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The Rose That Blooms At Night

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I. The Accidental Flower

 

Assassino! Assassino! Don’t let him get away!”

The cries of the guards faded under the clatter of boots on the roof tiles, the flutter of pigeons’ wings, and the call of an eagle overhead, the shadow of its mighty wings skimming the rooftop beside him. Ezio could hear his own heart pounding, the rasp of his breath, but he was still gaining, putting more distance between himself and the winded guards with every flying leap.

He saw the gap in the rooftops ahead, the flickering lamplight bouncing off the windowpanes, and put on an extra burst of speed. He was almost there, and if he could just make it before the flower seller closed for the night --

An arrow whistled past his ear, and he leaped, holding his breath against the way his stomach flipped, even after all the times he’d done this. The flower cart was where he’d remembered, and an explosion of bright pink petals flew into the air like confetti at Carnevale when he landed in it.

He heard the guards muttering, heard their shouts of frustration, and lay still, breathing in the scent of the flowers and waiting for his breath to slow. The sounds of Firenze at night flowed in around him as the guards gave up and left.

He heaved himself out of the flower cart, groaning as his body protested the treatment. Flowers fell around him, blossoms slipping into his open collar and caressing him with their silky petals. It felt better than the scratchy hay and smelled pretty good too, but Dios mio, it tickled.

One slipped down his chest, and he fished under his pauldrons until he rescued it, its petals only a little bruised. He studied it idly as he raised his fist to knock on Leonardo’s door. The guards had given up for now, but it never hurt to have a safe place to rest, especially since --

The door swung away from his fist, and he lurched forward, suddenly off balance.

“Ezio, my friend! I thought I heard your footsteps on my roofto--” Leonardo trailed off, staring at Ezio’s hand. Ezio blinked and followed his line of sight to the flower, held out like an offering.

He floundered for something to say, but Leonardo just smiled.

“Finally, you think to bring me a gift when you come barging into my workshop. There may be hope for you yet, mi amico.”

He clapped Ezio’s shoulder, pulling him into the workshop brusquely, with a playful wink. Ezio grinned, back on familiar ground.

With a deep bow and a flourish, he held the poor crushed flower out to his friend. “It is but a pale representation of the beauty you wreak upon the world, Leonardo.”

“That word is more normally paired with havoc, I believe.” Leonardo took the bloom but then stood still, craning his neck as if searching for a place to put it, his posture stiff and awkward.

“That too.” Ezio smiled slyly as he sidled up to Leonardo, plucked the flower out of his hand, and slid it through his top buttonhole. As he smoothed the fabric down, he suddenly realized just how close they were, how quick and shallow Leonardo’s breath was as it skittered across Ezio’s throat. If Leonardo had been a woman, this would be the perfect moment to--

He patted the fabric again briskly. “Here. Wear it and remember me.”

Leonardo rolled his eyes. “As if you ever give me any time to forget.”

Ezio took a step back and bowed again, this time holding out one of the mysterious scrolls. Leonardo’s eyes lit up and the confusion fled from his features as he took it from Ezio’s grasp.

“Another one! Excellent! Let us see what this says.”

He turned and headed for his work bench with enthusiasm, but Ezio didn’t miss the protective hand he cupped over the flower that graced his shirt, or the way his fingers caressed the petals.

 

II. The Flower of Death

The door rattled with the force of the knock from the other side, and Leonardo sat up from his workbench, startled from his reverie. He rubbed his eyes and looked at his candle, baffled at how little was left of it, the wax spreading out in a slowly hardening pool around the base. Had he really been working that long?

The knock sounded again, and this time there was a voice. “Leonardo, please. It’s me.”

Ezio.

It was terribly late for Ezio to be visiting, but neither of them kept regular hours. He opened the door and stumbled backward under the sudden and unexpected weight of an armful of man.

“Leonardo, please...”

It was then that Leonardo noticed the feathered fletching sprouting from Ezio’s back like the wings of a nightmare and the red flower of blood blooming on Ezio’s white shirt.

“What are you doing here?” He held Ezio up as best as he could, dragging him into the room and kicking the door closed. “You should have gone to see a doctor, amico!”

“No, no doctors! Not... not yet.” Ezio’s breath sounded wet as he dragged it in, shuddering and wincing against the pain. “I have medicine in my pouch. Just... I cannot reach the arrows, Leonardo. I need you to pull them out.”

Leonardo swallowed hard and helped Ezio over to one of the chairs. He swept everything from the surface, scattering papers and pieces of incomplete projects to the far corners of the room. “Here, just... lean forward, Ezio. Let me... You couldn’t have let them go all the way through, could you? That way I could break the shafts, and it wouldn’t tear...”

He tried to hide his shaking as he reached for a bottle of aqua vitae and thrust it into Ezio’s hands.

“Here, drink this. It will help.”

“Leonardo --”

“Shh, Ezio. Just drink.” He helped Ezio tip the bottle up, wiping away the bit of drink that spilled down his chin. Ezio coughed, and Leonardo steadied him with a hand on his chest.

There was screaming, and pain, and a cascade of blood down the sleek, scarred muscles of Ezio’s back. Leonardo staunched the flow with a cloth. When it was finally over, Ezio slumped against his shoulder and taking deep, slow breaths, Leonardo let out a shaky exhale of his own and reached for the aqua vitae. He turned the bottle up and drank deeply, taking refuge in the trail of fire that burned all the way to his stomach.

“Thank you, my friend,” Ezio murmured into his neck, lips brushing Leonardo’s skin.

“You are welcome. I only have one request, Ezio.”

“Anything.”

“Please, the next time someone fires arrows at you, dodge.”

 

III. The Experimental Deflowering

They were drunk, and if anyone ever gets the story out of Ezio later, that will be the first thing he tells them.

We were drunk.

But he knew he wasn’t really that drunk, just pleasantly warm from the wine, maybe a little overly friendly. It had started with him suggesting that he and Leonardo celebrate the completion of one of Leonardo’s long-procrastinated, long-overdue commissions with drinks and courtesans. They’d managed the drinks, but the courtesans had been a bit of a failure, due in no small part to Leonardo's sudden unwillingness to relinquish Ezio’s arm.

“Don’t be scared of them!” Ezio had teased. “They don’t bite.”

“Don’t lie to the man, bello,” Giselle had answered, laughing. “We bite, but only where you like it.”

“Perhaps it is not a good time,” Leonardo had suggested. “I think I’ve had a little too much wine. I wouldn’t want to embarrass myself.”

It was unconvincing as excuses went, but no one could say no to Leonardo, especially when he was being shy. The courtesans sent him off with kisses and caresses and charges to Ezio to take care of him.

“If you don’t,” Giselle had warned, wagging a finger, “you’ll never see the inside of madonna’s house again.”

But inside Leonardo’s house, things had been different. The tipsy stumbling and leaning had turned more deliberate, and Leonardo had looked frightened as he gazed up at Ezio.

“I shouldn’t,” he’d whispered. “I wouldn’t, if I hadn’t had... You gave me too much wine, Ezio.”

And Ezio would never have done what he did except for that look in Leonardo’s eyes, that look like he was afraid that Ezio would turn around and leave and never speak to him again. It made his chest hurt, and the only thing he could do was wrap his arm around Leonardo’s back to steady him and lean forward.

Leonardo’s lips were more pliant for Ezio than they had been for Giselle, though he still trembled in Ezio’s arms. He clutched at the cape hanging over Ezio’s left arm, bunching the fabric in his shaking hand as Ezio -- spurred on by the wine, no doubt, and by being dragged away from the courtesans far too soon -- kissed him deeply, taking his time to find all the sensitive places inside Leonardo’s mouth.

Leonardo drew back, gasping, his eyes wide.

And if the look on his face before had inspired Ezio to kisses and wandering hands, the look then made him freeze, cold and afraid. What if Leonardo wanted more than pleasure? What if he wanted commitment, fidelity? Ezio couldn’t give those things to him -- or to anyone -- and it wouldn’t be fair to pretend he could.

“What is it? What’s wrong, Ezio?” The fear was back, the shyness, the look like a puppy scolded away from the table, and Ezio tightened his grip on Leonardo before the other man could step away.

“Leonardo, I... I want to give you this. I do. But I can’t...” He trailed off, unable to force the words past his teeth.

“Can’t what, amico?” Leonardo grinned as he palmed Ezio’s erection. “It feels like you can.”

Ezio couldn’t stop the short bark of surprised laughter. He’d never seen Leonardo like this, this... focused... on anything besides his work. It was both heady and terrifying, being the center of such single-minded attention.

“No, I only mean that I cannot be a faithful lover, Leonardo. It isn’t in me. I’m sorry.”

Leonardo laughed then, laughed until he had to lean against Ezio for support, giving Ezio ample proof that he wasn’t the only one who could, as he’d put it. “Ezio, my dearest friend, I have not spent years watching you whore your way through Italia from Firenze to Venezia for nothing. I have no desire for a faithful lover, only a faithful friend, and you have been that for as long as I’ve known you.”

“And I will continue to be.” That was a promise Ezio could make with confidence, as was the silent one he made to himself that he would not stop until Leonardo was satisfied, until the flush of arousal bloomed on his skin like a rose in the firelight.

And when it was over, Ezio still trembling with the aftershocks of more pleasure than he’d thought he was capable of experiencing, he felt Leonardo roll away from him. Exhausted, Ezio turned to stare after Leonardo’s retreating form, frowning at the loss of warm flesh next to him.

“Where are you going, Leonardo?” he called into the shadows. “It’s cold here without you.”

“I’ll only be a moment,” Leonardo assured him. “I just want to find my notebook... and a quill... Ah! Here they are.” There was no trace now of the shyness that had overwhelmed him earlier. He padded naked back to Ezio and folded himself to the cushions beside him. “I just wanted to make a few notes. I had no idea that those parts of the body were capable of such things! I want to make sure I -- Hey! What are you doing?”

Ezio closed Leonardo’s notebook and put it to the side, taking the pen from his hand and doing the same. “You have many things to learn about the art of pleasure, mi amico,” Ezio said. “But the first is that you do not make a science of it.”

Leonardo laughed but let Ezio pull him back down into his arms. “Art and science are forever married. Let no one tell you differently.”

But he did not reach for the notebook again for the rest of the night.