AN: Written for the AC meme - a reverse POV of the Revelations trailer; Altair sees Ezio. The title comes from the song, Don't Die In Me by Mirah.
The moment he steps through Masyaf's heavy gates, Altair is greeted by the usual faces, the usual respectful bows, the usual calls from the villagers. Though he is tired from his journey, he finds it easy to return them, and chooses to take the main path to the fortress instead of making the faster climb up and over the buildings. It is good to be home, at last, and he wonders if Maria will be in the courtyard, sparring with the novices, or if Malik will come down to greet him with a stack of paperwork to throw at his face. Both prospects, surprisingly, quickens his pace; he misses the familiarity of Masyaf, even when it is not so often easy to deal with. After all, it's his home where he finds he could be the most prepared, the most willing to handle all of its hardships.
So, it comes as an unexpected blow when a feeling of apprehension washes over Altair as he approaches the fortress. He glances upwards, seeing nothing but the guards keeping a watchful eye on the battlements. His steps do not falter as he shifts to his other sight, spots of blue dancing in front of him to confirm that all is safe and well.
It's the moment he switches back that he catches a glimpse of a man, worn with travel and age, battling an overwhelming number of enemies that come in waves of bright red.
He watches as his vision dissolves, blinks as the world flickers between the man in dark robes fighting for his life, and a group of eager novices, sparring.
It is as if his mind is undecided on what to focus on and, eventually, it settles for the familiar — one of the novices glances in his direction and, startled to find the grandmaster looking at him, raises his hidden blade a second too late to block his partner's sword. The clang of iron is sharp in the air, ringing, but does not shatter. The novice stumbles, and Altair turns away.
He almost runs into Maria, who is regarding him with a thoughtful look.
"You are distracting the novices," she says, and lays her hand over his palm as he reaches out. The grip they exchange is equal and brief, more fitting in front of curious onlookers.
"Fights are usually full of distractions," Altair reasons, and he stands closer to her than strictly necessary, letting the rumors fester as they are bound to do, regardless.
Maria notices, and she closes the gap with a bump of their arms. "Welcome back."
For the moment, Altair is too caught up in her presence to pay full attention to the apparition, unconscious and being dragged into the depths of the fortress from the corner of his eye. It is foreboding and at odds with the warm sun against his back and the press of Maria's arm next to his, but it makes Altair determined to come home, not to anywhere that is cold and grey and full of people who shine crimson.
"What is it that you see?" Maria asks, jarring him from his thoughts. She does not look for herself, knowing that there are some things Altair notices when others cannot. Behind her, the novices she is instructing shift restlessly, impatient to get on with their lesson.
Altair throws them a stern look before turning back to Maria. He shakes his head, not to deny anything, but to say not now. He murmurs lowly into her ear as the image of the man disappears from view, and he closes his eyes. "I will tell you later."
Maria frowns, but before she can speak, Altair straightens and says, louder, since there is no need for privacy to say this; "Thank you. I am glad to be home."
As expected, Malik has a pile of papers waiting for him on his desk. Altair has not seen the dai at all, though it has been a full day since he had returned, not even at meals. He would ask Maria, but she is occupied herself; apparently Masyaf has been doing fine without him, for which he is grateful — Altair wants the Order to last, even after he is long gone.
He reads the first few sheets of papers, makes notes and signs, and it is not fifteen minutes past before he is pacing in front of the window, the faint feeling of dread stirring in his gut. Altair pauses and eyes the shelf on his left side. The plain wooden scroll box is inconspicuous, but it houses a tiny key, hidden under one of the hinges, and Altair is tempted to take it.
But there are promises to be kept, and he ignores the golden glint of the Apple in his mind's eye. Below in the courtyard, he sees Maria in the sparring ring, sword in hand. She stops, suddenly, and turns around to address Malik, who approaches from the sidelines. They speak, and Malik cants his head, looking upwards to presumably glare at Altair until he sits back down at his desk.
Altair resists the urge to wave and backs away – a grandmaster should not be seen pressing his nose against a window, after all. A few minutes later, Malik is at his side, grasping his forearm with a slight smile.
"I was not aware you had returned," he says, and does not comment on the papers Altair had scattered all over the table by way of apology.
It takes no time at all to fall into easy conversation, half about business and half about menial things just for the sake of talking (or, rather, arguing). But, of course, Malik has always been forward, leaning his hip against Altair's desk with an intent expression; he is not going to leave unless Altair answers.
"Maria tells me that you've been seeing things," he says and adds, obviously unhappy about it, "Again."
Altair realizes he has been staring out the window, at nothing, and he glances back at Malik. "I am used to it now," he says, dismissive.
"Therein lies the problem," Malik returns, exasperated. "It is not anything you should get used to. Ever since you started, every time- with the Apple-"
He is struggling to form the words and understand, so Altair helpfully supplies, "The Seals, you mean?"
"Yes, the Seals," Malik sighs, his hand coming down to brace against the table. "It is bad enough that you have to travel so far to hide them. You can imagine that neither of us is very keen about you taking your own memories to put in these Seals. What if you forget everything?" And before Altair could accuse him of expressing actual worry, Malik rolls his eyes. "If you reduce yourself back to a novice, so help me, I will happily run my sword through you."
Altair smirks, taking the threat at face-value. "Well, I wouldn't want that. Besides, it does not work that way; it's not a matter of putting my memories elsewhere, but leaving behind copies. Nothing is taken from me."
Malik shakes his head. "You have the Codex," he begins, carefully, but Altair is already pushing ahead and beyond, speaking over Malik, though he does nothing to raise his voice, only conviction.
"The Codex is a small piece," Altair says, quiet in his fierceness. His gut coils again, both fearful and excited, a strange reminiscence of a knife driving in, twisting, just as Al Mualim had done to him. "I have died once before and left the world with nothing. Worst, I died a fool, one who caused pain and grief," and he does not bother directing his gaze to the pinned sleeve of Malik's robe. "Do you understand, Malik? I do not want to make that same mistake again."
And there is nothing Malik could say to that. He can accuse Altair of being selfish, self-important and arrogant, and he can argue that Altair not obligated to leave such a large impression on the world, but he does not, and the silence only grows between them.
Finally, Malik bows his head, a tiny, short movement, an acquiescent that shows more in his eyes than anything else.
"I understand," he says. "But I do not like it."
Altair begins to smile, thankful, but from the window he sees the same man from yesterday, being carried away by indistinct figures towards the watchtower. The smile fades from his lips and his breath catches.
Before he knows it, Altair is striding down the stairs, past the Assassins who murmur their respects and past the courtyard. He thinks he can hear Malik call out behind him, but Altair is already halfway up the ladder by then.
When he reaches the top, the man is not there. Altair shifts his vision, only to be greeted by the shining blue instructors who lecture about taking leaps of faith, both figurative and literal. He nods, absently, and is immediately coerced into giving a demonstration for the students.
There is no sense in refusing them, now that he is without reason to be in the watchtower, so Altair walks up to the wooden platform, confident and sure. Teach by example, he wills, and does not look back.
At this height, the wind is cold, almost too cold. Altair suppresses a shiver; somehow he is not surprised to find the man on the platform next to him. His hands are bound, but he holds his head high. Behind him, the shimmering red form of his executioner holds a noose, though it seems paltry in the Templar's hands when the Assassin is clearly unafraid.
He will not die, Altair thinks, whoever he is; not today, not tomorrow, not in whatever moment he stands in now.
Reassured, Altair faces the mountains, the sky, the ground—and though he sees snow capping those same mountains, falling from the sky, and covering the ground where none should be — he steps off without another thought.