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shadow, my sweet shadow

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The roof tiles beneath his boots were almost the same old familiar ones he’d run across time and time before, making the same sound he’d already learned to ignore back in Firenze. The same sound that made him wonder how he continuously went unheard by citizens and by the archers, and the same one his ragged breathing was almost overpowering this time. 

Same but still different enough to feel slightly off in Venezia, to bring out that old paranoia that someone would hear this time. 

All it took was one time someone heard and got the better of him, and he knew that well, but thoughts like these were ones he avoided in particular lest he put himself (or others) in danger. Just this single distraction, however small, came ill-timed enough.

The jump was a sloppy one at best, poorly timed with not enough force behind it to actually make it across the canal and land on the roof on the other side. He could hear the splashing of those same roof tiles in the water below over the sound of his gasp as the breath was knocked out of him, both by landing on the edge of the roof chest first and by somehow making sure the wound somewhere on his torso made impact with the edge as well. He had no time to try and identify how exactly he’d gotten it, not while dangling from the edge of a roof and having trouble actually pulling himself up.

While he scrambled to catch his breath and get a grip on the old tiles under his fingers to stop himself from following them into the canal at the same time, his thoughts focused on the destination. It meant safety, and help, and it meant if someone heard him, they would follow.

It wasn’t far, he could make it long before he started losing too much blood to become truly and uncharacteristically unfocused enough to make sure there was no one following like he tended to due to blood loss. There was no telling how bad the damage was until he stopped, caught his breath, took the armor off, and actually allowed himself to check, but he couldn’t bother worrying about it just yet.  

He’d lost the guards two canals ago, but there hadn’t been a single archer waiting for him since, and Ezio knew not to dismiss that as luck; there had been no such thing as luck in Venezia, and he wasn’t ready to make the mistake of looking for it this time either. But Venezia had a safe haven, his mind supplied unbidden. 

With great effort, finally, he managed to pull himself up and find his footing again. The shouting voices and the sound of metal armor didn’t go unnoticed, somewhere below and too close for comfort, and it took an even greater effort to start running once again when it seemed like it was pointless.

The constant cycle of assassinations, running on the rooftops, falling into the canals, and dripping blood on Leonardo’s floor was growing steadily more frustrating with each retrieved Codex page, and each target that brought him closer to avenging his family. He was growing far too weary for a man of his age, and not just because it was tiring. 

But the bell tower of the Frari basilica was visible even in the dark, enough to guide him on this well-known path and to assure that he was close, that it would be over soon. An assurance his legs and his lungs needed at the moment, when he could feel himself slowing down as the bruises and the blood loss and the never-ending running were finally getting to him. He ignored all of it, of course, and pressed on knowing that it was the only way he could outrun death yet again. 

All of his hopes and the certainty of survival were always resting on whether or not he could outrun the guards without getting lost. The city was confusing at best, but his most common destination was one he could find no matter where he’d been running from. 

The bell tolled in the distance, and Ezio only had to allow himself to follow the sound, his other senses attuned to any danger around him. This close, he knew when to jump on instinct, even while running out of breath, and feeling the blood cool on his chest as he ran. 

None of that mattered, not when he could allow himself to drop down and catch on the edge of the roof before allowing himself to land on the cobblestones without a sound. 

The clattering of roof tiles was still ringing in his ears, in time with the beating of his frantic heart that always panicked when he was at Leonardo’s door. Ezio only allowed himself a moment to pull the hood down, before he knocked, as nothing more than a formality really. He was opening the door with his other hand before he’d even finished knocking as usual. 

Leonardo seemed to always be awake, always with his door unlocked, and always causing Ezio’s insides to clench upon arrival, expecting that this time would be the one when he’d be greeted with Leonardo’s absence. 

Blessedly not this time, because he was there and he was safety, and Ezio could have let his knees buckle right then and there out of sheer relief that he’d made it. And that Leonardo was there to greet him.

Perhaps it was the late hour, or it was Ezio’s absence in the prior weeks, or it was just something he couldn’t fathom in that instance, but Leonardo didn’t even bother smiling at him this time. He always smiled in greeting, and that smile would always drop away in a matter of painful moments when he’d caught sight of the state Ezio was normally in.

No smile this time, just a quiet resignation that was almost more successful in bringing Ezio to his knees. 

“Amico mio,” he said, nothing but a whisper over the sound of blood rushing in Ezio’s ears, “what happened?”

It barely sounded like a question at all, like he would have preferred not to know, but he was too kind, always too kind because he already made his way to Ezio’s side. Still ready to help. 

Ezio was almost hesitant to lean into him, knowing all the blood would stain Leonardo’s white shirt and shatter the illusion that everything was alright. That Leonardo wasn’t tainted just by knowing him, because most of the blood wasn’t even his. And yet he still stayed silent because he’d never seen Leonardo with the doublet and the cape missing, his hair loosely tied at the back of his head to keep it out of his eyes. And failing at that, because there were strands tickling the sides of his face and Ezio wanted nothing more than to reach out. 

“Ezio,” Leonardo said, and the cacophony of sound following Ezio shattered into a resounding silence as soon as his name was uttered like that.

“I am fine,” Ezio said, but it was a lie that fooled neither of them. 

At least it teased a smile out of Leonardo, a small fragile thing that nearly felt worse than no smile at all.

“I thought we were past these little lies,” he said and Ezio wanted to fall apart in his arms, unsure how he wasn’t already.

Instead, Leonardo led the way towards the nearest chair and helped Ezio sit down. His knees were weaker than he cared to admit, and he couldn’t blame it all on the run either.

Leonardo said nothing as he gathered his supplies, far better stocked than they used to be in Firenze before he was ready for the way Ezio tended to drop in. Ezio hated it, hated how Leonardo took it upon himself to keep bandages and salves around his workshop for his benefit. 

The worst part of it that Ezio could think of was that Leonardo never complained. It was right there in his eyes, the way he hated every single cut and stab wound. Never a stranger to blood, he'd still begun shying away from Ezio when covered in blood, in ways he probably hadn't even noticed himself. 

Ezio could see it though, the way his eyes took every stain in and how he avoided touching more of Ezio than he absolutely needed to. At times, it hurt more than the wounds did. But the thing in his chest, the one that seized up every time he thought of being followed and bringing danger to Leonardo's door, didn't let him question it. 

He was hurting to know why, but the prospect asking somehow hurt more.

Leonardo didn't wait and he didn't ask, his hands just started unbuttoning the first set of buttons he'd reached to get to the wound underneath. It gave Ezio pause, the way he didn't stop to ask this time. 

Blaming his unusually poor observation skills on the blood loss,  Ezio finally noticed that the usual flurry of words wasn't filling the space around them. The workshop seemed large for the first time, filled with a silence so deafening he almost crumbled under pressure to fill it in the absence of Leonardo's voice. 

"I don't lie," he said, in a struggle to say something at all. "Not when it is important, you must know that."

As soon as the words were out, he realized how desperately he wanted them to be true. Leonardo had to know, he just had to because he was impossible to lie to. There was something in those blue eyes of his that made Ezio want to spill his heart and soul in front of him. 

Those blue eyes, so so blue and full of undeniable understanding, were looking up at him and Ezio just wanted to keep talking. That part of him, the one in his chest, was already seizing from the thought though, reminding him that he'd run away for weeks because of those same eyes that succeeded in making him bare his soul in a way that was too real for someone like him. 

"Do I?" Leonardo asked, his voice colder than Ezio had ever heard, and it cut him to his core.

Leonardo was anything but cold, every part of him too good and filled to the brim with emotion that it almost made Ezio recoil from hearing him so devoid of the joy that was always bursting out of him. For a brief moment, a thought fluttered through his mind, a doubt that insisted Ezio tainted him like this, just like he'd done with all the blood. 

"Leo," Ezio started but didn't really know what he wanted to stay. What he could say to make everything, or anything at all, right.

He'd never been one to run out of words when he needed them most, but Leonardo had an effect on him that was difficult to explain. At least while Ezio was still skirting around the core of the problem that didn't allow him to admit it to himself. 

"Do I, Ezio?" Leonardo repeated, and just the whisper of his name just broke something.

His hands were covered in blood, Ezio could see where his fingertips were tinted a deep red, he could see smears of it on the sides of his face where he'd moved the hair from his skin, smudges on the pristine white of his shirt that Ezio so wanted to avoid. He was covered in blood just because Ezio was as well, and he simply couldn't do it anymore. 

Those hands were so slick with his blood and warm to the touch when Ezio covered them with his own, stopping the fingers that were still unbuttoning his doublet. Leonardo was still, eyes wide and so blue it almost hurt. He hadn't moved, hadn't breathed while Ezio leaned forward and ignored the pain in seemingly his entire body. 

His lips shuddered with the sharp intake of breath just before Ezio kissed him, he could feel it against his mouth, and all he could do was hope it wasn't a mistake.