Desmond runs the rooftops like three different people.
He climbs up ledges with the skill of a man who has done it all his life, but breathes hard like a person unaccustomed to moving his muscles in such a way, grimacing every time his fingers claw over brick and wood. Malik assumes the ragged panting is entirely Desmond, and the borrowed skill is from some other ancestor, the one they mentioned earlier—Ezio. But when Desmond leaps across buildings, he is Altair, right down to the rapid pacing of his steps, the confident spread of his arms, and triumphant gleam in his eyes as he tears through the night air.
And, much to his chagrin, Malik can't keep up.
It is not his one arm that slow him down, or that he cannot always be sure of his footing on strange terrain. Desmond is fast, that much is obvious, but the way he runs is… odd. Sometimes, he withholds his momentum, looking at the ground with uncertainty; at other times, he jumps without hesitation. He swings his hips as if to accommodate the weight of a sword that isn't there, and bends forward as if something heavy pulls him back, a fluttering cape or tailing ends of a robe.
Because of this, when he jumps, Desmond flies higher than he ought.
Because of this, Malik thinks that not even Altair would have been able to keep up.
The thought distracts him, and sends a chill up his spine. Desmond is made of fragments of other people—the parts that make them good on a physical level— and every time Desmond falters over a high edge to withdraw himself and force an ancestor to take over, it seems incredibly sad to Malik.
Desmond waits on the next rooftop, watching him. Malik can't tell if the younger man is impatient or anxious, but either reason is enough for him to rush forward, a question half-formed on his lips before it cuts off with a surprised intake of breath. Malik slips on the loose stonework that suddenly crumbles under his feet. As he drops, he berates himself for assuming that, in the future, everything is built strong and sturdy, even when all the things he has seen so far proves otherwise.
The fall is quiet, the impact less so. Malik hears the broken debris crash beside him, the rush of air that leaves his lungs as his body hits the ground. He coughs with hardly any breath left. His heart is beating fast, and though he has fallen while climbing many times before, the act of slipping always comes as a shock.
Desmond lands lightly on his feet, and the resemblance is starting to wear Malik down. The younger man exclaims in English before switching in mid-sentence to Arabic.
"Oh, god. Are you all right?"
There is an absence of sharp pain, no broken bones or sprained limbs, only the dull ache that comes from, well, landing on one's back from a considerable height. Malik lifts his gaze to see where he fell from. He feels fine. He wonders, distantly, if the Apple took only his mind — that maybe his body still sits in the Grandmaster's quarters in a trancelike state, just as Altair's had.
But, no, he tries to sit up and his body refuses to respond without shaking. Desmond kneels beside him, one hand steadying his back to push him up while Malik works on steadying his own breathing. Malik's hand clenches over the left side of his chest, twisting the rough cloth between his fingers.
There is no pain, but he is starting to realize how much he does not want to be here.
Desmond fusses over him in a way Altair never would; he hesitates around Malik, hands hovering uselessly above his arm and legs and points as if toask, are you hurt here? There? Quick to comfort, but not to do anything else.
"Well, can you stand?" Desmond finally asks, growing a little exasperated when Malik continues to look amused.
"For you?" he replies, allowing Desmond to haul him up and support him. "I'll walk."