Chapter 1: 1998
in which there are two boys in the woods
It’s not that Bobby North was stupid - he was, in fact, pretty smart when it came to the classes taught on the Farm, as limited as they were. It’s just… questioning the Creed seemed impossible - how do you question something, that was there long before you, something as constant and immovable, as the sun rising in the east and winter coming after autumn.
Bobby knew the Creed even before he could speak properly himself. Nothing is true, everything is permitted. What was there to question? The Creed was plain. It’s about freedom of choice. End of discussion.
Not for everyone, it turned out.
“Ever thought how weird it is?” Desmond asked him once when they were hiding in their own personal super-well hidden spot in the woods. At Bobby’s questioning look, Desmond elaborated. “The Creed, I mean.”
Bobby’s eyebrows shot up. Desmond was still visibly reeling from pain, keeping the injured arm pressed to his side, the other hand elbow-deep in his secret stash, because that’s the first thing you’ve learned on the Farm - how to keep things you’re not supposed to have (or supposed to have in limited amounts) hidden from others. Bobby’s secret stash contained a number of candy bars, a few soda cans, three comic books, each in their own ziplock bag, and a swiss army knife one of the adults had lost.
Desmond’s consisted mostly of painkillers and dried food, and he was now searching for the former. The deep cut on his arm, already cleaned up, looked awful, but not that bad it would require getting thread and needles from Sammy’s stash in order to patch him up. So, he couldn’t have lost so much blood he would be delirious.
“Weird? What are you on about?” Bobby asked, scrunching his nose. He had already been told to not get in the way, so he was just sitting there on dry moss, watching Desmond fumble around.
“The Creed, it doesn’t make sense,” Desmond waved his injured arm and inhaled sharply, with a hiss of pain, before resuming his search. “I mean, if everything is permitted, we should be allowed to leave this place. Or, I don’t know, wake up later or something.”
Waking up later would be good, Bobby thought but shook his head. “You know why we can’t leave, Desmond, there are Templars out there.”
Desmond shrugged with one shoulder, pulling out the bottle of ibuprofen and unscrewing the cap. “Yeah, that’s what adults say, I know. But if nothing is true, why should we believe whatever they say?”
Bobby just stared at him, dumbfounded, as Desmond popped the pill in his mouth, swallowed it dry and took out a set of wide band-aids, frowning at his injury.
“Maybe you should get this looked at by your Mom?” Bobby suggested gingerly, as his friend pressed around the edges of the cut. “It looks serious. And why would adults lie to us about the danger?”
Desmond lifted his eyes at him and shook his head. “Nah, guess they won’t,” he said dismissively and smiled with just the left corner of his mouth - something he learned when he got the scar on the right side and couldn’t smile without disturbing the stitches. The scar healed long ago, but the habit stayed. “And I’m fine, it’s just a scratch. Help me?”
“Sure,” Bobby nodded. He didn’t need to ask what to do, he’d done it dozens of times before. Something else bothered him - there was something familiar about the look on Desmond’s face, Bobby definitely saw it before, he just couldn’t tell where exactly.
He took the band-aids, and, as soon as Desmond pressed the edges of the cut together, slapped the largest strip along the length of the cut. Desmond put on a couple more, securing the first one in place, and then smiled at Bobby again, lightly punching him in the shoulder.
“Thanks, dude,” he said and dropped back on the ground to close his stash. “Ready to head back before they send a search party after us?”
“Yeah...” Bobby said slowly, suddenly realizing where he saw that look before. That was his Mom’s look whenever she had to patch one of them up. Or Sammy's dad whenever he went patrolling the borders.
That was an adult’s look. Of course it was so weird on Desmond, eleven-year-olds aren't adults.
Desmond straightened up and frowned at Bobby, probably noticing his blank face. “You good?” he asked carefully.
Bobby blinked and shook his head, trying to hide his concern. “Yeah, I’m not the one whose arm nearly got split in two,” he replied, rolling his eyes. “Come on, Des, before we get in trouble.”
Desmond scoffed. “I’m always in trouble,” he said cheekily, pushing past Bobby. The twelve-year-old gave him a little shove and followed, grinning and trying not to think about the weird adult look, that didn’t belong on his friend’s face.
It haunted him still.
Chapter 2: 2000
in which William is teaching Desmond a lesson
tw for this chapter - kinda graphic child abuse
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Rob expected a scream, but it never came. Instead, there was a grunt, as the punch to the side had all but sent Desmond sprawling to the ground. Sammy gasped, grasping Rob’s elbow, grey eyes, usually a little squinted as if he was still reading some invisible book, wide open.
They were in a front row of the involuntary spectators of the scene - the kids, their age and younger, who had been sparring with each other just a few minutes ago, and some adults, attracted by the commotion. Rob glanced at them, hoping for someone to intervene, but their faces were mostly neutral, some were even nodding along with what was happening in the fighting pit.
No one seemed to be bothered by the fact, that a thirteen-year-old was pitted against a grown freaking man.
Another punch landed with a heavy, meaty thud, accompanied by a pained hiss, and Rob gritted his teeth, trying to calm down. Nothing is true, everything is permitted, he told himself again. Maybe, it could be justified. Their enemies wouldn’t always be matching them in strength, some of them would be stronger and more skilled, and Desmond’s father was like fifty or something, not like he was in his prime…
“You can’t evade forever, Desmond!” William Miles all but spat out as the teenager rolled away from him, barely avoiding a kick to the ribs. “Stand your ground!”
Desmond didn’t reply, lips pressed into a thin line. He was covered in dirt from head to toe, shirt torn and bruises forming on the side of his face. He scrambled back up and for a moment pressed himself to the barrier just a couple of feet away from Rob and Sammy. Rob could hear his breathing, rapid and wet.
Rob’s nostrils flared and he tensed, ready to scream. Maybe it was justified. Maybe, as a son of the commune leader, Desmond should have been better trained than everyone else.
But for fuck's sake, this was so wrong.
Before he could move, however, Desmond charged forward, small and quick and nimble, like a tiny snake. He was practically dancing around his father, just out of reach, and for a few seconds, Rob almost believed he could land a solid hit on his father-
And then William broke through his defenses, punching Desmond a few times in rapid succession and sending him sprawling to the ground, where he stayed, unmoving.
For a few very long moments Rob wasn’t even sure he was breathing.
“On your feet, Desmond,” William Miles barked, voice dripping with disdain. “Up! We are not finished yet.”
Rob let out a small growl, bracing himself for a jump, Sammy’s grip on his elbow the only thing keeping him in place. If the Creed was true, if everything was permitted, he was permitted to get over the barrier and help his friend, god-fucking-dammit!
Desmond let out another pained grunt and slowly, gingerly rose up. His face was a mess, dirt and bruises unable to hide the thin trail of blood coming from his lip, split or bitten through Rob couldn’t tell.
It wasn’t the worst. Desmond’s eyes were completely blank like he wasn’t seeing anything in front of him. This dead stare found Rob’s and then Desmond shook his head, just a little, barely noticeable shake, before turning away and facing his father once again.
Rob bit his own lip so hard he tasted copper, and shook off Sammy’s hand, turning away from the pit and pushing through the crowd. He couldn’t help. But that didn’t mean he had to watch.
Nothing is true, everything is permitted, he repeated again to himself. Desmond willingly refused help. The grown-ups know what’s best. Nothing is true, everything is permitted.
He repeated the Creed over and over in his head as if it could drown the sounds of the fight, the punches being delivered and the scream Desmond couldn’t hold back anymore.
But the Creed wasn’t enough this time.
i did warn you about a+ parenting
Chapter 3: 2001
in which there is a child
this chapter is mostly fluff for a change, but there is a mention (or two) of unhealthy practices
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sam was always the one to talk really fast, probably because he had so many words and so little time to express them. Now, he was sitting on the fallen log, chatting away about the last book he’d read, while simultaneously working on fixing Rob’s shirt. Not that Rob couldn’t do it himself, it’s just that Sam’s stitches were leagues better and he could actually get this job done in the twenty minutes that were left of their break.
Sam also somehow managed to embroider all his clothing with the Brotherhood’s symbol, though how he managed to fit this between training and constant reading, Rob had no idea. Sam probably had no idea how he did it either.
Rob was sifting through his stash, letting his friend’s voice wash over him in a comforting rumble, when he heard a not-so-distant crunch of twigs, and tensed a little, watching the edge of their tiny clearing. Sam, noticing the attention shift, stopped talking.
A low, comforting murmur came from up and behind the trees, resonating through the quiet forest. “Almost there, kiddo, just a little bit further, I promise,” Desmond, and apparently, not alone.
Tension slipped away from Rob, making way for a little irritated curiosity. This place was supposed to be kept a secret from everyone, why the hell is he bringing someone over?
Desmond’s lean figure appeared on the thick and low branch of the old tree at the edge of the clearing, with someone clinging to his back as baby monkey clings to its mother. Noticing his friends, Desmond waved at them and turned to his passenger. “See, I told you they’d be here,” he said before swiftly and carefully climbing down. He was on the ground even before Rob realized that Desmond sounded genuinely, honest to god excited, and that was… rare, to put it mildly.
“Guys, this is Penelope Smith,” Desmond announced, helping the tiny copper-haired girl on his back climb over to his shoulder. “Kiddo, this is Sam aka the smart one, and Rob aka the strong one. They are my best friends, and they are totally cool.”
Penelope, button-nosed and covered in freckles, smiled shyly. Her face looked a little puffy as if she was crying not long ago. “You can call me Penny.”
Oh, now Rob could see what got Desmond so excited - everyone knew the Smiths’ youngest wasn’t supposed to leave the house until she turns five, for safety reasons - too many children running around with sharp objects. But now, it seemed, her indefinite house arrest was finally over.
Unless, of course, Desmond stole her from the house, he mused, watching Sam greet the kid with a high-five. But that wasn’t likely.
“Hello, Penny,” Rob said, approaching the little girl, who looked on Desmond’s shoulder like a princess on her throne.
“Hi. I love your braids!” Penny replied, blue eyes shining like she saw something truly amazing, and not a teenager with shoulder-length sandy-brown hair tied into a short ponytail, with little braids on both temples. It was surprisingly endearing.
Rob couldn’t help a smile. “Thank you,” he said, shaking her tiny hand, and nodded at Desmond. “How did you come across this big oaf, milady?”
Penny giggled with delight at the same time Desmond let out an indignant squawk of protest.
“Desmond saved me!” she announced and patted him on the cheek. Rob rolled his eyes so hard they nearly did a full circle. Behind him, Sam started having a suspiciously loud coughing fit.
“Of course he did,” Rob drawled and Desmond made a face.
“She took, like, three steps outside before Kevin and his “gang” started picking on her, I had to do something,” he said as if trying to make an excuse.
“He told Kevin he would open his stash and give everything away!” Penny chimed in and Sam tutted, shaking his head.
“Now, that is really morally bankrupt, Desmond, threatening things like that,” he said in a mock-lecturing tone. “Little Kevin is only eight.”
Desmond’s face hardened momentarily. “He is old enough to understand that bullying someone isn’t okay,” he replied sternly and then added in a much lighter tone. “Also, I didn’t threaten to tell everyone where the stash is, just to take everything out and give it away. He’d have to start from scratch.”
“Bankrupt!” Sam repeated, waggling his index finger menacingly, and Desmond just rolled his eyes in response.
Penny, still perched on his shoulder, tugged his ear. “What’s a “stash”?” she asked, eyes curious and shining like a couple of jewels.
Desmond smiled at her, pressing a finger to his lips. “Oh, but that is a secret!” he said in an exaggeratedly dramatic tone.”Are you good at keeping secrets, kiddo?”
Rob grinned as Desmond launched into explanations, animatedly swinging his hands about. He always had a soft spot for kids, running around with them, playing, teaching them stuff and helping with chores, facing their antics with nigh unlimited patience he didn’t have otherwise.
Perhaps, Rob mused, it was for the best - after all, every kid on the Farm was expected to marry and have children of their own as soon as possible because Brotherhood needed to live on, needed to rebuild. Perhaps this could be the only thing proposed by William, Desmond would not be vehemently against.
He would definitely make a good dad.
can you tell that i love portraying soft boi desmond?
i am soft for soft desmond
(also can you tell things are about to get worse)
Chapter 4: 2002
in which the rules are broken
okay, so this chapter is super long - it's 3k words long
also tw: underage drinking, physical and emotional abuse
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
This thing was bound to go to shit, but it was too late to quit. You don’t quit drinking after you’ve already taken a few swigs, right?
“It could use some spice, to be honest,” Desmond drawled, swirling his drink in the water bottle and taking another measured sip. “Cinnamon would work, I guess.”
Rob gave him an unimpressed look. “Since when are you a cocktail expert?” he blurted out, leaning on the tree behind him. The world was slightly askew around the edges, but the feeling would pass soon.
At least he hoped so. They had maybe a few minutes left before they’d have to get back.
Desmond gave him crooked, one-sided grin and grabbed a piece of candied fruit from the packet between them. He had a little blush high up on his cheeks. “Since I have taste, dude,” he scoffed and dropped fruit into his mouth.
Rob rolled his eyes giving his friend a little shove. What Desmond tasted he didn’t know, for him, this was just a weird mix of apple juice and booze burning its way down the throat, that was becoming gradually less awful with every swig, just as Rob's head was getting lighter and lighter.
It had all started when Maisie told them she'd managed to steal a bottle of whiskey from her father’s secret cabinet, and she had been ready to go all communist and distribute it equally to every kid over the age of fourteen. The distribution itself had been the main problem - because one, it had to be evenly measured and two, alcohol was off limits on the Farm, meaning they needed to somehow cover their tracks.
The way around getting caught in the act had taken a few more days, until today they were finally tasting and toasting their victory, 2.8 ounces per water bottle, with apple juice on top to hide the smell.
“There goes another rule,” Desmond said, letting his head fall against the tree, eyes closed. Rob watched, all but hypnotized, as his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down with another swig. “We’ve been drinking for fifteen minutes and the world didn’t end. How surprising.”
“And how many left?” Rob asked, taking one more sip too.
“Four,” Desmond drawled, eyes still closed, and then amended. “Well, three, you can’t really break fourth while still being here, so. Three, I guess.”
He took a big sip and grimaced. “Nothing is true, everything is permitted,” he said in a mocking tone. “More like “everything we say is true, and nothing is permitted unless we say so”, for fuck's sake.”
Rob didn't answer, taking another swig instead. He didn't really want to argue with Desmond on this again. The rising level of spite and edge in Desmond’s argument was getting uncomfortable, The Creed was there to protect and guide them, why try to tear it down so much, especially when using it?
To his relief, Desmond wasn’t really in a fighting mood too. He huffed a sigh, swirling his drink absently, and glanced down on his watch. “Ten minutes before break ends, guess we better head out,” he said, taking one more gulp, putting the bottle down under the log they were sitting on and getting up.
Rob nodded, setting down his own drink and gingerly getting up too. He still had enough sobriety left to realize that, even if his feet were steady enough, any and all acrobatics were out of the question.
Desmond, who seemed surprisingly better at holding his liquor, put a steadying hand over Rob’s shoulders. “Let’s take a long way back, okay?”
They’ve crossed the woods, heading back along the running track that surrounded the Farm as some sort of old fortifications, red stripes on the trees marking every hundred feet. The walk through familiar woods cleared Rob’s head a little, and, by the time they’ve reached the Farm, he was pretty sure no one could tell he was tipsy.
He turned his head to Desmond to say as much when all of a sudden Desmond’s hand on his shoulder tensed and he took it off. “Mom,” he greeted in a forcefully light tone that nearly made Rob cringe.
He turned back to see Mrs. Miles briskly walking towards them with a deep frown on her face. She stopped just a few feet ahead, arms crossed over her chest, brown eyes hard. “Son,” she replied, mimicking his voice. “Be a dear, let me smell your breath.”
Rob’s stomach dropped. “That’s a weird request, mom,” Desmond said lightly, and Maria scowled at him.
“Now,” she demanded icily, and Desmond’s shoulders dropped. Mrs. Miles looked at both of their guilty faces for a few seconds and nodded. "With me."
She led them to the center of the Farm in dead silence. Rob sneaked a glanced at Desmond, who was looking straight ahead, and Rob wasn’t sure he was even blinking.
In front of the central hall, there was a group of teens surrounded by a group of adults. Rob counted the others hastily. Five. Apart from them, there were five others, meaning that two weren't caught, and, aside from clearly anxious Maisie and red-eyed Colin, everyone seemed more or less fine.
As if echoing Rob's thoughts, Desmond sighed in relief and, glancing at him, drew a letter S in the air.
Oh, that's right. Sammy wasn't there. And Daria. The two nerds must've been too busy for a drink. Or just sneaky enough, who cares, it was a relief either way.
"I think that's all of them," Maria said, joining other disgruntled adults. "Where's Bill?"
Ned, Maisie's father nodded at the central hall. "Said he'd be in a moment." he then gave the teens a sidelong glance. "The whole lot of them, eh? That's new. Do you know where they've got the stuff?"
Maisie visibly tensed at his words, and Desmond gently patted her on the back.
"It's gonna be fine," he whispered just loud enough for her and Rob to hear, a comforting lie. Rob could honestly appreciate his effort
"No, they wouldn't tell," Colin's mother, Theo, grumbled, eyeing her son.
“They will, eventually,” Maria assured her, and Rob shivered a little.
The chatter died, as William Miles emerged from the central hall with Rob's own dad in tow. His face was a particular kind of stormy, but compared to William, he was completely chill.
"Line up!" William barked and before Rob could even comprehend what was said, his legs moved, placing him between Desmond and Colin. Their shoulders brushed and Rob realized that Desmond was tense, as if ready for an attack.
William paced in front of them, looking every teen in the face, like he was trying to read their minds, but not sparing Desmond even a glance. "Which one of you did it?“ he asked in a chillingly even voice. "You better tell me, or you are all going to be punished as severely as whoever started it. Think about it.“
The only answer he got was silence. Rob carefully watched as the muscles of William’s face twitched, and felt a little wave of weird satisfaction. They weren't all best friends, but there was no way they would tattle. No one was going to throw Maisie under the bus, no one-
"I did it," Desmond said, in a monotone. He almost sounded bored. "It was my idea."
Rob turned to him, almost choking on air. Desmond was looking straight ahead, with the same blank stare that had been haunting Rob's dreams for years.
For a few moments the silence around them was deafening like everything has stopped until it was broken by a cry:
"Wait, no, it's not him, it's me!“ Maisie stepped forward, visibly trembling. "I stole the bottle, not Desmond!“
William pinned her to the spot with the same icy stare. "Ms. Snow, as commendable it is to stand up for your peers, you shouldn't try to take the blame for my son."
Maisie made a strangled sound. "But-" she started again only to be cut off by Desmond.
"Mais. Stop it," he said, turning to her. "You know you didn't do it."
He then turned again, calmly looking his father in the eyes. "I did it. I stole the bottle from Mr. Snow's cabinet."
He continued, explaining the steps he took, sounding so sure, Rob was deterred for a moment. Desmond was selling it like a good actor sells a role. As if nudged, Rob looked at adults, who were murmuring about themselves, nodding along.
“Why am I not surprised,” Maria sighed, looking tired.
It dawned on Rob that this was something expected, they were expecting Desmond to be the one behind this.
Suddenly Rob remembered, how lucky they seemed as kids, how a lot of problems and pranks, guaranteed to get them a whooping, would go unnoticed.
Had they really?
"Step forward, Desmond," William's voice cut through his thoughts. Desmond's shoulder, tense and hot under thin t-shirt brushed Rob's and he barely curbed the urge to grab his friend by the arm.
“You have disappointed me, son,” William said in a low, flat tone, and Desmond rolled his eyes.
“Big fucking news,” he said, spitefully, and William backhanded him in an instant, making his head whip to the side. The slap resonated, making Rob wince.
“What,” William all but growled, sounding like a big, angry dog. “Did I tell you about swearing, boy?”
“Sorry, I forgot,” Desmond murmured, gingerly touching his cheek, shoulders dropping, fight seemingly drained from him.
“Bill,” Maria reprimanded, glancing around. “Not in front of the others.”
William spared her a quick look and nodded. “You are right,” he said and turned to adults. “Everyone is dismissed. Desmond, with us.”
Without another word, he walked away and Desmond followed, like a puppet on strings, throwing Rob one last glance over the shoulder.
Rob wanted to run after him, to ask, why the hell he would do something so stupid, but his own father had already taken him by the shoulder and was leading him away, to their home.
Because his father was a virtual saint, Rob was let off the hook with minimal casualties - he just sighed, asked Rob to be more responsible in the future and shifted the curfew by a couple of hours. William wasn’t so lenient, though - the next day after mandatory morning training, he made all of those caught line up in front of the other kids for a public shunning, giving them an almost an hour lecture on why their actions are a disgrace to the community and the Brotherhood at large, most of which went completely over Rob’s head because he was too busy trying to find Desmond anywhere.
Desmond wasn’t there. Which, probably, shouldn’t have been that surprising - that happened before, he would disappear after they got busted, and then he’d be back later in the day, but something wasn’t sitting comfortably in Rob’s chest. They’d never, like, had been caught breaking an actual rule before, and Desmond’s confession certainly didn't give him any points too.
The lecture concluded with the punishment being dealt - they’d have to run ten miles instead of five every morning for the next four weeks, and they’re not allowed to have water bottles on them for the same period of time - and the teens were finally allowed to resume their daily routines, which Rob did, still being on a lookout for Desmond.
Desmond didn’t show up throughout the day, and the next day, and the day after that. Rob, dread settled comfortably in the pit of his stomach, asked around, but no one has seen him since the Whiskey Incident. As Maisie, who also noticed his absence and was visibly distraught by that, put it, this was like Desmond had disappeared from the face of the earth.
By the sixth day, Rob had almost worked up the courage to just go and ask Mrs. Miles about Desmond. He was sitting on their clearing, having just seen Sam and Penny off, sharpening the knives and rehearsing in his head what he was going to say, when-
“Rob,” he heard and his head whipped up. Desmond was standing in the middle of the clearing, looking at him with a half-smile.
“Desmond!” Rob dropped the knife and sprang on his feet, breathing freely for the first time in days, the knot in his chest dissipating.
He almost crushed Desmond with a hug, provoking a small laugh.
“Dude, I was gone for… for… for a few days, stop acting like I was in a war or something,” he said finally and lightly tapped Rob on the back. “Let go, I wanna sit.”
Rob did let go, with a momentary reluctance and got a good look on his friend. It was a habit of his since they were little and just getting into training and trouble - scan for injuries first. Desmond looked fine, more or less, maybe a little bit paler than usual, and his gaze wandered a little. As soon as Rob let go, he swayed a little before plopping on the ground with a wince.
“Dude, where’ve you been?” Rob asked, sitting down too. “It’s been days!”
“How many?” Desmond suddenly asked and Rob frowned.
“It’s Friday now, it’s been five full days since the whiskey,” he said slowly. “Desmond, what happened?”
Desmond shrugged, leaning against the tree with another wince and draping an arm over his eyes. “I was in the Box,” he finally answered.
Oh. Rob knew the place, was there with Desmond once, kinda long ago, when they got caught stealing cookies by Maria and were put there to wait for their fathers. It wasn’t really a box, just a small room with an equally small adjacent bathroom. It was eerie, dark, with the only light being the one coming from the small, grey-tinted bathroom window, nothing but a sleeping bag to sit on and pretty much no sound but his and Desmond’s breathing, because the walls were soundproofed. It has only been a couple of hours, but Rob was still uncomfortable remembering it.
“Wait, you’ve been there for the whole time?” he asked, incredulously. When Desmond didn’t answer, he shook his head. “Dude...That’s long. They didn’t let you out at all? What about food?”
“Nah, they didn’t,” Desmond replied in tired monotone. “They don’t talk to me when I’m in the Box. And I was fed, once a day, not that it helped a lot. They got me oats, you know I hate those. I ended up barfing most of them up anyway.”
Rob silently got up, trying and failing to imagine how it could feel - alone, in the dark, no sense of time, no food, just darkness, and walls and your own breathing. It felt nauseating, Moving over to his stash, he pulled out a couple of protein bars. When he turned back, Desmond was already lying on the ground, eyes still closed. Rob tossed the bars on his chest.
“Eat,” Rob said, settling down again.
“Thanks. Don’t worry, It’s fine,” Desmond said forcefully, starting to unwrap the first bar. “At least I didn’t need to train with the mess on my back, that’d be shitty.”
Rob stilled “What mess?” he asked slowly. Instead of answering, Desmond just sat upright with a wince and pulled at his t-shirt. making it ride up. His back was painted with welts, most of them already yellow, but some looking like they’d barely scabbed over. The nausea returned in full force.
“Your father did that?” he blurted out, and Desmond sighed, letting the thin cotton fall down again.
“Yep. Speaking of which, I should probably go,” he said with regret, looking at his watch. “He and mom are out of the house, but I think they’ll be back soon.”
Rob nodded and got up first, grabbing Desmond by the wrist and pulling him to his feet.
The short walk back to the Farm was filled with the crackling of the wrap, as Desmond devoured the bars and asked after others in-between the bites. Rob answered, giving him as much info as he knew, and suddenly realized, that others mostly got out as easy as him. Colin had it a little rough with his strict mom, but otherwise, everyone was… fine. Even Maisie's father decided it was a clever enough prank to be treated as such. Don't do it again, no dessert for a couple of weeks, and that's all.
Desmond hummed, closing his eyes for a moment. "Good," he said. "I probably won't be coming to our place in some time."
"What? Why?" Rob asked, frowning.
"Dad said if I have enough time to steal bottles and give my peers the alcohol poisoning, that means I have enough time for more training and chores,” Desmond shrugged. “So… Not really sure if I'd have long enough breaks to come over."
Robert wanted to reply, but they have already stepped out of the woods behind Desmond’s house. His window on the second floor, looking out to the forest was wide open.
"Gimme a boost?" Desmond asked and Rob nodded, standing with his back to the wall and locking his hands. Desmond stopped and looked around again. Rob could only see a part of his face, but he could tell longing in Desmond’s eyes. Longing and anger.
"You know what?" Desmond said, turning back. He stepped into Rob's personal space, warm brown eyes shining feverishly. His mouth was twisted into an almost hateful sneer. "Fuck the rules."
He then stepped up and Rob boosted him without thinking, confused by this sudden change of attitude. When he glanced up, Desmond was already in, looking out of the window, face all hard lines, jaw set.
"Fuck. The. Rules," he repeated before disappearing into the house without a goodbye.
Rob stayed, frozen to the spot for a few moments, and then turned around and walked away. There was some new emptiness inside him, and he suddenly felt very tired. He could still see Desmond’s angry face in his mind.
William Miles passed him by, cold and confident as ever, and Rob stopped abruptly, every hair on his head standing up. He thought of yellow bruises and red welts, of a dark, empty room, how all he needed to do was be at home in 1900 hours instead of 2100.
Why was William so harsh on Desmond? Wasn’t beating and five days in the Box enough of a punishment?
“Nothing is true, everything is permitted,” a little voice in the back of his head reminded him. Rob scoffed and shook his head.
Maybe everything was permitted, he thought defiantly. But this shouldn't be.
Okay so... this was a ride to write, honestly. I'm sorry it took so long to update, I was supposed to do it before my trip, but the chapter was getting longer and longer, and harder and harder to process, so here we are.
I also want to leave you a video on what solitary confinement does to people by Philosophy Tube, just because this is related and important (and scary).
Also if you have thoughts about what three rules are left to be broken, you can always tell me your guesses in the comments.
Hopefully, this wasn't too depressing.
Chapter 5: 2003
in which the decision is made
TW for this chapter: mentions of homophobia, implied sexual relationship between consenting teenagers
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Robert huffed, blowing a stray lock of hair away from his eyes and squinted at the car's underbelly. He was trying to fix the suspension for over an hour now, with no luck.
Not everyone could be Tony freaking Stark. That was an unforgivable oversight on the universe’s part.
Well, at least he didn’t have to work outside in the sun - the barn was relatively cool.
There was a slight pop somewhere high above and Robert rolled his eyes, focusing on the suspension once again. After a few moments, the faint clatter of the car’s spares scattered around told him that the intruder had reached the ground level.
"This place has a door, you know," Robert called out, grinning.
"Yes, and it's out in the open. Wouldn’t want anyone knowing I’m here," Desmond countered, peering under the car. "May I…" he dropped on his back and slid under the car in one smooth motion, layin himself alongside Robert. "...slither in?“
Rob facepalmed, probably smearing his face with grease and machine oil. "You are taking this Harry Potter shit way too seriously," he accused, half-heartedly.
They've rediscovered the series thanks to Sam and Penny, and Penny, with all her seven-year-old might, had assigned them all houses, picking Hufflepuff for herself, Ravenclaw for Sam and Gryffindor for Rob, because" he looks like a knight, and knights are brave, so there", which left Slytherin for Desmond.
He didn’t seem to mind much, attesting that it suited him, as he was ambitious and cunning, just as his house required. With a hint of dark magic.
That last one? Rob was willing to agree.
Desmond poked his tongue out and hissed like a snake. Ambitious, cunning and an idiot. Rob huffed, trying to hide his laugh, and lightly shoved Desmond’s face away. “Rawr, I guess," he said and snapped his teeth at openly laughing Desmond. “In case you missed it, I'm working. Either help or stay out of the way."
He turned back to the car's underbelly, picking up the wrench. For a couple of moments, everything was quiet and then Desmond's chapped lips found their way under his ear. A shiver tore through Rob's body, pleasant and welcome.
"I told you I'm working," he grumbled, but there was no real heat behind it.
Desmond chuckled in his neck, sound going straight through Rob's blood, making it run faster. "No, you aren't," he said. "You are staring at the ruined suspension with no idea how to fix it."
Well, true. Instead of admitting it aloud, Rob turned his head to shut Desmond with a brief, biting kiss. Desmond relaxed and made a content noise, chasing the kiss when Rob reluctantly pulled away.
"Not here. Someone will see us," he said, placing the wrench under Desmond’s chin to keep him still.
Desmond gave him an unimpressed look. "Who? We're under the car, if you forgot," a crooked half-smile appeared on his lips. “Good luck to anyone trying to lift that bad boy up.”
His eyes were bright, shining in the semi-darkness under the car, lean body pressed against Rob’s side hot and tense. Desmond took him by the hand, lacing their fingers together and brought it to his lips, placing faint kisses to the knuckles.
At this point Rob kind of forgot where his thoughts were headed, the only thing on his brain now was just how to arrange them both in a comfortable way in the incredibly limited space under the car. He dropped the wrench on his chest and tugged his best friend-turned-lover closer, crushing their mouths together to the accompaniment of Desmond’s lewd moan.
When they broke up for air, Rob’s whole body felt on fire, heart beating fast and hard in his chest. Desmond looked positively debauched, messy hair, blush running high on his cheeks, breathing rapid, eyes wide and burning.
This was theirs. Being with Desmond felt so right, every ounce, every moment of it, however sparse and hidden they were. “You are so beautiful,” Rob found himself whispering like it was some sort of a secret, and Desmond laughed, blushing even harder.
“No, you are,” he whispered back and opened his mouth to say something else, but stopped abruptly, at a little creak of the door.
Someone entered the barn. Rob’s breath hitched, heart plummeting and beating somewhere in his stomach. They broke their half-hug, lying side-by-side and staring at the car underbelly, as the steps approached.
“Son, you still there?” the voice called out, and Rob exhaled. Dad. “Oh, hello, Desmond.”
Desmond’s one-sided grin was equally relieved. “Hi, Mr. North,” he replied cheekily. “You don’t sound surprised.”
“You two are practically joined at the hip, I’d be more surprised if you weren’t here,” Dad looked under the car and Robert could only hope his face wasn’t too red. “It’s dinner time, boys. No luck fixing this old thing?”
“Nah,” Robert replied, sliding from under the car first. “I still don’t get how it got so trashed.”
Dad helped him up and gave him an encouraging smile. “It’s okay, son,” he said, eyeing the car. “We’ll have a look at it together later. Come on, food time. You too, Desmond, your mother was looking for you.”
He left the barn just as Desmond got out from under the car. Rob helped him up and for a moment they just stood there, locked hands between them.
Then Desmond stepped closer, squinting at Rob’s face, and cupped his cheek with the free hand, thumb tracing just under Rob’s cheekbone.
“What are you doing?” Rob whispered, breath hitched at the thought of them being almost out in the open, and Desmond gave him another one-sided smile.
“You have grease there,” he explained, and then his face softened. “I love you. You know that, right?” he asked, voice suddenly almost sad. Something wasn’t quite right, but before Rob could comment on how mushy that question was, Desmond leaned forward for a quick kiss, and then for another, deeper and sweeter, before he practically jumped back, licking his lips and grinning crookedly. “I think we should go.”
And, giving his hand one last squeeze, Desmond walked right past Rob, out of the barn, like nothing happened. Robert breathed in and out, slowly, like it could help his racing heart, counted to five and walked out too. He could still taste Desmond on his lips and his heart was beating too fast for it to be healthy. All he wanted to do is go back to kissing his best-friend-turned-lover.
And yet all he could realistically do? Watch Desmond retreat to his own house, shoulders dropping lower with every step, feeling empty as if a dementor was hovering over him. They couldn’t be like Sam and Daria, sucking on each other’s faces in public. Well, semi-public, but still. Couldn’t even hold hands, couldn't hug for too long, because while Brotherhood had no problem with homosexuality as a concept, they still were all expected to have children at some point. And there was no telling how any of the adults would react if they’ve learned about their relationship…
Sometimes Robert wondered if his father knew. What would his father say if he knew? Would he just tell the others? Would he keep it close to himself? Would he disown Robert on the spot? Or worse? And what would happen to Desmond?
Panic started to rise in Robert and he squandered it down, forcefully turning his thoughts to something, or rather someone else. Desmond. Rob pictured the curve of his smile, the way when he laughed he would throw his head back and squeeze his eyes shut. Desmond was… better after they’ve started dating. Less edgy, he was at ease more and laughed more, and his eyes, while still weary, were brighter. Like he made some sort of decision.
Perhaps he was coming to terms with being an assassin. That would be good. Probably.
Honestly, Robert wasn’t sure anymore.
After dinner, Robert completed his chores and was planning on finding Desmond to make plans for the night, but got derailed by Penny, who was put in charge of a litter of puppies for the evening and then promptly lost them.
In the end, they’ve spent almost an hour and a half looking for and herding the pups back where they belonged.
“I guess it’s the last of them,” Robert said, picking up the pup, which whined and tried to lick his face, and putting it back into the paddock to the others.
“Thanks, Robby!” Penny gave him a beaming, if rather toothless, smile and locked the gate. “Wish the magic could work.”
She took a wand from her belt and waved it at the lock, muttering the spell. Robert smiled. “That’s nifty, Pence. Haven’t seen it before, where did you get it?”
“Desmond made it for me,” Penny replied, proudly showing him the complex-looking carvings along the length of it. “Said it was better than the knife.”
Robert nodded. The kids weren’t allowed real weapons outside training, but a lot of them would start wearing wooden knives and daggers by that age. “It sure is more beautiful than any knife I’ve seen,” he told Penny and she beamed at him.
The bell behind them tolled. Once, twice, three times, more, sharp sound cutting through the air, ominous and foreign. Robert froze on the spot, and Penny grabbed at his hand. The bell never tolled in the evening before.
Something has happened. Something really, really bad.
Robert shook his head. “Come on, Pence,” he said, picking the frightened girl up. “We gotta go.”
The otherwise peaceful evening broke into the flurry of action, with everyone flocking to the central hall, adults carrying younger kids, William Miles barking orders like a general. In the midst of it, Robert saw his dad. His face was dark, like a storm cloud.
“Dad, what’s going on?” Robert asked, elbowing his way through.
Father gave him a sad, weary look. “Desmond is gone,” he said after a tiny pause.
The ground slipped away from under Robert’s feet. “What?” he asked again, slowly.
“Maria says his backpack and jacket are gone too,” dad replied, rubbing at his forehead tiredly. “We believe he-”
“Ran away,” Robert finished for him quietly.
Desmond had run away.
His dad’s face softened. “I’m sorry, son,” he said.
“No! This must be a mistake,” Penny looked like she was about to cry. “Desmond is brave! Why would he run away?”
Dad turned to her, smiling sadly. “We don’t know yet, little one. Not until we find him,” he looked back at Robert. “Put the kid down, we will need your help.”
He nodded dumbly and went searching around for Penny’s parents, in the end transferring the protesting girl to her older brother Craig, before joining the others who were organizing into search groups.
Robert and his dad ended up with Maria, searching the eastern side of the hill. It was quickly getting dark, and Mrs. Miles’ cries were becoming more and more desperate with every hundred feet they made into the forest. Robert felt like she was starting to realize something he knew since they were just kids playing tag.
If Desmond is given any headstart, you are not getting him.
“Desmond, where are you?!” Maria cried out once again, looking around frantically, and her eyes were red and watery. This was the most emotional Robert had ever seen her, most human. He was so perplexed by it, he’d almost missed a tiny movement out the corner of his eye, but when he looked back, there was nothing, only a few low-hanging branches, that were slightly rocking with impact.
They’ve searched the hillside until it was pitch dark and even torchlights weren’t enough, so they had to return. William was already back with his group, and, judging by the uneasy look on Colin’s face and the way Daria was standing two steps in front of Sam, questioning had taken place.
As soon as Robert joined the scene, William turned to him.
“Did you know?” he barked out without any preamble, and Robert’s back straightened involuntarily. “Did you know Desmond was going to run?!”
In the unforgiving shine of the streetlight he looked downright menacing, half of the face in deep shadow and the other pale as a ghost, with grey-blue eye almost looking unnatural.
“No,” Robert shook his head, his throat closing. “I swear, he didn’t tell me anything!”
If only he did...
William stepped closer, seething with anger. They were the same height now, but Robert felt so small compared to him. “Hard to believe,” William all but spat, baring his teeth. “Don’t think I don’t know how close you two are...”
Robert had to fight the urge to take a step back. “Bill, stop it,” his dad said from behind him, but William Miles wasn’t listening.
“...and if you think silence will get you off punishment...”
A figure appeared between them. “Leave my son out of it, Bill!” Robert had never seen his father so angry.
William wasn’t backing down. “Do you really believe his shit-”
“Look at him!” Robert’s dad bellowed. “He is shocked! As well as the others,” he exhaled and rubbed at his forehead tiredly. “I’m sorry Desmond is gone, Bill, I really am, but you can’t take it out on everyone else.”
If looks could kill, Robert’s dad would already be dead. Instead, William Miles stepped back, scowling. “I want the car fixed by morning. We will go looking for Desmond in Rapid City,” he said in a clipped tone, turning away from Robert, allowing him to breathe.
Robert’s dad shook his head. “He won’t go there,” he said softly but Bill waved him off.
“I don’t need your comments, Nolan. Just fix the car,” he barked and father nodded.
“Sure,” he replied and clapped Robert on the shoulder. “Come on, son. We have things to do.”
He nodded silently, watching William’s retreating back for a few moments before following his father. They won’t find Desmond, Robert thought tiredly, he probably wouldn’t stop until he is as far away as possible. Probably will keep to the forest too. Desmond was always good at finding his way by compass.
Father sighed. “I wish Desmond had told someone something, anything. Stupid boy,” he shook his head.
Robert didn’t answer.
Morning came, and the car was more or less ready to go. After William and Maria left with a couple of other adults, the buzz started to slowly die out, but the routines were still thrown out of the window for now, with both adults and kids being too wired up to follow the schedule.
Amidst the commotion, Robert slipped out of the house and went to their clearing. He needed… space. The place still looked like it did yesterday, and that was a little bit comforting.
He sat down, opening his stash and mindlessly sifting through it, shifting things around for no reason. What happened was yet to settle in his head and his guts.
It took Robert a few moments to notice that his swiss army knife was missing, and suddenly he wasn’t able to breathe again, realization hitting him like a ton of bricks.
Desmond was gone. He’d ran away. He isn’t coming back, And, even if the adults manage to get him back. Robert was sure he’s going to try again.
Or do something worse.
Choked up, Robert looked up and around the clearing and noticed something else. Desmond’s stash wasn’t closed properly. After a few moments of consideration and battling with himself, Rob went to check.
It was empty, all the painkillers, and food and band-aids gone. There were a few things left at the bottom, - a wooden medallion with a badger carved into it - the Hufflepuff’s house animal; the heavy, carefully wrapped book from a series Robert vaguely recognized being Sam’s favorite, some sort of fantasy that was being written incredibly slowly, he always complained about it.
And the two new Iron Man comics tucked carefully into ziplocks.
No note. Rob expected there to be at least some sort of note.
He took the comics in his hands, not really seeing them. Why didn’t Desmond tell him anything? Should he had guessed it, from the way Desmond stopped questioning things, stopped dragging the Creed every chance he got? Should he? Did he allow his wishful thinking to get in the way?
Did he even mean anything to Desmond?
He remembered the way Desmond cupped his cheek, the way he said “I love you”, and the way his lips moved for a fraction of a second, like he wanted to say something but couldn’t. Was it “I’m sorry”? Was it “Run away with me”? Was it something else, that had nothing to do with his escape?
He will never know now.
Sniffing angrily, Robert dropped the comics back into the stash and closed it with a little too much force, stomping away from the clearing.
He wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
yep, that happened
Chapter 6: 2005
where secrets are shared
TW: implied/referenced homophobia, heartbreak
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
A quick note before we begin with the chapter, my dear friend over at tumblr drew both Rob and Des for us, enjoy!
now back to the chapter
The forest looked almost alien from the outside. Robert was walking along the narrow road for a few hours, taking in the all-too-familiar sights from a different angle.
Coming back felt a little bit weird, nothing like the excitement he felt when leaving with dad, eyes wide and mouth agape as soon as they were out of sight of the others.
Can't be a cool guy who gets to go on a mission two years in advance when acting like a puppy. That's a hard rule.
(Even if the only reason you’ve been given this mission in the first place was the fact that, in addition to you being very good at tracking, your father also had a mission in that same direction.)
The road crossed the running track, and Robert had to let a couple of sweaty kids through before continuing on. He could already see the houses and the central hall not so far away.
He was home.
Robert kinda expected things to be different somehow, which was stupid, seeing how he was gone for less than a week, and sure enough, everything stayed exactly as before, adults and kids running around, training and working, going about their daily routines and paying no attention to him. Robert wasn’t sure why it unsettled him so much.
Passing the fighting pit on his way to the central hall, he saw Penny, who was waiting for her turn to spar. As she saw him, her face lit up a little and then she lifted her hand to her mouth, tapping it sideways with her fingers, signaling the need to talk. He nodded briefly before continuing on. First, he must give the report.
William listened to him intently, his pale grey-blue eyes never leaving Robert’s face. Even now, after Robert had officially grown up, it never failed to make him uncomfortable.
As a reward, Robert was given the rest of the day off, even though William mildly reminded him that he would be expected to return to his duties by morning. There was no one home, as dad was still on the mission, so Robert headed straight to the clearing. Once there, he lowered himself to the ground, looking up at the mosaic of leaves, breathing in the air, free from the generator fumes. Penny was bound to show up at some point, and this was the best place to wait for her.
It was weird to have nothing to do, not to have anything expected of him for some time, even if it’s only for, like, twelve hours or so.
Robert’s thoughts drifted back to the mission. It wasn’t anything even remotely dangerous if anything, the person he was tracking was in more danger than him. He remembered the girl, hoodie looking two sizes too big, blond hair pulled into a neat, slick ponytail, how she clung to her dark-haired punk-looking friend at the train station for a few moments too long before saying goodbye.
His mission was to track her through the city and make sure she reaches her new apartment without being followed. He also wasn’t supposed to reveal himself, because to the girl’s knowledge, her friend was the last person from the Brotherhood she’d see for the duration of the mission.
Her name, as dad said, was Lucy Stillman, and she was seventeen and obviously terrified, wrangling the straps of her backpack nervously, and Robert couldn’t help but feel bad for her. He wasn’t privy to the details of her mission, but she clearly had just been kicked out of her previous life, all ties to the assassins severed, and for a long time. He couldn’t imagine anyone handling that well.
Or he could.
Robert closed his eyes and gritted his teeth in frustration. No. He wasn’t thinking about Desmond. Not in a million years he wasn’t. He wasn’t. At all.
There was a tiny, barely audible crunch of twigs and Robert opened his eyes. just in the right moment to see Penny jumping down from the tree, silently, with a fluid safety roll. She was steadily becoming the prodigy her parents wanted her to be, quiet and determined, like a steady stream of water that can bring down even the greatest of mountains.
It wasn’t Robert’s place to feel proud. He still totally was.
He got up, expecting her to jump in for a hug, but Penny stayed at the edge of the clearing, wrangling the amulet on her neck, eyes darting around. The silence stretched uncomfortably, with neither of them moving.
Robert decided to take matters in his hands and spoke out first. “So... You wanted to talk, kiddo?” he asked, sitting down on the log.
“Yeah, I guess,” Penny said, still refusing to look at him. Robert sighed, trying not to feel a little hurt about it, and patted the log.
“Come on then, take a seat and let’s hear it.”
Penny scrambled to sit down, back straight, tense, like a string, almost vibrating, and looked down at her lap, hands wrangling the amulet with a doubled effort. Robert waited patiently, watching her closely. It was so unlike Penny to be this nervous, it must be someth-
“I think I’m into girls,” Penny murmured very fast, breaking Robert’s train of thoughts and leaving him gasping.
“Come again?” he asked slowly, and her shoulders dropped a notch.
“I think I like girls. Like like, you know?” she said loudly, looking both defiant and utterly miserable.
Robert froze, as tears welled up in the corners of Penny’s eyes. He was unsure of what to say, what he wanted to say, what he should say? You are a kid, he wanted to say, for heaven’s sake, you are nine, how can you know already, how-
Penny was staring at him with searching eyes, and Robert realized with striking clarity that she hasn’t told anyone yet. Not her loud, boisterous father or soft and quiet brother, or her mama bear of a mom - he was the first to ever know.
If Desmond was still here, Robert thought with a hint of bitter jealousy, he’d probably be the one to have the honors.
If Desmond was there…
“Come here,” Robert opened his arms and Penny immediately threw herself into a hug, hiding her face somewhere in his chest and weeping quietly. “It’s okay, kiddo, I promise, it’s totally alright.”
This was the right thing to say. It was what he had wanted to hear as a pre-teen, wondering why he wouldn’t even give girls an interested glance when others had.
“Is something wrong with me?” Penny asked, still in tears, voice muffled by his shirt, and hiccuped miserably. “Other girls like boys, why can’t I like boys in that way? Am I sick?”
Robert’s heart constricted painfully somewhere in his throat. “Now, now, kiddo, what makes you say that? There’s nothing wrong with you liking other girls, I promise.”
“How do you know that?” Penny whined, voice pitching higher.
How indeed, Robert thought to himself sardonically, he totally wasn’t a gay man hiding his lack of girlfriend behind a ton of training and work because there was no explaining this to anyone.
He held Penny close and squeezed his eyes shut. Well, a secret for a secret, then.
“Because I was in love with another boy. And he loved me back,” he explained softly, pausing to find the words. “And it felt so good, so right, I… I don’t think something that feels this good can be wrong.”
He fell silent, throat closing, making it harder to breathe, the invisible knife lodged deep in his chest. Things he was relentlessly not thinking about for two years were back.
“I love you. You know that, right?”
Penny squirmed a little in his hold. “Was it Desmond?” she murmured with a genuine interest.
Robert smiled almost against his own will. “Yes. Yes it was,” he answered through the lump in his throat, and some invisible force twisted the knife in his chest. “We were... together for a while.”
With another hiccup, now a little aggressive, Penny pushed at his chest until he let go of her enough that she could look him in the eyes. “But Desmond left. How could he leave you?!” her blue eyes, still full of tears, were shining with righteous fury, and Robert chuckled uncontrollably, before sobering up. He had to tell Penny something, he had to defend Desmond in her eyes.
Now that’s something he’d never thought would happen.
Robert paused, as the knife in his chest twisted again. If it was two years ago, a year ago, a month ago - he’d probably say something unflattering, something as bitter and angry as him, because it was easier to just be angry at Desmond for betraying the brotherhood, for leaving him, for taking away everything he had, because he hadn’t had much…
“I love you. You know that, right?”
“He always wanted to. No, scratch that, he needed to,” Robert said slowly. He never wanted to think of that, never wanted to admit something he knew to be the truth and ignored because it was so much easier. “He never felt like he belonged here, and I… I couldn’t run away with him. This is why he left.”
Penny scrunched her nose in disbelief. “But why?” she demanded, brow furrowed. “He is one of us, why wouldn’t he belong with us?”
“You know...” Robert huffed a little, slightly wishing he had Sam with him to explain something like that, when a metaphor popped into his head. “Did you know that tomato is a berry?”
“Really?” Penny’s eyes went wide like saucers, and Robert chuckled.
“Yes, really. It grows and forms like a berry. But would you put it in a fruit salad?”
Penny went silent for a long moment, chewing on her lower lip and tugging on her amulet absently. “I think I understand now,” she said finally with a sigh, nestling against his chest again. “Desmond is still an Assassin like us, but his place isn’t here because he is different, right?”
“Yes,” Robert said, bringing her close. It was suddenly easier to breathe. He gave a small hysterical, hiccuping chuckle - he never told anyone about this, not a soul and now was two seconds away of crying into the crown of a nine-year-old’s head.
An assassin prodigy, for sure.
“Didn’t it hurt?” Penny suddenly asked. Robert could hear a hint of fear in her voice.
“It did. Like hell,” he agreed, petting her short hair gently. “But you know what? If I could go back right now if I could change everything? I wouldn’t change a thing. Love… love is worth the hurt.”
Saying that out loud felt good, like a huge weight disappeared from his shoulders. What they had was everything he ever could have wanted. It was theirs.
Robert wasn’t sure he could have this with anyone else.
He sighed, rubbing Penny’s back in small, soothing circles. This is what Desmond would do - he would tell the truth, the whole truth as it was. Probably would appoint them both as honorary gay parents of a gay kid. He’d also probably tell Penny something about being proud of her and encouraged her to be proud of herself, but Robert was Penny’s primary caretaker now, it was his job to keep her safe.
He petted her short hair and gently tapped her nose, making her look up at him. ”Listen, kiddo, a word of advice. Be very careful with who you tell your secret. Best if you don’t tell anyone else. Maybe, Sam, he won’t tell a soul, but no one else, especially adults. You get me?” as Penny nodded, he continued. “And you can’t tell anyone about me and Desmond, okay? No one knows, and I’d like it to stay that way.”
Penny gave him a toothy smile and a small salute. “Your secret’s safe with me,” she promised in an incredibly serious tone before diving in for a hug again. “I miss Desmond,” she murmured in his chest quietly, and Robert sighed, feeling a pang of sympathy.
“I know,” he said softly, ruffling her hair. “I miss him too.”
“I love you. You know that, right?”
one chapter left
Chapter 7: 2008
in which there is a movie theater
this gets a little bit raunchy at one point
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The rain has already stopped, but Robert wasn’t about to put his slightly damp hood down. If anything it was protecting him from the noise of the crowd around, which was probably a stupid notion, but as much as Robert was used to only paying attention to the important sounds and letting everything else blend into background white noise, New York still made him uneasy. Too many people. Too much noise. Not nearly enough space.
Those were the rare moments he craved Farm’s silence and isolation.
Taking a sharp turn at the street light, he passed the movie theater, maneuvering between groups of teens and adults leaving the place. In front of one of the posters, Robert slowed down, sending it a longing look. He would probably be free till the midday as soon as he’d get to the hideout and give his report, but it would be nighttime by then, and he still had to get at least some gift for Sam’s and Daria’s newborn before he left, and for Penny too. Also the new guy had said he wanted to spar… No way he’d fit a movie into this.
He’d have to watch Iron Man sometime later.
“Hey, Rich Dick!” someone called out close to Robert, catching his attention, and he turned his head slightly, giving a group of people, who burst out laughing at someone’s loud, frustrated groan, a sidelong glance.
“First of, that wasn’t even funny, guys, what are you, five?” replied the voice, full of familiar notes. Robert’s breath hitched. “ Second, I’m not rich, and if we are still going to hang out in Bad Weather tonight, I’m going to become real poor real soon.”
It took all of Robert’s resolve not to stop dead in his tracks and whip around to catch the guy’s face. Instead, he made a couple more steps, pulling out his phone and leaning on the wall, pretending like he was texting. His heart was beating hard and fast in his throat, body numb, like he was thrown in the cold waters of Farm’s creek. He inclined his head slightly to get a better look at the company.
“And stop calling me Richard, it’s pretentious as fuck,” the guy in question, wearing a dark t-shirt and sporting an intricate sleeve tattoo on his left arm, continued. He was standing with his back turned to Robert, so that he could only see the back of the head.
Robert tried to breathe. Don’t get your hopes up, he reminded himself, how many times were we down this road? He’s probably just a guy, like the others before him, and you keep projecting, and-
“What, and give up the opportunity to call you a Dick?” one of the other guys said, pulling out a cigarette, prompting everyone to laugh.
“You call everyone dicks, Jeremy,” the guy in the dark t-shirt said, turning to his friend. The streetlight illuminated his familiar sharp features - and a jagged white scar, that slashed the right corner of his mouth.
And just like that, Rob couldn’t breathe.
Desmond. This was Desmond.
Desmond was alive! He found him!
The wave of warmth flooded Rob’s whole being, as he forced himself not to move, mind racing. Desmond was fine, the Templars didn’t catch him, thank fuck.
He probably should go and contact the Miles family and tell them. No, Bill would probably only scare him off, that was a shitty idea. Maybe he should call Maria first. Or perhaps Rob should follow him personally, and maybe he’d get Desmond to listen to him for a bit.
If only Desmond would listen, he'd realize that their parents were right about the Templars. It would all make sense, and Desmond would come back, and everything will be back to normal, and-
Rob managed half a motion in Desmond’s direction when he saw it.
Desmond was smiling. It wasn’t a half-smile or even a half-grin, it wasn’t even that restrained little smile he usually gave, that always had some weariness behind it, even if Rob didn’t notice it at first.
Desmond was beaming, almost lighting from the inside, in a way Rob was always trying to coax from him back on the Farm but it was getting harder and harder as they got older. The last time Rob saw him smiling like that, was the day he turned sixteen - the day Rob worked up the courage to…
...Desmond rolled off of him and Rob followed, leaning over his friend, unwilling to look away from the sight in front of him - Desmond sprawled on his back, breathless, eyes wide, swollen blood-red lips slightly parted. Rob has never seen him like this.
Probably no one saw him like this to be fair, and that was something else entirely.
“Best. Birthday gift. Ever,” Desmond managed to get out between pants, smiling wide and unabashed, and threw an arm over his eyes, little indents from where he was biting his wrist just another testament to how much he enjoyed the experience - they couldn’t afford to be noisy, but Desmond sure wanted to be.
Rob couldn’t have enough of the view, feeling both totally spent and alight, fire coursing through him, the ghost feeling of Desmond rubbing against him, needy and shameless, still so fresh on his body.
He didn’t actually plan for it to go that far. It was Desmond’s sixteenth birthday, and, waking up this morning, Rob decided it was now or never. So he got Desmond alone, on the hayloft in the barn, where he'd hidden the present the night before, and after muttering “Stop me if it’s weird,” kissed him.
Rob expected to be pushed back, honestly, even expected a punch to the gut for being what he was. What he didn’t expect was a soft moan and the way Desmond’s eyes fluttered closed and to be pushed rather roughly against the wall, hot and calloused hands shoved under his hoodie and t-shirt making them ride up, skin to skin contact causing shivers to run down his spine.
Also, Rob didn’t expect Desmond to be such a good kisser.
Now they were lying in the pile of hay, in probably the most cliche places of all time, and Rob couldn’t care less. They could be out in the open on the steps of the central hall and Rob still wouldn’t be able to take his eyes away from Desmond’s half-naked form, shirt thrown away and fly open, torso and arms littered with scars, big and small. It wasn’t the first time for him to see his friend (lover?) without his shirt on, but even that limited nakedness felt somehow more intense now.
The mere notion of getting him fully naked made Rob’s breath hitch.
Desmond moved his arm a little bit and peered at Rob with his burning eyes. “Stop looking at me like that,” he murmured, still smiling and panting a little, blush creeping up on his cheeks.
“Like what?” Rob asked, fighting the urge to touch the reddened skin, to feel how hot it is.
Desmond made a frustrated noise and covered his face again. “Like that!” he repeated. "Like I'm precious or something…"
His voice trailed off, as he blushed even harder, mortification written all over his face and Rob couldn't think of anything smart to say so the truth would have to do.
"You are," he said simply and Desmond peeked at him again, eyes lighting up.
"And you are unbelievable," he muttered, beaming, and threw his arms around Rob's neck and shoulders, fingers digging deliciously into the muscles. "Another round?“
If Rob wasn't ready before, he certainly was now, and he'd swear Desmond could feel it too. Still, instead of an answer, Rob placed his hand on Desmond's chest, right above his heart, feeling it flutter under his palm.
"Maybe breathe a little first," he offered teasingly and Desmond tugged him down for a rough kiss and arched his back to rub against Rob one more time.
"Breathing is overrated," he muttered between kisses and bit Rob's lower lip. "Please, I want to feel you on me, right now, please, ple-"
His plea dissolved into a tiny throaty moan, beaming smile never leaving his face, as Rob rolled his hips against Desmond’s, friction almost causing him to come right on the spot.
"I love you," he whispered into Desmond’s mouth. "I love you, I love you, I love you..."
"I love you," Desmond whispered back, eyes like burning coal. "Fuck, Rob, I love you so much…"
...Robert had to blink forcefully a few times, memory merging with reality. It'd been five years, but it was fresh in Rob's memory like it happened not a day ago.
He looked at Desmond again, Desmond, who was smiling that beaming smile like it wasn't a big deal. Desmond, who still hadn't noticed him, deep in the bantering conversation and oblivious to the surroundings. Desmond, who didn't look tense or alert anymore, posture relaxed and slightly slumped.
The realization hit Rob like a ton of bricks, slamming the air out of his lungs.
Desmond was happy. Here, in this city, with his new friends and away from the Assassins Desmond was happy, plain and simple.
Rob looked down at his hand, still clutching the phone, first digits of Maria Miles' number already on screen. "What am I doing?" he thought, momentarily disgusted with himself. He couldn't just crash into Desmond’s life like that. Who cares if their parents were right, about the Templars and Abstergo and all that, it wouldn't matter, because it wasn't why he'd run away.
Desmond didn't belong with the Brotherhood. He would be miserable if he'd ever come back.
But wasn't it selfish? Being assassins was their birthright and a duty to the world. There wasn't enough of them as it is, and Desmond would make a great field agent if only he listened.
Rob looked at his phone again and then at Desmond, taking in his features once more, the curve of the smile, the little crinkles around the corner of his eyes.
And then turned away, resuming his walk to the hideout.
Nothing is true, everything is permitted.
Rob's vision was a bit blurry, but he was smiling.
"We make our own truth," Desmond had said back when the inevitable conversation on what they were going to do next came. "We don't need someone's permission - we make our own choices."
Desmond made his choice five years ago.
And this was Rob's.
well. I lied, this wasn't the last chapter
see you in the epilogue