Federico fluttered his eyes shut. "Ah, that hits the spot."

Automatically bowing his head in reverence at the compliment, Nicodéme kept his gaze low as he kneaded his master's shoulders, his nimble fingers displaying their great expertise. "Grazie, Maestro Auditore; may my performance be to your liking."

A noise of satisfaction. "Aye, it is: I wonder why I did not know you had such a skill." The eldest Auditore wearily rubbed at his eyes as he continued reading document after document of Medici files, his inked quill scratching delicately at the fine parchment of interest matters. "You are quite talented, are you not?"

The master assassin diminutively laughed at the slight coloring of his student's cheeks, the latter purposely clearing his throat while he worked even harder. "You are too kind, messere."

"In his dreams," a playful voice suddenly spoke, making the banker cock an inquisitive brow. "You are simply inflating his ego."

Magnificently, the door to the suite swung open and revealed a very flushed and enthused Ezio, who strode in and placed his hands on either side of Federico's work. "Making this poor soul go through a bout of servitude once more, fratello?"

"Hardly—that is what friends do, si?"

"This is why you do not have many."

A mockery of pain in his bosom. "Aye, the arrow to the heart; how can my little brother say such cruel things?"

"Fottiti—your friend is probably wishing he had stuck a knife in your neck."

Federico turned his head and cast his gaze onto the bemused assassin. "Nico, surely, you do not think of your amico in such a fashion?"

Oh, if all of the awkwardness did not multiply in seconds. "A-Ah … well …" Silence, and then: "N-Naturalmente, no."

"See?"

"Silenzio; he is most likely plotting your demise—you never know."

"I would rather not." Lightheartedly, said being loosened his cravat and raked his hand through his hair, curving his lips at Ezio's expectant expression—that enigmatic look he had been subjected to over the course of his life was one he could not underestimate, and sensing the urgency, he signaled his companion to halt the service. "Va bene: Care to tell me what it is that you desire?"

Innocence. "Che? Can I not visit my brother just because I want to?"

"As much as your dear sibling would like to believe that claim, he cannot, especially post exchange."

Pouting, he continued, "Lorenzo is making you into an old man."

"Now, that really hurts."

"Old man."

"Dio, spare me from this anguish."

"Old man."

"Ezio."

"Old man."

"I am too young for this."

"Old man."

"Per favore."

"Old man."

"Aye, aye: mi dispiace; indulge me."

The taste of satisfaction lit up the noble's eyes. "Truly?"

Sighs all around. "Well, I do not think I can be surprised anymore: The other times you asked me to play accomplice involved jumping out of windows, stealing Pazzi banners, setting Vieri's buttocks on fire, being smothered by signora Gugliotta's breasts, and … ah, how can I forget? Nearly getting molested by Florentine guards during Sforza's party."

Nicodéme was also smart in other ways—he inconspicuously backed up all the way to the rear window and jumped out: No way he would ever get caught up in the fiendish conversations of insanity.

"I do not know: You look like you enjoyed yourself when that brutish sentry patted your ass," Ezio jokingly remarked, delighted all the more at the sight of a protesting frown. "Cristina, additionally, wanted me to tell you that she thought you looked amazing in that dress."

Sardonic smiles were all he had left. "Why, grazie—you pull my patience even tighter."

"Do not be as such; it was merely a jest."

"I hope you consider it in that manner."

A wink. "Possibly."

Rolling up his sleeves, Ezio popped open the buttons of his vest and divested himself of it, sighing as he plopped down onto a nearby chair and straddled it backwards. "Anyway, about today's matter: Do you know what comes in a few days?"

"Carnevale?"

"Essattamente: Carnevale."

"Si …" Wariness. "What about it?"

"Now," he progressed, a scintillate twinkle in his eyes, "do you recall the prize for winning the grand competition?"

"Si: the golden mask."

"Yes: certo—the ticket to getting into the Frenchman's private feast."

Federico blinked.

"Do you see where I am going with this?"

Carefully, the older male assessed the situation, resting his chin on the palm of his hand as he thought about the tacit in various angles—whatever amount of zeal the younger possessed must have surely been great, for a flush tinged the apples of his cheeks as he sat in practiced restraint, the implication of his impatience shown solely by the frequent tapping of his boots against the mahogany table. If Federico had not already gone under by that pleading grin of childishness, he would certainly have gone mad from the impossible standards.

Because by the time he realized the formation, it was over.

But it did not cost any to rebel: "You have got to be kidding me."

"Does it look like it?"

"Merda, you … that man is a close friend to the French king! He would swing your head under the guillotine when he finds you in bed with his daughter."

"If he finds me—which, indubitably, will not happen."

God, have mercy. "Have you looked at his militia? He probably brought enough soldiers to fill Roma five times."

"Yes, I have glimpsed at his company, and—" A shrug. "—his little princess is quite the catch."

"I cannot allow this to happen, Ezio."

"Federico."

"No," he quickly responded, holding up his hand sans tentativeness. "Not only is this imperiling yourself, but it will affect Firenze as a whole—the discovery will simply call for indignation, and the weak ties with Lorenzo and the ambassador will only fan the flames."

"But that is why I said that we will not get caught."

"We?"

"Of course, we."

His personal monk was going to be loaded with prayer requests this evening. "Fratello, I … this cannot happen."

"Fed!"

"It cannot."

"Dai!"

"This discussion is over—do not give me that look."

Yet, Ezio did, in all of his dismayed glory, gnawing on his bottom lip as he slumped his shoulders without a further word of discontent; he let his crestfallen disposition do the work, complimenting the troubled look in his eyes while his clenched hands slid closer to Federico's own—a shuffle, disappointment, a silent plea, and the younger Auditore hung his head as he gathered his vest and stood, getting ready to make his way over to the door.

"Aspetta."

The snare was already activated—now, if only Ezio could suppress his grin of triumph and plaster on a factor of solemnity.

"Si?"

Apprehension: "If I agree, will you promise me one thing?"

"Yesnon avere dubbi."

"Va bene: I will do what I can, though I do not even know what part you wish for me to play in this outrage."

"You shall see: I merely wished for you to agree to be by my side."

Federico shook his head as he reached up and ruffled Ezio's hair. "You little diavolo—how dare you exploit me with those pup's eyes."

"It is not exploiting—I just know how to use what I have. Aside from that, what is this term of yours?"

"Like you have stated, 'you shall see'

A laugh. "Fine, fine, do as you will; I just cannot wait to get started."

Federico rolled his eyes as Ezio playfully jumped onto his lap and punched him on the shoulder.

"Whatever you say. But first things first—an initial down payment of a massage would not hurt."