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It’s been long enough, that when Malik’s hip bumps against the desk he doesn’t reach out to steady the pile of scrolls and papers with the hand that’s no longer there . A tower of issues to attend to, demands that seem to multiply when his back is turned, forever threatening to spill out of even the ample space of Al Mualim’s former library.

A deft move from his remaining hand is enough to stem the tide, at least for now, and if the initiate notices his momentary awkwardness he would never dare to show it. An young man who seems to be hiding beneath the shelter of his hood, not quite willing to meet Malik’s eyes. If it had not been this way since they’d liberated Masyaf, then certainly since Altaïr had wrested the Apple from Abbas.

Altaïr the idiot. The damned Apple.

He picks up the message case, holding it out to the initiate who is trying not to shift nervously at the sight of his first real assignment.

“You will bring this safely to the dai in Jerusalem, and protect those brothers making the journey back. It should not prove a challenge above your ability, but you must stay on your guard.”

Nothing of great import inside, valuable enough but hardly worth an ambush. The Templars have kept relatively quiet for the past few years anyway, ever since Altaïr cut down so many of their leaders, since he gained the Apple.

Altaïr the imbecile. The thrice-cursed Apple. Proving that Al Mualim’s last lesson had bounced off his thick skull just like so many others.

“It will be done, Mentor.”

Malik looks up, finally meeting the boy’s eyes, and smiles a little as he shifts from foot to foot, nervously wondering what he’s done to come under such sudden scrutiny. It feels as if he has put on their master’s dark robes as a lark. As if at any moment Al Mualim will return to snatch both him and Altaïr up like mischievous children and knock their heads together, before putting them to work scrubbing out the stables, or tending to the pigeon coops.

“Safety and peace, brother”

Malik has always been studious, obedient to his vows and the greater calling of the Creed. It still feels rather unbelievable to be the one giving orders, to watch the initiate bow and retreat, moving as quickly as respectfulness will allow, already eager to complete his mission.

——————————

He had never intended to remain in Masyaf. Malik cannot remember exactly what his plan had been, not that anything had lasted long in the lunacy of that final fight, the shock that had faded to uncertainty and doubt even as the dust settled. As the gold-tinged visions subsided and the world shivered itself back into sanity. As Altaïr stood with the strange sphere still burning in his hand, and Al Mualim stretched lifeless on the ground behind him.

Malik found he was holding his breath, uncertain of just what might happen next - and then Altaïr crouched down, free hand out to help one of his fellow Assassins stand, giving orders to men still blinking themselves free of the nightmare, and in the moments that followed no one dared to question him.

Malik had spent many quiet nights in Jerusalem in his new role of bureau leader, what would have been a position of honor in any other circumstance. He tried not to brood over his brother’s death, conscientious of his duties to the Creed and the brotherhood and absolutely certain that Altaïr would be far too prideful and foolish to last long with the restrictions he had been placed under. Surely, the lack of respect he believed was his due would reveal him for the feckless thug he truly was.

He held out no small hope that Altaïr might even disappear within his realm of influence, that it would be his privilege to hunt the man down. Hardly impossible that Altaïr might even choose to side with the Templars before long.

So he had pushed himself harder than ever in training, that he would re-learn his skills for what he thought, what he’d half-hoped would be the inevitable battle. Making sure the loss of a hand would do nothing to change the outcome, should he be so fortunate to be the one to strike Altaïr down.

In the end, though, it had been Malik’s own obedience, his proud, hard-won victory that had ceded Al Mualim his prize. The Piece of Eden, and it nearly led to the downfall of their entire order, if not the whole world. It was an irony not lost on him as he listened to Altaïr give those first quiet commands. Masyaf’s new leader making sure the city was safe, that the wounded were tended to, and the people assured there was no need for panic. He did not move far from Al Mualim’s body, and Malik found his gaze straying there as well, as if death itself was no longer such a certainty.

“What now, Mentor?”

Malik could not quite keep the wry tone from his voice, though even he did not expect to see Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad flinch.

As a boy, he had always found Altaïr’s intensity, the steady certainty of his gaze irritating even as his cool, detached manner had made him the envy of most of the other initiates. It had not helped that his arrogance and his skill had gone hand in hand - if there was anyone who could justify such lofty attitudes, it was Altaïr.

Not this Altaïr, though. Not for a long time and not now, with the way his gaze kept dropping to the Apple as if he held some poisonous serpent that might yet decide to turn on him.

“We need to burn the body. I must be certain that he is dead.”

Malik hissed a slow breath between his teeth. “It will not make you many allies.”

“Are you with me?”

The strangest thing, to see uncertainty in his eyes, the question as honest as it was hesitant - but then, Altaïr’s strength had always been in battle, in action rather than conversation. Slipping into shadow and air until it was time to strike. Altaïr, who could look through a man as if he did not exist, but now here he stood, and there was the body of the teacher they’d both respected, both followed without question. The man who had been like a father to Altaïr, to the entire order for so many years.

“I… cannot do this without you, Malik. I do not wish to try.”

He could count the times he’d heard that low voice stammer on one hand - which was fortunate, all things considered.

“So, this is what it sounds like when you talk sense?” So much Malik had never expected to see, and there it was at last, that rarest of things - a smile. Small, but there, and all it had required was moving the heavens and the earth.

“I am with you, Altaïr.”

—————————-

It seems as if no time has passed since then, yet there are now those recruits in Masyaf who only know of Al Mualim as legend. Even those who had trained and grown up alongside Malik, assassins twice his age bow their heads respectfully as he walks by. No one has ever made mention of his missing arm. All within the brotherhood give a part of themselves to become Assassins. Malik had simply given a little bit more.

His dark robe is conspicuous among the clusters of white in the training grounds, two nimble trainees dancing back and forth in a clash of blades in the ring. Dodging blows as often as they meet swords, little puffs of dust rising beneath quick footsteps, with success measured by some mutual agreement.

Occasionally, he will enter the ring to advise a student or even teach a lesson himself, and he has had the pleasure of reminding more than one of his brothers that a missing limb only hinders him slightly from putting on a hidden blade, not from using it, or a knife, or a sword. Once or twice, he has even managed to call Altaïr down to face him in combat, to show the youngest what they might aspire to become, though there is some question of how proper it is to have one Mentor of Masyaf knee the other in the groin for looking too smug.

The ‘Son of None’ intimidated men twice his age from the moment he’d taken up the hidden blade, and time, adventure and the Apple have hardly made him more approachable, when he can be found at all. Malik often finds himself, then, as the middleman for the rest of the order - this, he is rather certain, is the real reason they call him Mentor. Held in awe for his ability to deal directly with Altaïr, the one they all still wish to be.

At any other point in his life such a thing would certainly have driven him to madness, though now there is only a sense of wry amusement, if anything. He is far more powerful at a far younger age than he had ever dreamed possible, and it is nothing like he thought it would be. Even more amazing, that no matter the tales or glory that surround the man, Malik has absolutely no desire to be Altaïr.

Altaïr, who had gone to Acre on what he’d said was a simple task, with the word returning from their dai several days ago, that Altaïr had indeed come and gone. Take away the time for travel, and the man has been missing little less than a week. Malik says nothing, hardly the first time Altaïr has been so selfish, and until he returns or some Templar shows up to taunt them with what is left of him, there is nothing to do but wait and pretend he is not waiting.

At least there is plenty to occupy himself with. Malik’s time is rarely his own now, and all the worse if he dares step outside the keep. Two steps in any direction and he will be asked to approve a shipment of supplies, or receive some new information or a request for aid from this rafiq or that informant. The Templars are their strongest opponent, though they are but one of many. The Creed demands much of its followers, and its rewards are rarely those that tempt men of power, men who already believe they may do as they will.

“Good day, Mentor.”

The initiates have finished sparring, one of them with his hood back and breathing hard, the other smaller and shorter, and she does not remove her own hood very often, speaking to him always with her head tipped in deference, and to hide her scars.

“Your skills are improving by the day, Jala. You should be proud.”

“Thank you, Mentor.”

A fluttery shyness in her voice, though this is a woman who’d walked who knew how many miles, barefoot and bleeding to the edge of Masyaf. Begging to join the Assassins, or to have them kill her, and in the state she’d been in it was hard to say what was the merciful choice.

If any tenet of the order truly sets them apart, it is their attitude toward women as equals, no different than men. Raised in Masyaf, trained and training alongside girls no less sharp or deadly than he, Malik had never understood how anyone could come to think otherwise.

He remembered the day he’d been on assignment in Damascus with one of those girls, hiding in the shadows of an overhang, resting from the heat of the sun. How they’d happened to hear two quite learned men discussing the news of the world, and of their lives, the willful daughters who seemed to cause them no end of grief. All of it, in their esteemed opinion, obvious proof of the natural deficiencies in a woman’s mind, the simple science behind their failings, their weakness.

It was all Malik could do to keep from laughing, at least long enough to keep his fellow assassin from breaking every rule of the Creed in order to prove them wrong.

It does not matter where they come from or what they believe, Saracen and Christian alike, Malik has seen this absurdity from nearly all men. It would almost be amusing if it did not often lead to such cruel end, like the scars on Jala’s face, left by a jealous husband. When she had recovered from the journey, from her wounds, she had made clear her desire to stay. Malik is sure she believes her husband will come for her, and this is why she trains so hard, why she wants to learn to kill. He can only hope he might teach her how to live as well.

The scars are meaningless, Malik has truly ceased to notice them, if he ever did. He does not know if she is so shy by nature, or if there is another woman he has yet to see, proud and defiant and gaining strength by the day, preparing to step out into the world. Malik cannot even be sure if she thinks of him the way he has considered her, if there is anything like flirtation in her manner or if she is only nervous around him. If she speaks to him only because she sees him as an indifferent leader, because he is safe.

Malik is safe. Even if he wished to court her there is still the question of when he might find the time, and this is a peaceful season for Masyaf. No doubt he will come to think fondly of this moment, when it is his turn to stand at the gates, to defend against the next inevitable attack. He wonders if it was ever and always for the Apple alone, or if Al Mualim had ever stood where he did, listening to the sounds of training and teaching, proud of what had been built here, and what it meant.

An eagle screams in the distance. Malik looks up, watching the dark bird make an elegant arc across the sky over Masyaf and there is no way to be sure but he is sure.

————————————————-

For all that it is called the Leap of Faith, there is little punishment for an initiate who balks at that first step into the void. The path to true understanding is long and demanding. The journey of a lifetime, and it is only the nature of Templars to obey without question or hesitation.

It was Al Mualim who taught him that, who taught him most of what Malik still believes to be true. He has stopped trying to think his way to the sense of it, picking apart what seemed like truth from what had been an act, what was intended to guide him and what was a cunning Templar simply playing his part.

Nothing is true, after all.

Altaïr had been the first among them to fly, the first to take his leap and he had not hesitated. He never hesitated. It was still falling, but there was an undeserved grace, as if earth and sky agreed to share him, that he would come to no harm. Of course it was not true, Altaïr had acquired as many scrapes and bruises as the rest of them, but still, there was a difference. Altaïr was always the one to climb highest, drawn to the furthest point, that edge of emptiness. Where other men found terror, for Altaïr there was only peace.

So it is up a great many stairs that Malik finds himself climbing, cursing the mad bastard son of the eagle with every other breath as he makes his way to the top of the easternmost lookout tower. All the towers are put to varying purposes, with notches in the stone for bowmen to aim through, or storerooms, and there are various spaces here and there, for young initiates to find a moment of privacy. For the older ones to take full advantage of their skills, sneaking into undetected corners, or sharing breathless kisses on narrow beams stretched over the endless abyss.

What waits for him at the end of the narrow hall is not quite so dramatic, just a small space with an open window and a fair breeze blowing in. The view is magnificent, clouds passing in slow shadows over all the familiar world. A low table lines one wall, and a plush mound of cushions rests against the other, though Altaïr never managed to reach them.

The man lies motionless, face-down and sprawled in the center of the floor, the Apple glowing dimly where it has rolled to the far corner of the room, and when Malik takes a step forward he kicks Altaïr’s bracer hard enough to unleash the hidden blade, steel snicking harmlessly against the floorboards. A pair of throwing knives gleam nearby, though it seems Altaïr had collapsed before he could remove his sword. Disarming himself with the last of his strength, vulnerable as no Assassin should ever be, but a polite gesture since the last time Malik had attempted to help him and nearly got himself gutted for the trouble.

Little chance of that now. As Malik struggles to roll him over he can see Altaïr’s eyes half open, but blank and empty, head lolling bonelessly to the side. Malik’s own gaze snaps back to the Apple as if that alone might be enough to toss it out the window, send it flying into some dark chasm, to some place no one can ever find it again. Altaïr swears such a thing would not work, not even sinking it into the sea, but this is the same man whose logic has ended with him on the floor, only the bare rise and fall of his chest to say he yet lives.

“At least you have your arrogance to shield you, stupid man,” Malik mutters, pressing against his throat with two fingers, the pulse slow but strong.

The first time Malik found him like this, the physicians had spent half a dozen hours prodding him as Masyaf worked itself into a panic, rumors spreading of their newly minted Mentor’s sudden demise and all that it might mean. Just as Malik realized he would have to make a decision, that there was no one else to do so Altaïr had sat bolt upright, alternately cursing and pawing at his eyes, reaching out like a blind man. It took a long time for him to focus on them, and even then he was cautious and wary, as if not quite certain he could trust what he saw.

Malik made certain his ears, at least, were working, and then he and Altaïr had shouted at each other until the physicians had called in men to escort him away.

Infuriated, with nowhere else to sink his energies, Malik had buried himself in undoing the damage Al Mualim had wreaked on Masyaf, determined to lose not an inch of his home, to give up nothing more than he had. Somehow, when Altaïr had regained his equilibrium - when they had had half a dozen more fights, and the Mentor of Masyaf disappeared without warning - Malik woke one day to find himself sought for counsel, the expectation on him to continue the security and prosperity of the city, if not the whole of the Assassin order.

Altaïr may be a wiser man now, and a more humble one, but everything is permitted, and he is still a stray cat when given the opportunity. Being the leader of the Assassins has not changed this, with no one left who might rein him in.

Not when they both know Malik will keep things running smoothly in his absence. Not when the both of them are called Mentor without question or conflict, and when they solve most of their problems - the Apple, ever and always the Apple - by yelling at each other until the stones echo back and Altaïr, as often as not, makes his final point by disappearing through a convenient window. Leaving Malik to tend to all that is left behind, to ensure he will have a city to return to.

No one says it, but no one needs to. Malik is not the leader of Masyaf. He is not even the Mentor’s closest advisor.

He’s Altaïr’s wife.

“… and should our beloved leader finally lose that ball of shanklish he calls a mind , who will pick up the pieces? Oh, that's right, Malik will pick up the pieces.”

He grumbles at his unappreciative audience, tossing the bag he had brought toward the pillows and pausing long enough to remove Altaïr’s sword before dragging the other man with him, an inelegant shuffling that ends with the both of them on the cushions, Malik tugging the edge of his robes free beneath the other man’s unresisting form.

“Oh wise leader of Masyaf, you are like trying to move a cow made of bricks.”

He is breathing a little hard when all is said and done, his bag at one side and Altaïr stretched out at the other, head against his thigh. Malik gently brushes a hand over the man’s eyes, so that it seems Altaïr is simply sleeping.

A bloody bandage wraps inelegantly around his right arm, and another around his leg, dark blotches against the white that speak of rough travel and trial beyond even the Apple’s demands. Where there is blood there are bound to be even more bruises, though Malik will have to wait for Altaïr to wake to know the true extent of the damage.

If he wakes. That he has done so before is hardly a guarantee.

How did Al Mualim ever manage to hide such a thing? Surely he must have studied the Apple in much the same way, and Malik cannot imagine they could have ever stopped him had their mentor understood it so fully as to never be surprised, that he was never overwhelmed by the power it contained.

He sighs, and raps his knuckles against Altaïr’s head, just above his brow.

“Stubborn mule.”

Altaïr doesn’t twitch, barely a sign of life in him. Malik doesn’t know just when he’d arrived, or where he’d been before that - and most importantly, how long he’d been taken in by the Apple, how far he’d fallen into its mysteries. He knows nothing of the damage it might do, and Altaïr is equally unaware, Malik is sure of that, even as he is willing to risk everything.

“Worse than a mule. At least we might eat the mule.”

The Apple had shown them a map of the world, one Altaïr has copied now a dozen times or more, inscribed with strange phrases he says are the names of places that will exist someday. Where other Pieces of Eden are hiding, places Altaïr might travel to only if he had no intention of ever returning, though there have been moments when Malik can see him thinking it out. Usually the moments right before Malik throws something at his head - and how many times has he reminded Altaïr of his duty, his obligation to Masyaf, to the order? How loud must he shout, to drown out the call of the Apple, when Altaïr cannot explain what it is that he sees, even when it all but kills him to do so.

Malik wonders, now and then, what plans Al Mualim had for his favored student. It seems deliberate now, the way Altaïr had been distanced, allowed his arrogance, to stand apart even in the brotherhood. Had he been brought to heel not as punishment, but simply to make sure he could still be controlled? Had Al Mualim intended to bring him along into that new world?

It is easier than Malik would like it to be, imagining that Altaïr serving the Templars. A perfect killer, obedient and mindless and devoid of mercy.

He reaches down, running his thumb gently along the inside of Altaïr's wrist.

“Come back, fool. Come back.”

————————————

The sun casts orange bands high on the walls and Malik is reading the same sentence for a third time when a sharp inhale finally cuts through the silence.

Altaïr’s back arches slightly as he grasps at nothing, turning to burrow his head against Malik’s hip with an almost inaudible groan. Malik lets the book drop to his side, reaching out to scratch small circles in the soft hair at the back of Altaïr’s head. He rubs careful fingers slowly down the length of the man’s neck, feeling the strong muscles flex and shift beneath his touch. It is the way he had soothed Kadar when his brother was sick or in pain, and if there is any greater way to measure the distance of then and now, it is this. Offering comfort to Altaïr, who had seemed all but untouchable once, beyond such human weakness or need.

It might still be so, were it not for the Apple. Look at what it had nearly done to Abbas for daring to touch it, and yet Altaïr had taken it back without disaster. If only that were good enough for him, to put it on a shelf and keep it safe. Simply to hide it from the Templars, a power too great for any man to wield.

Altaïr’s fingers curl lightly against the stone. It seems to take a moment for him to remember how to open his eyes.

“… where is it, now? Where is now?”

The first questions are always breathless, and never normal, when they make any sense at all. When Altaïr isn’t speaking in languages that don’t exist.

“We are in Masyaf, and I am Malik, and you are a horse’s ass.”

He carefully pours a cup of watered wine, pressing it into Altaïr’s hand and holding it there until the other man remembers he has hands and fingers and what they’re for, that he licks at parched lips because heaven only knows the last that he ate or drank. He keeps a hand around the cup as Altaïr takes a shaky sip, and another, head falling back as if he is not an assassin at the peak of his prime. Malik can feel him shiver, and his eyes aren’t quite focused, studying him too intently.

“Altaïr, where are we?” He keeps his voice neutral, the tone of a patient teacher.

“… Masyaf.”

What does he do, the day the name is a word without meaning? Malik knows he must prepare himself for the possibility, what will happen if Altaïr should return a stranger, should lose himself the way Al Mualim had. He does not want to think of what he does not want to do, but that hardly changes his responsibilities.

“Who am I?”

Altaïr swallows instead of answering, and Malik helps him with another sip of wine, the assassins’ hands steady enough now that he can finally draw his own away.

“… and who are you?”

The shadow of a grin, and Altaïr shuts his eyes, leaning back against him with a weary sigh.

“A horse’s ass. Hello, Malik.” He frowns, eyes snapping open. “Where is the Apple?”

“There.” Malik gestures with the slightest nod of his head, and one arm barely tensed is still enough to hold Altaïr down when he attempts to sit up and retrieve it.

“No. You have had your fun.”

He bites back the surge of anger, how quickly Altaïr seeks it out, sun-scorched and still half-blind and yet he reaches for it. Where had he been studying it this time? What phantoms had it sent him chasing after? Malik has seen Altaïr lose himself in its power, even his iron control no match if the piece of Eden chooses to bend him to its will. If it had been an enemy to discover him while he was so helpless?

He would have been dead, with no one to know it.

“I found a few holes in our defenses, near the south wall. We will need to look to them.”

Half out of his mind, and Altaïr had still managed to slip into Masyaf, climbing his way to the top of the tower without ever being seen. A good thing that for all their trickery and manipulation, the Templars seem to think it beneath them to act as subtly as the Assassins consider second nature. An Altaïr or two in their ranks, and Malik would have to abandon sleep altogether.

“Any other man would be in chains right now. You should have sent word when you knew you would be so late.”

It does not come out as the scathing admonition it ought to, with his thumb smoothing the barest hint of hair back from Altaïr’s temple. He has gone still, and quiet. The silence is telling, Altaïr not apologizing for the oversight because it likely wasn’t one. Difficult to send word from some anonymous cave, half-conscious in the grip of a power none of them, not even Al Mualim, truly comprehend.

“What do I do, Altaïr, when you don’t come back?”

“Lead successfully.”

“True.”

“With fewer headaches.”

“And I ask myself why I continue to endure your leadership.”

“Strengthen our defenses, and you may yet keep me out.” Altaïr says, and sighs deeply. “You should see it, Malik. There are… eternities within.”

Which is the more disturbing, the note of awe in his voice or the open offer, to become bewitched by the Apple's secrets himself? Malik had never touched it, taking it from de Sable and bringing it directly to Al Mualim, and there are certainly times he regrets it. If he had seen it for what it was, perhaps he would have never brought it back, would have claimed it lost for all time.

The Piece of Eden seems to him not a weapon or a tool but a hole. A void, good for nothing but drawing a man in, all his attention, all his focus - taking everything and giving nothing in return. Maybe those who created it had never meant for it to be used as it was, or at all. It is foolish, unnecessary to speculate - Malik has seen what it can do, and what it does to those who wield it, and that is all he needs to see.

“Eternity? I have enough to handle dealing with today. Especially with our wandering mystic of a Mentor. ” Malik sighs, noticing the man’s cracked lips, the raw patches on his skin, a thousand little signs of carelessness, of pretending he has no limits. The endless risks he takes for unknown, phantom glories. “It cannot be worth this, Altaïr.”

“… and if I could give you back your arm?”

Whatever Altaïr is expecting, Malik doubts it’s the smack from the heel of his remaining hand against the side of his head. It is likely only exhaustion that keeps Altaïr still, keeps them from beating each other until one of them breaks the table or goes out the window.

“Don’t you dare bring me into this, for some stupid sense of shame. I will not be the reason you throw your life away!”

He’s very nearly yelling, and it doesn’t sound nearly as angry as it does worried, too near panic for a sensible man. Malik curses himself as Altaïr stares up at him, confusion shifting to concern.

“I do not intend to die, Malik.”

“Neither did Al Mualim.” Malik takes a sip of wine, forcing himself to calm down. Altaïr’s offer is not entirely without precedent. A few of the Assassins have made suggestions, that even a useless limb could conceal a fair hidden weapon, though Malik has yet to be completely convinced. “Make me something I can take off and hit you with, and I will be content.”

“Mm.” Altaïr shifts, and he can see the slight grimace as he notices some new injury, watches the tendons flex as he shifts each of his fingers in turn.

“It was not only the Apple to distract me. I… Maria was in Acre. I’ve believe I’ve spoken of her.”

“Hn.”

“No scolding, Mentor?”

Malik resists the urge to hit him again. “I cannot keep you from the Apple, and I should keep you from a woman?” Altaïr reaches for the glass, and Malik holds it just out of reach. “You would have to go and court a Templar.”

“Once a Templar. Now she seeks another path.”

“And it must be Masyaf’s Mentor to guide her.”

Everything is permitted, Malik. Whatever you might think, I do know what that means. She is worth the risk. She would be even if I didn’t… my feelings for her... Maria is worth it.”

Altaïr is in love. All the passions of a fence post for as long as Malik has known him, and now he chooses to find his heart. Insane as it all quite obviously is, Malik does look forward to meeting the woman responsible for such a thing.

Very faintly, he can hear the first adhān of the evening rising up from the valley below. The Assassins follow no religious order, but neither do they restrict the faith others bring to Masyaf. It has been proven possible that men of all beliefs can live together in peace - indeed, Malik has found more in common among them than differences. The Templars are the ones to restrict ideas, the Assassins celebrate differences, the wondrous complexity of all things.

It is not always easy, even here in Masyaf, but if Malik wanted easy he would simply take up the Apple, still waiting quietly in the corner of the room, and force the world to his will. It is good, perhaps, that he saw the world Al Mualim had wanted, that strange and silent Masyaf. At least he is sure it is worth dying for, that such a thing never comes to pass.

He is startled out of his thoughts by Altaïr’s fingertip, pressing at the worried crease between his brows.

“If you keep worrying, you will be an old man before your time.”

Malik snorts, slapping his hand away. “Who should I blame for that, do you think?”

Altaïr does not sound much like the stories they tell of him, nothing unstoppable or untouchable as he sits up only to groan sharply, head in his hands and even his dark silhouette an exhausted, bedraggled thing.

Malik does wonder if the Piece of Eden truly knows of what will be. If it will be more important, in the end, that he served his duty to Masyaf or that he knew this man. If he was there to make sure Altaïr did not kill himself before he was done doing whatever it was he was meant to do.

He hopes he might live to see it, to know the final purpose of this infuriating fool he has come to call his friend.

“Come, Mentor.” He says, his hand at Altaïr’s shoulder. “We will find ourselves a meal, and speak of all else that you do wrong.”