Trust Fall

Written from a prompt that consisted of a few simple words - red, rain, trust. In this case, how suddenly that trust can be broken.

Torio's steps slid across sodden, treacherous pavement, and his heartbeat was a frantic metronome rhythm in his ears. The rain was a frigid assault against every inch of his body, blinding, numbing, plastering the thin fabric of his bedclothes to his chest.

The city boiled with activity at what should have been a deadened hour of the night. Rain rushed in rivulets and temporary waterfalls from every edifice, and wind lashed at the banners overhead, their fabric taut and beating like scarlet wings. Light tore through the gloom at irregular intervals, a lantern's concentrated glow meant to root out those who would hide in the shadows.

But those streets had been his favourite haunt since childhood, and he knew their every secret. When sprinting with abandon would have brought him into line with that threatening glow, he pressed himself to the elaborate facades of buildings instead, or squeezed into the narrow spaces that stood between them. There, the downpour seemed intent on drowning him, tumbling from eaves to cover his face in curtains.

No guarantee, no way of knowing for certain that he'd chosen the right path. Still stubborn intuition drove him into the dark, and his persistence was rewarded by a shout from the guards who ran the length of a bridge overhead. A frantic call for reinforcements, a confirmation of their quarry's location. The fear in their voices was nearly enough to make him reconsider his course, but the thought of turning back then, of returning to bed and ignorance...

It was unthinkable. He'd come that far, and he had to know. If that chance wasn't taken, as perilous as it might be, he'd likely never have another.

His steps had lost much of their speed, plowing through the deepest of puddles as his fingers trailed against the guiding surface of the nearest building. The warmth of his body felt as though it had retreated entirely, and his extremities could be felt only for the persistent sting that they suffered in the deepening cold. Even through the obscuration of night and storm, however, he knew his surroundings all too well.

If he turned left at the termination of that street, squeezed between structures again, he would meet the northeastern corner of the city's outer walls. Where their lack of repair left them rough enough to be climbed, and any reasonable fugitive would go if they intended to leave the stone metropolis behind.

Still, as he reached that corner and the narrow alley beyond, he hoped to be wrong. Hoped to find the passage empty, because if the person he sought was there, it would likely be the last time they met.

How could a heart leap and sink at the same time? Relief and disappointment harboured in equal measure as he recognized the silhouette lingering in that claustrophobic space, motionless in the thin separation between the city's structure and the outer wall. Hands loose at his sides, head tilted back to accept the brutal christening of the rain.

Dressed as he always was in the face of inclement weather, his narrow form concealed beneath the drape of a dark, waterproof cloak. No sign of the weapon, the threat that the searching guards had described. Perhaps, Torio dared to hope as his steps dragged forward again, it had all been a dire mistake.

When the other man turned to face him, however, that hope wavered again. The face was as he had known it so well during happier days, narrow yet strong, its features made for stoic expressions. Eyes to match the billows of the storm's clouds, but around them, something had changed.

There, a mask of thin, ornate scarlet obscured the upper half of that familiar face. Fierce and aquiline in its details, revealing those grey eyes only through threatening slits. Beneath, the lips of the other man were set in a cold, unfeeling line, but surely that was only a response to the baseless threats that had been heaped upon him.

Surely. Regarding him there, soaked through and concealed in a miserable corner, Torio couldn't bring himself to believe anything else.

“Kathe,” he began as that moment of hesitation passed, though his throat was dry in defiance of all that surrounded it and the name was hoarse almost beyond recognition. “I've been looking everywhere for you. Are you all right?”

The other man's head was tilted slowly to one side, quizzical in its angle and stony in its regard. Every hint of expression rendered ghastly by that red avian mask.

Every word a match for the frigid set of his features. “I'm fine,” Kathe assured him in a tone that was surely meant to mask considerable pain. “Why would I be otherwise?”

Surely. Standing in that place, under those circumstances, no one could claim to be perfectly fine. A stubborn tremor kept Torio's hands in motion even as he closed them around opposite arms, a vain attempt to ward off the chill that seemed to live beneath his skin.

“They're looking for you,” he quietly informed the other man, as though the fact could have gone unnoticed. “They say- they're saying awful things.” He'd fully intended to detail said awful things, but in consideration of them, his throat began to close again.

The gaze behind that mask was inclined firmly toward him, and the words uttered beneath it urged him to continue. “What is it that they say?”

Torio shook his head in stubborn rejection of his own words, hugging himself all the more tightly as they were spoken. “Lies,” he insisted, as much to himself as to the other man. “That you killed the Judge and his family, all in their beds. That when the guards came to investigate, you killed them, too.” Claims that sounded all the more absurd when they were given voice. The man who had sat with him on those very rooftops a week before, sharing apples, could never have done such a thing. Could never have considered it.

Behind the mask, those pale eyes settled more keenly upon him. “But you trust me.” Far more of a statement than a question, one that Torio answered with a fervent nod.

“I-” Though the words seemed to catch in his throat, overwhelmed by the circumstances in which they were spoken. “I d-”

“Torio,” the other man questioned him with greater intensity, arms lifted from where they'd hung at his sides. Open and waiting. “Do you trust me?”

It all seemed to be coming down on him in that moment. The fear, the denial, the cold and all its frantic accompaniments. It was not only rainwater that clouded his eyes, and again, his response was an earnest nod.

“I do,” he insisted with all of the stability he could bring to his own voice. His steps were carrying him forward again, and his arms unfurled from where they'd been drawn so tight across his chest. Closed, instead, around the lean figure of Kathe.

It was an end to the nightmare, to that cold and fear. Whatever had to be done in order to clear the other man's name, it could be accomplished. They would manage together – it was all that he needed.

It was the first moment of warmth he'd experienced since the setting of the sun, and it ended so quickly. Interrupted by the distinctive click of a readied pistol next to his ear.

There was hardly time to open his eyes in surprise, lifted toward the face of Kathe and the mask that regarded him so coldly. Then a sound like thunder and an impact beyond any other stole the world from his sight.

The End

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