao invites you to have tea with him," the translator says with a slight bow. "He would very much like to learn about your family."

"I am currently on duty and can't leave my post," Desmond says slowly, as the potential trouble he might be in all of a sudden dawns on him. "Another time perhaps?"

The honourable Liu Bao doesn't seem happy about it but he nods admirably enough, saying something. "After your duties are done, then," the translator says. "Honourable Liu Bao will be looking forward to seeing you later, sir."

Well, Desmond thinks watching them walk away. Shit.


 

The word goes around almost immediately, and suddenly Desmond is dealing with not only rumours and the marines giving him weird looks, but also Captain Riley of the Allegiance, Captain Laurence of Temeraire – the dragon – and also Arthur Hammond, the representative of the British government who's been trying to make nice with the Chinese delegation.

"This is Desmond Miles, the Master at Arms' mate," Captain Riley introduces him. "Formerly of HMS Impulsive, wasn't, Mr. Miles?"

"Yes, sir – she was sunk in the invasion," Desmond agrees.

"Your accent – you are American?" Hammond asks sharply.

"Thereabouts, yes," Desmond agrees.

"Mr. Miles, we heard that the Chinese delegation made – overtures towards you concerning your actions during the Valeriè engagement," Captain Laurence says slowly, looking vaguely harassed. "Is there any truth in this?"

"Man named Liu Bao asked me to have tea with him, yes," Desmond agrees. "I was told he expected to see me after my duties for the day were done."

"Do you speak Chinese?" Hammond asks.

Desmond clears his throat, awkward. Not yet, probably. He's got a feeling it's about to change, soon. "Sirs, if you don't want me to go, I'll be happy not to. I got the feeling they weren't taking no for an answer, though."

The three men hesitate.

"Why do you think the Chinese are taking interest in you, Mr. Miles?" Captain Laurence asks very carefully.

"Oh, hang it," Captain Riley says. "Mr. Miles, there are rumours and the men are talking, I'm sure you are aware. Let's not beat around the bush – what is this about you having dragon's eyes?"

Desmond very carefully  doesn't make a face. "I couldn't say, sir," he says. "I made a shot with a rifle during the engagement and the Chinese took it to mean that I can see in the dark."

There a moment if silence. "Most of the crew were making shots in the dark," Riley then says.

"Yes, sir – but I actually hit," Desmond admits. Which, now that he thinks about… how did the Chinese know he did? There was the noise the Fleur-de-Nuit made, sure, but the Chinese couldn't have seen him make the hit… unless they did see.

"It is obviously something of note among the Chinese culture," Hammond says. "Which we do not know about. A real phenomenon or not, I say we take advantage of the opportunity presented to us. Mr. Miles," he says. "Please accept Liu Bao's invitation with as much grace as you can manage and say that you will be delighted to join him for tea at eight bells tonight. I will join you as your translator."

"Er," Desmond answers and casts a look at his captain. He's not as struct about navy protocol as the natives of the time, but it's still a bit much to have a civilian giving him orders just like that.

Captain Riley makes a face. "We have been ordered to make this journey as pleasant and amiable for our Chinese guests as possible," he says. "I fear you must, Mr. Miles. Be on your best behaviour and do not put the Royal Navy to shame."

"No, sir," Desmond says.


 

Hammond drills him on the political situation before the tea with Honourable Liu Bao, which doesn't make the rumours about Desmond any better, probably. Apparently Temeraire, the dragon, was given by the Chinese to Napoleon but was captured on the way by Captain Laurence, formerly of His Majesty's Navy. Chinese aren't happy about their actual Imperial Dragon being in the hands of non royal man who wasn't the dragon's intended partner, and so they came to demand him back. Both Laurence and Temeraire refused to be separated, there was a political kerfuffle, and in the end it was decided that if Temeraire wouldn't go without Captain Laurence, then Laurence would go with him. Which is what they're doing now.

"I have been trying to broker any sort of agreement," Hammond says. "It's a great opportunity, but the Chinese won't hear my suggestions and ignore my requests for a meeting – aside from Captain Laurence, you are the first one they have had any interest in talking with."

"Lucky me," Desmond says.

"We must be cordial," Hammond says. "Pray talk about the shipping in Canton, how difficult it is."

"I'm sorry?" Desmond asks, giving him a confused look. What does Canton and shipping have to do with the dragon?

"We must begin the groundwork for better trade agreements," Hammond says earnestly. "Captain Laurence's situation is the best chance we have of brokering new treaty and opening more Chinese ports for British trade."

Yeah, that makes more sense. Britain being Britain, huh.

Oh course, Liu Bao won't hear a word of it, and there's no way to to open the subject either. He doesn't even want to talk about the dragon, though, which Desmond is vaguely relieved about – he doesn't know much about him, really, the aviators are kind of jealous about letting sailors near the beast. No, Liu Bao doesn't care about that. He wants to talk about Desmond's family – and the Dragon's Eye.

"You have always had it?" the Chinese translator asks while Hammond squirms with the questions he can't ask.

"I'm not sure what you mean by it," Desmond says slowly. "Can you clarify what you mean by, uh, the Dragon's Eye?"

There's a bit of translating back and forward and the translator explains, "The ability to see allegiances and spot hidden things, to see men and beasts even in darkness and smoke," the translator says and Liu Bao says something more. "To find that which you look for, no matter what stands in your way. You have this ability, yes?"

Yeah, they're definitely talking about Eagle Vision. "I," Desmond says slowly, not sure if he can confirm or if he should deny. There's no Assassins here as far as he knows, but at least the Grand Temple is here, which means the Precursors were a thing, once upon a time. So it makes sense that Eagle Vision might exist too, but… "I didn't know it was called that," he says hesitantly.

"It comes from dragons, of course," Liu Bao says. "Gift given to the Descendants of Dragons by the Four Kings."

"I – see," Desmond says, a little lost for word.

"It is quite noteworthy," Liu Bao says and gives him a look, strange and sharp. "But tell me about yourself, young man. Your family, did they send you to the sea?"

"No, sir," Desmond says. "I don't have family to send me anywhere. I sort of just ended up here."

"But you are British?"

"More American, actually," Desmond says and then explains. "I come from the New World – New York specifically. I'm not a British citizen."

"But you serve on a British vessel," Liu Bao comments confusedly.

"I was conscripted, when I lost my post on a merchant vessel," Desmond answers while Hammond tries to communicate to him to shut up. "American sailors are regularly recruited to serve in the British Navy. It happens."

Liu Bao hums. "And you know nothing of your family?" he asks, thoughtful. "You aren't as pale as the English. Surely that means something..."

"I know some," Desmond says carefully. "But why do you want to know?"

"A man should always know his lineage so that he can honour his ancestors," Liu Bao says jovially, even while eying Desmond with deep, almost unnerving interest. "To know one's roots is to know where one's branches might grow. Do you know your roots, Lungyan?"


 

After that, Desmond comes to know another ancestor – which isn't really surprising. With all the Chinese going on, if there was any Chinese ancestry in his blood, it was bound to come through sooner or later. It's still a bit of a surprise though.

Because Shao Jun is the first of his ancestors who is a woman.

She comes to him almost humbly, after all of Arno's bitterness, sliding into his mind almost as if with a bow and sitting down to give him her knowledge. Desmond ends up waking up feeling less like he had slept and more like he'd spent the whole night in meditation. It's actually kind of nice.

There's no way to explain how he's suddenly on his way to understanding of the intricate Mandarin spoken by the Chinese delegation, so he doesn't, pretending he's just as deaf to it as he was before. It's the easiest way to go about it, really, and there's already enough rumours going about him on the ship. And the Chinese are just sort of… watching him. Not just Liu Bao, but others too. Even the Chinese prince, Yongxing, gives him a long suspicious look when the man comes across him. Really not helping with the rumours.

Well, at least the Allegiance doesn't have other sailors from the Impulsive and no one's calling him the devil yet. Here's hoping it stays that way.

And then, when Christmas comes and Captain Laurence extends the invitation to the Chinese to join the officers in Christmas dinner, the Chinese insist Desmond be present.


 

Ezio is a godsend when it comes to the dinner. Desmond has never had to attend any sort of formal dinner in his life, but though the manners of Renaissance Italy are a bit different from Napoleonic era Britain, they're still better than anything he knows, and Ezio had enough courtly dinners in his youth to guide Desmond in selecting the right cutlery for the right courses.

None of his ancestors are any use when it comes to dinner conversation though. The other sailors have anecdotes and keep the conversation going despite the awkward stiffness of the Chinese guests, but Desmond doesn't have much to say, really, no exciting stories he can share. Well, he would have stories aplenty, but – really. Who would believe him?

Mostly he just tries to keep his head down and not make a fool out of himself. It's just one night and then he can go back to being a nobody. Hopefully.

"I heard about you," a midshipman sitting left of him, who is easily too young to be drinking as much as he is, says to him suddenly. "They talked about you, the others from the Impulsive. They said things. That you fight like a demon."

"Not really polite table conversation, that," Desmond says awkwardly, while the Chinese – who are watching him almost as closely as they are watching Captain Laurence – murmur amongst themselves.

"They say you're strange," the drunken midshipman says, trying for an accusing whisper, but it's loud. "Below decks. Sitting around doing nothing, staring at nothing like your mind's left you. Being queer. And now this with the Chinese. You're barely more than a seaman – what makes you so special?"

Ah. So it's not the rumours per say, just the whole thing about common seaman being seated at the officers' table. Desmond had gotten looks for it, and it's obvious that the officers don't approve – Captain Riley isn't too happy either and Captain Laurence looks downright awkward. Desmond doesn't belong at this table and they all feel it.

It would probably be deeply humiliating if he really cared about that sort of thing.

"Just luck, I guess," Desmond says.

The midshipman scoffs and takes another drink. "It ain't right," he mumbles. "Chinese inviting common seaman to the Captain's table. It ain't right at all."

Great, Desmond thinks. Now he will have to deal with resentment from the officers to, what fun.

"You do not appreciate the Dragon's Eye?" a sharp voice asks, and the dinner conversation halts awkwardly – is said over other conversations and aimed at the end of the table where Desmond is sitting.

It's prince Yongxing – speaking in Mandarin which the translator quickly repeats in English.  "It does not give you prestige?"

There's hesitant silence at that as the officers exchange looks and Hammond frowns in frustration. Though he'd been present when Desmond and Liu Bao had talked about it, he obviously didn't understand or believe what he heard.

"Pardon, your highness," Hammond says awkwardly. "In our country we do not have the concept of the, er, Dragon's Eye. We do not know what you mean by it."

"Then it is unknown," Yongxing says and narrows his eyes at Desmond. "What proof have we that you have been blessed with it at all?"

Liu Bao clears his throat and there's something there. Desmond blinks slowly and then looks at them in Eagle Vision, curious. Liu Bao glows blue – as does another Chinese man, one Desmond didn't know. Yongxing glows red, as do some men at his side. The rest are settled in neutral grays and whites. Some differences of opinion between the party maybe, political differences even.

Captain Laurence glows golden, though, the first person Desmond has seen in this time with the colour. Huh.

Desmond blinks the Eagle Vision out and finds Yongxing glaring at him. The Chinese are all staring at him, actually. Well, shit. Can they tell when someone's using Eagle Vision? Desmond could never figure out if there was a tell – he'd only ever seen it from the inside. Somehow, Yongxing at least knows. And oh boy does he not like it.

Well then. Something about Eagle Vision is politically important. Desmond has a really really bad feeling he knows what it is.

There's a screech of chair and Yongxing stands up. He doesn't say anything, he just leaves, servants quickly hurrying to clear a path and open doors for him. Desmond looks after him, vaguely disappointed.

There really are no Assassins here, then. Pity.

"Well," Captain Riley says awkwardly. "There is still more food to go around – please," he motions to his guests to eat.

It takes a while for conversation to resume. Under the glare of Captain Riley and the lieutenants, no one engages Desmond in conversation again. The Chinese keep watching him.


 

The aftermath of the dinner isn't very fun. The seamen aren't happy with him having been invited to the Captain's cabin. The officers aren't happy with how the Chinese invited guests to a dinner they themselves were guests in. The aviators aren't happy that no name seaman is getting attention from the Chinese when the whole trip is about their dragon. The Captains and Hammond aren't happy not fully understanding why the Chinese are interested him.

But Desmond survived it with all his limbs attached and no one making attempts on his life, so he considers it a success. He spends the rest of the night digesting the heavy food and the implications by meditating on Shao Jun and trying to get some grasp of Chinese court politics and figure out how he should proceed from here. He's obviously gotten into something with the Chinese imperial court, somehow, just by having Eagle Vision, so how…

Shao Jun lived three hundred years ago, or thereabout, though. She was a member of the Ming Dynasty, not the current Qing Dynasty. And of course, she came from the world where Eagle Vision wasn't the gift of imperial family – it was the secret of Assassins.

Still, her thoughts slide over his, whispering of court politics and intrigue, murder and betrayal, and what Yongxing might be and what he might be after. It's a strange thing, to her, for Imperial Prince to be so far from home with such a sparse entourage. He hardly has any guards, his servants are few, and his party is obviously split. It smacks of desperation – and of disrespect. Surely, a true prince of China even in this new court she doesn't know would be treated better than Yongxing is being treated.

There is something amiss, Shao Jun's thoughts say. Either that, or there is something afoot.

And Desmond has stepped right into it, without meaning to. What it means to the Qing dynasty to have the Eagle Vision – or Dragon's Eye – he isn't sure, but it's a serious thing. Serious offence too, maybe, for an outsider to have it.

Stay on guard, Shao Jun murmurs. For you matter little and yet might pose a threat. And men have been killed for less.


 

Watching from the distance how Yongxing recites poetry to Temeraire the next morning – in smooth, courtly Mandarin, Desmond can't help but wonder. If he, just by having Eagle Vision, might pose a threat, what is Captain Laurence's situation, then. The guy is a game piece on Hammond's board and Yongxing obviously sees the guy as a nuisance and a hindrance. And Captain Laurence obviously feels it too, if the guy's jealous and helpless expression is anything to go by.

And still William Laurence glows gold, as does his dragon. Important, every shred of Desmond says. These ones are important.

He starts taking more interest in the Aviators and the plight of Captain Laurence after that, keeping a side eye on them and wondering if Yongxing might get annoyed enough with Laurence to try to remove him. His entourage is mostly servants and politicians, it looks like, but Desmond can sense the danger in some of them. They don't carry weapons, maybe the British forbade it, he isn't sure… but they're not harmless.

The interest he shows doesn't go unnoticed. And it doesn't help that some machination of the Chinese has made the members of the Aerial Corps idle more often than not, which doesn't exactly make the already annoyed and territorial sailors of the Allegiance happy.

"Thinking you should be there, eh, rubbing elbows with your betters?" one of the seamen from the lower decks, a man who Desmond doesn't know by name, says to him, catching him watching Yongxing on the dragon deck with Captain Laurence. "Methinks you're starting to get big for your boots, Miles."

Desmond turns to look at the man. He's not alone, there are other men, other seamen, hovering about the shadows of the steps leading down and under the deck. Men of the first watch, it looks like, who'd been on deck to see the aftermath of the Christmas dinner – including him leaving it. There'd been muttering then, but now…

There had been bouts of unhappiness and even fighting on the Impulsive, but nothing that ever actually touched him. The first action they had against the French made men choose to not include him in their fights. On board the Allegiance Desmond hasn't had any chance for swordplay, and though there are some rumours circulating, like the midshipman from the dinner said, they're not quite as… meaningful here.

"Think very hard if you really want to do this with me," Desmond says quietly.

"You think you're so tough," the seaman grumbles. "Think you're fucking special. Think you're better than us. Hah. Fucking – American pisspot."

Arno rears his head at that and Desmond feels his face go hard.

"Alright," he says and steps down the stairs. "Let's have at it, then."

It's not much in a way of fight, really, and he's left alone after he bests all four men without breaking a sweat. It's a prelude for what's to come though – the Allegiance isn't in terribly good shape, tensions running high, and with the Chinese stirring the pot and the Aviators sitting around idle while Sailors work… it'll be only a matter of time before there will be more than just infighting.

Desmond finds himself missing the dull months on board the HMS Impulsive.


 

"Mr. Miles? Are you Mr. Miles?"

Desmond looks up from where he was attending to some swords – which a lot of the sailors are now leaving to him, rusted and busted up, because, of course, as the Master of Arms' Mate it's his job to tend to them, isn't it? The attempt at hazing would be more annoying if Desmond didn't actually enjoy the work. Something about arms maintenance puts all the Assassins inside him at ease.

It's an aviator, a young one, one of the runners maybe, who's foolishly came below decks and into the quarters of the seamen.

"Yes, I'm Miles," Desmond says, wary, and puts the whetstone down. "What can I do for you, kid?"

"Captain Laurence asked me to find you," the runner says, a little breathless. "He asks if you would join him on the dragon deck, he has something he wants to ask you."

Desmond watches the kid, and, then it dawns on him – it's a girl. It's barely noticeable, she wears the exact same uniform as the rest of the Aviators, but it's definitely a girl under the uniform. Huh.

He puts the sword he was working on away and stands up. "By all means," he says. "Did you have trouble finding me?"

"A little – no one would say where you were," the girl admits awkwardly and turns to leave, Desmond following shortly after her, wondering. He's pretty sure this isn't a thing that generally happens in this time. Maybe, like, rarely, but not legally. Things are still like… all hoity-toity and ridiculous when it comes to women, right? Pretty sure they generally don't serve in military.

"You got a name?" Desmond asks curiously while following the runner up the stairs.

"Roland, sir."

No first name, huh. "Good to meet you, Roland," Desmond says and ignores the scoff a passing sailor sends his way.

Captain Laurence is waiting by Temeraire when Desmond arrives, looking troubled. "Thank you, Mr. Roland," the dragon Captain says and the girl nods and scampers off without further dismissal, leaving Desmond alone with the man – and his dragon. "Mr. Miles," the Captain says. "Thank you for coming."

"What can I do for you, Captain?" Desmond asks.

The man hesitates and then motions Desmond to join him by the railing, where they will be a little further away from everyone else on the dragon deck. Increasingly curious, Desmond moves to join the man.

"In the past there have been mentions of this… Dragon Eye which you supposedly possess," the man says, while Temeraire himself shifts on the deck and leans over them, to listen in. "I can't say I have put much in store for this supposed ability, but now it's come to my attention that…" Laurence hesitates and looks up to his dragon. "You know the cause for our voyage, I assume?"

"Roughly speaking, sir," Desmond agrees and eyes the man. "Your dragon's breed is exclusive to the imperial family – and all in the imperial family have Dragon's Eye, huh?" And without it, the man's probably considered unsuitable.

Laurence gives him a wincing nod, almost grimacing before he smothers it under his palm. The guy looks weary. "Can you tell me what it is that I am supposedly lacking?" he says, casting Desmond a look. "The Chinese are under the impression that you possess it, but they refuse to tell me how they know, or truly explain what it is. Prince Yongxing spoke of it to Temeraire, but…"

"It seemed perfectly clear to me," the dragon himself says, ruffling his wings slightly. "How else can you tell friends from foes?" he asks. "Especially people. You're all so small."

"You mean," Desmond says, a little choked, "you – have it?"

The dragon huffs. "I am a dragon, aren't I? Of course I do," he says imperiously. "Only, I didn't know it is not how people see things. I suppose it makes sense, how people get fooled by traitors and deserters now, since they can't tell, but – Laurence, surely you see?"

The captain shakes his head helplessly. "I have no idea what you are even talking about, my dear," he says and then looks at Desmond.

Desmond stares at the dragon. "Oh," he says, very faint as he suddenly gets it.

So, that's why dragons aren't the dominant species of the planet.

Not anymore, anyway.

Chapter Text

So were the Precursors always dragons here, or did they change themselves into dragons? Juno was researching the way to move Precursor minds into stronger, more durable bodies, and they did have proven skills in genetic engineering, so it's not something Desmond can dismiss off hand. There's still so much about the Precursors he doesn't know and can only guess at. Though if they were dragons always, does that mean they, what, took the shape of humans – and gods – to communicate with lesser mortals like Desmond?

The whole thing makes his head spin a little. Especially since from what he's seen from Temeraire and heard from the Chinese, most of whom talk freely whenever British are around because no one is expected to understand them… in Britain dragons aren't treated terribly well. Yongxing certainly goes on about the indignities of how dragons are treated like common livestock in Britain, penned and chained like dogs. Not like in China, where dragons are citizens. Western people are all barbarians.

"In United States dragons are citizens too," Desmond comments, listening as Temeraire explains this to Captain Laurence, who looks a bit like he wants to jump into the ocean. They both turn to him and Desmond shrugs. "I think. I used to work with a dragon in Boston Harbour, named Jackson. We loaded and unloaded cargo together."

"You mean, the harbour had a dragon working in it?" Laurence says rather helplessly. "I imagine his captain worked there also? I heard that in the United States not all dragons are military."

"She didn't have a captain from what I could tell," Desmond shrugs. "She just worked there, it was her job."

Both Temeraire and Captain Laurence look at him uncertainly.

"She was paid," Desmond clarifies. "Three times my salary too, which she wouldn't shut up about. It was kind of a surprise coming to Britain and learning that it's not done the same there. I mean, Jackson did the work of several men with technically quarter of the cost, why wouldn't you use a dragon? And how would you get them to do what you want without paying?"

Knowing what he knows about dragons he's just not getting how it works and why dragons of Temeraire's size world subject themselves to anything less. It makes even less sense now than it did before, really. It's a bit like finding gods doing community service.

Desmond looks up to see Temeraire looking both intrigued and affronted and Laurence looking horrified. "Duty and loyalty," the man says hastily. "All men and beasts in service of a nation should be obliged to serve their country – regardless of personal gain."

Desmond eyes him dubiously – he's pretty sure that Aviators also get paid for their loyalty and service, even Captains. "I'll take your word for it, Captain," he says.

"How much was she paid?" Temeraire and with interest, leaning in with interest. "And was she really feral – and they let her among the people even though she was feral?"

Desmond blinks at him. "She was paid three dollars a day – what do you mean by feral, what's that?"

"It means that she didn't take to a captain," Temeraire says. "Feral dragons are all unmanageable, they say, and won't take orders from men. They thought I was a feral dragon at the start, because I didn't have much of a harness, but of course I have my Laurence so I am not feral. If this Jackson didn't have a captain she'd be feral – but she still lived among men?"

"I don't really know where she lived, she flew to work," Desmond says wryly, watching him a bit warily. "So if feral dragons can't live around people, where do they live?"

"They're sent to the breeding grounds, which to me sounds like the worst thing imaginable," Temeraire says, flattening his ruff. "I understand it's a field somewhere."

Desmond blinks. "What, you're put out to pasture – like animals?"

"That's quite enough, Mr. Miles," Captain Laurence says hastily, giving him a severe look. "I didn't invite you to the dragon deck to discuss the living situations of dragons. I wanted to learn what you know of the Dragon's Eye, and if you have nothing more to offer than unrelated remarks…"

"No, no, I'll tell you. As much as I can. Though you should know it's not something you can learn, not unless you already have predisposition to it," Desmond's says.

"Yongxing says it's hereditary," Temeraire says anxiously. "And that's why Laurence will never have it, he's not related to the Imperial family." Judging by his expression, Yongxing said more than that, but Temeraire isn't willing to repeat it.

"Well, he's not wrong," Desmond agrees slowly. And if dragons are descendants of Precursors and not like… precursors turning themselves into dragons, then there was probably no crossbreeding there. Which would mean that all those with Eagle Vision – or Dragon's Eye – resulted from intentional genetic engineering, like what Juno implied she'd done to Desmond, which... alright.

Desmond really needs to get his hands on a Precursor Vault and shake up whoever resides there for answers.

"If you don't have that inheritance, I can't teach the ability to you," Desmond says. "No more than I can change your eye colour. And there's no real clear and easy way to explain what it is unless you have it."

Laurence blows out a breath. "I would be grateful if you could tell me anything at all about it, anything at all," he says. "All I know if that it's a way to see a man's allegiances and hidden things."

"No, that's not really right," Desmond says. "It's specific to the one who is using the sight, really. You can tell people who are on your side, people who are your enemies and so forth – it doesn't specifically have anything to do with national allegiances. Well, it might for the Chinese, if among them only the imperial family has the ability," Desmond says with a thoughtful frown.

"But how does it work?" Laurence asks with something like desperation.

"You just look and then you look again," Temeraire says helpfully. "And you see hues that weren't there before. People are painted with them. It is how I knew you would be mine – because among all in Reliant, only you were painted golden."

Desmond arches a brow. "You used the Dragon's Eye to choose Captain Laurence as your Captain?" he asks curiously.

"I am a dragon, I used my eyes," Temeraire says, and nuzzles at his helplessly confused Captain fondly. Laurence is almost knocked over by the show of draconic affection.

"Huh," Desmond says, filling that titbit away. He'll need to find out more about dragons and how they choose Captains, definitely. And whether they all do it this way. "And Captain Laurence glowed golden?"

"He still does," Temeraire agrees happily. "It is the most wonderful colour."

"Huh," Desmond says and considers the man – who under Eagle Vision glows golden to him too. And if Temeraire the ultra rare special dragon with a lineage of Dragon Eyed companions or whatever in the imperial family sees the man as golden and important and chooses him because of it... "That might be a good sign," Desmond says slowly, eying captain Laurence with interest. "You might actually have some hope there, Captain."

"You mean –?" Temeraire asks, exhilarated.

"I'm not hundred percent sure," Desmond says thoughtfully. "But these things usually don't happen without reason. Captain Laurence might have the inclination for it."

"I'm glad to hear it," the man says, helplessly, and is then almost knocked over by a happy dragon.


 

It doesn't make the situation on the ship any easier for Desmond as far as the other sailors go – oh boy, do they not like him getting along with the aviator Captain. The Chinese don't look terribly happy about it either, Yongxing giving him increasingly narrow and dark looks whenever Desmond goes on deck after his work for the day is done. Things will come to head sooner or later, but Desmond doesn't really care.

Working with Temeraire and Laurence to try and awaken some semblance of Eagle Vision in the man is fascinating. It's the closest to home Desmond had felt since the last time he popped out if the Animus. Laurence might never be an Assassin, but still… teaching someone about the Eagle Vision is very nostalgic to so many people inside Desmond.

Except for the fact that Laurence obviously doesn't believe a word coming from his mouth, despite how hard he tries. The man is a proper British gentleman through and through and he doesn't put any stock in such nonsense as extrasensory perception and sixth sense. And it isn't like Desmond can throw a handy dandy crisis at the man to awaken dormant abilities by forced mortal necessity.

"Alright, let's try another approach," Desmond says while Laurence rubs at his eyes, which he was probably staining in the attempt of seeing the hues Temeraire was telling him about. "Even though it's called Dragon's Eye, is only partially eye-based sight, it's more to do with the mind. Maybe meditation will help you a bit."

"I beg your pardon?" Laurence asks with a sigh.

"It's a mental discipline practice," Desmond says. "Of calming your mind – oriental, as it happens. It's helped me with some, er, related issues," and it's probably helping him with the Eagle Vision to, not that he's had much chance to test it. "Maybe it will help you too."

"Does it involve glaring at people as much as your previous attempt?" Laurence asks wryly.

"No, actually, you clear your mind and try and not to think anything, nothing at all," Desmond says and gives him a crooked smile. "Clear your mind off all rights and worried and maybe… maybe it will come to you."

"I don't know," Laurence says dubiously. "How is that supposed to help with my vision?"

"It helps with thinking," Desmond says. "Which in turn helps everything else you do. Gives you clarity – also helpful when you're feeling stressed." Like the Captain obviously is.

"Can dragons do it as well?" Temeraire asks with interest.

"I don't see why not," Desmond shrugs. "You try it and tell me how it goes."

"I think I shall," the dragon says determinedly.

Laurence gives him a dubious look, but his eyes are also a little bloodshot, which is probably what makes him agree to it. Which then forces Desmond to try and teach the man something he's only vaguely familiar with and probably isn't doing right anyway.

"Just take a comfortable sitting position, close your eyes and… try and not to think anything," Desmond says, sitting down cross-legged on the deck and resting hands on his knees. "Concentrate on your breathing or the sound of the ocean and just… don't think anything.

Laurence doesn't look very confident about it. Behind him Temeraire sits up, trying for some sort of meditative position, though he can't exactly cross his legs the way Desmond has. The dragon makes a bit of a show of it, casting a single eyed glance meaningfully at his Captain before pointedly closing his eyes. Laurence snorts softly at him, but settles down, awkward and obviously embarrassed.

Desmond makes pretence of meditating too until Laurence closes his eyes and takes a deep breath and then Desmond watches him instead. It's obvious that the man becomes instantly aware of all the noises around him, wincing at burst of laughter coming from the other end of the deck and frowning. Soon the man is actually straining with the effort, his brow creasing deeper. A little after that, the man starts to sweat.

Desmond smiles wryly. "Whatever you're stressing about, stop it. It will be still there once you're done, you don't need to be thinking about it right now. Just concentrate on your breathing and let all your thoughts go. In and out."

Laurence sighs and tries and tries some more, but he also keeps wincing at all the sounds around then, especially people's voices. When there's particularly loud voice, saying something about, "I'd love to be sitting around doing nothing but some of us have work," the man opens his eyes, looking unhappy and even more stressed than before.

Desmond considers Captain Laurence's expression and then looks up at Temeraire. The dragon has his head tilted upwards and his eyes shut. Whether he is in meditation it not, he definitely enjoys the attempt more than his Captain.

"Maybe try it in your cabin, in private," Desmond says. No one would see the man there and he would have to worry about appearances so much. "You don't have to do it for long, just try it for a little bit every now and then, just for a moment. Don't force it. Give it a few days maybe, see if you get the hang of it."

Laurence frowns and then sits up, tugging at his uniform to straighten it. "I'll do so," he says. "Thank you, Mr. Miles."

"No problem, Captain."


 

While the sailors jeer at him for the meditation practice, the Chinese look far more thoughtful about it. Yongxing looks like he's been consistently getting up on the wrong side of the bed for the last month or so. Liu Bao invites Desmond to have tea again – this time, Desmond doesn't tell Hammond.

"I have seen you with Lao-ren-tze," Liu Bao says, which is then repeated in by the translator. "You are helping him in trying to open the Dragon's Eye."

"Yeah," Desmond agrees, not bothering to hide it.

"He is a grown man, and had not awakened it yet – why do you think he might have the potential?" Liu Bao asks, sounding honestly curious.

Desmond eyes his delicate tea cup and considers it, wondering. "How early did you develop it?" he asks then, eying the heavyset man thoughtfully.

"You think I have it?" Liu Bao asks with exaggerated disbelief. Then he laughs. "I have but the faintest touch of the Dragon's Gifts. I was a young boy when I gained them, very young indeed, seven or eight perhaps. It had been a long time since man of Lao-ren-tze's age gained the gift."

Desmond hums. "Temeraire told me he chose Laurence because he glowed golden," he says. "Among all the people on board the ship where he hatched. I think it wasn't without reason."

Liu Bao hums with interest. "Did he, indeed," he murmurs and takes a drink. "Very interesting. I really must ask about the man's heritage, maybe there's an ancestor there yet – no, don't repeat that," he says to the translator, who then stops at very interesting.

"Isn't it just," Desmond murmurs, and takes a sip of the tea. An ancestor, huh? "So you have a weaker form of the Dragon's Eye. What about prince Yongxing?"

"His Imperial Prince is the brother of the Son of Heaven, of course his sight is among the strongest," Liu Bao says. "He can see the invisible tracks men leave behind. It is quite remarkable. I am but a distant cousin, I can only see shadows. It has given me much along the years, aided me greatly and made my service to the Son of Heaven that much more worthy."

Desmond blinks and then bites his tongue before he can ask if anyone in the imperial family can see through walls, like Arno could, or if they've heard of Ezio's psychometry. "Impressive," he says instead.

"You can see your enemies clearly in the dark," Liu Bao then comments. "Can make a shot and hit your target without almost any light. Now that is impressive. What else can you see?"

Desmond shakes his head slowly. "Just hues," he says, carefully not giving anything away. "I can see them in the darkness, but that's about it really."

"So you cannot see anything in this?" Liu Bao asks and takes out a scroll. Under normal sight it's empty – under Eagle Vision it has really impressive calligraphy on it, writing Lung Tien Xiang. Temeraire's Chinese name, written in a way Laurence can't see.

Desmond shakes his head slowly. "I can't see anything," he says. "Sorry."

"Hmm," Liu Bao answers and it's hard to say if the man believes him or not. "It has on it a map, drawn as a dragon sees it," he says.

Tricky old man. "I'm sorry I can't see it, then," Desmond says. "Did dragon draw it as well?"

Liu Bao laughs. "The original, yes," he says and puts the calligraphy scroll away. "It's a little small for a dragon to draw. You don't seem to share your fellows’ thoughts about dragons as near dumb animals."

"I come from North America, sir," Desmond says, wondering what the man's game is. "They do things differently there."


 

Then things come to a head, because of course they do. The agitation of the sailors was about to boil over, and through they're irritated with the aviators in general, Desmond makes a good scapegoat, being far more accessible than the aviators who are sleeping separately from the sailors. So, it's him they try to take it out on.

Desmond wakes up in the middle of the night surrounded by men – an hour later he's in irons, and there are eight men being hastily treated by the ship's surgeon for concussions, bruises, split lips, broken bones and, in one case, broken ribs.

"Am I to believe," Captain Riley says through clenched teeth, "That one man jumped out of his cot and laid low the entirety of the Midwatch without a mark on him? It has been a bit much, the excuses so far, but this is ludicrous. Mr. Miles, do you have anything to say in answer to Mr. Jenkins’ accusation?"

Desmond looks at his accuser, captain of the Midwatch, Jenkins, who swallows visibly under his flat gaze. Desmond smiles wryly. "Well, sir, I'm flattered that Mr. Jenkins thinks I'm capable of something like that, but to be honest, I have no idea what happened. I just woke up to fighting, that's all."

Jenkins looks at him incredulously and then schools his expression when Captain Riley turns to him. "Well, Mr. Jenkins?"

"Sir, I –" Jenkins stammers and looks at Desmond, who behind the captain's back smiles. "I don't know what to say, Captain," the man says then, wretched and scared. "I have no excuse."

"No, I see you do not," Captain Riley says harshly. "Now get Mr. Miles out of those irons and let's get to the bottom of what actually happened and make sure that those truly responsible are punished. Go inform the quartermaster that all those who were involved will have their grog stopped until further notice. Mr. Miles, a word with you."

"Sir," Desmond says and rubs at his now freed wrists and waits until Jenkins has scurried out of the captain's cabin.

"What actually happened?" Captain Riley demands seriously. "What was the fight about?"

Desmond considers the man and then looks down at his wrists. "Me having the liberty of the dragon deck and helping Captain Laurence, Sir," he says honestly. "The men don't think I'm acting according to my station."

Riley eyes him. "Are you saying you did take part in that fight?" he asks dangerously.

"I did help to end it, sir," Desmond says awkwardly. "With as few injuries as possible. I'm just sorry I did poor job of it."

Riley scrutinizes him with narrowed eyes and then clasps his hands behind his back. "Your cooperation with the aviators does you credit, Mr. Miles. Captain Laurence is a friend of mine and former Navy man himself, and any aid my men are willing to give him in his situation is appreciated. That being said, do you think the men of the Midwatch have cause for ire?"

Desmond eyes him steadily. "Sir?"

Riley looks vaguely uncomfortable. "You have also been invited to – tea – with the Chinese more than once now," he says, looking at Desmond like he's expecting him to say something as an excuse.

Desmond had no idea what the man wants him to say, though. "Am I not allowed to?" he asks warily. "I wasn't aware we weren't allowed to accept invitations. I can tell Liu Bao that you forbade –"

"No, no, of course not," Riley says quickly and presses his lips tight together to hide a grimace. "Never mind, Mr. Miles," he says. "For whatever role you played in the fight tonight, your grog is also stopped for a week – depending on what the others have to say there may be further punishment. For now, you are dismissed."

"Sir," Desmond says mildly and bows his head, stepping out of the cabin.

Jenkins is waiting for him outside, nervous and determined. Desmond looks at him.

"Do that again," Desmond says under his breath, while stepping past the man, "and I'll be explaining to Captain Riley your mysterious disappearance after I dump your bodies into the ocean."

Whatever the man was about to say to him dies on his lips. Desmond nods, and heads below decks do get dressed.

There's still punishment, of course. The Bosun's mate starts on few of the offenders for lying and two are outright flogged. Desmond escapes with suspension of pay for a couple of days and no grog for a week.

No one dares to bother him after that.


 

Captain Laurence doesn't get the hang of meditating and Desmond isn't terribly sure how to help the guy, his own brand of meditation being more about checking out completely than calming his mind. In the end it's Liu Bao who rescues them.

The heavyset man is walking the dragon deck, stretching his legs when he spots Temeraire sitting still on his haunches, like a statue, and murmurs very appreciatively in Chinese, "Mental discipline. Very good, very good indeed."

Temeraire, who's catching Chinese like he was born speaking it, peeks one eye open. "Oh, you know what I am doing?" he asks. He still has something of an accent, but it's understandable Mandarin.

"Either you're meditating or you're sunning – and the sun is behind the clouds," Liu Bao laughs and bows his head. "I am glad to see that you have taken to our practices, Honourable Celestial Dragon Xiang. It does you credit."

Temeraire blinks. "Oh, so it is oriental practice. I did wonder," he says and sits up a bit straighter.

"Oh?" Liu Bao asks, stepping closer. "So it was not his Imperial Highness, Prince Yongxing, who taught you this? Then who…"

Temeraire cast a look at Desmond, who quickly pretends he wasn't listening in. "Mr. Miles taught me – well, he was trying to teach Laurence," Temeraire says, "Because Laurence cannot use his eyes properly yet. Mr. Miles thinks it will help."

Desmond perks up his head. "Are you talking about me?" he asks in English. "I think I heard my name in there." At least Temeraire pronounces it right. The Chinese say it more like Mai-er-si, which isn't anywhere near as cool sounding as Lao-ren-tze.

"Yes," Temeraire says in English without shame. "I told him you taught me to meditate."

"I tried, anyway," Desmond agrees and tries not to wince at the look of extreme interest Liu Bao gives him.

"You meditate, Lungyan, how very interesting," Liu Bao murmurs. "How very interesting indeed, I wasn't aware westerners were even aware of the practice. You must join me in meditation sometime."

Temeraire translates it and then looks at Liu Bao. "What is Lungyan?" he asks. "Dragon… eye?"

"It's what you call the young ones," Liu Bao says, amused, "when they come to their Sight and open the Dragon's Eye. Lungyan, after the fruit, for they are the fruits that will bear seed tomorrow."

Desmond carefully doesn't make a face, just blinks in supposed confusion. He's being called a fruit. Nice.

"Hmm. Well, I would like to join you in meditation also – or rather," Temeraire says, brightening, "you can join me here, on the deck, and we can meditate together on the Dragon's Eye"

"Splendid idea," Liu Bao says delightedly. "I will have someone fetch cushions and we'll have right at it."

"Er," Desmond says, but no one really asks for his opinion.

So, they end up meditating on the dragon deck. At least this time the sailors don't jeer at them. They don't dare to. Which Desmond almost feels let down about, because it turns out maybe he deserves it. He's even worse at the practice than he thought, and no wonder Laurence didn't get it – he's a terrible teacher too, when it comes to meditation.


 

The Allegiance ports at Cape Coast to restock and refill her water casks. It's a beautiful place to look at, especially with how ugly things have gotten on the Allegiance, all golden sands and palm trees. At the distance it looks almost lovely. Almost.

It's a bit of an awkward time, apparently, for Captains Riley and Laurence, which makes things even more awkward and tense for their crews. Maybe because Cape Coast is a slave port – it’s where the Blue Dove would've made her big purchase if she hadn't had her terrible accident. And apparently Captain Riley's family keeps slaves and Captain Laurence's family are abolitionists. Fun.

Desmond doesn't really care about the squabbles between Captains and crews – he bought his exclusion from it and people leave him out of pretty much all disagreements now. His newfound neutrality is probably why Desmond is among the people sent out to secure supplies from the town, something which he supposed is something of a reward.

Hah.

It's thanks to this reward that he's the first one to find out about a terrible murderer going around stabbing most reputable merchants and notable upstanding slave owners and their trusted guards. It's terrible, really, the things people do these days. Just terrible.

"And you didn't see anything in the turn, gentleman?" Riley asks them. "Nothing at all?"

"Not a thing sir," the Armourer's mate says, sounding shocked. "We didn't even hear about it until we came back on board."

"Did anyone see anything?" Riley demands. "There's a murderer going about the town, surely someone saw something!"

Desmond checks the list – he'd been in charge of refilling the more specialised items of the galley, spices and cheeses and such, and he's pretty happy with his haul. And no one needs to know he didn't bother buying most of them, really. Their previous owners would have no use for them in the afterlife anyway.

While captain Riley tries to get to the bottom of the Cape Coast murders, Desmond lifts up his haul and heads for the galley, humming to himself. The faster he gets the task done, the sooner he can take some down time – and he's got some personal purchases he can't wait to make use of. There's some skills he'd learned from Edward and Arno he hasn't gotten chance to use and this seems like just the place for it.

That night a merchant ship loaded up heavily with slaves, anchored not far from the Allegiance, catches unexpected and inexplicable bout of madness, as guards on its deck go completely mad and attack each other. During the chaos of slavers fighting each other, someone sneaks in and strikes the chains of all the hundreds of slaves stuck in the ship’s hull.

By morning, all the merchant vessels in the Cape Coast harbour are on fire, and there's a full on slave revolt going in the coast town. The men aboard the ship want to do something about it, but of course they can't possibly, not with the Chinese on board, not with their important diplomatic mission. So they're reduced to watching on in horror as the town all but tears itself apart and the castle is put to torch.

"What a terrible tragedy," someone mutters, watching the bodies of slavers hung on pikes by the shore.

"Yes," Desmond agrees, sharpening his sword idly, every part of him content. "Tragic."


 

How the man manages it, Desmond isn't sure, but somehow Captain Laurence decides he feels guilty for Cape Coast. He's almost miserable about it, as the Allegiance makes a hasty retreat from the port before the former slaves and opportunistic settlers would try and make a go at them too.  

"If it wasn't for this blasted mission, we could have put an end to the rebellion. Now we've lost a safe harbour, and all with a first rate with hundred and fifty guns well within range. What a waste," one of the Allegiance's lieutenants mutters, carefully within Captain Laurence's hearing range and Desmond is almost surprised the man doesn't turn into stone, that's how still he goes.

"Surely we wouldn't have attacked the slaves," Temeraire asks. "It seems awful that there are slaves at all, the way they were chained up like that. Don't you think so, Laurence?"

Desmond glanced to where Captain Riley is walking the deck and wonders if there is an evolution for the Eagle Vision, Dragon's Eye, whichever it is these days, where you can actually detect animosities between people. Because it almost seems like there's a beam of resentment there, between the two captains.

"I think it would have been a worse massacre, had we intervened," Laurence says, low. "Those slaves were likely unarmed and in poor health – it's a miracle their rebellion was as successful as it was."

"But they are free and that is a good thing, yes?" Temeraire asks.

"I think so, yes," Laurence says, except he sound even darker. "Only…"

"What?"

"It cannot last, my dear. Cape Coast is a valuable port, even outside the slave trade," Laurence says grimly. "As soon as the word spreads, there will be ships to put the rebels into their place. I fear things will only get worse for the slaves, then."

Desmond eyes the man with faint disbelief. Jesus, doom and gloom much? The man seriously needs to brighten up. A lot. Or possibly get laid, whichever will de-stress him and get his head out of the perpetual rain cloud it's stuck in. "I doubt the slaves care, sir," he says. "Even if it's just for a bit, they're free. I think that's, for them, worth it."

Laurence just looks down and frowns.

"Maybe they will keep the castle, the port, maybe they manage to defend it and start a whole new nation and it will be incredible," Desmond says with a slight frown. Laurence is kind of bringing him down from his post-successful-mission high. He was feeling so good about Cape Coast too! "You don't know. It could turn out okay."

"Such revolts rarely last," Laurence says darkly, giving him a slight frown.

"Yeah, tell that to the French, sir," Desmond says. "They did pretty damn well. Stranger things have happened. I mean, just look at yourself, sir."

That doesn't seem to comfort the man much, but the frown on his face shifts slightly, turning more inward. Christ, this guy. He makes Desmond want to get him drunk. Or maybe properly high on some good kush. He could use some himself, really.

"Nothing we can do about it either way, sir," Desmond says with a sigh. "Would you like to try some meditation now?"

Laurence sighs and looks even more forlorn. "I suppose I must."

"I will join you," Temeraire says and nudges at his captain fondly. "Things will be better, you'll see."

"One can only hope, my dear," Captain Laurence says and turns to Desmond. "Well then, Mr. Miles, what is on the agenda for today?"

"Hopefully, how to stop worrying about things you have no control over," Desmond mutters and decides he's going to de-stress this guy, even if it's the last thing he does on this damn ship.

Chapter Text

Things get a little better on board the Allegiance after they've left Cape Coast properly behind. The sailors start settling a little – the gloom of witnessing a slave revolt and then leaving it behind seems to put things into perspective for everyone and after a bit of depression people start bouncing back, almost just in spite of the horror. Some resentment lingers, of course, but none of it touches Desmond, so he doesn't care.

Liu Bao has taken it upon himself to meditate with honourable Lung Tien Xiang every day and of course Temeraire insists that Laurence joins them. That results in the man's sense of propriety forcing him to make an effort for the sake of keeping appearances and being polite to Liu Bao, and, since it's his duty to make nice with the Chinese, he's even a little less embarrassed about the whole thing. It works pretty neatly, really, except that Laurence is still showing no signs of Eagle Vision… and of course Liu Bao is insisting that Desmond joins them.

"Meditation together is always more fruitful than when done alone," the man says. "After we may have tea together and discuss matters with calmer minds," though the man rarely talks about anything important from what Desmond can tell. Mostly he discusses poetry, which Temeraire has taken interest in.

Desmond has a feeling that Yongxing has forbidden the man from saying anything that actually has to do with Dragon's Eye, because the man jovially avoids the subject with Laurence. The Imperial Prince doesn't seem to approve the whole meditation thing in general, which is really too damn bad.

Laurence is still mostly stressing over everything and Desmond isn't sure how to make him feel any better. He's seen how the man ends up after having had dinner – and probably a lot of drinking – with Captain Riley and mostly it just seems to make him that much more gloomy. It's kind of sad, really.

Desmond feels almost like he's getting second hand stress just looking at him.

They cross the equator with some ceremony Desmond doesn't know, a bit of a ridiculous show where some of the sailors dress up as old Roman Gods and then harass sailors who haven't done it before - and then the aviators, who dare to laugh. It's not the worst way to spend the night, it's actually sort of fun, something that's desperately needed on the ship. The night ends with Liu Bao heartily approving and telling them that the Chinese New Year is coming and that they'd have a great feast to celebrate, which would be good luck, something the sailors definitely approve.

And Desmond is, of course, invited.


 

They get a dragon courier a little after that – guy named James, or something, who brings them letters and news and missives. Desmond isn't exactly welcome on the dragon deck, nor are the other sailors, dragon couriers being more of an aviator business really. That doesn't stop the man's news from spreading – apparently the British have taken Capetown, wonderful. And also their Prime Minister has died, which is less of a wonderful thing.

Desmond doesn't really care either way – he's busier trying to figure out why he's so damn alarmed about the dragon courier. Some sense – he has a bad feeling it might be Ezio's more advanced Eagle Sense – is basically screaming Danger, Will Robinson! at him whenever he gets anywhere near the dragon.

Then the dragon sneezes, spraying mucus all around, and he realises what it might be. The beast is sick.

It's mortally sick.

"Oh," Desmond murmurs and runs a hand over his nose. He hadn't even noticed it developing. Maybe the stenches of the ship cover it with people, there's just that much smell on board. The salty ocean, the wet wood and tar, the occasional stench of bilge water wafting up and through the decks… it's easy enough to overpower all other scents. A dragon is a lot of real estate for sickness to produce pheromones, or whatever it is that gives a person a sickly scent. It's still barely there, but now that he knows it is there…

Desmond sidles up to Captain Laurence's crew carefully. "Pardon me?" he says to the man. "That dragon – is it sick?"

"Dragons get sick just as people do – though rarer," the man – one of Laurence's Lieutenants – explains importantly. "It just has a flu, nothing to be worried about – you can't catch illnesses from dragons."

Desmond frowns, eying the dragon. "Are you sure it's just a flu?" he asks warily. "I don't want to butt my nose into something that's not my business, but…"

The man gives him a look, half pitying and half annoyed. "We're sure – we've been tending to dragons all our lives, Mr. Miles, we know what we're doing. Volly will be alright in time."

Desmond looks at the dragon with Eagle Vision. All blue. There is a sort of sense of… Miasma about it, though. And when it – he – sneezes, there's a whole cloud of it, spreading across the deck like someone had thrown an invisible smoke bomb out.

It's creeping, inexorably, towards Temeraire.

"Right," Desmond says and runs a hand over his mouth. "If you say so."


 

Captain James and Volly fly off not much after that, and no one thinks more of the cold the dragon had had. Temeraire looks like he's fine, but Desmond knows he isn't – there's that miasma, clinging to him now. The sickness, the flu, whatever it is, it's incubating – soon, the dragon would start coughing. Temeraire is some ten times the size of the courier dragon, though, so maybe he'd be fine… maybe.

Guess there's nothing to do but wait and see.

While Desmond waits – checking Temeraire every so often and keeping careful track of how the miasma spreads – the Chinese New Year comes around. The Chinese delegation spends almost two days cooking for it, after more than a week of fishing for it, and then they deck out the quarters given to the delegation like they're trying to rebuild a piece of Chinese court right there, on the Allegiance.

Even before entering, Desmond knows it's going to be opulent – he can smell the perfumes and incense they're using to cover up the smell of the ocean from the other side of the ship. Inside, the cabins given to Yongxing – which have been made bigger by shifting bulkheads and combining several cabins into one – are completely smothered in silken drapery. It's ridiculously fancy – and hot.

Both Captain Riley's and Captain Laurence's officers and his higher warrant officers are invited – Desmond is the lone enlisted sailor, but by now both crews have sort of gotten used to him being included and are either ignoring his presence entirely or pretending he's one of the officers. More ignoring this time – unlike all the officers in all their neat, shiny uniforms and the Chinese in their fancy silk robes, Desmond doesn't have much in way of fine clothing. None, really – best he could do was to wash his stuff and make sure it's not too badly worn.

Well, whatever. It's a party with almost literal shit-ton of fancy Chinese food. Desmond definitely isn't complaining.

They drink, they eat, the translator and Hammond both seem to go sore from the amount of explaining they do, back and forth. Desmond gets some sharp looks for how well he uses chopsticks and he ignores them for the most part. And then, Yongxing calls Laurence's father a common soldier.

"No, sir, my father is Lord Allendale," Laurence says, obviously trying not to look insulted. "I don't think anyone could call his holdings small."

From where they get to the all important question of lineage. Sun Kai – who Desmond is pretty sure also has Dragon's Eye – ropes Laurence first into explaining his relation to English Kings, and then to actually writing it down. While he does that, Liu Bao nudges at Desmond's side.

"What of you, Lungyan?" he asks meaningfully. "Do you know anything of your family tree?"

"Not to that detail, no," Desmond answers, craning his head to watch as Laurence writes down name after name. British a aristocracy is insane. "That's impressive."

"Yes, well. Perhaps once we get to China, we shall see about your lineage as well," Liu Bao says.

"I'm – sorry?" Desmond asks, but Yongxing is giving Liu Bao such a severe glare that the man swallows whatever he was about to say. Desmond frowns between them and puts the comment behind his ear – he has a feeling it will come up later.

Laurence finishes writing down his lineage, and the Chinese marvel over it before Sun Kai puts it away, satisfied. Wondering if the Chinese think all royalty across the world is somehow Dragon Eyed and that Laurence having connection to them might help, Desmond sips his rice wine and makes mental calculation about how long it would be until China. Three, four months, maybe?

Christ, he misses planes. Wonder how airplanes would work, actually, in world with dragons. Would anyone even bother to invent them, with dragons around? They already have a sort of air travel, after all. United States is already using dragons for shipping and they are faster than trains, probably. Not sure if cheaper though, since they need meat to go.

Industrial revolution would be interesting in this world. If there would be planes, there would probably be dragon strikes. Planes taking all the dragon jobs.

Desmond frowns at the baijiu. It's been a long time since he had something that wasn't watered down rum and grog. It's getting to his head. Nice. Been a while since that happened.

There is a ludicrous amount of food served at the feast, course after course. The Europeans aren't used to it, obviously – expecting maybe four courses at most, they'd eaten too much of the first few courses, not expecting the plates to keep on coming. It's kind of amusing how they get towards the latter dishes – obviously uncomfortably stuffed, all of them. Even the kids start looking vaguely queasy, by the time the sweeter dishes roll around.

Desmond had only eaten take-away Chinese in his actual life – but Shao Jun had been an imperial concubine. She knew how lavish the dinners could get, especially when the court was going out of its way to impress. So he'd only nibbled on bits and pieces here and there, leaving space for the rest.

"You have good form," Liu Bao says, watching Desmond automatically use a side dish of ginger broth as palate cleanser before moving onto the latest dish. "It is good to see you enjoying the food. Many were worried they wouldn't be to western tastes."

"It's really good food, I don't think you have anything to worry about there," Desmond says and then frowns as Liu Bao sits sharply straighter, and even Yongxing turns to him.

Shit. He just said that in Chinese.

"Well now," Liu Bao says, his eyes practically sparkling. "Someone has been studying. Tell me, Lungyan, how long have you been practising? Your accent is impeccable. Did someone teach you?"

Desmond takes a sip of his baijiu, ignoring the look Hammond gives him. He can't even pretend he just learned few words to say at the dinner, huh, he spoke and understood too much already. "I just learn by listening," he says awkwardly. "No one really taught me."

"You learned while on this journey?" Sun Kai asks, sending him a look while Yongxing's eyes turn from Laurence to Desmond, narrowing.

"Well… yes?" Desmond offers, coughing. Shit. "I just didn't want to try it before I was sure I was fluent. I uh – didn't want to offend?"

"You have knack with languages, then?" Liu Bao asks. "You mentioned once you know several?"

"I guess so, yeah. I know…" Desmond pauses to count. English, Arabic and Old English, if that's counted as different language, from Altaïr. Italian and bit of Latin from Ezio. Kanien'kehá:ka from Connor, Welsh from Edward and some Spanish, Ezio helped there too. French from Ezio and Arno, Mandarin from Shao Jun… "I know a few languages," Desmond says faintly and coughs again. He isn't sure he wants to know how many that makes. Just trying to remember them all makes him feel a bit dizzy.

"It is common, among the Dragon Eyed," Liu Bao says, his smile wide. "They are often good with languages."

"Right," Desmond says and drinks his baijiu again, awkward. Thankfully, Yongxing obviously doesn't want to favour him with any more attention than he's getting and almost forcibly turns the discussion elsewhere. Liu Bao and Sun Kai keep looking at him, though. Yeah. Shit.

The first chance Desmond gets to escape the dinner, he takes. He has a nice strong post to find and bang his stupid drunken head on. So, when Laurence begs off and heads out, looking a little red around the face, Desmond begs his pardon as well and heads off.

On the deck, Temeraire is being treated too – the Chinese had made dragon sized dishes for him. Desmond peers at him, blinking until he gets the Eagle Eye going and – yeah, the miasma is still there, still brewing. Well, maybe there'd be some vitamins or whatever in the fishes that would make him better.

Desmond finds a coil of rope to lounge on for a moment and spends a moment there, cursing himself and his loose tongue. It's going to come bite him in the ass, he just knows it. Especially since he now knows he doesn't speak Chinese at all like foreigner – no, he speaks it like member of the imperial court. Double shit.

Ah well. What would come would come. No use fretting about it now.

Lethargic with all the food and drinking, Desmond yawns and then dozes off to the sounds of the ocean and Temeraire murmuring compliments about the food.


 

Desmond wakes to the sense of danger – springing from his little nest of rope, expecting to find himself, again, surrounded by seamen looking to attack him. It's a bit dangerous, for them to be doing it on the open deck, Riley would have them all flogged – but if it came to it it would be that much easier to throw the whole lot of them into the ocean and –

There's no one there – he's completely alone by the railing. It's dark, almost past midnight now, and the deck and the ocean are only lit by few lanterns, which don't offer much light at all. Everything is still, even the ocean is calmer.

The sense of danger and importance lingers, though. There's someone about, thinking of murder.

Desmond blinks until the world goes into hues of black and white – and there. It's almost like an arrow in his head, a mental minimap, pointing. Here, it says, mission here. Moment later he even sees a spectral outlines of an ancestor, running over the deck, vanishing into the shadows, leaving behind a silver trail on the Eagle Vision blackened deck. Edward, somewhere in another world centuries ago, dashing off to put an end to whatever mischief his crew was getting into.

Silently Desmond gets up, checking his wrist and then stalking after Edward and into the shadows to find who is trying to kill whom.

It's one of the Chinese servants, one Desmond doesn't know the name off, glowing vivid red in the shadows – he's stalking Laurence, who still glows golden. One of Yongxing's servants, on an assassination mission, it looks like. He's holding some sort of cudgel and as Captain Laurence heads for the stairs leading down and below decks, the man lifts his arm to strike the man over the head with it.

Desmond sidles up behind the Chinese servant, catches the man's face with a with his hand to cover his mouth, and sticks the hidden blade into his back, aiming smoothly through the ribs. The servant, whoever he is, gets only a second to realise his fate, before he goes slack in Desmond's arms, the cudgel falling – Desmond catches it just in time to keep it from clattering to the deck.

Captain Laurence continues on, never the wiser. Desmond waits until the man is gone, before dragging the servant into shadows to check over. There's nothing on him, no notes, no coin, nothing, he doesn't even have a proper weapon, just a club. It's the worst assassin he's ever seen.

Desmond gives him an annoyed look and then hoists the man over the railing and into the ocean, throwing the club after him. Then he leans on the railing, watching how the speck white of the man's shirt is left behind, disappearing into the dark ocean. Soon there's no sign of the would be assassin at all.

Desmond hums, wondering. If Yongxing's mission here is to assassinate Laurence, he's doing terrible job of it. Judging by the servant's form, he wasn't even a fighter, not properly, just some sort of manservant. Really no sort of assassin. Which means, Yongxing isn't prepared for political assassinations and has to make do with what he had. Strange, though – Yongxing has some guards capable of fighting and yet he'd sent a manservant. Why do that, if the guards would probably do better job at it?

Unless, of course… the guards aren't loyal to him.

"Another day, another bit of intrigue," Desmond mutters to himself. "Great."


 

Yongxing, if he notices that his assassin is missing, makes absolutely no noise about it. He watches Captain Laurence warily the next day on the dragon deck, but since Laurence makes no noise about having been attacked or anything, the man almost visibly relaxes. Still, he looks annoyed, even furious at times – which everyone just stalks it up as annoyance about Laurence and Temeraire heading off to have a flight together.

Desmond idly counts the heads of the Chinese party, making note of those who look like fighters and those who huddle around Yongxing the closest. Would there be another attempts by other servants? It's hard to say. Better to keep watch anyway – which he's now doing anyway. Any assassination attempt is one assassination attempt too much, in his book.

And really, here's really space only for one Assassin on this ship and he's got it covered.

At least Laurence seems to be in a better mood, with the feast having gone semi-well, and the flying too. The other aviators are obviously let down that they can't go up with the Celestial – the Chinese get uppity about it – but Laurence looks much better. It's a good look on him.

And then Temeraire starts sneezing, and they're some hellish sneezes. Strong enough to shake the masts and send the sails billowing the wrong way, they make the entire Allegiance shudder.

"A cold," pronounces the dragon surgeon while Desmond watches darkly from the mid deck. "Nothing to do but wait it out."

"I'm sure I can still go on flying?" Temeraire offers to Laurence, his voice audibly stuffy. "I would so like to fly some more."

"A shorter flight perhaps?" Laurence offers anxiously.

"No, don't cosset him – it’s warm enough and so as long as he doesn't blow you off his back by sneezing, I don't see any harm in it. Might do some good," the dragon surgeon says. "It is just a cold, it will pass."

Flying doesn't do Temeraire any good. Desmond idly looks dragon over, later, as Temeraire settles down with tired, disgusted cough, watching the miasma cling to him like a cloud of noxious gas. Still there, and still getting thicker. It doesn't look good.

Grimacing, Desmond turns away and concentrates on the importance of a curing the ailment, setting out looking if he can find anything on the ship, the galley perhaps, that might glow golden. Maybe some spice would do, or maybe even directing the heat of the galley more towards Temeraire – hell, a sail to blanket him from the ocean wind… something.

There's nothing on the ship that offers him even a glimmer of gold. Desmond spends half the night in the galley going through the cook's supplies and another two hours in the ship surgeons berth, and nothing. There's nothing there that looks like it might be a cure.

Temeraire is mortally sick, and only he knows. Keynes, the Dragon Surgeon, does offer Temeraire some medicine the next day, a pot of horrible smelling fatty stuff, which, whatever it is, will do nothing to soothe the sickness. Desmond watches it for a while as the dragon forces it down and then bows to the inevitable.

Secrecy is one thing – letting the dragon die just because he isn't saying anything is another.

"Captain Laurence?" he says. "A word with you?"


 

"You know this how?" Keynes the Dragon Surgeon asks sharply, even as he, Laurence and Laurence's first Lieutenant, Granby, all lean in.

"It's an effect of the Dragon Eye," Desmond says and looks at Laurence. "It's not exactly something I see – I can smell it, when people or, apparently, dragons are mortally sick. I don't think it's just a cold."

"You can smell sickness," Granby says dubiously. "That's ludicrous."

"I have seen dozens of draconic colds in my time, Mr. Miles, I know one when I see it," Keynes agrees and turns to Laurence. "There is nothing more to it but wait it out, Captain Laurence. He will be fine in week or two."

Laurence hesitates. He's still dubious about the existence of the Dragon's Eye as whole, but he's also worried about Temeraire, that much is worried. "And if he isn't?" he asks worriedly, casting a look towards the dragon deck. "He already looks so terrible."

Keynes scoffs. "All captains are the same the first time their dragons get sick," he mutters. "It's just a cold, Temeraire will be fine. He has a healthy appetite still and his breathing is strong, no fluid in his lungs, nothing," he says firmly and looks at Desmond. "I'm sure it is nothing to be worried about."

Desmond looks back, flat. "Well," he says to Laurence. "Your dragon, your call."

Laurence frowns, even more anxious now. "And if it is more than a cold," he says. "What should be done about it? What could be done about it?"

"Tch," Keynes says. "I will give him medicine, double the dosage if I must. You will see, it is only a cold, no need to get overboard."

With that said, the dragon surgeon heads off, muttering to himself. Desmond glances after him and then looks at Laurence. "I've gone through every herb and medicine on this ship," he says. "There's nothing here that will fix it. I don't know if the Chinese have anything, can't exactly go rummaging through their luggage. I'm sorry."

"You think he will die," Laurence says in alarm.

"If he's not treated," Desmond shrugs apologetically. "He's definitely not going to get any better."


 

And he doesn't either. Temeraire loses appetite not long after that, struggling through half of his meals and then not being able to stomach any of it. Laurence, in desperation, asks the Chinese to help, and for a while that seems to do the thing, Temeraire gets some of his appetite back with spices… but even that doesn't work for long.

The normally beautifully glossy black dragon starts going positively grey with the sickness, and Keynes still doesn't believe it when Desmond says it's not a cold. Not much he can do about that, though. Even if they did believe him… there's nothing on the ship that would work.

It makes Desmond wonder if penicillin would work on dragons. Alas… there's nothing much on the ship that can be used to make it. The mouldy foods he inspects – and yeah there's a lot of them, it's a sailing ship in 1800s – aren't suitable for it, not at all. It's all mostly white, fuzzy mould, some of it's actually black. Desmond doesn't know much about penicillin production, but it should be greenish with white edges, not… all white or black. None of it glows golden either – and how much would you need of it anyway, to make it suitable dose for a dragon? Probably like half a barrel. A whole cup of penicillin tablets maybe.

When Laurence turns to him rather helplessly, asking, "Do you – can you tell me of anything that might be of use…?" Desmond doesn't really have much to offer him. Laurence hesitates and then looks away. "I – think I see it," he then admits

"See what?" Desmond asks.

"I'm not sure what it is, but I see – I feel the sickness in Temeraire. I feel he is not getting better," the man says and casts him a look. "I have somehow became more aware of him, as we have meditated. And now, when Keynes brings in medicine, I know even before he uses it, that it will not work."

Desmond eyes him, tilting his head. "What colour is Yongxing, Captain?" he asks. "When you look at him, what colour is the sense you get from him?"

Laurence hesitates. "Red?" he then offers.

"And Liu Bao and Sun Kai?"

The Captain bows his head a little, frowning. "Sun Kai seems… blue somehow. I don't know about Liu Bao," he admits. "He seems… colourless."

"White, maybe?" Desmond asks. "Or grey?"

"Perhaps."

Desmond hums. Damn, what a timing. "Well, congratulations, Captain," he says. "You have Dragon's Eye."

Laurence coughs, awkward, and rubs a hand over his eyes. "I – thought so, yes," he murmurs. "It is unlike how I imagined it."

"It's pretty hard to describe to someone who doesn't have it, sorry," Desmond says and eyes him curiously. "Can you turn it on at will?"

Laurence presses his eyes shut for a moment and then opens them – there's no change. Frowning, he turns to look at Temeraire and then obviously tries again, squinting.

Suddenly, his eyes get a faint but visible golden sheen – like there's light being shined into his eyes. It's making the back of his eyes reflect too, like eye shine on animals. Does it look like that on Desmond too, is that how Yongxing knew he could do it? Strange that he's not seen it on Liu Bao or Sun Kai – don't they use their Dragon's Eye?

"If I move, it – leaves me," Laurence says and, as he turns his eyes to Desmond, they return to normal. "Is that normal?"

"I can use it while moving – you get better at it with practice," Desmond says. "Red hue, for your information, is colour of enemies, people who are danger to you, if you cross them. Blue is colour of allies, people who will fight for you. White or grey is neutral, safe, people who will do no harm, but who will not go out their way to fight for you either," he explains. "Liu Bao shows white?" he asks, just to be sure.

"It seems that way to me, yes," Laurence says. "Is that odd?"

"Just interesting," Desmond says. Liu Bao shows blue to him – but not to Laurence? While Sun Kai does? Weird.

Laurence blows out a breath and then looks towards Temeraire. "What use is it, if I cannot see a way to help Temeraire?" he mutters. "I can feel him getting sicker, I do not know how, but I feel it almost as if in my bones now. He aches, and I don't –" he stops and shakes his head. "How can I tell what might help, as you do?"

"Concentrate on the problem you need the solution for – Temeraire being sick," Desmond explains. "If there is something that will help you, it will show up golden under Dragon's Eye."

Laurence nods, drawing a breath and then turns towards the stairs, closest to the Chinese envoy's quarters.

"Also, Laurence," Desmond says quietly. "Be careful with Yongxing. That sort of red only shows on people who want to kill you."

Laurence hesitates. "Does he really?"

Desmond doesn't answer, just looks at him.

The captain nods, squares his shoulders, and heads off to talk with the Chinese delegation.

In the end it turns out that even the Chinese don't have anything on board that might cure Temeraire, and it's all tried and tested. Yongxing, though supremely unhappy about Laurence developing the Dragon's Eye, lets the man have almost free reign on all the spices and supplies, going so far as to bring on deck a box of medicine preserved for his own imperial ass, in case it got sick on the journey. Laurence goes through and then rejects it all, disappointed.

Like that, with Temeraire getting sicker and sicker, they eventually arrive at Capetown.

Chapter Text

While Laurence, Riley and Hammond met with the temporary governor of the Capetown colony, Desmond set out to find something to use for Temeraire. Capetown isn't much of a British colony yet – most of the people there speak Dutch, a language Desmond doesn't know, or more local native languages. Though apparently it used to be a British colony before becoming Batavian colony, only before that it belonged to the Dutch again, and – Desmond doesn't even bother keeping track of it. He doesn't even care that much. History be history and Colonialism sucks, more news at eleven.

Capetown is so far south – and not quite as near the handy-dandy Trade Winds – that it's not being used as a slave port, at least. There are slaves there, that's obvious, there's even a dedicated slave lodge for the slaves that were and probably still are brought into the town… but very few are being actually captured around the town. Desmond eyes up the slave lodge for a later visit and marks the more notable slave owners in the area as he passes through the place, but doesn't do anything to them, yet. For one, he already has a mission. And for two, he has a minder.

"What is it that we're looking for, Mr. Miles?" Lieutenant Ferris, Laurence's third-soon-to-be-second Lieutenant asks, frowning.

"I have no idea – I'll know it when I'll see it," Desmond says. He has a sense that there's something, but it's not quite an arrow pointing to a mission location, alas. Real world isn't as convenient as Animus minimap, sadly. Still, there is a sort of trail to follow, which he's doing, much to Ferris' obvious confusion.

"Shouldn't we be visiting local doctors, medicine men?" Ferris asks, rather helplessly.

"Eh," Desmond answers and leads him on. The colony has an interesting mix of architecture, and interesting mix of people – one of the more positive things is how many local children running wild are both black and healthy looking. They're even brave enough to get up their faces trying to sell them anything, baskets, pretty stones they'd found, wood carvings they'd made. Desmond listens to their mixed babble, but alas… he doesn't know a single word of Dutch.

A Dutch ancestor would come in handy right about now, but so far, nothing. The best he gets is Edward who has a vague sense of more common terms thrown at Dutch sailors during boarding, like lay down your arms and strike down her colours, but Edward can't actually speak them either, he just listened to one of his mates shouting them often enough to vaguely recognize them. Not very helpful.

So, Desmond has to go around by feel alone. Something is here, the Eagle Sense whispers to him, and then the damn thing moves. Something here. Something this way. Ugh.

"Mr. Miles," Ferris says, impatient, after they circle down to the same road for the third time. "We're going in circles, do you have any idea what you're doing."

"Sometimes I wonder," Desmond says and scowls. He's looking for a moving target. A fast moving target. A person who might be actually avoiding them. "You can go back if it annoys you, I can do this on my own."

"Captain Laurence told me to assist you," Ferris says sharply.

"Well, you're not much of an assistance," Desmond admits and then tilts his head. Closer now. "Wait here," he says and before Ferris can complain or argue, he takes the nearest wall at a run and climbs up it. The second/third Lieutenant makes a couple of steps after him and then stops to stare in astonishment as Desmond hauls himself up to the roof and scans the area.

As cliché as it is… he needs a view point.

Ignoring Ferris's shout, Desmond peers around and – yep, there's a watchtower. Leaving the aviator behind, Desmond makes his way over the roof, across a slight jump to another and another until he makes it to the tower and can climb its side, carefully squirming around the tower sides to avoid the actual guards there before jumping up and to the roof. There, with the wind coming from the ocean in his hair, he activates his Eagle Vision.

He's not actually done this, not himself, not properly, so he's not hundred percent sure what to expect. All his ancestors did it, but he was never sure if it was a mechanic of the Animus or something they did in actual real life. Turns out, maybe it is. As he looks around, Desmond becomes… aware, almost like something or someone had told him, of all the points of interest in Capetown. He can even tell them apart.

There's Altaïr's sense of helpful locals, vigilantes, as well as people to spy, beat and interrogate for information. Ezio's sense of merchants and tasks that would earn him money. Connor's sense of hunting grounds. Almost every one of his ancestors is a bit treasure hungry, so he suddenly knows all the points of potential loot too. He also has a golden sense of his actual current target.

Satisfied and a little bewildered by just how much he suddenly knows about Capetown, Desmond looks down and, sadly, there is no helpful bale of hay to drop into. In that sense, reality doesn't seem to imitate art. Pity, he muses and then hoists himself over the edge and to climb down.

Then, still ignoring Ferris on the ground, Desmond heads towards his mission target, keeping the golden sense of direction firmly in his mind as he runs over rooftops and vaults from one to another until he catches up with it.

It's an old slave woman, her skin paper thin and marked with liver spots, her hair shockingly white against her dark skin. She's carrying a jar of water as she walks, surprisingly quickly for her age, down the street. Desmond eyes her from above for a moment and then drops down.

"Hello," he says while approaching the woman. "Do you speak English? Parlez-vous francais?"

The woman looks up, her eyes widening and – her eyes are somehow both milky white and golden. Oh, Desmond thinks, his eyes widening a little in turn, as she stares at him with both blind and not blind eyes.

"You are," the woman says, in faltering but understandable English. "Touched by the forefathers. Your eyes are golden and they see far."

"Um," Desmond says. "Yes."

Around them the few people who are on the street roll their eyes, shaking their heads, while the old woman reaches out to pat at Desmond's chest, up to his face, feeling around it with one hand and then tilting it towards her.

"But you are a white man," she says, sounding very confused and almost affronted.

"I am – a veritable mix really," Desmond says slowly. "Wouldn't call myself white really. You can see me, but – you can't see?" She's blind and has Eagle Vision – Dragon's Eye. Huh. He didn't think that was possible. Well, yes, Eagle Vision was more telepathy or… clairvoyance or whatever than it was actually vision, but eyesight was kind of a big part of it. Or so he thought. "That's so interesting. Have you always been blind?"

"Not always," the woman says and frowns, patting his cheek. "You are not from here, you are from very far. But you have been touched by the forefathers?"

"There are ancestors elsewhere," Desmond says slowly. "I – are there more people like you around here?"

The woman frowns and then looks away. "No," she says. "Not around here. Come, I must take water back to the house. You will walk with me and we will talk."

Desmond nods and then falls in step with her, as she turns to head down the street, her steps unerring despite the fact that she can't see. Only, of course, she can. Judging by how the golden shine of her eyes doesn't so much as budge, she is using Eagle Vision pretty much constantly.

"I forget much, but I remember some," the woman says. "No one believes old Masego, but I remember – our forefather, our modimo, who watched over us. We get our lesedi from him, and he protected us."

"Er," Desmond says, not sure what to say to that. "Alright, that sounds… great."

"Yes," the woman – Masego? – says and looks at him. "Our modimo was named Lepoqo. What is the name of your modimo?"

Desmond hesitates. "I – don't know?" he says then slowly, not sure what is safe to say.

"Ah," Masego says and pats his wrist sympathetically. "I am sorry. It is a sad thing, to forget your forefather. Worse, to lose one." She hangs her head a little and then glances up at him. "What is it that you look for?"

Desmond frowns, rubbing at his neck. "There's a dragon – you know what dragons are is?"

"Badimo," she says and looks towards the harbour. "Yes, I see them going about. Small ones and now a big one is here."

"Right. He's sick," Desmond says. "And I think you know how to help him. Somehow, I think, you know what will work."

Masego frowns. "I forget much," she murmurs. "And people do not listen to old woman, telling tales."

"I do," Desmond says. "I can tell you are telling the truth."

She blinks and looks at him. "Badimo love you," she says then and sighs and nods her head. "Very well. I will deliver water and come see the dragon. Go away now," she says and hoists the water jug she was carrying to her shoulder. "I will deliver water and then come."


 

Captain Laurence definitely wasn't expecting an old black slave when he came back to see Temeraire, that much is obvious. The Chinese weren't expecting it either. Just about everyone stares at her in wide eyed confusion, as Desmond leads her to Temeraire's clearing, which had been set aside for him for their stay at Capetown.

"Mr. Miles?" Laurence asks, under his breath, sounding confused.

"Her name is Masego – she has Dragon's Eye," Desmond says, quiet. "I don't know how, but I know that she knows how to cure your dragon."

"She is obviously blind," Laurence says slowly.

"Doesn't seem to be slowing her down," Desmond says and folds his arms. Temeraire looks a little confused as the old black woman pats around his face, running her wrinkled hands over his nostrils and humming to herself in some tune. She doesn't look a bit afraid about being near the dragon either, which is very interesting, considering how many other locals are reacting to Temeraire. More used to small couriers, they kind of just… run when they spot Temeraire.

On the side, the Chinese, who have been cooking for Temeraire, watch in obvious outrage about her handling their highly important Celestial dragon. They're probably lucky Yongxing isn't on shore and isn't about to come on shore either – not only would the prince not deign to do it, but there's national politics involved.

Sun Kai is there, though.

"Mai-er-si, may I have moment of your time?" the Chinese man asks, approaching them with a stiff bow.

"He wants to talk with me," Desmond says to Laurence, who only glances away from Temeraire with a frown before looking back. "Yes, Sun Kai, what is it?"

"This woman," Sun Kai says sharply. "She has Dragon's Eye?"

Desmond eyes the man sympathetically. "Looks like it, yeah."

Sun Kai frowns and looks towards the old woman. "And she is a slave?" he asks sharply.

… ah. Well. "Yeah, looks like it," Desmond says again. "A local man owns her – she keeps his house, cleans it and so forth."

Sun Kai shakes his head, obviously confused and disapproving. "Are there others with Dragon's Eye here, has she told you of others?" he asks.

"Not as such," Desmond says. "But I think, wherever she came from before being captured, there were. She spoke of forefathers. I'm thinking those might be dragons."

Sun Kai frowns. "How did she become a slave?"

"I suppose the same way most other slaves do," Desmond says. "She was captured and sold – or just sold, that happens too, families selling their kids to slavery. I can ask her, if you want to know, but it's probably not very pleasant for her."

Sun Kai hesitates. "Please ask," he says and bows his head. "I would greatly appreciate it."

Desmond nods and then looks at Masego. She looks like she's about finished, patting Temeraire's snout as she steps back. Desmond glances at Laurence and together they step closer to her.

"Medicine," she says. "He needs it. I do not remember what is called, but it is a mushroom. I remember, it being cooked – foul it smelled, like rotting, but the badimo like it very much."

"Badimo?" Laurence asks, helpless.

"Ragu – the dragons," Masego says and looks with her white, milky-golden eyes, at Temeraire. "It is very good for them, I remember. I was young girl, when I saw it, but they like it very much. Very good for them."

"Can you tell us anything else about it, this… mushroom?" Desmond asks slowly.

Masego thinks about it for a moment. "I think we grew them," she says and runs a hand over her wrinkled chin. "In caves, yes, it was in caves. The stench of it, it made me so sick, but it was valuable work."

Laurence opens his mouth, closes it, and then opens it again. "You mean to say there are dragons in Africa?"

Masego blinks blindly at him and then reaches out her hand. Laurence goes completely stiff-necked and still as she pats at his face. "You are very important," she says. "So I will tell you – yes. There are dragons in Africa. Our badimo – I am remembering better now," she says, sounding satisfied, as she pats at Laurence's face. "There are many, further inland."

"And are there more like you, with…" what was it she called it, "Uh, Lesdi?"

"Lesedi la modimo," Masego says, slow with importance and nods. "Yes. Yes there are. Many."

Sun Kai is watching them and at that he turns and stalks away – heading, it looks like, towards the harbour and Allegiance.

Desmond glances after the man – so much for not understanding English, huh? – and then looks back to Masego. "So, about those mushrooms…"


 

According to Masego, there are caves where the special mushroom is grown – it likes darkness and damp, and sunlight is too hot for it. Laurence, though he looks like he's still clinging to English propriety enough to doubt her, can't quite deny the signs of the Dragon's Eye, and it's telling him the same thing it's telling Desmond – the woman is mission-important.

And in the meanwhile, the Chinese delegation elbows its way on shore to talk to this third impossible Dragon Eyed individual which, Desmond suspects, they think should not exist. Things are getting pretty complicated as far as Imperial Court of China goes. Yongxing looks downright offended when he eyes the slave woman and has to admit that, yes, she has the Dragon's Eye. How strong her gift is, it's hard to say, but there it is, a black slave, being equal to the members of imperial family in China.

But though watching Yongxing squirm in xenophobic outrage is fun, there's the issue of not only dragons in Africa which has all the British aviators fascinated and horrified, and also the mushroom – the cultivated mushroom, which they need not only for Temeraire… but possibly for the dragons back in Britain.

"From what Captain James says, the flu has gone all around Dover covert," Laurence tells Desmond, his voice low. "If it's as virulent as it seems, and they are still keeping the couriers flying, it will have spread all around the country by now. And if it's mortal in all cases…"

Even Keynes doesn't argue against it anymore – the flu has lingered for too long, and Temeraire isn't improving, it's pretty much the opposite. The dragon's tongue is covered in a white film now, which has robbed Temeraire of his sense of smell and taste, which doesn't help his dwindling appetite at all.

"So we go out and find these mushroom caves," Lieutenant Granby says. "Nothing to it but get to it. Temeraire can still fly, can't he?"

"I don't like the idea of risking him on a flight," Laurence admits.

"You might have to," Desmond says, looking towards to the dragon. Liu Bao, who'd come on shore with a whole lot of huffing and puffing, has his ear pressed to Temeraire's chest, listening to his breathing. It's audibly wet now. "A bit longer and he won't be up to flying at all, and I'm not sure we could get far on foot." And if there were Dragon cultivated mushroom caves anywhere near Capetown, someone would probably know about it.

Laurence bows his head and then looks towards Temeraire. "Short flights, only as much as he feels up to," he says then, grimly, and looks at Keynes. "Is the arid air likely to make him worse, do you think?"

"Hmm," Keynes murmurs. "At this point, I can't say for sure. The symptoms aren't exactly like normal flu anymore. Try it for a quarter day's flight, and see. If he weakens fast…"

Laurence nods. "That sounds right," he says and turns to Granby. "Go tell Pratt to get the harness ready and to hell with what the Chinese think about it," he says. "Tell him to lighten it as much as he can – and add a tarp of sailcloth to the netting. In case we find these mushrooms, we will need something to carry them back."

"Right you are," Granby says and with determination turns away.

"If the mushrooms are cultivated by a nation with dragons," Laurence says. "We will need something to barter with for them. Do you think these Tswana accept gold?"

Desmond blinks. "Your guess is as good as mine," he admits. "Our best chance is asking Masego, really."

Masego is sitting under a shade by Temeraire's clearing, being questioned by Sun Kai and Yongzing through the translator. She looks mostly amused and somewhat flattered about the whole thing, even as the British around them look increasingly horrified.

"The things she's saying!" Ferris murmurs to Laurence as they get near. "She says there is a city with dragons, that the dragons are their leaders, heads of families!"

"Indeed?" Laurence asks, looking a little lost. "That's… quite something. It might explain why couriers are so often lost, trying to make overland flights here. Captain James mentioned it, that it wasn't safe resting even on the coast."

"But dragons as heads of families?" Ferris says and shakes his head. "Do you think she might be remembering it wrong?"

"Why?" Desmond asks.

"They're… dragons?" Ferris says a little helplessly.

"It doesn't sound so terrible to me," Temeraire says, her voice nasal, as he leans over them to talk. "Yongxing is saying that sometimes it goes the same in China. There are dragons in the military who first fly with a mother and then with her daughter, and it's better for both. And of course the imperial family are related to the Celestials like me, so it is not so strange."

"Good lord," Laurence says faintly.

Desmond looks up as Sun Kai steps closer to him. "We do not know the customs here," the Chinese man says delicately. "So pardon if I offer any offence but… how might one go about buying a slave here?"

"Excuse me?" Desmond asks flatly.

"The woman Masego," Sun Kai says and nods towards her direction. "She is owned by a british man – I would like to buy her."

Desmond stares at him, not saying anything for a moment. "Excuse me?" he says again, even flatter.

Sun Kai looks at him and coughs. "Not to keep her, of course – to free her," he says awkwardly. "There are no slaves in China, not legally, not since the Yongzheng Emancipation. I would not keep her. But it is – it is wrong for a Dragon Eyed woman to be a slave no matter where she comes from."

Desmond eyes the man for a moment. He's telling the truth. But it's not all of the truth. "You're thinking of buying her, freeing her and then bringing her to China?" he asks slowly.

Sun Kai doesn't answer, which is telling enough.

"Hm. Well, if she wants to go, then by all means, I guess," Desmond says and folds his arms. "Talk to Hammond about it, not me – he'd know better how to go about it." If the guy forced the woman, or hurt her, though… well, Desmond doesn't like him nearly enough to not throw him overboard too.

Sun Kai frowns and then nods in thanks and turns to head away, to find Hammond.

Laurence looks at Desmond, looking worried.

"The Chinese are not happy with the fact that their super special Dragon's Eye is popping up outside China," Desmond says and shrugs. "World is getting worryingly complicated for them, I think."

Laurence sighs. "In that I fear I must sympathise with them."


 

The Chinese still put up a fight over Temeraire setting out with, gasp, a crew on board! So far Yongxing has barely bent his head to the inevitably of Laurence flying on Temeraire's back, and the idea of Temeraire flying with more crew is just unacceptable, apparently. It is terrible and disrespectful and how dare anyone even suggest it.

"So you would have Temeraire going without the protection of his crew, his riflemen, his bellmen?" Laurence asks sharply. "Madam Masego says there are dragons here, dragons who might not be friendly to us, who might take sight of Temeraire as an invasion – would you have him face this alone and unprotected?"

That pulls Yongxing up short, but only for a moment. "The Lung Tien are not common soldiers," he says sharply. "They do not carry soldiers, they do not – "

"So you would have him left vulnerable because of pride," Laurence says. "No, sir, I won't hear it. We must find this cure and Temeraire is, unfortunately, our best chance of doing so – and I will not have him without protection. He will fly with the crew and that is the end of it."

There is still more back and forth about it before it's decided that Temeraire will fly with a skeleton crew – riflemen and bellmen alone, just enough to protect him. No midwingmen, no runners or signal ensigns, just the people with guns and bombs and that's it.

And Desmond.

"I cannot trust my sense to find what we're looking for," Laurence admits, looking uncomfortable. "I can sense that this is the right course of action, somehow, but… it's faint."

Desmond smiles a little at that. "You'll get better at it," he says. "The more you use it, the stronger it will get."

Laurence doesn't look particularly happy about it. "It seems so unnatural," he murmurs and looks away, almost ashamed.

Desmond hums, wondering how to put it. Is evolution a thing yet, that people know about? "It's not, it's… hard to explain but it's not magic. It's… it's a bit like how compass can find north, you know? Magnetism and energy and all that."

Laurence gives him a dubious look. "I beg your pardon?"

"Everything has energy to it that can be detected somehow," Desmond says. "People and thoughts too. We can just… see that energy. It doesn't make us magical – just a bit different. A bit more advanced, if you will."

The Captain hesitates for a moment. "It is not souls we see, is it?" he asks.

"More like auras, if you know what that is," Desmond says. "Anyway, there's energy in thoughts and emotions and that leaves a trail behind. That's… about it in a nutshell."

"And seeing sickness?" Laurence asks, looking towards Temeraire. "Sensing it? Does it have an energy too?"

"Sadly yes," Desmond agrees. "Most ailments are caused by tiny creatures wrecking havoc and they got their energy too." He clasps the man on the shoulder. "You'll get used to it."

Laurence just sighs.


 

So, flying on dragon back. It's… it's a thing. It's an incredible thing. It's honestly kind of the best thing. Even with Temeraire's sparse crew giving him looks and the dragon occasionally sneezing so hard that they're all almost thrown off, it is just about the best he's felt since he was living Ezio's life and scaling all the pretty historical buildings in Florence, Venice and Rome.

It's also putting things into a damn good perspective, as far as the whole viewpoint thing goes. Climbing tall buildings is handy – but using Eagle Vision on dragon's back, that's just overpowered. If it's the same for dragons, it really cements the whole concept that dragons are and probably always were the Precursors. It just makes too much sense, all around.

Desmond gets a harness of his own with double carabiner straps for the flight, and while he's getting used to the up and down of dragon's wing beat, Laurence urges Temeraire on gently away and towards north of Capetown, leaving the whole settlement behind at record speed. Through the dragon's breathing is still wet and the coughing and sneezing keeps going, both Laurence and Temeraire seem a little better off, away from the Chinese and their drama for a while.

"Can you see anything?" Laurence asks him, coming to Desmond's side.

"We're going the right way," Desmond says. "I can tell you that much. Activate your Dragon's Eye, Laurence – tell me what you see?"

The Captain frowns and then draws a breath, closing his eyes and concentrating. When he opens them, there's golden sheen to them and he looks a little astonished. "Oh?" he murmurs and then, slowly, stands up, his carabiner straps stretching taunt. Desmond eyes the man standing there, wind whipping at his clothing and throwing his blond hair everywhere. The guy is definitely in his element on dragon back – much more confident and relaxed there, than he's facing the Chinese and their drama.

It's a good look on him.

"What do you see?" Desmond asks, standing up as well.

"I don't know," Laurence asks, and rides Temeraire's next sneeze without losing his footing, wrapping his fingers around the carabineers and bending his knees to catch the down stroke of it. Then he looks around again, eyes wide. "It feels as if… there's a map, drawing itself in my mind, with markers upon it."

Desmond stands up as well, a bit more careful than Laurence. "That's about right," he says. "I usually do this by climbing high buildings, but it makes sense it works best on dragon's back. You sort of instinctively come to know places of importance."

"This makes no sense," Laurence mutters, but still looks around.

Temeraire turns his head down momentarily, rubbing his snout against his foreleg, before turning backwards. He still got mucus around his nostrils. "How else would you know where to go, where to land, where your captain is?" he asks, a little groggy sounding. "How to keep direction?"

"Or where to find treasure?" Desmond asks, amused.

Temeraire sniffs, sounding annoyed. "All treasure is in houses," he mutters. "And it is not proper for dragons to go and get it from houses, but yes," he says and sighs. "You always know where there is treasure too, yes."

Laurence looks a little alarmed by that. "You mean, dragons know exactly where to find gold, within people's houses?"

"Obviously," Temeraire says and puts his head down and coughs.

"I do too, in case you were wondering," Desmond says. "You probably will too, if you do this above Capetown or any other town. I've never wondered why is that we see specifically treasure but… it kind of makes sense now, since it comes from dragons."

"Good lord, next you will tell me I will be likely to start hiding away gold too, making myself a hoard like a dragon," Laurence says faintly.

"Well," Desmond says and coughs to cover the laugh at the horrified look the man gives him. "You don't have to. But let me tell you, there's nothing quite as satisfying as getting some good investments going." Or picking pockets or robbing slavers…

Laurence sighs. "Well, I will deal with any draconic urges when they come, I suppose," he murmurs. "For now, let's just find those mushrooms and see if we may barter for them."

"What did you bring to barter with?" Desmond asks curiously.

"Just about anything I could think of," Laurence mutters. "Spend almost quarter of my funds on various foods. Spices, liquor, couple of paintings, books, clocks, and so forth. Gold itself, too, since we're suspected to be meeting dragons."

"Here's hoping it's enough," Desmond says.

"Aye," Laurence agrees and then frowns, looking down at Temeraire's neck. The dragon is still hanging his head. "Temeraire?"

"It's – I – oh, come on already –" Temeraire grumbles and then sneezes so powerfully that he actually stops going forward and almost goes backwards for a moment. "Oh, that is disgusting," the dragon mutters. "The sneezes that just refuse to come are the worst! I am never ever going to be sick again after this, never ever."

"Oh, my dear," Laurence sighs, sitting back down on his knees. "I hope so too, I dearly do."

The dragon grumbles and then continues forward, putting on burst of speed out of sheer spite against his sickness, it seems. Desmond looks around and then sits down. Judging by the Eagle Sense, there are still ways to go.

Laurence keeps rubbing the dragon's neck in long strokes, looking worried again.

"We'll find something to help him," Desmond says comfortingly. "If both our visions are pointing northward, there's something there to be found."

Laurence nods and then looks at him. "The Chinese call it the Dragon's Eye and the dragons have it, at least Celestials do… But that cannot possibly mean we are related to dragons, can it?" he asks quietly. "Such a thing is impossible… isn't it?"

Desmond blows out a breath. Genetic engineering is a bit much to explain sensibly in this time, he's not even going to try. "I don't really know," he says. "I have a feeling the Chinese might know more, though, so… maybe once we make it there, we'll learn more."

"Perhaps," Laurence agrees, dismally. "Though if only the Chinese Imperial family have this ability and it is guarded so jealously as it seems… what might that mean for us?"

Judging by what he's seen so far, political intrigue, assassination attempts and probably more political intrigue. "Guess we'll find out together," Desmond says.

Laurence hums. "I suppose we will, at that."

Chapter Text

Desmond realises sort of blearily that the only thing he knows is his own name. Desmond. That's something. He's sitting in white nothingness with a sort of sticky tingly scent on his tongue and his name is Desmond. That's about it for a long time.

Then there's a man and he knows him. Altaïr steps out of the flickering white nothingness to stand above, looking down at him. Desmond is on his knees, a bit awkward, but he doesn't feel like getting up. Altaïr tilts his head. "Altaïr," Desmond says, and with a nod Altaïr steps back and disappears.

Another man steps out of the flickering white and Desmond smiles, he knows this one even better. "Ezio," he says and reaches out his hand to the man, but Ezio just smiles underneath his white – his black – his grey hood. Young man turning old rapidly, Ezio shakes his head and steps back and disappears. Desmond sighs, disappointed – Ezio would know what to do – and then turns to the third man.

He tries to say Connor but what comes out of his mouth is "Ratonhnhaké:ton," instead, because that's what Connor knew himself as, Connor was just what Achilles called him. There's someone there with him, "Haytham?" Desmond mutters, and Haytham waves a dismissive hand and walks away. Connor nods and follows, and then Desmond is faced with their father and grandfather. "Edward." He walks past Desmond in confident strut and disappears.

Arno stalks out of the shadows next, to stand before him long enough to be named too. As soon as Desmond says, "Arno," he's gone again as if he had other places to be and wasn't, like… dead like the rest of them. And who knows, maybe he isn't. If Arno was alive he'll only be in his late thirties now. That's not bad.

Desmond is starting to remember things now, but it's not urgent. He's waiting for someone, but he can't see her. "Shao Jun?" Desmond calls, confused, and she is there, like she wasn't missing at all – like she was only waiting for her turn politely. She bows to him and then dances back. Polite in all things, Shao Jun.

Then for a moment there's no one.

Then a woman he doesn't know steps out of the white, colour bleeding into the whiteness before her. She wears a hat instead of a hood and sometimes she wears a dress, sometimes she wears disguise. He didn't know her, but she's one of his.

"I'm very proud of you," she says and holds out her hand. "But it's not me you need right now. Come – I have someone to introduce you to."

Desmond takes her hand and stands up. She leads him to a woman, black like her but more aloof. "This is my mother," the Assassin says. "Jeanne. And I am Aveline."

"Aveline," Desmond repeats and looks at Jeanne, frowning. She doesn't seem right. She didn't have Eagle Vision, did she?

Jeanne sighs and holds out her hand. "No," she says. "It's my parents you need right now. They can give you the languages I forgot."

Desmond follows her through white and to other people, darker people, people who didn't carry her pride or her misery, people who were born free and who stayed free. They motion Desmond to join them and he takes their hands. Aveline is still there, waiting, even as Jeanne heads off – she isn't in a hurry. She can wait for her turn.

Her grandparents, whom she'd never known in life, take Desmond's hand and teach him to speak their native tongues.

Above them, a dragon passes over, wings spread wide in smooth, distant glide.


 

Desmond comes from under the drugs slowly, feeling like his head is full of wool. Laurence is already awake and alert, watching him worriedly as Desmond blinks some clarity into his dry eyes. It tastes like something died in his mouth.

"What the hell happened?" Desmond croaks.

"I – do not know," Laurence admits and looks over the campfire in front of them to the other side. There are some very native looking black men and women sitting there, watching them closely. Above them there's the open night sky, lit with stars. Desmond has no idea where he is or how he ended up here.

Never a good sign.

On the fire there is a ceramic pot of something that smells completely foul, and Desmond had a feeling they were made to drink the same stuff – it smells like his mouth tastes like.

Running hands over his forehead, Desmond activates the Eagle Vision and then blinks. There's more colour to the usual dark hues of the world seen through the sixth sense. More shades.

Across the fire, an older black man says, "He's strong, this one," in a language Desmond doesn't know the name of, until he does. Setswana.

"Thanks?" he offers in the same language, while Laurence recoils. "What did you do to us?"

"We had you prove your ancestry," the black man says, not sounding the least bit surprised to hear Desmond speaking his language. "You have many ancestors, many inheritances. Many lines converge within you. Even he has two," the man nods to Laurence and then nods to the people around him. "This is very good. I pronounce them Lighted by the Ancestors, real and true. They are not deceivers."

There's a sort of cheer that goes up at that, while Desmond stares at the man in confusion and Laurence obviously can't understand what's happening at all. The man's eyes are bloodshot and he looks about as hungover as Desmond feels.

"That's – great," Desmond says. "But what the hell is going on?"

The black man stands up. "We may trade now," he says with a satisfied nod and motions Desmond and Laurence to follow. "Come. I will take you to the others."

Desmond blinks and then stands up, feeling woozy. Laurence does the same, slowly, looking a little more steady. "Miles?" he asks quietly. "What is he saying?"

"Apparently we're here to trade?" Desmond says. "What's the last thing you remember?"

"I – Capetown – Temeraire!" Laurence says suddenly. "He is sick!" He immediately looks around for any sign of good dragon but all they see are huts and black people and not a sign of anyone they actually know, never mind a dragon.

And then they do – the black man leads then across the small village and to a clearing where Temeraire lies, being fretted over by some of Laurence's crew. The dragon is fast asleep, almost purring with what sounds like drugged contentment.

"Laurence!" Lieutenant Granby calls at the sight of him. "Thank Christ – Laurence, we couldn't stop him from eating it. He devoured the whole thing, almost ate the damn vat with it, and went directly to sleep."

Laurence stumbles over to Temeraire to check him over with confused urgency while Desmond takes in a large ceramic bowl, big enough to be called a bathtub really, which is still smeared with orange, familiar smelling stuff.

"He took the medicine well, and it is working," the old black man says with satisfaction. "Let him sleep a day or two and he will be better, you will see."

Desmond just blinks at him blearily. "What?" he asks.

The old man looks at him and then laughs, patting him on the shoulder. "The effect will wear off," he says. "By tomorrow you will feel yourself again. Rest tonight and celebrate your ancestors. You have been blessed many, and even if they are not with you anymore, they should be honoured. Tomorrow, we will trade."

Desmond stares after the old man in confusion and then turns to Granby, who is looking between him and Laurence with alarm.

"What the devil did they do to you?" Granby demands.

"I think they got us high," Desmond says thoughtfully and blinks slowly. "Where are we?"

Granby's eyes widen a little.

"He smells better," Laurence murmurs and presses his face against Temeraire's cheek. "He smells better."

That definitely does nothing to make his Lieutenant feel better.


 

So it turns out that they are in some village of the local tribe of black people, where they'd arrived lead by Desmond's and Laurence's Dragon's Eye, Eagle Vision, whichever. They came there looking for mushrooms for Temeraire. Or, Desmond thinks looking Temeraire now and remembering the effects of what they'd been made drink, they could probably be called shrooms, really.

"We couldn't understand a word anyone was speaking, but you both said we could trust these people," Granby says somewhat accusingly. "Something about this nonsense with the Dragon's Eye. Now look at you – it's like they dunked both your heads in opium! And Temeraire is completely useless!"

"He's healing," Desmond says while rubbing at his temples. The sickly miasma around Temeraire isn't so bad now. "Also I think we were given the same mushroom he was."

"As if that makes it any better!" Granby scoffs.

Laurence sits beside them gingerly, eyeing the bowl of broth one of his men had put in his hand. "I think it was done to prove we were Dragon Eyed," he says.

"And to check up on our ancestors," Desmond agrees and casts him a look. "Apparently you have two. Judging by what I went through, those two were people with Dragon's Eye."

Laurence frowns. "Yes, it does seem that way. Whatever it was, it made the locals very happy, the way you kept on, name after name. I think we did well with – whatever the ritual this was."

"Oh. I said them out loud?" Desmond asks. "Damn. I didn't even realise. So the Tswana have a potion to force you to recall genetic memory, huh. That's something else." Something like what Arno drank when he entered the Brotherhood maybe?

"I don't have the faintest idea what that means," Laurence admits with a sigh.

"Alright, now you're talking about spiritual journeys and magic potions," Granby says and throws up his hands. "Laurence, what the devil is going on?"

Laurence just shakes his head.

"Well, in either case, we'll be trading tomorrow for the mushrooms, apparently. And they already gave some to Temeraire who's getting better," Desmond says, looking up at the Lieutenant. "That's good, right?

Judging by Granby's expression, it's not good enough. "And how do you know that?" he asks suspiciously. "That they will trade with us?"

"They told me?" Desmond says.

Granby scowls. "You also know their language suddenly?"

"Er. Yes," Desmond says. "Well, I don't know if it's exactly the same language, but it's – similar?"

Laurence turns to look at him. "You didn't speak it before," he says thoughtfully.

"My ancestor's grandparents taught me," Desmond explains. "They came further up north from here, but the language is similar?"

"You learned it this during your…." Laurence trails of.

"Vision? Yeah."

Granby throws up his hands and stalks away to check up on the rest of the crew, apparently disgusted with them. Laurence looks after him with a frown and then looks down.

"Do you wanna talk about it? Whatever you learned?" Desmond asks.

Laurence hesitates. "You know French, yes? Could you speak it for me?"

Desmond arches his brows and then says, in French, "Sure thing, though I don't know what to say, really. Um. I'm thinking one of your ancestors was French now, what was his name?"

"Thomas," Laurence answers, accented not quite the British way. "Thomas de Carneillon. He was a banker," he continues, in smooth French. "I think."

Desmond blinks. Thomas de Carneillon – the Assassin? He doesn't know much about the guy, but judging by the French Assassins from Arno's time revered the guy… "Just a banker?" Desmond asks slowly. "Nothing else? Did he, um. Any fighting?"

Laurence frowns. "Not that I could tell. No, he was only a banker. A very good banker, perhaps. He made some excellent deals and had ties to the Medici banks in Florence and was well respected from what I could tell."

Medici doesn't necessarily mean that the Auditore were there. Down, boy, don't get your hopes up. "And your other ancestor?" Desmond asks nonchalantly.

"Robert Fitzwalter," Laurence says and frowns. "Baron of a county in Essex in the 13th century, I think. I may have read about him – no, I saw a play about him when I was a boy, my mother took me and my brother to it," Laurence says and thinks for a moment. "Yes, I remember now, it was a terrible production that painted him as Robin Hood. Mother had us on nothing but history lessons for two weeks afterwards, to make sure the account wouldn't be mixed with reality."

"Your ancestor was Robin Hood," Desmond asks, trying to think if he knows the name, Robert Fitzwalter. Nothing comes to mind.

"Just the unfortunate inspiration for the story, I believe," Laurence says embarrassedly.

"Hmm," Desmond answers, wondering if the guy was an Assassin in his world. Judging by their track record… maybe. "That's something, I guess," he says.


 

Desmond dreams of Aveline all that night almost feverishly, of her life in New Orleans, her family, father and stepmother, and all the slaves she tried to save, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. She was a proud woman, she came in contact with Pieces of Eden, but though they have some shared interests where it comes to freedom, equality and how much slavers suck and deserve to die… there's not much new she can show Desmond. Nothing much he can use, anyway. Art of disguise, maybe, but it's not much use on board a ship where most everyone knows everyone else.

Something for later maybe. So it makes sense that she didn't come on her own to him – though she is pretty cool as ancestors go, Desmond could've gone without the headache.

Laurence, judging by his expression in the morning, agrees with him there.

"If we do manage a fair trade here and may take some of that accursed mushroom with us, I'll be thankful indeed, but, lord, I do not want to repeat the experience," Laurence murmurs.

"I'm just wondering if the Chinese have something similar and if not, what they might do to get it," Desmond sighs. "Seems like something they'd be into."

"Christ, please don't even say that," Laurence almost bemoans – which is kind of hilarious, coming from him. Whether it was being drugged or Temeraire's obviously better health, the guy's almost relaxed now.

Temeraire, on the other hand, is starving.

"Mr. Miles, pray ask them if they have anything for me to eat," the dragon says to him. "I feel as though I could eat all those cows over there and a whole tuna on top of them."

"Please don't, we just got into their good graces," Laurence sighs. "But yes, please, do ask them, Miles."

Desmond asks. There are are some locals hovering nearby on apparent watch duty, though they look more amused by the two mostly white guys suffering hangover from their damn magic mushrooms.

"For pay, yes," Desmond summaries their answer. "Might be the time to get out the trade goods and see what these people might be interested in."

Laurence nods and calls for his Lieutenant. Granby still gives them some suspicious looks like he's expecting to find them still high, but Laurence speaks with less of a slur now, and since Temeraire is so much better, the man seems to have decided it was all for the best. So, soon after, Laurence's trade items are brought out of Temeraire's belly netting and displayed to the villagers.

It's while the villagers – including the old black man from the night before, who seems to be a local doctor or something – are perusing Laurence's goods that the dragon arrives.


 

"And you are Lighted by Ancestors?" the dragon asks dubiously, eying Desmond up and down. "You do not look like our descendants and children."

"We're from far away, where everyone's a little paler," Desmond says. "I suppose our ancestors are too."

"And you are here to barter for medicine only?" The dragon demands. "We have seen pale riders riding with their small ancestors and they steal and fight and run, and none of them have ever had the Light of their Ancestors with them. What's to say you're not here to steal also?"

"Well," Desmond says and notions to the sailcloth where Laurence's trade items had been spread out. "We came with things to barter with and we wouldn't want to steal anything. We just want to be friends and trade fairly, nothing else."

The dragon sifts her weight between one foreleg and then the other. "And your people," she says. "And your ancestors. Do they steal the people of others?"

Desmond opens his mouth and then frowns. "You've had people stolen from you?"

"Not I, but others. My family is small, but I have kept them safe – but there are others. Kefentse lost all of his to Lunda raids and we learned later they were sold to the white men who would eat them."

Desmond stares at her, ignoring the look of urgent confusion Laurence is giving him, obviously hoping for explanation or at least translation.

"The white men don't eat them," Desmond says slowly. "They use them for slave labour. Which," he adds quickly when the dragon rears her head in anger, "which I personally think is terrible and I fight against wherever I can. But I'm sorry to say that some white men – not us, but others – practice slavery and keep black men and women as slaves and have them work their farms and such."

The dragon's talons tear gouges into the dirt. "Then some of Kefentse's family might be alive?" she demands.

Desmond coughs. Aveline is suddenly hovering almost behind him, urging him on – on the other side is Laurence, casting anxious looks towards Temeraire, the trade goods. There is no sign of further mushrooms.

"I'll tell you what," Desmond says slowly. "If you let my people trade – fairly, only fairly – with yours, I will answer every question you have," he says. "About slavery and what white men do with slaves, everything."

The dragon's eyes narrow. "Will you tell me where they have been taken?"

"Lady, I'm sorry, but I have no idea where they've been taken, precisely," Desmond admits. "There are lots of places they could've been taken to. But I can draw you a map of the more common slave ports, if that will do?"

Her eyes widen slightly at that and then she nods her head. "We will talk and your people will trade," she says. "Come, we will find smooth sand and you will draw me a map of the world –"

"Can do one better – sorry Laurence, I'm taking this, I'll pay you back later," Desmond says while grabbing paper and writing supplies from Laurence's haul of trade goods, much to the man's astonishment. “You can trade now, by the way –"

"What – Mr. Miles, we don't know the language, how are we supposed to –"

"Just use pantomime!" Desmond calls back and hurries after the dragon.

He ends up explaining to Akanyang not only the nature of the slave trade and the triangular trade in general, but quite a bit of geography and the nature of winds over the Atlantic. He also tells her of Cape Coast and what happened there not long ago.

"I don't know what happened to them since, if there's any news, none have reached us. All the couriers on the continent look like they're northbound," Desmond admits. "Cape Coast might still be in the hands of freed slaves or the British might've recaptured it. I hope they haven't, but…"

"And this Cape Town?" Akanyang demands. "Are there slaves there?"

"Yes," Desmond says. "Though it doesn't look like they sell selves from there, they still use them, having brought them from elsewhere. It's from one if then that we learned about you – a woman named Masego. She has the Dragon's Eye – the Light of Ancestors – and she remembered little about ancestry. Her ancestor was something named Lepoqo."

Akanyang lets out a hiss at the name. "Lepoqo died, many years ago," she says. "He sired no heirs and the Memory of him was lost."

"Masego implied something like that, yeah," Desmond says slowly. "I'm sorry,"

Akanyang says nothing for a moment. "There might be Kefentse's children in Capetown," she says then. "And though Masego is now without an ancestor, she belongs to the Tswana, she must come back."

"I think she would like that," Desmond says, considering the dragon. "I'm intending to set her free if I can and I'm going to set the local slave lodge on fire. And kill as many slave owners I come across. I don't know if that's good enough, but there might be another slave revolt."

Akanyang eyes him silently with one large eye. "You speak the truth," she says and lifts her head. "I will go tell my king – you will come with me, and tell this all to Moshueshue. No doubt he will decree that we will attack together and take all the slave ports in this land, and then in other lands too."

"I can't," Desmond says apologetically and looks to where Laurence is accepting several large clay pots – all with massive multi-capped mushrooms growing in them. The man looks happy and relieved enough to cry, having gotten his important trade done. "Our ancestors are sick," Desmond explains to Akanyang. "Without your medicine they might die. We must get the mushrooms back to them." And as fun as adventures in Africa sound like, at this point, if he doesn't figure out what's up with the damn Chinese, it's going to bother him for the rest of his life.

Akanyang considers him, one eyed. "You must honour your ancestors, of course," she says. "Like all good children should. Very well, I will take what you told me to Moshueshue, and he will decide."

Desmond bows his head. "I'm happy to have been of any help and I'm glad you believe me."

"You have not lied," she says. "I can see your hue and know you are not my enemy – though only human, you would fight for me. It might be arrogance, but I know strength when I see it. You do your ancestors credit."

"I try," Desmond agrees.


 

"Oh, I wished to talk with her," Temeraire says. "Everyone always said that there were only feral dragons in Africa, but she could clearly speak, even if she didn't know English. Pray tell me, Miles, what did she say?"

"She just mostly wanted to know about trade," Desmond says. "What British like to trade with and so forth. She did talk about other dragons too – among the Tswana, dragons are considered ancestors of people. Isn't that interesting?"

"Well, the Chinese think so too, I think," Temeraire says. "Or that people with Dragon's Eye are related, at least."

"Yeah. Interesting stuff," Desmond agrees.

Laurence eyes him dubiously. "Is that all she wanted to know?" he asks. "She didn't seem very happy to see us."

"I don't imagine many white people bring much in a way of fair trade to them," Desmond says pointedly. "She was a bit suspicious, but we got our trade in the end, didn't we? So all's well that ends well, right?"

Laurence eyes him and Desmond smiles back, bright and utterly innocent.

"Yes, we did," Laurence says finally, though he still looks a little suspicious. "We must get the mushrooms back post haste and onto a ship bound for England. Hopefully it will reach the coverts and will be distributed before the sickness claims any lives. You have been invaluable in securing the cure, Mr. Miles. You have my gratitude."

"Now if you could say that without frowning at me like I'm doing something wrong, I'd actually believe you," Desmond says amusedly.

Laurence considers him, thoughtful. For a moment he looks like he wants to ask something, but in the end he closed his mouth and offers him a faint smile. "I am grateful," he says. "Truly."

Desmond eyes him, waiting, but Laurence doesn't say anything else. "Well, alright then. You're welcome."


 

While Laurence delivers the mushrooms to the temporary governor and expounds on the importance of getting them to Britain as fast as possible, Desmond sets out looking for Masego. They hadn't been gone for that long, but all things considered – the Chinese and their Dragon Eyed superiority considered, really – he decides it doesn't hurt to make absolutely sure.

She's still around – and still a slave.

"Sun Kai didn't buy you?" Desmond asks.

"He offered, but I do not want to go to China," Masego says while watering the flowers in her master's small yard. "And it doesn't matter one way or another if I am free now or not – I am an old woman and there's not much life left in me to enjoy freedom."

Desmond frowns a little at that, and Masego glances his way with her blind eyes. "No need to be sad. I have lived a full life. It wasn't a fair one, but it was long and full of experiences. I have had enough – I need neither China nor freedom."

"I told the Tswana about you – they sent a dragon to investigate us when we went into one of their villages to barter. Akanyang remembered your modimo, she said that you belong with the Tswana."

Masego hesitates, frowning.

"Also there is a modimo named Kefentse who's lost all of his family and is looking for them. It's probably not the same thing, but who knows, maybe you'd have something to talk about together," Desmond says. "Anyway, I told Akanyang about slavery and where slaves from Africa are taken and why, and I don't think they're going to let it go on for much longer."

Masego blinks slowly in his direction. Even though she can see through the Dragon's Eye, she still doesn't look directly at people, like a person with sight might. "They – are coming here?"

"Probably. Even if they aren't, I'm going to set the slave lodge on fire tonight and kill some local slave owners," Desmond says. "Maybe incite a slave rebellion while I'm at it. Would you like your owner to be among them?"

She blinks and then turns to face him properly, her milky golden eyes wide. She doesn't look scared or shocked, she didn't even look particularly surprised. "Such blood on you," she says. "I did wonder at it. Is it all slavers' blood?"

"I stay my blade from the blood of the innocents," Desmond says quietly. "Whatever blood I've spilled, it was always for a reason."

Masego considers him. "My master bought me because I would have been put to death for being too old and useless, and he has been kind to me," she says then. "Don't kill him."

Desmond looks at her, but she's not lying and she's not afraid. "Alright," he says. "I won't kill him. But the last time I did this, there was a riot and a rebellion. I can't promise he will get out of it unscathed, if the slaves here decide to rise up."

"In that case, I will do what I can to defend him," Masego says and turns away. "But they are coming, the Tswana, they are really coming?"

"I think so, yeah," Desmond agrees and stands up. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Masego. I hope you do get to enjoy freedom, one day. Thank you for your help."

"No," she shakes her head and reaches out to squeeze his hand. "I'd forgotten what it means to be lesedi la modimo," she says, giving Desmond's hand another squeeze before letting go. "I was only silly old Masego and no one listened. I remember now. Thank you."


 

Desmond marks down all the targets from the rooftop of the watchtower and sets to work. It's hard to say how long the Allegiance would stay in harbour now that Temeraire was on the mend and they had most of the ship restocked for the last leg of the journey. There would likely be no more safe harbours until they made it to the China sea, maybe not even then until they made it to Canton, so… it might be several more days.

He doesn't like taking his chances with time though, so everyone who would die would need to die tonight. And hopefully with the slave lodge fire he has planned, no one would even notice how many slave owners ended up stabbed until way after.

Stretching out, Desmond jumps over the edge of the rooftop and starts making his way down.

The first slaver dies on the street – the man is coming home from a night of drinking with sailors it looks like, doesn't pay any attention Desmond. He dies without noise and Desmond leaves him asleep in the alleyway.

The second slaver dies at his desk. The window behind him is open and the only thing giving away the small blow dart that killed him is the hole in the curtains. He slumps over his work and doesn't move.

Third slaver is a woman, a widower, who goes to sleep after a busy evening of whipping rebellion out of a slave. For a moment Desmond is tempted to make her death slow and painful, but… he's an Assassin. They're kinder than that.

Fourth slaver dies in the harbour. He is coming back from inspecting goods of a merchant vessel he owns a part in – his body falls into the river with rocks tied around the neck and doesn't come up. The boat, consequentially, would sink into the harbour come morning.

By the fifth slaver, Desmond is almost out of pity and kindness, but he still makes it quick and neat – if not respectful. The slaver is still pulling his pants on when Desmond sticks his hidden blade in him, leaving him lying there, half naked. The slave the man was with escapes with Desmond and never says a word.

The rest of the local slavers and slave owners go about the same way, with only notable one being number ten and eleven, married couple of probable sadists – they die together, knife through one's back and sword through the other's, so very romantic.

Wherever he goes, Desmond sets slaves free, telling them what's about to come. Some believe him, some don't, but overall most of them run. Some thank him, most are too terrified to do it. Desmond doesn't really mind. It's all in a good night's work, really, and he's not doing it for thanks.

Morning dawns with the Capetown's impressive Dutch-built slave lodge fully ablaze, and the Tswana already upon them.

Chapter Text

Nothing quite like dragons attacking a colony and sending everyone packing to send you off. There's a near physical fight onboard about what they should do about the attack on Capetown – most of the crew want to fight, some think they should hold position and wait until reinforcement comes and then take back the colony. And then there's Hammond.

"Capetown was a recent victory, and its loss isn't something we cannot recover from," he says sharply. "Losing our hope of maintaining good relationships with China, perhaps even alliance, be it one of trade or potentially even something better – we cannot risk it, gentlemen, we cannot. Nor can we under any circumstances risk angering China by delaying, or worse yet, endangering an imperial prince or the very valuable dragon the Chinese feel is already being mistreated!"

"And so we just turn tail and run? And leave Capetown to its fate?"

"Yes, and take comfort in that at least now, the French cannot have it either, nor the Dutch."

"This will hinder the eastern trade," Riley says grimly. "If not steal it completely. First Cape Coast, now Capetown… soon our last safe port will be in Madeira and there will be no hope of making the trip to India without starvation and ruin."

"Not unless we might make friends along the way – like China!"

Desmond isn't actually involved in this fight, but he hears about it later, everyone hears about it. Hammond wasn't savvy enough about what's safe to say at what volume in the captain's cabin, and so his voice carried and what he said went around the ship pretty much immediately. Along with Capetown's temporary governor's – who had evacuated to the Allegiance – accusations.

"The very special Chinese dragon is the one who brought this upon us! Going haring off into the wild land, rousing up who knows what kind of trouble – it's obvious the Tswana dragons followed you here!"

"Are you accusing me of inciting this rebellion, sir?" Laurence probably, Desmond can just imagine the hackles going up.

"Well, there were certainly no dragons coming from inland before you came along, were there? What is it you exactly did to get this medicine, then? I hear aviators can do ludicrous things for their beasts, there was talk of that mutiny a few years back, but this –"

"Sir, please, mind what you're saying – and to whom you say it –"

So there's a whole bunch of accusations and allusions going on and the whole crew is surprised that Captain Laurence didn't call Baird to answer for his words in a duel. It would've made a whole week's entertaining gossip for the crew, probably, if it wasn't for the whole rebellion and dragons and hostile African nations and all.

The Chinese have their two bit to say about it too – but as interested as they are about the status of dragons in Africa and their potential Dragon Eyed human companions… they seem to err on the side of caution where it comes to local revolutions. Yongxing only comes out to see the destruction once, and he definitely shows no sympathy to the british settlers who are having their houses ransacked and burned.

"Actions have consequences," he says to Liu Bao, something that doesn't get translated by the wide eyed translator hovering by their side. "As they have conquered so they will be conquered, and as they have abused so they too will be abused. It is only the arrogance of the British that makes this a surprise at all."

Really, the guy is just a gem. Not wrong, not really, but still. Sheesh.

In the end, agree or disagree, blame or chalk it up to the law of heavens or whatever, none of it makes much difference, though. Riley calls it and his call is, "There are upwards to dozen dragons attacking Capetown, and most of them heavy weights. Even with Temeraire we cannot take those numbers and hope to escape, still seaworthy, into the open ocean and survive so far from any friendly port. No, as I see it, there is no hope of taking the town with the forces we have, and it's suicide to try, and in the meanwhile the Allegiance is stocked and ready. We will be setting sail directly."

Which they do, though with great deal of grumbling. But as much as the men feel it's cowardice and that they are running… no one really sensible wants to stay and fight. So, off they go, leaving another British colony in midst of a slave revolt and, better yet, in hands of hitherto unknown but mighty enemy power.

Now that, Desmond thinks, is a job well done.


 

"Mr. Miles?" a quiet voice interrupts Desmond's attempt of ignoring other seamen's attempts of getting him to talk. "Captain Laurence asks for you – you're to come immediately."

"Thank you, Roland," Desmond says and ducks out of the ring of sailors, ignoring their disappointed looks. "Guess we'll be continuing this later, gentlemen."

The sailors tsk in annoyance but break apart to let him through. They've been trying to get him to talk about what he saw during his inland flight with Temeraire and his crew. It's better than their previous attempts of bullying him, but no less annoying, really.

"Is Laurence on the dragon deck?" Desmond asks from the little runner.

"No – he asked me to bring you to his private cabin," the girl says and gives him a look, curious and slightly accusing.

Desmond looks back, arching a brow, but Roland doesn't say anything else. "Alright then," he says. "Lead the way." Not that he didn't know where Laurence's cabin was, the ship isn't that big.

The little runner seems miffed at him about something. The aviators might suspect something, and the general mood had trickled down to their little midwingmen. Cute.

Roland announces him at Laurence's cabin, gives him a suspicious look and then scampers off at Laurence's, "Thank you, Mr. Roland, you may go."

Though technically equal in rank to Captain Riley, Laurence hadn't been given that lavish a bunk. The cabin is barely big enough for a writing table on top of the cot and it definitely doesn't carry the same weight as being summoned to Riley's cabin would have. Still, Laurence obviously tries to look firm and determined as he returns to face Desmond.

"Mr. Miles, due to the recent events in Capetown, the attack by the Tswana, I feel I must ask you some questions," he starts, very formal. "Because of the aid you have given me in the past, I am doing you the courtesy of asking you in private, rather than in presence of Captain Riley when I should legally do the opposite, so I hope you will be candid with me."

"By all means," Desmond says, watching him curiously.

"What was it that you spoke with the Tswana dragon about?"

"Trade," Desmond says and relaxes a little – so it wasn't his murder exploits, but rather the potential treason that was in question, okay. "Akanyang asked me why she should let us trade when before white men have just stolen from them, I told her that we were only looking for fair trade and that we brought trade goods. She wasn't convinced we weren't going to steal, so I offered to answer her questions about trade and assure her that we weren't going to steal – which is why she allowed you trade for the mushrooms."

Laurence hesitates. "She would have stopped the trade otherwise?"

"Honestly I'm not sure she wouldn't have attacked us," Desmond admits. "She was pretty pissed. The only reason she talked with us at all is because the villagers had already confirmed us as Dragon Eyed."

"So you answering her questions facilitated the trade," Laurence says slowly, obviously making a mental note of it. "And what did you tell her, what did this Akanyang ask about?"

Desmond looks at Laurence in some sympathy. The guy doesn't want to go outright and ask it and risk offending him, but he is definitely wary of Desmond now.

"She asked about the nature of the trade along the coast," Desmond says plainly. "I answered her honestly. She also asked me to draw her a map of various trade ports, which I did."

Laurence draws a breath, obviously steeling himself. "You told her about Capetown?" he asks.

"It's a trade port," Desmond says.

"Did you tell her it was barely defended and open for attack?"

As good as an accusation now. "No, I didn't," Desmond says. It's the truth, he hadn't. He'd just told her he'd murder some people and set a building or two on fire. Something which apparently no one knows about, and Desmond isn't about to change that.

"Mr. Miles," Laurence says firmly. "I am trying to be as cordial as I can but the situation is serious – did you invite the Tswana to attack?"

Desmond gives him an almost apologetic look. "No," he says. "I only told Akanyang the truth. I told her about the slave trade, the Atlantic triangular trade, what most of the ports in Africa are used for, and what slaves are used for. They thought white men captured and bought slaves for eating, you see, that as soon as they were shipped off they will be butchered and put on plates. I told her no, of course not. They'd be put in the fields and to work in the colonies."

Laurence opens his mouth and Desmond continues, ignoring the slack look of outrage on the man's face. "In their culture, dragons are heads of families, it turns out. Akanyang had a family of humans, as apparently do all the other dragons," he explains. "Except some of those dragons had their people taken to slavery. Akanyang told me one of them lost his whole human family that way. You can't imagine Akanyang's relief when she learned that the stolen family members hadn't, actually, been eaten and that they might be alive somewhere. Maybe even in Africa's very own ports. For her, it was incredibly good news."

Laurence stares at him in horror. Desmond smiles blandly at him. "She asked me some other things about the nature of the slave trade and I answered her to the best of my ability. She was so grateful she wanted to take me to talk to her king, but I had to decline, since we have all this business in China going on."

Laurence's mouth works silently for a moment. "I – hundreds of men in Capetown, the innocent lives –"

"Yes," Desmond agrees mildly. "All those innocent slaves will probably be freed by the Tswana – Masego, the woman who gave us the cure for Temeraire, included. Wonderful, isn't it?"

Laurence obviously doesn't have any idea how to answer to that, he just stares at Desmond blankly. Desmond waits, giving him the blandest look he can muster, just fucking daring the man to suggest he did the wrong thing. Laurence is nice and he's cute with all of his bluster and flailing and propriety, but Desmond doesn't like him anywhere near enough to take any colonial shit from him.

"I see," Laurence finally says, his voice a little faint. "I see. You – you may go, Mr. Miles."

A little sad about the possible end of their meditation sessions, Desmond tips an imaginary hat at the man. "Captain."


 

He gets some more looks from the aviators, so there is still some suspicion going on, but no one brings up treason in his presence. Not out loud, anyway. Granby definitely eyes him with some narrow and suspicious looks, but whatever. Desmond might be little less welcome to the dragon deck now – or not welcome at all really –  bit has other thing to worry about anyway.

Like Sun Kai and his sudden inclusion to the tea time with Liu Bao and the man's interest in the Tswana. Not that Desmond precisely minds, really. He just doesn't know Sun Kai that well – and the guy had asked about buying a slave. He hadn't, in the end, since Masego had declined going to China, but… still. It makes an abolitionist wary, is all.

"And they called her that, an ancestor?" Sun Kai asks in fascination, talking about Akanyang.

"Modimo," Desmond says thoughtfully. "It's – not an exact translation to Ancestor. It could also mean god, I think."

Sun Kai and Liu Bao exchange looks at that, just a glance but it's meaningful. Desmond looks between them, amused. "I wasn't there for that long, and I didn't learn that much about them really," he says wryly. "But it did sound like the dragons were running the show. People were like kids to them."

"We live such short lives compared to dragons," Liu Bao agrees. "Some live five, seven, even six times the lifetime of a man. I suppose towards the end of such long lives, even the oldest man would seem like a child to you."

"I suppose," Desmond agrees noncommittally.

"Masego said something to that effect too, I believe," Sun Kai said. "She said she couldn't remember much, but when she'd been a girl she'd been there when one of their dragons was in egg, and they told the dragon of his or her life. It was very interesting."

"But do they simply tell dragons what they supposedly were or is it something else…?" Liu Bao hums and sips at his tea. "Well, I suppose we can only ponder upon it. Tell me, Lungyan, were there others among the Tswana you met that had the Dragon's Eye?"

That's pretty blunt, but Liu Bao can be blunt when he wants to be. "I – don't know," Desmond admits. "Masego had it, obviously. but I couldn't really tell if anyone in that village had it. The way they reacted to Laurence and me made it seem it wasn't precisely rare, though."

"Hm, how did they react?"

Desmond hums, thinking back to it. "Well, I don't remember much of it," he says. "They did drug us for a while there. But since they knew how to check for it and exactly how to prove it, it did kind of seem like it was more common among them. They had procedures for it, for checking if someone has Dragon's Eye. Or, Lesedi la Modimo, as they called it- Light of the Ancestors."

"A fine name for it," Liu Bao says, unblinking. "What do you mean by saying they drugged you?" he asks.

"Well," Desmond coughs, wondering if Laurence had told anyone. The aviators had talked about it, it had spread to the crew of the Allegiance, so everyone does know they had gotten addled for a while there. "It was part of how they checked us for Dragon's Eye. They had this concoction, made of the mushroom that healed Celestial dragon Xiang, that… brought it out."

Sun Kai and Liu Bao both lean forward at that. "A potion?" Sun Kai asks.

"More of a soup, really," Desmond says with a wince. He can still taste it in the back of his throat. "I honestly wouldn't recommend it."

"There are some potions in China that might… clarify one's vision," Liu Bao says delicately, casting a look at Desmond. "This concoction you had… I assume it made you intoxicated?"

"Guess you could call it that," Desmond mutters. "More like really damn high. Like with opium, I think," he clarifies. "Not that I've ever had any, but how I imagine it would feel."

"I see, I see," Liu Bao says.

"And did you see anything, during this… high?" Sun Kai asks, considering his tea cup like he was only asking for curiosity. "Opium can give man visions, or so I have heard."

Cute try. Not sure if Laurence has said anything about the visions of ancestors to the Chinese, Desmond only answers vaguely. "It was just a sort of trance, I think," he says. "Mostly it was very confusing, and I think I forgot who I was for a moment."

"Hmm, and this let the Tswana discern that you had Dragon's Eye?" Liu Bao asks, frowning and thinking about it. "Were there visual clues, or…?"

"I don't really know," Desmond says, and, not wanting to reveal the whole genetic memory bit, reaches for something else. "I guess there might have been. When I woke up from it, my Dragon's Eye felt… stronger, I suppose. So maybe."

Definitely not the right thing to say. "Stronger how?" Sun Kai and Liu Bao ask together in obvious alarm.

"Er. It's not as dark as it used to be," Desmond admits awkwardly – shit, really shouldn't have said that, shit. "Um, not, not by much. Used to be when I used it almost everything went black and I couldn't really see – aside from the hues. Now it's more dark grey and I can actually see the world using the Dragon's Eye?"

It's not much of a save, judging by the way Sun Kai's face goes deeply thoughtful and Liu Bao looks troubled. It's true though – the effect of the potion had been permanent. Or at least it hasn't faded yet. His vision is clearer now – never mind the fact that there are whole new shades of colours to people now, purples and browns and pinks and light blues… Desmond still hasn't figured out what they mean precisely, but there's nuance to the colours that wasn't there before.

The drug kind of blew his third eye wide open.

"Do we have any of the mushroom aboard?" Sun Kai asks slowly, turning his sharp eyes to Desmond. "Captain Laurence sent some of it to Britain, I understand, but did he, perchance… keep any?"

"You would have to ask him," Desmond says, awkward. "I'm pretty sure the Captain sent at least most of it to Britain, but maybe there were smaller bits that weren't suitable for sending. But yeah – you have to ask Captain Laurence."


 

Desmond doesn't see much of Laurence himself in the days following their departure from Africa. Whether the man is intentionally ignoring him or if he's just busy with other matters, Desmond doesn't know. He's still not welcome to the dragon deck either way, so it's probably at least in part the man avoiding him. Plus Yongxing, it looks like, has started to talk to Laurence – only bad things, Desmond's sure. Add to that Sun Kai, Liu Bao and all the post-Africa….

Laurence looks rough. Desmond isn't the only one who notices – the aviators worry over the man and eventually even Temeraire gets in on the mothering and when a beast of Temeraire's size starts mothering someone, it's pretty noticeable.

"Please, my dear Laurence, won't you sit down, you look so very pale," the dragon can be heard saying and, "Granby says you didn't eat during the dinner last night. Laurence, are you sick?" and then, "Ferris, have you seen Laurence – oh, he's asleep? Good, let him sleep, he looks so tired…"

Whether is the man being overly stressed, again, and also possibly taking up the guilt and blame of Capetown on himself like he did with Cape Coast, Desmond doesn't know. The Aviators kind of close rank whenever he gets near. At first he doesn't really mind, the guy isn't really his problem and he has a whole crew and a dragon to worry over him. But then it's been several more days, and…

Desmond is getting a little worried, maybe. Maybe the guy is getting under the weather, and wouldn't that be rotten luck for him, to get sick immediately after his dragon got better?

In either case, Desmond's worry doesn't seem welcome, and overall he doesn't really expect Laurence to bother with him again – so it's a bit surprising to be invited to the man's cabin again. Especially since this time it happens in the middle of the night, with a sleepy runner from Laurence's crew – not Roland this time, but a boy named Dyer – sneaking up on Desmond in the crew quarters.

"Captain Laurence wants to see you, sir." the boy says, broken by a yawn. "In his cabin."

"At this time of the night?" Desmond asks, more to himself than to the kid, who is already heading away, satisfied at having woken him and obviously heading off to find his bed now. His curiosity well piqued, Desmond gets up and pulls a shirt on, running a hand through his hair to straighten it up, out at least push it back. Should cut it soon, it's getting long – and curly – again.

With bare minimum spent on appearances – he didn't even bother with the ragged scarf he used for a neck cloth – Desmond heads to see what the Captain wants, wondering. The aviator crew, though obviously worried about their captain in the last few days, haven't seemed to be panicking, so it probably isn't anything dire… but to call him, of all people, in the middle of the night?

Though who knows, it might be that it's now the aviators who are trying to bully him and it's all a joke on him and Laurence has no idea and is well asleep. Desmond keeps eye on the shadows just in case he's about to be jumped – but there's no one in his way between the crew quarters and the cabin allotted to the Captain of Temeraire.

Laurence is not asleep, he's very awake. He also looks like he's been drinking, a lot. He's sitting by the writing desk, his head leaning onto one palm, his other hand resting around the neck of a bottle. That's shocking enough, but the man's also half dressed, his hair loose, a mess. The whole man looks like a mess.

Holy shit, is the guy dying?

"…Captain Laurence?" Desmond asks warily. "You asked for me, sir?"

It takes a moment before he gets any answer. Laurence draws a breath, and it sounds stuffy, like his nose is clogged.

"The visions," Laurence says without looking at him, his voice rough with lack of sleep. "They will not cease. I keep seeing them in my dreams – Thomas du Carneillon and Robert Fitzwalter. Sometimes I see them on deck, too. Tell me, Mr. Miles, am I losing my mind?"

…Ah. Desmond… probably should've seen that coming. "No, not – not really," he says and checks that the door is locked, glancing at the walls to make sure there's no one near enough on the other side to be eavesdropping. There's no one – most of the ship is asleep. "The visions you see when awake," Desmond says carefully, "how long do they last? Longer than thirty seconds?"

Laurence lifts his head slowly, turning to look at him over his shoulder. He relaxes a little and though he still looks rough and sleep deprived, Desmond's lack of alarm seems to put him at ease. "No, only dozen seconds at most," he says and straightens his neck a little. "You know what it is, then? You do not seem to be bothered by the same side effects."

"How can you tell?" Desmond asks, frowning a little. "I could be."

Laurence hesitates. "I… since the Tswana I have become aware – I can see when people are in pain," he says and looks at Desmond warily, maybe expecting ridicule. Finding none, he gives Desmond a sort of wryly jealous smile. "If you had my headache, I believe I would be able to see it."

"That would be useful talent for a doctor," Desmond murmurs, wincing on Laurence's behalf. Being able to see others' pain? Oof, that's a rough evolution of Dragon's Eye to get, especially if you're a sort of anxious person like Laurence seems to be. Definitely not something many Assassins would like – except maybe as way to see weak points to exploit. "But no, I don't have the same issue, I'm – kind of used to my ancestors popping in and out of my mind."

"So you know what this is?" Laurence asks desperately, "You know what's happening to me – how to stop it?"

Desmond hesitates and then steps closer, sitting down on the bench beside Laurence's writing desk. "It's hard to explain, and, uh… a lot of it will probably sound like complete nonsense to you. But if you're willing to listen and keep an open mind, I can explain everything and maybe even help you. But it's not – there's no simple solution, really."

Laurence stares at him silently for a moment and then puts the cork back in his bottle of nightcap. "I'm listening, Mr. Miles," he says, determined and obviously bracing for the worst.

Desmond considers how to open. Might be that the explanation given to him by Vidic is the best way to go, as dirty as that makes him feel. "Have you ever wondered why birds know to migrate to the same place each year, when most of them hatched half a world away and have never seen any other lands?" Desmond asks. "Or how fish know to travel upstream to spawn, how animals raised in captivity know how to tend to their young?"

Laurence blinks at him. "That's – some animal instinct, surely."

Whoa, déjà vu. "Which they get from their parents?" Desmond prompts at him.

"I suppose," Laurence says uncertainly. "What does this…"

"It's similar to what we have. Genetic memory, passed from parent to child," Desmond says. "Us humans have a little bit of that, us Dragon Eyed people a bit more than most. We have the whole ancestry, and in the right circumstances we can access those genetic memories more directly."

"Genetic?" the dragon captain asks confusedly.

"It's – never mind that. Call it familial memory. We get it from our parents and they got it from their parents and all the way down to Adam and Eve," Desmond says, which strangely makes some of Laurence pinched look fade. "Okay?"

"So the visions I am seeing are part of this… family memory lineage?" Laurence asks and runs his palm over his knees, thinking. "Why only these two? They both lived hundreds of years ago, there are many generations between."

"At a guess, they both had Dragon's Eye," Desmond shrugs. "Where we get to the nonsense which is mostly my own theory about what happens, but here we go. Normally people can't remember familial memories, they can't access them. Us Dragon Eyed people can, but it's usually only other Dragon Eyed people we remember. It's almost like only with the Dragon's Eye we come online on the family memory lineage."

"I – do not understand half of what you're saying," Laurence says plaintively, looking frustrated.

"It's like – um – the family memory is like a book, everyone in your family tree gets a page to write in it," Desmond tries to explain. "Everyone else is writing with charcoal – but with Dragon Eye it's like we've been given ink and quill, so that page is a whole lot more legible and lasts longer."

"I see," Laurence says slowly, a little dubiously. "And what is happening to me now is…"

"You are stuck reading Thomas' and Robert's pages," Desmond shrugs. "And I'm sorry, but once you start reading an ancestor's page, they tend to insist it gets read in full."

"So you have gone through this too," Laurence says, eying him consideringly. "This – viewing of ancestral memories. This has happened to you too."

"Several times," Desmond agrees and leans back a little. "It's happening to me right now too – I'm going through the memories of my latest ancestor. Aveline de Grandpré. And I'm seeing her on the deck too, you're not the only one having hallucinations," he adds comfortingly.

The man doesn't look comforted. "But – you're not in pain?"

"I'm used to it and know how to deal with it," Desmond shrugs. "And unlike you, I'm not ignoring it or trying to force it to stop. The more you fight it, the worse it gets. If you just… let your ancestors do their thing, say their bit, it really does go lot smoother for you."

Laurence swallows. "So I should just let it happen, let myself go mad?" he asks and shakes his head. "I don't –"

"You won't go mad," Desmond snorts. "Though you probably won't have normal dreams ever again. Just stop straining and stressing about it and let it happen. Most of your headache probably comes from tension, at this point."

Laurence gives him an unimpressed look. "That's not the first time you've said that, and I still do not know what it means."

"It means you need to relax and stop worrying about everything so much," Desmond says. "It would help with this, probably. Honestly, it would probably be better for you health in general."

The look Laurence gives him is utterly flat. "I suppose you don't worry about anything, then?" he asks wryly.

"I used to, and it never helped a damn thing," Desmond shrugs and gives him a look. "Honestly, has all the fretting you do constantly ever made anything better?"

"It makes me watchful and wary and best prepared for most eventualities," Laurence answers very seriously.

Desmond eyes him suspiciously. If he didn't know better, he'd say the man is fucking with him. "How drunk are you?" he asks.

"Oh, lord, not nearly drunk enough," Laurence sighs and shakes his head. "I do envy your easy manner and your outrageous confidence, Mr. Miles, how little seems to phase you, Chinese and African dragons and rebellions –" he stops there, swallowing the rest of what he was about to say. "No, I think I do very well, even with my... fretting. My nature has serviced me so far, I dare say it will continue to do so in the future. However," he says, lifting a hand. "I will attempt to stop – straining," he adds, "if you truly think it will help."

Desmond nods slowly. The man really is drunk – and not gloomy drunk. Might be the sleep deprivation speaking, though. "Good," he says. "The visions, you'll get used to. The dreams will become normal. Thomas and Robert will show you what they've got to show. It'll be better. Meditation helps," he adds. "Especially if you do it before going to sleep."

Laurence looks down at the cot. "I suppose I might as well try it now," he says and casts a glance at Desmond. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," Desmond says and stands up. "Don't hesitate to get me if things get worse. Also – I don't know if the Chinese have this stuff going for them," he says. "I didn't tell them about the familial memories. They might know more, or it might make it even more interesting for them. And they're already very interested about the mushrooms."

"Yes, I know," Laurence says with a frown.

"Yeah. So it's up to you if you want to tell them," Desmond shrugs.

Laurence nods slowly and looks at him. "Would you tell them?"

"About my ancestors?" Desmond asks. "No. They're my ancestors – it's not really any of their business." And honestly, the monopoly the Chinese felt they had on important ancestry was kind of annoying at times. As if the only proper bloodlines were in China. Seriously.

Laurence looks at him almost wistfully and then lets out a huff of breath, almost a laugh. "Good night, Mr. Miles," he says. "My apologies for keeping you up so late."

"It was my pleasure, Captain. Good night."

Chapter Text

Watching Laurence struggle with the Bleeding Effect makes Desmond oddly nostalgic about being a bartender. It's not something's he's thought of in a long time, but as the proper aviator tries to come to terms with the ghosts of his ancestors, Desmond misses it – being the ignorant outsider suddenly thrust into a world he wasn't prepared to handle. There's been a time, not even that long ago, when he had no idea what was going on. Less than two years ago, really. He kinda misses it, the time when he had no idea what was happening and didn't even have to know because there were more informed people around him, telling him who he was and what he had to do.

Not that he has any idea now either, but nowadays there's no one else to turn to. Watching Laurence reminds him of that. How damn alone be is in this place. He's gotten used to it, and weirdly it has helped Desmond become a lot more comfortable in his skin and in his messed up mind, and yet… part of him misses it, having had someone else do his thinking for him.

Ah well. All least he's welcome on the dragon deck again. Laurence actually goes out of his way to nearly formally invite him back on it with apologies and everything, saying, "I am dreadfully sorry about my impropriety the other night, I do hope you forgive me, Mr. Miles."

"I honestly have no idea what you're talking about, Captain," Desmond admits, "But I'm sure it's nothing to be worried about."

Laurence, interestingly, goes a little red at that. "Yes, I suppose you find nothing odd about it," he mutters and motions Desmond to join him, moving further away from everyone else on the deck and saying quietly, "My invitation, in the middle of the night, made in such… such state, it wasn't proper."

Desmond blinks at him. "Okay?" he says, more confused than anything. "I promise I'm not offended?"

"Lord, you really are a landsman when it comes to some things, aren't you?" Laurence sighs. "Have you spoken of it to others?"

Curious now about the man's obvious embarrassment, Desmond tilts his head to one side. "Of course not, it's no one's business," he says, keeping his voice quiet even as he snorts with some amusement. "Laurence, are you worried about your virtue or mine?"

Laurence almost trips over his feet at that, which of course immediately makes Temeraire turn his head their way, saying, "Laurence? Are you unwell, did you not get any sleep again? Mr. Ferris, bring a chair for Laurence –"

"I am fine, Temeraire, stop your cosseting," Laurence answers, sounding both exasperated and relieved, and then, in obvious distraction, adds, "Look who is here, Temeraire: Mr. Miles will be joining us in meditation today."

"He is?" Temeraire asks, peering at Desmond.

"Apparently I am," Desmond agrees, casting a look at Laurence, arching a brow. The man coughs and looks away, still embarrassed. Desmond smiles and looks up at the dragon. "Hello, Temeraire, how have you been?"

"I have been well, only Laurence is under the weather now," Temeraire says, leaning in towards his Captain. "Are you sure you should not sit down, Laurence?"

"Oh, let off. I promise I'm fine, my dear," Laurence says and rests a hand in Temeraire's snout. "I assure you, I slept much better."

"You do smell better," Temeraire admits and nudges at him fondly. "You're to tell me straight away if you feel any worse, though. Now, Mr. Miles, Laurence says that you have been busy with your ship duties – are you no longer as busy? Splendid, then we can have meditation directly."

Laurence agrees immediately and heads off to find their usual seat cushions, leaving Desmond looking after him with some amusement. British gentlemen and their propriety. Sheesh.

"Mr. Miles," Temeraire says in what for him passes for a whisper – which is not much more quiet than his usual speaking voice. "Does he look at all ill to you? I keep asking my crew, but they only sugarcoat it for me and refuse to say."

"He looks a bit rough, but I don't think you have to worry, Temeraire," Desmond says honestly. "I'm sure captain Laurence is on the mend, now."


 

Now that he knows that Laurence is suffering from the Bleeding Effect, it's rather obvious that Laurence is seeing things. He flinches every time something pops up and then uses his headache as an excuse not to look at the hallucinations, covering his eyes with his palm and bowing his head until they pass – which doesn't make Temeraire any more confident about his health. It's also not actually helping the man.

"Stop looking away," Desmond murmurs to him. "Whatever you're seeing, they're showing it to you for a reason, and it will keep coming up until you've gotten the message. Just look and count the seconds the vision takes."

"And how am I supposed to look at something that only I can see without seeming like a madman?" Laurence asks frustratedly.

"Pretend you're looking at something else, walk about, look at other things every now and then," Desmond says. "Maybe try to look bored or like you know your exactly what you're doing – or even just lost in thought – instead of like you're on the verge of complete panic because you're seeing ghosts."

Laurence gives him a rather disgruntled look at that, but he makes an effort. It takes him a couple of days to get used to it and make it seem natural rather than an act he's trying very hard to keep up, but he tries, bless his proper English soul, he really tries.

In the meanwhile, the aviators very clearly disapprove of Desmond, they disapprove of him very much. It's kind of hilarious. Where before they'd been pretty chill about it, now every time Laurence turns his back, they're glaring daggers at Desmond. They're almost defensive about their space – and their Captain – and they aren't shy about showing it either. Desmond gets the distinctive impression that the aviators think he's bad influence on their proper Captain.

Lieutenant Granby even goes as far as to give him the shovel talk.

"Sir, I recognize your contributions and aid where the Captain's new – talent is concerned, and I am sure it's been invaluable and appreciated. But you are a sailor, and a common seaman at that, not even a British citizen, and as such you should know better than to –" the man almost visibly reaches for the right words, "to entertain any sort of – of –"

"Impropriety?" Desmond offers helpfully.

"Yes," Granby grinds out. "Impropriety."

Desmond waits attentively for him to continue, but for a moment Granby just glares at him. Then Granby goes, "Oh, to hell with it," and continues, much less stiff but lot more emotional, "I don't know what the bloody hell you were on about with the Tswana, but I know you weren't onboard the ship when the attack started. Now, I'm not a friend to slavers any more than the Captain is and I don't know why he turned a blind eye to your obvious involvement, but he did, and I'm happy to leave it at that. That doesn't mean I am happy about your involvement with him when he's so obviously –" the man stops with a grimace and then finishes angrily, "indisposed!"

Desmond eyes the man in interest and lets his vision shift to a dragon's perspective, until light bleeds to dark grey and humans begin to glow. Granby doesn't show up red, but he's definitely not strictly blue either. It's a sort of a reddish purple colour.

"I might be wrong, but I don't think it's really up to you," Desmond says thoughtfully, blinking.

"It will be up to me if I knock you off the damn ship," Granby mutters. "Just stick to instructing him about – whatever he needs help with. Nothing more, none of this – elbow rubbing."

Desmond arches a brow.

"And," Granby adds, quieter now, almost in a hiss, "No more visits to his cabin at night. Even if he asks. Decline."

Well well, Laurence's virtue really is in question here then, and the lieutenant seems almost as beside himself as Laurence was about it. People of this time are adorable when it comes to this stuff.

"Whatever you say, Lieutenant," Desmond says mildly.

"You will only interact with him on the dragon deck," Granby orders. "And that will be the end of it."

"If you say so, Lieutenant," Desmond hums.

Granby gives him a suspicious look but nods. "Then it is settled," he says, nods once more briskly and then turns to leave, apparently satisfied.

Desmond shakes his head, amused more than anything by the whole thing.


 

In the meanwhile, the Chinese start settling a bit. They still cook for Temeraire, something the ship's actual cook doesn't approve of, as the Chinese cooks are using up their spice stores faster than intended. Temeraire certainly doesn't seem to mind though, and him being pleased makes the Chinese pleased and a lot less likely to get uppity, which is probably a good thing for everyone involved.

With the subject of the mushrooms and of the Tswana put on hold with no further material to go over, Desmond had been roped into discussions of philosophy and morals, Liu Bao and Sun Kai comparing the philosophies and ethics of the western philosophers to the eastern ones. There's definitely a sense of superiority there, when the comparisons are made, the Chinese definitely favour their great masters over Greek philosophers. But it's still an amiable sort of discourse, mostly.

Not that Desmond had much to say about the matter.

"I don't really know that much about philosophy," he says – and really doesn't want a new ancestor to pop up to rectify the matter either, please, thank you. "Now ask me about humanism and the Renaissance and I can tell you a whole bunch about that – philosophy itself kind of goes beyond my understanding."

"You've studied history then?" Liu Bao asks in interest.

"A little bit, I guess," Desmond agrees. "I had a friend who was a historian, so it was sort of inevitable, I suppose."

"I admit, I have only the faintest understanding about… the Renaissance," Sun Kai said mildly. "I know it was a period of time three hundred years ago in the Mediterranean, but our texts about the matter are sparse. There were many western innovators and artists, I understand, but..."

He trails off, eying Desmond expectantly.

"Well, it was a – culmination of several things coming to head, I guess," Desmond muses. "Several Italian states becoming very wealthy, for one – Florence and Venice in particular. Trade booming between Venice the Ottoman Empire. At the same time, Arabic texts were being translated into Latin, which brought the lost texts of antiquity back to the Italian peninsula – writings by Ptolemy, Plato, and so forth, the old philosophers and theologians. Lost science plus a lot of money plus urge to show off equals a lot of rich people patronising artists and scientists to make lavish displays of wealth…"

Sun Kai and Liu Bao look faintly surprised this and Desmond shrugs. He's not sure how it went here, in this world, with dragons and all, but judging by how similar sciences are, and the fact that ship building proceeded about the same, it kind of indicates things went similarly. And a lot of Italian history is still similar enough – for Rodrigo to have been a Pope and Cesare having been… Cesare

Desmond hides his grimace in his teacup. "Anyway, there's nothing quite like having a rich patron favouring innovators to boost innovation forward, I guess," Desmond says and sips tea. "I don't know how it goes in China, with sciences and art and such."

"The imperial family favours all arts that benefit the empire, but knowledge for its own sake has value also," Sun Kai says thoughtfully. "The Italian states are small, I recall, they must not have the sort of expenditures an empire the size of China does, so their lords could favour artists with ease."

"Who knows," Desmond answers. "Florence got rich mostly by banking, and Venice by selling Ottoman goods to the West, I think. Don't know if that's a statement about how little land they had to worry about or how good they were with money and making trades."

"Venice is now part of France, is it not?" Sun Kai hums thoughtfully.

Desmond almost winces at that. "Yeah," he agrees glumly. "I suppose it is." And it wouldn't ever be independent city-state again. "Requiescat in pace, la Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia," he murmurs sadly.

The Chinese exchange looks at that. "When we were in Britain and the First Lord of the Admiralty was showing us around, we were shown some artworks," Liu Bao recalls. "Including a painting by someone named Bo-che-li," he pronounces slowly. "From the Renaissance period, we were told."

"...Botticelli?" Desmond asks carefully.

"Yes, that's the one," Liu Bao agrees with a nod. "Large work of art with many figures – depicting a scene from the Bible. Have you ever seen works of this Bo-che-li?"

"Yes, some," Desmond agrees, wondering where this is going.

"Did you find them all to be so… strict to reality?" Liu Bao asks thoughtfully and casts a look at Sun Kai. "It was an impressive work to be sure, but I could not understand the spirit of it – so many meticulous details."

"Western art, I believe, is preoccupied with the perfection in the act of capturing reality," Sun Kai says. "In clever technical details, and not the nature of the work itself."

Desmond arches a brow. Are they seriously dissing the work of one of classical masters? "True to life painting is not a thing in China?" he asks.

"What a thing looked like in reality and its perfect copying is the preoccupation of distracted minds," Sun Kai says. "I am but a poor scholar and poorer artist still, but I prefer works of essence and spirit. Western art, I find, is very restrained."

"Yes, I thought so also," Liu Bao muses. "I wonder if it's the result of the western philosophies, their interest in understanding how and why the word works, rather than how one fits within the world. It is impressive, in a purely scientific way, I suppose, to capture the world in such perfect detail – but for what cause?"

Desmond looks between them. "Alright " he says slowly, not sure if he's insulted in Leonardo's behalf or not. Maybe a little. "What does Chinese art attempt to capture then, if not reality?"

"Why, the spirit of the thing, of course," Liu Bao says. "And the feeling, the sensation it invokes. It doesn't matter if the depiction is true to life, if it invokes the same feeling – or even greater one – in the viewer. Isn't it much more pleasant to be invited by art to contemplate its nature and meaning than the process of its creation?"

Desmond frowns slightly. Huh. "I think that's in the eye of the beholder. There's plenty to contemplate in western art too."

"Perhaps to western eyes," Liu Bao says and sighs. "I admit, I find all of you very uptight and tense, in manner and art both. It is sad that teachings of Lao Tzu did not reach the West the same as Arabic things did. I feel many would have benefitted from his wisdom."

From where they, of course, get back to talking about Tao Te Ching and Desmond is again forced to try and keep up with Eastern philosophies. Shao Jun is some help there, but not much – she followed the Assassin's Creed after all, and most of her musings were mostly about it. Desmond doesn't know how much of either philosophy he internalised, but he thinks he, Sun Kai and Liu Bao agree on one thing.

Laurence needs some Wu Wei in his life.


 

Desmond is starting to seriously contemplate philosophy and is trying to figure out what he actually believes in the end, when they make it to New Amsterdam. It's not a settlement, sadly, only an island in the Indian sea, mostly barren with just some older signs of other ships having passed by. The Allegiance stops there to refill her water casks and to do a whole lot of sealing. It's not a very pretty place to look at, nor a thrilling activity to be ordered to do, but it's a break from the usual monotony of ocean voyage, storms and whatnot, notwithstanding. It would also likely be the last bit of land they will see in a long while.

As the Master or Arms' mate, Desmond is one of the men ordered into the task of hunting the seals, which is – it's a thing. Not a terribly nice thing, really. At least this time the hunting is for a reason – the animals would be eaten, not just killed for their pelts. He's not even sure seal pelts can be used for anything – strangely enough, it had never come up in anyone's lives, sealing.

"Why is it called New Amsterdam?" he asks another sailor, a good-natured man named Griggs, who's doing the butchering with him on a hastily made tables by the shore.

"Some Dutch captain named it after his ship, I think? I think that's what I heard Lieutenant Beckett say," Griggs says, and together they throw another cleaned up seal into a crate that's almost full of them. "Why?"

"New York was once called New Amsterdam, too," Desmond shrugs and wipes his grimy hands. "Just wondering, that's all."

He doesn't realise he has the tune stuck in his head until Griggs gives him a weird look – he's humming the song while expertly gutting another seal up to be hung. The whole process stinks– and so does Desmond, who is starting to seriously consider quick dip into the ocean once they're done. It's not that cold, and the water shouldn't be freezing or anything…

"What's that you're humming? Don't think I've ever heard the like," Griggs says while sharpening his knife. "Some American ditty?"

"Eh. Kinda?" Desmond says.

"It got lyrics to it?"

Desmond makes a face. "Well… kinda." And now they're going to be stuck in his head for the rest of the day, too. Great.

"Well, go on then. Sing it man. Make this," Griggs motions at the seals, "go a bit faster."

"Not really sure it's a working song," Desmond says. "Definitely no sea shanty. But, what the hell." It's not like the words are hard to forget, anyway, and it's not like there's a radio to put on here, really. "Tap me a beat then, let's try it."

The song doesn't make the work pass that much faster, though Griggs seems to enjoy it judging by his laughter, Desmond's singing has ever been only so and so. Less said about the whole thing, the better, really. Sadly the smell can't quite be brushed aside that easily, though – it lingers in the air and with the meat locker they eventually hoist up to hang towards the aft of the Allegiance makes sure it will damn well follow them too.

Well, maybe once they hoisted anchor and started to make their way eastward again, it wouldn't be so bad. Still… Desmond really thinks a jump into the ocean is in order, clothes and all.

"You go on ahead, I'm going to try and have a wash," he waves to Griggs, who's gathering their gutting tools.

"How are you going to get to the ship?"

"Guess I'll swim."

The man gives him a look and then shrugs his shoulders. "Suit yourself."

Desmond takes his time on the shore, enjoying the rare bit of privacy. It's not that they haven't gotten chances to wash properly before – in calms men who knew how to swim often would, and the captain would usually have a net hung over the side of the ship so that those who couldn't swim could also have a proper wash. But that was usually in company, with some jeering and stuff – and yeah. It's not something you can enjoy in peace, really.

It's… kind of funny. It's the closest he'd gotten to properly enjoying time at a beach, like… a normal 21st century human. While being in the 19th century, in an alternate world, surrounded by ghosts of his ancestors.

"What do you want now?" Desmond asks Edward, who is sitting on the rocks of the beach while Desmond scrubs his clothes clean. "We've done this whole dance already, haven't we? And don't tell me you've been here, because there's no way."

Edward says nothing, doesn't even look at him – instead he's staring at the Allegiance where she sits, low and heavy on the waves in all of its four-masted glory, with a sleepy dragon lounging about on the deck.

"She's a beaut," Edward says.

Desmond eyes the ship thoughtfully. "Yeah," he agrees. "She's definitely something." He doesn't have Edward's discerning eye when it comes to ships – but Allegiance is certainly something. Even Black Beard would've been impressed – the Allegiance puts the Queen Anne's Revenge to shame.

Edward goes quiet, so Desmond shrugs and goes back to washing, leaving his shirt on the rocks to dry and then wading into the water. It's a pity he didn't think to bring his shaving kit with him – he's got a stubble going on again. And his hair… Well, maybe he'll start tying it up soon. Join a long honoured tradition of pony-tailed assassins.

None of them had his curls though, lucky bastards.

It's probably the singing that brought Edward up – and the sealing – because while Desmond is cleaning up, the ghost begins to hum – and then to sing. "Come all you young sailor men, listen to me," Edward croons, "I'll sing you a song of the fish in the sea…"

Desmond hums along, enjoying the odd bit of camaraderie with the ghost of his ancestor, until Edward goes and changes the lyrics on him. "Up jumps a serpent, as long as a tree; coils 'round the ship and drags her to the sea," which makes Desmond lift up his head.

"That's… not right, is it?" Desmond says and then he feels it – a sense of danger.

There's something in the water – something that's coming, something that makes the whole sea feel… red. Desmond has sensed a lot of danger in his time, the Eagle Sense has warned him about lot of things, but this is… this is just big. Much too big.

Edward is gone by the time the ocean roils up like something is boiling up from underneath – and actual fucking sea serpent comes up in great gush of water, lifting it's massive head from the water, snapping enormous jaws around the just recently hung up meat locker hanging off the aft. It's like something from a movie – almost like it happens in slow motion. The serpent's jaws snap around the wooden locker, close, and pull.

The whole Allegiance moves under the force of the beast tugging at the chained locker. The aft sinks while the bow rises, and considering how massive the Allegiance is, it's no small thing. The chain, the metal having grown a little rusted over the long ocean voyage, gives in before the ship does, thankfully, snapping near the top and letting the ship go – it bobs back up over the waves, making men shout, waking Temeraire up.

The sea serpent vanishes under the waves, for a moment, taking the meat locker and all the seals Desmond and the other men had spent whole day slaying down with it.

"What the actual fuck," Desmond asks no one in particular.

For a moment it looks like that might be it – the serpent came, the serpent went, the end. But of course, nothing's that simple. While the ship's deck fills with confused men and on the deck Temeraire perks up in confusion and interest, the serpent lifts up again, the seals gone, only bits of wooden cage remaining – and apparently, the thing is still hungry. Only this time, there's no seals.

There is, however, a ship deck full of men.

Desmond sees one dive, hears shouting, screaming, and then he's in the water, diving deep and cutting through the rolling waves and towards the dragon transport. It dawns on him only about twenty yards in what a stupid idea it is – it is really a stupid idea, it's a colossally stupid idea. What did Edward say, as tall as a tree? The serpent is bigger than Temeraire, and Desmond doesn't even have his blade on – the fuck can he even do? Aside from maybe getting killed and snacked on by hungry sea monster.

He swims to the ship anyway as fast as he can, his mind already set on the action.

By the time he makes it there, Temeraire has joined the fight, trying to get the sea serpent off, raking it with his talons, shouting in several different languages. Desmond hauls himself up, soaked through and completely shirtless, to the deck and then does a quick assessment. There's men working, the bosun is shouting orders – people are shooting at the serpent, trying to aim a cannon at it. Temeraire is doing the most, but he's also making Allegiance rock dangerously to the side. Laurence is up on the deck too, shouting to Temeraire, "Cut loose, she'll over set!"

And then the serpent is, like Edward sang, looping the ship.

Desmond looks up and then moves, ignoring the ghosts. He grabs a sword from somebody along the way, not sure who – it doesn't matter, there isn't time. He holds the blade in his teeth like a goddamn pirate and then climbs the rigging, up and past the main sail, the main topsail, up and past a man dangling on the wildly rocking mast and up further, all the way to the highest point of the ship, above the main royal.

The ship is rocking under his feet like in a storm – it sends the masts swaying wildly, and already some of the sails have been knocked askew by the battle of monsters as the dragon fights to get the sea serpent off the ship. It's like a dream, the whole thing – it barely even makes sense – but there's the serpent, there's it's neck – and here is Desmond, with a sword in his hand, and a good long fall to gather momentum for an air assassination.

Desmond aims the sword, runs the narrow length of the spar on bare feet and then he jumps.

It's nothing like in the Animus – the rush of wind and the fast approaching target both knock the air out of his lungs and there is no time to think, to react – there's just him, his blade, his red-hued target.

And the impact.


 

Aveline was taught the Leap of Faith as all assassins were – but she used it rarely. New Orleans didn't have all that many high rooftops, after all, and the bayou waters weren't always safe to dive into – she preferred safer landings with less risks. There were dangers enough in her life, without her jumping into dangerous waters headlong.

Shao Jun did the Leap of Faith in its truest sense – with faith and a sort of spiritual elegance. She'd ascribed a symbolism to it, believing in it wholeheartedly – learning humility and gaining strength from it. How fleeting the flight – how strong the gravity, how powerful the strength of her faith is to carry her to a safe landing, every time. To her, the Leap of Faith was a form of art, and every Leap was a new artwork.

Arno was taught the Leap of Faith by Pierre Bellec, but not well. It maintained to him a sense of danger throughout his life from then on – he was always viscerally aware of how close to death he got every time, and perhaps enjoyed it more for it. Paris had many ways to die, and the Leap of Faith remained his sort of defiance at the face of all of them.

Edward Leapt without hesitation or remorse – his Leap of Faith was like his life, it was only ever in the present. Though of course he mostly Leapt into the water, into the warm waves of the Caribbean, so it wasn't as if he usually had much to fear when Leaping. Still, Edward probably enjoyed the act most after Shao Jun – to him it was a joy.

Haytham, though he could do the Leap of Faith… generally didn't. And when he did, he almost belligerently refused to ascribe neither pleasure nor philosophy to it – it was an ability among many, a tool and a necessity sometimes, but a risky and foolish one to use, and hardly one to brag about.

Connor didn't even see it as something to think of as something… special. He learned the trick on his own in a very natural way; in the forest, surrounded by bushes and piles of leaves and brooks and rivers. With Eagle Vision guiding him to safety, he learned the Leap of Faith as a simple natural course of life.

Like Connor, Ezio learned to do the Leap of Faith on his own – no one taught it to him. For Ezio it was as natural as everything else about Eagle Vision – he knew, instinctively, that some spaces were safe landing spots, no matter how high he started out… and sometimes, the risk was worth it. Like Shao Jun, he eventually made it into art, ascribed a philosophy to it. But before that, it was a form of sweet escapism.

For Altaïr, Leap of Faith was Mastery, pure and simple. Those who could do it were worthy, and those who could not, died. Even when he grew older and wiser, some of that still clung to him – and Leap of Faith remained a challenge and a rite of passage and he, subconsciously, respected those who could do it more. Some of his self worth was tied to it too, probably. Up in the air, he felt truly like the Eagle of Masyaf.

And Desmond…

He'd never really thought about it, before. It had always been something other Assassins did. He'd only ever done it as means to an end, and even then he'd never thought about it. And thinking about it now, he'd only done it twice, before… before the end. And he hadn't done it here before now – there hadn't really been that many opportunities for it.

He really should've given it some thought, before jumping down the length of a ship and down onto the back of a sea serpent. Yeah.

It's stormy weather indeed, boys.

Chapter Text

"Oh, Desmond. Didn't I tell you – pick your battles."

Desmond blinks blearily at – nothing. White nothingness, familiar and full of flickering potential. For once he's not just standing there all of a sudden – he's lying there, hand hanging off the edge of a cot that's slowly swaying up and down, side to side, in the rhythm of a distant ocean. Everything feels sluggish.

There's a woman standing above him, her curly dark hair done up, her skin tanned and eyes familiar warm amber. She tuts and shakes her head at him, worried and resigned.

"Mom?" Desmond asks.

The woman, only half remembered but so familiar, walks around the cot and then sits down beside him. Desmond looks down at his own prone body lying on it – there a ragged blanket thrown over his side and his trousers are ripped. He can't feel his legs.

The woman looks down at his feet and then at his face and takes his hand. "Pick your battles, Desmond. There's so many to choose from. Remember?"

Desmond tries to sit up, but his body refuses to respond – the most he manages is to lift a shaky hand, and even that doesn't go where he wants it to, listing to the side and flopping down limply. "What's wrong with me?"

She gives him a look.

"Am I dead?" Desmond guesses, listening to the weird echoes his voice makes.

"Now, that's going a bit far, don't you think?" His mother asks. "Come now, darling, we taught you better than this."

"You realise that I don't remember shit about what you taught me, right?" Desmond asks warily. She looks too old, he thinks – and not just like she did when Desmond ran away from home, which would already be too old for genetic memory – but she looks just old, his dad's age, going grey and everything. "How are you here? I shouldn't have memories like this from you. You were younger than this when you had me."

She chuckles and takes his hand. "First things first, Desmond. What comes first?"

"What comes first when? What are you talking about?"

She arches her brows.

Desmond sighs and leans back, confused. He should be panicking, but mostly need just – confused. This is off, it's not like his usual hallucinations or meditation – this seems just off.

"What comes first, Desmond?" he repeats. She'd asked him that once, during a lesson, when he was a kid. You wake up from being drugged in a strange situation. What comes first?

Trick question. What came before is the important thing. What happened that might have led you to having been drugged. Kidnapping was assumed, in their lives.

In Desmond's current life though…

"I fell and knocked myself out," Desmond says at the white sky. "And someone's drugged me. Again."

His mother nods, not saying anything, waiting for him to continue.

Desmond swallows and closed his eyes. It's not the mushroom drug, the taste is missing. Something familiar to this, though, this is… yeah. "I've been given narcotics," he says and blinks his eyes open. "At a guess, laudanum. And not a small dose."

"Because…?" his mother asks and looks at his feet.

Desmond hears echo of a terrible sounds of bones breaking. "Shit," he mutters and then he can feel his legs again, or a sort of hollow after-feeling of them. "If I wake up and someone's sawed my legs off, there will be hell to pay. I'll do it crawling on my hands if I must; there will be reckoning."

His mother laughs. "Well, let's hope it doesn't come to that," she says and then squeezes his hand. "You've been injured. Assess the damage, Desmond."

How the hell can he do that while lucid dreaming and stuck in a drugged up hallucination? "Damnit," Desmond grunts and then uses all of his strength to sit up. His legs lay inert on the bed, but they're still attached. That's something. Definitely got broken bones, though, judging by the angle his foot sits at. "Bad landing – fuck, I landed almost completely feet first on that thing's back," he says and reaches out with a shaking hand to test his legs. Some of the impact force had gone to the sword, he remembers that – it sank into the serpent's neck like a hot knife into butter. That took the brunt of the force, but not all of it – he took the rest with his feet. And the serpent's hide had been like concrete under him. Probably better than going down hands or head first but still. Shit.

"Definitely broke the shin bone on my right leg," Desmond says, prodding at it. "Left feels – not bad, but hurts. Fractured, maybe. But the right one has to be set. Knees feel fine, thank fuck, feet..."

His mother holds out her hand over his, and Desmond looks up. She's smiling, encouraging, but – vacant. "You're not actually a genetic memory, are you? You're just a figment of my imagination," Desmond says. "You're not really here."

She'd been the main nurse at the Farm, and the one who patched him up every time after training. She'd even sewn his lips when they'd been split – and considering the original damage, how small the scar remained was pretty impressive. Though it might be that nine plus years of bitterness had turned a mere scrape into a proper mauling or something, made the whole thing seem worse than it actually was – though Desmond doesn't think he imagined the blood.

"I'm here," she says and holds a hand over his chest. "We're all here. Your mind enables us, yes, and it's getting better at it, but we're all here – the information is there. All's left for you is to figure out how to access it."

Desmond hesitates, putting his hands over hers. Her skin becomes smoother as he holds her hand – she becomes younger in front of him, more age-appropriate for the actual timeframe of when her genetic memories were passed over. She's been so young. Barely past twenty. Desmond is already half a decade older than she'd been when she had him.

"I wish I could have given you a full life of memories too," she says and shrugs her shoulders. "We can't all be Ezio Auditore."

"I guess not," Desmond murmurs, drinking her visage in with all the hunger of a boy who ran away from home. She was the only thing about the Farm he ever missed, and turns out he didn't remember that much about her. She's muscular in a way he hadn't recalled – physically trained. A full-fledged Assassin.

And he doesn't really know anything about her life beyond what she'd been like as a mom and a designated nurse for the novices. "I know it doesn't mean anything, but… I'm sorry, Mom," Desmond says quietly. "I wanted to come back. After the Flare – I meant to come back home."

She smiles, closes her eyes and looks away. "I think," she says slowly. "I think it's alright, now. It's been long enough, don't you think?" she asks. "I think that's what she would say. A decade is long enough to move on."

Desmond hesitates – dad definitely hadn't thought that. "You're just saying what I want to hear."

"Yes," she agrees easily. "That doesn't mean you don't need to hear it."

Desmond doesn't know what to say to that, so he doesn't say anything, just sits there holding her hand and staring at her like an idiot.

In the distance he can hear voices, urgent, shouting, and something is tugging at his limbs. There are twists of pain breaking through the blanket of opiates.

"Time to go back, then?" Desmond asks, subdued.

"Time runs out on all of us eventually," his mother agrees and pats his hand. "Just, next time, Desmond? Choose your battles a bit more wisely. There are limits to what even Assassins can do – you wouldn't expect to see Ezio taking down a siege engine single-handedly with a knife, would you?"

Desmond gives her a look. "Honestly? Yeah, I would. And he did."

His mother looks taken aback for a moment. "Well…" she laughs. "We can't all be Ezio Auditore, can we? Now get up, baby, before they cut your leg off."

"Yeah. Thanks a lot, mom."

"Anytime, Desmond. Any time."


 

In the end, no one cuts Desmond's leg off – it's not even on the table, which is a relief. The break was a clean one, an oblique fracture, which even the hack of a ship's surgeon knew how to put properly into place. Honestly, the properly broken shin bone isn't even that bad – on his left one he probably had a bunch of small fractures. It doesn't need a splint like the right leg does, but goddamn, if there's any weight on it at all…

It definitely clears up the pensive mood left in the wake of meeting his… probably not actual mother. Really, there's no reality check quite like the after-effects of gravity, is there?

"You are lucky, you don't even know how lucky," the ship's surgeon says while splinting his left leg up too, just in case. "I have seen men fall from that height and break almost every bone in their body – even jumping into the water! How the bone didn't break skin is a miracle! What were you thinking ?"

"What happened to the snake?" Desmond asks in lieu of answering, gritting his teeth against the pain.

The doctor gives him an unimpressed look. "Dead, obviously. Took better part of three hours to hack the thing off the ship too – two hundred and fifty feet in length, it was. Mr. Keynes suspects it was the biggest specimen of a serpent seen this far from the Pacific. Perhaps the biggest ever recorded."

"Damn. But I killed it?" Desmond asks and feels a bit pleased about himself, despite the broken legs. "I killed the sea serpent."

"That's all you care about? Tch!" the doctor says, tightens the bandage and bustles off, muttering about lunatic sailors as he goes. Desmond preens a little. He broke both legs maybe, and recovery onboard a ship would be a bitch, but – successful assassination on an actual sea monster. Goddamn, that's cool. Edward, eat your heart out.

Now he just needs to survive the healing process without getting an infection and dying, and everything would be golden. Easy peasy.

The fever sets in a few hours after he'd woken up, and after that he's pretty much out of it. As such, Desmond doesn't really consider what it might mean though, having done what he'd done. During brief moments of lucidity he imagines what it must've looked like, mourning the lack of video cameras in this time – it must have been epic – but beyond that, he doesn't really think about it at all. He's done his bit, and that's usually all that's required of Assassins – they rarely, if ever, dealt with the aftermath, being in, out and gone before the body had finished cooling.

Onboard a ship, once more moving at a steady clip towards China, there's nowhere really to run, though. The event stays onboard – and so does Desmond. It's not like he can move much.

And so there are consequences.

Captain Riley comes to see him first, with the First and Second Lieutenants with him. The mixture of fever and laudanum is doing a number on Desmond's ability to concentrate, so he only catches snippets of the man's speech – something about admirable service, significant commitment and maybe a reward? The three men stand over his cot like a damn tribunal, their faces set, a little red in the heat of the infirmary. Their faces swim in and out of Desmond's vision.

By the time Desmond musters up the intelligence to reply, they're all gone, just, poof, like smoke into the air, and Desmond is surrounded by other sailors, all leaning in and asking questions.

"How did you do it? It looked like you could fly, man – how did you do it?"

Time blurs, and Desmond find himself listening to hushed, distant speech – a man, telling a story.

"... From the Impulsive, I know the carpenter's mate, I do, a solid sensible soul, not a bit superstitious. The stories he could tell you about Miles," the man says lowly to a crowd of intently listening men, their faces lit only by a flickering lantern light. "A small ship she was, on the canal – and they occasionally got into tussles with the French, see, little ship looking like pretty little prize. Only the Impulsive had an ace up her sleeve. The Demon, they call him – so clever with a sword that it couldn't be natural. Like a dance it was, when he had a blade in his hand. He took a whole prize by himself, he did, killed two dozen souls. With his clever sword…"

Desmond blinks blearily at the lantern light, while one of the younger midshipmen, maybe thirteen years old, leans in, whispering, "You can't be saying that Mr. Miles controls demons!"

"Another battle over the sea, oh, it got closer," the first man continues, hushed and theatrical. "The Impulsive was boarded and it looked dire, oh, it looked like the end. But the Devil took up his sword and he danced and danced until all the attackers were dead!" He slaps his hand on a table, making everyone jump. "I'm not saying he controls demons, Mr. Trip. I'm saying he is one!"

Desmond snorts, catching everyone's attention – and apparently catching them off guard while at it. Everyone in the group goes completely still, looking at him wide-eyed and nervous.

"I'm flattered. Anyone want to tell the story of what happened to the sea serpent?" Desmond asks, amused. "I think I missed the end of it."

It's a moment before the storyteller – Boyne, the usual ringleader when it comes to spreading rumours onboard the Allegiance – starts telling the story. It's obviously something he'd been planning to tell to someone else – not the people who were actually present – because the style is pretty lavish.

"... And as the Dragon and the Serpent did battle over the side of the Allegiance," Boyne recounts pretty dramatically, "no one did see the man, racing them on foot for the highest perch onboard the great dragon transport, where with nary a hesitation he took up his sword, and leapt into the wind of fate with only one thought in mind – to slay the monstrous beast that had attacked the ship…"

Really, the guy tells the best bedtime stories. Desmond slips away before actually finding out what happened to the sea serpent. He dreams of all sorts of whaling Edward had done, of white sharks and small whales and krakens and yes, the sea serpent too. Still can't figure out what actually happened to it, aside from it dying, but… it looks pretty impressive, hanging off the side of the Jackdaw… despite the fact that the Jackdaw is way smaller than the thing had been.

Desmond teeters on the edge of wakefulness for a long while, in a sort of weird dazed half-sleep where he's not sure if he's dreaming or just seeing things. Ezio is sitting by his bedside and Arno jumps over his bed, chased by soldiers – there, across the infirmary there is an inner courtyard of a Levantine Assassin bureau, and Altaïr is dozing off under palm leaves, and...

Desmond thinks people keep dosing him with laudanum. For a while in there, he is damn sure he's sailing onboard the Monteriggioni in the waters of the Caribbean bayou, searching for the isle of Masyaf for a legendary treasure of the – no, he's chasing someone, a dragon. It's not Temeraire though, it's someone else. For a while, Desmond dreams he can see through her eyes as she flies over the city and after them – after him


 

Creak of wood wakes Desmond up in cold sweat and feeling altogether too lucid for how much pain he is in.

Someone must have chased the loitering sailors away from the infirmary, because it's dark and there's no one there, just him and the other injured. It's only then he realises there even were others injured – though maybe he did know, because he's not surprised to see them, though he hadn't… quite been aware they were there. There are cots on each side of him with men in bandages, one of them moaning even in sleep. Looks like he wasn't the only one who got battered in the sea serpent attack.

"Oh, sir – are you awake now?" a small voice pipes up and a girl's face pops into his view – Roland, looking very pale in the darkness. "Are you lucid?"

Desmond, somehow, manages to not shout in alarm. "Jesus H Christ, girl, you scared me half to death!" he groans and covers his face in his hands. "Oh fuck." The pain had been waxing and waning during his less lucid periods – now a terrible pulsing agony's spread all over his legs and there's this even worse stiffness – like his legs are made of wood blocks with pieces being chipped away by thousand hot chisels. "Oh God. Is there any water?"

"Here – let me –"

The now wide-eyed girl helps him drink a few mouthfuls, which ease the terrible taste in his mouth but do nothing to the hot flashes of pain. "My kingdom for morphine," Desmond sighs and takes a moment to gather energy before looking at the girl again. "What are you doing here this late, Roland? What's even the time?"

"Just past seven bells on the first watch," Roland says, eying him warily. "The captain asked us to watch you and let him know when you wake again. I should… go tell him that you have woken up."

"Mmhm," Desmond answers tiredly and closes his eyes, wondering there's a way to use Eagle Vision to block out pain. Maybe if he concentrates a little… then he lifts his head. "Hey, Roland, what's the date?"

She's already gone, there's no one there. Desmond peers around and then lays his head back down with a sigh.

Trying to concentrate to basically wish the pain away does not work, he finds soon – if anything, it makes it worse, pinpointing his attention on it and, yeah, it doesn't work. Maybe there's some more laudanum at hand….? Or like… something. Anything.

There isn't, sadly, but with some effort Desmond manages to shift into a position that hurts a little less, just as muffled steps echo in the crowded space below decks – and for a moment Desmond has a weirdest déjà vu, and not even of the Jackdaw like usual, but of the ship Haytham had arrived in the New World in. Something about that crowded sound, the crack of timber and rope...

Okay, maybe there's still some laudanum in his system, dang. Drugs are weird.

It's Laurence, of course, who ducks his head under the low bulkheads as he steps into the Allegiance's cramped infirmary.

"Mr. Miles," the man greets him quietly while coming closer.

"Captain Laurence. Sorry if I don't get up," Desmond says and waves at his legs. "A bit indisposed."

"No, of course – at ease, Mr. Miles." Laurence looks down and quickly looks away. "Have you been given nothing for the pain?"

"I was, earlier, but I just woke up, and I guess the good doctor is in bed," Desmond says and waves a hand. "I'll be alright. What can I do for you, Laurence?"

Laurence hesitates and glances around. Desmond blinks at him and then tilts his head curiously – the guy's eyes flash golden. Then the captain walks off – to a far end table, rummaging through it and coming away with a vaguely familiar looking dark phial. Laudanum.

"You're getting better with Dragon Eye," Desmond comments. He'd instructed the guy some in it, but for it to be this easy and habitual already… not bad.

"It's – convenient, I admit," Laurence says and sits down, considering the bottle. "I'm afraid I don't know the dosage, but… You should take it."

"I'm not in that much pain."

The captain looks at his legs and then grimaces. "Yes, you are. Please."

Right. The guy can see the pain now. "That's gotta suck for you," Desmond murmurs, accepting the vial and considering it – and the fact that Prim and Proper Laurence had just gone through someone's desk for medicine. How naughty. And all for him. "Do you just see it, or – does it hurt you too, to see other people in pain?"

Laurence gets a weird look on his face and then shakes his head. "It's – different. And, I feel, not entirely vital now – please, take the medicine."

Desmond gives him a look, but then takes some of the laudanum – more or less guesstimating it from how much Arno, Ezio, Connor and Haytham used the stuff for their pains. Edward just drank himself numb, most of the time. "Oh, that's weird," Desmond murmurs and quickly caps the bottle. It made his tongue numb. "That's really weird. Eurgh."

Laurence watches him closely with gold-tinted eyes until the laudanum starts working – which doesn't take long at all, thankfully.

"I hear Captain Riley intends to give you a medal," Laurence comments.

"A what?" Desmond asks, looking up sharply. "Me? Why?"

"You – did a rather extraordinary thing in the ship's defence," the aviator says, looking at him almost awkwardly now. "He told me he'd approached you on the matter. Didn't he?"

"He might have, and I might have been out of it when he did, I don't remember much of it," Desmond admits and shifts where he lies. His toes are itching. "Which – actually. I don't really know much of what happened after I, uh… jumped. I don't suppose you could tell me?"

Laurence eyes him warily. "I missed you jumping," he admits then and pulls in a stool from the side, sitting down beside his bed. "Some of my men saw you climb the rigging, which they described later – I only saw you when you were already on the dragon's neck, hanging off Riley's sword."

Oh, shit, that was the Captain's sword he'd stolen?

Laurence clears his throat. "From what we understand, you climbed the rigging to the top of the main mast and jumped onto the sea serpent, aiming a sword at its neck."

"Yeah," Desmond says and grimaces. Air assassinations are easier when you don't have to answer questions after. "I figured it was the best way to get through the thing and to its spine, maybe. The doctor here says I killed it."

"Oh, you did," Laurence agrees. "According to Mr. Keynes, the sword severed the spinal column at the base of the serpent's neck – it was a near instant kill, likely a painless one."

"Oh, good," Desmond says and closes his eyes. "That was what I was aiming for." Probably. The laudanum is making it a bit blurry. "Didn't aim to break both legs while doing it, though."

Laurence doesn't say anything for a long moment, and Desmond opens his eyes eventually to look at him quizzically. "What? What is it?" Desmond asks. "What did I do this time?"

Laurence frowns at him. "You jumped off the mast to kill the sea serpent," he says then and shakes his head. "Mr. Miles – you could have died. You almost did. Isn't that enough?"

Desmond looks at him expectantly and then looks away, frowning. He could have died. "I guess that was," he trails away and then shrugs, as much as he can in his position. "The serpent was attacking the ship, I did what I could to stop it. Everyone was fighting, I just… went at it from a different angle."

Laurence looks at him like he's not sure of his sanity, which – yeah, Desmond can see why. In hindsight… the whole thing probably didn't look all that sane.

Desmond clears his throat. "So, what happened after the serpent died?"

Laurence looks away. "The dead and wounded were attended to, the serpent was measured – a man from the Chinese envoy rendered a sketch of it, if you wish to see the image of the aftermath. Eventually, the serpent had to be cut apart to free the ship of its weight," he says, frowning at the bulkheads. "The damage done to the Allegiance has already been repaired, I believe."

"There were there casualties?" Desmond asks quietly.

"One – one of the marines, Doyle," Laurence says and glances at him. "It would have likely been worse, had you not done what you did. The whole ship is grateful, I assure you."

"That's good then. Worth a couple of broken bones," Desmond says.

"I reckon it is," Laurence agrees. "What you did, unorthodox though it was, was… commendable."

Okay, Desmond thinks. That's nice, but why does Laurence look like Desmond is lying in his deathbed, then?

There's a moment of awkward silence before Desmond attempts sitting up, pulling himself to lean back against the rough headboard of the bed. After sleeping for months in a hammock, being so attached to the ship and its constant waving and rolling with the waves is kind of weird. Laurence looks like he wants to help, but in the end stays sitting where he is.

"How's Temeraire?" Desmond asks. "I saw him tangled with the serpent. Was he injured?"

"Only very superficially," Laurence says, looking a little relieved to have another subject. "He is somewhat distressed by the whole event, however – that the serpent had to die, that it attacked at all… he's convinced that it could have been made to understand that what it did was wrong, if only there was a language it could understand."

Desmond blinks at that. "Are sea serpents intelligent?" he asks and then his eyebrows lift. "Wait – are they related to the Isu?"

"The… ay-su?" Laurence asks, uncertain. "I'm sorry, I don't know what that is."

"Dragons, I mean – are sea serpents related to dragons?" Desmond asks, his eyes widening a little. Did he kill an Isu? And, hell, was there an Isu eating people?

Laurence clears his throat. "Perhaps distantly, but I'm certain they are wholly without reason – Temeraire is not convinced of this, but even the Chinese are in agreement that it was a wild, senseless beast."

"Huh," Desmond says, wondering. Where do things like like sea serpents fall in the lineage of dragons – are they related, like humans and apes maybe? Or maybe it's another Isu genetic experiment? And are there others – is there a whole draconic genus he hasn't even considered before? "That's interesting. What else do the Chinese say?"

Laurence frowns at that a little, eying him dubiously. "I'm afraid you will have to ask them yourself – they have not said much on the matter, really. They did ask for your wellbeing – I believe Prince Yongxing offered you to be examined by his own physician."

Desmond's brows arch at that. "Really?" he asks. The man hates him. "Did he get a chance to?"

"No, Captain Riley declined, as his ship's surgeon had things well at hand," Laurence says. "I'm sure, if you would like it, it can be arranged. Mr. Hammond believes it would do good to our relations."

"I'm sure he would. No, thank you, I think I'm going to be alright," Desmond says and then sighs, glancing at the doorway and then closing his eyes.

Laurence's sifts, looking where he'd looked. "Are you seeing things?"

Desmond nods to the ghosts of Ezio and Altaïr, hovering by the doorway. "Ancestors. Looks like laudanum brings them up more," he admits and runs his hand over his forehead. "Not that I usually mind, but lately I can hear them too, which makes them a bit more distracting than they were before."

"Ah," Laurence says, and obviously doesn't know what to say to that. He hesitates for a moment and then says, "I should leave you to rest. It's quite late."

"Hell, I don't even know what day it is, never mind the time of day," Desmond admits, running a hand through his hair.

"It's been three days," Laurence says and stands up.  "Since the attack."

"Oh," Desmond says, blinking with surprise. Boy, time sure flies when you're drugged. "Okay, thanks for letting me know. But wasn't there something you wanted?"

Laurence hesitates, looking at him. "No," he says then, and – the guy looks kinda sad. "Only, Temeraire asked for your wellbeing, and though everyone says you are on the mend, he would not believe it until I saw you myself."

"Sure," Desmond says. "Thanks?"

Laurence nods and then moved to leave. By the door he hesitates, and Desmond wonders if he can feel Ezio and Altaïr there – the ghosts make no space for him, and so Laurence stands flanked by them as he turns to look at Desmond.

"Had the fall killed you," the man says, "would you have still jumped?"

Desmond opens his mouth to say something along the lines of but it didn't or, well, I couldn't know that before jumping, could I, but the look on Laurence's face stops him. He opens his mouth to answer honestly, but…

Laurence waits for a moment and then nods. "I wish you a swift recovery, Mr. Miles," he says.

Desmond looks after him with a frown and then looks down – and inevitably, at his legs. They're misshapen lumps under the covers, the splints turning them strange and almost unrecognisable. Even with the laudanum running in his system, they hurt.

He'd broken his legs, it would take weeks, maybe months, to recover. And it could have been worse. Desmond could have died.

Would he have cared if he did?


 

There's a lot of time to think when you're recovering from a major injury. A little too much, actually. Desmond entertains himself at first with wheedling the rumours out of everyone who's close enough to hear, listening to about ten different versions of his Leap of Faith until he had the full picture of it. It was impressive, it was suicidal, and most everyone thinks he's not right in the head anymore, if they ever did. More people than not think he's got some sort of a pact with the Devil. Fun times.

At least people are happy he's on their side and not against them – though he does get some suspicious and wary looks, and some of the more superstitious men do the sign of the cross when he's not looking, no one's saying he should be thrown overboard. It's kind of hilarious… until it isn't.

Most of the ship is afraid of him – honestly and sincerely afraid that he might go nuts and do something to them, even while lying bound in bed with two broken legs. Very few want to talk to him. Yeah, it's not that funny.

So, there's a lot of time to think and self-reflect.

For some reason what Laurence had said sticks with him, and much as he tries to think about the Isu and dragons and sea serpents and their genealogy – or failing that, what might happen in China, what the Chinese might think about genealogy in general and so forth… eventually his thoughts turn back to the Leap and the question. Would he have jumped, knowing that it would break his legs, that it could kill him?

It should be a no brainer. Anyone would say no. Right?

"Mai-er-si?"

Desmond looks up. Sun Kai is standing by the bulkheads, his head bent slightly. "Oh, sorry, I was lost in thought – anything I can do for you, Sun Kai?" He says in mandarin.

"Liu Bao sends his regards – he wishes you well and quick recovery," the man answers, giving him a strange look. "Do you always offer your services from your own sick bed?"

"Oh. I guess I'm not used to being useless. Thank you – and Liu Bao, tell him I said thank you," Desmond says awkwardly.

Sun Kai nods and steps closer, standing at the foot of the bed. "They say your recovery will take some time, but you should heal fully. You only broke two bones?"

"Only the one, really – the other was just cracked, I think," Desmond says and motions to his legs. "I should be able to walk with a crutch soonish."

"I see. I am relieved to hear it," Sun Kai says formally and then admits, a little less formally, "Tea with Master Liu Bao is not the same without your company."

Desmond arches his brows with surprise. Honestly, every time he had tea with the Chinese he felt a bit like an insect about to be pinned to a display case for further study. He hadn't realised Sun Kai even cared for his company. "I'll try to heal as quickly as I can then. I'd hate to miss the discussions."

Sun Kai nods, looking him over. "We have been considering the nature of your duty and service to the British," he admits. "As a man from another country, pressed into the service for a nation not your own, and what kind of loyalty that might produce, if any."

"That's – one hell of a topic of conversation," Desmond comments warily.

"You performed an ultimate act of loyalty, and for that this ship had branded you an evil spirit," Sun Kai says, almost curiously. "You risked your life to kill the sea dragon. Liu Bao and I have been pondering what might make a man so loyal to people so ungrateful."

Desmond eyes him dubiously and then hums, sitting up in his bed and leaning against the headboard. "It had nothing to do with the British, or my loyalty to them – or lack thereof," he says then. "It was a Leap of Faith. That's – personal."

"I do not know this concept," Sub Kai admits and after a moment of thought pulls up a stool. "Is it a common Western practice?"

"Not as such," Desmond says, wondering how to put it into words that won't make him seem insane. "The words themselves are an idiom about acts of faith – leaping into action without knowing the outcome, but having faith that it will be favourable. But a Leap of Faith, it's…"

Lots of things to different Assassins, really. They all saw it differently. Desmond, though… "It's a bit of acrobatics, a bit of philosophy – proving yourself and your peers your capability and worth and mastery over your own body," he says. "To be able to jump at lethal height and believe you will not die, that's an ultimate way to prove yourself."

It falls woefully short of what he actually feels though.

"You believe your did not die because you had faith?" Sun Kai asks thoughtfully.

"And also because I know how to land properly," Desmond shrugs.

"And if you had died?"

"Then I would have died. But that would have been because of my own actions – not because of Britain. The country had nothing to do with it, I Leapt for my own sake."

Would he have jumped, knowing he'd break his legs? Yeah, anyone would say no.

And yet Desmond thinks that moment, of jumping, of flying, and he can't for a moment regret it. Hell, the only thing he does regret is breaking his legs, because it keeps him from doing it again anytime soon. Fuck, he really should have tried a Leap of Faith from the ship's masts before – jumping from there into the water must be amazing. No creatures, no killing, just… freedom.

"You do not fear death," Sun Kai comments.

"No," Desmond agrees thoughtfully. "I guess I don't."

Sun Kai considers him seriously. "If a man attempted to kill your now, would you defend yourself?"

"Of course I would," Desmond says and gives him a look. "Not fearing death isn't the same as giving up. I want to live my life to the fullest – that's what it's about, the Leap of Faith; living without fear, without constraint."

"Hmm," Sun Kai answers thoughtfully, watching him. "I have often thought you live by a philosophy, but you have never shared it. Is this it then, a life without fear?"

Desmond leans his head back and considers it. "I guess it is," he says. "Huh."

Sun Kai is quiet for a moment and then speaks in a tone of quoting something, "I have heard that the one who knows how to live can wander through the land without encountering the rhinoceros or the tiger," he says. "He passes the battlefield without being struck by weapons. In him, the rhinoceros finds no opening for its horn. The tiger finds no opening for its claws. The soldiers find no opening for their blades. Why is that so?"

Desmond blinks at him, confused. "Um."

"Death has no place in him," Sun Kai finishes and then clarifies, "So says Lao Tzu, in the chapter fifty of Tao Te Ching."

"Ah," Desmond says eloquently. "I see."

"Yes," Sun Kai agrees, giving him a meaningful look. "Quite."

Chapter Text

Getting back on deck takes more effort than Desmond had honestly been expecting. Whereas in the future the doctor would've been the first to kick him out the moment he could manage it on his own, here the ship's surgeon wants to keep him below decks, in bed, festering, for weeks on end.

"You have two broken legs, man!" the surgeon says. "You need to rest and recover."

"I'll rest aplenty, I'm not an idiot – what I don't need is atrophied leg muscles," Desmond says with a frown. "I mean to run on these legs again, and preferably soon."

It takes an almost absurd amount of arguing and the doctor threatening to dose him with laudanum on top of the constant mild haze of it Desmond is sort of swimming in. In the end, though, a mix of sheer bullheadedness, Desmond's reputation and probably the unease of the other injured men – who have been throwing him some sideways looks – as well as the rumours going around the ship decides it.

If the demon wants to start doing a jig on his broken legs, let the demon do a jig on his broken legs. This world, seriously. Desmond can't decide whether people around him think he's bad luck and about to curse them all, or if they think it would be worse luck to stand in his way, or if he's somehow tipped the scale and moved past being bad luck into being good luck? It's kind of vague, and Desmond has never bothered trying to understand the superstitions of the sailors around him. Everything is some sort of bad luck, he's found. Him most of all.

In the end, the doctor gives him his crutches. They are very heavy, very old fashioned crutches – nothing like you'd find in the future, all light metal and stuff. These are wood and they're clunky and heavy and they don't fit Desmond right – he's a bit taller than the average British man, turns out. But they get him around, so there's that.

The word travels ahead of him, and the moment he manages to hobble his way out of the stairwell leading below decks, everyone is waiting with expectant hush. Desmond, slouching onto his crutches awkwardly, looks between faces of sailors, some of whom he's learned to know, others not so much. It's hard to say what the reaction he's getting is, really. People are kind of staring at him like he's a freaky circus attraction.

Lovely.

"Mr. Miles?" a voice calls – it's Temeraire's first Lieutenant, Granby, calling from the dragon deck. "Do you need a hand getting up here?"

Desmond arches his brows. He'd not meant to go to the dragon deck – mostly he just wanted to get out from below decks. But that's an invitation if he ever heard one – and a pointed one. "I can manage," he calls back.

Moving was easier below deck, it turns out, thanks to how cramped it was – if he swayed too much, he was more likely to hit a wall than tumble onto the wooden flooring. On the deck there's nowhere near as much to support him, and the crutches are so awkward. But fuck it, he wanted on the deck, he's on the deck.

So up he goes.

"Mr. Miles, we did not expect to see you moving about this soon. Should you not be in bed?" Laurence asks, moving away from where he was directing his younger officers in cleaning their swords.

Is that an invitation, Desmond doesn't ask, but he snorts. "Probably, yes," he agrees. "But I wanted some fresh air."

"A chair – Mr. Willoughby, if you please," Laurence calls, and one of his crew promptly brings forth a stool. Desmond isn't proud enough to not sit down – after barely ten minutes on his feet, his legs are in agony.

"Thanks," he says, stretching out the awkwardly splinted legs with a sigh and rubbing at his shins through the gaps in splints.

The aviators are staring at him too, though not quite as badly as the sailors are. They look less nervous and more fascinated, like he's some sort of unusual beast out on display. Possibly also in a circus. Desmond is really feeling a bit like an exhibit today.

He clears his throat, not sure if he ought to say something – a joke, maybe, to break the tension? Laurence catches himself before he can, though, also clearing his throat. "Back to your duties," he says to his men, waving them off. "Thank you, Mr. Willoughby – Roland, mind your work, there!"

The girl, who had been about to accidentally slice her wing-mate with the sword she was supposed to be sharpening, quickly lifts the blade up again. "Yes, sir!" she says and turns back to the work – occasionally glancing at Desmond, though, more so than the other midwingmen. Hm.

"You've become a nine days' wonder," Granby says, looking Desmond over thoughtfully.

"Huh. Three days to go until normalcy, then?" Desmond asks. "I'll look forward to it."

The Lieutenant snorts, glancing at Laurence and then back at Desmond. "Blasted impressive thing you did, Mr. Miles," the First Lieutenant says, quietly enough so that it doesn't carry, but with surprising ease. "What on Earth made you do it?"

Desmond shrugs. "Seemed like the thing to do, sir."

"Well, next time a word of warning might be in order," Granby says. "You could have been shot on top of everything else, you know. Most of us were shooting at the beast. You could have easily been caught in the crossfire."

"… ah. Honestly, I did not even think that, sir," Desmond admits.

"Clearly not," Granby says with a snort.

"In either case, it… likely saved us further casualties," Laurence says, looking away – to Temeraire, who is waking up from an afternoon nap. "Things could have become much more dire, had the sea serpent gotten the chance to do more damage. Your swift dispatching of it, while… unusual in its method, was appreciated."

"Glad to be of service, then," Desmond says, rubbing at his knees. "I'm glad that Temeraire wasn't badly injured. It looked," wild and impressive and like a scene from a bombastic fantasy film, "pretty terrible from above."

Laurence grimaces at that and then glances at him. "Yes. That, too, is deeply appreciated."

Granby looks between him and Laurence with a thoughtful expression. Then, shaking his head, he turns to attend to the younger midwingmen in their work, leaving Desmond and Laurence relatively alone. Together they watch as Temeraire wakes up slowly, yawning at them with the impressive row of teeth.

"Oh," the dragon says, spotting Desmond, and then sits up sharply. "Mr. Miles, you are recovered."

"Well, I'm moving about, if that counts," Desmond says and waves a hand. "Won't be running any marathons anytime soon."

Temeraire tilts his head. He's sitting very stiff back on his haunches – almost proudly, Desmond would say, or maybe uneasily – but curiosity gets the better of him. "What is a marathon?" he asks, obviously trying to effect some sort of cool interest instead of puzzlement.

"Oh," Desmond says, blinking. Right, Olympics aren't… really a thing yet. Might never be, actually, in this world. "Oh, it's a… a story, about the messenger in ancient Greece, who ran a really long way in one go, from a distant battlefield to Athens, I think – and it was such a long run that when he got there and told his message, he fell over and died, right there."

Laurence and Temeraire both stare at him. "Why not send a dragon?" Temeraire asks rather confusedly.

"Likely it was from the time before the Romans tamed dragons," Laurence says, though a little dubiously while eying Desmond. "If such a thing ever happened."

Desmond shrugs. "Probably just a story somebody made up," he says. "Romans tamed dragons?"

"Well," Laurence says rather hesitantly, casting a look at Temeraire, who flattens his ruff unhappily. "That's how it is known in the West, yes."

"Tamed, yes," Temeraire mutters and Desmond arches his brows.

"You know what I mean, my dear," Laurence says awkwardly. "That is the common vernacular."

"Which only perpetuates the practice."

Desmond looks between them with interest. That's new. Sure, there's been moments when Temeraire has been unhappy – sometimes even with Laurence – Desmond has never seen it up close. It almost looks like the two are fighting about something, or have been fighting, at least – all one has to do is look between them to see that the dragon is unhappy about something, and Laurence feels, of course, guilty about it. The tension is palatable.

"So, uh," Desmond says awkwardly. "What did you think about the sea serpent, Temeraire?"

You'd think it would be a safe topic of conversation. Big sea monster attacks, everyone runs, sea monster is fought, killed, everyone cheers. Simple, right?

Nope.

The dragon is quiet for a moment, eying him with obvious unease and maybe something like apprehension. "I have been thinking about it at length," he says then. "For Laurence and I have been discussing property, and whether it is proper or not that dragons have none."

"My dear," Laurence says with a sigh, and Temeraire flicks the end of his long tail at the man.

"Do you suppose," the dragon says, "it is possible that the sea serpent was intelligent, and part of a community that lives underwater, speaking in languages humans cannot comprehend?"

Desmond arches a brow while Laurence smothers a sigh. "Well, I guess, I don't see why not," Desmond says. "If it's related to dragons, I guess they could've build an underwater city or something." That would actually… be both kinda cool and make sense, if they are related to the Isu and possibly some derivation off them – like maybe a sect of the Isu transformed their own physiology to escape the solar flare underwater. That would make as much sense as everything else, really.

Temeraire eyes him side-long. "If she was, and you knew it was so," he says slowly. "Would you have killed her still?"

Desmond tilts his head and then glances at Laurence who gives him a somewhat apologetic look. "Yes," Desmond says. "I would have. She attacked the ship, she killed a man – we had to stop her."

"But what if she could have been made to understand that she shouldn't be doing it, if she could have realised it was wrong?" Temeraire asks.

Desmond shrugs. "How many people would've she killed before that happened?"

Temeraire's ruff flattens further unhappily and he shifts where he sits, tail coiling around his talons tightly. "But if she could have been made to see reason," the dragon says. "Then killing her was wrong, surely?"

Desmond eyes the dragon for a moment. "She killed a man," he says again.

"But – if she could have been made to go away –" Temeraire says, unhappy and frustrated. "If she hadn't done anything."

"Then, yeah, sure, killing her would've been wrong. But she did do something," Desmond says. "And she was going to do more."

Temeraire doesn't look so sure.

"I'm sorry," Laurence says quietly. "We have been discussing some difficult topics of late, and considering what you did I feared you might bear the brunt of it. Pray, take no offence for it – what you did was what you had to do."

Desmond looks at him. "Sounds interesting," he says and looks at Temeraire. "I'm not going to apologise for putting an end to an attack," he says to the dragon. "She was attacking the ship, and it didn't look like she was going to stop. She had to be stopped for our sake." And it was hecking cool, but that's probably not the right thing to say right now.

"So, it was only self-defence," Temeraire says. "Should all sea serpents be killed because they might be a danger to people?"

Desmond arches his brows. "I didn't say that. Who said that?" he asks dubiously.

Temeraire shifts where he sits and then he lays down to get closer to Desmond's level. "I have been thinking," the dragon says seriously. "Of the situation of dragons in Britain."

"Oh, dear lord," Laurence murmurs.

"You told me once of dragons in the United States," Temeraire says. "About the dragon you worked alongside with, Jackson, how she had wages and worked with men, and no one much minded."

"Well. People did mind," Desmond says warily, a little confused by the change of topic. "Recent immigrants mostly, though – most locals were used to it."

"Since Jackson had pay – had capital – could she go to town, buy things?" Temeraire asks. "Did people mind it, if she did?"

"Well," Desmond says, thinking back to it. Damn, it feels like it was ages ago now. "I don't actually know. I think she usually sent someone to buy stuff for her, a human, I mean. Though, um… I think there might have been a market she went to, in the outskirts?" Desmond says and hums. "It's where she bought food, I think."

"But would people have stopped her if she went into town, where people live – if she wanted to go and buy something in town, would men have stopped her?"

"I don't see why they would," Desmond says thoughtfully. "She was one of the better paid people in the harbour, and no one turned down money."

"People," Temeraire says. "She was considered people?"

"Why not?" Desmond asks. "She's a person. A dragon person."

The dragon person in front of him lets out a huff of breath, which is a lot like a gust of hot wind, and lifts his head to look at Laurence. "If it works for the United States, and for China, and for Africa too, since there dragons are heads of families, why couldn't it work for Britain too, for Europe as whole?"

"My dear, I don't…" Laurence trails away, hesitating. "Well, I cannot say it could not work, but – the nature of society in Britain is quite different, Temeraire, you must see that. Having learned what you have of China and Africa, you can say they are very different, as culture goes. And the sad matter of fact is, in Britain, people would be disturbed by it. It would be deeply alarming for the common people, unused to dragons…"

Desmond looks between them, as Temeraire almost claws at the deck like a cat anxiously sharpening its claws, and Laurence looks around helplessly for some other answer. "So," Desmond says slowly. "I'm lost, what are we talking about now? Not the sea serpent, obviously."

Laurence gives him a helpless look and Temeraire looks at him. "I think," he says slowly. "That dragons of Britain are not free."

The aviators around them go quiet, and Laurence teeters on the edge of guilt and embarrassment – Temeraire isn't being particularly quiet about it, and obviously the aviators around them find the topic awkward. It's hard to say what they think about it – but everyone is suddenly very keen on their work, and no one is talking. Listening, while pretending not to.

"Okay," Desmond says.

"Okay?" Temeraire asks, narrowing his eyes.

Desmond hums in agreement. "Okay. I don't know how it is for dragons in Britain, but…" he shrugs. He'd heard glimpses of it, but not really paid any particular mind to it, because it wasn't really his business as such. Or it wasn't, before this trip. But the whole thing about breeding grounds and dragons being sent to fields if they were feral, it kind of sounded all sorts of wrong.

Temeraire eyes him for a moment with narrowed eyes, as if trying to figure out if he's lying or not – and Desmond realises, in hindsight, that's exactly what he's doing, peering at him with literal Dragon's Eyes. "Do you know how dragons in United States gained rights?" Temeraire asks then.

Desmond scratches at his aching shin and hums. "I have no idea," he says slowly. "Never thought to ask, if I'm honest."

Temeraire lets out an impatient sound and lifts his head. "Well, that doesn't help me," he murmurs. "If I don't know how dragons might gain rights in similar situation as in the United States, how can I work out a plan how to do the same for Britain?"

Oh boy. Laurence looks a little panicked now, eying his dragon with the look of a man doomed. The aviators around them are very carefully not part of the discussion – all the while listening – and Desmond is somehow in the middle of it.

"Mr. Miles," Laurence says, a little embarrassedly. "Please, take no heed – you are injured and this matter hardly concerns you."

"Hm," Desmond hums. "Well, I am Dragon Eyed too," he comments, wondering.

The fact that dragons anywhere are in subservient position to humans weirds him out a bit – however deeply their relation to the Isu goes, it's just… bizarre how badly the tables turned. But knowing what the Isu were and what they did – would returning them to anything like their old position in power structures of the planet be that good an idea? Would it? Or… would leaving the matter to fester just lead them to another rebellion, this time the descendants of Isu rebelling against their human slavers?

Goddamn.

He should've stayed in his sickbed like good boy, after all.

Desmond thinks about the suffrage movement – what little he knows of it – and then he thinks of Ezio, turning city of Rome to his side one public stunt at a time, of doing the same in Istanbul, of Edward's campaigns for Republic of Pirates, of Aveline fighting for slaves…

What kind of Assassin would he be if he ignored this, huh?


 

The broken legs give Desmond a temporary excuse to decline Liu Bao's invitations for tea, though that doesn't save him from the Chinese, not really. The Chinese have the liberty of the dragon deck after all, when they aren't in the way of the working sailors and aviators, and now, it seems, so does Desmond. So they sort of meet in the middle.

Liu Bao still meditates with Temeraire and Laurence – when the man can bring himself to bear it – often with a number of other Chinese members of the entourage. Sun Kai joins him, but mostly he seems to be watching the English – at least until he spots Desmond, sitting to the side of the deck. Then he sort of determinedly meanders over, to comment on the sun and weather and Desmond's recovery before getting to the matter at hand – matter which seems to be the only one at hand, these days.

Sun Kai, Desmond's starting to realise, had taken the matter of Desmond's philosophy seriously. He's taken the bit between his teeth and isn't letting go.

"You have often spoken defensively of western art," the man comments. "Most of which I understand is religious. Is that the source of your stance, your Christian values?"

Desmond gives the man a look. It's not very subtle – but he thinks Sun Kai has probably gotten used to the fact that Desmond isn't a very subtle man either, because he talks more freely to Desmond alone than he does even with just Liu Bao present. Still.

"A bit forward, just to ask a man about his religion like that," Desmond comments.

"I mean no offence, of course. Christianity isn't common in China, I'm afraid I don't know the practices involved in it," Sun Kai says smoothly. "Pardon my poor understanding of the matter. How should the subject be broached?"

Desmond arches a brow. "I have no idea," he admits. "I'm not Christian. But I imagine some people might be offended if you just assume."

Sun Kai seems very pleased to hear that. "But you seem very fond of religious art," he comments curiously.

"Yeah – of the art. And the artists," Desmond agrees. "The religious subject isn't that important, really – I just like art. As it is, most art can be viewed in different ways by different people – and there's the stories of the artists, who they were, where they came from, and so on. And how the art was made, who were the models, what their stories were."

Though honestly, he doesn't have that much interest in art personally – he just loves Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance a lot. Also knowing how many of Leonardo's pieces Salaí modeled for made a lot of Leonardo's work so much more entertaining, just imagining the bickering and wheedling that must've been going on during the painting. Makes one wonder if Leonardo procrastinated as much in this world without Assassins constantly banging on his door...

Sun Kai hums thoughtfully. "So it is the whole process of putting together one of these paintings your appreciate."

"I guess," Desmond agrees with a shrug.

"Hmm," the Chinese man hums, considering the ocean for a moment. "But you are not Christian?" he then asks, as if to be sure.

"No, I'm an unrepentant nonbeliever," Desmond snorts. "I don't believe in God. Any gods, really. What about you? Taoist?"

Sun Kai blinks and looks at him. "I study the wisdom of Lao Tzu, yes, but I do study other esteemed masters also. But I prefer the wisdom of Kongzi, and follow the Cheng-Zhu school of Song-Ming Dynasty's Rational Idealism."

"Ah," Desmond says. Confucianism, then. Makes sense.

"You know what it is?" Sun Kai asks, his eyes sharp.

"I don't know much," Desmond admits. Not outside what well-learned drunks at Bad Weather spewed at him at two AM with delusions of philosophy… and what he got from probably not very culturally respectful fortune cookies. "But I know it's an important school of philosophy, Confucianism. Always sounded very interesting."

Sun Kai eyes him, unblinking. "I have some texts, if you would like to study it," he says. "I think a man with your disposition would find it very befitting his worldview."

"Oh, would you?" Desmond asks, brightening up a little. "Because I am getting so bored not doing anything all day – having something to read would be great." Never mind that it would probably help him in dealing with the Chinese anyway.

Sun Kai smiles slyly. "I will select a sample of texts for you right away. Excuse me."

Desmond looks after him a bit warily. Making the Chinese smug makes him worried every time, especially when it's Sun Kai. The guy is a schemer, and Desmond is now getting the feeling that maybe the man is trying to convert him to something.

Then Sun Kai brings the text, and Desmond realises what he let slip.

Of course the texts are all in traditional Chinese writing.


 

Between Temeraire scheming the Dragon Suffrage movement, Sun Kai trying to sneak secrets out of Desmond – and Chinese philosophy in – and the general process of healing broken bones, Desmond keeps an eye on Laurence.

The Bleeding effect is still going on strong, but Laurence has gotten better at hiding it and dealing with it. Desmond also gets the impression that everyone thinks the man is under more and more stress – which isn't wrong – which gives him some leeway to act strange and so no one comments on the occasional bouts of grim silence from the man as he stares at nothing. Still, it's obvious that the ghosts are still there, still demanding to be heard and seen.

"I would have this be done before we reach Macao," Laurence sighs to him one late evening, when the deck is quiet and most everyone is in bed, while Desmond is trying to convince himself to get up and hobble below decks as well.

"What are they showing you?" Desmond asks, trying not to sound too interested.

Laurence thinks through it for a while and then looks away. "Thomas du Carneillon unearthed a conspiracy of corruption," he says then. "Embezzlement and fraud, that sort of thing, and spent many years combating it and similar ills. Robert Fitzwalter, I think, you know something of – he has shown me much of court intrigue – he led a conspiracy of barons against King John. Incompetent military leader, but a charismatic man."

Desmond tries not to feel disappointed. "Well, it could help you with the Chinese and their court intrigue," he comments. "And hey, with the knowledge of conspiracies under your belt, you can better help Temeraire. Fitzwalter was a bit of a freedom fighter, right?"

Laurence sighs and gives him a look. "Not a very successful one, I'm afraid," he says ruefully, watching him for a moment. "Temeraire's notions for draconic freedom… what do you think of them?"

"What – you don't think they have merit?" Desmond asks.

"I would like your opinion, Mr. Miles," Laurence says seriously. "Not many have even listened to him talk of it – you have, and seriously at that."

Desmond hums, idly balancing one of his crutches across his knees. "I think it's inevitable," he says then. "Like abolition of slavery, the rights of women – the rights of dragons, it's all going to happen eventually. And the sooner the better."

"The rights of women?" Laurence murmurs.

Desmond gives him a look. There is no way the guy doesn't know one of his crew is a girl – he's seen the crew shielding her, and she never bathes or swims in company. "You don't really think the way things are is alright," he says. "If what Temeraire says about how dragons are treated in Britain is accurate, that's not right."

Laurence looks away to the dark sea and sighs. "No. No, it isn't right," he agrees. "Only I am having hard time imagining system so old and so ingrained into society changing. People would resist."

"People always resist, because people get used to the status quo," Desmond says. "Old and familiar is comforting even if it's all wrong and unjust – especially so, if it happens to be unjust towards people or beings you don't particularly like. But it can be changed."

It would be changed – hell, even the United States changed changed its ways, though it took hell of a lot of work to get it done, but it did change. Britain isn't so special that it can resist a good movement.

"Hmm," Laurence hums, falling quiet for a while. "My father it's an abolitionist," he admits then. "He campaigns for the end of slavery."

"Well, there you have it," Desmond says, a little surprised. "You have some knowledge about it, then."

Laurence looks at him. "I don't know if he would approve your methods. Nor do I think your methods would work for Temeraire's cause, either."

"Well," Desmond says, a little flattered. Aww, he has methods. "All I did is told the Tswana the truth."

"I think we both know you did more than that," Laurence says quietly and shakes his head. "Temeraire's cause is just, I know this, and I expect we will learn only how just it is once we reach China and see how matters of dragons there are conducted. But I would ask you to not incite Temeraire to rebellion against the crown, I fear it would be a losing battle."

"I wouldn't," Desmond says.

Laurence looks at him.

"I wouldn't. I…" Desmond hesitates, not sure what to say. From the outside his actions must look pretty bad for Laurence, and Desmond can't exactly deny that they are, but – they're the actions of an Assassin. That's – that's different.

"What I do, I do in full awareness of risks, and I do it by myself," Desmond says. "I would never tell anyone else to do anything similar. Never. Especially not someone as innocent as Temeraire."

Laurence considers that for a moment. "Well, I appreciate that," he comments then.

"That doesn't mean I won't offer him advice, if I have any to give," Desmond says. "He's probably going to need all the help he can get, and if there's anything I can do to speed the process along, I will."

Laurence frowns and looks at him. "You are a most contrary man, Mr. Miles," he says. "You reassure me in one sentence and then put me ill at ease in the next. Tell me, what is it that you actually work for here? What is your purpose?"

Desmond blinks. "Freedom," he says. "Freedom for everybody."

Laurence looks like he held expected that, but still hoped for a clearer answer. Shaking his head he looks away. "By all rights I should call myself quits with you and your chaotic ways," he mutters. "You repeatedly unmoor me."

"Sorry," Desmond says, not particularly sorry. "But honestly, Laurence, the world is so much simpler when you figure out what you want."

"There is little simplicity in any of this," Laurence says and clasps his hands behind his back. "I should call myself quits with you, but I fear I can't – and I have been meaning to ask you of your intentions."

Desmond eyes him warily. What he means is probably not what Desmond is actually hearing. "With what?" he asks slowly.

Laurence ordered his lips together. "We make landfall in China, and throughout this voyage you have made friendly with the Chinese envoy," he points out. "Considering your status onboard this ship…" by which the man means his status as the ship's new scary pariah. "You must have been considering other alternatives."

Laurence trails away and waits, but Desmond doesn't know what he's getting at. "Um, I was pressed into service," Desmond says after a moment. "Not sure I have a say."

Laurence doesn't look impressed. "You have earned yourself quite a bit of good will with the envoy," he says flatly.

"Yeah, we've become friendly, but I really don't know what you're getting at."

Laurence eyes him dubiously and then sighs. "They have not yet asked you to join them? I was certain they had already offered you some status and position in China."

Desmond arches his brows. "Honestly, no. Though I think Sun Kai is trying to convert me into Confucianism."

Laurence frowns in polite, if baffled, inquisition.

"It's their religion – one of them," Desmond explains. "All about philosophy, ethics, morals and rationalism. It's actually pretty interesting."

Laurence looks a little disturbed by this and then shakes his head. "If they have not yet made offers, then you have not agreed to anything either," he says. "In which case, I would like to extend an offer of my own."

"Okay?" Desmond says slowly. "I'm not sure I'm at liberty to accept, but…"

"I will speak of it with Captain Riley, I have no doubt he will agree to let you go, should you agree," Laurence says and clears his throat. "I would like to ask you to join Temeraire's crew as my personal translator."