Others go to the church to confess their sins, but even before the church twisted in his mind and became Templar, became Borgia, became a gleaming target-gold that burned into the backs of his eyelids – even then when he was young and didn't know about the whispered conversations his father had with Federico or the white robes folded in a trunk behind a secret door – even then, Ezio never was one for religion. Instead of confession he chose ascension, climbing towers the way other people said their prayers – steady, overpracticed, but still with reverence.
He's known every notch in the great gleaming sides of Il Duomo since he was twelve. Giovanni had sent his eldest sons pawing all over the cathedral at night as soon as they were adept enough to hold their own (but not so grown up that they could not be caught by their father, just in case). They'd raced around and around the dome, Federico calling Ezio tartaruga and Ezio calling Federico idiota and their father calling them both disgraceful for their ceaseless bickering. They were taught when and where to hide, how to jump from a window ledge to a wooden beam, how to put the least amount of stress on their joints so that they wouldn't injure themselves.
And then the leap of faith.
"You have to trust, Ezio," Giovanni coached patiently. "Trust. Picture in your mind what you want to do and your body will follow."
Federico had learned it faster – Federico was always doing things faster than Ezio, a fact he never failed to make known.
"Because you're older," Ezio would say with a distinct petulance in his voice.
"Because I'm better," Federico would correct, beaming and covered in bits of hay.
"Because you're less careful," Giovanni said today, sternly. "Sometimes caution is important, Federico. Your brother understands this."
Ezio felt a flash of pride and then the weight of shame in quick succession, because clearly his father didn't know that Ezio's caution came only from fear. But Giovanni, seeming to read his mind, smiled gently and clapped a hand on Ezio's shoulder.
"It's all right to be afraid, Ezio. Just as long as you jump."
He wonders. Is it a long fall, death? Somehow he has always imagined it that way. Is it a tumbling-through-empty-space or a practiced, precise sort of dive into the waiting darkness? Or the light.
He dreams of his father more and more often lately, and Giovanni always emerges from shadows, from darkness. He does not know if that means something, or if that is merely the fate of an assassin, to be forever returning to the dark. He meets his father in familiar places – their old home in Firenze, the rooftop of the Villa Auditore, the Duomo. Giovanni tells him simple things like, "Keep trying, Ezio, you are almost there," or, "I am proud of you, figlio mio." Ezio wants to ask him simple things like, "Are you real?" and, "Where have you gone?" and, "Are you happy there?" But the questions never manage to leave his lips before wakes.
He thinks about dying (and where will he go when he dies, and will he see his father and brothers there?) more and more often lately too. Not in the dodge-that-spear-before-it-kills-you sense but in the sense that all men eventually look at their lives; with a keen eye toward his own mortality.
And it is not quite right to say that he embraces it, but he understands it, at least. He's already lived much longer than he should have, than his brothers ever had the chance to. There is no scarcity of gratitude within him for that, but there are days when he wonders. When, and where, and how it will happen. There have been so many close calls. Shot by an arrow in Venezia, stabbed in the chest in Firenze, a knife to the gut in Forli – and in Roma, too many wounds to count. Too many times he's gone limping back to an exasperated doctor or a troubled Leonardo or a disdainful Machiavelli. Too many allies and innocents he's seen fall to the blade of the Borgia, those embodiments of the church-specter that menaces Roma so thoroughly. So many times he's denied death, and yet he has gotten to know it no better.
Religion claims to know it. Claims there is a place for the dead, in freedom or in fire. Murderers, they say, will burn.
Ezio crouches now on the edge of the Coliseum – that old monument to murder –gazing not outward but up, into the clear blue of the late autumn sky. It's a beautiful day, one of the last before the colder season arrives. He tries to enjoy it for a moment until, as always, the pressing need of his work returns to him. Soundlessly Ezio rises, positions himself in relation to the bale of hay below, and jumps.
And he thinks maybe this is the closest he will ever come to real religion: putting faith in flight, and then in falling.