.O.

t

The Thief and the Witch

Are we but doomed to be unloved?

(Story Soundtrack: Clarity, cover by Sam Tsui and Kurt Schneider)

t

.O.

The room was cold, and that's the first thing he thought of. A whisking breeze blew by through the thick walls: He didn't know what to make of it.

She was being dragged into a dark place. She hardly deserved it, and she knew.

It was the day the guards finally took in a woman of demon's bestowment. He counted how many there were these past few months, a vague voice he had heard seldom to often guffawing in loudest tones above the cells not exactly fresh from what his tarnished memory promised: This should be the last one.

Her knee was scraped as she was thrown on the floor. The barred gate was shut close behind her.

That was the day that changed both of their lives.

Condemned by the destruction of what she was

Damned by his misdeeds

The people never realised.

,

Mischievous, hardy, misunderstood

,

He didn't want them to.

.

Innocent, docile, cursed

.

She wanted make them understand.

M

"So what did you do?"

The girl stirred awake. Her unfamiliarity to the speaker's voice spared her a few more seconds of sleep. She doubted that even if she would recognise whom it belonged, the voice would still sound like a thousand miles away. That didn't mean she knew what he meant at once. A glance slightly to the right earned her the idea that she and the speaker were only feet apart. He was a blonde scamp with the face of a gentleman, trapped the same way she was in a similar prison. Apparently she wasn't alone in the dungeon.

"What do you mean?" she asked automatically.

He flashed her a toothy grin as he leaned against the bars separating his cell from hers.

"You must've done something to end up here."

His straightforwardness…frightened her. She pulled her legs closer to her and hugged them, glad she was safe at the wall.

There was a sound: The boy shook his head. "N'aw, I'm not like them. Don't worry that I'd do something to you. I'm pretty cool."

She hesitated. "…I didn't do anything."

"Why don't you tell me your name, then? Oh, 'scuse me." He found himself impolite all of a sudden. "I'm Len."

"I shouldn't talk to strangers." Her voice was a little cracked from lack of use.

"Yeah, well, I'm talking to you. Maybe crime makes strangers look decent?"

She smiled. Somehow, she found only little comfort in him. That…was weird, considering unease was a swarm that buzzed inside her for longer than she could remember. Little comfort was…something.

"I'm Rin."

She was gradually welcoming something she pushed back a long time ago

Trust

He didn't think it was worth the effort to earn anymore until she came along

W

"Do you have any parents?"

The boy raised his head. It was only a week after his meeting the girl that she seemed to muster the will to ask him. To his left was another cell divided by large bars, limiting his contact with his sort-of inmate. Right now she was playing with her tattered dress, torn and worn out, but compared to his, neat. It was raining outside, the window to his right told him; the water was showering through the small hole, so hearing her took him a little more energy to exert.

Len shrugged. "I got my dad." He added, grateful she started the chat herself, "You?"

She grimaced. "My grandma."

Outside, thunder cackled, the wind roaring along with it. Len's part of the jail was gradually becoming wetter; he should've been used to it, but the possibility of floods didn't leave him too carefree. Catching Rin wincing, he whistled at the noise.

"It's okay." His lips were tugged to smile at her. "I get nightmares sometimes, too."

Inquisitive gentle eyes soft with expression turned to him. "You're afraid of your friends."

"What?"

The girl didn't look too emboldened, and neither did Len. He was distraught. Memories of betrayal, deceit and distrust arose in his mind, feeling so fresh with hatred. He bit his lower lip. "Lucky guess." Len turned his body to face her. "You're not the only one who talks in her sleep, that's for sure."

"What happened?" Rin spoke up. Len didn't know whether or not to trust this girl—he had his doubts—but his personal life was hardly anything to be concerned about if she planned to use it against him. In addition to that, not a glint of deceit was present in her. Len cursed himself for failing to resist her incorruptibility.

"Nothing too bad. You know, the usual." He tried to hide his pained face, but Rin saw right through it.

And she left it just like that. She was sensible enough to not press the matter further, yet there was something about the air he sniffed off her that persuaded him to tell her anyway. He figured she wouldn't speak of many else with such enthusiasm unless they would only pick up where they left off. The rain was pouring outside, although the distance kept Len safe from getting wet. He sighed: Somebody had to know.

"I was…younger." He shrugged. At the corner of his eye, Rin looked up. "You know the kind of shy kid that always huddles to a corner at the back of the room? That used to be me." He suspected her to know of something as simple as playing outside, so he continued. "I was the black sheep of the batch. At that time, kids were seen to be in large groups screwing around the place—you wouldn't see only one. If you do, it's with at least three more—so it wasn't hard to spot that one boy who keeps his distance from the rest."

He stared out the hole, where he saw flashes of lightning light up the dark rainy sky. Len considered stopping there, yet that would've left Rin hanging. "Till I was 'round eleven years old. There were these boys that would ask me to play with them. Let's just say soon we were best friends—at least, they were mine. 'Course, they've plenty more I wasn't bothered shunning out. Slowly I changed…Or, rather, they revealed me for what I really was. I was happier, making jokes, came home with them, had the fun they did. Talk about metamorphosis," he mirthlessly sniggered. Len blinked twice. "But…they didn't like it. They liked who I was before—a complete shell of a boy. I didn't notice it at first—it all unexpectedly became awfully clearer. The later I realised, the worse I felt. I was such a sick joke. To think they really…"

Len dropped his hands to shift his eyes to the floor. He used his nail to make scraping noises on the metal bars. "I thought they understood me. A moment there, I believed I can be my true self without worrying about how others would feel. I counted on them, and they counted on me. I was opening up."

He picked up a rock and with all his might tossed it past the iron grates. The thunder cracked.

"And as soon as I did, they crushed me. Like yesterday's leftovers, out in the dump. How does it feel when you've been pretending all your life? When the time you were finally contented, happy to be yourself, they beat you down for it." Len went on with such contemptuous bitterness that his shaking voice carried through the vast chamber in echoes. He didn't sound like he was angry: Tired? Beaten, perhaps. No—betrayed. "And, hiding all these from everybody else. Because you're afraid, now. That they'd think you really were a worthless weakling for crying about stupid friends. So you pretended again. You could never ever be who you really are. It hurts others. I stayed away. They looked at me differently than before; it didn't matter. They hurt me. I was too shrivelled up to be myself again, so I…stopped. It's been around that time that I looked for…ways, you could say…to support the family. I'm very skilled at avoiding attention," he said that dispassionately. "Nobody really noticed me. It became easy to do." His gaze hardened. "Stealing."

Experience taught Len how to control himself, but it was mere politeness that forced him from going ballistic. Rin was a lady, and he shouldn't vent out his frustrations at her: That's why he kept his voice as levelled as he could. "How come you're so casual around me?"

The rain poured harder.

Len thought about that, he really did. He said more words to her the first time they met than he ever had to anyone else outside his family in his life. "Like I said. Crime makes strangers look decent." Len beamed at her. He felt a little lighter. He didn't know how affected he was by that memory until his anxiety had gone away like dust. He added, "By the way, where's your grandmother now?"

"She's dead." Rin's unfazed face was lit up by lightning. "She was killed."

For nearly ten seconds he didn't blink. His voice was thin as ice. "How?"

He looked at her. She looked at him, but he felt like she saw more than just him. It's like she's seeing something beyond him.

"I can't say." She shrugged. "I can imagine the same fate that awaits me."

He never saw her sort of lady, not the crazy or silent ones he used to take interest in acquainting in this chamber who met their tragic deaths when the death date came, nor the dainty kind that indulged in scandalous conversation over tea when he was still out in the streets. This girl…She was elegant in her own way, prim, gentle, kind. If anything, her nature could be a fruit of unbearable agony. He wouldn't know.

She had to be here for some reason.

He was fascinated in her so much he wished understanding her

,

She had one pure look at him, and knew everything

M

"This isn't fair."

"Eat up," the burly armoured guard with the sharp lance snapped heavily at Len, who was looking pitifully at his share of today's meal that was carelessly slipped through the bars that the rice scattered about the floor, while on the other hand, Rin's was clean and still in the whole pieces it was left, and, dare she say it, of larger quantity than Len's. Every day it seemed as though they were giving them less and less, so Rin could see why Len was thinking it unjust as he had the smaller portion.

"Are you hairy pigs hogging the larder?" said Len cheekily. Rin didn't think he was looking for a real fight: He was just playing with the man's patience. The goiter-man narrowed his eyes at him.

"Crops ain't growin'" was his reason. He spat at Len's cell, limiting the blonde's space as it were, turning around. "It's been hot."

Rin vividly remembered the terrifying storm the other day, but thought it unwise to point out.

"Feminists," Len hissed as soon as he was out of sight. Rin fidgeted slightly: Len saw it. "Not that it's a bad thing."

She was already tearing the bread in halves, throwing Len one. He reflexively caught her low throw. It's like this for weeks: Rin had noticed how starving Len had been, and had promised to share with him from then on, as they could do nothing about their predicament.

"How can they expect to make me eat this?" Len held up a stale banana. "I'd be dead in a week."

"Deader without that," Rin remarked.

"It wouldn't make a difference. Why feed me so little in jail in the first place when they could just slit my throat and save their food?" It was meant to be sarcastic, but Rin recoiled all the same. Seeing this, Len's expression softened. "Sorry."

Rin was trying her best to not show her discomfort each time he said something she considered violent so unconcernedly, and this time was practice. "It's alright."

Len stared at his loaf, took a bite out of it. "My father runs a bakery. We make better bread than this. Brioche, baguettes, croissant—everything."

A little surprised to see him as a boy owning a store for bread now locked up in a cell, she swallowed hard. "I don't think I had those before. Maybe brioches when I was younger. They're real delicious."

"You don't? Huh." He beckoned for Rin to come over to where he was. She stood and finished what remained of her lunch and went to the wall of bars to look at where Len was pointing: It was the small hole that functioned as his window. Light filtered through it.

"When we get out, I'll take you there. Dad'll fix you up and everything. He'll give you nice clothes to wear, give you a room to stay in—you could live with us! I'll give you all the pastry you want! Just name it." His arm slipped through the gaps of the bars and tucked strands of hair behind her ear. The touch made Rin cringe, yet she forced herself to stay put. His finger ran down her soft smooth cheek. "We'll be free someday. I swear on our lives."

"You're letting me come with you?" asked Rin in disbelief. Her head was swirling with the hopeful possibilities. As Len pulled back his hand, Rin felt the places where he touched burn with dearth.

"I can't just leave you alone. You're a part of me now." He smiled. "We're getting out."

She wanted to tell him he completes her, too. The future may be clouded and mysterious, but, as far as Rin knew, it was we now.

He never gave anyone this since he never kept them

Promise

She was never given this, for hope was a tie too loose

.

He'll try

,

She couldn't refuse

W

"That's not magic."

After something that could be likened to two weeks from that point, Rin had adjusted to moving over to the bar wall that divided her cell from Len's to converse more with her friend. They were always finding ways to dig holes to make a most heinous escape: Except on most occasions they would be pushed to give up for they lacked the necessary materials. However, Len confessed picking up a knife one of the wardens dropped not days prior, so they had a better chance. Elated at this, the two concocted their new plans. During their breaks, they talk. Rin would be filled with his swash-buckling stories of fleeing from princes and knights after he snatched something of theirs, and she'd exchange with him stories about flowers her grandmother had taught her.

It's nighttime. The wardens lit up the chambers using the candles down the hall.

Right now Len had showed her how to teleport a coin from his hand to his ear. She was less convinced than he thought. She even took his shabbiness seriously.

She hugged her shivering body, clouds of warmth vaporising into air as the cold room enveloped her in iciness, but her face made it apparent that she couldn't consent to his trick.

Len stared, his cool composure slowly falling apart. He slipped the coin back into his pocket.

"What d'you mean? 'Course it's magic," he joked. He didn't see how Rin didn't find that funny.

"That's not magic," she repeated. "You just tucked it in your sleeves and rolled it in your palm."

That was pretty fast. Len shook his head, amused. "I thought you were supposed to be entertained. Maybe I fail at being a magician." All day they were in good humour—in fact, it's been like that for days on end. Except now, there was no trace of comicality in her expression that Len could find: She shrank into a cocoon again. He never saw her like this ever since she was thrown in here. To his surprise, she stood up, patted her dress to get rid of the dirt, and sulked into her corner.

Len got one arm through the bars and peered over with what little moonlight percolated through the hole. It wasn't enough for him to see her clearly.

"Rin…? You okay?"

She didn't answer. And didn't look like she would in a matter of a few minutes.

Perhaps she had a bad day. Len was practical enough to drop it. She just missed her home. Poor thing. She must be dead-terrified now. It's taking the judges too long to release her. He couldn't imagine anybody like Rin doing something that wasn't innocent, let alone something that made them think they ought to capture her, for a period this long. Had she been living alone? What was her life before this? God, Len didn't even bother to ask her. He felt stupid. He's telling her all the good things in his life and she just keeps quiet about hers.

That just intrigued Len more.

What had she done to be sent here?

He tried again. His mouth felt dry. "Hey. I've been wondering quite a while now…How'd you get arrested in the first place?"

Still, no reply. She ought to tell him someday, so why not now?

"You must've done something."

The shadows hid her hunched body at the corner of the wall. At first, she didn't move.

Unexpectedly, the lights were blown out one by one.

And then just as soon as it was gone, it was back all at once.

The hairs at the back of his neck stood.

Rin was suddenly in front of him.

White teeth glowed in the dark as the girl spoke.

"Do you want to know so badly?"

Words could only fail. He was stupefied in quandary. "How—"

There was a loud groaning sound that cut Len mid-sentence: Iron was being bended. He threw himself backwards in reflex as bars of their cage were blown upward in an explosive eruption: Here metal was clanging to the floor, there blocks and bricks were flown in the air crumbling to the ground. Len was at the wall, wide-eyed at the sight. He gripped his shirt where his heart was, the silence split by his beating. Nothing separated his cell from Rin's anymore. The bars were gone. A gaping hole in the form of stubbed winding black iron of different sizes beheld him in awe and fear. Rin was standing amidst it all.

He couldn't see her face, for the shadows cast obscurity upon her features. Her mouth was a thin line.

"I did something like that. Sometimes I can't control myself because it controls me."

Her voice, crisp, flat but completely bleak, trembled. Len counted how many feet they were apart; before he could reach four something caught his eye; a shadow. It was hers. It was moving. Moving toward him—

He didn't even notice it was draining him already. Every molecule of his body was driven attracted to the shadow's gravity.

Rin's eyes were fixed to the ground. "They were nearby. They didn't like it. Nobody did."

The magnetising force was gone.

Len felt his voice coming back again, and he inhaled sharply: He fell on his knees and coughed.

"I didn't like it either…Years, I lived in the woods with what remained of my broken family…I was lonely." Her voice shook, along with her hands. Len's blurred vision told him she was swaying, or he was. He couldn't tell: The only thing he could was that she was on the brink of crying. Len hoisted himself up, but his muscles failed him. "I didn't have any friends, and I didn't know anyone from the outside world. My mother would tell me wonderful lies of how beautiful it is to live outside, yet she didn't let me out. I wasn't to play. I did, though, in secret. My family paid the price…"

Len didn't move from where he was, closely watching Rin. She looked up: Tears were cascading down her face, marring her normally happy façade.

"We didn't do anything…nothing wrong…we couldn't help it…It doesn't even come out right unless I'm…mad…" Rin stared at her trembling fingers. "I don't know how I'm doing it. It just does it on its own. We aren't monsters…are we?"

Shadows were melting their way back to where they should be, rocks stopped tumbling around, the wind ceased its howling. Nature was stalled to listen to the young girl's weeping. The very night had fallen into a silence of discord, Rin's sobs a melancholic melody of lament. She caved in on herself and collapsed into a heap of deplorable loss.

Len moved his lips.

"I don't care what you are." It's said in a tone colder than intended, desperation mixed, too. The girl looked up in surprise, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hands to clog the tears. "I don't think it matters. Just a few weeks ago, you were a complete stranger to me—a pretty little girl my eyes never deserved to be laid on. Maybe I didn't know then, but I still talked to you, wanted you to be a friend that I never had in this hellhole. You're a witch—"

His heart squirmed inside him, thrashing as much as he wanted to. Her eyes were glassy, betraying the self-hating worthlessness he didn't think he'd see her long enough to show.

Len sat down against the wall and embraced Rin, who accepted the affectionate touch, crying on his chest.

"…A confused girl. That's all you really are. If you actually were a spawn of the devil, I would've been dead the second I spoke to you." He bit his lip from saying any more violent things: He felt her flinch next to him. "If anything, I should be thankful…"

They sat like this, if for a while. He reckoned she didn't want him to see her in such a distressed state, so he courteously looked anywhere else: She was forcing herself to stop crying, and the only security he could give was holding her, yet he could feel everything in their embrace. Her fear, her numbness, her absolute appreciation for him as he allowed her to hug him. Len soothed her as she cried, stroking her hair.

He wasn't much of a singer, not in the eyes of those he didn't want to see, however he hummed her a special tune.

Rin pulled herself closer to him, and he nuzzled on her hair. She lifted her head up; Len stopped humming. She spoke.

"When you're on your own, the only person you can count on is yourself. Let yourself go for one second and you doom yourself to a tragic fate. That's why I hold myself so highly all the time…If I don't…who'll love me? Someday someone'll accept me for the person my mistakes shape me up to be."

Len held her shaking hand.

"Coming from a pseudo-thief," he began, "don't lose hope. An individual is all it takes to make a difference. I might be the same as everybody else, but that doesn't diminish its value. We're all individuals, and stand as unique. That somehow comforts me a bit. How I'm the only me in the world. It's lonely sometimes. But if I set my goals and become determined enough, maybe I'll stop acting so different from others. It doesn't make you a cut above the rest, just—different."

It's a foreignness too often considered as better than to be taken for its own, he meant. He felt Rin stir.

"Would you hold me like this?" Rin asked, voice muffled as she wept in his shirt. "Until I fall asleep?"

Len lifted her chin up so she could see the solemnity in his eyes. Her eyes were swollen from crying, cheeks streaked with a colour he didn't want to see on her.

Red didn't suit her.

"Yes."

If only it wasn't until she falls asleep.

If only he could hold so much more of her.

If he could, she'd hold him with as much passion as him.

If he could, forever would be too short.

He realised she could touch him more now. He…couldn't touch her. No.

He could never deserve to. But he wanted to.

Thinking about touching her felt like tainting something of delicate sanctity. He'd shatter her.

Except, her being in his arms right now, the only plausible comfort she could ever have, he had to.

Rin hugged Len a little more firmly, to assure herself she wasn't alone, that he wouldn't go away, that he'd stay with her.

She'll be okay.

Because it's Len.

He could never be who he truly was

.

She couldn't change who she truly was

M

"You hanging in there?"

Rin counted the days. Boredom demanded too much amusement to ignore scratching the walls with the rocks to mark off what were days, weeks. She crossed out another one. Initially she thought to some degree the people of the court would find everything a misunderstanding, everything, not just Rin's sanction but also Len's, and they would release them acting like no dispute of any sort ensued between them, or even hoped that somebody else would inherit the throne while Len wished for a more violent probability.

The absent bars didn't go unnoticed by the guards, however. Their fears and their inaction to suspend Rin's destruction quelled the blondes' anxiety if for a moment. As of now no toe was stepped out of line.

Not yet.

She nodded at her inmate, who was sitting by where the remains of her demolition.

Len beamed. From his holed pockets he pulled out an object Rin couldn't immediately recognise.

"What've you got there?"

With a wily smirk, he tossed her something she only caught so late.

She held it in her hands: It was a loaf of bread.

"Len! Where'd you get this?" Rin exclaimed in elation.

The young man shrugged in pride, shrugging. "I picked it up. Chow down, it's yours."

"I can't," Rin said, fake-pouting. "You gotta eat it with me or else it'll have to stay here."

Len stood up, and for one second Rin wasn't sure of what he was going to do. He walked to face her straight and, as easy as that, snatched the food from Rin's frail hands weak from anticipation.

"That so?" He said, holding it just by Rin's eye level. "I've got a better idea."

She felt warmth spreading in her cheeks. He was almost a head taller than her.

They were only a few inches apart, Len standing in front of her. She was just about to take a bite off the bread when they heard something.

It was clanging.

Rin and Len stay still at the latter's request.

Some warden patrol, more like.

A great weight was shifting further down the stairs that led to their prison, and they listened urgently for it to come to a halt, to know immediately if they who come would stop at a different cell. It didn't, continuing until they see a man in armour squeeze his way through the threshold of the staircase, metal screeching as his breastplate made contact with the stone wall. He, for it most certainly wasn't a woman, and even if she was, they'd refuse to call her one, was big and burly judging by the muscular skin that strained from the shell of his panoply.

To say the least neither of them was really very intimidated by him, but what did scare them was why he came here.

That would provide them some interest.

He had a mask to conceal what feeling he had in his voice, to be replaced by a filtered coldness that gushed through the screen, flat and heavy with apathy, very unlike what Rin was used to hearing from Len's own every treasured day she spent in this dungeon.

Nevertheless, the laconicism in his voice made him that more vile.

"You."

He thrust a large arm and jabbed the keyhole: The movement looked lethargic from afar, but Rin and Len saw in the difference that made their distance that breaking a lock would've taken efficient effort than that, not to mention more to look less than hurt.

And just like that, the door to their smashed cells opened.

"Rin." Len threw himself in front of Rin, who grabbed his arm.

The jail warden stomped toward them. Had his face been seen, ruthlessness would define every curve of it.

Rin thought her heart failed when the man stopped just a foot from where they were.

"You are sentenced this day."

The world froze.

Loud, sharp dissonance passed through Rin's ears as the silence shrieked.

Asking who it was would've been foolish, and Rin and Len were neither that. They wouldn't be so selfish as to worry about their own life ebbing away, but that they'd be apart, and that the other's time would come as well until they find hope to go on alone.

With a quick movement, he grabbed Len's wrist, and for one, wild, second Rin thought he was going to toss him aside to go for her, when he didn't: A racking bruise was made in her heart as Len, powerless with his hand being crushed by the warden's, grunted, falling to his knees at the sheer agony. Her hands roamed to his shoulders the second he kneeled down, managing to voice out, no matter how futile her opinion seemed to matter to them, "Don't hurt Len!"

She recoiled when the man took a step nearer, still holding Len.

The warden reeked inhuman, an otherworldly pong, of flesh ostensibly decaying. His stench filled the room, making Rin nauseous. If anything, Rin thought he smelled of death.

"He will be coming with me."

Rin felt Len tense under her. She rubbed her thumb on his back soothingly, but her words could only plead understanding. She didn't will herself to ask, and she most certainly knew what they were going to do with him, though she did, in the weakest breathiest wail. "What are you going to do with him?"

Again, dull silence answered her. The tautness of the atmosphere strained the noise so much that it was levelled flat, oppressing it until a deathly vacancy deafened her.

The castle guard yanked Len's wrist, the boy thrown forward and out of Rin's trembling hands before she knew it.

"The same way you should end up, you witch."

Len's legs finally forced him to stand up, only to be brought back down once more as the warden dragged him out of the cell. Rin shook herself out of her paralysis and caught up with them just before the door slammed on her.

"Len!"

He was on the floor, barely sitting up straight. The guard let go of his hand when Rin knelt beside Len.

"Don't worry, I got this," he coughed out, massaging his sore hand. Rin could only shiver in fear for what was expecting Len outside, that she would be alone once more. Seeing her tremble, he stroked her cheek with his good hand. His touch stoked the gentle flame in her heart, a most curious feeling bubbling her insides. "You'll find a way through on your own…I'm sure of it."

Len wasn't in very good shape to promise her anything, much less his health.

"If—if I can't…?" She pressed her head against his chest to hear his heartbeat. "What then, Len? As far as I can tell, I can't do it alone."

"We can't get out any other way." He wanted to take every part of her with him: She clung to him, and he wished he could do the same without breaking her. "I…I know you can do it."

"What about you, then?" It was pathetic: She shouldn't have said it as much as she couldn't hold it back. Everything in her pleaded the fates to weave another fate of Len, one that demanded them more days, weeks, years and years together. What she saw in Len's strong dark blue eyes didn't assure her of her wish; a sad, dejected smile formed on Len's face only forced to make its way there for her. "You'll be going where I am—when the time comes. We'll be together again. Don't even think of coming where I'm going until your time is up—listen to me—I want you to live a full whole life—with my dad's. Go to him, eat all the croissants you want, b-be there where I'm not—remember that the only place I belong is beside you."

"We'll be separated just this once," Rin whispered, gazing into his face, his charming face, his jutting jaw, his soft hands, his sun-kissed hair. "There won't be a time when I'm not looking for you. No matter what happens I'll find my way back to you—once I do, I won't ever let go, and nothing and no one will tear us apart." He grabbed her chin, his own tears mixing with hers as he thrust the lightest of his weight forward to kiss her.

It wasn't long, nor short nor tantalising—it was chaste: The sweet taste of sorrow of two outcast hearts.

Their time was up.

The warden yanked Len to his feet. He said nothing, only nodding stiffly at them. Neither of the two bothered to miserably reply.

Len was being taken away. Like the determined fighter she knew he was, he didn't look back at her, but she knew she never left his mind. She had feebly let go of his hands, and she felt the walls around her close in on her, afflicting her with such intensity.

,

Five minutes

,

Eight minutes

,

It wasn't fair

.

His feet felt like metal, dragging them

.

They were tying a knot in his hands

.

Every time he imagined the world outside, he'd be boundless, free, and with her

Rin couldn't ease the pain. Nobody was there to comfort her anymore. He wasn't here. She was left behind.

Her eyes were blurred with water. The agony was too much to bear.

She had to do something

,

Save him

,

One minute

Rin writhed, clutching at her heart.

Two minutes

The door was blasted open with formidable power.

Five minutes

He stepped on the pedestal.

Seven minutes

As they fastened the noose around his neck, the last thought he had was her light hair, warm eyes, hot breath, sweet smell, sad tears…

Len balanced himself on the platform, his legs almost giving way. He felt the rope tighten a bit, and he awaited the pull. An audience was watching with utmost zeal, anticipating the bandit's ruin. Malicious eyes bulged to spectate around him, greedy for blood and anguish. He wouldn't submit himself for their relish in gore. But he could do none else.

Hundreds more fell in this very scene. He would be lucky he wasn't one of the many that were tortured before this. He happily would if he'd been given the option to with the condition of releasing his fellow prisoner.

There he stood, his hands behind his back, merely an entertainment to the churlish. He could never be a more accurate description of humiliation.

"Just get on with it!"

He gulped, hoping his last memory would be of Rin.

Don't surrender

Rin opened the door outside, and immediately found him on the platform.

Len!

He saw her.

Rin

"Hang him!"

"Have it done already!"

Death was just an expectant figure next to him, ever so patient and terse, as his breath bated. He wanted to smile at Rin: Knowing she'd be his last sight both made the need to smile desperately crucial, and saddened him to grim spirit.

But then somebody fell.

Someone in the crowd hardly beyond Len's central vision had doubled over. Blood spurted into a crimson pool underneath the feet of the onlookers.

Len took a step backward, fear gripping him. "Rin, no—"

Anybody hardly took notice of the man. All attention was on him. A lone girl a little away the mob slowly made her way toward them, shoulders jutting forward awkwardly as though her limbs were too stiff to control. From the distance Len could tell her neck was craned, her fingers twitching, hips rolling.

It happened so fast.

Just when Len felt the slightest tug on his neck barely made as strong anymore as the weight on the pull was cancelled by an equally power-hauling force, another citizen fell rigid on the cold ground: It was now a man who had been at the very front, so now everyone could see him as he thrashed in torture. The crowd moved backwards, a little space given to the writhing creature that wouldn't as clearly be classified as human—red liquid oozed out of his eyes, and though they were obscured by the opaque fluid, large hills of flesh erupted from his skin, creating winding lumps that laced lightning patterns on his body.

He was having a major seizure, arms jerking one way and another. Shocked gasps filled the air as well as outraged roars.

"What sorcery is this?"

"It's witchcraft!"

There was a relay of accusations until the man went rigid, his figure limp in the ocean of red.

While they were distracted, Len pulled off his noose, jumping off the platform. The warden exclaimed in indignance, following the boy.

He pushed past the boisterous crowd, leaping over the grotesque corpse.

Len ran faster than any of the men of the court or even the palace guards with their heavy mail and weapons—he got to Rin earlier than they knew of the loose witch. The duke cried out their escape as Len grabbed Rin's wrist and dragged her with him out through the palace gates, into the city.

He pulled her with all his strength: She felt cold to the bone, but she's safe—he's with her—he's safe—they're together—they're running—

"I can't believe you did that!" he said, his heart thumping out of his chest. Her hand slapped on her side as they ran on. "I'm—happy—you're here—it's such a relief—just keep running—"

Len and Rin were lagging—they were catching up, he could hear them, their cries, their screams—he knew they couldn't make it unless—

They would lose their trail if they pass through the alley: They'd jump in the aqueducts and make their way past the sewers outside, into freedom. His town wouldn't be a three days' walk from there. His father would be glad to see him well—with Rin—

An arrow was nocked, missing Len's shoulder by an inch.

"Devil worshippers!" said a man with large fists. They were gathering speed—

Rin felt heavy beside him, and he had to haul her forward forcibly to keep her running. She hadn't uttered a word ever since she saved him, but he was sure she wanted to.

Swords were unsheathed, being swung in the air angrily, whipping up more wind than they used to shout. Len was tempted, very much, to glance behind him to see if they were a great distance away or not, yet pushed himself to look straight ahead. His legs were crumbling, only Rin's presence compelling him to try harder, his fear uttering feeble pleas. Keep going, keep going—

He could only carry himself so far, Rin an added weight he couldn't just ditch—

There was a loud BANG from behind.

Followed by an ocean of cries and shouts.

Len could see what was ahead, and they took a turn to the left, sharply looking at Rin as though she had something to do with the noise—he was sure she did, and was drawn to sneak a look; he did, wishing he didn't.

Wood was flung into the air in every direction: The castle walls were in ruins, detonating into rubble that blocked the way that led to the fugitives. Too much debris was in the way for Len to see clearly what took place beyond the rock walls, though he spotted in broad daylight people being bayonetted by bombarding bricks and jagged spikes before another wave of wreckage crashed down the street.

The sight was too much a terror to not put him to a stop.

He made a full wheel around.

It was gruesome. This part of the kingdom was in shambles. All because of…

He literally held back a wince when a head popped into view. Several of the men climbed up the ruins, swords in tow.

The warden was still alive. His weight was no burden to him as he hoisted himself up, teeth grinding while he snarled. "Murderer!"

Len felt Rin make a movement—he wasted no time yanking her away in the street townsfolk hardly go about. He ignored their jeers, their torments—he begged his feet to go faster, that Rin would show more effort running with him. He didn't even know if he was running anymore: His legs were tired, and so was Rin—he snuck a glance at her once or twice, though her hair was always in the way of him seeing her face visibly enough to judge her emotions. She didn't say anything since—she was so quiet—

He didn't know how much further they should run, nor how far they'd be determined to chase them. Sweat was coating him with coldness wiped with adrenaline, a thick sheet of panic blanketing over him to the breaking point. His mind was jogging as fast as his feet, filling him with pleas of the impossible. He heard another crash, and this time he couldn't turn around or stop.

It was them—they were at their heels—they were so close—

Rin squirmed beside him, gasping, sighing, groaning almost octaves higher than usual. Her struggling made their escape much less easy: He was the one doing the running now, and she could barely keep up with him and he could just heave her. Now she pulled to a complete stop with her hands cupped over her ears. He did the same: They were at the square, very open.

"Rin—what are you doing?" he bellowed, grabbing her shoulders. He had to say he was exhausted as well—however they had to get out. "Let's go, we have to move! They've got swords and knives—we have to leave!"

She gave him no response, eyes shut tight and crouched over like a scared little girl afraid of monsters. Len was certain they're bound to pounce on them any moment—

"There you little shits are."

Len looked over Rin's shoulder to find a palace guard accompanied by several others closing in on them. Protectively Len stood in front of Rin like he did earlier. He couldn't believe how this was happening. They were so close to tasting freedom. They could've jumped into the aqueducts.

He couldn't count how many there were: Even their masked faces he couldn't register in his ill mind.

"You don't know how long we wanted your pretty little neck wrung," sneered one of them. He meant Rin, Len thought in dismay.

They were big, armoured and armed with heavy weapons he'd never dream using, hence learn dodging.

This was the most vulnerable he's been. Not because of he's outnumbered or they're humungous, but because Rin was there witnessing his failure. He couldn't break a promise now—not hers that he planned keeping.

"Rin, stay close to me." Words were pointless. He couldn't even assure himself safety.

Rin was silent at his side. He stepped all in front of her to serve as her shield.

Most of them readied heavy maces, and when they weren't knives they were swords or lances. You couldn't swear to yourself getting out there amidst them alive. He knew the odds without counting them.

The men cried out, rushing forward.

Everyone attacked at once.

Blades swung, shrill noises ripping the deadly silence. Feet pounded on the ground quaking.

He snapped his eyes close. They were so near he'd expect to be dead in a second—when he heard flesh being torn and blood spurt.

It wasn't his, nor Rin's.

Akwardly he stood up straight, hearing gusts of wind whipping at his ears and shouts and screams. Then he opened his eyes.

A disturbing sight made him take a step backward almost to knock himself over: A hell storm whose origin was the very ground he stood. The men whose bloodlust be only satisfied by tearing their flesh were being carried by the grisly gusts of gale. Their weapons were hurled into themselves by the might of the tempest. Blood was pelting Len in the face. He was too caught up in the bluster of brutish breeze to notice the ferocious female figure at his side. He was lost in a trance, one in which he tripped tumbling terribly to gain balance being aware of what was happening around him.

Len looked at Rin. It dawned on him.

Not long ago this girl killed a man ruthlessly.

Right now flesh was ripped under her control. Powers of chaos were bending to her will. It was tragic. She screamed until her senses were numb, until the place was covered with the guard's rotting skin, painting the buildings with blood.

A whirlwind of body masses were blown around the sky and eventually landed somewhere high as terraces and roofs or as low as porches. Whatever else it looked, it's repulsive.

Just as soon as it was there, the gale storm quelled, slowly, til calm took destruction's place.

It's over.

Silence rung in his ears like a shrill dissonance. The environment was still.

"Rin…" Len tested her name almost as if the ruckus deafened him. He looked around, saw her feet away. "Rin, we're free. We can get away now!"

Len approached Rin, skipping in elation. She stood still.

"Rin! Rin, what's wrong? You're okay, aren't you?" He caught her by the arms as she fell. As his hand roamed over her back, he felt a wet smudged surface: His heart stopped pumping fast-flowing blood.

He didn't realise how deep a sharp dagger impaled her, or if at all. It must've been that one of the guards with the knives struck her. In utter horror he put her down to rest at his lap. The closer he looked at her face, the sallower she was; her colour was ebbing into a paler shade, even her lips.

"Rin—you're bleeding. Rin—Rin! Say something!"

But she can't. She was white as stone, cold as ice, a thousand worlds away and was slipping deeper into a sleep he couldn't bare she'd not wake from.

"Come back. Rin. Rin, don't leave me…" He stared at the lifeless body, shaking it until his muscles were sore.

By some miracle, her lips parted. She managed to say with her remaining breath, "Len."

Len clung to her like she's his lifeline: He kissed her hot face desperately, digging his fingers into her hair and memorising her sweet scent, the feel of her smooth skin, remembering her soft cobalt eyes.

"We…do have to live separate lives, huh…?" She breathed out, her eyelids fluttering. "I didn't…know I cared for anything else…so much."

"M-me too," Len choked. He pulled her closer. "R-Rin—I—"

"Don't…" Rin smiled sadly.

"I love you, Rin, I love you. We can do so many things! All we want to we can now! I want to lie down with you, hold you every waking day of my life, m-marry—"

"I'm sorry." Tears scalded Rin's eyes. "You can…only do one thing…out of those for me…"

She weakly raised her hands, as if to welcome him.

"Will you hold me like this…?"

With the poor state she's in now he couldn't afford to hesitate. "…C'mere, Rin. I w-will."

He pulled her into the tightest embrace he could with his trembling arms. She smiled into his neck.

"…until I wake up?" She sounded dramatically helpless. She was light enough already, now what part of her weight was her soul was being lifted away from him as he held her.

Len blinked slowly, his heart being torn apart. He whispered in her ear, "…Always."

He would've given all his liberty to spend another day…no, his whole lifetime…in confinement…with Rin.

He woke up every day wishing he was unbound when he could've done it talking with Rin. Laughing. Story-telling. Anything—everything—with her.

He was…free.

He was.

But…

without her.

He never loved anyone quite like he loved Rin…

Tears dribbled down his face.

…and he never promised her that…

.

Freedom is nothing but missing you

,

She was gone.

He was alone.

.

He wished that the wind carried his voice and reached the young girl's ears, wherever she may be

,

She heard nothing but hollowness

I know it's CORNY as HELL, but it's ORIGINAL-bonafide-MINE. With a Titanic vibe. (Because, honestly, every time I type Len going "RIN!" it's always Leonardo di freaking Caprio I hear in my head.) JCJCJCJCJCJC, GAIZ. THIS CRAP MUST BE MADE INTO A PV. THINK ABOUT IT! I'm doin' a checklist:

Sad-ish story/

Romance/

Rin and Len/

A seemingly impossible romance/

One of them DIES/

I-IMAGINE-LEONARD-DI-CAPRIO-OR-JESSE-MCCARTNEY-DOING-LEN'S-ENGLISH-VOICE/

IT'S DESTINED TO BECOME A PV! I NEED TO START DRAWING NAO! XDDDDDDDDD Sorry this sounded rushed. The last-whispering-talk-before-loved-ones-die was a HUGE cliche: LOVE IT.

Happy Valentines Day!