The first few weeks in their new hideout are fine but as he progresses through Ezio’s memories, Desmond finds the air in the Sanctuary more and more stifling. It comes to the point eventually that he spends his morning hours in the Animus, sleeps for as long as he can before a nightmare – the sickening lurch in his gut as his father and brothers hang, the all too easy slide of Al Mualim’s blade into his side – wakes him, and then he spends as long as he can outside.
It’s getting harder to separate their memories from his.
Altaïr’s memories were easy to keep away at first, just as Ezio’s were. As he’s spent more and more time in the Animus awakening memories, though, they are getting easier to remember. Now he recalls what he went through with Altaïr and Ezio in crystalline detail, even to the point of knowing things that he didn’t live through in that damn machine. And that terrifies Desmond.
More frightening is that his casually thrown off slips of the tongue involving Ezio aren’t slips of the tongue. He thinks brother and sees Federico and Petruccio, sister and sees Claudia. Giovanni and Maria are overlaid over the mental images of his own parents. And when he refers to something done by Ezio as something he’s done, he’s being completely serious, ever so confused when Shaun snaps at him or Lucy arches her eyebrow.
Running, initially, helped him to escape it. Desmond scaled the Villa and roved the rooftops of Monteriggioni, feet never touching the ground as he raced away from the memories.
Tried to race away.
He should have known that you can never run from what’s in your head.
Now when he runs, he has shadows tailing him. Altaïr and Ezio run with him as he leaps and slides from one roof to another and he wishes that he didn’t see their shades continuously out of the corner of his eyes.
The others all know that something is wrong but there’s nothing they can do about it. He can see the unease and fear in their eyes when they look at him then glance away all too quickly. It makes Desmond want to scream but he turns his fear and anger inward, showing them a smile before cracking a bad joke.
Being in the Sanctuary with them is also terribly painful because of their voices. If Desmond isn’t paying full attention, he doesn’t hear them.
Shaun will make some lewd or snarky comment and he’ll think Leonardo, Malik and start to respond only to realize the words are those of dead men.
He’ll hear Rebecca laugh from behind him while he’s checking his e-mail and think Claudia, Adha and feel his stomach twist at the loss of their smiles before remembering he’s never really seen them.
And Lucy will smile at him just so, the way she only does for him, but his gut twists and his breath catches as he thinks Maria, Christina instead.
Desmond hopes that when he finishes going through Ezio’s memories it will all stop but he knows it’s a false hope. He’s pretty sure that once the memories in his DNA are awoken they can’t be put back to sleep. It feels like that at least.
And given what happened to Subject 16, he’s fairly sure about that.
Plus one terrible tiny part of him doesn’t want to lose them despite how much stress they put him under. In some ways, the lives of his ancestors were an improvement over his own and it makes him so angry to think that that he can’t breathe.
So he runs, mourning the loss of Monteriggioni’s high walls because of the fence barricading it off, and nearly falls when he is suddenly in three places at once. Desmond knows he’s atop a wall, hands shaking as he slips to one knee and clutches to the old stones, breathing in the scent of winter and age.
He’s also in Masyaf, sliding down to sit next to Malik on a wall, the scent of spices and sand in his nostrils.
And then he’s in Firenze, grinning as he races along the top of a wall after Federico, the smell of a woman’s perfume drifting up from below them.
Desmond feels vertigo as he comes back to himself, swaying atop the wall. Shaking, he manages to sit down, just trying to breathe when he opens eyes he wasn’t aware of closing to see ghostly knees pressing in on either side.
Looking to his right he finds Altaïr, amber eyes glittering from underneath his hood as he gives a slight amused smile and Desmond’s heart leaps to racing as he realizes that his ghosts aren’t ghosts. Terrified but having to look anyway, he turns to his left and sees Ezio leaning slightly towards him with his hood down, rakish smile on his face and mischief in his dark eyes.
The smell of winter, spice, perfume fills his nose and it’s all Desmond can to do hold on to the present and not slip into some other time, some life that’s not his own.
La shai wak’ion motlaq bal kollon momken, whisper the shades of dead men and he wants to run but knows he can’t. He can never run from them anymore.
“La shai wak’ion motlaq bal kollon momken,” he repeats in a bare whisper, feeling like his being is breaking apart, like the world has dropped from under his feet, and grips the stone of the wall underneath him in an attempt to come back down.
Then Desmond feels spectral hands on his shoulders right before another pair, a real pair, land.
“Desmond?” he hears Lucy say ever so distantly and has to swallow, taking a long moment to make sure he doesn’t answer in Arabic or Italian. “Are you okay?”
Then a pause before the quiet, scared little, “Are you here?”
Lifting his head, he glances out of the corner of his eyes at the shades then tilts his head back to look up at her. “Sorta,” he answers honestly but doesn’t say anything more than that. They all already know what’s wrong so there’s no need to say it.
She frowns then pulls lightly on his hood and he follows her wordless instruction, rising slowly as his knees shake underneath him. Then her arms – warm and real – are around him and Desmond buries his face in her hair, breathing in the scent that’s her not Maria, Christina.
“I think I’m losing it, Lucy,” he whispers before he can stop the words and feels her stiffen. Then he realizes he said them in Arabic and has to repeat them twice, going through Italian before he finally hits English again. The process hurts so much as he realizes even his voice has the capability to betray him.
“Desmond,” she says softly, sadly, and he wants to scream at the pity in her voice. He doesn’t want pity, he wants help – yet he knows there isn’t any help coming. There’s only his own willpower to hold off the memories trying to consume him and he’s starting to think he’s losing that fight.
So he just tightens his arms around her, barely aware that he’s shaking and all too aware of the shades lurking on either side of them.
And Desmond wonders who he’ll be when he can no longer separate Altaïr and Ezio from himself.