They were given names by their mother before her death, but by the time they're three no one remembers – between themselves they only use their original names, and that eventually spreads to everyone else around them, so, even if there are people who know what their late mother called them, it doesn't really matter. Clay is Clay and Desmond is Desmond. At some point they – or probably Clay – decide that they refuse to answer to any other names.
They were born in Florence in the year 1477, in a brothel, naturally – though not in La Rosa Colta, sadly, that would be too convenient. But it's a brothel, in Florence, so it's not hard to draw conclusions.
"Ezio?" Clay more suggests than asks.
"Yeah, maybeh," Desmond agrees. "Maybe the Eye, too. Mighda been somthin' I did."
"You're welcome," Desmond answers with great dignity. They're two at the time – and counting back from their current age to estimated time of conception, Ezio was probably sixteen, seventeen years old at the time it happened. So, around twenty now. So…
"Not here," Clay summaries as they sit on the second floor of the mezzanine of the brothel, watching the courtesans seduce men out of their money below.
Desmond hangs his feet through the gaps in the railing, kicking them and humming with agreement. Ezio would be living in Monteriggioni – or he'd be in Venice. One or the other. "What're we gon do?"
Clay gives him a look. "Learn to speak properly to start with."
Desmond pouts at him. "I talk fine," he mutters, though he doesn't. Stupid baby vocal cords.
Clay snorts and looks away. "We grow, we plan, we fuck Juno's plan up."
Desmond considers that, leaning his cheek on the railing. "Yeah okay," he says then. "Thassa plan."
"Unless we die before then from a million diseases due to horrible hygiene, lack of sanitation and lack of vaccinations and antibiotics in general," Clay mutters. "Stay away from rusty nails, Seventeen."
Desmond smiles at him, with all the charm of a skinny two year old. "Luv u too, Sisteen."
Clay scoffs, disgusted.
They were born as fraternal twins. Clay had a tuft of blond hair at birth and his skin was a shade paler than Desmond's – who according to the Madame was born with dark eyes, like the devil. For the first few years of their lives, the courtesans adore pale blond blue-eyed Clay, favouring him over darker-toned Desmond. That is, until they actually get to know him.
Clay doesn't even pretend to be a normal child – nor does he dumb himself down for anyone. It earns him the ire of the courtesans and customers both more than once – and curiously, punishment does nothing but make him do much worse. In comparison, Desmond is an agreeable, amiable angel, always so nice, never making trouble.
"You sycophant," Clay accuses, nursing his backside after another punishment for back talking
"Being nice is a skill," Desmond says, looking at him worriedly. "One you can learn. Are you alright?"
"My ass hurts, so no, I'm not alright. And all I did was correct that pompous asshat on geography. Who the hell thinks there are polar bears in Sweden?"
"Who knows, there might be," Desmond comments. "It doesn't matter if he was right or wrong – you made him look stupid in front of a pretty lady – of course he got mad."
"Well it was his own fault for being stupid."
"You're being stupid, tempting fate."
Honestly Clay seems to weirdly enjoy it – as some sort of masochistic call for attention maybe, and making up for all the time he couldn't mess with people, being dead. Mostly he gets off easy, being so young and outwardly adorable – but of course, eventually someone goes too far.
They're six. While Desmond looks a bit like a goblin, his limbs growing longer than is aesthetically advisable, Clay looks like a literal damn angel, a cherub, with a mane of blond curls and big blue eyes – he looks like a renaissance painting, for god's sake. And with his attitude, he's hard to miss.
"Quite the mouth you have on you, boy. Didn't your father teach you any manners?" one of the patrons demands, after Clay had made himself seen and heard.
"Don't have a father," Clay says, primly, obviously goading the guy. "Or a mother, for that matter – and yes, I am a bastard, too."
"And clearly in need of a man's influence, running so wild," the guy says, narrowing his eyes, obviously considering and then looking to the courtesan he was talking with. "I could take the lad in hand, and – discipline him."
The courtesan blinks, and demurs with, "Oh, I don't know, he usually settles down after a good spanking."
"And then gets right up to his old tricks, no? Obviously good spanking isn't enough – he needs to be shown his place properly," the patron says, and then, the worst thing he could say, "I can pay handsomely for it."
Desmond, who is playing on the second floor with a toy ball, narrows his eyes at that, and for all his bravado and daring, Clay isn't dumb. He knows he's still small – too small. He turns and runs, just barely in time to keep himself from being grabbed. The patron of course follows him, thundering up the stairs with determination and an evil gleam in his eyes.
Desmond considers the steps, the patron, and then the ball in his hand. Clay makes his way to the second floor, his eyes wide, and Desmond calculatingly drops the ball, sending it rolling.
The patron steps on it, stumbles back and goes head over heels down the stairs – breaking his neck on his second impact.
"Tone it down," Desmond mutters later, after the guard has been in and the whole thing has been proclaimed a terrible accident. "You're too pretty to be making this much trouble."
Clay sighs, uncomfortable. "Just wait until puberty. I'll put on weight, my face will explode, and I'll sweat like a pig, it'll be great and no one will want to get anywhere near me."
Desmond snorts. "Dumbass. Just be more careful."
Clay hums. "Might be time to start putting our plan into action," he admits. "Any longer here, and things will get… difficult."
Desmond considers the brothel. It's probably not the worst place to grow up in – at least here they have a roof over the heads and are fed… but it's definitely not the best place either. And if they stay here, things would get difficult eventually. Clay is already pegged for prostitution for how pretty he is. It's not a good situation, so yeah, leaving could be an idea. But on the other hand...
"We're six year old bastard orphans," Desmond reminds him.
"We're also really, really good," Clay says and looks at him. "I mean, you can already kill people with nothing more than a toy ball, so… should be alright."
Desmond sighs. "Not sure the ability to commit successful murder is relative to our ability to survive by ourselves in the 15th century Florence."
"Shows how little you know."
The plan is this – to become apprentices as soon as possible, and for as good occupations as possible. Clay would prefer engineering, or in a pinch art, Desmond is more loose and wouldn't really care if he got nothing at all. Money and background is an issue, though – the fact that they don't have either. Yet.
"We could try for Monteriggioni," Desmond comments, a little wistfully. "See Ezio. That would give us a background."
"As the bastards of a notorious murderer," Clay snorts. "And how are we even going to prove it? Our mom's dead, if she even knew who our father was, it doesn't seem like she told anyone. There's no proof."
"Aside from Eagle Vision," Desmond says. "Pretty sure even Ezio knows it's hereditary."
Clay looks at him flatly. "You have Eagle Vision?"
"You don't yet?"
"What do you mean, yet? I never had it!"
They look at each other blankly. "But – the writing?" Desmond says then, confused.
"Yes, the writing, Seventeen, which I made in my own blood – I didn't exactly need Eagle Vision to make it," Clay says and looks him up and down while Desmond hangs his head, guiltily. "You have Eagle Vision, huh? That changes things."
"… so we will go to Monteriggioni?"
"Well, no," Clay says, calculatingly. "But we can do other things. Or you can, and I will benefit from them."
Desmond presses his lips together, giving him a look. "Like what?"
"Like, for example, treasure hunting, breaking and entering, avoiding guards," Clay says, obviously already planning great things. "Killing people who deserve it and stealing their valuables… That sort of thing."
Desmond sighs. "I regret everything."
Desmond does his first proper Brotherhood Level Assassination when he's seven. He kills a merchant who has some old ties to the Templars – used to be a weapons supplier. The guy also had some tastes and inclinations which, really, alone would've been enough to sign the guy's death warrant.
"I'm sorry, I can't help you back to your own country," Desmond says apologetically to the shocked woman, a girl really, pretty sure she trafficked into Florence against her will to be the merchant's not so happy bride. "But here, I'll give you some of his money, maybe you can figure out a way? Um, go to La Rosa Colta, ask for Paola – she might be able to help you."
The woman is still a bit shell shocked when he ushers her off, but it's really the best Desmond can do for her – it's not like a seven year old has enough clout to set people up in better lives.
Not yet anyway.
"Should be enough to bribe my way into an apprenticeship," Clay muses, considering the funds Desmond brings back to him – hiding them from the courtesans, obviously. "I wouldn't mind getting more."
"You could do some work yourself, too," Desmond comments. "You'd make a killing pickpocketing, while you're still pretty enough that people think you're all good and nice."
"You are all good and nice, and it doesn't seem to be making much of a difference," Clay snorts and looks at him. "To be honest, never took to the pickpocketing. Not really a skill they teach in the future, and I didn't get a handy dandy Animus training like some."
Desmond narrows his eyes. "Maybe a time you learn, then. You are an Assassin, after all. Should have the skills of one."
The utterly inconvenienced look Clay gives him sets his mind – he's going to teach the guy out of pure damn spite.
With some forged letters from a would be sick father – written masterfully by Clay – and funds accumulated mostly by Desmond, they work Clay into an apprenticeship. Though engineer had ended up being a bit too difficult, there was a – rather shitty, in Desmond's opinion – blacksmith, who took the money and the sob story from the letter, and took Clay in.
"It'll do for a start," Clay decides. "Will give me experience in blacksmithing and a background."
"So as long as you don't get thrown out," Desmond says. "Apprenticeships are slow – you're going to be doing chores for most of the first two years."
"Yeah, we'll see about that," Clay says, pulls himself up to his full height – which isn't all that tall – and then takes the apprenticeship head on.
Desmond, in the meanwhile, becomes a jack of all trades street urchin, just another dirty orphan among many. He steals, he begs, he spreads rumours and carries messages, and in very short order worms his way towards the thieves' guild of Florence – which, sadly, is nowhere near as nice as the Animus let him believe.
La Volpe might be an Assassin and as such subject to certain moral codes – most of the thieves that work under him aren't.
"This is my turf, this district," one of them says, coming up to Desmond and his day's wages in a beggar's bowl. "You pay your tithes to me, or you pay in blood, you get me, boy?"
Desmond considers his options, decides it's not worth it getting into trouble with the thieves, and pays his tithes. He also very quickly learns to hide most of his ill-begotten earnings. He's not the only one doing it, either – everyone does it. They're thieves, after all, and even the big shots among thieves get thieved upon. It's practically the law.
Making his way up the ladder of thieves isn't easy – Florence is full of dedicated, ambitious and skillful thieves, and as it is, Desmond doesn't want to make too much noise of himself. He knows to keep his head down, knows to change spots – knows when to rob houses and when not. He thinks he also knows how to stay out of sight.
It's exactly that behaviour that brings him to La Volpe's attention.
"I hear you have been making absolutely no name for yourself, boy," the Assassin says, peering at him from under his hood.
"I – what?" Desmond answers.
"I keep an eye on the orphans," La Volpe says. "And I have my people do the same, it is a matter of honour and looking after our own. And you have gotten no complaints to your name. No one has anything to complain about, when to comes to you."
Desmond is even more confused now. "And that's – a bad thing?" he asks. "Should I make a nuisance of myself?"
La Volpe seems very amused, and very satisfied, which makes Desmond very worried. "Walk with me – tell me of your brother."
Turns out there is no keeping quiet from the Assassin Brotherhood's spymaster – and La Volpe has an eye for talent. La Volpe knows everything – the brothel they come from, the faked letter and background, the money Desmond was collecting to keep his brother in the apprenticeship, all of it.
"You are twins, correct?" La Volpe says.
Desmond shrugs, a little worried. They don't look anything like each other, and only Desmond looks anything like their new father – and that's probably only because he always did. He's pretty sure they inherited precisely zero genes from their new mother. The whole thing is a bit weird, and they generally don't think about it too much.
"It is admirable, to seek to support your brother. It shows dedication, selflessness, care – and self-sacrifice. Not the qualities you often see in thieves," La Volpe says. "You are both obviously very intelligent boys. Do you know how to read and write as well as your brother?"
"Er, yeah," Desmond agrees, increasingly wary.
"Very good," La Volpe says and smiles, satisfied.
And just like that, Desmond ends summarily recruited to be an apprentice of the spymaster of the Assassin Brotherhood.
"You have the luck of the devil," Clay says later, when Desmond tells him everything.
"If you could call it that," Desmond sighs. "Wanna bet on how long it will take him to figure out we're related to Ezio?"
It takes La Volpe about two months, which is not as bad as Desmond feared – he thought it would happen a lot sooner, and prepared for it too. But then la Volpe doesn't actually do anything with the knowledge, nor does he inform Ezio, which is rather worrisome.
"Well, he's a thief and a spymaster," Clay comments. "He's probably hoarding blackmail material. Something to extort or bribe Ezio with – or just, you know… give him a heart attack. The guy seems to like messing with people."
"You should be his student, not me," Desmond mutters. "You two would get along like a house on fire."
"What's to say we don't already?" Clay asks and shrugs. "He's been around, snooping. Tried to recruit me, but I want some credentials before I go criminal."
"Mmhm," Desmond says and leans back. "What'll happen after that, though? Once you're done with the apprenticeship? It's not like you're actually going to be a blacksmith."
"I'm going to find Leonardo da Vinci," Clay says with a feverish sort of determination in his eyes. "And I'll get an apprenticeship under him or die trying."
Desmond blinks. Huh. "Huh," he says out loud, not entirely sure why it surprises him, but it does. It also makes him feel a bit… uneasy. "Should do it before puberty then, if it's really going to be as bad as you think. He likes pretty boys."
Clay throws him a sharp look.
Desmond shrugs, unrepentant. "What – he does," he comments, still a bit uncomfortable. "Dunno if you saw them, in Ezio's boots, but I did – they're all very pretty. The guy has a type – and from what I saw, he stuck to it."
"I – did not want to know that," Clay says, looking vaguely uncomfortable. "Also I thought he carried like… a torch of Olympic proportions for Ezio."
Desmond shrugs and looks away. "He did – does – but that doesn't mean he doesn't have other preferences."
"Does he –?" Clay makes a face, not quite able to continue.
"I don't think so – I mean, he definitely banged some of his students, later on, but I'm pretty sure they were all adults. Honestly don't think Ezio would like him nearly as much if he did otherwise. Leonardo is not a monster – but he appreciates pretty things," Desmond shrugs. "Weird and funky Renaissance moral values for you."
"Uhhuh," Clay muses, chewing his lip and considering him with narrow eyes. "Seventeen, are you jealous?"
Desmond scowls. "What – no," he says and makes a face. "Why would I be jealous?"
Clay's eyes narrow further. "You're totally jealous."
Desmond makes a face. You try watching Leonardo da Vinci swallow his poor broken heart around oblivious Ezio Auditore for a few decades and come away unaffected from it.
Clay considers him and then smiles. "You're going to be pretty, though," he comments.
"If things go the same way for us as they did in the future, and it looks like they will – which means you're going to be actually hot. Like, ridiculous, underwear model, level of hot," Clay says with an unholy gleam of a terrible plan in his eyes. "We could use that. We could totally use that."
Desmond opens his mouth, closes it, and opens it again. "Are you seriously thinking – you are, you totally are," Desmond says in horror – and a weird, terrified thrill, which is really probably inappropriate. "You're actually thinking of pimping me out to Leonardo da Vinci for an apprenticeship."
"And you're going to love it, too!" Clay decides.
And then Salvonarola happens.
"Er," Desmond says, a little dismayed. "I completely forgot that this happens. And I didn't remember it happens this soon."
"You don't say," Clay agrees, looking over the crowd.
They're fourteen, and Florence is at the beginning of a religious upheaval. From what Desmond can remember, it takes a couple of years at least to get into a full book-burning fervour, but Salvonarola is there now, and preaching the message of evils of earthly possessions and pleasures and how abundance of knowledge could lead you astray.
"Does he have the Apple at this point?" Clay asks.
"You're asking me?" Desmond asks, turning to him.
"I never saw past Venice," Clay admits, shrugging. "Why do you think Absatergo was so keen on kidnapping you? I didn't see much of Ezio with the Apple – my ancestral bastard has probably been just now born in Venice, or something. I never saw this."
"Huh," Desmond says and folds his arms, thinking. "I think he does have it," he says then. "I think Ezio lost it in Forli in… uh. 1488?"
Clay looks at him, "That was three years ago," he says flatly.
"Well, yeah," Desmond admits, wincing. He'd kind of forgotten the whole thing – they'd been so eager to see where Ezio might actually leave the Apple that they'd sped past the years as fast as they could – the whole Forli and Salvonarola thing was kind of a blur. "I think Ezio gets it back in 1498? Thereabouts."
Clay blinks slowly. "We have to endure seven years of this?" he demands, waving a hand at the crowd of murmuring listeners, as Salvonarola preaches on.
"Hey, don't look at me," Desmond says. "I got nothing to do with the Bonfire of the Vanities."
"Oh, that's what it is?"
"It's so weird to me that you don't know," Desmond says, shaking his head at him. "You usually know all about these things. Historical events and such. How do you not know this?"
"I know the ones I experienced, or which were important for Precursor or Templar related research – and this one wasn't that important," Clay says and scoffs. "History is not exactly small, you know, no one can know everything that ever happened, and forgive me, but the Bonfire of the Vanities just wasn't an interest for me!"
"Okay, okay, sheesh," Desmond says, holding his hands up. "Sorry."
Clay blows out a breath. "Seven years and the Bonfire of the Vanities," he mutters, giving the crowd of listeners a disgusted look. "I can't believe this."
"Mmhm," Desmond agrees. "What are we going to do?"
"What do you think?" Clay asks and waves a hand at the head of the crowd, at Savonarola himself. "We're going to stop it and get the Apple."
Desmond pauses at that and gives him a wary look. "Oh, just like that, huh?"
"Yep," Clay says and looks at him. "Or what, are you just going to sit back and let innocent people die?"
Desmond considers it and then gives up. "Yeah, I guess not," he says. "But you realise how badly this might fuck up history?"
Clay gives him a look, conveying a very clear and I care because…? at him.
Desmond sighs. "Yeah okay. Let's get to it, then."