Maledizione – Damn it

Signore/Signora – Mr./Ms.

Si – yes

Mio amico – my friend

Mi dispiace – I'm sorry

Molto bene – very good

Buono fortuna – good luck

Ciao - goodbye

Disclaimer: I do not own Assassin's Creed II nor its characters. I make no profit from this whatsoever.

-o-o-o-

It all started with that look. From the moment Ezio had introduced them, Leonardo knew the girl wasn't one to be entirely trusted.

Well, maybe Leonardo wasn't being fair. Once you were friends with the woman, sure your life could be trusted in her hands. But, everything else… was…. questionable.

"Is something troubling you… signora?" Leonardo asked, wondering for the hundredth time why the thief was hanging around his workshop long after the young Auditore had already left.

She seemed to be concentrating real hard, the only strange thing was… she just kept staring at him. She snapped out of it once she realized he was talking to her.

"Mi dispiace, Leonardo. There is nothing." She smiled, wiggling her fingers in a brief wave before vaulting out the nearest window.

The artist had simply shrugged it off. So what if Rosa's personality was a bit… off. If Ezio trusted her, then Leonardo didn't see why he shouldn't as well.

-o-o-o-

Leonardo should've known better.

Tea spewed from his mouth as the painter jumped from his chair, "You want me to WHAT?!"

"Oh, come now, mi amico. This is not that big a deal." Rosa said amiably, her perch on the arm of the couch relatively calm.

"Not a big deal? NOT a big deal?! Mi dispiace, Rosa, but I tend to think the notion of ME dressing as a… a… woman is a VERY big deal!" Leonardo ranted as he started to pace in front of the smirking thief.

"I see that you are a little upset, Leonardo-" Rosa started to say.

"A LITTLE?" The painter interjected.

But the thief merely continued as though he hadn't tried to interrupt, "- but I can assure you, it is for a very good cause."

"And what exactly, pray tell, is the 'good cause'?" Leonardo asked in a strained voice.

Rosa smirked even wider. She had never seen the painter so vividly emotional before. It was quite amusing, "He is the richest mark I have ever laid my eyes on. If I can just get a little closer to him-"

"Mi dispiace, Signora," Leonardo interrupted, coming to a halt right in front of the dark haired woman, hand raised, "are you… telling me… this elaborate ruse is all for MONEY?"

"Not just money, mi amico. We are talking about more money than the thieves guild will know what to do with for years." Rosa said in hushed tones.

There was a long pause where the painter merely stared at her, slack jawed.

"No. NO. Absolutely not. Mi dispiace, Rosa, but I cannot and WILL not do this thing that you ask of me." Leonardo finally said resolutely.

-o-o-o-

"Why does this always happen to me?" Leonardo grumbled miserably, staring at himself with morbid disgust in the mirror.

He was currently in Rosa's room, having just been threatened to be thrown out into the streets, naked, if he didn't put the gown on that he wore now.

Rosa snorted, adjusting the lace, "This has happened to you before, Leonardo?"

"Si, malezidione. Curse these feminine features! My cousin asked it of me, once, to have revenge on his former love." At the look he was getting from Rosa, Leonardo quickly amended, "NO, not in THAT way! He just took me as his date to some dance. But believe me, it still haunts me to this day."

Leonardo couldn't help the shiver that ran through his spine. If they weren't cousins and both male, he would've almost sworn…

"Ah, stop your whining, Leonardo." Rosa sighed with satisfaction as she stepped back to admire her work, "Done. The deep velvet green actually brings out the color in your eyes. Huh, never noticed they were green before."

"They're not green." The painter sighed dejectedly.

"Yes they are." Rosa chirped back.

"No, they're more blue." Even to his ears, his argument sounded half-hearted and pathetic, "I know the color of my own eyes."

"Well, now you know dark green brings out the green in them."

"I'd rather not know." Leonardo grumbled.

"Just be glad you agreed before I started *really* trying to persuade you." Rosa smiled, before pivoting to leave the room and change herself.

-o-o-o-

"Remind me, again, why you didn't have one of your female friends help you?" Leonardo asked, walking side by side with the newly feminine Rosa out in Venezia.

"Make your voice lighter or don't speak at all." Rosa hissed, without sparing a glance at the artist beside her, "And I already told you, he has been with all the whores I know."

The artist managed not to blanch at the professional terminology and rather focused on the more pressing matter, which in his case, was trying to figure out why he was there.

"Well, how would he recognize them since we're all wearing MASKS?" Leonardo asked angrily in a low whisper.

Rosa elbowed him in the side, "I TOLD you, he would recognize them anyway."

"This is it. God hates me." Leonardo despaired, rubbing the newly sore spot.

"Idiota, lighten up. This will be fun." Rosa beamed, skipping ahead a few steps.

"Fun for who?" Leonardo grumbled, but resignedly followed anyway.

-o-o-o-

This is how Leonardo found himself in the current predicament. Night had fallen and the festivities had gone fully underway. Rosa, of course, was nowhere to be found.

Now that the painter thought of it, she had never fully explained the plan to him at all.

Having mastered the art of walking on heels throughout the entire day, Leonardo decided he deserved a break as he headed towards a deserted bench, the soles of his feet throbbing in agreement.

He didn't think anything of the four guards milling by until they swerved, pointedly heading in his direction. Even then, he wasn't really worried.

Then one of them whistled.

Leonardo looked behind him, wondering if there was some lady walking past. Then it hit him. HE was the lady.

Not sure what to make of the whole ordeal, Leonardo smiled politely and tried to walk in another direction. But one of the masked guards decided he wanted the painter to stick around a little longer. Quickly maneuvering himself in front of Leonardo, the guard asked, "Why the rush, signora, we just wanted to talk a little."

"I am waiting for my sister." Leonardo said the first thing that came to mind, which, of course, was the ruse Rosa had given him before this mess of a mission.

"What buono fortuna! Possibly a second beauty to add to our little party?" One of the other guards jeered.

"Mi dispacio, but I am late. I must be on my way." Leonardo said shortly, his words barely above a whisper.

He had felt the guards' abuses before. But to be thought of as a woman…

One of the other guards caught his wrist, preventing his departure, "No, signora. Stay. Enjoy the festival with us."

Leonardo couldn't help the tremor that began traveling throughout his body, fear slowly seeping from his bones. What would they do when they found out what he really was?

"I cannot…" He said hollowly.

"We… insist." The third guard said, all of them stepping closer.

The fourth guard grabbed his sleeve, preparing to rip it off. But Leonardo was faster, holding the guard's wrist with as much force as he could. Simultaneously, he shouted, "Hands off bastardo!"

Everything else that followed almost happened too fast for Leonardo to keep track of.

The guard in front of him jerked, eyes wide, before collapsing. In the light of the moon and the carnival lanterns, Leonardo could make out the bloodied throwing knife protruding from his skull. The second body followed.

The third was arched backwards in an odd angle, a dagger cracking through his ribcage from behind. That's when Leonardo saw him. A white robed assassin stood behind the guard, an armored arm easily bending the guard's dying body to his will.

"Ezio." Leonardo breathed with relief. He did not think there was ever a moment that he felt more relieved to see the man.

Well… besides the first time the assassin saved him.

And… the time after that. And after that.

Refocusing on the present, Leonardo blinked. The fourth guard was actually putting up a fight. However, as thankful as the painter was that Ezio saved him, he could not risk the assassin recognizing him. Not only would it get Rosa in a lot of trouble, but it would also be extremely embarrassing. Leonardo wasn't even sure what the assassin would think, much less say. But he did know one thing.

Ezio would never let him forget.

Knowing full well the assassin could take care of himself, Leonardo turned and ran as fast as he could, cursing his female outfit the entire way.

He was well out of earshot of the clanging blades, a few streets and alleyways down, when Leonardo finally stopped. Out of breath, he stopped to sit on a bench. Remembering the previous encounter, he looked around with paranoia for any more guards. Detecting none, he finally dropped onto the wooden seat. As time allowed the last few moments to seep in, he leaned the back of his head against the cold, cobbled stone wall behind him.

The sounds of the festival were slowly returning with a vengeance, drowning out the loud beating of his heart. Maybe his life wasn't exactly at stake, but whatever would have happened before Ezio intervened would not have been pleasant.

Leonardo was about to get up when someone dropped in front of him effortlessly, and with more grace than one should when falling from the sky.

"My god!" Leonardo gasped, a hand to his chest, startled.

Detailed silver armor against a shock of white cloth were the first clues, the extreme confidence and those hardened brown eyes registered second in completing the stranger's appearance. His relief at recognizing the figure, unfortunately, was short lived before he remembered the reason for his abrupt departure.

"Are you all right, Signora?" The assassin inquired sincerely, offering Leonardo a hand.

"Just… er, fine." Leonardo replied, catching himself and clearing his throat before continuing, his tone resonating at a slightly higher tone than usual. It was the best he could do in such strained circumstances, albeit the painter was sure it was passable in its femininity.

Man, did Leonardo have problems.

"I should be going…" Leonardo said, ignoring Ezio's hand, as though to touch it would further reveal who he was, and stood on his own instead.

But he didn't notice the way Ezio cocked his head to the side, listening intently to some sort of noise half a mile away.

Before the painter could take a breath, the Assassin's body was pressed against his own, the cold wall behind him completing his momentary coffin.

"What-" Leonardo was about to demand indignantly.

But Ezio quickly placed a hand over any of Leonardo's stifled arguments. The painter frowned as the uninvited hand pushed the mask a little uncomfortably into his face. But he humored the assassin and remained silent.

"Mi dispacio, signora. But hold on." Ezio said softly. Not a moment later, Leonardo felt an armored arm wrap around his waist, the ending hand curling about his hip securely.

The painter only had enough time to inhale in surprise before he found himself suddenly airborne. In a blur of grace and ease, Leonardo watched in fascination as the assassin made climbing and leaping up cracks and ledges seem like hopping up a staircase.

The night sky greeted them as they finally reached the rooftops, Leonardo finding himself clinging to the assassin, not having the slightest clue as to when he had done so. Not a moment later, the sounds of clattering armor and sheathed swords streaked past them in their recently vacated alleyway.

Simultaneously, Ezio and Leonardo leaned over to catch a glimpse of the alert guards rambling by. Only when they had gone did the painter realize his hand was pressed, almost intimately, against Ezio's decoratively armored chest. Pulling his hand back as if he had been burned, Leonardo unceremoniously pried himself out of the assassin's grasp.

Caught by surprise, the assassin allowed the 'woman' to slip away.

"I…" Leonardo began to say, but merely trailed off as he realized he had no clue at all what he should be saying to his friend. Frazzled, and nervous as to whether Ezio knew or not, he left his trembling hands to brush and straighten out his dress, something he had watched females do from time to time.

"You're welcome." Ezio's face lit up with a smile, as he gave a small bow.

"Come again?" Leonardo asked, his mind not quite comprehending.

"For saving you twice now, my beautiful maiden. Though looking into your emerald eyes are almost payment enough," The assassin gestured with a small wave of his arm, "you're welcome."

Leonardo felt his face heat up under the mask, something he was embarrassingly sure the skilled assassin was able to note, before replying, "Oh. Thank you… signore."

But something in the artist wanted to shout, 'presumptuous bastardo.' It had only been a few moments and already he was hitting on him, er, 'her'. Well, maybe his charms worked with the ladies, but Leonardo could see clear through it.

Apparently, Ezio was skilled in reading body language as well, as he threw his head back to let out a short, hearty laugh.

This only served to further irritate the painter, as he crossed his frilly-sleeved arms across his chest and demanded, "What?"

Ezio's grin was still there. For some reason, this was amusing to him, "You are the first signora I saved who honestly seems… furious that I saved her."

"Why… you…" Leonardo tried to say, flustered, "That is not what I… you are just so…"

"Mi dispacio, signora. What have I done to offend you so?" The assassin asked, his laughter reaching the eyes gleaming through his mask.

At this point, Leonardo could honestly say he was just tired. Tired of wearing this dress. Tired of wearing these heels. Tired and frustrated with Rosa, who wasn't here for him to conveniently rant her ear off. And definitely too tired to deal with a hormone driven assassino whose goal tonight seems, oddly enough, to further annoy the painter.

"Nothing." Leonardo snapped, "Nothing at all. Now please, mi amico, I must be off."

"No, you cannot." Ezio said quickly, halting the painter's retreat towards the ladder.

Leonardo blinked at the armored body between him and his only retreat, unless he fancied trying to break his leg by climbing or jumping off the rooftop.

"I warn you signore, if you do not move, I will be forced to shove you off this rooftop." The painter almost growled, his mood strained enough as it was.

"I encourage you to do so, signora." The assassin replied, not put off at all by the attitude Leonardo was trying to throw his way. Lowering his voice, Ezio closed the distance between them in a single step. "For I must warn you, the longer I spend gazing into your beautiful green eyes, the more of my heart you steal away."

Leonardo forgot how to breathe. Was this how it felt for all those women? He felt instant sympathy for them. Albeit, he had problems of his own. Right now, Ezio was close enough for Leonardo to feel the assassin's warm breath rebounding off of his mask. Not to mention the painter's idiotic body refused to move.

The painter was so trapped and focused on those dark brown eyes, that he noticed when they narrowed quizzically for a moment, "Have we… met before? On a previous occasion perhaps?"

That shocked the painter's body back into working order. Clearing his throat, he tore his eyes away and attempted to walk past the white-robed form, "No. No we haven't."

Before Leonardo could take half of a step, the assassin's hand was wrapped securely around his wrist, halting his movements. Not quite forceful, but more fluid-like, he felt Ezio pull him back. Eyes slightly widened at the suddenness of it all, for it all took place in less than a millisecond, Leonardo whipped his gaze back towards those questioning brown.

"Are you sure?" The skilled killer asked, sounding oddly perplexed.

Leonardo took a deep, slightly shaky breath. It almost hurt to have to lie to those trusting eyes, but he had to do it, "Si…"

For a tense, soul-racking moment, the painter felt the assassin scouring his eyes for a hint or the slightest clue for the answer he knew, somehow, was different. Ultimately, though, Ezio seemed to accept Leonardo's response. Relaxing his stance, the assassin shifted his grasp from Leonardo's wrist to the curve of his delicate fingers.

"May I have the name of the owner to such… beautiful hands?"

"If I say no, will you still let me leave?" Leonardo demanded, tugging on his captured hand.

Ezio affectionately kissed the painter's knuckles, before releasing Leonardo, "Mi dispiace, signora. Of course you may leave, and I sincerely regret if I have made you feel otherwise. However, I only ask that you wait a few more minutes for the guards to settle down before going back to the streets."

Speechless, Leonardo could only watch as the assassin turned to leave, glancing back only once to add, "Perhaps, should we meet again, I could convince you to leave me with a name."

Then he was gone.

A sudden breeze whipped through the painter, slightly chilling his skin. Only one spot remained warm, and it was the spot where Ezio's lips had grazed his knuckles.

-o-o-o-

Almost two hours later, Leonardo ran into Rosa.

"Where were you?" Rosa snapped.

"Where was I? Where were you?" The painter demanded, still flustered from his previous encounter. Never before had Ezio looked, talked, or acted the way he had before that day. And honestly, Leonardo did not know how to handle it.

Especially since the assassin mistook him for… well, a lady.

"Nevermind, let's just go."

Grudgingly, Leonardo followed. He would just be glad to get out of this dress, and everything else that went along with it.

-o-o-o-

"Leonardo!" The familiar voice exclaimed with such warmth.

The painter nearly knocked over all his supplies around him, turning around from the bookshelf so suddenly that he almost twisted his own ankle.

"E-Ezio…" Leonardo managed to say after just stumbling once, plastering a half-hearted smile on his face.

"Is something the matter, mi amico?" The assassin frowned, concerned. He rushed forward to place a reassuring hand on the artist's arm, chocolate eyes prying deep into his blue orbs for an answer, "Have you been hurt?"

A sense of déjà vu hit the painter, and it was all Leonardo could do to stop himself from fainting in fright or worry. Would the assassin know it had been him last night?

Realizing that Ezio was still waiting for an answer, Leonardo forced himself to breathe as he replied simply, "No… merely distracted. And tired, from last night's festivities."

Ezio smiled, "So you did go. I am glad. I worry about you, you know, spending all this time cooped up in your workshop. You need to get out more. Meet some nice women."

Leonardo laughed, relieved, "I am sure, Ezio. But not all of us want to sleep with a different person every night."

"Hey, I never said you had to sleep with her." The assassin grinned roguishly, plopping down gracefully into the couch as he propped his legs up on the armrest.

The assassin's smile was infectious, and Leonardo couldn't help releasing one of his own as he went back to the bookshelf, "You seem happier than usual, Ezio. A stroke of buono fortuna, perhaps?"

"Even better," Ezio breathed out, "I met a green-eyed angel…"

At which point, Leonardo felt the book in his hand was better suited on the floor. Ezio didn't even notice the flustered painter, who was scrambling to retrieve the book he had just dropped. The assassin seemed lost in a memory as he continued, "And you want to know the funny part? I don't even know her name."

"I wish he did, though." Rosa said grumpily as she trudged in, "Ezio's been going on and on about it in the Thieves' Guild since last night. It would save me the trouble of tracking her down and wringing her neck myself. Honestly, I can't stand to hear about it even one more time."

Both jerked their gazes towards the table as the loud 'thump' of the painter's head connecting soundly underneath it echoed in the room.

"Perhaps you should get some rest, Leonardo." Ezio suggested, worry creasing his brow.

"Si," Leonardo agreed, rubbing the top of his head as he peeked over the edge of the table, "perhaps I should."

-o-o-o-

The painter nearly nicked himself with the razor when the dark-haired thief appeared suddenly outside his window.

"Have you ever considered using the door, perhaps?" Leonardo asked the girl currently hanging upside down, "I nearly shaved off more than my facial hair, and it's too early to be going down to the doctor."

"I need it off. All of it." Rosa demanded, swinging right side up into the bathroom.

"Pardon me?" The painter asked. It was also too early for him to decipher unexplained explanations.

"The beard, any hint of a mustache, it all must go." Rosa said, scrutinizing the painter's face as though she were counting up all the little hairs.

"And why is it that you have taken a sudden interest in the arrangement of my facial hair?"

"Not just that, you'll need some bangs to shape you face, should your mask come off." Rosa said distractedly, squinting her eyes as she tried to picture his new face in her head.

"Should my mask…?" Then it hit Leonardo full force, "Oh no, you are not dragging me through THAT again!"

"Leonardo, mi amico, please. I need your help." Rosa said with a pitiful smile on her face.

"With what? And WHY do I need to shave my goatee?" The painter demanded with a groan.

"It'll grow back in two days," Rosa said consolingly.

"Rosa…" Leonardo repeated slowly, not having a good feeling at all about this, "WHY do I need to shave it off?"

"Because your face would look so much smoother without it."

"Rosa…"

The thief knew playing the helpless pity card would work best with Leonardo's type, but she could only keep evading direct questions like that for so long.

"Ugh, fine." Rosa threw her hands up in defeat, "Because I need you to come along on a double date with me and you cannot eat with a full mask on, only half, unless you wanted to take the whole mask thing out of the equation. And in either case, you'll need to wear a nice long wig with slanted bangs to frame your face better."

Leonardo could only gape in disbelief.

Impatient, Rosa advanced on the poor painter, "Don't worry. Here, let me make your decision really easy for you…"

-o-o-o-

"Why are you always choosing green for me?" Leonardo asked, not really caring since he was still at a loss with the disappearance of his goatee.

"Your eyes." She answered distractedly, adjusting his wig and placing in the few, final pins to hold it in place.

"What?" Leonardo asked, fingering the green choker that conveniently hid his adam's apple. He had to admit, wearing that dress last time all the way from ankle to chin was really uncomfortable. But maybe he shouldn't have brought it up, because Rosa just made him wear the choker and a lower cut dress, instead.

"I like the color they make your eyes." Rosa said absentmindedly, finished with the wig and going behind Leonardo to cinch his bodice tighter.

Leonardo gasped, "I don't know how you girls breathe in these things."

"Easy," Rosa waltzed back in front of him with a smirk, "we don't. Now, you look beautiful."

"Why thank you." Leonardo said sarcastically, "It's what I've always wanted. Though I'm not sure if I'll ever get used to this damned hair that keeps falling all over my face."

He swatted his bangs for the millionth time.

"Idiota." Rosa chuckled, "Leave them. They look good there. Now let's put these half-masks on and go."

-o-o-o-

Leonardo hated him.

Just… everything about him. The way he guffawed, the way he talked. The way he kept looking at Leonardo with this… leer on his face.

Especially the way his hand kept finding itself on the painter's thigh, under the table.

Leonardo had lost count and simply swatted the hand away, giving a brief smile above the table at everyone as he stated, "Mi dispiace, but I require a brief respite out in the fresh air. Please excuse me."

"I insist you stay, signora. We have not eaten yet and the food has just arrived." Said the wealthy merchant, who was the reason behind this whole charade.

Leonardo merely smiled. Of course he knew the food just arrived. He timed it just so bastardo, his date, wouldn't try to follow him out, "I will return shortly, signore."

The painter didn't reach the outside of the restaurant soon enough. Once there he took deep breaths of oxygen, as though he had just surfaced from being submerged in a swamp. The crisp, night air felt good to all his senses. For some godforsaken reason, this reminded him of his date. Possibly because all his senses felt clogged by the stink of garbage around the man. Fearing maybe he would follow him outside after all, Leonardo decided a short walk was in good order.

Glancing back every once in a while, Leonardo only felt safe when the restaurant was a few twists and turns behind him.

He was walking along the peer, enjoying the beautiful water, when an alarm was brought up.

"Assassino! Assassino!"

Then a whole lot of yelling and screaming ensued.

"Of all the places…" Leonardo groaned.

He pivoted on the spot, attempting to rush away before the stampede began. But it was too late. Everywhere, the crowd was dissolving and rushing in many directions. It was all he could do to keep his place and not get shoved into the icy depths of the water below.

As the crowd thinned, the painter saw the assassin, surrounded by 15 men all around him. It seemed as though Ezio was just standing there, waiting. And the remainder of the crowd stopped to watch, waiting as well. Albeit a good distance away.

Leonardo had never seen his friend face off against so many, so close before. For a heartbeat, he felt fear intensify in his veins for Ezio. Then it happened.

One of the guards roared as he charged, sword held high. Ezio remained where he was, as still as stone. Then, at the last moment, he took one step forward and the deadly dance began.

The hidden blades in his wrists, the very same ones Leonardo had so kindly constructed for him, appeared out of nowhere. They parried the lunge aside as easily as one would swat a fly, before plunging into the skull of the first guard.

The second decided to come at him from behind, his horizontal-arcing swing meaning to sever the assassin's spine. But Ezio merely crouched low, fluidly turning in a circle as he did so, the blade grazing the top of his hood. When he sprang up, it was to lodge one of the daggers upwards through the guard's chin. A spray of blood squirted like a fountain as Ezio kicked the dead guard away from him, parrying the attacks of his following opponents.

Leonardo could hardly believe it. In a few short years, the pampered Auditore had turned murder into a deadly, fluid art form. He killed with such grace and finesse that the painter had trouble distinguishing whether it was something to be shunned and reviled, or admired… at some grotesque level, of course.

Leonardo was so distracted he didn't notice when the ring of guards had boiled down to two. With panicked features, it was obvious they would run even before they threw down their swords, screaming, "I want no part of this!"

Well, one of them said that. The other simply let out a high-pitched squeal.

One took off in one direction, the second in another, with the assassin flicking his gaze from one to the other in obvious indecision. However, it was more weighted in the way that an eagle would decide which hare to chase down, where time had no consequences, only a dark inevitability running up the prey's spine.

The painter realized too late that one of the guards had turned tail towards his direction. With no where left to turn, the edge of the docks at his heel, Leonardo readied himself. At the last minute, he stepped nimbly to the side, grabbing the back of the guard's uniform as he sailed past to give him an extra boost into his icy destination. Unfortunately, the extra momentum was the painter's downfall.

Off balance, Leonardo teetered on the edge before his body gave into gravity and he plummeted over the side.

But when his descent was immediately halted, he could only blink in surprise. Apparently, the assassin was faster than he could have predicted, one hand grasping his. As Ezio pulled Leonardo closer to his armored frame, and farther from the icy descent, his brown eyes narrowed before widening slightly.

"You…"

Leonardo could only smile sheepishly. Well, this wasn't good. Not good at all. He was going to blow his cover if he kept running into Ezio like this.

"Thanks, nice to meet you again. I should be going…" Leonardo said quickly, straightening himself out only to try and take off.

"Hold on." Ezio said in hushed tones, his grip remaining firm, "They're more headed this way. Come."

"I should really-" Leonardo started to say before he was tugged along for the ride.

Stumbling the first few steps, he really straightened once he realized they were both sprinting straight for the wall.

"Assassin…?" Leonardo trailed off, aloud, his eyes roaming up the surface of the ten story high building.

When he got no response, the painter repeated, "Assassin? I can't exactly climb walls like you… remember?"

But their path did not deviate, and Leonardo began to get nervous.

"Grab on to me and hold tight." It was the only warning Ezio gave the painter.

Cursing under his breath, Leonardo latched his arms loosely around Ezio's neck to avoid strangling him, though at the moment, he had feelings that told him otherwise. Putting pressure, instead, on the assassin's upper chest, it wasn't long before Leonardo felt the weightlessness of being airborne once more.

Through places that armor did not cover, Leonardo could feel Ezio's muscles ripple with exertion as he climbed, seemingly effortlessly. When the windows were too far apart, the assassin would do this leap that reminded the painter of a frog. As funny an idea as this was, Leonardo had to cling tighter during those moments, so he started to dread them as they came up.

As they almost reached the top, Leonardo started feeling braver and chanced a look around, wanting to look anywhere but down. With Ezio's hands on the top rim of the ledge, the painter spotted the danger.

"Assassin! Behind you!" Leonardo exclaimed.

Across the building from them, they had been spotted by an archer. One who was currently aiming an arrow at them.

But it was too late.

With a cry of pain, Ezio almost lost his grip entirely as an arrow appeared, sticking out of his shoulder. The hand of that wounded arm slipped, and both of them dangled precariously from his last, shaky hold. Leonardo gaped, the shaft of the arrow no more than two centimeters from his own arm, though he worried more for Ezio than himself.

"Climb…" The assassin gasped. When the painter did not move fast enough, he repeated with more force, "Climb!"

Doing as he was told, Leonardo forced his numb arms to grab the top ledge. An arrow clattered and missed, on the wall beside him, and he nearly fell from fear alone. But he and Ezio were sitting ducks just hanging there. There was nothing else he could do but pull himself up. When he finally did, there was another archer, rushing up to shoot his friend at his most vulnerable state.

Anger boiled in the painter from nowhere, and he did what his first gut reaction told him. Winding back a fist, he slugged the archer before him across the face. His knuckles throbbed afterwards, but he had the desired result. An unconscious archer sprawled on the rooftop before him.

With another clatter, and a small grunt from Ezio, Leonardo snapped back to the direness of the situation. Picking up the fallen bow and stringing an arrow with visibly shaking hands, Leonardo pivoted and aimed for the archer on the opposite rooftop.

"Steady…" He breathed out, trying to calm himself. Another arrow clattered against the wall, Ezio cursing once more. Leonardo almost let his arrow fly prematurely, but he held his ground. He had to get it just right…

… Leonardo pictured the arrow flying straight into the guard's skull, straight on the bulls eye…

…breathe out…

He let the arrow loose.

With a sick crack he heard even from this distance, Leonardo watched the guard crumple. Thank the heavens for those archer lessons his father made him take.

Ezio cried out, and Leonardo could see his grip was slipping. The bow dropped to the rooftop, forgotten. Just as Ezio's fingers disappeared, Leonardo dove.

For a brief moment, Leonardo thought he was too late.

But then his seeking hand caught onto the assassin's own, and gravity came back to yank hard on the painter's shoulder and to dig the rooftop into his chest. Brown eyes widened in surprise to see Leonardo's face before warmth seeped in them.

"Assassin, you weigh a ton with all that armor." Leonardo grunted, his arm strained, "I don't how I am to pull you up by myself."

"No worries, signora. You have my deepest thanks. Just, please… don't let go."

Not quite sure what Ezio had in mind for this particular situation, Leonardo nearly tumbled over when the assassin pulled a little for leverage. Then he was running up the wall in a circular curve, their adjoined hands the center of the arch. Without letting go of the painter's hand, the assassin managed to leap, suspended momentarily in the air, before spinning and landing on his feet on the rooftop behind Leonardo.

But he didn't stop there. With a hushed voice, Ezio said hurriedly, "Come."

"What?" Leonardo asked, but followed anyways, though he wasn't quite sure where-

Then all of a sudden the assassin disappeared into a small wooden hutch, covered on all sides by loose flaps of cloth. And with a gasp, the painter found himself tumbling forward into the small hideout as well.

He landed with a small 'oof' onto hay and one armor-clad assassin. Before anything else could be exchanged, Leonardo found a finger pressed against his lips for silence before that arm hooked around the small of his back to pull him down. Noticing their close, intimate positions, the painter was about to protest, attempting to pull back. He was practically straddling the assassin. Any closer and their suggestive positions threatened to make the painter melt in embarrassment.

Squashing Leonardo's pathetic attempt at a fight, Ezio drew them closer together with the tightening of his arm.

"Hold still…" The assassin grunted as the painter continued to squirm.

Leonardo did not like his space to be invaded, particularly when the opposite party believed him to be the other gender. Glaring at the armored man, Leonardo hissed, "Let go of me, signore."

His struggles and the previous activity had made the painter's face flush. He could feel his own breath rapidly rebounding off of Ezio's face. And more annoyingly, his fake bangs were getting in the way again. He noticed these things more because they were the aspects the assassin's brown eyes seemed to hone in on and take in.

A fire ignited in Leonardo's eyes as he felt as though the assassin was ignoring his wishes. But on a deeper level, it was an intense fear of what lay in those brown eyes. As well as a fear of what lay in his own. So instead, he growled, "Don't make me-"

But he couldn't even make it halfway through his threat, for Ezio had a different idea altogether.

Without much warning, Ezio kissed him.

Now Leonardo had never been kissed before. Aside from familial and friendly gestures, which were all on the cheek, he had never given nor received a true kiss before. And from another guy, nonetheless.

The moment those warm, firm lips enveloped his, Leonardo stiffened. What was he to do? This was Ezio, his friend, his pal, his companion. A guy. And he was definitely kissing him. Well… Ezio was doing the kissing, Leonardo's mouth was sealed shut. Resisting, Leonardo still attempted to pull back. Then a warm, slick tongue traced the crease of his lips.

The reaction was immediate. Leonardo's eyes widened, while his traitorous arms and legs buckled under the pressure, and the painter all but fell on top of the assassin beneath him. Ezio pressed the advantage and tightened his hold on the small of Leonardo's back, his hand traveling upwards to gently cradle the back of the painter's neck.

Leonardo felt a warmth spreading through him like wildfire as those strong lips coaxed his to part slightly. Giving in for just a moment proved to be a mistake. The assassin's skilled tongue slipped through the small opening, exploring the cavern of his mouth with a vengeance. With a small whimper, the painter submitted, giving Ezio leave to take whatever he wanted.

What seemed liked eons later, Ezio finally allowed both of them to take a breath. Drawing back slightly, Leonardo felt his lips tingle. Though it was strange, it was not unpleasant. He also felt a light sense of euphoria, as though his mind was a little fuzzy on the edges.

Which is why it took the painter a moment before he realized he heard guards giving up the search and trailing off the rooftop. For a moment, Leonardo teetered on the brink of contentment. Then the spiteful feelings of being used arose and his eyes sharpened.

The slap echoed.

Ezio had a hand to his cheek, brows knitted together in a very apologetic and sorry expression as he admitted, "Mi dispiace, I deserved that. Though I have to say, it is a price I am willing to pay."

Rubbing his cheek, the assassin continued, "I was starting to wonder how it was you knocked out that archer, but now I understand."

Too angry for words, Leonardo instead reached for the arrow embedded in the assassin's shoulder.

"Hey, what are you-" Ezio started to say, worry coloring his tone.

But by then, the painter had skillfully snapped the shaft near the point of entry, tossing the useless end into the hay. To his credit, the assassin merely grunted at the explosion of pain. Reaching behind Ezio, Leonardo quickly grasped the feathered end of the arrow and yanked it out cleanly. At this point, the assassin was breathing heavily through clenched teeth, pain visible in his eyes though he did not express it vocally.

Tearing a strip off from the bottom of his dress, Leonardo quickly bandaged the wound. Expelling a breath he had held, the painter drew back to examine his handiwork.

"Molto bene." The assassin said, clearly impressed at the speed and precision Leonardo had worked with.

Leonardo was torn between basking in the praise and slapping the assassin again. So he merely pressed his lips in a thin line before he was calm enough to say, "Just try not to get hurt again."

Getting up to leave, Leonardo had taken one step outside of the hutch before he felt a resistant tug on his hand. He turned to look at the vulnerable assassin, looking to all the world like a wounded eagle with a bandage on his wing.

"If I do, will you be there again… signora?" His deep, velvety voice for once sounding unsure of itself.

Leonardo smiled sadly, "Mi dispiace, signore. But I am afraid you will never see me again."

The stunned and wounded look on Ezio's face was too much for Leonardo to bear, so he turned and began walking away as fast as he could.

-o-o-o-