They must relearn everything, they discover.
Desmond’s mind was their foundation. The ground they stood upon. Where once it had been as solid as the deck of a ship, now it seemed the depths of the ocean yawned beneath their feet. Open and dark and unforgiving.
It was annoying when they found they could not even get out of bed.
This have them all the lesson that their control was through Desmond. That he gave them the reins. That no matter what, he had held control in his hands.
Without him they had to find a dynamic amongst themselves.
They had to relearn how to walk.
Such a lesson had been filled with curses in at least six different languages and had ended many times in a mutual scolding between Haytham and Connor about language, boy! At least those moments had made Shaun laugh, something the man hadn’t done a great deal of since they had awoken. In fact, they had noticed all too much that he had withdrawn into himself.
They had done their best to still it…but there was little they could do beyond say again and again that it was not his fault. It was up to Shaun himself to accept that. To accept that his actions had not led Desmond to the place he now was in.
It was not helped that it had been almost a year since.
They had recovered in body.
They had relearned how to move.
Learned how to be as one on their own without their foundation.
But they had yet to recover in mind.
“It could be years,” the doctor, Eric, had stressed when Haytham had bluntly demanded an answer to the question of when during those first days. “The mind is a tricky thing and this situation is made even more complicated by what’s already going on with it. This is…is is beyond the pale of any kind of medical or scientific knowledge, you must understand that.”
“What of a normal situation?” Altaïr had pressed as he sought control with a silent request, Haytham’s stiff stance giving way to the more relaxed one of their eldest. “If this were a normal head injury, would there be a more certain time?”
Eric had just sighed and shaken his head. “I’m afraid not. It’s…it’s Altayear, isn’t it?”
All of them had felt the assassin prickle a little at the terrible pronunciation but Altaïr had merely nodded. They were at least pleased that the doctor was picking up the differences in when they spoke since it had taken him some time to accept that they were different personalities.
“Even in a head injury that isn’t complicated by your situation…the answer is still not certain. It could be days to weeks, months to years.”
“Or never,” Connor had interrupted, his voice quiet, ever so quiet.
The doctor had looked away then and they were suddenly faced with the realization that this might be the existence they were faced with from this moment on. That the gunshot might have robbed them of their descendant forever.
That they would live and die alone in his form, stolen out of their own deaths and times by old and new technology, with only themselves in control of it.
“Yes,” Eric had replied simply even though he hadn’t needed to.
At least he was honest with them.
Now…now they sat in the common room of the headquarters that had been their home since they’d woken up. Sitting on a couch and staring down at their hands.
At Desmond’s hands.
“Do you ever feel like we have stolen him?” Ezio asked aloud.
It was odd how they had all come to the mutual agreement to speak out loud more often to each other. Mostly because it was how they had been with Desmond when they were alone, talking back and forth to each other with both mouth and thought and emotion. It made them feel…better. More like things were their version of normal still even if they knew otherwise.
“This was not our fault, boy,” scolded Haytham in return, his voice stern but not unkind. He idly used their hand to pat their own knee in a gesture that probably looked highly strange from anyone looking at them. Thankfully they were currently alone in the room. “We did not make the choice to lose him.”
“I mean that without us he wouldn’t be in this situation anyway.”
Altaïr huffed out a breath as he took control, rolling their shoulders as his own unease filled them. “Without us,” he reminded, “he would be dead. Shattered by that device body and soul.”
“We saved him,” added Connor. “And now…” He fell silent and they could each hear what he was thinking as he mulled over the words but held their own until he spoke them aloud. Such was only polite. “…now we hold his body in trust. Until he returns.”
Ezio heaved a sigh at that.
Then he asked the question that had haunted them since the confirmation with the doctor.
“And if he does not?”
“Then we make due with life as we can,” Haytham replied simply.
“He would not want us to give up,” Connor offered with a shrug of their shoulders.
Ezio bowed their head then before he asked the last of them for his opinion.
“Altaïr? What wisdom do you have to answer my question with, Master?”
There was silence for a long moment – a true silence in their own head in which there was nothing beyond the presence of each other – and then the eldest softly replied, “I believe the answers to our path have already been spoken, Master Auditore.”
That made the Italian assassin scoff a little before he nodded their head.
“Very well then,” he stated, “we go on as we can.” Then he lifted their head, looking at nothing as he turned their mouth up into a wry smile. “Together?”
There was a ‘nod’ of assent from Haytham and a quiet repeat of the word from Connor, a bare whisper that ghosted out of their mouth. Then Altaïr pushed them to their feet and stood tall, his control shifting their expression into something determined and fierce.
“Together,” he repeated.
In the medical wing of the Assassin compound he’d been moved to in order to treat the fallen Desmond Miles, Eric Warren stared at his computer screen. What he was looking at…
It was inconceivable. A situation he didn’t want to entertain but he had to because it was happening.
Numbly, he stood and just…started walking. And somehow he found himself at Shaun Hasting’s door, lifting his hand and knocking on it.
As the man answered, he stated, “They’re dying.”
Shaun stared at him for a moment, his eyes bloodshot and the stink of alcohol all over him, and then he breathed, “What?”
“They’re dying,” repeated Eric. “My…my readings from their last checkup. Everything says that they’re dying. Whatever it was that was holding them together is collapsing. I can see their brain slowly falling apart, Shaun.”
“Desmond’s brain,” whispered the other man, running a hand back through his hair. “Without Desmond…shit.” Then he met Eric’s eyes and asked, “Do they know?”
Shaun swallowed, his adam’s apple bobbing in his throat, then he choked out, “What do we do, Eric?”
Shaking his head, he replied, “I…without Desmond, there’s nothing we can do, Shaun. If his consciousness doesn’t come back in time…they’ll disappear.”
“They’re already dead, Shaun. This is just…echoes. The problem isn’t them ‘dying’ however, it’s what that process is going to do to Desmond’s brain. This is…unfortunately this is uncharted territory and I can’t tell you exactly what will happen except that it looks like the entire structure of their – his – brain is collapsing.”
“So it could also not.”
“I don’t have an answer,” Eric said helplessly.
Shaun cursed under his breath then asked, “So what do we do?”
Shrugging, Eric answered, “We tell them. We have to.”
All he had to answer with was silence because the only answer was to wait and see. To hope and pray that there was a change. Yet…after almost a year there wasn’t much hope amongst them for that.
The other man’s face crumpled like a collapsed can and Shaun fell to his knees in the doorway, his face awash with grief and guilt.
And there was nothing Eric could say that could make the situation better.