"Buongiorno, Signore Ezio," a mischievous voice greeted him. "I was not aware that you'd pursue me so actively."

Barely refraining from jumping back out into exposure, the incredulous assassin merely set his jaw in a tense position before he allowed the springs of his mechanism to bring the hidden blade back into its sheathe. The loud tolls of the bells rung throughout the entire city, crying out loudly to every soul that another assassination had taken place, and it sent a low coil of satisfaction and excitement at the familiar setting. He could tell that the fools were overturning every single building to catch him—it had only been that way since the incident at the Vatican, so it was only natural that the damn swine would have the orders to tighten security, even in the plainest environments that the poor lingered in. But still, having to actually jump rooftop to rooftop for thrity-five minutes was absolutely ridiculous—without a doubt, his footsteps would be tracked by the copious amounts of unfamiliar blood that had stained his uniform, and it would probably be soon.

After all, Lorenzo de Medici was a man of his very word—a power-hungry traitor who brought along his own shadows that clung to his steps.

And Ezio Auditore would never forget who he had called to.

"Si, si—so your beauty is as famed as they say."

His hyper-sensitized mind-set hurls him down to the present, his back pressed hard against a cold wall below the very windowsill that granted him reprieve; his hands clasped in his lap, face hooded in dark crimson that dripped off of his hood, the suspenseful brunet drew one leg up in subconscious defense when he perceived an intense gaze locked onto him, boring into him without the aid of the dim candlelight. He had purposefully jumped into this unknown house as a last minute resort when ten of the higher-ranking guardsmen were hot on his heels, and he had intended to leave as soon as possible; however, those damn bastards seemed to prolong their stay here, as if they sensed that he was around this very premises—there'd be no way out of this plight without hushing the family inside to avoid another encounter.

That's what he thought.

Initially.

It's quite impossible for him to snap his head away from a bold hand that cupped his cheek without abashment, turning his face from side to side as if he were a fine whore to be speculated from limb to limb. Simply too tired to put up a small rebellion, the ex-noble grit his teeth in miserable restraint and bore the analytical activity, much to the loud protest that raged within him, and was now bothered by a soft finger that slid its way past the bridge of his nose to his lips, lingering on them before pushing forward to wet its tip. The mysterious stranger seemed eerily content with brushing his thumb under his chin, grazing the fine stubble along his jaw, and it currently hit Milan's most wanted man that the chilling tone was one he had experienced somewhere—without the roaring oceans pounding in his head and a thick haze that settled over him, like a suffocating blanket. Were it not for a distracting hand that was apparently getting too adventurous along his nape, he would've at least gotten a chance to piece together the clues of who this audacious alien was, because it was clear that—

"Ah!"

And Ezio almost kills himself over that noise.

-the noise that came from teasing behind his right ear.

Over and over, the dead mantra of oh god it wasn't me oh god it wasn't me what the hell was that it wasn't me because it can't oh god pulled and pushed over the sizzling nerves that rebounded in a kinetic sensation, and he swore his heart leapt to his throat when he perceived three of the top guards nearing this very residence. But by the way he caught a glimmer of fine teeth spreading into a shit-eating grin, his hopeless hypothesis was not even close to his desired mark, and it nearly doubled him over when he had a nagging feeling who this bastard really was. Only one person he knew would react at this cursed vulnerability …

Yet, as cocksure as the imposter sported, he released a small oath after his embarrassing cry and scooted himself forward in a sleek manner, spiritually pinning the exhausted male with his lean frame and inquisitive gaze. Even through the obscurity, the unsettling suspicion grew stronger to the smell of sandalwood aftershave and various paints, a very well-known warmth and tugging at the bottom of his stomach that caused him to hitch his breath. Rays of faint illumination allowed him to discern a head of tightly coiled curls atop an angular face that boasted of great cunning—down to warm hands that were settled on his cheek and thigh as if they owned him.

Why the hell couldn't he stop him?

And why was he leaning into that damn touch?

"Merda, what you do to me .. " the other man whispers, so quietly that he is sure that it wasn't meant for his ears. "How long I've been waiting … "

Gnawing on his cheek for a good measure, Ezio coerced the rising expectations of startled guards to the recesses of his mind and maintained his concentration on finding out who this bold figure was, and why the hell he was casting lingering touches that burned his skin, even through the multiple layers of his robes. A lot of figurative pings were popping about in his head from all of the various pieces of evidence, and after that husky mutter, he had a stone-heavy weight at the core of his being—he did know of solely one person, as such … One who he constantly tried to avoid …

One who he couldn't seem to push away …

No, he stubbornly snapped internally. It is not he: It is impossible …

But …

But …

But!

"Ucello mio."

Ezio held his breath.

Oh.

Fucking.

No.

-and banged his head violently against the windowsill.

"Ah … so I see that you've finally recognized me," said the devil of a teenager who held his wit as highly as his master's skill. "Though, to say the least, I am a bit disappointed at the delay, good sir."

The first thing he registered was the flaring pain that reverberated chaotically in the abused area; the second was that the seductive gleam of doe-brown eyes seemed to caress him from head to toe, without the aid of sweet nothings or physical contact. Calling his amalgam of confusing emotions wild was an understatement, for the way his vision gained a heavier load and assisted his other senses to be elevated was bigger than a random stab at his back. Carefully practiced poised rapidly fled at the sight of that wickedly upturned mouth, and it took the alarmed Italian his entire being to put down the nonsensical uprising that raged within himself—he wanted to wipe that smug look off of that cherub face.

Oh? And how are you going to go about it, hm? You probably just want to grab that little imp by the neck and ravish him senseless, like the little stronzo you are.

The brunet knit his brows and grimaced—all right, that was not what he was thinking about.

Much to his relief, his "holy" side—albeit there wasn't anything sanctified about him—came to the rescue and brandished its defensive shield. 'Tis quite common for one to react at such blatant outrage, though by no means of such disconcerting activities!

Okay, since when did his moral spokesperson become such a fucking despot?

Yeah, yeah—but you have to face the facts here, O Dignified One: He's the fiend who inspired his teacher's John the damn Baptist, for Christ's sake! Ezio could practically feel his diabolical attorney throwing up his hands for emphasis. Cazzo, even his name means "little devil"! What more do you need to argue?

A magical harp seemed to be chucked at his belligerent darkness. Why, as a master of literature, "Salai" is a conjugated version of salare! He may not be—

With a startled intake of air, the Grand Master jolted awake at the blazing touch of soft fingers pressing lightly into his eyelids—never had he suspected that such simple parts of his body were so receptive and delicate. He didn't know whether or not he wanted to dash out the opening and risk getting caught by the persistent bastards, or be appraised from every angle, as if he was a sacrificial lamb ready to be taken to the stone slab. Because at that very moment, the stakes of Leonardo's daring pupil sealing what he had unwillingly felt for him was more treacherous than the latter finding out that he did: It was best for the both of them—or was it just for himself?—to continue the plot of the devilish youth making the moves on the "disturbed" friend.

Except, there was nothing more disturbing than the need to settle his own hands on Giacomo's frame.

And to his dying hope, it was clear as day that the deviant artist already knew where he stood—affections, resistance, and otherwise. "How long will you extend this futile opposition, Maestro Auditore?"

His throat was too dry to respond.

"You do hold me in high value, do you not?" A fleeting gaze at his parted mouth sent a vast amount of blood to pool in his southern regions. "Do not think that I am nescient to your actions: the way you look at me when I'm dallying about, your breaths quickening, your abrupt want of leave … " Salai slid himself closer to the point where the older man could smell the intoxicating scent of oriental sandalwood. "I've noticed them all."

Lord, have mercy.

"And I mean to act upon it."

Unflinchingly, the daring teen pressed his silken cheek against rough whiskers and brought his elegant hand up to rest upon Ezio's head; the moment he laid his fine appendage on the bloodstained cover, he yanked it back and, with all of the cloudy mess of apprehension in the assassin's eyes, uncovered a healthy flush that blossomed around high cheekbones. Petting a strong thigh, and later cupping the back of corded neck, the fair-skinned rake rubbed his nose on a beating jugular and inhaled deeply, taking in the flavors of exhilaration, anxiety, panic, arousal, and potent masculinity. Perhaps Rosa had been ultimately correct for the first time in her life when she warily mentioned that the offensive brat was taking irrationality to a whole new level—putting up a fight was not an option at this point, because his body had turned itself into a traitor and was itching to press its whole length to that lean structure of challenge and adolescence. And his heart …

Here, on this day, Ezio Auditore de Firenze was reported to have died from an internal combustion; it was said that his cardiovascular tissues were overexerted, and thus, exploded without warning.

A wry snort was murdered mercilessly as soon as a warm breath whispered across his divided lips; if it wasn't for that minute throb of dread and carefulness, he was sure he would either have submitted completely or hauled his ass out into public, followed by an angry stream of relentless sentries, doubtless he'd find Salai whistling his way over to Leonardo for a hearty brag. And it was that very thought of him actually embracing—straining, reaching, yearning—for the approaching transgressor that dumped a pail of cold water over him and forced him to latch his arm onto a wayward shoulder.

He couldn't! Not with the oath he made to his pacifist of a friend …

Ezio … I … I-I know that you … erm … uh … well … care for Salai very much … but … he's … he's … Salai is young, Ezio! He is but a year before his twentieth, and … I … I just don't want to see the both of you make a mist—hurt! Yes … hurt, because of acting upon your desires; I know that it isn't in my place to bar you, or control my student, but …. but … um … please, at least until he manages to create a name for himself, do not … do not take him as your … your … uh … amante … maybe after his early years under my tutelage … perhaps then, you could …

Oh, Leonardo.

If you'd only see your dear boy now.

So he tenses immediately and turns his head to the side, burrowing himself into the shadows to mask his conflicting mess of a human being, and bans the sensual caress that would grace his lips—but what he wouldn't give to steal a peck and hide deep underground! The sooner he brought reality to conquer his mind, the better—yet he seriously wondered if he was lying to protect his common sense or guard the talented bird from damaging his wings: The Medici family was already suspecting da Vinci and his followers as conspirators against their regime, and if they were in the knowledge that he was directly associated with him, it'd be turmoil, within both sides. Also, the idea that he was more than a few years older, lived a solitary life based on the Creed, and was the most notorious criminal in the crazed Mediterranean didn't persuade him to bend to the other's will. What if he was making a dire error and caused unfair retribution on all he cared for? Did Gian even know who he really was? Would he despise him once he was in the know?

And there was the fact that his aggression would be bare for all to see …

A heated hand grips his forearm with an unknown might and pins it to the cool surface of the stone behind him, another pushing his cheek back into the light with velvet reassurance that coated a steel resolve. Whatever willpower the Grand Master possessed was dashed to the scorching caress of molten copper, his jaw turning slack, and his soul, mind, heart, and body altered into ambrosia within a rampant heartbeat. This was a hazardous game the two were playing, he mentally bit, but all he could see now was that the pieces were arranged from that fateful day of running headfirst into the little rascal, and the exits were never to be because he didn't want to escape him: the liar, the glutton, the scamp, thief.

The most beautiful thing he'd ever laid eyes on.

"Don't," he weakly rasps, wishing he wouldn't have to be subjected to such sweet torture a hair's breadth away from him. "Don't …"

Ignoring the halfhearted caveat, the insistent scoundrel filtered rich sepia locks and cradled the basal part of his head without a glimmer of thought; he scandalously positioned his eager lips against the corner of his muse's and brushed a butterfly kiss against the twitching area. "It doesn't matter, Ezio—none of this does; don't hold yourself back because of some altruistic streak that already shreds my self-control and makes me paint you over and over."

A brief shudder racked his blazing frame.

"Can you also feel me watching you, love? Can you feel that sizzling pleasure whenever we brush our fingers for a pen or a sheaf of parchment? Do you know that I lay in bed alone, pleasuring myself because … because now, some meager whore won't satisfy the ravenous thoughts I possess for you?" Ezio's pupils dilated when he realized that the sinful mouth was moving closer to the middle of his own. "Do you?"

His heart thunders as a breathy hiss wired his nerve-endings. Si …. Si ... Si, si, si … tell me more …

As if Gian heard his inner plea, he indulged him whist en mediares of exploring his melting mass, nimble fingers skirting away from harder touches he longed to perceive without his thick garb. Naughty litanies slithered around his core and teased him sans forgiveness, and those very words were filled adoration—of course, lewdness was indeed involved—that meticulously worked to chip down his fading resistance; furthermore, his being was torturously captured when he realized that not everything was an action of lust or greed: So many secrets he didn't know, so much to tell, so much truth that trickled into his ears was only a worthy match for softened orbs that pleaded with him for this intense instant—please give this to me si si like that just let me kiss you it doesn't matter will you let me ucello mio. Saying that Gian Giacomo was expressing sincerity for the first time in his life mustn't be factual, for how can that accusatory declaration be hurled at the way he was in soft tremors while he was practically revering the very beat of his heart? And it was then that a possessive claw gashed his inner conscience: No one was to see him like this! No one but him, and him alone!

He fluttered his eyes closed.

No, he silently affirmed, taking on a bit of gentleness as he thought of his smiling friend. Mi dispiace, but not even you, Leo, can savor a moment like this.

And Ezio Auditore de Firenze allowed his overreacting heart to detonate.

Grabbing the salacious adolescent, he tightly pressed his fervent lips to the other's and swallowed a nonplussed gasp.

Heaven was closer than he thought it would be.

There was nothing sexual about the ardent exchange; there was nothing requiring decorum, effort, or discipline, and the flustered brunet found that his eyelids were sown shut and his nose pressed intimately against another. Mellifluous angels were not flapping gracefully in the air, nor were church bells swinging in congratulations, but a comfortable cover of warmth and contentment seemed to blanket the two of them in a soothing haze. Excitement, nervousness, tension, stimulation, tenderness—each characteristic buzzed in the air about them and channeled through their veins as the fragile quiet became their sole audience. Never in his thirty-three years had he felt so out of control yet pleased, not even when the birth of his son graced a tiny smile on his hardened features; hitherto, embracing the very devil in his quivering arms was unheard of, yet he received the revelation that leaving was not an option post-submission, and he was queerly satisfied with that: Because this roguish brat had stolen his heart with all of the shamelessness in the world.

And how was it that he didn't want it back?

Pulling back regretfully to survive an anaerobic spasm, the embarrassed assassin cleared his throat and frailly cracked open his eyes; he found that it was quite amusing how smugness was evidently unavailable—at least, not at the moment—for the infamous Salai, whose face was taking on a sanguine hue that complimented his swollen lips and pleasure-clouded pupils. He awkwardly nipped at the inner walls of his cheek, trying his best not to grab him by the neck and begin a grand search for a bed and a heavy rope; would he himself be in the same state the artist was in? Bizarrely, the older male frowned at the find that his ego was doing just fine, even while he was prone and quite synonymous to a moaning whore who didn't give a damn about image or reputation—since when was he so needy and … and … and so un-Ezio-ish?

"Say my name, signore," Salai gutturally started, bringing a callous palm to his inflamed cheek and purring deep in his throat. "Say my name, say my name, say my name … "

The ex-noble slowly gulped.

-and answered the provocative request.

"G-Gi … Gia … "

Craning forward, the impatient teenager nodded.

"Gian … Gian … G-Gi .. " Words only came to him when he swooped in for another kiss that was definitely not as innocent as before. "Gian, Gian, Gian!"

They initiated a lengthy round that consisted of nothing but tongues and sloppy strokes—a touch here, a touch, there, a sudden grabbing for each other so powerful that utterances were clearly out of the question. Molten lava eased into his broken cracks and pushed him to see that the effects that nourished him were also taking place in the being he held, sans guilt or hesitation or woe. The guards, the Medici, the assassination, the urge to gather his wits about him—may all of them be condemned and flee from his dilapidated train of jumbled thoughts. It was only Gian, and only Gian, and Gian, Gian, Gian, Gian!

"Gian … " The solid name is like an endearing tinkering of a child's laugh. "Gian …"

Salai gingerly closed his eyes and smiled. "Maestro, if my name could have ever sound so honeyed, it would be the first and last thing you'd say until the early morning."