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Title: through the gray woods came lanterns with wagons and horses
Fandom: Assassin's Creed 2
Genre: AU for the modern assassin era
Warnings: Drug use, hints of slash (there will always be slash), experimentation with tense
Rating: PG 13
I own nothing.  Ubisoft owns AC and likes crapping all over it.  I treat my toys a little more gently.

Ever have an idea that sticks in your head and won't let go?  This is one of them.



His whole body awakens all at once and Desmond fights off the dreams that have come to haunt him.  Strange words and even stranger memories make the roof over his head seem foreign.  Out of place. 

Easy enough to do when you’ve been making your way out west under the best of circumstances.  Hopping from between every one horse town to another. 



It had been three months, though.  Three months in La Porte.  The boarding house almost seemed like home and it had been an awfully long time since he could say the same about anywhere else.



He throws an arm behind his head and worries that are more commonplace take over his thoughts. Too comfortable here.  Getting too complacent.  Besides, work had dried up.  Anything worth trapping was moving south for the winter.  Best he moves right along with ‘em.



His body is shifting before he knows it.  Old habits die hard and he taps out his boots as if he back out in the wilderness rather than with a roof over his head.  It’s a good one to keep.  He’ll be out in the backcountry again soon enough. 



Duster settles across his shoulders like a second skin.  He’s grateful now for the evening he’d spent oiling it.  The winter would probably be a tough one.  His hat and holster follow soon after.   He grabs his pack and saddle and he’s good to go.



Always ready to run.  Not the life he would have chosen looking back but it’s the only one he gets to have right now.



The day is spent putting his affairs in order, not that he had many to take care of.  Stock up, settle his debts.  He heads back to his usual hitching post, with one more thing he should be doing.



But he knows he can’t.



“Hey, boy,” he whispers, and Aguila is already nuzzling his pockets looking for whatever bit of sweet stuff that’s always there.  The deep equine breaths tickle and Desmond talks more kind words into the horse’s eager ear.



The handsome gelding is the only thing he truly owns, not won nor stolen.  Bought with a summer of sweat.  Picking out a paint hadn’t been the stupidest thing he’d ever done, but it came damn close.  Too flashy, too memorable he’d warned himself, but his boy had the sweetest disposition and the smoothest stride of any four legged thing this side of the Rio Colorado.  No way could Desmond have picked any other. 



And no way would Desmond give him up now. 



Out come the brushes and Aguila is leaning into each stroke with a sigh of contentment.



Desmond can feel eyes on him but that doesn’t slow him down any.  He reaches across the horse’s broad back to take a quick look around. 



It’s Vidic.  Creepy old bastard.  Desmond always made sure to keep  his distance since the guy rolled into town a week or two before, but the man seems to pop up at the oddest moments.



It was those eyes watching him now.   All sorts of evil bundled up in a black pea coat.



Just another reason to hit the trail. 



Aquila snorts out his disappointment as the brushes are carefully put away.  Settling the saddle into place, Desmond tightens the cinches with practiced ease. 



The unusually warm day leaves him with a mouthful of dust.  The pump at the town well is usually mighty appealing but not when there’s Vidic right beside it.  Like the man’s waiting for him.



Desmond turns on his heel.  There’s more than one place in town to get a drink.  The seedy saloon is right there and was always happy to serve no matter the time.  He reaches for the swinging door but it’s already moving towards him.  Dancing back, he avoids the near-collision.



“Hey, watch where- oh, begging your pardon, Mister Miles!”



He looks down on the only kind soul he’s met in this shitehole.  “Hello, Miss Stillman.”  The petite blonde still has a full on attitude that brooks no kind of nonsense.   “Funny bumpin’ into you outside of this fine establishment.  Wouldn’t think this is your kind of place.”



For the first time that he’s known her, she looks away. Though he reminds himself that a few months is hardly time enough to know anyone, even himself.



“Just dropping off some pamphlets.”  She’s far too distracted, looking beyond him for something in the town square.



Desmond laughs, not quite sure of the truth to the matter.  “Think there’s any of those boys in there know how to read anything talking about giving women the vote? It'd be easier to convince ‘em with some moonshine.”



Most days the suffragette was more than happy to talk, but today is not one of those days.  She looks back into the cesspit and out into the square once more.  What is she sizing up?  “You’ll have to excuse me, Mister Miles.  There’s something urgent I must attend to.”



“Certainly, Miss.”  He puts his finger to his hat as he lets her pass, eager to let the odd meeting go. 



Inside is no less out of the ordinary.  The place is packed. This dive?  Full of rough types, too, all of them mighty ornery and ready for a fight.  Almost every seat in the house is taken. 



Except one. 



There’s an odd looking fellow alone at a table for two, restless and  tense, following the room that was following him just as closely.  Not odd as in funny looking but if there was ever a definition of a man sticking out like a sore thumb, this was it.  Prim and proper, he looks fresh off a stage coach from out East.  Those glasses didn’t help either.  Nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs but around here the man is right to be watching his back. 



A pang of sympathy at being new blood in an unfamiliar territory and Desmond knows where he’s going to sit.



---------------------------------------



Good god.  Shaun holds his curses to himself, eyeing the saloon door for Lucy’s return.  Her cable had said their target was ready to move at any time so they’d come as quickly as they could.  In town less than twelve hours and here he was stranded in a festering wound of a town, not really sure who exactly they were looking for.  Perhaps Rebecca was having better luck, wherever the hell she’d been sent.   Hopefully, they’d collect this Miles character and be off before the locals got too restless.



The creak of what had been an empty chair across from him nearly sends him into the stratosphere.  There’s a young man filling it now, nowhere near as unkempt as the barbarians at Shaun’s back. 



“You’re lookin’ a little out of sorts there, stranger,” comes the forward greeting without so much as a ‘hello’.  Typical Yank.  Country not even a century old and they swan about like they own the place.



“Really?” Shaun tries to rein in his nervousness, but the sarcasm is inescapable.  “I thought I had thoroughly gone native.”



The shock on a surprisingly handsome face washes away with a laugh. “English, are ya?  You’re a long way from home.”



“Too right,” Shaun mutters more to himself, though it’s clear that he’s not the only one who hears. “Though 'home' is an abstract concept these days.”



Something about this gets the young man clucking to himself in disapproval. “Where are my manners?” the young man says. “The name’s Miles.  Desmond Miles.”



Shaun takes the proffered hand without thinking, blurting out his own name at this unexpected turn of events. “Shaun Hastings.”



A smile widens across the young man’s face and the scar bridging across full lips only stands out more “A pleasure to meet you, Mister Hastings.  Fancy a drink?”



Just the idea alone brings with it a small measure of relief.  “Mister Miles, I do believe you’ve hit upon the solution to all of my
problems.”



There’s a gesture and in no time at all, two tumblers of whiskey are in front of them.  They each raise a glass and proclaim a brief “Cheers!”.



Shaun desperately tries not to spit up the vile concoction as soon as it hits his mouth.  From the looks of things, Mister Miles seems to not appreciate the flavor either.



“Good lord!” Shaun manages between gasps for air.  “Do you use this stuff to strip varnish as well?”



The brim of the young man's hat dips to shield most of his face.  All that is visible is a mouth twisting with a touch of humor that almost makes the old scar vanish. Almost.  It is not... unpleasant.  "Not too many of your kind 'round these parts, Mister Hastings." 



Shaun looks through the glass in his hand, cautiously glancing at the flotsam of humanity that populates the tables around them. "And what kind would that be, Mister Miles?"  The brown liquid he holds should be ashamed to call itself ‘whiskey’.  "One that still has all of their own teeth?" 



"No."  The brim lifts just enough and Shaun can feel those eyes sizing him up as he tries to take a sip.  "Smart."  



The rough whiskey hardly tastes better when it goes down his windpipe.



Desmond watches him with more than a touch of amusement, though the sip the young man takes all of that away.  “Maybe we should get something else,” he says with a frown.  “This stuff tastes a little off.”



The chair scrapes on wooden floor and the young man is standing, hand out to take Shaun’s glass.  Just as Shaun offers it, the hand goes wide as Miles stumbles.



“Are you all right?” Shaun sees the sweat breaking out across the other man’s forehead.



“What the-” The young man passes his fingers before his face, eyes wild and wide. 



The table rattles as Miles slams his glass down.  “I… I need to go. Sorry… Need to-“



Trailing off, the man was already moving before Shaun can react.  “Desmond, wait!”  

Shaun sticks a finger in the abandoned glass and the taste is bitter, revoltingly so.  He knows it though.  The tribes he’s studied have described it well. 



Mescaline.  The drink was tainted with great, heaping gobs of mescaline.  Hardly fatal, but at the quantities in that glass…



Others begin to rise from their tables, like wolves gathering around a wounded lamb but Miles is already out the door.



Shaun barrels through after him, though he doesn’t have far to go and he’s not the only one following. 



Or the only one watching.



An old man stands off across the square, something familiar about his hands stuffed in the pockets of his black pea coat.  He seems far too fascinated at the distress of another, though not particularly interested in helping.



Miles is trying to unhitch his horse and failing, hands reaching for things only he can see.  “Ana mareed,” he’s babbling.  Is… is that Arabic?  “Gotta get .. oh, god-“ 



And with that Miles wretches from the bottom of his boots, his horse dancing in agitation as its master empties his stomach along the road.


“Get him,” Shaun hears and he spots the old man raising a finger in their direction.  Far too many men look ready to heed the man’s call.  The numbers are overwhelming and they come at Shaun and the heaving man with guns drawn.


The first gunshot to sound is not at all what Shaun expects. 


The closest man falls at it, blood streaming from a hole in his chest. 


Noise is deafening with the clatter of a small horse-drawn coach barreling their way.  For once, he’s not so surprised to find Rebecca at the reins, one hand controlling two thousand pounds of beast and cart with a pistol blazing in the other. Skirts hitched up between her knees, Lucy is a passenger in the driver’s box, shotgun blasting away. 


It’s mayhem.  Bullets ping everywhere and Shaun looks to grab Miles and run but the sodding bastard is somehow on his horse.  Bloodshot eyes try to focus on him.  “Get on.”


No chance to argue, Shaun grabs on to the horn of the saddle and hauls himself up behind the cantle.  The big gelding needs no prompting and they’re gone. 


His thighs burn as he tries to keep his feet from spooking the animal further, but there’s little choice with the horse full gallop.  Rebecca manages to follow them with the coach, Lucy’s hail of gunfire ensuring none feel the need to follow.


Finally, the horse grows weary under the weight of two grown men.  “I think we’re safe now!” he hollers but Miles doesn’t hear. 


Or can’t hear.  The American slumps forward and it’s all Shaun can do to catch him.  It’s a blessing that the reins are still in limp fingers and Shaun gets the sweating gelding under control, bringing them to a halt just off the road. 


The coach comes to a stop alongside them and the ladies are quick to catch the barely conscious man before he tumbles.  Quick to dismount, Shaun only barely catches what Miles is saying with the man sprawled across the ground.


AspettaNon capisco.”


Rebecca looks ready to spit and does so in an impressive arc. “This is the guy everybody wants?”


“Definitely,” Lucy says, set in grim determination.  “And we’ve got him.”


The other woman shakes her head and dries a sweaty hand across the front of her trousers.  “So what do we do now?”


Italian trips from Miles’s tongue as he stares blindly into the sky. His whole body shakes. “Così…  così tante domande.”


“Now?” Stripping off his coat, Shaun drapes it gently across the shivering form.  “Now, we wait.”


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