On December 21st Desmond Miles dies to save the world.
Shaun Hastings dies too, right at the moment when Grand Temple comes alight and they all hear a bloodcurdling scream bounce off the walls.
On December 21st, Shaun finds himself listening once again to the voice memo Desmond has left on his phone. Sometimes he feels like Desmond's voice is the only thing that keeps him going.
When the recording ends, Shaun hits replay. Just one more time.
On December 21st, Subject 17th brain activity changes slightly, much to Alvaro Gramatica’s delight. He circles the stasis tank, eyeing the monitors, and congratulates himself once again for checking on what was left of the Subject before throwing it away. Brain activity and tissue growth in a dead body - now that’s a phenomenon that needs to be carefully studied. Seems like mister Miles can surprise them one more time.
By December 21st, Subject 17 grows back almost every organ taken from him, albeit sometimes in weird forms. The strange regenerative process doesn’t cover his right arm, at least on the outside - it's still charred, with seemingly no improvement, even if Alvaro knows that the bones got reformed back to normal.
The clock strikes twelve and as if on cue, there’s a surge in Subject’s brain activity, like Dr. Gramatica hasn’t seen before. Subject 17 opens his eyes for the first time, and they are shining, golden like the Apple's glow, and the same gold runs down the Subject’s charred arm, blasting out of his fingertips like a laser beam and smashing the tank’s wall into pieces.
Dr. Gramatica claps his hands in delight. Oh, it’s alive. It’s more than alive.
By December 21st, Shaun is done with everyone and eventually snaps at Gavin for being annoying and incompetent. It’s the closest to his former self Rebecca has seen him in two years, and she almost cries, watching as Shaun grinds Gavin into the deck with few carefully chosen words, not even raising his voice before Galina shows up to smack him over the head for being a little shit.
Listening to him whine and complain, Rebecca smiles. He is alive. He will be fine.
On December 21st Shaun screams in pain and falls to the ground as Galina’s fist connects with his jaw, almost dislocating it.
“Faster, Shaun!“ she snaps at him. “You need to go faster! Stop being so sloppy!“
Shaun gets up, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, and spits the blood out. “Again,” he demands and Galina nods, charging at him as he attempts to at least block her punches if he can’t retaliate - this woman is a beast and doesn’t pull any punches. Not that he wants her to.
Rebecca cheers them on - one of them, Shaun can’t tell who, but it doesn’t matter - right now he is just glad she is still alive to cheer. It’s more than he thought they’d have after the disaster with the Shroud.
Shaun grits his teeth and lunges forward.
On December 21st Subject 17 screams in pain, trashing under the Shroud of Eden. Apparently, Dr. Gramatica notes, properly regrowing nervous system isn’t a pleasant process.
“Bastards!“ the Subject spits out when the Shroud stops glowing, work finished. It’s the first word out of his mouth, and Dr. Gramatica smiles. This experiment proves to be more and more interesting.
"Is the operating room ready?" he asks his assistant. "I can't wait to see the effects of the Shroud. And be careful with his arm, if the casing slips, we are all as good as dead."
It’s December 21st when Juhani Otso Berg storms Gramatica’s lab.
“So, Dr., how’s your little pet?“ he asks in that overly pleasant tone that means he is pissed off. Alvaro just points into the general direction of the Subject 17, pale and limp, strapped to the Animus, sweat running down his face and eyes moving frantically under closed lids. His right hand is still encased in a gauntlet made of precursor metal alloy.
“Resisting treatment,“ Gramatica answers with a shrug. “Stubborn thing, shame we can’t use the Apple on him, it just doesn’t work. No matter, we’ll make do with a combination of drugs, electroconvulsive therapy, and the Animus. Don’t worry, he will break soon enough.”
“And what if he won't?” Juhani grumbles, clearly not convinced.
“Well, it’s either change or die for him,” Dr. Gramatica says with a smug smirk. “And I’m not sure he can die, so he will change. With proper persuasion, of course. Just give us time.”
It’s December 21st when Abstergo facility in Montreal is burned to the ground. Shaun leaves a giant V on the wall before taking a leap of faith out of the burning building, one of the Staffs of Eden attached securely to his back.
“You are too British,“ Rebecca accuses him through the headset and Shaun grins.
“No such thing, luv,” he says, pulling his beaked hood up, and adds in a normal voice. “I want them to know that this is personal.”
He's never wanted to kill again, but that was before. Before Desmond, before Rebecca’s injury, before everything. He was a different person.
Now it’s time to change.
December the 21st finds Shaun in a bar. It’s a late night, and the girls have already gone to sleep back in the hideout, but he couldn’t.
Five years. It’s been five years. Everything that happened should be just a distant memory, yet every time he closes his eyes, he just sees-
“Can I get you something else?“ the bartender asks and Shaun lifts his eyes from the empty shot glass.
“Yes,“ Shaun says slowly. He remembers something Desmond has mentioned once, talking about his bartending days. “You know how to make a Shirley Temple?“
“Sure,“ the bartender starts looking curious. He is the epitome of tall, dark and handsome, with roman nose and hair shorn short, and Shaun almost laughs bitterly.
“Make that and add a shot of gin,“ he instructs and bartender’s eyebrows shoot up, but he does as told and soon slides Shaun a tall glass.
"Here you go," the bartender smiles. "At least tell me what it's called."
"It’s called a Shirley Templar," Shaun replies, and looks at the glass, feeling the lump in his throat. "My b-, my friend invented it. Cheers, mate."
When Shaun walks out into the night, two Shirley Templars and one personal but heavily omitted story later, he feels a bit better.
December the 21st finds Aquila in the training ring once again. Like yesterday. And the day before. And every single day he can remember, not that it’s saying much.
Today they are pitting him against a whole squadron of soldiers, but it doesn’t really matter - they are too slow, too incompetent even with their live weapons, he tears through their ranks with bare fists before they can even lift the guns, tossing the soldiers around like they are made of paper. He could do even better if his head wasn’t pulsing with pain that came out of nowhere.
As soon as the last soldier hits the floor, the signal informs Aquila, that he is dismissed for now, and he obediently walks through the sliding door leading to his room. He’s learned not to hesitate or disobey - getting shot isn’t really fun, and neither is being drugged or starved for a couple of weeks or other methods his masters resort to if he isn’t doing what he’s told. He knows it’s for his own good - he is but an errant child with too much power he’s not prepared to handle, but this knowledge isn't going to help him deal with the pain.
Back in his room Aquila lies on the bed and stares at the ceiling. Everything is a little bit hazy and he wonders briefly if they're putting drugs in his water and food to keep him from lashing out. He drops the thought after another shot of pain in his temples, and squeezes his eyes shut, recalling a weird dream, the only one he could actually remember. It isn't anything special, just a pair of beautiful grey eyes behind rectangular glasses. He’s never told anyone about it, and for some reason, this little secret makes him feel better.
On December the 21st, Shaun Hastings walks right into a trap, set by Juhani Otso Berg. He still makes a huge dent in his enemies' ranks, before Otso Berg calls for reinforcements. But, instead of more troops, a shadow silently drops from the ceiling, as the remaining Templars regroup. When the shadow steps into the light, Shaun staggers back, not believing his eyes.
“Desmond?“ he manages to whisper once before he gets attacked.
Aquila pushes his opponent against the wall, holding him by the throat and raises his right arm. He can feel the energy building up in his fist, one blast and it will be over.
But the target stops resisting and trying to claw his way out, and just rests his hand on Aquila’s wrist. He, surprisingly, doesn’t look scared, just… sad. Why is he sad?
“I’m sorry, Desmond“ the opponent whispers and he is crying, fat tears running down his face. “I’m so sorry.“
Aquila freezes. Those eyes, his grey eyes, why do they look so familiar?
Desmond blinks, slowly, as is he can't focus on Shaun's face.
“What are you waiting for?“ Otso Berg demands from the side, and Shaun realizes that he probably can't see Desmond's face. “Just kill him and be done with it!“
Desmond's eyes flare up, and his head whips in the Templar's direction. Without a word, he blasts Juhani through the glass wall, sending him into a ten-stories' flight, before turning back to Shaun.
“Your face looks weird without the glasses.“