“What do you want?”
“A life away from here. Anywhere but here.”
“Are you sure?”
That was how Haytham Kenway ended conversations, or rather, your pleas for absolution. As if he needs you to understand the consequences of your requests. Then again, he was always at your threshold, hovering over the wake of a tragedy, asking if he could help you. Benevolence from the Templar Grandmaster warrants caution. But yes, yes, of course--
--and he whisks you away, and he gives you a new life with a silver ring with a crimson red cross.
He invites you into a whirlwind world filled with ghouls and demons and assassins. You’ve seen some of his Templars slip in and out of the compound with bloody teeth. Sometimes they walk and joke with you while avoiding patches of sunlight or the moon’s reflection. Everyone in his compound harbors a story that is worth a little bit of privacy from the world.
Haytham also introduces you to his right-hand man, Shay Cormac, who is unafraid to talk about black eyes and headless horsemen. The two of them leave on midnight walks and returns to the compound, with Shay often wounded, so you drag him into the kitchen and stitch up the Irishman’s wounds.
You have no idea what kind of monsters they encounter, or the extent of their powers. You only know that it is a fight to the death.
A poisoned fang later embeds itself in Shay’s shoulder and he screams in agony on the kitchen floor as you force laudanum in his mouth. Haytham holds down the struggling dark-haired Irishman until the drugs finally overwhelm his exhausted mind, and those abyss-like eyes close in the first slumber he’s had in years.
“Shay is resilient. He will heal, like they always do,” Haytham tries to reassure. Your hands are shaking as you replace the painkiller medicine on the shelves. You’ve never seen Shay in so much pain-- though you keep quiet and say nothing.
He somehow plucks the thought from your mind.
“You disapprove that I make him go through these tribulations.”
You hesitate, not looking at the Grandmaster. “I fear for his sanity. Night after night,” you say shakily, “he returns with these horrible wounds. They heal, yes, just in time for him to go on another midnight walk while you--”
Haytham appears next to you, his dark gray eyes cold. “While I do what, pray tell?”
“--while you are whole, unhurt. It does not seem fair.”
“We are not built or bestowed with these curses in a fair manner,” Haytham replies cuttingly. Without another word, he grabs his coat and leaves you, alone, to worry over the sleeping Dullahan.
Shay’s condition worsens come nightfall. Templars with healing qualities in their blood offer their assistance. None seem to work. You hold a solitary vigil by his side, a newly bound bestiary in your lap and spare candles to burn on the table. Sometimes he lashes out and screams names in the dark, Liam, Hope, Achilles, names that do not mean anything to you.
Closer to midnight, you stir awake and see a vague silhouette hovering over the ragged body. Shay lies on a makeshift cot, unconscious and vulnerable to attackers, even in the heart of the compound. Your heart skips a beat.
Then you recognize Haytham’s rich accent as the lean, tall figure presses a palm against Shay’s forehead and murmurs something in Latin or Old English. Instantly, the wounded man’s breathing seems to settle and even out, and then somehow, you hear that familiar Irish lilt, albeit hoarse--
“Haytham. I think-- I think I might’ve messed up.”
“You did,” Haytham says, smiling gently. “Missed the heart, and you were struck on the shoulder. I chased the creature off before it advanced further. You are on the mend, and you now have first hand experience on a basilik’s venom. Congratulations are in order, but I speak quickly.”
Shay groans. “So it’s still not dead?”
“It will likely have returned to the territory. I will go out and finish what we have started.”
“Wait for me--”
“I cannot,” Haytham says firmly, “and I will not.” He slowly pulls his hand away from his forehead, and Shay’s breathing returns to its sporadic rhythm, new tremors running through his limbs. “Sleep, Shay. Our time is limited.”
The spell fades and Haytham hesitates, flexing his hands as he thinks over his next actions. You shut your eyes quickly and pretend to sleep.
He is going to hunt the creature that brought Shay to his knees. Though he speaks confidently, you fear for Haytham. Will the Grandmaster suffer the same? Whereas he’d dragged Shay back to the compound, he has no allies tonight, none that you know of.
Hours later, before dawn even breaks, Haytham steps back into the kitchen, quietly satisfied with his task. He leans heavily against the door frame, half-cloaked in shadows as he nods at your candlelit frame hunched over reading material. “Any change?” he asks, voice lower, more solemn.
“None.” You poke the basilisk fang retrieved from Shay’s shoulder. “Anti-venom might be a worthwhile pursuit.”
“Do what you must.” He makes to leave, but you stand up and clear your throat.
“A moment, Grandmaster. I feel I must apologize for what I said yesterday. I-- I assumed that you come back, unhurt, after these monster hunts. I do not if you feel pain or if you hurt in some other way.” You take a shaky breath. “And I should have known, not all wounds are visible. I am sorry.”
Haytham tilts his head. “I forgive you. Tell me,” he says, “are you comfortable in my presence?”
“Yes. I have no reason to be afraid.”
“Are you sure?”
“At the moment.”
He finally steps into the room, further into the light of the candelabra, and you see the smile resting on his pale lips. But you also see a long gash along the left side of his face, deep and sunken into skin and muscle. The wound is perfectly free of blood. Haytham’s smile slips as you continue to stare, then he seats himself by the kitchen table.
“You were right,” he says, plain and simple, and begins to shed his coat and unbutton his cuffs. “I do not feel pain. I do not bleed. Shay knows this, yet he prefers to dive in the beasts’ paths, challenging death around every corner. I usually tend to my injuries privately, but would you--?”
You nod, and grab a basin and cloth. News of plague travels from faraway coasts and the people take extra caution with sanitation. Haytham pours out two glasses of whiskey in the meantime. “May I ask,” you start as you dab the cloth around the gash, “what was that spell earlier, when Shay spoke with you?”
He raises his eyebrows. “I thought I felt a pair of eyes on us. Sly devil.”
Haytham sips his drink as you work carefully, never once flinching or looking concerned. His sculpted features are cold-- from the night chill, you assume.
“I only stole a moment from the future where he is well and able. Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, Master Cormac’s health might falter. Do not be afraid when it happens. I know you care for your patient.”
“Switching the past for the future. An infinite tolerance for pain. And bloodless.” You shake your head and sigh. “I know you best for making Faustian deals, Grandmaster.”
His smile returns, cunning and knowing. You finish cleaning specks of dirt and basilisk’s blood, and set the basin aside. Already, you notice that the wound has started to seal up by itself, meant to leave nothing but a memory. Haytham slides the whiskey over to you. He gestures around with his free hand. “And are you satisfied with this new life of yours?”
“I think so,” you admit. “What about your end of the deal?”
His glass pauses before it touches his lips. “What do you mean?” Haytham asks slowly.
You flush. “I mean-- when you bargain, it’s meant to benefit both parties. Quid pro quo. I never asked… and I never wondered. Why would you give me a chance at happiness without gaining something in return?”
He thoughtfully runs a finger on the rim of his cup. “Would you believe if I said it was out of the goodness of my black heart?”
He chuckles and looks up from the drink to you. For a moment, you are trapped by the mirth in his eyes, the crow’s feet gathered round his world-weary eyes. Then he drops the gray gaze and another spell is broken. “The prospect of new beginnings made you happy. Now, I have a Templar loyal to her Grandmaster and her associates.”
You lean back in the chair, nodding. “So it was for the Order.”
“It always was, and it always will be.”
He finishes his drink, then excuses himself.
Your conversation with Haytham had been the necessary catalyst for the silence between you. The Grandmaster appears with a new bestiary or untranslated journal for your academic mind to decipher. He attends your training sessions with a fully healed Shay, his hands tucked behind his back, eyes cool and emotionless.
At night, you rub your hands together and try to remember what it felt like to tend to Haytham Kenway, the man who did not feel pain. It is easier to believe that he listened to your wishes for a new life for the sake of the Order. For power and strength. But you fall asleep, all the whilst thinking, What if, what if.
You might as well live in the kitchen, considering how much time you’re in the warm, snug room. It lacked to serve the whole compound, but it made the perfect medical bay. Access to clean water and a fireplace, with the means to prepare meals. It seemed perfect.
Hellhounds, revenants, and assassins-- Shay says these names as casually as can be, citing their glowing eyes or silver-tipped sabres. Haytham sometimes listens to him recount the battles, interrupting to add a crucial detail now and then.
One morning, after chasing Shay away with fresh gauze and a celebratory bottle of whiskey, Haytham lingers behind.
“Thank you,” he says.
“Not much else to do, but--” Your words fades as the Grandmaster softly kisses your cheek. His lips are like ice. His hand settles on top of yours, a cool and heavy weight, warmth only in reassurance.
And then he pulls away and leaves.
It happens again. And again.
You pass him an envelope from a mutual correspondent and Haytham presses his lips on the back of your hand. He comes from behind while you stitch yet another cut on Shay’s face, and swiftly kisses you on the cheek. As if you were married bedfellows. There are only unanswered questions in these kisses.
Confrontation. Ugh, the very thought of it makes you want to crawl away and hide under blankets. When it concerns the Grandmaster, the dread only doubles. But with his kisses burning like ghosts on your skin, you make your way through the compound, to his office.
“What can I help you with?” Haytham recognizes the hesitation on your face and he sifts through papers on his desk. “Well, while you’re mulling over your thoughts, I could have you sign a few papers. And a fresh edition of the Indo-European bestiary came in. Quite a lot of new information.” He gestures to a leather hardcover book that has been stained a deep violet color.
He then hands you a quill, then the papers one by one. A smudge of red on the corner of a page catches your eye. “Is this blood?” you ask. “Whose blood is this?”
“Ah,” Haytham Kenway says. “It would be mine.”