When Azzam was a little boy, his mom told him to watch out for a wolf in sheep's clothing.
He agrees with her, then, breathless as his back is pressed hard against the wall of the Grand Master's chambers, his books like lead in his fingers. He wants to run, to hide in his quiet solitude, but the hand that plants itself near his face restricts him, and eyes that bled into the darkest of nights regard him meticulously. The wolf reaches out to his chin and whispers words he could not hear—words he would not hear.
"Sleep with me."
No, not at all; contradiction is at its finest.
He does not know when the fixation started, to be honest. He was Azzam Naqawi, son of the baker, a quiet man no one really notices, not even at the ceremonies the Brotherhood hosts. His quill spoke more than his mouth did, and he preferred the presence of tomes and scrolls over the bare weight of swords tinged with blood. For the entirety of his life up to that time, he was simply another scribe—a lesser assassin—that lived within the vast greatness of Masyaf.
That is why those eyes that he felt at the back of his head for the first time in his life marked the unthinkable.
That is his name.
A name he nearly forgot due to the lack of say.
He is here.
"Grand Master," he stutters, his voice feeling as though it was corroded. "Is there something that you require?"
Those eyes, he realizes, those eyes were the ones who bore into his very soul from a sea of people, people who were much more different than he. He does not know what to say, how to act, and the awkward bow he presents feels as if he was degraded to something of lesser value. To be acknowledged by a man he knew from afar—to bite down on the pull to reach and touch that cheek: Those very factors, they are ones that have clung to him since the day he stumbled upon the cut on that lip. Indubitably, he expects a reprimand of sorts for the lack of ornamentation; he knows that the Grand Master is one who does not take incompetence lightly.
"Your scrollwork is well done."
Yet, it the response is not quite what he anticipated.
Since when did one even know his name? Days pass since that very evening he had been addressed, but he could not rid the image—the voice—of the unreachable turning an eye where no one did. The mother of his wife notes that he is different than the last time he came back to their abode; his twin sons question why his gaze drifted afar. However, he could solely reflect on that passing as he neared his wife's grave, to feel his fingers tremble in something that was strangely separate from buried grief. That one address in his direction had robbed him of his rhythm.
Did he think too much? Was wishful thinking the plague?
Quite possibly so.
He is not the man he used to be—no, not anymore. Those eyes pick him, even through the throng of thousands, and they seize his breath every time. He does not like it: It is fear, he grasps; it is fear of the unconventional, to be so noticed when he had been pushed into the smallest of crevices for the entirety of his existence. It is forcing him to be conscious—those very moons filled with books and the stain of inks do not define his agenda, nor does the lamplight in solitude. And that itself is hypocrisy, but it was the same instance as a moth drawn to a flame: Instinct is nature, not nurture.
One day, it will come. He will …
He will …
And that day was now.
"—and so, for many generations, this particular codex has been preserved and translated every one hundred years. I expect for us to carry on this tradition starting from today—"
He cannot keep his focus.
For, only three feet away from his place, stood Altair Ibn La'Ahad, the man who was rumored to be a god himself. To Azzam, the situation was a carving of a rabbit placed before an expectant eagle, magnified greatly by that very gaze locking onto his back, to withdraw when his brushstrokes turned uneven. His ears dim down the monotone voice of the head scribe and burn; who is he to be so scrutinized? he wishes to ask. Who is he to be noted in the presence of greatness, to have attention solely focused on him?
"Please, begin as soon as possible."
Such is being between a rock and a hard place.
Many people do not know him, though he may know the entirety; many people do not see him, but he is perfectly fine with that position. Azzam Naqawi is a simple man: grow in the same land, in the same house, as a scribe; wed a childhood friend and have children; perhaps, taste the fruit from the tree of knowledge as age progressed; and view the world quietly through the eyes of the old. Simplicity held a value no being could rob him of.
Yet, it had all come down to his own madness; ever since then, that miniscule voice as a child, adolescent, man: that he would falter, that he would change for one who would never bother to look at his own shadow. What is the reason to cling onto false hope? Where is his pride: Depravation incarnate? To think that he can even capture a passing glance from the Grand Master?
"My chambers. Tonight."
Trembling, he hurries off, something akin to a roaring flame burning deep within him. Reveries are meaning; poise is nonexistent—not after the Son of None surveys him after he whispers those very words in his ears, when the sun covered the congregation of men who would die for the one who captures him.
Is this hope?
That step in the lion's den can only tell.
"I know you watch me."
He must run.
Yet, the door slams shut behind him, and that very dark gaze backs him up into the corner, like a lamb trapped on the edge of a ravine. The private chambers are hot, too hot, and for the first time in Azzam's life, he sees liquid gold in sagacity up close, to feel the Grand Master's breath fan his cheek. Run, his mind yells. Run. The son of the baker must run—will run—like all the other times he did, like he had done his entire life. He cannot feel the heavy weight of the tomes in his arms, the locked stance of his knees, his previous failure in maintaining composure, nor can he summon up the voice he never wished to use.
"Sleep with me."
With all the longing that he had achingly suppressed.
Who is he? Azzam asks himself. Who is the one who is not himself, anymore?
Who is Azzam Naqawi?
He does not know; he does not know this 'Azzam Naqawi', the man who took to the nooks and crannies, one whose words retained no outward fortitude: He does not know who he is himself, and the sleeping man next to him only affirms the axiom he interred long ago: that once, he had been eager to rise to the apex, that silence did not prove his worth louder than his actions. He is different now—this—this submission—was the leap of faith he took in the muddled past, and as he breathes and makes to leave, his wrist is held with all the certainty he perceived. Altair looks into his eyes and shows him the man he always was—the man he is.
And Azzam smiles.