LIKE A STONE
DISCLAIMER: I don't own Assassin's Creed nor any of its characters.
The shriek of the heavy chair against stone echoed through the empty hall as the old man stood up from his desk. With some effort – how long had he been sitting there? – he pulled himself straight and walked back to face the large window. His eyes followed the pebble path of the garden unwinding through fountains and colorful flowerbeds, the very image of peace. He inwardly cringed thinking at how much this precious yet precarious peace had cost him. The price he had to pay was higher than most men could tolerate, but he proved himself strong. Just as she said.
The old man closed his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath, "Maria…"
"Maria, do you ever regret choosing this life?"
He thought back to when his Master posed him the same question. He'd never known any other life, so there wasn't a real choice to be made or regret but Maria… she did have a choice and now what of it? Their son was dead – executed, the Order was on the brink of self-annihilation, their quest for knowledge leading them only to more doubts. He himself was no longer sure if it was all worth anything at all…
"Not for a moment, Altair," her words came out clear and firm. The woman lifted her gaze to meet his. Dried tears had left minuscule trails down her cheeks. As sore as they were, her eyes had lost neither beauty nor will to fight. "It wasn't your fault…" she added softly, taking his hand in hers.
Sef was supposed to be the one safe within the stronghold while rest of the family risked their lives in the East. He could have understood if something happened to himself or Maria on their decennial journey along the Silk Road, but betrayal within the walls of Masyaf he could not accept. He didn't want to accept it.
The proud man felt his legs weaken to her touch. Pulling together all the dignity he had, the Assassin slowly sat on the bench behind him, no longer able to stand. He wanted to cry. He wanted to cry so badly. As if on cue, his woman pulled him closer, letting his head rest on her chest as she gently stroke his greying hair.
He could tell she was suffering, he knew exactly how it felt to have your child taken away, and still she found the strength to comfort him. She found strength where he himself couldn't. How could she do it? Suddenly he felt completely harmless, desperate, and without even realizing it, he was sobbing.
Surprisingly, he couldn't feel ashamed of his own tears, not in front of her. They've shared all the good and bad this life had offered them. They've shared each other's fears and doubts. They fought countless battles together, though none of them was nearly as harsh as this one.
"He looked so much like you..." He lifted his head, to look up at his wife.
"He had your character, Altair, your sense of honour and justice," her voice was broken yet she met his eyes with a tiny smile. "He was true to the Creed until the end, and I am certain, just like me, he too had nothing to regret about choosing this life."
The old man sighted. True to the Creed until the end, just like himself.
He sacrificed everything to the Creed and he could not regret it. So many years had passed from that conversation… It wasn't long before he'd lose her, too. Thirty years had passed and he could still feel her warm body grow numb in his arms as life abandoned her. 'Goodbye, my love,' she wouldn't say. Instead it was "strength, Altair", for at that moment strength was the only thing he needed.
"You were with me all along," he whispered to cold stone and glass.
An imperceptible sight escaped his lips. He never expected he would outlive even grief. He never expected he would live long enough to forgive, yet forgive he did. Just as this fortress and its garden, his soul was populated with ghosts from a long gone past: few cherished memories that danced with murder and sorrow. And they were all here. The stronghold spoke with the voice of the men and women who died within its walls, friends and enemies together, telling him it was almost time to join them.
The sound of hurried footsteps broke the silence. "Father, the last caravan will be leaving Masyaf at dawn."
"Thank you…" he nodded to his son casting a sad glance over the empty shelves behind him.
"Is everything alright…?" the younger man couldn't hide a hint of concern.
"Yes. Yes I was just… There is one last thing left for me to do…" he set a hand on the other's shoulder. "Will you help me to my library, Darim?"