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when death's away

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Desmond woke up to cool hand on his heated skin and gentle murmuring in the background. He instinctively moved his face into it, but it removed itself from his forehead.

His whole body was in pain once again and he groaned, slurring out something along the lines of “did anybody see who body-slammed me in the path of that truck”

There was silence above him, then a belated “what?”, but no other response was heard.

Slowly, the memories pieced themselves together in his brain and Desmond’s eyes shot open, body trying to follow suit and shoot upwards, but he was stopped by a strong arm on his chest pushing him back down.

He groaned again, the movement having caused another spike of pain. God, his head was killing him. He looked up, down the length of the arm belonging to…

“Malik?” he blurted out.

At that, the man sighed exasperatedly, pinching the bridge of his nose and turning to look at the other inhabitant of the room.

“I will give you this, Altaϊr, you certainly know how to deprive me of both safety and peace of mind.”

“I did tell you I was not making this up.”

“Yes, well, excuse me for not exactly trusting your judgement of late.” Malik snarled.

In response, Altaϊr sneered at him, lips twisting harshly as he pushed away from the wall and came to Desmond’s side, who was watching the proceedings with a decidedly deer-caught-in-headlights look.

He slapped a damp, cool cloth over his eyes unceremoniously.

“How are you feeling?” he asked gruffly. “You’ve been asleep for two days. The fever seems to have broken at last.”

“No thanks to you, novice.” Malik muttered bitterly. “You have barely been at the bureau these past days.”

At that, Altaϊr bristled. “And what would you have me do, shirk in my duties when there is nothing I could have done for him while he slept?”

“Duties you would not have had to deal with had you shoved your pride aside and listened to me in the first place!” Malik yelled, sitting up from his place on Desmond’s cot.

Enough!” Altaϊr shouted back. “This is not the time or place for this.”

“Oh, now you decide to practice discretion?”

“Oo-kay” Desmond intervened, horribly uncomfortable with the situation. The two men looked about ready to jump at each other’s throats and he did not want to become a murder witness. “Where… are we?”

He meant more like year, but Altaϊr seemed to grasp the unspoken specification either way.

“Jerusalem, Assassin bureau. It’s the year 1191.”

Oh.

“I think I might be going back to sleep now, thanks.” Desmond said breathily, then promptly fainted.

The next time he woke, he felt a bit more rested, body merely sore instead of in pain, his headache had all but gone. He felt more like himself than he had in months.

At least, for now, he was safe in the knowledge that he was with allies, brothers, who would kill anyone daring to hurt him, even if there was no one here to hurt him.

He hoped.

He gingerly sat up, the now warm cloth falling off his forehead and into his lap. He was wearing his jeans, but had no shirt on. There were no windows in the room he was in and, as furniture, there was only the cot he was sat on and a dresser in front by the wall. There was a cup of water left on the floor by the cot, and he drank it greedily, not even having noticed how parched he was until the cool water slid down his throat blissfully.

He set the cup down and left in search of Altaϊr or Malik.

Exiting the room found him in the halls around the courtyard of the Assassin’s bureau. It was dark outside, the moon up high; the only sounds he could were crickets and other insects of the night and some faint noises coming from the main office, along with the warm light of lanterns.

He headed in that direction, shivering slightly as the sweat on his skin cooled down. He would have to ask for some clothes until he had enough coins to buy his own.

The door to the office was open, and he poked his head inside, seeing Altaϊr and Malik – quietly discussing. Huh. That’s a new one. He didn’t think they were able to talk civilly.

They both shut up as he came in, however, so they were most likely talking of business affairs – the only thing that would make them put aside their …differences, for lack of a better word, as well evidenced by the map spread in front of them and the heaps of paperwork scattered around.

“Uhh…Hi. I was wondering, can I borrow a shirt? And, if it’s not too much trouble, get something to eat?” he added right as his stomach growled audibly.

Altaϊr moved from the desk and left the room without a word, while Malik got up and came up to him.

Either Desmond was shorter than he remembered being at 16, or Malik was just that tall. Making different heights for multiple NPCs might’ve been difficult in the Animus, who knows, certainly not Desmond.

“Certainly. I am Malik, but you seem to already have known that.”

“Ahh, yeah” Desmond scratched the back of his head. “I am Desmond. I’m honored to meet you, brother. Thank you for caring for me.” He placed his left hand over his chest and bowed his head.

Malik scoffed, but he was smiling. “I wouldn’t call it an ‘honor’, but I appreciate it. Come with me, there is some food in the cellar.”

He grabbed a lantern and led Desmond out into the hall and into a room to the right of the office. Over there, he lifted the hatch in the middle of the room and climbed down into the cellar. He shoved a basket in his hands and directed him to get some bread, cheese, hummus, tomatoes and various fruits.

Soon enough, Desmond and Malik were climbing out of the cellar, the latter locking it back up, and they went into the courtyard, where there were blankets and pillows to sit.

Desmond dug in with gusto, hungry after days of living on soup, as Malik told him. He’d been too delirious to remember much of the past 48 hours, but he thanked his lucky stars he had been conscious enough to get to the lavatory himself.

He was reaching for some grapes when Altaϊr returned from wherever he went, stopping to give him a large, white cloth before sitting down across from him and Malik. He reached for a piece of bread and ate.

“Oh” Desmond said, picking up the shirt. “Thank you.”

He put it on hastily, glad for the reprieve from the cool night air. It was big on him, the sleeves covered his fingers and it fell off one shoulder, but it would have to do for now.

“How is your arm?” Altaϊr asked suddenly, after minutes of tense silence, courtesy of Altaϊr and Malik being in each other’s vicinity.

Desmond grimaced, biting into a grape. “Bad. It aches still and I can’t really use it that much, or at all.”

Malik leaned forward at that, interested. Honestly, he was surprised the man had been able to control his questions so far. Altaϊr as well, but Desmond had the feeling he had not bombarded Desmond with questions because Malik was abstaining. “What exactly happened? Altaϊr told me little of the events.”

 “What… what did he tell you?”

Malik raised an eyebrow. “That you are his time-travelling descendant in his teenage body.” He said flatly.

“Oh. Okay. We have a lot to work with here.”

He took a deep breath, mentally preparing himself, and started: “I was born to the Mentor of the 21st century’s Assassin Order. When I was sixteen, which is a decade ago for me, I ran away.”

As such, he went on, sparing no details so he would not be questioned more later on, until an hour, then two passed, interspersed with queries and explanations of the 21st century technology; about how humans were created, their purpose and the Isu and their plans to save the world.

“…and that is how I ended up… like this. Not really fun, I’m not looking forward to go through puberty again.”

Silence descended between them, both men digesting the fairy-tale like story of his life. Malik looked a little bit pale, obviously rattled by the…origins of their race. He felt a little bad for throwing off the man’s entire worldview.

In that silence, something came to Desmond.

Frowning, he looked at Altaϊr. “How exactly did you get in touch with…the Isu?”

Now that he’d asked it, it was a really good question.

Wordlessly, Altaϊr reached in the folds of his robe, through some hidden pouches and pulled out the goddamn Apple of Eden.

Desmond’s eyebrows tried to climb themselves off his forehead.

“Woah. Weren’t you supposed to deliver that to Al Mualim?”

“We were.” He said vaguely.

Desmond gave him a flat look, turning to Malik expectantly, the Dai sighing irritatedly at Altaϊr’s stellar social skills.

“I was about to, and I assume you know the entire situation at Solomon’s Temple, when I retrieved it from the Templars. I rode towards Masyaf to meet with the Mentor, hoping that at least something worthwhile would come of our failed mission”

At that, Altaϊr’s mouth tightened, jaw working as he ground his teeth and bowed his head until none of his face was visible anymore. His hand slipped the Apple back in his robe.

“but, someway, the damned thing stayed my tongue. I could not answer Al Mualim as he wished me to, no matter how much I willed myself to speak of the treasure. I felt like a man possessed, keeping the treasure for my own, in secret.

After the Templars’ siege, I was appointed Dai here and left with the Apple. Altaϊr, having been spared if only for his skills and because we could not afford more losses after the attack, came on a mission to redeem himself.” Malik sighed, lifting a glass of arak to drink from, which Altaϊr, surprisingly, had retrieved for them sometime during Desmond’s retelling.

“I debriefed him and that is when the blasted thing started to glow, unnatural light pouring from the drawer I’d locked it in at the Bureau. I was paralyzed, watching Altaϊr as he retrieved it. That’s when I got knocked out cold. When I came to, he was speaking to me of the future, an end of the world and having to ‘help his descendant, Malik, other duties can wait’”.

“Oh.” Desmond exhaled, hopelessly relieved. At least Al Mualim didn’t have the treasure. He squirmed in place, trying to bite at his lip and stopping when he felt the sharp pain of the wound as he aggravated it. His hands fiddled instead with a string of the pillow he sat on, wondering how in the world he was going to breach the subject of ‘your Order’s Mentor is a Templar, surprise’.

“Speak your mind.” Altaϊr’s sharp command broke through his musings.

“Oh, uh, I, there’s nothing to speak of.” He said, unconvincingly.

The two men stared at him, unimpressed, but clearly Malik was an angel descended from above to save Desmond’s skin.

“The boy is clearly thrown by this whole situation, Altaϊr. Let him process it.”

“Can you hand me the Apple?” Desmond blurted out, nearly cutting Malik off. He shot him a sheepish look, seeing the slightly baffled expression on his face.

“No.” Altaϊr answered him.

“And why is that?”

“This device… it is tempting. I do not want you to look at it until I’ve discerned what exactly it can do.”

“Mind control, create illusions, break minds and kill humans, among others.” Desmond answered for him.

He was so not going to laugh at the thoroughly shocked expressions on the two men’s faces. At least, not until he was in private.

“I’ve had to use them before. So, in that sense, I think I am better equipped to dealing with this than you are. What?”

“Surely, you must be joking.” Malik stated. “There is no such thing as-“

“As mind control? Just like how there’s no such thing as travelling through time and space? Trust me, that thing should not get in the wrong hands. I’ve held it before and I want to make sure there is no Juno exerting her influence over it.”

“The Apple is to be returned to Al Mualim.” Altaϊr stated. “The reason for this delay has been due to retrieving you. Now that is no longer a concern, it is to be brought to the Mentor, where he can decide what to do with it.”

“Oh no you don’t want to do that.” Desmond’s mouth said, before he pursed his lips, thoroughly fucked.

He did not imagine the dangerous edge to Altaϊr, sudden and suffocating. “And why is that?” and oh, God, that sounded like a threat, didn’t it?

Desmond chanced a quick glance Malik’s way, before doing a double take. The man looked speculative, resting his chin on his hand as he leant forward, a curiously open expression to him. “Indeed, why not?”

So, Altaϊr was pretty much the one that, as Abbas had phrased it ‘put his tongue to Al Mualim’s boots’. Maybe some of the other Assassins were not blinded by faith like Altaϊr was?

From the sounds of it, he’d only just started the mission to redeem himself, so he has yet to meet Garnier or Talal, the ones who started shaking up his blind loyalty first. Somehow, he needed to wiggle his way out of this conversation without outright calling Al Mualim a traitor. That would only serve to make Altaϊr defensive and shut off.

“You said the Apple tempts people? Then you should know how it affects the mind. Why would you want your Mentor to be tempted by the Apple?”

Desmond frantically mentally patted himself on the back for that save.

Altaϊr scowled. “Al Mualim is not a man of weak will. He will not succumb to it.”

“Are you implying you are, then?”

Besides them, Malik barked a surprised laugh.

Hazel eyes narrowed, a golden sheen passing eerily over them as Altaϊr lifted his head, looking down his nose at him.

Malik interrupted before he could put his foot in his mouth, ever the voice of reason. “He speaks rationally, Altaϊr, I would advise you to do the same and think. Al Mualim is but a man himself. He is not invincible and impervious to the same thoughts that sometimes plague us. He can and most probably will be tempted as well. Would you wish for our Mentor to be influenced by that thing, when he has to see to our Order’s welfare?”

Malik was brilliant. He mercilessly pounced on every single one of Altaϊr’s weaknesses in a few seconds, he made it seem like Altaϊr was the one not thinking of the Mentor’s well being. Desmond had to fight to hide his grin. Malik reminded him of another version of Shaun – just as acerbic, but only ever directed to stupid remarks. And Altaϊr provided the man with a plethora of openings that Malik could attack, seemingly.

“Do not mock me, Malik, you know very well what I meant.” Altaϊr bit back, before exhaling heavily. “You should bring the Apple back to Al Mualim.” He said, finally.

“Why ever would I do that?” Malik asked, honestly surprised.

In a sudden display of emotions, Altaϊr confessed. “It is my fault, for everything. If you were to bring the Apple back to Al Mualim, you would not have been sent away from Masyaf.” 

“And you believe letting me bring the treasure back to him would help any, Altaϊr? As much as I appreciate knowing you are capable of feeling guilt, this will not bring back either my arm or, most importantly, Kadar.

Oh, not this again. Subtly, Desmond scooted back a little, warily eying Altaϊr dragging a hand over his face. Poor guy was always fucking up when trying to apologize, huh? He doubted Malik was ready to accept any apologies either, still so raw from grief and loss.

“It may bring you your honor and status back.” He muttered sullenly.

Malik’s mouth dropped open. “Altaϊr, I am honestly considering you took a sudden foray into insanity. Bring back my honor? Or status? Or, better yet, do you think I regret being made Dai? I cannot possibly be an Assassin anymore, this is the best possible outcome for me. I do not wish to return to Masyaf, where I would constantly be under scrutiny from out Mentor and brothers. Unlike you, Altaϊr, the rest of us do not heedlessly worship the ground he walks on, knowing he is as fickle a man as anyone could ever be.”

As Malik took a deep breath and Altaϊr clenched his fists tightly, Desmond scooted back some more without drawing attention to himself, taking a large gulp of the alcoholic beverage in the hopes it would just give him instant poisoning and make him die.

Being in the Animus with his brain melting would be better than this.

A sudden longing made him wish it were Ezio and Leonardo in front of him, jesting good-naturedly as they sometimes did during downtimes. His other ancestor had always been more easy-going, friendly and accepting and right now, Desmond wished for his level-headed approach to situations and his easy charm. He’d only been here a few days, unconscious for two of them and he’d already been in the middle of their arguing more times than he cared for. As much as it made him feel like an asshole, he was not mentally prepared to invest in other people’s problems – and he could not avoid doing that either, because, as much as he didn’t, he kind of did know them. he felt obligated to help.

He had heard through Altaϊr’s ears the grief in Malik’s voice, the raw fury whenever he saw the other and now, he experienced that in person. It was hard not to feel for the man.

Rarely, in the Animus, he got glimpses of Altaϊr’s feelings. Whenever he was not forced to skip memories, he would feel the crushing guilt and utter shame he carried for years to come after Solomon’s Temple.

 “Think, for once in your life, Altaϊr. How would I leave the Bureau unattended to bring him the treasure? What would I say to him? How would I have retrieved the Apple, crippled as I am? If he knew that I had not brought it to him in the first place, he would have both of us killed and, loathe as I am to admit, we cannot lose you. You are our best Assassin and you still have room to grow, if you would only get your head out of your ass and think.” He went in for the kill, thoroughly stomping Altaϊr’s idea to the ground.

Desmond winced as he took another gulp of alcohol, the bitter taste burning down his throat.

Fingers twitching, Altaϊr stood up, graceful as always. “Very well. It was a foolish idea. I-“

“You will not do anything until you listen to me. You are not to bring the treasure to Al Mualim. You have been appointed a mission. If you do not finish it and bring the Apple to him, he would not be grateful – he would think you acted on your own, once again, recklessly, to gain back his favor. Do you think it’d do you any good?”

Sensing a chance, Desmond activated his Eagle Vision, spying for the Apple in the folds of Altaϊr’s robe and – there! Now, if he could only…

“What would you have me do then, Malik?” Altaϊr asked between clenched teeth. At least he was not outright dismissing the man.

And, yeah, that was his cue. Desmond rose, not nearly as graceful as Altaϊr and sneaked a quick hand to retrieve the Apple.

Surprised by the action, Altaϊr merely raised a hand towards him but did not stop him or attack him. Thank God.

“As I said before” Desmond cleared his throat, tossing the Apple in the air a few times to the terror of the other two “I am best equipped to deal with this. It is going to stay with me, unless there is a dimensional bitch messing around in here, in which case I’ll just find a way to destroy it and – Shit. That’s new.”

His eyes widened comically, as he caught the Apple with his damaged arm and it lit up – illuminating the whole courtyard – along with a set of circuitry on his arm. The light snaked its way up, up, up his arm, over his shoulder and neck, to his eyes , making them glow bright gold, before disappearing as soon as it appeared.

Before his eyes, the Apple in his hands cracked and crumbled to dust, falling through his fingers to the floor.

Biting his lip and tasting blood, he chanced a look at the other two, who were staring in a semblance of shock at the remnants of the Apple of Eden.

“Oops?”

At least now there would be no way Altaϊr could sneak the Apple back to Al Mualim behind Malik’s back.