I LOVE YOU ALL SOOOOO MUCH!

Really.

I got so many nice reviews – you guys are wonderful! They made me feel great, and ultimately extended this chapter. It was originally only 2000 words, but I got inspired, and it ended a lot better.

(The image I have of the last scene is great. If I had any artistic ability, I'd draw it).

Hope you love it!


They'd been riding in the carriage for hours. There was nothing to look at, but the blasted fluffy cushion and horrendously bright walls. There was nothing to do, but to start up a boring conversation. There was nothing to eat, and, damn, he was hungry.

Didn't the horses need to stop? Weren't they tired at all? It had probably been at least a good six hours. He thought that they'd need some sort of rest, and then he'd go and find some food. But it seemed there was more to these horses than their beautiful coloring.

He wasn't about to ask Malik for food. The assassin had peeled open a piece of cheese sealed in wax not an hour earlier, broken it in half, and pointedly returned the other half to his travel sack with a look his way. He'd only give Altair a piece if he asked, the master assassin knew.

Ha! Well…

He didn't need food. He'd gone days without it before, and he wasn't about to risk his dignity for a piece of cheese. The horses would stop eventually, and then he would wander into the forest. Perhaps he would find a fig tree, or a stray rabbit that he could kill from a distance with his throwing knives.

Altair suppressed a shiver and frowned at the linen cloth covering his legs. He'd folded it over once, twice, three times, before he realized that he could fold it as small as he wanted and it wouldn't make him any warmer. He needed wool, dammit. He needed something warm. But he wasn't about to ask for it.

Malik looked up at him from his book, brow raised at his friend's not-so-subtle shivering.

"Are you cold, Altair?" he asked, making the ir at the end of his name into a sort of taunting purr.

Altair glared at him, straightening his posture from where he sat, cross-legged on his pink cushion.

"No," he bit out.

That was all he said for the next hour, as he glared stubbornly at the book in his friend's hands. It didn't have a name, but he knew it was stupid, just because he knew that everything Malik read was stupid.

Damn assassin and his thick woolen cloak.

The older man shifted suddenly, closing his book with a thunk and a sigh, apparently bored of reading. He set it on the satin sheets beside him, stretching his hands tiredly above his head. He didn't even glance Altair's way as his hands went for the clasp of his robes, and he began to pick them open with tanned, nimble fingers.

"What are you doing?" Altair asked sharply, irritated that his friend hadn't noticed his sulking.

The other assassin looked up in surprise. He actually seemed shocked to see that Altair was still sitting there, staring at him.

"Undressing for bed," he responded slowly, as though it were obvious. He returned his attention to the many belts and buckles of his attire, "I am unsure of how you sleep, but I prefer not to get tangled in my cloak and wake up sporting many buckle-shaped indents in my skin the next morning."

Altair frowned at the lie, "We sleep in the same room."

"We do, but you never fail to return while I am sleeping, and I do not make it a habit of pulling back your covers the next morning just to see what you are or are not wearing." He said in a bored tone.

The white-robed assassin sighed and leaned back in restlessness and anxiety. He didn't mind being uncomfortable, but he felt like he was being mocked when surrounded by all the cushions, tassels and rich material. It was like everything had been arranged for him to be as out of place as possible. He hated it. He wanted to go home. He wanted Malik to pay attention to him.

Malik shifted to get the last buckle around his throat, and began to peel the material away from his skin. The brown wool was pulled away to reveal evenly-tanned skin, scarred here and there by nicks from training and near-misses on the occasional assignment that was screwed worse than normal by unforeseen events.

They'd been friends for a very long time, and Altair was surprised as his eyes roamed over Malik's body – surprised that he could recall the source of every one of them.

He could remember one of those events, which happened during an assignment that they had both been given during their earlier years as assassins. It had been the simple mission of assassinating one of the southern lord's daughters.

It was supposed to be a sort of exercise for them, a situation they were given in order to get comfortable with the process. Everything up to the escape had gone easily. The rest had gone terribly awry.

It was, he embarrassingly had to admit, partially his fault. They'd been on their way back from the lord's castle, and the death bells had just begun their song. In order to stay out of the eye of the swarming guards, Altair had taken to the higher walkways. He'd just made his way to the top of the city's wall and had readied himself to jump over, when he saw what was on the other side.

Water, water, everywhere.

Needless to say, he'd freaked.

Mid-jump, he'd tried to change the course of his fall, and ended up clinging, one-handed to the wall. The water loomed darkly beneath him.

"Malik!" yes, he might have begun to desperately call his friend. But he was going to die! What choice did he have? "Malik! Help! T-there's water everywhere! I – Malik, help! I-I-I don't know how to swim!"

Well, that was an embarrassing confession. And, to top it off, one of the archers had heard, and come running in the direction of the assassin. Just as Malik arrived to help, he'd been struck with an arrow.

And you know what he'd done when he got there? He'd just pushed Altair over the edge. He didn't seem to understand that, not only could Altair not swim, but large bodies of water freaked him out (probably because of said fact). He'd clung desperately to his friend as Malik swam them both to shore, arrow still stuck in his arm.

He still had the scar, Altair could see. A silver, thin thread where Malik had later gotten him to pull it out. By the sounds of it, it had hurt like a bitch…a little more than it had to.

"Am I so fascinating with no clothes on?" Malik bit out, his cloak hanging halfway off his torso as Altair's eyes trailed along his collarbone.

Altair snorted in denial, turning his gaze away and towards the back of the carriage. He suddenly felt very warm, and blamed it on the closed tarp. He got up to open it, pointedly ignoring his friend.

The cool night felt good on his skin, the darkness calming his jittery nerves and releasing the tension from his muscles. This was where he was meant to be, clothed in the black shadows of the road, on his way to track a dangerous target.

Not in a stupid, purple carriage with a naked rival mocking him the whole way. Stupid bastard.

"Altair, close that and come back in. I will not be taking care of you when you catch an illness from the cold." Malik grunted, moving over to stand behind him.

The white-robed assassin turned to face him, irritated and jittery all over again.

"If you're cold, go put your cloak back on. I, for one, am comfortable here."

"You're being stupid." An angry glare, "Al Mualim will be furious when he hears that the mission was delayed because you were stupid enough to give yourself hypothermia!"

Altair snarled, his temper easily flaring. He'd been stuck in this uncomfortable carriage for hours and hadn't had anything to eat or drink for longer. He didn't want to listen and he didn't want to go back in and endure any more time sitting uncomfortably on that stupid pink cushion. He especially didn't want to hear anything about Al Mualim and his meaningless assignment.

"I am not going to get sick!" he barked, "Now go to bed and leave me be before you are forced to bear the full brunt of my anger."

"Ha!" Malik laughed spitefully, "What a fearful thing to see! The Kitten of Masyaf bares his claws!"

It was a stupid nickname he'd made up long ago, sometime around the water incident, and Altair hated it. He was an assassin, dammit, better than Al Mualim himself.

He lunged forward in anger, thumb going to the release on his hidden blade. He'd give him more than a scratch for that comment.

Malik jumped towards him to catch his arm, throwing his weight on him in defense, but just as he did so, the carriage turned a particularly sharp corner, throwing the two of them over the edge, and into the night.

"Sorry! Just trying to avoid that washout!" the driver's voice called back carelessly.

Splash!

Altair gasped as they landed in the filthy puddle, the sound of the water making him momentarily cry out in terror. He desperately grabbed around Malik's shoulders for support, pulling the older man closer even as his mind supplied him with the realization that it was just a puddle.

He held on tight, disturbed and gasping for air. Every lungful was like a relieved cry of it's there-it's there-it's there…

Malik wrenched the both of them into a standing position.

"Driver!" he cried, waving after the carriage, "Stop! Wait! We're…" he cursed under his breath, looking at his friend with a frown, "…we're fucked. Allah, it's just a puddle, Altair! You should be more worried about what Al Mualim will do when we get back."

Altair held himself still for a moment, waiting for his heart to slow down and common sense to take over. The world seemed painfully bright, stark in its clear reality. Everything settled into focus as his momentary shock slipped away, and he jumped back from Malik as though he had been burned.

The carriage trundled away, oblivious as to its two missing passengers.

"We will not be going back!" Altair frowned at the implied insult, already making his way up the road. He looked back to check if Malik was following him, "The carriage will stop eventually and the driver will notice we're gone."

Malik blinked once, surprised at Altair's persistence.

"True," he allowed, "I just thought that you would be taking this opportunity to high-tail it back to Masyaf."

He stepped up to walk beside the master assassin, surprised when he heard him mumble something like, "hafta go…"

"What?" Malik nudged him curiously, an eyebrow raised.

"I said that I knew you'd go on, and it would be stupid for me to turn back now. You'd probably get yourself killed."

Malik paused, curious.

"And you'd blame me if you got demoted, so of course I have to go." Altair added with a vague wave of his arm, already wanting the comment to be forgotten.

A smile made its way onto Malik's face, even as a shiver wracked through his body.

"Are you cold, Malik?" Altair asked, his eyes twinkling slightly. He drew out the l of his name as a taunt, glancing at him with a smirk.

Yes, he was, and, unlike Altair, Malik was not stupid enough to deny it.

"Yes," he bit out, arms crossed over his bare torso as he stared resolutely ahead.

He couldn't see the carriage anywhere. Not even the bright light of the outer torches glowed in the distance. They'd be walking all night, if the driver didn't stop soon. He'd freeze.

Suddenly, Altair grabbed him around the wrist and pulled him flush up against his bare body. Malik's eyes widened in surprise, and he stared in confusion at Altair's bear chest as the heavy weight of his cloak settled around his shoulders.

"We can share," Altair grinned, pulling him close as he stretched the warm fabric around them.

Malik grinned back, aware of the dark red that his face had taken on. He'd never been so close to Altair except in combat, and they were usually fully clothed. It wasn't embarrassing, it was…nice. He didn't know why his face was so red, and he chose, for once, not to overanalyze it.

Altair's skin was startlingly warm, though that was probably only because of how cold Malik was. The taught, hard muscle of his torso pressed against his own, and it felt strangely comfortable, like he was leaning against a marble pillar that had been standing out in the sun.

That was a perfect vision, though it was slightly backwards. If anything, Altair leaned on him.

He smiled, careful not to let Altair see. He could be a sap sometimes, but then, they'd been friends for years. He was entitled to it.

They walked like that for a while.


When they finally caught up with the carriage, it was to see the driver cursing himself and fumbling with the horses' reins. His brow was furrowed and there was sweat on his upper lip as he muttered to himself.

The horse didn't seem to appreciate this treatment, rearing its large, black head out of his hands, snorting and…growling?

Altair arched a brow.

The driver flicked his hair out of his face and glanced down the road. He stopped, eyes widening as he spotted the two of them – cold, shivering, and pressed up against each other under Altair's white cloak.

"Thank Allah!" he proclaimed, relieving the horse of his rough treatment as he practically ran to meet them, "I just stopped to give the horses a break for the night, and I found the two of you missing. Allah, I was so…scared, flustered…ugh, the road is too narrow to turn around on, so I was going to take Morrow and run after you, but I wasn't sure if I should leave the carriage…"

He stopped speaking suddenly, his face breaking out into a smile.

"I am so relieved you caught up! Now, there will be no time lost. Al Mualim will be grateful." The expression on his face was quickly schooled to that of a serious, seasoned driver, "But do not jump out again. It is dangerous. What were you thinking?"

"Jump out?!" Altair cried in anger. The driver had turned around and was returning to the front of the carriage, apparently where he would sleep. The question seemed to be rhetorical, "Your-"

"Altair." Malik said firmly, using the same tone he had in Al Mualim's presence, "Arguing will get us nowhere. Come, we must eat something and rest. Tomorrow we arrive at the villa."

He slipped out from under the cloak and climbed into the carriage, his skin uneven with goosebumps. Altair watched after him for a moment, reluctant to let the driver's comment off just like that. He looked over at the man, who was making his bed up with some sheets, and opened his mouth to say something.

Just as he did, though, a strange prickling sensation made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He was familiar with this feeling, and his automatic reaction was to drop into a diagonal front roll, unsheathe his blades and come up facing the source of the feeling.

Wo-HOOOOOOOOOOOooo.

Altair pursed his lips, looking at the small, skinny jackal with an irritated stare. It blinked back, seeming to say, 'You stupid man, you don't even know the difference between a canine and a guard.'

He glared at it. Perhaps he should stab it through the head just t-

"Altair!" Malik called irritably, causing his head to snap in the direction of the carriage, "Hurry or I will leave you cold and hungry for the remainder of the night!"

That sounded horrible.

He straightened up, returned his hidden blade and walked over to the carriage. Just as he was about to open the flap and jump in, however, he took one last look down the road.

The jackal was gone. There was nothing but dirt and scattered clumps of trees, leading all the way back home. There was nothing to stop him from stealing Morrow and riding off into the night. He would get to Masyaf before the sun rose, and he would be demoted. It would take him barely a month to regain his title, and in that time he would be treated the same. Al Mualim would still choose him for the same missions, Kadar would continue to worship the ground he walked upon…

But he would not go, he knew, because Malik intended to go through with this, and Altair would not hold his desires from him. They had been rivals for a long time, but they had been friends even longer. Altair bitched and whined and fought with him, but he would never truly hurt him.

Not on purpose. Never.

He jumped the edge of the carriage stealthily and was greeted with the other half of the cheese wedge, a tightly wrapped sausage and some beans.

"You take less time to kill a man than you do to enter a carriage," Malik quirked his brow, as if to say, 'What did you do to the driver?'

Altair grinned around the sausage he was devouring, "Just checking to make sure we are safe," he said happily.

He felt strangely light, looking at Malik, like he was about to burst into a million little pieces. Perhaps it was the reminiscing about the past, or the fall into the puddle and the long walk to catch up, but the assassin felt like a sap. He needed to sleep, before he said something he'd regret.

He inhaled the rest of the food expertly, before looking at Malik with a small grin.

"You said something about keeping me warm tonight?" he smirked.

It had the desired effect. His friend's cheeks burned brightly for a moment, though whether that was from anger or embarrassment, he couldn't say. Either way, it entertained him. It was hard to see Malik flustered – he and Kadar made a sort of game out of it.

"Yes," Malik frowned at him, "With a woolen blanket, though I daresay I might withhold it from you now."

He whipped said blanket out of his travelsack and settled himself under it, somehow managing to give the impression that he was going to sleep, with his nose pointed haughtily in the air. He waited a beat, and, sure enough, Altair was silent. Malik gave him an inquiring look.

"I'm not cold." The assassin huffed, crossing his arms and trying to hide the goosebumps on his bare chest.

Instead of responding, Malik rolled his eyes and lashed out a hand to grab his friend's sleeve. He pulled him under, and the blanket was small enough that they had to touch. It didn't bother him, really. He'd slept like this with other assassins, who'd either lost their supplies or…

…had lost their supplies. Altair was really the only one he'd met too stubborn (or too stupid) to not bring a blanket.

He closed his eyes, ready to drift off.

He cracked one open, and took a look at Altair. He'd settled his head onto a pink cushion, his breathing slowed, not quite asleep yet, and a small dusting of pink gracing his cheeks. Malik quirked an eyebrow at this, but chose to ignore it. He settled down on his own pillow, which was gold.

He opened his eyes again, suddenly feeling very warm. Altair shifted, apparently feeling the same, and tore his cloak off before he lay back down once more. Their chests pressed against each other, and Malik had to bite his lip to keep silent. Altair was not like the other assassins. Being pressed up bare against a half-naked Altair felt almost…intimate.

The carriage seemed to heat up another hundred degrees.

Suddenly, Altair cracked his eyes open as well, jumping a little when he saw that his friend was still awake.

"Malik," he whispered, "it's really hot under here. Maybe we should use another blanket?"

Instead of answering, Malik whipped off the wool. He replaced it with one of the satin sheets, and it seemed to help a little. At least, he could fall asleep after that.

Sort of.


Woo! Another chapter! I apologize for the strange sound my jackal made. I attempted to find out what one sounded like, and ended up listening to a hyena-jackal call on youtube. I sat there for about five minutes, think 'huh…so how the hell do I spell that?' When I read it over, I realized that it sounded like it was cheering.

Aw, well.

I hope you liked it!

Thank you again for all your reviews! They made me burst with happiness! I love you XD!!!

NOTE: I have run out of assassin stories, again. I go through that stuff like a demon (I think there's something wrong with me). As soon as I find a cache on the internet, I go through it in like, two days, so if any of you have any secret slash story hiding places, please point me in that direction! Thanks!