Yusuf couldn't understand the old Greek stories of Atlas, the man with the entire Earth and the heavens resting diligently on his shoulders. As the leader of the Turkish Assassins, he often felt like the entire city of Istanbul was on his, and just the weight of that was beginning to make him feel weary and over-encumbered.
Ezio's arrival had strangely made things both harder and easier for him in different ways. Ezio was a true master, and he took time out from whatever strange mission he was on to recruit, train, and befriend the other assassins - but he caused trouble, too, and the task of cleaning up afterwards rarely fell to Ezio alone. Yusuf didn't begrudge him any of that - after all, they were Brothers, and he would always help another member of his order - but with this added weight, Yusuf was beginning to think he would die from stress first, before an overeager Templar got a chance to do him in instead.
This week hadn't been much different. Yusuf hadn't slept in some time, which was something he generally preferred to avoid. Sleeplessness led to a severe decline in his ability to stay alert and ready, which was dangerous for any assassin but especially for a leader. There were people relying on him, after all, and many lives were on the line.
Yusuf tried not to think about that too much as he drifted to sleep, sprawled out in a small pile of pillows in the corner of one of the Assassin dens. His eyes had probably only closed for about twenty minutes - enough for Yusuf to get about ten of hard sleep - when he was suddenly woken by the form of a young apprentice rushing towards him, nearly tripping on Yusuf's outstretched leg, trying to catch his breath. He'd been running, and Yusuf snapped out of his sleep, instantly worried that the den was under attack.
"Master," the apprentice gasped. Yusuf recognized him fairly quickly - his name was Hamid, and he was a fairly new recruit. Yusuf had trained him a bit and then assigned him to watch for Byzantine movement and action around Topkapı.
"What is it?" Yusuf moved to sit up a little more, senses perking. Hamid took a moment to get his breath back, bent over just a little, before straightening, pulling the hood from his head and brushing stray hair out of his face.
"Master Yusuf, I was listening in to some Byzantine guards. They were walking the perimeter of the palace and speaking in hushed tones about a plan they had to infiltrate. I, I'm not sure, what they--"
"Calm down." Yusuf slowly came to a stand, brushing off his clothes. This sounded important, but not something immediately pressing. Panicking would do them no good. "Did you hear anything else?"
Hamid swallowed, nodding. "Er, yes. Yes. It was hard to hear what they were saying without getting closer; they kept their voices low. But they mentioned Shehezade Suleiman. They said it would be the day after next."
That was troubling. Yusuf frowned, pulling the scarf from his head and massaging his temples for a moment. "There's going to be an exhibition at the palace organized by the prince that day," he murmured. "They must be planning to get in then." But what did they want with Prince Suleiman? Yusuf didn't like any of this.
Still, he reasoned, if Templars could sneak into the party, then so could they - and they could do a better job at it, too.
Nap time was over. With Hamid's help, Yusuf managed to pinpoint a group of Italian musicians - "minstrels" - who had been invited to the party as entertainment. Although, as Yusuf sat on a nearby rooftop and listened to them practice, he didn't think they were very entertaining, unless one liked to be entertained by listening to awful music. The clothes weren't much better.
Ah, the things he did for Istanbul.
He had to put the plan into motion and get enough men to handle it quickly. They didn't have much time. The idea was to take the minstrels out - non-lethally, of course - and take their clothes and instruments. Passing themselves off as them would get them entrance into the party, and there they could monitor the Byzantines and protect Suleiman from whatever was being planned against him.
It would be perfect, he thought, if they had someone who could speak Italian, to make them look a little more legitimate. It was a half-joke, as they had Ezio, but he was off doing something else, and Yusuf had no real way to contact him except to send manpower he didn't have combing the city for him. As helpful as Ezio would be, Yusuf just didn't have that opportunity. He could hardly sleep.
How he was going to even survive the ordeal if things got ugly (and they would, most certainly, unless for some reason the Byzantines did not attack) was beyond him. Still, his survival was not currently of the utmost importance - Suleiman's was. The overwhelming feeling of being stretched too thin would just be something he would have to deal with.
It was lucky, then, that Ezio decided to show up at the most opportune time. A day had come and gone with Yusuf formulating and then pouring over the plan to protect the prince, and Ezio, of course, showed up just as they were beginning to put that plan in motion. He had wonderful timing, really.
They chatted, just long enough for Yusuf to lay down the basic plan for him. With that, they were off, Ezio racing Yusuf across the rooftops and towards the unsuspecting group of minstrels.
The poor bastards. They were obviously new arrivals, and confused about the city and its people. They had no idea how dangerous Istanbul could be, and they certainly weren't expecting Yusuf and his assassins.
Ezio seemed to grin as he poised himself above the group, seeing what they were - Yusuf had only described them as "musicians", and Ezio clearly hadn't been expecting something so familiar to him. He landed swiftly and silently, Yusuf close behind, as they closed in on a group of them, knocking them out and quickly hiding the bodies in a pile of hay on Ezio's suggestion.
Luckily, the clothes were not so badly sized, although they seemed small on Ezio - his build was not, as Yusuf had noticed, inconsiderate. Still, the look seemed to fit Ezio the best, although whether that was because he was Italian himself or because he'd started strumming chords the instant he'd picked up the lute was up for debate. Yusuf felt rather ridiculous.
At least his sleeve was loose enough to conceal the blade. Ezio's was not.
"It is fine," Yusuf assured him. "You use that strange vision of yours to find our targets. We'll handle taking them out. If you can mark them and distract the crowd, we'll handle the rest." He hesitated a moment, frowning. "But Ezio-- be certain." Ezio had explained limitedly the amazing ability he had, a sight beyond Yusuf's own that he couldn't really grasp, but Yusuf wasn't sure how much to trust that vision despite Ezio's testimony on it. Ezio raised an eyebrow on him, then smiled. His expressions were much easier to read without his hood shrouding his face.
"Do not worry, Yusuf. I will be sure."
With a few chords and a series of strange songs Yusuf could not understand, Ezio moved their group past the guards and into the grounds of the palace itself. The place was filled with important-looking people in nice dress, but Ezio didn't stick around to admire the goings-on. He moved forward, quickly, playing and singing loudly, and Yusuf couldn't help but grin.
Yusuf led the rest of the assassins to stay a bit behind Ezio, circling towards where he was headed behind the crowd to keep mostly out of sight. When Ezio would stop in front of a group and begin to sing, he would nod towards a certain person, and one of the assassins could come from behind, take him out, and quickly drag his body away towards a bush or a dark corner. Messy and risky, but it was the best way.
After a few of these, Ezio seemed to stop, scanning the crowd for a moment with a frown before heading towards Yusuf (but not before taking a moment to bow for his new adoring fans). There was no sign of the prince - he'd moved on - and although they'd taken out a few targets, Yusuf was not satisfied for Suleiman's safety just yet. The two left the other assassins to watch for any strange activity before heading towards the next courtyard, where the gathering had started to leak out.
There were less people there, but Yusuf spotted Suleiman easily, looking relaxed and obviously not being attacked. He relaxed a bit himself, leaning against the stone railing of the steps leading down into the courtyard, pointing the prince out to Ezio. Ezio seemed to already be watching him for some reason. It was only when Ezio explained that he'd met Suleiman on the ship to Istanbul that Yusuf understood.
After a moment, Ezio suddenly seemed to notice something in the growing crowd and moved towards it, Yusuf closely following. Ezio marked four more targets, and Yusuf grit his teeth together as he removed them. There were simply too many for this to have been a simple mission, and Yusuf had found weapons on all of them. They were planning to have the prince assassinated, almost certainly.
It made Yusuf's blood boil. Prince Suleiman was hardly of consequence politically, but the things he did do were good, and he seemed to be a kind and caring person, unlike the rest of his strange family. Of course, Yusuf understood there were political motivations for killing Suleiman that had nothing to do with his character. Regardless, it disgusted him. The Templars were truly reprehensible.
As Ezio played and drummed up the crowd, Yusuf noticed that Suleiman seemed to be enjoying the show most of all. He clapped and laughed, and Yusuf laughed a little too, in spite of the seriousness of their mission.
The entertainment couldn't last forever, though. It wasn't long before one of the bodies Yusuf had hastily hidden was found by a guard, and the resulting fuss cleared the courtyard quickly of horrified guests, rushing away from the dead body. Suleiman himself looked suddenly scared and nervous. The remaining Byzantines (one, or two?) must have realized their only chance would be to go for it now, and a man in green suddenly pulled a dagger, killing a guard. As Yusuf drew his sword to protect the prince, the guards rounded on him, too, and Yusuf shouted towards Ezio to rush to save Suleiman from the oncoming attacker.
Luckily for them all, Ezio was rather handy with that instrument. He broke it without thought, rushing forward and plunging the wooden shards into the Byzantine's body. It stopped him just feet away from the prince, who stood there, his own blade clumsily drawn, dumbstruck.
Once the guards had seen Ezio save the prince, they quickly backed down. Suleiman stood in shock for only a moment longer before turning his gaze to Ezio, managing a valiant smile for a man who had just been the target of a very close assassination attempt.
"It is a relief to see you again," he spoke, and then something in Italian that Yusuf didn't understand but Ezio surely did. The corners of Ezio's mouth twitched up, just a little. It seemed Ezio's story about meeting Suleiman on the boat had been true, and Suleiman seemed to recognize him, even without the menacing hood. "Did I say that right?"
"Well enough." Ezio was almost fully smiling now, an expression that was certainly a change of pace for him, as far as Yusuf could tell. "I hear you are a governor, too. Is there anything you do not do?"
"I do not talk to strangers." Suleiman smiled, just a little, his eyes flicking down and then up, taking Ezio and Yusuf in (as he approached). He then bowed his head, inclining a bit. "I am Suleiman."
It was unbelievably strange, to have a prince formally and humbly introduce himself to them. Frankly, Yusuf was surprised.
"Ezio Auditore." Ezio inclined his head in return. "This is Yusuf Tazim." Yusuf quickly bowed as well, perhaps a bit too much, and Suleiman looked amused for a moment before the group was suddenly confronted by a guard rushing over, a Janissary, looking like he'd just arrived. Yusuf frowned at him, reminded by how out of breath the guard was that without the Assassins there, Suleiman would be dead now.
"Prince!" The guard looked shaken up, alarmed. "Are you alright? Are you hurt?"
Suleiman did not answer either question, leveling a frown on the man. "Who is your captain?" he asked, sharply, and the guard went rigid, perhaps suddenly realizing that he had not really done his job.
A few words were exchanged, but it seemed Tarik Barleti, the captain in question, would not be able to speak with Suleiman until the next morning. It was fine, really - "I think it would be wise to get you inside," Yusuf said, and Ezio seemed to agree.
Suleiman frowned, but finally nodded. "Yes, I... think I would have to agree. I will see you tomorrow, then? I'd like for you to be present during the meeting with Tarik, if that's something I can ask."
"No." Ezio's answer was surprising, and both Suleiman and Yusuf looked at him, somewhat baffled. Noticing this, Ezio was quick to amend, "We cannot be sure if the threat of your death has passed," he explained. "Not to be rude, but your guard has not proved very effective against this particular problem. I believe Yusuf and I should stay with you until this meeting and stand guard. If you will have us, that is."
Ezio's speech sounded like a man convincing a woman he's wooing to let him inside her home - all charm and lyric, and there was something attractive about his accent anyway that made the whole ordeal more alluring, accidentally.
Suleiman watched the two with pursed lips for a moment, a difficult-to-read expression on his face. The barest trace of amusement mixed in after a moment, and he tilted his head. "Yes, I think that would be a good plan," he allowed. "I will tell the guards you are permitted in the palace for tonight."
"Give us a moment to change out of these rags," Ezio said. "I believe we need to return these clothes to the men they belong to."
Yusuf cracked a grin.
Within twenty minutes, they'd rounded up the minstrels and returned their clothing, getting their own robes and weapons back from where they'd stashed them. The two changed and rearmed themselves quickly, heading back towards the palace.
"Do you really believe the Templars might regroup and try another attack? It seems almost like suicide to try now, now that we and the Janissaries are aware of their intentions." Yusuf brushed back a lock of hair as they walked together towards the front gates.
"No," Ezio said, honestly, "I am not so concerned they will attack again."
Yusuf frowned, confused. "Then why tell the prince you are? Surely this is a waste of time--"
"I do not intend for it to be." Before Yusuf could ask what Ezio meant, the two approached the gate, and the two Janissaries on guard paused before letting them pass, stating they had orders from Prince Suleiman to let them inside. Suleiman was waiting on the other side, standing in the courtyard, accompanied by another guard. As Yusuf and Ezio approached, he dismissed the man, who left slowly, giving the two assassins curious backward glances.
"I am quite thankful for what you did tonight," Suleiman said, beginning to lead the pair through the courtyard and to the palace proper. The halls were made of white stone, but dark now that the sun had set. After the attack, the halls were filled with many guards going to and fro.
"It was simply what we do," Ezio said, coolly. "Where they are, we are also. Always."
"So you did not do this for me?" Suleiman teased. He stopped at a pair of wide doors, opening them and beckoning the two to follow. This must have been his quarters - it was large and spacious, and the warm smell of incense flooded Yusuf's senses. Before Yusuf could answer his question, Suleiman continued, sounding thoughtful, "I think I prefer that."
The first room of the prince's quarters seemed to be filled with books and papers, and a large wood desk sitting in the corner piled with work. Yusuf could see two doorways, one that looked like it led into a sitting room of some kind - the other, presumably, to a bedroom.
"It seems you were not lying when you said you were a student," Ezio noted, his eyes sweeping the room. Suleiman smiled, crossing to his desk.
"There is a mess," he confessed. "I have not had time to organize things after returning home."
Yusuf went to the window, leaning out and checking outside and around it, looking to the ground and then the roof to make sure they were free from any "visitors". Ezio was leaning against a bookshelf when Yusuf pulled himself back inside, relaxed.
"Where have you learned to speak Italian?" Ezio asked, browsing the books on Suleiman's shelf. Suleiman laughed a little, shaking his head.
"I haven't, really," he confessed. "It was a poor attempt."
Time seemed to pass slowly, although Yusuf didn't consider it a waste. Even if it seemed far-fetched, there was still a possibility that Suleiman was in danger after the botched attack, and Yusuf felt compelled to ensure his protection. Ezio didn't look like he was going anywhere, either, despite his important mission. Suleiman spoke about his travels and studies, endlessly, and Ezio talked (a very little) about time in Rome and other places he'd gone, Suleiman listening in rapt attention. In contrast, Yusuf felt a bit boring - he'd never strayed far from Istanbul, himself. But Suleiman didn't seem to think Yusuf was boring - he asked many questions about Yusuf's life, his family, and the assassins, and Yusuf answered what he could and deflected a few of them gracefully. They spoke in quick, rushed Turkish Ezio seemed to have trouble following, because occasionally he would just laugh and say their tongues were too fast for him.
Eventually, their conversations dropped off, and Suleiman immersed himself in a book as Ezio and Yusuf stood guard quietly. Yusuf felt like he was about to nod off, the exhaustion finally getting to him, when Suleiman closed his book, elbows resting on his desk, sighing.
"I'm not certain I can sleep," he confessed, finally. "I'm not frightened, only angry." He looked it, his eyebrows knit, eyes turned down to stare at the wood patterns of his desk top.
This seemed to be the cue Ezio had been waiting for - or perhaps he'd merely gotten tired of waiting and decided to make the cue himself.
"Perhaps we can make you tired, if you desire sleep, principe mio."
We? Yusuf looked up suddenly, eyes widening. Between that comment and the one from before, Yusuf was beginning to understand what Ezio was going for. And he was He flushed, quickly looking between Ezio and the prince. This was fantastically inappropriate, but... that insistence wasn't as loud as it should be.
Ezio was, undeniably, Italian. Yusuf had heard they were, culturally, a bit different when it came to these sorts of things.
Suleiman looked surprised, and then almost laughed. "You are quite the charmer, assassini."
"Assassino," Ezio corrected. "And thank you." He looked to Yusuf, eyes mischievous. "What do you say, Yusuf? Do you have time to spare, or are you falling asleep already?"
"You are being rather assumptive, sir," Suleiman said, standing from his desk. But he looked amused, and maybe a bit flushed himself, and Yusuf saw this situation heading towards a very specific destination.
"Forgive me, sire." Ezio bowed low, obviously putting it on. Suleiman shook his head, laughing again.
"I am going to bed," he announced, crossing the room. He stopped in the doorway, hand on the frame, looking back over his shoulder towards Yusuf and Ezio. "If you both would like to join me, I believe I would feel much safer with my guards beside me."
He was teasing. Had to be. But as Suleiman stepped into the room and closed the door, Ezio grinned, glancing towards Yusuf.