A/N Thanks to Enrychan for the Italian translation :D

Maria Auditore walked the short distance from the artist's workshop to her home. She had been to discuss the pieces she had commissioned and, as usual, Leonardo's pleasant chatter had kept her there a lot longer than she had anticipated. Despite the afternoon now drawing to a close, she was in no rush, walking at a gentle pace, nodding occasional greetings to people, acquaintances and strangers alike.

She loved the spring, the sun was warm on her face and the new blooms made everything look so vibrant and fresh. She would have to ask Annetta to help her arrange new bouquets for the palazzo to reflect the new season. She liked to ensure the house was as welcoming as possible for her husband. His job at the bank could be stressful, to say nothing of his other "job" the one she thought of as his calling.

She was 16 when they met and Maria fell for him immediately. She had the heart of a poet and the idea of love at first sight was not only possible to her, it was exactly what she expected would happen one day. The young man in question was Giovanni Auditore, a recent arrival in Florence and according to those she asked – and she asked several sources – he had a very bright future in banking.

She cared nothing for his prospects; she wanted to talk to them about his honey eyes and light brown hair. Although his features were slightly sharper than was her ideal his smile softened his whole face. She made her interest in him as plain as was appropriate, perhaps even a little more, but Maria was a girl would knew what she wanted, and she wanted to be his wife.

Life had always been kind to her and this was no exception, he courted her and within months they married. Her highly anticipated wedding night arrived and Maria was more than a little surprised to discover she was afraid. Before the event she had day dreamed, but she knew those dreams were rooted in girlish fantasy and reality would probably differ greatly from her imaginings.

Giovanni approached her, she was wearing a full length nightgown of the finest silk, trimmed with beautiful lace but she may as well have been naked, she felt his eyes on her body, his gaze roaming over her figure. Maria trembled slightly, he noticed this, and putting his arms around her waist he whispered beautiful words of love to her, his words in her ear gradually becoming kisses on her neck.

She sighed as he pressed his body firmly against hers, her head leaning against his shoulder. A finger placed below her chin raised her head to meet his eyes. His grip on her waist tightened his mouth now against hers, the kiss deepening as she allowed his hands to separate her from the fabric of her nightgown. She tried to undress him but shyness made her fingers fumble with his fastenings, he relieved himself of the burden of his clothes. Lowering her to the bed and positioned himself beside her.

The heat which had begun in her lower stomach was now coursing through her entire body, its spread melting away her nerves and doubts. No longer was she telling herself to allow this to happen. She needed this to happen. Her desire was as strong as his, her body reacting to his touch, her hands exploring his form; it was she who pulled him on top of her, urging him to consummate their union.

It wasn't as painful as she feared it would be… he took his time, all the while kissing her, telling her of his love for her.

Incredibly 24 years had passed since that night, yet he still came to her bed with a twinkle in his eye and she still welcomed him as eagerly as she had in her youth.

After three years of marriage they were still childless, and Maria had started to worry. She wanted to give him an heir; she wanted to be a mother. Finally it happened, they conceived and Federico was born, Ezio followed soon after. Her sons, she knew would belong to Giovanni, he would spend a lifetime training and grooming them to join his order, obviously without them knowing what he was doing.

She had no reservations about him steering them toward their destiny. When Giovanni had revealed to her his involvement in this secret, ancient order she had taken some time and a not inconsiderable amount of convincing that it was indeed a noble cause and not merely a gathering of misguided zealots. More than his words, her faith that her husband was a good man was what had, in the end assuaged her doubts.

Perhaps that was why she had been so overjoyed at the birth of Claudia, her daughter, the child she would spent most time guiding into adulthood. Her sons would always need a mother and she loved her children equally and unconditionally, but she believed she would share the same special bond with Claudia that she had shared with her own Mother.

As fate would have it the arrival of their fourth and final child, Petruccio, was the source of the deepest bond Maria was ever to experience. His birth was by far the easiest on Maria but within hours it became apparent their son was not flourishing. The ensuing years were spent going from one doctor to another, but none could offer a cure. He was a sickly child who grew to become a sickly boy.

They made the decision to take him out of school and for both he and Maria it was the best decision they could have made. The hours they spent together were among the happiest of her life. Only weeks before the illness again reared its ugly head and drained her son of almost all his vitality. She spent most afternoons pottering around his bedchamber and that one had been no different.

Maria lay beside him on the bed, resting her head in one hand and with the other she softly dabbed at the sweat glistening on his face. He looked so frail, but she knew there was strength inside Petruccio. Perhaps not the same strength as his older brothers but somehow his was more impressive, more resilient.

In the face of all he endured he was always ready with a kind word or a bright smile. His nature was as gentle as his constitution. To Maria he was the most beautiful thing in the world; his fragility enhanced his beauty, in her eyes at least... That he needed to be nurtured and cared for more than his siblings made her think of him as the most delicate lily, with the proper care it would bloom, as she believed Petruccio would one day.

He became restless, his small body shifting, his eyes fluttered for a second and slowly opened. Seeing his Mother beside him he smiled, it was weak and tired but to Maria it was brighter than the sun. She kissed his brow and whispered to him, "Quando nascesti la tua piccola mano mi accarezzò la guancia, ma non fu il mio viso che toccasti. Fu la mia anima."

The boy reached to once again touch her face but he lacked the strength, Maria caught his hand and brushed it against her cheek then brought it to her lips, dropping a feather light kiss on each of his fingers.

Before this recent flare up of his illness they had made plans to use the material from an old worn out dress of hers - one he loved the feeling of- to make a small pillow for him. She had told him she would order the finest feathers for it but he declined her offer, telling her he would get the feathers himself. She couldn't imagine how he would accomplish this but she didn't have the heart to tell him that.

Thankfully there was no jealousy from his siblings over the attention she lavished on him, the whole family doted on the youngest member. His brothers were protective of him and his sister would spend hours in his room, reading him stories and passing on what she thought was the vitally important news about the goings on in society.

On two occasions they feared he would succumb to his constant battle with ill health and Maria would never forget how they as a family had stayed by his side. At that moment all the tears and tantrums which came with parenthood were worth it to her, no matter their trials they would stand together, always supporting and comforting each other.

Of course she was aware her children had their faults, after all wasn't she the one who had spoiled them the most? But she knew they had raised them well.

Federico was a man now, if still a little mischievous - that business with the gold on the roof proved that- but no less a man. His courage and strong sense of justice would see him through, of that she had no doubt. If she ever doubted him she need only remember how he had protected them when Antonio Maffei had tried to take Giovanni into custody. Her husband was still badly injured and Federico had delayed them in order for his father to make good his escape.

Ezio, not a boy and yet still some way off from manhood… He was overly fond of the good things in life, most often Maria would turn a blind eye but she felt it was time for her to intervene and offer her son some guidance.

She wanted him to explore the more meaningful things in life, marriage was probably still a long way off for him but she would be very much relieved if he would show an interest in subjects out with his usual shallow pursuits, women and wine. To that end she planned to introduce him to some of her artistic friends who, she hoped would inspire him to explore his own creativity. Encourage him to find what was hidden beneath his mask of machismo, his bravado.

Claudia oddly enough was less of a worry to Maria than her older brothers were. Yes she was demanding and would on occasion throw a tantrum to get what she wanted. However... she was also strong, loyal and kind hearted and Maria was sure these qualities would be the ones to shine in the end.

As she entered the courtyard of the palazzo Annetta came out to greet her, telling her of all that had transpired in her absence. Maria stopped for a second, looking back into the street, taking an extra moment to enjoy the peace. Soon the whole family would be gathered around the dining table, staring jokes and stories from their day, the thought of it made her smile. Theirs was a good life.

Translation: "Quando nascesti la tua piccola mano mi accarezzò la guancia, ma non fu il mio viso che toccasti. Fu la mia anima." When you were born your tiny hand stroked my cheek, but it wasn't my face you touched. It was my soul.

When you were born your tiny hand stroked my cheek, but it was not my face you touched. It was my soul.