A/N: This is a belated birthday ficlet for my DA lover, Uccan. It was supposed to be a crack!fic but oops I guess the middle-ages don't exactly cater to my post-modern pop-culture riddled sense of humor. This is based on her beautiful Altmal: Kiss piece (remove spaces): uccan . deviantart art/AltMal-Kiss-296291246
Summary: In which Malik must give a serious and professional mission report while Altaïr makes eyes at him from across the room.
Malik has been sent on far more dangerous missions than any of his Brothers. He has been in and out of the capital too many times to count, before and after and during the war. He has friends in every city, in every gutter, in every tavern. He has enemies in high places and far-away places and most of them are in low enough places to include a wooden box six feet below the ground. Hundreds have died by his hand. With a sword no one would dare stand against him.
Yet here he is, returning home to Masyaf's Fortress a week later than expected and with hardly a reason beyond the most embarrassing case of misinformation and sore rear as ever there was. He would never ride another horse after this. Never. He would confiscate one of Rasheed's transport carts and use it to travel in comfort whenever Altaïr deemed him worthy enough for missions. Which was not very often these days.
(Seeing their Second-in-Command riding atop an ox-cart with perhaps several dozen pillows cushioning his tender bottom would do little to convince the Brotherhood of his expertise as a deadly Assassin, but Malik would suffer the embarrassment with dignity. The Grand Master would of course look favorably upon whichever method of travel allowed said tender bottom to remain intact.)
Malik is accosted by Brothers as soon as he enters the Fortress, but he waves them off before they can put him to the question. He basks in the feeling of being back on his feet, on solid ground and surrounded by the high, thick walls of his home. He looks up at the high tower against the glare of the sun, and does not relish the thought of having to climb the many steps up to the Grand Master's study.
He isn't the only Master to return today, though he is the most important and has the most impressive scowl. These things allow him to part the waters of Altaïr's study with ease and insert himself at the head of the line for mission reports. Altaïr looks up from the writing on his desk as soon as Malik enters, and makes absolutely no effort in concealing the smile that creeps across his face.
"Did you find him?" Altaïr asks, and Malik would not have minded a hello, how are you, but clearly certain of his lifestyle choices have made those kinds of pleasantries difficult to come by.
"Yes. He was at the base camp as we thought."
"And it was a beautiful day. Certainly much cooler than it is now."
Altaïr sighs and pulls a hand through his hair. He never wears his hood anymore, and Malik finds it amusingly ironic that Altaïr decided to forgo his strict head covering only after his hair started turning grey.
"And did you complete your mission?" Altaïr reiterates patiently.
"He was alive when I arrived, and dead when I left."
The other Masters in the study exchange glances at the casual disrespect, but only the younger Brothers actually look nervous, while the rest simply tilt their heads back knowingly and wait for things to blow over.
Altaïr does his level best to ignore them, and Malik must give him some grudging credit for finally learning how to disguise his annoyance.
"Did he say anything of importance before his life came to an end?"
Malik clears his throat. At last, a question with an answer that's not insultingly obvious. "He mentioned the Mongols approach in the East, though he did not know any specific numbers or names. It seems their Khan is more legend than conqueror for the time being."
Altaïr nods stiffly. Malik knows this information is not in any way useful or new. The only reason Malik had been sent so far abroad (or that he'd been sent at all) was because their regular sources of information were turning up empty with regards to this new power in the East. Though there were rumors of Genghis Khan, and whispers of an unstoppable army.
Malik turns to withdraw, fully aware that his report has not yet concluded and that they must still go through the motions of handing over the bureau report and signature of its resident Rafiq; a form of proof that the mission was completed. Malik doubts anyone in the Fortress will demand to see such a thing from him.
As expected, another Master steps into his place and inclines his head to Altaïr. "Grand Master, I have news from the North. You'll be pleased to hear that—"
"Wait a moment."
Though if anyone were to get away with making such a request, Altaïr would be it. Malik cannot remember when Altaïr changed from being mind-numbingly disobedient to happily accepting bloodied feathers on behalf of the Order, but he suspects it was around the same time Altaïr first discovered the tedium of being in charge, and that having rules actually made his job easier. Malik could have informed him of this when they were twelve.
"What clothes was he wearing?"
Malik, fully intent on ignoring any further questions, does a double-take. "His what?"
"His clothes. In what fashion was he attired?"
Malik answers automatically. "Robes."
"Oh?" Altaïr says, eyebrows raised and looking for the entire world as though it were the most interesting bit of information he'd received all day. "Go on."
"Everyone in the camp wore similar clothes," Malik continues warily. "Though most would not be considered clothing after so many months without proper care."
Altaïr hums at that and looks at him expectantly. Malik catches the hint of a smirk at the corner of his mouth and is decidedly less confused by this line of questioning.
"What color were they?"
"They were green."
"And the others?"
"Most were wearing rough-spun. Or so I assume. I did not have the chance to get a closer look."
"It must have been easy to follow your target, then, if he was wearing such a remarkably different color as everyone else."
"Some of the women in his party had similarly dyed clothing, though there were a few differences."
"They had some sparkling thread woven through…" He searches for the correct term.
"Embroidered," supplies one of the young Masters, taking a hesitant half-step forward, then immediately back.
"It was a traveling camp," Malik goes on, and he could do this all day if Altaïr was in a particularly goading mood, "and most of its inhabitants smelled of their own excrement. None quite so much as my target, however. He in particular seemed to avoid spending time in the water. Though I shouldn't complain, there were times when it was too dark to see his exact location and I had to rely on my nose for guidance."
"A true Master must learn to use all of his senses in pursuit of his task." Altaïr intones sagely. Malik has to bite back his next remark, knowing that outright insulting the Grand Master in a room full of his most loyal subordinates might not be the best end to this meeting. They might feel honor-bound to defend their leader's ridiculous pearls of wisdom and Malik might be forced to send them all whimpering to the floor.
"Fortunately for this mission I was not made to taste anything untoward." He says instead.
Altaïr chuckles lightly, not quite quick enough to hide the flash of something darker that passes behind his eyes. Malik feels the steady thrum of his own blood set a markedly less predictable pace at the recognition of lust.
This is much closer to the hello, how are you, that he'd been waiting for.
Altaïr clears his throat, but doesn't ask any more questions. The young Master advances again, emboldened by the silence.
"Grand Master, if I might give my report now."
Altaïr stares blankly at the young Master for a few dragging seconds, before waving a hand dismissively. "No, not just now. Come back in an hour and I will hear the rest."
The Masters hesitate for a moment, the younger opening and closing his mouth like a fish before filing out obediently. Malik doesn't even pretend to move towards the door.
Once they've all disappeared around the corner, and their footsteps are well away from the echoing walls of the Grand Master's narrow staircase, Malik falls with a huff into the chair opposite Altaïr's desk.
"I will never ride a horse again," he says, hoping to recapture some of the misery he felt on the road.
"Give it a day."
"Never again. I will ride atop an ox cart from now on and I will keep at least three cushions ready for more comfortable and diverse seating arrangements." He hears Altaïr's laughter at that but doesn't see it, eyes sliding shut.
"I'm so tired, Altaïr, so very tired. When did we get so old? Ten years ago I could have ridden twice as hard and twice as long." He feels a gentle hand on his shoulder, and Altaïr is there beside him, guiding him back onto his feet. Once they're standing face-to-face, Altaïr raises a hand to curl calloused fingers through Malik's hair, and he leans forward to press a light kiss to Malik's brow. Malik's eyes droop closed at the touch, his exhaustion suddenly too much to bear.
"Come," Altaïr commands lightly, hand dropping to clasp Malik's own. He moves them slowly passed his hopelessly disorganized desk, the mountains of books which Malik could swear were in order when he left, the heavy double-doors at the back of the room, the spiraling stairs, the second set of doors, and then, gloriously, Altaïr is pushing him down onto his enormous bed. "Get some rest, Malik. We can be old men in the morning." Malik makes a small noise of complaint when Altaïr moves away, but the pillows are impossibly comfortable beneath his head and it's been too long since he last slept somewhere quiet.
He wakes only partially when Altaïr pulls back the sheets to climb in beside him.