Desmond watched the darkened ceiling through half-lidded eyes. His arm throbbed, a constant ache reminding him that it had not been long since he had died. Or almost died, really, back at the Temple.
His mind had been numb with excruciating pain as he burned from the inside out and outside in; he felt the fire licking up his arm and frying it to nothing, he wouldn’t have been able to take his hand away if he’d wanted to – the skin had melted on the surface of The Eye and it was there to stay, blackened and charred; his nerves had been irreversibly damaged, the muscles and tendons in his arms rendered useless.
Just as he thought the very last vestige of life in him was about to be burned out, a hand pulled him back sharply. He had landed on the cold stone floor and blacked out from the pain, the last thing he remembered being Juno’s furious screams, a white cloth passing over his vision and Minerva’s reassurances in his ears, telling him that “It is done, we have saved him, Aquila. Rest easy, Desmond. Your job is done.”
Right now, he was lying in a bed softer than what he’d been used to for the past few months. He had been lying there for hours, breathing heavily through the pain that barely subsided a not long ago, refusing to glance at his arm. Outside, he could hear crickets chirping, the sound comforting, but not supposed to be there.
It was that thought registering that finally made him move, joints popping from stiffness. He looked towards a window to his, feeling a breeze and saw trees rustling, faint moonlight passing through the leaves.
His brows scrunched together and he inhaled sharply. “What the fu-uck”. At the sharp tinge of pain at his mouth, he raised his good hand. There was a wound where his scar was, tender and bleeding sluggishly. His fingers came away red.
Desmond braced himself to look at his right arm, which should be charred for all purposes. He closed his eyes tightly and lifted the sore arm – braced himself - and opened them again, promptly clamped his other hand over his mouth, flinching violently as he expected grotesque burn wounds.
“Aah, fuck” he exhaled softly, muffled by his hand. His breathing was erratic, chest rising and falling fast. The arm looked okay, save for the ache and limited mobility in it as he tried flexing his fingers. He had expected something gruesome, but he couldn’t decide if this was actually worse.
“Shit.” He recognized this place. It was his room back at The Farm.
And because life really liked to throw shit at him at every given opportunity, he scrambled to his feet, going over to the calendar pinned on the door.
13th of March, 2003. The day he ran away from The Farm. Also, his birthday, but who actually cared?
The floor seemed to be a bit closer to him than he was used to, also; okay, weird. Coupled with the normal looking hand, no tattoo on his left forearm and also, the wound at his lips, he would daresay he had managed to travel back in time.
Of course, why not.
Out of the corner of his eyes, he sensed something. He turned around sharply, coming face to face with the wispy white vision of Altaϊr, watching him closely.
Only, where he was expecting the hallucination to simply fade away or say something to another invisible, long-dead person, the man passed through him – eugh – and went to… Yep. Went to dislodge the floorboards to reveal where Desmond had painstakingly hidden his stash in preparation for his escape. Which was tonight.
“Come.” said the weird echo of Altaϊr’s voice.
Desmond wasted no time in reaching the man’s side and he quickly shouldered the backpack, tightening the straps to ensure it would not hinder him. At his side, Altaϊr seems to faze a little before resuming form, and Desmond staunchly ignored that. Talk about creepy.
He turned to look at his ancestor, having to look up quite a bit to meet his eyes, partly hidden underneath his beaked hood.
The vision turned towards his window, and Altaϊr looked around, scanning the surrounding. He beckoned Desmond to follow – and really, why was he letting the man lead? Was his mind so damaged he could not escape a second time from the Farm? He had already done it once without (much) issue.
Considering how much his body trembled and how numb his mind was – which he attributed to shock – he doubted he’d be fully able to run away now.
Why was he even running, this time? He knew what was to come. It would help to stay.
No time to think, though. Altaϊr had grabbed the windowsill and hauled himself over. Desmond followed suit, twisting around to begin his descent.
In the end, it was his right arm that did him in – a strong, sharp pain shot up from his fingers to his shoulder when he put his weight on it. He choked on a cry and fell from the second story. Altaϊr had tried to catch him, arms raised to grab him from the air, but of course Desmond passed right through, breath knocked out of him as Altaϊr hovered at his side. At least the backpack got the brunt of the fall.
In two seconds flat, he was back on his feet, knowing that the noise of his crash would have alerted the other Assassins.
Cradling his bad arm, Desmond looked at the man again, who was already moving away, walking stealthily and silently out of habit even if it was not needed.
Desmond moved after him, automatically silencing his footsteps as best as possible. Moving in his younger body was a little weird at first – but it was him. Soon enough he grew comfortable in it as if he’d never aged before.
If not for the vision of Altaϊr and his wrecked arm, he’d have believed he dreamt it all.
They had just reached the tree line when Altaϊr ordered Desmond to hide behind a tree, while he looked back at the Farm.
In the short distance, he heard a door creak slightly and muffled footsteps on the porch. A light turned on, then voices growing louder and some cursing. The light turned off, and all was silent again.
Desmond did, numbly following his ancestor’s directions.
The whole escape went a lot better with Altaϊr compared to the first time, which was no surprise, really. He was a legendary Master Assassin.
At times, they nearly ran into the path of the pursuing Assassins, but the older male quickly directed him away from danger.
It was not too long before Desmond reached the main road and, on auto-pilot, flagged down a passing truck. The first one didn’t stop, but the second one did.
“You okay, kid?” asked a heavily accented man, leaning out the window of his truck as it came to a stop beside him. He looked to be in his forties, with a scraggly beard and a ball cap on, chewing on a gum.
“I… Where are you headed?”
“Rapid City. Hitching a ride?”
“Yes, please.” He looked around him. Altaϊr was gone. Was it just his mind, manifesting itself in the most resourceful, reliable way he knew while he was coming down from the shock of dying?
No matter. Time to think later. He got into the truck and the man, who informed him was called William - nice, ironic, swerved back onto the road.
“Are you sure you’re alright, kid? Do you need me to stop at the police station? You look pretty banged up.”
Desmond supposed he did. He had blood smudged over his face and he was cradling his arm protectively still. Not to mention the look on his face must’ve been pretty traumatised. It worked in his favor this time, anyway – he had had a baby-face until he hit his growth spurt later. People were more likely to stop for distressed children.
“My name's Desmond. And no, it’s fine. I don’t need to go to the police. Do you mind if I close my eyes a little?”
The man looked unconvinced, but didn’t press the matter. “Knock yourself out, kid.”
He didn’t know how much later it was, but dawn was starting to paint the skyline a deep blue when William woke him up.
“We’ve arrived. City center is just that way. I’m afraid this is my final stop, night shift and all.”
“Ah, uh, thank you. Really.” Desmond said, blearily rubbing at his eyes. “Have a good day.”
Vinnie watched him intently, before reaching in his back pocket. He took out a couple of crumpled bills and pushed them into Desmond’s hand, who took them belatedly.
“What – oh! No, I can’t, thank you. I’ve already hitched a ride, I can’t take these.”
“Don’t argue with me, kid. Take these and go. And take care of yourself, brat.”
Desmond watched the man, pocketing the bills reluctantly. Truthfully, he had no money when he left the first time. There was no need for him to have pocket money when he’d lived at the Farm.
He got out of the truck and waved at the man, before walking down in the direction of the center. Now that he had some money, instead of hitchhiking he was going to get a ticket straight to New York.
As he walked, he felt the air shift as Altaϊr reappeared. He was looking around curiously, but he didn’t ask any questions, obviously aware how he’d make Desmond look if he made him talk to thin air.
Desmond walked into a convenience store and bought a bottle of water and some dry snacks. He was left with a little over 20 bucks. He figured that’d be enough to get him to the next major city, where he could pickpocket some more money for the fare to New York.
Suddenly, an arm waved in front of Desmond’s face. He blinked, seeing Altaϊr signaling him to follow him. He walked down a dingy alleyway, where Altaϊr stopped and turned around to face him.
“You must head over to the Temple in …New York.” He said, carefully going over the foreign name. “I’m afraid we can no longer assist you until you get there.”
Desmond merely nodded, opening his mouth to speak, but Altaϊr disappeared once again.
He walked back out of the alleyway and went in search of the intercity buses.
Hours later, he was on a bus headed to Chicago. He had already switched twice and managed to flawlessly pickpocket some poor souls. He currently had around 300 bucks in various pockets on his person. It was dark outside and he hoped that by the same time tomorrow, he’d arrive in New York.
For now, he was dealing with the shock of the past day. He was at the very back of the bus and thankfully, there were no other people sat nearby him to watch his meltdown.
He was hunched forward, head between his knees as he tried to regulate his harsh breathing.
What the fuck, what the actual fucking fuck, I died, I knew I died why am I alive. How did this happen?
And he’d ran away, in the middle of the night, again. Because that was a proper response to a resurrection – run from the possibly only person who could help him, even if he was loathe to admit Bill was his most likely source of information.
Actually, he really didn’t think about why he’d ran away this time – it was most likely the combined panic, shock, confusion and Altaϊr’s instructions that made him leave the Farm again. Now that he had time to think about it, he doubted he’d have stayed anyway, even if he presumably had a second chance and explanations. The wound on his lips reminded him why he’d ran in the first place – however his father and him had come to a certain kind of truce back at the Temple, Desmond could not forgive him his past deeds, how he’d abused him – which he now knew was abuse, thanks to living in the real world – and forced him into a role he did not want.
He raised his head and downed half of the water he’d restocked on earlier, a few droplets escaping and running down his throat. The cold feeling helped to focus him a little bit, at least.
He looked at his right arm and tried to flex his fingers. At least now, he didn’t have to worry about being forced to be an Assassin.
The movement was still reduced. He tried pinching the skin earlier, and the amount of strength he’d needed to feel something made him cry out in panic, to his utter mortification.
He sighed dejectedly, resuming himself to the idea that his right arm was probably a goner. At least he could still use it, but the range and dexterity were horribly reduced. It most likely meant he could not, even if he’d wanted to, be an Assassin anymore.
Maybe some physiotherapy could help? Some exercises to build strength back up.
But that was not the issue, though. He had strength, the muscles were not atrophied or torn, it was more likely his nerves that were damaged. He’d just have to get used to using his arm like that. Nothing he couldn’t handle, although he couldn’t really say – a doctor, he was most certainly not.
Feeling another bout of hysteria and anxiety well up in him, Desmond hunched back over, trying and failing to stop the tears from escaping.
It was a long journey until he reached Chicago.