Title: Good Intentions

Author: kissmytypos

Characters and Pairings: Ezio/Leonardo

Rating: NC-17

Summary: Masks are worn and abandoned during the last night of Carnivale.

Word Count: 11,000

Disclaimer: Assassin's Creed belongs to Ubisoft. I'm making no profit from this fanwork.

A/N: The fic was beta-read by the patient and wonderful UC, all remaining mistakes are mine. Also thanks to Yumearashi for the correction.

The gleeful lights of Venice's Carnivale rippled across the surface of the river water. Past the bridges, couples danced to the lively tune echoing across the cool night air, the infectious gaiety demanding that everyone, tonight, should abandon their troubles and join in on the festivities.

Leonardo sighed, gave a wan smile to a passing juggler, and once again resisted the urge to pull his tunic upward.

The outfit made him uncomfortable, but he had been loath to say so to Lorenzo - especially after he had eagerly agreed to wear it weeks before it was done. It was not the first time his patron had asked him to wear something of his tailor's make - the older gentleman was fond of traveling, and would sometimes find an outfit that he wished to see on the people he knew. These often fell to the artisans under his patronage - people who could hardly say no to his request. During one of Verrocchio's exhibits, and the first in which Leonardo's painting was publicly displayed alongside his mentor's, Lorenzo had arranged for what Leonardo should wear...and he had to admit, it had been splendid. He wished he'd been allowed to keep it.

It was that first incident more than any other that prompted Leonardo to agree when Lorenzo made the same request again, this time a couple of years later, and for Carnivale. The Medici family would be attending, and he'd gone to Leonardo's workshop with two tailors, intent on taking his measurements and securing a promise.

"It was all I thought about on the way back from Madrid," he'd said with a put-upon air, while his tailors set about measuring Leonardo's limbs and torso. The painter's arms were obligingly extended to either side of his body. "Very distracting."

"Might I inquire on what occasion the costume was worn?" Leonardo asked, curious.

"A stage performance of some sort. A recreation of an expedition at sea." Leonardo felt his stomach twist, images of cutlass-wielding, eye-patched sailors dancing in his head. "It was not at all tailored for the boy who wore it - too broad in the chest and shoulders. It looked ridiculous. But on you..." Lorenzo stood and circled him, coming to stand to his left, though his gaze was fixed on Leonardo's shoulders and front. "It will look grand on you. With a few modifications. Perhaps tighter around the wrists, what do you think, Luzio?"

Leonardo swallowed his next inquiry as the last had been addressed to the tailor beside him, the one occupied with measuring his arm. "Perhaps, Altezza," the man replied, with a shrug, "the flair was most attractive, though."

"Yes, I suppose it was." Lorenzo's discerning gaze settled on his eyes and face. "You would have to shave, of course."

"Of course," he faintly agreed. He was starting to wonder if acquiescing to this outfit was a wise decision.

"Yours will have a more flattering palette. Red will simply not do." He stepped into Leonardo's line of sight, and, to the artist's mild horror, began to card his fingers through his blond hair, on either side of his face. He couldn't prevent the involuntary flinch at the sudden invasion of his space, but a hissed, "Keep still!" from behind had him trying to regain his original position. Lorenzo had thankfully retracted his hands, though he still stood just a pace away, a hand covering his mouth in thought.

Leonardo had the most disturbing feeling that this was probably what his corpses felt like while he was busy dissecting them.

"I'm glad you've let your hair grow out - the length suits you. The mask I've in mind won't cover your face so much as frame it, I'm afraid. Will this be a problem?"

Leonardo's attention had started to drift, but he eventually realized that Lorenzo had been awaiting his answer and not his tailor's. "No, no, of course not. What have I to hide from Venice, even during Carnivale?"

The answer seemed to please his patron. "This isn't the first time I've mentioned it, but I do wish you'd keep your face bare. You've a good shape to your mouth and an attractive chin. A terrible shame to hide both."

Heat traveled up Leonardo's neck and face. "I apologize," he simply replied. He apologized again in his head, for he had no intention of keeping his chin bare after the festival. He liked the rough feel of stubble against his hand while he thought or brooded.

After the measurements were taken, Lorenzo and his tailors vanished as swiftly as they came, the merchant prince having stalled his meeting with a prospective business partner long enough.

Leonardo didn't hear from him again until a day before the celebration, when a messenger arrived with a large box containing his garments and a slip of paper detailing how to wear them. He had been in the midst of laying down stronger shadows into a commission before the oil dried completely (having kept from touching the painting for days), and had simply abandoned the box and the paper in a corner.

He wished he'd given it more attention, as the day after, an hour before Carnivale, he followed the instructions to the letter and wondered if he was missing something.

At least the outfit had no markings of those sported by the unwashed sailors that had come to mind. He nervously fidgeted with the stitched band just below his collarbone, nervous at all the lingering stares from masked faces, and wondered if he should just feign sickness, head back to his workshop, and send Lorenzo a letter of apology. Wearing loud and outlandish clothing was never really much of an issue for him - he consciously sought them at times, after all - but the outfit bared more skin than he was comfortable with, and the mask he wore (if it could still be called that) did little to hide his identity.

"There you are!" he heard sharply from his left. It wasn't difficult to spot Lorenzo - the man's hair was uncovered above a rather feathery and green Carnivale masque. With him was a guard and, to Leonardo's discomfort, about six masked men and women he couldn't place.

Lorenzo gripped his shoulders, his hands feeling warm against Leonardo's cold skin, and let his gaze travel from Leonardo's head to his feet. "My," he breathed approvingly, "Marvelous. I was afraid the instructions proved too hard to follow, but I should have known you'd have no difficulty with it."

"Altezza," Leonardo said in greeting. "I feared I may have missed an article of clothing. I was not expecting the collar to be so...wide."

Lorenzo laughed easily at his apparent discomfort. "It merely bares your neck and the top of your shoulders. Do not fidget so, or it will bare more." His hands slid down his arms to grasp lightly at his wrists, pulling them slightly away from his body. The wide, flourished sleeves spread accordingly. "See how it emphasizes rather than conceals?" The men and women behind him murmured their assent.

"It conceals one thing, Lorenzo," a woman said to Lorenzo's right, her amused, sparkling eyes fixed on Leonardo's blushing face. "His gender. I could not tell at first glance whether you spoke to a man or a woman. Perhaps you should not have had him shave."

"Androgyny was the point of the outfit, Ottavia," Lorenzo dismissively said, "and I could think of no other but Leonardo to do it justice."

"Then congratulations to both of you for a job well done," Ottavia relented.

Leonardo wished these things had been made known to him beforehand, but there was little use worrying about that now. Lorenzo must have noticed the depth of his discomfort, for he released his wrists and leaned in to speak consolingly, a comforting hand on his upper arm, "You are a most attractive sight right now, my friend. Have no fear."

Lorenzo gave his arm a pat, and extended an offer for Leonardo to join them while they watched the games. He declined, stating (politely) his distaste of some of the Carnivale sports. Lorenzo nodded in understanding and led his retinue away, their regally-dressed forms swallowed immediately by the large, noisy crowd.

The outfit and the lack of a proper mask were contributing a great deal to Leonardo's unease. With a bag of bolognini in his hand, he decided that he'd just see what the more exotic merchants were selling and then head back home to the warmth and familiarity of his workshop. Where his proper clothes were waiting.

Unfortunately, fabrics seemed to be the theme of the night. He'd found twelve different stalls thus far, all selling silks and embroidered finery. He did find a merchant selling thick, woven cotton that might benefit his flying machine, and spent most of his money after haggling over the price.

Soon after he finished with instructions for the delivery, he spotted a stall, almost in the shadow of a larger one selling giant lanterns, that contained quite a number of metallic curiosities he'd never seen before. One in particular caught his attention - a simple, slim case meant to house fine-tipped brushes at first glance, the outer covering protected with treated leather. But upon opening, mirrors lined the top panel and the insides, serving as a clever prism to capture and trap an array of colors within the box.

He immediately asked the amused shopkeeper - an old man, well in his sixties - a series of questions, but when it came to the price, neither could settle on an acceptable one. Leonardo had no more money on him, the banks were closed, and the shopkeeper was set for France at dawn.

He must have been a sad sight when he gave his thanks and moved to leave, for the shopkeeper immediately called him back and presented him with an ornate, finely-crafted metal rose.

"No scent nor softness, but it will never wither," the old man said, while waving off Leonardo's protests. "I insist. Your interest in my wares will bring me more business tonight. I cannot, in good conscience, let someone with such a keen eye for fine things depart empty-handed."

"I-" Leonardo paused, glancing behind him. True to what the older man said, a few curious people were starting to gather around the small stall. He accepted the flower with a small laugh. "Thank you, I suppose. It is very beautiful."

Leonardo stepped back and let the handful of curious faces have their fill of the shop's wares. His attention was captured by the tiny little engravings on the rose's petals - little swirls that formed volute motifs - so that it was far too late for him to notice the solid body that was suddenly blocking his path.

He stepped back with an involuntary yelp, barely managing to get out a harried "I'm terribly sor-" before he felt large, gloved hands grasp his upper arms, pull him close, and plant a hungry kiss on his lips.

There was hardly any time to register anything - black fur filled his line of vision, and the lips pressed against his own were chapped, deeply so to one side, but pliant. He smelled from the man's breath sugar, caffe, and, quite distinctly, alcohol.

He struggled to be released, pushing at the unyielding wall that was the man's chest. Barely a second, and the powerful presence was gone, leaving Leonardo to stumble and try to regain his balance at the sudden lack of support.

Vaguely, as if filtering through from a curtained window, he became aware of amused laughter from the surrounding crowd, some of which was definitely aimed in his direction. Heat rushed to his face and settled there as he found a way through the throng and sought separation from the lights and the noise.

He caught his breath beside a closed shop, at a distance from the collective merriment. The music was a faint whisper on the horizon, and only the soft glow of candles from within sleepy houses accompanied the moon in illuminating the dark streets.

His hand lifted to his mouth, touched his lips, ghosting over the warmth that still lingered there. Whoever had kissed him had definitely been a man. The tickling scratch of stubble or a light beard still felt raw on his face. There was no reason - simply no excuse to behave in such a flagrant manner, even during Carnivale. And while the man had been masked, Leonardo was not, and painful memories of anonymous accusations from his youth felt all too real again.

But people had laughed, so perhaps everyone had just seen it as some sort of harmless prank. There was no way to make certain now. He would have to visit Sister Teodora in the morning and ask a favor, in case they hear anything...or Antonio, to watch the streets...

He shook his head and took a deep, steadying breath. Paranoia was getting the better of him. It was Carnivale - nothing could be done tonight.

He straightened from his slumped position against the wall, willing his heart to calm, and began to walk toward his workshop.

Ten paces later, he felt himself dragged from the street by large, gloved hands clamped about his arm and waist. The moon vanished, the river, the lights - complete darkness filled his vision, but Leonardo knew this route. He'd just been dragged into an alley - quite forcefully, as if he weighed nothing - by a stranger, and for a split second, he feared for his life.

His vision was slow to adjust, and while he could barely make out the silhouette of his abductor, he saw parts of the mask he wore. There was no mistaking the black fur that covered his head and chest. A wolf's mask, then...or perhaps a hound's. Leonardo tried to twist his arm away from the harsh, entrapping grip, but the hold refused to slacken.

"Signore," he began, heart beating wildly in his chest. "Please, what you did earlier was bad en-"

There was that kiss again. Just as sudden, and just as rough. Leonardo squirmed, pushed, and tried to back away - succeeding marginally with the latter when he felt hard bricks dig into his back. A second of reprieve allowed him to twist his head to the side, their mingled breaths blowing puffs of icy smoke between their faces. He swallowed dryly and tried again: "I beg of you, should anyone see us-"

A gloved finger planted vertically on his lips kept him from saying the rest. Leonardo wondered with annoyance if he'd ever get to finish a single sentence tonight.

He couldn't tell if his miffed expression had any effect on the other person, as his profile was still mostly cast in shadow. But his retreat against the wall behind him let a sliver of moonlight illuminate the back of the stranger's head. A wolf's mask, Leonardo saw, accompanied with an impressive (and expensive) ensemble. The man was covered from head to toe, even the mouth that was so arduously kissing his earlier was once again hidden behind a small swath of cloth attached to the upper portion of the wolf's sculpted maw. He could make out plain wool trousers and thick, furred boots. Black leather gloves reached up to the middle of his forearms over a well-tailored velvet shirt.

Seeing more of his captor did little to assuage Leonardo's fears, but just as he was about to give voice to them again, the stranger's hand left his mouth and very tenderly slid across his cheek. The same finger trailed a feather-light touch from his temple and slid close to his ear. Slowly, the entire gloved hand cradled his jaw.

The touch wasn't at all unpleasant, though Leonardo was helpless to stop the blush that came with the simple intimacy. He felt hard, intense eyes on him, his own searching the depths of the wolf's mask and seeing nothing but shadow.

When the stranger bent down for another kiss, Leonardo's protests died in his throat.

The cloth had been hastily shoved aside, the gloved hand then quickly moving to cup the other side of Leonardo's face. For a brief second, the heady smell of new leather assaulted his senses. But then their lips touched, and he could only think of chapped lips, warm breath, and the contrast of a rough beard and fine, black fur against his skin.

He was tempted to think the man was skilled, but he didn't have much experience to go by. Hesitant adolescent touches and experiments definitely couldn't compare. The man gently guided his face as the kiss grew deeper and more demanding. Leonardo's hands, unsure, hovered scant inches away from the other man's clothed waist, before finally settling there.

It wasn't long before the stranger's own hands began to roam. Bold fingers caressed his shoulders, his arms, his sides - the thick leather gliding and pressing over the fine cloth as if the barrier didn't exist. The left hand stroked over the small of his back, then lingered over the swell of his rear and squeezed. Leonardo's gasp was lost in the other man's mouth - his jaw going slack as he breathed out urgent moans against the other's tongue as that hand kneaded and explored the clothed area between his thighs.

Leonardo's own inhibitions began to melt away with every passing touch, barely aware of how he'd leaned away from the wall and pressed solidly against the stranger's torso. Just as he started to become light-headed from being denied breath, the consuming touches devouring him faded - hands, lips, chest replaced by cool night air - except for one unyielding hold on his wrist.

Then he was running.

The dark streets they crossed didn't exhibit an ounce of merriment from Carnivale. The lights were off, the people asleep. The only sounds disturbing the night were their boots meeting cobblestone and their own harsh, exerted breathing.

The man took a turn, and then another. Suddenly, Leonardo was in unfamiliar territory, but he felt no fear. He watched the back of the man's masked head, only now noticing that the tips of the black fur were dyed the slightest hint of green that shimmered at an angle.

I don't know who you are, he thought, when the man looked briefly over his shoulder as if to see if he was all right. His wrist ached from the pull, but he said nothing.

It was irrational to feel...not safe, but unconcerned, with a man he'd just encountered. Especially when said man just took a full minute trying to open the backdoor of a building, and Leonardo had a pretty good hunch he wasn't using a key.

As soon as the door was opened, Leonardo was led inside. There were a few seconds of awkwardness for him as he was left on his own while the stranger made sure the door was locked and then bolted shut. His eyes were hard-pressed to adjust to the lack of adequate lighting in the room. This didn't seem to deter his companion, though - door secured, he was once again upon Leonardo, crowding the artist into retreat with roaming hands and kisses until the unmistakable edge of a soft mattress hit the back of his knees and the artist fell backward on feather-soft linens.

He felt the weight of the man follow his descent, mouth biting and licking his bared neck and collarbone, the upper portion of the wolf mask haphazardly shoved back but not completely removed. Firm legs nudged from between his own, and he obligingly parted them and let the man settle between. He let out a soft sigh as an answering hardness pressed against his own straining erection.

The man seemed heavyset and his weight pressed Leonardo flat onto the mattress, but the artist didn't find it uncomfortable. His legs, bent at the knees at the edge of the bed, felt whisper-soft touches from gliding fingers, moving from the back of his knees to his inner thighs, then searching beneath the hem of his rumpled tunic for the band of his trousers.

He raised his hips and bit his lower lip as those skilled hands released the ties and peeled the garment away. His skin tingled pleasantly with the sensation of rough leather following cloth, then the assault of near-freezing air seeping into his bared flesh. He was half-hard, and the cloak of night did little to assuage Leonardo's misgivings. Darkness seemed to be no hindrance to his companion.

The man once again settled between his parted legs. Leonardo gave a stray, concerned thought to the state of his clothing when he heard a loud rip from his side, where the man had begun to tug and push the cloth upward to bare more flesh. Cold quickly met his stomach, and then his chest, but warm, gloved hands stroked his ribs, and an eager mouth began to lick and tease his nipples.

Leonardo arched into the ministrations, his hands burying into soft fur, his bared legs rising to wrap around the man's clothed waist and rub against harsh wool and soft velvet. He let out a staggered gasp when the mouth bit gently on his left nipple, then caught the abused tip between his teeth and teased it mercilessly with his tongue.

"Signore..." Leonardo pleaded, aching for more, unsure of how long he would last with how fast and intensely the other man was going. He ground his hips upward, hoping that his free legs opening further and thighs rubbing and pulling at the other man's sides were enough of an invitation. The delicious friction of coarse wool against his straining erection wasn't enough.

One of the hands stroking his sides left. Leonardo heard the rustle of fabric, and his strained eyes could barely see the man's trousers being tugged down enough to free his own erection. He reached out, tentatively, but his hand was taken half-way by a stronger one and then led with more certainty to the hardened length.

Fear and exhilaration warred within him as he felt the sheer girth of the other man's cock. The last time Leonardo had spread his legs for someone had been well over a decade ago, and memories of the pain accompanying the act had been smoothly tempered with the enjoyable sensations that followed. But he had barely been past boyhood then, as had been his partner. This man was fully grown, toned, and quite large.

His fears were magnified when rugged gloves grabbed the back of his knees and bent them toward his chest. His breath quickened, heart thudding in his chest, body tensing and ready to struggle in case the man intended to take him unprepared.

But as soon as his calves were settled on broad shoulders, the costumed stranger reached past Leonardo's head to the side of the bed, rummaging around what sounded like a hastily-opened dresser that he couldn't see. Soon, and with a slow sigh of relief, Leonardo felt an oiled, gloveless finger circling his entrance, spreading the lubrication around the opening before easing slowly in.

He bit his lower lip and tried to relax, trying to remember the hastily whispered instructions in his youth from his first lover. The finger was joined by a second one, moving slowly and scissoring with a deliberate lack of haste. Leonardo was briefly distracted as a few drops of sweat fell from the face above him and landed on his neck and chin.

The two fingers were carefully eased out. He closed his eyes tight, breath stalling in his throat, as three began to work their way in. The discomfort grew to full blown pain, and he couldn't help the wince and the aborted, involuntary flinch. The fingers were quickly withdrawn and Leonardo allowed himself to calm swiftly.

He felt more oil being dripped onto his opening, then, once again, the insistent press of three fingers. He forced himself to loosen, legs sliding open even further. There was an urgency to the way the man was stretching him, his heavy breathing mixing with Leonardo's own, and the rough push and twist of the thick digits was doing little to alleviate the burning pain.

Leonardo squirmed, head falling back on the bed, trying to distract himself from the burn while he stared up at a dark, unfamiliar ceiling. The fingers were burying deeper - then he felt it, the tip of a finger stroking hard against that elusive spot inside of him that made him see stars. He arched off the bed, a pleasure-filled moan slipping past his lips. His flagging erection gave a relieved twitch, and then another, as, after a brief pause, that finger massaged the exact same area over and over again.

"Oh, Signore, please...!" Leonardo swiftly bit his lower lip to keep the rest of his undignified begging from spilling forth. He let out a loud yelp when the formerly aimless exploration began to get bolder, rougher - each one aiming for that exact spot, every thrust making him gasp and moan and writhe on the bed with need.

He whined disappointedly when the fingers were removed, hips thrusting upward to chase after the contact. The slicked fingers wrapped around his thigh, just an inch shy from his knee, and the gloved hand echoed the hold on the other leg. Slowly, Leonardo's legs were pushed even closer to his chest, stealing his breath, the weight of the man adding to the overwhelming sensation of being pressed and covered. Drops of sweat - both his own and his partner's - slipped down his cheek, neck, and shoulder. Among the confusing mix of fur, wool, flesh, and leather, Leonardo felt the unmistakable blunt head of the other man's cock planted against his opening.

A small push and he gasped, legs straightening and spreading obscenely wide, eyes shut tight at the return of the unpleasant sensations. He had little time to cope as the head pushed relentlessly past his resisting hole, somehow managing to ease its way in and lodging itself a scant inch past the entrance. Leonardo could hear the rush of his own blood in his ears, a small pained moan escaping him as he struggled to find a more comfortable angle, to catch his breath - but the cock soon continued its descent, splitting him open, and he could do little else but clutch at the man's broad shoulders and hope the pain would fade.

"S...slowly, please," he pleaded. His words fell on deaf ears when inch after inch of that solid flesh steadily entered him. It felt like forever until, with a stuttered, relieved sigh, he felt wiry hairs pressing against his scrotum, followed by the heated flesh of the other man's pelvis. "A moment, please," he plaintively asked, and this time his request was granted, the man above him stilling and breathing in harsh pants while he tried to cope with the length lodged deep inside him.

It wasn't a long reprieve. Slowly, the man raised his hips, pulling out of the gripping hole and making Leonardo whine high in his throat. The spot inside him had been grazed, briefly, but enough to send a shiver of pleasure up his spine. When the man adjusted his position slightly and began to push back in, the swollen head grazed it with more force. Leonardo threw back his head and cried out, the sensation easily overriding the pain and relaxing the muscles in his buttocks further, welcoming the drilling length instead of resisting it.

It's been far too long, he thought, regretfully. The length was once again withdrawn and then fed back in, and Leonardo was soon lost in sensation.

The man kept his strokes long, gradually building up speed with every returning thrust. Soon, and with little surprise, he developed a rough and punishing rhythm, his hips slamming down with enough force and weight to bounce Leonardo slightly off the bed with every withdrawal. Sounds of their coupling filled the room and possibly leaked beyond, but he was past caring. He hardly noticed every slap of flesh, every creak of the bed, and every desperate moan that left his lips. His mouth remained partly open to cry, mewl, beg, yell, plead - blissfully unaware of the lurid content of his desperate whispers, interrupted briefly whenever he choked on his own words, or when the man bent down to lick and taste his lips.

Leonardo's hand gripped the man's shoulder while the other traveled between their bodies, hoping to add friction to his aching cock. He managed two strokes, some pre-come spilling onto his fingers, when the man above him grunted and grabbed his wrists, planting each firmly beside his head and keeping them anchored there. He whined at the denied contact, tears of frustration gathering at the corners of his eyes - the sensations where overwhelming and he was so close.

As if sensing his desperation, the man kept his length shoved deep inside while he shifted, laying more of his weight on his upper torso and placing more contact upon their flesh. Soft fur and velvet pressed tightly against Leonardo's cock, making him arch in need, his spread legs slipping from the stranger's shoulders to anchor at the crook of his arms. The painful tightening of the grips on his wrists was all the warning he got before the man steadily withdrew and thrust back into him with a vengeance.

Leonardo's yell must have been heard three houses away, but all he could think of was the length buried inside of him and the blessed friction on his own cock. Coarse lips traced his ear and bit the skin of his neck, laying careless, open-mouthed licks and kisses along his collarbone and shoulder. Leonardo's teeth found a well-shaped ear and nibbled on it while he alternately squeezed and released the muscles of his rear, gratified to hear an equally needy growl leave the man's lips.

His reward was an even more brutal pace. He didn't think it was even possible, but he felt the punishing length dig even deeper into his hole, touching places no other lover ever had before. Leonardo pressed his sweat-slicked face against the man's head, lips against that lovely curve of an ear, and breathed out needy and continuous "Ah!"s at every feral thrust.

Three particularly deep strokes and the painful sting of teeth digging deep into the skin between his neck and shoulder, and Leonardo's climax was slamming into him. His hands curled into fists so tight that his knuckles blanched white, his moans of pleasure escalating into whining cries, the muscles enveloping the drilling length inside him squeezing and milking it while his own cock shot rope after rope of his hot seed between their pressed bodies. His voice broke and turned his cries into choked gasps. Vaguely, he felt the man continue hammering into him in shorter strokes, sliding past the milking muscles. Then the man stilled while planted deep inside, his entire, powerful body tensing, and Leonado felt the buried cock twitch and then release its own seed deep into his body. As soon as the first shot of come was spilled, the other man pumped his hips a few more times, the spilling seed spreading and coating his inner walls.

Leonardo's body was limp by the time his partner had fully ridden through his climax. A few half-hearted thrusts, and the softened length was carefully withdrawn from his aching rear. He absentmindedly kissed the ear close to his mouth while the other man caught his breath - he could feel the gradual loosening of tension in the body above him, as if the stranger had to work to make his body relax. The firm bite on his skin was eased and was given a lazy lick of apology.

He winced when the large weight keeping him pressed to the bed moved to his side, freeing his wrists and strained legs. Protesting muscles gradually made themselves known with each attempt at movement, making him groan as he arranged his limbs in a hopefully more dignified position.

He'd hardly managed to turn on his side when he felt a still-clothed arm wrap across his chest. A body soon followed, pressed behind, and a blanket was drawn above both their bodies.

"I don't know your name," he meant to say, but couldn't gather enough energy when staying conscious was already such a chore. Warm breath tickled his ear. He became absently aware of the slow trickle of warm liquid slipping from his rear and sliding down his upper thigh.

Leonardo sighed, content, and fell into a deep sleep.

"...going to sleep until noon?"

The sultry voice was followed with some gentle shaking of his shoulder. Leonardo groaned in protest, sore muscles yelling their discomfort at the mere thought of rising from bed. "One more hour, Salai," he murmured into the pillow and tried to bat the hand away.

"You look adorable asleep, love," the voice continued, which, Leonardo was mortified to realize, most definitely did not belong to Salai, "but you really must leave before my first customer arrives."

He shot up from the bed - yet another a mistake, he realized rather soon, as pinpricks of pain cascaded from his legs right up to his shoulders, intensifying most embarrassingly at his posterior. He bit down on his groan and slid back to lean on his elbows, closing his eyes while he waited out the worst of it.

When he opened his eyes again, it was to see a petite red-haired courtesan watching him in an amused fashion from the foot of the bed. She was dressed rather casually - even more so for one of her profession - in a half-laced pink corset and silk leggings.

Her smirk grew smug when their eyes met. "Since you cannot even sit, that answers the question of who it was that spread his legs last night."

From the heat he felt travel up his neck, and from the entertained smile on his audience's lips, Leonardo was pretty sure he was blushing. "Signorina, I-I apologize, I was not aware-"

She held up her hand. "Your lover already explained. He also paid me good money to let you sleep." She walked to a nearby chair, where a pile of neatly-folded cloth lay. "As per his request, I bought for you some clothes so that you may leave with decency. The clothes you were wearing last night are no longer...suitable."

Leonardo felt like he'd been drenched with ice-cold water. He leaned toward the woman, who was placing the pile of plain garments beside the bed, the urgent note in his voice making her look up at him. "Do you and he know each other?"

There was an amused glint in her eye when she replied. "I did not see his face, but he did not sound like anyone I know." In a softer voice, she added, with a consoling hand on his arm, "Relax, Signore. Your lover is not cheating on you. At least not with me."

He shook his head. "No, I-a name? Did he leave you his name? Or where to find him?"

Realization dawned on her, and the amusement was quickly replaced with a touch of sympathy...and with pity. "The only things he left me were money and instructions. I am sorry."

A small sound of dismay left his throat. His hand rose to cover his mouth, hovered aimlessly there for a moment while his distressed gaze fell on the rumpled bed, the pillows, and the surrounding floor. From the corner of his eye, he could see the courtesan discretely avert her eyes and occupy herself with the unnecessary task of laying out his clothing.

Not a single trace was left of the stranger he had slept with last night. No fur, no hair, not one personal effect. Half of what remained of Leonardo's costume lay in a haphazard heap on a bedside trunk, while the rest still covered part of his torso.

"How did he speak, then?" he asked suddenly, turning back to the woman. "What was his voice like?"

Her lips pursed as she thought for a moment. "Deep. Reminds me of my cousin who lives in Prato."

"He did not sound Venetian?"

"I suppose," she said with an unconcerned shrug of her shoulder. "But he did not say much, so I couldn't be certain."

He took the proffered towel from her hands. He was probably wearing his heart on his sleeve again, judging from the gentle way she schooled her features, but the disappointment he felt was settling too deeply for him to care. "Is there really nothing more you can tell me?"

She gave a firm shake of her head.

He breathed out a heavy sigh and stared at the towel clutched in his hands. There would be time to sort his thoughts later, he decided. Right now, he felt like something would break and very badly needed to go back to the privacy of his own home.

The courtesan was kind enough not to say anything as he gingerly stood, though that mischievous glint was back in her eye when he took those (rather painful) first few steps away from the bed. She told him of the bath waiting for him in the other room, though the water was probably cool now. He offered to help with changing the linens, but she waved him off and said she would take care of tidying up.

He tried to be efficient during the bath, but images from the night before kept creeping up on him while he fastidiously removed most of the evidence of the stranger's touch. Those that he could, anyway. The bruises on his wrists, legs, who knew where else, and the bite mark near his neck would take a few days to heal.

He should have asked for a name, at the very least. To not have done so was foolishness only excusable in people much younger than himself. And he should have definitely not kissed him, followed him, and bedded him, either.

Oh, Lord...how I acted... he thought with an embarrassed groan, remembering the reckless, obscene acts he had performed in the heat of the moment.

After the bath, the courtesan lent him some privacy behind a folding screen while he dressed. He emerged from it in a plain flannel tunic and brown trousers, grateful that she'd thought to buy him some cheap footwear as well.

"Before you leave," she coquettishly said, her hand touching his arm, "be a gentleman and help a damsel in distress with her corset?"

Leonardo could hardly say no after the kindness she'd provided him (paid for though it was). Women's clothing had always struck him as needlessly torturous, but whenever he tried to be gentler with the strings, she would ask him to tug harder. He just trusted her to still be able to breathe and followed her direction.

"I wish I can say he will return to you, Signore," she said, regretfully, while Leonardo was tying off the excess string, "But in Carnivale, a man's passion is never meant to last until morning."

The aftermath wasn't as explosive as Leonardo feared it would be. There were curious inquiries from friends and acquaintances - the kiss at Carnivale had not escaped the attention of rumormongers, but it was seen as a mere prank caused by a random intoxicated celebrant, and no fault was placed on Leonardo himself.

He had even managed to come across Rosa on his way back from one of the piazza in San Polo, who was only too glad to tell him what the streets were saying. "Do not be alarmed. Word is that a stranger had seen fit to steal a kiss from you, and you, embarrassed, had left early," she had informed him with an indulgent smile, before dashing off on her errand for Antonio.

A week later, he received a letter and a crate full of new materials from Lorenzo. Even Il Magnifico, who had returned to Florence after the merriment, had apparently heard of the "unfortunate incident" during Carnivale. He sent his apologies, and hoped that the new easel, prime oils, and a few large poplar panels of remarkable cuts made up for it. He further promised that future occasions involving tailored outfits would not include drunken, lecherous crowds.

Leonardo wasn't quite sure how he felt about there being a future occasion.

Unfortunately, rumors about Carnivale nights tended to die slowly even as Lent rolled in. But word of his wayward lover proved to be elusive.

"Many people from other lands come to Venice only for Carnivale," Sister Teodora had told him, after he confided in her with the hopes that she or any of her girls might have known the masked one's identity. "There is a good chance your one-night lover was among those who set sail the very next day."

Hope came weeks later in the form of a bedraggled man with a creased codex page. He had not seen Ezio for several months now, but that was fairly normal. The man was often occupied with Lorenzo's missions and his investigations into Rodrigo Borgia's actions.

He greeted him warmly, but Ezio seemed aloof. Distracted. Again, not an unusual occurrence, though he did wish his friend would confide in him more. He prided himself on being a good listener to his friends, and Ezio, being the dearest among them, looked like he could benefit from it the most. But the more Ezio aged, the more withdrawn he became, and there was little more Leonardo could do than offer him his help and his sanctuary.

Ezio seemed to have time on his hands that day, as he appropriated one of the more comfortable chairs in the workshop while Leonardo set to work on the codex. Silence quickly fell between them, both comfortable and reassuring. Still, it took Leonardo a long-suffering hour to decide whether or not he should involve his friend at all. The man was plagued night and day as it was with thoughts of his murdered family and his unreachable target. He definitely did not need more worries piled on his tired shoulders.

"Ezio..." he said, feeling a small pang of guilt when his voice roused his friend from the light sleep he'd fallen into, "I was wondering if you could do me a favor."

Ezio rubbed a hand across his face. His tone held no trace of exhaustion, though - Leonardo was grateful for that. "Of course, anything. You know you need only ask."

He smiled. "That is very generous of you, my friend. I am searching for a man-"

"Is someone troubling you?" Ezio quickly interrupted, his brows furrowed.

"No, nothing of the sort...we met at a celebration, and I'm afraid I don't know his face, but I can describe to you his height and what he wore-"

Ezio's eyes sharpened. "The man from Carnivale?"

Leonardo repressed a sigh. Of course Ezio would know. The man worked for Lorenzo, and he spent his days prowling the streets of Venice. "How much have you heard?"

"Enough." Ezio's tone was neutral, carefully so, and Leonardo had to wonder what exactly the other man had heard. "Why do you search for him?"

He bit his lower lip. Ezio waited while he was subjected to a pensive gaze. His friend's good opinion meant the world to him, but trust was a strong issue with Ezio, and he had made it clear on several occasions that Leonardo had his implicitly.

"Leonardo?" Ezio impatiently prompted.

Decision made, Leonardo still could not bring himself to look his friend in the eye as he confessed, with a forced and casual air, "His...attentions were not entirely unwanted."

A tense second passed. And then another. "I see," Ezio replied, simply, and both of them stared at each other.

The silence that followed was deafening. Leonardo turned away and busied himself with going through the sketches on his worktable. Just as he was about to retract his request, maybe lighten the mood with a jest or two, Ezio said with eerie finality, "I will search for this man."

Relief flooded through Leonardo. He gave a grateful smile. "Thank you, Ezio. But if it is too much trouble-"

"No, it is no trouble." Ezio stood from the seat, his stance once again sure instead of tired (Leonardo really should put that to paper one day - Ezio held the most inadvertently striking poses he'd ever seen anyone employ) and took a few steps toward him, his hand rising in a careless gesture while he spoke, "But you deserve happiness, Leonardo. This man, I do not think he can give it to you."

"It's nothing as serious as that," Leonardo said, with an amused laugh at Ezio's grave tone. "I would simply like to know his name."

It was another week before Leonardo heard from Ezio again. The description he had given sounded feeble even to his own ears - his recollection of the mask and clothing was hardly detailed, and the height he gave fell within the range of a couple of inches taller than his own head. Ezio hadn't seemed bothered by the lack of elaboration, though, and went off on his search.

Leonardo was prepping one of the poplar panels with gesso when Ezio's voice drifted in from the window overlooking his courtyard.

"It seems he does not want to be found, this man of yours."

A familiar fur-ridden headdress was dropped in front of Leonardo, on his worktable. As he picked up the elaborate mask, the cloth set to cover the lower half of the wearer's face trailing on the wooden surface, Ezio continued while he dumped the rest of the clothing on the surface, "I found that mixed with the trash in an alley."

"In the trash...?" Leonardo echoed faintly.

Ezio, now unburdened, slumped bonelessly into one of the chairs in the workshop and gave a grave nod. "It matched your description, but I have no name for you, Leonardo. I am sorry."

"It is all right, my friend." He stroked the frayed edges of the wolf's head, his fingers tingling with remembered softness. "Thank you for trying."

"Forget him," Ezio said from where he sat, jostling Leonardo from his morose thoughts, "He's a good for nothing bastard if he can even conceive of leaving you as he did."

Leonardo smiled indulgently at Ezio's indignant tone. "I was wondering if, perhaps, he regrets." He turned to see Ezio watching him curiously. "I smelled wine when he...ah...kissed me. Perhaps he thought I was someone else, or mistook me for-"

"You should not torture yourself with such thoughts," Ezio interrupted, and Leonardo fell silent.

He gave the costume to Salai - Ezio had found the entire ensemble, complete with boots (which had thick soles - that would bring the stranger's height a bit closer to his own, yet another miscalculation) - and asked that it be carefully washed and returned when it was dry. When he walked back to his worktable, Ezio was leaning against the window, caught up in watching the people that milled around the streets in the busy hour.

Leonardo, itching for something to occupy his mind before it strayed to that eventful night again, returned to prepping his painting surface. He almost forgot Ezio was there until the latter spoke, some hours later, "Do you still have it?"

He paused from washing his brush, casting an inquisitive glance at his friend. But Ezio was still watching the streets, so he said, "Have what?"

"The costume that Lorenzo had made for you," Ezio continued. Leonardo could read nothing from his voice. "Antonio tells me you looked like an angel."

The odd description immediately had Leonardo laughing. "Antonio likes to be dramatic. I looked nothing of the sort." He returned to his work, setting the brush down and lifting the heavy wooden panel to lay it on its back above a cleared worktable. "And yes, I still have it, but it's been ruined beyond repair, I'm afraid. And even if it were not, it would take much more than a look at your enticing codex pages to get me to put it on again."

That, at least, drew out a genuine laugh from Ezio. "Is that so?" he asked, finally turning away from the window and watching Leonardo twist the wooden panel this way and that, finding the best angle to catch the most of the midday sun. He could hear the playful smirk in his friend's voice when he said, "I would make you offers, but I think you do not need a costume to look like an angel, anyway."

Leonardo chuckled, though he could not help the blush that rushed to his face. "That works on the ladies, does it?"

Ezio's answer was coupled with a mischievous grin. "Sometimes."

"I assume you do not need me to tell you," Rosa said from behind him, her bare arms wrapping around his sides to clasp on his naked stomach, "Leonardo is not someone you play around with, Ezio."

"I know, I know." He impatiently ran a hand over his hair and gave a heavy sigh. "Fuck, I know."

Sleeping with Rosa had been satisfying enough, but his thoughts refused to let him rest. He had been alarmed at first when Rosa had very casually remarked about his night with Leonardo - something she wasn't supposed to be aware of - but then she told him she, Teodora, and Antonio were the only ones who knew of it, and only she and Antonio knew it was Ezio who donned the wolf's mask. Rosa's intuition had proven accurate once again when she suspected Ezio after eavesdropping on Leonardo and Teodora's conversation in the brothel. Ezio's reaction had merely confirmed it.

Antonio knew on the mere ground that Rosa told him everything, but Ezio was at least confident his secret was safe with them both.

There was some relief to be had from having at least two other people he could talk to - or confess to, to be more precise, as Rosa had been quick to berate Ezio for his behavior as much as she was willing to offer him comfort afterward.

"He is not like us, no?" she mumbled into his ear. Ezio breathed in her pleasing scent and wrapped his larger hands around her slimmer ones. "He will probably be searching for this mystery man for quite some time. If not forever."

Ezio frowned, finding the thought much too troubling. "He has already said he will no longer-"

"That is what he says." The arms around him drew away, and the soft curves pressed against his back vanished. Ezio turned to see Rosa reaching across her side of the bed for her abandoned leggings. "It's been a while since you've visited him. You should not run from him if you do not want him to suspect you."

Ezio was quiet while she dressed. After combing her hair to some semblance of order and donning her hat, she stood in front of him, a look mixed with fondness and frustration on her face. "It always breaks my heart when good and otherwise intelligent men do stupid things," she said, while cupping his face in both hands and kissing his forehead. "That goes for both of you."

When Ezio visited Leonardo again, he was greeted with an enthusiastic hug, which he returned, and a swift invitation to come inside. Once within, his eyes were drawn to a wooden frame, newly-erected from the look of the varnished wood, upon which hung that damned wolf mask he'd bought over two months ago.

"I see you've salvaged it," he dryly remarked, gesturing toward the hanging costume.

Leonardo looked briefly up at the aforementioned garment. "It only needed a bit of cleaning," he said, while shuffling through the parchment on his desk. He sounded distracted, so Ezio waited until he found what he was looking for.

"Here it is!" he exclaimed, while brushing away the other pieces of paper to the edges of the desk. "Come, Ezio, look!"

Ezio peered over his shoulder. On the table was a plain piece of paper with a list of names in one column and locations in another. He could not help the brief indulgence of breathing in Leonardo's scent - a mixture of sandalwood and lavender today. "What am I looking at?"

"A list of costume makers in the city," Leonardo replied, completely unaware of how his words caused Ezio to tense. His finger slid across the paper to indicate five names. "These all supply the same weave of brocade as the mask's. But only one," here he pointed at a single name, "has another costume with the exact same embroidery pattern."

It was a name Ezio recognized all too well, having acquired the mask from that person's shop. "I thought you were no longer going to search for this man," he said, a bit accusingly, unable to completely rid his voice of the panic rising inside him.

Leonardo looked guilty for a second, but nothing seemed able to quash the excitement he felt at his discovery. "Yes, but-the thought struck me while I was writing, you see, the embroidery on the brocade seemed so distinctive, it could not possibly be so common...and at first, I thought the boots would surely lead me to a single shop, but the cordwainer-"

"Have you even done anything else these past few days?"

Leonardo looked sheepish.

"Leonardo, you have ten commissions-"

"Eleven," he corrected in a small voice. When Ezio folded his arms and gave him a look, Leonardo held up his hands in defense. "I know! I know, but Ezio," he took the paper from the desk and held it out, "this could lead me to him. If I could just find him, I-"

"You'll what?" Ezio interrupted. "What is it exactly you want to say to a man who does not wish to be found, Leonardo? Because I've been tasked to chase such men down more times than I care to recall, and there is usually a good reason for them to want to stay away."

"I am aware," Leonardo replied, his features genial and his voice patient, though the slight edge in his tone indicated that Ezio may be crossing thin ice. "And while I have no intention of causing him harm, I feel he bears some responsibility in leaving me with a realization that I cannot...that I am having trouble coping with right now."

"And what is that?" Ezio asked, his brows furrowed.

Leonardo gave him a self-deprecating smile. "How lonely I am."

The weight of his words struck deep, and Ezio was left struggling for a suitable reaction. He was rescued from doing so when Leonardo averted his gaze, while he returned the list back to its former position on the worktable. "You have many lovers, my friend, at times even more than you can handle, so I do not blame you for not understanding. But I need to hear from him why he kissed me that night," he tapped his finger once on the list, on that one name he had pointed out with such enthusiasm earlier, "and why he left the following morning."

Ezio cast a brief glance at the hanging costume, wishing to hell and back that he'd never seen it in that shop, never attended the last night of Carnivale on a whim, and never seen Leonardo in that glorious tailored outfit amidst the gentle lights of lanterns and fireworks. "You are chasing after heartache, my friend," he found himself saying in the ensuing silence.

"Perhaps," Leonardo replied. The smile he gave Ezio was warm and stunning. "But I am blessed to have good people such as you in my life to ease the blow."

Gilda dei Ladri, which used to be such a restful haven for Ezio, was quickly becoming a place he'd much rather avoid these days. After her initial spiel, Rosa kept her own disapproval of Ezio's choices mostly to herself. Unfortunately, Antonio was quite another matter.

"I cannot understand why you simply cannot tell him, Ezio."

"I have my reasons," Ezio replied, for the third time in the same conversation. He rubbed his eyes tiredly and leaned farther back in his chair. "I am not asking much from you, just your discretion on this matter."

"I do not like this," Antonio reiterated, gesturing vaguely outside the small office, "this whole business of lying to Leonardo. He supplies us with designs for improvements to our equipment without even being asked, and he refuses to accept money for them! And you want me to look him in the eye and deliberately mislead him?"

Ezio did not have the heart to tell him that Leonardo only made those designs when he did not want to work, which was often, and the poor state of the thieves' equipment provided more than adequate distraction. "You know me, Antonio. I would not ask it if it were not necessary."

"But exactly why is it necessary?" Antonio insistently asked, while steepling his fingers on the table, his eyes boring into Ezio's resigned features. "You care for him, do you not? Rosa tells me your interest in him has been far from innocent for quite some time."

Ezio groaned. Of all the things to tell Antonio... "I do care for him. Deeply. But you and I both know that is not always enough." He held up a hand when the thief seemed about to protest again. "I will only hurt him, Antonio. I cannot change my ways...and Leonardo does not need a lover who is destined to die."

Rosa, who had merely been listening quietly to the conversation thus far from her seat on the desk, shared a brief, knowing look with Antonio. Ezio endured the tense silence, quite familiar with the silent communication that sometimes went between the two. Eventually, Antonio threw up his hands. "Fine, fine," he acquiesced, "But do not deceive yourself in thinking you are protecting him like this. The only person you are protecting here is yourself."

Ezio shrugged. If that was what Antonio chose to believe, then he could do little to change it.

His timid response only served to frustrate his friend even more. "At least tell me if it was an accident, perhaps a drunken mistake like Leonardo believes-"

"I had a few glasses of wine," Ezio firmly said, "Not enough to compromise my judgment, if that is what you are wondering."

"It would have been more comforting if it were the opposite, my friend. But thank you for being honest."

Ezio repressed a frustrated scowl of his own. As much as he cared for Antonio, he was impossible to talk to whenever his moral code was breached - an irony Ezio was required to suffer through if he wanted to remain on good terms with the Thieves.

A few knocks on the door drew Ezio's attention. He raised an inquisitive eyebrow at Antonio. "Expecting someone?"

"Yes. Leonardo. We're having tea tonight, did I not tell you?"

"Bastard," he hissed under his breath, and quickly stood from his seat. He gave Antonio and his stupid impish grin a rude gesture prior to escaping through a hastily-opened window. He hesitated below the sill, the sound of Leonardo's voice making him itch to stay and listen. He sighed to himself and looked for a more comfortable position below the window.

Reduced to spying on my friends, he acidly thought. He heard the pouring of tea and caffe - their mingled scents drifting past the room, and half-listened to the pleasantries while Leonardo and Antonio both asked after each other's state and affairs.

He'd never had much patience for such rituals even as a younger man, when both his father and mother entertained other noble families and business associates in much the same manner in their own palazzo. His attention drifted, the fist on his knee tightening while he absorbed the pleasing tenor of Leonardo's voice, remembering the feel of a straining wrist and the smell of roses in blond hair.

Something in the conversation drew him back to the present. "I was talking to Ezio a few weeks ago, and you have the oddest choice of words, my friend," Leonardo was saying, a pleased hum leaving his throat after his third sip of sweetened tea.

"Choice of words?" Antonio asked, bewildered.

Leonardo nodded. "Why must you exaggerate so? What I wore was nothing so grand as that."

Ezio tensed, remembering the conversation Leonardo was intimating. He was saved from further panic when a third voice spoke. "Apparently, Antonio," Rosa quickly jumped in, "you told Ezio that Leonardo here looked like an angel during Carnivale."

"Did I?" Antonio replied with great amusement. "I must have been drunk. My, the things I say when I'm not altogether there." Ezio grit his teeth. "If the phrase offended you, Leonardo, I apologize."

"There is no need. Though your company would not have been unwelcome that night."

"Ah, but then who would dare kiss you with me by your side?" He heard Antonio laugh. "I must commend you on making the gossip of this year's Carnivale the most entertaining it's ever been for the past decade. I imagine this can't be bad for business either?"

"I have received a number of commissions since, yes."

"There, you see?" Antonio replied, sounding far too smug to Ezio's liking. "Amazing how things work out in the end."

Ezio was startled from his seething when feminine hands grasped the windowsill near his head. Looking up, he saw Rosa's gleeful face peering down at him. Before he could gesture for her not to say anything, she turned away, out of his line of sight. "I'm just going to get some fresh air," he heard her say. And then her lithe form was jumping and joining him at the side of the building.

She made it a point to shut the window after, her raised eyebrow telling him exactly what she thought of his eavesdropping. "It is not nice to do that to your friends, Ezio."

"I wanted to see if he was all right," he replied, the sulk in his voice making her smile.

"He seems fine. He is excited over some tailor in the south-west district of the city."

Ezio groaned and pressed the back of his head against the wall. "Giving him the mask was a mistake."

"Among many." Rosa slid her hand into his, seemingly unbothered by his lack of response. "Antonio and I will respect your choice, but from where we stand, keeping this secret is doing you both more harm than good. Are you certain you wish for him not to know?"

"I wish...I were not the sort of man who strays." Ezio breathed out a heavy sigh. "And I wish Leonardo were not the sort of man who would overturn a city just to look for someone he shared a kiss with."

He closed his eyes, even as he felt Rosa's gaze carefully watching his face. At length, and accompanied by the muffled voices of Leonardo and Antonio from within, she simply replied with, "Very well," and squeezed his hand.

When Ezio next visited Leonardo, it was with another codex page and a healthy amount of dread. But he was greeted with the same enthusiastic hug and an invitation to enter. The scroll was lifted from his grasp by an eager hand, and Leonardo set to work.

The costume still hung in the same wooden frame, but the frame itself had been moved farther back into the workshop. He stared at it for a moment, lost in thought, before steeling his resolve and asking with forced carelesness, "So, did you find the costume maker?"

"Hm?" Leonardo asked, and Ezio could tell the question hadn't registered yet. He smiled wryly as his friend roused himself from his concentration, straightening his back while he gave Ezio a puzzled look, "Costume maker? Oh, the tailor!" He chuckled to himself. "Yes, but it proved fruitless. The man recognized the costume well enough - one of his finest products, commissioned by a Roman noble. But he'd found it gone a few days before Carnivale, with a pouch full of money on his counter. Much more than what the noble had planned to pay for."

His gaze fell on the costume as well, a melancholy look settling in his eyes. "He never saw who took it, and knew of no one who would apart from the nobleman. It hadn't been the nobleman either, as he'd visited the day after, demanding his costume."

"Have you any other leads?" Ezio asked, hoping his tone sounded normal enough. "I could try searching again-"

Leonardo smiled sadly at him. "No. That is kind of you to offer, Ezio, but it ends here." He gave a one-shouldered shrug and turned back toward the codex on the worktable. "I have nothing more to go on, and you are right, he took great pains to remain without name or face. I must simply accept that that night did not mean as much for him as it did for me."

Ezio did not know what to say to that, so he kept silent. He watched Leonardo work, struggling with warring feelings of guilt and relief. He stood beside his friend, drawing his attention by clasping a hand on his arm. He waited until those expressive blue-green eyes were fixed on him before he asked, "Are you all right?"

Leonardo's smile this time was more genuine, and more like the one that stole Ezio's breath away at Carnivale. "No," he answered, placing his own hand on top of Ezio's. "But I shall be."