A/N: In which Ezio's playboy reputation comes to bite him in the ass.


I.

Ezio Auditore is a flirt.

Rosa has seen his type—charming and bored and oh-so-very handsome, and it hardly even matters that he's rich, or a noble, or friends with the most dangerous men in Italy—he's a flirt, and there have been plenty of dashing rogues in her life, and she knows what it means when he smiles at her like that and tells her what a spitfire she is.

"Si?" she asks, teasing—because it is fun to tease, even if her leg is throbbing from the pain of an arrow-wound— "And you like spitfires, do you?"

"I like women with passion to them," Ezio teases back, reaching out to brush her chin with his fingertips. "Some fire, yes? It keeps things interesting."

And she's seen his type, and it's easy to laugh and toss her head and brush him aside. "Take care that you don't get burned," Rosa says, and she does not play his game when he leans in close and suggests that she might help him with something; he wants to learn how to climb, and so he will, but Rosa has little interest in silver-tongued devils who will bed her and be gone by morning.

She is wary of rakes. They are charming and bored and handsome—and very, very cruel.

Men like spitfires.

It must be some sort of law, Rosa thinks, that men see defiance as challenge. A refusal simply means: ah! I must try harder! More gifts, more wooing, more moonlight serenades by the water—how can she resist my passion? She will give in, she must

And, when she inevitably does, it's a battle won and a conquest made, and off he goes to his next dalliance while she sits and waits for letters that never come.

Sometimes—if she has a little more spirit than most—she may even chase him down and push him into a canal. But there is never any recovery for her lost pride; it's long gone, like her lover and his empty words, and all her defiance has meant nothing but a longer siege.

"My sister had an amichetto like that once," Ezio says, laughing. "I broke his nose."

"She should have done it herself."

"Not all women can hit like you can, Rosa."

She sniffs. They are on a balcony overlooking the water and Ezio has brought her get-well flowers; a nice touch, she thinks, though it's a little too late for her to be entirely convinced of Ezio's good intentions. "They should learn," she says. "These things are important."

Ezio is laughing again. "Si, e vero," Ezio agrees. "To defend themselves against unfaithful rakes, yes?"

"You must know from experience," she teases.

"I am not a rake!"

He sounds so indignant that Rosa cannot help but smile. "A handsome young man like you?" she asks. "I can imagine you leaving a string of broken hearts and jilted lovers behind—"

"I do not make false promises," Ezio huffs at her.

And she shouldn't flirt with him, because men like Ezio are dangerous, but her leg hurts and she's been inside for ages and Ezio is the most fun she's had in days. "You can break hearts perfectly well without promising anything," she informs him, and his answering smile is amused and rueful all at once.

"Come now, Rosa," he says. "You speak as though you have never broken any hearts yourself."

But she hasn't, of course. Rosa flirts and teases and goes scrambling across the rooftops with Antonio's thieves—but not even she is daredevil enough to get involved with men like Ezio. Or men at all, really; they're far more trouble than they're worth, and there are any number of guild thieves willing to chase off an over-persistent suitor should she so much as hint that she is being bothered.

They're all scoundrels anyway, Rosa thinks to herself a little scornfully. Men would all be rakes, if they could; most of them haven't the requisite charm.

And she is far too proud to fall in love. She has never involved herself with anyone—not ever—so how could she possibly have broken any hearts?


II.

Ezio is a man on a quest for vengeance, which gives him a perfect excuse to leave women behind when he is through—ah, apologies, mi cara, but I have honor to redeem! A family to avenge! Enemies to kill! I would love to stay but I am a very angry man on a lonely path without redemption—ciao, bella, you'll understand if I never write to you again—

The fact that he does not do this makes Rosa like him a little bit better, however reluctantly she admits it to herself.

No; Ezio is a gentleman, as rakes go.

When the doctor finally gives his grudging permission for Rosa to run again, she celebrates the day by tailing Ezio all across the city—he is such an easy target, after all, with his extravagant clothes and his lazy smile and the swagger that leaves women swooning—it's a wonder the city guards haven't caught him yet, Rosa thinks with a snort. A man like that is clearly up to no good.

But he surprises her. Ezio is kinder than she had expected him to be; he involves himself with courtesans—women who know sort of games that men play, and what precisely to expect (that is: nothing)—and when he leaves he is courteous, and he only flirts a very little bit with the more innocent girls at the street-side stalls. He is not trying to break hearts.

Doubtless he does anyway. The man flirts like he breathes, and not all cruelty is intended.

Rosa lets him find her when she grows tired of the chase. Ezio comes across her lounging on a bench, waiting, and he stops and raises his eyebrows and says: "So it was you. I had the feeling that I was being followed."

And what a lovely smile he has, in the sunlight.

"Oh, yes?" Rosa says, teasing again. "Are you certain it wasn't Lisabette, or Sera, or any of the girls from the Country Rose, or—"

"I saw your shadow on the rooftops." He sits down next to her, cape and sash and buckles trailing everywhere. "Who else could it be? Did you need something?"

"I'm bored," she informs him.

"And how shall I entertain you?" Ezio drawls, pushing his hood back from his face.

And he's flirting, but Rosa doesn't mind. "I'm sure you'll think of something, si? You have a reputation to uphold."

"Do I, now?"

"The girls you passed on the bridge seemed quite well entertained by whatever story you were telling them—"

Ezio is laughing. "Antonio would have my head if I were telling you such things."

As though she has ever listened to Antonio—or anyone, for that matter. Rosa snorts. "Tell me anyway."

He doesn't.

Ezio has never been the sort to listen to anyone, either.


III.

She never does get to hear the story.

Ezio tells her other things instead—he speaks of his plans with Antonio and the guild; of his progress with whatever mission currently has his attention; of Leonardo, and the Codex pages, and the history of the assassins that stretch back further than she had ever imagined.

And Ezio is good at this; if there is one thing that rakes do well, it is story-telling, a flair for passionate theatrics that draws women in like nothing else—when he describes for her Masyaf, Rosa can almost see the sunlight falling over the Syrian desert and the lonely sweep of eagles in the sky.

No wonder all the courtesans fawn over him. Doubtless he is the most entertaining of any of their customers.

("And where," Ezio asks, laughing, "did you learn to be so cynical?"

"From men like you," Rosa retorts.

She likes to listen to him anyway. He is very good.)

He tells her all sorts of things, really.

I found three feathers last night, he might say, or Leonardo keeps threatening to cut off my fingers, or I learned to swim when I was fourteen and fell into a river.

But the floodgates open after Emilio's death. Ezio is lost and triumphant all at once, and he is suddenly lonely; he speaks to her of his family, of his murdered father and brothers, of his mother in shock and his sister in mourning—rage and vengeance in such eloquence that would impress the most jaded of audiences—nothing Rosa doesn't already know from Antonio and his informers, but it is something different when delivered with Ezio's passionate intensity.

She still doesn't let him kiss her afterwards.

"How many times has your tragic past landed you a bedpartner?" she asks, elbowing him off.

"Why do you suspect me of these things?" Ezio demands.

"Because it's what you do, you scoundrel." And it's true. He's just tried.

He is prudent enough not to try again.

If Rosa is entirely honest with herself—and she tries to be—she has to admit that she does not dislike rakes.

And she does not, in particular, dislike Ezio. He is charming and handsome and very, very dangerous, but she likes a bit of danger in her life—and he has helped the thieves' guild so much, and saved her life once or twice—Rosa does like him, however many hearts he might have broken in the past.

It helps, of course, that none of those hearts have been hers.

None of those hearts have ever been hers; not for any rake.

Ezio, for some reason, finds this surprising. "Haven't you ever been in love?" he asks her—and it's all the more amusing because they're sprawled against each other on a couch, like lovers, in what used to be Emilio's estate.

She peers up at him. "No," Rosa says, curious now. "Have you?"

"Of course."

"You didn't seem the type." But he means it, doesn't he, every time he murmurs passionate entreaties to a woman he's wooing? Ezio can do no less. And doubtless he means it just as earnestly a day or a week or a month later, with a different girl—

"No," he says dryly. "I didn't think you'd think so."

"How many times?" Rosa wants to know.

He shrugs. "I don't know," Ezio says, glancing away. "Each time, it feels like the first again—"

"Ah, so you have a girl in mind at the moment," Rosa teases. She tilts her head back against his shoulder, his heartbeat thrumming against her cheek, and beyond the robes and hood and armor she catches a glimpse of his smile—charming, and dangerous, and suddenly very wry.

"Perhaps I do," says Ezio.

"Poor thing. Give her my sympathies."

His fingers brush her cheek, gentle, without a single hint of flirtation.

"I'll keep it in mind," Ezio says lightly.


A/N: Updates to "Bitter Leaves" are coming, promise.