When Ezio awoke, either much later that night or ungodly early the next morning, he was shivering. He blinked, clearing his sleepy vision, and stared wide-eyed at the wall, almost afraid to move. He didn't know what the dream had been, but he knew there had to have been one. Slowly, still shaking, he swallowed the irrational fear and rolled onto his back.

The room was cold, the faint moonlight filtering in through the open window, and thankfully, empty. Another shiver running over him, Ezio sat up and pushed back the thin blanket, padding to the window. Leaning out briefly, he pulled it in, shutting the latch and rubbing his arms.

That done, he glanced around the room. Still unnerved by whatever the dream had been, the bed hardly seemed inviting. He rubbed his arms again, chilled, and glanced at the door.

Perhaps he should just check to see if Leonardo was alright.

He'd already taken two steps forward before he paused, frowning. Of course Leonardo was alright. Why wouldn't he be?

Ezio didn't know.

But he wanted to check. Just check.

What difference did it make, anyway? He wasn't getting back to sleep anytime soon.

Arms folded, either out of embarrassment or cold, he pulled the door half-closed behind him and walked silently down the hall. Leonardo, as always, had left his door wide open, casting a long strip of light into the corridor. Ezio headed for that, and, turning the corner with an odd sort of anxiety, peered into the master bedroom.

Leonardo was curled on the bed, back to the windows, the blankets drawn up around his chin and several stray pieces of hair stirring with each steady breath.

Ezio sighed slightly, not-inconsiderable relief washing through him. He leaned against the doorframe for a moment, running a hand over his face and letting his gaze linger on his sleeping friend, and then stepped softly into the room. At the bed, he hesitated a moment, the tips of his fingers inches from the blanket, then lifted the white hem and sat, careful not to disturb the mattress.

Tucking his legs beneath the sheet, he wriggled down, shivering again, and edged closer to the warmth that was Leonardo. The painter stirred, murmuring something incomprehensible and gathering more blanket to his chest. Ezio, now uncovered and caught out in the cold, edged closer.

He felt a little odd, with his knees brushing Leonardo's and hands up against his back, but the man was warm, and if he was going to hog the sheet—

The artist seemed settled now, at least, and Ezio adjusted his head on the pillow. He could smell Leonardo from here, the dusty scent of paint mingled with faint sweat, and inhaled deeply, smiling. Despite himself, he shifted a little closer.

Gradually, the room darkened, sifting down into a cocoon of Leonardo-smell and warmth. Ezio stirred, letting his eyes open gradually.

He was kneeling. Accepting that, he looked around uselessly – it was dark. Too dark to see – only Leonardo, asleep, next to him. Ezio flexed his arms – also useless. Bound, behind his back. He tugged, the ropes biting in a bit belatedly.

He frowned, shifting and trying to rise. Also bound, his ankles attached to his wrists. Growling, he stared hard into the gloom. It parted for him, and men stepped forward.

At a scaffold, now. Still bound, but standing. Leonardo next to him, still asleep. He wondered if he should say something, wake him up, and didn't much want to. Mouth kept shut. Leonardo looked nice asleep.

He wriggled a little closer.

Smelled nice, too.

Felt nice.

A man on a scaffold asks them for evidence. Ezio runs forward, shouting about letters, proof, lying cheating bastardo but it's too late it's always too late and he's being pushed back and—

And he's back in the cellar, the gloom around him, convicting him to prison and execution, and Leonardo is still asleep next to him. He stares around and the gloom parts, as always, it seems. Men step forward, ask for evidence.

Ezio doesn't have any.

They have knives, and that is enough. Ezio and Leonardo are defeated before the fight, ropes tied around their necks and strung up, and as Ezio watches, rope too loose and he's still just sitting on the floor, Leonardo is awake, eyes wide and mouth open. The rope is cut and falls away, vanishing into the gloom, Leonardo falls, and a man laughs.

Ezio surges and is caught by his bindings, ankles to wrists and wrists to the ground, and Leonardo is pulled away from him, scared blue eyes the last to disappear into the dark. In the distance, he sees them go at him, doesn't know what they're doing but is helpless to stop it.

He yells out, thinking now might be a good time to wake him up, and ends with a whisper. He yells again. Just a bare, breathy, "Leonardo..."

And they bring him back, and he's relieved – Leonardo is back, he can sleep again, he can curl up behind him and enjoy his warmth, his smell – but when the hands are taken away and the men disappear, Leonardo only slumps forward, and something isn't right—is not right—

And oh god he's dead is his first instinct. He hurls himself forward, pulling desperately at the ropes, needing to be closer, needing to see

And he is dead, there's blood at the side of his mouth, he's bleeding from everywhere and no no no Leonardo isn't allowed to die—

He feels slow, distant tears drip sideways off his nose as he rocks, keening, jerking at his arms, screaming—

Someone is calling his name but he doesn't care – what can it matter, now? – and he ignores it, thrashing at nothing, and the voice calls again, close to his ear, and the ropes that are already gone let him free.

His fists making solid contact with what felt like a stomach jolted him awake. Eyes wide and breath harsh, he stared into the grey blur for a long moment before his mind refocused him in the present.


He blinked, and felt a tear slide sideways, over the bridge of his nose, and fall. "Leo—" his voice was hoarse. "Leonardo?"

The painter looked a bit pained, one hand at his side. Ezio frowned briefly. "I hit you—"

"Non importa," Leonardo said, smiling a bit and lifting the hand to touch a tear-track on Ezio's cheek. "Are you alright, Ezio? Mi dispiace, I woke you, but you were… talking, and moving. I thought you might be dreaming."

Ezio nodded slowly. Jumbled images floated back to him, mingling with his confusion at finding Leonardo immediately before him, his breath washing gently over his face, the living warmth of his fingers against his skin—

And before he could realize what was happening, more tears were dropping sideways onto the pillow.

Leonardo's eyes widened and Ezio found himself surrounded by the painter's scent, his nose pressing into his shoulder as Leonardo pulled him into an awkward but firm hug. He tugged half-heartedly at his shift, mumbling something about not having a clue why he was crying, of all things, but received an answer only in the form of a tighter arm around his back.

He relented quickly, the desperation and wrenching agony of the dream still lingering, and he sighed into Leonardo's neck, wrapping his own arm around his shoulders and letting the heartbeat against his chest give all the reassurance he could need. He was crying.

He was crying.

He hadn't cried in years – not really cried, anyway. Not the painless kind of crying, at least, with free-flowing tears that didn't hurt, and with Leonardo wrapped around him. He was hardly aware of it, hardly felt like he needed to cry, and aside from the tears wetting Leonardo's tunic—

Why justify it? Why did it matter if he actually was crying – just crying? Everyone cried. Men cried. Leonardo cried. Ezio was, after all, still human.

He let himself melt into Leonardo's embrace, inhaling deeply and feeling himself settle. The artist's hold was firm and sure, and Ezio was fairly certain he couldn't have been safer anywhere in the world.

"Do you want to tell me what you dreamt?" Leonardo's voice was slightly muffled.

Ezio drew back, his head sinking into his own pillow again, and regarded Leonardo. The artist looked concerned, if a bit sleepy, and Ezio quirked a humourless smile. "I dreamt you," he said. "We were prisoners, somewhere – I don't recall where, or why. I think saw Uberto, at the scaffold in Firenze, but…" he trailed off, the details already fogging in his mind. It was unpleasant to recall, like a bad smell or an old pain, and he tried to shrug casually. "You died."

Leonardo's eyes widened slightly, briefly, and Ezio could see him processing the new information. "That is why you were so… so—"

"Relieved?" Ezio supplied drily, wiping gruffly at his eyes.

Leonardo nodded. "To see me?"

"You are a good friend, Leonardo," he replied, casting his eyes sideways. "I… it hurt me to see you—to see you like that." Seized by sudden panic, he stared back at Leonardo. "You know that I will always protect you? Leonardo, you must know I will neverlet you suffer for your association with me. I will never leave you."

Leonardo, to Ezio's mild surprise, had tears in his eyes. He gave a slightly wobbly smile and nodded, and Ezio now was the one pulling the other man to his chest. Leonardo laughed softly into Ezio's shoulder but let himself be held, and when he pulled back Ezio was looking intently at him.

He quirked his head, pushing a stray tear away, and opened his mouth to question.

He got no further than the first syllable of Ezio's name before the assassin had stretched across the pillow between them and, one strong hand on the back of his head, pressed their lips together.

Leonardo caught a startled breath, giving a strangled little sound of shocked pleasure. Ezio's tongue, taking advantage of his already-open mouth, was up against his, pushing and stroking and exploring, and Leonardo could do little but comply. When Ezio pulled away, dark eyes searching, Leonardo stared back.

"Amico mio," he began, heart soaring but trying desperately not to hope. "What—"

"I love you." It was said forcefully enough that Leonardo felt himself frozen, huge waves of emotion rising quickly to his throat, and Ezio watching him for his response.

Shakily, his hands rose, slipping beneath Ezio's jaw, fingers brushing the fringes of his hair, and tugged him forward. A breath of relief, either his, Ezio's, or theirs both, washed between them for the brief moment before Ezio's lips were back on his.

Ezio moaned, a low, guttural sound, thrumming through the two of them as they pressed themselves together, suddenly desperate for contact. Ezio pushed against him, arms winding around his back, his mouth angled against his, tongue deep and plundering. Leonardo pressed back, his hands tangling in the loose strands of Ezio's hair, too caught up in the fact that being in love with his closest friend was not, in fact, hopeless, to care about anything else but tasting as much as possible of this newfound territory.

Ezio pulled at his shift, hauling it up, over his head, and tossing it away before throwing his own aside. Rolling them over, he pinned Leonardo to the mattress, hips grinding against his. Heavy breaths catching in both their throats, Ezio descended, lips seeking out Leonardo's jaw. He nipped and kissed his way to his ear, sucking the lobe briefly into his mouth before pressing his tongue to the sensitive flesh below. Leonardo's head fell sideways, neck exposed, his shoulders pushing down into the bed to force himself up.

Already brutally hard, Leonardo grappled at Ezio's hips, pulling and pushing until he could feel them grinding together through the loose fabric of their breeches. Ezio hissed, teeth sinking into Leonardo's neck as his hand shot between them, palming him through the linen. Leonardo made a strangled sound of ecstasy and seized Ezio's hand, forcing it closer and bucking his hips up. Ezio grinned and caught Leonardo's lips again, tongue pushing roughly inside and sliding along the artist's.

Quickly, the clothed contact was nowhere near enough, and they were both pulling at each other's breeches, hauling them off and tossing them carelessly away. Ezio surged forward, one hand anchoring him at the base of Leonardo's skull as he met him, open-mouthed. Kneeling, Leonardo pulled Ezio forward, onto his lap.

The assassin pressed himself close, close enough to cup them both in his free hand, rocking slowly and letting them glide against each other. He shuddered, shoulders hunched, and felt Leonardo's stuttered breath against his lips. "Ezio—" the painter gasped, nails digging into his exposed back for a moment before the assassin found himself being pushed backward.

Legs splayed with Leonardo between his thighs, Ezio had half a second to take in the flushed, haphazard beauty that was his friend-turned-lover before the artist was kissing down his throat, pausing from side to side to nip and suck. Ezio groaned, his hips rocking in tandem with Leonardo's, the friction along their lengths dry and uncomfortable and absolutely essential to his continued survival.

Releasing their hold on his neck, Leonardo's lips withdrew only long enough for him to drag his tongue teasingly along his palm, and then returned, sliding across his collarbone and then descending. As his tongue found Ezio's nipple, his hand found Ezio's prick, stroking with agonizing reserve and leaving a slick trail of saliva. The assassin bucked, thrusting into Leonardo's hand, but the artist's fingers were already pulling away. He caught a glimpse of a wicked grin as Leonardo slunk lower briefly, casting a chill breath across the moist flesh.

An unsteady moan filled the room, and when Leonardo stretched back up to Ezio's mouth, he was still grinning.

Ezio, long past caring that he really didn't know all what men did together, growled into Leonardo's self-satisfied mouth, short fingernails raking down the artist's back. Leonardo arched with a cry, hips pushing down involuntarily. Ezio smirked, gloating a victory that was cut short, however, when Leonardo's mouth latched onto a nipple and sucked it hard into his mouth, scraping his teeth against the sensitive flesh. Ezio's hands fisted in Leonardo's hair, simultaneously pushing him away and pulling him closer.

The pain, like that when Leonardo's hand snaked down, unnoticed, and slipped first one, then two fingers inside him, was wonderful enough for Ezio to arch his back and yell. Leonardo kissed him, sweetly now, desperation pausing as they waited for Ezio to adjust. Their lips brushed, lightly, gently, tongues nudging and lapping. Ezio squirmed slightly as Leonardo's fingers slid slowly in and out.

It didn't feel bad, he reflected distantly, but it didn't feel exactly good, either. It was foreign, still bordering on uncomfortable, and Ezio wasn't quite sure he liked—

And then Leonardo's fingers sank deep, bent at the knuckle, and Ezio saw white. Instinctively, reflexively, he pushed back onto Leonardo's hand, desperate to mimic whatever that had been. Against his lips, Leonardo smiled, blowing a soft breath across his chin, and pulled his fingers away.

"No—" Ezio stuttered, gasping. "Leonardo, please—"

But then Leonardo was replacing the fingers with himself, and with a shuddering groan, he sank home. His head fallen back, hair splayed over his face and catching in his mouth, Ezio felt the cry rip from his throat. Pain, not terrible but intense, shot through him, chased close on its heels by blinding pleasure.

A shaking hand pushed the hair from his face, and then Leonardo was kissing him, with an odd, characteristic mix of gentle patience and desperate need. Ezio grappled at the base of his skull with one hand, the other digging clenched fingers into his shoulder, gasping air around their questing tongues.

The first thrust was nearly enough to send him spiralling over the edge. Leonardo's fingers had wrapped around his prick, slick with who knew what, hot and tight, moving quickly. He arched, hips snapping back against the artist's, mouths breaking apart with echoing groans as Leonardo latched onto the bared column of his neck. Teeth grazed along his skin, nipping and biting, hot tongue following and leaving a reddened trail. Ezio's legs wrapped around Leonardo, heels pressing into his lower back, spread wide for him and doing his best to drive him deeper. Leonardo moaned, more than willing to comply, and picked up his pace.

It could not last long, like this. Within moments, Ezio was shuddering, swollen lips allowing stuttered, broken sounds, and Leonardo's thrusts turned erratic, desperate, and with an arching cry, he sank himself deep and shattered.

Ezio, somewhere in the blissful regions between sated and utterly exhausted, watched Leonardo roll off of him through half-closed eyes. Leonardo looked at him, sideways, tawny hair askew and face flushed.

"Ti amo," he said, softly. Ezio smiled.

"Does that mean I can stay in your bed tonight?" he asked with a sloppy grin, rolling onto his side and slinging an arm over Leonardo's waist. "My room is so cold." He pulled the artist closer, pushing hot, naked flesh against his. "And lonely."

Leonardo laughed slightly. "Yes, Ezio," he replied, leaning his nose against Ezio's, indulgent. "You can stay in my bed. Tonight, and tomorrow, if you like."

"And the day after that?"

Another laugh, like music over water. "You will wear me out, amico." He brushed a hand over Ezio's cheek and corrected himself. "Amore."