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As the Sparks Fly Upward

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As The Sparks Fly Upward

An Assassin's Creed 2 fan fiction by xahra99

Florence, 1476.

Nobody honest should be out at this hour, Giovanni da Ventura thought as he watched the moths circle the street lights through the holes in his mask. It was the ninth hour of night, just after Compline. Most of the city's inhabitants had retired to their beds. Those that hadn't were undoubtedly up to no good. The respectable merchants that were Florence's daytime inhabitants had disappeared; replaced by a motley crew of watchmen, whores, thieves, troubadours, cutpurses, charlatans, magicians and mountebanks that would vanish like the moths as soon as the sun came up.

Thieves and beggars all, Giovanni thought, and then, I should head home.

He stayed anyway. The night would turn ugly once the taverns emptied. Giovanni was too old to outpace a clan of drunken youths, but he was also too old to follow the armies who had taught him his trade. Tavern brawls meant easy money to a doctor like himself.

So he waited, tucked far enough underneath a vine-covered awning that a cursory glance would pass him by but not far enough to be overlooked by somebody who needed assistance.

Giovanni had plied his trade in the courtyard outside the Palazzo Auditore since the villa had been built. He'd treated men for every ailment from scabies to syphilis. So when a figure tapped Giovanni on the arm, he recognized the face half-hidden under a white hood fast enough. And realized why the guards still waited in the palazzo opposite.

"Ezio?" Giovanni whispered.

The Auditores' second son nodded grimly. His face bore an expression that Giovanni had seen many times on the faces of his customers. The doctor would have known that something terrible had happened even if he hadn't seen three of the Auditore family dragged out of the house by armed guards the previous evening.

"I almost didn't recognize you in that getup," Giovanni said.

"Maybe that's the idea." Ezio hissed. His eyes flicked towards the front door of the palazzo.

Giovanni shook his head. "They're waiting for you, you know." He scrutinized the boy, searching for injuries. There was blood on Ezio's sleeve and on the front of his doublet. Too much blood. Most of the spatters looked like they had come from somebody else. Giovanni briefly weighed the price on Ezio's head against the likelihood of him living to receive it. He decided it wasn't worth the risk. "Did you come here for treatment?"

Ezio wasn't listening. "They're in the villa?"

Giovanni nodded.

"I'll kill them."

"There's a lot of them."

"I don't care."

Giovanni sighed. He had treated the Auditore brothers' wounds many times. None of the injuries had been serious. The boys had a habit of tumbling across the rooftops of Florence like wild monkeys from the Indies. Their family was rich enough to pay for a real doctor, but that would have meant the boys had to tell their father what they had been up to. Boys would be boys, but they were good boys, all the same.

"They say you're a criminal."

Ezio looked affronted. "I say that I am not."

Giovanni pointed at Ezio's right hand. "You didn't get that sword slash leaping off the roof. I assume that's what you're here for."

Ezio glanced at the front door of the palazzo, then down at his hand. He adjusted the long sleeve of his shirt clumsily to cover the wound, looking like he would either cry or stab somebody.

Giovanni took a cautious step back. "I heard you tried to save your family," he said carefully.

"They killed them anyway," the boy said, "I was too late." His voice was dull, as if the words meant nothing, or as if they were fragile bridges over despair too deep to be voiced.

"Either way, you need that stitching." Giovanni said. He put a hand on Ezio's shoulder and gestured him towards the door of the draper's shop that he hired for a pittance every evening. As a treatment room, it wasn't much, but it was better than nothing. More importantly, it was away from the palazzo. "Let's get you inside."

Because God help me –and my family-if I am caught on the streets with a criminal, he thought as he ushered Ezio through the door. He lit the lamp, adjusted his mask-an inconvenience, if a necessary one, padded and soaked in perfume to protect from the plague- and bent over the wound. It was an ugly gash; its provenance obvious to a doctor who had spent half his life treating war wounds. Somebody had knocked Ezio's fine new blade from his hand with the point of their own sword. The slash went deep but stopped short of bone or tendon.

"You're lucky."

Ezio snorted. "I wouldn't describe it that way."

Giovanni ignored him. "Flex each finger. Not, not all at once, one by one. Good." He turned to his instruments. "None of the ligaments have been severed. It should heal well, if you keep it still."

Ezio looked surprised, as if the possibility of the wound not healing successfully had never occurred to him. "I need my right hand."

"Certainly." Giovanni said dryly. "I've heard stories."

He wondered even as the words left his lips if he had said too much. It was never wise to anger nobles, especially when they carried a blade. But Ezio just smiled. As his mouth curved, Giovanni remembered the last time he had seen Ezio. He'd stitched the boy's lip after a brawl with the Pazzi. The wound had scarred, he noted. Not his best work. He'd have to do better, this time.

He poured some vinegar into a bowl. "Wash your hands."

Ezio grimaced as the sour liquid stung his wounds. "I should tell you before you start," he said abruptly, "I don't have any money."

Giovanni sighed. "No, you shouldn't. Learn from my other customers. Never tell me you're out of pocket until after I've healed you. What's the point in that?"

'You don't sound surprised."

"You're a noble. What else is new? If I had a florin for every aristo lad who couldn't pay, I'd be able to buy a palazzo of my own and marry off my daughters. Let me give you some advice, boy. If you ever become a doctor, only treat merchants. They're businessmen, after all. They understand how the world works. The rich don't pay, and the poor, well, they can't afford to."

"I have money." Ezio dripped vinegar onto the draper's table. "I just don't have it now."

"Forgive me if I do not hold my breath." Giovanni doused his own hands in the liquid.

"I'll send money."

"You do that." Giovanni said dismissively, "Now," he said, with maybe too much satisfaction. "Hold still. This is going to hurt."

Ezio swore when the needle pierced his skin, but he held still. It was only a few minutes before Giovanni snipped the last silk suture and stepped back to admire his work. "Everything is going to be fine," he told his patient.

Ezio's head snapped up. "The last man who told me that was wrong."

Giovanni dumped his instruments in the vinegar to cleanse them and picked up a roll of bandage. "Maybe, but I'll wager he wasn't a doctor, was he?"

He turned back around in time to see Ezio shake his head. "He wasn't a doctor," the boy said. "It was Gonfaloniere Alberti. Just before he hanged my family in the square."

Giovanni hissed through his teeth. "Alberti? You want to watch out there, lad," he said as he began to bind the wound. "He has powerful friends."

"I don't care." Ezio flexed his hand. "Not too tight. I need to move it."

"Don't tell me my job." Giovanni snapped. He regretted the comment as soon as it left his mouth and followed it up with something more complimentary. "Your father was a good man."

"I don't know what my father was." Ezio said flatly. "But whatever it was, they killed him for it."

Giovanni thought the answer strange. "I thought he was a banker."

"So did I."

"So he had two jobs? That's lucky. Most of us struggle just to make ends meet," Giovanni said pointedly. He tied the bandage in a neat bow. "That's it. Flex your hand. What does it feel like?"

Ezio rotated his wrist. "Better."

Giovanni watched the bandage carefully for the flowering of blood. "It should do." No blood appeared. The doctor nodded in satisfaction. "How did you survive?"

"I ran."

"There's no shame in that. You're still alive." Giovanni replied. "And when there's life there's hope. I should know. But how about your mother? Your sister? How fare they?"

"My sister is well. My mother...well, she does not talk. You can't help her," he added in response to Giovanni's unspoken question. "It's not her body. It's her mind."

"I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault." Ezio pulled his sleeve down to cover the dressing. "My thanks for your help. I'll need my sword hand in the weeks to come."

Giovanni shrugged. "The work is not yet complete," he warned. "You must rest the hand, or it will scar. You may lose the use of it."

"I'll consider it."

"If you value your revenge, you will do more than that."

Ezio nodded. "I thank you," he said, more formally. He reached over to the vinegar bowl with his left hand and fished out a pair of scissors. Awkwardly, he snipped an ornate clasp from his doublet and handed it to the doctor. "I trust this will be enough for treatment?"

Avarice warred with guilt as Giovanni weighed the clasp in his hand. It was engraved with spirals and set with cabochon gems. It did not bear the Auditore family crest, which meant it would likely be untraceable. It was also heavy, which meant that it was expensive. Giovanni allowed himself to estimate the cost for a brief second before he handed the trinket back to Ezio. "This is too much," he said bluntly.

Ezio set the clasp on the table. "Consider it a payment for future services rendered." He pulled the hood over his head and turned to leave.

"You are set, then, on revenge."

"I am."

"Assuming that you survive that long?"

"Assuming that."

"And, Ezio?"

The noble paused, half in and half out of the door.

"It will get easier," Giovanni said briefly. "Send my condolences to your family. I am here, should you have need of me."

Ezio nodded thoughtfully and slipped out of the door. Giovanni followed him a few seconds later. There was no trace of the boy. The doctor stepped a few paces back and gazed up at the terracotta-tiled roofs, tracking Ezio's movements by the flutter of pigeons in the grey dawn light. The sound of conversation drifted from the courtyard of the palazzo where the soldiers waited for a quarry that would not appear.

"Merda," he muttered under his breath. "I told him to rest it."

The pigeons had returned to their roost by the time Giovanni shuffled back inside to gather up his tools, whispering a prayer for the souls of the deceased family as he did so. He had a feeling that he'd be seeing Ezio again. If the boy had half his father's business acumen, Giovanni would earn the price of the clasp and more before Ezio was done with him.

"Damn bankers," he muttered, and closed up the shop.