Night descended on Jerusalem, spread her soft, dark wings like a blanket over the city. Malik looked out, noticed the lone figure at the bureau's courtyard and frowned.
Altair was still among pillows, shoulders rigid, tense, and, even if Malik couldn't see his face, it was obvious enough sign that he was awake. Malik watched him, both irritated and worried. After a few moments, Altair got up and started to get dressed, motions brisk, jerky, anxious. Malik knew instantly what he was going to do - run through the city, for hours and hours, until he would exhaust himself enough to sleep. This was how it had always gone since they both were just novices, with Malik waking up just to see his friend slip out of the window, as he thought, unnoticed.
Even as a gangly, underfed kid, Altair was filled to a brim with energy, always, no matter how many tasks they both had to perform. It'd made him restless, prompted him to sneak out past curfew almost every day, to try and waste it enough to sleep at least for a few hours. It went like that for months, until once, as a punishment or a test, Al Mualim had made Altair go for a full week with no sleep at all, doubling his training. When the week was over and Altair had returned to Malik in their shared quarters, he'd looked like he died somewhere along the way, eyes haunted, red-rimmed, with bruised sockets - and still he couldn't sleep, too wound up, vibrating with anxious energy, but too stubborn to admit it.
Malik had to help him somehow, and so he did - the same thing he was about to do now.
“Altair,” he called softly, moving into the courtyard. When there was no response, he added, with a note of irritation to his voice. “Novice. Stop”.
Altair spun around, lips pressed in a thin line, and for a moment he looked like he was about to snap, but he held himself back and lowered his hands, turning his head away and saying nothing. Malik knew very well why - their friendship was a barely mended, fragile thing, and Altair wouldn't risk it now. Malik came over to where he stood, still, stiff, arms dropped to the sides, and begun to take his gear off.
“Mal…” Altair started, confused, but Malik silenced him by pressing the back of his hand to other assassin's lips. He could swear he felt a feather-like kiss being placed on his knuckles but it was probably only in his head.
“Quiet, novice,” Malik said and proceeded with disarming Altair until only white robes remained. Then he went back to the pillows and sat down comfortably, looked at Altair again and beckoned him over.
“Malik,” Altair started once again and Malik felt a pang of strange, long forgotten comfort at the sound of his name rolling from those full scarred lips.
“You will not speak, novice,” he cut Altair off and added in a softer tone. “Come here. You need to rest”.
Altair hesitated for a moment but conceded, came closer and draped himself over Malik's lap, his lean body warm and familiar.
“That's better,” Malik hummed, tugging off his hood to reveal tousled chestnut-brown hair. “Now relax and go to sleep, Altair”.
“I can't,” Altair breathed out, cheek pressed to Malik's thigh, body still tense like a bowstring, while Malik threaded fingers through his hair. “I have to… I need…”
He trailed off, uncertain, but Malik knew full well what he meant, how every muscle of his body was singing for him to get up and run.
Well, not today. Malik hadn't done this in ages, but he's willing to try his best.
“None of that,” he said and carded his fingers through Altair’s hair, tugged at them as a warning. “Stay”.
Altair stilled, silent as Malik’s fingers ran through his hair in a slow, soothing pace.
“Why are you doing this, Malik?” Altair asked into his thigh, voice unusually small.
“Because if Robert de Sable kills you tomorrow, I will lose my only chance to get revenge. And I am not going to let this happen just because you cannot sleep like a normal man,” Malik answered, deadpan, and before Altair could say something stupid like offering his life, Malik scratched his nape with a bit more force. “Now shut up, novice”.
Altair huffed as if irritated, but his shoulders dropped, as every coiled muscle in them came loose.
“If you don't want me to talk, then what would you have me do?” he asked after a pause and Malik noticed a little drowsiness in his voice.
Malik thought on that for a few moments, fingers still caressing Altair’s hair.
“Remember when we first climbed the Masyaf Tower?” he said at last and to his private delight, Altair laughed a little.
“I barely managed to talk you into that,” he chuckled and yawned.
“I have never regretted going with you - the view was worth every moment of it,” Malik admitted with a little smile.
The Tower was supposed to be off limits for novices, but even at ten Altair was an unstoppable, and often reckless, force, and Malik had been too young to reason with him.
“It felt like we were at the top of the world, you and I”, Altair’s voice now borderlined on dreamy, and Malik could picture his face, softened with nostalgia, with memories of times innocent and simple.
“Remember, how Rauf was the one to come after us?” he said after a pause. “He said, if we thought ourselves grown men enough to make the climb, then we should take the grown men way down.”
Rauf was around twelve years their senior and he'd reached the rank of Master already, but Malik remembered how his dark eyes gleamed with boyish mischief.
“I thought Al Mualim was going to kill him when he found out”, Altair snorted against Malik's thigh and warmth of his breath made the other assassin fight hard to suppress a shiver.
“I was sure of it too,” because talking two stupid novices into a Leap of Faith hadn't been something a Master was supposed to do.
They shared a private sort of laugh at recalling the face Rauf pulled when Al Mualim discovered the three of them, at the words their old teacher used to describe the whole situation, that made their ears burn.
“I remember that you went first,” Malik said then, voice soft. “It did not look like a jump - I could swear you were flying. When you were in the air… You looked like you belonged there. That is how I always thought of you, that is how I remember you.”
Altair shifted a little like he was about to say something, but Malik continued. “I want you to dream of that, Altair. Of flying in the sky, high and free, with only clouds in your way.”
Maybe it wasn't the best idea - feeding the man's ego when he'd just found his humbleness, but Malik knew the image of the endless sky would work, would soothe Altair’s restless mind so he could finally sleep.
“When I jumped, you were above me,” Altair mumbled, voice just above a whisper and slow as if he had trouble finding words. “That's how I remember you”.
Malik didn't know what to say to that, but the answer was unnecessary, as Altair fell asleep, breaths coming in and out slow, even. Relaxed.
Malik sighed and threaded fingers through Altair’s short hair one last time, before he gently pulled the hood up again, so that neither moon, nor sun could disturb Altair’s sleep and curled fingers over the nape of his neck. As children they usually talked about whatever happened during the day, until close proximity and light caresses would send Altair to sleep, relaxed, muscles loose, trusting Malik with his very life.
Malik looked at his hand and a thought flashed through his mind, foreign and bitter - it would be so easy to kill Altair right now, to snap his neck as if it was a twig. To see and hear the life leave his body forever.
Malik sighed and let his fingers slip down the side of Altair's neck, where a faint pulse could be felt through thick fabric.
He would never kill him. He never could, not even right after Solomon’s Temple, and certainly not now. Not when the Eagle of Masyaf had finally found his way back to the sky.
Malik leaned on the wall, closed his eyes and slipped into a restful slumber.