January 16, 1500
January 16, 1500
The little Mouse hurried along the street, the stack of books Orianna had requested clutched tight to his chest. Squirming through the crowds flocking toward the gallows-place to see yet another execution, he managed to find his way halfway back before becoming lost. Groaning, he took another turn, only to have a woman appear from the masses and snatch up one of his hands.
The girl winked and smiled at the monk, earning a few hisses of derision from some of the onlookers who happened to spot them. She stepped through the bodies as if they weren't there to begin with and lead the monk to a small cluster of buildings near the outskirts of the city proper rather near where his intended destination was located. Ignacio wracked his brain for answers as he questioned where he'd seen her face before.
They stepped into a small, deserted courtyard tucked away between two buildings and the woman nudged him into one of the half-deserted, tumbledown edifices. Within, a dark-locked man was leaning against a wall, his gaze moving from roof to ceiling, giving a wall to wall inspection of the place as the girl performed a little mocking bow.
"So, Uncle, I found the mouse that had escaped you. May I ask for leave now?" Luca grinned and made a gesture with his head that provoked a little giggle from the girl before she was off, disappearing around the corner.
"Who is she?" the monk asked. "And why've you had me brought all the way out here?" The second question was useless, though it hung in the air between them, his own heated face telling him he knew exactly the reason why he'd been brought to a shack near the little harbor on the river. Ignacio clutched the books like a shield to his chest, his eyes never leaving the taller man, who gazed back at him languidly, as if he now was up for inspection.
What animal would he be? One that eats mice, he decided. Foxes. Foxes eat mice. Wolves, cats...cats eat mice for a certainty. Some birds of the air eat mice. He licked his lips; they'd gone dry as the stare continued to be held on him. The unblinking serpent of the Garden would eat mice nowadays, too, wouldn't he? No, no, he's too much charm for even any snake. A tomcat is what he is. So sure of himself...
"That was my niece Simza." The answer broke through the haze of his thoughts. "My oldest sister's youngest daughter, if you want to know the details." Luca moved forward, but stopped a few steps short of the smaller man. "And if you want to know what I'm doing here, we're going to set up camp and I am here to inspect the place. What do you think? Humble enough for my little band?" He tilted his head, the coins and trinkets attached to his headband jingling softly in the silence that followed his remarks. "You haven't spoken to me or spared me a glance since..."
He let the words trail off. There was no need to say the rest. It took a moment more for Ignacio to find his tongue.
"I--I've been busy. I've had things to do. It's not all prayers and lighting candles with being a monk." The excuses sounded pitiful even to his ears once he'd voiced them. Ignacio's eyes flicked to the man's headband, watching the light that peeped in through the wooden walls dance along the coins and small, colored beads of what seemed to be glass. His breathing quickened, too loud in the silence of the place. "I--I have been praying, though. For you...for me, for both of us." He licked his lips again, studying some of the wrinkled tops of the pages between the leather covers of the volumes in his arms.
Fingers brushed his chin, lifted it; the air left him as quickly as if he'd taken a blow to the stomach. Another hand slipped into his hair. Their lips pressed together, tongues meshing hungrily.
Gently, Luca took the books from the monk's hands and laid them aside, his dark, rough hands stroking the monk's paler, soft ones. He pulled back as something salty touched his lips, lapping it away with his tongue almost immediately. Releasing his chin, Luca allowed the man to hide his face in his shirt, stroking the monk's heaving back.
Ignacio clutched at his back, whimpering as hot tears slid down his cheeks.
"Do you know what you do to me? Do you?" he babbled, unsure why. "I can't stop thinking about you. I want to know everything about you. When you're not around, I wonder where you are, if you're hurt..." He was panting, his voice choked with the mucus in his throat. "And you have a wife and children and I'm pledged to God and we cannot do this, we should not do this, but we have and we are and..." He hiccuped. "I want to keep doing it. Damn me, damn it all, I want to keep doing it because I can't stand the thought of not being near you!"
By the time he finished his rant, Luca had taken a seat against one wall and was rocking him like he would one of his smaller children. He continued to hold him for a time, saying nothing. When he had finally cleared enough of his nose and throat to breathe properly and wiped off his eyes, Ignacio found himself seated on the low pallet Luca had used as a bed for the last two days.
"Do not worry about my wife. We both are free beings. I accept her ways and so she does mine. Thus, we do not become sour with each other." He pressed a finger to Ignacio's lips when he saw him beginning to speak. "Do not start citing that book I haven't read." His finger drifted to the side, joined by another, tracing over his companion's lips. "I like your tall friend's preachings best of the many I've heard. He said to me on the road that what made this faith of yours special and valuable is that your God is love. And how could a being that consists of love what we are and what we see in each other?"
Inigo looked up into the other man's eyes, then down at the fingers pressed to his lips. The Rom Baro let out a startled sound as he felt the monk's tongue against his fingertips, lips closing over them slowly.
"What are we?" he asked once Luca's fingers were thoroughly wet and the man seemingly breathless, placing kisses along his palm and wrist, following the length of his arm up to his shoulder and neck. "Isn't this a sin?" He gasped as hands grasped his a**, having slipped beneath his robes so steathily he wouldn't have known they were there had they not touched him. "Are we lost?" He raised his arms automatically as the brown wool was drawn over his head and set aside near his books.
Luca chuckled and, as if reading his thoughts from before, said, "A tomcat playing with a little mouse he holds very dear." He closed his eyes, running his hands along Ignacio's body from feet to legs. "We are what we are. I've tried to live in a way that harms no one. About this sin you talk of, I know nothing." He opened his eyes and took in the sight of the body he'd only touched before, dipping his head to place kisses along his chest. "And lost? No. I know exactly where I am." Fingers clumsily played with his shirt. He helped the Mouse to strip his fur fully, simply tearing it down the middle and tossing it atop his robe. "I am in a place with you and that makes me happy." Their lips locked again, his hands coming up to grasp the monk's face. Inigo made a confused sound when words were whispered against his tingling lips that he didn't catch. "Stai bene cannella," the man repeated before diving in for another taste.
The younger man's eyes traced over Luca's skin along with his fingers, mapping out every ridge and crease on his skin, every hair, connecting the dark dots of the moles on his shoulder blades with imaginary lines, memorizing the taste of him as he took his turn at slipping his tongue into the other's mouth. He grew bold enough to toy a little with the hard, dark nipples he found when passing his hands once more over the Rom Baro's chest. Their arms folded around one another as Luca drew him closer.
Inigo sighed as Luca pressed him back to the wall, his hand slipping between his legs to brush against his length. He needed no coaxing, having gone hard at the first caresses Luca had given him. The man bowed his head down, only to stop, looking up at him, nails teasing him from base to tip as he whispered, "I'll only go as far as my Mouse wishes." He bent and pressed his lips to the soft hair that led down from Inigo's belly. "I can catch you again. I will catch you again." He lifted his gaze briefly. Hearing only sighs, he pressed on, replacing his nails with his tongue, licking around his tip.
Ignacio's back arched out from the wall he'd been pressed to, his breath coming and leaving in gasps. His hands searched for purchase and found it in abundance, squeezing first at Luca's a**, then at his shoulders, one hand shifting to grasp the nape of his neck as the other stole its way into his hair. Luca continued his work slowly, taking in each of the other man's reactions, ready to stop if one word came from the monk. His teeth, tongue, and lips finally found a rhythm after a few minutes, earning sigh after sigh from the Mouse.
"Ti amo!" The cry never reached the ceiling of the building, falling back to earth as its owner writhed and bucked. Luca pinned his hips with one hand, working faster over him. "Luca, ti amo!"
This is all for you, he thought toward the other man, taking the monk's length too deep into his throat to simply pull back and speak, grasping his thigh with the other hand. You see now that there's nothing to fear? There's no devil coming to drag you to hell once you let yourself go.
He worked until the end, feeling a familiar shudder pass through Ignacio's frame. Darkness closed over the monk's eyes. When he opened them again, he found himself in the Roma's arms, fingers stroking along his stomach, his nose nuzzled against his cheek.
Lips pressed to his ear, the unfamiliar words whispered into it, as if speaking them aloud would cause them to turn to ash on his tongue, "Me voliv tu, Inigo." Ignacio nestled into his arms before turning his gaze toward the abandoned books.
"I said I would bring those to Signora Cavalcanti."
"I'm sure she'll understand if you said you got lost." Luca blinked in a good imitation of Jameel's bird as the little Franciscan twined their fingers over his belly.
"But I'm not lost. I'm here with you."
X x X
"Hakim, I've been wondering whether you were genius or insane since I've met you and now I'm certain," Scars stated as he looked at the vastness that was a part of the miniature harbor on the river Tiber that sprawled before them, "you're without a doubt one hundred percent out of your ******** mind."
The vastness that stretched before them was really only the length of what to Lex was an average swimming pool and just deep enough for proper swimming. The waters were relatively placid so that, on a clear day such as this, if he squinted, he could almost see the suggestion of the bottom in this area. The idea had come up as a way to have some time alone and enjoyment for himself, some relatively easy exercise for the still-healing Owlet, and as a possible moment to try and make up for the promise he'd broken.
When he'd come to Scars with the idea, the swordsman had looked at him with a mix of derision and actual terror.
"You think this will help me heal?" he had asked.
"Yeah, why not? It's helped other people recover from wounds who needed to work out their muscles without putting themselves under too much strain. Why not you?" Lex had responded.
"I cannot swim."
"We can fix that."
And so he had brought him here. And Scars stood rooted to the bank. If he stays there any longer, he's gonna start feeding through photosynthesis, Lex thought as he began to strip out of his robes.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm not going to swim in my clothes." Lex balled up his robes and tossed them onto a higher part of the bank, a little further up from the water's edge. "C'mon, buddy, strip." He stepped forward, testing the temperature of the proposed pool with his foot. "I don't hear anything coming off, Scars. Seriously, have you turned into a tree? Are you filter-feeding yet? If you are, just say photosynthesis."
"What in God's name are you babbling about?" The Sparrow turned, if only to see the expression on the other young man's face, his own reddening quickly. The man stood before him naked as the day he was born. Broad shouldered and well-muscled in the arms, the Sparrow's eyes traveled down his chest and stomach, which were strong as his arms looked. His legs had been shaped by hours of roof-running and hard riding, not overly muscled but still powerful, he was sure, looser in the thighs than the calves. The time traveler tore his gaze away before he could contemplate the other muscle that hung between his companion's legs, turning back to the water.
"Just that you're a liar."
"What?" The word was a hiss, deadly and venomous.
"You say you can't swim and you look like that? Bullshit!" Lex dove into the water before the Owlet could finish making a grab for him, disappearing beneath the surface. He popped up again a few feet away. "What're you waiting for, Scars? Come get me!" A splash followed his words, then further splashing as the man realized he had nothing below his feet but water and began to sink. Struggling to stay afloat, he thrashed about. For an instant, he panicked further, water filling his mouth.
He hacked it back up as arms wound tight around him, grasping onto whatever held him up. Gulping down lungfuls of air, he heard through the film of water in his ears, "Kick! Kick, stupid, kick! No, kick rhythmically! Ow! The water! The water! Kick the water rhythmically, not me!" It was then he realized he'd grabbed onto the person who seconds before had been taunting him.
Lex began to pull away then, as if he too had realized they were chest to chest with one another. He was stopped when Scars' hands gripped tight onto his shoulders, the man's face pale, knuckles white.
"Relax." He took hold of his elbows, breathing hard himself from keeping the both of them afloat. "I've gotcha. Just keep kicking for a while." Whether it was minutes or hours later, Scars couldn't have said, but by then the Sparrow had slipped away from him, swimming circles around him as he stayed in place, treading water. Finally, he said, "You gonna come after me?" Twisting around onto his stomach, he began paddling away. Stretching out his arms in a crude imitation, the Owlet followed after him.
The chase ended abruptly, the two bumping into one another, chest to chest once more. Lex moved back, placing a hand slowly against Scars' back, scooping his legs up as he said, "Lean back on my hand." The other did as told. "Now relax. You're tensed up like a piece of wood." He steadfastly ignored the wooden tension he felt himself as well at the contact with the other man's skin and kept his hands where they were until he felt Scars relax. Carefully, he moved his hands away, letting the water cradle him.
He turned and leaned back himself then, lying back on the water beside the Owlet and holding up his hands to show that he was floating on his own and completely fine. A small smile appeared on his face at the look of surprise the other gave him.
"How's it feel?"
"I haven't drowned so far. Are we going to continue?"
"Yeah. Practice holding your breath." Sucking down a deep one himself, the Sparrow flipped over and onto his back. Scars gave Lex an appraising stare before finally doing likewise. After a few minutes, they flipped back over, both panting. "How come you never learned this before?"
"I never felt the need," said the scarred man, shrugging as well as he was able, still catching his breath. "And I've usually avoided things like this since Templars pushed me into the Quru Chay."
"One of the rivers that cuts through my home town."
"Tabriz, in Persia." Scars fell silent, looking up toward the sky. A cloud passed over the sun, raising gooseflesh on his skin. He moved his arms to warm them, watching until the sun returned. "How did you learn to swim?"
"I was put in a pool with my friends as a kid and someone taught us." He dipped his head back until his face was submerged, snorting as he came up and some of the water went up his nose. "How'd you end up in Italy?"
"After the Night Master pulled me from the river, we returned to my home and found it had been destroyed." Scars sat up, finding his feet and moving toward the back. "Majid and I traveled with him then, as he offered us the chance of not only vengeance but a sort of home." He pulled on his pants before dropping to a sit on the bank. Lex sighed as he brought himself to an upright position and followed him, flopping onto his back to let his body and boxers dry. "Where are you from?" Scars asked as he looked down at the smaller male, his eyes traveling to the scar on his chest. They widened slightly, though he said nothing.
"I'm from that way." The Sparrow pointed westward.
"No, further than Spain."
Scars' lip twitched upward into the faintest of smirks. "Atlantis?"
"Oh my God, did you just make a joke?" Lex laughed, looking around. "How can that be? The earth is still in one piece!" He shook his head. "No, not Atlantis. You heard about the land Columbus discovered, though, right?"
"Yes, and Spain has claimed them rather loudly, or so I learned from the Night Master after he spoke with Columbus. He brought back slaves for the queen." He rolled his eyes and looked back at Lex, watching as he turned over onto his stomach. "The Master drew them." He leaned back slowly, propping his head on his hands as he continued looking at the Sparrow. Dark skinned like them he was, but his hair curled. His nose wasn't as large, instead fine and small. He was smaller than them as well. "You don't look like one of them."
Slowly, keeping an eye on his wound, he turned onto his stomach as well, their elbows brushing as he propped his chin on his arms. The Sparrow looked up at the sudden contact, but didn't pull away. Hesitantly, he reached out with one arm and slipped it around Husam's back. The Owlet lifted his head from his chin, but said nothing, returning the gesture and allowing the smaller man to draw closer until they rested side by side.
Nearby, a large monk sat watching. Uberto had been there for a time, having been drawn by curiosity. Although, as he sat watching the young men in the water, he began to think of someone else entirely. What can I do, though? I have nothing to offer. His thoughts were interrupted then as the object of his brooding appeared before his eyes, a smile lighting up his face.
"I greet thee, Bear," said Orianna, giving back the smile as she neared him. "Watching our little birds playing in the water?"
"Yes. What are you planning to do, going with such a heavy burden on your arm?" Uberto gestured to the little basket that was slung across one of the woman's arms. The dark wood contrasted with the dark green of her dress, giving further light to her bright eyes.
"I go to market. We need a few more herbs for my kitchen and Jameel has asked me to buy some fabric for him."
"Fabric? What for?"
"You will see soon enough." She laughed. "I daren't tell you, lest someone else overhear."
"Ah, but who wouldn't listen to such a merry sound as your voice, usignolo?" A flush crept up the woman's cheeks at the words. Seizing upon the opportunity, the Bear added, "Might I accompany you?"
"It is kind of you to offer, mio orso, but I do not want to take up your time with so trivial a task." She touched his hand briefly. "Besides, there is your reputation to consider. You are a holy man and being seen with me... I do not want you to suffer for my own reputation. You understand?" She looked at him for a long moment before slipping away. Uberto's eyes followed her across the bridge. Another man in brown met her on the opposite side. They stopped, spoke a few words, and she continued on, now with books in her arms as Inigo made his way to where the Bear sat. The little Mouse's lengthening hair looked rumpled, his robes hanging crooked on his shoulders, belt loose. The smile on his face turned to a look of confusion as he regarded his friend.
"Uberto, is something the matter?"
"No, no, nothing, Inigo."
"Please, I can tell it's something by now. Whose skirt weren't you able to look up?"
"Would you believe me if I say I've lost my taste for chasing so many skirts?" The young man lifted a brow as he pressed a hand to the other monk's forehead to see if he was truly feeling all that well.
X x X
"Rina!" Shaun waved at the woman as he tried to wade through a sea of old women haggling over the price of fish. "Rina!" Squeezing through, he snatched his purse back from one of the women with a sharp, "Give me that, you biddy!"
"Shaun, would you like my help?" the courtesan laughed.
"No, no, these bloody crusty dragons won't do me any harm. But, as a matter of fact, I did come to ask your advice about something." The woman nodded, turning quickly to pay the merchant for the cloth she'd purchased. "I was wondering if you had any advice for me about, well, Badr."
"Yeah, well, I'm new at this Assassin courtship business, y'know? I don't exactly know how I'm supposed to go about it. How does one show affection for his type?" He passed a hand through his hair. "I heard what you told Lex about your husband." She lowered her head slightly. "I'm sorry."
"It's nothing to be sorry over, my friend."
"In that case, might I ask how he showed you he loved you?"
Orianna smiled, laughing softly at the memory.
"He threw me out of a building from the third story window into a haystack." Shaun's eyes widened; he gulped visibly.
"What did you do then?"
"Well, I almost poisoned him with nightshade." She chuckled. "For God's sake, man, you British are tough when it comes to poison!"
"Oh, he was one too? And despite all this, you two still married? Bad teeth, dashing good looks, resistance to poison, and window-tossing included?"
The woman was positively grinning as she said, "Yes, after he chased me through half the country."
Shaun nodded and headed off, threading through the streets and finally finding his way to where Fajera was stabled with Nasira. He found the man he was looking for on the roof of the stables.
"Hello, Badr. You're looking good as always."
"Don't lie, Novice. It doesn't become you," the Arab stated, smirking. "But what is it you want? You can't have come up here only to tell me that."
"You're right. I actually wanted to tell you something rather important." Hearing this, Badr stood, moving over to where he'd heard Shaun speaking last.
"Well, what is it?" The blind Assassin sucked in his breath sharply as he was pushed backward, falling through the hole in the roof and into the hay below. Shaun made the short jump down and landed beside him.
"I know." The historian grunted as he was pinned down by the horseman's weight, the sash from Badr's waist binding his hands over his head. "And your accent is terrible." Shaun shivered as the other's hands passed over his face, his head cocked to one side, skin rasping against the stubble on his jaw, before lips crushed his own.
X x X
"Gilberto." A man entered the room at the newly christened Volpe Adormentata inn, taking a seat in the back room. La Volpe looked up at him from his drink, eyes half-lidded.
"Niccolo." Niccolo Machiavelli nodded. "Care for a drink?"
"No. I've little knowledge of what exactly you put in them."
"Alcohol, of course," said a third voice, the hooded man taking a seat. A week's growth of beard covered his jaw, but for where a scar slashed through his lip on the right side. "And grapes. Volpe. Machiavelli. What can you tell me of the goings on in Roma?"
"Well, Ezio," Machiavelli said, leaning forward on an arm, "wouldn't you like to know that we have more allies here than you might think?"
X x X
"Skandar." The Sparrow jerked his head up from where he sat feeding Spock, too quickly for the Owl's liking, though he didn't blame him. Jameel stood in the doorway, one hand upon it, looking down at where he sat cross-legged on his small bed.
"What is it?" Jameel raised his other hand, holding up a blindfold. "Blind fighting?"
"Not quite." The younger man flinched as he moved forward quickly. Jameel slowed as he moved behind him, tying the blindfold on, carefully freeing a few strands of hair that had become caught in the fabric before tightening the knot. "It's a surprise."
"Am I going to like the surprise?"
"Perhaps." Taking him by the arm, he helped the Sparrow to stand. Spock gave him an annoyed look as he was set down on the pillow, but settled into wait for the human's return. Slipping his hand down to the Journeyman's, Jameel clasped it tightly, whispering to guide him down the steps before leading him through the streets. The Red Owl couldn't help smile when, after a few minutes of walking, their fingers laced together.
"Are we there yet?" Try through he might, Lex couldn't keep the tinge of excitement from his voice. His heart was beating double time as he was once more guided up a set of stairs. Jameel placed his hands on his shoulders, stopping him as he undid the blindfold, kissing his head. Lex opened his eyes.
He was in an unfamiliar building, but below the small balcony he stood on he could see a room full of people dressed in white and black robes.
"You'd be surprised how unfashionable gray is considered these days." Jameel leaned against the doorway they'd come through, rolling his eyes. Lex looked over at him.
"Who are they?"
"Our newly recruited Novices. And some of them, at least, will be yours."