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And The Stars Remain

Chapter Text

The next few days were excruciatingly unbearable for me. Patience was not one of my virtues. The waiting was going to be the death of me. Being alone with someone in an empty building provides ample time to get to know that person. But Malik had drawn me in. He was interesting and enigmatic, and at the very least, attractive.

The temporary Dai was none of those things. He was even more reserved than Malik, if that could even be possible. He shut down every attempt at conversation until I did not even venture near him anymore. My very presence seemed to draw annoyance from him. He clearly wished to be elsewhere rather than be shut in with an overly anxious girl.

Anxious could not even cover the basis of what I was feeling. The Dai obviously either withheld information from me, or he did not even have any information on what was transpiring in Masyaf. This only added to the constant worry that plagued my mind day in and day out. Every waking moment, my mind was restless, wondering what was happening. Was Malik all right? Had he been injured? Was he even still-

I refused to dwell any further on the matter when it got to that point. Otherwise, I would scream as every organ in my body would begin to implode. I ate very little and slept even less those first several days. I was often found just lying on the pillows on the patio, chewing my nails down to the quick. When they were all but gone, I took to tugging at a particular strand in my hair, pulling it until it was gnarled and destroyed.

There was nothing to do but wait. Wait for news of any kind from Masyaf. Boredom was the bite of a spider, puncturing the skin so that poisoning worry could set it. I seemed to grow weaker, physically, emotionally and mentally drained as more days passed. The silence was roaring, the possibilities endless. The ring of my promise to Malik began to fade away as the anguishing panic consumed every thought. I refused to eat, the thought of food utterly sickening.

It got to the point that the Dai had to practically threaten me to eat, reminding me how displeased Malik would be if he returned to find me in that kind of condition. I ate then, but hesitantly, not appreciating the term if.

Sleep rarely visited and when it did, it was not peaceful. Nightmares haunted me of what was surely going down in Masyaf. I watched so many different versions of Malik’s death that I often woke shouting at the top of my lungs. The Dai stopped coming to check on me, and I soon learned to try and roll into the pillows to muffle my cries. Some nights, I would run to the roof, wailing, begging the stars to bring him back, the pain too much to bear. I prayed for a sign, an omen, anything that he was okay. But it seemed none would come.

On the morning of the fifth day that Malik had been away from Jerusalem, I laid on the rooftop of the bureau. The morning sun was not kind to my skin, peeling it away and melting me into a puddle. My eyes stung from yet another sleepless night. My belly gave a disgruntled moan, braying helplessly for nourishment. I was weak with sleepiness, utterly spent by just lying there. I was an absolute wreck.

I felt no hope. I felt no peace. I felt nothing. Just complete vulnerability. If I shut my eyes and thought hard enough about it, I could almost believe I was still destitute, with no one to care about me, or anyone else to worry about other than myself. It wasn’t hard to imagine. Five days of breaking my promise to Malik had undone all the work he had put into me in two months and had quickly rendered me back to my original state that he had found me in. Oh, how displeased he would be. How displeased indeed.

A slight weight landed on my belly and I opened my eyes to find a pigeon resting there, fatigued and deadbeat. How fitting for my imagination. Now, it was very easy to imagine I was still homeless. The birds used me as a nest all the time, it seemed. I was just registering the thought of ‘Please do be kind and don’t defile me,’ when I noticed the piece of paper the bird carried.

Curious, I pulled it from the bird’s grasp. Strange, we had not had a carrier pigeon come through here in days. A vague warning passed through the back of my head that it was not my place to step in and read the note, but my hopes would not permit it. I feverishly opened it.

The writing was difficult for me, being barely literate, to decipher, but it read something along the lines of this:

Al Mualim has betrayed the Brotherhood and has been killed. Altaïr has been made the Mentor. I am not sure when I will be able to return, as we have quite a mess here in Masyaf to tend to. Maintain the Bureau and I will give word as soon as I’m able to leave.

Malik

My tired eyes became wider as I eagerly devoured each line. I gave a small cry of joy. He was okay. Relief slammed into me. I felt weightless with elation. I had a reason to live again. He was alive and safe. I actually began to laugh.

So caught up was I in my happiness that I squeezed the pigeon to my chest in a tight hug, feeling as though I was reaching through it to Malik. The bird gave a startled gurgle as I kissed its beak. When I released it, the poor creature waddled away from me on unsteady feet, watching me with repulsed eyes.

I re-read the letter, feeling closer to Malik already through his writing. ‘Oh thank you, Allah! Thank you for taking care of him! Thank you so much!’

I was hyper, with renewed vigor and life as I leapt into the bureau, practically throwing the note in the Dai’s unsuspecting face. When he examined it, though, he was eyeing me suspiciously, not nearly as ecstatic about the news.

“I do hope you haven’t been snooping through all my letters. This is official business. For my eyes only.” He warned me, his voice unforgiving.

My good mood began to ebb away. “Why, yes, I did read it. It was practically dropped in my lap-“

“Then you should have brought it to me. It is nobody’s business but mine. It is none of your concern what happens in the Brotherhood.”

I scowled at him and snarled, “Any business regarding Malik is my business. I deserve to know what’s going on!”

“You deserve to be back on the streets where you were found. You’ve done me nothing but trouble. You’re lucky that I do not kick you out myself!”

“Go ahead then. I would be more than happy to inform Malik of your disrespect to me. Seeing as how he is the Dai of this bureau, I’m sure he would be very interested to know how you have treated its occupants.” I advised this to him sweetly and he paled. Malik’s wrath was not one to be tampered with. That, or he was not expecting my retaliation to be that confident.

I turned on my heel and ran from the building, fleeing to the rooftops without a second glance. Anger propelled me as far as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I sank onto my ledge, murmuring obscenities about the man, the insolent bastard. Who did he think he was, talking down to me like that?! He was the one harassing me, not the other way around! I would not have bothered him so much had he not acted so secretive. I knew I wasn’t one of them, but he knew I meant a great deal to Malik. He saw our exchanges before he left.

It was apparent I was more of a hindrance to him than I was of help. I would tell Malik about this. I did not care if the man was an Assassin or not, I had taken enough of that bullshit my whole life. I would take it no more. He would never have said that had Malik been there. The coward clearly was afraid of him, as he should be. Malik would beat his face in without losing his place in his book.

Malik… The thought of him made me comforted and depressed. Comforted because he was alive and well, but depressed because I knew not when he would return. It may well-nigh be another month before he came back.
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I was wrong. It was two and a half months. I retired to a rooftop garden where the bureau was within view, as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was quite the walk. But I dared not return to the bureau, as it was no longer home. Not unless Malik was there. I watched, more and more dismayed as each night passed, waiting for his return. I hoped he had not forgotten about me.

No, he was just held up in his duties. He said he would come back, did he not? It could not have just… slipped his mind that I existed. But as each night grew longer and longer, with no sign of his return, did I begin to wonder. And wondering turned to doubting, myself and him. Masyaf must have been in a very serious state for him to have been away for two and a half months.

Part of me deliberated if I was jumping to conclusions. His duties did come first. I hated that, but it was true. He was devoted to his Brothers. I just did not want to be ignored too much. But I knew Malik. He would not overlook me. Not with what he had said the night that he left.

Another morbid, macabre part of me wondered if Malik had even written that note. Could somebody have forged his handwriting? No, it looked like his script. Besides, how and why would a forger think to send a note to Jerusalem? I tried not to dwell too much on that scenario because it brought up further questions. What could have happened to make someone forge the note? Did someone force him to write it? Was he dead? What-

That was normally my stopping point, because if I edged too much farther into that territory, my anxiety would eat me alive. So, I deluded myself into believing he was stuck in Masyaf because of his work. It was a healthier option to accept rather than being torn between him being held hostage, being dead, or him putting me out of his mind.

I dedicated my time to walking around the city, scrounging for food and climbing buildings to occupy myself. I even practiced my leaps of faith a time or two, though the exhilarating feeling was dampened by not having someone to share it with. The rest of my time was spent sleeping, when not watching the bureau or scouring the city. It helped me to escape the ever-present nightmare that was engulfing me. But even sleep was not always kind.

I would have dreams where I could see Malik returning and I would be frenzied with glee. I would run to hug him and he would either not remember who I was, or he would be liquid, a ghost I could not grasp onto.

Another cruel version would be when I watched him enter the bureau from the hard journey back. I would run to the door, only to find it locked. I would turn the knob, gently calling his name. When he did not answer, I turned violent, rattling and pounding the door. When no response came, I climbed to the roof to find the lattice door heartlessly locked. I would scream and cry his name, trying desperately to get his attention. I feared he was dead, but what I got in reply was an end worse than death. Malik would yell at me to leave him alone, to stop nagging for food, wondering why it was always him that the homeless trash would bother, telling me he would rather me be dead….

Believe me, I wanted to be. I would wake with tears still flooding down my face, and I would curl into myself, wrecked with sobs. It would take me a moment or two to distinguish dreams from reality and when I was fully awake, I would wonder over to the bureau to make sure I wasn’t shut out and that the roof grating was still accessible.

Depression easily overwhelmed me after a few nights of that. I would sit in my garden, weeping, my heart calling out for Malik to come back, and then later, it screamed for anyone, anything, to relieve me of this emptiness!

When my tears ran dry and no one came to my rescue, I would coil myself together, just to wait it out. Waiting for an absolution that seemed like it would never come. My mind became muddled, my body numb and cold as September’s wrath raged through Jerusalem. For a city of the desert, September’s highs and lows were like that of a woman with child. Fuming heat ravaged the day; the nights were of ice and anyone out on the streets for long while during that time had better check that their extremities were intact.

That made stargazing well-nigh impossible. I would briefly peer up at them as they were born in the evening and then again as they died in the morning. I beseeched them to give me hope, to give me anything. As of late, they only seemed to be laughing at me.

They did so on a particularly cold morning, the early dawn air biting with the first cold snaps of fall. I sat on the edge of the building that held my garden, staring blankly out onto the deadening horizon. I was without rest after a repeat of the bureau nightmare. I stared down at the source of said nightmare, my body beginning to tremble with sobs I knew I did not have the tears for. I cried so much in the past month that I could probably drink the entire Jordan River and still not be able to make up for what had left my body.

But my gut hiccupped anyway, aching for what it had lost. I was unsure if I was awake or dreaming anymore. Had all of what I had experienced been a dream? Was my whole life a dream? Was I was longing for something I never had?

The sunrise was light lavender, and the first strings of passerby began to leak out into the streets. It was like this every morning. It would always be like this, never to change. None of this, none of me, would ever change.

The air smelled of bitter frost and smoke. I looked to the nearest market, already open for the day. I sniffled. Perhaps it would do me good to go for a walk. I slipped from the ledge, the ground frigid beneath my feet. Hugging my arms tightly to my chest, I sauntered to the market, leisurely admiring the crates as I went by. The meats and breads were tempting, but what looked even more so, were the strawberries, red and sweet. I picked one up, admiring the rough surface of the seeds and the deep shade of scarlet they were, a tuft of green leaves atop its head. He always had a fondness for strawberries….

I grimaced at them and set the fruit back in. There was no need to be reminding myself of him. Especially not here, where everyone and Allah could see.

“Ten coins, please.” The seller, a scrawny man with a graying beard, was watching me shadily.

“I was just looking.” I said absentmindedly, moving on to the next box.

“Ten coins, please.” The man said again, demanding. He was staring dead at me. I looked up, wondering what part of ‘just looking’ he did not understand.

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t going to buy anything.”

“You touch it, you buy it.” He growled, inspecting me head to toe, finding my dirty appearance unsuitable to be near his food.

“I don’t have the money.” I said testily.

Clearly, you don’t.” He smirked, taking a dig at me.

I jabbed a finger at him. “Listen, you son of a-“ I was jerked forward when the cocky bastard seized my clothes and heaved me to him, beginning to berate me for talking to him like that. My anger flared up at having been embarrassed in front of everyone in this Allah damned market! He had no earthly right!

My fist flew up and buried itself in his nose, smashing it into his ugly face. He let go of me immediately and fell backwards, smacking his head with a loud thud against the table. I felt no remorse.

“Don’t you fucking touch me, you piece of shit! Allah damn you!” I shouted, though he was out cold. I straightened my clothes, my fury having earned me a leery crowd. I acknowledged not the horrified stares that were thrown at me and stormed out into the street.

I went about three strides out of the market, my anger pushing me forward when the first cries of “Assassin!” were being hurled from the rooftops.

I whirled around, the normal scene behind me having turned to chaos in less than a second. The crowd scattered in every direction like rats. I scanned the mob for a white clothed figure, but was unable as I was pushed and shoved into shoulders and chests.

I tumbled back toward the market, fighting back against the frantic people, trying to reach the Assassin. Hell, for all I knew, he was gone, flying over the rooftops like the eagle he was. I figured it could have been one of the novices, visiting Jerusalem for a mission, though I had not seen many lately.

What I did not expect to see was the Dai of Jerusalem lying on the ground with a Templar straddling him, about to make the death blow to his head. I did not stop to notice the details or my emotions, the need to protect overriding everything in my body.

I ran with the speed of a demon toward the unsuspecting Templar, barreling into him with all the force I could, effectively knocking him off of his target. His chainmail screeched as we skidded down the road. He was caught off guard and so was I as I took in how young he was, his helmet having been knocked off during the struggle. He was my age. But he was quicker about reacting, grunting as he shoved me off of him.

Perhaps it was a good thing I weighed so little. I immediately rolled back over onto him, as he was still struggling to get up with all of his armor. I found I had nothing to kill him with, and so with nothing else at hand, I proceeded to beat him with my fists.

Three hits to his face was I all I could manage before he was retaliating, ramming me back to the ground, pinning my arms down with an iron grip. I screeched and screamed, defenseless without my hands. He called me several choice names in his bizarre language and I watched him withdraw a knife, decidedly pondering what angle would be the best to drive it into my face.

My adrenaline was drowning me and I began to panic, thrusting my hips in the hope that it would throw him off balance. It wasn’t enough. It only prolonged the torture. He actually had the gall to laugh at my pitiful attempts to unseat him. But in the one precious second of him being caught lopsided, I got my foot between his legs and pushed.

He yelped in agony and I had him. He was the open space where I could get the King. I jostled him onto his back with a cry and seized the dagger from where he dropped it. He was begging, but I did not let him do so long. I drove the knife right into his forehead. Blood squirted like a fountain and drenched me. I stabbed him until his face was nothing but an oozing mess of warm blood and gray bits of brain that ran into the cracks of the street.

I felt no remorse, not for this vile creature that almost succeeded in what he tried to do. I buried the knife in his chest and stood, wiping his blood from my face. And suddenly, it was all surreal. Had that just happened? What became of my quiet walk?

I turned around to acknowledge the Assassin to find him right behind me, staring at me. I barely got a chance to say his name before he engulfed me in a hug so tight it was hard to draw breath. I could not register what was going on. The turn of events came to be so quickly. Was I dreaming again? Was this about to turn into a horrid hallucination where he would be torn away from me yet again?

Dear Allah, it felt too good to be a dream. The warmth of the Assassin, the smell of him, the feel of his rough coat and skin. He could not be real, this perfection, the absolute relief evaporating my worry….

“Malik…” I whispered, finding my voice. He was here, he came back. He was alive… After all this time, he really did come back…

“I’m here, habibti. I’m here.” Malik breathed into my ear, clutching me close.

My heart soared like a bird in the sky, my eyes beginning to well with tears as the reality of what was happening crashed down on top of me. I could not believe it. I could not believe it was real… The uncanniness of it was palpable, after months of thinking the worst. And here he was, solid in my arms unharmed. My luck had turned the tides.

Malik…” I pulled back, to admire him, the exultation covering his face, the bright wetness in his dark eyes, the vivid red blood streaming down his shoulder and tainting his robes. “Malik, you’re hurt.” So much for being completely unharmed.

“I will take care of it when we go back to the bureau.” He nodded in the direction I had come from. I laced my hand in his and practically pulled him with me down the street. When we made it to the hideout, Malik swiftly unlocked the door, ushering me inside. I expected the Dai to greet me with a discouraging word or two, but he was not there. He had locked all the entrances, including the one to the roof. Only Allah knew where he had gone off to. Perhaps it was a good thing, as the real keeper was there to relieve him of his duties.

Malik was more baffled than I. “Where’s the Dai?”

I smiled. “He’s right here.” I said sweetly, gesturing to Malik, who gave me a knowing look.

“I meant the man I left behind to look after the bureau.” Malik brushed past me to check the patio, returning still dumbfounded. I stood with my arms crossed by the counter.

“I don’t know where he is. And frankly, I could not be happier that he is gone.”

Malik’s head snapped up, his eyes aware and decoding my statement, “Rajah…” He snarled, “Why were you not staying here like I asked?”

I huffed, “Well, if your man had not kicked me out, I would have stayed.”

His eyebrows shot up. “He kicked you out?!”

“Actually, I kicked myself out,” I cleaned up my statement, “He was an asshole. He claimed I got into his business and was a nuisance to him.”

Malik had gone into the secret room to fetch his medical supplies. “And so,” he called, voice muffled, “you just ran off? Clearly, you broke your promise to me.”

I sighed, “No, Malik, I did not.”

Malik was not satisfied by the information I had given him. “Where did you go, Rajah?” He pressed.

“Why are you grilling me like this?!” I was upset at the incessant interrogations. Why was he not happier to see me? Unless he did not want to see me at all… I pushed that thought away.

Malik slammed back through the hidden door, throwing his materials on the counter, “I have not exactly enjoyed being away from you and I would like to think you actually stayed true to your promise instead of running off and putting yourself in harm’s way!”

My hands balled into fists. “I know how to handle myself. And let’s face it, if I had not been out on the streets, I would not have found you and you would be dying like a dog in the street!”

Malik exhaled as he shrugged out of his robes to assess his wound. “I believe I have heard that line before.” He prodded at the cut, which still lazily wept blood.

“I believe I have as well,” I watched him try to dab away at the wound with a damp cloth, “Here, let me.” I offered, rubbing away the excess liquid.

Malik leaned back, letting me clean the gash. He was silent for a long moment. I made no move to speak, for he was in close quarters with me, the space behind the counter much too cramped for two people.

“I have missed you, Rajah. More than you will ever know.” His voice was softer, gravelly. I was concentrating very hard on cleansing his wound then, sprinkling the healing herbs he brought madly into the wound.

“Well, how do you think I felt?” I muttered distractedly.

Malik continued, laughing lightly, “I believe Altaïr has been planning to murder me. I was more concerned about you than was healthy.”

I blinked. It made me feel … wanted to know he was thinking about me. At least, to some degree. “What is there to worry about?” I said, perplexed, casually eyeing the scruff on his neck.

This!” Malik’s voice rose, gesturing to the door, “You running off, getting yourself into trouble, getting killed. When will you learn, Rajah? When will you learn to not worry me so much? You accomplished almost all three of those scenarios today!” He was angry, passionately so.

“I had to save you, Malik. I could not let you die!” I was wrapping his shoulder, flustered, and I ripped the gauze off with a snap, finished. I then had nowhere else to go, no excuse to be that close to him, but I did not move.

He leaned even closer to me, pressing me up against the counter. His eyes were dangerous, challenging. “It is not your place to save me, Rajah. I will not have you killed trying to do something as stupid as that.” His voice was lowered, husky.

I was blushing, my heart beginning to throb unremittingly, because of how hot it had become all of the sudden, and also because a man and a woman should not be that close and pressed up against each other, even in the middle of an argument. I was getting a might overwhelmed, but I dared not back down.

“It is not stupid. You’re everything to me, Malik.”

“And you will go on just fine without me. You have managed so far.”

The assumption stung. It was the wood feeding the lit fire within me and I was suddenly ranting, in the hopes that it would relieve the tension between us.

“You have no idea what I have gone through these past months! What if I told you my life was falling apart without you here?! You gave me hope to keep going. You were my motivation. I believed I might actually have a future worthwhile. Having you by my side was the main reason I wanted to continue living in this shitty world! Without you… without you, I have no reason to go on. So how dare you assume I’m fine without you, you jackass!”

It felt good to let it all out so he knew, be it a fraction, of the utter hell it had been the last few months. But it did nothing to satiate the fire that bloomed ever strongly in my abdomen. He had gravitated so close to me and he made no move to go away. I could not rid myself of the feeling and I could stand it no longer, so I leaned forward and locked my lips with his.

It was the first moment I had felt alive in so long. The heat consumed me. Malik huffed into my mouth and I held the back of his neck, fingers digging into his hair. Allah above, he was warm. Solid. His skin blazed beneath my touch and I shivered. I was in a frenzy, unable to stop.

Malik pushed me onto the counter, and he leaned over me, his hips somehow in between my legs, his rough hand dragging down my stomach. I shuddered, every inch of him touching me. I was intoxicated and needy, craving… more. I needed him. I did not know for sure how or in what way to quench that need, but I wanted to find out.

He kissed my neck, heaving me closer still and I groaned. I could not handle it. I could not breathe, my thoughts were gone as I blindly kissed him when he returned to my lips. I was reciprocating these feelings, Allah knows what they were, responding to his every touch in ways I did not think were possible for me. It was intense to the point I wanted to scream.

"Malik." I breathed, my voice squeaky. I clutched his neck and I could see fire in his eyes, ablaze with greed and hunger. Whatever feeling it was that was raging within me, it was mutual. He attacked my mouth again, angrily tearing away at my defenses. I only whimpered and held tightly to him, letting him, no, encouraging him to have his way with me.

Malik froze, his head snapping in the direction of the patio. His grip tightened on my hip and though I remained still, his heat still tingled under my skin.

In another dimension, where I wasn’t lost in the throes of passion, I could hear men speaking. I could not understand what they said. It did not make sense. They did not speak Arabic and they sounded like they may have been on the roof. Our roof. Their voices drifted cold down through the patio grating. They were close, extremely close…

“Get down!” Malik hissed. He was falling away, dragging me down with him behind the counter.

“Malik..” I whimpered, filled with terror. My hands shook as I clutched his shoulder. He crouched in front of me, in a protective spring. He watched the doorway with wide, calculating eyes. His hand slid to the counter, the knife giving a small, metallic screech as he glided it to him.

“Stay here. Do not move.” He whispered urgently, barely sparing me a glance as he crept out from behind the counter and snuck to the doorway. I could no longer hear voices and I feared they were still on the roof. They could not have gotten into the building. The grating was shut. There was no physical way they could be inside the---

A loud rattling of the front door silenced all thinking. I jarred and watched Malik turn suddenly, staring at the door with startled eyes. I was frozen as the terror kept me in place. And there was Malik, exposed in the thick of the situation, a perfect target. I was not even watching the door anymore. I was looking at him and how much of a venerable position he was in. If he had not locked that door, he would be the very first to regret it.

We remained there, with the minutes stretching into what seemed like hours. We could hear the potential intruders speaking in their strange native tongue before they casually meandered away, a relief to my pounding heart. We both stood.

“Damned Templars…” Malik oathed. He still eyed the door warily.

“That sounded close.” My voice was slightly shaky.

“That’s because they were. They were trying to open the grating,” He jogged to the patio to evaluate the damage. Finding none, theories began to fly from his mouth, “Either they stumbled upon it by sheer luck or worse yet, someone followed us.”

Those ominous words sent tremors down my spine. “Well, what do we do now?” I tried to keep my voice level.

“I’ll provide a distraction.” Malik stated, unwavering in his words as he slipped his robes back on.

Whatever he planned, it involved putting himself in danger. I would not have it.

“Oh no, you don’t! I just got you back. I’m not going to lose you again!”

“I can’t let them find the bureau, Rajah. If that happens, given you and I aren’t killed, we will have to pack up and leave to find a more secure location. That may mean leaving Jerusalem, but that matters not. The Brotherhood was almost compromised, and I will not have it in jeopardy again.” He pushed past me, securing his weapons, already headed for the front door.

He was steadfast, but he had no idea how stubborn I could be. Or how cunning. Because I would not have him sacrificing himself for his Brotherhood when I only got to be with him for as short a time as we had had.

“Well, you won’t have to.” I walked up behind him, watching him give me a baffled look.

“What?”

I smiled coyly, “I’ll do the compromising.” I began to stride past him when he yanked me back by my arm.

“And how do you plan on doing that?” He was sarcastically going along with my plan.

I shrugged simply, “I’m going to pick a fight.” I stated.

Malik actually snorted. “Rajah, please, don’t be so stupid. Do not do this and get yourself killed for the Brotherhood.”

“What Brotherhood?” I mocked innocently, my hands going to my heart, feigning horror that he would believe such a thing, “I am just a simple, homeless girl looking to start trouble.” As if absolutely nobody in the city was looking to harm me…

Malik began to see how serious I was about playing my role and how far I would go through with the scheme. “I do not like this plan, Rajah.” He looked at me as if I had a disorder.

“Well, I did not like it when you left me for Masyaf. But you said and I quote, ‘It was for the good of the Brotherhood.’ Well, so is this. If I fuck it all up, it’s not going to be your fault. And besides, no one else will know I am working for the Assassins anyway.” I shrugged my explanation, but Malik did not buy into the simplicity of it.

“Rajah…” He was severely unsure, but I could not let him dissuade me. I was not doing this to protect the Brotherhood. I couldn’t give more of a damn about that. I was doing it to protect Malik. Not necessarily in the fact that he would be killed, no, but to ensure the bureau would be safe. The place was his home. My home.

“I need a knife.” I ordered, looking down suggestively at his belt. He followed my gaze and unhooked a blade from its holder, gingerly handing it to me, as if it would break, or I would.

“Do you know how to wield this?” He asked uncertainly.

In truth, not really. I had only used knives to cut food when I could, or as in the case of twenty minutes ago, to bash someone’s head in. But I have said it before, I was a fast learner.

I snorted. “I’ll figure it out as I go.” I turned to leave, afraid he would pull out his pained face and then I would not be able to leave at all. But Malik had not released his grip on my arm. I was jolted back, forced to look at him.

“You know if you die, you’re breaking your promise?”

Of course, he had to pull that card out. I watched his eyes become pain-stricken, trying to lure me in in a last ditch attempt to stay.

“I understand. But I don’t plan on dying, Malik. I promise.” I could see his face turn into a doubtful expression, already anticipating the worst. I knew I should do the same, as I was deluding myself and him into thinking I had even a slim chance of survival. “But, in the case that I don’t return by… tomorrow morning, you can come searching for me.”

I only pictured that I could be knocked unconscious and that no one would find me until I woke up. So, I gave him a window, for I knew not how long this would take.

Malik’s eyes, however, became wide and colored with horrible anguish. He clearly feared he’d find something far worse. But he steeled his features and nodded in understanding. He pulled me in, molding his lips to mine, most likely hoping this would distract me, to hold me back. It only did the opposite as I thought, for the second time, that it may well be the last time I would hold him….

I pulled away before I got sucked into the whirlpool of pleasure that would ensure my staying. I had to do this, or he would. And I wanted a choice. If one of us were to die, it would be me. I knew he thought otherwise, but I had nothing else to lose. He had the Brotherhood to live on for, and Altaïr. He had far more to lose.

I caught a glimpse of his disturbed face as he let me go before I bolted out the door and onto the rooftops. I could not settle on those thoughts as there were more pressing matters to deal with at that moment.

I scanned the horizon, a blue void. The heat shimmered down in waves that turned to sweat as soon as they came into contact with my face. What a lovely day for an affair such as this. I searched for a group of Templars. Judging from the different voices that I had heard, there were multiple.

And there, several blocks from the bureau, was a group of the slugs. The chainmail with a red cross advertised them to be so.

They had to be the ones who harassed us. There was not another group of them in sight! And if they were not the culprits, well… They were too close to the bureau for my liking anyway. I took a deep breath, my heart in my throat as I stalked the group, gathering stones as I went. My mind should have been spinning with a plan, but it was safe to say, my mind had blanked out of any of the sort. I only focused on them, refusing to let the insects out of my sight.

The first stone left my hand and clocked the one leading the group right in the helmet. He stumbled, his arms flailing to relieve the gonging in his head. The others snapped their gazes to the roofs.

"Come catch me, you motherfuckers!” I did not believe they understood a word I said, as they were looking at each other in disbelief and bewilderment, though not for long, as I released the rest of my stones to be entombed in their faces. A woman’s shrill voice could be heard from nearby. The Templar captain removed his helmet, only to be revealed that it was not, in fact, a man.

The woman, her pale skin and lips, stretched into a vehement snarl, shrieked orders in her peculiar, ugly language at her men to give chase. And hesitate, they did not. But I was already on the move by then, heading south, toward the Zion Gate. I had no idea where I was headed, only that I had to lead them as far from the bureau as possible. They chased me across roofs, through the streets and out of the city past startled civilians and guards, who did not bother to assist me.

My feet scraped the rough stones and dirt of the road as they pursued me. My adrenaline, it fueled me. I led them a long way, further and further away from Jerusalem into the farming fields with soft soil and crops with weeds sharp enough to tear one’s foot apart. But that did not stop me. I was surprised they gave chase as long as they did.

I would often let them almost catch up, to fool them into thinking they were gaining ground. But I knew what I was doing and never let them stand a chance of getting too close. I giggled as I played my devious mind games on them. I was as wild and reckless as thunder over the land, racing the eagles, soaring with the wind. There were times I believed I could fly, and that instance was one of them. They couldn’t capture me. Nobody could.

I never saw the knife coming. I could hear the swish of it slicing the air behind me, and I watched with a shock unknown as the blade point suddenly appeared repulsively in my kneecap. There was no pain, as the adrenaline overrode any of the sort. But it did hinder the ability to bend the knee and I went down, face first, into the sand. I squirmed to get up, my panic rising when I realized I could no longer move as quickly as I needed. The knife squelched when disturbed, causing bright red blood to spurt from the wound.

I looked behind me. The Templars were close, too close. I was losing my own game. I grunted, forcing myself up. I hobbled, dragging my crippled leg behind me like a cart. I suddenly felt like I carried the weight of the world. I was dangerously exposed, the easiest target practice. My body and lungs burned with fatigue. Every gasp for air was like a blade being jammed down my throat, much like the one in my leg.

I may have been stronger than I used to be, but the knife prevented flight. I was too weak to fight them. I had to hide. Only there was nowhere to go. The landscape was barren, filled only with sand, and a tree that jutted out a few yards away. I had to rest. I could run no further. If I did, I would die. I had no other options.

I was not used to climbing trees. I preferred the solidity of buildings beneath my feet, but it would have to do. In a blurry panic, I made for the tree. It was crooked and curled from years in the sun, and the knots made good footholds as I made my way up the trunk. The branches were sturdy, but only about midway up the tree. They then became less stable and that was when I really learned to trust my footing. My injured leg was useless, a rigid setback as it refused to be bent.

The shouting of the Templars soon filled the air. They hooted and hollered, their victory clear before them. So confident they were in their win that one of them even started coming up after me. They taunted me in their foul tongue and the fact that I could not understand them made me all the more terrified. I watched with short breaths as he grew closer and closer. He drew his sword, licking his lips like a rabid animal, his eyes crazed with the thrill of the hunt.

The branch snapped. The ground was not a short drop below and I watched. I watched with surprised eyes as he plummeted earthward, his wide eyes never taken off of me. I could hear his impact, the armor clanging like a bell. My hope for him having broken his neck was short lived when he got to his feet, enraged.

I exhaled, shaking as I straddled one of the thicker branches and held on for dear life. Their female leader hit him sharply, exclaiming at him. She drew an arrow from her quiver and loaded it into her crossbow. Her eyes, black and glinted, were unrelenting. They were fixed on me, never wavering. So focused was I on the sheer cruelty I saw in them that I only had seconds to shrink back when the arrow was fired at me.

She was deadly accurate. The arrow grazed the branch where I had been leaning over. I heard her shout furiously. I drew myself closer together, listening as she loaded another arrow in and shot it at me. I braced myself for the impact, muscles tense, but she, thankfully, missed again.

My breathing was hitched, but I was smiling. I could hear them begin to argue, irate that I had made them look like fools. They did not leave, though, only circled the tree like a pack of hungry dogs. They were going to wait me out.

“You are lucky we are patient, you sad sack of shit,” The woman began to threaten me in rather fluent Arabic, “Perhaps, if you climb down, we will feel forgiving enough to kill you quickly. If not, you can stay up there and starve. We’ve got all the time in the world.” She laughed viciously, her gaze the face of true evil. My mind, at the time, vaguely wondered if this was the woman who took Robert’s place, the one Altaïr was sent to assassinate. How anyone could mistake her for a man, I did not comprehend. She was too petite, no matter how much armor she threw on. But hell, she was tougher than many men.

I realized she was still watching me, awaiting a response. I thought about not saying a word, but I knew I had to keep them interested, on their toes. I would not let them go back and look into the bureau. I smirked.

“If anyone is going to die of starvation, it will be you, my friends. Starvation or boredom, whichever comes on faster. I have lived on the streets all my life, so I have ample experience in both departments.”

The look on her face was priceless. If eyeballs could physically pop out of one’s head, it would have happened then. The others did not speak Arabic, as they gave the woman a look of puzzlement, and later fear, as she gave a scream of infuriation. She lashed out at them, yanking a knife out of their belts and throwing it with deadly speed at me.

I had no time to react as the second knife had became embedded in my other leg, my bad leg, lodged just above the ankle. My mouth opened to scream, but nothing came out. I would not give them the satisfaction. I closed my eyes, doubling over and biting my tongue to counteract the pain.

My other leg had begun to pulsate with overwhelming agony, the knife protruding grotesquely from the kneecap. I had to pull it out or I could kiss my ass goodbye. There would be no possible movement with it lodged in my leg. I stuffed my mouth with my shirt, laying down my own blade and grabbing the handle of the dagger. I did not give myself time to pray to Allah, I just yanked.

The pain became white and I could not see. The veins in my neck strained as I screamed into my clothes. The point of the blade was no longer visible, but the knife was not completely out. A cascade of blood began to squirt out of the wound and flew like rain to the ground below.

With another squeal, I pulled the blade out, the flesh squishing sickeningly. Tears were flowing down my cheeks involuntarily. The knife was coated in blood and bits of meat. Bile climbed up into my throat and I immediately leaned over the edge towards the Templars, letting the vile, hideous contents of my stomach assault them.

They jumped back in comical horror. Soon followed after that was the bloody knife. I wiped my mouth, watching the blood, the color of burgundy, trickle from the wound and coagulate.

Next was my newest wound. I grabbed the hilt, bracing myself for the oncoming woe, but was found unprepared. I was blinded by anguish, rendered weak by the acuteness of it. One could have been sawing my foot off and it would have felt no different. I could hear the blade scrape bone, and I cried out, shuddering violently. It only took one tug and the knife came out looking similar to the other. I tossed that over the side, unaware of who it hit or where.

I leaned back against the trunk, waves of pure torture swamping me. My legs throbbed, the both of them. The blood had to be oozing out and falling like the rain in a storm. I was crying and sweating, unable to breathe. I hoped the scum below me grew impatient and left, or killed me. Either option sounded appealing.

But I knew I would not survive the coming hours leading to nightfall. I had to do something, else I bleed to death. I wished I had told Malik to come look for me earlier than tomorrow morning. He may have had to deal with the Templars, but at least, I would not reek as badly.
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My consciousness faded in and out, and my vision swam, but I always made sure to hang on to the branch tightly. Evening came quicker than I anticipated. The sounds of the night came and that relaxed me, oddly enough. I could not see the stars through the woven leaves and branches above me, but I knew they were there, watching. I did not matter anyway. Soon, I would be seeing just how brightly they burned.

My thoughts turned to Malik. He must be worried sick. I hated that. I hated that I was the cause of his concerns, but I could do nothing about it. Not with these assholes below me.

The soft glow of the fire illuminated four bodies. The smoke cooked the cool air. They were bedding down for the night. That’s what I assumed, as they were all lying down. They really did not plan on leaving. One would think they had something better to do with their lives than just sit around and harass a poor civilian. But then again, they were Templars and they had not exactly been kind to anyone as of late.

I turned my knife in my dirty fingers. I was still out of it from the pain, but I thought my legs had stopped bleeding. I had nothing to cover them up with, so the risk of infection was high. But there was nothing to be done.

Studying the camp below me, I weighed my options. I was not going to stay here and wait for them to leave. It could be, for lack of a better word, a boring stalemate. Plus, I did not exactly want to starve again. Even further, Malik would come looking for me eventually, and though I had seen him take down six guards, something told me that the woman who led these men may be more brutal than the entire Jerusalem guard combined.

So, if I wasn’t to stay, what then? The only way to escape was down. Falling wasn’t a good idea. I would have to be utter silence climbing down. A single noise would set them off, even if it wasn’t me. I would have to be careful. I hoped my knees would be strong enough to withstand my weight. At least, until I got away from them.

Seeing no other way out of this, I began my descent. My heart began to hammer like no other. My mind was a rush of pain and adrenaline. My legs begged for mercy, buckling every so often and leaving me clutching the tree like the mad one I was.

Tears began to blur my vision and I blinked them away rapidly. It was no time to panic, hanging from that tree. But if they saw me, I would be nothing more than mere chunks of meat on the ground by morning. I was practically sliding down the tree rather than climbing, the bark scratching loudly in the eerie silence. I cast quick, rattled glances below me, but not a soul was troubled. I let out hot breaths, continuing my perilous descent.

The closer I came to the bottom, the shakier my grip became. The crackling and snapping of the fire became my only aid in blocking the ungodly amount of noise I was making. My knees strained from the pressure and I envisioned them imploding. My vision turned shades of gray and white and I feared I would pass out. The loads of good that would do me. My grip would fade instantly with my consciousness and then it would be certain death.

What a sight I must have been. Clinging to the tree like the desperate beast I was. The Templars would surely not spare me a good laugh.

After what seemed like an endless odyssey, the softness of the sand greeted my tender feet. I dared not breathe, as the Templars were inches away. They breathed silently in their sleep and the woman clutched a blade near to her, like a child hugs their favorite toy. I swallowed.

My first instinct was to run, but I could not be that silent. I watched them for several long moments, awaiting a response, movement, anything. But they did none of that. My heartbeat threatened to reveal me and I clutched my knife.

Perhaps, if I could end this, they would no longer be a threat. I would just have to be extremely careful.

The men were twice my size and could smash my skull in their hands. But they were made susceptible when they exposed their necks. I tremblingly advanced with small steps to them. How was I going to do this? Especially without one of them screaming and alerting the others?

If I had any ounce of intelligence in me, I would have just turned and run. But I wasn’t intelligent. So with a shiver of bravery, I plunged the knife into the neck of the bastard closest me. His artery exploded in a spray of blood which coated me from arm to face. He gurgled and clutched his neck, choking on the thick liquid. I released the knife and watched in horror as he spasmed to his death.

I bit my tongue, pushing the impulse to heave away as I crawled to the next one. His throat erupted into a jet of blood, which he immediately and audibly began to cough on. I speared him again to silence him, but it was too late. The man next to him had begun to stir.

With a panicked growl, I wedged the blade lengthwise into his shoulder and then again into his neck. His eyes bulged and he tried to grab me. I plunged with all my weight onto the handle and ignored his weakening gropes. The blade sank deeper and deeper into his neck until I felt a small jolt. The blade then sunk into the blood rich soil and his head rolled away, eyes still startled wide open.

My breathing became no more as I watched the head bump into the only living body left. The woman was sitting up stick-straight, her eyes locked onto the head. She ogled it for several long seconds before she slowly gazed up at me, her eyes immense, black chasms that were glassy and crazed. She glared at me with enough hatred to dismember me.

“You bitch!” She bellowed. But I was on my feet, throwing my soiled knife right at her. I did not know if it hit my intended mark, and I didn’t want to stop and ask. I made for Jerusalem and did not look back.

My legs were burning like a wild fire, but I did not stop. If I did, I would collapse and give up. I tore for the gates, my vision beginning to blacken at the edges. If only I could beat it to the bureau, this race against my own mind.

I shoved past guards and civilians, falling often and bringing them down with me in my hysterical escape. The stones beneath my feet were becoming uneven and just remaining upright took all my willpower. My throat was shredded and my lungs were useless. The images of what had come to pass came wormed into the forefront of my mind, swirling and running together like the colors of a rainbow. If only it could be that pleasant…

Those thoughts jumbled my sense of direction. Was I even going the right way? Where was I? I was dizzy and lightheaded. Climbing the roofs was a struggle all in itself. The air seemed thinner up there. I spared a glance skyward and I could feel my body falling. Maybe this was it… My vision faded and came back, like the waves of the ocean.

Where was I? Where was … Malik? I could not be far from the bureau… My mind swam as I scrutinized the buildings near me. No, I was not far. Clutching my head, I pushed to my feet, wobbling. I had to get there. I had to see Malik…

I cannot even remember traversing the buildings to get to the bureau. To me, I just magically appeared there, the journey taken out of my memory. Perhaps I had blacked out, the walking dead. I wasn’t even sure what reality or dreams were anymore. There was no difference.

The lattice was open, a warm, inviting glow radiating from inside, a beacon in the night. “Malik…” My voice was gone. It was merely more than a rough whisper. And then I was plunging again. The impact was astounding in my ears. I groaned, the tears creating trails in the blood and grime on my face. I felt sticky and sickly, weak. “Malik…” I whimpered again.

He couldn’t hear me. Perhaps he wasn’t even here. The smell of sandalwood and dried ink greeted my nose and I inhaled, becoming weaker still. Oh, but he was here. I could faintly hear screaming, two different men screaming at one another. Malik and someone else. Was Altaïr here? Why would he be here? Why else would Malik be yelling at the top of his lungs?

The argument was fading in and out, ringing in my ears, as if I were hearing it through a tunnel. And then, it went quiet. He would find me… He would save me… But it had gone permanently black at that point.

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The darkness was penetrated only by an orb of light, coming from directly in front of me. I ran to it with all of my strength, but it came no closer. The gloom sucked me down. It grabbed at me with inky hands and pinned me down to its everlasting depths. I was drowning. I couldn’t breathe. My arms flailed to grab something, anything to bring me salvation.

But the hands held me down. They did not let go and I had no choice but to surrender to the temptation of the abyss. It was strangely warm and safe down here. The hands would not let anything hurt me. They drifted across my face and through my hair, caressing my skin. I leaned into the gentle touch, wishing for them to continue. And they did, on and on until I felt as if I was hypnotized by the phantom hands.

The illusion began to fade when pain found me. It began to pulsate slightly in my lower extremities, enough to wake me. I blinked awake, realizing I was never really asleep. A lantern burned right in front of me a few feet away, a hazy glow in the darkness. And there were hands lacing through my hair. Well, one really.

Malik’s soft breathing was somewhere above me. I was lying down, completely swathed in blankets, which explained the warmth. It was dark and quiet. As my eyes adjusted, I soon discovered I was on the ledge that lined the walls of the library, Malik’s sleeping quarters. Why I was up here, I had no idea, but I did not inquire.

“Ugh…” My head felt like a stone being beaten over and over until it cracked. My hand went to my forehead.

“Shh, you’re all right. You’re safe now.” Malik’s voice was warm and gentle, close to my face. I could not see him, but I felt my head was cradled in his lap. I reached for his face, and a hand laced through mine, easing me.

“What happened?” I croaked, my head groggy of the past events.

“I found you lying on the patio in a rather large pool of blood. Your poor legs cannot take many more blows.”

I struggled to find his face in the obscurity. Sitting up proved to be a challenge and I found I could not handle it. My world spun and bent in alarming ways and I collapsed back onto his lap.

“Easy, habibti,” he cooed, his voice concerned, “You need to rest. Movement will not aid your health any.” His hand rested on my shoulder to restrict me, but he rubbed circles lightly on my skin.

I massaged my sore head, struggling to remember the confrontation, but the only confrontation I could recall was the one I overheard when I landed in the sunroom. “Who were you arguing with?”

“The man who took care of the bureau while I was away,” I detected a slight note of contempt, “I was making arrangements with him.”

“By arguing?” I laughed skeptically. Malik had a way with people.

“Well, I warned him he may want to learn to treat women better, or it may get him killed.” Yes, there was definitely disdain in his voice.

I said nothing, instead looking through the dark room for the said man. I saw no trace of him. In fact, I couldn’t see much of anything. But the lamplight did illuminate the counter and a sack that rested upon it. Brows knitted, I questioned, “What kind of arrangements?”

I heard him take a deep breath and that was the first clue that all was not well. “He’s going to become the permanent Dai here.”

My heart actually gave stop when I read between the lines of that statement. “Permanent? Here?!

“Yes, Rajah. Altaïr has made me his advisor and second-in-command. I must stay in Masyaf. I only returned to see to it that the bureau was in working order and to retrieve what is mine.”

I heard nothing over the sound of my world crashing to pieces. He would be gone…Forever…

“I see.” My voice was dead, my body going numb as a defense mechanism to protect itself.

Malik could sense my tension. He tried to ease the blow, but there was no way to. “I know it is quite a big change, Rajah. But it had to happen. You’ll… you’ll become used to it.”

“I don’t think so.” I was dead. Or on my way to becoming so. Why? Why was he leaving me? I thought he would… I thought he would stay here and all would be better. But I meant no such thing to him. The Brotherhood came first. It would always come first, no matter what I had to say otherwise. I just never expected that giving him up would be so… insufferable.

How?! How would I endure that hell again? I barely survived two and a half months! How would I handle the rest of my life?! Four and a half months ago, when faced with the decision of staying or fleeing, I looked forward to the day when I could take my freedom and run like the wind into the mountains and the sky. Now, I would throw that freedom and everything I knew away just to be with Malik. So I would not be alone again…

By then, Malik could see that I was in distress, from the lack of any color in my voice or demeanor, the way I shut myself up. And he was troubled by it, trying to relieve it. “I know Masyaf is a long way from here, but I’ll always be here for you. Always.”

Being there in spirit would not be enough. It did not help me when he was away. I now need his physical presence like air or Allah would do away with me. I turned towards him. My heart fled from my mouth, along with the tears. “How can you put this on my shoulders? After all that we’ve been through…”

My sentence trailed off. No words could describe the sense of betrayal. I thought he understood, to some degree, how I felt. But I had never underestimated someone so much in my life.

Malik was pained by my words. I did not need to see him to tell, no did I want to. Just listening was enough. His hand retracted from my shoulder. “I thought… I thought this would be what you wanted.” He tried to hold back his emotions, but they leaked through. I could hear the devastation in that single sentence, his world crushed.

But it did not compare to what boiled inside me. Not only was I absolutely rendered lost and shattered without him, I was angered. He was clearly blind. He thought I did not mean anything of what I had said. He wanted me to go away. He wanted me gone, to disappear… like I never even existed….

“You think I want you to go away?!” I screeched, “Have you any idea the depression I’ve gone through, the nightmares I have had? If you went away and left me behind, I’d… I don’t know what I would do..” The tears burned my eyes, my throat knotted up. But at least, I felt pain that was enough to make me cry. I would rather have that than the terrifying nothingness….

“What?” Malik was, at first, taken aback by my passionate rant and then amused. “Oh, Rajah..” He began to cackle with merriment.

My cheeks flushed and my insides reeled. “Why are you laughing, you bastard?!” I was furious he found my feelings funny. I literally meant nothing to him!

Malik was still snickering when he began to speak again. “I – I wasn’t going to abandon you. When I said I came back to get what’s mine, I meant I was coming back to get you. I had no other reason to return,” I could feel him pull me tighter to him. “I thought you were upset because you would have to leave Jerusalem behind.”

“Oh,” I frowned, my cheeks even redder. “Well, you could have just said that instead of being so cryptic!” I snapped. The way he worded that made me believe he was really leaving me. But underneath the embarrassment and irritation, I was unfathomably alleviated of worry.

“I am sorry. I thought I made it clear enough that you are mine.” He said suggestively, running his hand along my arm possessively.

I shivered, imagining the innocent yet wicked grin he bore. “Clear as mud.”

“Clever one.” He growled lowly, leaning down to press a long, lingering kiss to my lips. I was faint and oh so happy he was not leaving. I gripped his neck as he pulled away, holding him near.

“When will we leave?”

“When you are well. In a few days, perhaps. Given you don’t run around and make trouble. You’re lucky you can still walk. Had I found you later than I had, your legs might have to have been amputated.”

I cringed. Luck had been with me. I may never be that lucky again. “Well, I sure gave those Templars trouble.” I recounted the story to him, every gory detail. Malik grimaced when I reached the end of my heroic tale.

“And that is why you should let me do the distraction work. Women and fighting do not mix.”

I snorted. “That woman who led the Templars sure handled being in battle well.”

“I wonder if she is the one Altaïr informed me about. The one who stood in for Robert…” Malik’s tone was observant, “But why would she still be here?”

“I know not, only that she tried to kill me.” The image of her malicious face would be one I would carry with me the rest of my life.

“At least, she did not succeed in that endeavor.” Malik murmured. In his hold, nothing seemed wrong. I smiled and closed my eyes when the wooziness set in again, the room spinning in wondrous colors.

“Malik, I’m feeling a little…dizzy.”

He hushed me softly, “Go to sleep, habibti.” He pressed his lips to my forehead and the world righted itself steady.

“Don’t go.” I pleaded, fearing he really would leave when I fell asleep. I could not be where he was not.

His hand ran down my cheek soothingly, “I would not dream of it. I will be here when you wake.”

“Thank you…” My voice drifted away. All that mattered was that he was close. He stroked my cheek, and I was lost, gone, gone, gone away….
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“Are you ready, Rajah?”

I snapped my head toward Malik and he watched me expectantly from atop his horse. I nodded quickly and climbed aboard my own mount.

I had found myself, again, going back to four and a half months ago, when I had the chance to escape the bureau and the crazed life I had seemingly fallen into. Oh, how I wanted to leave. Oh, how I was afraid of what would happen to me if they refused to let me leave. All I had wanted was to run free again, to leave it all behind and go back to my own version of what one could call a normal, everyday life on the streets.

Flash forward to a few days ago where I did not think I could face that life again. Alone, starving, watching the days pass by, thinking it would all never change. A predictable existence. And now I stood on a great precipice, about to dive in head first to a bottom unknown. And never feeling more hopeful.

I was reminiscent. I did not miss my old life, nor even the freedom of it, because with freedom came a price and that price was loneliness and starvation. Nothing to look forward to. I was only saying goodbye to it. And Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, my beautiful, troubled home. I would belong here. I would always belong here. It was home to me. I would miss it. I would miss the heat. I would miss the ruggedness, the toughness, the beauty and mystique. My little ledge on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. My hideout in the wilderness, with blue waters and untouched nature, quiet and undiscovered. And of course, Malik’s Bureau, which had become more of a home to me than any other place in this land. I would miss all of that.

But it was time to move on, time to turn my back on everything. So it was goodbye to my beloved city. Goodbye to everything I knew. It was time to let go in order to grasp onto something better.

I glanced over at Malik, chasing away his worry by smiling reassuringly at him. It would pass, like everything else. He grinned back and kicked his horse up the hill. I followed him greedily. I did not look back that time as I sped ahead with all out of my control, laughing the whole time. I promised myself, someday, I would return to see my home again. But for that moment, it was farewell as I ran onward with Malik to Masyaf, to my new life.