His cereal was becoming mushy.
If he wanted to eat it while it still had taste and texture he had to actually scoop up a portion and put his spoon into his mouth. Rather than do that Charles instead focused despondently on his tea, sitting on the counter in front of him.
It was in need of milk.
Sighing, Charles grabbed his mug and went to the fridge. Pulling out the container he poured the milk into the black liquid. Charles was aware of how improper this was: milk should always be added first, the brew then poured into the creamy substance. Haytham was very particular about the correct order and Charles was in perfect accord with Haytham.
They even had a number of teapots to use to ensure that this happened. However, today Charles simply didn’t care. Sipping the improper tea, Charles could only dwell on the peculiar lethargy that suffused his being.
All other sensation simmered underneath the crushing weight of his numbness.
As he drank the hot brew Charles rewound the events of just an hour ago. It was impossible not to, no matter how hard he tried to forget, the images replayed in his head like some perverse film caught in a loop.
Charles Lee could see as clear as it was happening now, how happy Haytham had looked when that Native woman, Ziio, had appeared on their doorstep wishing to speak with the Grand Master.
If that wasn’t bad enough Ziio had been invited in by Haytham and encouraged to sit on their sofa!
Charles trembled as a wave of anger surged through him, as if the hot tea was drowning away his lethargy, permitting his feelings of unhappiness to come to crashing to the fore.
He was terribly angry; not at Haytham…but at Ziio and at himself for being so vulnerable, so weak. He hated how easily Haytham had welcomed the woman back into the fold. Well, no, that wasn’t entirely true.
Ziio had never been in their fold, merely a useful tool that had revealed some information on sites that might contain a Piece of Eden, something they desperately required to stay ahead of the accursed Assassins.
It had led nowhere and Charles was honest enough to admit he had been relieved. To have Haytham look at anyone else with the same approval and even a small dash of admiration that he favoured Charles with, whenever Charles did a good job was…well, it made jealously rise like a cloying brew in his chest and throat.
So life had returned to normal with Charles working alongside Haytham in Abstergo Industries, searching for a way to put a permanent end to the Assassin Brotherhood and bring the world into order.
Then it had transpired that Haytham had shared an intimate moment with Ziio…a fact that Charles had learned from Thomas Hickey of all people.
Charles had to put his mug down as his hands were shaking, causing the brown liquid to slosh near the edge.
The memory of that horrid revelation was a bitter one…
Sighing in frustration at the nickname, Charles scowled as Thomas draped an arm over his shoulders.
“I told you not to call me that.”
Thomas grinned and leaning close drawled, “Yeah, but who cares? Anyway, Charlie I know something about O’Haytham that I bet you don’t.”
Charles wrinkled his nose in distaste. Thomas reeked of beer.
“You’re drunk man.”
Glancing at his watch Charles shook his head, “And it’s only ten in the morning. Pull yourself together; neither William nor Haytham will approve you slobbering like this in work.”
Charles attempted to shrug off Thomas’ grip and focus on his computer screen even as Thomas’ mention of Haytham piped his curiosity.
Thomas didn’t leave, just laughed and settled in the spare chair across from Charles’ desk. Charles glared at his screen, but suddenly Thomas began singing – off-key – “Haytham met a little birdie and what a birdie it was! Off together they flew and after a long flight they settled into a nest and sang until the dawn…”
Charles hit the wrong key and deleted the report he had been working on for two long agonising days.
Looking up at a smirking Thomas, Charles felt his chest constrict. “What birdie?”
“Take a guess.”
The native woman. Charles trembled, desperate to know for certain.
“Ziio? He…Haytham and her..?”
Thomas laughed and nodded, “Yep, overheard William talking with Haytham who was distracted. William wanted to know whether we could trust the native woman to keep quiet and O’Haytham said that we could. William wanted to know how Haytham could know this-”
“Johnson questioned Haytham?” Charles couldn’t believe the audacity of the man, Haytham was not someone you doubted. He was the one man that Charles had met that encapsulated the Templar ideal: determined, faithful, skilled with both words and weapons. He was honest and good to the men who served under him.
Haytham’s unwavering desire to see order and peace brought into the world was untainted from avarice or cruelty. Such qualities had left Charles desperate to meet Haytham and to be granted the opportunity to work with him was the answer to his dreams. To serve Haytham was a constant source of joy to Charles.
As such to have anyone doubt Haytham’s good word was unthinkable…in fact it was disloyal.
Thomas rolled his eyes, “Yeah, because not everyone believes that Haytham causes the sun to rise. Anyway, Haytham said that he had parted on good terms with Ziio after she indicated an…ah…’interest’ in his qualities.”
No. Charles felt pain erupt in his hands from the sheer force he was curling his fingers, his nails, into his palms. It was nothing to the stabbing pain and yes, fear, in his heart. He adored Haytham and yes, loved the man more than he ought and while Charles knew that Haytham couldn’t possibly desire him back in the same way, Charles had hoped to impress Haytham enough to always be needed, to ever be worthy of Haytham’s friendship.
Over the last year and a half Charles had started to believe that he was succeeding and the day that Haytham insisted he call him by name, that they were friends, was the best in his life.
Yet now…if Haytham had found someone else, this woman who could offer knowledge Charles couldn’t, could potentially give Haytham a family…then perhaps Charles would no longer be required.
Friendship wasn’t enough; Charles needed to be necessary, to be needed, to be allowed to serve.
Thomas must have seen his expression for he quickly sat up and said in a slightly slurred attempt of reassurance, “Hey, don’t be like that! The way Haytham mentioned it was as detached as he normally is over the colour of his notebooks. Total disinterest.”
Charles gasped and cursed his weakness as Thomas, now clearly alarmed, struggled to lean over the desk, scattering Charles’ papers, and gripped his arm in a tight hold.
“Gotta believe me Charlie. Haytham meant nothing by it. Cool your horses, he hasn’t replaced you.”
The fact that Thomas had struck right to the heart of the matter was terrifying and Charles hated how obvious his emotions were. Weakly uncurling his hands, he heard Thomas hiss and saw though blurred vision, the man bite his lip. Breathing heavily, Charles hated himself even as he asked in a faint voice, “It was nothing?”
Cautious relief sneaked into his heart and Charles chastised himself for his stupidity. If Ziio had meant anything to Haytham surely Haytham would have remarked upon the affair, especially to Chares who essentially was his right-hand man and friend.
Struggling to breathe and clear his vision Charles nodded curtly at Thomas and dropped his gaze to his hands. Blood smeared his palms and stained his nails from where they had gouged into his skin.
“Haytham is gonna kill me,” moaned Thomas.
“No, he won’t. It was an accident,” with that Charles reached for a tissue while Thomas searched for something more useful, namely a bandage.
~ ~ ~
Charles blinked as tears fell. That awful day had been a year ago. Since then Ziio had not been raised in conversation so Charles had considered himself safe.
Haytham and he had fought many battles together amid the bustling ignorant people on the street. Not long after the day that they became friends Charles had come to the end of the contract on his rented flat and his landlord didn’t wish to renew.
Charles had been more annoyed than upset as it was inconvenient to look for new lodgings when the majority of his time was spent in his office.
He had mentioned this to Haytham who had given him an exasperated look as if to say, is that all?
“Just move in Charles.”
“Haytham remember. And I thought the solution to your problem was obvious. Simply move in with me. The house is more than sufficient for both our requirements. We spend all our work and personal time together, so actually living together seems a natural extension.”
“But Thomas and William are with us…”
“Rather different I think Charles. Well? Don’t you agree it makes sense for you to move into my place?”
“Yes, of course Haytham. I can fetch my belongings this weekend..?” If the thrill of being chosen above the rest of their cohort was evident in his voice and beaming face then Charles could surely be forgiven. It wasn’t every day that Haytham - the Grandmaster of the Templars – invited you to share their abode.
Especially not as his friend.
Haytham smiled, “I’ll make room and we can shift your things. I daresay Thomas can be of some assistance.”
They had fallen into a rhythm and apart from Thomas’ teasing and William’s curious glances Charles had been enjoying living with Haytham, sharing their lives so more intimately.
Yet, now after such a long interval of silence Ziio had re-appeared and swept Haytham up into whatever she was plotting. When Charles had aired his concerns (in private, in Haytham’s room) Haytham had said they couldn’t afford to not at least listen to Ziio.
Haytham had clapped a hand on his shoulder and smiled. A small shred of pleasure uncurled in Charles at this memory. “I’ll be careful Charles. Sit tight and await my return.”
Then the Grand Master was gone, smiling in his charming manner and displaying his noble behaviour when escorting Ziio out of their home.
Left behind he was sure that winter had burst into his life, snatching in a blizzard his friend and master.
Now here he was, drinking ill-made tea and eyeing a soggy breakfast cereal. Injustice at the situation mixed with his anger and jealously at Ziio for returning, for supplying once more the offers of knowledge, of family.
To be precise, for a life without Charles.
The crash of china jarred Charles from his misery and he snarled at the mess of tea, shards of his mug and his blood on the no longer pristine kitchen ties.
Snatching a towel, Charles wrapped his hand clumsily and grabbed a brush and pan. Kneeling he began cleaning.
Dumping the china, Charles started mopping the tiles of blood and tea, yet as he did all he could linger on was Haytham’s all too obvious pleasure at seeing Ziio, Charles’ all too real rival.
Despair and insecurity swelled within until Charles was sure he would burst from how pathetic he felt. Amid his emotional distress a hand landed on his back, almost giving him a heart-attack.
“Fucking hell, Charles, what have you gone and done now?”
Charles looked up, heart still racing.
Thomas Hickey was crouched next to him. An expression of horror and worry was comically graven into his face.
Charles found himself unable to stop his doubts from spilling out like his tea. “Ziio was here. Haytham went with her.”
Thomas glanced around and back at Charles.
Charles wanted to wipe the concern off Thomas’ face and scrub the wary caution from Thomas’ tone when he spoke, neither emotion belonged there. He also rued the hour that Haytham had handed a spare key to William and Thomas ‘just in case’.
Thomas surveyed the mess shaking his head. “Okay then. How about I finish cleaning this up and afterwards your hand.”
Thomas touched Charles’ face, “And your moustache. How the hell did you get tea there? No don’t answer.”
Thomas dropped his hand. “Anyway, you’re gonna shower. Afterwards, when you look human I’ll take you drinking. What you say? Drown your sorrows?”
Contemplating, Charles finally nodded. Forgetting this entire incident in a sea of alcohol was preferable to waiting anxiously for Haytham to return and confirm he was with staying Ziio. Maybe he would be prepared then.
= = =
It was really far too early to go to a bar, so instead they headed to Thomas’ flat. It wasn’t far from Haytham and Charles’ home, but still further than Charles had a desire to walk.
Thomas thankfully had his car, so sooner than Charles thought they were pulling up to the block of flats that Thomas called home.
Surveying the décor as they walked up the three flights to Thomas’ home, Charles had to admit that it was actually a pretty decent place. The stairs were well-maintained, polished to gleaming and the walls were freshly painted.
The light fixtures were also securely fixed and when Charles had visited before at night, the glow they emitted was steady and bright. Security cameras also were blatantly positioned in an attempt to deter criminals. In other words, it was an ideal place to live, safe and pleasant.
Charles was simply surprised that Thomas had cared enough to choose such pleasing conditions, as he was a man more interested in living life to the full and knowing where the next drink was coming from.
Then again, he was also a Templar and valued security. One could never be too careful, after all those damn assassins were few in number but tenacious bastards.
“Here we go Charles. Sit your feet up and I’ll deliver you to blissful ignorance in just a few minutes.”
Charles rolled his eyes, typical. “Thanks Thomas.”
Grinning, Thomas flapped a hand and navigated his way through the chaos that was his living room into the kitchen.
Sighing, Charles eyed the sofa. It was littered with magazines and newspapers. The coffee table wasn’t much better: strewn with maps, articles on cars and…
“Really Thomas?” murmured Charles, picking up gingerly a magazine with naked women and men. Surely Thomas could be more discreet?
Tucking the offending magazine under the car stuff Charles edged some of the mess off the sofa and sank into the soft material.
After a second Charles twisted around and pulled from behind the cushion an old shirt.
Haytham never would allow his house to be a mess like this.
The automatic thought brought with it the memory of Haytham offering a seat on their clean sofa to Ziio.
Blinking away frustrated tears Charles felt searing pain lance through his chest and lashed out at Thomas who had returned with two beer bottles and a bottle of something else.
“For heaven’s sake, Thomas. Must you live like you’re in a sewer?” He flung the shirt at Thomas who shrugged it off, unperturbed.
“Yep. Now quit whinging and drink up like Dr Thomas ordered.”
Charles glared at Thomas who simply snorted. Snatching a beer from his supposed friend Charles immediately downed the contents.
Gasping Charles noticed that Thomas had sat next to him with a raised eyebrow. “Another?”
Quickly seizing Thomas’ beer, Charles eagerly drank the brown liquid, chasing desperately the forgetfulness it promised.
However, apart from feeling light-headed from drinking too fast Charles couldn’t erase Haytham’s happy smile or Ziio’s enticing words.
Charles eyed the clear bottle. “What’s next?”
“Vodka, my friend.”
Thomas produced two shot glasses – from where Charles had no idea or cared – and poured the crystal stream into them. “Here ya go.”
Trembling Charles tipped it back. Fire burned his throat and settled into his belly. Damn, that was good. Hopeful, Charles took the bottle and poured more.
This time the vodka numbed the fear of Haytham’s loss. The third gulp eradicated it leaving only a peculiar light-headedness and an image of Haytham smiling.
Now that Charles could handle.
“Whoa, Charlie ease up eh?”
Charles glanced up from pouring his fourth glass and focused on a slightly blurry Thomas. A jovial note rang in Thomas’ voice, yet Charles thought he could discern traces of alarm in the twist of his lips.
“Come on, let me get another beer instead of vodka.”
“I thought the plan was to get me drunk?”
“Yeah, but not on a bottle of vodka, I can see why Haytham doesn’t let you drink the stuff now.”
Charles shook his head, “Haytham isn’t here. He’s with her.”
Speaking the truth was like a knife to the heart and Charles felt infuriated that Thomas had fanned the flames of his worry again.
“Right, but not forever.”
Charles laughed, low and harshly. “You didn’t see him with Ziio.” Clutching his precious fourth serving, Charles wiped wetness from his eyes. “I’m nothing.”
Thomas grabbed his shoulder, “No you’re not. Don’t be so stupid. Haytham is a man of few words, but even I can tell he thinks highly of you. Hell, whenever he’s invited anywhere it’s always ‘Charles and I can/can’t make that engagement’ etcetera.”
Charles laughed. Thomas was terrible in his attempt to mimic Haytham’s speech.
He wanted to believe Thomas he really did, but Charles knew how deep his insecurity ran. If Ziio had been one of a string of women then he might have felt safe, but she wasn’t – she was the only one. So he felt very unsafe, as if his entire world was on the brink of destruction.
Unable to address Thomas’ encouragements Charles instead gestured towards the kitchen, “Just get me a beer.”
Thomas sighed and snatching Charles untouched fourth glass, he vanished, taking also the vodka bottle.
“Bastard,” moaned Charles. Trapped with his memories Charles just wanted to weep and fuck it, why not? Bending his head Charles allowed his tears to fall, ensconced in misery.
= = =
Charles knew he was drunk, but in that detached way where all cares were long vanquished by the glorious swell of alcohol.
He vaguely was aware of reclining…no sprawling…on the couch with a merry Thomas slouched next to him.
Whenever Charles attempted to gather his scattered thoughts they slipped through his fingers like water. The overriding fear and despair he had felt not long ago, now seemed like a dream and Charles wasn’t entirely sure of the reasons.
At least, he didn’t wish to delve too much into those reasons. After all, that was the point of getting drunk…wasn’t it?
“Stop thinking Charles,” slurred Thomas, “and enjoy the moment.”
“Right you are Thomas.”
Breathing deeply, Charles leant forward and the room swayed with him. Oh shit.
Determined however, not to grant Thomas any material to tease him with, Charles snagged a half empty bottle of beer and sloshing some of it over his shirt managed to catch some in his mouth as well.
“Whoever discovered alcohol deserves to be worshipped.”
Thomas laughed, “At last you see my point. Cheers for that person!”
Waving his bottle, Thomas ended up dunking Charles with his beer. Charles sighed, Haytham wouldn’t be impressed.
Haytham…wasn’t he upset about Haytham..?
Before Charles could snag this wandering memory the doorbell rang shrilly.
“Aw fuck,” moaned Thomas who rose and surprisingly steadily walked to the door to his flat. Charles was envious of his ease. When under the influence of alcohol he became as stable as jelly.
Charles collapsed backwards then immediately straightened ignoring his dizziness.
He recognised that voice! Master Kenway was here.
“Where’s Charles, Thomas? I tried everyone else and no-one has seen him and he’s not answering his phone.”
“Oh, he’s here. Having a party we are.”
“A sober one I see. Charles? Where are you?”
Wishing desperately to answer, Charles struggled to stand. His legs trembled and his vision was blurry. Forcing his errant body to obey, Charles wobbled around the table and watched in awe as Haytham appeared.
Sight blurry as it was, he could still see how regally Haytham held himself. He radiated power and self-assurance.
Dread curled in his stomach and Charles remembered a shred of why he was drinking so heavily.
He might lose Haytham soon. Terrified, Charles flung himself at Haytham clutching at the well-tailored fabric of Haytham’s shirt.
Looking up while hanging on for dear life was difficult, focusing impossible. Yet Charles could hear Haytham’s worry. It was a cruel hope that worry, because soon Haytham would leave him behind.
Desperate to have some memento of Haytham, Charles used Haytham’s shirt to pull himself level and before his brain could interfere, kissed Haytham.
Haytham didn’t open for him, but that was fine.
Charles could live with just tasting Haytham’s lips, feeling how firm they were and feeling the press of Haytham’s muscled body as he all but draped his own uncoordinated frame over his friend.
Then the perfect sensation was gone and Charles saw through watery eyes Haytham’s shocked expression.
Thankfully, he passed out before censure could cross that handsome face or angry words issue from the man he admired most.
= = =
Charles awoke and sincerely wished he was still asleep.
A dull ache filled his entire head, very similar to the sensation of going to bed with a headache in the hopes it would wear off and awakening to the certain knowledge that the headache had being going strong all night.
The result: a seemingly innocent ache which actually pervaded his entire mind, causing every gentle shift of his head to explode and let off a horribly dizzy see-sawing feeling.
Charles blinked open his eyes and tried to stand to escape his currently miserable situation.
The entire room swung around him. Gasping, Charles shut his eyes and waited for the nausea to pass. As he waited hazy memories filtered through.
Thomas. Beer. Vodka. Wine.
Charles groaned. No wonder he felt like he was the rolling deck of a ship. There was a reason Charles never drank vodka, especially not with wine, and he now recalled why, because it took him out badly.
Weakly wiping a hand across his face Charles wondered why he had gone a drinking binge and why Haytham hadn’t stopped him.
Charles wanted to die, or at least flee back to Britain.
Had he truly kissed Haytham, the man he most admired, respected and called friend? If Haytham hadn’t already decided to leave him then he surely would abandon Charles now after his appalling lack of control.
The despair he had been so desperately attempting to bury swelled again and Charles suddenly found it hard to breathe.
Gasping he snapped open his eyes, but thankfully the room stayed still though the ache in his head did not abate. Charles squinted as he took in the room, breath coming in wheezes.
Calm down, Charles. This is unseemly, was the mantra he chanted internally to himself.
He had no desire for Haytham to think even less of him if that were possible. Agonisingly slowly the vice in his chest loosened, the grey tide of despair slackening a little, allowing his breathing to even out.
Glancing around the room Charles realised he had to be in Thomas’ spare bedroom. Someone must have carried him because the last thing he recalled was passing out after kissing Haytham. He was clad only in his shirt and underwear.
Charles was still capable of disappointment of missing it, if Haytham had been the one to undress him.
The room was surprisingly neat, probably due to William staying here. A watercolour painting of an old-style tavern adorned the wall the bed was against and to the right another picture hung, this one of Boston in its hey-day as a main port.
Sighting the bathroom door opposite Charles knew he had better clean himself up before facing his doom like a man.
Electing to try standing again carefully, Charles gripped the bed with one hand and pushed off. Quickly he braced his right hand to the wall and thus supported stumbled to the washroom.
Entering he switched on the light with great reservations and grimaced against the flare of pain behind his eyes.
Charles waited for his eyes to adjust then with reluctance looked into the mirror over the washbasin.
Thomas looked better after a night’s drinking than he did.
“No more vodka Charles.”
Breathing deeply Charles pushed past the numbing pain encircling his forehead and ransacked the cabinet right above the mirror.
He salvaged a comb and stole a shaver and foam from what had to be a left-over from when Pitcairn had crashed one night.
Glancing at the mirror Charles grimaced and tried splashing his face with water, scrubbing judiciously with soap to erase the ghastly image. It hurt but hey, it did waken him.
The foam seemed far too white in the glaring light of the bathroom, more like glistening snow than something to shave with – and since when did a razor scraping across his skin sound so loud?
The shave didn’t do much, just somehow highlighted how grey his skin appeared and the purplish hollows under his eyes. His blue eyes were as bright as ever but shimmered with pain and loss.
With shaking hands Charles brushed his moustache, tidying it up so it was neat as usual. His hair was a mess. After a moment of struggling with water and comb Charles admitted defeat. A tangled mop it would have to be.
Dropping the comb, Charles tweaked his shirt, sniffing the material. He instantly regretted it as the reek of vodka and beer mingled together formed a truly horrid entity.
Never-mind the headache…Charles fumbled for Thomas’ aftershave and swallowing applied generously.
The lesser of two evils, Charles reminded himself as the pungent aroma assailed him.
Replacing the bottle Charles sighed. He was delaying the inevitable and doing himself no favours. He had no desire for Haytham to think him a coward on top of everything else. He couldn’t bear that.
Grim, Charles borrowed a toothbrush, the minty paste causing the nausea in his stomach to roll dangerously. Spitting Charles wiped his face, peering into the mirror once more, anxious. Well, he was pale instead of grey and the violet hue under his eyes wasn’t so stark, but he still was a vampire who hadn’t drunk blood recently.
Charles was not a man who easily gave up but the crushing weight of realisation was compounded by his shocking appearance. It appeared that in this, the loss of Haytham – of his respect, his trust, his friendship – was too much.
But he could still maintain his dignity even as he withered inside and Charles decided to continue working on his appearance, if he managed to order his clothes then it would offset his pallid demeanour and grant him a thin veneer of protection.
With this thought in mind Charles somehow managed to walk back to the bed without clinging to the wall.
Now that he was more alert he noticed his trousers and socks were draped at the foot of the bed. He couldn’t see his shoes, which confused him, but Charles decided he would worry about that later.
It was slightly cumbersome pulling on his trousers and a moment of dizziness when he attempted to tug on socks standing.
Finally he was prepared and very much like a man heading to his execution Charles sucked in a deep breath, wiped his forehead and with one last tug at his clothes, yanked open the bedroom door and walked out into the living area.