Title: Hide In Plain Sight

Characters: Claudia Auditore, Ezio Auditore

Wordcount: 1456

Spoilers: Series – up to parts of Brotherhood

Summary: A contemplation on where Claudia learned her skill with a blade.

It all began on a mere whim.

She had been wandering around the Villa one day and found herself at the practice field, watching her uncle instruct one of his new men. Leaning against the fence, Claudia had smiled slightly as Mario yelled that a girl could do better.

Then he had seen her.

"Niece!" he had exclaimed, opening his arms as he strode across the field. He smelt of sweat, horse, and steel (like he always had) as he hugged her across the barrier then his hands went to her elbows. "You could teach this idiot a lesson or two, couldn't you?"

Claudia wasn't sure what she'd been thinking that day but she glanced at the proud young man before answering yes. Her uncle had given her that broad, boisterous grin of his before leading her onto the field and pressing a sword into her hand.

She recalled that first weight well – remembered testing it slightly before she spread her feet apart and settled herself with the blade before her. The young mercenary had given Mario an askance look but at a glower he had come after her. It might have looked absolutely ridiculous to anyone else watching a girl in a dress beat up a man but in Monteriggioni it was merely another day.

And after that first victory in the practice field, she'd wanted more.

When she sprang the idea of actually teaching her to Mario he was delighted but later when they told Ezio, she had seen disappointment in his eyes. So they had kept it secret and to her brother she had remained nothing more than the little bookkeeping sister he left at Monteriggioni to care for a mother no longer entirely there.

Their uncle had always joked that it would be quite a surprise for him to find out that his little sister wasn't so little anymore. Nor that she needed him to protect her.

Claudia had taken to her training with a fervor, spending all the time she could in the practice field or leaping from roof-to-roof. She had read the Codex as Ezio retrieved bits of it and when she saw the details involving their ancestor's lover, it had only heightened her will to train. It was proof that a woman could do what her brother did and why should she not? She was an Auditore, wasn't she, born from the same blood as Altaïr?

Was she not their father's daughter?

For over twenty years, she hid herself in plain sight. When Cesare Borgia and his army had attacked, forcing them to flee, she had made the decision to reveal herself to her brother when he told them to go to Firenze. After so long of hiding and letting Ezio fight alone, she was tired of it. Whether he wanted her to or not she was going to help!

Mother had been all too willing to come with her to Roma too and the knowledge of knowing they were going to do something had put a fire back into Maria Auditore that had been missing since the death of her husband and other sons.

When Ezio had found them at the Rosa in Fiore and had given her that look of disappointment again, Claudia had wanted to show him then and there what she could do. She stayed her hand, however, and merely bulled her way into running the brothel. For all she cared in that moment, he could just continue not seeing she was as capable as he was.

It hadn't taken her long to become neck-deep in the Brotherhood but still her brother persisted. He spoke shortly – angrily – to her and she gave him the same treatment in return.

Then the attack came.

The Borgia men followed some of her girls – her girls – back to the Rosa and they attacked without mercy. She cowered as they entered, flinched back into the wall to cover the movement of her hand as she reached through her skirts for the stiletto strapped to her thigh. One of the girls had shown her the trick of it and as she drew her blade, she heard others loose on the floor above to tear open the throats of their enemy.

One man moved towards her with that eager look in his eyes she'd seen in the worst of men who approached the girls with force and Claudia lunged. Smooth and easy she slid past his guard and drew her blade across his throat. As he collapsed with a surprised gurgle, hands lifting to try and stop the blood from flowing, she moved swiftly across the floor to the others.

They never expected death to come from behind them in the form of a slim arm around around their necks that lifted their chins for a slash to the jugular.

She had just finished with the last and had been about to shout up the stairs when the door kicked in. When Ezio charged in and staggered to a halt in surprise at the sight of her with her bloodied blade and the bodies, she felt a surge of triumph. And that feeling only heightened when she finally – finally – saw respect in his eyes.

Later he returned and they went off into a quiet corner to talk.

"Where did you learn to fight?" asked Ezio as he leaned back into the couch, casually crossing his ankles as he stretched his legs out.

Claudia smiled, hands folded in her lap, before answering. "You remember when Uncle made the suggestion of teaching me?"

He frowned then realization dawned and he lifted a hand to cover his face. "My God," he breathed, "and I missed this all this time?"

"You were busy."

There was harsh accusation in her tone and Claudia was pleased when it made him flinch. And well he should flinch given that he'd left her and Mother alone for so long. She had understood his reasons, of course, but she would have liked to have had his help with Mother when she was ill for more than just his feathers.

"I know," said Ezio as he sat up and leaned towards her. "I have been a little single-minded, haven't I?"

"That is putting it lightly, brother," she answered.

He chuckled softly then sobered, his dark eyes searching her face before he breathed out a question.

"Forgive me for being a fool, little sister?"

Claudia pursed her lips then found that she wanted to forgive him despite all of the anger she'd gathered for him over the years. Leaning forward, she reached out to take his hand – the one that wielded his main hidden blade – and clasped it between her own. The feel of worn leather and steel underneath her fingertips made her smile as she met his searching gaze.

Softly she replied, "I always knew you were a fool, Ezio." Ignoring his snort, she continued, "And I will forgive you so long as you stop seeing Mother and I as something to protect and hide away. Do we not have a right to participate in the fight against the killers of our family?"

"You do," he assured, laying his other hand on top of hers, "and I swear that you will."

Tilting her head, Claudia looked at him hard, seeing his mouth quirking into a smile, and laughed. "You have an idea in your head."

"I do," confirmed Ezio but merely smiled secretively. That made her laugh again and she rose, his hand still in hers, to kiss him on the forehead because she knew she wouldn't get it out of him.

"Just be safe in what it is that you're thinking of doing," she said. "I would be very displeased if I lost you."

"And I you." He stood as well and pulled her into a brief hug, careful of pressing her too closely into the sharp edges of his armor. Then he squeezed her fingers and whispered, "Safety and peace, sister."

With a nod, Claudia smiled and repeated, "Safety and peace, brother."

Ezio grinned down at her and then he was gone, vanished as if he had never been there. And she wondered, briefly, if he would keep his promise.

When she stood at his side in the hideout on Tiber Island later and Machiavelli burned the emblem of the Brotherhood into her finger, Claudia met her brother's eyes. And she knew then that he would do his best from there on out to keep his word.

There would be no more hiding things in plain sight from him.