AN: Indulgent Desmond character study/metafic through Malik's POV. Warning for taking a pretty cool scenario and making it utterly uneventful.

The next time Malik opens his eyes, his hand is still outstretched before him, fingers clawed into an empty hold from when he had been trying to wrestle the Apple away from Altair. For one incredulous moment, he thinks Altair had deliberately sent him away, far away, because the very air around Malik feels different. It's cold and smells of old dust, dirt, and something entirely new that he can't place, almost like stepping into a bazaar of foreign traders for the first time.

Dropping his arm, Malik begins to look around, but it's Altair who catches his attention first, sitting in front of him, an elbow propped against a silver table and his cheek resting in the palm of his hand. The younger man seems to be chewing on something and he looks unhappy in a way that Malik has never seen before. He is inattentive, idle, and his posture looks… different.

And it's strange that Malik notices these things first, rather than the fact that Altair is dressed in clothes that strikes Malik as some kind of odd parody of their usual garb—shorter, lighter, and no armor. The man still wears the hidden blade under his left forearm but even before Malik sees the tattoo and five fingers, he already knows that the person in front of him is not Altair.

Their eyes meet and Malik can't be sure, but he swears the other man looks abruptly more unhappy before his gaze shifts away, going back to stare at nothing.

Now Malik's not even sure if the other man can see him. Altair had mentioned some of the visions the Apple had showed him—most of the time he appears as a spectator, an observer—so this must be the case for Malik.

And this must be the future.

He takes a seat next to the Altair's lookalike, careful not to disturb him regardless, and takes in his surroundings. Malik is already aware of the other three people in the circular chamber, fingers clicking away on boards. He assumes they are busy with something, but there is really no point in trying to puzzle out their contraptions without asking. All he can do is watch them work or stare at each of the statues that line the room. (The one in the middle is obviously Altair, and Malik is a little baffled at his own lack of surprise—that Altair would become a prominent person in history to warrant a statue, Malik had no doubt, though that didn't mean he would ever admit it out loud.)

He stands to get a better look, the movement causing his chair to scrape softly and echo around the chamber. To his surprise, a man sitting behind a wall of pictures and papers glances up, and proceeds to spit out the beverage he had been sipping on.

"Desmond!" the man shouts, which draws the attention of everyone else, and suddenly the two women join him, staring. Malik catches the few English words he knows between them, but they are speaking too fast and too quietly for him to understand.

The only person who doesn't seem surprised is Altair's lookalike. He simply looks confused, but he reaches over to brush the back of the dai's hand, the touch light and curious, as if confirming something to himself. The man smiles, a little wry.

"Oh, so you really are here," Desmond says, pulling away, and he shocks everyone again when he speaks in fluent, clear Arabic. "You know, for a second, I thought I was going crazy."