In the end, after all the struggles and fighting, all the strife and pain, Altaïr's library offers Ezio little answers – only the knowledge that for all his wisdom and power even Altaïr did not know what it was all for, and that in the end he gave himself into the task regardless of not knowing its purpose. Dying, in the most lonely way, for his cause, sending the last of his children to safety and giving himself up, locked away like the secrets he spent his whole life chasing and did not reach.
There is nothing in the library now but memories – and ghosts of duties long passed.
Ezio is tired. Tired of not knowing and more tired of wanting to know. Years, decades he's spent chasing golden phantoms with a title and a name ringing in his mind like distant church bells, calling him home towards a place he doesn't know, and now he's starting to finally realise isn't ever going to welcome him. There is a world out there with answers and peace, but it's not open to him, it will never be open to him.
He's the Prophet, and like a boy running an errand… he's played his part. And it seems that is all he will ever know.
Ezio bows his head to Altaïr's remains and stands, the last of the Masyaf Keys in hand. Then he turns, begrudgingly, to where Altaïr had set his Apple of Eden, finally letting go of the burden he'd carried for a great majority of his life… to pass the burden over to another.
Ezio approaches the Apple. "Another artefact," he murmurs and for a moment imagines himself taking it, continuing Altaïr's decades long quest for truth that the device refused to reveal to him, only tempting him with snippets and knowledge he obviously did not understand – chipping away that mountain of the First Civilisation until another appeared to take his place and continue the quest, until a whole line of Assassins sacrificed themselves on the altar of knowledge and power, until one day maybe one of them would have all the pieces and the codex of the ages would be complete and finally…
"No," Ezio says and backs away from the Apple. He will not take it. He had not kept the one he took from the Borgia, and he will not take this one. "You will stay here. I have seen enough for one life."
It is not the Apple's will, obviously – the artefact flares out in vivid brilliance, in anger perhaps, he cannot tell, but he knows this feeling. This sensation of being watched... of being known.
"Desmond?" Ezio calls into the light, while shielding his eyes from it.
He's talking to me?
"I heard your name once before, Desmond, long time ago, and now it lingers in my mind, like an image from a dream," Ezio says, looking round, searching. "I don't know where you are or by which means you can hear me… but I know you are listening."
He waits for an answer, thinking he must have imagined the voice, but knowing he did not imagine the sensation – he thinks he's known it all his life. Minerva had named it, but only now Ezio dares to address it – the watcher of his life.
There is a shimmer in front of him and in front of the Apple, in the shape of a man, glowing golden with a hand outstretched, palm held down, as if he is resting it upon something.
Oh, Ezio. I think I regret that the most.
Ezio frowns at the shimmer, its features just barely discernible, and lowers his hand. It's a man, young, with short cropped hair and clean features, his clothing simple and strange. He's looking down to what Ezio cannot see, an invisible thing he is touching – the hand upon it burning golden.
"Desmond," Ezio says, and the young man looks up, his eyes solid gold. "You are Desmond."
Oh, what am I doing? the golden shimmer asks, blinking, seeing him but also not. What is this? I can see Ezio – in Masyaf?
"Yes," Ezio says and reaches out to touch him – but like Minerva and Juno, Desmond is only a ghost, see through and formless, there is nothing there to touch but light. "What is this?"
Desmond stares at him with blazing eyes and then closes them. I'm going to die, he says and bows his head. This is so fucked up.
It's not what one might picture a god saying. Of all the things Ezio had imagined Desmond might be like, this is not it. This is not it at all. Desmond is all but burning in front of him, wisps of flames rising from the back of his hand as something scorches through him. And there is nothing Ezio can do and so little he understands.
"Why?" Ezio asks. "Why all of this?"
We're all just pieces in their machine, Desmond says, shaking his head like it's heavy, like he's tired. Things, dominoes – they set us up just to tip us over just right. Altaïr, Ezio, Connor, me, all of us – just links in a damned chain, each more ignorant than the last.
Ezio shakes his head, confused, and Desmond closes his glowing eyes. He looks like the stories of Djinns Sofia had read to Ezio in Acre – a burning spirit of power and misery.
"What chain – for what reason?" Ezio demands. "What is the purpose of all of this?"
Desmond bows his head. Juno is going to win, she is going to take over the world, enslave everyone – and I can't do anything to stop it because if I don't do this, then the world will burn and billions will die and I can't –
He trails of and shakes his head again, quicker, urgent. I'm so sorry, Ezio. This is so unfair for all of us, but I'm the sorriest for you. You tried so hard and you got so few answers and wasted so many years of your life serving a purpose that wasn't even yours. They just used you. I'm so sorry.
Ezio is tired. Tired of the half answers and mysteries and questions always going unanswered – he is tired of all the regret and loss and bitterness. He's tired of all of this.
"Then give me those years back!" he shouts, near senseless. "Give me all the time I wasted back! So many years I spent serving your purpose, not even knowing your will, and now you say it was for nothing? Give me back everything I lost, everything I sacrificed, and I will call myself satisfied being your Prophet."
Desmond looks at him, astonished, his eyes burning brighter.
That would fuck everything up, wouldn't it? he asks and looks down. Visibly, his resolve steels and he smiles, vicious. Oh yes, it would.
Ezio awakens both slower and faster than he is used to – his heart pounding in his chest and bleariness of confused dreams weighing his head down. He is on a bed, soft and comfortable, his head on a pillow, and there is a scent in the air that makes his eyes water and his throat ache. It smells like –
There is someone in the bed with him, a heavy weight pressing down on the mattress behind him and the duvet over him. Slowly, Ezio turns, careful with his neck – only it does not hurt, and neither does his back, or the shoulder he is putting weight on. His shoulder is bare, and the skin of it is smooth and firm and lacking blemishes in a way he scarcely remembers – and his chin, as it brushes against it, is hairless.
Atop his bedspreads lays a man, long-limbed and slim, lying still in slumber or in unconsciousness. His back is to Ezio, and he cannot tell his face – but he can see his hair, short cropped and familiar.
Slowly, Ezio rises to look around – and then quickly covers his mouth to stifle his gasp.
This room. This bed – he knows them. The desk, the chair, the clothes abandoned on top of it and spilling onto the floor, the curtains hanging above the bed frame, the window – how many times had he slipped out through it to avoid a scolding by his parents, how many times had he clambered in through it to circumvent his father at the Palazzo doors, how many –
It is his room, his first room, his childhood room – lost so long ago to history and to other occupants. Auditore Palazzo had been first claimed by the Pazzi after what remained of their family had to flee, then by the Medici once the Pazzi had but been slain. Later, Ezio stopped keeping track of who owned the place and who lived within it – by then, the memory was no longer an incessant pain, but an old scar, a bearable thing he was accustomed to, but which no longer caused him agony.
It smells like things he'd forgotten, that Ezio scarcely dares to name. Home, and safety, and family – Claudia's perfumes, and mother's cooking, and ink, and paper, and money…
Ezio closes his eyes and inhales, slow and shaking, his heart aching, scarcely daring to think it, never mind believe it.
But he feels it.
The lack of the twist in his stomach, where an old gut wound forever made its presence known. How his back feels like nothing at all, not a hint of strain or ache, not a single stiff muscle. His body feels like nothing at all. No crick in his neck, no stiffness of shoulders, no aching anywhere. When he touches his stomach, slow, there's nothing there – neither hair nor puckered scars. His skin is whole, unblemished – young. The hand pressing upon it feels scarcely calloused.
Ezio releases a breath slowly, smothering a disbelieving laugh.
Young. He feels young in a way he can barely remember.
There is sunlight screening through the curtains by the window, and Ezio turns to it, basking in the sensations – and the lack of others. Then, slowly, he turns to look at the other on his bed, lying loose and bare upon the duvet.
It cannot be anyone but Desmond himself, can it? And what a thing to behold – a god, unconscious, sleeping. If he even is a god. He looks very much like a man – a tall man, young and lean. The fires of divine power have died down, if they were ever here at all, and the only light upon him is the one of the sun itself, where it casts its rays upon Desmond's bare legs.
Slow, Ezio leans over him to get a better look at him – to see his face without the shine of divine power obscuring it. Desmond has turned his face to the pillow, which hides his features and makes it impossible for Ezio to tell if his eyes are still radiant with godly light – but Ezio can see the line of his jaw and cheek, the shape of his nose. It's… familiar.
As Ezio tries to put a finger to the familiarity and pin it down in his mind, the door to his room is thrown open.
"Ezio, good morning, get up – father has – work –"
Ezio looks up, slow, as the man sauntering into his room as though he owns it stalls beside the dresser to stare at him – and Desmond.
Ezio lifts his head slowly, feeling his eyes widen, his breath catch.
Lord above, he'd forgotten how his brother actually looked like. It had been so many years, so many decades – Federico had become a thing of distant painful past, and Ezio had first thought of him often, and then rarely, and then almost never. He'd never admitted it, though Claudia had, once, in the middle of night of pained drinking, not long after their mother had died, "I cannot recall what they looked like now, can you?" Ezio hadn't been able to answer then.
Federico looks like a stranger, almost, but also like something terribly dear.
"Oh my," Federico says, covering his mouth with his hand, his eyes shining, and quickly Ezio looks down at what he is looking at.
Desmond, lying bare before him, with Ezio leaning over him.
Ezio looks up sharply, his eyes widening further, and Federico's grin becomes more and more apparent the longer he looks. "Brother – " Ezio says, and saying it almost strangles him.
"Shh, shh," Federico says and quickly closes the door behind him. "Don't panic, Little Brother, your secret is safe with me – but god, what nerve! Bringing a man here, didn't think you had it in you, Ezio."
Ezio draws a breath and releases it, trying to think of how to proceed from here. Federico is on his side, he can tell right away – Federico would keep this secret, or whatever he thought this secret was. But Ezio cannot quite recall what Federico might do with such a secret. There had been teasing between them, they'd been playful with each other, he recalls that. Federico would make fun of him, no doubt. And Ezio isn't sure he can afford it.
"Brother, get out," Ezio says, hastily trying to push covers over Desmond, to hide him.
"Now, now, Ezio, I can't help you hide this if you send me away, now can I?" Federico asks and leans quickly to look. "Oh, very nice –"
"Federico," Ezio hisses, and it almost cuts at his throat to say. "Please, get out."
"Oh, please? Things must be serious indeed," Federico says, but some of his devilish mirth settles, and he holds up his hands in a sign of surrender. "Peace, Little Brother, I won't look. Who is he, then? I thought you only had eyes for Cristina."
Oh, Cristina. She too would be alive, now, wouldn't she, and not yet so far removed from him. And of course, thinking of her makes Ezio think of Sofia, whom he had left in Masyaf – in another time. Lord, she wouldn't even be born yet, would she –
Ezio pushes such thoughts aside as quick as he can, before they too can threaten to strangle his voice. He cannot become overcome by emotion and regret now, though so many vie for his attention. "Brother, Federico," he says, as steady as he can manage. "Please, leave us."
Federico hesitates, looking at him with actual concern and then clears his throat. "Can he scale the walls?" he asks pointedly. "Because if he can't, Brother, you will have a hard time sneaking him out of here. You will need help."
Ezio hesitates, glancing down at Desmond. He hasn't yet had the time to come to terms with being here, never mind coming up with what to do with the one who came with him. Hiding Desmond from sight would be a start, and hiding him from his family, yes… that seems a likely option, from Federico's view. He only sees a man, after all, bare upon Ezio's bed, and draws the easiest conclusions.
But Desmond might not be a man at all, and he might not be content with being hidden. And even if he was hidden, then what? What would he do, where would he go – what would he expect of Ezio, in return for this incredible gift he has given him?
Ezio hesitates, and Federico clears his throat, awkward. "I can make a distraction for you," he offers. "Keep Father and Mother and Claudia from seeing him."
Ezio draws a breath – and in that moment, they hear Mother calling, "Federico, Ezio, Claudia, Petruccio! Breakfast is ready!"
She's in the hall, and with a blink Ezio can see her through the wall – walking towards them.
Under Ezio's arm Desmond flinches, and Ezio makes a decision – launching himself up from the bed and, careless of his state of dress, pushing Federico by the shoulders back and towards the door. "You want to help me – distract her now," he says urgently. "Keep her out."
"Will do – but oh do you owe me, Little Brother," Federico says with a wild grin. "I want to hear all about this."
"Never," Ezio says firmly, opens the door, shoves his brother out, and then closes it behind him. Then, his heart racing, Ezio turns around, to look at the bed.
Desmond is sitting up slowly, blinking – his eyes dark and fully human. "What?" he asks, looking at him. "Ezio?"
"Yes," Ezio agrees, breathing deeply in and out and then putting a finger on his lips. "Shush."
Desmond stares at him confusedly, but stays silent as Ezio tilts his head towards the door, to listen. Outside, Federico is talking to mother, laughing, "Trust me, Mother, you don't even want to see – the state of him, it's appalling. Went to bed without a shred of clothing and then tripped out of it and fell flat on his face, it's ludicrous. Better give him a moment to pick up his pride from the floor…"
Ezio closes his eyes, his heart torn between pangs of nostalgia and pain and old brotherly annoyance. But, fun though he makes of it, Federico keeps their mother away, and with a laugh Maria goes to wake Claudia instead.
Ezio exhales and looks at Desmond, who is slowly, awkwardly, pulling the duvet over his bare waist. Ezio's eyes are drawn quickly over him, taking in an array of black marks on his left inner arm and the lightning scars upon his right, before he snaps his eyes up to Desmond's face. He looks flushed, embarrassed, it is a very human look on him, but he doesn't look angry – only confused.
Slowly, Ezio dares to leave the door and approach him – picking up his brache as he goes from the chair. "Thank you, my lord," Ezio whispers. "And apologies for the situation. I was not expecting this," he says, and quickly pulls the brache on, covering at least that much of himself. "But I thank you for this gift, sincerely."
Desmond blinks at him slowly and then looks around. "This is the Auditore Palazzo, then," he says softly. "It worked?"
"Aye. My Brother is over three decades dead, so… I daresay it did," Ezio says, approaching the bed and the man sitting upon it. "I did not expect you to join me, Desmond."
"I…" the man says, lowering his eyes. "I'm – sorry, I couldn't help myself," he admits then. "I didn't really want to die. And I would have, either way."
Ezio sits on the side of the bed, watching him. Desmond glances at him after a while and offers him a sheepish smile before shaking his head. "You're going to change the world, Ezio, that's a given," the man from another time says. "And it will undo my world. I won't ever be born, everything that happened to me, won't. So… I…" he shrugs, uncomfortable. "Sorry."
"I don't mind," Ezio says slowly. "And I understand. I only… I'm unsure as to what I can do for you here." He'd hoped to change the past, yes, but – this undoubtedly complicates things.
Desmond smiles wryly. "I wouldn't say no to some clothes," he offers.
"Ah," Ezio says, and quickly gets up. "Of course."
He digs through his dresser for hopefully clean clothing that might fit the man – he is markedly taller than Ezio, though, so they will all be undoubtedly too short. Desmond doesn't complain at all, however, accepting what Ezio hands him with a grateful nod and then giving the hose a slightly confused look.
"What is it?" Ezio asks, while finishing dressing himself, pulling on breeches over his hose and then pulling on a shirt.
"I've – never worn something like this," Desmond admits with a cough and quickly moves to pull them on, his motions awkward. "Clothing in my time is – different."
His time, hm? "Put the brache on first," Ezio instructs him before he gets too far. "The white one – that one. Hose go over it, and breeches over that."
"Thanks," Desmond says, coughing, and does as ordered. The hose are too small on him, and fit very tightly over his calves, but they don't split at least – and breeches are a worse fit still. The shirt at least doesn't seem too small on him, though the man looks a little awkward.
"I don't think my doublets will fit you," Ezio says apologetically – they're tailored to him. "A vest perhaps?"
"Thank you," Desmond says with a sigh, accepting the cloth and pulling it on – it only barely buttons up at the bottom. He coughs awkwardly and looks at Ezio. "Um, now what?"
Ezio doesn't know. What he wants to do is step outside, see his family as it was in a long lost memory and bask in their existence and happiness for at least one stolen moment – and then set out to change the past, the best he could. He needs to find out the date, the year and then investigate the Pazzi, perhaps kill Uberto Alberti before he can cause any damage, unearth the conspiracy before it had a chance of coming to fruition.
But what of Desmond, in the meanwhile?
Ezio tugs at the lapels of his doublet, a little unused to wearing such things, and then steps forward. "Whatever you want to do, my lord, I will help you in any way I can," he offers. "You have given me a gift greater than I daresay I even know yet – anything I can do for you, I will."
Desmond looks at him silently for a moment, his expression one of mixed emotion and regret. "I don't know," he admits quietly. "I don't know what I want. I just want to live."
"Then I will make sure you can do so happily," Ezio promises. "Though it might take me some time to get in a position where I can, I will make sure it happens."
The man in front of him lets out an amused huff at that and shakes his head. "I have no doubt you could," he agrees and stands up. "I guess I have to go and hide somewhere now," he says and looks away, at the window. "One of the Assassin tombs maybe, no one even knows where they are, I could hide there."
Ezio nods slowly, eyeing him warily. He'd thought something similar himself, but now that it's been voiced… "If you think it necessary," he agrees. And if he can get to them…
Desmond shrugs. "It's fine," he says. "I'm used to hiding."
"Hm," Ezio answers, considering him and the hint of regret in his eyes. "Or I could introduce you to my family as a friend in need," he offers. "There is space for you here. My parents will understand."
Desmond hesitates at that, so obviously tempted by the offer that Ezio makes up his mind there and then. "Come," he says, and holds out his hand. "I will introduce you as a friend, if that pleases you – and should my family not offer you hospitality, then we can think of something else."
"You sure that's a good idea?" Desmond asks hesitantly, but takes his hand.
Not at all, Ezio muses. "We will hardly know, unless we try," he offers. And honestly, he would not leave this man to wander the streets of Firenze by himself, when he doesn't even know how to properly dress himself in the time. Who knows what abilities and powers Desmond has.
Better to keep him close, for now.
Federico had only glimpsed Ezio's beau, but it had been quite the glimpse indeed. Though Ezio has gotten better with his trysts since the times of first courting Cristina, Federico had always thought him firmly of the sort to be persuaded by female flesh only, indeed, more so than perhaps anyone else Federico had known. The moment Ezio got the gist of it, he was shameless and relentless and oh so well received among the women he courted. Cristina first and foremost.
To find a naked man in his bed was quite the turn, really. Especially so since Federico had not seen the signs of it happening before, and he usually had a fairly decent sense of what Ezio was getting up to any given time. Bedding a man, while not the worst thing Ezio could do, was not something he'd expected. And even Ezio generally knew better than to bring his bedfellows to the palazzo.
It was the only firm rule their Father had laid upon them – no visitors he had not approved in their home, ever. Even Duccio wasn't welcome without a warning, and he and Claudia were all but officially betrothed.
And now this.
"Surely you are jesting," Federico says flatly, at the sight of Ezio slipping out of his room, hand in hand with his rather… strikingly handsome and tall beau. "Ezio, Father will skin you alive. And then me, for not putting better restraints on you."
"He will not," Ezio says, with calm which makes Federico seriously wonder if Ezio had had the time to get drunk since Federico's departure from his room. "I'm certain Father will understand."
He would not. Or rather, Ezio does not understand why he wouldn't. Ezio doesn't know what their house actually is, nor the secrets it harbours. And he's always been the more obedient son, outwardly, and their parents are generally forgiving of smaller slips. By some luck or by charisma alone, Ezio had never made their Father angry, properly angry. And this without question would make even Giovanni Auditore lose his calm.
And as much as Federico enjoys Ezio's suffering, he doesn't want to see him suffer for slights he does not actually seem to understand the severity of.
"No," Federico says firmly, looking between his little brother and his tryst – who is, at a glance, seems somewhat older than Ezio, which certainly will not make this any better. "No, you will go outside, and if you must introduce him to Father and Mother, you will say at breakfast that you've made a new friend, that you would like to invite him for a visit, perhaps, and then you will introduce him, after Father and Mother have agreed. That way, Father will not kill you. Or me. Or him."
Ezio's guest shifts his footing uncomfortably and Ezio sighs. "Federico," he says, making an uncomfortable face. "You worry for nothing. I'm sure it will be fine."
"I'm sure it won't be," Federico says and offers Ezio's man a very pointed smile. "You understand, don't you?" he asks, daringly. The man is older and hopefully not quite as gullible as Ezio, having lived this long being what he undoubtedly is. "One must take care with these things."
The man hesitates, meeting his eyes and then looking away. "Ezio," the beau says, quiet. "I don't mind."
Ezio hesitates, looking down, and then looking at the man he was with. "I don't go back on my promises," Ezio murmurs.
"I know," the man says with a brief smile. "And you're not. But I think you might have… forgotten some things. It has been a while for you. Think about it. Imagine someone – like Laura or Ermanno bringing someone to the island, for example."
Federico blinks at that, curious, while Ezio looks a little taken aback. "Ah. Yes, I see your point," Ezio admits with a slightly embarrassed cough and shakes his head. "But have you a place –?"
"I'm sure I can figure something out," the beau says, nodding. "I learned from the best – and you can find me later, can't you?"
Ezio hums, low in his throat. "I daresay I can, at that," he says and looks at Federico. "Very well, Brother, you will have your way. Will you help distract everyone while I help him slip out, then?"
"All rejoice, he sees sense," Federico says, all the while looking between the pair with mounting curiosity. Lord, it sounds like they know each other very well indeed. And who are Laura and Ermanno, he would need to question Ezio about them later. "Right, I will go and play the distraction, you sneak him out the back. If I start on about the rooftop again, you will know they're coming for you."
"Thank you, Federico," Ezio says, half puzzled and half amused, and then nods to his beau, turning to lead him past. Federico looks after them curiously – quite the lovely sight, that – and then shakes his head. After breakfast, he would have Ezio by his doublet lapels and have him confess everything. But first, brotherly duties call.
So Federico saunters towards the dining hall and announces his arrival with, "Ezio's taste in clothing is getting worse, I swear, he wore a matching doublet to his hose, atrocious – I sent him back to change."
"Yes, because you know better," Claudia scoffs at him and points a piece of bread his way. "You should be more worried about your own doublets, honestly – look at that thing. I'm ashamed to be known as your sister."
Federico grins, and goes to mess up her hair – all the while keeping an eye on everyone to make sure no one is about to head that way. "Aww, have your friends been ogling me again? Sorry to say they're all way too young for me, but it's always lovely to be appreciated."
"Oh, ew," Claudia says, making a face. "And no, they've been making fun of you, because you are terrible – Father, tell Federico to stop being terrible."
"Federico, stop being terrible," their Father says obligingly, not looking up from the letter he's reading. "What was Ezio actually doing, Federico?" he asks.
Crud. "Something stupid," Federico says, quite honestly. "I talked some sense to him, and he will be sensible, and out of brotherly loyalty I can't say more than that."
Giovanni glances up from his letter, gauges his face and then nods, satisfied. "You do credit to all big brothers out there," he says amusedly. "But if he's running out of the window, you will be doing his chores today."
"If he does, I will chase him down and make him do mine instead," Federico scoffs – and Ezio damn well better not.
Ezio, thankfully, isn't running. He comes to the dining hall not a minute later, looking calm but for the slightest lapse at the doorway – he pauses there, hesitating for a moment, glancing at Father, at Petruccio who is peering at some book, at Claudia. It doesn't look quite suspicious, or like he expects for Federico to have tattled on him, but it is still a moment where he pauses.
And Father notices. "Ezio," he says slowly. "Come, Son, sit. I have errands for both you and your brother."
"… Good morning, Father," Ezio says, strangely subdued, and steps in the room. Federico looks him over quickly for anything incriminating, but there is nothing – his beau left no visible marks on him on the way from Ezio's room to the back door, at least.
There is something a little off in the way Ezio moves though. Federico glances how he sits and then quickly grabs something to put into his mouth before he can break character and smirk as his brother knowingly. Oh, but he is not going to let Ezio live this down.
"There are some messages I want you to run, Ezio – and Federico will be carrying payments for our contractors," Father says, putting the letter he was reading away. "Also, I need a bill of sale from an associate, Ezio should be able to pick that up on his way today."
Ezio nods slowly, looking over the food spread out over the table. "Bill of sale of what?" he asks, taking the utensils in hand.
"Some construction materials, nothing that interests you, I am sure," Father says, rolling his eyes. "But we need it for our paperwork, so, carry it with due diligence."
"Of course," Ezio says, shifting where he sits and looking around the room.
Federico hides his own observation into considering the piece of bread he took. Must have been quite the night to make Ezio so solemn – that tall beau of his must've quite shaken up his world, it seems. It's amusing – if also a little concerning. Federico would need to check up on the man, as well – to have this kind of effect on his brother is no small thing.
Mother comes in then, carrying a pan while the maid carries another – they set them on the table between them all, and Petruccio quickly puts his book away. "There you are," Mother says, looking at Ezio. "And dressed fully for once, good."
"Mother, good morning," Ezio says, rising quickly to kiss her cheek.
"Morning, dear," Maria says, patting his shoulder. "Sit and eat, you will have a busy day today."
Ezio nods, his eyes lingering on her for a moment before he sits, again, just a tad awkward. "Mother, Father, I have a request," he says then, not so much as casting a glance at Federico, good. "I have a friend in need of a place to stay for a while, I was hoping he could, at least for a couple of nights, stay with me here at the Palazzo."
That makes their father pause a little, hesitating in middle of taking a portion of the food. "A friend?" he repeats. "This friend wouldn't be Cristina, would it?"
"Is something the matter with her father?" Maria asks with concern. "I saw him at the market the other day, he seemed to be in high spirits."
"No, not Cristina," Ezio says, coughing. "Cristina is fine, as far as I know. It's someone else. I was hoping to introduce you to him – before Federico and I headed out for today, or perhaps somewhere in between."
Father and mother share a look, Mother hesitating as she sits down, and father leaning back a little. Ezio looks between them warily, and Federico can just imagine what they must be thinking – the risks they have to concern themselves with.
Mother makes a slightest gesture, and Father hums. "I assume your friend is at loose ends, then?" Father asks. "Since their schedule seems so loose."
Ezio hums in agreement, reaching for the food.
"Very well – after you pick up the bill of sale, can you bring your friend to the bank? Around noon should do fine. I will see you there and you may introduce us," Father says and turns to the food as well. "And then we shall see."
Federico almost winces at that with sympathy. Introducing someone you've slept with to Father at the bank. Ouch.
"That sounds good," Ezio says, not even hesitating, the young fool. "What other errands did you have for us, then?"
Federico doesn't manage to corner Ezio after breakfast like he planned to, because Father issues Ezio's errands first and sees him off directly, and then rounds Federico into his office for further details. "I could see you knew who he was speaking of," Father says. "Anyone we should be worried about?"
"I was intending to spy on him and see, around my own errands," Federico admits. "Likely it's nothing to be concerned about, but I suppose it depends. Ezio seems… keen, though."
"Keen?" Giovanni asks and hums. "He acted oddly at breakfast. Couldn't quite put my finger to it, but…"
"A bit, yes, I think he was just distracted," Federico says with a cough. Distracted by whatever after-effects he was suffering after a night of what seemed to have changed his whole world, and the likely embarrassment of having to sneak his beau out. But, whoever the man with Ezio was, he didn't seem dangerous – wasn't carrying weapons, or much anything really. No noticeable battle wounds either, and no jewellery, only a slight scar across his lips, and what might have been a hint of a mark on his left arm, though Federico hadn't gotten close enough look.
"I will look into it, Father, and if it's someone worrisome I'll report back to you, and see what I can do to head Ezio off," Federico promises.
Giovanni nods and sighs. "Thank you, my son. I don't mean to be so suspicious of your friends, or those of your brothers and sister, but it's been a tense few months," he says wearily.
Federico coughs. Yes, and it wouldn't be the first time potential enemies had tried to sneak in under pretence of friendship – and Federico doesn't want the repeat of the Vieri incident, either. "I know, Father," he says. "I worry too. I'll watch after him today, and check up on that friend of his. If it's someone we should worry about… we'll deal with him accordingly."
"Don't be so bloodthirsty," Giovanni says, but with a smile. "You're not fully fledged Assassin yet, my Son. Now, the payments I want you to deliver…"
Ezio is gone by the time Federico gets out of the office. Federico considers his own errands and then deems them less important in comparison to finding his brother first and foremost – Ezio's closest errand wasn't far, anyway, and that would be where he'd head first… it shouldn't take long.
Unless, of course, Ezio deviated from his usual habit and for once didn't head for the easiest task first. Which he apparently hadn't – there is no sight of Ezio where he should've been leaving the first message.
"Hm," Federico hums, scanning the street and then the buildings and the roofs nearby. Oh, to have Ezio's abilities, it would make keeping track of wayward little brothers easier. Well, the challenge has definitely been issued now, and Federico isn't about to be stopped by something as small as lack of a mythic abilities of yore.
"Hello, ladies," he says, sauntering over to a couple of courtesans keeping watch by a nearby street corner. "You wouldn't happen to have seen my brother near here?"
Even with the courtesans' aid – and with the scaling of several rooftops and hiring a couple of thieves as well – it takes Federico nearly an hour to track his brother down. He finds Ezio eventually in a little enclosed garden with benches and vines hanging on the latticed walls, offering some shelter from view. The tall beau is there too, of course, sitting next to Ezio as they talk, quietly.
Too quietly for Federico to hear from his vantage point, curse it all. So, trying to make as little noise as possible, he makes his way down to ground level, and tries to approach them quietly, in the shelter of shadows.
In the courtyard, Ezio sighs. "I can see you, Federico. Stop sneaking about."
… that was fast. Even with his gifts, Ezio usually isn't this observant, and Federico can sneak up on him with ease. Which means Ezio must already be on his guard. That's… worrisome.
"I didn't mean to startle you, Little Brother," Federico says, slipping past the doorway and into the courtyard with them. "But my, you ran away from the palazzo fast."
"I had errands," Ezio comments, tilting his head oddly. "You saw Father assign them."
"Yes, and you haven't done any of them, yet," Federico points out.
Ezio narrows his eyes just a little, and beside him the tall beau lets out a muffled chuckle. Ezio hums. "So I haven't, yet," he agrees. "But they are only messages, it will not take me long. What do you want, Federico?"
"Oh, so many things," Federico says, grinning a little, and saunters closer to them, looking at Ezio's beau. In the light of day he's not half bad looking – quite lovely, actually, Federico can see what caught Ezio's eyes, there. "Answers and curiosity sated, first of all. It's not every day I find a man in my little brother's bedroom, and such things can make a big brother mighty curious. Aren't you going to introduce us, Ezio?"
Ezio sighs, running a hand over his chin, oddly. "Federico, this is Desmond," he says. "Desmond, Federico."
"Pleasure," Desmond says, nodding awkwardly.
Federico blinks. That's a name he's never heard – if it isn't fake, it would make tracking the man and his past down easy, at least. "Likewise," Federico says, pressing closer, smiling. "Now what did Ezio do to win your favour, my dear Desmond? Because let me tell you, his graces are rarely all that… graceful. "
The beau blinks and glances at Ezio, who frowns a little. "Oh, it was little this and that," Desmond says, slowly. "A long story, really."
"Oh, I love those, and I would love to hear it," Federico says, leaning closer still. "Do tell, please."
He lays it on a bit thick, pushing to see how the man would react. It's easier with women – the ones that try and steal Ezio's attention in order to get in the good graces of their Father, anyway. Federico is the first born and thus the better prospect of them two, though Ezio's gullibility makes him an easy conquest. Not that it happens that often anymore, Ezio's eyes have been trained on Cristina for quite a bit now, but it still happens, and Federico's answer is rather standard. Those enticed by plums would always go for the biggest, ripest one around, and unlike Ezio, Federico stands to inherit the lot.
Men, though, men could be difficult. And Federico is not used to trying to entice enterprising men away from his overly charming little brother.
And this one is mostly just… awkward, leaning slightly away from him, uneasy. "Er," he says and coughs. "Well. Um."
Ezio rescues him, in the end, giving Federico a look. "It's a long story," he says firmly and shakes his head. "And not any business of yours, Federico. Did you not have errands of your own?"
"As you said, they are only errands – you are my Brother," Federico says, looking between them and leaning back a little. Curious. "This is of far greater interest for me, Ezio."
Ezio looks at him, and it's – strange, how considering it is. "I'm certain it is, Brother, but it is still not your business," he says. "Though I feel you will not be able to keep your nose out of it, will you?"
Federico arches his brow at the odd tone of it – how confident Ezio sounds. It's… different somehow. "I most certainly will not," Federico says and considers the pair of them – Desmond, who leans his elbows to his knees, looking uncomfortable, and Ezio, who now folds his arms, watching him. There is a tension here Federico doesn't understand.
"I can't help you, if you will not let me, Brother," he says. "And it seems as though your new friend is in some need, yes? Seeing as he needs a place to stay," he comments and then sits down on the bench across from them, to signal he has no intention of leaving now. "What is it then – thrown out of your home? Driven away? You can tell me – I won't tell a soul."
"Hm," Ezio answers, noncommittal, while Desmond looks down at his hands, clasping them together. There are marks upon his right hand, not quite scars – some sort of birthmark, perhaps. They look like branches, radiating from his palm.
"It might be best if I just go, Ezio," Desmond says then, looking up at him. "I can manage, and I will only get in your way, staying here."
Ezio looks at him sharply and then shakes his head, quiet. "No. I'd rather have you in my sighs, where I know you are safe," he murmurs and looks at Federico, whose brows are climbing higher and higher. "He has no home to go to, and I owe him a great debt, Federico," he says then. "If Father will not welcome him in our home, then I will leave it with him –"
"Ezio, no," Desmond says quickly, lifting his head. "No."
"Yes," Ezio says firmly and looks at him, shaking his head. "If it is the only way, then so be it. Knowing what you do, can you really say it's not more important, to secure you, rather than risk you falling in the hands of those that would abuse you, or worse?"
"No one even knows about me, Ezio – look, I'm fine," Desmond says and stands up while Federico looks at them, eyes wide and mind twisting itself into curls to try and keep up. The beau paces in front of them, restless. "I'm fine, and I will be fine – I can handle myself, I can protect myself. And why would anyone ever come after me, when I might as well not exist at all?"
"It will only take one slip," Ezio says, serious. "If you know me as well as I think, then you know what happened to Leonardo – and he knows only a fraction of what you do."
Federico frowns, looking from one to the other. Leonardo? Did Ezio know a Leonardo – or was he talking of Leonardo da Vinci? It hadn't been that long since he'd been accused of sodomy – Father had taken care of it, but the risk of terrible consequences was there. Was Desmond also under such an accusation…?
Desmond pauses, drawing a shuddering breath and releasing it slowly. "I didn't – I didn't do this so that you could… I didn't mean for this to happen," he mutters, sighing, looking away. "I shouldn't have – I shouldn't have come back. I should've just – "
"Stayed and died?" Ezio asks, arching his brows.
Desmond blows out a breath. "Don't leave your family for me, Ezio, don't you dare. That's not what I want at all."
"Nor is it what I want," Ezio says severely. "I didn't intend for this either – but I will be damned if I ignore what's in front of me, now, just because I might have wished for something easier."
Desmond falls quiet at that, hanging his head, and Federico looks between them with greater interest. Well, that certainly explains some things, though not all. It might be a sly tactic, a lure an enemy might use to try and draw Ezio away from his family by leaning on his sense of justice and kindness, and through him weaken them or gain advantage over them… but Federico thinks himself a better judge of people than that.
Desmond's distress is obvious – and sincere. And so is Ezio's resolve, his concern. Either way, Ezio is deeply involved and obviously invested here. It is all concerning, indeed – and should his beau be captured, put on trial, accused – and likely tortured for a confession… he might very well give Ezio's name.
And their family can ill afford such accusations, even with the Medici's favour.
"I think," Federico says, causing them both to look to him sharply. "Whatever is going on… you need to tell Father, Ezio. I'm sure he can help you."
Ezio glances at him and then at Desmond. "I intend to," he says and stands up. "And if it comes to it, I will do as I must. Desmond, I will."
The beau gives him such a wretched look that Federico expects him to burst out crying, or wailing, or, who knows, into a bout of heartbroken love poetry. But what Desmond says is, "Ezio, you goddamn idiot," instead, and it's in that moment Federico decides he's going to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, after all.
To be back in the Firenze of his childhood is beyond… beyond his capability to describe it. Ezio had not seen Firenze in many years now, having left it for Monteriggioni, for Venezia, and eventually for Roma – what few visits there had been since had been brief, and as if to a foreign city. He did not know the Firenze of his own time – or of what is future, now. The politics had changed over the years, and with them, the city. And long before that, his own opinions had changed.
It is a little strange, to find himself again, by the proxy of his father, in the service of the Medici. Ezio had long since rejected such ties – only allying himself with leaders and politicians where absolutely necessary, such as with Prince Suleiman, but never again as a settled habit and practice. Not like his Father, who now is in all but in Lorenzo de Medici's personal service, an odd situation for an Assassin indeed.
Ezio hadn't thought of the situation of Assassins before his own introduction to them in a long time – but now that he's again about to face that life as an outsider, it does give him pause. Assassins of his time have attained – or tried to attain – some neutrality. The situation of Istanbul was tricky, and he could see why Yusuf had… or rather would be so keen concerning the Sultan's family and seek to defend it, but as a whole Assassins do not serve nations. Neither above nor below, they do what they must under their rule, but they do not bend to their will.
Knowing something more of Altaïr's history now, Ezio can't help but be pleased with how he had led the Brotherhood in his turn. Altaïr had set the Brotherhood free, never again to fall into that trap Al Mualim before him had ensnared them in, serving a leader with agenda and performing missions with little understanding of their purpose. Unknowingly, Ezio had tried for the same, rejecting the Medici, the Doges of Venezia, and eventually the Popes of Vatican, keeping his brothers and sisters apart from such things. Altaïr, Ezio dares think, would have approved.
But it does make him wonder how his father had then embraced such a tight bond with the Medici, making himself all but a vassal. Giovanni Auditore works, in his public life, in a Medici Bank, under Medici banner.
"You wore it yourself, once," Desmond comments, as they peer up at the banner from the shadowed spot across the street, where they are sitting on a bench, waiting. "I found the cape eventually, actually, in the Auditore Villa."
"You were there?" Ezio asks, looking at him.
"Mh. For a while," Desmond agrees and looks at him. "I found other things too, mind you, but that cape was most useful. Used to use it as an extra blanket."
Ezio arches a brow at that.
"What? We were staying at the Sanctuary, it got cold down there," Desmond says and shrugs, looking up at the banner again. "And it was a… I guess a tangible connection. Didn't have too many of those. You wore that cape, so it was…" he shrugs again, wry.
"I didn't wear it for long," Ezio muses. "Only a week or two, in Firenze, before setting it aside in Monteriggioni. It did not suit me."
"Yeah," Desmond agrees. "Still. It's a little nostalgic."
Ezio folds his arms, considering the coat of arms. "The Medici were back in control of Firenze, in my time. I only got word of it in Acre, of Soderini's repudiation. Machiavelli was heartbroken, he'd worked so hard to try and keep Firenze a proper republic – I assume you know of him."
"Do you know what happened to Firenze after?" Ezio asks, looking at him.
"Um. Well, there were – a few wars," Desmond says. "And a few more, couple of sieges. I think it was 1533 when Florence became the Grand Duchy of the Holy Roman Empire? A few more wars after that… some of them really bad ones," Desmond trails off with a grimace.
"Ah," Ezio says.
"In my time, Florence is part of Italy," Desmond says, shaking his head. "Which is a nation stretching over the whole peninsula plus Sicily and Sardinia, Rome being its capital. A democratic republic," he adds. "With elected leaders – and the Papacy has been shrunken down to a city state in the Vatican, though the Pope is still the religious leader of over a billion Catholic Christians, he doesn't have all that much political power, and definitely no military one."
Ezio arches his brows. "Well," he says. "That sounds certainly like something."
"Mmhmm," Desmond agrees and looks at him. "Should we go inside?"
"It's not noon yet," Ezio says. "I don't remember much of my father, but I know he was, is, a busy man – likely he won't have the time for us yet."
"Right," Desmond says and squints up to the sky. "It looks like noon to me, though."
Ezio hums. "The bells haven't rung."
"Oh. Right, that makes sense," Desmond murmurs and leans back a little. "Bells. Huh."
"How do you keep time where you come from?" Ezio asks interestedly.
"Watches," Desmond shrugs. "Everyone has a timekeeping device on them, more or less, and they all work by the same time, really. I mean, accounting for time zones, obviously, but minute's a minute and hour's an hour for everyone."
"That sounds handy, for keeping up with schedules," Ezio muses.
Desmond shrugs and leans back, to rest his head against the wall at their back. He's quiet for a moment, looking at the people passing by on the street, some of them going in the bank, others merely continuing on their way. "I'm sorry," he says then.
"The matter has already been discussed, Desmond, don't start it again," Ezio sighs. "My mind is set."
"Yeah," Desmond agrees. "But your brother thinks we're banging, so… Sorry about that, I guess."
"… Banging?" Ezio asks, casting him a wary look. "Dare I even ask?"
Desmond smiles a little. "Sleeping together. Having sex. The whole nine yards," he says and arches a brow at him. "And that's what you're going to let your Father assume too, aren't you?"
Ezio hums and looks away.
It did make things easier. As much as he would like to trust his Father with this great and wonderful secret, now that he is here, face to face with the Medici banner, he must have caution. His father has loyalties, he has sworn fealty to a lord. Ezio had once played that same loyalty, not truly feeling it – continuing his Father's legacy of that servitude without fully understanding it…
But he is now in spirit older than his father ever was, and he dares claim he knows better. That loyalty might prove dangerous… should Giovanni decide certain truths would be vital for his lord to know. The Pazzi conspiracy, certainly. The danger of Rodrigo Borgia, without question. The true nature of Desmond…?
The Medici are charitable and in their own way righteous lords for Firenze – but under them, Firenze is no republic. Lorenzo de' Medici was a kind despot, but a despot nonetheless, ruling the city by cunning and sly application of societal manipulation, keeping his loyal proxies in power.
What would such a man, or any cunning ruler of any state, any office, do… glimpsing the potential of such as Desmond. Desmond knows the future, he possesses knowledge of things mere fantasy now, he might even be able to predict the course of events to follow – and this without even getting to whatever powers and abilities he has.
Having seen the damage Leonardo's mind, under the rule of a tyrant, could do, it's not something Ezio thinks he can risk.
And of course there is Ezio's own future knowledge to consider – three decades of foreknowledge, and more, and all of it likely more intimate than Desmond's, concerning smaller, more precise events. Ezio knows future enemies, allies, battles, victories, advancements – all things he himself intends to take advantage of. To give someone else a glimpse of that potential… it makes him wary.
"It might be better that way," Ezio murmurs and looks at Desmond. "It is a far more likely story to believe, and a great cover for what will undoubtedly follow. I have work to do, as you know, and to do it under the pretence of… such association…"
"It'll make people probably not look twice into what you're getting up to?" Desmond asks, amused.
"Just so," Ezio says. "Unless, of course, they are of the mind to find offence in such things, and deem it a crime."
"Hmm," Desmond agrees. "You obviously don't."
"Even if such things were a crime or a sin, it's one that affects few, or none at all, except in pleasant ways," Ezio mutters, looking away. "I have done a thousand worse things, with none to accuse me of any of it. And any law that deems murder just and righteous and love a crime and a sin… is a law I, by the Creed, will ignore."
Desmond looks at him for a long moment, and there is an odd look in his eyes.
"What?" Ezio asks, giving him a look in return.
Desmond coughs and looks away. "I just – it's been a while," he says. "I've missed you – and the way you talk, is all."
Ezio arches a brow at that, and then looks up as in the distance, church bells begin to ring, an old and familiar sound – the bells of Giotto's Campanile. "Now it is noon," he says and gets up.
"Right," Desmond agrees and stands up as well. "I suppose I should let you lead on this one. Um," he hesitates. "Your father is bound to run a background check on me, you know. Or at least try and figure out who I am and where I came from. If he asks – what should I say?"
Ezio considers him. "You are a man potentially accused of sodomy, somewhere, and likely facing judgement for it," he says. "You say nothing – you only demur."
"Alright," Desmond says. "Demurring it is."
Giovanni Auditore enjoys a high standing in the Medici's bank – though not quite a manager of it, he holds an office of an overseer, who looks through the books, sees if there is any foul play, and investigates others in the Medici's employ. Ezio knows, from records that had survived to his time, that his father was responsible for unearthing some sum of corruption in the Medici Bank, and likely was part of the reason the it stayed afloat, despite the state of their coffers.
Claudia had many things to say about it, later in life, when they'd been going through their family's older matters, and discovered some sum of financial documents. The Medici of their Father's time were, though very influential and savvy with money, not nearly as wealthy as they appeared to be. Their banks functioned nearly at a deficit, and Lorenzo resorted to various tactics to acquire more revenue – not always with success. In other words, the Medici's lavish spending made them appear greater and covered up how fast they tended to drain their funds.
And Ezio wonders how big a role his Father had served, in covering up the true state of Florentine economy.
Giovanni has an office at the head bank, and a great deal of duties – the state of his desk alone tells that. Ezio enters the place, glancing around curiously and taking in the sums of coins and gems on the table, and the important looking documents. One near the top displays a very magnificent Medici crest, it looks quite official indeed.
"Hello, Son," Giovanni says, barely looking up from the heavy tome he is writing something in. "Please, come in."
"Father," Ezio says, holding the door open for Desmond to slip in before entering himself, and closing the door behind him. "I would like to introduce to you Desmond – the friend I mentioned at breakfast."
"Yes, yes, of course," Giovanni says and cleans his quill. "I'm sorry, the morning ended up more hectic than I assumed, I could hardly take a break…"
Ezio looks over his desk, idly counting the amount of wealth and other things of importance on display. At least three finely made contracts, a couple of letters sealed and opened, and the money and gems – and there's a valuable looking piece of jewellery amidst it all, too… It's quite the scene of temptation.
Ezio doesn't look at Desmond, carefully, knowing his Father must be watching for it. From the corner of his eye he can see the man, though – and, thankfully, Desmond isn't looking anywhere near the desk. He's instead looking at a painting, hung above the doorway – a portrait of their family done before Claudia's birth, when Ezio was barely older than a babe, and Federico likely refused to it still for a portrait long enough, considering how atrocious his likeness is.
Desmond tries to smother it, but his delight at the sight of it is plainly obvious, even seen from side eye.
"Well then," Giovanni says, watching him, and Desmond turns to him quickly, as does Ezio. "Did you do your errands, Ezio?"
"I picked up the bill of sale," Ezio says – the only errand he had done, really. Federico had been kind enough to do the rest, though Ezio would likely pay for that later. Quickly, he takes the paper from his pouch, handing it over. "Here, Father."
Giovanni accepts the letter and looks it over, nodding. "Very good," he says, putting it aside – then he looks at Ezio's companion. "Desmond. Ezio tells me you are in need of a place to stay?"
"Yes, sir," Desmond says and bows his head a little.
"We have the space at the palazzo, don't we?" Ezio asks, trying his best to sound younger than he feels.
"That we do," Giovanni agrees, noncommittal, as he leans back in his chair, taking in Desmond's clothes – which Ezio hopes are nondescript enough that his Father doesn't realise they all belonged to Ezio originally. Hopefully their poor fit on the taller man draws the eye first. "Tell me about yourself, then, Desmond," Father says. "Whatever led you to needing such aid?"
Desmond swallows, and his cheek flexes, and then… he demurs, looking at Ezio for guidance. How much of it is an act and how much sincere uncertainty is hard to say, but the hesitation is very believable, to Ezio's eye.
"Father, it's – a delicate matter," Ezio says quietly, stepping forward. "And not one you might speak of in polite society."
"I see," Giovanni says, arching his brow. "And might this delicate matter bring trouble to our doorstep?" he asks sharply. "In the nature of your fights with Vieri, or the trysts with Cristina?"
Vieri – good lord, Ezio had completely forgotten that Vieri de Pazzi is alive, here, and something of a foil to his younger self. And Cristina too, ah… "Not as such," Ezio says, slowly. Good grief, he'd forgotten what it was like, to have such issues. "None in Firenze know of Desmond, and no one here knows of his – delicate matter."
"Indeed?" Giovanni asks, looking between them. "And yet you know, my Son – how is that?" he looks between them, mostly at Desmond. "For this is the first time I hear of this friend of yours. One would think you would have mentioned him before."
Desmond bows his head and Ezio hesitates, carefully selecting words. "I," he starts to say, and then, at his father's arched brow, decides to stay quiet instead, meeting Giovanni's eye squarely. Anything he might say now risked giving him away, making the house of half spoken lies falter. Silence would work better for him.
Let him appear as though a foolish son, discovering things out of his family's view and keeping them a secret until he no longer could. Whether Federico had reported back to their father what he obviously thought was going on or not, the assumption is already there – leaning on it would serve them the best.
So, awkward, embarrassed silence, and youthful determination and bravery in the face of it – and let Giovanni assume the rest.
Giovanni hums, looking between them. "I see," he says and narrows his eyes, saying nothing more.
"Father," Ezio says, awkward – he hardly remembers how to do this, and for all that his heart aches for his Father's approval… his mind is set. "Please. He hasn't the place to go, and if he is not welcome at the palazzo, then I –"
"Hm," Giovanni stops him there, the noise he makes pointed enough to stall Ezio's speech. He looks at them for a long moment that grows tense and awkward, before he finally says. "Your friend is welcome for dinner. We will see about the rest, after."
Ezio considers arguing against it, but likely it would bring no results. And he can understand Giovanni's position, at least. "Thank you, Father," he says.
"Thank you, sir," Desmond agrees quietly, awkwardly.
"I will be looking forward to learning more about you, at dinner," Giovanni says meaningfully. "But now, I'm afraid, I have more work to do. And Ezio, you likely have more errands."
"Yes," Ezio says, though he doesn't. "Of course, Father. We will leave you to it and trouble you no more."
"Until dinner, then," Giovanni dismisses them, still watching Desmond closely as Ezio nods and turns to leave. Desmond never once looks at the riches in front of him – he only bows and then follows Ezio out, meekly.
Ezio waits until they are out of the bank, and then clasps Desmond by the shoulder. "Well done," he says, relieved. "That went better than I feared it might."
"I'm sorry? That was well done?" Desmond asks, appalled. "You and I obviously have different ideas of what constitutes as bad – and I'd hate to see what you'd think that going badly would've been like."
Ezio looks at him, a little surprised. "You didn't take my Father's bait, even once," he says. "That was more to your favour than anything."
"His – what?" Desmond asks, confused.
"His desk, Desmond," Ezio points out. "You didn't even look at it."
"I – was I supposed to?" Desmond asks, confused. "Was there something there I was supposed to look at?"
Ezio shakes his head, a little amused now. "Yes – and no. Father all but spread out a fortune over it to tempt you with – you didn't notice? The money, the jewellery, the documents? It was all but obscene."
"Er," Desmond answers, scratching at the scar over his lips. "I'm not used to seeing that stuff as real, I guess?" he offers awkwardly. "I mean, as physical things in – er, in reality. It's hard to explain, but honestly, I didn't even notice."
"Money doesn't matter where you come from?" Ezio asks, amazed.
"I wouldn't say it doesn't matter, it's just… different," Desmond says and coughs. "And you know, all of this," he motions around them. "It only feels half real to me."
Ezio shakes his head at him. Incredible – and utterly strange. But thus are things of people with godly influence – money, in comparison, matters for naught. "Well, in either case, it was to your benefit," Ezio says. "And this certainly could have gone much worse. Now, come – we must formulate a plan for dinner, and then…"
And then Ezio has a murder to plan.
One gets used to strange things, in a household of Assassins. Not that they are all Assassins, at least not as of yet – Federico is only training, Ezio barely graced with the basics of how an Assassin is to move and behave, and both Claudia and Petruccio all too young for such things. But Giovanni has been an Assassin for as long as Maria has known him, and he came from a family of Assassins. And she'd married him, in full awareness of what it meant.
So, she has long since braced herself for the worst and strangest news to land on their doorsteps. To fear for her Husband's life, to fear for their children, it's as easy as breathing. Thankfully, no danger insurmountable had yet came to pass, and often Maria's greater concern is to expect some measure of silliness from them. For, sadly and fortunately, both Giovanni and her and imparted upon their children a certain inclination for theatrics.
Claudia starts one near every day, be it in the form of some great love affair of mostly her invention, or a feud with a girl who was her best friend the day before. The worst of her ventures, Vieri de Pazzi, had nearly threatened to drive them all to despair, and thank God above they had managed to persuade her gaze elsewhere.
Federico's exploits are many and varied, from enticing courtesans and thieves into frays, or playing tricks on their employees and contractors – or getting himself spectacularly fired from their family bank by scattering money on rooftops. Oh, he had his great romances too, but Federico is like an alley cat in that, and wandered freely and with a little bit of mischief in his heart.
And, Ezio, with his gifts, and with his ever increasing charisma – undoubtedly, he would have been the great heartbreaker of the family, were he not so eager to please and far less likely to cause harm or hurt. Too likeable by far, their Ezio – it would lead him either to sorrow or greatness, and for now… it often led him to trouble.
At least for now she hasn't cause to worry for Petruccio, as he stays mostly home, reading books, satisfied with imagining things rather than reaching for them.
"Ma'am? There is a message for you," Annetta says from the doorway, stepping in and holding out a letter. "A runner just brought it in – I believe it is from the bank."
"A runner? Not Ezio, or Federico?" Maria asks, leaving the flowers she had been pruning and accepting the folded paper.
"No, it was a boy I did not know," Annetta says, tilting her head slightly. "A thief, I think."
"Ah. Thank you, Annetta," Maria nods to the maid and then opens the letter. It is from Giovanni, written in his steady, beautiful hand – not in haste, it seems, but with time.
My love, a warning for you. I met Ezio's friend and invited him to dinner tonight, so that I might better gauge his nature and see whether we should offer him aid. His name is Desmond, and I could not get a proper sense of his character on our short meeting, and Ezio behaved guarded and cagey. It is enough to raise my interest.
I do not believe there is anything to be immediately alarmed over, but I am regardless wary. The man is markedly older than Ezio, yet acted meek and followed his lead. Though the test I laid out for him did not capture his interest, there might yet be ulterior motives. I could not tell how long Ezio has known this Desmond, nor for how long he might have hidden it, but the relationship there seems settled. Which, indeed, might offer its own concerns.
Prepare then our meal today for an extra visitor – and prepare for questions. I fear there might be more here than meets the eye.
"Hmm," Maria hums, reading the letter over again. Ezio doesn't have much in the way of friends, as such. Oh, there are girls he knows and likes aplenty, first and foremost among them Cristina, of course, but he doesn't have much in the way of male friends. He'd always been more satisfied in Federico's company, and seemed to want for no other friendship beyond that.
Though Maria and Giovanni had neither encouraged nor discouraged their children's friendships outside their family, the wariness with which all new acquaintances had to be treated had put something of a stopper to their various friendly relations. Their children had all reacted in their own ways to those restrictions – Federico by never entertaining any friendships at all, Claudia by making many of hers a trapeze act of hostility, and Ezio by pursuing more romantic interests only.
None had pushed for their… friends' inclusion in family matters. Neither Duccio nor Cristina held any kind of open invitation at the palazzo, and rarely visited at all. And it had suited everyone fine, it had seemed – keeping both romances outside family supervision, as it were, and giving both Claudia and Ezio freedom to pursue their beloveds without issues. It was a sort of liberty they had both enjoyed greatly.
As such, it is… peculiar for Ezio to insist, all of sudden. Maria can see why it would make Giovanni wary.
"Annetta," she calls. "We will have a guest over for dinner – we must make sure to prepare enough food for him as well."
"Very well, madam – should I visit the market and buy extra food, then? The bread might not be enough," the maid asks.
"I think you had better," Maria decides. "And a… bottle of wine, I think – bring one out from the cellar. Let's see if we can impress a little."
And if it was someone looking to take advantage, then getting a little wine in them to loosen their lips might not be a bad idea.
Petruccio is having a good day, and before starting to prepare dinner, Maria takes time to look over his reading and work, and comment on his sketches. He's been working on something for a while now, a little secret project, asking for little this and little that for it – glue, sticks, string, now feathers – and though Maria is inasmuch dark as everyone else as to what it is, it is always lovely to see him so active.
"Is it a bird, then?" Maria asks, leaning over his shoulder to see.
"No, not a bird," Petruccio says sweetly, smiling. "Something else."
"And yet it is something with feathers," Maria muses, tapping her lips. "A pair of wings, perhaps? Though for whom, I dread to guess, for no one in this family surely deserves a pair. A cavalcade of ruffians and brigands, we are."
Petruccio grins and shakes his head mutely, continuing his sketching.
"Not wings, then. A great feathered dragon?" Maria asks, smiling and pitches her voice low, crouching her back as if to attack. "To put upon our stoop to scare all evil away, to chase away unsuitable suitors and unrighteous adventurers, to protect our palazzo as it's lair. We could sit him upon your father's study, to guard his hoard as a defender. Wouldn't that be something?"
Petruccio giggles at that, and Maria ruffles his hair, smiling. "Well, I will leave you to it," she says. "Time to start with dinner."
"Alright," he says and keeps on sketching as she moves to leave the room. Maria checks up on Claudia – she is sitting in the drawing room, writing and sighing in a way that must be love – and then moves towards the kitchen, to join Annetta in the dinner preparations. On her way there, though, she is distracted.
"Mother," Federico calls, spotting her in the hall, "I was just coming to seek you out – has Ezio came yet? Father said he and his – friend are coming for dinner."
"That they are – and no, Ezio hasn't returned yet, I suppose he is still running errands," Maria says, tilting her head to kiss his cheeks. "Oh, Federico, you stink of sweat! A bath today, I think."
"If I stink, then it is Ezio's fault – and he is not running errands, because I ran them for him," Fedrico says with a huff. "Out of courtesy and kindness, because I am a good brother and he needed time. I saw his friend, you know – quite the thing, it was."
"Oh?" Maria asks, taking him by the elbow and casually leading him towards the library, where they might talk without being overhead by Petruccio, Claudia or Annette. "It must've been something special for you to take Ezio's chores onto yourself. Something we should be wary of?"
"Oh, without question," Federico says with a dry laugh and shakes his head. "But first – Mother, have you introduced Ezio to Leonardo yet?"
"No, not yet – though I intended to do it soon. Ezio has been causing so much trouble, a good and quiet role model like Leonardo might not be amiss," Maria says, narrowing her eyes. "Why?"
"Well, he knew of Leonardo – and the accusations, you know, the ones Paola and Father put an end to?" Federico asks and coughs. "It came up in discussion between them. Ezio's friend, ah… well. I think he is facing similar accusations, somewhere not in Firenze – he's come here to hide. How and when Ezio and he met, I can't tell, but they know each other well enough. And I think they might be…" he clears his throat, arching his brow.
"Ezio – our Ezio?" Maria asks, surprised. "My. I would've expected it of you perhaps, but Ezio? Honestly, I didn't think he had the taste for such things."
"What do you mean, expected it of me?" Federico asks, feigning outrage. "Why, I would never!"
"Ha," Maria answers, amused, and then gives him a look. "But really, you think they are…" she trails away meaningfully.
"Oh, yes," Federico says, nodding. "Without doubt. And it's serious enough to make Ezio a little stupid, too – I mean, more so than he usually is. He actually threatened to leave with the man, if we did not offer him shelter."
Maria can feel her expression harden, her eyes narrowing. "Oh?" she asks. That sounds very much like a thought Vieri had tried to put into Claudia's head, before they had put an end to it. "Did he, indeed?"
"His beau argued against it," Federico soothes her. "And the man seemed honestly distressed, too, and I think Ezio saw some sense. But – whatever is going on, it's obviously not something we can ignore. I told all this to Father as well, by the by – he wasn't terribly happy either."
No, he wouldn't have been. Maria runs her fingers over her lips, worrying. It might be an effect of Ezio's talents – he trusts his eyes too much, in telling friend and foe apart. Should one rise who can fool the legendary eyes of the Eagle, then he might very well put his trust in them without a second thought. And yet, Ezio is usually a good judge of character – it was him who brought the concerns with Vieri to the front in the first place…
"And you saw this – beau?" Maria asks. "What was your impression of him?"
"He's worried, distressed, quiet – following Ezio's lead, though that might've been a momentary lapse in judgement on his part, rather than a settled course of things between them," Federico muses. "I didn't see enough to make a full judgement, but he is older than Ezio, at least by a few years."
"Any sense of his occupation?" Maria asks. "His origins – did he speak with an accent? Anything that might tell us where he comes from?"
"No, nothing. His accent was nearly Florentine," Federico admits thoughtfully. "He is markedly tall and handsome enough that people should remember him, so I thought I could track him down, but… when I asked around, no one's seen him at none of the gates or nowhere else, either. Though it might be that no one has had cause to make a note of him…" he shrugs. "It is still a little odd."
"Yes. More than a little," Maria muses. "Hm. Did you catch his name?" And did he give the same name as he gave to Giovanni?
"Yes, right – sorry, Mother, I did. Desmond, his name is Desmond."
"Hmm," so that is how it is pronounced. "What an unusual name."
"I thought so too, thought it would help me track down where he might've been and what he might've been doing, but no, nothing," Federico says with a shrug. "It's like the man appeared from thin air."
"I see," Maria says, and shakes her head. "Well, many men might pass through life without making a single mark on it, we mustn't judge the man without evidence, especially since we have none, apparently. But we will watch him carefully, and see what kind of person he might be."
"That we will," Federico agrees. "And then tease Ezio mercilessly about it, if it turns out he's gotten himself caught flatfooted."
"Don't you start," Maria chuckles and considers him. "Now, go change your clothes and at least wipe down some of that sweat, Federico, dear – you stink. Wash behind your ears and under your armpits, at least. And brush your hair."
"Yes, Mother," Federico sighs and pushes for another kiss, grinning cheekily. "Oh, I almost forgot," he says then. "I did test the waters with Ezio's beau – to see if it's something more than what meets the eye he's after. You know, the way I usually do."
Maria gives him a look. "You tried to seduce the man?" she asks, clarifying.
"Just – made it apparent that I'm an option too, in case it was influence he was after," Federico winks. "Anyway – I think I might have scared him. Certainly, he didn't react favourably like, you know… miss Gianetta and Lady Ciecherella did."
"Hmm," Maria answers, leaning back a little. "Promising."
"Mm-hmm. Better yet, he turned to Ezio for defence," Federico grins. "Take that as you will."
Ezio and his friend make their way into the palazzo shortly after Giovanni, and thus Maria gets precious little time to discuss potential approaches with her husband. Mostly, they are in union in thought here, however – this would need to be treated carefully, but with force, if need be. They are not about to lose one of theirs to outside influence, no matter how keen Ezio might be.
"He's changed his clothes somewhat," Giovanni murmurs in her ear at the doorway, as they watch Ezio and his tall lover hesitate at the doorway leading to the palazzo's inner courtyard. "The doublet is different and the hose fits better. I dare say they have prepared for this."
"Hmm, they don't fit perfectly. Second hand, maybe, " Maria hums, peering at the young man. He is older than Ezio – older than Federico too, it seems. He and Ezio are talking together, Ezio saying something while his beau holds something, wrapped in sackcloth. The body language there is interesting – for all that Desmond is older, taller, all around bigger and likely more experienced, his head is bowed and Ezio is obviously the one leading the conversation, the more confident and determined of the pair.
"Seems nervous," Maria comments.
"A promising sign," Giovanni agrees, though he's still tense at her side.
Ezio grasps the man by the shoulder and steers him, gentle and firm, past the palazzo doors and into the courtyard. The man follows a step behind Ezio, following his lead – but he's not so passive that he does not look around curiously.
"Ezio, there you are," Maria says, holding out her hands to her son. "We've been expecting you."
"Mother, Father, good day to you both," Ezio says, squeezing her fingers gently and kissing her cheeks. "Mother – this is my friend, Desmond, I assume Father has already told you of him? Desmond, my parents; Giovanni and Maria Auditore."
"A pleasure, I'm sure," Maria says, holding out her hand to the man, curious how he would take it.
He takes her hand by her fingers, holding gently, and kisses the air just a breath from her knuckles. "The pleasure is all mine, Madonna Maria," he says, a little awkward, and coughs. "I – I brought a gift. It's not much, but I hoped – here, please."
Maria arches a brow, a little amused as he coughs, holding out the bundle wrapped in sackcloth. While Giovanni leans in to look, Maria uncovers it curiously, though she can feel what it is through the cloth immediately. The feel of books is unmistakable.
There are two of them – two slim leather bound books, unremarkable, but well enough made. Curious, Maria folds the sackcloth over her arm to open them – they are both empty.
"Journals," Maria says, bemused. It is an unusual gift to give someone. They look new, too – he must've bought them specifically for them.
Desmond offers her a sheepish look. "Ezio told me you enjoy writing – that you both write a lot," he says, lowering his eyes. "So I thought – it would be suitable. I hope you don't mind."
"I told him it wasn't necessary, but Desmond insisted on bringing something," Ezio says, shaking his head.
"I thought a bottle of wine first, but…" Desmond shrugs awkwardly. "This seemed more useful."
Maria shares a look with Giovanni, who seems not to know how to take the gift either. "It wasn't necessary, no, but it is a very fine gift, thank you," Maria says, holding the books against her chest, warming up to the younger man quite a bit. Though it is an obvious indication that the family had been discussed between Ezio and Desmond at some length, and thus a warning sign… a spy surely wouldn't have given away such knowledge only to give a gift to his host. No, she daresay this is sincere.
And it is not as if Ezio would think to give such a practical, thoughtful gift.
"Very considerate of you, Desmond," Giovanni says. "I'm sure these books will be of great use. Please, come in – the table has been set, and Ezio's brothers and sister are already waiting to start," Giovanni says, clasping Ezio on the shoulder to lead him and his friend inside.
Maria closes the door behind them, smiling thoughtfully. Very interesting, indeed.
"Ezio, you are late," Claudia calls ahead of them. "And why do we have to wait for Ezio anyway, he is always – oh, hello?"
"We were waiting for Ezio because he brought a guest, and it wouldn't do to start before they arrived," Giovanni says, motioning Ezio and Desmond to enter, while Maria takes the books Desmond brought to the mantlepiece, folding the sack cloth beneath them. "Ezio, why don't you introduce your friend to your siblings?"
Ezio does so, quickly exchanging everyone's names, except for Federico, who waves it aside with, "We already met," while lifting a glass in greeting at Desmond. "A pleasure to meet again, of course, dear Desmond."
Desmond nods back, slow. "Yeah, likewise."
Claudia leans in, looking very interested. "If I'd known we were to have a guest, I would've – oh, never mind," she says, smiling at Desmond. "Do tell, how do you know my brother? Because I didn't even know Ezio had friends."
"I have plenty of friends, Claudia, thank you," Ezio says, casting her a look while Desmond looks a little taken aback.
She gives him a pointed look. "Is that what you call them?"
"Claudia," Maria says admonishing while moving to her seat, and her daughter harrumphs softly, utterly unperturbed.
Giovanni sighs, moving to take a seat. "Settle, now. No barbs while we have a guest, children, let's try and behave," he says. "Please, do take seat, Desmond, Ezio."
"Thank you," Desmond murmurs, sitting beside Ezio and obviously feeling how the whole family, even Petruccio, stare at him. It's not often they have guests, after all – for all the social events they attend, they rarely host, themselves. So it is something of an unusual event.
Under their gazes Desmond coughs, awkward. "It's – a pleasure to meet you all," he offers. "Ezio has told me a lot about you."
Federico hums at that, amused. "Oh has he? Because he hasn't told us anything about you," he says, smiling and taking a sip of his wine, watching the poor man like a hawk.
"Not a thing at all," Claudia agrees, also looking keen, while quickly standing to pour for Desmond, utterly heedless of the maid waiting to do just that. "Tell us about yourself, ser Desmond," she says, filling his glass near to the brim.
"Yes, Desmond, tell us everything," Federico joins in, smiling wider.
Desmond looks between them, a little uncertain, and glances at Ezio, who is sitting behind him looking a little uncomfortable himself. Past them Maria shares a look with Giovanni. Giovanni smothers another sigh and reaches for the wine.
Well, with children like these, it makes interrogating potential suitors all that much easier, doesn't it.
Mentions of homelessness and insinuations of relationships with awkward age gaps.
For decades, part of Ezio had defined himself and his family by their losses. Theirs was a family betrayed and ruined, and though the memory of their faces had passed in time, the feeling never had, the shattering horror of it, the weight of it. The feel of his father and brothers, growing colder in his arms as he carried them away, even the dignity of a proper burial taken from them. It never passed. Ezio had buried them in the hills, and no one ever brought flowers to their unmarked graves… and he thinks he might have buried a part of himself beside them.
To see them alive now and in such high spirits, teasing mercilessly the guest in their midst… it threatens to steal Ezio's voice. They were never again in such a jesting mood, he and Claudia. They served as reminders to each other and could never enjoy an evening together without feeling acutely the absence of those no longer with them. Brothers, Father and then Mother too. There was always that tinge of loss between them, aged bitterness and anger – it made their love for each other vicious, even unkind at times.
To see Claudia now without a shred of shadow in her eyes – to see Mother, spirited and well and alive, not yet grey or wan or long lost… it is beyond anything. To see Father again, even with his suspicions making things difficult, to see Federico and Petruccio… there are no words.
Ezio is almost glad they are bothering Desmond instead of him, for had they turned their curiosity to him instead, Ezio fears his voice would have broken and given him away.
"... by my parents and family – friends, I suppose," Desmond is saying, uneasy, between bites to eat. "They taught me the basics, how to read and write and count, and such."
"So you can read and write – and have no further schooling than that? Did you go into an apprenticeship?" Mother asks with interest.
Ezio knows he should interject now, before Desmond had to invent further stories and possibly confuse the situation further – making their future interactions more difficult still. They should have sat down and plotted out a background for Desmond, one that might pass muster – yet, part of Ezio had not dared to, had not wished to. He'd never been the spymaster of his Brotherhood, and beyond the occasional disguise, deceit did not come naturally to him. And he did not want to lie to his family.
Desmond wipes at his lips with a napkin and answers before Ezio can muster a suitable lie, "No, I began working as soon as I could – doing whatever I could," he says, and it doesn't sound like a lie. "Carrying parcels, helping on construction sites, cleaning people's yards and such – whatever work people had available. It wasn't much, but it was enough to keep me going."
Claudia gasps dramatically. "You know your letters and numbers, but you had to do chores for a living?" she asks, appalled. "Why not become a scribe or look for some other employment, keeping books or –"
"Claudia, not everyone has such easy access to options like that," Father says, admonishing. "First of all, you need to know whom to approach for such a job, and then you need some papers, at least a testimonial of your abilities and virtues, which might be difficult to acquire in a situation like that. You mustn't be so judgmental."
"Oh, I don't mean to be, it only sounds very unfortunate," Claudia says, giving doe eyes to Desmond, which makes Ezio peer at her with suspicion.
"It wasn't that bad. And I've made it this far," Desmond murmurs, glancing at Ezio.
Ezio considers him with some interest at the tale he'd spun. It sounds reasonable enough – and not terribly dissimilar to some of the stories he'd heard from his recruits, in his time. His Brotherhood took in many refugees and runaways, the dejected and the rejected, driven from their homes in whatever circumstances that had befallen him. There had been many such stories, and perhaps that's how Desmond had come up with this story in the first place.
"Well," Ezio says, thoughtful. "Now you know why he needs a place to stay, at least for a while," he says and turns to look at his parents. "I had hoped, since there is certainly room in the Palazzo… we might offer him our aid. It's no difficulty for us, is it?"
Mother and Father share a look and Federico rubs his wine glass thoughtfully against his lips. "Well," Mother says slowly.
"We must help him, of course – musn't we?" Claudia asks, leaning in and giving Desmond a look that makes Ezio quickly reach for his own glass to hide his reaction. "We can't possibly send him out to the street like that! And he's Ezio's friend too! I mean, what could we do, just abandon him?"
"What indeed," Father says with a slight sigh, sharing another look with Mother, this one more resigned and amused.
"It would be the height of callousness to not help a friend in need, surely," Claudia says and bats her eyes at Desmond.
Federico snorts at Claudia's behaviour, and smothering his sigh, Ezio tries to contend with the fact that his, now much younger, sister might be sincerely attracted to the man he'd all but followed all his life. He takes a deep drink, and then decides to lean on Claudia's wheedling. "Please, Father, Mother," he says, trying to remember how a boy might implore favours from reluctant parents. "He can stay in my room – I'm sure it won't be a problem."
Desmond lets out a choked noise at that and Federico snickers. "Yes, not a problem at all, that," Ezio's elder brother mutters, amused, and kicks Ezio under the table. Ezio sends him a sharp look and then, lightly, kicks him back. Of course it only makes Federico grin at him.
Their mother sighs. "No, no, that isn't necessary. We have guest rooms for these sort of things," Maria says, though still sounding somewhat troubled. "I suppose for a few days it would be alright – what do you think, Giovanni?"
"Hmm," Father answers, leaning back and looking at Desmond consideringly. "What is your plan here, Desmond?" he asks, reaching for the wine to refill their glasses and arching his brows.
"Sir?" Desmond asks warily, while Ezio quickly turns to look at his father.
"What do you intend to do in Firenze?" Giovanni clarifies, his expression utterly inscrutable. "Are you interested in seeking some employment, perhaps?"
"I – guess so, sir? I would like to find my footing," Desmond murmurs and glancing again at Ezio. "In whichever way I can. I just don't know how, just yet – um…"
"I'm sure you will – I will help you," Ezio assures him quickly. Despite his parents' obvious doubts and suspicions, and whatever horrible things are going through Claudia's and Federico's heads… "It will be alright."
"Well, he's doomed," Federico says to Claudia, amused. "Relying on Ezio can only lead to disaster."
"A tragedy in the making, to be sure," Claudia agrees.
Between them, Petruccio puts a piece of bread in his mouth, and smiles.
Desmond casts a look at them and then hums. "I think I'll take my chances with him anyway," he says, which only makes Federico arch his brows and grin wider, and Ezio wonder.
"Well, I suppose it is settled then," Giovanni says, finishing his meal with a sigh and a shake of his head, a man resigned to dealing with whatever would follow. "Annetta will prepare a guest room for Desmond – I'm sure Federico will have no issues showing Desmond to it."
"Not at all, Father," Federico says, smiling. "It would be my pleasure."
"I'll help – he should have a tour of the palazzo as a whole," Claudia adds quickly and smiles winningly at Desmond. "We have a very fine library, I'm sure you will like it. I would be happy to show you."
"Er. Thank you," Desmond says, looking a little worried now. "I'm sure it will be… good."
Ezio frowns, turning to his Father as Giovanni continues. "You do that. In the meanwhile, Ezio, I want to have a word with you in my study, after dinner," he says, in a voice that brooks no arguments. "We have things to discuss."
"Yes, Father," Ezio agrees faintly.
For all the longing and pain for so many years… he'd not remembered how difficult his family could be, at the worst of times – nor had he realised, in his actual youth, what it was like to be the son of an Assassin. There is an easy explanation for that, however – he obviously had not missed that aspect of his youth, at all.
Before Ezio can get a word edgewise, Federico and Claudia whisk Desmond away, leading him on and deeper into the palazzo, talking over each other to distract him from the certain doom they are leading him to. Ezio hesitates after them, concerned – but the dinner had proved that Desmond was not above lying to keep his peace, nor was he terrible at it. As it was, if Ezio could not trust the man in the company of his siblings… then they would have a very arduous time ahead of them indeed.
So, resigning them to fate, Ezio turns to his Father's study instead, passing by Petruccio, who is hurriedly heading for his own room. And, oh, Ezio had forgotten how small Petruccio was… "You were quiet at dinner, Little Brother," Ezio comments. "Is everything alright?"
"It's fine. I was only thinking of things," Petruccio says with a shrug, peering up at him. "Your friend seems nice."
"Thank you, I think so too," Ezio says with a smile, stroking his fingers briefly through the boy's hair. Petruccio's hair feels fine, like that of a baby, or an old man. He'd always been fair and sickly, though Ezio had forgotten the obvious signs of it, the hair, how pale he was…
Had he lived, would Petruccio had made as sickly adult as he was a child?
Ezio sighs and lowers his hand, smiling to hide old regrets. "Well then, Father awaits," he says.
"Good luck, Brother," Petruccio bids him, and Ezio moves on and towards the study.
The door there is open.
"Come on in, Ezio – and close the door," Giovanni says, and lifting his chin slightly Ezio does as ordered – stopping just short of clasping his hands behind his back and standing at attention. Not that Assassins ever did that, nor had he ever done that in presence of any of his teachers, theirs was a far more informal society than that… but something about his Father's countenance makes Ezio wary.
"Father," Ezio says, noncommittal, not eager to point his father's potential censure in any particular direction, though he can imagine where it might be aimed at.
"Your friend seems like the quiet sort," Giovanni comments, glancing up from the papers on his desk. "A listener by nature, I expect."
"Ah, yes, that seems like an… apt way of putting it," Ezio muses, just barely keeping the wryness from his voice. "He meant no insult by any of it, I assure you – he is only unaccustomed to such… gatherings."
"Hm," Giovanni answers, equally noncommittal. "He seems to look up to you."
"I suppose so," Ezio agrees, though who knows. Desmond's fondness for him is likely honest and sincere, but its true nature is difficult to determine. The very basis of their relationship is so strange, it rejects easy definition. They are a Prophet and a Messiah, only perhaps not, not anymore. Desmond had allowed him to change the future, what that would mean for them and their prophecy…
Ezio hadn't yet had the time to question Desmond on the matter, honestly he doesn't even know where to begin with it. There had been more immediate, pressing issues. Like making sure Desmond could claim some space in this time, in this world, and not be chased out of it.
"And you look after him," Giovanni comments.
"I intend to. He needs help, and I made a promise," Ezio admits slowly. "I am… sorry for springing it upon our family the way I did, I should have gone about it more delicately, but it all happened so suddenly. He needs my help now, I could not simply… push it to a later date."
"So it goes sometimes, with matters such as these," Giovanni says and stacks the papers up. "Tell me, your relationship with him – when did it begin?"
Ezio hesitates. Had Desmond given it a date? He doesn't think it had came up at the dinner. Hopefully Desmond wouldn't say anything definite to his siblings either. "It was – some time ago," Ezio murmurs, trying for something vague.
"How old were you?"
Ezio blinks and lifts his head. "Father?"
Giovanni considers him, serious, and then leans back. "How old were you, Ezio?" he asks. "It's a simple enough question, isn't it?"
... ah. Well. Desmond is, in body at least, now older than him. Ezio's own body now is mere seventeen years of age – Desmond… it's hard to tell, but likely he is well past his twentieth year, though not yet thirty. Either way, even a couple of years back Ezio would have been more child than a man, and Desmond would have still been an adult. A natural concern for a parent to have.
Ezio chews on his options, what might put his Father best at ease, while not completely undermining the seriousness of the relationship and make his parents simply dismiss it... They'd known each other a lifetime and more – and they met yesterday as time passed for them. Neither is a suitable answer.
Ezio lowers his eyes and makes a gamble, "It was half a year ago," he murmurs and coughs. "We met six months ago."
Giovanni hides his relief poorly. "And you didn't introduce him to the family?" he asks, turning back to the papers.
Ezio hesitates again. Lord, he hates this. Lying to his family. He had never been good at it – his results with keeping secrets from Claudia had been best when they'd been a couple of nations apart, at the very least, and she wasn't there to question him. Face to face, he failed every time.
"It was – difficult," Ezio admits finally, which at least is true enough; he wasn't here then, and neither was Desmond. "Impossible even. I… I couldn't."
"Hm," Giovanni answers, eying him seriously as Ezio fails to continue. His unhappiness at the situation is obvious, but at least he doesn't seem completely incensed by it, nor about to either throw Desmond out, or do something worse. "I see," he says, simple, and a pointedly lacking of judgement.
"I'm sorry, Father," Ezio offers, hanging his head to hide his grimace.
Giovanni sighs and stands up. "I should tell you, you are too old to be still acting this way," he mutters, shaking his head. "And too young to make such decisions about your life. You do understand what it is you are doing, Ezio, don't you?"
"Yes," Ezio says. "I promise you, Father, I do. With all my heart, I do understand." And though he had never been blessed with children of his own… as a friend of Leonardo's, he understands the concern his father might harbour over it. It is, after all, a sin punishable by death in some instances, still. "And I am sorry, but I will not change my mind about it."
"And once again you jump without looking, without thinking," Giovanni sighs and pushes the chair back under the desk, looking at him. "I should pull you off your high ledge and try and talk sense into you, shouldn't I?"
Ezio hesitates, not sure if he's meant to answer or not – his father sounds as though he is talking more to himself than Ezio. In the end, Giovanni sighs again and shakes his head, fatalistic. "Did you know, when your Mother and I met, I was younger than you are now," he admits, wry. "And she four years older than me."
Ezio blinks and looks up. "Oh?" he asks, uncertainly. He had known it, of course, it was all in family record, but… he cannot off the top of his head remember if it had came up in actual discussion. "I… didn't know that."
Giovanni smiles and steps around the desk. "These recent trysts with Cristina and others – have they been you covering this up, Son?" he asks, taking him by the shoulders.
Ezio coughs. Certainly not, but as things stand. "… perhaps," he offers.
Giovanni sighs and squeezes his shoulders. "You needn't fear our reaction, Son," he says gently. "If we did not shun your brother, then why should we judge you for what we know you cannot help? Our natures are varied and unique, and so as long as they harm no innocents, they cannot be evil. And the laws and rules of men, as we know… they have their flaws."
Ezio nods slowly at that, wondering – it sounds as if though the prelude of the Creed. Had his Father been easing him into it, had there been some tutelage in the ways of the Brotherhood after all, ones he missed at the time? He'd realised, later in life, that Federico had taught him to move like an Assassin long before he knew the blade – had there been other lessons, softer ones, leading him to the final realisation? That… nothing is true and everything is permitted.
For years he'd wondered, with Mario questioning his brother's wisdom at every turn, why, oh, why had his father not taught him? But perhaps he had, in his own, slow, careful way. With love and patience – and little bit of sly cunning – rather than haste.
Giovanni looks at him, and Ezio feels his breath catch and his eyes sting. "Oh, Son," his father says, and pulls him into his arms. "How tense you are! I didn't mean to frighten you, Ezio," he says and holds him close. "I was only concerned – it is quite alright. Your young man can stay here, and we will see to his comfort and safety. And perhaps, once we know him better, he can be more than a guest in our midst."
"Yes, Father," Ezio says, his voice choked, as he battles between the ludicrous fiction he's spinning into something like reality, and the regret of times and doubts that would never come to pass now. "Thank you. I'm sorry."
"It's alright," Giovanni says, patting his shoulder. "Now, you had better go and rescue him, before your brother and sister eat him alive. And tell Federico to come and see me, I have a job for him."
"I will," Ezio says, clearing his tightened throat, distractedly wondering about the nature of the job. Federico certainly spies for their father – does he do other tasks of an Assassin, yet? "Thank you again, Father."
"Go on," Giovanni says, and, wiping a hand over his eyes, Ezio goes.
Desmond is looking a little wild around the eyes by the time Ezio finds him, all but cornered by Federico and Claudia in the library, where Claudia is demanding to know if he's read this or that book, if he knows any poetry, has he ever written one – and Federico just generally seems to loom about him and enjoy his awkwardness.
"You vultures – hasn't there been enough interrogation for one day? Leave him be," Ezio says, as Desmond slumps with relief at the sight of him. "Federico, Father wanted to see you and Claudia, I'm sure you have other things to do."
"I'm sure none better," Claudia says, pouting. "And Desmond was about to recite us a poem he knows."
"He was," Federico agrees, grinning. "We were most eager to hear it, too."
Poems? Of all things, why poetry? Well, it was Claudia, and a much younger Claudia at that, one without bookkeeping to mind, or spying, or finance to meticulously fret over. Ezio had happily forgotten it, but Claudia was a fervent letter writer in her youth – he'd been the one carrying them for her, more often than not – and likely as eager to receive a love poem as any other girl in Firenze.
Ezio shakes his head. "Ignore them, Desmond, they haven't the right to demand anything of you, even poetry," he says and holds out his hand. "Have they even shown you into the guestroom yet?"
"They showed it in passing," Desmond says, and reaches for his hand gratefully.
"The maid was still cleaning it – oh, Ezio, I really do want to hear the poem, he was just about to tell it!" Claudia says, before Ezio can safely draw Desmond away from her clutches. "It is only one poem, come on…"
Desmond bows his head a little, sheepish and embarrassed, and glances at him in a way that makes Ezio hesitate. Desmond looks guilty, almost, and for all that Ezio vowed to protect him, guilt is an odd reaction to such a demand. Why would someone feel guilty about poetry?
It… does make him curious, despite everything. "Well," Ezio says, slowly, considering Desmond. "If – you don't mind. And it isn't very long," he adds quickly. Though poetry had never been any serious interest of his, he knows some poems can stretch over several pages and go on and on.
"It's not long at all," Desmond coughs, looking down and squirming a little. "And it's not mine, the poem. I'm not strictly speaking sure it even is a poem, or just… a line I always thought was lovely and poignant," he says, "But uh… here goes, I guess."
Then he recites it slowly – and as he does, the very sound of his voice changes, pitching lower, softer, and vaguely familiar.
When I was a young man,
I had liberty,
but I did not see it.
I had time,
but I did not know it.
And I had love,
but I did not feel it.
There is a moment of silence that follows, and Desmond coughs, awkward, glancing at Ezio. Ezio opens his mouth to say something, but he – can't.
"Not much of a poem, that. Sounds like an old man wrote it," Federico says, making a face, and Claudia shoves at him, huffing.
"I thought it was lovely. Very – poignant," she says and nods to Desmond. "I loved it, thank you, Desmond. Your recitation of it was beautiful."
"Yeah, you're welcome," Desmond says, awkward, and looks at Ezio again. "So, the – the guest room?" he asks hopefully.
"Right, if you two are now satisfied…" Ezio says and casts a glare at Federico. "Go see Father, Federico – he has job for you." Which would likely involve spying on them, but such is the nature of their lives, there is always someone spying on someone else in an Assassin household. "Go on."
"Yes, yes," Federico says and throws Ezio a lazy salute as he passes them by. "You have fun now, Brother."
Ezio waves after him irritably and then quickly leads Desmond away before Claudia can think of other excuses to try and hold them back. She huffs behind them, but thankfully Ezio manages to direct Desmond to the guest room and close the door without further distractions.
"Sorry," Desmond says while gratefully slipping into the room and running his hands over his neck with a sigh. "Your siblings are – a bit more insistent than I was expecting."
"No, I am the one who owes you apologies – I forgot how they were, in our prime. Had I remembered, I would have given you some warning, but this all came rather by surprise for me as well," Ezio murmurs, and considers him, hesitant. "That – poem you read? It was…" he trails off, uncertain, watching Desmond's face for an answer – though he dares think he can already guess at it.
Sounded like an old man wrote it, indeed. An old man likely had.
"Yeah," Desmond agrees quietly. "It was."
Ezio takes a moment to gather his thoughts. Now that his first concern – one over Desmond's safety and security – has been addressed, there is a myriad of other things to go over. Old wishes and dreams and plans – the vengeful what-ifs that had plagued him over the years, and of course… questions he feared he would never get an answer to. Now that he has the freedom to ask and security to do so without further intervention at least for a moment… he hardly knows where to begin.
First things first, perhaps. "I told my father we met six months ago," Ezio says, stepping closer to Desmond and speaking quietly – just in case. Theirs is a household of Assassins, after all. "And I believe he is now confident in the knowledge that you are my lover, and not a potential enemy spy."
Desmond hums amusedly at that. "That what it was, the way he kept – looking at me?" he asks curiously.
"Ours is a… known family, in certain circles," Ezio admits. "We have enemies, and even for those who do not know us for what we are, they see an influential family with the ear of Lorenzo de Medici. Me and my siblings spent quite a deal of our youth being courted by unscrupulous social climbers."
"Ah," Desmond says, understanding, and grimaces. "My condolences."
"It was never anything we could not handle, and later… it no longer mattered," Ezio sighs and sits on the guestroom bed. "Either way, Father is more – favourable to our situation now. Or what he thinks that situation is."
"Okay, that's good," Desmond says, looking at him and then sitting behind him – talking in similarly low pitch as him, following his lead. "And it's not going to… you know, cause you trouble, later on?" he asks. "I know what you're like, Ezio."
Ezio arches a brow and Desmond coughs, embarrassed. "How much of my life have you seen?" Ezio wonders.
"… most of it?" Desmond says, looking away and scratching at his cheek. "I mean – not everything, I didn't exactly make a habit of spying on your more intimate moments, but… I saw – a lot." It's said with some emphasis and not a small sum of embarrassment.
Ezio coughs, more amused by Desmond's discomfort than feeling any particular shame for himself. "Even in my later years?" he asks.
"Then you know I mellowed, as Claudia said, in my later days," Ezio chuckles. "I believe I am not quite as… voracious as I used to be. I daresay I can survive that particular trouble."
Desmond hums, not sounding terribly certain, but he nods. "And the other thing? You know – it being still an actual crime, thing?" he asks.
Still? Hm. "If we act with care and don't flaunt what we in truth don't even have to the world... I daresay we have little to worry about," Ezio muses. "And I suspect our family is forgiven a whole host of sins. My father is what he is, and he is in the Medici's employ. I wouldn't be surprised if blind eye was turned upon us more often than not."
"Until it wasn't," Desmond says quietly.
"… yes, until it wasn't," Ezio agrees, frowning a little.
"How far off are we from it?" Desmond asks, and he needs not to clarify what he means – it resonates in Ezio's heart, painfully.
"There is some time, but it is within the month," Ezio admits. "It is early December now – the hanging was on the 29th."
Desmond nods quietly, and looks at him with deep sympathy and understanding his eyes. He doesn't say anything, but he doesn't really need to
"Rest assured, I intend to never let it come to pass again," Ezio says quietly. "But I thank you for the extra time you have given me, it will give me some time to plan and prepare."
"That was mostly your doing," Desmond admits with a wan smile. "I just made it happen – when and how, that was all you, Ezio."
"It was only thanks to you that it is possible at all, I certainly never had such powers," Ezio murmurs and clears his throat. Now, now he has the time and security to ask, now… but oh, there are so many questions, so many threads of untold mysteries, he hardly knows where to begin. "Desmond – how… how was it possible?" he asks. "Can you tell me?"
Desmond licks his lips and then looks down to his scarred hand, opening his palm and running the thumb of his other hand over the skin where it had turned white, almost silver in shade – a noticeable difference, for his still healthy skin is quite tanned. "It was a Temple, the Great Temple – and a device. Like the Apple, but… hundred thousand times more powerful," he says quietly. "They called it the Eye. I figure it was like the Eye of Providence."
Ezio hums, lifting one foot on the bed and turning to face him – hiding his shiver. "Where is this Great Temple?"
"In the New World – it's not easy to find, or access," Desmond says, shrugging. "The Apple you had, the one you showed to Minerva? You need that and you need a key, some other things to bring the Temple back to life… and then you need me. It's like the world's most complicated historic puzzle. Took tens of thousands of years to make and hundreds to complete."
Ezio watches him, trying to picture it, trying to understand. "You – you got the Apple from Juno's Vault. In the future, I assume."
Desmond nods. "The year you just left? That was five hundred years ago, for me. 2012, that's where I come from. December too, as it happens."
"Lord," Ezio murmurs. "So long?"
Desmond shrugs and drops his hands in his lap, clasping them uncomfortably.
Ezio searches for words for a moment, feeling oddly like he should reach for Desmond's hand, for something – tangible. There's not half a foot between them, and it feels like centuries, it feels impenetrable. "Then you know what it was all for? Do you?" Ezio asks. "Everything I did, everything Altaïr did, the Artefacts, the messages, the suffering – they were all for you. You know what it was for."
Desmond nods, looking down. "Five hundred years from now, the Sun will destroy the world – or all life on it. Or close enough," he says and blows out an uncomfortable breath. "Minerva and her people, Juno and Tinia and the rest – they saw it coming. They had these… machines, they could foretell the future – that's how all of this is possible. The Sun flaring up, it happened in their time, and it was going to happen again – in mine. So, they set in motion a plan to prevent it...."
Ezio listens quietly as Desmond explains it – though he isn't sure how much he understands of it. Ancient people, so many eons ago that his mind refuses to understand the time, seeing into the future more distant still, and setting forth to protect it. For that reason, to defend the world they no longer were even part of, they made their messages, leaving them in their temples, setting forth their… prophecies. Seventy five thousand years of warnings and plans.
And then betrayal, by Juno, who wormed her way in, like a snake in the garden of Eden, and whispered temptation into the Apples, into the Artefacts, and began twisting the plan around.
"She's long dead now, but she's sort of still alive, too," Desmond says, staring at the floor. "Back in the Grand Temple, in the New World – she's alive back there. When the Eye is used, she will be released. And then she plans on taking over the world, enslaving humanity again, because… I guess that's just what she does, for some utterly insane reason that makes sense to her."
Desmond had said something about it, hadn't he? Lord, it feels like weeks ago now, months – it had been only that very morning, as time had passed for them. "And… and you?" Ezio asks, careful. "How do you feature in all of this?"
Desmond is quiet for a moment. "The Eye, the device they made to block out the Sun, to save the world – it… I guess it needs a sacrifice," he says and shrugs. "That was me. I was specially made for the task When we saw each other, you in the Library and me back there, I was there... using the Eye." He looks at his hand again, spreading out his fingers, falling quiet for a moment. When he continues, his voice is surprisingly light for the subject matter. "I thought it would kill me – it was going to. But then I saw you, and – I wanted to change it all so badly. And I didn't want to die, so I… turned the power elsewhere."
His fingers shake a little, and now Ezio reaches for him, taking his hand in his, closing his own fingers over the quivering fingertips. "And I thank you," Ezio murmurs. Desmond's hand feels warm in his. "Sincerely, I do. Thank you."
The man out of time huffs out a breath. "You don't know everything yet," he says and draws a breath. "Not that I'm even sure if it matters now, but… For a moment there, when I was one with the Eye – I could tell you would change the future. I could feel it changing around me, shifting – my time is going to be different now. I'm never going to be born, that's… probably not good, in the long term. They spent eons making me just right for their purposes, Those That Came Before… and we've just mucked up their plans."
"I'm – sorry," Ezio offers. "Only not really," he adds under his breath, because he is not sorry for this chance, regardless of its side effect, he cannot be.
"Neither am I, I'm not really all that sorry either. Aside from the risk of the world burning maybe," Desmond admits and looks at him, smiling a little. It's sad. "It's just – you were going to have children, Ezio – and now you're not. And least not the one who led to me."
Ezio blinks at that with surprise and then leans back to look at him more fully. He – cannot even begin to comprehend the pain of the idea of children that could have been and now never would. He would have to consider it later, with time and solitude. What his mind catches on instead is, "That led to – to you. Then you're my –?"
Desmond nods and looks away. "Yep," he says, smiling wryly. "Altaïr too, and just about every other major Assassin family line that survived to my time, I'm related to pretty much everyone. That's what it took to make me – all of the Assassin Brotherhood. A whole lot of Templars too, I think."
Ezio can only gape at him.
Desmond winces with a sheepish grin. "So, you know. Talk about awkward cover stories."
The first to die would be Uberto Alberti. He was a traitor to the Medici and the Auditore, and the ultimate executor of their family's ruin, taking the evidence that should have convicted one and turning it to another. Ezio had forgotten some things, but this he remembers, from many nights is bitter research, the steps that led to his family's devastation.
Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza of Milan accused Francesco de' Pazzi of murder and, in smaller part, treason – likely due to some backroom dealings the Pazzi had attempted to conduct with him. What exactly had happened had been lost in time and the destruction of evidence – by Uberto Alberti, likely – but Ezio dares to make a guess he feels must come close to the truth.
In the light of Firenze and Milan's recent dealings, the Pazzi – or perhaps Rodrigo Borgia – had approached the Duke of Milan for an alliance against the Medici, intending to usurp their power in Firenze. By some cunning, the Duke had made it out of the meeting with his life intact, without agreeing to the conspiracy, and warned his allies. This led him to his death.
Which is where Ezio's father came into possession of some of the evidence – but sadly not enough of it for quicker, more decisive action. He and Lorenzo instead went for more legal methods of undermining the Pazzi, likely thinking it a better way to break their power and influence in Firenze – accuse Francesco of murder, for he'd likely committed several, and ruin his and his family's reputation. Whatever the final conclusion they intended was, hanging, banishment, exorbitant fees to pay off Francesco's crime, it would have ultimately weakened the conspiracy considerably.
Francesco too, obviously, would have to die – and Rodrigo Borgia, the mastermind behind it all. But of all the targets, Uberto is the lynchpin holding the conspiracy together, having Lorenzo's ear… and Giovanni's, too. He was the one who would be obscuring the evidence, the one who would be confusing the situation and hiding the conspiracy.
He was also the softest and easiest to get to of all the targets.
It wouldn't be enough to kill him, though. Ezio had long since lost the taste for death for the sake of vengeance, or even security – even if Uberto death might offer better protection for his family, it isn't enough. More would need to be accomplished by his death.
Using it to draw the rest of the conspiracy out would be one thing, if it worked, and perhaps Ezio could kill more with one attack, perhaps even take Rodrigo out before he did any damage. It's a tempting thought, but relies too much on change.
Using Uberto's death to plant evidence would be another potential way of making most of the man's fate. Since Lorenzo and Giovanni trusted Uberto, there might be a way to make it seem as though he was about to betray the confidence of his conspirators and thus they were the ones who killed him – and in so doing, left behind the evidence revealing the rest.
Of course… that demanded evidence Ezio did not have. Nor did his father have the evidence of the accusation raised against Francesco, as it did not yet exist – the Duke of Milan had yet to be killed, yet to make his accusations. Likely the conspirators had not yet approached him at all.
And could he trust Lorenzo and his father to work out the rest? Perhaps – and yet, they both work with agenda, Lorenzo's agenda, and the man might keep peace in Firenze… but he was hardly an elected leader, chosen by people.
"Shouldn't you be sneaking your way into your beau's bed? Isn't that why you got him a place at the palazzo?"
Ezio looks up – and then down, to watch Federico climb from the inner courtyard to join him on the Palazzo roof, where Ezio was starting listlessly over the rooftops of Firenze.
"What are you doing, Brother?" Ezio asks, resting his wrists loosely on this bent knees.
"I have a business to attend to – didn't expect to find you brooding up here," Federico says and hoists himself up and to the roof. "Relationship issues already? You two move fast, couldn't even have had enough time for domesticity and bliss yet."
Ezio gives him a look and shakes his head. "Desmond is sleeping," he says and looks away. "And I wanted to think."
"He really must be having a profound effect on you, to bring that about," Federico jests and stress beside him. "To make you use your mind – it's a miracle. Perhaps he is even better for you than I thought."
Ezio clasps his hands together, missing oddly the weight of his blades, the roughness of his gloves. "Yes, alright – have your fun," he murmurs and looks towards the Duomo.
Federico looks at him and then shifts where he is sitting, all but settling down beside him. "Alright, Little Brother, what's the matter? What are you thinking about?"
Death. Fate. The wonderful, overwhelming concept of all of Assassin Brotherhood, all their lives and deeds, their success and failures, culminating in one man, seemingly so simple and yet so strange – sleeping in the room just beneath them. "Future," Ezio says.
Desmond looks like Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad, reborn and in his prime. Now that Ezio knows to look for it, it seemed blindingly obvious – put the two next to each other and in the same clothing, and he wouldn't have been able to tell the difference, except perhaps by the voice and behaviour. They even had the same scar upon their lips.
Ezio runs his tongue over the corner of his lip – where he too had that scar, in another life. He'd never considered it significant, and the fact that Altaïr had a similar one had only seemed like a funny coincidence.
Federico watches him with concern. "Brother, your lover is safe. What more is there to worry about? Father will take care of whatever accusations are raised against him, if any – it will be alright."
Ezio sighs and tries to stay his mind upon the fiction – the one where he's a foolish boy in love and not a Prophet trying to understand his Master. Desmond is not a God, no more than Minerva and Juno were… sometimes he seems so human, so normal, even vulnerable.
And then he doesn't.
"I only," Ezio starts, but he has no idea what to say then. He only what? Worries about and fears the things he barely understands. About what it means to have brought Desmond to their time. What Desmond would do… what he would become.
What they together would do and become.
He shakes his head, and Federico makes a noise, sympathetic and concerned, and puts a hand on his shoulder. "It will be alright, Ezio," he says, soft. "You will see."
Ezio feels a welling of fondness at that, ignorant as it is. It makes him honest. "I was alone with this for so long," he admits. "I don't know how to do it, now that I no longer am."
"Well, good thing about having company – about having family," Federico says. "Now that can help you, yes? Lord, were you really so afraid we would not be on your side? I think I ought to be insulted."
Ezio lets out a weak laugh at that. "Your face is an insult," he says, a feeble attempt at what might have been old joviality, once.
Federico shoves at his shoulder, grinning. "I have to give it to you – he's a lovely thing to look at. Not badly done, there."
"He's something, certainly," Ezio murmurs and looks away, smothering another sigh. Then, still feeling dangerously honest, he says, "Things will change from here on out. Everything will change."
Federico hums. "I suppose they must. Change isn't so bad – sometimes it can be good, I reckon," he says and stands up with a stretch. "Now, go give your beau a squeeze or two, and you will feel better, Ezio," Federico says, giving him an indulgent smile. "Things can only get better from here, you will see."
Ezio hums, noncommittal, thinking, it's a good life we lead, Brother. May it never change. And how wrong did that end up being. "Be careful out there, Federico," he says and stands up.
"I always am," Federico says, and goes to jump off the rooftop.
With him likely still watching, Ezio decided to do as he expects – swinging down from the rooftop to hang by the edge, just in front of Desmond's window. It's shut, but not locked, and Ezio manages to make his way inside with minimal noise.
Desmond is lying on the bed beneath the covers, but he isn't asleep. As Ezio eases the window shut, he turns to look at him, near silent in the darkness. And Ezio… has no explanation, really, no excuse other than that his brother was watching and expected it.
Without saying anything, Desmond lifts the covers in a clear invitation.
And so they end the day as they begun it – in the same bed, quietly.
It still doesn't feel real. The headache doesn't help – there's constant pressure at Desmond's temples, like, what was it – hypertension? Probably not right, but it feels like how the word implies. Tension all around his head, like his skull is too small for his brain – it was there when he went to sleep, and it's there as he wakes up to the jostling of the mattress, as the weight behind him moves.
Ezio's hand rests on his waist for a moment, before lifting, slowly, away. The ghost sensation of it lingers though – it had been there for a while. There's a feeling of unexpected chill at Desmond's back, and that's telling too. Ezio had spooned him as they slept.
Figures the guy would be a snuggler.
"Mmh?" Desmond hums, not sure he wants to be awake yet.
"It's only a little past dawn – sleep," Ezio says, quiet, moving to put on his clothes.
"Mmh," Desmond answers and turns around to look at him. "Where are you going?"
"I should play the dutiful son today and do my work for Father," Ezio says, pausing to glance at him. "Also I want to get a feel of the situation with the Pazzi, see how far along things have progressed."
Which would probably be easier without Desmond underfoot, huh. "Alright, what should I do in the meantime?" Desmond asks.
"Sleep in, take your time, and don't tell my family anything," Ezio offers and pauses thoughtfully. "Your lies yesterday, they were very convincing. Continuing along the same line should serve us well."
Desmond scratches as his hairline and sits up. "Weren't really lies, but okay," he says, lifting his knees up under the covers and leaning his elbows on them, watching him. "I'll keep quiet, I guess. But, um, your family… is kind of demanding."
"Yes, and I am sorry about that," Ezio offers, glancing at him. "Would that I had a hideout full of allies, but alas, I don't. You will be safe here."
Desmond hums. "I'm not objecting here, Ezio," he says. "I love your family like they were mine. They're just – insistent, and I'm not sure I can hold them off, I guess."
Ezio hums, getting an odd look. "I will… speak with my mother, see if she can put some restraints on my siblings," he says then, glancing back at him for a moment and then turning to pull his boots on. "Though, a word of warning – she might make you work as well. We were rarely ever left idle at the house."
"I don't mind," Desmond says. "Actually it sounds kind of nice, contributing and such."
"Mm-hmm," Ezio hums and stands up, still shirtless. He looks so young, smooth and mostly hairless and slim. Nowhere the bulk he got to later, with all the armour, weaponry and other gear he hauled across the rooftops.
Desmond finds he kinda misses the beard. Ezio looks weirdly innocent without it, even with all the experience and carefully veiled ruthlessness still there. Seventeen going on fifty-four is an odd look for old Mentore Auditore. Not that Desmond would take back what he did, not for the world… pretty literally, actually. To be able to give Ezio back the time he'd lived and the things he'd lost – it's worth everything.
Still. It's the weirdest juxtaposition of a Bleeding Effect, to see both the young man and the old at the same time. It's like seeing double, but not.
"Is something the matter?" Ezio asks while pulling on his shirt, once Desmond had started for too long.
"No," Desmond says. "Nothing at all."
Ezio gives him a dubious look but doesn't push it. "I will hopefully not be gone for long," he says and pulls on a vest over his shirt. "If my family becomes too much, simply hide here and say you need to think, or something of that nature."
"I will," Desmond promises. "Good luck out there?"
He gets a brief smile and a moment of hesitation, before Ezio nods his head and then moves to the door, slipping outside quietly – though obviously not without notice. Desmond can hear Maria going, "Oh Ezio," resignedly before Ezio closes the door with a quick, "Shush, Mother, not so loud – he's still asleep…"
And then Desmond is alone in the guestroom of the Auditore palazzo, with no idea what to do with himself – and a pressure still pounding in his head.
"Great," Desmond murmurs and leans back down with a sigh. Real bed though – not a slab of stone, which was as much as he had back in the Grand Temple. Sleeping on beds becomes something of a moot point when your metabolism gets messed up to the point where you can survive what amounted to almost three weeks worth of coma without life support.
Damn, he's missed beds though. A mattress, pillow, duvet, the works. The Animus chair just didn't compare.
For a moment Desmond just lies there, listening to the sounds coming from outside the room. Distant murmur of voices, mostly – no traffic in Florence, some horses and carts maybe, but it doesn't sound like any of those are moving about at this hour. Just some people.
In the distance there are eventually the sounds of church bells, telling the time, whatever that time is. Do they measure time in hours yet? Desmond has no idea. He thinks clocks have been invented, in the Middle East, but he had no idea how widely they are in use yet, if at all.
It still kind of keeps catching him off guard. He'd become an actual time traveler. Not just fake time traveler via the Animus, but real, honest to god time traveler. He'd gone back over five hundred years – five hundred and thirty six? And Ezio had gone back thirty six. Desmond had known Ezio for thirty six years. A good decade longer than he'd been alive. How do you even tell time and age and all that, when you have extra lifetimes under your belt?
Running a hand over his face, Desmond rubs at his eyes, swallowing.
He misses his watch, a little. Pity that nothing he was wearing could be brought along, but the paradox was too bad, the branching futures too… complicated. Just bringing in something as simple as clothing would have led to a different technological revolution, once certain people got their hands on them. Which, in hindsight… might've not been a bad idea. A branching alternate history where Leonardo da Vinci invented a sewing machine… leading to better looms, to other things, to a demand for better yarn and string, better fabrics, to demand for more cotton, to…
He's not thinking about it. Nope. He'll have a nap instead.
"Ah, there you are, my dear," Maria says, a couple of hours later, when Desmond dares to venture outside the guest room and finds her in the library. "Did you have pleasant dreams?"
Desmond doesn't really dream anymore, he just remembers other people's memories. "I slept well, thank you," he says, smiling. "Um, where is everyone?"
"Petruccio has lessons, Claudia is visiting a friend, and Federico and Ezio are running errands for their father," Maria says, almost soothingly. "Ezio says that yesterday was a little – overwhelming for you, so I thought to keep everyone busy for the time being."
Desmond nods slowly. "It was a bit – much," he agrees and then quickly adds, "Not that I mind or – I don't mean it in a bad way, I think it's lovely, your family, but, I just, uh –"
"It was a bit much," Maria concludes and chuckles. "I hope Ezio managed to soothe your nerves then, seeing as he spent the night in your room."
"Er, well," Desmond says, feeling about five inches tall and maybe five years old too, caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "We only slept," he murmurs, looking down. "I promise."
"Mm-hmm," Maria answers, brutally amused. "So as long as it stays behind closed doors," she says then, and without further ado links her arm in his. "Now, I too have an errand to run, and I would be glad of your company, Desmond. Walking is always more pleasant with someone to talk to."
And interrogate, Desmond assumes. "I would be happy to," he says.
"Right this way, then," Maria says and leads him out of the Palazzo and into the open street.
There's more people around now, going about their day and duties – even a few carts and horses, which is weird to see. Back when they were simulating Florence, Rebecca put her foot down on adding in animals in already crowded places – they didn't have the processing power, yet.
The graphic quality in real world is amazing, Desmond thinks, a bit stupidly and not for the first time.
"Tell me something, Desmond," Maria says as the walk. "I understand that you haven't had any settled employment, and that's not a concern just yet – but do you have any pursuits in your life, things you do for the enjoyment of doing them? Aside from the obvious, of course."
Obvious being Ezio here? "Like hobbies?" Desmond asks warily. "As in pastime activity… thing?"
Maria casts him a curious look. "I have always found that people are more likely to succeed in life and in their work, if they choose to pursue things they are actively interested and passionate about," she says, consideringly. "Do you have something of that nature – a leisurely activity you would do more if your could?"
Not really. Desmond had tried, early on – trying every hobby he came across greedily, but also with a weird sort of guilt, like they were something forbidden he was stealing for himself. Which was kind of true – back in the Farm, no one had time for anything as mundane as a hobby. Hobbies were for normal people – future Assassin had training to do.
"I…" Desmond hesitates and looks away. "There was…"
There was one thing. It's a weird thing to miss, but he does. He hadn't even had the damn thing for longer than a couple of months, before Abstergo came for him. But he'd worked at a garage for a while, on and off whenever the place had someone sick and they needed a quick fill-in – enough so that he knew his way around an engine and could do the basic tune up without needing supervision.
But it's not like motorcycles are even a thing, in this time. And if he's not going to give Leonardo the inspiration for a sewing machines, he's not going to start the whole damn Industrial Revolution in the Renaissance, either.
No, maybe something benign instead. "I guess I – wouldn't mind playing guitar again," he says awkwardly and then winces – shit, are guitars even a thing yet?
Maria looks up, her attention honing in on the slip like a damn laser pointer. "Guitar?" she asks interestedly. "I'm not familiar with the word – what is it?"
"A sort of – Spanish lute, I think," Desmond says, cursing himself. Damnit, he'd knew something like this would happen, should've just kept his mouth shut. But since it's out now, in for a penny… "I used to play for coins," Desmond adds. "Every now and then."
"Oh, I see. Do you still have it?" Maria asks thoughtfully. "The guitar?"
"No, I – lost it," Desmond coughs and looks away. Left it behind when he was kidnapped, unfortunately, these things happen. "I was never that good a player, but it was… it was nice, I guess."
Maria hums, drumming his arm with her fingers. "I have an idea," she says and turns to steer him elsewhere.
"I thought you had errands," Desmond says, looking down at her warily.
"They can wait," she says with a devilish little gleam in her eyes. "Has Ezio ever told you how much he loves minstrels?"
Desmond stares at her with some concern. "Uh, no, I can't say it's ever come up," he says slowly. He'd pretty sure Ezio hates minstrels though – the gratification the guy got out of beating up a handful of them back in Istanbul was almost visceral. And then he'd used the disguise of one to shamelessly mock them. So, uh…
"Oh, he absolutely adores them," Maria says, very confident, and pats his hand. "It's been ages since we've heard one, and just the other day he mentioned how he missed the sounds of a lute – come, we must procure one for you, and then you can… serenade for us."
Desmond stares at her with disbelief and then looks up before his expression can give him away. He's kind of feeling like he's suddenly being lead to the railroad tracks – and the train coming along fast.
So, Maria Auditore is actually evil. That's – kind of surprising, though maybe it shouldn't have been? She is Ezio's and Claudia's – and Federico's and Petruccio's – mother, after all, and honestly, Giovanni seemed too honourable to be the origin of their particular brand of humour. But still. Definitely evil and absolutely up to something.
Though Desmond can't quite tell if she's scheming to break him and Ezio up via the cunning use of music or if she's just trying to punish Ezio here. Whichever it is, it's kind of evil. After all, what would be the fastest way to make Ezio recoil in horror? Probably the discovery that the person he was sleeping with was secretly a minstrel.
Which she's all but urging Desmond to become here, or that's what it kind of feels like, anyway.
"We have not a single musical soul in our family, I'm afraid," Maria says oh so sadly, while they peruse the workshop of a luthier, displaying a handful of instruments the man had made and some he'd gotten from other instrument makers. "We're utterly tone deaf, the lot of us, but we can still appreciate a good tune…"
Desmond looks at the fancy, painted instruments with more than a little bit of dismay. He's pretty sure instruments aren't exactly cheap at this time – or his time, or any time, actually. And these things are mostly lutes and the like, with a few harps and flutes and stuff… he doesn't really know how to play any of them. The only thing he can really play at all is a guitar, and even that not particularly well.
Maria, if she even sees his dismay, completely ignores it, turning to the luthier instead. "My good man, I don't suppose you have a guitar in your stores?" Maria asks. "My young friend here plays one, you see, and I was hoping to purchase one as a gift."
The luthier hums. "Guitar? Do you mean perhaps a guiterna? We call them gittern here, of course."
Maria glances at Desmond, arching her brows.
"I think that's a different thing," Desmond says awkwardly, shrugging his shoulders. "At least I don't think it's... that."
"Hmm, some foreign instrument, is it?" the luthier asks, peering at him.
"Er, yes – I think it's Spanish, maybe?" Desmond offers, the future flashing before his eyes, everything collapsing like a house of cards because of a dang guitar. When was guitar even invented originally? He has no idea.
"Hmm Spanish, is it? Hmm. Well, there's not been an instrument I couldn't figure out how to make, Madam, if your heart is set on it," the luthier offers to Maria. "Just tell me what it was like and I daresay I can make a model in a month or so."
"Hmm that's very long time to wait," Maria muses. "But perhaps there is something similar here. Desmond, dear, come and describe the thing for this excellent craftsman and we shall see if there is something similar."
Desmond thus ends up first roped into describing a guitar and then drawing a sketch of one for the luthier to consider and draw some patterns for. "Hmm," the luthier hums. "No I don't have anything the like. A gittern comes closest, maybe, but doesn't sound quite the same – I do have one in the back, if you would like to take a look at it?"
"Yes, please," Maria says while Desmond sighs.
The gittern is not exactly like a guitar, but Desmond can kind of see a history there – how something like it might've developed into something like a guitar. He can even see the history of a guitar pick in the fact that gittern thing is played with a quill of all things.
"Well, dear Desmond?" Maria asks, motioning him to take it.
Desmond really wishes he would've stayed in bed that morning. But it's not like he can tell her no at this point, so he takes the thing in hand, testing the weight of it. The fit is a bit odd, compared to a guitar – it's a little bit smaller and the neck is shorter than on a normal guitar, and there's five courses of double strings, instead of the six single strings he's used to.
Careful, Desmond thrums the backs of his nails over them and – oh? Frowning a little, Desmond does it again. He's never played on anything that's double chorded and it's... not half bad, actually. Very – whatchamacallit. Resonant? Who knows – he never went to music school, he learned from a guy on the street, and that guy didn't go to a music school either.
It's a little high for his tastes, but it really doesn't sound bad – and now that he's holding the thing in his hands, he remembers how much he missed playing, back in the Sanctuary, in the cave. Shifting the gittern in his hold, Desmond considers the neck and the strings, and then tries a couple of chords to figure out what goes where, how it sounds in comparison to a guitar, before trying on a bit of a melody, carefully plucking out the notes for Street Spirit.
Maria watches him for a moment and then turns her eyes to the luthier. "We'll take it," she says, her eyes shining.
It's weird. It's just a damn… sorta-guitar, and not even a real guitar, it doesn't feel exactly right or familiar in his hands, but it's… it makes Desmond feel better in a way he can't really figure out.
While Maria, with the definite air of smugness, leaves him to it, Desmond plucks out short bits of melodies and familiar tunes out of the gittern in the Auditore palazzo library, getting used to the weight and feel of the thing, figuring out what kind of songs he can get out of it and what he can't. Not all the modern songs work on the thing, it's lacking certain notes – but he can compensate with others, and the whole thing of having double strings, it's just kind of neat. It nicely covers up for his lack of actual training or skill, making every note sound just a little bit more full.
Desmond improvises a short bit of finger-style melody which had been stuck in his head for months now and then presses his palm over the strings, breathing in and out.
This… is a skill none of his ancestors had. Altaïr definitely never played a string instrument, and neither did Connor. Ezo could make noise with a lute, sure, but he didn't play as a practice, nor did he enjoy it. This… this is all Desmond.
He learned none of this in the Animus, it doesn't come from his DNA. It came from a bum named Jack he met one June, almost eight years ago now, who'd looked at him and saw how skinny and how desperate he was and decided to show him a trick or two, so that he didn't end up turning tricks on street corners.
"If you got the ear for it, better try this," he'd said and put his battered old guitar in Desmond's hands. "Keep your soul intact that way."
The guy was weird and had weird religious beliefs, which Desmond never put much stock to, and he was kind of sexist and didn't have much in the way of hygiene – but he was patient enough to teach Desmond a song or two. It had kept him fed, not only that year, but several nights in the years that followed, when Desmond's paycheck that month only barely covered the rent and he had nothing left for groceries.
He hadn't needed to do it much, since he landed the gig at Bad Weather and got an actual permanent position, but there'd been time the second hand guitar he found at a garage sale was the only thing between him and starvation.
So that's like… something. Something that's just him.
Desmond runs the backs of his nails over the gittern strings and feels a little more settled in his skin, for once.
And maybe there is a little something to Maria's mischief there too – because the face Ezio makes at the sight of him with the instrument in his lap is goddamn hilarious.
Language disclaimer on gittern and guitar because I think both in Italian are called chitarra? Which would not be confusing AT ALL, with everyone actually speaking Italian. So let's just... not think about too much.
Also I know next to nothing about playing any instrument so. Eh.
The chance to think and reflect on things he had learned and questions he had yet to get answers to was very much needed, Ezio finds. When he returns home for a meal and to check up on Desmond, he feels better at ease than he was upon leaving the Palazzo that morning.
Whether it is all worth it or not, whether he fully understands it or not, he thinks the result here justified the confusing means that it took to get him here. Desmond and the fate of the world, the sun and celestial threats and those with the means to combat them aside… he is back in the Firenze of his youth, and for that he can only be grateful, for the life yet ahead of him and the changes he can still make upon it, changes which would be very different. The life he had led, with all its pains, is now a prelude only to what would be a better, kinder life, one hopefully fuller of joy.
For that, the confusion of Desmond could be borne – even rejoiced.
Or so Ezio thought before seeing the man with a lute in hand, picking through a melody from its strings.
Desmond snorts at him, pausing his playing. "Your face, oh my god," he laughs, which makes Ezio's hackles nearly rise, only... he hadn't yet heard Desmond give such a full-bellied laugh. Sad chuckles only.
"Wherever did you get that?" Ezio asks warily. "I don't remember there being instruments in the palazzo, there's none among my family who is good with music." Claudia had tried to learn the violin once, and lord, the noise…
"Well," Desmond says, still chuckling. "I'm sorry I have to tell this to you, Ezio, but I think your mother's actually a bit evil. She bought it for me, when I mentioned I used to play an instrument. Want to know what she said to me?"
"When you dress the question like that, no," Ezio says, increasingly uneasy. "But tell me anyway."
"She told me you loved minstrels," Desmond says, grinning. "That you couldn't get enough of them."
Ezio scoffs at that, and Desmond laughs again, his fingers moving over the strings strangely, nimbly. Ezio had seen – and by lord, loathed – many minstrels in his time, and been the target of enough of their insipid songs to have seen several ways of playing. Desmond holds the lute in his arms differently, somehow.
"Don't worry, I'm not going to force you to listen to me singing," Desmond says, shaking his head, turning his attention back to the instrument. "I don't even know any songs in Italian, really."
"Hmm," Ezio answers, still a bit wary of the whole thing. "I do believe my mother might be trying to sabotage us."
"Yeah, I figured the same," Desmond agrees, still smiling. "I guess I can't blame her – and I definitely don't mind the way she did it. I have missed playing," he adds and fingers out a little melody, quick and spirited. "Hmm, not right. The notes in this thing are higher than in a guitar," Desmond murmurs and then tries again, lower on the neck of the lute, playing the melody again, but.. higher.
Though never a great lover of music, even Ezio can tell there's an odd, foreign quality to the way he plays.
"Playing music is not a… skill I pictured you spending time learning," Ezio comments, as Desmond works his way through the melody.
"I was homeless for a while – playing music on the street kept me fed," Desmond says without regret. "It was a while ago though."
Ezio isn't sure what to say to that – it's certainly not what he expected, for Desmond. He thought the man would have lived in luxury, in peace and plenty, especially if he had time for pleasures such as playing music. "I'm sorry," Ezio offers, knowing he can't ask, not in the family library where anyone could hear. "I will make sure it will never come to it again, I promise."
"I know you will," Desmond says and looks up. "So, how did your day go?"
"It was fine. I did my chores, ran my errands," Ezio says and takes a seat on the sofa beside Desmond. "I glimpsed Vieri de' Pazzi in the distance. He's still a rat bastard."
Desmond snorts and thrums out s resonant note. "That's nice," he says. "Since it was at a distance, I assume you didn't get into a fist fight this time."
"Oh, you know about that?"
Desmond smiles. "It was how I first saw you – sort of. On the bridge, fighting Vieri."
Ezio looks at him curiously and then hums. That… was when his lips were cut. "Well, for your information, no, I didn't get into a fight. He didn't even see me." Though seeing Vieri's half forgotten face did fill Ezio with great annoyance, but though he had been sorely tempted to steal a rotten fruit from a street stall to throw at the little weasel, he hadn't done that either.
He spied on the Gonfaloniere Alberti instead, following him for a time, though it did not get him anything of use. Nor had there been anything useful in the man's house, when Ezio had broken into it during a time when it was mostly empty with only distracted servants around. Uberto Alberti was cunning enough not to keep evidence in his house – there was nothing they're that the Eagle Eyes could find.
The only other leads he could use in Firenze were the Pazzi, and their Palazzo – which he likely wouldn't be able to get into without being caught or spotted – and the catacombs under Santa Maria Novella, where the Templars held at least one of their meetings. The latter might offer something, but he can't recall there having been any actual evidence present there – the conspirators had left nothing behind to be used against them. The only proof Ezio had been able to carry away with him was his word… which would not be enough.
In hindsight, the conspiracy had been well guarded – they only started slipping after the death of Ezio's father and brothers… and once their own begun dying.
It might be that he would have to risk it, after all. Kill Uberto to try and draw out the rest, and if that did not work, move to Francesco, maybe others if the opportunity presented itself. There is the risk of misunderstanding in Uberto's murder, however, on the part of Giovanni and the Medici – for to them Uberto was a trusted ally and not an enemy. And then there are the Templars too, likely on high alert with their conspiracy's goal drawing closer. The assassination would require care, more so than Ezio had displayed before. Last time he had little left to lose, and what there was, was secure in Monteriggioni.
Here his family is in Firenze – out in the open and vulnerable.
Desmond has stopped playing, and Ezio notices it only when a hand touches his shoulder. Desmond is looking at him with some concern, and it is only then Ezio realises he's scowling.
Desmond seems to understand without a word. "What do you need?" he asks quietly.
Ezio hesitates, just for a moment. There are voices coming from the dining room and the kitchen – it sounds as though Claudia and Federico are home.
So he tilts his head to whisper in Desmond's ear, just in case anyone is close enough to hear otherwise. "I need to kill Uberto Alberti."
Desmond shudders a little, his fingers tightening on Ezio's shoulder. "Okay," he says. "Do you want some help with that?"
Ezio hesitates, leaning back a little to look at him. He seems completely serious and sincere – but for his slight shudder, there isn't a sign of hesitation. "You needn't worry – I can handle it," he promises, still in a whisper.
"I know you can," Desmond agrees with a sigh and leans his forehead against his. "But you don't always come out of these things unscathed, Ezio – and I'd like it if you didn't get stabbed in the gut so many times this time around. Just a personal preference."
Ezio stares at his eyes for a moment, not sure what to think or feel at his wry vehemence, or the fact that the man knows he'd taken multiple stomach wounds. Honestly, it's something he'd rather avoid himself – the one he took in Forlí nearly killed him and took a wretched, painful year to fully recover from. And never fully stopped paining him since.
"In that case," Ezio says quietly and moves his mouth to Desmond's ear again, to murmur what he plans. Desmond, though he swallows with an audible click, listens attentively, and if he has any qualms, they're definitely not audible in his low-pitched voice when he offers suggestions in return.
That's how Claudia finds them, nearly in each other's lap, plotting murder in intimate whispers.
"Desmond, Mother says you play a gittern! Oh, this is wonderful – please, can you play me a tune before…"
She stops there to stare at them in first confusion and then in horrified realisation, while Ezio barely leans backwards, and Desmond flushes embarrassed red – completing the picture they must make perfectly.
The look of utter betrayal Claudia gives him is almost worth the daggers she'd be glaring his way all throughout dinner.
There are many ways the death of Uberto Alberti might go, how it might affect things. Some of them might be more a detriment than a benefit, as the man is considered a friend to the Medici and by them to the Assassins. But, perhaps, that too could work to benefit the cause Ezio is after.
"It would be investigated by your father, right?" Desmond asks. "Since he is an ally, supposedly. And it would probably put the Medici and your father on their guard, expecting something similar to happen to them, maybe."
"Hmm, likely so," Ezio murmurs, thoughtful. They are in his room, having retreated to its relative privacy after dinner. There they had arranged themselves close to each other, and not only for whispering – but because his family has a habit of waking in on each other. Assassins being Assassins really. "I had wished to procure evidence to implicate Uberto and plant it on his body, and thus give cause for suspicion and a warning for things to come," Ezio says against Desmond's shoulder. "But there was little to be found, and the rest I cannot easily access."
"And just faking some isn't an option?" Desmond asks, idly plucking at lute strings.
"The risk of it being deducted for what it is would be too great," Ezio says wryly, giving the lute a narrow look. Maybe there's some use for the blasted thing after all – it is acting to cover their speech. "I cannot off the top of my head think of a way to fake evidence that Leonardo would not be able to figure out."
"He works for the Assassins already?" Desmond asks with surprise.
Ezio huffs out a breath. He's almost getting used to how Desmond knows all he does – it's almost a relief to find something he doesn't. "Mmhm. He began earlier this year, I believe – he already knew Paola and La Volpe by the time I met him," he says and then thinks about it. "Lord, he even knew Theodora before I did. Sometimes I wonder how he did not turn out to be an Assassin himself, with how much he knew of us."
A sad waste it would have been, though, to turn someone of Leonardo's kind to the darkness and death of Ezio's ilk.
Desmond leans back a little, momentarily resting his weight against Ezio. "He became really famous, you know. His paintings are pretty much revered in my time, the Mona Lisa is the most expensive painting in the world," he says nostalgically. "The quintessential Renaissance man."
Ezio lifts his head. "The what man?" he asks, amused.
"The, er, the Renaissance. It's what we call this time period, the Renaissance," Desmond says and coughs. "Because of all the art and building and new thinking and all the things it led to – I think it was like from the 14th century to the early 17th, the Renaissance."
Ezio hums and rests his chin on Desmond's shoulder again. It's strange to think his present, his future now, as someone's history. That one day people might look upon his life like he looks upon the lives of people during the Crusades and the like. "I'm glad his work was remembered," Ezio murmurs. "He certainly deserved it."
"Yeah." Desmond is quiet for a moment, picking out another tune slowly. "Did you go to see him yet?" he asks then.
"Not yet. Mother has yet to introduce us," Ezio says and sighs. "And I fear he will figure me out for what I am in a heartbeat."
Desmond hums with a smile. "Yeah, probably. But he never betrayed your trust, did he?"
"Only to his lovers," Ezio harrumphs.
Desmond chuckles at that, looking down at the lute. "Salaì was probably a special case," he says and starts another, longer tune – obviously the accompaniment for a song, though he doesn't sing for it. "Maybe it doesn't need to be fake," he says then, thoughtful.
"Hmm," Ezio hums, battling between instinctive annoyance he tends to feel at the sound of lute music and the slowly rearing curiosity and Desmond's playing. It sounds so different from what he's heard before. "What do you mean?"
"The evidence, maybe it doesn't have to be fake," Desmond clarifies. "You could write a letter to Uberto, saying you know what he'd up to, or something like that. Maybe make a demand, or something, you know. Blackmail. It could draw him out and then when he dies with the letter in his possession…?" Desmond shrugs and glances down at him.
Ezio hums. "My father would know my handwriting, likely," he says, though it had changed some over the years, and he could perhaps disguise it…
"He doesn't know mine," Desmond says, glancing back at him. "Or I could use someone else's handwriting. Like Altaïr's. That would definitely throw people off."
Ezio hesitates at that – there it is again, the strangeness. "You can write in Altaïr's hand?"
"Mmhmm," Desmond agrees. "Yours too, if I want to."
Ezio is quiet for a moment and then bows his head, leaning his forehead against Desmond's shoulder, taking a moment to inhale and exhale slowly. "That would rather defeat the point, I should say," he says then, lifting his head again.
Desmond chuckles and turns his eyes back to the lute and the song he's playing. "Altaïr it is, then," he says.
Desmond writes the note not an hour later, after Ezio has procured him some writing supplies – not from within the house, for his father gets theirs from a specific supplier who would be able to recognize the type of paper used. No, instead Ezio runs to a shop and uses what few coins he has to buy several sorts, to confuse whatever trail that might be made there. Of those, he and Desmond choose the most nondescript sort, and then, in Altaïr's hand, Desmond writes.
You and your companions seek dominion over that which isn't yours, neither to claim nor to dominate, to slay or enslave. I have seen your deeds and I know what you plan – and my peace, like the Rites of old, demands a sacrifice.
And under it, a place and time.
Ezio casts a look at Desmond, who blinks at the letter in something like confusion and then, slowly, cleans the quill in careful motions, as though his hands ache. "I think that will do it," Desmond says, and looks down at his hands, rubbing the left hand with his right – tugging slightly at his ring finger.
It might have been more than Altaïr's handwriting that went into the note, Ezio muses grimly, and then carefully picks the letter up, the writing still slightly wet. "This should certainly do it," Ezio says, looking over the handwriting. It's like a page off the Codex, but… fresh. "But whether it will bring him out… I suppose we shall see."
"Mm," Desmond agrees and looks at him. "We're going to need disguises, you know. Unless you want to implicate the Assassins in this and make it complicated."
"I'd rather not, yet," Ezio murmurs. Not while his Father has – allegiances to outside forces, and not while those outside forces still consider Uberto a good man. Humming, Ezio looks at Desmond with interest. "Do you have a suggestion?"
"Actually, with Altaïr this close to the surface... Yes, I do," Desmond says and rubs a hand over his neck. "There's something that the Assassins of this time are kind of ignoring, or maybe you've forgotten, I don't know. The reason why the Assassins wore hooded white robes originally."
Ezio looks at him curiously. "Yes?"
"They helped them blend in. You know, hide in plain sight," Desmond says and looks up. "And yours, as great as they were… didn't."
Ezio arches a brow at that, tucking the letter into his vest. Well… it's true enough, white robes did not offer much in the way of anonymity. But then, he never actually sought to blend in, except when the situation demanded it. Ezio wasn't looking to hide – he was looking to send a message, and as such wanted his targets, his victims, to know exactly who and what it was hunting them. That fear sometimes did half of the work for him.
Hide in plain sight was never aspect of the Creed Ezio followed all that closely, it did not fit his purpose… but his purpose is different now. And now that he thinks about it, what did it say about the Brotherhood of his Father or the nature of his approach to the Creed that he donned those white, noticeable robes first?
Ezio looks away, frowning, wondering. He had questioned it once in a while, later in life, when he set aside the white for more muted colours, less eye-catching hues of grey and blue that let him disappear into the shadows better. In his time, Assassins wear cowls, and they wear white as a homage to their roots, for that is what their predecessors had worn, but… it did not really adhered to the second tenet of the Creed in their time, did it?
Desmond watches him quietly. "Never compromise the Brotherhood," he says quietly.
Sometimes, Ezio wonders if the man is in his head. Maybe he is. "Maybe it is better to honour the spirit of the of the Creed rather than the trappings we've veiled it in," Ezio murmurs and smiles wryly. "I think I will miss the hood, however."
"No one says you have to lose the hood, Ezio," Desmond says and looks at him. "Assassins use it for a reason. And, think about it. What's the most common, anonymous mode of dress in Florence – and across probably all the cities and states of the Italian peninsula? It even comes with a cowl and and it also doesn't much change with local fashions either. It's a win-win, really."
Ezio frowns at him, and Desmond shrugs, smiling. "Altaïr made his later armour black for a reason, Ezio."
There is that.
Claudia is frustrated. Everything is frustrating.
Duccio has not written to her in four days, and the letter he sent before then was utterly, completely unremarkable – he'd re-used phrases and words and, Claudia is certain, the bit of poetry he added to the end, she had read it before from him. There was nothing new in the letter at all. Even Vieri had done better – though, according to Federico, Vieri had a poet friend writing for him.
And now this. Now this. This handsome, tall, beautifully confused man in their house, Ezio's mysterious guest, who turned out to be both more interesting than she could've ever expected of any guest of theirs, and so shy, but – but –
She keeps thinking back to the moment of finding Desmond and Ezio in the library, Desmond's head angled down as Ezio whispered something – undoubtedly horrible and lewd – in his ear and – argh! Bad enough that Ezio courts women prettier than her – not that Claudia would ever be jealous of them or Ezio, what a horrible thought! But now, now he courts boys too, the prettiest of boys! Or rather, men, seeing as Desmond must be older than even Federico, and –
Oh, how is any of this fair?
The only good thing – if it can ever be called such – is that none of her friends had yet seen Desmond. Lord, should they see him and know that he was staying at the palazzo, why, Claudia would never hear the end of it – and it would only be made worse by the knowledge that Ezio, of all people, Ezio, had the pleasure of whispering his no doubt horrible tripe in Desmond's ear.
Upstaged by her own brother!
"Do you need a couch to swoon on, dear?" Mother asks, amused, not so much as glancing up from the journal she is writing in. "If you huff and puff any louder, you'll surely faint."
"I will not," Claudia mutters, only barely swallowing the huff that threatens to get out. "How come Desmond can stay here – and with Ezio – when Duccio can't?" she demands then. "I can't even bring my friends over, unless Father has had a week to think it over, but Ezio can just – bring his – ugh!" she can't even say it.
"It is a little different, and you know it," Maria says. "Don't act sillier than you are, Claudia – no matter what you think, it doesn't make you seem prettier, only easier. Intelligence is far more attractive, than insipid childishness."
Claudia folds her arms. No man likes an intelligent woman. Except maybe for Father, but Father wasn't just any man. "The point stands," she says then, little less theatrical – it's no fun when the audience isn't in the act. At least Ezio and Federico play along. "How come he can stay, but Duccio can't?"
"Because if not here, then Ezio will simply go see him wherever he was staying before, and right now it looks like it might have been the open street," Maria says with a sigh and gives her a look. "Come now, Claudia, you can do better."
She didn't want to. She wanted to have a tiff and throw a fit, and once she had it out and in the world, then she would feel a little better about the fairness of the world. But… yes, she does see why.
Because Ezio is dumb enough to take his very illegal affair and then have it out in the open, where everyone could see – where they would judge him and maybe even convict him. At least in the palazzo, it happened in the security of closed doors, and under Mother's and Father's supervision.
Not that there's much of that going on, considering how Ezio could all but molest the poor man in the library, with no one much caring and –
"It's not fair," Claudia says.
"Fair has nothing to do with it. It is more sensible than the opposite," Maria says calmly. "And sensible and safe is far better than fair, if it – "
"Keeps the family safe, yes, yes," Claudia mutters. "Should teach Ezio that, since he obviously doesn't understand a thing about keeping family safe."
"Perhaps I should at that," Maria says and glances up at her. "Are you done with your fit then?"
Claudia huffs, pointedly, and throws herself onto the couch, making to sulk. "It's unfair," she says. "He's so pretty." And Duccio is not much at all to look at, in comparison.
Maria chuckles. "Jealousy does not become you, Claudia," she says and then hums, thoughtful, stroking the feather over her lips. "You should instead look to making him feel more welcome. Desmond is a guest, and we so rarely have guests."
Yes, because Father has stupid rules about guests. Claudia hums, folding her arms over her chest and glaring at the ceiling.
"You could ask him to play again," Maria suggests. "Ezio is certainly not going to, and the poor man seemed so happy to get that gittern too, I daresay it was the first time anyone gave him something so nice. I'm sure he would like to put it to use."
Claudia glances at her mother, eyes narrowed. Maria looks a little smug, in a way that reminds her of how Vieri got thrown out of the palazzo – Mother had been almost viciously pleased for a couple of days, which, in hindsight… Claudia thinks she sees why. Seeing how Vieri had been behaving since – with poor Cristina too – she doesn't think she would've wanted to marry Vieri after all, even if he was a Pazzi.
Does Mother dislike Desmond too? Then… why not simply send him away? Or is it just that she dislikes the relationship he has with Ezio?
Claudia leans her head back and peers at the ceiling, thinking. Likely the latter. Desmond seems nice, what little of him she's seen – she'd been so looking forward to getting to know him… but no matter how nice or quiet or amiable he is, it doesn't make it any less illegal. And even if it's not exactly new for their family – there was Federico too, and he'd probably committed the sin of sodomy first time years ago – it's still risky.
Federico did not care for anything longer than a night or two, and he'd certainly never tried to bring a man to the Palazzo, so he's likely fine, and Mother and Father don't have to worry about him. But Ezio is being stupid. Who even knows what he is trying here – to make Desmond part of the family? Ludicrous. Only way that would work if there was a false marriage, one of them is married to a woman, or both, and the true relationship held in secret…
For Mother and Father it would be easier by far if the relationship simply did not last. Like, say, for reasons of the young man deciding to pursue music, which Ezio could not stand. Ezio would lose interest, Desmond would go his merry way, and family would be safe.
Claudia frowns, thinking about the way Ezio and Desmond leaned together, so close to each other that they were breathing the same air. It's nothing she's not seen Ezio do with women and girls, whispering to them and making them giggle, but… she can tell when it's something more. Ezio wasn't seducing Desmond.
Desmond was well past seduced.
Ugh, it makes her so mad. Why Ezio? Why couldn't she make a boy swoon like that? Not that – that she'd like a boy to swoon, but – to look like that, like he was hanging off her every word, like he needed them to breathe. Duccio had certainly never acted like that.
Claudia sits up. "I will ask him," she says determinedly. She would request something high pitched and noisy, if Desmond could play it – just the sort to set Ezio's teeth on edge. It would serve him right.
"That's the spirit," Maria says, smiling beatifically, and Claudia doesn't even care that she's playing right into her mother's scheming – she's entirely too irritated.
Desmond is not in the guest room – of course he's not. He's in Ezio's room – pressing her ear against it, Claudia can hear them murmuring inside, too low to carry even when she squishes her cheek against the wood. Ugh, she thinks, can't even spy on them.
Well, fine, she thinks and composes herself, setting her face and thinking, I am a masterwork, carved of marble. Then, with a smile plastered on her lips, she knocks – and then opens the door, not waiting for them to answer.
She's both relieved and disappointed to see them by Ezio's writing desk, where Desmond is sitting down and Ezio is leaning over him.
"Claudia," Ezio says, irritated. "What do you want?"
"Sorry for the interruption, Brother," Claudia says, not feeling sorry at all, and turns to look at Desmond. "Desmond, I wish to ask if you would be so kind as to play for me and mother in the library – it has been so long since we've heard music here."
Ezio's face falls – ha! – and he leans a little ways back from Desmond. Desmond hesitates, scratching at the scar on his lips. He looks at Ezio, and Ezio's face twists to another expression, hesitation mixing in with his instinctive dislike.
Oh? Claudia's eyes narrow. Desmond has some sway over Ezio too, it seems. Well, well.
"Well," Ezio says then, bending with obvious displeasure. "I suppose, if you don't mind."
"I don't," Desmond agrees, looking at him. "But –"
"I have an errand to run anyway," Ezio says, and then, right in front of her, leans down to murmur something in Desmond's ear.
The man frowns slightly, lowering his chin as he listens, swallowing and then humming in agreement. "Alright," he says turns to murmur something to Ezio's cheek, too quiet for Claudia to hear. Ezio touches his shoulder briefly in answer, fingers squeezing, before moving away.
Claudia lifts her chin and meets Ezio's eyes. He arches his brows at her and then shakes his head. "Sister," he says.
"Brother," Claudia answers, narrowing her eyes.
"Be nice," he says simply, and then moves past her. Claudia frowns slightly, glancing after him uncertainly. What, that's it? Not that she'd expected him to gloat, Ezio isn't the sort, but he does tend to preen a little, whenever he is caught, never shy of hiding how very proud of himself he feels over his conquests. But no, he is going, walking down the hall, disappearing behind a corner.
In Ezio's room, Desmond coughs and stands up, straightening his shirt and then going to pick up the gittern from the floor. "I have to warn you," he says, awkward, as he turns to face her. "I don't know any songs, only melodies."
Claudia releases a breath slowly. "That's fine," she says, a little sorry that Ezio had gone and thus couldn't be present to be bothered. "I'm sure they will be lovely, anyway."
And they are too, Desmond plays strange but beautiful melodies, his long fingers slide over the strings with great nimbleness and steadily increasing confidence. He has such nice hands too.
It really is really just so unfair.
Claudia wakes to a door closing and opening somewhere in the palazzo, far too early to be Mother or Father or even Annetta. It's barely light outside, with sky outside her window barely discernible, stars still shining above.
Ezio, she thinks first and then, No, Ezio hasn't the reason to go out with his lover here, she thinks, Must be Federico, coming in after a night of revelry – he had gone out late, as he always does, and not returned before everyone else went into bed.
With that settled, Claudia turns in her bed with every intention of ignoring him and going back to sleep. He'd likely do the same, after all.
Only he doesn't – there's a knock on a door, not hers but down the hall – their parents' door. Then, Federico's voice, "Father, there is news."
Claudia's eyes snap open and she's up from her bed immediately, as silent as she can manage, sneaking up to her own door, to listen.
A door opens, then father's voice. "What is it, Son?"
"There was a murder, Father," Federico says and Claudia's eyes widen eagerly. "The city guard already took him down, but Enrico saw it and told me – it was Uberto Alberti."
Claudia holds her breath. Uberto Alberti – Gonfaloniere Alberti?
Father says nothing for a moment. "When?" he asks then and his voice sounds very tired.
"I don't know how long he was up – they took him down an hour ago."
"What do you mean, took him down?"
"He was hanged, Father – from an archway in the middle of the street."
Another moment of silence and then a sound of cloth, someone taking a step. "Good work, Son. Are you very tired?"
"I can run messages," Federico assures him.
"Then go tell the others, just in case they don't already know," Father says. "I must go and take a look at this, and see Signor Lorenzo, see what I can find out. Keep an ear to the ground as you go – if you hear anything…"
"I will make a note of it, Father," Federico promised. Then he says something, quietly, too quietly for Claudia to hear.
"No," Father says. "No, no it wasn't us."
They must break up after that, for there's no more taking – though both move too damn quietly for her to hear, an opening and closing of a door tells her Federico had gone. Father and Mother soon follow, murmuring together quietly as they head downstairs.
Then all is quiet.
Claudia backs away to her bed, lying down quietly and staring at the darkness, her heart beating fast.
Someone had murdered the Gonfaloniere! And very publicly at that, to hang him in the middle of a street! How terrible – and exciting! But what did Father mean by us? Who were the others?
Claudia turns over what she's heard for the rest of the night, waiting fire others to wake up, waiting for morning to come, until it finally gets light enough that she can get up and not look as though she had been staying up.
Mother is still awake – sitting in the dining room with a cup of tea and a pinched look about her face. Claudia considers her approach and decides that obliviousness would be the way to go here.
"Good morning Mother," she says brightly. "Has Father gone to work already?"
Maria looks up and nods. "Morning, dear – yes, he had to go early. Did you sleep well?"
"Like a babe," Claudia says and sits down. She wants to ask and can't. "Is there enough tea for me?"
There is, and they drink, Maria looking distracted and not saying anything, and Claudia bursting with curiosity. There should be more news by now – they have to have some clue as to who had done it and why, right?
The wait is torture. Petruccio distracts her momentarily from it, coming into the dining room and joining them, babbling about some dream he had, where he rode a horse in the stars or something to that effect. Claudia barely listens.
"I had better start breakfast," Maria murmurs after a while, and Claudia barely holds back her impatience as her mother rises to head to the kitchen. The heralds wouldn't have gone out yet either, so that's not helpful either. Ugh.
She wants to know!
It's a long hour before Father and Federico return, Father looking grim and Federico tired. Claudia, now feeling all together done with waiting, almost asks, but before she can, Father speaks.
"Claudia, go wake up Ezio and tell him to come in the dining room."
He is going to tell them, oh, it must be serious indeed! "Desmond too, Father?" Claudia asks, eager.
Father hesitates and then shakes his head. "Just Ezio," he says. "This is a family matter. Let our guest sleep, if he has not woken up yet."
"You know they're going to be sleeping together, right?" Federico points out. "That's what they did the night before last."
Father sighs. "Of all times," he murmurs and shakes his head. "Just get Ezio, Claudia, tell him it's a private family matter."
Claudia goes, barely holding herself in check enough to take the stairs one at a time, rather than in leaps of three. She wastes no time making her way to Ezio's door and knocking on it.
Ezio is indeed not alone in his bed – Desmond is lying there, on his back with Ezio at his side, his head on Desmond's chest. Neither is asleep – they're just lying there, awake and lazy.
They look so comfortable together, but Claudia is too excited to get jealous about it now. "Good morning, Desmond – Ezio, get up. Father says to come to the dining room. I think he has something to tell us."
Ezio sighs at that. "I just got comfortable," he grumbled and then sits up with a slight stretch, revealing how very bare both of them are under the covers. "We'll be downstairs directly, Claudia, now get out."
"As if I even want to watch you dress – but Father says it's a family matter," Claudia says, quickly turning away. "Don't dawdle."
"Yes, yes," Ezio sighs, and as she steps out she can hear Ezio saying, "Here we go," to which Desmond answers, amusedly, his voice rough and soft all at once, "Good luck." And she is most certainly not imagining them kissing.
Ugh. She's not jealous at all.
Ezio takes his sweet time coming downstairs, but at least he looks semi presentable when he does. Claudia is all but boiling over by then. Father hasn't said anything, he just sits and waits, looking grim, and Federico is only yawning into a glass of heated wine and the wait is unbearable.
"Good morning, Father, Mother," Ezio says.
"Sit down, Ezio," Father says, and then they are all sitting. "It will be going out to the heralds later this morning, but I wanted you to hear it from me so that you will not be taken by the panic. There is a murderer on the loose in Firenze – he killed the Gonfaloniere last night."
Claudia schools her expression for shock and horror, playing her part well, she thinks. "Oh no," she says. "That's terrible."
Petruccio frowns, uncomfortable in the way of one who didn't fully understand the implications, and Mother and Federico obviously already know, so they don't look surprised at all. But Ezio…
"Have they got any ideas about who did it?" he asks, troubled.
"No," Father says with a sigh. "There is no clue as to who was behind it. The Gonfaloniere was hung off an archway near the Duomo, and there were no witnesses – it must have happened fast."
Ezio nods, still frowning.
Father looks over them. "Gonfaloniere Alberti was a friend, and I will not have out family spreading rumours about him. You might hear things today concerning his death – do not give credit to them, or spread them further. There will be an investigation into the matter, and unfounded gossip will only confuse it. So I want you all to be respectful and not give credence to fear-mongering."
Fear-mongering? "Father?" Claudia asks quietly.
Father sighs. "The Gonfaloniere was a friend to Lorenzo de Medici as well, and some are taking this as a sign that there is someone after the friends and allies of the Medici. Baseless hearsay."
Claudia's eyes widen. She had not even thought of it, but – they too are friends to the Medici. And if this murderer could get to someone like the Gonfaloniere…
Claudia thinks back to the things Vieri de' Pazzi had said about the Medici and lowers her eyes.
"Never fear, my children," Giovanni says and stands up. "We are perfectly safe. I only want you to be wary today. The people will be uneasy – do not let it get to you."
They all assent and Federico takes his leave to head to bed, yawning as he goes. Petruccio turns to Mother to ask, "Will there be a funeral? Will we have to go?"
Claudia looks at Ezio, who frowns at the table before standing up to head upstairs. She'd likely noticed only because she was faking her own shock and checking if anyone saw through her, but…
Ezio was faking it too. He knew the Gonfaloniere was dead. He knew – and like her pretended he didn't.
Semi detailed descriptions of murder.
Giovanni waits in the front hall of the Medici Palazzo, worrying. He turns it over in his head, again and again – how there had been no warning of it. Uberto was generally well liked – fair, impartial, excellent man of the law by all accounts despite his learning being largely self taught. Even those who opposed the Medici had little to say against Uberto, and there had been not a whisper of a threat to his life.
A man might go mad and in fit of lunatic passion kill another, that happened sadly every day – but this was not a murder of passion, or of momentary anger. This wasn't even a robbery gone wrong, or an opportunistic extortionist taking his chance. No, this was premeditated and carefully acted upon. It had to be, for the cause of death to be so convoluted.
"Messere Auditore?" one of the household's servants says. "Signor Lorenzo will see you now."
"Thank you," Giovanni says, bowing, and follows the man deeper into the grandiose house and eventually to Lorenzo's office, where the head of the Medici family is pacing the length of the room. "Signor," Giovanni greets the man.
"Giovanni, good," Lorenzo says and ceases his pacing. "Perhaps you will help make sense of it – I have finally had a statement of the doctor who examined the Gonfaloniere's body, and I cannot make it out."
He holds out a letter, which Giovanni quickly accepts and reads through.
The examination had been, naturally, superficial only, and even then a very chaste one. But there is no mention of blood or tears of Uberto's fingernails, no bruises or noticeable cuts or wounds – the cause of death was deemed hanging by the neck until death.
"Poliziano has been going over the scene of the murder," Lorenzo says. "Nothing there, not so much as a hair or a shred of cloth, and the street is undisturbed. There was no fight and no struggle – it is as if whoever did this simply appeared, put a noose around Uberto's neck, and hung him up."
"Hmm," Giovanni answers. "It would have taken some work, surely," he comments. "Such acts aren't easy to pull even at a proper hanging, never mind in an open street. And I understand he was hung quite high up on the arch?"
"Nearly high enough to bang his head on it," Lorenzo agrees and continues pacing. "Making the assassin – pardon, the murderer, either a giant or a magician."
Or simply very clever, Giovanni muses. "I will look into it, see what my people might be able to figure out," he promises. "Is there anything else? Any other clues, any –"
He trails away as Lorenzo takes something from his desk – a piece of paper, folder over once. "It took me some time to procure it, but, here. This was found on the body," Lorenzo says, grimly. "As it names the place where Uberto died, it was obviously written by the murderer, though sadly it does not tell us much about them. Unless, of course, you have insight I do not…"
Giovanni accepts the note and looks down on it. It's recently written with a slanted, strange hand, not very beautiful, but legible enough. The paper is unmarked and unremarkable, and the ink is simply black, no clues there. And the note…
You and your companions seek dominion over that which isn't yours, neither to claim nor to dominate, to slay or enslave. I have seen your deeds and I know what you plan – and my peace, like the Rites of old, demands a sacrifice.
It's not much to go by, but obviously there is a threat and implication of extortion there, so perhaps he was wrong. You and your companions, claim or dominate, slay or enslave… "Hmm," Giovanni hums, concerned. The note is worrisome, for whatever it implied, whatever this murderer knew… it was enough to move Uberto to try and meet them in the middle of the night.
"Have you any ideas?" Lorenzo asks.
"Only worries," Giovanni admits and looks up. "I do know an artist who has a way with handwriting and with minute details. He might be able to think of something which I could not."
"I already showed it to Brother Maffei, he didn't have a clue," Lorenzo says frustratedly. "It is no use."
"With all due respect, Brother Maffei is a master at understanding and deciphering code, not handwriting," Giovanni says carefully. "I would very much like to show this to the artist, I daresay he might be able to put some identifying feature on the killer – he's often said to me that handwriting can tell a great deal about a man. It might be a start, at least, to finding who is behind this."
Lorenzo hesitates and then nods. "Is this artist of yours trustworthy?"
"Absolutely," Giovanni promises. "The best kind of trustworthy – he owes his life to me."
"In that case, go, see what he might know. Bring the note back to me before midnight, for I must return tomorrow," Lorenzo says and sighs, running a hand over his forehead. "The sooner we catch this killer, the better, Giovanni. My brother nearly had an apoplexy when he heard the news, and my wife is beside herself. Find them and bring them to justice, whatever way you can."
Giovanni nods slowly and folds the message over, still worrying for it's contents. I have seen your deeds, what deeds? "I will do my utmost to set your fears at ease, my lord," he says. "You can count on me."
"… no sign of fighting, no marks of a struggle," Giovanni lists with a sigh, rubbing at his eyes. "It's as if whoever did this simply snuck up on Uberto, put a noose around his neck, and just like that, up he went. And Uberto was no small man, it would have taken a considerable counterweight."
"Or a very clever trick with the rope," the young artists answers, not looking up from the paper. "One might heft great deal of weight with not that much of a counterweight, with proper use of a pulley system – I don't suppose you have the rope he was hung up with?"
"It was cut to pieces by the guards when they took him down," Giovanni admits and sits down. "But as far as I could tell, there was nothing terribly unusual about it – a simple length of rope and a noose, tied around the archway. If I didn't know better, I'd say someone hauled him up there and threw him down to hang, but that too would take a considerable amount of strength – and were he conscious, he would have fought."
Leonardo hums in agreement and glances at him. "You wouldn't happen to have had the chance to look at the archway where he was hung, Messere Giovanni? Were there signs of the rope there – like, say, signs of it having dragged over the stone of the archway?"
"There was, actually – which is why I assumed a counterweight might have been involved," Giovanni says. "The rope obviously was pulled somehow, but…" Uberto's sheer weight made it a difficult puzzle of mathematics in his head.
"Hmm. It is interesting," Leonardo agrees. "I wonder. There were no eyewitnesses at all?"
"Only one drunk, who's saying that shadow demons drove him off and away from the place, and is likely lying about ever having been anywhere near the place," Giovanni says wryly. "Nothing of much use, I'm afraid, whoever it was and however it was done was very professional indeed." He looks towards the young artist. "Is there anything you can say of the message?"
Leonardo sets the short missive on the table in front of him and folds his arms. "I'm afraid there is no going around it," he says and shakes his head. "I do know this handwriting – but I fear you will not like the answer."
Giovanni only barely stops himself from getting up in excitement. "Tell me anyway, any clue at all is of vital importance."
Leonardo glances at him and then turns away, to fetch something from a locked chest – a familiar piece of aged parchment, wrapped around a short rod. The Codex Page.
"I am still working on the translation," Leonardo says apologetically. "Trying to learn not only the code but also a foreign language is taking, sadly, some time – but there is a section here written with the Latin alphabet. And, messere, they are very alike."
Giovanni frowns and then leans in to look as Leonardo spreads the Codex page beside the note. Though Giovanni had not studied such things as handwriting, nor did he have the artist's eye for minute detail, even he can tell the similarity. Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad had a very particular handwriting when writing in the Latin alphabet, he recalls – product of his first system of writing being Arabic.
"You cannot be saying that Altaïr himself wrote this," Giovanni says with some alarm.
"The man would have to be over three hundred years old, so, no, Messere, I don't suggest that," Leonardo says with some amusement. "But whoever it is might either be a scholar of Altaïr's writing, going out of their way to intentionally mimic his hand – or perhaps someone much like him, a person who originally wrote in Arabic and only later in life learned Latin writing, and now by some luck and coincidence has a very similar hand."
"Hmm," Giovanni answers, picking up both the note and the Codex page, comparing the pair. "They do look very similar," he has to admit, if begrudgingly.
The most worrisome thing about all of this, a thing Giovanni did not like admitting, is the sheer professional quality to it. The way Uberto was killed was very pointed, an obvious message, and it was done with a skill that is worrisome. A warning, a threat, whichever it was, Giovanni daresay it accomplished what the killer set out to do – and now, with this extra layer added to the mystery…
What if this message was not so much for Uberto – but for Giovanni? You and your companions… written in a hand very reminiscent of Altaïr's.
"Maybe, if whoever had the rope…" Leonardo murmurs, and Giovanni looks up. The young artist coughs. "Well," Leonardo says. "If the rope was of suitable length, and the one wielding of suitable skill and strength, they might use it to – rappel to the side of the arch, as it were, and thus use both their strength and their bodyweight to haul up whatever was on the other end. I have seen trapeze artist do something similar," he says and reaches for a scrap piece of paper to sketch it out. "Then, once the weight – once Gonfaloniere was high enough, the killer might simply tie the rope and be on their way."
"That would be a skilful feat indeed," Giovanni murmurs grimly.
"I suspect you would be capable of it, Messere," Leonardo points out, looking at him. "Would you not?"
Giovanni had never even considered such a move. But perhaps he could do it, at that. And, maybe, if one were to do a quick and forceful enough leap with the rope in hand, using the momentum and their own weight…
It might take some extra weight, a satchel of rocks perhaps, but certainly, it could be done. It would also take an Assassin's skill set, however – which is what he feared.
Giovanni hangs his head and then shakes it and stands up. Nothing to it but to accept the truth, however uncomfortable. And at least it wasn't obviously a murder committed by an Assassin – Uberto was not stabbed. "Thank you, Leonardo, you have been of great aid."
"I'm sorry I couldn't be of better service, Messere, but a single note is not much to go by," Leonardo admits, handing the murderer's note back to him. "Oh, and before you go – here, I have something for you to try."
"Hm?" Giovanni answers and then arches his brows as Leonardo brings out a bracer.
"It is still a prototype," Leonardo says, holding it out for him. "But I think I have figured out the double action blade shown in the Codex.
"I thought you hadn't translated it yet?" Giovanni says, even while quickly accepting the roughly made bracer and fitting it on his arm.
"I can still understand the pictures, Messere," Leonardo says, moving to strap the bracer on and examine the fit. "A little too small, hm. Try the blade, it triggers the same way your older one does."
Giovanni tilts his hand back, and the blade snaps out – nearly four inches longer than his usual one. "Oh, that is quite good," he says.
"It is weaker than the single shorter blade," Leonardo warns him and taps where the blade extends as if from inside a sheathe, adding in those extra inches. "This here is a sad point of weakness – should it be hit with any amount of force, the extended blade might very well snap, or bend to the point where the mechanism becomes inoperable. But I understand you don't exactly do sword fighting with these things."
"Not as a habit, no," Giovanni says, testing the blade with his finger to see if it jostled. It is a little less steady, compared to his older blade, but not so much that he would not trust it to piece cloth and skin, when properly sharpened. "This is marvellous, Leonardo, well done."
"It is still only a prototype," Leonardo says, modestly, but he smiles with obvious pleasure at the praise for his work. "Give me another week, and I should have a proper one made to your specification."
Giovanni nods and takes the prototype off. "That reminds me," he says. "I meant to ask you a more personal favour."
"Tools of murder are not personal, Messere?"
"This, I'm afraid, is more intimate still than that," Giovanni says and sighs. "My son… brought a man home."
Leonardo's eyebrows shoot up. "Well now," he says. "I thought Federico was smarter than that."
"Ah, no. He is, or I hope he is. In either case, it is not him I am now concerned about," Giovanni admits and runs a hand over his face. "It is Ezio. Ezio is the one who brought his particular friend over."
"I… see," Leonardo says, and coughs. "Um, and you wish for me to… talk sense into him, I assume?"
Giovanni sighs again. "I am not sure," he admits. "I am not sure at all. Ezio is very keen on this young man, enough to threaten with ultimatums, and – it is a difficult situation all around, and obviously with the matter of the murder now to be dealt with, it is not something I have the time to try and deal with. I had thought that perhaps… a more experienced viewpoint…?"
He trails away helplessly and looks at Leonardo, who looks both sympathetic and incredibly awkward. "Well," the artist says, slowly. "I certainly wouldn't mind helping, Messere, but I have to warn you – these things, like… like all romances, they are very… unique to the individuals in question. My experiences might not offer much help for your son."
"Still, I would consider it a kindness and a favour, if you could talk to him – to them both," Giovanni says, sighing. "It is not only that I wish them to see sense, but… Ezio has been different since he brought Desmond to out house. Distant. I fear… he might not trust us as well as I wish he did, with this. And I worry for him."
"Ah," Leonardo says, more understanding. "I see."
"Perhaps you could come over for dinner and see?" Giovanni offers. "My wife would be delighted to see you, Leonardo – she has been talking of commissioning another portrait."
Leonardo smiles at that, holds a hand to his chest and bows slightly. "I would be most honoured, of course," he says, and adds, "A dinner in the exclusive Palazzo Auditore, why, I will be the envy of artists everywhere."
"Then it is decided," Giovanni says, glad to have this one thing somewhat settled, and perhaps on its way to a conclusion. "I do appreciate it, Leonardo, greatly."
"Hopefully I can be of some service then," Leonardo says and then coughs. "And the killer, what do you intend to do on that score?"
"I'll go have another look at the arch, see what I can figure out," Giovanni says. And after that, he would see if Paola and her girls had found anything of use.
The arch doesn't tell him anything, though he considers Leonardo's theory at length and maybe someone could have done as he suggested, leaning to nearly hang off the arch and using their body as a ballast while pulling Uberto up. Still it would take skill and strength both, however it was done, if it was ever to be accomplished without tools or other weights.
Though how could one man slip a noose around Uberto's neck and then also haul him up from above? He would have to be not only a prodigious trapeze artist, but a master with rope. Or… he had a companion. The message had only mentioned the one, but it could very well be that there were multiple people involved with the murder.
The whole matter seems to only grow more complicated.
"I have been turning this over in my head all day now," Giovanni admits. "Please, Paola, tell me you have something that will make this puzzle easier."
She smiles, amused and sympathetic, and guides him to a private parlour. "I'm afraid not. I and La Volpe both have had our people raking across the city for any sort of clue, and I'm afraid there is nothing to be found," Paola admits. "Whoever committed the act is very good."
"More than – they are either impossibly good, or not working as alone as we first assumed," Giovanni admits, sitting down with a sigh.
"Perhaps so – though larger groups are more difficult to hide," Paola admits, sitting down across from him and crossing one leg over the other beneath her skirts. "I'm afraid the particular area where the murder happened was not a place very well watched, neither by my people, or by La Volpe's. So close to the Duomo, there are too many guards, and neither thieves nor courtesans nor any loiterers are tolerated there."
Giovanni hums at that. "Are there many such places in Firenze – places your people do not watch?" he asks curiously.
"Not many, but there are a few," Paola admits. "We aren't so numerous that we could cover the whole of Firenze. La Volpe's people watch over some of the places where my girls cannot get to, and my girls can obviously cover some places they hardly can gain access to… but Firenze is not a small city, my dear."
"No, I suppose it isn't," Giovanni muses. "But for the killer to use one of the few places where our eyes do not reach them…"
Paola hums and reaches for a bottle of wine, turning to pour for them. "You think it was by design?"
"I am not sure what to think, Paola – but there have been many unpleasant conclusions that I have been forced to draw," Giovanni admits and pulls out the letter, holding it out to her. "The method used, if it was not accomplished via the use of a considerable counterweight, would have taken skill and strength – at the level of a trained Assassin."
Paola looks up sharply.
"And that letter – the handwriting might very well mimic, intentionally, that of Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad," Giovanni adds grimly. "You know, as do I, that someone has been seeking out the Codex pages ahead of us."
Paola sets the bottle down with a near forceful click and takes the letter, looking it over. "Ah," she says, grim. "You think this a message for us."
"Uberto knew of us, of Assassins. Via my service to Lorenzo, I worked with him occasionally," Giovanni admits. "As such, his companions here might very well be seen to be… us."
"Hmm. Claim nor dominate," Paola mutters. "Slay or enslave – whoever wrote this knows nothing of Assassins. To use our Master's hand to write this is an insult."
Giovanni hums, noncommittal, though he cannot help but agree. And yet… there is a niggling guilt he cannot quite brush aside. For, seek to dominate… that, he cannot deny, might as well apply to Lorenzo as things now stand in Firenze.
Paola looks at him sharply. "You cannot think it is one of us who did this," she says sharply.
"No," Giovanni says, though he isn't entirely sure. "But there is a part in the wording that gives me concern. The Rites of old."
Giovanni looks up. "Sects of the Templars were known as Rites."
Desmond is feeling a little... unsettled. Not like he's unnerved or something like that – but like there's bits and pieces inside him that are a little out of place.
The assassination had brought his ancestors to the forefront. Not just Altair, though he's certainly there, but Connor and Ezio too, and Haytham, and other people he didn't know too well yet, but who had been slowly leaking into his dreams.
It was Ezio who wanted Uberto ironically hung up and displayed, to suffer the same fate Ezio's father and brothers suffered. Not the current Ezio, the old man in a young body, sitting beside him… but the one inside Desmond, only… not, not really.
The thing about having his DNA segmented into memory files, thanks to the Animus, is that they don't coalesce into a full individual but into bits and pieces of one, fractured and incidental in a weird way. There are different versions. And the Ezio currently up and awake inside Desmond is a younger version, maybe in his twenties, still angry and still looking for revenge.
But at the same time, an older Altaïr is there, thinking of the future, making plans – not the old man from the library, Desmond never got those memories, but the recently made mentor, the one with the Apple in hand, delving into its mysteries, heedless of the damage it was doing to him. He was seeing the flaws in his Brotherhood and looking to correct them – failing originally, because there were too many opposing him and he wasn't well enough liked, didn't have Ezio's charisma, but he saw and he plotted and he planned.
Connor, who saw where it all got them and how little ever actually changed, just feels tired. Hopeful, because they have now made some difference... but tired all the same. The murder method was all him – a modified rope dart, really.
Desmond feels a bit like a jigsaw puzzle in a box, shaken up and in disarray.
"Now we must keep watch," Ezio says – the actually living and breathing Ezio. "See which way the dice will roll. Should Rodrigo come here, should the conspiracy meet…"
If they could all be killed in one fell swoop it would be the best, Altaïr thinks. No more of this chasing of targets and letting them make their moves, commit their atrocities without check – get them instead in once place and deal with them accordingly. Warn none – kill all.
Desmond hums. "Yeah," he says. "We're going to need better weapons than a bit of rope, though."
Ezio draws a breath and sighs in agreement. "There are two Assassin tombs in Firenze," he says then. "And if I recall, both were buried with their weapons, along with a number of valuables."
Desmond gets the dumbest urge to ask if Ezio was buried with riches – but how would he even know? He didn't die. That was years away.
It's kind of funny – the Ezio in Desmond's head, if it was a fully realised person with all memories intact, would be actually older than this Ezio. Who is seventeen now.
"That sounds like an idea," Desmond says, trying to concentrate on the actual present – which is in the past. Past of a past of a past. Alternate reality now, probably. "Should probably go after the one under Santa Maria Novella first, before the Templars get to it."
Ezio looks at him, worried. "Are you alright? You sound strained."
"Headache," Desmond admits with a sigh. "It'll pass." Hopefully. Going on two, three days now. Or is it four?
"Hmm," Ezio says, considering him. "Is it your neck, or something else?" he asks. "I used to suffer from headaches due to a neck injury and stiffness – a healer in Istanbul showed me a method of dealing with it, if you are interested."
Desmond doubts it would help – but he's not about to turn down any chance of clearing his head, however small. "Yes please," he sighs.
Ezio takes Desmond's hand in his, and for a moment his fingers look older, bigger, stronger, with decades old calluses and so steady with experience and practice. Then they're young again, and he turns Desmond's hand in his, searching for that pressure point pop culture thinks is be all end all of cures when it comes to the head.
It's Ezio's touch, more than anything, which helps – feeling how soft his hands still are, how young. Physical, grounding things.
Here and now, Desmond thinks while Ezio digs his thumb gently but firmly into the soft spot between his thumb and forefinger. Then Ezio puts his other hand to the back of Desmond's neck, and presses his fingers there too, along the spine, digging into tense muscles, and that's… kind of nice really.
Desmond sighs and hangs his head to Ezio's shoulder.
"Better we head there tonight," Ezio murmurs into his hair. "Santa Maria Novella first, as you said. With luck the Templars haven't yet robbed the grave. Once we have whatever there is to find there, we can see about Santa Maria del Fiore."
"Mmh," Desmond says, closing his eyes. "Are they real graves?"
Ezio's fingers don't stop, but he seems to pause at that. "How do you mean?"
"Darius was Persian. Iltani too, I think. Why are they buried in Florence, in and under churches built centuries after their birth?" Shaun was forever pissed about it and furious that Ezio never bothered to look into it.
"Hmm. That… is a good question," Ezio murmurs. "I hadn't ever thought about it. Perhaps their original graves were under a risk of discovery, and my great grandfather, the Mentor in his time, had their remains relocated for safety."
"Maybe," Desmond says.
They're quiet for a bit, while Ezio moves both hands to the base of Desmond's skull, massaging the muscles while moving his thumbs over his scalp to rub at his temples and the hinges of his jaw.
"I can feel your pain," Ezio says then.
"The aching of your head – I can feel it."
Desmond blinks his eyes open in confusion, to find Ezio looking distantly in the air between them. He's frowning with concentration, his fingers stilling, thumbs pressing against the sides of Desmond's neck.
"Um," Desmond says, his eyes widening a little. "I think it's enough that one of us has a headache – so maybe stop doing that?"
Ezio blinks and lifts his eyes to his. "You know what it is."
"I know Isu bullshit when I see it," Desmond sighs and lifts his hands to cover Ezio's and pull them away. "Thank you, I think that's – enough." The worrying thing is – his head doesn't actually hurt as much anymore. But if it's because he's somehow transferring his headache to Ezio…
Ezio looks like he wants to ask – but also like he really doesn't. He coughs instead and turns away. "If you are feeling any better, we had better head out now, if we want to visit the tomb before dinner."
Desmond nods rubbing at his neck, where he can feel Ezio's hands like a hot brand. "Yeah. Yeah, let's go."
Santa Maria Novella is mostly vacant, it being in the middle of the week. They're still careful approaching it, since la Volpe at least knew about it later on, and maybe other people might too, you never know with Assassins. Between them, though, with Ezio checking the area above and Desmond bellow, they figure no one's watching.
The city is too busy with the death of their Gonfaloniere, it seems like. All the heralds are talking about it, and all the people are gathering to gossip. Likely the Florence of today isn't as used to public murders as it became later on – things have been more or less peaceful before now. So, it's big news.
"There's the fear-mongering," Ezio murmurs, after joining him on the ground level.
Yeah, some things never change. There are people already talking about whether the murderer would attack again and who would be the next victim. One of the Signoria maybe – or the Medici? Some other ally of the Medici perhaps – the Auditore are definitely mentioned. Even without newspapers being a thing, sensationalism is still there, huh, and everyone likes a good bit of bad news.
"You know, it was probably something like this after your assassinations before," Desmond comments. "You just rarely stuck around to listen."
"I heard similar reactions in Roma," Ezio muses. "So it's not as unexpected as all that. And it all serves a purpose." He sounds like he regrets it a bit though.
Desmond pats him on the shoulder – it would have been nice if Ezio didn't have to play the boogeyman in another life. "Come in. We have a grave to rob."
Ezio hums in agreement, and together they make for the entrance, where Ezio triggers the skull lock, and Desmond follows him into the shadows.
The tomb is empty, but still more or less the way they both remembered – full of collapsed sections that require climbing and jumping and care. At least there's no guards to chase or fight this time, but it's still a trial, just like the rest of the tombs used to be. Which Desmond had always had some suspicions about.
There's a huge statue of an Assassin in the enormous main chamber of the tomb's trials. The cowl alone is a dead giveaway. Another thing Shaun used to get pissy about, wondering where Assassins of the time got the funds to hire building crews to chisel stuff like that out – because building projects of that nature? Not easy or cheap in their time. It would've taken dozens of workers, a small mountain of cash and maybe a few decades of time. Something the Assassins shouldn't have had at their disposal.
Or, you know. Maybe they used the Hammer and Chisel of Eden, Desmond said, which just made Shaun sputter harder and louder and then go into a rant. It was hilarious.
Good thing Shaun had never seen the actual catacombs under Monteriggioni – he would've had a fit.
"This way," Ezio says, moving to the corridor that in another time he had to chase a fleeing guard in. Desmond follows, still wondering about how the place was built and why. It was obviously not the church that had done it, after all – why build such grandiose graves for Assassins when their whole thing is all about hiding? Doesn't really add up.
Shaking his head, Desmond concentrates on Ezio, following him through the rest of the way and finally to the chambers where the Templars had met. Nothing there yet, not even signs that people had visited the place. The grave, it looks like, hadn't even been discovered yet.
"Are you going to take the seal?" Desmond asks, staying back while Ezio approaches Darius' coffin.
"Yes, though what I will do with it and where I will put it is another question," Ezio answers, rubbing a hand over the coffin lid and then crouching down to examine the treasures present.
There's a lot, but most of it they can't do much with. Fancy pots and shiny plates aren't going to be very useful.
"There are blades here," Ezio says. "Throwing knives."
Desmond steps in to look, and together they go through the treasures, finding a dagger in top of throwing knives and a small heaping of old coins, but no swords, no armour, no hidden weapon.
"Inside the sarcophagus maybe?" Desmond suggests while Ezio pockets the money.
"The seal is within it, at any rate," Ezio agrees and together they push the lid of the coffin.
Then they stop to stare.
"Ah," Ezio says, in realisation and confusion.
The body inside the sarcophagus is a fake. Desmond can tell it by the smell alone – or the lack of it. Mostly it just smells like old musty cloth. Testing the body with a very strategic and scientific poke, Desmond figures it's probably made of wood – a puppet, wrapped in a funeral shroud.
"I couldn't tell, the last time," Ezio murmurs while picking up the seal from inside the coffin. "I had yet to see a proper tomb, so I took everything at face value. This tomb is false – but why?"
Desmond glances around them and hums. "I might have a theory about it," he admits and – looks.
They aren't the first Assassins here. There had been others who had came and picked up the seal and gone with their rewards. And then there was Monteriggioni too, what was there – the hidden statuettes in the town which when placed on their original pedestals yielded rewards, and the Sanctuary itself…
"It's a trial – a test. I think all the tombs are," Desmond says. "You can't even get here unless you know how to move like an Assassin. The other tombs are even trickier to get to."
Ezio looks up. "A way to test Assassins – and teach them about our history at the same time," he says. "I think you might be onto something."
"An Assassin final," Desmond says, amused. "You even get robes at the end."
"Pardon?" Ezio asks, confused.
"A thing in the future, with schooling – you complete your final exams, your tests to prove you know the stuff people were teaching you, and then you graduate with a fancy set of robes as a proof that you did the thing – never mind," Desmond says. It's not like he even knows how that goes, he never went to school. TV made it look nice though.
"Hmm," Ezio answers. "Well, we have some number of weapons now, and money to procure more if we can exchange it safely. It should do for a start."
"Mmhmm. What's our plan then, if the Templars gather here?" Desmond asks.
Ezio considers it and then hands him the dagger. "Smoke bombs," he says simply.
That would do it.
Of course there's is no telling when a meeting like that might occur, and keeping track of Templar movements is hard without the usual methods of thieves and courtesans at your disposal. They have no spy network in Florence and no one they can turn to, it makes things a bit difficult.
And at this point it isn't just that Ezio doesn't want to tell his Father – he can't. Because Giovanni is legit looking for them, trying to hunt them down and bring them to justice. Which, on the other hand, makes things awkward.
Florence also isn't in the sort of position that made Ezio so successful in Rome – the people here aren't downtrodden or desperate in the same way. Florentines are generally pretty happy and well-off, so neither kindness nor money have the same purchasing power. Ezio can't just saunter up to a shop doing badly and suggest he scratches their back if they scratch his in return. It just doesn't work in a wealthy, well-off city.
"And most of those whose loyalty can be bought with money have already been bought and paid for," Ezio concludes, troubled.
Desmond hums in agreement, mulling it over. Of all cities, Florence never really sided with Ezio. Not like Venice and Rome and Istanbul – all the places that needed his help. Florence didn't. Which kind of makes sense why Giovanni's style of Assassinhood works here while Ezio's never felt fully welcome.
"There is one thing, maybe," Desmond muses, looking across the street they're walking on, "one brand of people which might fall under La Volpe's umbrella, but maybe not."
Desmond points and Ezio looks – and then turns back to him, confused. Desmond looks at him closely, and then at what he's pointing, and then at Ezio...
"You really don't see them at all, huh?" Desmond asks. He kind of figured, since they've never featured in Ezio's memories, in Animus or otherwise. Ezio just doesn't register them. "Your eyes just – go over them."
"What are you talking about?" Echo asks, irritated.
"The street kids," Desmond points again. "Look – just, look."
There aren't many of them in Florence, and the few Desmond had spotted are pretty good at hiding, sticking to the shadows of alleyways, only darting out to beg for coins before hiding again. The city guards probably chase them from view, protecting the good noble people of Florence – like Ezio – from having to see them… but they're still there.
Desmond chooses not to examine the reasons why they're as good as invisible to Ezio, when he sees his expression go from amazed to stricken.
"Can you give me some coins – small ones?" Desmond asks, and Ezio quickly takes some copper pieces. Desmond nods and then turns to approach the kids.
They're instantly suspicious of him – but they'd spotted the money exchanging hands, so he has their interest too. "Hey," Desmond says. "I have a favour to ask – and some coins for anyone who can do it."
"What's the favour?" the obviously oldest of the kids demands to know, even while getting ready to bolt.
"I need some flowers to take to a friend," Desmond says and jingles the coins in his hand. "How about it? Coin for a flower, until I run out."
The kids likely don't have better things to do, or the day had been bad for them, because with a short exchange of looks, they quickly set out, leaving Desmond and Ezio in the alley.
"Why ask for flowers?" Ezio asks quietly. "You could have simply given the coins away – why make them to work for it?"
"This way they will remember us," Desmond says. "And begging can be – demeaning, even when it's the only thing you can do to survive. There's something about doing even a little bit of work that makes the money seem like so much more – like you've earned it. You don't know how humanising that can be."
Ezio doesn't say anything – but the look he gives Desmond speaks volumes.
The boys return pretty quickly, all carrying a handful of flowers – some of which look like they've been pulled out if someone's flower bench. Desmond picks through them for the best ones, making sure that every boy gets an equal share of the rewards. Ezio looks like he's tempted to pitch in, but Desmond gives him a look and he stays quiet.
"There you go," Desmond says to the kids. "And good work – this will help me loads. Thank you."
The boys seem still a bit dubious about him, but judging by the looks of it, they'd definitely be looking out to him again, if they spotted him on the street. That doesn't stop them running away post-haste the moment the coins run out, but that's fine. It's a start, anyway.
Desmond makes a lopsided bouquet from the flowers and shows it to Ezio. "Think your mother would like this?"
"I daresay she wouldn't mind it," Ezio says slowly, still looking at him with that realisation. "Do you think it will be safe, securing the use of those kids?"
"Everyone underestimates street kids," Desmond shrugs. "And it's not like we'd ask them to fight – just watch a church."
"Hmm," Ezio answers, uncertain. "And you can secure their aid?"
Desmond shrugs. "Give me a couple of days, a handful of coins, and we'll see."
They head towards the Auditore palazzo, Ezio thoughtfully quiet as they walk. He doesn't ask, though he must be figuring out by how. Desmond leaves him to it, considering the flowers instead. They're not quite as pretty as the future carefully bred varieties, but they're nice enough. When was the last time he got flowers for anyone? Must've been years.
They arrive to the palazzo, and Ezio hesitates. "The things you told my family," he says. "None of it was made up, was it?"
"I might have left some things out, but no," Desmond admits.
"You…" Ezio starts to say and then bites his lip – so whatever he meant to say, he doesn't want it overheard. "I see," he says instead, looking uncomfortable.
"It's fine, Ezio," Desmond says, amused. "Don't worry about it. Doesn't really matter anymore – it's in the past now."
"So are we," Ezio murmurs and looks up and to the Auditore palazzo.
There are people in the inner courtyard. And not just members of Ezio's family.
"Ezio," Maria calls warmly, holding out her hand to them. "Desmond – come meet Leonardo. He will be joining us for dinner."
Since the terrible moment when he was faced with the chance of his own execution, or at the very least imprisonment and no doubt no end of torture, Leonardo has performed various services for Messere Giovanni and his kind. None of it has been too difficult or beyond his capability – or his spirit, thankfully. Weapons maintenance he could do, easily. He had also fashioned various tool pouches for Messere Giovanni, and eventually the belt to hold them. And of course, he had done portraits of the man and his wife, free of charge.
But this is a service he did not expect – and though uncomfortable in nature due to…various reasons, really, Leonardo cannot help but feel his respect for Giovanni and his lovely wife rise.
"Of course, the ideal situation would be if Ezio came to his senses," Madonna Maria says honestly, with a sigh. "And the young man of his went on his merry way, and we could put the whole thing behind us. But I fear it might be very serious, after all. Ezio has not been the same since bringing him over."
Leonardo hums. As much as he would like to believe only in the good of people, such things can be… risky. There were times when people like them – especially those younger, less experienced, and far more vulnerable – fell into the trap of more predatory men. It is such a terribly vulnerable thing to admit to anyone, and sadly easy to take advantage of. Leonardo had avoided it, and no one had ever held his… inclinations over his head in order to blackmail him, but he had seen it happen to others.
From the few snippets of information the Auditore had dared to divulge to him, he can see why the situation worries them. Their words have not painted a confidence-inducing image, truth be told. Neither Giovanni nor Maria had spoken of the young man as anything other than simply Desmond, which meant he was a man without a family. Such a man, seeking entrance by such means into family of the Auditore, that's worrisome enough, but according to Maria, Desmond is somewhat older than their son, as well. Another warning sign.
And then, the repeated mentions of Ezio's changed behaviour.
"Madonna," Leonardo says, gently. "Can you tell me… how is it that Ezio has changed?"
"He is more quiet, by far," Maria sighs. "A little less inclined to go out and cause trouble – mind you, it has only been three days, but… he is more solemn," she says and shakes her head. "And he is keeping things from us, that is clear as day."
Leonardo nods, sympathetic. Obviously he would – everyone with such proclivities did. But it could be also the older man influencing the younger, to behave as the elder wished, to distance the younger from his family… Sadly, Leonardo had seen that happen too, to young men – and also women – who certainly did not deserve it, but who were either too afraid, too easily persuaded, or too much in love to stand up for themselves.
One would think the son of an Assassin would grow up confident, though.
Well, he would know once he met the boy, Leonardo muses. "Is there anything you can tell me of this… Desmond?"
"Not much, I'm afraid," Maria admits. "He's shy and quiet and withdrawn, and has not spoken to us much at all. He said he's worked in various occupations, over the years, and he knows how to play an instrument like a gittern, a guitar he calls it – though he has no actual training on it, I suspect, and likely learned by ear. As to where he comes from… nothing. He has told us very little."
Leonardo nods, thoughtful. It is not much to go on. "How truthful do you think he is being?"
Maria purses her lips in thought, considering it. "I don't believe he has lied to us," she admits, somewhat begrudgingly. "But there are secrets he is attempting to keep, and Ezio is aiding him in it. Which, considering that they came to us implying that Desmond was under some accusation for his leanings…"
"I see," Leonardo murmurs, and makes a mental note of it.
Maria shakes her head and then gives him a smile. "I hope you might come up with more on him than have we," she says. "Pressing on the matter is awkward when it makes them both so uncomfortable. We have tried not to disturb them, for Ezio is nothing if not stubborn. If we give him cause, he might deliver upon his threat."
"That if we did not welcome Desmond, he would simply go with the man instead."
"Ah," Leonardo answers, his resolve steeling somewhat. Certainly, some persuasion has been applied there, then. He would need to navigate this with great caution, and not only for the sake of his shadowy patrons, but for young Ezio – and all like him, all those without understanding ear, who fell victim or worse vices than love.
"He only said it once, and to Federico and not us, mind you," Maria says. "But that it was spoken at all…"
Leonardo nods in understanding. "It is certainly is a worrisome prospect."
"Indeed," Maria says and lifts her head, turning away. "Ah, and here they are – and it looks like they have been discussing some serious matters, too."
Leonardo turns to look as Maria puts on a smile and then steps past him to welcome her son and his companion with, "Ezio, Desmond," she says. "Come meet Leonardo. He will be joining us for dinner."
Ezio, Leonardo can guess, is the shorter one. He is obviously the younger of the two, and he has the Auditore look certainly, and the clothes he wears, though practical, are fine and well made. The other is a much taller man, though not as old as Leonardo had feared – twenty five perhaps, older than Ezio certainly, but not obscenely so.
What strikes him first is how hesitant the older male appears – and how he immediately steps back and lets Ezio lead. It's a small thing, Ezio moving to greet his mother with a touch and a kiss, saying, "Hello, Mother, you look radiant – Leonardo is the artist you hired, yes?" While he does it, Desmond hangs back a step or two, and when he follows Ezio past the palazzo gates, he ducks his head, not because he is too tall to enter, but in some deference.
Shy, Maria had said. No. Anxious is closer to the mark.
"It is an honour to meet you, Ezio – and your companion as well," Leonardo greets the young man, watching them more curiously.
"The honour is mine," Ezio says, and there's something in his eyes before he turns away. "And this is Desmond."
"A pleasure," the taller man says, nodding, and then looks down to his hands – where he is holding a number of flowers. He coughs, awkward, and then turns to Maria. "For you, Ma'am."
"Oh, dear, you shouldn't have – thank you," Maria says, and to her credit she seems genuinely pleased, despite her obvious and understandable concerns about the man. "They are beautiful – we shall have them on the table, to brighten our dinner."
Ezio smiles briefly at that, at Desmond, and rests a hand on the older male's elbow – a soothing, comforting gesture. Desmond makes a slight face in return, nearly rolling his eyes. The rapport there is genuine – and not nearly as skewed to one side as Leonardo expected. Interesting.
Maria turns to head inside, saying. "Come, let us go and sit down while we wait for Giovanni and Federico."
"They aren't home yet?" Ezio asks.
"The investigation is taking much of your father's time, I'm afraid," Maria sighs. "And Federico has been aiding him. I'm afraid they might not be able to stay for long, either."
Leonardo turns to follow Maria, thoughtful. No developments there, then, despite the message or what Leonardo had suggested. "It's a terrible thing," he says. "And to happen out in the open like that…"
"Yes – and yet not open enough for people to catch a sight of this murderer," Maria murmurs and then shakes her head, leading them to what Leonardo assumes is the palazzo dining room. "It's a grim subject matter, let us not talk about it now and let it sour our moods. Come, let us sit down – Ezio, be a dear and fetch us a bottle from the cellar."
Leonardo glances at her, and Maria gives him a sly little wink.
Ezio sighs and nods. "What vintage would you like, Mother?"
"A five year old bottle should do – not the one from Monteriggioni, though," Maria says quickly. "Giovanni is saving that one."
"Alright," Ezio says, and rests a hand briefly on Desmond's back, another soothing touch. "I will be right back."
As he slips out of the room, Maria fetches a vase to put the flowers in, humming slightly as she arranges them better and then sets the vase in the middle of the dining table. Desmond, nervously, takes a seat, rubbing his hands together as he does.
Leonardo looks around in the dining room with some interest – the Auditore Palazzo is such an exclusive and rare place to get a welcome to, he cannot help but appreciate. The room is not as grandiose as some halls he'd been invited to over the last few years, but it is decorated with fine paintings, by artists he cannot immediately recognise, and a fine chandelier. Yet the room is not big enough to feel cavernous. Quite nice, infact.
"What did you and Ezio do while you were out, Desmond?" Maria asks, curious. "You look a little rumpled."
"Ah – Ezio showed me around," Desmond says and then coughs, awkward and wry. "And it took some climbing to get… around. Should I…?" he looks down at his clothes, uncertain.
"Oh, don't worry about it, this table has seen much worse state of dress than that. But he took you to the rooftops?" Maria asks, with some surprise.
"Some, yeah," the man says and then looks at the table's surface, biting his tongue on whatever else might've happened, which he does not intend to let slip.
Leonardo shares a look with Maria and then takes a seat. "Madonna Maria tells me you play an instrument – I play some myself, though not for an occupation. What was it you played – a guitar?"
"A gittern, Madam Auditore was kind enough to buy it for me," Desmond says, casting him a look and then looking away.
"Perhaps you could play for us after dinner," Maria suggests. "It does make for a lovely evening's entertainment."
"Yes, sure," Desmond agrees. "If you want."
"Maybe this time we might even keep Ezio around long enough to listen," Maria mutters, to which the man smiles in some private amusement, which he quickly tries to hide.
Over the years of working as an artist and entertaining various people in the course of his, and before that, his master's work, Leonardo had came into contact with several different types of people, and several types of personalities. And he had seen, in and out of halls of greater personages, how a sly and cunning man might try and wheedle their way into this or that family's good graces, by plying and even preying on their weaker members.
Even at a glance Desmond… does not fit the bill.
Ezio returns then, carrying in his hand a fine looking bottle. "Hope this will do," he says, setting the bottle down. "Should I fetch us some glasses?"
"Please – and have Annetta bring something to nibble on while we wait," Maria says, and in short order Ezio does just that, bringing the glasses and a bowl of dry fruits, which he sets on the table.
Soon, they all have glasses of wine, and Ezio sits beside Desmond. Desmond in his part relaxes, obviously, with Ezio near again, the strain of his shoulders easing.
"To new friends," Maria suggests, and they toast. The wine, Leonardo is happy to find, is excellent.
The rest of the discussion shifts, and rather obviously so, with Ezio's presence. Maria asks him and Desmond about their day, indicating to the rooftops, and Ezio instantly takes control of the discussion. "I only wanted to show him where I like to go, and what the city looks like when seen from above," he says. "It is not a point of view many entertain."
"For a reason," Maria comments. "It is not a safe point of view either."
"It was perfectly safe for us, Mother, I wouldn't have let him fall," Ezio says, waving a hand. "And we weren't up there for long, at any rate – just long enough to see."
Desmond says nothing, sipping his wine and looking away.
Leonardo considers the pair and directs his attention and his words to Desmond. "How did you find it, then?" he asks, thoughtful. "How is the view up there, for one not used to it?"
Desmond glances at him and there is something in his eyes – something Leonardo can't recognize. A complicated emotion. He finishes his sip and sets the glass down. "It was incredible," he says. "Florence is a beautiful city, and it's… something else to see it from above."
"Not that we went all that close to the better looking parts, yet," Ezio interjects and looks at Desmond. "Perhaps we'll take a look at the Duomo next – you can't really appreciate the façade fully from ground level, I've found."
Desmond gives him a slightly incredulous look at that, and Ezio grins, patting his back and turns back to Leonardo. "Have you ever had the chance to see the city from above, Leonardo?"
"I've seen it from above the Duomo, and once from Giotto's Campanile," Leonardo says. "Though the height of it made my head spin."
The rest of the discussion continues much along the same path. Whenever a question is aimed at Desmond, he answers it with a rather open answer, and then Ezio quickly captures the control of the discussion again, aiming it swiftly away from Desmond. The older man does not only let him do it, he expects it, and he's relieved every time attention is taken from him – and yet, there is also a spark of confidence there, which shines through every now and then. Desmond, Leonardo thinks, is not a terrible conversationalist. He's only… nervous, right now.
But the rapport between him and Ezio is interesting, to say the least. Ezio all but steers him, and steers other around him.
Soon, others join them in the dining room. Leonardo is introduced to Petruccio, a polite young man who asks him, with practiced mannerisms, about his paintings. Then Claudia, Madonna Maria's and Messere Giovanni's only daughter, who curtsies distractedly, sends a narrow look at Ezio and Desmond, and then sits down.
"Another guest," she comments. "Are we to be entertaining guests all the time now, and if so, can I finally invite Duccio?"
"Leonardo was invited by your father," Maria says calmly. "He is doing our portraits, you know – he is very talented."
Leonardo nods with his thanks, and Claudia sighs, turning to the dry fruits on the table.
Giovanni and Federico come the last, both looking troubled and distracted.
"Ah, Leonardo, you came. Very good," Giovanni says, after kissing his wife in greeting. "How are you finding our palazzo so far?"
"It has been most pleasant and interesting, Messere Giovanni," Leonardo admits. "Most interesting indeed."
With the added people at the table, followed soon after by the dinner being served, Desmond sinks even further to the background, staying quiet and interjecting little to the conversation. Leonardo watches him, watches Ezio deflect for him – thanks to the younger man's efforts, the table does not feel unbalanced by Desmond's quiet, where normally such silence might make things uneasy. It's remarkable.
The dinner discussions swings to the murder – and then swiftly away as Maria says again, "Let us not let such matters sour our dinner, please," which Giovanni readily agrees to. Soon after, Leonardo finds himself the target of interest, as the subject of the portraits comes up.
"Oh, they are well on their way now, I should have them done by the end of the month," Leonardo promises. "Though I might need Messere Giovanni and Madonna Maria sit for me one more time, to make sure the details are correct."
"I cannot wait," Maria says, smiling. "It will go to the library, above the mantelpiece – it should look very fine there."
"Are you interested in having your children painted?" Leonardo asks, curious. They have been blessed with a big and healthy family – the Auditore, to his knowledge, had never lost a child.
"Once Petruccio is a little older, I think – in a couple of years," Maria says, looking to Giovanni.
"Yes, if we can keep everyone in one place long enough to be painted," Giovanni agrees, casting a glance at Federico and Ezio.
"I would not for the world leave home, Father," Federico says, grinning. "Who else would feed me?"
Ezio takes a drink, and doesn't answer at all.
The rest of the dinner goes by in good spirits, and the food is, naturally, excellent, far better fare than Leonardo eats with his assistants. The discussion isn't as uptight or overly polite as in some households – he'd dined once with the Medici, it had been almost unbearably well-mannered. The Auditore are much more casual – it makes the atmosphere very pleasant.
But Leonardo's task is with Ezio and Desmond, and that is what he concentrates on, until the dinner is done, finished, and Maria and Giovanni invite him – and, pointedly, Ezio and Desmond – to join them in the library.
"Perhaps Desmond can play for us while we talk," Maria says, sly, as she rises, and Leonardo instantly spots the look it puts in Ezio's face – how it tightens with momentary annoyance. Desmond glances at him and then, curiously, grins at him, and this time it is him who offers the comforting pat on the back, to which Ezio sighs.
"I want to hear Desmond playing too," Claudia says, standing as well.
"Not this time, Claudia – we have some things to discuss," Giovanni says apologetically.
"What, we cannot come?" she asks and then narrows her eyes, squinting suspiciously at Ezio and Desmond and then at Leonardo. "Oh," she says.
"Come, Sister," Federico says, throwing an arm around her shoulders. "Play chess with me – the last I played was with Ezio, and I am feeling the need for a proper challenge."
"Hey," Ezio complaints, half-hearted.
"Fine, fine, why not. I need something to take my mind off things, anyway," Claudia says, sighing, and they head off, Petruccio quickly following them, likely to watch. "You know, Duccio still haven't written to me?"
"Maybe you should write to him again – he might need a reminder," Federico suggests as they go. "I could deliver it, give him a piece of your mind. I would be my pleasure, Sister."
"Maybe, but I don't want to appear as though I am impatient…"
"But you are though," Petruccio points out and then they are too far down the hall to hear.
Leonardo follows Messere Giovanni and Madonna Maria out of the dining room, and to the library, where they show him where their portrait would go – it would be a nice place to hang it, to be sure. In the daytime, sunlight would catch it quite beautifully.
Desmond and Ezio obviously are starting to feel the nature of Leonardo's visit, because they exchange looks and then a murmured word before Desmond ducks out of the room to fetch his gittern. When they finally sit down, they do so together, side by side on one of the couches, acting in unity.
"Ezio, Desmond," Giovanni begins, awkwardly. "We didn't ask Leonardo here only because of the portrait."
"Yes, we can tell," Ezio says with a sigh and leans back, looking at Leonardo. The artist expects some level of discomfort, even annoyance – but no. Ezio's eyes are instead warm, even fond. "It's not very subtle, what you are doing."
Leonardo tilts his head a little – the words are obviously meant for his parents, and at first he thinks so is the fondness, and isn't that nice, how understanding of their feelings the young man is? But when Ezio looks at his parents again, the look in his eyes shifts, still warm, understanding… but not as much so.
"Leonardo is somewhat… like-minded," Maria says, delicately. "To you. We were hoping…"
"That he would talk sense into me?" Ezio asks, and he sounds amused, while beside him Desmond ducks his head a little and turns his attention to the gittern in his lap. "I'm afraid that will be entirely a lost cause, though I can appreciate the thought, Mother, Father."
"Perhaps advice then, from a man who has lived a similar life?" Leonardo offers. "It can be difficult to navigate such waters alone, Ezio – one could always use a friend."
Ezio looks at him, and Desmond glances up at them.
"One could, at that," Ezio murmurs, and now he sounds oddly regretful. He clears his throat, glances at Desmond – who shrugs in answer to whatever unspoken question there is – and then looks back at Leonardo. "I suppose it couldn't hurt."
Leonardo nods, looking between them as he tries to put a finger on the dynamic. It's one-sided and yet not, it's deferential and yet not – it's odd all around, and while they act blatantly and in some defiance, it's not so blatant as to be offensive. There is genuine emotion there, but it's not the rush of infatuation or lust, like he feared.
No, if Leonardo did not know better, he'd say it's something older, much older than it can possibly be. And for all that Desmond is the one years ahead of Ezio, it is Ezio who acts the older and clearly more dominant of the pair, and Desmond defers to him, constantly. How odd, how very odd.
"Then perhaps we should talk," Leonardo says, and casts a glance at Giovanni and Maria. "Alone, if you please." For the pair certainly would not confide in him, with the parents present.
"Of course," Giovanni says, and he and Maria get up to leave. "Do take your time, Ezio, and please do listen to him – and Leonardo… thank you again."
"Yes, thank you," Maria says, sincerely.
Leonardo nods, no longer feeling quite as uncomfortable with the task as he was, at the start. Turns out Giovanni's uncomfortable request led to something much, much more interesting than Leonardo had expected.
Maria and Giovanni leave, closing the door behind them. On the couch, Ezio and Desmond share a look of arched brows and amused shrugs, and Desmond plucks at the strings of the gittern oddly, sending forth a resonant note. Ezio makes a face at that, and then turns to look at Leonardo – and there is the fondness again, open and sincere. As if he already knows Leonardo, for all that they only met.
Very, very interesting, indeed.
Of all of the things his parents could have done, maybe this Ezio should have predicted. It makes sense, in hindsight, knowing that they know of Leonardo and likely learned of his inclinations through the trial, which couldn't have been that many months ago. Leonardo is thus experienced in such matters, something of an authority even, and in the face of his and Desmond's apparent relationship and however his family has ended up perceiving it, it makes sense that they would seek a more informed view on the matter.
And yet it had surprised him, even startled him, to see Leonardo there, in the palazzo courtyard, young and thoroughly blond still with skin paler than Ezio remembers and not yet quite so freckled. He still works more indoors than out – war engines, flying machines and architectural projects haven't lured him into outdoors as much yet. He still smiles that polite, distant smile of his too – the lack of familiarity cuts deeper than Ezio realised it would.
And now Leonardo would be talking to them concerning their relationship. Likely to warn them of its dangers and perhaps, on the behalf of Ezio's parents, suggest they end it and go their separate ways. It is a little frustrating, that they are not over this yet, but it has only been a few days. Of course, his parents are still trying to resolve what they think is an issue.
Ezio should be glad it was by kinder means they went about it, and no arguments had been had yet. Only… he is getting tired of justifying nonexistent things in order to keep Desmond close. Why can't it be simply that he wants to keep the man close, and that would be enough?
"Can you tell me something?" Leonardo asks, looking at them. "How long have you known each other?"
Ezio glances at Desmond, who coughs, soft, and turns his eyes to the gittern, to hide their expression. Desmond doesn't like lying any more than he does, and it weighs even heavier on him, Ezio thinks – for he has so few truths to share to counterbalance the act.
"Is a connection more meaningful for its age?" Ezio wonders.
"No, not necessarily," Leonardo answers. "It's just that you don't act as if you've met recently, more like you've known each other for years."
"It's been half a year," Desmond says and strums the strings, likely to cover the unease in his voice, starting on a melody. "You can get to know a person in less, I think."
"Yes, you can," Leonardo muses, considering them and then leaning back in his seat. "More than long enough to fall in and out of love – but you, my friends, seem far past that."
Do they, really? Ezio shifts where he sits, a little uncomfortable. It's not that he has not spoken of love before, not that it makes him uncomfortable. He's long past the time where such things made him feel awkward. I had love, but I did not feel it, Desmond had said, and Ezio had felt it, truly, he had. Love, now, does not bother him – in fact, he rather longs for it.
But to talk about it with Leonardo is different – as is to lie to him about it. Ezio thinks back, to years that have now not been and never might – how must have Leonardo felt, throughout those years? Ezio knows now, with hindsight of age and sorrow, that Leonardo might have felt something of the sort for him, for there had been times, there had been looks exchanged, that he then dismissed but now seem so obvious. Only, he had not realised, he had not returned them in kind, he had not even understood, and that lack of understanding must have been unkind.
Had he, with his ignorance, caused Leonardo pain? Undoubtedly. At least this time he is by all appearances quite spoken for, and perhaps there will be no such sweetly bitter misunderstandings between them, only friendship.
Except, of course, for the chance that there might be no friendship at all. Things are changing, after all.
Their silence has lingered for too long, and Leonardo breaks it with a cough. "I don't want to question you or make you uncomfortable," he says, sympathetic. "But Ezio, you do understand why your parents are concerned, don't you?"
"Yes," Ezio says, and clasps his hands together. "I wish they weren't."
"It's a difficult thing, for anyone, but I think perhaps most of all for a parent who does not share such feelings," Leonardo murmurs. "Your parents are kinder than most of ours, I admit – but they worry. They say you have changed with this – that's more than enough to make a parent fear."
Ezio looks down. That change would have happened, with or without Desmond. "Again, I wish they didn't," he says and sighs, lifting his eyes. "I do not think I can change back now, nor would I if I could. If they cannot accept it, then… I can only offer my apologies. But this will not change."
Leonardo looks a little puzzled at that, perhaps his wording choice is too mature again. The artist makes a noise, sympathetic. "No, I suppose you cannot. These things happen," he says and looks at Desmond. "You find something about yourself that you cannot turn your back to once the realisation has settled. I understand that better than parents' fear."
He would, of course he would. And even before the Apple had sunk its whispers into his head and made the fires of invention burn that much brighter inside him.
"And what of you, Desmond?" Leonardo asks. "You are quiet – what do you think about these matters?"
"I think… it's not really up to me, one way or the other," Desmond says, not looking up. "This is Ezio's family, not mine."
Ezio looks at him and wonders at the easy calm in his voice.
Leonardo hums. "By all accounts you two are attempting to join Desmond to the family," he points out. "That is how it must appear to Messere Giovanni and Madonna Maria. Is it not what you want, what you are aiming at, here?"
It could be an accusation. Ezio thinks, there might be a hint of accusation there. But there is also a sincere enquiry there, a baffled one – Leonardo does not understand their goal.
Desmond's fingers move over the strings, and then he stills, letting the note he brought out play in the air and disappear. "I don't know," he says and then looks up – at Ezio, who meets his eyes with a sudden, dawning concern. He's honest, good lord. Desmond shrugs. "I really don't know."
"Your comfort and comfortable life – that is the point," Ezio says, quietly. "I promised you. I would not leave you to fend for yourself in a place you do not know – I would not have you suffer, not on my account."
"It's not on your account, Ezio," Desmond says in rebuttal, but with a smile. "Hey, I made decisions too, you know – and they've just made things difficult for you."
"And yet, I am not even close to repaying you for those decisions," Ezio says a little more urgently. "And you know it."
"I don't want you to pay me back, Ezio," Desmond says and shakes his head. "I just want you to be happy. And yes, maybe not live on the street by myself, but I could figure something out without you having to involve your family."
Ezio's resolve hardens at the half spoken suggestion of it. "You leave, Desmond, and I will come after you, to join you."
Leonardo clears his throat sharply. "Let's not go that far just yet," he says warily. "I'm sure no one wants that – and difficult or not, the Auditore did welcome you to their house, did they not?" he asks, looking at Desmond. "So let us not speak of the streets."
Desmond sighs and lowers his eyes, and Ezio looks at him, sinking back to the demure quiet. He demures a lot, now that Ezio thinks. Half of every conversation or more, Desmond lowers his eyes and says nothing. Why, when there is an obvious individualistic streak and confidence there, why smother it so often? Because of the lies he has to maintain?
Or because that is what Ezio told him to do?
Leonardo looks between them, with interest and concern and some hint of suspicion. "Obviously something happened," he says then. "And I can sense it is not a topic you want to share, but… Ezio, you feel as though you owe Desmond for something?"
Ezio folds his arms and leans back. "As you said, not a topic I want to share," he says.
"Does he owe you, Desmond?" Leonardo asks.
"No," Desmond says, and plucks at the strings, less musical and more nervous. "No, he doesn't."
"Yes, I do," Ezio murmurs. "What you gave me – "
"Maybe consider it a gift, rather than a favour," Desmond says, glancing at him. "I gave it to you because… I wanted to, not just because you asked. I wouldn't have given it to anyone else – and I know… so many people, Ezio. So many people who would think they deserved it more than you, or who think they could do more with it than you. But they don't. It's just you, I wouldn't give this kind of chance to anyone else."
Ezio swallows and Desmond looks down again, shaking his head. Of all the people in history, all of the Brotherhood that lead up and culminated in Desmond – from Altaïr to the Assassins of the future… only Ezio?
"I…" Ezio murmurs, shocked. "Thank you. I don't… what should I…?"
"I don't know," Desmond says again, pointedly. "Maybe stop paying it back and just… go forth and take advantage of it?"
"Well, I already am," Ezio murmurs, running a hand over his chin and then looking at Leonardo, who is eyeing them with narrowed eyes. Shit. Ezio clears his throat, shifting where he sits and trying to think of something to cover up for the slips, but…
"I think," Leonardo says suspiciously, looking between them. "We're not talking about someone's virginity here."
Desmond's lute makes a discordant noise of surprise, and Ezio scoffs and laughs all at once, and it comes out just as strangled. Leonardo's brows shoot up, and Ezio quickly covers his mouth to stifle the laugh. Oh, lord.
"Er, no," Desmond says, wry. "No, I think that's a lost cause for both of us, for years and years now."
Ezio chuckles in agreement.
"Then what?" Leonardo asks.
"Never you mind that," Ezio says, waving a hand. "We've gotten off the track. So, my parents are concerned, and I suppose I understand why. Can you tell me what we must do, to put them at ease?"
"A little bit of honesty might do," Leonadro points out, wry.
"And if that's not something we can easily give them?"
"Then I suppose you might prepare yourself for much doubt and questioning and for the unease to continue," Leonardo comments. "From what I can tell, your parents wish to support you, and they do not judge you for this, but it makes them wary, and understandably so. The secrets will never help, and neither can I, if you do not trust me."
Ezio looks at him and can't smother the fondness he feels. Leonardo, always so kind and yet so honest. It's what he's always appreciated the most about the man. But as things are now, Ezio cannot risk it, him going to Giovanni with what he learns – never mind the fact that Ezio is fairly certain at least his mother is spying on this conversation.
"Maybe one day," Ezio says, smiling. "I do appreciate the attempt, Leonardo – and my parents' reasons for seeking you out for it. I am understanding of their concerns, and yours."
Leonardo senses it for the dismissal it is, and sighs. "You think we will not understand," he says. "That your parents will judge you? That they will not aid you?"
No, not at all – only that they will object, get in the way, and stop Ezio from changing the future. There are many Ezio wishes to kill, and all without proof of their crimes or deeds – likely, no crimes have been committed, yet. What Ezio means to do goes against the Creed, in truth, but he does not care. The future would be changed, even if he had to break his own rules to do it.
He says nothing.
"As you wish," Leonardo says after a while with a shake of his head and stands up. "I only hope you know what you are getting into, and that you will consider the consequences. You're confident in what you feel, but there is a risk to it, Ezio. It is a crime, punishable in some cases by death."
"We have no intention of taking unnecessary risks," Ezio promises him.
Leonardo doesn't look very confident. "How about you, Desmond?" he asks, imploring. "Do you think this wise?"
"No," Desmond says, shaking his head and once more looking down on the gittern. "But if it's what Ezio wants…"
Leonardo nods, thoughtful. "Well," he says. "I have a bottega not far from here – if you have questions, concerns, if you need a sympathetic ear… you can find me there."
"Thank you, Leonardo," Ezio says. "I appreciate it."
Desmond nods and strums the strings.
Leonardo hums. "You play it strangely," he says then. "The guitar you play, it must be a bigger instrument, with more strings – longer neck too."
Desmond looks up at that, blinking. "You can tell?"
"I have dabbled in creating instruments, now and again, though I am no luthier, I daresay I can knock off a lute or two," Leonardo says and considers the gittern in Desmond's hands. "I would be interested in seeing what kind of instrument this guitar of yours is, how it is played. Maybe, if you have the time sometime… we could look into it."
Ezio leans back at that, surprised at Leonardo's perceptiveness there, though maybe he shouldn't have been. Beside him, Desmond looks honestly tempted. "Yeah, maybe," he says, glancing at Ezio. "If there's time."
It's only the second thing Desmond has truly seemed to want, and the first was his life. "I – would be happy to pay for the materials," Ezio offers quickly. "Though your work might be too expensive for me." Leonardo could charge through the nose, when low on coin.
"Nonsense, I would be happy to do it for free," Leonardo says, looking at them. "If only you consider what I have said, and take care."
"We will," Ezio says. For they would, if not for the reasons Leonardo hopes.
"He will likely report to Father what he thought and felt of us," Ezio comments in a low tone, once the man has left the library. And who knows what Leonardo has discerned, in this brief talk alone. perhaps not the full truth, that should be too fantastical for even Leonardo... but certainly they caught the man's curiosity. And then some.
"Yeah," Desmond says, making another note with the gittern. "It's nice that they care," he offers then. "They could just throw me out. Honestly not sure why they don't."
"Hmm," Ezio agrees and then looks at him. "Desmond… do you not want to be here, in the palazzo?"
The man looks up and finally puts the gittern away, turning to him. "No," he says honestly. "I'm sorry, but… I won't ever be able to be honest here, will I?"
Ezio hums in agreement and reaches to take his hand. "Maybe after the deed is done," he murmurs, lifting Desmond's hand and pressing a kiss on the back of it. "We shall see what way we go."
"I don't want you to leave your family because of me," Desmond says sadly. "I told you, that's the last thing I want.
Ezio smiles, stroking his thumb over Desmond's knuckles. "I am greedy, and want it both ways," he admits. "I will figure it out."
Desmond looks at him silently and then sighs, and nods. "I have no doubt you will."
Things are a little tense for the rest of the day – Mother and Father obviously hoped for better results from Leonardo's visit, and whatever Leonardo had told them had not set their fears completely at rest. But there are no more comments on the matter, and for a while things seem almost normal.
Still, the investigation on the matter of Uberto Alberti's murder is still ongoing, as is Ezio's mission. The next day, he and Desmond set out to scout the city, to see what the Pazzi are doing, what the other conspirators might be up to and where they are stationed. Uberto's death had put them into something of a disarray, but is it enough to stall their plans?
"Last time, due to Giuliano's health and wariness, it took the Pazzi longer than they would have liked, to move forth with their plans," Ezio murmurs to Desmond. "They wanted to catch both brothers at the same time, and Giuliano made it difficult."
"Here's hoping he keeps on making things difficult," Desmond murmurs and then hums, thoughtful. "You wouldn't happen to have a few coins?"
Throughout the day, Desmond every so often employs the use of the street kids in small little favours. To find him some more flowers once, to find a particularly round and smooth rock, to tell him if they know of a shop that sells silk – and then, once, to follow a random man and see where he lived.
Now, with Ezio's coin in hand, he approaches a couple of eager looking boys and asks them, "Do you see that stall? Do you think you could watch it for me, for about an hour – I need to know if a lady in a red dress visits it. I'll pay for it, of course."
"I can do it, Messere!" one of the boys quickly offers, holding his hands.
"A coin now, and another in an hour," Desmond says, and pays both of the boys. "Keep a careful watch now."
"Why lady in a red dress?" Ezio asks, amused, as they walk away.
"Ah, pop culture joke," Desmond says and shrugs, smiling.
He seems a little more at ease today – though he is usually more open and more carefree when they are out of the palazzo and not so obviously under surveillance. Ezio watches him with interest and then asks, "Would you like to see the Santa Maria del Fiore from the rooftops? It really is quite the sight."
Desmond looks at him and tilts his head. "Yeah," he says, thoughtful. "Yeah, I would."
So that's where they go, for no other reason but that there is the time, and the city is beautiful. Ezio leads Desmond to the rooftops and watches him climb with all the skill and talent of an Assassin, nimble and effortless and seemingly feather light as he scales the walls. Skilled.
The talk with Leonardo has made Ezio more aware of it – and also of the things they are so carefully not talking about. Or, rather, the things he is not talking or even thinking about, concerning his companion in time.
"You have training," Ezio comments – he'd noticed it before, at Santa Maria Novella. Desmond had no difficulty with those jumps and climbs, either, and the assassination of Uberto was a skilful feat indeed.
"I… wouldn't call it training, exactly," Desmond admits, a little bit sheepish. "I learned from you, from the people who came before me. Your skills kind of… come to me."
"We really are part of you, all of us," Ezio says quietly. That's what it took to make him – all of the Assassin Brotherhood.
Desmond hums and glances at him. "Some more so than others," he says, meaningful. "In the future it took effort to remember things my ancestors knew and had done, and because it took so much effort, we concentrated on certain more… important individuals. Altaïr, you, then Connor," he shrugs. "Now stuff just comes to me when I'm sleeping."
"Other Assassins, you mean, you dream of them. Of us."
Desmond nods. "There are so many," he murmurs. "I doubt I will ever remember all of you. But… yeah. I dream of you."
Ezio says nothing for a moment, letting the idea settle. "I don't understand," he admits then. "Why, if you have these abilities, these powers, why then… did you live on the streets? You were born into the Brotherhood, yes? Then why… why were you abandoned?"
Desmond doesn't answer immediately, looking awkward. "I wasn't abandoned, Ezio," he says finally, his voice quiet. "I ran away. I rejected the Brotherhood, the fight against the Templars. I rejected all of it."
In which Leonardo, ever the man ahead of his time, invents couples counselling several centuries early.
Warning for William Miles' A+ parenting and implied and not so implied past child abuse.
Fessing up his mistakes, his secrets, it's… both easier and harder, when it's to Ezio. Not that Desmond ever actually had to fess up to much – everyone back in all the hideouts and whatnot, they just sort of assumed they knew what happened, how things had gone down, and Desmond had been happy leaving things at that. It was easier, letting everyone go with what they thought, rather than having to explain the actual mess of it all, the… the restlessness, which never really left.
It would be nice, to point fingers at his genetic legacy and be all, this is what caused it, this is why I left, like there was some sort of genetic echo, or a prophecy, telling him that things had gone the wrong way and he had to leave. Or like his ancestors were speaking in his ear, telling him to get out of dodge before it was too late.
But there wasn't anything like that. Desmond's ancestors were still dormant, none of the Isu legacy was showing through, hell, now it feels like maybe Desmond himself was asleep too. He didn't even awaken the Eagle Sense before Altaïr, so…
Time to put it all into order.
"Okay, so," Desmond says with a slow breath, as he and Ezio sit down on a random rooftop, overlooking the area around Santa Maria del Fiore. "The Brotherhood in the future, it's – kind of the same and kind of different, from how it's now – also from how you've rebuilt it. The Brotherhood has changed a lot over the years, I guess to match up with the times, but, anyway… ours wasn't like you know it."
Ezio says nothing, sitting down beside him, watching him with a carefully non-judgemental look on his face. Nice of him to give Desmond the benefit of the doubt – Desmond isn't sure he would've done the same, in his shoes.
"I grew up this – this commune, closed up and hidden away in the middle of nowhere. About fifty people lived there, Assassins and their spouses, usually other Assassins, and their kids," Desmond continues. "It was… for them, I guess, it was a safe place to raise and train their kids, without fear of Templars finding them, without having to worry about who saw or what they knew."
"Did people know you were…?" Ezio trails away.
Desmond shakes his head. "No one knew. But, uh… my father was the Mentor, of the time. And my mother, she was the last heir of Altaïr's bloodline – they were both kind of a big deal in the Assassin Brotherhood, all told," he says with a sigh and shrugs. "You know, Eagle Sense and stuff, it's genetic – hereditary, kids of people who have it are more likely to get it, and both my mom and dad had it, and they were both big shots, so, that kind of made me something."
Ezio nods slowly, thoughtfully. "And you were trained early?"
"From birth, pretty much, yeah," Desmond sighs. "I'll – I'll get to it. There was a thing that happened, back then – I didn't know about it at the time, but a few years before I ran away, there was this Purge – a plot by the Templars, to kill the Mentor of the Brotherhood – the one before my dad became the mentor. It was a whole big, convoluted plot, and a whole lot of Assassins died – more than didn't, really. That put pressure on the ones that survived to… to, I guess, get better, work harder, replenish our numbers. A lot of recruiting followed, and the training of those still around got harder."
Ezio frowns a little, but says nothing, nodding him to continue.
"Okay, so," Desmond starts and then stops. He has no idea how to explain it, so it just sort of spews out. "My dad is an asshole. Was an asshole – will be, whichever. He was a hard-ass Mentor, a terrible father and a worse trainer. I'm not sure if there was a single student of his who came out of it intact, or healthy, or – or sane. One of them killed himself in Templar captivity, because my dad arranged for him to be caught intentionally, other joined Templars somewhere in the middle of an undercover mission –" he stops there and blows out a breath, shaking his head. "That happened after I ran away, but looking back on it now, he was just as bad with me. This," he swipes a finger over the cut on his lip. "This, plus a couple of broken bones and a thousand bruises – that was my dad, training me."
Ezio's frown has darkened, and he looks disturbed. "Such a man does not sound suitable for the role of Mentor."
"He really wasn't, but with half of the Brotherhood gone, I think he was the best one available, for all the good it did any of them," Desmond scoffs. "Anyway, three years after the Purge, I had enough of the increased training. I get now why they were in such a hurry, but… I wasn't exactly told any of it, at the time. All I knew was that I was an Assassin, and I had a war to fight, Templars were evil, and that's why I had to get beat up on a daily basis in the name of training.
"And," he adds with a wry laugh. "Because we were living so far removed from the world, it was kind of hard to believe their stories about the Templars and threat to the world. Half of the time I didn't even believe there was a world out there at all – like that valley I was trapped in, training in, that was all there was to it. Just, day by day beatings in the name of a great war I couldn't see and had never witnessed, and nothing much else. I honestly didn't think I would see anything else – like I'd spend my entire life in that valley, training for no damn reason."
Now would be a good point to interject that he felt he was meant for something more, like Destiny was calling at his door, telling him to get a move on… but that wasn't it. It would be a cop-out to pretend it was.
"I had to get away," Desmond says. "I didn't believe anything they told me, about our history, I didn't believe Templars even existed, I didn't believe in the war – if they'd told me about the Pieces of Eden, which they didn't… I doubt I would've believed that either."
Ezio blows out a breath, looking at the Duomo ahead of them, thoughtful and troubled. Desmond looks up at the Giotto's Campanile, and then leans back, to lay down on the roof tiles, arms crossed behind his back. This'll probably lose him Ezio's good opinion and all, but… At least he gets to be honest for a while.
Leonardo had made him realise not just how much lying and obfuscation he was doing – but how much it was straining him.
"You were – sixteen?" Ezio says then, no judgement in his voice.
"Yeah," Desmond agrees, staring up at the sky. "The stuff about working odd jobs and all that, the stuff I told to your family, that was all true. Learned to play guitar from a guy on the street for coin, that happened too. I managed and survived, obviously, but… yeah, for a while I was living on the streets, pretty much."
Ezio nods slowly, and then turns to look at him. "What failings occurred, they weren't yours," he says then. "They were those of your teachers – and your father. I have never taken a student that young, for a reason – right now you are roughly at the age where I would consider you a suitable age for a recruit."
Desmond arches his brows at that. "Really? I'm twenty five – and you started when you were seventeen."
"Mm. I became Assassin young. Too young," Ezio says. "And the life did me little favours. I would not subject another to such a choice, so young. Never mind younger."
Desmond tilts his head a little. "You were the greatest Mentor the Brotherhood ever had, you know. Do you regret it?"
"… only the path that led me there," Ezio admits with a quiet sigh. "I am not ashamed of my accomplishments. But there were times where I wondered how things might have gone, had I put the time and effort I did to mastering the art of killing a man into anything else; would I have been as masterful at it as I was at the blade? Painting, building, finance – I dabbled in many things, but could not dedicate myself to any of them. The blade had to come first, always. I did regret that, on occasion."
Desmond hums, and with a sigh Ezio lays down beside him, propping one knee up. "I have trained many, over my time," Ezio says. "I have some skill at recruitment, and during my career I have seen many become Assassins, for many different reasons, always personal. And what I hold, to this day, as the truth in recruiting one to be an Assassin is that…. it must be a choice. You cannot take a child who cannot understand the risks and the dangers of such a decision, and turn them into a killer. It would be deceitful at best, and heartlessly cruel at worst."
Desmond blows out a breath, saying nothing for a moment. "Some skill at recruitment, he says," he murmurs then, smiling a little. "Some."
Ezio chuckles at that and then looks at him. "You did become an Assassin, though, did you not? You do not move like one who stopped training a decade ago."
Desmond shakes his head. "I'd been living as a civilian for about nine years, not all of it on street mind you, I was living pretty comfortably towards the end... when the Templars found me," he says and closes his eyes. "From where we get to the Animus."
Which, while a shorter period of his life, takes longer to explain. Thankfully, Ezio is used to bullshit Isu technology, so the Animus and its workings don't completely throw him off the loop. Desmond had already hinted enough about genetic memory that Ezio picks up the concept quickly enough. And then comes the realisation.
"You lived my memories," Ezio murmurs. "That is how you watched me – Minerva looked through me… at you. Only you weren't here, you were…"
"Only viewing your memory, yeah," Desmond agrees. "I carry a lot of memories inside me – yours were among the most important, because of the prophecy, the Apple, all that. If I could've talked back to you, I would've, but by that time you'd been dead for almost five hundred years."
Ezio swallows at that, blowing out a breath. "You did answer me," he says. "Eventually."
"As soon as I could, yeah," Desmond answers and hums. Which, probably, is pretty telling on his part. "Anyway," he says, coughing. "That's the story of Desmond Miles. Sadly, not that great of a messiah, after all."
Ezio says nothing to that, frowning at the sky as Desmond turns to look at him. "Ezio… you don't need to feel – responsible for me," he says and sits up, trying to put the awkwardness into words. "I'm not – I know the words imply things, but – they're just words. You're not – I don't know, beholden to me? I'm just a guy with a lot of memories. I'm not something special."
"But you are," Ezio says, and sits up also, looking at him. "You hold centuries of Assassin knowledge and memories of the future – you have memories of Altaïr and Assassins who came after me – I told you. The risk of abuse – "
"Yeah, yeah, I – I know that. I'm not saying it's not risky," Desmond says, uncomfortably. "But sometimes – you look at me like I'm this… special thing you need to be careful with. And I'm – I'm not, just because I have all this crap in my head."
Ezio isn't getting it, so Desmond tries something different. "In the future, Assassins revere you," he says. "Because you were the best of us, and single-handedly did the most – not just against the Templars, but on the behalf of the future. The Pieces of Eden, the Isu – people have statues of you in their houses, probably, because that's how much they honour you. Hell, I think my dad tried to teach me your fighting techniques," he says with a laugh and shakes his head. "Should I revere you for it?"
The younger-older man leans back a little. "Well, one does like knowing they're going to be remembered," he says, a little uncomfortable. "But I suppose I'd rather you didn't."
"Yeah – same," Desmond says, pointed. "I know the stuff I know, it's dangerous – hell, I worry about what just letting slip about stuff about a damn guitar will do to the future. But I'm still just a guy. And I'm kind of a screw up anyway, never mind screwed up in the head. Would be nice, you know… if I could also be just a slightly screwed up… guy."
Ezio shakes his head, making a face. "Screwed up?"
"Messed up, not all there, fucked," Desmond says with a dismissive wave of his hand. "You know."
"Clearly I do not," Ezio says and shakes his head. "But I hear what you are saying, Desmond."
"Okay, good," Desmond says and coughs. "Thanks."
Ezio hums in agreement, turning his eyes to Santa Maria del Fiore. There's a long moment of silence which, for all that they'd been talking, isn't awkward. It's just kind of settling, between us.
"Shall we go take a look at Iltani's tomb?" Ezio offers then, a sort of an olive branch.
Desmond hums and nods. "Yeah, sure," he says. "Let's do that."
The trials of Santa Maria del Fiore aren't that difficult. Desmond hangs on the floor level of the church while Ezio runs and jumps around above, making his way through the church interior and finally up, which is when Desmond joins him, scaling the walls and finding his way to the entrance to Iltani's grave.
It's just as ridiculous and illogical as it was in the Animus, also about as nice too. There are some coins there, a few more weapons to add into their meagre arsenal, and the seal of course, but no armour, no hidden blades.
"At a guess, those are things intended to be given by the teacher of whoever runs these things. Or by the Mentor," Desmond muses. "Did you ever have any of your students see these things?"
"No, though Machiavelli and Paola did look through them, I believe, and recorded what was here for the brotherhood," Ezio says while considering the fake body in the fake grave. "I admit, I didn't look much into these individuals beyond claiming the seals and with them the armour in Monteriggioni. I had other things to do."
He looks at Desmond. "Are their memories within you as well?"
"I haven't gone looking, but who knows. Chances are they might be," Desmond agrees, looking up to Iltani's statue, standing above her fake grave. "The Assassin who killed Alexander the Great. I bet her memories would be epic."
Ezio hums in agreement, taking the seal and tucking it in his vest. "Greater than mine?" he asks in a low, amused murmur.
"No one's memories will be greater than yours," Desmond says with complete confidence, and glances at him. "Are you fishing for compliments?"
"Maybe. You say you're no greater than any other man, and the next moment you speak of reliving the memories of the greats as though it is nothing, and knowing you take in the skills of the people you remember…" Ezio says. "Say what you may, it is a little special."
Desmond looks down and then sighs. "I guess it is," he says, reaching to touch Iltani's statue. "There is this thing about these memories, about seeing so much through the eyes of so many, it's… kind of sad, to think about it. When I die, because I will one day die… Will they all die with me?"
Ezio makes a sound, sympathetic and thoughtful.
"Every generation we lose stuff and we gain stuff. Every generation, the Assassin Brotherhood starts anew," Desmond murmurs. "It started anew with Altaïr, when he begun changing things. It started again with you. Connor had to rebuild everything from the ground up, pretty much all Assassins were dead by then… It just keeps happening over and over again. No one remembers the people who came before. These things, they aren't passed down in our blood, but we keep doing them the exact same way…"
Ezio moves behind him, resting a hand over his lower back. "Perhaps the task is universal, and the very nature of the world demands to see it fulfilled," he comments. "There are roles and jobs in every society that are needed for those societies to function. Assassin might be one of those roles. In fact, I fear it must be."
Desmond hums and looks down. "There will always be Templars, and because of that, there must always be Assassins?" he asks wryly.
"Perhaps," Ezio says. "But I'd rather see it as… there is injustice, there is malice, and there is unfairness in the world – and not everyone is in a position to fight those things. Society is untidy and fragile, and it hangs on a precarious balance – it is easy to disrupt it to corruption and cruelty. Such things need defenders, serving the light from the shadows."
Desmond looks at him. "You really do have a way with words," he says wistfully.
"I've given many speeches over my career," Ezio admits, smiling almost apologetically.
"I bet," Desmond says and looks at Iltani again. "I just wish there was a better way to make it all stick, so that people don't forget every other generation."
"Perhaps there is something we can do about that," Ezio suggests. "But that must be later, I'm afraid. Come, it is getting late – we should go."
Desmond nods, and with a last look at Iltani's statue, he turns to follow Ezio to the hidden door and out, to the platform on top of the cathedral's dome. And now that is a view.
The sky above Florence is a little cloudy, a bit moody. It being December, the air is cooler than it is during the heat of the summer, and it's kind of nice, to feel the winds. No pollution but that of wood smoke, and no noise beyond the general sound of people. The city spreads out messy and clean and kind of uniform, full of stout buildings, all with the same orange-red rooftops and chimneys, with winding streets and old-timey charm.
"What do you think?" Ezio asks quietly, as they stand on the precipice, with wind tugging at their clothes, and the only thing higher than them is the birds.
"It's amazing," Desmond says honestly. "Just incredible."
"I wish you weren't so unhappy here," Ezio admits quietly. "Hopefully it can be a home for you, eventually."
"Hm," is all Desmond answers, because he doesn't really feel like lying anymore, even to soothe. "It is lovely," he says, leaning his elbows on the railing circling the platform. "But honestly, I kind of always liked Monteriggioni more."
Ezio gets a thoughtful look at that. "Well, now," he says slowly. "There's a thought."
Ezio knows the issues his parents have with Desmond and their supposed relationship aren't societal. A family of Assassins would not much care about such simple crimes, their motive seemingly nothing but love – and were they to judge Ezio for such things, he would think them lesser for it. No, their issues are of power and secrecy and influence, what of it they perceive Desmond to have over him.
Leonardo has obviously soothed some of those concerns, leaving behind a certain sense of unease. The shared meals and moments of interaction that follow are strained by an awkwardness difficult to pin down. Mother is a little less sly about her suggestions that Desmond play for Ezio's pleasure, and Father no longer looks so tired and resigned at the sight of them, but they do not know what to do with them, either.
They do not know how to welcome what they perceive as a civilian and non-Assassin into their family, and to the side of one they had intended for such life. Of that, at least, Ezio has no doubt – the training was already on the way, and he already possessed many of the skills that marked an Assassin, thanks to sly, disguised training by his parents and elder brother. With such a future in store for him, Desmond is, in their eyes, an awkward addition.
Perhaps one day he might tell them the truth, perhaps one day such things would be a moot point. For them to strain his relationships now is unfortunate, but he stands by that decision, even if it makes Desmond awkward and uneasy. For that, he now has a solution.
Only first, the conspiracy of the Pazzi and perhaps even of the Borgia must be put to bed.
And in the meantime, the waiting might put them both into their early graves.
"A week, and it will be the time for Sforza's assassination," Ezio murmurs against Desmond's shoulder.
"Do you think we should do something about it?" Desmond asks, worried.
"Hm," Ezio murmurs. "I had hoped Rodrigo would arrive here before that, and the matter would be laid to rest. Without him there to propel the matter forward, these things would not come to pass the same way, if at all. There has been no sign of him?"
"The kids are keeping an eye on the church. No guards, no nothing," Desmond sighs. "Same with the Pazzi."
"You have the children watching them also?"
"At a distance, and only the palazzo," the younger man answers and leans back a little, turning a little to look at Ezio over his shoulder. "I wouldn't put them in danger."
"… I know," Ezio murmurs and sighs. "It's only this waiting. Every day brings us closer to the 29th, and it puts me ill at ease."
There is a new Gonfaloniere in Firenze now, hastily voted to the position, while the investigation into the death of Uberto had, at last, ground to an awkward halt in lack of evidence. The new Gonfaloniere is not as close friend to the family – an old lawyer, much harder and stricter man than Uberto Alberti was and, Ezio hopes, less likely to be persuaded to conspiracies. As of now, he has no concern of the man ordering the death of his family.
But the date still draws nearer, and until they passed it by, Ezio does not think he could rest easy.
Desmond turns a little, and Ezio shifts back to let him, the bed underneath them shifting with the weight. "The assassination of the Medici is in two years, right?"
"They would have done it earlier if they could," Ezio says. "They still might."
"Hm," Desmond says. "Maybe we should just… press for advantage and kill Francesco. Maybe Baronchelli, if there's an opportunity. That would probably put an end to it."
"Hmm," Ezio hums, pressing his cheek to Desmond's shoulder and sighing. "I would rather be done with it, once and for all."
"I know, but –"
There's barely a knock on the door, and then Federico pushes into the room, all but throwing the door open and making Ezio start with alarm. "Little Brother!" Federico calls, cheerful, and then adds, more sly, "Desmond. You've been cooped up here for hours, and you'll both end up lazy and fat this way – come have a walk around the town with me. Exercise keeps the soul pure and the spirit sprightly, or something of that nature."
Used to such interruptions now, Ezio blows out a breath, while Desmond drops his head on the pillow, smothering a sigh. Then what Federico actually said catches up with Ezio, and he lifts his head from Desmond's shoulder. "You want Desmond to come on a walk with us?" he asks with some alarm.
Walk, between them, tended to happen on the rooftops. For Federico to suggest it, to suggest bringing Desmond along…
"Yes," Federico says and marches over to tug at Ezio's feet to try and bodily drag him off the bed. "The maid hasn't been here in something like a week, and brother, with all the offence in the world intended, it is starting to stink like men. Any more, and I'll call it rank. Time to get some air, so hup hup, up you get –"
Ezio almost ends up flat on his face on the floor, before quickly twisting and giving Federico a quick kick to get him to release. While his elder brother laughs and dances back, Ezio rises to sit, glaring at him. "It does not smell in here," he says, offended. What would it even smells like, all they do is talk!
"That's because you've been cooped up here for hours on end, and your nostrils are mired in the stench, no doubt. Which is lovely, in a way, utterly romantic – the way lovers of many years care not about each other's farts – but for the rest of us, it's noticeable –"
Ezio gapes at his brother, and then glances at Desmond, who is trying not to laugh at them. "What?" Ezio finally demands. "What in the world – "
"I am delicately and with great sensitivity trying to say this place could use some airing," Federico says, mockingly. "Now, come on, while the sun is out. Hurry up. You too, Desmond, you're too pretty to fall to the ways of sloth."
"Sloth is so nice though," Desmond says with a sigh, and gets up.
Ezio barely has the chance to actually work his way through what it means for Federico to insist on Desmond's inclusion, and so cheerfully too, before Federico is ushering them bodily outside with cheerful insistence and complete insidious glee of an elder brother, looking to make younger one suffer. Only now, Desmond seems included, and for Desmond to be included means that Father would have approved it, maybe even ordered it, which means…
They mean to teach him, or at least test him, on Assassin's style of movement.
Ezio tries to warn Desmond of this, but Federico throws his arm over his shoulder and steers him to the street, while Desmond follows, confused and amused.
"Now, show your beau how it is done, beside the ladder there," Federico says, pointing. "Desmond can then try or take the ladder, whichever will suit him."
"I'm sorry?" Desmond asks, while Ezio attempts to communicate with a look alone what might very well be going on.
"Go on, Ezio – show him. You've been on the rooftops, I hear – let us see," Federico says, and shoves him forward.
"I apologise, my brother is a lunatic," Ezio says to Desmond, even as he turns to the wall.
"Yeah, I figured," Desmond says, coughing, and then he and Federico watch as Ezio scales the wall, hauling himself up using broken brickwork and windowsills, until he can pull himself up the second floor, and onto the roof.
"I have always thought a man shows to his advantage, when climbing," Federico says conversationally to Desmond, on the street below. "Do you agree?"
Ezio sputters a little. "Why are you looking at my advantages, Federico?" he demands, leaning over the edge to glare at him.
"I wasn't," Federico answers, cheerful. "But I thought Desmond might have been."
"Lord – we are on the street! Anyone could hear!"
"So stop shouting!" Federico says, waving.
Beside him, Desmond looks between amused and mortified. To Ezio's relief, he doesn't actually answer. "Um, you want me to do what Ezio just did?" he asks. "Why? The ladder is just there."
"To test your skills, of course," Federico grins. "Don't you want to try?"
"I'd rather take the ladder, really."
"Very sensible," Federico says and looks up, grinning gleefully. "See, Ezio, there are sensible options, as opposed to showing off."
"You – you just told me to –!" Ezio starts to sputter and then leans back, running a hand over his face. "Oh, lord, I think I will miss the suspicion and spying," he mutters.
Desmond and Federico climb to join, Desmond smothering his amusement and Federico not even trying. Ezio looks at him suspiciously, not sure he much likes this new turn of events – especially knowing that Desmond is very skilled with these things, and now they must hide it. "What next, Brother?" he asks. "Shall I climb the side of Giotto's Campanile while you take the stairs?"
"Marvellous idea, Ezio," Federico says. "But maybe a little advanced. Let's instead go have a look at – that tower over there."
He sets forth ahead of them, and Ezio shares a look with Desmond. Desmond shrugs and does not seem to mind it so much. "It beats sitting around doing nothing," Desmond comments. "And he's right about exercise, probably."
"Don't let him hear that, we'll never hear the end of it," Ezio says and then murmurs. "Can you fake not knowing this?"
"Maybe," Desmond says, and doesn't seem too concerned. "One way to find out."
So, they run the length of the rooftops, climb the sides of buildings, and every so often Desmond fakes a failure and scrambles down a wall with enough skill to avoid damage, but make it look clumsy and painful. Ezio winces more than once at the sight of it, and Federico has the decency of looking a little guilty, but every time Desmond calls up, "I'm alright!" and it sets him at ease.
"He's resilient, your beau," Federico comments.
"And you are cruel," Ezio says, glancing at him. "Where is this coming from?"
"I am bored," Federico says. "And you don't fall nearly as often anymore, so it's not fun anymore."
"So you want someone else to torture? Why not Claudia, she'd tumble and fall spectacularly, I imagine."
"Psh, how would she even climb in those dresses?"
"Cut them shorter and put her in hose, I'm sure she will do fine," Ezio mutters – which she had, enough so that it made Ezio suspicious that she was practicing in Monteriggioni. Likely she was.
Federico throws him a look. "And have her arrested on decency violations? Who's the cruel brother now?" he asks and then peers down. "I think you had better go rescue him," he says then. "Before the beggars eat him alive."
Ezio looks down quickly – on the ground level, Desmond is talking to some of his juvenile spies, crouching down to hear what they have to say before quickly paying the eager kids for whatever news they had to deliver. Then Desmond looks up, his eyes meeting Ezio's urgently.
Ezio's heart skips a beat as he quickly vaults over the edge and to the ground.
Guards stationed at the Santa Maria Novella are a telltale sign that something is bound to happen. Even if it's not the entire conspiracy, having more than two or three of them in the same place would make all the difference. To kill Rodrigo now would change everything – and in case he was not here, killing several of his lieutenants would land a blow to the conspiracy not easily rectified. When the Pazzi had died, Rodrigo had not tried in Firenze again – he didn't have the means, nor the support. After all, who would support him at the risk of their own assassination?
Of course, by that time Ezio was long gone from Firenze and in no place to affect such things with the same alacrity – not until he had his Brotherhood around him and could send recruits to act on his behalf, anyway.
That aside, now… things would change.
"Are we ready for this?" Desmond asks quietly, as they crouch on the rooftop, watching the entrance.
"We had better be," Ezio says and takes out the smoke bombs he'd prepared for the mission. "Here, take half of these and wait by the exit. I will run the trials and take out the guards – we'll pin the conspirators between us, drown them in smoke and slay them in it."
Desmond nods and then reaches out to touch his shoulder. "I know I don't need to say good luck," he says, watching him from beneath his dark, nearly black hood. "So… safety and peace, Ezio."
Ezio looks at him, confused. "Safety and peace?"
"It's what Assassins said in Altaïr's time. Safety and peace, brother," Desmond says squeezing his shoulder and then dropping his hand. "Let's see that we end this thing, tonight."
Ezio nods, watching as Desmond disappears over the roof's edge. There is no sign of him after, the darker robes hiding him better in shadows than white might have. There is no sound, no sign, nothing.
Ezio breathes in and out and then follows, making his way to the tomb's entrance instead, for the skull lock – which they had triggered not a handful of days before, and which triggers again with the quietest clutch and lets him inside.
Last he'd done this, it had been to spy only. He had not yet had the skill to take on such a number of powerful men, and perhaps not the confidence to try – information then was more important, and cautiousness. Now, information he has, and cautiousness he exercised in plenty before, and cannot afford anymore. Desmond is right – this would end tonight.
The first guard dies with Ezio's knife in his throat, convulsing as he falls – Ezio catches him before he can make a noise and drags him into the shadows. There he finally claims for himself a sword to use, just in case, and hesitates over the man's armour before moving on.
The next guard he sneaks up on from the shadows, shielded by the black robes, his footfalls muffled by decades of skill – the guard neither sees nor senses him, and with a hand on the man's chin and other on his neck, Ezio breaks the guard's neck and draws him too into the shadows.
This time, there is no runner to hurry ahead and give warning. Of the five guards sent out to secure the rest of the tomb, five fall, and the two securing the entrance to the secret chamber where the Templars hold their meetings are already dead, their throats expertly cut. There is no sign of Desmond there, but Ezio can sense him – and then, concentrating, see his trail, his afterimage, moving expertly on the two guards, and simultaneously silencing both.
It is more bloodshed than Ezio has had in the past, so far. It's probably a wretched, sinful thing, to find it all so homely.
Then, finally, sounds.
"… et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, descendat super vos et manaet semper…"
"Thank you, Father."
The hair on the back of Ezio's neck stands on end. It's been decades now, but he recognizes the voices. Jacopo de' Pazzi – and Francesco.
"Yes, thank you, Jacopo," a less patient and even more familiar voice says. "Now, to the matter at hand. Antonio, you have the Medici's ear – have they any idea who killed Uberto?"
"No, Maestro, not a thing," a voice which Ezio knows a little less well – must be Antonio Maffei – answers. "Lorenzo has had his Assassin look into it, but with little success – all they found is the note which Francesco now has, I believe, and that is about it."
"I have it here, Maestro – it was found on Uberto, no doubt what drove him out to the street so late," Francesco says and scoffs. "Fool should have brought guards with him, or anyone – why go alone, the way he did…"
"That's all your investigation brought up, that Uberto was a fool?" the Maestro snaps. "You were meant to look into it, Francesco – have you not?"
"I have, Maestro, of course I have. But there is little to find – all I could find out is what everyone here already knows, he was hung up on the archway, hanged like a criminal," Francesco de' Pazzi answers, quickly. "It's obviously a Medici cover up – they had him killed and now claim it's some random murderer."
"Why investigate the matter at all, if that is the case?" a new voice – Baronchelli?
"And for Lorenzo to send out his Assassin to investigate implies the matter is of some concern for them as well – surely they wouldn't do that, if it was, indeed, the Assassin behind it," Jacopo says. "No, I think the Medici know as much as we do – in fact, less. There is someone out there, this murderer, who has somehow found out about our plans – "
"Don't be hasty, Jacopo," Rodrigo answers. "If they had, they surely would've done more than kill just Uberto. It might be nothing more than someone in his household who blabbered about things they didn't understand to some opportunist who attempted to use it to blackmail Uberto – and failing at that, killed him. No one has come after you, have they, Francesco? How about you, Antonio? You are both stationed here in Firenze – has anyone approached you on the matter?"
"Then likely this is as far as it goes. We have other concerns now, with Uberto gone – the Assassins. We know they are Florentine, do we know who? Francesco?"
"Uberto was working on it, Maestro, but Lorenzo is very cautious. I believe Auditore knows – Giovanni Auditore – he works at Medici bank. He is an insipid sort of man, can't keep his own house in order – his kids are thoroughly spoiled and run around Firenze like cats in heat. But Lorenzo trusts him implicitly – Uberto was working on getting into his good graces, to see if he knew."
"Perhaps some pressure might be applied to the man," Rodrigo murmurs. "Antonio, you have some command over Medici forces and you have their trust. Do you think manage it, getting information out of the man?"
"I can certainly try, Maestro," Antonio Maffei promises.
Ezio bows his head at that. Oh? They don't yet even know his father is an Assassin. That is most fortunate. Not that it would matter, at the end of this night – but if Rodrigo and the Pazzi do not know, then neither do any of those who might be even remotely involved with this matter. Likely, Giovanni had been revealed during the Sforza assassination, and should that now not happen…
They would be safe.
Ezio closes his eyes, inhales slowly, letting himself imagine it, letting it settle in his heart like wounded bird in an iron wrought cage, kept safe, kept close. What a beautiful word, that. Safe.
Then, exhaling slowly, he takes out the smoke bombs.
"Well, someone woke up on the right side of the bed this morning," Claudia says.
Giovanni looks up from the letter he was frowning at to see Ezio and Desmond slipping into the dining room, the former wearing an easy, relaxed smile and the latter looking quite a deal less wound up than he usually does, joining them for dinner. It's enough to make them all take a pause, really, even Petruccio looks up and the pair pause at the door.
"Ah, we – slept well?" Ezio asks and coughs.
"Mm-hmm, is that what they're calling it these days?" Federico asks, sly. "Those clean linens come in handy?
"Federico," Maria says admonishingly, giving him a slight ruffle of the hair while holding her hands out to Ezio. "It's a lovely morning – come here, dear, give your mother a kiss."
"Good morning, Mother," Ezio says and obediently does as asked. Giovanni folds the letter over, watching him closely. He looks and feels a little less… separated from them, somehow, and at his side, though still a little hesitant, Desmond no longer looks like he's afraid of taking a wrong step for the risk of breaking something. It's a small difference from how he acted before – but it is marked.
"Good morning, to both of you," Giovanni says, while Maria goes to kiss Desmond's cheeks in greeting as well, much to the young man's surprise. "Come, sit down."
"Good morning Father," Ezio says, and sits down in his usual seat. "Sister – Brothers," he adds, with a side eye aimed at Federico, who still grins at him. Even the brotherly needling doesn't seem enough to take Ezio's good mood, though, and in the end he only shakes his head and smiles.
Desmond murmurs his good mornings quieter, giving Maria a shy smile before slipping to his seat beside Ezio. Another small, but noticeable difference – he doesn't wait for Ezio to reach for the food before daring to do so himself, no, instead Desmond reaches for the pitcher to pour for himself with only minimal hesitation, taking a quick, easy drink.
Something his grandfather used to say, Giovanni remembers. You will know that a man trusts you when he feels comfortable and at home in your table. Though Giovanni still cannot say he knows or trusts Desmond as well as he would like, this is certainly a good sign, and a step in the right direction. And judging by the look Maria sends his way, she feels it too.
Giving Federico free reign to test and see if Desmond was trainable was, it seems, the right decision.
And likely so was having Ezio's linens all washed.
"So, what is the plan for today?" Ezio asks, grabbing a piece of bread.
"If you're going to be grinning smugly all day, then I, for one, am going to stay well away," Claudia says with a sniff. "I will be having lessons with Rosaria, and I will be going to see my friends afterwards."
"Sounds delightful," Ezio says, smiling.
"It will be," she says, and takes a dainty sip of her drink.
"I have no errands for you today," Giovanni says, shaking his head and turning to his food. "Though I would like to see you work on your Latin a little, Ezio, I feel it's being left on the wayside, with the last few days' activities."
"Ah. Yes," Ezio says, coughing, and breaks a piece of bread in half, handing the other half to Desmond. "It might have, at that, yes."
"Federico, help him through it, will you?" Giovanni says. "I will likely be busy at the bank all day, or I'd do it myself."
"Actually, Father," Ezio says. "Desmond and I were hoping to visit Leonardo today."
"We were?" Desmond murmurs, glancing up, while Giovanni arches his brow with interest.
"Leonardo offered to build Desmond's instrument for him, if he can," Ezio explains. "I thought, if things have quieted down as they seem, we could take advantage of it now? At least to see if it might be possible."
Giovanni arches his brows, and he's not the only one. For Ezio to actually, actively, pursue to gain his lover the preferred instrument… That's something else entirely.
My, Giovanni thinks with some horror. The night must have been very nice for Ezio.
"The luthier we visited before offered the same," Maria muses, quickly reaching for her glass for a drink. Judging by her expression, she'd come to a similar conclusion there as well. "Though likely Leonardo will be faster – never mind the work more beautiful. He is so very talented."
"I thought so too," Ezio says and looks at Desmond, who is staring at him with surprise. Ezio smiles and glances down, looking very pleased with himself.
"Well. Certainly, you can – but I still want you to work on your Latin, at least a little," Giovanni says with a cough. Good lord. "Petruccio, you have lessons today as well, yes?" he says then with some desperation. "Tell us, what have you been learning?"
The breakfast is amiable, all told, and more pleasant than meals have been of late. Ezio remains quietly content throughout it, and though he's never been in any way an unhappy child, Giovanni thinks he can never really mind a man who can make one of his children so happy, after all. The matter is still awkward, but it could be borne.
Yes, it could be borne, after all.
The day proves itself uneventful, for the most part. A minor mistake in calculations is the most action Giovanni sees, and though it sends him going through forms and documents all around the bank to correct the errors, one can't call it exactly dire. It's the kind of day at work he prefers, quite honestly, losing himself in the numbers and writing without having to worry for a while.
The looming threat of the murderer has finally passed from the general consciousness, it having been several days now without developments or further attacks. Expectations of the Christmastime is once more taking people's attention, and the murder is, while not forgotten, brushed aside in favour of finding evergreens and planning suitable festivities.
Giovanni wonders if he too could finally allow himself to be distracted by less urgent matters – when a runner from Paola brings him a worrying note.
Francesco and Jacopo de' Pazzi went missing last night – Vieri fears another murder has been committed.
Giovanni burns the letter in his office fireplace and then turns it over in his head. That could be entirely unrelated, or… completely related. It is odd though, as far as Giovanni knows, Francesco was no friend of Uberto's, and he's certainly no friend to the Medici. Jacopo de' Pazzi Giovanni knows less about, but for Vieri, Francesco's son, to fear murder… he must know more.
La Volpe must already be looking into it, Paola would have sent a word to him also, so there is not much for Giovanni to do but keep his ear to the ground and wait.
Federico brings him the next bit of news. "Pazzi men are going around the city, checking – places," he says after slipping into Giovanni's office and closing the door behind him. "Secret places – hiding places, it looks like to me. They're looking for something, and they're in a hurry."
"Hmm," Giovanni answers. "Paola sent me word not an hour ago that Vieri de' Pazzi believes his father and grandfather have been murdered, for they are missing… I expect it is related. Have you seen Vieri?"
"Yes, he was leading some of the men," Federico says, now fully alert. "Is it the same murderer who killed the Gonfaloniere?"
"I don't know, son, it's too soon to tell. Jacopo and Francesco might not even be dead," Giovanni says, though he doubts it. "We won't know until there's further evidence. Follow Vieri, Federico, but carefully. See what he does, and if they find something, report back to me straight away."
"Yes, Father," Federico agrees.
"La Volpe will likely be looking into it as well – coordinate with his people where you can, and stay out of their way if you can't," Giovanni adds. "And Federico, be careful. I fear there's something more than meets the eye going on."
"Of course, Father."
Federico goes, and for a while longer Giovanni stays at the office, stuck behind the desk, waiting for developments. Eventually though, the work peters out, and his curiosity gets the better of him – and finally ventures out, to see what is going on, himself.
The Pazzi have the city roused up – Vieri is taking no care, running around the city like a headless chicken, turning over every rock on his way over in his desperate search. It's sincere, at least that much Giovanni can tell at a distance – the young man is utterly beside himself as he demands his men to search harder and move faster, heedless of the spectacle he's causing.
"Seems to be quite worried, young Vieri," a voice in Giovanni's ear comments, and he tilts his head to see La Volpe just behind him. "He's been like this since they left Palazzo."
"How did Paola get the word so fast?" Giovanni wonders, keeping his voice pitched low
"One of her girls was entertaining at the Pazzi palazzo, I understand, and was with Vieri as he started having concerns," la Volpe says. "From what my men have managed to overhear, Jacopo and Francesco were attending some meeting at night and never returned – and neither did the guest they were hosting at their house."
"Hmm," Giovanni answers. "That's worrisome indeed. Do we know anything about this meeting?"
"Not a word," la Volpe answers, sounding frustrated. "But you have suspicions, as do I."
"Yes," Giovanni muses. After all, the Pazzi hadn't exactly been hiding their opinions about the current state of Firenze, had they?
They follow quietly for a while, as Vieri, without a bit of caution, forces his way into Santa Maria Novella, pushing aside priests and monks and then, while Giovanni and La Volpe angle for a better view and the city guards finally move in to act upon the whole sordid affair… Vieri finds what he is looking for.
"I didn't get a look at the scene before it was utterly trampled by all the guards and then the doctors and everyone else who thought they could give insight on the matter," Giovanni sighs while sitting beside his wife. "Vieri was firmly against the Medicis being involved in any way in the matter, so I wasn't exactly welcomed at the crime scene. But from what I can tell, it was a massacre. Jacopo, Francesco, and five others, all slain in the night." Along with several guards, which none considered important.
"My God," Maria murmurs, winding her arms around his shoulders. "It's it the same killer?"
"I cannot tell," Giovanni admits, clasping his hands over hers. "La Volpe managed to get one of his men close enough before the bodies were moved – most were stabbed, and a couple had their throats cut. It was expertly done, no denying that – and as far as I can tell, no sign of the killer. It might be the same murderer." But if it was, then, by God, they were the best killer Giovanni had ever heard of.
Giovanni shakes his head and then leans into his wife as Maria presses a kiss to his cheek. He continues, "It took hours before we had any of their identities. One of the men killed worked in the Medici house," he says quietly. "Father Antonio Maffei, he taught Lorenzo's children. One of them is the archbishop of Pisa, of all people, Francesco Salviati. There was Jacopo's assistant, Stefano Bagnone, and their head accountant, Baronchelli… the last we still don't know, but it's likely another powerful and influential man."
Maria makes a noise under her breath. "What a terrible thing."
"Mmh," Giovanni agrees, frowning, deeply troubled. "It's a worrisome group of people to find in one place for any reason, but to find them dead?" he asks quietly. "It was obviously a secret meeting, but for what purpose? And if this was the same murderer as the one who killed Uberto, what does it mean, what does it say about him? Or about us, the Assassins, that we knew nothing of any of this?"
Maria hums, sympathetic. "You cannot know everything, my love. No one can," she says quietly. "The world is a complicated, mysterious place, full of complicated, mysterious people, all acting upon their own needs and desires. There is no predicting it. Do not take it as your responsibility to try."
Giovanni sighs, bowing his head. "When we settled here, Maria, I swore I would keep the city peaceful and safe," he says. "And for years I thought I'd succeeded. Now, in such a short time so many things have happened, and it doesn't even feel like I'm catching up to whoever is behind this – it feels as though I'm reaching for smoke even as it disappears, leaving behind nothing to grasp. I don't know what to do about this, my love. I don't know anything at all."
"And that, dearest, is a very humble place to begin," Maria says and kisses his cheek.
There's a sound of a door opening and closing, and Federico finds them soon after, a little out of breath.
"Any news?" Giovanni asks quickly.
"We have the identity of the last man," Federico says, breathing hard. "Though what use it is, is questionable. It's Rodrigo Borgia, the Bishop of Albano and a Cardinal."
The name sounds familiar, but… Giovanni shakes his head. Another powerful man in a group of powerful men, keeping secret council and killed for it, it seems. "Is there still no word as to what they were meeting about?"
"Vieri obviously knows, but…" Federico shrugs, and Giovanni hums in agreement.
If Vieri did not confess to the Signoria, then perhaps some pressure might be applied to him. It would be harder now, with Jacopo and Francesco dead, Vieri has a real bid to claim the family fortunes for himself. They would have to be careful with him, especially considering the young man's level of maturity – which, considering how many fights Ezio had gotten in with him, is not very high at all. Speaking of which…
"Have you checked upon your siblings?" Giovanni asks.
"Claudia is still out with her friends, and Ezio and Desmond were still at Leonardo's when I checked," Federico assures him. "All are fine. I don't know if they've heard the news yet, I don't think it has gone out to the heralds yet. There are rumors though."
"And Petruccio is in his room, tinkering, though he should be reading," Maria says, smiling. "All is well."
Giovanni nods and then gets up. "In that case, I think I had better go take a closer look at these affairs," he says, turning to the secret door in his office wall. "I don't know if I will be back for dinner, Maria, so make my excuses."
"Of course," his wife answers, standing up also and hooking her arm with Federico's. "Take care, my love."
"Always," Giovanni says, and turns to fetch his robes.
There are things to be learned indeed.
The meeting place where the slain group had been found bears the mark of Assassins, but not in the way Giovanni had expected. The blood that still pools on the floor is startling, as badly as it has been trampled, but what draws Giovanni's eye are the markings on the walls, leading to what can only be described as a tomb. A tomb, marked with a vaguely familiar statue – and a stone casket, bearing a familiar symbol on it.
Giovanni stares at the statue in some incomprehension, before it finally dawns on him where he has seen the statue before. In Monteriggioni, under the old villa – it's the statue of Darius, one of the Old Greats of the long ago, the ones who had paved the way before Altaïr and remade the Brotherhood into something great.
Lord, it's been over a dozen years and more since he last saw those old statues his grandfather had built, and longer since he thought about the story of the trials, the seals, the keys to the fabled armour behind an impenetrable gate in Monteriggioni. He and Mario had looked for the trials, the tombs, to no avail – Giovanni had long since lost hope that they might exist at all, much like the Library of Altaïr under the stones of Masyaf castle, it was only another story, he thought.
And yet here it is, right in front of him – and already opened, the treasures taken, the seal gone.
Giovanni searches around the tomb, but there is no sign of who had taken the treasures, only that it was recently – there are tracks and trails in the dust, which mark the theft as no more than a month old. Similarly, there is no sign of the murderer, though something can be deduced from the progress they'd made through the trials. Some of the bloody smears of guards killed are in places which would take an Assassin's aptitude for movement to reach without notice. That is telling.
But then, he already knew: the killer, or killers, were skilled. Perhaps too skilled… to ever be caught.
Nothing more to be learned at the tomb, Giovanni takes a moment to examine the supposed grave of Darius, pressing it to his memory bitterly. He would write to Mario about it, he'd be thrilled and disappointed.
Then Giovanni moves on, intending to see if there's anything more he can learn from the Pazzi and Vieri, if he could even get close enough to try. On his way there… he sees Ezio and Desmond, on the rooftops, leaning onto a rooftop garden. They look serious, as they stare over the rooftops and at the Duomo.
Carefully keeping himself hidden, Giovanni sneaks in closer, curious as to what they might be talking about.
"... Again, Ezio," Desmond is saying. "Why do we have to repeat it, over and over. I don't want you to –"
"I know, I know," Ezio answers. "But you will not be content here, will you? Not now, and likely not ever."
"I can learn," Desmond sighs. "I can adjust. Just give it a few weeks, few months – once the awkward part of this is over –"
"Desmond, you were right. We will never be able to be fully honest," Ezio says quietly, while Giovanni's blood runs cold. "Maybe in some lesser part, but – not in entirety, and only ever behind closed doors. You know this better than I do –"
"To hell with that," Desmond snaps. "This is your family –"
"And they are safe and content, now," Ezio says, calm. "And they will be, from here on out. That will not change, were we here or somewhere else – no, don't give me that face. You know I'm right in this. I would rather live apart from them and have fondness and affection on both sides, rather than stay and become mired in lies and secrets because we try and force something into existence that will not be and see it all turn to bitter grudges and suspicion. And this would apply even if you weren't here."
Giovanni's heart pounds as he tilts his head to see them. Though he is glad that the news have not yet reached the pair, and thus they are yet free of the concerns and fears that would soon run rampant across Florence, this… this is hardly better. To hear Ezio say such things, and so solemnly, so decidedly…
Desmond is looking at Ezio – Ezio, at the Duomo.
"Likely I wouldn't have been able to stay here, with how much I have changed. It's not a comfortable fit for me either," Ezio admits. "I can't pretend to be unchanged, it's too much like lying. To act the happy go lucky son without a fear in the world…" he trails away and shakes his head. "Even if I had came back alone, eventually I would have taken my leave. Better distance than resentment."
Desmond is quiet for a moment, and when he speaks, it sounds sad. "That's not what you wanted, though."
Ezio hums. "I wanted to set things right," he says. "And I have. That's enough."
Giovanni frowns and wishes desperately they'd elaborate on the matter – but they don't. Instead, Desmond sighs, resigned, and hangs his head. "Where would we go?" he asks quietly. "When?"
"Not yet, it's a bit too soon, my family would not stand for it… but eventually," Ezio says and looks at him. "And I thought… Monteriggioni. We could go to Monteriggioni. It would be safe, with Uncle Mario there. It would be secure. We'd both be happy there, yes? Maybe one day, we could even be honest and open. Would that… not be something?"
They say nothing more for a long moment, and when Giovanni chances a look at them, Ezio is holding Desmond's hand, and Desmond – his head is bowed and his shoulders are shaking. Giovanni looks away, grimacing. True enough, they had not trusted the young man much, but for it to weigh on him that heavily…
And now there is too much going on in the city, too many secrets within the family and without, for things to settle anytime soon. As much as the pair feels as though they are lying, surely their family's deep rooted secrets run deeper, and far more grievous than whatever Ezio and Desmond feel they must hide. One day, perhaps, but now… now there would be no time, not with whatever would follow the massacre.
Perhaps it would be better… for Mario to see what he could do with and, perhaps more importantly, for the pair.
On the rooftop garden Ezio looks up at the starry sky. "Love," he says. "Liberty. Time. I think it's time we accept them for ourselves, don't you think?"
"Yes," Desmond whispers. "Yeah."
And nothing more is said, at all.
On the 28th day of December, there is no fight with Vieri de Pazzi on the Ponte Vecchio. Granted, the fact that the Duke of Milan wasn't assassinated on the 26th is probably slightly more important in the historical scheme of things, but on a personal level, the changes to the 28th are more marked. Vieri de Pazzi has had no time to even notice Ezio for the last few days, too busy dealing with the major deaths in his family, and then the ensuing investigation, as everyone tried to figure out what the group killed had been doing underneath Santa Maria Novella, and why they'd been killed. At this point, Vieri probably doesn't even remember whatever insults him and younger Ezio had ever thrown at each other.
"I remember it oddly well," Ezio admits, as he and Desmond lean back against the baluster separating the pedestrians on the bridge from the river Arno. "There was a group of boys, I knew them, but from where and how I can't remember anymore. School friends, perhaps, or sons of other lesser families being put down by Vieri. I gathered them up here, made a great speech – and then we got into a brawl."
"As kids do," Desmond agrees, smiling, looking at the bridge. He can almost see it, as a sort of after-image of a Bleeding Effect. That part of Ezio, thankfully, is pretty well settled inside him. "This is where you cut your lip – before Federico came to help you."
"Hm. He was always looking after me," Ezio agrees. "Still is, I suppose."
The people on the bridge pass them by, not paying any attention to them. On the other end of the bridge there is a herald – proclaiming a short summary of the Santa Maria Novella Massacre, before moving on to announce that service in this or that church was cancelled because the priest and monks there had all caught ill.
It's been a few days now, and as with all things… people move on. The investigation is going on still, of course, but though it takes longer for the shock value to wear off in the realm of heralds and handwritten letters, wear off it does, eventually. You can only hear the same news – and their lack of new developments – so many times before you stop caring.
Life goes on. Everyone has to still go to their jobs, and earn a living, and eat. So, people just sort of go on with their lives while Florence and the Papal States are having a bit of a diplomatic shindig, trying to figure out what the hell went down under Santa Maria Novella and what the archbishop of Pisa was doing involved with it all. Thankfully, so far the whole thing has people so damn weirded out that as of now no one was trying to start a war over it or anything. Mostly everyone seems busy just denying conspiracy or involvement, and of course the Pope had no knowledge of what was going on…
So. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Ezio turns to look at him. "Is it significant, the cut on my lip? Altaïr had it too. Did Connor?"
"Hmm?" Desmond hums and then leans his head back, looking up at the sky. "I'd like to think it isn't, but… it probably is, somehow. Connor didn't have it, but he also didn't come to me organically – Juno kind of foisted him on me, after manipulating his life. Well, Altaïr was kind of foisted on me too, and so were you, but… it was different, with you two."
Ezio tilts his head. "A sign of our… significance, our commitment?" he asks, smiling. "Our connection to you?"
Desmond frowns. "Maybe," he says and looks back down. "I don't know. Let's not go there," he says and shifts his footing, leaning his elbows on the baluster. "So, big day before the even bigger day. What do you want to do?"
Ezio looks at the bridge again. Then he hums. "There is something I have rather been putting off, which bears addressing," he admits with a sigh and runs a hand over his neck. "I should go see Cristina."
Desmond arches a brow. "Oh yeah, you had some fun last time."
"We will not, this time," Ezio says, casting a look at him. "But I have made some promises to her – or rather, I did, before. Promises which I can no longer keep – not that I ever could. I should – tell her."
"You know, you could keep those promises this time around," Desmond comments, lifting a hand and leaning his cheek on it, his elbow still on the stone baluster. "Things are going to be different. You could, you know… do the whole thing properly. See her, court her – "
"I couldn't," Ezio says, quiet, and looks away.
Desmond is quiet for a moment, watching him. The line of Ezio's neck is a little tense. "Because of Sofia?" he asks, rather half-heartedly.
Ezio sighs, shaking his head and glances at him. "Don't be obtuse," he says pointedly. "Though that too would be reason enough. I am now thirty six years her senior, with a life three times the length of hers behind me with all the experiences therein… and thus a very different man from the youth she holds affection for. To continue any kind of affair there would be… dishonest. Even if I were free to do so."
"Mmhmm," Desmond answers and looks down. "You shouldn't – I mean. I know there's this whole pretend relationship thing going on, but you shouldn't hold yourself back from these things just because of me. I know what you're like, and I don't want to be the reason you don't get to be who you are."
Ezio chuckles at that, shaking his head, and pushes himself away from the baluster, turning to face him rather than the street. "Either way, my silence is doing Cristina no favours, no doubt," he says. "Better I set her free of all obligation and misunderstanding, before they risk affecting her life."
"Alright. It's not like I disagree with you there," Desmond says. "I figure you'd want to do it alone."
"Not that I mind your company," Ezio says. "But it might be… perceived in a certain way, and there was something about closed doors my parents consider very important."
Desmond smiles. "Alright. Good luck. I'll see you later, then."
"Thank you, and you will," Ezio says, hesitates for a moment, and then heads off. Desmond looks after him and then turns to look at the river, flowing peacefully under the bridge.
Leonardo and Machiavelli tried to steal it once, he's pretty sure. There were like canals and stuff planned. Just the sort of thing those two would get up to, stealing a river. Wonder what Machiavelli is doing these days anyway.
Probably being a kid.
Well, Leonardo is still around and working on Desmond's guitar, so…
"Ah, there you are," Leonardo says, in lieu of saying hello, and pulls the door open. "Come, come in – I have just finished working on it, and I want you to tune the strings."
"You got it done?" Desmond asks with a bit of a surprise. "You said it would take you weeks!"
"Well, that was before I figured out how much more interesting working on it was than painting – that thing," Leonardo says, waving dismissively at the painting under works. Desmond sends it a miserable look – it's one of the many paintings of Leonardo that had not survived into the future, and it's like many other paintings by Leonardo… half-finished.
"Come, come, take a look," Leonardo says, ushering him past the painting on the easel and to his work table instead, which is covered in woodworking tools, clamps and bits and pieces of wood. He'd even made a mould for shaping the rim, with all the necessary curves and a whole lot of other bits of wood around it to force things into shape. And in the middle of it all, there is the finished guitar – lacquered and painted and everything, with a full set of six strings of gut.
It's a little bit off, it's not the manufactured perfect shape of future guitars – but it's a damn sight closer than any lute Desmond has seen so far, even the gittern, which is small and… not right at all. This thing looks right. Feels right too, when he sits down and fits it in his lap, good three times bigger than the gittern.
Leonardo sits down to watch him tune it, as Desmond tests the pegs and plucks at the strings to get the right notes out. "I have worked on a handful of instruments, in my time. As side projects mostly," Leonardo admits. "I've worked on older and newer instruments – even considered trying my hand in inventing one or two. And since taking up this particular project, I have been looking into the matter more."
Desmond flicks at the string, his head angled down a little as the note resonates, thereabouts right. He never learned the names or letters or… whatever it is that notes have, the only playing he'd ever done was by the ear. But it sounds close.
"Okay," he says to Leonardo. "Sounds interesting."
"It was, it was most fascinating," Leonardo says, folding his arms. "When you work on instruments, even a little, you begin seeing how they change over the years. And I can see, somewhat, how gittern might evolve into your guitar. But it hasn't yet, has it?"
Desmond glances up at him, as Leonardo arches his brows, challenging.
"Yeah," Desmond says and plucks at the still discordant string. "That is fascinating," he agrees, and turns his attention back to the guitar.
Leonardo huffs, and his stool creaks as he leans back. "I'll figure it out," he says determinedly. "What you and Ezio are hiding, I will figure it out eventually."
There is no doubt he would, it's really only a matter of time. Desmond shakes his head, and finishes tuning the guitar, plucking the last string, and then strumming his fingers over all them, listening to a more familiar sound.
It might be still a little off… but damn, it sounds like home. Much, much deeper, fuller sound than he can get out of the gittern. Not that the gittern doesn't have its good sides – it's just a lot higher than Desmond would like. Very medieval, he supposes – guitar is more… modern sounding. Maybe.
Hell if he knows, it just sounds nicer to his ear.
Desmond plucks out a melody on the guitar fingerstyle and hums with genuine enjoyment at being able to not only get the more familiar tune out of the thing – also having space for his fingers is nice. Another thing he doesn't particularly enjoy with the gittern – the neck is so small, and there's not enough space for his fingers. He always ended up accidentally muffling other notes.
"That's nice," Leonardo comments.
"Yeah," Desmond says, and strums out a series of chords "I – it really is. Thank you – I don't know how to repay you for it. Actually, I'm pretty sure I can't." He has next to no money of his own, really.
"Both Ezio and Madonna Maria offered me repayment for my time and the materials, it's alright," Leonard says, waving a dismissive hand. "And the work was interesting enough that I would've done it for free."
"If you say so," Desmond says and works through another melody, getting himself used to it.
"Where is Ezio anyway?" Leonardo asks slyly. "You're usually attached at the hip – no innuendo intended."
"None taken – he's gone to see a girl," Desmond says and then grins at the way Leonardo sputters.
"I'm sorry, what?" the artist demands. "He went – and he told you? Or – didn't, and you found out?"
"No, he told me," Desmond says and glances up. "Apparently some promises were made, way back when – Ezio's gone to set the whole thing straight. So to speak."
"I... see?" Leonardo asks, still sounding a little put off.
Desmond smiles and leans back a little, shifting the guitar in his lap. "He doesn't want to lead her on," he explains. "But to set her free from the bonds of obligation or whatnot."
"Hmm," Leonardo hums and tilts his head. "You trust him quite a deal, considering his reputation. I don't mean to offend but... he does have a reputation."
"No offence taken, I know his reputation well enough. It's not really a matter of trust," Desmond says, though he's not really sure himself what that even means. But it really isn't. Even if Ezio did end up hooking up with Cristina, or Caterina, or even Sofia, at some distant future date… it would be alright.
Leonardo eyes him dubiously.
"It really is alright," Desmond says and then nods to the guitar. "Do you want to try? I mean, you play too, right? Probably better than me, at that, knowing notes and stuff."
"Well, if you don't mind," Leonardo says and eagerly accepts the guitar. "Now, let's see…"
Of course, Leonardo plays as beautifully as he paints and builds. That's really not a surprise – everything the guy does is just pitch perfect, this time more literally. Genuine geniuses are something else, for real.
Desmond watches him with a smile and decides he doesn't care if introducing guitar of all things changes the future. Future is already changed – slowly but steadily, things would only change more and more, as time went on, as Ezio shaped the present to his liking and thus reshaped Desmond's past and his own future. And that'd be alright.
"Couple of centuries, I think. Maybe three," Desmond says conversationally.
"What's that?" Leonardo asks.
"Until guitars like that will be developed."
Leonardo looks up sharply at him, and Desmond arches his brows, daring. The artist's long fingers hesitate over the strings, and then he strums.
"Fascinating," he says, a glowing spark of interest and determination in his eyes, and Desmond grins. He tells the artist nothing more, but the bait's certainly been taken, hook, line, and sinker.
Time will tell what kind of fish Leonardo ended up hauling up.
The rest of the day goes about the same as the days usually go. Desmond eventually heads back to the palazzo with the guitar, where he entertains Petruccio while the boy works through his mathematics assignments in the living room. Of all the Auditore, Desmond knows Petruccio the least – but gets along with him the best, probably. Between them, they can spend hours in the same room, not feeling any need to fill the air with chitchat.
"What is fourteen times two hundred?" Petruccio might ask, Desmond would answer with, "How much is ten times two hundred? Okay, and how much is four times two hundred? Good, now add them together," and Petruccio would work it out, nod, and continue on his sums. It's about as much interaction as they need, and it's nice.
Later Maria might join them, and, thankfully, she no longer aims all of her attention on Desmond – instead she grabs her embroidery and works while Desmond plays and Petruccio works, and that's pretty nice too. The Auditore parents still haven't fully welcomed him in, there's still a little bit of distance there, that would probably never go away… but it's definitely nicer than it was before.
Claudia sometimes joins them, sometimes not – today she sniffs and marches past them and slams the door on her way. "Oh dear," Maria murmurs.
"Hm?" Desmond asks, looking up.
"Seems like the other girls are on a mean streak again," Maria says, and then seems to decide to leave it at that and simply goes back to her embroidery, humming. Which… okay then.
Ezio joins them just before the last meal of the day, looking pensive and a little sad as he sidles up to Desmond by the dinner table and then, with a sigh, sits down beside him, giving his greetings to everyone.
"How did it go?" Desmond asks under his breath.
"Well enough," Ezio says. "She was always smart, so I didn't expect her to shout, or argue, or accuse me of anything, but… she was sad."
Desmond looks at him sympathetically and puts a hand on his back, as comforting as he knows how to be. Ezio offers him a smile and then turns to the food. And no one comments on it, at all. After dinner they retire together, as they always do – and no one comments on that either.
"Now," Ezio says, looking out the window.
"Hm?" Desmond asks, while taking off his vest.
Ezio doesn't answer immediately, standing up and going to the window. Outside, the church bells ring in the deepening darkness of the evening. When he finally speaks, his voice is quiet and low. "At this hour, last time, my father and brothers were arrested and taken to prison."
Desmond hesitates and then sets the vest down. "It won't happen again," he says. "No one will arrest them this time. There's been no accusations against them or the Pazzi, beyond what came up because of the massacre. It'll be alright."
Ezio glances at him and then looks outside. "Yes," he agrees. "With luck, it will be."
There's a moment of quiet before he pulls the curtains shut and turns towards Desmond.
Together, they retire to bed.
The 29th dawns much like it had the last time around. The sky is sort of grey and gloomy, with late December clouds hanging over the city, not quite heavy enough for rain, but not letting much sun shine through either. Desmond wakes up slowly to the chill at his side, where Ezio isn't anymore. Turning to look over his shoulder, Desmond finds the Assassin at the window, staring outside with a grim, intense look about his face. It makes him look older than his seventeen years.
"Every year on this day, I would get drunk," Ezio answers his unspoken question. "I don't remember a single 29th of December I spent sober. Every year, without fail, I would find my way into a brothel and to a bottle, and do my best not to think at all. Every year, until the death of Rodrigo and Cesare, it was a reminder of how I failed. That I could not even push through a crowd in time."
Desmond turns to face him fully, folding one arm under his head to prop it up. "Won't happen this time," he comments.
Ezio swallows. "I – just remembered. Cesare is now only one year old," he says. "Juan is three – and the rest will now never be born. It is an… odd thing to realise, that I have not only killed people, but I have unmade them. They will never exist."
Desmond says nothing, watching him.
"I don't feel particularly sorry about it," Ezio admits. "But the thought will not leave me. What will Cesare become, without Rodrigo? Will he amount to anything? A cruel thing though it is, to assign blame to a one year old child, I find I still do – and yet… a one year old would the most innocent of innocents, yes?"
Desmond blows out a breath and then sits up. "Rodrigo made some choices for himself here, too," he says quietly. "He chose the Templar way and the conspiracy, that's not something you start by accident. He made his choices, knowing the potential consequences."
Ezio turns to him. "Yes," he says. "But the same could be said about my father, and his choices, and their consequences. And mine."
Well. He's not wrong about that. "And yours," Desmond agrees, lifting his knees up under the covers and resting his elbows on them, watching him. "Mine too. And everyone's. There's no such thing as an important decision without consequences or risks, Ezio. Not for you, me, for Altaïr, for your father – or for Templars. It's all a balancing act of whether or not it's worth it. So," he shrugs. "Is it worth it?"
Ezio looks at him silently for a moment, his face unreadable. Then he turns to look at the door. Somewhere in the palazzo, someone is already awake and working – Annetta, probably starting in on the day's chores, heating up the ovens and whatnot. In their bedrooms, Ezio's family still sleeps, for once not spying on anyone. Outside, it's still early enough that Florence is quiet and calm.
"It's way too early. Come back to bed," Desmond says and lifts the covers. "Nothing will happen today. You'll see."
Ezio sighs and then moves to join him. "Nothing will happen," he murmurs.
And nothing does.
One more chapter to go and it's gonna be a short one.
It is early enough in the evening to still see by the sun's light, when they finally arrive at Monteriggioni – both for the first time, and returning at long last. It is a complicated feeling to see the place, at long last – how different it looks, how different it feels.
Ezio had only ever returned to Monteriggioni once, to leave his clues that led Desmond eventually to the Apple of Eden in Roma, and that one time he had not lingered. Monteriggioni had been long abandoned since, and in ruins – and Ezio now dreads to ask how long it took for people to settle in its walls again. They must have, one day, for Desmond to seek shelter in the town – but who settled there and why, and what wars did Monteriggioni end up serving a role in…
Now, Monteriggioni is as it had been, upon the first day Ezio had entered it, long ago – and never before, at the same time. The walls are still in something of a disrepair, and the towers are barely staffed, if at all. The gates to the city lay open despite the late hour, and there is only one guard at the gate, more a stablehand than a man of arms. Even at a distance, Ezio can tell how poor his armour is.
How poor the entire town is.
"Man, this is nostalgic," Desmond murmurs, rising to stand on the stirrups of his mount, peering at the gates. "It feels like it's been ages."
"It has," Ezio muses, feeling a stab of pain at the sight of the fortress. Once a hiding place, then a home, then a point of pride, he'd had some of his most troubled as well as his happiest years within Monteriggioni's walls, rebuilding the town, only to see if fall, eventually, at Cesare's hands.
Now it would never come to pass, hopefully.
"Are you alright?" Desmond asks, noticing his expression. "Should we take a break before entering the town?"
"No, it is… fine. I am fine," Ezio says, lifting his chin, and then digs his heels into his horse's sides, urging her forward, until the sleepy, distracted guardsman finally spots them.
"Ho there – who goes?" the man asks, nervous, as Ezio and Desmond come closer.
"I am Ezio Auditore da Firenze, the nephew of your Condottiero," Ezio calls. "He is expecting us."
The guardsman almost drops his spear, stuttering, "Oh – Ser Ezio, is it?" he asks nervously. "Yes – yes, Ser Mario mentioned you were coming – I – I will run ahead, give everyone warning."
"As you wish," Ezio says, and dismounts. "We will look after the horses then, and follow."
The poor guardsman hesitates – likely it is his job to look after Mario's horses. In the end, he chooses the better part of valour and hurries into the fortress proper, making his way hastily towards the villa.
"It will all be in disrepair," Ezio warns Desmond, while holding out his hand for the reigns of Desmond's horse. He hands them over and then dismounts himself in a smooth motion – smoother than one might expect, knowing that the trip from Firenze to Monteriggioni was the first time he'd ever ridden a horse. "The city was in a poor state when I entered."
"I know," Desmond says, still in a tone of nostalgia. "Watching you repair and rebuild it was one of the highlights, I think, when I was reliving those memories. Do you think we can do it again?"
"It will be difficult without an Assassin's income during troubled times, but I daresay we can certainly try," Ezio says and leads the horses to the stable, just outside the gates.
He's barely gotten the saddles off and the worst dirt brushed off, when Mario comes to greet them. "Ezio!" his jovial voice nearly makes Ezio's heart break. "And you must be Desmond! Welcome to Monteriggioni!"
Ezio is hugged first, tight and boisterous enough to pull him off his feet. Then Desmond is given the same treatment, though his feet stay on the ground.
"You must be Mario," Desmond says, smiling, and pats the man on the back before turning to pick up their saddlebags – and his guitar.
"I am, indeed, Mario Auditore da Monteriggioni," Mario says, patting both their shoulders. "You made good time – I barely had the time to read Giovanni's message, and now you are all here. Come, come, let me show you around the town – Alberto can look after your horses. Come!"
Ezio swallows around the clump suddenly stuck in his throat, and with Desmond follows the man into the fortress. It is quiet, as it had been long ago, with only a few people out and about, and those few looking a little wretched and sad. Monteriggioni had only had mere five hundred people living within her walls at the beginning of Ezio's life there – and those who did live there were either poor, or mercenaries. It took years before that changed.
Mario shows them to the shops, the few there are, and then shows them up the stairs and to the villa. It is not yet renovated, with most windows shuttered or boarded, to cover the fact that the glass had long ago broken and there had been no money to have them replaced and to keep the wind from howling in the villa's corners at all hours. It howled there anyway.
With a near physical jolt, Ezio remembers how uncomfortable the first few years had been, in the villa. Mario made some money for the town, working as little more than a mercenary with his forces, but not enough to keep the villa in good repair. Sometimes, there was no money for firewood, either. It had been a rather cold stay, those first few years, before Ezio started killing – and robbing – people in earnest, earning the town an actual income.
Doing repairs without it would be difficult indeed.
"She has seen better days," Mario admits, motioning to the villa's façade. "But she welcomes you all the same, as do I. Monteriggioni will be a home for you, Nephew – for both of you – for as long as you like."
"Thank you, Uncle," Ezio says, and somehow manages to keep his voice level. How long it has been since he's said that word… too long. "And thank you for your welcome – it is more appreciated than you know."
"Yes, thank you so much," Desmond says.
"Nonsense," Mario says and pats Ezio on the shoulder again. "I know you had something of a difficult time, in Firenze – Giovanni told me some of it in his letter. You have nothing to worry about here, and no reason to hide, none at all. And later, perhaps," he says, not very sly. "I can show you two how to defend yourselves, too."
Ezio nods slowly, swallowing. So, Mario would be taking Federico's and Father's role in teaching them? Well, he had assumed that Giovanni had plotted something of that nature… "That too is appreciated," he says and then clears his throat, before he risks saying more, and being honest. "So, some rooms, perhaps? Or a room?"
"I have just the thing," Mario says, grinning. "You will have all the privacy you could want up there, and it has by far the best view of the town and the surrounding countryside," he promises, and points upwards, at the central tower of the villa.
"Perfect," Desmond says, and Ezio smiles.
After settling in and unpacking their things, they take a look around the town, poking into the abandoned buildings, the barracks, into what Ezio had turned into a brothel eventually, the church. "We have our work cut out for us," he comments. "Though thankfully my eccentric great-grandfather will help us there somewhat. There are many treasures hidden in Monteriggioni, which will get us started."
"Mmhmm," Desmond agrees, peering up at the church's bell tower. "Kind of weird, that, in hindsight. Monteriggioni is this poor, and he hid all that money away. Why?"
"Likely it wasn't so poor, then. But, if your theory about the tombs is correct, then it might have been to test his children – a test, which they, obviously, failed," Ezio comments. "I think… Renato Auditore likely had the gift of the Eagle Vision, and none of his children shared it, and so the treasures he hid simply could not be found, for none could see them."
"Until you, anyway," Desmond muses. "That's… weirdly mean of him, but also I get it, I guess. Would you do something like that, with all the money you had? I mean – you had so much money."
Ezio chuckles. "I left mine to the Brotherhood, and to my guilds," he says. "When I left for Masyaf. That was my intention in Istanbul as well, but I was forced to leave it before I could. Hopefully some of those fine Assassins picked up the slack of my investments, cashing them in, or perpetuating them as they saw fit."
"Mmhmm," Desmond hums and looks at him. "So, treasure hunting first, then rebuilding?"
"There is no hurry," Ezio says, stroking his hand down Desmond's back soothingly. He's always so eager to do things. "For now, let us just walk."
And so they do, walking up and down the streets of Monteriggioni, examining its secret alleyways and narrow corridors, marking down every abandoned building and every dirty, disused corner. Then Ezio climbs a wall and holds out his hand for Desmond, and they go about examining the town that way, on the rooftops, examining their conformation and state, seeking the spots that most needed repair. That, Ezio remembers, was his biggest regret when the rebuilding of Monteriggioni finally begun – how much preventable water damage there was in so many buildings.
They climb the tallest tower of Monteriggioni's walls, the one overlooking the gates, and there, on the tower roof, they sit down to watch the quiet town darken as the sun sets. There aren't many lit windows in the town, and fewer still at the villa itself, but there's enough to spark a certain kind of hope in Ezio.
Desmond hums a tune, his feet kicking idly over open air as he sits on the edge of the rooftop. "So, the Sanctuary," he says. "Should we try and find the other seals and take them there?"
"At some point, perhaps. Now it might be somewhat suspicious," Ezio admits. "Mario, I think, would believe us if we told him the truth, and I would like to tell him, one day – but not this soon. Let us just settle in and live for a while."
"I'm all for that, living for a while. That sounds perfect," Desmond says with a sigh and leans back, finally relaxing in full. "That sounds just perfect."
Ezio smiles and takes Desmond's hand in his, lifting it and kissing his knuckles. "It rather does, doesn't it?"
Already Desmond is in a much better mood, the last of his hesitation fading, even the nostalgia giving way to the open excitement. Ezio is a little sad, himself, and knows he will miss his family, but he also knows he will see them again, that they would visit – and he would visit Firenze, and it would be alright.
Here, they are home.
And that's it, that's the story. It's not perfect, but it is finished. :) Thank you for reading and commenting!
(Desmond and Ezio chill for a bit, do some reconstructing and stuff, trying to pretend they're not as good as they are, while Mario thinks he's very sly about training them. Eventually, Mario starts being a bit suspicious about whether he has in his hands a pair of prodigies or not, and then, eventually, he takes them to the Sanctuary to bring them fully into the fold, and then there is Altaïr's statue right there, and Desmond, and Mario be like "Waaaitt a minute..." =_=
Meanwhile, in Florence, Giovanni has some doubts and suspicions and continues to look into the murders, eventually unearthing enough of the conspiracy to begin having theories. He never actually figures out it was Ezio and Desmond behind it all [how would you even guess at that, really] but he does begin to suspect that maaaybe there are more Assassins out there than the ones in Florence, and maybe he and other Florentine Assassins have gotten ostracised from the fold due to their relationship with the Medici. Slowly, that starts changing things behind the scenes. It definitely helps give him perspective when Vieri starts trying to rebuild the Italian Rite of the Templar Order [spoiler alert, he fails].
Without Ezio (and Desmond) to bother, Federico turns to bothering Claudia more than ever, and dang, maybe Ezio was onto something about making Claudia climb walls, [she really does fall spectacularly]. They get close and eventually become Assassins. And it's good. Maria does what Maria does, writing more journals, and Petruccio grows up. And nothing bad ever happens to either of them, ever.
Leonardo stews on the mystery of Desmond and Ezio for a while, and maybe they start sending letters back and forth (heavily coded, of course). Maybe, one day, something comes out of that.
And Desmond and Ezio visit Florence often, but make Monteriggioni their home, their base and it's eventually where they, as Prodigies of Assassinhood (and then some) begin working towards a future where Juno won't get a foothold, where Templar Order will never develop into Abstergo and where, one day, Desmond Miles will never need to be born.
And they all live happily ever after.)