Chapter 32: It's Not Too Late
Daniel Cross stared up at the ceiling of his bedroom as he woke with a start, having revisited the events of that mission in his dreams for the first time in a long time.
He could still recall, in great detail, how he and his team had raided that Assassin safehouse, only to find it completely deserted. He still remembered the faint smell of ammonia in the hallways, how he'd ordered his team to head back while he stayed behind to search. And of course, he could still visualize with perfect clarity that familiar strand of long, reddish-brown hair he'd just happened to notice lying on one of the beds.
Indeed; it had been nearly 20 years ago, but Daniel still remembered it like it was just yesterday.
And sure enough...
He heard Hannah's voice in his head, disbelieving and pleading, just as clear as it had been that day. He could still see her in front of him, arms spread wide, as she implored him to return with her to the Assassins.
Indeed, he could feel himself level his silenced Operator at her face all over again, his hands shaking as he tried to force himself to shoot.
"But Daniel, why?" Hannah Mueller demanded, the tremor in her voice telling him she was on the verge of tears. "Didn't those two years mean anything to you? You of all people should know what the Templars are like!"
"I know you're better than this! We know what Abstergo did to you!"
Daniel felt a mixture of astonishment and discomfort at how much she knew, though still he said nothing.
To put it briefly, they'd strapped him to an operating table and probed his mind as to the locations of the Assassins' training camps. Daniel didn't exactly give them that information, though he saw no point in resisting their mind probe, either. In the eyes of the Assassins - and, indeed, in the eyes of Daniel himself - he was a traitor who repaid their hospitality with treachery when he murdered the Mentor. Abstergo didn't seem to regard him any better either, if that was any indication.
"I know what they did to you!" the woman who had been his constant companion - and who he came to regard with fond affection - persisted in front of him, recalling him to his surroundings. "It's not too late, you can still come back-"
The rest of her words were drowned out by a loud bang.
The stone wall behind Hannah cracked as the bullet struck, leaving a fracture at the point of impact. The gun was still smoking in Daniel's trembling hands as he lowered it and, breathing hard as though he'd just run a mile, tucked it back in his pants.
"It's alright, Daniel," Hannah reassured him as she dared to take a step forward, though the way her voice continued to shake made it clear that she didn't even know whether this was the right thing to do. "It's not too late. You can still come back to us, where you belong."
Daniel bowed his head. Much as he hated to admit it, those words got to him somehow. He hadn't chosen for Vidic to tamper with his mind like that, nor did he choose to have all those hallucinations of his ancestor's life. And he sure as hell hadn't asked for Abstergo to strap him down to that operating table and sift through his memories at their leisure.
Indeed, had he anywhere else to go, Daniel Cross wouldn't even be at Abstergo.
More importantly, Daniel hadn't forgotten how the Assassins – how Hannah – had helped him out of the gutter, had taken him in just as his life hit rock bottom. Even when the rest of them thought his search for the Mentor was pointless, she stayed by his side all the way through. And even now, she still believed he was worth saving, or she wouldn't even be here.
Maybe Hannah was right. Maybe he could still go back.
Maybe it wasn't too late for him after all.
On the other hand, Daniel did kill the Mentor; there was no point denying it. The kindly old man who had been the leader of the Assassin Order had considered training him as his eventual successor, only for his generosity to be repaid by Daniel with treachery. He, Daniel, was a traitor of the highest order; surely there would be no forgiveness for what he had done. No ifs, ands or buts about it.
For his act of betrayal, Daniel Cross would die.
At least, he would, if there was any justice in the world.
"Hannah… I'm sorry."
On the other hand, while he accepted death as his due, he wanted to at least redeem himself in some way before the price of his betrayal inevitably caught up with him.
"It's too late for me now," Daniel said sadly as he drew his gun a second time.
Hannah cowered as he fired, leaving another bullet hole in the wall mere inches from where the first was. He then lowered it to his side as he met her eyes, fixing her with a look that made it clear he would not be moved.
"Cross here," he said as he cupped his hand on the left side of his headpiece. "We were too late. Return to base."
"Hannah," Daniel's voice was regretful, but firm, as he regarded her with a piercing and unflinching gaze. "Get out of here now. Hide with the rest of the Assassins and hope to God we don't find you. Because if we do meet again, I can't promise it'll end the same way."
"ENOUGH ALREADY! GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY FACE OR I SWEAR THE NEXT ONE WON'T MISS!"
These next words came out of Daniel's mouth with such force that Hannah couldn't help but take a step back, even before he raised the gun a third time. A look of mingled pain, despair and sorrow flitted across her face as tears threatened to spill from her eyes.
With that last farewell, Hannah Mueller turned her back on him and ran. And as she did so, Daniel heard what sounded suspiciously like a sob being choked back.
At times he still wondered why he couldn't bring himself to kill her. And whenever he did, he'd rationalize it as best he could. Time and again he told himself that she wasn't at all an important figure in the Assassin Order, and that she had no need to die.
But is that even the truth, Daniel?
"Enough," Daniel told himself firmly as he sat up on the bed, shaking his head to clear away the sudden rush of memories. There was no changing the past now; the rough send-off he'd given her would make sure of that. For one thing, it would be little more than a waste of time; if Hannah was as smart as he remembered, she'd taken him at his word and made herself impossible to find.
And besides, thought Daniel, he still had a mission to accomplish, and he couldn't afford to lose sight of it now.
"He seems to be behaving himself," Reina Carmine spoke into her cellphone as she reported to her superior. "At least, he has, so far."
She was well aware of the signal jammers Daniel had placed around the area. However, what he didn't know was that her phone had been modified –by Abstergo, of course – such that it would work despite the presence of such devices. No less than Dr. Warren Vidic himself commissioned its development, the better to aid her in her duties.
"That's reassuring," came the voice of her boss. "Still, Reina, keep an eye on him, won't you? I know he's Abstergo's hero, but he's been acting very strange lately."
Daniel had become rather disagreeable as of late, thought Reina as she acknowledged the order, especially on the matter of Project Nephilim. He made no secret of it whatsoever, even badmouthing Vidic and his co-members in the Inner Sanctum to their faces. It was precisely the reason she'd been assigned to Daniel's team, the better to keep him in check should he get any ideas about betraying them – though, of course, he hadn't been told of that part.
They all knew of his surprisingly good relationships with his subordinates, but they'd never expected him to lash out so vehemently over the unfortunate casualties incurred as a result of the ill-fated Project Seraph. It was well-known, too, that his team suffered the greatest losses during that incident, but somehow they still managed to underestimate his closeness with his troops. And while the same incident guaranteed that he would continue to act on Abstergo's behalf at least where their rogue creation – Freya, she had called herself – was concerned, his newfound rebelliousness was sufficient to set them on edge.
"Report back to me should anything come up. In the worst case, we'll have Triple-Zero and her drones assigned to your command."
"What about Rei?" Reina asked, referring to the boy Daniel had assumedly recruited into their ranks.
"Watch him closely, too. Should the worst-case scenario come true, you're to bring him to the Far Eastern Branch and... persuade him into working with us."
"I leave it to you and your talents, Reina. I trust you won't let me down."
With that, her boss severed the connection, leaving a wicked smile on Reina's lips as she formulated her schemes.
What's that jackass playing at?
Such were Rei's thoughts as he laid in his bed that night, the noise of the outside world drowned out by the song blaring through his headphones.
All afternoon he'd been in the Animus, practicing and honing his skills as a form of stress relief. So far, today hadn't been his day at all. He'd had his ass handed to him by a girl first thing in the morning, only to find out Daniel had paired the both of them up as partners. Needless to say, Rei was less than amused by what he perceived as Daniel making fun of him, and so decided to vent out his frustrations.
He really didn't see why he couldn't have been paired with someone he actually got along with – like either Mancini or Pinocchio, both of whom he'd struck up an odd friendship with since his arrival here. They were the ones who'd helped him through his first few sessions in the Animus Virtual Training Program. Likewise, the three of them always worked together during the morning exercises, the two veterans usually acting as a mixture of coach and mentor to him.
If he, Rei, were to be paired up with anyone, it would have made the most sense for his partner to have been either of those two.
But instead of his seniors, Daniel decided to pair Rei up with some random chick he hardly knew.
Rei knew he was being rather unfair to Reina by judging her like that, but he couldn't help but suspect her. For some reason, there was something about her that rubbed her the wrong way. He couldn't quite put his finger on what it was, but his gut told him that he would come to regret it if ever he made the mistake of dropping his guard around her.
Get some sleep already, Rei. Not much you can do, anyway.
Rei turned to face the wall as he wrapped himself even more tightly in his blanket, the better to help him fall asleep.
Just a little longer…
Indeed, thought Rei, the month would be over before he knew it. And when it ended, he'd finally be able to return home to where Freya was.
In the meantime, all he had to do was keep calm, grit his teeth and then make it through this.
Elsewhere, in a certain mansion belonging to a known child prodigy, a pair of vivid blue eyes opened to see the lights shining brightly above her for the first time.
Slowly, she sat up on the makeshift operating table on which she had been laid out. As she did so, she was greeted by the visage of a certain custom-made persocom in a frilly French maid outfit, one with dark, cobalt eyes that complemented the long, blue hair she kept tied with her ribbons. Looking at her fellow persocom, she got the impression that she'd been there for a while, standing watch over her.
Smiling gently, Yuzuki felt an odd sense of fulfilment at the sight she beheld. It seemed so long ago that the bright blue eyes before her now were dull and soulless, the unseeing gaze of a cold killing machine given human form. Now, however, the same blue eyes radiated a kind of innocence that convinced her of the rightness of what she and Freya had done – of taking this one in, of giving her another chance.
And when the reborn persocom spoke to her, in the voice of an innocent child greeting the world for the first time, it was but one word.
One word, but one that would nonetheless change Yuzuki's life forever.
A/N: Sorry for the long wait, guys, I've had to deal with writer's block and all that crap.
Yeah, that was the divergence point, Daniel not killing Hannah. I'd begun this way before AC3 came out, but since it came out just recently and made this whole fic AU, I felt I had to show how and why things ended up differently here than they did in canon.
Again, it might help to have a look at the AC Wiki, especially for those who haven't played any of the AC games. It's assassinscreed . wikia . com (remove the spaces) ^^
Thanks for your continued support, guys ^^ Hopefully the next update won't take quite as long..