They drifted, flickering and fluttering from one memory to another like butterflies in a high wind. There was little clarity, little clear recollection…just chaos . Masyaf blended into Firenze into Venice into Rome into Boston into wilderness into cold steel and metal that none of them knew but recognized because it was flavored with Desmond’s fear. With his rage.
It was hard to hold onto themselves, the lines fragmenting and blurring in ways they never had. There was far less Altaïr and Ezio and Connor and Haytham and far more AltaïrEzioConnorHaytham, of memories and thoughts blurring together.
It was not like dying.
They all remembered dying.
This was not it.
What’s going on?
There’s something up with his brain waves. They’ve been sporadic for the past while and suddenly…they’re levelling out?
Can we even get a real read? What with…well.
You know I always thought him having four of his ancestors in his head talking to him was a load of crock, Shaun.
You never talked to them, Eric. They were very distinct personalities.
So can people with multiple personality disorder.
Words, words they did not know. That they could not grasp because the mind that could fill in the gaps, that did know…was silent.
And switch between them at will?
Alright, fine, I’ll give you that…hold on. Desmond?
I think he might be awake.
What? Desmond? Desmond!
It was not like waking up.
Not even close.
And yet…it was.
They opened their eyes, blinking and squinting against the bright light lancing into them. Two blurry shapes moved above them, slowly coming into focus as they tried to register where they were.
Mattress underneath. Bed. Comfortable, not cheap. Narrow though, with sheets that fit.
Prickle in their arm. Needle? Yes, needle, like being bled as Ezio recalled the method.
Thin clothes, not their usual. Not hardy jeans meant for wear, heavy shirts, and thick coats. Soft. Flimsy. Comfort.
Lights. Long beams of it across the ceiling. There was a word, Desmond knew it, had repeated it many times to them when they were first joined. Flour…no. Fluorescent.
“Desmond? Can you hear me?”
They blinked again and the faces above them swam into focus. One was a stranger, black hair, pale eyes, the surprised look of a doctor who was very confused and concerned by the actions of his patient. Or a man very concerned about the actions of another in general, which all of them knew in part.
The other was familiar. Light brown hair. Dark eyes. Glasses. Worry. Fear . A voice screaming a name, their name and not their name, as the dark enveloped them.
“Sh-Shaun?” they managed, haltingly, as their voices tried to fight with each other. It made a strange overlay, the clash of accents, and it was obviously noticed as the two faces above them looked at each other.
“Is that…?” began the stranger.
“Shh!” hissed Shaun, looking down again. His expression was dark as he asked, “Altaïr? Ezio?”
“We are here.”
They frowned, the muscles in their face both familiar and not. “No,” they replied shortly after a moment like that. “We are…fragmented. A jumble. Like a puzzle with all the wrong pieces.”
There was silence for a long moment and then Shaun asked, “And Desmond?”
“He is silent. There is nothing.”
Nothing was said by the two men standing above them for a span of breaths until Shaun ran his fingers back through his hair and hissed under his breath one word.
“ Shit .”
“Trauma?” they repeated, frowning at Shaun where he sat in a chair next to the bed they occupied in the medical facilities of one of the many Assassin’s headquarters.
The man nodded and gestured helplessly before saying, “Like…a man’s who’s been hit in the head so hard, he’s no longer himself? Or, for Altaïr, the occupants of the hospital in Acre? Garnier de Naplouse?”
They stiffened as memory swelled up, overwhelming and all-compassing for the span of three breaths. Suddenly they could smell the air of Acre – spice and sea and stone – could smell the Poor District with its stench of the sick and the dying that permeated everything. They could feel the fabric of Garnier’s robe as it bunched in their fist, smell the blood from his stained apron, the thump of sensation as the hidden blade thudded into his side in a wound to disable yet not kill.
Then came the rage, the anger, that those people had been used so. Blinding, furious…and worthless because there was nothing to do with it. There was nothing to be done. There had been nothing they could have done for them.
“Yes,” they growled, though Altaïr’s accent was stronger than the others as they spoke, more obvious. “We remember. Grand Master of the Hospitalier.”
Shaun just nodded before he leaned forward, bracing his hands on his knees. They could see he was shaking, a subtle, nearly barely noticeable thrum dancing along his nerves and making his hands move along with it. He dug his fingernails in along his knees beneath his worn jeans – which rang wrong within them, memories of a neatly put together Shaun appearing from Desmond’s dormant mind.
They took in the silence for a moment before saying, “The gunshot. Our head bounced against the floor.” As they spoke they moved a hand to their stomach, feeling the thick bandages underneath the thin robe that protected the healing wound in their belly.
The other man just nodded, jaw clenched tight, before he gasped, “We should have gotten there sooner.”
“You are not to blame, Shaun Hastings.”
“I sent you the message!” exploded Shaun, his voice as violent as the nails digging into the fabric surrounding his flesh. “I asked you to get involved, asked you to meet us there to help stop him. I did that.”
They knew that feeling.
Knew that guilt.
The heavy, choking guilt of bringing someone into something only for them to be grievously injured or worse. To view themselves responsible for what had happened to them.
“ We accepted,” they pressed. When Shaun just shook his head, they leaned forward with a pained grunt and grasped his right hand, which was the closest. His clenched fingers didn’t let go easy but Haytham of all of them knew a pressure point in the wrist that made the nerves spasm. They clasped his hand then, shivering between their own palms, and said sternly, “We made our choice, each of us. We chose to serve a purpose, to serve the Creed. Even Haytham. That did not cease when we chose to leave in order to keep the peace, Shaun.”
“You are not to blame,” they intoned fiercely. He stared up at them, face wan and pale, and then jerked away. As his eyes shut and his hand shook between theirs, they ignored the small sobbing sound he made.
Shaun then scrubbed his other hand over his face after taking his glasses off and asked softly, “Now what?”
For once, they did not have an answer.
Desmond was their anchor to the world, to their understanding of the time beyond all of their own. They could grasp his memories, view them, play them as if they were the movies and television shows they had come to enjoy, but they could not grasp them all. Small intricacies and things not within the memories escaped them.
How to act.
How to speak.
How to be a part of this time.
It was not a thing easily taught but Desmond had tried. And now…now they may have lost him, becoming hopelessly tangled amongst themselves because of it.
What would they become if his consciousness never returned?
They looked at Shaun, feeling suddenly hollow and worn out, as they replied in a whisper, “We do not know.”