They sit entwined on the cold dungeon floor.
He holds her in his arms as she cries, fingers tangled in the golden locks. He clutches her to his chest, his free arm gripping her back tightly, painfully. But the pain is welcome, pain is good – it will remind her - she's alive. The feel of a warm body next to her, soothing words whispered into her ear, gentle caresses and lingering kisses on the forehead – would it make her want to live?
Even so, he can't bring himself to do any of that. It'd feel like a lie – any and all of the kindness he could offer her. So he clutches harder.
Her sobs pierce the silence.
She mumbles something into his chest; incoherent. He waits for her to speak again.
Ever so softly, she speaks, in a voice that is barely more than a whisper:
He wastes no time to reply: "You must."
He knows it's cruel and, by the way the shock shakes her small frame as she lets out another heart-wrenching sob, she feels it too. The cruelty of a friend comes as a reminder. It's as if he had said – there is no place for kindness in this world we live in. She knows it too, he's sure. But how someone so pure can live among these people that surround them at this very moment, giving them dirty glances, as if to say: 'Keep the damn brat quiet or I'll cut of both of your tongues and feast on them for dinner' (oh, he doesn't have to imagine, he's heard enough to know the thoughts running through their rotten minds, he's thought enough of the very same) – he doesn't know, he cannot grasp.
The girl who wakes up to bird's song, however rare such songs may be, and whistles along, who smiles happily and offers her share of old bread to that hungry little kid in the corner of their musty, grey room, even when she's starving herself. He shoots her a look, that hungry little kid, but takes the bread nonetheless. He devours it in a matter of seconds. Then, a few hours later, he clutches his stomach in mock horror and starts screaming about moldy bread and a poisoning attempt. Her punishment is three days without food, and you can guess who her share 'rightfully' goes to.
Next morning, the kid is found restricted with all-too-familiar looking red wires, feet bound to a rusty metal pole in the corner of the room, hands tied behind his back, his food for the day laid on the floor in front of him in such way that he could almost graze it with his teeth if he were to bend forward and stretch out his neck, but not quite.
They are both left without food for three days, but he deems it worth it, if just to see that amused little smirk on her face – the one she always seems so set on hiding.
The silence snaps him back to the present. The cries have stopped, she's breathing heavily against his chest: In; out, in; out – just like they practiced, too many times to count.
"I can't," she repeats, but her voice is no longer muffled. It's loud and clear and certain.
"Pisti..." his words catch in his throat. Of course she can't.
"I'll do it in your place," he offers, not really thinking it through. He's desperate to see any expression on her face – a smile, a frown, a quirked eyebrow, pouty lips – anything would do. Just not pain; never pain.
"You can't, Ja'far," she sighs. "They'll be watching, you know that."
They lapse into silence. It's deafening and it's malicious, mocking him for saying something so stupid. It feels like years before she speaks again:
"I'll fail," she states. "You're aware of that, aren't you?"
He looks at her and sees resignation. She's so far gone, eyes clouded by languid waves of mist, cold, not yet devoid of any emotion, but not bright and smiling either – for her, it's not much better than being a doll on a string. If there is the will to live somewhere in those eyes, she's doing a damned good job at hiding every single trace of it.
"It doesn't matter if you fail. I failed once too!" he tries to reason, with her, or with himself – he's not sure.
Pisti snorts. It's an ugly sound for her to make. "The one time you failed was the time you tried to off the future king of Sindria, one of the most powerful people in the world. Nobody expected you to succeed. Nobody even expected you to come back alive. They were just playing with your life that time. "
Ja'far knows that he should focus, that he should say something – anything, but he can't stop the overflow of images that engulf his mind at the mention of that time – the tall, muscular, young man underneath him, holding his wrist in a strong grip, whispering: "You don't want to do this. Not really." The feel of the man's arms around his body (such a foreign feeling), the earthy scent of the long, dark hair he's buried his face into and – "You can do it now," the man reminds, a smile in his voice, "I haven't taken it." His weapon still securely wrapped around his arms, the bladed tip barely an inch away from the man's heart. He drops it to the ground…
"Ja'far?" the girl murmurs, bringing his attention back to her. Tears are lurking in the edges of mahogany eyes. Ja'far almost wishes they would fall. It seems more like her to cry than to snort. Tears make him feel like he hasn't lost her; yet.
"I can't kill that man." It's a statement, more than anything else. And now the key word is out in the open:
The word holds little meaning to Ja'far. They show him a picture and say: "It is to be done in a week," (sometimes, they're generous and he has a month, sometimes their frantic and he has a day – it makes no difference to him – he always makes it in time). It has gained him quite a reputation – the quick, quiet way in which he handles his missions – cruel, ruthless, they would say - the others. He finds it preposterous at best – for an assassin to deem anyone, much less another assassin, cruel. He doesn't really feel he is. But then again – he barely feels anything nowadays.
Pisti would scream and shout at them to shut up and mind their own business, that Ja'far had more kindness in him than all of them combined. He's always thought she was kidding herself. Nevertheless, he let her try to convince him otherwise. She never succeeded. She never stopped trying.
"Thank you, Ja'far," she says now, voice shaking slightly, "for being so nice to me."
It's Ja'far's turn to snort at the utter ridiculousness of her thoughts: "I'm telling you to go murder somebody. And you call me nice?"
She smiles for the first time in a while and snuggles closer to him, laying her head on his shoulder: "Yeah."
"You're messed up," he laughs a little, but it's humorless.
"Aren't we all?" she retorts. And yes, he thinks, they really are.
They are trying to keep talking now, because silence is a terrible thing - an uninvited creep chilling them to bone with its cold breath, blowing gusts of freezing wind in their ears, paralyzing, deafening them.
"You can do this," he says, even when he knows the words are empty promises, carrying no real meaning.
She lifts her head and looks at him with tired eyes, so much older in their depths than they should be, and says the words he has been dreading to hear all along:
"I'd rather die."
His grip on her shoulder tightens: "No! You know I can't let you," he tries to reason, desperate.
"It's better than this!" she hisses angrily. "Why do you even care so much? About staying alive?"
It's a perfectly good question, the one he can't even remember the answer to – or maybe there isn't one answer, no correct answer, but – those words:
Each and every time, he remembers those words, and he can't bring himself to. He's being selfish, he knows that, but she is one of his few reasons to persist, so few he can't name any more (are there more? Those words, maybe – are they really?), and he can't – won't! lose her.
"When I fail…they'll kill me."
"IF you fail," he can't help but correct, even though he wonders if it really is a correction. "And they won't. It's only your first mission. And even they wouldn't kill a ten-year-old girl."
She shots him a glare as if to say - like they care – and begins to speak urgently, fervidly, her voice becoming louder until she is all but yelling, not caring about the spectators:
"Fine, they won't kill me. They'll wait for a few more years, see if they have any use of me, if they find something I'm useful for, use me for it, then kill me. How's that?" she spats.
Ja'far cringes at what he knows something implies.
"I'll say it again – I'd – rather – die!" And he can't blame her. He searches frantically for the words to say but his mind is blank. There is no reasoning this, since there was never one bit of reason in it in the first place.
"When it comes to it, I'll kill myself," Pisti announces quietly, but with no doubt in her voice.
The words are out of his mouth before any coherent thought forms in his mind:
He realizes he shouted from the irritated grunts around them, but he doesn't care. Against his chest, he can feel her body trembling with silent rage and when she finally looks up to face him, she suppresses the shuddering long enough to glare angrily at him and hiss, emphasizing every word:
"Do you remember the way she cried, Ja'far? Do you remember her screams?"
A/N: So...this is my first attempt at a longer story. I'd really appreciate reviews, since I don't really know what I'm doing at this point. But maybe it's too soon to ask. I'll try to get the second chapter ready soon. So yeah...tell me if it interests you.