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[personal profile] squirrellysemantics
Title: through the gray woods came lanterns with wagons and horses
Chapter 2
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.  I only wish I did.

--------------------------------
 
It's Lucy's turn on watch and she is starving. A bite or two of pemmican is hardly enough, but it would have to suffice for now.  Far too dangerous to stay in one place, they’d bundled their patient into the rear of their coach to do their waiting elsewhere.  Food quickly became an issue when on the run.
 
Hard for any of them to hunt while being hunted.
 
Continuing their trip hadn’t gone quite as intended.  Mister Miles hadn’t taken kindly to being carried. 
 
Fists and feet and a polyglot of swear words flew through the air in his half-mad state.  The drugs boiling his blood did little to curb his strength as Shaun got to discover firsthand.  Thankfully, the damage done can be catalogued as one bloodied nose and a large helping of wounded pride.  Shaun grabs at the chance for a calculated retreat by taking a turn at the coach’s reins.
 
The night has been long and rough, waiting, tending to the man completely buried under blankets to sweat out his demons.  It’s halfway through hour eight before his nightmare-fueled shivering finally stops. 
 
Thankfully, so does his thrashing.   
 
“Only a little longer now,” Rebecca grumbles again even as she’s falling asleep, her bed roll tucked in a cramped corner.  “Ham fisted idiots should learn how to brew if they want to play with fire.  Shouldn’t hit a man with it while he’s out in the open, neither.”
 
Miles still twitches from time to time and it’s hard to tell whether he’s fighting a phantom to the death or merely deep asleep.
 
One can only hope it’s the latter.
 
After a while, Rebecca is snoring away and the rocking of the coach nearly pulls Lucy into sleep right along with her.  She fires up a small lantern to ward the drowsiness away, to put all that’s happened to paper while the turbulent mess still fills her thoughts. Duty before self, even if that duty was to do the impossible.  They would want to know had happened, even though it’d be days before she could reach a town large enough to post-
 
A gasp bursts through her musings; breaths come desperate and harsh and it’s suddenly sounding too much like the man right next to her is drowning on dry land.
 
“Mister Miles,” Lucy calls to no avail, unsure of what next to say. 
 
Well, that’s a damn lie. She knows quite well what should come next, but it’s the distinct possibility that English might not be the language to deliver it that gives her pause.  It doesn’t help that the person best able to translate is currently in the driver’s seat. “Desmond!”
 
His head snaps back at the sound of his given name like it’s a blow across the face.
Suddenly awkward limbs try to carry his bulk backwards.  He fights a futile battle with heavy blanket, rubbing at his eyes like that might erase every invisible thing that plagues him.
 
Lucy dims her lantern and she’s right by his side.  “Desmond, please!  Calm down!”
 
Shaking, he takes one quick look and he’s averting his gaze, unable to look at her as if she’s grown a second head. 
 
Which might well be the case, considering the circumstances.

Everything about him is tentative and desperately frightened and just as desperate not to show it. He’s squinting at her in the darkness, looking through his fingers as if the sun sits right behind her shoulder. 
 
She only gets a quick glance before it’s gone but it takes her breath away.
 
His eyes. 
 
Have… have they changed color?
 
He shutters himself closed and there’s no chance for a second look but that is no matter.
 
Guilt wars with her elation but a primal joy wins out.  If what he sees has nothing to do with the itch in his veins… suddenly, the insurmountable task they’ve been given doesn’t seem quite so insurmountable.
 
“Please, Mister Miles.  It’s Lucy- Lucy Stillman,” she remembers to say, hoping this makes the least bit of sense to him. “I can’t even begin to imagine what you’re feeling right now but you must calm down.”
 
Eyes screwed shut, he struggles to catch his breath.  “What… what is this?  The colors…”  His voice is rougher than sack cloth on bare skin. “What’s going on?”
 
“You’ve been drugged,” she says, withholding a breath of her own.
 
His head flops back against the sweat-soaked remains of Shaun’s coat.  “Drugged!  Good!  That’s good,” he manages with a dry laugh that sounds like it’s decidedly not so good after all.  “The walls are starting to melt and …. I was getting a little worried.” 
 
She laughs in earnest, for whatever she thought was coming next, this wasn’t it. “The hallucinations will pass.”  Her question comes out as innocent as she can make it.  “Do you remember anything?”
 
There’s that dry laugh again and it’s so close to a sob that it hurts.  “Remember?  Yeah, I remember a lot of things.”   Desmond slowly takes one lungful after another and it soothes him somewhat.  “A lifetime.  More than one- all trying to get inside my head.”
 
Lucy tries to temper her triumph.  Perhaps…. Perhaps they would have all they need, all in one go-
 
His lips are cracked and dry but that doesn’t stop Desmond from continuing.  “There was so much. It kept coming, like a rain that just won’t quit but you’re trapped at the bottom of a gorge.  Can’t escape.  No way to keep up.”
 
Her disappointment stays just as hidden. “From what Ms Crane tells me, you were hit pretty hard. They slipped you an awful lot of peyote.”
 
This reassurance doesn’t have the desired effect. 
 
“They?” He’s looking about set to run again, ready in spirit, if not in body. “Who’s ‘they’?”
 
Lucy doesn’t have the heart to tell him just yet.
 
------------------------------
 
Contrary to popular opinion, Shaun is not fond of spending the night with a trio of horse rump as his only companion.  The night air is chilly without his coat and the wind whips right through him.  They’ve had the tiniest bit of luck in that the full moon shines down brightly enough to let them keep moving.  A glance at the cross ties and Miles’s horse has finally settled down, easily keeping pace with the others though all of the beasts are looking a little weary.
 
Face throbbing, leg cramping and he tries desperately to not in any way more to think about sleep. 
 
Glorious sleep.  On a nice, warm bed.
 
Preferably with a decent roof …. over…  over    his-
 
There’s a sensation of falling as fatigue nearly claims him that sends a shot of adrenaline straight through his fingers.  The carriage trundles on without notice.
 
Focus comes hard this time of night but he should be used to it by now. 
 
It was exactly this time of night when the Templars had come for him.  One published paper too many, he’d upset the wrong sort of person.  The possibility had never entered his mind that his research would culminate with his throat at the end of someone’s knife.
 
But it had. 
 
There had been little choice but to join those who saved him, a small amount of vindication his only reward before beginning this mad quest. Thousands of miles from home, from everything he’s known. So much fragile hope pinned to the possibility they would find a man who had no wish to be found. 
 
But they had. 
 
So many impossible things.  Enough for one lifetime, and yet…
 
Hard to believe what came from a drugged man’s mouth if he hadn’t heard it with his own ears.  He understood it.  His research skills had been put to the test once he’d been attached to this insane task, but that was all on paper.  It was Rebecca who had all of the practical experience.
 
An ancient ritual by an ancient people.  Spiritual communion with one’s ancestors.  
 
Ana mareed. 
 
Non capisco.
 
Shaun struggles to avoid being launched from his seat as the horses take the carriage over a bump he should have noticed well before now.  The impact rattles his spine but he’s paying attention now, shouts of annoyance filtering through from within the carriage.  He ignores those easily enough, much more bothered by how even Miles’s big brute of a horse is faltering. 
 
There’s a stream just visible past a clearing that’s calling to him so he pulls up on the reins.
 
“Hell’s bells!”  Rebecca is in full cry before she even jumps from the carriage, rubbing at the bruise forming on her forehead.  “And you’re the one that complains about my driving?”
 
“Hush, woman!” he snaps back more from force of habit, really, already undoing buckles and cinches. “Make yourself useful for once.”
 
From the outside, it sounds brutal but they work together smoothly, releasing the horses from their traces even as they continue their nipping at each other’s heels.
 
“Ornery and ugly.  How do you English get by?”
 
“Obviously with no help from you, you poxy idiot.”
 
Finally free of impractical skirts, Lucy gets to join in the fun.   
 
“He’s resting peacefully,” she says brightly enough though that energy doesn’t reach her eyes. “Finally.”  Exhaustion shakes her hands as she loosens the breast collar from their bay mare.  She readies a rope but Shaun takes it from her.
 
“Go.” His own weariness shows when he can’t work out a proper insult.  “Sleep.”
 
Rebecca is already heading to higher ground with the black mare in tow.  “I’ll take care of Jenny,” she calls back, settling her rifle against her shoulder.  “You’ll hear me if trouble’s coming.”
 
He sets out on his own, horses in tow.  This bay mare is a feisty young thing they picked up in Council Grove. Her nostrils still flare as she fidgets on his lead. “Easy, Flora.”
 
Miles’s nag follows with the obedience of an old dog.  Shaun would have hardly noticed the thing if it didn’t have the tendency of nudging him in the small of his back with each pause he made to scan the horizon.
 
Reaching the stream gives them all enough of a cool down.  The horses drink their fill and Shaun does the same.  The walk back is easier, though slower.  They’re all eager to rest but the gelding has dried to a sweaty mess which leaves Shaun with more work to do. 
 
He leaves Flora to live up to her name, tearing up great big hunks of flowers by the roots as far as her lead lets her.  The gelding still follows him like a half ton child and there’s a pleased little nicker when it spots what Shaun’s pulled from the coach.
 
Brushing down this handsome beast is almost cathartic and Shaun makes the most of it by taking long, casual strokes.  There’s some shifting and the horse leans into him for more, at the same time nibbling at the tall grass to satiate itself in as many ways as it can.
 
“Shameless!” he laughs. The gelding shifts from one foot to the other, bumping him gently with one hip to remind him that the brushing has stopped.  “You are utterly shameless.”
 
“His name is Aguila.”
 
Shaun resists the urge to fly around at the unexpected voice, focusing instead on the last bit of dirt on the gelding’s flank.  “You should be asleep, Mister Miles.”
 
He turns, trying to look unperturbed but this fails. There’s just a shell of the smiling, forthright man he’d met in La Porte in the person before him.
 
“Yeah, well,” Miles says as he steps to his horse with averted eyes. “Don’t feel much like sleeping, Mister Hastings.”
 
There’s a whinny and the gelding is beside itself at the touch of its master across its broad forehead.  “Hey, boy.  Hey.” 
 
The moment seems far too private but Shaun is caught before he can slip away.
 
“Thanks for taking care of him,” Miles says, a quirk of that smile he’s only seen once before.  “Thanks for taking care of me, too, I guess.”
 
“What?” Shaun’s too tired not to laugh at the suggestion. “The ladies had more of a hand in that.  I just drove the coach.”
 
“Maybe.”  Without looking, Miles awkwardly hands over a dark bundle.  “Sorry I won’t have time to clean it before I go.”
 
His brain doesn’t process why it’s so familiar at first but Shaun takes it anyway. 
 
His coat.
 
It takes a moment but his brain manages to catch up.  “’Go’?  Where are you going?”
 
Miles refuses to look at him while settling a saddle blanket across Aguila’s broad back.  “Gotta find me a doctor… or a healer or something.  I hear the Ute use that stuff I got hit with. They would know. Or the Cree.  Maybe… maybe-”
 
“Peyote?”  Shaun asks, too addled to follow.  “The dose of mescaline you were given was massive, but the effects should be long gone by now.”
 
Shoulders sag and Miles bolsters himself against his horse. “Really?  I thought… I’d hoped-“
 
“What the devil is wrong with you, Miles?” Shaun snaps with instant regret.
 
“I don’t know.” The simple admission comes from deep within the man’s chest.  “I was hoping you could tell me.”
 
Threading his fingers through his horse’s mane was some reassurance that permits Desmond to continue. “I’m still seeing things- people- that aren’t there.  And sometimes when I look at something that’s supposed to be there, everything’s dark, darker than normal -“
 
He swallows thickly as if the words are too heavy on his tongue.  “Though there’s colors. Bright colors. But not for everything. Just some things.”
 
The troubled man lifts his troubled head and finally meets Shaun’s perplexed stare. 
 
“Like you, for instance,” says Desmond, lips quirking as if something is holding back his smile.  “You’re a bright blue.”
 
Those eyes.  Eyes so bright that Shaun can’t tear himself away, lit up with the reflection of a warm fire where there was no fire to be had.
 
It couldn’t be real. 
 
Could it? 
 
He’d found stories within the archives that spoke of such things.  Gifts.  Visions.  Few if any of those he met saw fit to confirm it. 
 
Had the mescaline opened doors that were sealed before?
 
“Mister Miles,” Shaun begins but something makes himself correct that almost immediately. “Desmond. You may want to take a seat.” He pulls in his upper lip, clenching it for a moment between his teeth while the pain gives him focus.  “What do you know of your ancestors?”
 
It’s Desmond’s turn to look perplexed. 
 
Together they sit, Aguila taking great, big horsey breaths between them while Shaun spins his tale and Desmond hangs on every word.
 
It goes on and on so long that the sun starts its climb over the horizon. 
 
Visions. Assassins. Templars.

The battle to save the world.  An impossible thing that shouldn't have been.

But it was.



Date: 2011-10-15 06:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] yumearashi.livejournal.com
Yay! I saw this and stayed up too late reading ^_^;; Awsome stuff, as always! Especially "a polyglot of swear words" - I totally need to find an excuse to use that in conversation at some point

Date: 2011-10-15 12:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexb49.livejournal.com
Ha! I'm glad you liked it. If you be incredibly impressive if you could drop that phrase into a conversation.

Date: 2011-10-16 08:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] yumearashi.livejournal.com
Success! My friend and I were out today and missed out on a parking spot in a very full lot due to some idiot who was parked very crookedly. I declared, "Fools! There will be much cursing of people who cannot properly park!" Then I remembered this, and added, "Verily, there will be a polyglot of swear words!" and my friend died laughing. ^_^

Date: 2011-10-16 08:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexb49.livejournal.com
Awesome!

Date: 2011-10-15 06:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rueli.livejournal.com
Ah~! I'm so glad I found this because it totally made my night. (And god, I've tried falling asleep on a horse-pulled trailer before...it wasn't pleasant.)

Date: 2011-10-15 12:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexb49.livejournal.com
Thanks for the kind words! Yes, trailers are not so great even if the horses are lots of fun.

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