Music Inspiration: Inon Zur- "Mage Pride"
The Mongoose Guardian
As the days passed, Vivian and Altaïr remained below deck to nap away their uneasy stomachs. Malik, on the other hand, was having the grandest time of his life as he lived his days on a boat like he always imagined doing so at an old age. The sea was calm, especially with the rainy season passing by during their Quelimane stay so their journey was extremely safe. With his tools safe from curious rat mouths, he was able to sketch a few landscape pieces to tuck away in his travel journal. Altaïr hardly had the patience to sit and write down a word when everything swirled in his mind, giving up entirely. While the dai sunbathed and enjoyed the simple comforts of a sea voyage, his two companions huddled together in misery for self-therapy.
Altaïr had never really been the type for imagination since the Apple gave him enough information to dwell on for years so enough said. Vivian, however, managed to pull the creative potential within his mind after numerous sessions of guided imagery. She painted a world that was at the control of his fingertips in an effort to focus away from their horrible voyage. It had taken him about ten sessions before he could stay downstairs without feeling the desperate need to vomit. Needless to say, his partner was patient and he was appreciative of it. He wasn't proud to show his vulnerabilities but he trusted his friends enough to pierce through that mask.
"Focus on the next image, a little mouse eating a piece of cheese next to a candle" Vivian suggested as she observed the floorboards overhead with a lazy yawn. They had spent the past hour in focusing Altaïr's energy away from the rocking boat. It wasn't hard to imagine rodents with the ones they carried onboard and she'd been adamant that Altaïr take care of eradicating them after the rat encounter. Even now, any sound that resembled little paws over wood snapped her awake for hours. There was absolutely no way she'd risk catching a disease when she was nearing her trip back home- or at least, a way back home.
"Cheese? They eat anything" he snorted to her chosen food but focused nonetheless on a furry little ball hoarding cheese in its mouth. Hmm, imagining that little brown creature as it stuffed its cheeks reminded him of a certain someone that did the same thing. It was no secret that Vivian had an addicting tooth for it whenever she caught a scent and chided gently with a haughty smirk, "Like you."
"I beg to differ, sir" she defended hastily since she didn't want to seem gluttonous because mice ate anything. It wasn't her fault that ancient times tended to give her massive hunger when a delectable scent struck her nose. Food was food when it was cooked safely so she wouldn't discriminate on eating any of it.
"Vivian, I've seen you devour a plate of cheese within minutes and don't get me started on our trips to inns" he pointed out since she'd eaten food that was possibly bigger than her stomach and then some. She laughed to her eagerness in regards to that specific food but she couldn't deny cheese from her diet- it was blasphemy! Unless she developed lactose intolerance, she would eat it till her dying day.
"Try to picture your son, babies grow fast throughout the first year" she smiled softly to shift the focus away from her and onto the little toddler that was Altaïr's. Since little baby clothes were ridiculously adorable to her, especially socks, she imagined little wiggling toes. The fact that a little Altaïr was back at Masyaf awaiting his father's return while she'd received his embraces filled her with guilt for partaking in it. She imprinted that fact in her mind to remind her that her affection had to diminishing by the time they reached Madagascar. Shifting the focus to the prime caretaker of little Altaïr, she was reminded that he was meant for her and stated optimistically, "I'm sure Maria is taking great care of him. If she can beat the crap out of you, she can do anything."
"She did not beat me . . . very much" Altaïr corrected snippily with a sardonic undertone since Maria hadn't hesitated to correct him when he was wrong. Unlike Vivian, she knew where to strike for the most damage and had the strength to match. The historian, however, used her intellect to inflict damage rather than brawn and it led him to wanting a strike in the face when he was out of line. Hmm, now that he thought about it, he tended to chase women that gave him quite the challenge.
His right eye opened to emphasize his point but Vivian had grown accustomed to his behavior, keeping her eyes closed as she lectured, "Don't you glare at me with one eye, mister."
A low growl settled in his throat for being forced to stay in his imagination but she stated in a gentle tone, "Think about your baby, not your irritation. Imagine how those little fingers will grasp you for a hug every day for years to come."
"I'm not the baby type" he mumbled uncertainly but listened, wondering how his little son looked now. Although he had no idea how to be a father, he wanted to be a part of his son's life to make sure he grew to be a respectable man. He didn't have a father to teach him skills to grow that father-son bond and he wanted to bestow the love he lacked as a child. Each day his little infant was getting bigger and he needed to see him before his son decided he didn't need a father.
"Pretty, pretty babies" she murmured softly and it brought her little sister Penelope to mind. What had her family done in the past year or so since she'd been gone? How much time elapsed between realms? An entire year and more had passed with her so did time flow the same back home? Vivian would've been finished with her internship and it could've opened new paths for her if she'd never met the assassins. She didn't mind helping Altaïr but could someone else have been brought in from the same realm? Maybe even another? Was such a thing possible? Who held the rulebook on time paradoxes, anyway? What manner of science had even brought her here to begin with? Things like time shifts or realm changes were not normal under any circumstance! They were theories, yes, but had never been proven.
"He probably has my nose so I hope he gets her looks" Altaïr murmured as he tried to picture it and she allowed him to stay with the therapeutic method. He had never really taken the time to look at his appearance because his face was unable to change, unlike his body under strict exercise routines. The only trait he could say he liked was his chin, it was straight and square with masculinity but the rest of his look was nothing special. Women had rarely commented on it until he'd asked Vivian to be open with what she thought. She was the first to raise his self-confidence and awareness that he was not a shabby looker.
Meanwhile, Vivian's stomach was growing uneasy to the thought of returning to a family that could've changed completely since last seeing them. She sat up as the rolling waves mixed in with the sudden anxiety that struck her as the isolation of the sea heightened her worry. Knowing how long his son had been waiting for him, she could only wonder the same about her own family. Had they labeled her as a disappearance or were they still looking? Her father treasured them all after her mother died and the idea of him thinking another was lost to him was agonizing. She'd pushed all those thoughts away since crossing into Tanzania because she knew going home wouldn't be anytime soon. But now . . . they were so close. Her little sisters- what could be running thought their minds? How could she explain herself? How could she say she lingered behind just to taste adventure and stay with her friends? When had traveling with Altaïr become more important than returning to her flesh and blood?
"Keep going" she managed to say as her mouth suddenly became watery with excess salivation. Uh-oh, she knew what this symptom meant after experiencing it for a week already. She abandoned the assassin to his land of imagination as she scuttled off towards the deck with haste. It wasn't the dainty runs that she showed the public to maintain her femininity but a full blown manic run.
Malik heard the thundering footsteps as he read on the deck and instead of finding Altaïr, Vivian rushed past him. He'd been ready to ask what was wrong but she flew by with only one spot in mind: the ocean. With travelers walking the deck, she cast aside reservations and leaned over the nearest rail to hurl into the ocean. It was a horrible burning sensation to her throat but once the act finished, her body felt balanced once again. Sure, vomiting was not healthy at all but she could no longer contain the nausea that broke her body into sweating trembles. Days prior, she took the utmost care to stay out of anyone's way when seeking to empty her stomach but it grew old. When it needed emptying, she would not wait unless she wanted it on her clothes. It happened once during the first days and she never forgot the smell because washing laundry while nauseated was not fun.
"Not again" Malik sighed softly since he had two little ducks that needed his brotherly support. Altaïr normally nagged that nobody understood his woes before accepting it while Vivian gladly took it. Placing a bookmark on the page he was reading, he closed his book to approach his friend. Vivian clung to the wooden rail as she breathed in deeply to remove the horrible taste and smell from the vomit. Malik had never seen her ill at all and he worried for her since she wasn't exactly from their time, managing to keep healthy up to that point. He never thought their first sea voyage together would bring such adverse reactions from them since the Nile journey was decent. His shadow made his presence known as he blocked out the sun from the left and he proposed lightly, "Have you thought that maybe what he has is contagious?"
She shook her head because it would've surfaced much earlier in the trip and sighed, "Very doubtful."
Placing a hand to her lips as she felt a wave of nausea pass through her, her face wrinkled with disgust, "Ugh, it feels like a swallowed a dirty rat dipped in rotten eggs."
"That . . . was a mental image I could've lived without" her friend replied with a tinge of displeasure on his face. Vivian managed a weak apologetic smile since her mouth tended to use unabashed words with Altaïr and forgot to use the 'sister censor' as she called it with Malik. She sometimes forgot that he required a sensible touch in comparison to the assassin who was incredibly frank. He motioned to the floor with his hand for her to sit and suggested, "Maybe it would be better for you to breathe in fresh air rather than being below deck. I understand that you want to be beside Altaïr but his solution might not be yours."
"It's not the air, this just happens randomly but. . .I was a tad worried minutes ago" she admitted sheepishly since her concerns were nothing compared to theirs. He shot her a look that spelled confession time since the less stress his friends endured, the less chaos that would be wreaked in their bodies. Vivian glanced at the floorboards shamefully for allowing her emotions to break the surface and admitted forlornly, "I don't like the solitude of the ocean, it makes my mind run amok. I haven't thought of home for months since the port was a substitute and all of it came rushing back just now. I . . . I . . . miss my family. It's been so long, Malik, that I fear I won't even remember their voices."
Malik offered a sympathetic smile and advised kindly, "Everybody misses their home, Vivian, it is only natural. I miss Masyaf sometimes and I understand it's not the same as your situation but I'm here to talk. Altaïr's more into short sentences and speeches about courage but I'm not hesitant to speak freely."
"I can't see myself telling him this, he has a sense of home and to allow myself to be so vulnerable before him is . . . it's scary" she whispered softly because opening herself completely on her emotions usually led the two to seek comfort from each other. The fact that their time was now limited caused Altaïr discomfort and she wouldn't rub salt in those wounds by talking about her family. She needed a barrier between them to dull her inevitable leave so keeping everything locked up seemed best. She shook her head to the thought of blurting out her feelings about everything to Altaïr and glanced wistfully at the sparking water, "I can laugh it away but unlocking all of that when we're so close to the island. . ."
"Altaïr is stronger than you think, Vivian" he stated knowingly because even though his friend might nag to him to vent, he adapted to everything thrown his way. The man wasn't the type to wear his emotions on his face but it spoke volumes to the lengths he took to control it all internally. Vivian, however, wanted to keep that strength in place out of fear she might knock out a brick out of that wall and cause it to crumble. It wasn't hard for him to notice how she skirted around certain subjects with Altaïr while she divulged most of her feelings to him. Playing big brother was a natural role when he pinned her with a concerned look and asked directly, "Why do you hesitate being honest with him? He doesn't bite. . .well, not often."
Vivian bit her bottom lip as she translated her feelings into words, her shoulders slumping to giveaway her uncertainty. She trusted Malik with just about anything but she and Altaïr had begun harboring an affection that they'd secretly tucked away. Her original feelings for him at Lake Victoria had grown exponentially since first admitting everything to Malik and she murmured softly, "I fear that I'm finding myself at a crossroads when concerning this life and the one that was snatched from me."
His brow rose with curiosity to that revelation since she'd voiced returning home since day one. She had become part of their team unofficially over the year and he coaxed gently, "Tell me why you fear this."
"Because my family has always been the core of my life, everything revolved around them and now" she admitted openly and sighed softly as she paused to gather her thoughts. Her friend had a therapeutic touch unlike anyone else she'd met and she knew her secrets were safe with him. Her brow furrowed to the unsettling thoughts that lurked in the back of her mind regarding the nature of her sudden nausea and the extent of her affection for Altaïr. They were thoughts that her mind suppressed constantly but the layer wrapped around them is what led to her confession, "I've found a purpose here and I've grown into a different person that I worry will no longer fit in my society. You've both become a part of my life and to tear myself away from this- or vice versa- is very conflicting. I wish . . . I wish there was a way to keep both worlds but life doesn't exactly work that way."
"You care for that cantankerous eagle, shouldn't you share your worries? They sound quite important to me" he advised to put in his two cents and she shook her head sheepishly. He didn't know why the two avoided talking about conflicting emotions out of fear of hurting the other and it was up to him to mend the two. His constant heckling allowed Altaïr to realize that he actually cared for the woman and now, he had the other party admitting hesitance on departing. He kept his tone low and gentle to nudge her in the right way as he suggested, "He's always helped you and I think he has a larger part to play in your distress than you let on. I'm not blind when it comes to affection- I've trained in the art of deciphering people, Vivian. You two need to have a heart-to-heart talk in order to resolve all of your problems and that includes the love you harbor for him."
"I told myself it was a simple attraction after enjoying the game of his life so much but I've involved myself too deeply in this journey" she muttered flatly to his sage advice as she cursed her female hormones. Changing the man for the better had caused her heart downfall because he'd become the one she yearned for. She wasn't surprised that her friend was able to read her like a book and wondered if Altaïr read the same during their interactions. However, she was taken aback to the love portion he'd included because she hadn't delved into that sea of emotions to sort it all out. Afraid of what she might find, she decided to focus on something else and informed Malik on the catalyst that brought on most of her woe, "I kissed him in a bold moment to force him to let me be and it spiraled downhill from there."
"That was not the best idea, I can tell you that already" Malik lectured with an expression of absolute pity that brought an embarrassed smile to her face. As smart as they were, the two tended to behave illogically and erratic when in each other's vicinity.
"I've never been the smartest cookie when it comes to Altaïr" she chuckled bashfully with a guilty face since he had the tendency to render her inhibitions useless. He really did make her feel like a drunken honey bee whenever he tried to charm her, no matter how silly his words could be. If he initiated eye contact at close quarters, her brain was pretty much dead once their pupils met.
Footsteps thundered behind them as the nauseated eagle ascended the stairs with an infuriated gaze that would've petrified ordinary men into frantic sobbing. Vivian winced behind Malik as she realized she'd dawdled for too long and Altaïr had discovered her absence. Talking about her problems to smooth them out with Malik helped incredibly now that her stomach wasn't performing somersaults so she wasn't going to feel guilty for that part. Just as her figurative melting pot of stress cooled, Altaïr's blew its top as he accused with a jabbing finger in her direction, "You left me down there talking to myself!"
"How is that different from any other day in Quelimane?" she replied cheekily as she placed her humorous façade back into place. Her bouts of nausea were best to be hidden since she could only handle worrying about one person at a time and it was him. She had to remain a strong pillar for him to draw his own strength from and plastered a smile onto her face despite the bothersome gurgling in her stomach.
Malik followed her lead to maintain a nonchalant appearance since their talks would remain confidential and joked good-naturedly, "I'm sure the rats didn't mind the company."
Altaïr narrowed his eyes to their sudden sense of humor when he was feeling at his lowest. He'd been fantasizing about random things since Vivian's silence led to him going off tangent without her direction and guidance. When he realized she'd left without him noticing, he felt abandoned since he expected her to be beside him as promised. For the first time, it brought a flicker of panic because she would not be in his company for very long once they landed. She would cease to exist in his time and he dreaded that moment, which is why he kept her in close quarters. He was not ready to begin adjusting to that reality and his attachment to her had led him to believe that for a split second, she had been taken from him. Trying to cover up his own fears, he focused on the second problem her presence was needed for and snapped, "I trusted you to keep me from being ill to my stomach, Vivian."
As he returned below deck swiftly, Vivian was struck with guilt for abandoning him in exchange for a hearty chat. She hadn't left his side intentionally and wouldn't think of it unless it was absolutely necessary. Malik offered a caring smile at seeing her disappointed face since Altaïr tended to strike at her emotions far easier nowadays. However, he doubted the man would stay irritated for longer than an hour and comforted, "You're allowed moments of physical weakness, Vivian. Take care of yourself- this journey is not about protecting Altaïr only. There's only so much you can do before you collapse from exhaustion."
"He has to stay safe, Malik, even at the cost of my own health" she replied loyally without hesitance after owing that much to him from all of her meddling. She had never experienced such an attachment to another man in her life and he was worth risking her life for. Turning away from the stairwell, she leaned against the railing to peer at the sparkling ocean and sighed, "He needs to cool down before I return downstairs."
Malik merely shook his head to her tendency to place Altaïr above her own well-being and decided it was time for an intervention. The man was a stubborn one when it came to relinquishing what he held dear but it was time that he began realizing that his time with Vivian was limited.
He blinked as she snapped him out of his thoughts concerning the manic eagle and asked, "Yes?"
Vivian smiled faintly to her dearest friend since he'd been by her side from day one and requested gingerly, "You'll look after him once I'm gone, won't you? He's stubborn like a mule but he has a very good heart. Of that, I am sure of."
Malik nodded because although his friend could drive him insane, he was his leader and a good man that had now earned his respect. Years ago, he would've thought Altaïr to be the next strict autocratic leader to follow Al Mualim's steps but now, he was democratic as he took everyone's thoughts into consideration. He meant a lot to both of them but Malik would help him keep his head straight for years to come. It would not be an easy road but an assassin's life never really brought leveled smooth roads to trek, did it?
The sun set to bring the end to another day at sea and everyone piled in downstairs hours later to eat their nourishment for the night. Bedtime wasn't too long afterwards since the lack of sunlight equaled sleeping time, especially since they didn't have clocks to tell them the time. The trio was glad to share the ship with a small number of people, six with the crew included, since the assassins had traveled in crowded ships in the past. Nobody fought for a spot on the floor and no limbs were stepped on during the night, which happened often with overcrowding. While Vivian fiddled with straightening her crumpled blankets, Malik pulled a queasy Altaïr onto the top deck for a quick chat.
Altaïr's footsteps were heavy over the floorboards as he allowed himself to be dragged along and groaned tiredly, "So, where are these tasty crackers you promised me?"
"The crackers were a lie" Malik stated flatly since luring his friend upstairs would only happen when food was involved. Being on a diet of tasteless crackers and a salty-sweet liquid concoction, Altaïr would give anything for crackers with any kind of decent taste. The fact that his friend seized away that delicious possibility with deceit caused him to restrain the flicker of rage that was lit from surfacing onto his face. Malik observed his friend's subtle jaw clench to being denied the prize he wasted energy for and the dai calmed him down, "I merely wanted to pull you away from Vivian so we could speak in private."
"And simply asking me didn't float through your mind?" he asked sharply because having food in his hands was far better than having none. Today was definitely not his day and felt the sudden urge to kick a bucket senselessly. The fact that Malik had pried him away from Vivian didn't help matters either and had half a mind to call her upstairs.
Malik pinned him with a deadpan stare because they both knew asking wouldn't have worked and stated bluntly, "You've assumed the role of a barnacle to her hull. Removal would've been next to impossible with your symbiotic relationship."
Altaïr was ready to deny that claim because it was absolutely true but wasn't fond of having that come to light. He'd never experienced any kind of dependency with any person in his life (except Al Mualim) and although he'd been wary of it at first, he opened himself to Vivian. Being known for his independence was a large piece of his identity but he admitted to himself that he needed help once in a while. A long voyage over treacherous water that could entomb him counted heavily in that category. She didn't laugh or brush off his insecurities but helped him overcome them one step at a time, no matter how reluctant he could be.
"Altaïr, you drag her to your side if she so much as moves a few fingers' width from you" he pointed out matter-of-factly and resisted from lightly whacking him over the head to drill the point into his head. When the sleeping gap between the two decreased from an arm's width to practically using the same sleeping mat, cold hard facts were Altaïr's undoing. The assassin avoided eye contact at knowing that yes, he could become a tad overprotective and attached. It stemmed from the loyalty instilled from his youth and as he grew older, it branched into other traits in his personality when it concerned his loved ones. Malik snapped his fingers when he caught that dodging tactic because he was having none of that anymore and stated firmly, "You can't deny that."
"I can deny whatever I want, it's a free world, my friend" the man interjected hastily since he knew Malik wasn't particularly favorable of his feelings for Vivian. If anything, he could count on him being in Vivian's 'you shall not pass' boat into her heart. He had been henpecking him since they arrived in Lake Victoria regarding his son but Altaïr didn't allow that to deter him. Yes, he had a son back in Masyaf but his heart was free to choose whom to love and nobody would change that.
Malik wasn't having any of his grumpy sass because it yielded no effect in swaying his opinions. His concern was for the entire group overall and informed sharply, "If you need help with your problem, you will come to me from now on. Vivian is not your caretaker to listen to your every whim and you must let her breathe."
"She can do as she wishes and who are you to order us around?" he defended snippily because they were all adults and capable of making their own decisions. Vivian's actions were not under anyone's control and part of him desired to tell his friend to mind his business. Of course, he couldn't do that without risking being punched and accidentally thrown overboard to become food for sharks. He could, however, preen his friend's feathers to show who was right and he brought forth with a haughty grin, "I have an idea, why don't we ask the woman in question what she thinks?"
"I am looking out for her best interests because she's focusing too much on you" he pointed out sharply to the predicament Vivian had landed herself in. Whether she cared to admit it or not, her health would take a toll if she kept tending to Altaïr at all hours of the day. How the woman did not realize that was a significant sign of deep affection for another was beyond him.
"Is this a jealousy thing?" Altaïr smirked with a nonchalant tone since he wasn't best buddy number one anymore. His answer was a slap upside the head as Malik called him delusional for believing such a thing. The assassin pushed him back as the joke failed to land at all and cursed his luck of bad timing when it came to humor. He didn't know how Vivian did it, he was horrendous at it!
"You are walking on a thin line, Altaïr" he warned the light tone since the man had become accustomed to being spoiled by their companion. The poor woman was too kind to say no when somebody was ill, even at risking her own health. The fact that he could clearly distinguish her affection for the man would only play into that factor. He could see that unveiling the obvious truth to his friend was not solving the matter at hand as overprotection drove Altaïr to become defensive. Malik had never witnessed such an attachment since his friend preferred being a lone wanderer and wondered just how deep the sentiments ran. He wasn't going to threaten the complete removal of their friend from his life and decided to go with a lighter touch. He would have to slowly desensitize Altaïr to not having her in his daily life to protect both of them.
Malik raised his hand to still his friend's agitation and advised simply, "Stop crowding her so much. Let her have her space to breathe because you haven't left her alone since we boarded."
"That's a lie, I give her time to use the latrine and bathe" he scoffed matter-of-factly to gloss over becoming a tad dependent on Vivian. A year ago, he wouldn't have fathomed the thought of her being so intricate in his life at all. Now, his day began and ended with her- something he was rather fond of. It wasn't simply due to his horrible sea illness that he sought her; he needed to spend their last days together for as long as he could. As sentimental as it sounded, besides his order, she was the light in a world threatened to be engulfed in shadows. Just like his assassins, she gave him hope and purpose. Plain and simple . . . it was the beginning of a love he had never experienced.
Malik gave him a deadpan stare since the comment didn't help him at all and stated flatly, "You do know that's not a normal behavior, correct?"
Altaïr narrowed his eyes in defiance but the dai returned one with an expression that literally read 'don't cross me'. With his weakened state, he would not be surprised if Malik managed to subdue him physically if he refused. Since it was for Vivian's benefit, he had to swallow his pride and heed his friend's request.
The assassin begrudgingly listened . . . for about an hour.
"Vivian" he beckoned the young woman beside him as she wrote into her journal while he lay on his side. He found it eerily unnatural and incredibly hard not to hold a conversation with her for over an hour. They always shared a few words, even while in bed and doing their own independent activities. Ceasing conversation was simply unnatural for him and to be honest, they had yet to run out of topics to discuss. She glanced down with a smile to meet his warm gaze and he preened innocently, "Can you- ow!"
A sharp sensation to his back brought immediate silence and Vivian looked with surprise to the perpetrator. Altaïr turned backwards to glare at the offending elbow that had dared to jab him in the back. Malik returned the same intense stare to minimize him into submission but Altaïr was one stubborn eagle. How the man managed to read and keep tabs on him simultaneously was lost on the assassin as he scowled from underneath his sheets like a scolded toddler. Altaïr pressed his lips together into a thin line of displeasure at being jabbed and demanded, "What was that for?!"
A smack to the back of his head sent him scrambling underneath the blankets for cover as Malik decided to play whack-an-assassin. Seeing that the strikes were more lighthearted and geared towards brotherly roughhousing, Vivian chuckled and returned to her journal. Boys would be boys, right? Malik decided to jab his friend with his finger since he made it ridiculously easy to target where his head was. A jab to the nose or cheeks was an easy way to subdue him since the man wasn't accustomed to having his face touched at all.
"That's not- we're not twelve anymore!" Altaïr declared indignantly since he had horrible cover with his blankets and avoided being poked in the left eye. He cursed his lack of energy as his downfall to retaliation and felt like a piece of meat at the mercy of a hungry cat. It was a humorous but annoying reminder to the childhood he'd led when he and Malik actually got along. Before his hubris settled in, the two would boast to each other and wrestle in their shared quarters to prove who the best in gaining Al Mualim's favor was. Often, it led the two to jabbing each other in the face whenever one managed to pin the other. He batted his friend's hand away since he learned his lesson of leaving Vivian alone and pointed out, "We're grown men- we should already be past this stage of life!"
Vivian covered her mouth to muffle the laughter threatening to spill as she watched the two behave- well, like anything but assassins. Behind the professional exterior, the men were brothers in arms that looked out for each other like two wolves in a pack. Vivian could see that Altaïr would not restrain their friend by his only hand and that in itself made the situation more humorous as he allowed himself to be the beta wolf this time.
The third week brought Vivian a peace of mind as Altaïr's dependency issues subsided somewhat with Malik initiating a takeover. Altaïr noticed subtle changes as she avoided personal conversation and returned to her objective viewpoint to relate everything to the mission. It reminded him of Maria, who remained spot on to finishing a task and hadn't agreed to bed him until she finished her mission in Acre. Beats him what it was but he got one hell of a happy time out of it . . . and a child. . . but still, happy time nonetheless.
Vivian had been a fresh breath of air as she opened up verbally in a different way from Maria, whom he still didn't know much about since she wasn't the chatty type until later in the months. His companion, however, didn't hide or refuse to answer any questions he had regarding her past and they discussed disciplines to learn more of each other. He'd become her tether to his world and she allowed glimpses into a future he would never witness but could rest happy at the pieces of knowledge bestowed to him. Seeing her stare into the ocean rather than speak to him below deck irked him as he felt out of reach but didn't pry. It actually stung now when he saw her confiding in Malik and not sharing her usual amount of time with him. They had shared an intimacy that he'd yet to experience with another and part of him had hoped it would flourish further on the final days of their journey. Their days were numbered and he wanted to know as much about her as possible before he had to return her to her world.
With that in mind, he approached her quietly as she ruminated in private and placed a hand on her shoulder. She flinched instantly for losing awareness of her surroundings as the sea helped tremendously to calm her fretful worries. Nowadays, she went to bed with multiple thoughts regarding her future and what kind of clues could lead her home on that island. It was hard not to think about it when she was so close in comparison to almost two years prior.
"I need help" he requested as he leaned against the wooden railing but looked to the azure sky rather than the water. If he looked at the choppy sea for more than a minute, his stomach would begin rolling in similarity. It was why he preferred walking the upper deck at night because it blinded him temporarily to what surrounded him. Normally, he would hate that sensory deprivation for fear of harm but he needed it in this particular case.
Instinctively, Vivian's worry meter skyrocketed and she quickly asked, "What is it?"
"I miss your company" he replied easily to set aside her fears and watched her lips part slightly before they closed. She'd never been very good at hiding her emotions when it concerned him but it didn't mean she wanted him to feel slighted or abandoned. He didn't want to delve deeper with his honesty since admitting his affection flustered her and it often led to her leaving to escape the mutual attraction. He wasn't the type to shy away when he sought something (or in this case, someone) and stated openly, "I don't want to suppress your freedom, little as it is now that we're trapped on this vessel. I know I'm a bit fussy, especially now, but I never want to lose our friendship over something trivial. If I am indeed taking advantage of you unknowingly, please tell me and I will listen."
"I'm sorry about that, I've been off in my own world recently with all these extra hours" she sighed apologetically as she rubbed one of her eyes and continued, "Malik thought it was best and I won't argue with him since he's the brains out of us both. It's not my intent to push you aside, Altaïr."
For the past week, the nausea shifted into fatigue but she couldn't pinpoint as to why. It was driving her bonkers! Was it the vomiting that was presenting physical consequences? If so, wouldn't Altaïr have suffered the same long ago? Or did the sea voyage affect Altaïr in the same way it was with her? After all, the man had some peculiar unknown genes floating around in his DNA helix. She had been fine during the journey north of the Nile River but this was the Indian Ocean. Her shoulders slumped at the thought of falling into the same boat as him and she muttered sullenly, "It turns out the ocean is starting to do crazy things to me too. I've never been out at sea for this long."
His lips curled in distaste for his second enemy and he glowered at the puffy white clouds overhead, "I don't see why people sing songs about the ocean. If you ask me, the land is ten times better."
"Oh, I don't know about that" Vivian spoke nonchalantly as she eyed him innocently and he sighed at catching a mischievous glint in her eye. Well, having her prance around was better than nothing after realizing the sea was affecting her stronger than she let on. Her fingers tapped against the wood banister to find a quick rhythm and she grinned cheekily to say, "There is one great sea melody. . .
Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip
That started from Quelimane port
Aboard this tiny ship.
The leader was a mighty assassin man, (She pounded the center of her chest lightly.)
The grand master brave and grumpy. (Imitating his famous scowl was an epic fail in his eyes.)
Three passengers set sail that day
For a two month journey, a two month journey.
The weather started getting rough,
The tiny ship was tossed, (she imitated turbulent motions with her body for added humor.)
If not for the courage of the fearless crew (placing her hands on her hips, she thinned her lips to imitate a brave courageous assassin.)
The minnow would be lost, the minnow would be lost.
The ship set ground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle
With Vivian and her food scraps, (she mimicked foraging through her robe pockets)
The Grand Master too, (she stood straight to puff out her chest and proper to imitate him)
The dai and his books (she pretended to scribble into her left hand)
Here on Madagascar Isle.
So this is the tale of the castaways,
They're here for a long, long time,
They'll have to make the best of things, (she smiled optimistically and gently poked to his right cheek to garner a smile of any kind from the man.)
It's an uphill climb.
The Grand Master and his loyal badger, (she pointed to herself and Altaïr)
Will do their very best,
To make the others comfortable,
In the tropic island nest.
No phone, no lights, no motor cars,
Not a single luxury,
Like Desmond and gang,
As primitive as can be.
So join us here each week my friends,
You're sure to get a smile,
From three weary wanderers,
Here on Madagascar Isle."
"Vivian, before I rant, you do know that nobody is watching our misadventures- correct?" he asked slowly to ensure the sun hadn't begun to roast her brain and allowed insanity to fester. Vivian quickly waved a hand to dissipate that claim because she wasn't off her rocker yet. She might be a teeny tad eccentric at times but it didn't mean that logic had left her mind entirely. She just happened to have fun twisting it.
"Must you always rend my songs asunder with your words, master assassin?" she asked with a small smirk of amusement and poked him on the right bicep. Their playful banter was something she never wanted to lose with him since it kept the loneliness at bay. There was only so much you could talk about on a journey and when one grew bored or tense, humor was a wonderful situation diffuser.
"Your voice and lyrics of the sea are a deadly combination to my weakened stomach" he commented dryly and she swatted his arm for the jab as they both chuckled together. Due to his gastrointestinal issues, Vivian avoided touching the abdominal area to prevent pain innervation to the assassin. He would never get mad at her if she did prod him but she wanted to keep him safe and sound until they hit land.
"Don't you have some barfing to do?" she chuckled softly and they found themselves returning to their humorous camaraderie. He missed having her by his side because Malik would never return any hugs or rubs his back the way she did. If anything, the best they would share would be a hardy pat on the back. It was something, yes, but just not the same.
His index reached out to lightly tap the bottom of her chin and he stated with a faint smile, "Not if you're there beside me."
A week later gave them a setback when Vivian's mood plummeted because she couldn't hold food down as the nausea returned. Both assassins stayed away for their own safety before she threw them overboard in a fit of rage. Altaïr would never, in all of his life, understand womankind. She hadn't curled into a ball from her eerie bloodletting that time but he didn't know much about women and assumed she was fine. Then again, she normally wasn't very vocal about private bodily matters (what sane person was?) until he pried it out of her. Even then, it was a terror to do so.
The month's mark had Altaïr yearning for the land and its endless safe earth because he hated the cramped boat that gave him no privacy whatsoever. How was he supposed to keep his mind and body sharp if he couldn't do anything but barf or bump into things? Not to mention, empty a chamber pot on the upper deck and hope nobody noticed him! And the food, he hated eating dried meat that tasted like old crunchy leather and Vivian's odd drink concoction to keep his body from losing too much water. Part of him wondered if he'd eventually break under the stress and lose his sanity but Malik was there to keep him in line. As for Vivian, she began worrying when Aunt Flo didn't visit and hoped she wasn't unknowingly baking a white cupcake in a figurative clay oven. That uneasy feeling she couldn't pin down was slowly treading into pregnancy territory. She hoped it was the stress that had caused an irregular skipped period and bouts of nausea. If not . . . she was in knee deep bat doody.
Altaïr managed to escape Malik's hyper vigilance by locking him in the storage room since he kept an eagle's eye on him nowadays. Part of him wondered if Malik held some odd affection for Vivian but the dai simply knocked him over the head with a book for suggesting it. She would only and always be an unofficial sister in his eyes which is why he protected her against Altaïr's affection. For the moment, the assassin slipped under the dai's watch and he found her on the top deck as she peered over the water. When alone, her face was the picture of contentment and it wasn't hard for him to be lured to her side to have a taste of that idyll. He stood tall with perfect posture and sauntered towards her but his strong will broke halfway over the deck from the swaying boat. His body lost another battle to the treacherous sea, turning his confident strides into unbalanced steps.
Vivian's peaceful view of the ocean was broken by Altaïr's vomiting over the side as he clutched the railing. It wasn't hard to pity the man that had been felled by the element of water and she soothed gently, "A few more days, the north is close."
"I'm tempted to breach land prematurely and just travel north on foot" he muttered as he wiped his mouth distastefully to appear decent in front of her. The taste in his mouth, however, was bitterly horrendous and he reached for his leather canteen to drink water. Fresh water was critical on their voyage and Altaïr hoped their course would not be set back to prevent complication. He used the liquid to swish his mouth clean and winced slightly at having to swallow that rather than spit it out to maintain respect. His brown eyes narrowed as he caught sight of the emerald island in the distance and grumbled distastefully, "The coast is right there, mocking us with its lush forest."
She rubbed his upper back in sympathy to lower his stress and assured, "We'll be there soon . . . and forests don't mock people. I think you might be hallucinating, you didn't bring strange mushrooms on board, did you?"
He shot her a glare for the wisecrack but it faded as seagulls floated overhead with their loud racket. As if it wasn't bad enough that the swaying sea annoyed him, the infernal squawking of those birds had added to the fuel as they followed the coast line northwards. He pointed a finger towards the bothersome white birds with a mad gleam in his eye and declared, "I swear if one of those things craps on my shoulders, it's getting an arrow as food."
"That's the Altaïr we know so you must be feeling better" she joked with a peppy smile to lift his mood before he decided to spear a bird with his crossbow. The man never shied away from eating new food that he caught himself so it was an ominous possibility. She tried to raise her voice so it could drown out the birds so he wouldn't have to fuss over them. The less aggravated he was, the less stress that would plague his mind.
"I miss home since I like working towards the east and far away from the sea" he sighed tiredly as he eyed the coast longingly, wishing that the boat approached the north soon. Otherwise, he'd be tempted to throw himself overboard and swim off towards it. He wanted to feel sturdy ground under his feet once more after years of familiarity and leaned against the railing. The dry climate and gusts of air filled with dust were what he wanted to experience rather than salty air that left his clothes clinging to his skin. Vivian's gaze softened when his head drooped and he murmured quietly, "I knew that this journey would be perilous and although I've yet to see that, this boat is increasing those chances. I didn't really care about the danger but seeing that I've fallen into the clutches of water more than once is quite embarrassing."
"Come on now, you're Altaïr Ibn A- I can't pronounce your name for the life of me" she tried to encourage but failed horribly and chuckled sheepishly to her mistake. Her ears turned red to the smug smirk on his lips as he directed a glance at her in sudden amusement. Did she really not know how to say his name? His sudden intrigue to her admittance led her to ramble nervously, "But you're the best of the best and nobody will change that. So one little thing hinders you, who cares? You'll learn things through the years that put boating to shame."
Turning around, she called out to nobody in particular in case someone had overheard her, "No offense, just trying to lift a man's spirits."
Altaïr's eyes never left her face as she tried to maintain a polite demeanor on the empty deck. Being in the past with no law or close civilization, murder over a simple comment taken the wrong way could happen and Vivian liked living. Altaïr didn't really care because he could fight ten men singlehandedly without breaking a sweat and spoke simply, "Ibn-La'Ahad."
"That right there, my friend, is a mouthful of vowels" she sighed listlessly since it had more pronunciations that her entire name combined. The accent on several of the letters was lost on her and she wasn't keen on tackling the name. She already knew him by the first name and that was enough for her since she wasn't going to be using his full name unless he did something heinous. Altaïr snorted to her complaint since he wouldn't accept defeat from her and she muttered flatly, "Ibn-Laad."
"La'Ahad" he corrected firmly as he struggled not to sigh and laugh at her drawled words. A young child would fare better at it but he said nothing since he'd started it all.
"Lad" she squeaked simply with a deadpan stare and he gave her a look that told her knew she didn't even try. When Vivian attempted anything under his guidance, she didn't half-ass it and this time she was. He used his taller height to show who was the boss in their conversation and she stared him square in the eye to portray her own dominance against him. His left eyebrow rose to see whether she'd fight or concede and the small woman's shoulders lowered as she tried again, "Lah-Ahad. La. La. Aay-had. La'Ahad."
"Close enough" he sighed in defeat this time since she had no problem pronouncing Malik's last name. His name, however, was butchered on a thousand rusty swords in one fell swoop. This was why Malik was the instructor out of both because he didn't have the patience to wait twenty minutes with any student. It was something that he needed to work on but being on a rocky ship with cawing birds threw that thought out the figurative window.
"It's not my fault you have the name of three men in there" she defended hastily at her shabby job and crossed her arms to comfort herself. Out of all the names in the franchise, his was undoubtedly the hardest for her to grasp but loved the exotic sound of it. Altaïr furrowed his brow for the wisecrack but she flashed him an innocent smile to slide her way out of it. Those green eyes of hers would be the end of him if she did attempt to truly charm him one day and crossed his arms to maintain that strong will. Vivian failed to read the signal as she believed it to be one of his random 'don't cross me' stances. She waved her hands in front of her for pity on the matter and explained truthfully, "Ezio was the easiest to pronounce and Desmond was a piece of pie. My sister can't even get past Altaïr and I managed to reach the Ibn part at best. If anything, I should call you Altaïr Ibn My Lad."
He shook his head to her cheeky attitude but enjoyed that it held nothing but friendly jesting. Somehow, he'd get the same response if he used Vivian Bore for hers and wanted to see her cheeks fluster pink as they always did when she corrected him. His fingers cupped her chin gently as he closed the distance between them and he murmured softly, "Say my name."
"Altaïr Ibn. . .La. . .A'had, Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad" she pronounced carefully as she watched him for any telltale signs that she was butchering his name. Seeing an error with the first name as his lips thinned at the ends, she slowed her enunciation to make the last one her best. Altaïr nodded agreeably to her second attempt to spare her the embarrassment for both their sakes but it sounded decently enough. Vivian felt pride at clinching the last three pronunciations at last, even if they weren't perfect, and smiled brightly at her companion. She truly did want to know how to say his name after being in his company for almost two years and teased lightly, "Really, you have too many a's in there."
"Vivian Shore" he said smoothly and she fought the small blush creeping onto her cheeks from his voice alone. The timbre in his voice held enough masculinity to draw an instant smile to her face and flutter her heart. She loved his low calm voice most of all as it held a rich sophistication that his quiet nature concealed underneath that iconic hood of his.
Glancing at her feet, she backed away from him to prevent being more flustered by his familiar touch. A single brush of their fingers sent tingles down her spine and she tried to keep their skin contact at a minimum to prevent delving deeper into her feelings. She hadn't exactly been honest on her full name since two names were the common variety in the states and mumbled sheepishly, "Vivian Marie Shore, actually."
"So I'm not the only one with three people in my name" he chided in jest and she chuckled softly to her joke being shot back towards her. Her name must've sounded as odd as his did on the tongue and let him have the win in that conversation. Middle names rarely came up in daily life unless they were written on forms so Vivian didn't pay much attention to it. Altaïr was curious about this new extension of her name due to a familiar sound in it and suggested, "Your middle name is Marie? Shifted in a different tongue, it would sound very close to Maria, you know."
"Please don't call me Maria" she sighed softly since she liked her middle name and had about three aunts called Maria. Also, being confused for the woman that he was meant for was quite uncomfortable for her. He reassured her that wouldn't happen because calling her the name of a woman he bedded (along with bedding her) wouldn't bode well for them. Vivian and Maria were two very different women with headstrong personalities and Altaïr knew better than to piss off either one.
"Of course not, I'd bring shame to every honorable man" he pointed out in agreement because her name rolled off his tongue far better. He was more than certain he'd uttered her name more than he ever had Maria's and that was during one intimate moment. He treasured the small woman immensely to ever dare hurting her again, especially when she'd never hurt him.
When his face shifted from bewilderment to intrigue, Vivian's own curiosity was lit and she asked suspiciously, "What is it?"
He smiled faintly to what her revelation stirred in his mind and explained to her with optimism, "You've been fighting so hard to see yourself as a stranger, an intruder, in my life but you fit perfectly. I've yet to see the extent of loyalty that I see in you within another and you look out for my best interest. You say I am destined for Maria but who is to say who that name belongs to?"
"You drew her in your codex-" she interjected in regards to the pages she'd seen from his codex back at home. The man had developed beautiful drawing skills that were moderate at best at the current moment as they kept training him. She knew that with given time, he would sketch beautiful pieces that would include the ex-Templar.
"Who's to say you wouldn't draw her? She's practically your idol" he pointed out since her skills far surpassed his in that arena and she'd already drawn him before. All he needed was to have her sketch Maria and pass it off as his to maintain integrity to his writings. Vivian sputtered that it would be a violation of honesty but Altaïr pressed further, "Who is to say I wouldn't use you in her stead? Who can say I won't switch you for her whenever I write about 'Maria', which I already have in several instances."
Vivian's eyes widened slightly to the confession since she'd never asked him to do that. Altaïr didn't see a difference since she was the one aiding him on the journey and the knowledge they gathered together was theirs to share. Besides, it wasn't important for anyone to know the origins of his writings as long as the information was passed along. Although Vivian had widened the distance between them, his penetrating gaze shortened that gap as she felt that commanding aura of his shroud hers. Her shoulders arched back to straighten her posture as she tried to appear tough in her say to be left out of his affairs concerning Maria but he stated matter-of-factly, "My little Marie, all I need is to add an 'a' sound and you are. . ."
The words 'my future wife' almost slipped out and to prevent frightening her out of his romantic grip, he finished simply, "A part of this world."
"Don't 'Little Mermaid' me, buster" she evaded as she broke eye contact to prevent the myriad of feelings he had sprouted with his theories. She didn't want to dwell on that when she was so close to returning home and wished he could keep all of that private. Of course she would've loved him eternally if they had been born in one single time period together and had no destinies to follow.
She met his gaze when his fingers lightly brushed her jaw line and she murmured, "Life would be much easier if you were an eagle and I was . . . beats me what I'd be but I like turtles. I could swim, eat river plants, and live life in my own shell."
"Eagles eat turtles" he smirked knowingly to the birds of prey that inhabited his lands and life would not end well if they'd been born as animals. Her attempt to change the subject away from their requited feelings was easy to detect but he said nothing of it. It was best not to draw her ire when she'd been feeling just as lousy as he was and he pointed out simply, "You're the badger."
"What doesn't it eat? It'd take a human too for lunch if it could carry it" she stated sarcastically since eagles were only pretty to look at. If you paused, they were liable to claw your eyes out. She could see the similarity to the assassins once more because discovery would endanger both the witness and assassin. She waved a hand to shoo away his opinion and smiled cheekily, "You eagles keep watch while we turtles and badgers scurry for cover . . . but turtles live pretty long and we take our house with us so that's even better."
"That is if you live long enough" he pointed out smartly because it was no secret they were slow walkers and she grinned widely. After all, she'd resembled a tortoise during their long hikes during the first year.
"Competition is what you want, eh?" she challenged but he shook his head because the boat was too hectic for any kind of chases. He did not have the stamina and finesse of land dwelling Altaïr, leading him to flick the top of her head for the idea. What if one of them accidentally fell overboard? She wiggled her eyebrows to lure him into friendly competition and asked, "First below deck wins?"
"Hmm. . .no" he declined with a haughty smirk as her offer was rejected and Vivian blinked with surprise. Normally, he would crawl on his hands and knees to prove his prowess. He shook his shoulders lightly and offered a nonchalant response, "Eagles are superior so there is no reason for me to prove it once more."
"Just you wait, we turtles will have our chance" she foretold humorously and tapped the end of his nose with her index finger. He grasped her wrist to pull her forward against him, reminding her that turtles were always on guard to hide so she'd failed as that particular animal. Badgers, particularly honey badgers, were fiercely tenacious and he reminded her of that when she shook her arm to wrench free. His arms encased her by the shoulders to keep her from scurrying away and she mumbled humorously, "We shall rise when the eagles least suspect it. Can I ask you something?"
"You already did" he mused playfully and held her for the briefest of moments as their area was void of people. Vivian lowered her emotional shield since there were days when she simply wanted to hold him and forget they were from two different times. He brought her peace in the most turbulent of places and kept a smile on her face, even when she wasn't feeling her best.
"Why badger? You never really told me why you chose that specific animal" she asked curiously, her left cheek resting on his chest as she gazed up at him. It was a perfect view for him since he'd often seen the top of her head when they embraced rather than her face. While his eyes were more of a piercing hue that tended to frighten more than welcome, hers were ridiculously vivid to complement her equally expressive features.
"You nagged me every time I was wrong, not to mention the coddling, but you're fiercely protective of us- just as I am of you" he answered simply since it had been the easiest animal that came to mind because she certainly wasn't a jackal or a cat. She wasn't tame enough to be a rabbit, stubborn enough to be a donkey, or lethal to match a falcon. Her little moniker arose that night in Egypt when they'd fought like rabid animals in a locked room until he realized he'd inadvertently hurt her by assuming the worst of her. He didn't know how deep that loyalty would run but she'd earned that nickname rightfully. She smiled at hearing where the popular moniker came from because badgers were as cute as they were feisty. He furrowed his brow in afterthought to her odd behaviors and added in, "Also, you're very meticulous and tend to burrow under the sheets."
Her fingertips squeezed his biceps fondly as she held onto him and chuckled softly, "Eagles kill badgers too, you know. They might be predators but even they have enemies."
"No, I took a different route- one that bonded us quite well on that stormy night" he reminded vaguely about their intimate moment with a suave smile and watched the tips of her ears redden. There was no question whether he would accept another night like that with her if given the chance and actually hoped for one as time passed. He cherished their time together but having a bedroom to themselves had allowed many secrets to be divulged, not to mention the basic comfort it brought. His nose brushed against her temple in a subtle touch to reconnect their bond and he whispered, "You are an elusive badger that fails to fall into my grasp, it is enticing and infuriating . . . but I understand your reasoning."
"Which is why we shouldn't even be like this" she pointed out glumly but his comfy robes were cozy to keep her rooted to the spot. He lured her heart like a hungry bee to sweet pollen but she couldn't push him aside without wounding both their hearts and possibly bringing conflict to the mission. It was a thin line she had to tread but he held her heart and she was finding it hard to budge it out of his hands, especially when he uttered sweet things in her ear.
"Yet you do otherwise" he murmured softly because her actions spoke louder than the contradictions she spouted. Holding her close, he watched her cheeks match the hue of her ears as he focused the spotlight on that action. He expected a swat to the chest was imminent with her fretful worry but he hoped to delay it by admitting openly, "The sea sickness always leaves when you're near which is why I seek your company."
"Does it?" she asked with an optimistic smile as her hands swept over his shoulders with a tentative touch. The faint smile on his scarred lips brought her heart pride at managing to help improve his motions sickness. Neither of them were health professionals but they were doing the best with what they had at their disposal. He pressed his forehead to hers, his nose nudging against hers as her fingers brushed through his hair at the nape of his neck. She provided him physical comfort with their embrace and squeezed him once with appreciation to say, "You always go above and beyond what is asked of you. You have many decades ahead of you so you don't need to tackle everything at once. Relax for a month or so when you're back at Masyaf to recuperate the hits to your health from all of this."
How was he not supposed to adore her when she tended to him like that? His lips met hers for a soft kiss but she pressed her nose against his to block the affectionate token. They couldn't walk backwards towards what they'd left behind and she reminded hastily, "It was a one-time moment-"
"You've yet to leave my mind since that night" he replied softly because there was a large part of him (who was he kidding? It was the majority!) that wanted to regain what they'd built in Quelimane. His sense of duty was tugging him in one direction to send her home to keep his promise while his heart wanted to keep her by his side while telling destiny to take a walk off the nearest cliff. He managed to sneak a feathery graze over her lips as she smiled in remembrance to that night and asked, "Why do you run from me, Vivian?"
Loud banging caught their attention and Vivian turned to glance in the direction of the stairs leading below deck. From their position at the rear of the boat, however, they couldn't see anything but the sound was enough to be ominous. A second later, however, Altaïr winced when Malik's voice exploded through the silence, "Altaïr!"
The man made off like Roadrunner to hide from Malik as the dai ascended the stairs to begin the hunt. Vivian had never seen one assassin literally hunt down another but when she caught Malik heading her way while analyzing everything in sight like a bloodhound. . .things would be getting interesting.
"The eagle is not in the top level of the nest" Vivian piped up quickly to stay out of the entire debacle without taking sides. She wouldn't give up Altaïr's direction nor would she harbor him and earn a lecture from the dai.
"No but I'm sure he's around your vicinity" her friend replied matter-of-factly since the man was never strayed far from her. It proved rather difficult to keep the two separate but when the man locked him in a tiny room, Malik would be returning the favor.
Vivian lifted her brow in curiosity and asked slowly, "What exactly did he do now?"
"Locked me in the storage room" Malik replied coolly because being shoved into a room and locked inside without consent was not particularly enjoyable. The least that Altaïr could have done was left him with books! Instead, he was left with nothing but his brain for company and it desired stimulation not found within its own confines. All he could do was look at wooden walls for almost half an hour! His lips thinned in displeasure to the stuffy room full of luggage and he stated frankly, "Not exactly my best moment."
"Altaïr has a tendency to do that" she chuckled softly to the man's ability to bring others mortification and locking them inside rooms. How many times had he locked or barricaded her somewhere? Still, for him to do that to Malik of all people was particularly interesting and dangerous in itself She had to admire his insistence to win his battles and looked to the sparkling ocean surrounding their small vessel. A fond smile crossed her lips as she inadvertently bought him precious seconds and stated, "He brings out a myriad of emotions and situations that we deemed as impossible."
Malik uttered a short sigh to his friend's shenanigans and muttered, "I preferred it when he was the one running from bats rather than me being locked in rooms."
"I think we all preferred that" she laughed aloud to the numerous battles the man encountered with wildlife and the only one he couldn't win. She could still remember him shoving them out of the way as he hightailed it from camp into the dark forest. It was a one time moment that she'd never forget and could only imagine how locking the dai in a room without him being none the wiser happened. Now, the assassin was lurking somewhere within the boat to hide and she requested kindly, "Don't be too hard on him, it's just the illness making him mischievous."
"I'm pretty certain it's not the illness alone" Malik stated simply after the numerous chats he'd had with his friend due to his stubbornness. Affection had stung Altaïr and brought on subtle changes in his personality but Malik had to remind him about decorum when he had family back at Masyaf. Vivian scuffed the wooden floor with her right foot with guilt for falling prey to Altaïr's charms, even while the man was sick and not 100%.
The dai nodded to her in farewell to begin flushing out the assassin from his hiding spot and stated nonchalantly, "I'll try not to cause too much harm."
Vivian knew by that tone alone that the poor assassin would at least have his robes pinned to the wooden floor by multiple knives by nightfall.
Vivian found herself transfixed with the rise and fall of Altaïr's chest as he slept beside her in the dimly lit deck. The night was eerily quiet with only the sounds of the rolling waves echoing in her ears and she smiled to the many memories this trip had granted her. Her partner, on the other hand, wasn't as giddy or held the same sentiments. Thankfully, he had managed to fall asleep uneventfully that night and kept his supper down again. This was after being pulled down from a wooden beam that Malik found him hiding on as he used the ceiling to his advantage. Unfortunately, the dai trained to learn the exact same tactics so Altaïr failed in that battle. Being pulled from the beam like a stubborn bear cub and having the tail of his robes pinned into the bottom of said beam also didn't help him. The energy he wasted on that entire chase allowed him to hit the bed and fall asleep within minutes without twisting or turning. He was slowly growing accustomed to life on the sea and she hoped they would reach the north coast soon to continue their journey. They were running blind towards the piece of Eden and at the same time, didn't know whether the Templars were on their tail. So far, they managed to evade them for months but they could be traveling by other trade routes. Quelimane had been an isolated port so they were lucky in that aspect.
She flinched when she heard Altaïr mumbling incoherently and assumed he'd woken up with an upset stomach again. Waiting faithfully by his side, she watched him carefully but he didn't shift to move to the side or open his eyes.
It was just a dream.
Her fingertips reached out to run down his right arm in soothing strokes to help him fight whatever dwelled in his dreams. She had seen him wake one too many times in the dark and after realizing that a simple touch to the forehead or hand helped to calm him, she continued that subtle therapy. Hearing a faint 'hmm' from his throat, she smiled at feeling some of the tension leave his arm. In the dead of night, she wondered who would care for him when she was gone and whether they would cherish him the way she did. He had created a maelstrom of emotions within her since meeting, both good and bad, but she didn't regret any of their encounters.
He had transformed their original feelings of fear and animosity about the unknown origins of her arrival into a bridge of friendship. That rocky bridge had slowly built its sturdy foundation traveling south of the Nile to lead down a road neither had truly expected. The man, not the assassin, had seized her heart to intoxicate it with every passing day and she swam in that affection happily. It grew harder to hold onto the principles she'd enforced on herself because his reasoning of everything 'feeling right' was clouding her judgment. Their subtle brushes of the hand, embraces, talking into the night- it truly did feel natural as if it was meant to be. Except, in this perception of reality, it wasn't.
She laid back onto her sleeping spot with a small sigh leaving her lips but kept her left hand atop of his. The warmth of his hand comforted her own worries as the night allowed her to dwell on them without anyone knowing. Her free hand trailed down her stomach to settle at the bottom of her abdomen, fingertips lightly brushing the area. That single moment of freedom they had seized in Quelimane lingered as Vivian failed to have that pesky monthly visitor that caused her life chaos. She knew the consequences going in and now that she was nearing the end of her journey, the worst possibility could be occurring within her own body.
For the first time, she was begging for aunt flo to be a super tardy visitor that was accidentally backed up in uterus traffic. The thought of a child frightened her completely, not because of impending first time motherhood, but for the chaos it could bring to Altaïr's life. How could she even dare to approach the subject when he was a new father to his son waiting back for him in Masyaf? Tracing her fingers over her stomach, she hoped that it would remain the same and everything that was causing her nausea was just simple motion sickness or a bad bug. It could happen with prolonged exposure, right? . . . Right? At this point, she was grasping at the last strings of logic to make sense of her peculiar situation.
The world isn't ready for a little cupcake crafted by my hand and Altaïr's, she thought worriedly but the humorous part of her that remained grew giddy at the image. A cupcake with white frosting that kicked ass after sprouting humanoid legs could be pretty darn funny at that hour of the night. At the same time, it was a decent coping mechanism for the uncertainty dwelling in her mind. She could never hope to even breach the subject when they were so close to the end and what it could do to Altaïr's psyche.
Altaïr stirred in his sleep and she removed her hand before she woke him. Being the light sleeper that he was, he woke easily when the boat rocked slightly and mumbled in his sleep. Shifting to his side, he opened his eyes to find Vivian awake as the white of her eyes were illuminated by the lanterns. How could she be awake in the dead of night? Vivian met his gaze to gauge his reaction and he murmured softly, "Anne . . . sleep."
He had never shortened her name before but the name sounded so delicate on his tongue that she loved it. She smiled bashfully to the nickname and although she was sure sleep deprivation played its part in the enunciation, it tickled her pink in the dead of night. His left arm enveloped her by the shoulders to tug her close to his chest and she reassured gently, "I will, I just want to make sure you're sleeping soundly first."
"I will, if you join this dreamland" he beckoned softly as her body warmth helped to lull him to sleep. There were times she could be stubborn about her own wellbeing and he'd begun to notice dark circles under her eyes. She took care of him to unbelievable limits he'd yet to see with any other person and for that, he would return the same dedicated attention. He wasn't relenting in his hold as he kept her close to force her into slumber and she groaned softly with exhaustion. She didn't want to go to sleep first without knowing he was sleeping soundly but he whispered gently, "I will be here when you wake, don't worry about that."
Since he was a man of his word, she reluctantly obeyed.
"It's not fair, you're a perfect pillow" she mumbled under her breath as she curled up against him with an affectionate smile. She was his protector (in overall health, anyway) as much as he was hers, treasuring him for the gentleness he showed in private. The children he fathered would not be disappointed in him because there was potential for unbridled love that he'd yet to tap into. All of his claims in not processing emotions were slowly ebbing away with time and she knew, with time and patience, he would be a great man to lead many. For now, he was drowsy puppy in need of sleep. He merely grumbled unintelligibly, the sound reverberating through his chest, and she whispered innocently, "I'll just . . . rest soundly against your finely toned bosom."
Altaïr chuckled softly to her choice of words as he ruffled her messy hair and the two headed into dreamland together.
A/N: After participating in Anime Expo here in Los Angeles and finding the awesome Altair to hug and annihilate my Harley Quinn (from DC comics) to shatter reality into pieces, I've entered the world of cosplay and will be accompanying my friend's ACII Ezio with my own Altair next year. This time I'll be part of the assassin brotherhood troop parading through the convention center rather than an admirer with tons of pictures. :D This is officially the best summer of my life so I hope all of your summers are going splendidly as well. Thank you again for reading and I hope Vivian's sudden little twist in their voyage has intrigued readers. As if the trio didn't have enough to deal with already, right? We'll be seeing more hilarity from the trio now that they're back on land so expect the wildlife to retaliate against Altair and Vivian to tend to his boo-boo's while Malik will play the lecturing father.
Next Time: The Coast of Madagascar
Their first night back to their antiquated camping lifestyle brought a mournful sigh from Vivian as she glanced morosely around camp, "And we return to where we started."
The trio had found a small clearing within the thick brush of the forest but it was denser to see around them than any other place they had visited. The clearing wasn't much in terms of space and had required all three to clear an area for a fire where it wouldn't pose a forest fire risk. Madagascar was an exotic land that had yet to be fully explored and only the indigenous tribes had set foot around land that their group would traverse. They had already been advised that the north would not be easy to reach but they would not turn away when so much depended on reaching the next temple. Altaïr had set up a campfire despite the humidity that was making him quite uncomfortable since he was accustomed to hot dry weather. For the first time, he had to lower his hood in camp when the cloth stuck to his damp skin and hoped that the weather would better throughout the days.
As always, he was fiercely stubborn to remove the iconic robes to slip into something comfortable. Malik could only watch the man fan himself with his right hand while he sat on the ground in a sleeveless tunic and simple breeches for a cooler wardrobe. Well, it was better than hearing him complain endlessly about his motion sickness so Malik would take solace in that. Those days were officially over the moment Altaïr decided to kiss the bare earth without a care of what lay in it. He missed the sound of the ocean and the silence of absent civilization as the forest came alive with sounds of active wildlife. Vivian settled into her old role with reluctance after enjoying the enclosed space of the boat and the safety of Quelimane. Even now, she had to admit that the weather was favorable in all of the places they'd been to (even Egypt) compared to the humid island.
She was stirring of lentil soup in their trusty iron pot as it boiled over the fire and Altaïr kept vigilant watch over the food. They didn't have the luxury of shopping like they had in Quelimane and had to make sure their first meal cooked correctly. The crackling fire illuminated his eyes as they followed the movement of the wooden spoon and he warned her, "Don't burn them, Vivian."
"Hush . . .I ain't gonna burn it" she murmured with a witty smile after watching way too many Adventure Time episodes with her siblings. Besides, after cooking for him for over a year, she knew how to cook a simple soup in the rugged outdoors without burning anything. Now that he had his appetite back to normal human levels, he would be devouring anything in sight like he usually did.
Altaïr stared at her with confusion written on his face and she chuckled to chide gently, "You've given me that look so much, it's lost meaning."
"You can't grow immune to them" he objected with mock shock since he made a profession out of it by bringing fear into the hearts of many and she smiled cheekily. After making love to him, she highly doubted he'd ever lay a single finger on her to cause harm. His playful swats didn't hurt anymore and if they ever did, he apologized like a true gentleman. She loved ruffling his feathers with banter to keep their days lively and hoped that fiery spark of his never faded. Her amused smile didn't lessen as her gaze returned to the lentil soup and he declared in challenge, "I guess I'll have to keep trying."
"Templars around the world will cry out to your enhanced glare power" she laughed aloud to the idea of those famous glares doubling in strength. She'd been reduced to a squeaking mess most of the time and when he was frustrated and not keen on joking, it did silence her immediately. He was a man she could banter with from dawn until dusk but one that she respected immensely. Altaïr tried to appear nonchalant but smiled faintly to the thought of striking fear into his enemies.
"It's when they stop that it's time to worry" both remarked in unison and they blinked with delighted surprise that they thought of it at the same time. Altaïr smirked proudly as her joking shifted to his own mindset while she flushed for matching his thoughts exactly to the last word.
Malik shook his head in disapproval as their closeness increased and discouraged quickly, "Oh no, don't you two meld minds and behave as one entity. It's bad enough with Altaïr alone and corrupting her- I will not have two Altaïr's to juggle for another year."
"Aw, he's not that bad" Vivian chuckled softly as she smiled at the assassin but knew he had a tendency to drive Malik bonkers. Heck, she'd done the same to the poor dai on more than one occasion. Altaïr puffed his chest to her comment to show that he had somebody on his side but she pointed the wooden spoon towards him and lectured, "Don't puff up like a peacock, you already strut enough as it is. You need to engage in a little thing I like to call active listening."
"Vivian, you've specifically driven me to using selective listening with your horrid singing" he pointed out matter-of-factly since he often tuned out a lot of things nowadays unless it was attached to an angry face. His lack of facial expression tended to shroud what he was thinking but when his eyes glazed over from boredom, he was caught red handed. He snatched the spoon from her hand to stir the pot himself before soup was strewn everywhere and watched her fists clench. Her innocent pout told him he hadn't overstepped with his words and he looked to Malik to reassure, "I promise I will not drive you mad by next year but I cannot be held accountable for Vivian's sudden mindset. We both know what lurks in that abyss and I'm not going to tread into that- have some faith in me."
"Hey! It's only meant to boggle your mind more than anything" she rebuffed hastily since the 12th century wasn't ready for her bold talk and rampant thoughts. He had such a rigid personality in the beginning that she'd learned to enjoy softening his rough edges with humor. Now, he had developed blunt smooth edges after adaptation took hold to protect his sanity. He never smiled at her at all but their progress together as friends over the past year and a half finally allowed them to breach the surface in private. His deadpan expression seen across the campfire caused her to wave her hands and she feigned a sigh with resignation, "I know, I know- crazy little badger fell off her wagon and knocked out a few logic areas of her brain."
Altaïr smirked to her light jesting and added a verbal poke by stating with mirth, "Good, as long as you're aware of that."
She chuckled to his cocky tone as he grabbed each side of the suspended branch to pull it away from the whittled Y-shaped branches holding it above the campfire. Carefully, he set it down on the flat earth to allow the pot to cool and set the branch against a nearby rock for any future use during the night. Sometimes, one of the three had a hankering for tea so it was best to keep their makeshift cooking station available rather than use it for kindling. Waving his left hand over the pot, he aimed a lopsided smile to his team to declare proudly, "Supper is served."
"You know damn well Vivian and I cooked that" Malik corrected as he laughed aloud to his friend's cheerfulness at having supper finished. Food always lifted Altaïr's mood and the weather he'd experienced that day was not filling him with confidence for their journey north. If he was going to fight through Mother Nature's climate and her wilderness at maximum strength, he would need a full stomach.
Vivian waved a hand to let Altaïr have his moment as she watched him gather their wooden bowls from their travel packs. She wanted to keep him in a jovial mood and leaned over to tell Malik privately, "He can have his happy bubble- look at him."
For the first time, he was serving the food himself without being ordered and blamed his jolly mood on breaching land. Vivian hadn't seen him this happy since before crossing the Giza strip and even then, he was not happy. He had endured a horrible experience overseas and his demeanor brightened immediately once his feet touched the solid earth. She wanted to keep that renewed vigor during the upcoming days since they had to be prepared for anything concerning the POE's. Malik shrugged off any heckling remarks since his friend deserved a little cheer in his life after spending numerous days emptying his stomach into the sea and severe insomnia. It was far easier to have a content rather than furious grand master so the dai stated sincerely, "Thank you for serving our dishes, Altaïr."
The assassin blinked to the compliment after being accustomed to lectures and advice, unsure of how to respond. He couldn't resort to his sassy remarks after forcing Malik to bear his sour attitude for over a month on that accursed boat. A calm aura had fallen over his fellowship and looking to his friends, he replied earnestly, "You're quite welcome, my friend."