and this is what remains

by Melfice

he battered his fists to feel something

wondered what it's like to touch and feel something

His hands are callused, but they feel naught as they dig into stone and wood, as they pull and grasp at the structures of the Holy Land that he scales like ladders leading to Eden. Each of his movements are precise and calculated, his feet perched on the smallest of outcroppings in the stone, his fingers holding his body by the smallest of imperfections in the structure.

Finger and knees bleed and bruise, but they are unnoticeable to an assassin who counts the days he wakes to see the sun.

Altair is not a prodigy, not an exception among men, but he climbs as though he was born for it.

Those hands are skilled and, even when clean, they are coated in the blood of others. His hands know every hidden blade, ever secret in every fight he steps into, every crack in the wall that holds him there.

His legs are bruised, but not broken, and they hold him through the abuse he forces upon them. They crumble underneath him as he falls from rooftops, but they do not break and he is left with the ache.

They move as though liquid, tearing him through crowds and over terrain as though it moves with him. He is faster than any of the men that hunt him, faster than any of the innocents among the crowds, faster than any of his brothers.

It is often his legs that save his life, after his hands are covered in blood and the world around him erupts.

Nothing saves him when he falls from grace.

Altair hits the bottom with broken bones and broken pride, eyes shamed and heart swallowed by guilt. The lessons he is meant to learn elude him for the longest time, skirting around his person but never grasping him and he lets them dance out of reach for as long as he can; his throat chokes with remorse, but he cannot voice his regret.

He is not dead, but the life is taken from him all the same.

The world around him is cold and uninviting, devoid of welcome and absent of safety.

The first time he visits Malik in Jerusalem breaks a chip in his pride that does not repair. Nothing that is not mended can be healed and he ignores the bleeding wound, ignores the dull aching, and he allows it to fester. The wound creates a recess in his chest that chokes him when the sharp retorts attempt to leave his tongue, that seeps shame into his eyes that keeps them averted.

He takes the feather in weathered fingers and holds it as though it is glass; it isn't his redemption, but he clings to his tasks as though they are.

Those hands take life after life, clutching bloodied feathers and soiled blades.

His hands take the breath from the corrupt of the Holy Lands, but the mind is a fragile thing and if his hands hold his power then his mind is slowly pulling him under.

His mind is a mess and it questions things he's never thought of before, makes his tongue say things that should never be spoken, and more than once he finds himself hesitating with a blade in his hand. His path is clear and his mind is set, but his heart takes the questions his mind leaves and it runs with them.

There are words in his mind that strangle his heart and it is difficult to keep stumbling blindly through these orders.

These deaths are troubling his mind.

His hands act even when his mind and heart are in conflict and it is those hands that catch him when he falls to the ground in the Jerusalem bureau.

Nine fingers - five on his right, four on his left - and they block nothing when the mere five Malik possesses curl into a fist that breaks the skin below his cheek. Instead they crash against the dirt, keep his head from banging against the hard ground, and they dig into the dust and sand until he can't feel them any longer.

His second visit to Jerusalem is accompanied by anger and harsh words, arguments and wounds that are still too fresh. His pride has cracked and he lets Malik into it, lets the man dig his hands into the already bleeding wound, and it hurts - but it brings him closer to the closure he seeks. There is still anger in Malik's dark eyes, still an aching, but it calms when Altair lays on the ground before him; his white hood covers his eyes, covers the bleeding cut from sharp knuckles, but it doesn't hide the acceptance in his shoulders.

The coldness is not gone, the air still heavy, but there is change there and Altair feels it in his blood.

The guards within the city are mindless drones and he skirts around them with ease, disposes of them when necessary, but does not fear them. The Templars are strong - there are scars lining his skin from encounters, from failed attempts at flight - but they fall as any man does; they too are human. Leaders amongst the city are cowards and they run from him, terror in their eyes, and he thinks little of them.

His body is his weapon and it works with him, never against him. He moves through shadows as though he's never stepped into the light, walks among citizens as though he has never killed, creeps along the rooftops as though he has never fallen; there is no room for fear in him.

Even as he is shoved from the guard tower, fingernails breaking against stone at an attempt to stop the descent, he feels no fear. The air beneath him is familiar, not disconcerting. His ankle hits a ledge and doesn't snap, but it cracks - the same sick crack that fills his ears as his body breaks into the ocean beneath the tower.

His body plummets immediately, pulled and crushed underneath the riptide - and he is an assassin, he is skilled enough to take lives and climb to the heavens, but his mind falters underneath the torrent and he panics. Those hands tear at unsympathetic waves, legs kicking without going anywhere, and his body is crying in pain and in despair but his lungs are sunk in his chest.

The cold stone of the tower hits his body suddenly and he grabs at it desperately, bleeding fingers gripping jagged stone. Underneath the half moon he fights to keep his head above the waves, but it is a losing battle and the current is too strong for his failing hold.

Black waves carry him underneath and the fighting never stops; he doesn't know how to stop.

Altair's eyes close with the dark water beneath his lids and he does not expect to again stare up at the moon. The ground beneath his body is suddenly dry and hard, but it is stable and he does not sink into it. The pounding in his ears does not subside, the throbbing in his ankle does not lessen, but his eyes open.

Nine fingers could not stop his fall, two arms could not halt his descent, but the five fingers on Malik's single arm pulled him from the tomb in which he lay. His eyes open before his chest heaves and it is the Dia that breathes life into lungs that have forgotten how.

Water falls from his lips, curls him onto his knees and makes each breath ragged and pained - but there is life there.

An arm around his shoulder, an arm around his waist, and he does not crawl back to the bureau but his pride still hides with his eyes behind his hood. Neither man speaks a word.

His third visit to the Jerusalem bureau is without his consent, but his body is failing him and he is without choice. The rugs and linens are a foreign comfort against weathered skin and it is difficult to let himself stop, difficult to let his mind stop.

Malik treats the wounds he suffered from the fall, binds the ankle that has swollen, carefully cleans the fingers that ache with every breath.

Altair's chest feels heavy, his lungs bruised and battered, but his words do not falter, "I owe you my life."

"You owe me many lives," and the reply is without weight, without burden, and it is familiar. "Let us not start counting now."

The light touch of Malik's five fingers over broken and bruised skin is caring and mending. Assassins do not need comfort, do not need the concern of others, but Altair falls into it regardless and lets it consume him.

The bandages burn against bleeding wounds and his words are fevered mumblings that scarcely make sense to his own ears. Fingertips at his temple soothe a gash there, and Malik's deep accent murmurs against his throat for him to be silent.

I have been a fool, the assassin tries to say.

Dark eyes, hushed tones, and there is no forgiveness to be had. There is nothing about Altair that is the same as the day he fell from grace and there is nothing to forgive.