The helicopter was late. Rain had already drenched the man waiting; a sharp breeze tugged at his greying hair, and every now and then, a lightning struck in the distance. It could be worse, he thought. It was December 24th, and in previous years, snow would have made this extraction impossible – this year, however, it was just over 7° Celsius and it was simply wet and miserable. The Englishman briefly wondered what that was in Fahrenheit – one of the things that he never thought about much, despite having lived in the States for more than two decades now. Haytham Kenway glanced up into the dark sky – knowing that he had promised his son to be home for Christmas. He never promised much, but he had felt he needed to - no matter their quarrelling, they had always spent Christmas together. If the helicopter didn’t come soon, it was questionable if there would be another Christmas he could attend at all.
But the helicopter came; despite the storm. Haytham knew what was at stake – the Assassins were closing in, and if his men in the helicopter left him to wait for much longer, he would have to survive yet another fight. The mission had been complicated enough. While it had not taken long – with only five days of him leaving New York behind – he had gone completely dark; no phone, no contact to his handlers, no bodyguards. The First Civilization Temple he had infiltrated was used by the Assassins, though they had not gotten their hands on the artefact yet (if there was one – something Haytham was starting to doubt). It had been a high-profile job; one for which only a few of the highest-ranking Templars would have been qualified for. In the end, the CEO of Abstergo had decided to do it himself. Going dark for five days, though, had been difficult – he was used to having his phone by his side every waking minute; being updated on and in control of everything, not just regarding the multi-billion-dollar company that was his responsibility. While he was away, the head of the board of directors and a good friend of his’, Shay Cormac, had fulfilled most of Haytham’s duties and was taking care of urgent business.
It wasn’t just the company Haytham was responsible for, though, as his son had returned to live with him just a few months ago. Connor had moved out three years ago, after he had finished school and went to college – having chosen a different degree than his father had laid out for him, and though Haytham had made his peace with that after a period of disappointment and irritation, it had seemed best if Connor didn’t stay with his father but sought his own path without the powerful CEO towering above him. The young man had finished his veterinarian studies with merit, and initially, he had spoken of moving out of town and find a more rural employment. It would have meant that Connor moved away even further, and Haytham had done his best not to show his irritation at the thought. He knew that he had to let go of his son – especially as things had not gone as he had planned, and Connor had neither become a lawyer as the CEO had wanted him to, nor had the young man reason to stay in New York. But the CEO had a surprisingly hard time accepting the young man’s further disappearance – when Connor was studying, he at least showed up at his father’s apartment once a month or so, or the two of them met during the weekends for a hiking trip, or some other activities like paintball or a few hours at their favourite climbing hall. And of course, he visited for Haytham's birthday, and spent a few days at his father's place for Christmas.
However, half a year ago, Connor had asked him if he could move back in with him. He had taken a position at one of Abstergo’s research labs, and would remain in New York. Haytham wasn’t entirely sure what had led to that decision, and he hadn’t asked. Roughly four months ago, Connor had moved back in with his father. But for some reason, the young man hadn’t seemed too happy about that – though he had been the one to ask. His behaviour was irritating Haytham a little, and he hoped he would understand the young man’s issue sooner rather than later. Why had he come back if he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the situation? It was not a monetary issue, as Connor had received an account with nearly 500,000 dollars in it for his 21st birthday – a fund for whatever he wanted to do with his future; buy a house in the countryside, do his PhD… Haytham knew that Connor would never ask for money unless he was in an otherwise hopeless situation, and so he had just given this to his (vaguely shocked) son – just in case. Just so Connor could do what he wanted, regardless of the cost. So, if he really didn’t want to share an apartment with his father again, he didn’t have to. And still, he had moved back in with Haytham.
The CEO thought about that when he climbed into the helicopter. It was getting dark – it was the late afternoon, and he had a few hours of travel before him. He fastened the belt and watched the trees sway in the wind; vividly reminded of the helicopter crash he had been in two years ago. They had been up north; landing in a forested area when the pilot had descended just a bit too early. It had been foggy, and the CEO had been thinking that the trees looked terribly close; brushing against the helicopter – but only when one of the doors ripped right off, Haytham realized that a catastrophe was about to happen. The pilot had lost control, and everything happened too fast. Haytham woke up moments after the crash; disoriented and confused. He freed himself from the belt, struggling with most of his body feeling strangely numb. He tried to pull the pilot out of the wreck, but the moment he pulled, bones broke through the back of his hand – he hadn’t noticed just how broken they were. It did not matter, and he managed to rescue the pilot. His bodyguard travelling in the back of the helicopter was nowhere to be seen – probably having fallen out of the vehicle before it had crashed. It took many hours until a rescue team found them, and Haytham had many tales to tell about these hours – involving a bear, a magnesium torch and a snowstorm. Unfortunately, they were all true. In the end, his bodyguard had survived, and he had rescued the pilot’s life by getting him out of the wreck and into a stable position. Haytham’s hand took a long while to heal, and in the hospital, it turned out that three ribs were broken, his skull cracked, and a shoulder dislocated. But while those fractures had healed quicker than for most people, one thing hadn’t: Since then, his heart was making problems, and he had been confronted with the reality that he wasn’t immortal. That he would leave the company and his son eventually; that he would lose control, and had to make sure that both would be safe when he didn’t make it next time.
Sitting in the helicopter now, Haytham rubbed the scar on his hand, thinking about his heart. In a crash such as the one he had been in, the body was yanked around – moving forward violently and being stopped by the belt. The heart, big and muscular, was heavier than the surrounding tissue, and many people died from ruptured veins and arteries as the treacherous, heavy heart was yanked too far. He had had surgeries to fix the issues that had arisen, but there remained a high risk for an aneurysm. Only half a year ago, he had undergone another major surgery, and while it had gone smoothly, there was always a risk for complications during or after the treatment.
The co-pilot turned around and handed Haytham a phone once they had successfully left the forest below them. “You need to call Shay, Sir.”, he remarked loudly to make his voice rise above the howling of the wind and the noise of the rotor blades. Haytham nodded, a frown of concern appearing on his features. It meant that something had happened while he had been gone. It was one of the worries when he was going dark – something happening while he was not there to take care of it; something happening to the company – to Connor.
It took a while until Haytham got a signal, but Shay picked up almost immediately. “Shay, it’s me –“, Haytham started, but the Irishman interrupted him.
“They killed your bodyguards and broke into your apartment. Guess they knew you were out of town –“
“He’s fine. He’s fine. But –“
“But?" Haytham couldn't help the growl in his voice; impatient and concerned - always dreading a situation like this; helpless, not in control, informed after things had gone awry.
“Relax. He is fine, I promise. Though… Ah, well -”
“What? What about the artefact? The intruders?"
There was a moment of pause, and Haytham tensed. He had been in possession of a Piece of Eden for over a year now, and he had started to use it a bit more frequently – just to be able to work more; keep him up despite a lack of sleep and food, but he had been careful, all too aware of the stories of people going mad when using these objects too frequently. He kept the Piece of Eden in his safe room in his apartment.
“He’ll have to tell you himself.”, Shay said with a sigh. “But please, Haytham, be gentle with him. He’s… he did his best. He kept the artefact safe. He called me and I got there as fast as I could; the intruders are currently being interrogated, and we'll keep you updated as things progress, as usual. It is all well, with the exception of the men we lost, and the damage done to your apartment.”
Another low growl escaped the CEO, irritated that this had happened while he had been away; that Connor had been in the middle of this mess and that - something had happened. Something Shay didn’t want to tell him over the phone.
Haytham was tense when he arrived in New York; still wondering what exactly had happened in his absence. While he knew that Connor was alright, and the artefact safe, there was something Shay wasn’t telling him, and he reckoned it couldn’t be good news.
He had been tempted to call Connor and demand an explanation right away, but Shay had kindly asked him not to do so, and instead wait until he was back home to talk about it. Haytham had no eyes for the Christmas decoration everywhere; wildly blinking lights in all colours of the rainbow as he drove past with his limousine that had picked him up from the airstrip he had landed on. His heart was aching a little, and he knew it was a phantom pain from the stress and worry. He was exhausted after the mission; in need of a shower and a shave, and a fresh set of clothes. But foremost, he needed to know what the hell had happened, and why Shay wouldn’t just tell him.
The building was heavily secured, a measure that did not surprise Haytham following such a grave incident. His home had been target of the Assassins occasionally, but it had been a while since they had struck with such violence and actually succeeded in entering his apartment. Perhaps they had realised that the Temple Haytham had infiltrated did not hold a Piece of Eden, and so they planned on taking the CEO’s while he was away. But somehow they had failed, and Haytham was curious to hear the details of the incident from Connor.
He opened the reinforced door to their apartment after passing yet another security check; tense and slightly anxious about what he would find. Connor wasn’t in hospital – Shay had repeated that the young vet was rattled, but fine - which was a good sign. The door to the apartment had already been repaired, but the inside of the apartment still bore traces of the break-in: There were a few drops of blood, a few pieces of furniture turned and destroyed until the intruders had apparently realised that the Piece of Eden wasn’t just going to be found that easily. Even the Christmas tree had been knocked over in their search, it seemed, and while someone had cleaned up the burst ornaments from the floor, a few broken ones were still hanging on the tree.
“Connor?”, Haytham called out, putting down his duffel bag and taking off his thick coat; just putting it down on the floor because the coat rack was only attached on one end as something – or someone – had been flung at it.
Shyly, he son appeared in the hallway; big, dark eyes resting upon the CEO as if he hadn’t seen him in a long while.
“Connor…?”, Haytham asked with a frown; somewhat… Taken aback by the way the other looked at him; the way the other moved…
The young man averted his gaze, fidgeting a little with his hands (a nervous tic the young man occasionally couldn’t stop) and was about to speak, but Haytham took a step forward; his bright eyes sharp as he looked at the other. “You’re not my son.”, he growled; his voice questioning yet dangerous.
While the person looked just like Connor, there was something about him that was distinctively different, or... Had the Assassins brainwashed him? Had Shay not seen that this wasn’t Connor? Or… Was he under the Piece of Eden’s influence and…?
But before Haytham could make up his spinning mind what to do – or think - about this strange situation, a familiar figure emerged from the living room, hurriedly. Baffled, Haytham glanced from the Connor in front of him to – Connor, who had just appeared from the living room; his face red, and his eyes filled with a desperate sort of embarrassment.
“Waitwaitwait-!”, Connor spluttered, shielding the other Connor with his body. “He’s – I’m – I can explain!”