I'll draw myself to you
through the dark
Like a moth
to your blame
to my shame.
To ash again.
Shay had, of course, heard of Grand Master Kenway before. Monro had spoken of him with honest admiration and respect. The first time he truly saw the Grand Master, however, had been at the initiation ceremony. The memory of it still lingered in his mind, surrounded by an air of something not-quite-real, like those vivid dreams that seemed more tangible in retrospect than some real events, even though they were clearly fantasy.
He remembered Gist being there and some of the other Templars he had met before. He remembered the light of the candles and the smell of the melting wax heavy in his nose; he remembered the weight of the metal as he pulled his sword and put it on the table. And he remembered the severity of Kenway’s face, how the dancing shadows had deepened its lines and how he seemed like a figure from another world, imposing, grand, and frightening all at once.
It was slightly different once they left the manor and stepped into the daylight of the street again. Grand Master Haytham Kenway seemed more human in the light of the sun, and Shay felt some of the heaviness on his soul dissipate. There was still a part inside him whispering that what he was doing was utterly wrong, the same part that hadn’t stopped screaming ever since Lisbon.
He was surprised when Grand Master Kenway held him back after their conversation about the precursor tree of life. There was a sting in Shay’s heart when he mentioned Colonel Monro and how highly he had apparently spoken of him. Yet another death that had left a wound on his heart that would never fully heal.
“I expect you will not disappoint.” Despite the Grand Master’s complete politeness, there seemed to be a more dangerous undercurrent in his voice. A slight threat that spoke of what would happen if he betrayed his new brothers. It made Shay wonder, if only briefly, whether he would ever gain the Templars’ full trust or forever be known first and foremost as a traitor on both sides.
“I don’t plan to, sir,” he replied stiffly. Grand Master Kenway’s eyes lingered on him for a second more before he gave a small nod. For just a single moment something flickered in his eyes, breaking through the stern demeanour. It was only months later that Shay realised what it had been – the desire not to be betrayed again, to be able to trust someone for once.
They rounded a corner and began to walk through a narrow alley that would lead them back towards the main part of Manhattan. Shay was planning on purchasing a few more supplies before starting their long journey at sea. What their Grand Master was planning on doing or how far he would be accompanying him he didn’t know.
He was about to break the silence when a sound from some nearby bushes stopped him dead in his tracks. Haytham must have heard it too, his eyes scanning their surroundings, hands close to his sword.
“Assassins,” Shay whispered. It wasn’t the first time they had tried to kill him. Haytham nodded and Shay cursed himself internally. The Grand Master had probably survived his own fair share of Assassination attempts.
Haytham’s eyes travelled to another set of bushes on the other side of the alley and Shay nodded. His fingers closed around the triggers of his pistols. Haytham gave him another nod and as one they turned, each into a different direction, firing at where the Assassins were hiding.
Please don’t let it be Hope or Liam, Shay thought. Please.
Of course there were more than just two Assassins. There was no time to reload before a third one sprang around the corner in front of them, almost directly into Haytham’s arms. A fourth one came at Shay from the other side. He blocked the incoming slash and stepped aside, out of the way of the following thrust. His blade slid along his opponent’s, finding its aim in their throat.
Shay turned to see Haytham dispatch his attacker as well. A slight movement caught his eyes and he looked up.
“Master Kenway!” he yelled, intent on bringing the Grand Master’s attention to the cloaked figure sitting poised on the rooftop above him.
There was no need for his warning.
As if he had been waiting for the Assassin to jump down for hours instead of mere moments, the Grand Master’s sword swept upwards, meeting the Assassin’s hidden blade and blocking it. Haytham twisted, kicked the Assassin’s knee out from under him and embedded his sword in his chest with one neat movement. What stayed in Shay’s mind the most, however, was that his expression barely changed throughout the entire exchange.
However, had no time to wonder or marvel – another Assassin was attacking, intent on making his first official day as a Templar his last. He thought he recognised her face, but couldn’t place it. Still, there was something about her that reminded him faintly of Hope and-
The Assassin’s blade dug into his arm, punishing his moment of inattention and dwelling on the past. Shay let out a yelp of pain when it was ripped out of his flesh again, barely managing to fling the woman away from him. He frantically reached for his sword which had fallen onto the ground, but the Assassin was faster than him, kicking it out of his reach so that he had only his dagger left to defend himself with. A triumphant light shone in her eyes as she bore down on him again.
She never reached her goal.
There were two loud pangs and then a dull sound as her body crumbled and hit the floor, two bullets embedded in her back.
“You should not hesitate.” The Grand Master looked down at him, face unreadable. After a moment he offered Shay a hand to get up which he took with a grateful little sigh.
“How bad is it?” He nodded at his bleeding arm. Shay looked down at it, shook his shoulder experimentally and bit his teeth at the stab of pain it caused.
“Nothing but a flesh wound, I think.” A deep one, however. A frown travelled over Haytham’s face, so quickly that Shay almost didn’t notice it.
“I assume you have medical supplies in your home.”
Haytham only nodded in reply, leading the way back towards Shay’s mansion after rifling through the pockets of some of the killed Assassins and taking a few extra bullets. Shay considered doing the same but then thought better of it when he looked down at his arm. He followed the Grand Master back to his mansion, directing him through the vast halls towards the room where he kept a decent supply of bandages, needles, alcohol, thread, some herbs and everything else one could need in case of emergency or illness.
Haytham didn’t need an invitation in order to go searching through Shay’s medicine case. After realising how fruitless any protest would be Shay simply sat down next to the large wooden table in the centre of the room. Old flecks of blood were still staining its wood from the various people he’d had treated here. There was a doctor nearby who he’d always been able to rely on for help. After a moment he voiced the thought out loud.
“Master Kenway…” he waited for Haytham to look up from where he was currently rummaging in a drawer. “There’s a doctor nearby who’ll be willing to help. No need to trouble yourself.”
“No need to trouble them either.” Haytham finally seemed to have found what he was looking for, returning to the table with his arms laden with supplies. “Take off your coat.” His tone brokered no argument.
Shay laboriously began to strip off his coat, careful not to jostle his arm too much. The sleeve of his shirt underneath was already soaked in blood. After a moment of staring at it Haytham simply shrugged, produced a dagger from somewhere inside his coat and cut off the sleeve. Shay flinched a little with surprise at the directness of his actions but remembered that his shirt was likely ruined either way.
“Put your arm on the table.” Haytham began cleaning the wound with curt, practised movements. Shay watched as he drew a needle through the flame of a candle, waited until it had cooled and began sewing the cleanly cut edges of skin back together. His motions were quick and sure, but the pain still flashed through Shay’s mind like lightning. He bit his tongue in an effort not to make a sound. He didn’t even notice when Haytham stopped in his task at first, realising it only when Haytham’s hand touched his knee.
“Breathe.” The Grand Master’s voice was calm and steady. His fingers strengthened their hold on Shay’s knee, helping to anchor him down. Shay risked a look at the wound; there was still a good inch of sewing left. It was deeper and longer than he’d thought. He was embarrassed that he was holding up so badly. Was Haytham already regretting the decision to accept him into the order?
“I’m sorry, sir,” he murmured. Haytham said nothing but his fingers squeezed Shay’s knee quickly before letting go again and return to their task. The feeling of his touch seemed to linger even through the fabric of Shay’s pants. He found himself wondering what it would be like to touch Haytham’s hand with his own.
The thought kept him occupied throughout the rest of the ordeal, although he couldn’t help but release a harsh breath once Haytham was finally done. After he had wiped the remaining blood off the wound he began to clean up, perhaps in order to give Shay a few moments to compose himself. It was an oddly considerate thing to do, something that Shay hadn’t expected of him.
He took a few deep breaths, watching Haytham move around the room. Every step spoke of a quiet self-assurance – there was no need for this man to show off his skills. They seemed to be a part of him like the teeth and claws of a predator. There was only one time when his hand unconsciously wandered up to his side and Shay wondered why – an old wound, perhaps? Haytham seemed well aware that Shay was watching him, but didn’t remark on it, remaining quiet when he sat down to spread some cooling ointment on the wound and wrap it in bandages.
“Thank you, sir.”
Haytham paused in his ministrations for a moment, looking up at him. His expression was still unreadable.
“Well. It wouldn’t do for the newest recruit under my care to die of wound infection or blood loss on his first day, wouldn’t it.”
Shay was relatively sure that neither of the two scenarios’d had any likelihood of actually transpiring, but he nodded nonetheless.
“I appreciate your worry, sir. I’m quite sure it will be fine.”
“You should be.” Haytham stood next to him and looked down at his bare arm with the fresh bandage wound around it. There was a small spot of blood already coming through. He reached out as if to touch it but stopped himself before he could finish the motion.
“I shall take my leave then,” he said. Shay stood from his seat and gave him a nod.
Haytham inclined his head slightly and turned to leave, his hand brushing Shay’s arm as if by chance. Shay stood transfixed, staring after him long after the blue of his cloak had disappeared through the door.
That night he dreamed of blood, faces swimming just beyond the edge of his recognition, and the almost terrifying ease and elegance with which Haytham Kenway, Grand Master of the Templar Colonial Rite, had snuffed out the lives of the attackers around him. Above all, however, hovered the echo of the Grand Master’s touch that still lingered on his skin.
He would be ashamed to see what you have become.
Adéwalé’s words were knocking around in his head long after they had been spoken. Haytham had tried to imagine his father, what he would be like if he was here right now. He found that he couldn’t. The years might have dulled the pain of Edward Kenway’s death, but, far more cruelly, they had also taken away some of Haytham’s memories and darkened the others until only a few were left. Worst of all was that he had never truly known him – all he had were the skewed memories of a child and stories, often passed down through many mouths before they reached him.
He could’ve asked Jenny, but why bring her even more pain by touching on what they’d lost? No. The only solitude he had was that at least he had helped kill the man who had ultimately been the reason for his father’s death. It was one of the few things he would never feel regret over.
A gust of cold wind blew into Haytham’s face, making him shiver. He could’ve gone back below deck but found that he still rather enjoyed the view of the ocean and ice around him. And of the man who stood at the Morrigan’s steering wheel, guiding her between floats of ice with a deft and elegant hand. It was always a marvel to see a good captain at work and with Shay it was no different.
Haytham’s hand crept up to his side where his old wound was giving another painful twinge. It always got worse during the winter and so far north it was cold enough to make it itch almost constantly. That one of the guards, who he had taken out on his way to distract Adéwalé, had landed a lucky kick directly into his ribs and the wound didn’t help matters either.
“Master Kenway!” Shay turned around and Haytham dropped his hand quickly, hoping that his weakness hadn’t been noticed. “We should eat. The sea is calm enough for now and we’ll be protected and mostly out of sight in this bay. Gist will take care of the Morrigan.”
Haytham nodded and followed him downstairs. Although they usually ate in the captain’s cabin (which Shay had offered to him for the duration of the journey and he had graciously declined), it was the standard fare that the rest of the crew received. Dinners together had become a regular staple during the long voyage into the north, sometimes with Gist joining them as well. Haytham had found himself looking forward to them more and more; with Shay there was no secret scheming, no double meanings hidden anywhere. Shay was always straightforward, honest and, quite often, refreshingly blunt. He also liked to tell stories – about his childhood and his travels and adventures in the world so far, although he spoke little of the Assassins themselves. Haytham was often content to just sit and listen to him. It almost reminded him of home when he grew up. Almost.
“You’re deeply in thought today, sir,” Shay remarked lightly, ripping him out of his musings. He pushed a plate of salted pork towards Haytham.
“Hm? Yes, I presume I am. The weather, perhaps.”
Shay was tactful enough not to remark on the fact that they’d been having the same weather for a week now. He remained uncharacteristically quiet throughout the meal, perhaps caught up in thoughts of Adéwalé and his death on his own. Even Haytham had respected Adéwalé despite his position as Master Assassin and caught himself wondering whether there would have been a way to avoid his death. And if he was already feeling a faint regret…there was no telling what the turmoil inside Shay’s mind had to be like.
Haytham rose from the table after their dinner, keen to catch a few more lungfuls of fresh air before retiring to bed. As he helped Shay clean up the dishes the ship did a sudden lurch, throwing him off balance and against a chest of drawers nailed to the wall. Its sharp wooden corner slammed right into his wound.
Haytham found himself gasping for breath with the sudden pain, fighting against the black dots that had suddenly risen in his vision.
“Master Kenway?” Shay’s voice seemed to be coming from far away.
“I’m fine-“ was what Haytham wanted to say, but there wasn’t enough breath left. He clutched his side as the fingers of his other hand dug into the wood of the furniture, trying to find purchase to help anchor him.
“Sir.” Shay was closer now and when Haytham looked up he saw him standing right in front of him, hands hovering a short distance away from Haytham’s body. “Sir, are you wounded? Is there anything I can help you with? Should I call Morrison?”
“No, no doctor,” Haytham finally pressed out between clenched teeth. As the pain slowly lessened, so did his feeling of embarrassment rise. “I’ll be fine. Just…just an old wound.”
“You should sit down, sir. Let me have a look.”
“I don’t need-“ But Shay had already moved the chair and with a sigh Haytham sank down on it. He took a few deep breaths, his gaze following Shay on his way through the room.
“Here, sir,” Shay said when he returned, two filled glasses and a half empty bottle in his hands. The smell told Haytham what it was was before he swallowed it, but he was nonetheless impressed – this was certainly some high quality brandy, not the usual sailor stuff that burned out your throat on the way down. The sharpness in his mouth helped dull the pain.
“Thank you.” Haytham wiped his lips and relaxed slightly in his seat. Shay was still standing, looking almost comically concerned.
“You should have me let a look at your wound, sir,” Shay suggested.
“It’ll be fine, Shay.” There was no bite behind his words, however.
“Sir.” Shay managed to pack more reproach, exasperation and genuine worry into these three letters than it should have been possible. Haytham sighed, taking another sip from his brandy.
“If you must,” he finally relented. With Shay’s assistance he shrugged out of his cloak, coat, and vest underneath. Shay’s fingers were warm to the touch as he helped him lift up his undershirt. He frowned when he looked down at Haytham’s chest and after a moment, Haytham followed his gaze. The large knotted scar stood out starkly amongst his swollen skin that was mottled in dark violets and blues. Haytham sucked in a sharp breath when Shay’s fingers ghosted across the bruised area, a frown painted on his usually so open face.
“Does it hurt to breathe?” he asked. Haytham took a deep breath as if to test his question and immediately regretted it.
“Yes,” he admitted. He had tended enough chest injuries in his time to know what it meant.
“Cracked ribs, probably. And right on top of your wound, too.” He didn’t give Haytham time to reply but went rummaging in some of his drawers again. Haytham leaned back in his chair and allowed himself the luxury of closing his eyes and trying to relax just for a single moment. He hated looking at the scar on his side. There wasn’t a single memory connected to it that was good, save perhaps the inner peace that Jenny finally seemed to have found after Birch’s death. Thinking of Birch and Jenny reminded him of Holden again and that-
Haytham drank the last of the brandy in the glass. How much Jim would’ve loved to have seen the parts of the world they were in now. To him it would’ve been a grand adventure. If he concentrated, he could almost hear his delighted laughter again, feel the smile on his lips as they ghosted over his skin…
“Sir?” Haytham opened his eyes to find Shay standing in front of him again, a small pot in his hands. He made a conscious effort to chase the ghosts of the past away from his mind and sat up a little straighter. Shay lifted the little vessel in his hand. “Horse balm, sir. Liam and I found out by chance that it is the best way to reduce bruising.”
He smiled a little at the words and to his surprise Haytham found a smile of his own tucking at the edges of his lips. Perhaps it was the brandy.
“Do you mind if I-“ Shay still seemed oddly bashful.
“Go ahead.” Haytham waved his hand and drew the shirt up a little higher. Shay nodded and carefully began to slather the salve onto Haytham’s skin. His fingers paused for just a second above the bruises before they finally touched him again. Haytham couldn’t hold back a small flinch at the sudden cold of the salve, but he made sure to hold still and not interrupt Shay in his ministrations. There was a faint sense of regret when Shay stopped. His hand rested on Haytham’s side for a bit longer, fingers spread across his skin and his thumb close enough to begin disappearing under the waistline of his breeches.
It was a moment that seemed to last for an eternity. Shay finally pulled away again and Haytham was almost sure he’d seen the beginnings of a blush before he turned away.
“Thank you, Shay,” he called out towards his retreating back.
“Of course, sir.” Shay took a moment to compose himself before looking at him again. Whatever the strange spell over them had been, it slowly dissolved as Haytham stuffed his shirt back into his breeches and helped Shay clean up the rest of the table.
“You should take it slow for the next few days. Remember to keep breathing deeply. And put something cold on it, to help reduce the swelling.” It was one of Shay’s unique talents to be able to give what were essentially orders to the Grand Master himself and still sound deferential somehow.
“I will.” Haytham hesitated. His instincts told him that this was the right time to leave as he did every evening after their dinner, catch some fresh air on deck perhaps and then go to sleep. Something, however, kept him there – perhaps it was the drink, perhaps it was the memory of Shay’s hand on his skin, he didn’t know.
Shay sat down again at the table opposite him, clearly unsure of what to say.
“Did you know that the Templar ring you were supposed to receive once belonged to the previous European Grand Master?” Haytham didn’t know where the words were coming from or why he said them. Birch’s ring was still in the pocket of his coat although he couldn’t quite say why he kept it there after Shay’s initiation. He pulled it out and set it on the table.
“I-“ Shay stopped short and looked down at the ring on his finger that had once belonged to George Monro. “No, sir, I didn’t. What happened to him? Did the Assassins kill him?”
Haytham stared at the ring on the table and remembered the day he had pulled it off the dead man’s finger.
“His name was Reginald Birch. I helped kill him.”
The sight of Shay’s open mouth would have been comical hadn’t Haytham been in such a strange mood. As it was, his lips briefly formed a smile with no mirth in it before he continued.
“He had taught me and then inducted me into the Templars since I was ten years old, after my father’s death. I discovered later that it was him who had my father killed and my sister sold into slavery. She was the one who killed him, but if she hadn’t done it, I would have.”
“Did you ever hate the Templars for what they did?” Shay asked. His voice was quiet.
“The Templar Order? No. Birch and certain other Templars? Yes. Did you know that he asked me for forgiveness with his last breath? He told me that he had done it all for the greater good. I never granted him any. He died knowing that I abhorred him and what he had done.”
Haytham’s fingers picked up the ring again and clenched it in his hand, so strongly that, had the edges been sharp, they would have cut into his palm. He could feel an echo of the black rage in his heart again, the angry beast that he usually managed to shackle and hide so well. There was only the slightest tremor in his voice when he spoke again.
“Perhaps, if my father had lived, you would be hunting me now.”
That seemed to give Shay pause.
“Pardon my bluntness, sir, but I do not think you could be an Assassin,” he said carefully. His voice turned bitter when he continued. “I do not see you as one who could so flippantly dismiss the deaths of thousands of innocents.”
“I would not.” Haytham shook his head. “But there are some in this order who would. Who have. So far I’ve managed to kill those I know of, but there might be others. The cause the Templars are fighting for might be just, Shay, but that does not mean its men and women are all good.”
He wondered if he had said too much. It was a thought he hadn’t even fully formulated in his diary – and yet he knew it was true. As much as he believed in the principles of the Templar Order, many of its people had lost his trust. And, since he already seemed on a path to self-destruction, he added:
“Do you regret joining us?”
Shay set the brandy glass he had been drinking from back on the table.
“No, sir. I will atone for what I have done. And I will make sure that the Assassins can never cause such a tragedy again.”
Oh, how Haytham wished to have Shay’s conviction. He used to, once upon a time – but the lies and betrayals of the past years had eroded some of his faith, at least in the other Templars, as surely as water and wind would carry away even the largest mountain one day.
“I used to think it was possible to reunite Assassins and Templars once.” Another one of those secrets he hadn’t indulged to anyone. Was the brandy really that strong? The pain making him so weak? Or was it something else? He laughed, unable to hold back the bitterness. “A foolish dream.”
“Perhaps. But it speaks highly of you.” Shay looked at him, honest and open.
“Careful, Shay Cormac. Do not overstep your boundaries.” There was no bite behind Haytham’s reprimand, however.
“And what is it that we have been doing this night, then, if not overstepping all kinds of boundaries?” Shay stood up from his place at the table and nodded down at where the bruises from Haytham’s wound still showed as darker patch under the white fabric of his shirt. Another thing that Haytham valued so much about Shay – whilst he was perfectly aware of the difference in rank between them he had never been one to blindly follow orders or cower before his superior. It was a most endearing mixture of deference and insolence. The brandy definitely brought out the latter.
“Perhaps there are some boundaries that should not be crossed,” Haytham stated. Shay was standing almost between his legs now, forcing Haytham to look up at him. It sent a thrill through his chest that he hadn’t felt in a long time.
“And others that should, sir.”
Haytham breathed in sharply at the sound of honorific on Shay’s lips. The tone of it made something inside him move.
“This is not a good idea.”
“No, sir,” Shay confirmed and leaned down. He was so close that Haytham could smell him now, an intoxicating mixture of sweat, leather and just a slight hint of brandy. Shay’s hand was on Haytham’s chest, slowly pressing down as the warmth of his fingers burned through the shirt.
“Your insubordination will have consequences, Shay…” Haytham was perfectly aware of how raw his voice had become.
“I’m looking forward to it, sir.”
The kiss was hot and burning, an arrow of sensation that pierced straight through them both. Shay’s lips and mouth were warm like life itself. Tasting them made Haytham hungry for more and he raised his arm so that his fingers could curl around Shay’s neck. Shay slowly lowered his body until he was sitting down, straddling Haytham. A growl rose in Haytham’s throat at the sensation and his fingers scrabbled at Shay’s hair until they had taken off the red hairband and the dark strands were spilling over his hand.
Haytham tugged at them during their next kiss and was rewarded with a hiss and a bite into his lip from Shay. Shay’s fingers dug into his chest, undoing the laces on his shirt so he could get access to his skin. He moved lower, his mouth following the line of Haytham’s jaw and travelling down his throat. His hips were grinding on Haytham’s with agonizing slowness. Shay nipped at his throat and Haytham felt his usual composure slowly dissolve. His hands were tugging at Shay’s coat, desperate to get rid of all the layers of clothing between them.
Shay laughed, a low and raspy sound that Haytham had never heard from him before. A few movements and his coat shrugged off his shoulders, followed by the vest and shirt beneath. At least he had taken off his numerous belts before they’d sat down for dinner.
“Do you want me to take off the undershirt as well, sir?” Haytham was reasonably sure that he’d never be able to hear Shay say ‘sir’ without getting desperately aroused again. Shay had obviously noticed his hardness and grinned, full of insolence. It was maddening in the best of ways.
“Take it off,” Haytham ordered, perfectly aware that Shay would do whatever he wanted, order or no. Shay complied and Haytham felt his breath catch in his throat. Shay’s chest was broad, covered in coarse dark hair and criss-crossed by scars. He reached out to splay his fingers on his chest, suddenly filled with the need to feel the life pulsing beneath Shay’s skin. Shay gave him a moment to take in the sight before he grasped Haytham’s wrist.
“You’re still wearing too many clothes, sir.”
“Am I? Indeed.” He felt another smile pulling at his lips. The problem was quickly solved. As Haytham divested himself of his remaining clothes, Shay had enough presence of mind left to lock the door to his cabin. Had Haytham felt slightly intoxicated before from the brandy and the strange mood of the evening he was almost stone-cold sober now. He grasped Shay’s arm when he came back.
“Only if you are sure, Shay.” It was, perhaps, one of the softest things that had left his mouth in a while.
“Never been more sure of anything, sir,” Shay replied breathlessly before pulling him into another kiss. The press of his body against Haytham’s felt so incredibly right. Haytham allowed himself to let go of his self-control just a little, purposely reaching out with his hand to follow the line of the spine down Shay’s back until they reached his behind.
Shay made a soft sound when Haytham’s fingers slipped between his cheeks. He pulled at his face, stumbling backwards until they thumbed against the only part of the cabin wall that wasn’t covered by anything. There was a flask of oil conveniently located on the dresser next to them – almost as if Shay had planned for this to happen at some point, Haytham thought with amusement – and Haytham grasped for it.
“Yes, sir,” Shay whispered when Haytham slipped a finger inside him. His moans in Haytham’s ear were almost obscene. Haytham pressed even more closely against him, biting into the soft flesh of where Shay’s neck met his shoulder. Their cocks were rubbing against each other, slowly at first and then faster and faster as Haytham added a second finger to the first.
“That spot right there, yes,” Shay panted, one of his hands clenched around the back of Haytham’s neck and the other wrapping around his cock. Haytham buried a moan of his own in Shay’s skin, but he could still feel his triumphant smile against his cheek. Shay’s upper back slammed against the wall again as he stroked Haytham, simultaneously being brought to the brink by his fingers and his own cock rubbing against Haytham’s lower body. Haytham leaned in, his other hand steadying Shay against the wall, relishing the feeling of fingernails digging deeply into the skin around his neck and the rhythm of Shay’s strokes. His hot breath felt like a caressing touch on Haytham’s ear.
Shay came with a loud moan. It was either that or the feeling of his hot seed spilling all over him that pushed Haytham over the edge as well. He was much more quiet than Shay had been, but the release wasn’t any less sweeter. Shay was shuddering against him, sighing softly when Haytham pulled his fingers out, leaning so closely against him that their bodies seemed to morph into one.
“Such insubordination…” Haytham murmured, unable to ban a hint of softness from his voice. Shay smiled and kissed him again, this time without urgency but leisurely and drawn out instead.
“The skills of a Grand Master indeed don’t disappoint,” he grinned, causing Haytham to roll his eyes. “I cannot wait to see what you can do if you use more than your fingers.”
The filthiness of his words and the promise that this would not remain a singular occurrence poured through Haytham like a barrel of hot oil.
“You will have to wait and see,” he whispered, straight into Shay’s ear. He noticed with satisfaction that it made him shudder again. Shay’s hand travelled downwards again, closing around Haytham’s cock with unexpected strength. He rubbed it once, twice, drawing a gasp from Haytham before he let go again. He disentangled himself from Haytham’s embrace and sauntered towards the washbasin at the wall with its pitcher of water, completely at ease with his nakedness.
“Better not leave me waiting too long.” Shay turned and gave Haytham the most insolent grin before he added:“Sir.”
The Storm Fortress loomed large on the horizon. Gist’s colourful cursing was only overshadowed by Shay’s own. He had known that the ship would wait for them somewhere – it was the Assassin’s last big battle ship after all and Shay had smashed enough of their fleet to draw her wrath right down on himself and the Morrigan. That didn’t mean he had been looking forward to it.
The battle went about as well as expected. The ships that had been accompanying the Morrigan were sunk within the first few minutes and Shay had his hands full trying to evade both the Storm Fortress’ deadly broadside cannons and her mortar raining from the sky. All at the same time that he was trying to close in on her to get a few good cannon shots in, as they certainly didn’t have enough mortar on board to defeat her with that alone.
His men roared in sudden exaltation when one of their cannon hits managed to sever one of the Storm Fortress’ masts. Only a few more shots, Shay thought. Then we’ll have her.
At this exact moment he heard more cannon shots – not coming from the Storm Fortress, but from somewhere behind the Morrigan.
“Brace!” he howled, but it was already too late. Wood splintered, men screamed and Shay could feel a shard of the Morrigan embedding itself deeply into his shoulder. He roared with the pain and brought the Morrigan around, intent on trying to sink the Storm Fortress before it could deal any more damage to them and hoping to deal with this new foe later.
It turned out to be both a brilliant and terrible idea.
“They’re almost down!” Gist shouted at him, pointing at the last remaining ship which was just making a turn to come towards them again. By the time the Storm Fortress had finally sunk it had been clear to Shay that there wasn’t only one extra enemy ship, but two. One of them they sunk almost by pure luck, but the other was on a course towards them now, torn sails flapping in the wind and planks groaning under the effort to hold the ship together. It would have filled Shay with more optimism hadn’t their own position scarcely been better. They had no mortar left and he could hear the Morrigan taking on water somewhere already. One of her masts was splintered and every time he forced her to turn with another few rounds of the steering wheel he could hear the wood protest.
“Gist!” Shay would have preferred to use a quieter tone of voice, but over the roaring of the sea and battle the only thing that would be heard was a shout. “Collect all the men and lower the lifeboats! Get off here as fast as you can!”
“Sir, what are you-“ Gist’s eyes widened when he saw the direction that Shay was turning the Morrigan in. He needed no further encouragement to did as Shay had told him. It was a dangerous act, lowering the lifeboats when the Morrigan was going so fast, but it was better than staying and dying.
Gist was the last to leave. Before he did, he turned to Shay once more, opening his mouth to say something. For perhaps the first time in his life, no words came out.
“I’ll be close behind!” Shay yelled. It was a lie they both saw through within moments.
It was the calm before the storm, a moment of almost crystalline clarity. Everything seemed to slow – Shay could feel his heart beat loudly in his chest. He clenched the Morrigan’s steering wheel tightly, steadying her on her course even though his pulse was pounding in his ears. I’m sorry, old girl, he thought. If there’s anything left of you after this, I promise I’ll repair every inch of you and make it even more beautiful.
There were shouts on the other ship now as the sailors realised his intention. One last volley was hastily fired in their direction, leaving most of the Morrigan’s bow in splinters. One cannon ball hit the deck close to the captain’s cabin. The chips of wood left bloody trails on Shay’s face.
There are still some of Haytham’s books in the cabin, he remembered. He’s going to be so angry with me. He opened his mouth and screamed.
The Morrigan’s ram hit the ship ahead at full speed.
A groan went through the entire ship as its damaged planks tried to deal with the sudden impact. Then the planks of her bow began to splinter, bending upwards and finally caving under the pressure. The hit was so strong that Shay was thrown away from the wheel, landing on the ground in a painful heap that dug the piece of wood deeper into the flesh of his shoulder.
However, his opponent was faring no better. The Morrigan’s ram had almost severed the ship right in the middle and its two halves would not be long for this world, already beginning to sink. Shay crawled to the railing and pulled himself upright again, of half a mind to get onto the last rowboat the crew had left for him. He descended the stairs onto the main deck and could see several sailors on the other ship shout and then point in his direction. One of them raised their gun.
Shay searched for cover but then realised the man’s – the Assassin’s – intention. There was nothing he could do.
The man pointed his gun at the barrels of explosive powder not far from him and pulled the trigger.
It took only a second but seemed like centuries – Shay saw the explosion coming and had half a thought to throw himself over the railing before it could reach him, but he was far too slow. The other ship and the front part of the Morrigan wretched inside it exploded in a cloud of wood, cloth, rope and body parts. Shay wasn’t fast enough to jump out of the way of a large plank that came flying in his direction, hammering into his already injured shoulder and dislocating it. He was thrown against the railing which broke under the force and met by another piece of wood on the way down.
The water hit him like a wall. All breath left him as the air was slammed out of his lungs with the shock of the cold. There was no feeling left in his shoulders and even if Shay had wanted to swim, his heavy coat was dragging him down far too quickly. He tried to feel outrage that he was to die like this, in the cold and wet depths of the ocean far away from any human warmth, but he couldn’t. His thoughts had become too sluggish and the need for air too overwhelming. Something bumped against his leg and it was with the last of his strength that he held on to whatever had been thrown away by the explosion and was now rising back to the surface.
Just before his mind went black, he wondered what hell would be like.
If this was hell, the surroundings were entirely too friendly.
Shay came to himself with a gasp, sure that he would drown if he opened his mouth. But there was no water surrounding him, no wood and fire smashing into the cold waves, no heavy coat that was pulling him under. He tried to reach out with his right arm, make sure that this was reality and not another fever dream, and found that he couldn’t. It was in a sling that kept it bound closely to his body and even the attempt to raise it cause spasms of pain shooting through his arm from his shoulder.
“Don’t try to move.”
The voice came from somewhere on his right, smooth and self-assured. Its owner was rising from his seat at a small table, taking the burning candle stub from it with him. It was the only source of light in the room. Its forms were unfamiliar, however. The soft rolling of the bed beneath him and smell of salt in the air told Shay that he was on a ship somewhere, but this was not his cabin on the Morrigan.
“Where- How-“ His brain still seemed half frozen.
“You’re on the Providence. And as to the how, I expect you can give us a much better account of why we fished you out of the water half dead once you’ve regained the ability to form full sentences.” Haytham put the candle down on the small bedside table next to Shay, securing it with some dripped wax. He pulled up a chair and sat down, but made no move to touch Shay, only handing him a small cup to drink from. At least Shay could sort of use one arm still.
“The Providence.” Well, at least that explained the cabin. Shay had heard that Haytham had acquired her after Birch’s death and installed a captain that he trusted. It was his ship of choice whenever he had to travel by sea. Judging from the books around him and the blue cloak on the wall, this had to be Haytham’s cabin.
“Yes. Did your hearing take damage as well?” Haytham raised an eyebrow. Shay frowned, but there was nothing within grasping distance that he would have been able to throw at him.
“What happened to the Morrigan?” he asked instead. “Is she-“
“She’s badly damaged, but salvageable. We’re towing her into the next harbour.”
Shay let out a deep sigh of relief.
He had truly believed that he had seen the last of her after the explosion, the pain of losing his ship at least as strong as his own injuries. Most people would have probably given up on her, not finding it worth the effort to bring her back and repair her. It was an oddly soft thing for Haytham to do. If asked, he would probably never admit to having done it for Shay. Haytham would come up with multiple other reasons why towing her back was the best idea but Shay knew him too well by now. Or at least he thought he did. Which brought him to an entirely different point…
“Excuse me, sir, but why are you here?”
Haytham’s face remained perfectly impassive at the question. If Shay hadn’t seen him give up his self-control when they were in bed together he’d have insisted that Haytham held onto his poise at all times and that nothing could ever rattle him.
“The doctor said that someone should watch over you, should the fever return. And since you are in my cabin and I had some correspondence to sort through, I graciously volunteered for the task.”
Shay groaned. He really regretted not having anything throwable in his reach now.
“Everyone who says that our Grand Master is stuck up and without a sense of humour should meet you in private. You know what I mean, Haytham.”
The use of his name made Haytham smile briefly. Shay still preferred to rile him up (and, occasionally, both mock and arouse him) by calling him Sir or Master Kenway most of the time, especially in public. It wouldn’t do for anyone to think that anything uncouth was happening between them.
“We received news from one of our spies that the Storm Fortress was set on waylaying the Morrigan. Unfortunately, you had already left the harbour days ago and there was little else that we could to but to head directly to the point where the ambush was supposed to take place. I wish we had made it in time to save the Morrigan from the destruction, but as it was we arrived too late. It was a miracle you were still alive when we found you floating amongst the wreckage. The wooden beam you were clinging to likely saved your life.”
“They saw me and decided that my death and the destruction of the Morrigan was worth all of their lives,” Shay whispered. He would never forget the expression on the man’s face before he had fired. “They blew up their gunpowder reserves.”
Haytham was silent for a moment, looking down at Shay. He seemed strangely vulnerable without his usual blue coat and cloak, wearing nothing but a shirt tucked into his pants and a vest over it.
“I feel like I should be jealous that you’ve seemingly overtaken me in the ranks of the Templars they want to kill the most,” he said lightly. “Although I wish they hadn’t come so close to succeeding.”
Shay shifted in the covers, his mind a whirlwind of thoughts. Shame, exhaustion and the simple comfort of being near Haytham again barely left him space to breathe. Even such a small movement, however, caused spikes of pain to curse through his body. At least it was a welcome distraction from his thoughts.
“How bad is it?” he asked.
“Bad,” Haytham said. “You won’t be using your right shoulder for a while. Even without the dislocation, the piece of wood buried in it did enough damage. As did those we found in your thigh and side. You also broke a few ribs, probably from the explosion. As I said, I’m not quite sure how you’re alive.”
“A deal with the devil, perhaps.” Shay smiled humourlessly. “Once a monster is released, it’s hard to rein it back in again.”
“Do you think you’re a monster then?” Haytham inquired as he adjusted the candle on the nightstand.
“Adéwalé said so, and he was always the better man.” It was true; Adéwalé had always been the better one, perhaps the best of all of them. Shay knew that the path that he was walking was the right one, but that did not make the burden any easier to bear.
“And do you think he was right?” The full weight of Haytham’s gaze settled on him. Shay took his time to reply, mulling over the words in his mind and tasting them on his tongue before he replied.
“Perhaps,” he said at last. “But it doesn’t matter, does it? For I will not stray from my path, even if it leads me straight to hell.”
Haytham nodded, not taking his eyes off him.
“Such conviction can only be admired,” he told him softly. “But hopefully, the peace we seek is worth it. Even if we both find ourselves in hell at the end.” It was, perhaps, one of the most comforting things Haytham had ever said, in his own strange way. Shay blamed the pain cursing through his body and the unexpected softness from Haytham for the words that left him next.
“At least it’ll be both of us.” He still couldn’t move his injured shoulder. It didn’t keep him reaching out towards Haytham’s hand with his other arm, however. Haytham offered no resistance when he took it although his fingers quivered for a second, as if they wanted to curl around Shay’s.
“Have you been watching over me the entire time, sir?” Shay teased him gently. Haytham’s lips twitched.
“Gist has done his share when I was otherwise occupied.” Which was as good as a ‘yes’ from him. “We should rebandage your wounds and send for something to eat. I expect the doctor would like to hear that you’ve woken up, too.” Despite his words, he wasn’t moving.
Shay grimaced. He was loath to have the room crammed with people again who would prod and push at him and fill the air with their exclamations.
“If you could just get something to eat for now, sir…”
Haytham looked at him and nodded, evidently able to read his thoughts.
“Once you’ve eaten and taken care of your needs I’ll insist on checking your wounds, however.” His tone of voice brokered no argument. Shay sighed and grumbled something under his breath that Haytham graciously chose to ignore. His mood was further soured when Haytham returned from his trip to the kitchens with something that looked suspiciously like the blandest gruel that the cook had been able to conjure up on short notice. It didn’t taste any better than it looked and if it weren’t for Haytham’s piercing gaze he might have refused it altogether.
As it was, Shay was rather annoyed by the time Haytham carefully helped his arm out of the sling. They had looked at the wound on his leg, the one at his side (shallow enough not to cause deadly damage) and carefully taken stock of the state of his ribs and the numerous smaller cuts all over him. Shay bit his tongue as even the smallest movement made his shoulder scream in pain. Haytham didn’t apologise, but his touch was nonetheless careful as he unwrapped the bandages. Even from his slightly awkward point of view Shay could see the shadows of the angry red lines that had been emanating from the ragged and still nasty looked edges of the wound. Haytham followed his gaze.
“Yes, this one gave us quite a headache. We couldn’t figure out why you seemed to be getting worse instead of better until we realised that a splinter of wood had remained inside and was causing it to fester.”
Shay raised his healthy arm to his wounded shoulder and then thought better of it. At least he had been unconscious through pretty much the entire ordeal. He certainly didn’t want to imagine what it would feel like having people rummage around in the wound. Not even Haytham, from who a certain amount of pain brought a lot of pleasure during different activities.
“This is going to hurt,” Haytham warned when he brought a rag to clean to wound again.
“Wouldn’t have expected anything less, sir,” Shay said with the ghost of a smile. His memories led him back to the day of his initiation and the ambush that had followed. There was the same briskness to Haytham’s movements now as he quickly cleaned out the wound and slathered a blessedly cool salve on top, although it was obvious that he wasn’t trying to cause Shay pain beyond what was necessary. Still, by the end of it Shay was panting harshly enough to warrant a worried glance from Haytham.
“There. All done.” Haytham placed his hand on the bandages to test whether they were sitting correctly. His touch lingered, the pressure not uncomfortable on Shay’s chest. Then his splayed fingers moved sideways, towards the base of Shay’s throat where they followed the outline of the muscles below his skin. Shay felt his breath catch. He gently placed his fingers over Haytham’s before pulling them away from his throat and pulling him closer.
Kissing Haytham always felt like a lot of things, but right now, what it most felt like was life. Pure and unadulterated life, the ultimate proof that he wasn’t dead and down in hell already. Haytham’s grip inside Shay’s fingers tightened.
“That…is taking advantage of your wounded state, Shay,” he said, slightly out of breath when they parted again.
“Sorry, sir,” Shay smiled sheepishly. “Had to make sure I was still alive and this wasn’t some kind of illusion.”
“Well, if it is an illusion, it’s a rather convincing one, even for me.” Haytham leaned back in his chair again. “Are you satisfied?”
“Yes, sir.” Shay picked at the blanket over his knees. He didn’t know what to say next, didn’t know how to put the awkwardness inside his mind into words.
“You should go back to sleep, Shay. I promise I’ll hold the doctor off until tomorrow.”
Shay supposed that Haytham was right. And he could feel the exhaustion and bone-deep tiredness still lingering in his body. They would soon pull him back under again. He sank back into the covers and watched as Haytham returned to his desk with the candle. It was one of his favourite views: Haytham usually slept badly and was up earlier than Shay most days, so he often found himself greeted by the sight of Haytham bent over his writing, his quill scratching softly over the paper. It was the most soothing memory that he kept in his mind, to pull out and examine at will when he needed a reminder of the good that could still be found in his life now.
It was a comfortable silence they were in and Shay could feel his eyes becoming heavy. Still, there was something that kept him from falling asleep, something that he was craving but that he hadn’t known how to ask for until now…
“I’m cold.” The words were over his lips before he could stop them.
“Hm?” Haytham looked up from his writing. To his amusement, Shay noticed that there seemed to be a smudge of ink on his cheek.
“I’m cold,” he repeated. Haytham sighed.
“You cannot possibly be cold. It is far too warm in here. And you have all my blankets.” All his- Oh. The thought that Haytham had voluntarily given Shay all his blankets to help him during his fever made him feel oddly sentimental.
“Shay. If this is a terrible attempt at luring me into bed with you, you have failed. I won’t do anything to aggravate your injuries.” Haytham sounded more amused than annoyed, however.
“I never said anything about ‘doing’ things, sir,” Shay said innocently. Haytham rolled his eyes. He did, however, stopper his ink bottle and clean his quill before putting them aside.
“Are you sure you have yourself under control enough not to do anything?” he mocked as he made his way over to the bed. “You have many qualities, Shay Patrick Cormac, but restraint is certainly not one of them.”
“Aren’t you always so fond of setting me challenges?” Shay shot back. He shifted slightly on his bed, turning onto his healthy shoulder to make space for Haytham. Haytham sighed. It didn’t, however, keep him from taking off his cravat, vest, shoes, and pants before extinguishing the candle and carefully clambering over Shay to lie down beside him.
“I suppose it’s getting late,” he murmured. “And a little sleep would do me good as well.”
“It would, sir.” Shay shifted again until his back was pressed against Haytham’s chest. Haytham let out a deep breath, but didn’t move away. Somehow, his arm casually draped itself over Shay’s side, staying well away from any place where the pressure could have caused pain. Shay smiled. Haytham’s exhaustion must’ve been deeper than he’d thought after watching over him. He almost never let his guard down this much.
“I’m sorry for causing you such worry, sir,” Shay whispered into the dark after a while. He hoped Haytham was asleep. His arm was still a reassuring weight around his side. There was no reply for a while and Shay thought he might indeed have gotten lucky. Then Haytham sighed.
“Just don’t do it again,” he murmured, followed by a yawn. “This is an order, by the way.”
“I can’t promise that, sir.” Shay reached out and let his fingers trail over Haytham’s. “But I’ll do my best.”
Haytham changed his position slightly, his warm breath ghosting over Shay’s neck.
He was being hunted.
It wasn’t exactly a new feeling to Haytham. He’d had (or, well, still did) his fair share of people who had wanted to kill him over the years – for a Templar Grand Master the risk was part of the profession. He didn’t quite have Shay’s talent at sniffing out hidden Assassins, but he was certainly experienced enough to know when he was being watched and followed, and not by friendly eyes at that. It came as no surprise.
Shay and he had been planning the final attack on the Assassins' Homestead for months now, waiting for the right time to strike. And as careful as they had been, pulling together the supplies and preparing everything had surely not gone unnoticed. Achilles seemed to have decided that one last all-out attack trying to catch him unawares would be his best bet at saving his part of the Brotherhood.
Haytham knew he should have killed him.
He also knew that Shay had likely been right to stay his hand, even if, on Shay’s part, the pleading’d had more to do with sentimentality rather than practicality. At least the Assassins hadn’t tried to damage the tree of life again, although they might simply lack the men to do so in the New World now.
A rustle in the bushes behind him drew Haytham’s thoughts back to the present. He debated briefly whether he should attack now or wait until they sprung their ambush. Being aware of their presence and knowing he was going to be attacked were the only advantages he had, and none of them should be given away easily. The area was well chosen for an ambush; they were perhaps half an hour away from the nearest settlement. Even if Haytham spurred his horse, they would attack him before he could make it back to the small village inn he was staying at with Shay, Gist, Lee, Hickey and Johnson.
There was a turn in the road ahead where he would briefly vanish from view behind the cliffs on his right from whoever was following him. Haytham didn’t shift, didn’t change his pose as he had no intention of giving away the fact that he knew what was happening.
As soon as he had rounded the corner he jumped off his horse and into brushwork to his left where he had seen something move. There was only one problem: the Assassins had evidently chosen the exact same site as point for their ambush.
Therefore, instead of surprising the Assassin in the bushes, he smacked straight into a young man who had been about to get the jump on him. Haytham recovered from their mutual surprise just a moment faster, ramming his hidden blade into the man’s throat. The blood splatter from the wound momentarily blinded him, but he had just enough presence of mind to smack his horse’s behind and make it bolt so that it would be far from any harm.
It was only instinct trained into him by his father from the moment he had first been able to walk that saved his life. An Assassin dropped down on top of him from the cliff they had been hiding on. Haytham brought up his blade at the last possible moment, deflecting the blow but unable to keep it from ripping a line of fire down his back. He gritted his teeth and whirled around to avoid another injury, well aware that more Assassins were hiding around him.
His sword met the Assassin’s hidden blade just as he wanted to strike again, the strength of his blocking shattering the thin strip of metal. Haytham used the Assassin’s confusion to slip his own hidden blade between his ribs. There was another rustle and once again it was more instinct than conscious decision that made him react and drag the Assassin’s corpse around. The two bullets meant for him slammed into the body, the man bleeding out his last when Haytham dropped him to the ground.
Where had the shots come from? Haytham spied a movement in the next tree where another attacker was frantically trying to reload their pistols. He pulled his own pistol, stepping closer for good aim. His finger pressed down on the trigger, ready to fire-
There was the sound of two shots ringing out. At the same time that the Assassin dropped from the tree branch a bullet slammed into Haytham’s lower back, making him scream out in pain. He doubled over and by sheer luck the second bullet flew over his head and smacked into the tree in front of him.
Despite the pain, Haytham’s thoughts were racing. There was at least one more assailant completely uninjured and a second one, the one that had fallen from the tree, of unknown condition. He threw himself to the ground, ignoring the agony in his back as he rolled behind a large tree trunk, hopefully out of the way of the shooter. There was a groan not far from him and he risked a glance past the tree to see a curled up shape on the ground, slowly rising to their feet again. Haytham cursed under his breath. He had to act, and fast.
There was no way of knowing where the other Assassin was, but Haytham commanded his body to ignore its wound once again, heaving himself upright with the remnants of his rapidly fading strength. Three quick steps and he was behind the seemingly still disoriented Assassin. He rammed his sword through the Assassin’s throat, using her as a cover as her legs crumbled beneath them. Now where was-
A sword swung through the air, missing the top of his head only because Haytham’s knees had given in and buckled under the strain of his injury and the weight of the dead body. He brought up his own blade just in time to divert a first thrust and blocking a second one when the Assassin flipped their sword over Haytham’s. He just needed a moment to get back to his feet again, just a single breath to gain the upper hand.
The Assassin didn’t give it to him.
Haytham managed to block a few more strikes and rolled out of the way of two others, but he knew he wouldn’t last much longer. Every breath he drew was filled with pain. He gritted his teeth in anticipation of what was to come, changed the angle of his blade by just a fraction and screamed when the Assassin’s blade went through his shoulder, pinning his sword arm to the ground. Haytham could see the glint under the hood as the Assassin’s eyes widened in surprise.
The surprise quickly turned into pain when Haytham’s hidden blade found his aim in the Assassin’s side. It was enough to make them let go and stumble back, hand pressed to their chest where the white clothes were rapidly turning red. Haytham grabbed the sword that was still stuck in his shoulder and pulled it out with a grunt, the agony almost making him black out for a moment. Still, he somehow pulled himself up to his knees, ready to defend should the Assassin come at him again.
“You are just as devious as Achilles said.” The Assassin coughed, grimacing. “I should have paid more attention to the mentor’s words.”
“Always a good lesson to learn.” Haytham barely paid any attention to the words they were exchanging. Most likely, the Assassin was only stalling. “Although I doubt you will have long to profit off your newly found wisdom.”
The Assassin rasped out a breathless laugh.
“And I doubt you will have much time left to gloat, Templar.” Their gaze flickered to the ground. Haytham didn’t need to follow it to know that flecks of blood were beginning to pool between his feet. He bit his tongue so hard that he could taste his own blood, forcing himself to stand upright. He only had a few moments of strength left. What had his father always told him? If you’re at a disadvantage, surprise them with the unexpected…
One of his pistols was still in his belt, although he didn’t know where the other one was. He must’ve dropped it somewhere…not important at this moment. He pulled the pistol and, with the same fluid movement, threw it in the Assassin’s face. Haytham would’ve enjoyed the ensuing moment of total confusion on his opponent’s side far more if he hadn’t followed right behind, sword extended in one last desperate lunge.
His blade found its goal between the Assassin’s ribs, causing them both to tumble to the ground with a shout of pain. The Assassin’s hands were scrabbling at the sword, already too weak to pull it out. Haytham tasted blood on his tongue as he dragged himself towards his fallen opponent, carefully watching for any signs of his hidden blade coming out. If the Assassin had planned one last surprise they would have to do it fast, however; Haytham’s sword might have missed their heart but it had penetrated their lungs. He recognised the sound of someone drowning in their own blood.
“Too weak…to finish…your work…Templar?” the Assassin panted. Haytham remained in safe distance, gaze wary. The Assassin laughed again, blood bubbling over their lips. “It doesn’t matter. I will see you in hell…before long.”
And to think that Haytham had once believed himself capable of reuniting Assassins and Templars. He watched as the Assassin finally breathed their last and couldn’t help the feeling that they had been right. His entire back and shoulder were drenched in blood and he could feel the bullet digging deeper and doing more damage with every single one of his movements. If he could only return to the inn somehow…
Haytham dragged himself back towards the road where he had been assaulted by the first of the unfortunate Assassins. He had a vague thought about getting rid of the bodies, but nothing could be farther from his current capabilities. There was a soft whinnying sound and when he looked up he saw his horse, standing not too far away. Perhaps all the secret extra apples had bought him more loyalty than he’d thought from the steed. Haytham crawled to the nearest tree (and oh, how Achilles would have gloated could he see him like this, the Grand Master who had wounded him brought so low) and slowly drew himself upright. He clucked his tongue. To his surprise, his horse came closer, until he was able to touch his reins and the saddle. It looked impossibly tall.
He had no idea how he pulled himself up into the saddle and was fairly sure he had blacked out first thing after getting up. Somehow he managed to spur the horse in the right direction of the path before he slumped over the saddle again, vaguely aware that his blood loss had to be reaching dangerous levels. When Lucio had stabbed him, dying had seemed a much faster process. Haytham was quite sure he preferred the quick way. He had always hoped that his end would find him in battle one day, perhaps in form of an Assassin’s blade to the throat.
He must have blacked out again, since the next time he looked up the trees and surroundings seemed distinctly different. No trace of the cliffs from earlier, for one. And more oaks than pine trees. The horse’s every step sent another jolt of pain through him although his body was so awash with it that at this point it had all turned into a dull cacophony in his mind. It made it difficult to follow a clear line of thought, a loss of control that he detested.
Looking up, Haytham thought he could see the shape of a person ahead on the path somewhere. Was it Holden? Surely it must have been Holden, come to greet him. Or Ziio perhaps, with that faint smile of hers and the surprising strength of her arms. Maybe, if he could only stay awake for a few more moments, he might get to hold them both again…
“Master Kenway?” No, this wasn’t the right voice. This was someone else, someone who had wormed his way past his defences far more recently-
“Shay,” he whispered, the effort to stay upright suddenly too much. The ground seemed very far away, even as it came up to meet him.
Shay was worried. He paced up and down in the room besides Haytham’s bed, unable to keep his eyes from flickering over to the Grand Master’s still form every few seconds.
He turned to see Gist standing in the doorway, Charles Lee perched behind him like a curious bird, trying to catch a glance over his shoulder.
“Gist. What is it?” Shay had to force himself to stop moving and turn around to face the two men.
“We found the corpses of the assailants in the woods and a few of the Grand Master’s things.”
“They were Assassins, weren’t they?” He hesitated a little before asking the next question, not sure whether he actually wanted an answer or not. “Was Achilles among them?”
Gist shot a questioning glance at Lee, who shook his head.
“No,” he confirmed. “It seems like they were all Master Assassins, however. How is Master Kenway doing?”
“No change.” Shay threw another glance at Haytham to confirm his words, biting his lip to keep from saying more. “Which of his things did you recover?”
“His pistols. A saddlebag and a pouch.”
“Thank you.” Shay held out his hands and after a short moment of hesitation, Lee dropped the items into his arms. It was clear that he wanted to move further into the room and stay longer, but Shay had already stepped back and set Haytham’s items on the floor. It became apparent that he wasn’t welcoming anyone else inside and at the moment he could care less about what anyone would think about it.
He took Haytham’s pistols and set them on the table. His fingers were too shaky to take them apart and clean them properly, but at least he could rub off the dirt that had collected on the outside. It was something to do, something that kept him from losing his mind. Shay pulled up a chair and set it down next to Haytham’s bed, his eye falling on the pile of clothing on the floor. Nobody had touched it since they’d pulled (and at times, cut) them off Haytham’s body in their haste to help him.
After removing the bullet and stitching up his wounds as well as they could, they had settled Haytham on his left side so that no pressure would be put on his wounds. Haytham’s eyes were closed, but his face was as far from the peacefulness of deep sleep as possible. His breathing came in ragged, short bursts, and when Shay brought up a finger to the side of his throat to feel for his pulse he could feel it thumping irregularly beneath Haytham’s skin. There was no fever, not yet, but he was sure it wouldn’t take long to take hold. Not with how much destruction the bullet in Haytham’s back had wrought and how much dirt there had been in the wound. Shay’s touch lingered for a moment as he took the time to push some errant strands of hair away from Haytham’s face and trace the line of his jaw with his thumb.
If he was awake, he would never have allowed himself to be so vulnerable.
The thought made Shay’s heart flutter, accompanied by a pang of sadness. There were parts of Haytham he would never be allowed to see, he knew; parts, especially of his past, that the Grand Master would forever keep locked away deep inside him. However, he had also been allowed to see much more than any other of the Templars, perhaps more than anyone else alive: the way that silence could stretch so comfortably between them when they were in the same room, the way that Haytham smiled unconsciously when reading through some of his favourite books. How he always brushed his coat and cloak before going to bed and how he would always wait for a few minutes before drinking his tea because he disliked drinks that were too hot. The little sounds he made when Shay’s fingers were digging into his skin, the taste of his mouth just after they had killed, and later, safely locked away inside Shay’s rooms at Fort Arsenal. The arch of his back that was just Shay’s, the way his muscles moved beneath his skin…yes, there was a lot they shared even if it would never be everything.
Shay wondered if he would ever tell Haytham just how close he and Liam had been, or if Haytham hadn’t already surmised as much.
His fingers shook when he set the pistols aside, freshly cleaned. After checking that no blood was seeping through the bandages yet, he reached down towards the pile of Haytham’s clothes. His shirt and undershirt were ripped in several places and so heavily soiled with blood that cleaning or repairing them seemed a useless task. The vest faired little better; but perhaps, Shay thought, his cloak was still salvageable.
The next morning found him slumped over in his chair at Haytham’s bedside, needle and waxed thread still in hand. Sewing leather had been a lot harder than he’d anticipated and not at all like reattaching a button to his own clothes. His worry should have kept him awake, but at some point exhaustion had kicked in and he had simply fallen asleep.
Shay grimaced when he rubbed his aching back. If Haytham had been awake to hear him complain about the aches in his body he would have simply given him a derisive snort. There were only six years between them, but the older Shay became the more he appreciated Haytham’s physical prowess. Of course, thinking of physical prowess directed his thoughts down an entirely different lane…
As if on cue, there was a groan from Haytham and the flicker of movement from his left. Shay dropped everything he had been holding and bent over the bed where Haytham’s eyes were fluttering open.
“Don’t move.” Shay put a hand on Haytham’s arm to keep him from trying to turn around. Haytham grumbled something in reply, but obeyed and didn’t move any further. His gaze was cloudy, eyes flickering back and forth between Shay and the rest of the room.
“How are you feeling, sir?”
“Terrible,” Haytham grimaced with unusual bluntness. “Did you let the boy go?”
“I- What boy?” Shay frowned.
“It wasn’t his fault that he stabbed me. He doesn’t deserve to die-“ Haytham coughed, body convulsing in agony. “Please. Don’t hurt him.”
“Sir, what are you talking about? The Assassins who attacked you are all dead. You killed them.”
“Dead? No-“ Haytham’s eyes widened and he reached out to grasp Shay’s hand. His fingers were cold, but his grip surprisingly strong. “No. I would never- I couldn’t- He cannot be dead.”
“Sir.” Shay settled on his chair again, taking Haytham’s hand into his own and squeezing gently. “Haytham. Are you sure there was a boy? We found none among the corpses.”
“Lucio. Yes. Jim was there, he helped…” Haytham closed his eyes briefly, desperation still tingeing his voice. When he opened them again, he frowned. “Shay?”
“I’m here.” Shay continued to hold on to Haytham’s hand tightly.
“This isn’t-“ Haytham sighed deeply. He withdrew his hand, bringing it up to try and touch his side where the old scar was located. Halfway through the motion he stopped and grimaced when it pulled at the stitches in his shoulder. “I apologize. I thought I was somewhere else.”
“No offense taken.” Shay felt the overwhelming urge to touch Haytham again, but didn’t act on it. Haytham loathed vulnerability, especially within himself. He would not take any comfort from Shay touching him now. “Do you remember what happened?”
“Yes. Now I do.” Haytham said nothing for a few more moments, allowing Shay to bring him something to drink. There was still a strange glaze to his eyes and the pallor of his skin was several shades too pale to be anywhere near healthy. “How am I alive?”
“Stubbornness?” Shay suggested. The smile on his lips was gone as quickly as it had appeared. “Luck, perhaps. And a loyal horse that brought you back to us. I suspect it will get a whole lot worse before it gets better, though.”
Haytham nodded, his eyes already drifting shut again. There would be fever and long nights of agony and Shay sitting at his bedside ahead.
“I suspect so,” he murmured.
“I’ll be here,” Shay told him as Haytham dropped back into sleep. He made sure Haytham wasn’t awake anymore before he touched his hands again and bent over to press a soft kiss on his forehead. “I won’t leave you, sir.”
Haytham found him curled up behind a large snowdrift, shivering in equal terms from blood loss and cold. Shay tried to say something, but his tongue seemed frozen and stuck to the bottom of his mouth.
“Nghssfgh,” was all he managed. Haytham raised an eyebrow at that, but was already pulling his cloak off his shoulders, spreading it over Shay.
“Can you walk?” Haytham asked, helping him upright. His ran his hands over Shay’s body in a quick but thorough check for wounds, frowning when he found the large gash along Shay’s chest and a smaller, deeper one across his thigh. Thankfully the blade had bounced off his ribs, but both were large enough to still be a danger if it they weren’t going to be stitched up soon. He only realised that his shoulder was dislocated again when Haytham grabbed it and he sank back with a scream.
“Can try,” Shay mumbled. Haytham nodded, wrapping his cloak more tightly around him before pulling him upright. Shay groaned and stumbled. He would’ve fallen again hadn’t Haytham held on to him with an almost iron grip. If Shay had more mind left, he’d have marvelled at how well Haytham had preserved his physical strength past his fiftieth birthday. As it was, all that escaped him was a quiet ‘oof’.
Haytham slung one of Shay’s around his shoulder and loped his own around his hips, half supporting, half dragging him through New York. Through the haze Shay noticed that Haytham was avoiding the main road, taking him along back alleys instead and even underground tunnels that seemed to stretch beneath the entire city.
They arrived at an unremarkable town house not long after which Shay recognised as owned by the Templars. Haytham always stayed here when he was visiting on official Templar business. The Grand Master helped him up the stairs and into his bedroom, leaving right away again to send for some hot water and the medical supplies that were kept somewhere in the house. When he returned he threw Shay a piece of leather to bite on.
“This is going to hurt. Why do you always keep dislocating your shoulder?”
“Old age?” Shay suggested. “Seems to slip out of the socket much more easily these days.”
Haytham snorted, although there was certainly a speck of truth in Shay’s words. His shoulder had never felt the same again after the time he had crashed the Morrigan into another ship and been thrown overboard from the explosion that followed after.
“Let me get off your clothes first.” Haytham was already reaching for the belt slung across Shay’s chest, beginning to unbuckle it.
“You know, usually when you say this, you follow up with something much nicer- AH!” Haytham raised his eyebrows in a picture of perfect innocence as he yanked at the belts a second time, thus undercutting any further talk of eventual adventures in bed.
“There will be no follow-up to anything if you don’t hold still and help me,” Haytham told him. He somehow managed to manoeuvre Shay’s arm out of his leather coat, now working on the undercoat and vest beneath. Shay groaned. He was twitchy from both the pain and having Haytham so close, half tempted to ask him to either knock him out or kiss him with all his might.
“Concentrate, Shay,” Haytham admonished him gently.
“Hard to do with you being so close, sir,” Shay murmured and Haytham huffed.
“You are welcome to try and reset your shoulder on your own, if you so wish.” He gave Shay’s undercoat another tug. By the time that they had finally managed to get down to Shay’s bare chest he was practically howling with pain.
“Just…do it now,” he practically begged, knowing that at least his shoulder would feel better when it was back in its socket. Haytham only nodded, wordlessly handing him the piece of leather from earlier. Shay bit down as hard as he could, closing his eyes.
Haytham didn’t bother counting, his motions sharp, precise, and, above all, fast. Still, Shay was sure he passed out for a moment, for when he opened his eyes again Haytham had already finished wrapping his shoulder tightly and setting his arm in a sling. Shay had never asked him where he had learned all his medical knowledge and Haytham had never indulged the information. It was very clear, however, that he knew what he was doing.
“Hold still,” Haytham told him again. His hands were gentle and steady as they made quick work of stitching up the wounds and cleaning the other superficial scratches on Shay’s body. Shay was lying on the bed, the fingers of his healthy arm digging deeply into Haytham’s knee to distract him from the pain, probably hard enough to bruise. Haytham didn’t make a single sound of protest, slathering as much salve as he could over the wounds and wrapping them tightly in bandages.
Shay lay back with a sigh when he was done. He was still in pain, raw and shaky, but the worst of the edge had been taken off and the tea Haytham had sent for amongst all the medical supplies was doing its work and calming him down, making slightly drowsy. For the first time since Haytham had found him in the snow he truly looked at him.
Haytham was growing old. Not old as in ‘frail’ or ‘forgetful’, but his hair had turned wholly silver over the years and the fine lines Shay remembered tracing with his fingers so vividly had etched themselves more deeply into his face. New lines had appeared as well, and a slight edge in his expression that he couldn’t quite interpret yet. It had been over three years since he had seen him last, before he had left for Paris. They had been supposed to meet up tonight, true, but Shay had never quite made it to their meeting point. Haytham must have gone searching for him when he didn’t appear and found him by sheer luck. He had certainly imagined their reunion to go differently.
“You’ve changed,” Shay said softly. He reached out to touch Haytham’s cheek and his hair. Haytham allowed it for a moment before catching his fingers and guiding them back onto the bed.
“You are not the youngest anymore either,” he teased, a smile pulling at the edges of his mouth. Shay had never seen him look so lost underneath his usual poised demeanour.
“The grey hair suits you, sir.” Shay’s own smile was much broader.
“Yes, I suppose it might deceive people into thinking that I had mellowed with age somehow,” Haytham admitted. Shay snorted. If anything, age would make someone like Haytham Kenway even more stubborn in following his path.
“I do not believe that you and ‘mellow’ would ever mix,” Shay told him. Haytham gave a quiet laugh at that. Shay reached out and grasped the front of Haytham’s vest, pulling him closer for a kiss. There was no resistance from Haytham, not even when their mouths met. Shay had been so desperate to feel him again that he allowed himself just this tiny bit of selfishness.
“I’ve missed you, sir,” he said breathlessly when they parted again.
“You were gone rather long,” Haytham agreed. “Although it was my own fault for sending you so far away.”
With that he rose from his seat to fetch them some food and drink. Even though the pain was substantial, Shay used the time to rummage through his coat and the pack he’d had with him when he had been attacked. When Haytham returned, he found him sitting on the bed, turning a small box in his hands.
“Is this the Precursor box?” Haytham asked, pulling a table up close to them and setting the food on it.
“Yes,” Shay sighed. “It’s finally back in our hands.”
Haytham held out his hand and Shay handed it to him after only a minimal moment of hesitation. Haytham made no move to open it, tracing the intricate symbols on it with his fingers instead. He noted the flecks of blood on the lid.
“These belong to its previous owner,” Shay said, still remembering Charles Dorian’s face.
“Deceased now, I assume?” The words were stated without vindication or glee. A simple fact.
“Yes. He would never have handed over the box willingly otherwise. Not to a Templar, anyway.” When he said it out loud, Shay could almost believe his own words. In truth, he still regretted killing Dorian, despite it having been necessary from his point of view. Haytham only nodded. Shay was well aware that Haytham’s views on killing were slightly more…liberal and had become even more so in the recent years.
“He told me that the Templars in the New World were slowly being destroyed, especially here,” he continued, carefully watching Haytham’s face. “He said an Assassin named Connor was almost single-handedly responsible for it.”
A strange reaction went through Haytham when Shay mentioned Connor’s name. Regret, anger and something undefinable mingled on his face for a moment, before it smoothed over into its usual impassive expression again.
“I fear that that he was right,” Haytham said. “Pitcairn, Hickey and Johnson are all dead. And so are countless others who have helped us in our cause.” He handed the box back to Shay, who took it open-mouthed. It was unthinkable that all these men, some of whom he had known rather well, were suddenly gone.
“And it was this Connor who killed all of them?”
“Yes.” The only sign of the storm inside Haytham was the way his fingers were seemingly unable to stop moving. There was more here than just a simple Assassin at work, as devastating as his actions were.
“Have you met him?” Shay asked him on a hunch. Haytham’s entire body stiffened for a moment before he leaned back with a sigh, meeting Shay’s gaze.
“He’s my son,” he said quietly.
For just a moment Shay was sure that the world had stopped turning.
“He- what?” It was a rather lame response, but the only one his stunned mind seemed to be able to produce.
“I did not know for sure until a few months ago, but there is no denying it,” Haytham’s smile was entirely humourless. “My son is currently hard at work at destroying everything we have built over here. My father would, I suspect, be rather proud of him.”
Shay didn’t ask how Haytham could be so sure or who Connor’s mother had been. There were parts of Haytham’s past that even he wasn’t invited to and what little he had heard from an angry Charles Lee about Haytham’s brief affair with a Native woman years before he had met Shay had been one of these things.
“Have you spoken to him?”
“To tell him what?” Haytham asked bitterly. “That his mother never told me about him? That I left because she wanted me to and I respected her more than anyone else in the world and would never have gone against her wishes? That he should stop being an Assassin and join the Templars? No, I have not spoken to him. I did, however, save his life from execution, although he will likely never know about it.”
Haytham Kenway, saving an Assassin’s life. Shay knew that, in theory, this meant that Haytham had become a traitor to the Order. He knew just as well that he would never tell another living soul.
“Perhaps he will find out one day.” It was a poor attempt at comfort, but Shay knew no better words to give.
“Perhaps.” Haytham’s eyes flickered to the writings on his table. “Or perhaps he will go to his grave hating his father.”
Shay reached out again, lightly resting his fingers on Haytham’s knee.
“Perhaps it isn’t too late yet. Perhaps you could-“
“No.” Haytham shook his head and took a deep breath. “Even if we were to temporarily share the same goals and work together, I do not think it would last. At one point, I will have to face him.”
“Would you kill him?” Shay asked. He hated himself for the words even before they had left his mouth. “For the Order, would you kill your own son?”
Haytham looked at him and, for just a moment, the full extent of his age and the weight of a lifetime of betrayals showed through in his expression.
“I do not know,” he finally said. “I suspect I never will until I stand before him as a foe.”
Shay increased the pressure of his fingers on Haytham’s knee, squeezing just slightly to express a comfort with his touch that he couldn’t put into words.
“Then let us hope it will never come to that.” He wished with all his heart that his words would come true, even though he knew otherwise. But perhaps, for a few hours, they could just pretend. Haytham nodded, eyes gazing into the distance at a memory Shay had no access to before he looked over at him again.
“I am glad you found the box,” he brought the conversation back onto the object in Shay’s hands.
“It took a long time.” Shay’s fingers kept ghosting over the box, feeling the smooth wood he had touched so many times before.
“Indeed.” And then Haytham bent forwards to kiss him again, in a move so unexpected that Shay took a second to react and return it. It was usually him who initiated anything physical between them, although he would always give Haytham plenty of time to retreat when he wanted to. Shay let himself sink into the sensation of the kiss, pushing his pain and the shock at Haytham’s revelation to the back of his mind. He regretted very much not being able to do more.
“Sir,” he murmured when they separated again. “Haytham. With your permission, I will keep the precursor box.” He was all aware that Haytham had asked him to find it for him, for the Order.
“Why?” Haytham leaned back in his chair and frowned.
“Because I believe I am the one who can keep it safe from the Assassins. I will not risk it falling back into their hands again.”
“And you believe I couldn’t?” Haytham was amused.
“I…” Shay shifted uncomfortably on the bed, not sure how to formulate what was floating in his mind so that it wouldn’t hurt. “With all due respect, sir, if your son has his eyes set on killing all the Templars in the New World, he will face you sooner or later. I could make sure that the box is far away where no one can reach it should that happen.”
Haytham’s steady gaze drilled into Shay’s for a moment that seemed to last an eternity.
“Very well,” he finally said, the tension between them evaporating. “But you will never let it fall into the wrong hands again. That is an order.”
Shay noticed that Haytham had used ‘wrong’ instead of ‘Assassin’ and once again wondered just how much the Grand Master truly still believed in the members of his own Order. There were rumours about Benjamin Church…
“Of course.” He inclined his head.
“Shay.” The way that Haytham said his name had a strange ring to it, one that he hadn’t heard before. “Will you do one more thing for me? After I sent you away for so long?”
Shay reached out, searching once again for the comfort that touch could give.
“Whatever you ask, sir. You know that,” he said.
“Yes, I suppose I do.” Another strange smile flickered over Haytham’s face. “Then I ask you to find the other artefacts belonging to the Tree of Life for me. We cannot risk them falling into the Assassin’s hands – into anybody’s hands. And you are the only one I would entrust with such a mission.”
Shay sat in astonished silence, working through Haytham’s words before speaking again.
“You’re sending me away again,” he whispered. “You-“ But he couldn’t continue. There was no need to say it out loud, anyway – they both knew what Haytham was doing.
“Yes.” Haytham didn’t look away. “But not until you’ve recovered. Rest, Shay, and gain back your strength.”
“Will you stay here?” Shay didn’t care if he sounded as if he was begging. At this rate, it would be years before he saw Haytham again.
“Yes. Of course,” Haytham said as if it was the most natural thing in the world. “After all, we have a lot to catch up on, do we not?”
There was a sense of desperation in their touches when they slept with each other again, days later after Shay insisted that he was certainly healed up enough. His fingernails dug into Haytham’s skin deeply enough to leave bloody trails and if Haytham bit down on the soft skin in his shoulders just a little more than usual when he fucked into him he certainly didn’t mind. They had tested their boundaries plenty of times before and knew how far they could go. The pain and desperation mingled with the pleasure, leaving him exhausted and empty afterwards, craving a more ordinary kind of comfort. Haytham was lying in bed reading when Shay crawled towards him, put his head on his chest and closed his eyes to listen to Haytham’s heartbeat, reassuringly alive and strong beneath the skin and coarse grey hair of his chest.
Haytham raised his brows but kept reading, a little sigh the only sign of his exasperation. His arm rested comfortably on Shay’s back, however, as he kept turning pages. Shay found one of the marks he left earlier and ghosted over it with his lips.
“At least you will have something to remember me by for the next years,” Shay said, only half-joking. Haytham sighed again, putting his book aside.
“Are you angry with me?” he asked. “For sending you away?”
“Yes.” Shay shifted slightly, running his fingers over Haytham’s skin. “More than you could possibly imagine.”
“And still you will go?”
Shay met his eyes for a second, then looked away.
“Yes,” he said again. “For you and the safety of this world, I will.”
“Then make sure you return to me.” Haytham’s hand lingered on Shay’s shoulder for just a moment. It seemed like there was more he wanted to say, but he didn’t.
“As long as you are still here once I return, sir.” Shay closed his eyes again, letting the steady rhythm of Haytham’s heart lull him to sleep.
He heard rumours, at first. Whispers behind hands, a sentence here, a sentence there. The colonial rite of the Templars has been wiped out. The Grand Master is dead. It was the work of a single Assassin.
The Grand Master is dead.
Shay didn’t believe it. He didn’t want to believe it, no matter what Haytham had told him the last time they had been together. There were few who could match Haytham Kenway in battle, even at his current age. And even if – he would never be so unprepared as to let an Assassin catch him unawares, not even his own son. No, something else must have transpired and he would find out what it was. One of the artefacts he was currently hunting was supposed to have been seen in Boston and served as convenient excuse to stop in New York on his way there.
He found the grave early in the afternoon.
It was a simple stone, quiet and unassuming. No one would have suspected that a Templar Grand Master was buried here and perhaps that was for the better. Haytham would never have wanted anything big and pompous anyway, that much Shay was sure of.
He raised his hand as if to put it on top of the stone but thought better of it. It would have amplified the weight of reality already bearing down on his shoulders tenfold and he wasn’t sure he was able to carry it yet. Already, Shay recognised the aching fingers of loss closing around his heart, still recoiling at the enormity of the thought that a world without Haytham Kenway in it even dared to exist. He traced the letters of Haytham’s name and the dates written below with the tip of his index finger instead, lingering on a letter from time to time.
It brought back the memory of the last time they had spent a few days together.
Make sure you return to me.
After all these years, he was not the one who had broken his promise.
“Why did you have to send me away, sir?” he whispered. “I could have stayed. I could have helped.”
And done what? Killed his son? There was no doubt in Shay’s mind that not even he would have been allowed to. He wasn’t even sure he truly could have done it. Perhaps, in another life, he and Haytham could have simply left and lived out a quiet life instead, up in the mountains somewhere and far away from Templars and Assassins both. Shay shook his head. As alluring a thought as it was, the man who would have agreed to such a plan would not have been Haytham Kenway any longer. At least not the Haytham he had come to know, to desire and perhaps, in a way, to love.
He wanted to curse out loud, shout his grief at the grave in front of him, demand answers where there were none, of Haytham and fate and the world at large that seemed hellbent on making him lose or destroy everything he once loved. Instead he just sat silently on the cold earth, staring at the stone as if he could undo death itself by sheer will alone. The shadows lengthened as the sun travelled over the sky and still he didn’t move, caught between a past he could never go back to and a future he couldn’t change.
Even in the numbness of his grief, however, he wasn’t completely oblivious to his surroundings.
“I was wondering if you would come.” Shay didn’t turn around or give any other indication that he had known of Connor’s presence save for his words. He could hear steps crunching on the ground, slightly irregular as if their owner was limping, before Connor stepped into his view, hands empty of weapons and hood pulled away from his face. Although he had inherited a lot of features from his mother, the traces of Haytham in his face were unmistakeable. They shared the same nose and chin that Shay had come to know so intimately, a thought that held no comfort now.
Shay rose from where he had been sitting in front of Haytham’s grave, his legs stiff and aching. He had no desire to lunge for his own weapons now. Killing Connor would not have filled any of the emptiness inside him. And despite everything, he would never murder Haytham’s son, Assassin or no.
“Although I doubt it is because you are here to pay your respects,” he added, unable to keep just a small fraction of hurt and bitterness out of his voice.
“I had you watched ever since you set foot in New York,” Connor said. “There was no way I could justify leaving a Templar of your reputation walk around unattended.”
“I know. I noticed.” Shay shrugged. “And are you satisfied now?”
“Once you leave the harbour I will be, yes.” Connor’s eyes never left his hands, as if he was expecting Shay to try and attack him on the spot.
“Are you here to kill me, then? To make sure I will not murder any more Assassins?” Shay didn’t sneer, simply asking in the same tone he would’ve asked Gist whether he wanted some tea with his breakfast. He was so endlessly tired.
“If you raise your hand against us, I will.” And there it was, the self-assuredness of so many Assassins that Shay had known. It made him think of Hope and Liam, and he wondered whether Haytham had ever regretted letting Achilles live to instil such firm belief and righteousness into his son.
“Interesting, that you are so convinced you would win,” he said. Connor was about to answer something angry, but Shay just raised his hand, cutting him of. “I am not here to fight.”
“Why are you here then? If not to take revenge for your Grand Master’s death?”
Shay made a gesture encompassing the grave, the church and the houses around him.
“Am I not allowed to return to the city I was born and used to live in for so many years?” he asked. He would not, could not lay bare his relationship with Haytham to anyone, least of all an Assassin. Sharing it would somehow diminish what they had found, make profane the memories that still filled him with such aching softness.
“You know your kind is no longer welcome here,” Connor said.
Shay bared his teeth at the response. The sudden wave of anger was bright and hot inside him before it disappeared again, the flames quenched by the sight of earth and stone that were all that was left of a man who had meant so much to him.
“I will come and go where I please, Assassin.”
To Connor’s credit, he remained stoic in the face of Shay’s anger, not even changing his stance. There was a slight shift in demeanour, however, when he looked back and forth between Shay and the grave.
“Did you know my father well?” he asked, an entirely new note in his voice.
“Yes.” Better than anyone else still alive, I’d wager, save perhaps his sister.
“I-“ A moment of hesitation, as a variety of emotions crossed Connor’s face, making him look utterly lost for just a single second. Killing his own father seemed to be a heavier burden on him than Shay had first believed. Despite everything this Assassin had been through, despite everything he had done, there was still a certain innocence to Connor’s words when he continued. “Do you think we could have found a way, in the end, had we just tried harder? For Assassins and Templars to coexist?”
Shay shook his head, but took his time with the answer.
“He dreamed of it once, you know. But Haytham…he was not a good man. A righteous man, a fair man, a great man, a hard man, but not a good or nice one. A man shaped by death and betrayal.” A man who killed with the same breathtaking skill and deadly precision that he used for bandaging my wounds, to kiss my lips or give me what I wanted in bed. “He gave up on that dream long before he met you, before he met me, even. Nothing you could have done or said would have convinced him.”
Connor seemed to take in his answer, mulling over Shay’s words. He stepped closer, but not far enough to be in reach of Shay’s sword.
“I should not have killed him,” he finally said, very, very quietly. Shay couldn’t help but give a bitter laugh.
“I doubt he left you a choice.”
Connor just looked at him and once more Shay wondered what had transpired between them during Haytham’s final moments. He could not imagine Haytham softening, not even then.
“What are you doing here, Connor?” he asked when there was no answer. “If it is absolution you are looking for, you will not receive it from me.”
Something inside Connor shifted at his words, although Shay didn’t know what kind of resolution he came to. He swiftly stepped forwards, however, a hand inside his pockets. Shay automatically fell into a defensive stance, but Connor quickly raised both hands to show that he meant no violence. One of them held what looked like a tattered book.
“Perhaps, if you knew him as well as you said, you should have this,” he said, holding out the book towards him. Shay hesitated, but then stepped forward to grab it. He almost dropped it when the wind blew open a random page. He would’ve recognised the handwriting anywhere in the world.
“It’s my father’s diary. He left it for me to find.” Connor had followed his gaze. “It taught me a lot about the kind of man he was, although it is too late now.”
Shay’s hands shook ever so slightly when he closed his fingers around the pages. He knew that Haytham wouldn’t have mentioned him inside, but still, it was a piece of him that he would be able to keep. It was hard to resist the urge to press it to his chest, but resist it he did. Instead, he careful stored the book away in one of his pouches. He didn’t even know whether he was ever going to read it, just having it in his possession seemed enough for the moment.
“Thank you,” he said in honest gratitude. They stared at each other for a moment, Assassin and Templar, and not for the first time Shay wondered what a world would look like in which they worked together instead of against each other. But his grief was still too raw and new and the wounds left in his life from betrayal and death too deep for him to extend such an offer to Connor now.
Connor gave him a nod and turned to leave. There was nothing left to say between them. Except…
“Connor,” Shay called out after him, feeling the weight of the diary in his pouch. “It would be better if our paths never crossed again.” I do not want to have to kill you.
“Indeed.” Connor left, the white of his Assassin’s clothes shining for a moment between the houses around the churchyard before it, too, vanished from sight. Shay touched the book again, closing his eyes for a moment and wondering just how many times Haytham’s fingers had leafed through the same pages. He could almost see him then, sitting at his table in Shay’s mansion, brown furrowed in thought as he was writing on the pages and the indulgent half-smile he would have for Shay when he was whining for him to join him in bed.
His fingers trembled when he touched the headstone, its surface smooth and cold under his palm.
“I’m sorry, sir,” he said into the darkness. “I wish I could have done more.”
He almost took his hand away to leave and return to the Morrigan, but stopped in his tracks. The next words were whispered more quietly, heard only by the silent grave and the wind sighing in the branches above.
“I miss you.”