Malik picked up a book at random and flipped through the pages. His work was done for the day but Altair still had a few things to do. He figured he’d get a headstart on the next day’s work. The two of them had been slowly working their way through Rashid’s collection of notes and diaries. Some of it had been enlightening, others mind-numbing. Malik found that he usually got stuck reading the texts that fell into the latter category. Altair complained of having to read the same page many times if he read them.
Not all of the texts had to be completely read. Early that day Malik had found several scrolls with inventory marked on them, useful, but not a pressing matter. He scanned the documents to ensure he didn’t miss anything important and then filed them away using the system he’d finally gotten Altair to agree too.
“I’ll remember where things are!” Altair had argued a few days earlier.
“You absolutely will not. Tell me, novice, where is your sword?” Altair had flushed red. “Because Rauf found it lying in the yard yesterday and returned it to me. You need a filing system.”
“Fine.” Altair relented
The book he’d picked up contained notes about assassins that came before Altair and himself. The notes were extensive. Their appearance, family members, skills, personalities, and birth dates were all noted. After flipping through the pages he found his father’s name.
Faheem Al-Sayf: Impulsive, does not think through actions before enacting them, aggressive, ambitious, but intelligent, resourceful, social and extroverted. Has many friends. There was a small X in the upper corner of the entry. The entry was dated from when his father would have been 12. Yes, that sounded like his father. In some ways Altair resembled his father, especially before the ordeal in Solomon’s Temple, but in others he reminded Malik of his mother, especially now.
“Malik.” Altair’s whining caught his attention.
“Yes, novice.” They both smiled at the moniker that had long since lost the hostility it had once held.
Malik rolled his eyes. “A state you find yourself in frequently. What would you like me to do about it?”
“Let’s spar. I’ve got to much energy built up. Come on let’s put on a show for the novices.” Altair begged.
Malik sighed as he smiled and rose from his seat. “Very well. If you would like to be knocked on your ass by a one armed man in front of the novices, I will grant your wish.”
They made their way down to the armory. Altair helped Malik fasten his hidden blade on his wrist. He could do it on his own but it was never quite as tight as he’d like it to be, since he had to use his teeth. Altair seemed lost in thought as his hand lingered on Malik’s before he shook his head and beamed at Malik.
“Ready?” He asked. Malik nodded and they walked to the ring side by side, their arms brushing occasionally.
The fight was, as always, a dance. Altair didn’t hold back like others would. He knew Malik was just as strong if not stronger now than he was when he lost his arm.They were well matched, each making the other work to land a blow with the dull practice swords. Malik managed to hook his leg behind Altair and sent the grandmaster to the ground. He touched the tip of his sword to Altair’s throat as a chorus of shock rose from the youngest novices.
He watched Altair’s chest rise and fall for a few moments. He didn’t see Altair moving until it was too late. Altair kicked out his leg and brought Malik to the ground with him. Malik landed on top of Altair, who grunted at the impact. The crowd fell silent.
“That was entirely unsportsmanlike and you deserved to get my knee to your stomach.” Malik teased, shifting his leg and lifting himself up a bit with his good arm.
“Fair.” Altair laughed. The spectators let out a collective sigh of relief that the men were not about to start another of their fights.
In the weeks after Rashid died the entire order seemed to freeze at any sight of conflict within the ranks. Most of the brotherhood still held their breath when they heard the grandmaster and his second in command shouting abuse at each other.
“It scares the hell out of them.” Rauf had implored. “They’re scared of what might happen.”
“You try working with him all day and not screaming at him.” Malik had shouted a bit too loudly, frightening a small group of novices walking nearby. He had taken a deep breath. “I need some air.”
Then he had stormed off. He marched through the town got himself a horse and rode off. He had ridden until he couldn’t remember why he was mad then he turned around and returned to Masyaf. The sun was setting when he reached the castle. He had found Altair moping in his study.
“Have you eaten, Novice?” Altair perked up at his voice. He had turned and smiled. Then he shook his head. “Then let's go eat.”
A few seconds passed, in which Malik and Altair had just smiled at each other before Malik rolled himself completely off of Altair. They both rose to their feet and the dance began again. Twisting and dodging around each other, looking for an opportunity to strike, and there were many. The crowd thinned with each round. Until the sun was setting and it was just the two of them. Still they continued their dance, sweaty and covered in dirt from multiple falls.
Altair managed to knock Malik down one final time. Panting, he offered his hand to help Malik up. Malik took his hand and yanked him to the ground.
“Payback.” Malik smirked. Altair laughed and they both stood and went inside for dinner. They usually ate together, often in the study, trying to get a bit more work done. Today they ate in Malik’s room, to exhausted to work or deal with anyone but each other. They sat next to each other on cushions. Eventually Altair’s eyes began to droop and Malik led him to the bed they often shared, especially when they’d been up late working together or the night was cold.
“Night, Mal.” Altair yawned.
“Goodnight, novice.” Malik smiled as Altair tucked his head under his chin and drifted to sleep. When he was awake Altair rarely sought out any kind of physical contact, but when he slept he liked to be held and to hold. Malik didn’t mind, he didn’t like sleeping alone anyways. He used to share a bed with Kader. After his brother’s death, in Jerusalem, he found himself unable to sleep comfortably. The problem had persisted until one day he and Altair had accidentally fallen asleep next to each other. They both slept better that night than they had in months, so they continued to share a bed.
These boys who definitely aren't a couple sleep like this
(Altair in the woman's position and Malik in the man's)
Malik and Altair continue to not realize they're already a couple. Something's upsetting Altair.
Malik woke to the sounds of water splashing and dribbling. He yawned, stretched, and turned to look at where the sound was coming from. He could see Altair’s head above the top of the screen divider. Altair had pulled the tub into the furthest corner from the door and filled it.
It was just another thing that had made their peers ridicule him when they were younger. Altair never went to the baths with the other boys, preferring to bathe alone, even if it meant he had to use only cold water. People used to say it was because his mother was a Christian from Europe, but of course Altair had never known her, so it was unlikely he’d picked up this custom from her. Other said it was because he was afraid of the water. Malik didn’t know if that was true, but he did know that Altair had been nowhere to be found during their swimming lessons when they were young.
Malik lay silently, watching Altair pour water over his head. He’d seen Altair do it before. Back in Jerusalem Altair had used his private rooms to bathe if it couldn’t be put off until his return to Masyaf. He’d shouted at Malik when he’d entered the room to fetch something one time, but slowly he became tolerant, but not quiet comfortable, with Malik being in the room, so long as he stayed on the other side of the screen. While Malik did not understand the man’s need for so much privacy he respected it.
“Your hair is going to need a trim soon, novice.”
Altair hummed in response. Malik rose and began to dress. “I’m going to go to the baths before we start working.”
Again Altair only hummed. “Are you alright, novice? Altair?”
“What? Huh? Yes, I’m fine, just thinking.”
“Don’t hurt yourself.” Malik teased before exiting the room and making his way to the baths below the main floor of the castle. They weren’t ornate like the bathhouses in Jerusalem or even the ones in the town. They were simple and functional. The largest room had some decorations carved into the walls, But they’d been carved by young assassins rather than intentionally commissioned. There were names and short messages everywhere and in the darkest corners there were lewd carvings of genitalia and sex acts. The corners were where the adolescent assassins congregated, chatting and laughing together.
Malik remembered being their age and discussing sex in hushed tones. He remembered how they would brag about conquests that probably hadn’t actually happened or discuss the girls in the village and who they’d want to marry, or just fuck. There had been a girl, Ameena, who Malik had fancied quite a bit when he was younger. She was married now. For the best really. He thought. Imagine how Altair would react if you got married and moved out of the castle to live in the village.
Malik took his time cleaning and bathing. The baths were the only place he knew that Altair would never come bursting in to ask him something and sometimes he just needed some time to himself. Altair would disappear for hours at a time occasionally, but Malik never knew when that would happen or for how long. Malik had no idea where he went during these disappearances, but when he returned he always seemed a bit on edge. Often he wouldn’t want anyone to touch him, not even a handshake or tap on the shoulder. It was just one of the many things he would never understand about his friend, no matter how close they were. He’d asked where he went once but it had made Altair angry and uncomfortable, so Malik never asked again. Altair was the grandmaster of the order he could take care of himself.
Malik returned to his reminiscing of adolescence, of minor disobedience, and awkward conversations. He watched a group of boys in one of the corners tell stories. He couldn’t hear what they were saying but from the others’ expressions he could tell they were sexual in nature. As he watched he noticed that one boy, though he was clearly listening, wasn’t adding anything to the conversation. He had been that boy a few times. Usually he was happy to chat about women and girls, both as individuals and as a general, but there had been days that his mind just wouldn’t cooperate, days when he couldn’t stop himself from watching drops of water run down the other boys’ chests. He hadn’t been the only one distracted by such things, there were always a few, and so long as they grew up and married no one cared what they did as boys.
They’d also spent a good deal of time discussing Altair with his, then, still soft facial features and feminine gait. Some of the boys insisted they knew for a fact that he was secretly a girl. That’s why he didn’t bathe with them or have swimming lessons with them. Malik had doubted it then and knew it to be false now. His face was sharper now, but he had retained the unique almost feline style of walking, swaying his hips as he went. More than once his walk alone had distracted a target enough for a silent kill. Altair knew this and used it to his advantage. Even boys who had no interest in other boys had lost their footing in the ring thanks to Altair’s walk or a strategically time flash of his eyes.
Malik used to fall for those tricks every time when he was young. It wasn’t that he couldn’t be distracted by Altair anymore, he just knew what to expect and was prepared. Most of the other Assassins had never figured out just what had caused them to be distracted for that moment and continued to fall for them each and every time. One of the reasons Altair preferred to spar with Malik was that he never got tripped up by them, he challenged Altair’s skill.
Later he found Altair attacking and beating a sparring dummy without mercy or any awareness as to what was happening around him. Although many assassin stood around watching their leaders anger, none dared step in. Malik let him tire himself for a while.
“He really needs to get laid.” A young assassin who couldn’t be more than seventeen commented as they walked by, a few feet behind Malik.
“Shh,” The boy’s companion warned. “He’ll hear you.”
Unlikely, Malik thought. He’s on the other side of the yard.
Eventually Malik made his way to Altair’s side and gently laid a hand on his friend’s shoulder. Altair turned with fire still in his eyes and his blade raise, until he saw who was there. Then he smiled and lowered the blade.
“Malik.” He sighed happily, the tension leaving his muscles.
“Come inside. Let us talk about what troubles you.”
Altair flinched for a second before nodding and they made their way to the study uninterrupted. Malik let Altair get settled into a chair before he spoke.
“What has you so wound up?” He asked.
“Nothing. I just have too much energy built up.” Altair would not meet his eyes, but that in itself was not unusual.
“That is what you said yesterday when you asked me to spar, which we did for hours. Please, Altair, tell me what has you so anxious.”
“I don’t want to talk about it, Malik.” Altair was firm in this assertion, but he didn’t seem to realize he had admitted that something was troubling him.
“Alright, I won’t press further.” Malik relented. He planned however, to ask again that night, before they slept. It was in their bed that Altair felt the most comfortable, the most relaxed. Perhaps he could get an answer then.
And he did ask that night. He did not receive and answer, not a complete one at least, but Altair allowed him the knowledge of the general topic.
“It’s a lot of things, Mal. It’s about, Al M-Rashid. I really don’t want to discuss it here.” Altair admitted with Malik’s arm gently rubbing circles into his back.
“It’s alright, novice. Whatever troubles you, I will help you through it.”
“I know.” Altair said before falling asleep, smiling, with his head on Malik’s shoulder. Malik continued to rub his back for a few minutes before sleeping as well
Malik, bud, they weren't worried Altair would hear them. They worried you would. Because everyone thinks you two are together.
Altair was gone when Malik awoke the next morning. Normally this wouldn’t have been notable, but something was bothering Altair in a way that made Malik worry. He was beginning to close himself off from others, like he’d been before Solomon’s Temple. Altair still had walls that separated him from others, but he let his defenses down a bit after Rashid’s death. He let Malik in.
Malik quickly got dressed and went looking for Altair. He searched their office and the training yard. He check the tower Altair liked to hide out in sometimes. He even checked Rashid’s old room.
“Master Al-sayf?” A squeaky voice called out behind him as he made his way to the village to see if Altair had gone to the market. When Malik turned he saw a child. The girl couldn’t have been more than twelve. “Grandmaster Ibn-La'Ahad left about an hour ago. He told me to give you this when you came looking.”
The girl scurried away after she handed the note to Malik.
Please don’t follow me. I’ll be back by nightfall. There’s something I need to do. Please trust me.
“What are you doing, Altair? What’s so secret you couldn’t even tell me?” Malik whispered to himself as he shook his head. “Just come home safe.”
Malik made up some vague mission that Altair was on to excuse his absence without worrying the others. He pretended he knew where Altair was, knew what he was doing. Then he tried to be productive, but found it hard to focus, so he turned his attention back to the crates of books that needed to be sorted.
The first few dozen books were easily sorted. Then Malik found one like he had before, containing information on each assassin. This book covered his peer group. Curiosity got the better of him and Malik spend the afternoon reading what Rashid had observed in his friends when they were children. He retreated to his room to read in comfort. He found his own profile first.
Malik Al-sayf: Intelligent, observant, cautious. Well regarded by peers. Protective of younger brother. Wiser than his years. Potential future leader. There was an X in the corner of the entry just like on his father’s.
Malik was conflicted about whether he should be proud that Rashid had seen leadership potential in him or be concerned. The man had betrayed the brotherhood. Did he think Malik would have joined his cause? He found Altair’s entry next.
Altair Ibn-La’Ahad: Socially isolated due to his mother and his extraordinary skills. Withdrawn but eager to please authority figures. Impatient. In the corner of Altair’s entry there was a circle rather than an X.
Malik wondered what that could mean for moment before noticing the entry just below Altair's also had had a circle drawn in the corner, though Rashid had later made an X over it.
Abbas Sofian: Rash, angry, and proud. Easily manipulated. Socially isolated after father’s death.
Before Malik could begin to ponder why circle had been drawn instead of Xs for these to entries he heard quiet footsteps approaching the door. He looked up as a figure with their hood drawn to cover as much of their face as possible entered. Malik recognized the unique gait of the figure, even though he was limping slightly.
“Altair are you hurt?” Malik asked as he rose.
Altair turned swiftly, hidden blade unsheathed, until he saw Malik’s face. “I’m fine.”
“I was riding all day.”
Malik grabbed the candle by the bed and sighed when he got a better look at Altair’s face. “You’ve got a split lip and the beginnings of a black eye. What on earth were you doing?”
Altair tentatively touched his lip and seemed surprised to find blood.
“Let me tend to your wounds. Take off you robe. Your shirt too.” Malik went to fetch their supplies
Altair stood frozen for a moment. “I’m fine.” He insisted again.
“Please, Altair, I know you won’t go to the healers. Let me help.”
Altair nodded, but he was stiff as he did so. Then he stripped off his robe and shirt. He stared at the wall as Malik inspected the wounds that decorated his body.
“Nothing needs to be sewn up. But, who did this? None of these are sword wounds. Who were you fighting and why?” Altair didn’t answer he continued to stare straight ahead. Malik noticed he was struggling to control his breathing. Malik took a deep breath. “Take off your pants.”
Altair shuddered backwards shaking his head violently. “No!”
“You’re covered in wounds. I can see that some go below the waist of your pants and you’re limping.” Malik argued. The he spoke again, softer. “I want to make sure you’re going to be ok, Altair.”
Altair sighed and closed his eyes before nodding once. He kept his eyes closed as he stepped out of his pants. There were wounds like the ones on his chest on the front of his legs. When Malik went to check the backside he noticed a very small patch of dried white near the top of Altair’s thigh. Before Malik could stop himself a sound escaped him. “Oh.”
On Altair’s paler skin his blush was noticeable. Malik returned to face Altair.
“Were you raped?” He asked softly, wanting to draw Altair into his arms, but refraining from touching him until he got the all clear. Altair, with his eyes still closed and his face nearly all red shook his head. Malik breathed a sigh of relief. “Get dressed.”
Malik turned away as Altair dressed. When he turned back the man was sitting on their bed with his knees pulled to his chest silently crying.
“I’m sorry.” He sobbed. “Please don’t make me leave.”
“Wha-never. I would never, Altair.” Malik sat next to Altair, still not touching. Altair looked up at him in surprise. “I get the feeling there’s more to this than the fact you like men. I won’t pry, for now, but I have one question. Are you safe? Is this man forcing you do do things? Has he threatened you?”
“No.” Altair nearly whispered.
“Then let’s leave the rest until morning. Do you want me to sleep somewhere else?” Malik began to rise.
“No!” Altair begged as he grabbed Malik’s hand. “Please, I need you here.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” He climbed back into the bed and they curled up together as they usually did, with Altair’s head on Malik’s good shoulder and Malik’s arm wrapped around him. Altair fell asleep quickly as Malik rubbed his back.
“I wish you’d just tell me what’s wrong, Altair. I want to help. I’m your friend, your partner.” Malik sighed and said to himself, “Give him time, Malik. Give him time.”
Reminder to read the tags this is where things really get potentially triggering.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Malik barely slept. He kept trying to figure out what was going on from the few clues he had. Altair had never seemed much of a masochist and yet he said he hadn’t been raped or forced. Altair had said whatever was bothering him was a bout Rashid, but Malik couldn’t see how he could fit into all this.
His chest hurt when he looked down at Altair, still sleeping. The bruise around his eye had darkened as they slept. There was no mistaking it. He clung onto Malik in his sleep. He looked so young and vulnerable.
He is young. He reminded himself. We both are.
Altair shifted and curled closer into Malik. It was hard to believe he was the Grandmaster of the Assassin Brotherhood when he slept, occasionally whimpering softly. Malik was started when Altair started thrashing and screaming.
“No! I’ll be good! I’ll do better!” Altair begged desperately.
“Altair! Wake up!” Malik tried to shake him awake.
“Please! Take me! Don’t hurt him!” Altair was sweating and panting as he struggled.
Altair! Novice, come back! Wake up!” Malik felt panicked.
Slowly Altair stopped struggling and began to wake. When he saw Malik’s face he began to sob. “I’m sorry, Malik. I’m so sorry. I tried to protect him but it wasn’t enough.”
Malik held him tightly. “Shhhh. It’s ok. You had a nightmare that’s all. I’m here.” He rocked altair slightly in his arms.
“It’s all my fault.” Altair cried. “I’m sorry I didn’t protect him better. I tried Malik! I really tried!”
“I know.” Malik assured him, even though he had no idea what Altair was talking about. “I know you did.”
“Please don’t leave me.” Altair whimpered into Malik’s shoulder.
“I won’t. I’m here.” It took several minutes before Altair stopped crying and even long before he was calm once more. They sat in silence wrapped around each other for even longer still. “Altair I think you need to talk about what’s bothering you.”
“I know.” Altair acquiesced. “I just don’t know how.”
“I want to help you. Tell me about your nightmare.”
Altair shook his head. “I can't, not yet.” He sighed heavily, refusing to meet Malik’s eyes.. “In Rashid’s chambers there’s a chest inside there’s a box. The key is under the mattress. I can’t go.”
“Will you be alright if I leave you?” Mallik worried.
“I’ll be fine.”
“I promise. I’ll be fine. I’ll stay right here..”
Malik nodded and slipped out of their room. He looked back to Altair one more time and realized I love him. He wasn’t sure when his room had become their room, when he’d stopped sharing a bed with Altair out of mutual convenience. When had their friendship shifted? Why hadn’t he noticed? Malik pushed aside the question as he made his was to Rashid’s old quarter.
They rightfully belonged to Altair now, but the man had refused to step foot in them. Malik had assumed it was because he didn’t yet feel comfortable with the fact that he was leader, but now he wondered if there was a deeper sources of his wariness. Each step he took felt like it took an hour. The world seemed oddly silent as he walked. His heart pounded in his chest. His mind raced. He had no idea what he was going to find, what made it so Altair couldn’t bear took even look at him, what gave him the nightmares. Finally he reached the door. It felt almost wrong to enter the room but he didn’t pause for a second. He swiftly found the key and unlocked the chest.
It was full of personal effects. Journals, sketches, knick knacks picked up throughout his life, but what caught Malik’s attention was the small elaborately decorated box. He pulled it out and took a deep breath. He opened the box.
Altair’s face greeted him. Not the one he’s left in their room. This was the face of a boy. There was no scar on his lip yet so it was before he was thirteen. Rashid had drawn him naked, his hands tied over his head. Terror shown is his golden eyes. Malik flipped through a few more pictures some in full color other just sketches, each depicting a scared little boy.
Malik felt sick. He put the pictures back in the box and the box back into the chest. he locked it. He wants to burn the pictures but that wasn’t his decision to make. He closed his eyes and leaned against the wall, taking several deep breaths to calm himself before he returned to Altair. He didn’t wash the other man to think he was angry at him.
Then he rose and walked back to their room. He found Altair sitting on their bed was his back to the door.
“I still love you.” Malik stated firmly.
Altair turned. “Then you didn’t find it.”
“The pictures of you?” Altair looked a bit shocked but nodded. “I found them. I hate them. I hate him, but not you. Never you. I still love you in whatever capacity you will have me.”
“You’re not disgusted with me. I can stay?”
Malik sat down next to Altair, “That was never in question, Altair. This is your room and your bed just as much as mine. This road won’t be easy, but I will be at your side the whole way.” Malik sat on the mattress facing Altair. “Now for just a moment. Let’s forget about what is in that chest, as much as we can, and let’s try to get some much needed rest. .
Altair nodded and the settled into their standard sleeping position. Suddenly Malik realized that they sleep the same what his parents had when he was young. He smiled to himself as he gently patted Altair’s hair. After a few minutes Altair, sleep heavy in his eyes looked up at him.
“I love you, Malik.” He yawned before nuzzling his head into its proper place On Malik’s shoulder.
Malik knew that nothing would be easy. He knew he’d barely scratched the surface of Altair’s past. He didn’t care. “I love you too, Novice.” He kissed the top of Altair’s head. Then they slept. They slept through the night and long into the next day.
So yeah....Rashid was a pedophile who took advantage of the fact that Altair was orphaned and in his care and didn't have friends.
From here on in there's probably going to be triggering stuff in every chapter as Altair starts to work through it all.
For most of the next week Altair was silent, not that he was much of a talker to begin with. Malik didn’t ask any of the questions that burned in his mind. He simultaneously wanted to know none of the details and all of them. It wasn’t that he was unfamiliar with the idea that people used children for sex. He’d seen men buying sex from young girls and boys in Jerusalem. Poverty led to desperate acts, but there was no poverty in Masyaf.
There were women who sold sex in the village. Even a couple of men did. But never children. Never Assassins. Why Altair would have ever sold sex was a mystery to him. Why Rashid had bought it from him was another.
They hadn’t spoken of the pictures since the night Malik saw them. Now that he knew about them he was hyper aware of their proximity as he and Altair worked. Not ten feet away they sat, locked in that chest.
“I think we should train girls.” Altair suggested out of nowhere.
“As assassins?” Malik put the book he’d been reading down. “I’m not sure they could handle it. There’s a lot of blood in our job.”
Altair let out a single small laugh. “I’ve met some very formidable girls, Malik. Besides they see more blood than men do.”
“Their monthly sickness. They bleed for up to a week.” Altair still hadn't looked up from the page he was reading.
“That can’t be true! They’d die! Who told you that?”
“Ellenna.” He muttered quietly.
“Who’s Ellenna?” Malik asked cautiously.
“No one. Just a girl I knew for a bit when I was younger.” Altair was jittery as he answered to Malik didn’t press further.
“Ok. Even if some girls could handle the training why should we train them? I’m not against this idea on principle, I just want to understand your reasoning.”
“No one would ever suspect a girl of being an assassin. Men see them as too emotional and fragile for such a taxing endeavour. Give a girl a basket and guards will let them pass anywhere if they say they’re delivering food or supplies and bat their eyes.” Altair was blushing a bit.
“Grandmaster! Grandmaster!” One of the young assassin’s shouted as he ran into their office. “There’s a man here to see you.”
Altair and Malik exchange as look of curiosity.
“Who is he?” Malik asked.
“His name is Lykon of Cyprus. He says he had dealings with Al M-Rashid.” The boy panted as he caught his breath.
Altair swore under his breath so quietly that if he’d been even a few inches further Malik wouldn’t have heard it.
“Have Rauf escort him up.” Malik instructed. The boy nodded and rushed off.
Altair’s breathing was strained. Malik laid his hand on Altair’s shoulder. He shrugged it off at first but leaned into Malik a moment later.
“Who is he?” Malik asked softly.
“I can’t be completely sure yet.” Altair stared down at the desk in front of him.
“Who do you worry he is?” Malik amended.
“One of the men he lent me to. There was a Lykon. He liked to bite me.” Altair rubbed his neck.
“I’m here.” Malik promised as new questions swam in his head. Lent? That implied ownership. It was not the time to ask then. Malik stepped away from Altair as they heard the man approach.
The man’s eyes swept over Altair’s body before he turned to Malik. “I heard there was a new grandmaster of the brotherhood. I’m afraid my information is a bit patchy. I didn’t get your name.”
“My name is Malik, but I am not the new grandmaster. Altair is.” Malik gestured to Altair.
The man burst out laughing.
“I don’t see what is so amusing.” Malik stated flatly, feigning ignorance.
“He’s a whore!” The man laughed. “Rashid would never leave the brotherhood to his whore.”
“I killed Rashid.” Altair growled Standing and taking a few steps toward Lykon.
The man turned to face Altair. He stumbled backward into a table before steeling his face again. “Is that so?”
“Yes.” Altair reminded Malik of a cat playing with a mouse before making the kill. He knew he should probably stop him, but he didn’t want to. This man was not a good man. He was not an enemy of the brotherhood but he was not an innocent.
“I warned him you’d do it one day.” Lykon chuckled. “It’s a shame though. You were fun to play with. Not as fun as the one that cried. He still gagged the last time I was here. Does he still?”
“Or do you have a new boy I can play with?” The man smirked.
“Never.” Altair vowed before plunging his hidden blade into the man’s heart. “I would never.”
Altair’s legs gave way as he stepped back from the corpse. Malik did his best to catch him as he he lowered them both to the ground. Altair whispered and apology just before he slipped off somewhere else. He was awake but his mind was not in their study. He wouldn’t respond to Malik. Malik just held Altair while he waited for him to come back.
The first thing he said when he did return to the moment was. “I wouldn’t never, Malik. I’d never do that. I’m not like him.”
Altair looked at the blood splattered all around, still not quite completely there. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to, Malik. He made me do it.”
Malik was fairly certain Altair was not talking about the man he’d killed. He sighed. They couldn’t go on like this. Altair needed to talk to him. He needed to know more about what had happened. The flood gates had been opened and it was just going to get worse for Altair if he didn’t talk about it, but he wouldn’t, at least not here.
“Altair, we need to get some air. Do you think you can ride?”
Sitting by the river the tension seemed to fall away from Altair somewhat. Nearby their horses grazed as they sat in the hidden grove. It was a spot Malik had used to visit as a teenager often. It was secluded and hard to reach. No civilian would ever stubble into it, which made it an ideal spot for young assassin’s to experiment with each other.
“You need to talk about it, about what happened and I need to better understand.” Malik gently laid his hand on Altair’s shoulder.
“I don’t know how. I don’t want to hurt you.” Altair absentmindedly drew circles in the dirt.
“I’ll be honest. I’m pretty sure what you are going to tell me will sicken me. But it’s not your fault. I want to be here for you. You don’t have to talk about it all at once. Just tell me something.” Malik soothed. “Tell me about Ellenna.”
Altair nodded. “Ellenna was a few years older than me. Two or three I think. He already had her before me, but he didn’t use her. She was for his guests. He kept her in a tower. I stayed there sometimes, with her, when they were particularly rough.”
“Good. Where did Ellenna come from? Was she an assassin’s daughter? Someone from the village?”
“No. They took her from Acre. She wasn’t from around here. She didn’t speak Arabic well. I used to help her. She spoke french. I wasn’t very good at French but I knew some.”
“Really? You speak French?”
“My mother was French. My father learned a bit; he taught me. Ellenna used to teach me french and I’d teach her Arabic while we waited…” Altair trailed off.
Malik steered him back to safer ground. “What did she look like?”
“She was light blue.” Altair had tried to explain how he saw people in colors sometimes. Malik did not completely understand but he knew what each color meant to Altair. “Like the sky on a clear day. Her eyes were green and her hair was orange and it was always curled. I’d never seen hair like that. I used to braid it for her. She was so happy when we weren’t with the men. She used to hold me after bad nights. She was like a sister to me.” Altair’s smile faded.
“He killed her, I think, or had her killed.” Altair closed his eyes.
“She missed her monthly bleeding twice in a row. She was so scared. I...I thought it was because she wasn’t married. I didn’t really understand what was happening. Then one day she wasn’t there to...entertain with me. I asked where she was. Rashid hit me and told me she was gone.”
“How old were you, when that happened?”
“Fourteen. I cried and Rashid held my head under water for ruining the mood.”
“Was that the first time he did that?”
Altair shook his head. “I never really liked water. He made it worse. He used it as a threat and as a punishment. I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”
Malik nodded. “Okay. You did well. It will help you.
Later Altair woke from a nightmare. He clung to Malik as he calmed down. “There was ano ther boy.”
“What?” Mali asked still waking up.
“Before me. Rashid had another boy. He made me watch as he held him under water. I saw him die.”
Yeah it wasn't just Altair. Although Rashid considered Altair his favorite of all the boy he's very had. There were boys before him and at least one after him, because Altair met the next boy. Rashid only liked boys but he kept girls too for his friends.
Malik and Altair finally have a talk.
Altair was silent again the next day, clearly lost in memories. Malik tried to shake him back to the real world several times with no success. He wasn’t completely lost to the world he’d come back to the moment and be aware of his surroundings for as long as Malik spoke with him but drifted off as soon as Malik returned to scouring Rashid’s private books. Malik wanted to soothe Altair but he didn’t know how, especially after he’d read some of the journal Rashid had hidden in the chest in his room.
...Altair is smaller than the last one, more naive too. He’s different in ways he does not understand. His peers notice. His frequently flat affect and inability to deviate from routine set him apart from the others. These traits will make him an ideal assassin if I decide to set him down that path. His adherence to routine should transfer easily into following the parameters of a mission to the letter. His flat affect will allow him to blend into any crowd. His differences leave him desperate for guidance. He does not understand why his peers mock him but he wants to. He desires to fit in.
...The boy delights in nothing more than being praised for his skills. He puts in additional hours of training when he is supposed to be enjoying leisure time and often late into the night, much to the annoyance of Abbas. This combined with his natural gifts will see him advancing through the ranks quickly once he catches up to his agemates in size. Provided my plans for him do not hinder his abilities as they have with some of the others in the past.
...I’ve begun to lay the groundwork necessary. I kept the boy late tonight and offered to allow him to sleep in my rooms. He leapt at the chance, desperate to no longer feel like an orphan.
Malik had stopped reading as he was becoming nauseous thinking about what was to come. He’d skimmed other entries and it had become abundantly clear that Altair had not been an active participant when it began, that he’d been clueless about sex.
It also became clear that Altair was different in more ways than one. Malik thought back to when they were children, before Umar had died, and remembered how Altair had struggled with forming friendships. There’d even been a rumor his tongue had been cut out when they were very young because no one could remember hearing him speak. He often wouldn’t respond to his name when it was called and even when he did, he struggled to grasp the concepts of many of the games the other boys played.
Umar had often sat with Altair and slowly explained the games and the rules to Altair answering his barrage of questions. Afterwards Altair would be excited to play but often the game would have already finished.
Rashid’s journal provided more evidence that Altair’s brain seemed to work differently than other people. It was less outwardly noticeable now than when he was young but there were still odd moments. Malik wondered if it was at all connected to Altair’s abilities to see people’s colors.
Malik pondered what he should do as he searched through the bookshelves for anything that might be helpful, knowing he was unlikely to find anything. Still he became so preoccupied with searching he didn’t notice Altair slip out. He only discovered it when he turned to find no one sitting at the desk.
Altair had left a note. SImilar to the one he’d left the last time he disappeared.
I need to clear my head. I’ll be back by sunset.
A postscript had been added as an afterthought.
I’ll be safe, I promise. See you tonight.
Malik was frustrated. He wished Altair would just talk to him but he was also beginning to realize that Altair lacked the tools to properly explain what had happened to him. Additionally Malik was realizing he lacked the tools to properly understand what had happened.
Reading more of Rashid’s private journal was most likely his best bet but it made him sick. Still he forced himself to read it for Altair’s sake. He had to stop frequently and walk away from the descriptions of Rashid’s desires and fantasies, especially once he reached the entry that described the first time he attacked Altair. That was the only way Malik could see it now as an attack, like that of a mouse, unaware it’s being stalked by a dangerous predator until it’s too late. It was worse though, because Rashid had not killed Altair. Instead the man had made Altair desperate to please him and isolated Altair until he knew the boy would do anything for him.
He still cried. Rashid had relished in Altair’s fear and pain. It hurt Malik to read how their old master delighted in the fact that Altair wept and begged him. It was even harder however to read about the kindness he would show Altair sometimes. He couldn't even begin to imagine how confused Altair must have been. After reading one of the passages from early in the journal again. Malik was sure he’d read something similar in one of the other journals, but wasn’t sure which.
Finally Malik decided he needed help figuring out how to tackle this. There was a woman in the village some of the assassin’s spoke to when their work gave them nightmares. He’d taken Kadar to see her a few times.
Malik knocked on her door and waited for a moment before she welcomed him inside
“Master Malik.” The woman smiled as she welcomed him into her home. She moved slowly relying heavily on her cane but was as cheerful as a much younger woman. “What troubles you?”
“It’s not what roubles me, Najat,” Malik admitted as he took a seat next to her, “but rather that I need help helping someone else.”
“Who?” Najat asked, gently.
“I cannot say.” Malik shook his head.
“Tell me what has happened.” Najat poured him a cup of tea.
“It has come to my attention that one of the assassins was…” Malik paused to consider how to explain it all before deciding to be direct. “...raped, repeatedly as a child by an authority figure.”
Najat nodded. “Rashid?”
“Yes, how did you know?”
“I have helped some of those who have survived him.”
Malik sighed. “He was not the man I thought he was. Now I need to help this assassin, but I don’t know how.”
“May I ask? Is it the new grandmaster, Altair?”
“One of the others was scared for him. I helped them escape. They were in grave danger here but were very concerned about leaving Altair behind.” Najat frowned at her tea. “It was impossible to get him out or else I’d have sent them off together.”
“I want to help him.” Malik felt more powerful than he ever had before.
“Has he begun to talk about it?”
“A bit, only vaguely. I think I understand what has happened but I have many questions.”
“It will not be easy. It never is, but Altair faces challenges few others must conquer.”
“I know. He’s different.”
Najat nodded and took a sip of her tea. “I knew a woman like him when I was a girl, not the same, exactly, but similar. She said she could never tell how people felt from their faces. She needed them to tell her, with words. He’s a good man.”
“He is.” Malik agreed.
“He will bring peace back to Masyaf, with you by his side. But, Master Malik, there are things that will he will struggle to tell you, you must be willing to hear them and when you do you must remember he was only a child.” Najat warned.
“What are you talking about?”
“I cannot say. Master Altair must be the one to tell you.”
“What if I can’t get him to talk? He can’t go on like this.”
“Remind him that you care for him.”
Malik nodded. “I will.”
The sun was setting when Malik left Najat’s home. As he stepped out into the evening air he saw Altair entering the gate, he was uninjured. They smiled at each other and walked back to the fortress in silence, side by side. Malik ordered their dinner be brought to their room and once it had arrived he took a deep breath.
“We need to talk, Altair. I have read some of Rashid’s journal, the secret one. I know what he did to you.” Altair stared down at his lap. “It wasn't your fault.”
“Please forgive me! I tried to stop him, Malik! I tried to be good so Rashid would leave him alone, but he sent me on a mission. When I got back it had already started. I couldn-” Altair babbled.
“Slow down, Altair. I don’t know what your saying. Who are you talking about? Who else did Rashid hurt?”
Altair took a deep breath and was silent for a moment before whispering. “Kadar.”
Malik felt like his chest had been ripped open. He was angry, but pushed that down. The man he was angry with was dead and Altair couldn’t have stopped him.
“I’m not mad at you.” Malik reached over and took Altair’s hand in his. He squeezed it lightly. “Kadar wasn’t either. You were both trapped. I am angry, but not at you. I am angry because you both were being hurt and no one saved you. It was not your job to stop Rashid. You were a child.”
“Not toward the end. I was nearly grown then.” Altair mumbled.
“You were still a child. Think of the novices that are the same age as you were.”
“I was a child.” It sounded like Altair was beginning to accept that he hadn’t failed.
They sat in silence for a while, with their hands still joined.
“I love you Altair.” Malik assured him after a while.
Altair frowned and bit his lip. “I want to love you too. I do love you too, but I don’t know if I can…”
“I told you. I love you in whatever capacity you’ll have me.” Malik promised.
“But you want to...You want me don’t you?”
Malik considered his answer for a moment. “Yes. I won’t lie to you. I want you, but if I never have you in that way I will still be happy.”
“I want to give myself to you, but I can’t. I don’t know if I will ever be able to.”
“I understand. If you ever can I will be happy and if you never can I will be happy, because I love you.”
“You are so blue, Malik, a beautiful light blue.”
Malik smiled. He would always be Altair’s ally.