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A City of Ice

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Part Two

Prologue

The third swirl opens with no dramatics.

There’s no panic, no shouting, or confusion. It opens quietly, in the dead of the night. No one follows through from the other side so there are no loud questions of “Where am I?”

If it wasn’t because I’m certain there were only two swirls last time we checked, I wouldn’t even have realized it was there at all.

It twirls innocently with the other two like it’s always been there. Like it belongs nestled in-between them. It’s smaller than them, though. No more than an inch or two, but it’s noticeably dark colors make it look a whole lot smaller.

It shines gray, dull.

Sad.

While Kenny and Father examine it, a strange feeling of overwhelming melancholy fills me. There’s absolutely no activity coming from the swirl. There’s no Assassins or bird trying to get an Assassin back into his realm.

There’s nothing

That’s what makes it sad. It’s almost as if whatever was supposed to make it through can’t. So the swirl just sits there, twinkling sadly next to its neighbors with its darker hues.

Everyone stays quiet as we crowd around the swirl. All eyes turn to me, waiting for me to come to a decision. It’s all kinds of funny that I’ve somehow become the leader of our little group. When it comes to dimension travel, everyone follows my lead. Albeit with a fair share of grumbling and questioning.

Thing is though, I’m not sure what to do.

Nothing has come through for me to even begin to know where this swirl opens up. Going in now will be risky, but this dark and lonely swirl beckons me forward. It calls to me. It beckons me forwards. No matter how stupid it may be to go in without knowing where I’ll end up, I want to.

need too.

I continue to watch it, uncaring of the eyes on me. Everyone waits patiently as I come to a decision. They don’t rush me even as the minutes tick by. They stay quiet. It’s the silence that decides it for me. It’s the absolute show of trust that allows me to make the choice.

“Get your things, we’re going on an adventure.”

Chapter Text

Part Two

Chapter 1

 “Is this really how you want to end it?”

I feel like I’m poised on the edge of a cliff, teetering between falling off or hanging on for dear life. Kenny’s voice breaks through the fog of indecision in my mind easily enough, but it doesn’t bring answers. It doesn’t bring relief.

I don’t know what to do.

I don’t know whether to let go. If I should just accept my fate and allow the darkness to swallow me as I plunge into the abyss. Or cling to the edge until rescue comes. If I should fight and claw my way through this until there’s nothing left.

Until there's nothing left to fight against. 

For once, I find myself almost wishing he would make the choice. For once, I wish someone would sit me down and make the call themselves. For once, I wish it wasn’t me.

I wish that Minerva had chosen someone, anyone else.

Please, anyone but me.

But she didn’t.

So now I sit here, surrounded by all my mistakes and regrets and wishing someone could come to rescue me. That someone would come and relieve me of a burden I had never asked for. Now more than ever I wish that none of this had ever happened.

I wish I hadn’t fallen in love. 

“Jen.”

Kenny’s voice does even less now to dispel the fog. Still, my eyes go to his, searching for answers as he takes my face in his hands. They’re warm against my cheeks, shockingly so as they ease the nip of the winter winds.

It’s only then that I realize I’m shivering, harshly as the winds whip around us. It’s late, very late. The sun has set long ago, allowing winter to truly cool the night until the wind almost burns sensitive skin. My cheeks are as numb as the tips of my fingers.

“What happened?”

His words are low, calm but strong. He expects an answer this time. He won’t accept being ignored again. There’s a determination in his gaze that tells me I won’t get away with not answering his questions again. And there’s been plenty of them.

Ever since I ran.

Fresh out of the swirl, I hadn’t been thinking. Thoughts of finally curling up in my own bed after days spent traveling home from Jerusalem had been long gone by the time I’d touched down into the pillow pit. All that had been left had been the irresistible need to run, to escape. The only thing I wanted then was to leave and get as far away from the swirl, from Masyaf, from Altaïr.  

I had run out of the house like I couldn’t get away fast enough. Not even bothering to change into more era-appropriate clothing, I had bolted out the door. I would have kept running too. Only Kenny’s long legs and quick thinking had kept me from literally running down the street.

Jumping into the swirl after me, Ken had been smart enough to snag his keys on his way out of the house as he raced to catch up to me. Stopping me just before I could clear the house’s gates, he’d steered me towards his car instead.

It’s how we found ourselves here, settled on the oddly black hood of Kenny’s otherwise white Scion, FR-S. We’re on a hill, a tall one that overlooks a freeway and the city below. The glow of houses and businesses and cars and lampposts light up the night, fighting back the darkness.

We’re perched on the edge of the hill, right before the very steep, very rocky incline. We’re on the ‘Top of The World’. My city’s tallest hill and a very popular hangout spot to sit at in the middle of the night and watch the world below. Yet, today, it’s empty, deserted so there’s no one to hear what I have to say.

At least no one but Ken.

“I was wrong.”

He says nothing to me but lets my face go when I turn it back to look over the city. I watch as the cars whiz by, unaware that the Fabric of Time and Space had been torn open weeks ago. People continue on with their lives, uninterrupted and unburden by the choices I face.

I envy them. 

“I was wrong to fall in love with him,” I tell Kenny, something like regret thick in my voice. “He was never meant to be mine, Ken, but I was willing to steal him away. I was willing to condemn his future children to never being born because I was selfish enough to fall in love with him—to keep loving him even while knowing that Maria was out there waiting for him.”

“You were always supposed to love him, Jen,” he says, the pity in his voice plain for all to hear as he too turns to watch the city. “None of this would have worked if you didn’t.”

“She knew, didn’t she?” I mutter, my voice low enough that the wind almost steals the words away. “Minerva knew I would fall in love with him.”

“I think she was betting on it.”

A soft ‘hmmm’ is the only answer I give him then. It’s the only answer I can give. My thoughts are all over the place. They jump from Altaïr to Adha to Minerva to the swirl to questioning just what I’m doing with my life in general.

Nothing.

I’m doing nothing with it. Not school or work or even living. At least not really. Not by the terms most people my age would think of. I’m not going out and creating memories, or meeting people, or even trying to better my life.

I’m just there.

I’m just sitting at home, waiting for the direction of some deranged god that thinks I’m somehow the answer to all her problems. I’m being a tool. I’m doing what she wishes and allowing myself to fall into her plans so easily I’ve somehow managed to convince myself they were my decisions all along.

“I don’t think I want to do this, Ken.”

I don’t think I ever did. One of my first thought upon learning Altaïr’s true identity had been to send him back home. Sure the thought of going to Masyaf had been there as well, but I hadn’t thought to start saving people. Not at first. At least not until Minerva had dangled a perfectly unharmed Malik in front of my eyes.

Only for her to rip him away and personally see to it that he’d still lose his arm. Even after everything I did. Even after I had somehow managed to set Altaïr on the path to saving Kadar, she’d still taken him away.

Why?

Incentive. She wanted to give me the taste of almost succeeding. The feeling of knowing that, while Kadar still died and Malik lost his arm, Altaïr hadn’t killed the old man so he wasn’t all bad. To show me that Altaïr was redeemable. Except there was nothing to redeem.

Altaïr hadn’t done anything worth needing to be redeemed over.

Not this time.

She made sure of that. By showing him everything he’d ever done wrong, blaming him for every bad thing that would come, she had singlehandedly guaranteed that. She had scarred him, torment him with images of an injured Malik, a dead Kadar, and even images of Desmond strapped to a machine and being tortured for the memories inside of his genes.

But why?

What was it all for? Why would she do this to him? Why would she show him all the horrible things to come if she was going make them happen anyway? Why go through all that trouble when, in the end, they couldn’t be avoided.

Why? Well that’s simple, isn’t it? It was all for me.

So he wouldn’t kill me.

You take a man uncaring—unburdened by the rules of his creed, of life. A man who lives only for himself, for his wants and needs, and you break him. You tear him down bit by bit until all you have left is a man tormented by all the choices he has yet to make. Then you toss him into a world so unfamiliar he has no choice but to latch on to the first face he sees.

So you give him to a girl so desperate to do something with her life—to make something of herself. One so eager to prove herself that she’ll do everything you say with no resistance at all.    

“You remember dad’s theory?” I ask Kenny then, hands going to tug nervously at the browned hem of my pink tunic. It’s dirty. Filthy, actually. There will be no saving it, not with the days’ worth of sweat and dirt on it. “The one about Minerva not being able to see me because I wasn’t a part of their universe?”

“Yeah.”

“See, I don’t think it’s true,” I tell him, turning back to stare over the city. Stars. The lights look like stars as they twinkle in the night. It’s a city of stars. “I think she’s been able to see us all along.”

“Then why would she send Ezio?”

When Ezio had appeared all those nights ago he had said that Minerva had sent him as a failsafe. That, since Minerva couldn’t see what we would do, she had sent him as a backup plan. But what if we misunderstood what she meant?

When Ezio had said she couldn’t see what we would do, we took that as she couldn’t see us at all. But maybe that wasn’t the case. Maybe she just meant she couldn’t see what we would do in that instant. And whatever decision we had been about to make must have been crucial. So much so that us choosing the wrong path just wasn’t an option so Minerva had sent Ezio. 

“Why would she send Ezio if she could see what we’re going to do all along?” Ken ask, voice going low.

Before Ezio had shown up, Altaïr had just returned from Jerusalem, Robert de Sablé had just marched on Masyaf, and I had just come home more defeated than ever before. Minerva had sprung her trapped, after all. She’d led me on, believing that this was my chance to change everything, only to force it to be the same.

“Because we were probably going to do something she didn’t want,” I answer, but what were we going to do? Even after all that, I was still more than willing to help. Determined even. So what could have possibly been bad enough that she would need to send another Assassin to intervene? What were we planning before Ezio showed up?

Defeated, annoyed, and frustrated, I had only one thought in mind.

“I was going to destroy the apple.”

“I didn’t think you were being serious about that,” Ken says, voice still low as he sits up a little straighter. He stares at me then, eyes wide but I don’t turn to look at him. My eyes go to my hands instead as a small amount of guilt fills me because, yeah, that probably wasn’t a good idea.

“Oh, I was,” I tell him, wrinkling my nose as I catch sight off all the filth caught underneath my fingernails. I desperately need a shower. A nice, long, hot one. “I was going to smash it to pieces the first chance I got.”

“Huh? So that’s why she sent Ezio?” Ken asks as he settles back, leaning against the car’s tinted mirrors. He’s calm now, we both are, but that doesn’t ease the lump in my throat. It doesn’t make everything okay. Not by a long shot. “So that he would stop us from destroying it?”

“Or maybe to offer another chance to get our hands on one if we had destroyed Altaïr’s apple,” I tell him, considering that both swirls opened at just the right time so Ezio will get his apple around the same time Altaïr will get his. Whether I break Altaïr’s apple or not, Ezio’s apple will appear as a backup either way. “So she does want the apple, then.”

“But she already had it didn’t she?” Ken asks, hands going under his head as he looks up at the stars. He’s the perfect picture of eased and relaxed as he lays there.  “In Solomon’s temple, remember? She had it then. If she wanted it so badly, why would she let it go?”

“Maybe because she wants us to have it?”

It’s a guess, but it’s all I have right now. It’s all I will have too. At least until Minerva gets her head out of her ass and actually tells us what it is she wants. I’m done with all this cryptic shit. I’ve had more than enough of this.

We fall quiet then. As we watch the stars shine high above us, we process everything we’ve learned. Going over our new answers, I attempt to figure out what to do next. I’ve hit a fork in the road. With everything that’s happened in just these few days alone, I have more than a bit to consider and I don’t even know where to start.

But there’s one thing I’m sure of at least.

“I’m not going to help her anymore,” I tell Ken as I slip off the hood. I glide easily off it, my soft cotton clothes don’t catch on the polished metal as I get to my feet. Ken follows my lead, getting to his feet as soon as I do. “At least not until she acts like an adult and tells me what she wants.”

“Sounds fair enough,” Ken agrees, long limbs pulling into a stretch as he stands. He’s just as filthy as I am. There’s dirt and sweat staining his once white tunic to the point it’s now slightly brown. We don’t smell all that great either. “But what about Altaïr.”

“What about him?” I ask, the forced nonchalant falling flat as I climb into the car. The black, leather seat is cold, freezing. It sends a shock through my already thoroughly frozen body as I curl up into the seat. I almost feel guilty as I do. Ken’s car deserves better than to be dirtied by my sweat stain clothes, except Ken doesn’t mind.

All Leather interior means less chance of it actually absorbing unpleasant smells, after all.

“You know what,” Kenny says as he climbs into the driver’s seat. The car starts up quietly, so quietly I don’t even realize he’s started it until we move. The car glides down the dirt road smoothly, so much so you don’t really feel the bumps in the rood. At least not that much. A FR-S isn’t really built for off-roading but the car’s fairly new so the suspensions handle the bumps well enough. “Will you break it off with him?”

“I don’t know,” I tell him as the dirt road turns to asphalt and the car truly begins to move. These cars were built for speed, so the speedometer climbs past 50 mph after only a few seconds on the road. “I…I honestly don’t know.”

Silence falls over us then, only broken by the soft beats of a song turned down too low to actually be audible and the soft purr of the car’s engine. Kenny says nothing as we speed down the darkened road with only the headlights to light the way. He stays quiet, one hand on the wheel as the other shifts gears when necessary.

“I can’t tell you what to do,” he starts, voice low and thoughtful after a few minutes of almost complete silence. “I think you should just do what you think is best. Even if that means continuing to be with him. But, whatever you choose, you need to bear in mind that you might not actually get to keep him.”

“Will you do the same?” I ask, voice just as low. My eyes are focused on the road, watching the asphalt disappear under us, but even then I see Kenny’s fist tighten on the steering wheel out of the corner of my eye.

“Yes.”

“Isn’t it funny, Ken,” I tell him as I lean further into the leather seat. I turn to look at him then. The blue glow of the dash makes the shadow on his face deeper, harsher so he looks way older than I ever remember seeing him. The stress of these past weeks has aged us more than days spent tirelessly working at our jobs ever could. “That after years alone, we finally found someone and we can’t even keep them? To think, we waited this long for nothing.”

“No, Jen,” he says, the pity back in his voice even as his grip on the steering wheel turns his knuckles white. “It wasn’t for nothing.”

“How?” I ask, voice breaking as the lump in my throat thickness to the point where no other words make it out.

“Because I’d rather live life knowing what love felt like than never to have felt it at all,” he whispers, voice steady and strong and confident in the way mine can never be. “I’d rather spent it knowing that I once had someone who loved me enough to face hell for me than to go through it thinking no one could ever love me.”

“You love him.”

“I don’t know,” Ken says, grip going tighter and the shadows on his face darkening in confusion. “But I know that we could have something between us if I just let it.”

“Then why don’t you?”

“I’m scared,” he admits, voice once again lowering even as he finally lets up his grip on the wheel. “But not of losing him. I’m scared of everything that could go wrong. They live dangerous lives, Jen. You may be able to deal with the dangers of their worlds like you were born for it, but I’m not you. I wasn’t made to go on dangerous adventures and have epic sword fights and save the day.

“I’m just me,” he says voice breaking with something like self-hatred. “I’m Kenny, the nerd who spends all day in his workshop, inventing things, and never leaves his house unless it’s for work. Ezio and I, we’re different. Too different and I can never be what he needs. I can never pick up a sword and fight at his side or be there to have his back in the midst of battle.”

“He isn’t asking you to be,” I tell him, voice just as low. Ken jolts at the words, but his eyes stay locked on the road ahead. “He doesn’t want you to ride after him into battle, Ken. I think you’d give him a heart attack if you did.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Because he didn’t want that life for Claudia,” I tell him, the certainty in my words so clear he spares me a quick glance. “When she wanted nothing more than to be an Assassin, he fought her so hard on it that they didn’t speak for years, I think. So if he didn’t want this life for her, I would think he wouldn’t want it for you either.”

He says nothing then. Neither of us does. We finally allow the silence to settle over us. It’s a heavy one though, filled with the weight of a lot of choices we’ve yet to make. It’s uncomfortable but we let the silence continue even after we pull up to the house.

As I watch the house, sitting so innocently despite all the secrets it harbors within its walls, I almost don’t want to go inside. But I do, with a resolve I don’t know where I got from, I gather what little courage I have left and step out of the car.

The hardest thing about doing something you don’t want to is ignoring all the reasons why you shouldn’t do it. As I put one foot firmly in front of the other, I have to fight off every thought that tells me to dive right back into Kenny’s car and ask to be taken far away from here.

I’ve run away for long enough.

Still, each step is harder than the last and each thought is more convincing the closer I get to the front door. Kenny trails behind me, willing to let me take these few extra moments to settle my thoughts. To decide, really. He doesn’t rush me as I slowly but surely make my choice.

There’s so much to decide and even more to think on. Though, with Minerva calling the shots and determined to make me do her bidding, I know most of my decisions will be useless. I’m still going to make them, though. If only to tempt her into revealing her hand. The sooner I know what she's planning, the better.  

It’s time to know exactly what is going on.

“I think,” I tell Kenny as we finally reach the front door. Clammy hand wrapped around the round, brass doorknob, I come to at least one decision in this whole complicated mess. “I’m going to take a break from all this.”

“Take as long as you need,” Kenny says, hand coming up to settle on my shoulder. “You deserve a break after everything you’ve gone through. We’ll hold down the fort till you’re ready to go again.”

There’s no doubt in his voice because we both know I will go again. That I won’t give up. Not on this. Not after so long. It’s not in my nature to give up. So no matter what Minerva might show me or what tricks she might pull, we both know I’ll be back.

“Thank you.”

Chapter Text

Part Two

Chapter 2

Four pairs of eyes turn our way when we finally enter the house. Alexis, Mother, Father, and even Ezio are gathered in the living room, seated on the various couches as they no doubt wait for us. Steeling myself, I wait for the onslaught of questions to begin. With the way I ran out of the house, I’m actually pretty surprised that they haven’t already tried to hunt us down.

Yet no question come.

Instead, all but Mother turn their attention back to the Television quietly blaring out the nightly news.

“You’re home,” she says. The relived ‘finally’ goes unsaid but you can tell it’s there as she stands and pulls me into a tight hug. “Come, let’s get you into a warm bath and some clean clothes.”

I don’t fight her.

I don’t want to.

This is my mother, my best friend and closest confidant (besides Kenny). I want nothing more than to curl up into her arms and cry my eyes out yet again. So I go easily enough as she drags me through the house and into the bathroom.

Once the water is steaming and bubbly and ready she leaves me be. Quiet music filters out of the small speaker by the sink, soothing and comforting. As I sink into the water, I know I should take my time in here. After days spent on the road, I should linger in the water until my fingers are nice and pruny.

But I don’t.

I’m scrubbed clean and out of the tub before the first song even ends. Even though the warm water promises to ease all my aches and pain, I don’t want to linger. I don’t want to be alone. Even with the soft music and the splashing of water, the bathroom seems too quiet. Too big.

Too lonely.

I towel off just as quickly and pull on fresh clothes even though I know I’ll regret wasting such a nice bath tomorrow. Once clean and dressed I all but race out of the restroom, mind set on going straight to bed.

Or at least it is until I catch sight of the stairs and hear the soft murmur of voice quietly discussing in the living room.

“What happened?”

“Altaïr...”

I don't linger to hear the next words out of Ken's mouth. I know what they are anyways and I'm silently thankful that I won’t have to explain any of this myself. So instead I climb the stairs, slowly, almost hesitantly.

It hasn’t escaped my notice that Altaïr isn't down there. That he wasn't sprawled on one of the couches, waiting for my arrival. With the way I reacted, he probably hasn't even made the jump.

He’s probably still in Masyaf.

A giant little part of me wants to jump back through. It wants to run back to him and dive into his arms and beg him to forget everything. It wants to pretend none of this whole Adha business ever happened and I didn’t run from him.

That part, the one that withers and twists and throbs and all but yowls inside my chest, wants nothing more than to go back to how we used to be.

But I don't.

I can't. Not when another part of me is still dead set on setting him free. Of giving him over to Maria, his rightful wife. So rather than racing back into his arms like I want to, I don’t head towards the attic when I reach the top of the stairs.

Instead, I pad down the hall in the opposite direction. Bare feet relishing the feel of the cool wooden floor, I head to the room at the end of the hall. The door is cracked open just a bit, letting out the light that shines inside.

Mother sits on her bed, thin, pale legs crossed, as she thinks. One hand runs over her quilt, tracing the pink, flowery designs of it while the other cups her chin, elbow preached on her thigh. Her face is blank, passive but something like a sad smile crosses it when she catches sight of me.

She says nothing as I cross her room and climb onto her bed. Curling up into her side, she begins to run gentle hands through my hair, carefully pulling the tangles from it. I ease into the comfort, shifting until I’m sitting in front of her to make it easier.

“Tell me,” she says, voice soft and in no way demanding as she combs her fingers through my hair.

And I do.

I tell her everything, from the beginning of our trip to Masyaf, to its disastrous end. I tell her about riding Epona through the villages and across wide open fields, and about spending the day with Malik sipping hot chocolate and some god awful tea, and I tell her about walking through the Market that felt strangely like home.

She says nothing, fingers never once faltering in their gentle tugs. She works out all the knots, silently, while I talk. Even when I get to the part about Abbas and the ambush, she does nothing more than hum. Albeit it’s a bit strained.

Though, when I get to Adha and Altaïr's lost love, she pulls me into her chest as my voice cracks just the tiniest bit.

“I'm fine,” I tell her, voice shaking as I once again fight the lump in my throat. Throwing my hands over my eyes, I try to fight back the tears prickling at the back of my eyes before they can fall. “I can't keep crying about this.”

“Why not?” she asks, voice soft as she rests her chin on top of my head. Her arms tighten around me, holding me firmly against her chest. “If it hurts, then cry. Holding back the tears will only make it hurt more. So go ahead and cry, hun, I have you.”

It seems her permission is all I need. The tears stream freely past my hands even as I choke down the sobs threatening to break free.

“I have you, hun.”

The whisper is soft and soothing in a way that only makes me cry harder. The tears seem to be never-ending as my heart throbs and twists and churns in betrayal it has no right feeling. At least not towards Altaïr. It’s not his fault he loved Adha. It’s not his fault he married Maria. Hell, it’s not even his fault he dropped out of the sky and into my life.

It’s not his fault that I fell in love with him.

No, the blame lies solely on Minerva and her conniving, manipulative ways. But even knowing that doesn’t lessen the pain. It doesn’t ease the hurt or stop the tears. It doesn’t make everything okay.

It doesn't make me love him any less.

So instead I sit here, furiously trying to hold what’s left of my heart together as it slowly breaks apart.

As I mourn for a love that can never be.

“I can't tell you what to do,” Mother says, voice still soft as she holds me. My tears haven't stopped falling and I don’t even know if they ever will, but the sobs have finally stopped trying to crawl out of my throat. “And I don’t want to see you suffer.”

Warm hands go to cup my cheeks, grip gentle as she turns my face towards her. I let my hands drop then, no longer bothering to hide behind them as she pulls my gaze towards her.

“But I don’t think you should give up on him.”

The words stay with me long after my tears have dried and I’ve finally crawled into my own bed. They stay with me, circling in my head and keeping me from sleep even as I wrap myself in more blankets than is strictly necessary.

So of course, it’s as I lay there, swallowed by a cocoon of blankets that I realize I won't be able to sleep. Despite all that has happened in the past few days and the exhaustion I can feel in my bones, sleep won't come.

Not when my bed feels so big, so empty and cold. I’ve gotten too used to the warmth of being held, of falling asleep to the rhythm of someone else’s breathing. I’ve gotten so used to having someone next to me and the security of having someone within hands reach. Sleeping alone, now, seems impossible so I crawl back out of bed.

Slow and unsure, I slip out from under my mountain of blankets. The cold night air greets me almost as soon as I push aside the blankets, raising goosebumps across my skin as I pad to the dresser and pull out a fresh pair of leggings and a tunic.

I question my decision even as I pull on my boots. Thoughts of whether I should really do this now, so soon and on so little sleep, circle around my head as I head back up to the attic. Whatever the answer may be, I carefully pull Uncle Mario’s red, leather journal out from under a stack of papers. Taking only a few of the translated pages, I run them quickly through the computer and retranslate them into Arabic.

Once the pages are done and freshly printed, I staple them together, if only to make sure they don’t fly away as I stand before the swirls. Even dressed and ready to go with the pages held tightly to my chest, I still can’t help but ask myself if I should really be doing this.

The answer is no.

I really, really shouldn't.

But that’s never stopped me before.

The touch down is softer than I can ever remember it being. The hay envelopes me so well that my already aching muscles don’t protest the landing. Crawling out of the hay is a whole other story though.

My arms strain and wobble and throb as I pull myself out of the hay and over the edge of the cart, pages still clutched to my chest. My exhaustion runs so deep that my knees buckle as I jump off the cart. Only my grip on it keeps me from falling onto the floor.

Taking a second to gather my strength, I pull in deep, long breaths. I’m pack-less this time. Weaponless too. In my tiredness, I’d forgot to get any supplies what so ever. Other than the pages in my hands, I’ve brought nothing with me, not even my camera glasses. Not that I care. To my slow, sluggish mind, none of that matters.

Not, right now.

The trek up the hill to the fortress is much the same as when I was hungover all those weeks ago. Minus the nausea. So it’s slow going and much stumbling and I few odd stares before I reach the top. Once I do though, I just stand by the gates, unsure if I’m even welcomed anymore.

While I technically didn’t ‘defect’, I had run from Altaïr.

Uncertain of my next step should be, I lean against the stone walls and watch others go about their lives. My mind is too sluggish to come up with an answer, my thoughts moving too slow and jumbled to really come up with a course of action.

So I stand there for longer than I mean to.

“It is Jennifer, is it not?”

I do nothing more than hum in agreement as I turn towards the voice. I don’t even bother to panic because I already know who it belongs to. I spent many days trying to weasel my way out of his training sessions after all.

“Are you searching for Altaïr?” Rauf asks, curious brown eyes locked on me. He’s dressed in his usual mentor robes and I little part of me wonders if he isn’t looking for Altaïr himself. Too tired to figure out how to make my voice work, I just nod. “He has been up in the tower for a long time, would you like for me to call him down?”

“No,” I croak out as best as I can. Pushing off the wall, I give him the best smile I can. It no doubt comes out small and sleepy and strained, but I try. With another nod, I push off the wall and take Rauf’s attitude towards me as a sign that I’m still welcomed here. “Thank you.”

It’s not until I’m standing before the ladder leading up to the Flanking Tower that I realize I should have probably taken Rauf up on his offer to call Altaïr down. Climbing that won’t be easy, but at this point, I no longer care.

I need to see him.

With that thought, I try my best to shake off the exhaustion. Rolling my shoulders and stretching my legs, I carefully tuck the pages beneath my tunic and under the waistband of my leggings. Once they’re secured, I begin the climb. Ignoring the protest of sore muscles, I haul myself up and over the ledge, blood plumbing.

It’s the blood racing through my veins that finally eases the exhaustion away. At least for now. So with renewed strength, I search around the rampart of the fortress, determined to find him. Even if it means climbing but the second ladder and into the actual Flanking Tower.

I don’t have too, though.

He stands in the middle of the rampart, between the two flanking towers, and right where Al Mualim stood when Robert de Sabe laid siege on Masyaf. He leans forward, arms resting on the stone rail, as he watches the people below. His chin sits on top of his folded arms, body slouched in what I can only describe as crushed.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper as I move to his side. Resting my own arms on the stone rail, I fight the urge to curl up into his side. “For overacting like that.”

“I love you,” he whispers, voice sounding tired and just so defeated. I only just stop myself from flinching at them. Though I can’t stop the way my eyes water yet again and my heart throbs at those words. “Why do those words hurt you?”

Because of course he would notice my distressed without even having to look at me.

“You have a wife,” I answer him truthfully. I’m not here to lie to him. I’m not even here to manipulate him—that's Minerva's job. I’m here because, even while knowing all about his wife and future children, my heart still stupidly yearns for him. “Or rather you will. In about a month’s time, you will meet the love of your life and I can’t keep you from her. I won’t.”

We lapse into silence then. I don’t know what else to say, I haven't really thought of what to say. Not when my mind still refuses to work at full capacity to come up with something. I’m at a loss of where to even begin on how messed up all of this is.

Of how Minerva manipulated us both.

So instead, I watch the people walking below us and try to figure out where I’ve picked up this knack for people watching. Probably when I first managed to get my butt stranded here.

“What is she like?”

“Who?” I ask, distracted as I lazily watch the wind rustle the leaves of a nearby tree. A few kids run about under it, chasing each other to and fro in what appears to be a game of tag. Or at least they are until one of the guards beckons them towards him, one hand offering something I can’t make out. Whatever it is the kids take it quickly before scampering off.

“My wife.”

“Hmmm.”

The noise is out of my mouth before I can stop it. It comes out somewhere between surprised and thoughtful. My nails, though, dig into my palms threatening to draw blood as my hands curl into tight fists. I struggle to keep any of that from my face as I think of how to answer.

His wife?

What answer can I give that isn’t drenched in ten pounds of jealousy and envy and dislike? Not that I actually hate her. If it wasn’t for Maria, Altaïr probably wouldn’t have even been able to get through his mission in Cyprus.

Add to that that he loved her—genuinely loved her—and I have no reason to dislike her other than jealousy. Especially since she loved him back, genuinely too if she was willing to turn her back on everything she’d ever known to be with him.

Put it that way and disliking her is just selfishness combined with greed. 

“She’s beautiful,” I whisper, resting my chin on my arms as I struggle to sallow the jealousy before it can choke me. “Brave. Strong. Determined. She’s perfect for you,” I whisper ignoring the way Altaïr straightens up from his slouch and finally turns to look at me. “She’s an English woman, a petite, brown-haired, little thing that can and will give you a run for your money.”

Even though I know I have no reason to feel the tide of emotions currently wreaking havoc within me, I still do. Previously soothed by his presence my heart begins to throb again but I don’t care. Not anymore.

Too tired to keep feeling anything but the desperate need for sleep, I ignore it as I continue to watch the people below. Slumping further against the wall, I uncurl my hands and rest them flat against the sun, savoring the warmth of the heated stone.

The sun shines brightly over us, covering us with its warmth. This high up, the cold winds are enough to keep us cool and ease the full force of the sun and its heat. Still, I savor it and the warmth that bleeds into my skin from the sun-warmed stone.

“What is her name?” Altaïr asks after a long moment of almost peaceful silence. I just hum again, not answering as I lazily open my eyes. I hadn’t even noticed them shutting and probably would have fallen asleep if he hadn't spoken.

“I can’t tell you that now, can I?” I tease, stretching as I finally realize it might just be time to call it a day. Regardless if I have to sleep alone or not, I’m at my limit. With the help of the sun’s warmth, the exhaustion has come back, full force. “That would be cheating.”

With those words I stand up, muscles begging to stretch. I let them, arms going up in the air as I finally lock eyes with Altaïr. He says nothing as I stretch though he doesn’t bother to hide the way his eyes trail over me.

“You will have a wife one day and you will love her as deeply as you did Adha, if not more so,” I tell him, surprisingly no lump builds in my throat as I say this. Nor do tears build in my eyes as I lay it all out for him. As I finally come to a decision. “But I still love you, I’ve always loved you. So I’m not going to make the choice, not this time.”

Pulling the pages out from under my tunic I hand them to him. They’re only a few of the codex pages. The ones from March 15th and March 20th were I had decided both to give him to Maria and selfishly kept him for myself and others that had continued to pop up every time I had questioned if what I was doing was right.

This is risky.

I know it is.

The codex pages reveal too much. Probably more than I realize but I can’t do this. Not by myself because this decision just isn’t only mine to make. It’s his too. He has as much right to know just what he will lose as he does to know what the future has in store for us.  

“I’m tired of always being the one to decide,” I tell him as he takes them, eyes slowly going over the first page. “I can’t choose this time, I can’t. I love you too much,” I tell him eyes going back to looking over the city. “So I’m leaving this one to you. I want you to make this choice because I will always question if my decision was the best one for you or if it was the best one for me.”

“Jen,” he begins, hand going up to cup my cheek. I let him, savoring the warmth of his palm as he pulls me back to look at him. “Jen, I lo—”

“These pages are yours. They're from a codex you’ll write one day but my presence here causes them to change every day. Read them,” I tell him, cutting him off as I pull away from his grip. “Read them all and then, if you still feel the same. If you can still say it without any trace of doubt, then say them to me all you want. But please don’t say them now. They hurt too much to hear.”

With words, I turn away from him, fully intending to go back home and finally getting some much-needed rest. Yet, I don’t even make to the ladder before he calls after me.

“I leave for Arce tomorrow morning.”

Freezing in my tracks, I take a deep, steadying breath. It takes all I have not to run back into his arms and kiss him goodbye. Instead, I muster up a small, yet genuine smile from somewhere as I turn back to face him. There’s a smile on his face, a sad one that speaks of unease as he still holds the papers.

“Safety and Peace, Altaïr,” I tell him, smiling wider when the smile on his face turns fond at my words. My heart yearns to be buried in his arms. It wants nothing more than to curl up into his chest and never let him go.

Awe, fuck it.

I’m in his arms before I even realize I’m running towards him. His arms wrap around me instantly, pulling me tight against him. Taking just a quick moment to savor the feeling of finally being in his arms, I bury my head into his neck as I throw my arms around them

“I’ll be waiting for you,” I whisper against his skin, nuzzling into his neck. He holds me tighter, almost as if he fears I’ll disappear as soon as he lets me go. It takes everything I have then to pull back, even more so when he’s just as reluctant to release me. “So hurry home, okay?”

“Always,” he whispers back, that fond smile still on his scarred lips and I don’t want to let him go. I don’t want to leave him. Standing under the warmth of the evening sun and overlooking the bustling city of Masyaf I can imagine if I don’t.

I can picture our days together. Here in this mysterious, dangerous fortress surrounded by people who would probably prefer to have us dead (previously Abbas and soon Al Mualim) and I would never regret a moment of it. Not if it meant I would get to spend it with him. Even if it meant helping him run The Brotherhood because let’s not forget he’ll be The Grand Master soon.

I would spend forever with him if I could.

I really, really would.

One last kiss can’t hurt, right?

I pull him into me before I can think of all the reasons why it could hurt. Smashing our lips together, I let all the desperation and jealousy and pain bleed into the kiss. He meets it with desperation of his own making the kiss all sorts of rushed and fiery and, well, desperate. Soon, though, the emotions bleed out. The desperation weans, turning the kiss sweet and slow and soft.

It’s a goodbye.

This time the tears don’t stay away. They come full force, slipping out from my closed eyes before I can stop them. It’s only by a short-lived miracle that I manage to pull away from him before he can notice them. I refuse to let him see me again.

So, instead, I run away from him yet again.

Chapter Text

Part Two

Chapter 3

Kenny Chase:

Sometimes he wonders if he did something wrong. If he did something unspeakably horrible in some distant past life. Or if his future deeds will be so bad that Karma has decided him to punish him beforehand just so it will amount to the horrors he will commit.

Whatever the answer may be even he can’t believe that he’s done or will do something horrible enough to deserve this.

Happiness is but an arm’s reach away. He knows it is. As he gazes at Ezio’s face, relaxed in a well-deserved nap and awkwardly sprawled across the couch in a position that can in no way be comfortable, he has to fight the need to pull him close. To pull the man out of his awkward slouch and push him to stretch across the couch.

And if doing so will put Ezio’s head on his lap, so what? It’s not like Ezio hasn’t done it of his own accord before. Still, he holds back. He keeps his hands firmly planted in his lap even as his eyes never stray from Ezio’s face.

He looks younger when he sleeps.

He looks unburdened by the weight of revenge for his father and brothers' deaths. Asleep as he is, the years spent fighting for his life one day and worrying for the wellbeing of his mother and sister the next melt away. Leaving behind something that looks a lot like that young, seventeen-year-old who had his childhood ripped away from him by the greed of others.

He looks happy, as he mumbles something in his sleep and slumps further into the couch cushions.

Maybe he did commit some unspeakable horrors in his past life. He must have to end up the way he has now. Disowned by his family and trying not to yearn so obviously for the scraps of attention the Hernandez's throw his way.

Not that they don't give him more than enough. They treat him as one of their own and better than his own mother ever did. Better even than his absentee father that was always off working and never around.

But it’s not the same.

It doesn’t fill the hole in his heart that yearns for their love. It doesn’t soothe the little abandon boy inside of him that cries for his mother’s attention. Or the young fourteen-year-old who looked out into a sea of people, high school diploma clutched proudly in his hands, only to see no one waiting for him.

No. Wait. That’s not right.

The Hernandez's had been there. They always have been even when his own family hadn’t bothered to show up. He can still remember a ten-year-old Jen screaming her lungs out, big, neon-blue board held as high above her head as she could.

“You did it, Ken!” scrawled at her best attempt at calligraphy. It had been God awful, honestly, and almost completely illegible but the sight of it had eased the throb in his heart. He had treasured that sign for years. If only because it meant one thing to him. Messy scrawl and plain words aside, he had treasured it as the only proof he needed to know that the Hernandez's cared.

They had been there, during his biggest accomplishment so it was no surprise to see them during his biggest failure.

He can still remember the car crash with a vivid memory. Can still see the bright headlights of a car going too fast to stop, can still hear the squeal of tires desperately clinging to asphalt and the smell. That’s the worst part. The one that makes everything too real.

The smell of burnt out tires, ruptures oil lines, and blood.

So much blood.

His own family hadn’t stuck around after that. They’d abandoned him and taken Anissa with them. Somedays, in his darker moments, he wonders if maybe this was his penance all along. If the reason he never had a family to begin with had been because he would one day cost Anissa her leg.

But then he wasn’t alone. Not even then, fresh from a car crash, stitches holding many parts of his skin closed, and disowned, had he woken up alone.

Jen had been there, tears streaming down her face and hand clutching his so tightly it had stayed numb long after she had finally let go. They had all been there. Mrs. Hernandez, Alexis, and even Mr. Hernandez had been crowded around his bed, a strange mix of relief and grief on their faces.

It had been then that he realized they were the only family he ever really had.

So he has them, the family he so deeply cherished but he’s man enough to admit that having a family scares him. So he shies away. He puts distance between Mrs. Hernandez's attempts to coddle him and tries to ignore the proud, fatherly looks Mr. Hernandez's throws his way if only so they won’t get tired of him.

He tries so hard not to outstay his welcome.

If his own family didn’t want him, why would they?

Why would Ezio?

And that’s the question isn't? The one he’s been trying so hard to pretend he has no reason to ask himself, because Ezio doesn't really want him, right?

It’s just a passing fancy, right?

Right?

Jen says otherwise, of course. Or well she hints at it with her knowing looks and smiles. And he may be dense, but Ken’s not an idiot. He can see how the whole family looks at them when Ezio so much as glances his way. He can see the softening look in Mrs. Hernandez's eyes as some long-buried worry for him melts away.

The worry that he’ll end up alone.

Sometimes he wonders when their attitudes changed. When Altaïr and Ezio had first arrived, priority number one had been to get everyone back to their appropriate timelines and close the swirls. Priority number two, unbeknownst to Jen, had been to keep the two from falling in love and experiencing unavoidable heartbreak.

Now?

Well, now he's not so sure what the end goal is. Not when everyone has been gently suggesting that Jen breaking things off with Altaïr might not be for the best. And, honestly, he can see why they would think that way, too.

With just one look at Jen’s face, he can see why the whole family is so hesitant to even attempt to split them up as they should have since the beginning. And it's all because she's happy.

Unlike anything, they’ve ever seen before. She’s out and about and not locked up every day in her room, ignoring the world. She's trying. She’s living. She’s mending long broken bridges and just going out and living her life.

She's free.

So why can’t he be too?

Why can’t he let himself have this? Why can't he shake the chains that bind him to his corner of solitude and let them all in? Why can’t let himself be happy for once?

So what if it all ends in pain?

He'd rather have even an amount of Ezio’s passing lust than sit here wondering what could have been. If only so he can finally stop being alone.

Happiness is but a hand’s reach away.

Ezio’s body is warm under his hands when he finally allows himself to touch. The muscles under his fingers are firmer than he would have imagined but yet Ezio allows himself to be moved easily. He even shifts towards him when Kenny pulls him across the couch.

Ezio’s head is heavy and just as warm as the rest of him when it falls into his lap. He can’t keep the smile off of his face then, small as it may be, Ken lets it come onto his lips as he runs his fingers through Ezio’s hair.

And when those brown eyes open, sleepy and dazed and yet no less bright, and a soft, warm smile comes over those scarred lips, Ken thinks, “Yeah.”

Maybe it’s time to reach.

~oOo~

Jennifer Hernandez:

Life waits for no one.

It will continue to move, never stalling. Earth will continue to turn, the sun will rise every morning and set every night. Nothing will stop Earth from spinning. Not even as the whole world as you know it is ripped to shred before your very eyes.

So even though it feels as if the world has finally unfrozen, as I wake from slumber on my first day back home Jerusalem, it’s with something akin to surprise that I realized it’s only a few days to Thanksgiving and it’s already halfway through the holiday season.

The world has continued on without me. The days have come and gone and all the houses have long since put up their decorations in preparation for Christmas. My own house has decorations I’d failed to notice in my need to escape last night.

Tinsel and wreaths decorate various parts of the house. All while a lone, bushy Christmas tree sits in the corner of the living room, forgotten and undecorated. There are boxes of lights and ornaments crowded around it, as forgotten as the tree.

“How many days are there to Thanksgiving?” I ask Kenny. He sits next to me, sprawled across the couch with me as some random movie plays on the screen. Not that we’re watching it. We’re both too engrossed in our own thoughts, both minds playing over last night’s conversation. “Or did it pass already?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Ken says, absentmindedly fishing his phone out of his pocket. He glances briefly at the screen, only turning it on for a few seconds before he turns it off and tosses it down next to him. “We have twelve days to Thanksgiving.”

My hum is ignored by both of us as we dive back into our thoughts. Mine, of course, instantly go back to Altaïr. Circling between stressing about what decision he will come to and stupidly wondering if he will be back in time for Thanksgiving.

“I need a vacation,” I mumbled to Kenny, slumping deeper into the couch as I do. My sore muscles both protest the moment and relish the shift as they relax against the soft cushions. Still, as tired as I am, my leg doesn’t still. My knee bounces restlessly as my body begs me to move.

To do something.

“You technically just came back from one,” he answers, sparing me a disbelieving glance as he does. He’s almost as sore and tired as I am, but nowhere near as restless. In fact, he looks seconds away from taking a very well earned nap. “And you saw how well that went.”

“It doesn’t count as a vacation if you’re almost killed.”

“True,” he agrees without a fuss, eyes drifting shut. He relaxes further into the couch, no doubt fully intending to give in to the need for sleep. He even goes as far as to toss one of his long legs over mine, effectively stilling it’s not so quiet bouncing. “But where would you even want to go?”

“Venice?”

It’s mostly a joke. The answer comes out with no actual thought on my part. It’s an automatic response to something I had been contemplating about days ago. Thoughts of going to Venice had been on mind since Ezio’s swirl first opened and, despite the disaster my trip to Jerusalem was, I don’t see any reason not to go.

“I thought you wanted a break,” Ken says, one eye slitting open to pin me with an unbelieving stare. I just shrug, eyes going back to the long-forgotten movie on the screen.

“There’s nothing for us to do in Venice except sightseeing,” I tell him, shrugging. “Ezio’s time doesn’t really need us to intervene. At least not until he defeats the Borgia Pope. Then we have to warn him to evacuate Monteriggioni before Cesare Borgia attacks and kills Uncle Mario. Oh and kidnaps Leonardo too.”

“This is doing nothing to convince me to go.”

“Well how about this,” I tell him, sitting up and pushing his leg off my mine. He sits up too, nap forgotten as he realizes I’m being serious now. “Ezio’s time isn’t anywhere near as dangerous for us as Altaïr’s. As far as I remember, there aren’t guards ready to chase you all across Ezio’s world outside of the major cities unless you gain notoriety. But it’s been awhile since I played the games so I could be wrong.”

“Still not convinced.”

“Alright, well, right now, game-wise, we’re actually on a break between major missions for Ezio,” I try again. “He has nothing big to attend to, which is why he’s always been here with us since the swirl open. In fact, this is the part of his life the game completely jumps over because there’s just nothing interesting going on, which means there’s really no danger to him or any other Assassins up until his birthday where he is told about the apple by…what was her name?”

“If you don’t know, I have no hope of knowing.”

“Right, I think it was Rosa, but whatever. Point is it’s an almost peaceful time for Ezio right now so what better time to take a trip to Venice but before shit hits the fans and he has to fight the Borgia?”

“And if it isn’t peaceful?” he asks trepidation in his voice as grabs his phone and lights the screen up. “What are we going to do if we get attacked?”

“Will take weapons, of course!” I tell him, watching as he taps away at his phone screen. “And Ezio, we can’t forget about Ezio.”

“What about me?” Ezio asks, coming out from the kitchen, a bottle of water in one hand and a mug in the other. He hands the mug to Kenny before scooping up Kenny’s still outstretched legs and plopping down in between us. He settles Kenny’s legs on top of his own, skillfully ignoring the slight blush on the other’s cheeks. “I only understood a few words of that, but I think my English is definitely improving.”

“I’m trying to convince Ken we should take a trip to Venice,” I tell Ezio as he opens his bottle of water and takes a deep, long pull. “Say, how long does it take to get to Venice anyways?”

“On horseback? Two or three days. Depends on how hard you push the horses,” Ezio says as he pulls the bottle away from his lips. “If you do not care about your horse breaking down, you could probably make the trip in a day and a half. Though your horse will probably not survive the trip.”

“So let’s just say three days, then?”

“Yes, three days sounds fair,” he agrees, turning to Kenny with a slightly heartbroken look. He has the puppy eyes out full force as he does. “Why would you be against visiting Venice?”

Kenny, bless his soul, can do nothing but stutter and mumble out incomplete sentences as Ezio hits him with the full force of his puppy eyes. Unwilling to displease Ezio anymore, Kenny fumbles for an answer that won’t offend Ezio.

“He thinks it’s dangerous,” I answer for him, snickering at the glare Kenny throws at me. Ezio just pouts at the answer. “I’m trying to convince him it’s not.”

“I will admit the trip is dangerous, for an assassin, which neither of you are,” Ezio says, a thoughtful look on his face as he considers all the points to this. “The only danger that you would face on a trip to Venice might be a bandit but you will definitely not be hunted down as Assassins. In fact, you would be relatively safe even if I were to escort you there directly.”

“Oh, why is that?” I ask.

“I have not been out causing trouble,” Ezio says, shrugging when I give him an incredulous look. “I have been here all this time with you lot. My notoriety actually has not increased in weeks. In fact, I am pretty sure the guards have even completely forgotten of my existence by this point.”

“Oh, so definitely nowhere near as dangerous as Altaïr’s time?”

“Absolutely not. In fact, it might even be your safest trip yet,” Ezio agrees, a smile on his face. He shoots off his seat then, rushing to his feet in his excitement. Though he only stays standing for the time it takes him to bow and hold out his hand. “So how about it, Kenneth Chase? Would you allow me the honor of escorting you and Miss Jennifer to the beautiful city of Venice?”

Kenny’s blush is a sight to see then. With how light and clear his face is, the blush reaches from the tips of his ears to down his neck. I can’t help my giggles then, but I try my hardest to choke them down when Ken throws another glare in my direction.

“I don’t know why you all insist in calling me Kenneth,” Kenny grumbles in embarrassment even as he places his own hand in Ezio’s. “My name is Kenny, Kenny Chase, but very well. I accept but so help me, if I die, I will come back to haunt you and your whole bloodline.”

“I will not let you die, Kenneth,” Ezio teases as he pulls Kenny from his seat and onto his feet. Ken yelps at the sudden pull and barely has time to catch himself on Ezio’s chest lest he falls into him. “I’ll protect you with my life.”

Whelp, it seems that ship has sailed.

“We call you Kenneth exactly because your name is just Kenny Chase,” I tell them him, watching the scene in front of me with a huge smile splitting my lips. “No middle name and incredibly plain. Even if we use your whole name there’s no dramatic effect to it unless we go and extend it to Kenneth.” 

“You’re one to talk, Jennifer Hernandez,” Kenny says, shooting me another glare though this time it’s from Ezio’s arms as the older man goes to wrap one strong, sturdy arm around Ken’s waist. “You don’t have a middle name either.”

“True but my full name is already long enough to add the necessary dramatic effect if you say the whole thing,” I tell him as I stand, stretching out sore muscles. “Just like ‘Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad’ and ‘Ezio Auditore da Firenze’. You really can’t lengthen ‘Jennifer’ any more than that unless you’re going to go and give me a middle name.”

“You would love that, wouldn’t you?”

“Maybe,” I tease as I turn off the television. Ken stays in Ezio’s arms for a little longer, pretending he’s not melting into his arms as he does. “Anyways, are we on for a mini vacation to Venice, or no?”

“You really think your parents are going to let you go off on another adventure so soon?” Ken asks, hands still firmly pressed to Ezio’s broad chest. They haven’t stepped away from each other and it doesn’t look like they will any time soon.

It warms my heart to see them that way too. To finally see Ken stop fighting. To see him relax and finally let something good into his life. That boy really knows how to push away all the good things in life and I can’t even blame him. 

With a mother like Victoria, no one can.

“They really can’t say no,” I tell him as I make my way out of the living room. With another trip on the horizon, I need to start packing now. Though this time, since the trip will be so short, I’ll only be taking a few sets of clothes and toiletries. “Minerva seems only to be able to really hijack my dreams and talk to me when I’m on their side.”

“Hasn’t she done it before while you were on this side too?” Ken asks as he finally pulls out of Ezio’s arms to follow me. Ezio lets him go reluctantly but there’s no hiding the way his eyes trail over Kenny as he watches him move.

“Once,” I correct him as we make our way down the hall and towards my room. “When Ezio’s swirl opened. That’s the only time she visited my dreams while I wasn’t in their world. Other than that she only disturbs me when I’m over there.”

“The Energy!” Ken shouts then, hands shooting out to stop me from walking into my room. Instead, they pull me back towards the living room and up the stairs before I can even fully process what he's saying.

“Ken, what energy?”

~oOo~

Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad:

He doesn’t look at the papers for days. They stay carefully tucked away in Hamza's saddlebag even days into his journey to Masyaf. They’re not forgotten though. They stay on his mind constantly, teasing him with their existence long into the days and nights.

It’s only sheer force of will and determination that keeps him from reading them the second Jennifer is out of sight. Then it’s just the knowledge that he knows he's not ready.

As much as he wants to know the answers that the papers hide, he knows he’s not mentally prepared to read the words painted across the pages in black ink. He really isn't ready, not when they hold so many secrets. 

Too many.

It hasn’t escaped his attention how the family tiptoes around him every once in a while. How they stall, words stuck in their throats as they try to figure out whether whatever they are currently discussing is something he can be told about. Never mind that the actual papers in his hand, The Codex Pages that the family has been trying not so subtly to hide from him, reveal more than even he thinks he's prepared to know about.

He’s caught a glimpse of them before. Just passing glances at words written in a language he can’t read as they cluttered a table or two. But, as with everything else, he knew better to ask. There’s just so much at stake. So much that can could go wrong if they say the wrong thing.

Jennifer has said it herself.

“Ah, but the question isn't: What is Minerva hiding? It's: What she was trying to stop? What was it she saw if she showed you everything? What would happen if I just opened my mouth and told all that you would come to learn in the next few months? See the real question is: What's safe to say and what isn't?"

And this, giving him The Codex Pages he will later come to write, seems a lot like something fairly unsafe in his opinion. Since Jennifer’s first warning about the dangers of revealing too much, he’s resigned himself to never being able to ask about what will come.

He’s accepted that all his questions about the future Jennifer so fears are better left unanswered. So he’s stayed quiet, never questioning and never peeking at the plethora of information always so carelessly strewed across their home.

That he probably wouldn’t have been able to read well over half of it had never mattered to him. He’d still kept his gaze politely pointed away, instead focusing on the here, on Jennifer, and any bit of information she willing offered.

So this, being offered something from what is technically his future self is…well, intimidating is a word for it among many other things. Foolish being one of them, of course. Sure, he understands the importance of his decision on a deep, personal level, but when it comes to the greater scheme of things?

Why risk so much?

Why make such a foolish move over something like this?

When he already knows what his choice will be.

Codex Pages be damned.

Jennifer is his.

He almost tears the papers into sherd then. Almost lets them be scattered by the wind but he doesn’t. The long-buried curiosity doesn’t let him. Not after having been restrained for so long. So he doesn’t rip up the pages like he should. Nor does he let the wind take them.

Instead, in the dead of night by the light of a dwindling campfire, he finally pulls the pages from the saddlebags. Somewhere a cricket chirps, slow and constant while Hamza huffs into the patch of grass he’s munching away at.

He stares at the papers in the dying light, more than a little tempted to simply toss them into the fire. He doesn’t though. No matter how much he wants to, he can’t. Not when they have answers to questions he never thought he would get to ask.

So no matter how risky and dangerous he thinks this all is, he slowly lets his eyes take in the words.

He’s only human, after all.

Thirtieth of March, 1478

First Entry:

‘She dances under the moonlight. Sways to only a beat she can hear as she stares up at the stars. Somewhere in the distance Epona knickers, hooves falling quietly on the grass as he nears her. She doesn’t flinch, doesn’t stop her soft swaying as he comes to her, ears perked high on his head.

She just giggles, no fear in her movements as she goes to place her hands on his cheeks. He allows it only for a moment. He soaks up the warmth of her hands for a few seconds before he starts to bob his head. The giggles grow in volume and numbers as she follows the beat of his nods.

Soon they’re dancing to a beat all their own as the stars shine down on them.  

She knows him, trusts him so deeply she doesn’t startle when he begins to paw at the ground. She only giggles harder. That’s all it takes. It’s not too long before they’re off frolicking in the distance, slowly chasing each other across the wide open pasture.

“She was made for this,” I whisper, not to her or the horse she so deeply trusts. No, I whisper to the babe quietly slumbering in my arms. “She was made to be here, with me, with us.”

Despite so many doubts, so many trouble and so many pains, she belongs here. Under the moonlight, living a life free as the wind that brings her giggles to our ears.

Even in his sleep, the babe smiles at the sounds of her giggles, comforted by them.

Yes, Jennifer belongs here.’

Seventh of April, 1478

Second Entry:

‘Giggle sounds, soft and low. Somewhere there are sounds of rustling hay as boot-clad feet shuffle through it, disturbing the otherwise quiet night. The guards on duty pay it no mind, content to ignore the giggles and rustling when it’s already so late.

In the dead of the night, with only torches to keep the darkness away, danger lurks so they keep at bay. Willfully ignoring the rustles and the giggles, they continue on their patrols, never stopping even as the giggles grow louder.

I follow them.

Let them lead me deeper into heavily guarded territory as we scale the walls of some otherwise peaceful building.

I catch glimpse of her as go. Just small glances of a body as it disappears over a ledge or around a corner. Always just within sight before disappearing again with another litany of small, quiet giggles. But I don’t speed up, I don’t hurry to catch her.

Content to just follow her, I let her lead me up.

Up a tower, over a ledge, and to the top of a flanking tower of a building I haven’t bothered to remember or identify. Not when my whole attention is centered on her and her giggles and the leisurely chase of my prey.

She stops when she finally reaches the top.

She stands there, back straight and shoulders heaving. Facing the moon that sits high and full in the dark sky, she stares at it. It bathes her in its glow. Showers her in pale light the makes her skin glow ivory.

Ethereal.

And when she turns, hood pooled around her neck and long brown hair styled in tight braids, there’s a smile on her face. Bright and wide and oh so full of life. One that only deepens as pale blue eyes land on me.

“Maria.”’

Chapter Text


Part Two

Chapter 4

Jennifer Hernandez:

The streets are as bustling as ever. The people come and go under the setting sun. They go about their daily lives even as a heavy tension rests in the air. Guards patrol the city more heavily, eyes narrowed and shoulders tensed as they go.

More than once, narrowed eyes land on me. They harden when they do, but only for the briefest of seconds before they dart away. The heavy glares don’t last too long, at least not from the guards. It’s the glares of the civilians that last longer.

They linger, watching me, assessing me. After the commotion of our arrival with a severely injured Abbas, I’m not surprised that they do. We’d made quite the scene arriving as we had. Especially since we had kept everyone from helping Abbas out too.

Factor that in and I’m surprised no one has done more than glare.

Still, glares or no, I keep my head held high as I make my way towards the Masyaf gates. Those who don’t glare at me, stare simply because I’m a sight to see. My face is a patchwork of bluish bruises only just beginning to yellow, leaving them a sickly green at the edges.

Ignoring them as best as I can, I slip out of the gates and head towards the stables with only one goal in mind.

Epona.

Basil exits the stables just as I pass through the gates. A chestnut horse trails behind him on a lead, ears perked forward as it goes. Despite that the horses almost towers him, Basil shows no hint of nervousness or fear as he hands the horse over to a waiting Assassin.

“Ah, there you are,” Basil says once the horse has followed after it's new handler. “I was going to send word to you about Hafiz's condition, but then I realized no one quite knows where you run off to when Altaïr is away.”

“Hafiz? You mean the black one with bits of white?” I ask, ignoring the rest as my heart begins to race. Fearing the worst, it takes a lot not to rush him for answers. “Is he okay?”

“The black stallion, yes. I had the farrier look at him per The Master’s instructions,” Basil answers, something like worry in his voice as he steps back and nods for me to follow him into the stables. “While there are no broken bones the sprains he has sustained are more than tad bit concerning.”

Farrier?

Isn’t that just someone who puts shoes on horses? Wait, when you think about it like that, it would make sense he was called to look at Epona. They work on horses' feet, after all.

He talks as we pass by stalls, some empty and some filled with curious horses who nicker as we pass. More than one eagerly paws at their door.

None of it fully registers, though. The stalls and horses pass by in a blur as one word circles around my head, frighteningly real and horribly possible as my eyes land on where Epona stands, one leg cocked and noticeably swollen.

Laminitis.

Horses, for all their grace and prowess, where built ridiculously stupid. Bearing all one thousand plus pounds on only four digits (one on each leg), prone to overeating until they drop dead, and with a surprising inability to throw up no matter what they consume. The ways in which they can die are surprisingly simple.

And Laminitis can be brought on by a number of ridiculous ways. Eating overly nutritious being one of them and bearing too much weight on one leg (to make up for keeping weight off an injured leg) being another. It’s why they say a broken leg means death for a horse.

With so much weight and only four legs to carry it, putting too much weight or strain on one leg can lead to a host of horrible problems like bruising, sprains and—worst of all—the swelling of the tissues that quite literally keep their hoof wall glued to their bone.

Laminitis.

Once those tissues start to go, it’s a hard-fought battle to recover in my own timeline. I can only imagine what it is like here, where human medicine is practically a horror story.

This is not good.

Not good at all.

“What exactly did the Farrier say?” I ask even though my mind is already racing with all the things I can remember from spending time at my grandparent's ranch and all that I can Google as soon as I get home.

“There is quite a bit of swelling in his right hind fetlock as you can see,” he says and yes I can. The joint is bigger than it should be. “This has made him noticeably lame, of course, and his refusal to bear any weight on it had originally made us assume it had been broken.”

“But it isn’t, right?”

“No, it is not,” Basil agrees but there is nothing reassuring in his voice even as he says it. “Despite it being sprained, he is will bear weight on it when made to trot. There is no broken bone, at least.”

“At least,” I echo, the dread is a heavyweight in my stomach as I watch Epona limp to the water trough. “He’s going to need something for the swelling and to relieve the pain.”

“Ah, yes the Farrier has already given us a poultice to apply daily,” Basil says, handing me a jar of a brownish-red something. “It is a bit difficult to do so, though. Give how much pain he is in, Hafiz is much more likely to kick me than to let me apply the poultice.”

“Right,” I choke out, wondering just what is in the jar. But not even my level of curiosity is enough to get me to open it. “Well, I got a better idea. Give me some time and I’ll be back with something much better than…this…”

“Better?” he asks, doubt in his voice as he takes the poultice back. “This was prescribed by a farrier, what could be better than that?”

“Just wait, I’ll be right back.”

I can’t keep from running as I race out of the stables and to the swirl. I don't even bother to stop as more than one guard yells after me to slow down before I hurt someone.

Google is opened before I even make it out of the pillow pit. The fact that I even had my phone on me to begin with is a miracle I don’t take for granted as I climb out of the pit and search Google for anything helpful.

“Hun?” Mother calls, slight concern in her voice as I pass her by in the hallway, nose practically glued to my phone. Which is quite honestly surprising considering I don’t know where my phone is half the time. “Is everything okay?”

“What anti-inflammatory is safe to give to a horse?” I ask her even I continue to scroll Google for the same answer. But all I get from it are medications I’ve never heard of, much less those I can easily get access to.

“I…I wouldn’t know,” Mother says, something like a frown in her voice as she thinks. “I honestly haven’t the slightest idea, but why ever would you need horse anti-inflammatories?”

“Epona's hurt, badly—for horses anyways,” I tell her as I Google the names of all the horse medications for something over the counter. It’s just my luck that most, if not all, require prescriptions and Veterinary administration. “He needs meds, strong ones.”

Should I just kidnap a Veterinarian?

“Try your Grandfather,” Mother says as she places a comforting hand on my shoulder. “If anyone would know, it’d be him.”

“Thank you!”

I’m dialing my grandparent's home phone in Mexico before she has even pulled her hand away. She walks away then, a small smile on her face as she enters her room. I make my way to my own as the line rings.

“¿Bueno?”

“Grandma!” I answer, relief and happiness in my voice as I hear my Grandmother's soft voice on the other end of the line.

“Míja!” she replies, the same happiness in her tone. It turns her voice softer, sweeter and fills my mind with memories of golden sunsets and bustling market stalls. ¿Y ese milagro? How are you, Míja?”

We delve into pleasantries then. Catching up after months of no contact. I don’t mind it. As I listen to my Grandmother's voice, most of the panic ebbs away, but not enough for me to completely forget.

“Is Grandpa there?”

“Sí, sí,” she calls from him then, the phone rustling as it exchanges hands.

“Míja,” Grandfather answers voice strong but no less fond. Now all I can think about are nights spent by campfires and days spent on horseback. “How have you been?”

“I’ve been great,” I tell him and it’s not a lie. All in all, I have been. Extremely so, even with the horrifying attempt on my life. “But I have a slight problem I need your advice on.”

“A ver, dime. ¿En qué té ayudó?”

“There's this horse,” I begin, struggling to explain without giving out the whole story. “He’s lame. His right hind fetlock is noticeably swollen and he refuses to bear weight on it. I was wondering if you knew what kind of medication I can give him that doesn’t involve calling a veterinarian or getting a prescription.”

“Right hind?” he asks but doesn't wait for me to confirm before he continues, “Why can't you call a vet, Míja?”

“It's complicated,” I tell him, embarrassed by the lack of explanation.

“Complicated like your extraterrestrial boyfriend?”

“He’s not an alien, grandpa,” I say around a groan. Wait, how does he even know about him? “Let me guess, my dad told you?”

“But he's not of this world, right? Doesn't 'Extraterrestrial' mean 'not of this earth'?” he asks, smudge because he kind of has a point in a not entirely correct way—if that’s even possible.“It was your Mother actually.”

And she calls dad a chismoso.

"Really?," I ask, embarrassed. "Can we just talk about the horse and discuss whether or not Altaïr is an alien later."

"Oh, so se llama Altaï r, eh?"

"Granpaaa~"

“Okay, okay. If he allows it without any medication, ice the foot,” he continues, getting back on topic. “If not I would suggest DMSO Gel for the inflammation and Dormosedan Gel to sedate him just enough so he'll actually let you work on him. You can probably get both at a farrier supply store if you're lucky. If not, you can probably get some off the internet.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” I gush as I rush to my computer to Google both. I stay on the line with him as I do, delving back into talking about my recent adventures now that I know its safer to tell them everything. His ribs and teasing about Altaïr comes back now that he's told me all he's can about the gels. I laugh with him, enjoying the gentle teasing.

“You should come to visit us soon, Míja,” he says in goodbye, longing in his voice. It makes my heart ache to hear it so I rush to tell him I will before saying goodbye and hanging up the phone.

To my luck, the closest horse supply store is only a few cities away. Without a thought, I pull up Kenny’s number and push call. While I wait for it to connect, I rush around the room, switching my tunic for a time appropriate shirt and collecting my purse and wallet.

“What’s up?”

“Ken! Horse emergency! Get your shit, I’m picking you up in ten,” I tell him as I grab my keys and race out of my room.

“…But I'm in your living room,” Ken says just as I round the corner and spot him on the couch, Ezio perched next to him as they pour over tablets and papers and who knows what. 

Or well, Ken does. Ezio just watches him, eyes fond as Kenny mumbles a mile a minute about some mysterious energy he can't even begin to explain. Which is saying something when it comes to Ken.

“Even better,” I tell him as I hang up the phone. “We'll take your car, it’s faster. Hurry!”

I don’t bother to wait for his reply as I step out into the dewy gray morning. Where the sun was setting in Masyaf, it’s only just beginning to rise here, turning the world a grayish-blue.

“It's that bad, huh?” Kenny asks later when we're all loaded up into his car and barreling down the almost empty freeway at way past 60.

In California “Speed Limit 60” translates into “If we all go 80 they can’t pull us all over” and I think that’s so beautiful.

“Oh yeah,” I agree even as I continue to Google different stores in case this one doesn't have the gels. “And its already been almost four days since the attack.”

“Not to be mean but he probably will not survive,” Ezio says from the back seat, lounging against the leather seats as he watches the world whiz by. “Uncle Mario has had to put down a number of great horses with similar injuries.”

“Ezio,” Kenny warns, eyes locked on Ezio’s through the rearview mirror.

“Giving him a fighting chance is better than doing nothing at all,” I say, voice strong even though the dread continues to sit heavy in my stomach. “He deserves that much, right?”

“Right.”

We make it back from the store, prize in hand, with no incident and only stop long enough to change into Masyaf Era appropriate clothing before diving through the swirl.

Ezio and Ken come with me for moral support. Both of them stay silent, serious in the face of what technically is an emergency as we make our way through the streets. With the sun past setting, the city has begun to settle in for the night. The streets are emptying, so we don’t meet too many harsh glares as we go.

“Basil!” I call once I reach the stables, though I don’t bother to wait at the entrance for him. Instead, I make my way inside, heading straight to Epona's stall. “I’m back.”

“Over here,” he calls from the other side of the stable. Meeting us at Epona's stall, he eyes us wearily as I pull out the bottles of gel. “What did you bring?”

“Something to sedate him enough to let us work on him and a much better paste for his leg,” I say, trying my best to explain the medication. At the sight of his doubtful expression, I try, “We got it from a Farrier from up north.”  

Other than a ‘hmm' Basil says nothing. I take it as I win as I pull out the syringe of Dormosedan Gel. Having read the instructions on the way back from the store, I carefully apply the gel under his tongue. I make sure to explain everything that I do to Basil so he will be able to do it when I’m away.

“Okay, now we wait for it to take effect,” I say as I pat and scratch everywhere I can reach. Epona soaks up the attention, head bobbing happily every once in a while.

“It is not as bad as I assume,” Ezio says as he inspects Epona's foot. “It is concerning, yes, but if you can just get the swelling down, I am sure he will pull through. With the way you were panicking, I assume it was twice as swollen.”

“It's not?” I ask, eyes locked on the injured foot, taking in swelling. “It looks pretty bad, horrible even.”

“That is because you are looking at it with a mother's eye,” Ezio says, fondness in his voice as he throws an arm over my shoulder and draws me close. “The sprain is painful, yes, but nowhere near fatal. I may not be much of a horseman myself, but I am sure he would have recovered on his own.”

“But Basil—”

“Is looking with the same kind of eyes as you,” Ezio says, voice still fond as he ruffles my hair. “He has raised and cared for these horses his whole life, trust me when I say that his concern comes from the same place as yours, so be wary of exaggerations brought on by fondness.”

“So Epona will be okay?” I ask as Ezio pulls me tighter into his side, comfort pouring off him in waves.

“Yes, little one, he will.”

~oOo~

Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad:

He reads the papers late into the night. Once, twice, again and again, until they’re engraved into his memory and then he reads them once more. He looks for the differences but not in the words. No, those won’t change, at least not the ones on these papers.

He looks for the differences in them.  

In Jen and Maria.

They’re so alike, so similar he has trouble differentiating them as he reads. He forgets at times, gets so deep into reading the words that he forgets who the entry is about until he can’t tell if it was supposed to be about Jen or Maria.

But the differences are there, small and insignificances but he clings to them as something that feels an awful lot like dreads pools in his stomach because he can see it. As he reads the stories about Maria, as he reads his words about her, he can see himself falling in love.

That he does love her.

Or at least his future self will if given the chance. She’s just so much like Jen. Brave, adventurous, witty, and beautiful. She has all of the qualities he admires in Jen—all the same ones that made him love Adha—that loving Maria would not be a question of ‘if’ but of ‘when’.

So he clings to the differences, reads them and ingrains them in his brain until all the reason why he shouldn’t love Maria are compiled into a neat list. With Templar at number one and Selfish at number two.

Because she is selfish, extremely. So much so that her need to be recognized as something more than a woman, a wife—someone whose only job in life was to cook and clean for a husband she didn't want—had driven her to abandon her family.

To disgrace them as she ran from her obligations as an English Noblewoman and all for what?

Honor?

Glory?

Where's the honor in working with people hell-bent on destroying the way of life of the innocent? How is their glory in kidnapping and enslaving the poor?

Selfish.

The word burns itself into his brain and he clings to it as he struggles to remember why he can't love Maria despite everything he reads.

But the more he reads the harder it gets.

The more he sympathizes. The more he understands why she was driven to such extremes. As he reads he begins to realize that she'd been misled. That she'd never been told the full extent of the Templar's plan.

That even as Robert de Sabe's right hand, he'd never delved into the full truth of their cause. And even as light had begun to be shed on the truth of their mission, it had been loyalty that had kept her at his side.

Because out of everyone in her life, it was Robert who had first supported her. Where her family had turned away and shunned her, Robert had welcomed her with open arms. He had accepted her as she was, feisty and with the call for adventure running through her very veins.

Where Jen's family had welcomed her need for adventure with open arms, Maria’s had been curbed. Suppressed until running away had been the only option left. He can’t even imagine what he would have done if their—his and Maria’s—roles were reversed.

If he had been the one stuck and unable to run, to ride, to fight. The need for adventure is like fire in his veins. Impatient, needy. It demands the weight of heavy metal in his hands and the pounding of his heart. Nothing is as satisfying as the ‘clang’ of two sharp blades meeting, of the thrill of perfectly blocking your opponent's swing.

Expect maybe the feeling of steel slicing into skin. Of the give of soft flesh under harsh metal. Of the slick feel of blood gushing forward, painting everything red, staining once shiny steel. Of pained groans and whimpers slowly fading away to deathly stillness.

If Maria's need for adventure is anything like his, he's amazed she hadn’t run away from home earlier. If he had been as restricted to pursue his interests as she had, he would have run from home well before his eighteenth birthday and definitely before he could have been married off.

So he sympathizes for her, despite wishing elsewise. The more he reads, the more he realizes he could love her. If given half the chance, he would love Maria just as much as he had Adha, if not more so.

But he doesn't.

Not when Jen occupies his every thought. When his love for Jen surpasses anything he had ever felt for Adha. He can’t love anyone else, not when his only reason to do better, to be better, sits with making Jen proud.

He could be all the things he was—callous, arrogant, violent, ruthless, murderous—but none of it would be worth seeing the pain and disappointment in her eyes.

Even while the words in front of him paint a love for Maria that would be greater than anything he ever felt for Adha, he knows that he won't ever feel it. Not anymore.

His very reason for being has changed.

It's no longer the thirst for blood and need for destruction and death that drives him. Despite how eagerly he once sought it before, the feeling of his blade sinking into his latest target doesn’t bring the all-consuming satisfaction as before.

It doesn’t lessen the need in his veins. Nor does it alleviate the tightness in his chest. It only grows. As he sinks the white feather in the pool of blood of yet another victim, his chest throbs sharply.

Was this death necessary?

No, nothing drives him like Jen.