"What is the meaning of this?" Ezio angrily growled, latching onto Leonardo's wrist without a break in his aggression. "Which one of those bastardi did this to you?"

Leo visibly paled, now trembling from guilt and fear than the pain in his hand; to think that he had been foolish enough to let his guard down and rest! "A-Ah, Ezio, per favore: I can ex-explain."

"There is nothing to explain: This … This!" The younger man tightened his hold, causing the artist to flinch and stifle a wheeze of pain, before slanting his eyes in a manner that filtered coldness into his very bones. "How would you lie about this wound?" he bitterly continued, relentless in boring his outrage into the man in front of him. "Hm? Say that it is a mere carelessness with a cast iron? A mistake in the position of your cutting invention?" A strangled pause. "Perhaps something amiss with your flying machine?"

"I … I did not—" Without a doubt, black spots began to swim earnestly in his vision, wrestling a pained groan from his throat, barely being able to proceed when a calloused thumb was digging into his forearm instead of the previous area. "It's n-nothing; just—"

Bile rose to sting his mind as his furious companion stood up from the bed, now making his way to his breeches that were thrown haphazardly onto the floor; it reflected none of the happy, heartwarming session of lovemaking that had lulled him to sleep, in the first place. "Si, it's always nothing." Silently, shadows cloaked the planes of Ezio's back as hungry as the dim candlelight, bathing him in colors that Leo had never liked to add to his palette. "I've been such a fool; all those signs! The bruises, the cuts, the scrapes, the burns, and … and!" Red ribbon up, tied, secured, then tossed back down. "I'm willing to bet that you would also deny any of my suspicions, even from three years ago."

"Please, this is a triviality. It will heal."

Wrong words.

All too wrong.

"You may have tricked me, hid it from me, with sweet nothings, but this … I know this is not a simple matter of recklessness, other than the fact that you never subject yourself to such absurdity." Hastily dressing his lower half, the incredulous brunet strode over to where the largest sconce was and lit it, casting an austere illumination over the stale room after emitting a foul malediction. "And you cringe like Eve before her god! Dio, Leonardo! Do not take me for a fool!"

Something akin to wounded pride swelled within him. "As to you: I am also not to be taken in such a way, Ezio—even if, perhaps, I have dug my own hole."

"Then, do not lie to me any longer: When did they do this?"

Silence. "I have not said that anyone would do—"

"You lie; and I will prove it to you."

And he did.

They were everywhere—on his chest, on his back, marking the angles of his neck, things he would have never known if Ezio had not traced each and every one of them, the permanent paintings of the Creed hiding the scars that looked exactly like the ones on his hand. Though his stigma burned through his defenses, there was something so eerily disturbing in the fashion in which they were obscured, almost as if denial was oppressed through every inch of the tattoos, twisting this way and that, nearly in synch with the rigid form of their owner. Speech was an attribute he lost to the intensity. "Who would know such torment better than the one inflicted?"

"I … "

"That's why I ask—who did this to you?" So narrow, so wide was his tone. "These wounds—you think anybody can do it in such bold cuts?" He raked his hand through his hair, pulling on the strands roughly to the flicker of refutation and reopening of old injuries. "They're markings, Leo: Insignias of the Templar Order!"

That, Leo knew—he knew it all too well for past ten years, each day getting harder to hide the truth with random smiles and flutter-brained motions, serving cheer on a platter that tasted of bloodlust and mockery from his torturers. To be in this predicament, to be robbed or rationality and feeling, what good was it to maintain such pretenses? If only brevity lined his voice … "It's the first time something like yesterday has happened."

"But before—"

"Before is past, amico mio; it's … I want this … for me … I … " Tiredness soaked his tumult. "Mi dispiace, for everything, si? I'm sorry for keeping it from you for all this time; I'm sorry for lying, for smiles that weren't smiles at all, for my delusions. I'm sorry for being so selfish … to ask this of you; but nothing is worse than having you mad."

Anger had washed into something unidentifiable.

There was stillness.

His hand hurt.




He too was weary.

Yet Ezio speaks. "I … I just … I cannot expel the wrath within me, Leonardo."

"I know."

"No, not at you! Not ever at you!" Stagnancy made his scars throb. "It is directed at me—to think that I had been so obstinate as to believe this to happen, though it had been so obvious."

" … it is not your fault; blame holds no place, here."

The younger man settled down in front of Leonardo, staring down at the calluses on his palms as if it was the sole thing he could see. "Of course, you would say that," he replied softly. "Invariably."

Lazy lamplight painted the walls.

"You know me so well as to memorize it."

Leo had already memorized the words which Ezio had wanted to say, as if he could place a marker on the indecisiveness, the will to be angered and anger, to dig deeper into the truth, but unwilling. "Because … this! I want to hold your hand, to kiss it, to lace our fingers when we make love, to see you paint, draw, sketch: I want to see you free and give the sun through your smile, knowing not of anguish, but of flight. I want it as much as you do; and yet, there it is! That brand! The wound! I will not be able to see you release the birds, to hold my own when you kiss me, or to feel each knuckle. I can't … I … I didn't even know …"

Strangely, the heavy cloud of misery he had expected was not present—instead, a calming surge of solace and understanding cooled the heat of his injury; maybe it was instinct, or the deep hurt in Ezio's face, or both, but an urge to smile overrode his protocol and matched itself with a hand on a sagged shoulder. "Ezio, look at me." God, if he had not done this sooner.

Slowly, but surely, it happened.

"These will heal, caro: I may not be able to fully do everything as before, but time is time, and it will not stop for three weeks." He tentatively settled his damaged hand on top of the taller man's own, which was shaking in a manner that betrayed the wall of control he wished to uphold. "And it is not the end of the world: Yes, the mark will be there, but it will not continue to fester and plague; as you have gotten over it, so I will I.

"So, when you are kissing me, I will hold your hand, and when we are making love, I will thread my lips through every dip and curve of your fingers; and the birds, Ezio, I will guide you to release them, the same way I will lead you to create art through your fingertips."

And when the assassin finally gave the moon hesitantly through a glimmer of teeth, he knew the scar would only be a thing of the flesh. "You promise?"

"Si." Like there was anything else he could swear. "I promise."

"Then, I will promise to do the same."

One kiss, three coils of tongues, before a childish pout was on that face. "I'm still going to hunt those dirty assholes."

Leonardo breathily sighed. "Why am I not surprised?"

The wound of the spirit was no more.