"Kadar should be here," Malik murmured thoughtfully into Altaïr's shoulder, his voice almost too quiet to hear.
"I'm sorry," Altaïr replied stiffly.
The words still didn't come easy, pride and guilt lodging them in his throat, heavy and thick. Altaïr felt like crawling out of his skin, leaving a shell behind for his damaged comrade. He'd tried to bury everything behind bravado while Malik had hidden his own pain behind rage, and while the two were on better terms now, the echoes of Altaïr's mistakes would forever haunt them.
"He loved you," Malik continued after a few moments of silence.
"I know." Altaïr's voice was distant, pained.
"Maybe too much," Malik added with a trace of bitterness.
"I know," Altaïr repeated.
In the silence that followed, Altaïr thought of Kadar - the man who had perished as a result of Altaïr's own arrogance. The brothers were polar opposites - while Malik was outspoken, competitive, and quick-tempered, Kadar was quietly confident, gracious, and patient. Malik and Altaïr had competed in friendly rivalry since their youth while Kadar had stood by, watching - admiring them but also learning, both from their successes and their failures.
In their more personal relationship, kept quiet from the others, Malik and Altaïr still held some measure of competition - both a source of pleasure and frustration for Kadar, as Altaïr well knew. Often Kadar would intervene, shifting their attention from one of opposition and one-upmanship to one of harmony.
Altaïr's mouth quirked slightly - a sad smile. His heart ached with the memories and raged with guilt. There were days, even now, when looking at Malik only made him angry with himself.
Altaïr knew his anger would get the better of him if not kept in check. He closed his eyes and let out a slow breath, focusing on the warm body behind him.
Malik - still alive, even if he was permanently crippled.
Malik sighed. "Sometimes I still talk to him," he admitted. "As thought he were there. It is foolish."
"No," Altaïr replied firmly. "You carry him in your heart."
And Altaïr, speaking those words turned, looking at Malik in a new light. For a moment, he though he saw Kadar's knowing look behind Malik's thoughtful gaze as Malik mulled over Altaïr's words.
"Yes," Malik replied distantly.
The brothers smiled and Altaïr held them tight, determined never to err as he once had ever again.