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The Sweet Smell of Citrus

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13th January 1500 – Rome

A new day dawned upon Assassin Headquarters – a headquarters profoundly shaken by yesterday’s revelations. Machiavelli had left and no one knew whether he would return. The only certainty they held was that he would never betray the Brotherhood.

Yet La Volpe had wisely issued a command to his thieves to watch the crafty man’s movements to ensure he did not spill Ezio’s secret to any other Assassin branches. They would learn in time, but only when matters had settled here and Ezio was comfortable.

Maria – since Ezio was still too overcome by his emotions to act quickly – had given the same command to the Assassins. She was the next in command after both Ezio and Machiavelli, having gained the title of Master Assassin first. Ezio had thankfully confirmed such an order of succession in a coded letter a few months back.

Such foresight had permitted Ezio time to reorganise his emotions and thoughts while his brothers and sisters also adjusted to the news.

Consequently, Ezio found the living area only half full that morning. The Assassins who were off duty smiled up at him before returning to their breakfast or early morning research. Ezio was vaguely amused to notice that most flicked glances his way every now and then to check he was fine.

The loyalty of his men and women filled Ezio with happiness. The freedom that had enveloped him since their open acceptance was beautiful. Ezio’s only regret was in not admitting his secret sooner, for this feeling of lightness and being able to relax and just be, was wonderful. He felt like an eagle fledging that had finally grown into its wings and flown – enjoying the air currents to their limits at last.

Ezio found that a small table had been put aside for him that morning. The quiet assassin who had led him to the table just murmured it was so he had privacy and to speak if he wished for company.

The compassion of his brothers and sisters was humbling to Ezio who was grateful for the opportunity to privacy. It permitted him some time to adjust to the massive changes without fretting about conversation. A good breakfast and accustoming himself to the glances of his assassins was sorely needed before any speeches or orders were given.

As he waited for his food, the smells from the kitchen wafting through the air causing his stomach to rumble, Ezio examined the note he had written that very morning in his bedroom.

Dearest Alberto,

I hope the above is not too intimate for I feel such closeness to you that I must exclaim it.

So much has happened since I left your presence; much of it good. You will be happy to hear that my opinions on Alphas are very different, indeed, after revealing my secret to my fellows a great burden has departed from me.

It has left me feeling so happy and so free that I am as light as a feather. I regret not doing this so many years before. I thank you deeply for your part in this and please pass my gratitude to Agnese for her assistance.

I shall stop there for I can explain in more detail when we next meet. I had promised myself to assist you in your underground efforts to help Omegas, Alphas and Betas enduring difficult or impossible situations. My pledge remains true.

Once matters have settled more here we must discuss how I can be of assistance.

While we wait I would be happy to see you if possible. Speak to Leonardo before you write and he will advise you of the safest way of contacting me.

Before I finish you may just wish to know that my sights are on a certain Alpha. With classic grace I have admitted to myself certain…strong feelings towards him. You may use the word ‘love’ for my emotions and not be wrong.

Unless I am mistaken he returns my affliction, though how strongly I cannot say yet. My confidence has been given great boost since yesterday so I will endeavour to find out.

I am equal parts terrified, confused and determined. It is probably a good thing that Leonardo is not here – knowing my esteemed Alpha he probably knows what is going on, (and I shall berate him for not giving me some clue at least), and his well-meaning protection is not what I need just now!

So shut your lips to this part of the confession my dear friend.

I await your reply eagerly.

Your dear friend (I trust),

Ezio

 

Ezio motioned to one of the Assassins who ran forward, her hair coiled on the top of her head.

“Deliver this to Leonardo; he will know what to do.”

“Yes Mentor!” She bowed slightly, but didn’t leave immediately. Her eyes were a hazel colour and full of admiration.

“Mentor, I just wished to say that I have a friend who is an Omega. Knowing you are one makes me feel that he is safer for it.”

Ezio swallowed hard. “It is good that my revelation will help others.”

She beamed at him and left on silent feet.

“They care deeply for you my friend,” said La Volpe as he dropped into the seat opposite Ezio. A smile made his face appear even handsomer to Ezio. The tenderness in his voice sent a shiver through Ezio.

The wily fox leant over the table, his elbows on the edge, arms folded.

“I hope this will help you in accepting yourself.”

Ezio carefully rested his arms on the table, stretching his arms so his fingers causally brushed one of La Volpe’s hands and arm. He felt the barely perceptible shudder and hope leapt like fire in his belly.

“My friend I cannot describe the happiness it has given me.” Ezio searched La Volpe’s face.

“Everything you and Leonardo have said has come true. Catrina’s words have been granted even more life as well. I do know not everyone will be so accommodating, Machiavelli proved that quite well, but I will persevere.”

Inhaling deeply Ezio steeled his courage. He pressed his fingers into La Volpe’s arm and the Alpha unfolded his arms, leaving his hands on the table, palms up. His face was cautious yet hopeful.

Ezio’s heart was suddenly very loud in his ears, which was rather annoying. Ezio spoke before the noise drowned out his courage.

“I am truly free at last La Volpe and that has made me very happy. Thank you for staying beside me and supporting me with your silent presence and with your actions.”

Ezio paused so he could lick his lips. He wished the servants who worked willingly with the Assassins would arrive with something to drink. Ezio put his left hand on top of La Volpe’s right. The heat was a jolt and they both started.

Both of their cheeks were flushed and Ezio was thrilled. Maintaining eye contact Ezio groped for the package he had placed on the chair beside him. Gently depositing it on the table Ezio plunged ahead with his plan. If he didn’t, the saintly restraint of the thief would ensure that nothing would ever happen.

La Volpe raised an eyebrow before, with a brief expression of reluctance, withdrew his right hand to unwrap the silk. He hissed as a silver feather necklace was revealed. With great reverence he lifted it, running long calloused fingers over the beautiful object.

Ezio wondered how those fingers would run over his skin and pressed his legs together as his belly clenched. Getting wet right now was not a good idea!

La Volpe lifted his eyes to his, wide with wonder at the present.

“Ezio? How?”

“It is a necklace I had made long ago in memory of my brother. I wear it under my robes.” His throat was tight as he remembered his brother and family, but Ezio pushed on.

“My gift to you, dear friend, after the feather you retrieved for me yesterday – for everything you did yesterday and before that. If you accept…”

Ezio could not finish, needing a moment to steady his nerves and instead gazed at the sly fox that had gone quiet. Eyes that seemed to change colour whenever he gazed into them now brimmed with so much emotion that Ezio felt caught in that swirling storm.

“Ezio…I…All my words have failed me so please forgive my lack of eloquence.”

A sharp breath was taken and the Alpha said, “I have always admired you and our friendship is one I have enjoyed immensely. My love is certain, as a friend and now…as an Alpha.”

Those were the words Ezio had hoped to hear and he began to tremble.

“My intentions are honourable. I dearly wish to be your Alpha, but know you will be my equal. Our bonding will be two friends fighting each other to rest when needed.” The Alpha smiled a shaky smile, voice cracking from the weight of love and awe suffusing his speech.

“I will gladly accept and bear such a precious treasure if you can accept my offer above.”

Speaking was difficult for his chest was fit to burst from the affection he held for this impossible Alpha. So Ezio leant across and put his hands on top of his Alpha’s. The Alpha’s hands curled and Ezio cherished the metal feather clasped between their hands.

Stopping so their lips were nearly touching Ezio spoke in a rasping gasp, his emotions too powerful to be able to speak calmly.

“I love you too, La Volpe. I wish to be your Omega, for I know I can just be me with you. As for fighting, I am up for that challenge. Can you La Volpe..?”

Mercifully his Alpha understood and threw honour to the wind. La Volpe closed the distance and they kissed.

Ezio nearly collapsed. He had never kissed an Alpha – the risks had been too high. The brief nervous kisses with Beta men had been few and far between.

This was different.

He trusted this Alpha to not ridicule him afterwards or attempt to control him.

He loved this thief and his thief loved him.

The kiss was short and chaste for suddenly strong arms were suddenly around him and how had La Volpe moved so he was next to Ezio? The Alpha was indeed sneaky. Yet he was grateful.

Then he was being kissed again and their lips were moving. Ezio stopped thinking and enjoyed the sensations instead. Small kisses were littered across his which Ezio tried returning. He was surrounded by his Alpha, their scents washing over them both.

His nose twitched and Ezio’s mind spun, for as now he was so close to La Volpe with all pretences and distractions cast aside, he truly registered his Alpha’s scent.

La Volpe withdrew to murmur, “Ezio,” before kissing him hard.

Ezio drowned in the kiss and the scent for it was the scent he had dreamed of since he was thirteen. Calloused fingers rested on the back of his neck while one hand stroked his back gently. Ezio dug his fingers into the lean back of the master thief and nearly cried out.

Oranges, the citrus scent engulfed him, soothing his nerves yet enflaming his passion. His blood was singing and his belly was twitching. It was those same oranges in Signore Rossi’s garden!

Giddy with joy Ezio moaned before pulling away long enough to stare into La Volpe’s passionate wide eyes.  His Alpha was panting, face flushed and lips swollen.

“Ezio?” his voice was rough from their kisses and Ezio smiled.

“Hmmm,” and his voice was equally rough. Ezio wanted to laugh and cry at how stupid he had been, at how much time he had wasted. Then again…his mother would argue, as would Leonardo, that no time had been wasted. That the time it had taken was precisely the time it was meant to be.

Still…Ezio ran his fingers over those swollen glistening lips and unable to stop, kissed his Alpha’s cheeks and forehead. Grinning widely at the confused yet happy stare La Volpe was treating him to, Ezio ignored their audience.

He had waited nearly forty one years to be happy and nearly twenty eight to find his Alpha, he could disgrace himself if he so wished. Ezio realised his Alpha was waiting for an explanation.

“You smell of oranges my dear La Volpe, the oranges from Signore Rossi’s garden.”

La Volpe’s eyes widened in understanding. “So I am..?”

Ezio clumsily kissed La Volpe and nodded.

“My Alpha? It seems as if fate has had a hand after all my friend.”

La Volpe shook his head in awe then nuzzled at his neck and suddenly chuckled. “You smell like home Ezio.”

Tugging La Volpe’s head back up, Ezio rested his forehead against La Volpe’s.

“I shan’t say how foolish we have been if you won’t.”

“Agreed my friend, though…do I still need to buy oranges for you?”

Ezio kissed his nose. “Incorrigible and for that yes you do.”

“I live to serve, my Omega.”

Warmth filled Ezio’s belly at the declaration.

“Of course,” said Ezio, “if you think of running, every single Assassin in my brotherhood will be on your tail…and the Templars too. I am sure I can arrange it so.”

La Volpe just grinned. “Does my going to the market to buy oranges count as running?”

“Depending on how long you take.”

“What a threat!”

“Excuse me Mentor?” ventured a cautious voice.

Reluctantly parting, Ezio saw Rafael standing in the forefront with servants carrying their breakfasts behind him.   His eyes were cold and calculating as he observed La Volpe, in contrast to the wary tone he had spoken.

“Your breakfast Mentor…La Volpe.”

“Thank you Rafael.”

“Yes, thank you Rafael,” added La Volpe.

Rafael’s smile was predatory. “We shall speak to you later La Volpe.”

Ezio had the sinking feeling that ‘we’ meant the entire brotherhood. His Alpha just nodded in consent and winked at Ezio once Rafael left. As the servants laid their breakfast La Volpe reassured Ezio.

“Your assassins love you very much. Consider the conversation we will be having as the first step of setting them on my tail.”

“Your brush will hopefully remain intact,” replied Ezio sighing in contentment.

La Volpe, the old fox, merely smirked and shifted so he could eat one handed, his other arm wrapped around Ezio. Ezio mimicked the act and dug hungrily in.

He would have to send a second letter post haste to Alberto as matters had proceeded much quicker than he had hoped.

~ *~

3rd February 1500 – Rome

The courtyard heaved with people. This private palace reserved for the Pope and his children was heavily guarded with a mixture of normal soldiers and the highly trained personal guards the Borgia employed for their individual persons.

It would normally be suicidal to attempt to infiltrate such a heavily fortified palace, even for an assassin, but these were not normal circumstances. Catrina was missing and being held somewhere. The Assassin Brotherhood had to find her…before she was killed or broke under torture.

Leonardo had also been summoned here regularly the past week for reasons unknown, as the risk in contacting the artist was too great – both for the contactor and the Master artist. Lamps shone brightly around the courtyard illuminating the revelry in the main ground, leaving the areas beyond in twilight or black.

Hence a terrible risk had been taken to infiltrate the palace grounds. Ezio crouched in the shadows of a pillar breathing sharply through his nose as he regained his breath. His body ached from the exertion in climbing, sneaking and moving in utter stealth over roof-tops and through corridors.

He had recovered from his first heat as an adult nearly three weeks ago, spending the last two of that period honing his skills. However, he was still adjusting to the minute transformations of living as an Omega. Talents he would have learnt at his mother’s knee and spun into a tapestry rich and full with his abilities, were now being dragged out in his forties.

One of the most vital: functioning around Alphas without going crazy. Ezio had always been aware of the scent of Alphas, yet years of taking suppressant drugs once a month had taken their toll. Ezio could only liken it to suddenly seeing in colour after a life of only seeing grey. The scent of Alphas before had been intriguing but hardly attractive – not even Leonardo’s scent had been fully comforting until…

Well, off the drugs and suffering his heat it was as if his body was washing away the debris of years. Ezio could fully taste and appreciate the subtle pheromones of the Alphas around him. It was intoxicating yet utterly profound. Initially only Leonardo’s and La Volpe’s scents had become pronounced.

Alberto had suggested it was his body somehow cleverly protecting him. Ezio was inclined to agree because after kissing La Volpe it was if a second awakening and liberation had occurred. His mind and body sensed Alpha and began recognising all the Alphas around him.

Ezio had nearly lost his head and jumped on Rafael during a mace fight when he scented the Alpha. Thankfully he had only been nuzzling the assassin and poor Rafael had been understanding and also very kind. Ezio had never been so embarrassed.

Since that incident Alberto had given him perfumed scarves to wear to help dissipate the scent of Alphas. Ezio found that the closer and more intimate he and La Volpe grew the alluring scent of other Alphas diminished in appeal and became less distracting.

Even now he wore a perfumed scarf. Ezio breathed in the fragrant scent of citrus and relaxed. He wondered how it would be once he and La Volpe spent a heat together. The thought had his stomach clenching in hope and fear.

Shrugging off his fear Ezio’s thoughts again drifted.

At any rate, his brothers and sisters had formed even more tightly around him with La Volpe hardly absent, beyond instructing his thieves as necessary.

Alas, today he was not here and Ezio felt a pang at his absence. Desire and fear surged up. Sweat beaded his forehead and Ezio rubbed his bearded chin.

His next heat was soon and he would rather have his fox absent now instead of then no matter his trepidation.

La Volpe had been quietly alarmed at his decision to go, but after a long conversation had consented.

“You have considered all potential possibilities my dear friend, so while I fear of mischance or the truly unforeseeable arising, I cannot – will not – try and prevent you from going. Just be careful for my sake if not yours. My Omega, go in fortune and I shall see you soon.”

“You could order me…”

“I am not such an Alpha.”

“I know.” His sigh and smile had been sweet with awe and pure joy.

“As long as I know you have thought matters through and are not throwing yourself stupidly unprepared into battle, then as much I dread seeing you fight I will never order you to stand down.”

“Not even pregnant?”

“Would you risk your – our – child?”

“No of course not.”

“Then why ask?”

“Because I’m being silly.” A kiss had followed then a fierce embrace.

“Come back safely too my Alpha.”

“I shall Ezio. Find out what is happening with Leonardo and Catrina. Now I must go.”

“May the shadows be thick to conceal your work La Volpe.”

One last kiss, sweeter than Signore Rossi’s oranges and the thief became one with the shadows.

Thus Ezio was in the palace that housed Lucrezia Borgia, for La Volpe’s spies had discovered she would be present…without her brother Cesare. In his absence Lucrezia was bound to be talkative and upset her brother was not present, but away on a secretive mission most likely visiting a mistress.

Maria and Rafael were with him to assist in distracting the guards if necessary. Breath finally regained Ezio saw his chance. Easing up slowly, his joints aching, Ezio whispered to Maria, “Stay where you are and keep your crossbow aimed. Switch to your bow if necessary.”

Maria nodded and propped her crossbow on the edge of the stone wall. The tip of the bolt was blackened to prevent metal from glinting. Behind them were sleeping guards, artfully hidden and bound, gagged in case they awakened.

Rafael moved so he was beside him. Ezio arranged his scarf and relaxed further. Pulling together all his confidence Ezio felt the thrill of the mission course through his blood. Fears and doubts momentarily aside Ezio recalled how to pretend to be an Alpha and acted.

In the small offering of time he and Rafael scaled down the wall so swiftly no one saw them – all the guards were busy with a minor disruption of a couple arguing. Occasionally life was very fair.

Quickly they were absorbed into the crowd and blending effectively they strolled through quite innocently. Chatting with the other guests enough to not draw notice from either guard or guest, they moved unhindered, maintaining a natural air of merriment.

Shortly Ezio heard the petulant tones of Lucrezia Borgia and then saw her angrily whining to a poor guard. She waved a hand at the nervous guard, who immediately left to answer her demand for wine. In that instance Ezio had an idea. The guard was short like him and inclining his head at Rafael, who took up post outside the little room the guard had ducked into. Ezio then followed the man.

~ * ~

 

“Guard! Do you know that my wine is absolutely dreadful? Where must a man go for an excellent vintage?”

The irritating demand was the last thing he needed. Glancing up, Eligio saw a short man – an Alpha – smiling widely at him. A citrus scent caused his nose to twitch and he realised that the Alpha was wearing a perfumed scarf. The latest fashions bewildered him.

The Alpha was merry despite his displeasure and stepped disturbingly close. This was odd, but then the man clearly was harmless as he was brandishing his wine glass.

“Well? Where is the good vintage guard?”

Glaring at the potentially drunk man Eligio tensed, his mood rather fragile. Lucrezia was being her usual frightening self and he was the poor idiot at her mercy. Yet he held his tongue in case this was stranger was a friend of hers or her brother. Also, Lucrezia had been very understanding about his condition, the normally cruel woman granting him a chance and protection, even from her frankly terrifying brother.

Thus he chose not to prickle the man, instead turning his back to the aristocrat.

“Here, let me pour you a glass,” he said instead. Selecting the same bottle he had just poured a generous portion into a jug for the Borgia, Eligio felt a sudden bump on his head and the world after a brief stab of pain went dark.

~ * ~

Ezio checked the guard was breathing then with some difficultly dragged him upright so he could steal his uniform. It took precious minutes and Ezio feared an interruption. However, during his search Ezio realised something incredible.

This guard was an Omega.

Stunned Ezio ensured the guard was covered.

Ezio emerged to find Rafael still lounging innocently with a glass of wine.

A fast flicker of eyes and Ezio knew Rafael would stay put. The guard deserved that much indeed.

Clutching the jug which Ezio had refilled after the guard had dropped it, he strode to where the blond woman was busy peering at her reflection in a fountain. A wrap around her shoulders protected her from the slight chill in the air.

Here the lamps were few and a twilight atmosphere prevailed though in the corners black reigned; night drawing nigh.

Lucrezia straightened and her gaze was unfocused. “Good man Eligio!” she slurred. Snatching the jug she sat on the fountain edge. Lucrezia eyed him as she drank.

Shifting from one foot to another Ezio faked nervousness though a part of him was – badly so. If his true scent came through…thank heaven Lucrezia was a beta.

“Do you think my brother is seeing a prostitute?” she abruptly asked.

Ezio dredged up a stuttering reply.

“Why…why wh-why would he my Lady? You are very beautiful.”

Lucrezia sneered, her pretty features twisted. “Maybe he prefers dark hair to blond! That bitch Sforza is far too beautiful and conniving for her own good!”

“Surely not my Lady!”

The blond examined him and smiled. “You are sweetly innocent, guard. Beta women can be cunning, I attest to that fact.”

Ezio bowed his head.

“But you are one among women surely? Why would your brother visit this other instead of you?”

“For things your ears aren’t ready to hear naïve one.”

She snorted and then hissed, “I wonder if my brother courts Alphas now as well.”

“My Lady? Why would any Alpha do such a thing?”

Lucrezia glanced at him and said painfully softly, “Oh guard, there are Alphas who desire each other instead Omegas or even Beta women. If you ever marry ensure you do not wed such an abomination.”

Lucrezia knew he – the guard – was an Omega. Startled, Ezio nearly choked but hastily nodded staring at the ground. What the hell was going on?

“In this case Cesare seeks to gain his skill in building an impenetrable fortress. Methinks my brother is growing paranoid. Or his lusts finally exceed even our family’s normal passions.”

“Oh I pray it the former my Lady.”

“So do I.” Lucrezia sank into melancholy so Ezio acted swiftly. In seconds his hands were pressing around her throat.

Her eyes flashed as he recognised him.

“Pig, what have you done with…”

“Your guard is safe,” interrupted Ezio, not willing to learn a name so he wouldn’t become involved.

“I do not rape Omegas – or anyone.”

Lucrezia bit her lip and struggled to raise her head, but she was drunk.

“I am surprised you care.”

“Everyone Assassin, deserves a chance,” and there was something like regret and bitterness in her statement.

Ezio wondered if there was a glimmer of redemption in the black soul opposite. Then again, he too killed for a living. He hoped there was a chance of redemption also.

“Then speak quickly so you can return to him. Where is Catrina?”

“The Castel Sant'Angelo.”

Ezio knew of it and nodded. “Do not scream and I shall leave in peace.”

Squeezing a little Ezio added, “I will endeavour to pry Leonardo from your brother too perhaps, Lucrezia Borgia. What say you?”

Ah…jealously worked wonders. Lucrezia smirked. “Yes.”

Ezio released her then hastily retreated to Rafael, shed his guise and they climbed up to Maria and watched. Lucrezia had followed Ezio to the room, but ignored them as they climbed the wall. Instead she slipped behind revellers, silk wrap over her hair and covering her jewels.

A moment later she was supporting the dazed guard. She glanced one time in their direction and merely lifted her skirts, gripped her jug and smiled as she led her secret to safety.

Ezio shook his head and gestured for them to leave. They had what they needed. He was not the only Omega being protected in Rome – not simply by a Templar either. No, by a Borgia. Ezio wished the guard well. Maybe he, like Ezio, would gain a content ending.

He, meanwhile, wanted his Alpha.

 

~ *~