Chapter 1: Prologue
The first thing he feels upon waking is the cold permeating his body, and a sense of weightlessness. It is as if he’s floating in icy water, the gnawing feeling just starting to eat away at his limbs, leaving them tingling with tiny pinpricks of discomfort. He cracks his eyes open, slowly, ever so slowly, faint moonlight filtering through his long lashes. He is staring up at the stars, he realizes, the the sound of water lapping faintly against the ground reaching his ears. For a moment he feels peaceful, content. And then he is in pain. Starting at the core of his body an intense, burning sensation creeps through him, clenching around his heart, his throat. He cannot breathe. He jerks forward, cannot find the strength to sit up, and instead rolls to the side, curling in on himself. His whole body shakes and he wonders why he is seeing red, before realizing he is staring at the backs of his eyelids. It’s as though his body is being hollowed out, cleansed in a way that only fire can accomplish.
After several long moments he wills himself to relax and unfurl, his muscles protesting slightly before becoming used to the movement. All of his senses feel abnormally aware; this would not be quite so disturbing if he couldn’t feel the sudden, glaring difference between himself and his surroundings. Everything feels empty, he can no longer feel his heart beating in his chest or his lungs expanding as he breathes; is he even breathing? He brings a hand to his chest, cannot feel its rise and fall, and feels a sense of panic welling up inside of him. Peace , he thinks, and he realizes it’s the first coherent thought he has had in awhile. It’s the first coherent thought he remembers having, for just as his body feels hollow so does his mind. Who is he? Is he someone, was he someone? He feels as though this last question is the most valid one, as there is something inside him that is telling him no, no, you are no longer anyone. You just are.
He looks around almost listlessly, surveying his surroundings. He is sitting on a cobblestone street, off to the side by a set of stairs that lead down to a canal. The sound of the dark water and the scent of the breeze offer a sudden flash of recognition. Yes, he knows this place. He knows this place as though he has been here his whole life, and perhaps he has. Had, he thinks to himself, for he is certain now that he is dead.
The breeze whispers past again, rustling something next to him, drawing his attention. Beside him lies a huge piece of fabric, and beneath it are three human shapes. Suddenly he feels as though he cannot breathe, even though knows that he’s not breathing in the first place. He knows those shapes, he can tell. One appears tall, tall enough that it is barely covered by the fabric. Another seems to be his size, and the last... the last is small, small enough to be a child. A boy. He feels something catch in his throat and he tears his eyes away. Yes, he knows who lies beneath that shroud.
I must not mourn now, he thinks. There will be time for that later. He can feel something burning deep within the pit of his hollow stomach, like he’s swallowed a hot coal, the acrid smoke leaving a bitter taste in his mouth. He may not know who he is, but he knows who did this . And he knows what he must do.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1
Oh jeez, almost forgot to post today! Here we are though, the first actual chapter. Enjoy!
Walking through the streets is different now. His presence goes unnoticed by everyone; he watches their eyes when he moves past, as they focus on the person walking in front of him and then the person behind. He feels as though he is made of smoke, and wherever he stands he always seems to be in shadow, like a shroud of it is covering his head, just as a shroud covered the faces of those he lay alongside at the edge of the canal. It has been three days since then, and he has been awake for every moment of it. Even if he still needed sleep he’s sure his search would be just as relentless. Although he does not remember his own name, or the names of those under the shroud, he does remember one: Uberto Alberti.
He knows, with some sort of nagging feeling at the back of his mind, that the man this name belongs to is soon to die. He knows this not just because of the coal sitting hot inside his belly, festering, not just because he desires this man’s death, but because it must happen. It is preordained, as if fate herself was urging him to complete this necessary task. He knows, with a sort of comfortable confidence, that he will complete it soon enough.
The advantage of going unnoticed in a crowd, he has discovered, is almost essential to his mission. He hears things he knows are not meant for him to hear, and sees things he knows he is not meant to see. In this way he learns that Alberti (just thinking the name makes his lip curl, he cannot end this man’s life quickly enough-) is attending an exposition of the artist Verrocchio this very afternoon. Though he will bring no weapons to this execution, he knows he is ready. Maybe after this man is dead, he will finally have some semblance of peace.
He arrives in the sunlit piazza after the exposition has already begun, people walking two and fro across the grass, music playing and the faint sound of wine glasses clink ing together. Though he is restless he must admit, it is a beautiful sight. This artist, Verrocchio, he thinks he remembers him from his lifetime, remembers seeing his paintings and recognizes the technique he uses to bring his work to life. It is almost enough to make him forget the task at hand. Almost, until he sees a man from across the courtyard and knows . He knows that is Alberti.
Suddenly his body is thrumming with adrenaline it does not need, and though his heart is dead in his chest it is as though his anticipation has forced it to start beating again. His strides are swift and sure, and in seconds he is standing in front of the man as he converses with two younger women, a glass in hand. Alberti is laughing easily, like the most carefree person in Italia , and it sends a deep, seething anger burning through him. He watches, waits. He knows it will happen soon. In some corner of his mind he feels himself expanding beyond the reaches of his immaterial body, like he is making his presence known.
Then, suddenly, Alberti turns his head, something has caught his eye- and he sees who is standing in front of him. Instantly all the color drains from his face, his eyes bulging from his skull. His grip on his glass loosens and it falls to the ground and shatters upon the cobblestone, drawing the attention of those nearest to him.
“You,” Alberti says, almost in recognition. Then he repeats himself, this time in horror, “You! ”
He can feel himself grinning, his first smile in days, his teeth bared in a vicious expression that looks nothing like happiness. “Me,” he agrees, reveling in the way Alberti’s face contorts in fear. He can hear the man’s heart rate speeding up to a near fatal rate, nearly there, nearly there…
Alberti stumbles back one step, two steps, and falls to his knees. “Keep away from me!” He yells frantically, the crowd around him becoming panicked, the women he had been speaking with backing away in fright.
He strides forward to stand at the man’s feet, looks down at him with such disdain that Alberti flinches. “You will pay for what you have done,” he says, enunciating each word with such venom that they burn his mouth as he spits them out. And then, blessedly, Alberti’s wild heartbeat ceases, he clutches his chest, and with a final sob he crumples in on himself like paper.
The crowd loses all semblance of control, the people nearest to the scene rushing towards the exits, their lack of understanding driving them mad with terror. Those on the outskirts of the piazza fight inward to see the cause of the commotion and the two groups combine to form a seething mass of bodies, all of their heartbeats thrumming like the strokes of a hummingbird’s wings, light and fast. He watches in silence, basking in the overwhelming sense of relief washing through him. Everything is balanced now , he thinks. Everything is right. He studies several members of the crowd with interest, watching them as they force their ways from the piazza exclaiming “Assassino, assassino!”, or as they try desperately to disentangle themselves from the sea of frightened people.
A few feet away someone falls to their hands and knees, several paintings tipping from their arms and clattering to the ground. Clearly distressed, the man moves to gather up the works of art, fending off members of the crowd as they threaten to crush the delicate canvases beneath their feet. There is something about this man, he thinks, watching as he collects the paintings and sits back on his knees to catch his breath.
The man tosses his head gently, shaking away the strands of golden hair that had been covering his face. His face is pale except for his trim blond beard, a smattering of freckles splashed across his cheeks like the work of a paintbrush, his eyes startlingly blue as they look ahead and spot Alberti’s lifeless body. He shudders slightly, a shadow of discomfort flitting across his face, along with something else: recognition? Understanding? But then the man stands, clutching the paintings to the front of his well tailored doublet, and without a backwards glance fights his way through the crowd and out into the street beyond.
It is a moment before he realizes he is standing completely still, enamored. That man , he thinks again, without knowing why. He knows something . With that he begins to move, his strides becoming longer and longer until he breaks into a run, weaving easily through the crowd and scaling the nearest building, all the while keeping the man in his sights.
Chapter 3: Chapter 2
Alright, chapter three, with special guest Andrea del Verrocchio. Writing for historical figures is strange...
Following the man through the Florentine streets to his home is not a difficult feat; something about him almost shines, like a spotlight is constantly focused on him from above, separating him from the citizens and merchants that line the streets. The commotion is spreading now, people whispering agitatedly about what might have happened, who was killed, was he murdered ? But for now that does not matter, his vision has narrowed to just the back of that doublet and crimson cape and he will not lose them in the crowd.
The man turns a corner and stops in an alcove, pulling out a set of keys and quickly unlocking the door before stepping inside. He follows behind, slipping in just before the door closes again, dimming the room beyond. Suddenly unsure of what to do, he stands in silence as the man bustles around his home. It appears to be a bottega , and the man is an artist; canvases line the walls and crumpled parchment covers the surface of the work table. In the back of his mind something begins to connect and he thinks, I know this place. Not well, perhaps, but the sight of the plush chair in the corner (used for posing models, he remembers-) and the books stacked next to it (anatomy, botany, astronomy-) are enough of a sign.
“Mio Dio,” the blond man sighs, causing him to start and lose his train of thought. The canvases from the exposition are on the work table now and the man is removing his hat to run a hand through his golden locks, his face somewhat drawn. It almost makes him feel bad for causing such a commotion with Alberti’s death, if it had such an impact on this poor man. But then the look is gone, and the man is moving around his workshop with renewed fervor. He sweeps an arm across the table, sending papers fluttering into the air, and grabs one sheet at the bottom of a pile, studying it briefly. Then he strides across the room to an easel supporting a blank canvas, collecting his paints and brushes as he goes. Intrigued, he steps closer to watch the man over his shoulder as he works- but a knock at the door distracts them both.
“Just a second!” The man calls, setting his materials down gently and moving to open the door.
“Leonardo, there you are. I came as quick as I could after hearing about the commotion.” An older man stands in the doorway, his posture conveying a sense of uneasiness. But that does not draw his attention so much as the name used to address the young artist. Leonardo… he muses, his brow furrowing. He feels as though that name is buried somewhere deep his mind, a distant memory. Has he heard it before?
“Ah, Maestro Verrocchio,” Leonardo responds, frowning slightly. “Commotion is one word for it, si . Come in, please.” He opens the door wider to allow the man to enter.
“Of course I knew you would be at the exposition,” Verrocchio says matter of factly as he strides past Leonardo, “And I was planning on attending as well, but I was detained by one of my clients. When I arrived things had already… unraveled.”
“Unravel they did, quite unexpectedly. Uberto Alberti, he-”
“Collapsed, I know. Died on the spot, it seems.” The elder man lowers his voice, as if worried someone would hear, “It is said that he called out before he died, against a spirit of some sort.”
“I heard him, yes.” Leonardo crosses his arms and turns his gaze away from his mentor, deep in thought. “I would very much like to have seen what was haunting him in those last few moments.”
Haunting him. That gives him a sense of pride in a way, knowing he had frightened Alberti so completely. Pride and also intrigue: Leonardo’s interest in what had happened was uncharacteristic of most, as he had come to realize. Most were happy to simply accept what they were presented with, without understanding it, and here he was, desperate to find the inner workings behind something that scared others into silence.
“You should really avoid asking questions, Leonardo. It unnerves people, and they are already unnerved enough as it is.”
“Si, si, I know that,” the young painter waves his hand dismissively, returning his attention to Verrocchio. “Still, what I would not give to know.” He pauses, his gaze scanning the room before falling on the paintings from the exposition. “Oh! Before I forget, Maestro, I should return these to you.” He moves to pick them up, delicately, as if they are made of glass.
“Grazie . I’m thankful that you were there to save these pieces of mine,” Verrocchio admits, gently accepting the armful of canvases. “From what I heard, they may very well have been destroyed if you had not gathered them up when you did.”
“It was a near thing, but I suppose luck was on my side.” He gives a small, gracious bow, a slight smile gracing his features. “Will that be all?”
“I believe so,” the elder man says, making his way to the door of the bottega. “I have much to do to recover from this incident. Perhaps another exposition will be arranged.” He sighs, shaking his head. “ Buon giorno, Leonardo.”
“Buon giorno, Maestro. I hope your next exposition will go as planned.”
“As do I.”
The door shuts and Leonardo lets out a small sigh, turning to face his easel once again. Removing his cape and rolling up the sleeves of his doublet, he begins mixing his paints, organizing his brushes, the expression on his face one of intense concentration. And then he begins to work.
Sitting down alongside the man, he realizes it is almost mesmerizing to watch him paint. The attention Leonardo pays to his work is astounding, his focus so singular that it would be almost intimidating to be on the receiving end of that gaze. Every detail is painted with the utmost care, and every stroke is considered thoroughly. Sometimes the strokes come quickly, paint flowing from the brush in broad lines, and sometimes they take what seems like hours, Leonardo sitting silently as he contemplates. When it is all said and done and progress has been made, it is nearly night, the candles burning low in their bases, the city of Florence dark beyond the workshop windows.
He shakes himself out of his stupor just as Leonardo does, the artist standing and stretching, still wide awake despite how long he had been working. Then he moves to the other side of his workshop, pulling out scrolls of parchment and various diagrams from one disorganized pile. One hand spreads open a sheet depicting a strange machine, like a huge wooden bat, his delicate fingers skirting over the scribbled measurements. The other hand is running through his wavy blond hair, strands of it glinting in the candlelight, while his eyes scan the sketch intently.
As interesting as the mysterious contraption is, and as enthralling as the artist is himself, he finds it difficult to focus on calculations he clearly does not understand. They are beyond complex, and he knows that in all his time alive he did not learn mathematics like these; he finds his attention drifting. He feels like his skin is itching and knows he needs to leave, if only for a while. Now that Alberti is dead, his mind is clearer and he finds himself asking questions that were once only distant thoughts at the back of his mind. The bodies by the canal, they were important- but why? Who were they, and most importantly, who was he? The need to know is eating away at him, like he is incomplete until he fully understands the circumstances of his new existence.
He moves towards the door, then stops. How can he leave without disturbing Leonardo? Looking down at the doorknob he grasps it tentatively, finding that he can turn it if he so chooses. But then, guided by a hunch, he presses his palm lightly against the door and- it begins sinking into the wood, his body intangible. With one final glance over his shoulder, he sees the artist still pouring over his scrolls, deeply consumed by his work. I’ll come back, he promises, more to himself than to his newfound companion, and he leaves the bottega behind.
Chapter 4: Chapter 3
Sorry this one is a bit late, I've been pretty busy with classes. But I hope you like it all the same!
Over the next few days he learns many things about his predicament: how he hears the heartbeats of those around him, how he knows when someone will die because he can sense it hanging over them like fog, like a shroud waiting to be placed. His own body is immaterial, something he learned from walking the streets of Florence those first days, but he still prefers to traverse the city by rooftop. Something tells him that he used this method while alive too, a memory of leather boots striking tile, hands gripping ornate overhangs and the sun beating down on the back of his neck from above. It pleases him to remember something like this, and though it is a small victory it makes him feel as though he hasn’t completely forgotten who he once was.
For the majority of the time he flits from one side of the city to another, content to just watch the people pass by. He has not felt another burning urge since the death of Alberti, and though he senses that things will soon come to pass, he remains idle as long as he can, becoming accustomed to his surroundings. He does, however, find himself drawn to the dying, in a way he cannot fully explain. As he moves across the city he will suddenly feel a pull, almost physical in nature, so strong that he cannot help but follow. People die every day; he knows this, now more than ever, now that he can hear their lives slowly passing by with every beat of their hearts. But every once in awhile, there will be a death he knows he must be present for.
The first time it happens he arrives at a small cottage on the northern outskirts of the city, beyond the walls that keep Florence safe, out among the fields and the townsfolk tending to their livestock. He passes through the door, quiet although he knows he cannot be heard unless he chooses it, and realizes that it is a much smaller home than he accounted for. There are only several rooms, furnishings packed tightly together in a way that is more secure and safe than cluttered. As he moves towards the back of the house he spots a small boy (a brother, younger) standing in the doorway of the nearest bedroom. This is where he needs to be.
Inside are are man and a woman (father, mother, grief stricken) and a doctor, recognizable by his garish mask resembling a bird of prey. On the small bed against the back wall is a young girl, the eldest sibling of two, her hair dark against her pale sheets and pale face. She is shivering, her hands clenched and body tense. It will happen soon, he notes sadly. Very soon.
“There is nothing you can do for her, Messere?” asks the mother, her tone of voice reflecting her tearstained face.
“I’m afraid not,” the doctor replies. “She is beyond help at this point; all you can do is make her passing more comfortable.”
At this declaration the mother kneels beside the bed, gently stroking her daughter’s hair, whispering words of comfort as the girl leans into her touch. Behind her the father rests his hand on her back: a point of stability, of reassurance.
“You know we love you, piccina . Now and always.” He can hear the girl’s heart, so slow now in the last moments, beat faster at the sound of her mother’s soothing voice. With what seems to be an incredible effort she opens her eyes, just enough to see the room around her through her lashes. She glances briefly at her mother, father… then her gaze rests on him. She smiles, a slow, knowing sort of smile reserved usually for those who have lived long and learned much. And then, as quickly as it sped up, the beat of her heart begins to fade until finally, finally it stops. There is a noise like a soft breath of relief, one only he can hear, that passes through the room, and the girl’s hands release their grip on her worn blanket.
He knows he is no longer needed and moves to leave the house, gently pushing past the parents, both sobbing brokenly over the loss of their daughter, past the young boy standing in the doorway who watches in ignorance. In his innocence the boy does not understand what has happened, but he will soon; then everything will change for him.
As he steps outside he feels the sun gently bathing his face in light, the chilling breeze flowing around him, through him. Although he knows it was hard for the small, poor family in the hut behind him to lose their child, he knows it is for the best. Soon she will be like he is, free from physical form- and yet she will not be like him, because she will fade from this world and onto the next within a few days. This is not the case for him, he can sense it in the core of his being. Not the case for him yet, but perhaps one day.
He continues on along the dirt pathway until he is back inside the golden walls of Florence, mingling with the crowds as though he were still one of the many people walking the streets. It is not the last time he will have to be present for a death like this, and he knows it.
The second time it happens it is in stark contrast, simply because of the intense violence of it. He crosses the city in the dead of night, the only light that of the blanket of celestial bodies above and the candlelight in the window of the workshop he passes. Leonardo is working late again , he thinks, but there is no time to visit his unconventional companion now. He picks up his pace, practically flying across the cobblestone streets, leaping across the canals. Suddenly he has arrived where he needs to be and he comes to a halt, turning on his heel into a side alley.
In the darkness of the alley he sees two figures, one prone while the other stands above him. The man on the ground clink s as he moves, his armor shining bright under the light of the stars and moon. His face is mostly in shadow, but the whites of his eyes are visible, huge and bright and terrified. The chestplate he wears is gripped in the hand of the man above him, a man dressed in street clothes; he is not wealthy, clearly, with the way his breeches are frayed at the knees. He is also obscured by the darkness of the dingy alley, but in his right hand glints a knife, recently sharpened.
“You are one of them, si? One of the guards who attacked my wife, as she was walking home last night?”
The armored man trembles but he is silent; it is a guilty, heavy silence, and the man above him recognizes it as such.
“That is what I thought. How many of you were there?”
Still there is silence, but the guard is forced into speaking as the brandished knife is held against his throat, the tip raising a pinprick of crimson blood. “F-Four, Messere, there were four. Per favore, it was not my idea, I-”
“But you participated, did you not?” No response. “My wife told me. She told me as she died from her injuries that one of those who beat her was called Niccolo. And that is your name, si ?” The guard’s eyes widen impossibly further in disbelief; the possibility that this man, this commoner should track him down for his crime, did not even cross his mind. He tries in vain to crawl backwards across the dingy cobblestone, away from the knife poised to strike at his neck, but is held in place by the surprisingly strong grip of his attacker.
“You deserve this, you know,” the man says, rage running an undercurrent through his voice, leaving it trembling. “I hope you realize what you’ve done.” And with one calculated move, he presses the blade against Niccolo’s throat and slices.
Immediately a sheet of blood slips from the deep cut, beating in time with the guard’s frantic heartbeats. He gurgles helplessly, blood welling from deep within his throat and seeping out the corners of his mouth; briefly his eyes roll in terror like those of a wild animal before, just as the young girl’s had done, they come to rest on him. His fear only increases, gripping him in such a way that he appears to convulse as he tries to force himself away from the ghastly apparition before him. The apparition that is watching him die with sharp, golden eyes and teeth that appear even sharper in the way they are bared.
Slowly his life sputters out of him, and his body becomes limp like that of a discarded doll; his wide, vacant eyes are still glassy in the moonlight. The man drops him with a thud , breathing hard through his nose, and drops the knife next to him. He backs away, his body trembling ever so slightly as adrenaline courses through his veins, then turns to the street and flees, his worn shoes slapping against the ground in frantic steps.
He is left with the body and the knife, studying both with some interest. He knows the man was right to kill this guard, at least according to his own code. It was fair, in a way, taking the lives of those who beat and killed his wife. He feels his lip curl in disgust. Their lives do not amount to the same value as hers. Not even close. Silently he wishes the man, the widower, good luck in his hunt, and then he too leaves the dark alley for better places. For Leonardo.
Chapter 5: Chapter 4
So here's where the explicit rating kicks in, ladies and gents. That, and some important plot stuff happens, hooray!
He arrives at the bottega not long after, swinging in through the upstairs window from the roofs he had been running on. This late at night he does not need to take to the rooftops, really, but something about it is still exhilarating even after death. He makes his way downstairs and is not at all surprised to find Leonardo still wide awake, now working on an odd little device that looks somewhat like a corkscrew. The way the artist’s brows knit together in deep concentration, teeth worrying away at his bottom lip, brings a smile to his face despite the dark mood the night has put him in.
It has been quite some time, perhaps several months since he first discovered Leonardo among the crowd present at Alberti’s death. Since then his attachment to the artist has only grown, in a way that perplexes him greatly. He still does not even know his own name, who he was, and yet his memory of this man becomes more clear with every passing day. He remembers meeting him one day, coming to this very workshop with someone else (a woman?) and seeing Leonardo smile as he opened the door. He remembers brief visits, a suggestion that perhaps he should model for the artist, outings into the countryside to watch his friend sketch the Florentine countryside in his notebooks. They would have been incredibly close, he realizes with a twinge of sadness, if he had not met his untimely death. If anything this thought makes him even more determined to get to know the artist in some small way.
This is how he has found himself, on multiple occasions, trailing behind Leonardo as he goes through his daily routine. Despite the long hours the artist spends working on his paintings and inventions in his studio he is actually quite busy, his flighty nature leading him to suddenly drop his work and go off on another errand or task. He is always quick to follow Leonardo on his outings, even if they leave him a bit perplexed. In fact a good deal about the artist is perplexing: no matter where Leonardo happens to be, he is somehow always standing in the sunlight. It is as though the artist is glowing, just the slightest bit, just enough that he appears separate from those around him. He sees the glow when Leonardo is surrounded by other people, adoring fans who not only love his work but the artist himself for his kindness and physical beauty, showering him with praise and making him blush in his modesty. He sees the glow when Leonardo spends his hard-earned florins at the market, buying cages full of doves and songbirds, only to set them free on the nearest rooftop. After witnessing so much death, both before his own and after, the amount of kindness and sincerity present in the artist’s actions both confuses him and relieves him. He is constantly drawn inwards, like a moth to a flame, but he has not yet had the misfortune of being burned.
He sees the glow most clearly one night, when Leonardo is lying in the dark of his bedroom, thinking he is alone. Only once has he ever made his way into the artist’s bottega and encountered such a situation, but the thought of it makes him flush, a twinge of guilt running through him. He had expected to find Leonardo awake again, the hundreds of incredible ideas in his head keeping him up at night, or to find him dreaming peacefully, curled up tightly in the soft sheets of his bed.
He did not expect to find the man lying sprawled on his back, blue eyes tracking patterns on the ceiling, the moonlight filtering in from the window making it painfully obvious that he was completely naked.
At first he feels incredibly ashamed, enough so that he considers leaving the way he came, despite the fact that at the moment Leonardo is doing nothing, completely still. But as he turns to leave, he hears a breathy noise, partially a moan, partially a sigh: “Ezio.”
He spins around again, facing away from the window, at the sound of that name. It sparks something in him that he does not understand, like his mind is trying to fit a new piece into his shattered memory, but can’t quite manage it. That name, and the way it was said, the voice beckoning like a tangible force, pulling him into the room although guilt still sits at the back of his mind.
Moving back to stand at the side of the bed, he watches as Leonardo slowly raises one freckled hand to run its palm across his collarbone, down his chest. He stops there to rub a thumb against one of his pink nipples and he sighs again, his eyelashes fluttering shut. Suddenly the room is too hot, muggy, thick and it makes him swallow hard as he watches.
The hand travels down further, over the artist’s soft stomach, muscles tensing just enough that his strength is visible there; Leonardo is not a weak man. Then it moves lower, and he feels like his heart is in his throat as it rubs firmly at the junction between one of the artist’s pale thighs and his pelvis. Finally, as though the whole world is not holding its breath, Leonardo wraps his trembling fingers around his half hard cock and strokes. As he moves his posture begins to change, his body becoming tighter, the red flush staining his face and neck visible even in the dim light. His breath comes in little pants, his wrist twisting expertly, the slick slide from his precum wringing a moan from deep in his throat.
It is too much, he thinks brokenly, feeling his own intangible body heat up in response to the sight in front of him. There is no way he knows of that can relieve his frustration, however, so instead he watches intently, hands opening and closing at his sides restlessly. He feels faint as Leonardo rubs his thumb over the slit of his leaking cock and arches his back languidly, a drawn out groan falling from his parted lips.
The man is reaching the end, he realizes, watching his hips buck up into his hand, his eyes screwed shut in his pleasure. Leonardo tosses his head to the side, his golden hair fanning out on his pillow like a halo, moans “Ezio, please,” in a voice full of so much want, so much need , that if he were alive he is sure he would have died at the sound of it. Suddenly his whole body uncoils like a spring and with a gasp he is finished, ropes of white cum spilling over his hand, clinging to his trembling thighs and belly. Leonardo’s pink tongue comes out to wet his lips, swollen from the way his teeth had been biting at them, his hips twitching with aftershocks from his release.
He feels as though if he does not pull away now, does not force himself to look away from the sight of a pale chest rising and falling, of delicate skin and nipples pebbling in the cool air, he will never be able to escape that bedroom again. And so he flees out the window, the warmth between his legs still present, and the warmth in his chest even more so.
Perhaps these are the things that draw him to Leonardo da Vinci, he thinks, feeling his face redden once again at the memory of that night. The artist is irresistible in more than one way, in ways that even he cannot describe from his position beyond the grave. He takes a seat at Leonardo’s work table, resting his head on his arms, watching the man at his easel. Perhaps it is unreasonable to be so attached to a man he has only just gotten to know, but he finds he cannot stop himself. It is inevitable, he tells himself, smiling at the thought that perhaps one thing is still out of his control. As he watches Leonardo concentrate on his painting his vision begins to blur and dull. He feels calm sitting there in the warmth of the bottega, thinks how nice it would be to call this place home… and then he doesn’t think much at all.
Suddenly he jolts back into full awareness, blinking rapidly. Had he been sleeping? No, sleep is no longer possible or necessary for him, he knows this, and yet he felt as though he was dreaming. It was like a meditative state, his senses muting just enough for him to be oblivious to the world, if only for a while. He takes note of this new information about his strange existence, feeling strange now that he is completely aware again, like everything around him is too bright, too loud. Sitting up and stretching, he looks blearily around the bottega, realizing that sunlight is filtering in the window now instead of inky black. More time has passed than he originally anticipated.
The second thing he realizes is that Leonardo is no longer in the workshop. This isn’t an uncommon occurence, of course, as the artist often steps out to run errands or to get some fresh air, but something about this time is different. He has a nagging feeling that he should be with Leonardo, a feeling bordering on paranoia that leaves him thinking what if something’s wrong, what if he needs me, regardless of the fact that his companion has never truly needed him before.
Making up his mind to search for the artist (just in case , he tells himself, just in case), he quickly stands and makes his way to the door, stepping out into the sunlight. He heads to the left tentatively, passing groups of ragtag teenagers and mothers with their children, allowing himself to be drawn in the direction he subconsciously knows he needs to go. After only a few hundred feet he comes upon the entrance to the workshop’s back courtyard. He is quite familiar with the small garden, as he’s crossed through it many times when seeking access to the bottega via the second story terrace. He pauses momentarily at the entrance and is about to continue on when he hears a muffled thud and two voices: one threatening, the other pleading. The latter he recognizes immediately as the voice of Leonardo.
Within seconds he rounds the corner into the courtyard and feels rage boiling up within him, because a guard has pinned the artist against the weathered stone wall and is bearing down on him like some kind of huge, imposing dog. Leonardo’s breathing is staggered, heavy, like he’s just been punched in the gut, and somehow that connection makes him even more enraged; how could anyone ever bring themselves to hurt someone as gentle and unassuming as Leonardo? Before he realizes it he’s standing directly behind the guard, his teeth clenched as though ready to take a bite out of the man’s exposed nape.
“So, Maestro da Vinci, what is it that you know about the death of Alberti?” From the way the question is posed it is clear that this is not the first time it has been asked. “It is known that you were close with the Auditore family before their crime of treason. Did you exact revenge on their behalf?”
“No! I told you, I would never do such a thing,” Leonardo insists, his hands held up in front of him in a pleading gesture. He looks pale and on one high cheekbone a mottled bruise is beginning to blossom, black and blue and yellow. His blue eyes are wide, shifting from the guard’s face to the rapier at his belt. “Please, Messere, you must believe m-”
Suddenly the guard strikes him again, gauntleted fist connecting with the artist’s stomach, all his remaining breath leaving him in a whoosh . Leonardo crumples to his knees, gasping, and before he has time to recover the guard’s heavy boot catches him under the ribs. With no air left in his lungs to cry out all he can do is wheeze and cough, his body trembling, curling in on itself for protection.
“You make a very unconvincing case, da Vinci. I suppose I’ll have to beat the truth from you, hm?” The guard’s lips curl in a vicious grin and as Leonardo looks up at him, eyes glassy from pain, his gaze slips from his attacker’s face to the figure standing behind him.
In that moment the world seems to come to a standstill. Leonardo is looking at me , he thinks in disbelief and panic wells up inside him, because up until this point the only people who have been able to see him are those who are about to die. Suddenly the situation becomes much more dire, and as he breaks eye contact with Leonardo he wills the guard to stop, in the only way he knows how.
Before Leonardo’s attacker can land another blow he staggers, his body suddenly weak and unwieldy, like a puppet with its strings cut. As though he can now sense the figure standing behind him he turns to the side, his eyes widening in horror. They widen even more so as said figure wraps its fingers around his throat, squeezing, squeezing. He chokes, just as Leonardo had done, attempting to lifts his own hands to his neck to pry away the ever tightening grip. It only takes a few moments for him to stop trying, and only a few more for him to go limp in the figure’s grasp.
There is a deep silence encompassing the courtyard then, the bustling noises of the outside world muffled and distant. He drops the guard carelessly and takes a step back, stunned. For all the deaths he has witnessed, even for the death of Uberto Alberti, never has he actually used his own two hands to commit the act. In truth he did not know that he could, considering his immaterial state, but his rage had blinded him and he acted without thinking, responded in a way that a living, tangible person would have. And it had worked.
His eyes drift back to see that Leonardo is still on the ground, still looking at him, enraptured. The expression on the artist’s face is hard to place, somewhere between disbelief and a sort of deeply rooted sadness that is not easy to place. He is surprised to see recognition there as well- but he is even more surprised when Leonardo takes a shaky breath and, his voice still tight with pain, says one word.
Chapter 6: Chapter 5
Sorry for being so late with this one guys; midterm exams happened and it was pretty rough. But hey look! We're returning to the actual plot of the game. Also I think we can all agree that Leonardo is the cutest ever.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Ezio. The name sends him reeling, just as it had that night in Leonardo’s bedroom. He recognizes it, he knows he does, and now the confusion surrounding the name is slightly lessened because this time it is directed at him , which could mean only one thing.
“That is… my name?” he asks dumbly, surprised at how rough his voice is from disuse, despite his distinct lack of vocal chords. Leonardo nods in response, his eyes still wide in disbelief. The revelation makes something well up inside him, something pleasant, like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. “Ezio…” he repeats, sounding out the name, letting it roll off of his tongue. He is delighted, a wide grin breaking out across his face: a genuinely happy smile. “Thank you,” Ezio says almost reverently, being sure to make eye contact with his companion. A hint of a blush appears high on Leonardo’s cheekbones and he blinks, looking dazed, before he once again realizes the seriousness of the situation and moves to stand.
Though Ezio knows the artist’s injuries are not nearly as bad as they could be, he still watches anxiously as Leonardo manages to get to his feet, stumbling back to lean against the wall. He lets out a small, tired sigh, briefly coughing against the back of his hand before casting a glance towards Ezio, then towards the guard. “We ah, need to get back inside,” he explains awkwardly, his gaze downcast. “Before someone realizes what has happened.” A small stab of pain runs through Ezio’s chest as Leonardo avoids making eye contact with him; perhaps he is just shaken from what had happened? His thoughts turned inward, he fails to notice what Leonardo is doing before the man leans down and tries to lift the armored man by his armpits. He is deadweight, quite literally, and the artist is not in any kind of shape to be straining his tired body further. Without thinking Ezio takes a few steps towards him, says “Wait!”, and Leonardo freezes.
That does it; they manage to make eye contact again, and though Ezio is thrilled to see that his friend is not afraid of him, there is something else in those eyes that makes him stop. It is sadness, he decides, and not fleeting sadness either. Sadness that sits in your gut and stays there, and Ezio knows it has something to do with him. That thought alone is enough to make his earlier elation dissipate, but he knows he cannot broach the issue until everything else is dealt with. It is this train of thought that prompts him to say, “Let me do it.” Leonardo raises a brow at that, clearly unconvinced, but he nods anyway. He straightens up and takes a slight step back, watching in silence as Ezio approaches the body.
In all the time that he has spent living this new life, if it can be called that, Ezio has never once attempted to touch a living being. Until moments ago he did not even think that he could, but now that he realizes his touch can be physical if he so wishes, this situation no longer seems quite so absurd. Placing his hands under the man’s arms just as Leonardo had done, he shifts his weight backwards and hauls the body upwards enough that he can get one arm under its knees. With the corpse safe in his arms, intrigued by the way he can feel its armor pressing against his biceps, he turns to Leonardo. “Into the workshop?”
There is a beat of silence before the artist responds with a quick, distracted “Ah, y-yes!” and begins moving towards the back door of the bottega . He is cradling one arm against his body, moving slowly and deliberately. Ezio frowns, sensing the way two of Leonardo’s ribs are throbbing in his chest, the way bruises are blooming across his stomach like mottled flowers. He feels a flash of anger, much like the anger he felt before Alberti had met his demise, but this time it is sated. He has already killed the man who harmed Leonardo and forced him to account for his actions, and that is enough.
Once inside the artist pauses for a moment in thought, then directs Ezio to the back room. He already knows what Leonardo keeps in the small, dim room: cadavers, given to him in the dead of night by a few willing city officials. Though Leonardo is chiefly an artist he is also a great man of science, and what better place to look for scientific wonders than in the human body? Instead of commenting on this he simply nods and follows the man’s instruction, not wishing to unsettle him further by revealing the extensive knowledge he has of Leonardo’s daily life.
Within moments he returns to the main room of the bottega to find Leonardo sitting in the plush chair he often uses for posing models. The artist turns to him as he enters, following his path into the room with his eyes, and the sensation of being watched makes Ezio shudder. It has been so very long since someone has seen him for more than a brief moment; no one has had time to study him, to actually look at him. He feels almost naked, extremely aware that even if he had wanted to once again veil himself from Leonardo’s sight, he would no longer be able to do so. He has only a moment to consider why this is, before his companion lets out a shaky sigh, drawing his attention.
“Is it really you?” Leonardo asks, almost resignedly. “It cannot be.”
“Because I am dead?” Ezio responds, immediately regretting his choice of words as the artist flinches backwards in response. The look in his eyes is still sad, still disbelieving, and then Ezio realizes: He does not think that I am real.
He tries again, a different approach. “Leonardo, I… I do not know how to explain this. It is me, yes, but I am no longer alive.” He frowns, casting his gaze elsewhere as he tries to think of how else to describe the situation. “Everything is blurred. All I remember is waking up and I was like this.”
Glancing at Leonardo’s face again, he sees the man studying him intently. He still looks uneasy, but the expression on his face is slightly different now; Ezio can practically see the cogs turning in his head.
“...Can you touch me?” The question throws him off guard, but he supposes he should’ve expected it. What other way to prove his existence than to make physical contact? The only problem is that touching a living human has never ended well, and he is not too eager to add Leonardo to that list.
“I… I am not sure,” Ezio concedes, fisting his hands at his sides. “I do not think it is a good idea to touch something living.”
Leonardo nods, contemplative, before turning slightly to look at one of the tables against the wall. He stands once again, wincing, and Ezio has to force himself not to run to his side. Fortunately he only has to take a few steps before he reaches what he’s looking for: a small birdcage containing a single gray dove. Bringing the cage back to the modeling chair, Leonardo opens the tiny wrought iron door and reaches in carefully, so very gently, to wrap his fingers around the bird. He murmurs reassuring words as the creature struggles briefly, then holds it out to Ezio. “Try holding it,” he says, his eyes studying Ezio’s face in great detail.
Still unsure if he should risk the life of even the smallest living thing, especially one that is so dear to Leonardo’s heart, Ezio reluctantly reaches out his hand to accept the dove. As he wraps his own fingers around the animal, he is surprised to feel its feathers brushing against his fingertips, to feel its tiny chest expanding and collapsing as it takes in frantic breaths.
Ezio waits, braced for the moment when the dove will inevitably become limp and lifeless. Then he waits longer, and a bit longer still. After several long minutes the dove is still very much alive in his hand; if anything it is a bit calmer than before, settling down against his palm. How could this be possible? As he thinks it over, he realizes something he did not notice before. Since his reawakening he has been working on a sort of internal compass, a compass that tells him who needs to die and when. For all the deaths he has been present for, whether or not he chose to play a direct role in them, they needed to occur within that moment. Deep in the back of his mind he knows that, if he truly wanted to, he could will something to die even if it was not yet its time. But this tiny, fragile creature… it is not yet meant to die, and he bears no ill will against it. So here it sits, safe in his hand, still alive and breathing.
He looks up at Leonardo with wide eyes to see that the artist is mirroring his expression. Slowly he hands the bird back to the artist, who sets it gently back in its cage before turning back to Ezio. There is a pause between them before Leonardo holds out his hand again, pale palm facing up, and beckons. Hesitantly, though he is considerably more confident than before, Ezio reaches out and places his hand in Leonardo’s.
Leonardo is warm ; that is the first thing that he notices. His freckled skin is soft, delicate, devoid of calluses despite the engineering work he does on a regular basis. Almost without thinking he turns his hand, runs his thumb up over the artist’s palm and rests it against his wrist. Ezio can feel his pulse beating a fast, anxious pace against his skin, and he hears Leonardo gasp quietly at the pressure. He looks up and notices that disbelief has completely disappeared from his expression.
“You are cold,” Leonardo says absentmindedly, as though he is commenting just to fill the awed silence between them. Then, ever so slowly, he mimics the same motion and runs his hand up along Ezio’s arm to grasp his bicep. Once again he lets out a shaky sigh, and Ezio only has a moment to think how he wishes he wasn’t the cause of the artist’s distress before Leonardo’s arms are around him. All at once his body is incredibly warm, it’s almost like being alive again, he thinks, and then he realizes Leonardo is shaking, trembling. He can hear the man taking deep, uneven breaths, and as he pulls away to hold Leonardo at arm’s length there are tears spilling down those freckled cheeks.
“Ezio,” Leonardo repeats shakily, as though it is the most important word to ever grace his lips. “The day of the trial, I thought- no, I saw- ” His voice breaks off with another sob, his fingers tightening around Ezio’s upper arms. “I saw what happened to you.”
“What happened to me?” Ezio echoes, and the way the phrase hints at something terrible finally clicks into place. “Leonardo, I… I may know that I am dead, but I do not remember how it happened. Are you saying…”
The artist nods, taking in a deep, shaky breath to maintain some semblance of composure. “You were killed. Your father, and your brothers- you were so upset about their deaths, you tried to do something about it.” His gaze shifts downwards momentarily and he gestures to something on Ezio’s body. Following Leonardo’s line of sight, Ezio immediately notices what he is referring to.
Running from the left side of his ribcage to just above his navel is a deep, bloodied gash, the crimson stain of it seeping into his robes. In hindsight he realizes he should have noticed the injury due to its severity, but his lack of tangibility makes it difficult to focus on appearances. Ever since discovering he no longer had a reflection after his reawakening, the concept of physical features faded into an almost distant memory. Clearly those who managed to catch a glimpse of him did see something, but what that something might be has ceased to intrigue him. Now, however, it brought a whole new series of questions to light.
Slowly Ezio reaches down and brushes his fingers over the tear in his robes, pressing down slightly until he can feel them connect with what feels like clammy flesh. The texture of it is strange and almost sticky, like the blood has not completely dried, even after all this time. Distantly he remembers the feeling of a blade piercing his flesh and sliding between his ribs. He also remembers looking around one last time, seeing the blurred, horrified faces of those around him. One man in particular stood out: blond with pale skin and shockingly blue eyes.
Much like the eye he sees looking up at him now.
“Oh, Leonardo…” he says, saddened. A flicker of understanding passes through the artist’s gaze and he nods in response, visibly trying to rein in his emotions.
“Let us avoid dwelling on it.” Leonardo’s voice is firm, and with a final squeeze he releases his grip on Ezio’s biceps. He lets out a tired sigh, taking a few steps back to collapse in the plush chair behind him. “Perhaps you will be happy to know that, at the very least, your mother and sister still live.”
For a second Ezio is confused. Then slowly the images of his remaining family return to him as well. Claudia, his younger sister, and his mother Maria. “Where are they now? Surely not still in the city?”
Leonardo looks up. “In Firenze? No, no of course not. I did happen to hear, however-” at this the artist leans forward and his voice drops to a fervent whisper. “-that they fled to Monteriggioni, to live at your family’s villa. They will have allies there.”
“Monteriggioni…” The name of the walled city is familiar on his lips, reminds him of childhood days spent on horseback, running about the countryside. “I must go there. I need to make sure they are safe.”
The artist makes a quiet noise of assent. “Will you…” he gestures broadly to Ezio’s intangible body. “...reveal yourself to them as well?”
The question gives him pause. Is it even safe for him to do so? Leonardo’s reaction had not exactly been joyful, at first. “Perhaps. When the time comes it may prove to be too taxing to show them how I appear now.” He smiles, just a bit. “I imagine I must be a terrible sight.”
“Not at all!” Leonardo responds quickly, then abruptly cuts himself off before he can say more. A slight blush creeps across his face, bringing color back to his pale skin. “W-Well. As you say, perhaps you should wait until you arrive to decide.”
“Of course.” Ezio fights the urge to smile wider, not wanting to embarrass his companion further. Then he turns towards the door of the bottega, just slightly. “Ah, perhaps I should…”
“Oh. Oh!” The artist’s eyes widen and he stands to follow Ezio to the door. “ Si, of course. You will want to leave right away.” Ezio nods and is just about to step out of the bottega, when Leonardo clears his throat behind him. He turns halfway, looking back at the man behind him. Leonardo’s hands are clasped in front of him, his blue eyes so very hopeful. “I will see you again, si ?”
At this Ezio allows himself to smile reassuringly. “You have my word.” And with that he is gone.
As a side note, I hope that the "rules" of Ezio's whole... predicament make sense. I tried to explain it in a way that wasn't horribly confusing, so lemme know if I succeeded?
Chapter 7: Note From the Author!
I just wanted to apologize that I haven't been able to post much recently. Finals are coming up and I'm swamped with papers to write, and on top of it I'm trying to sort out how I want the events of this story to play out. So I'm here to announce that I probably won't be updating until about a month from now, at the beginning of May. My classes will be over by then, hooray! And then I'll have more time to give Ezio and Leonardo the attention they deserve. ♡♡♡
Have a good next few weeks you guys. Please stick with me! I promise I'm gonna finish this story; I hate leaving something unfinished!