The Reserve Camp
I’m not sure how long we ran for, or where we were even headed, all I know is that I never once let go of Mina’s hand and never once looked back. I had to get her out of there. I had to save my sister. Nothing mattered in this world more than Mina, and I needed her safe.
By the time our legs had practically collapsed beneath us and we finally sat down to rest, it was almost morning. It was only now that I truly realised our situation. Part of me wanted to laugh and cry, tears of relief and freedom, but I knew we weren’t out of the woods yet. Another, more rational part of me wanted to start moving again immediately, for fear of being found, but one glance at my sister told me we wouldn’t be moving anywhere again anytime soon. She was exhausted. And to be honest, so was I.
And then there was one final, tiny little part of me that for some reason I could not fathom, wanted to go back.
Why? Why would even the tiniest corners of my soul want to return to a life of fear and imprisonment? What, on this God-forsaken Earth, could I possibly miss about that hellhole?! And then, the stubborn, interfering little voice inside my head whispered, not what, but who?
Shaking that disturbing thought right out of my head as soon as it had dared to come, I slumped down further onto the rough grass next to Mina, leaning back on my hands. We had been running non-stop, so I supposed we could afford a few minutes rest, surely.
‘How are you holding up, Mimi?’
Mina turned to me, a slight frown tainting her youthful features as she responded through pants. ‘I can keep going. I’m alright!’
I threw her an incredulous look. ‘No one has that much stamina! We can take five.’
‘…Do you think they’re looking for us?’
I thought for a moment before answering her honestly. ‘Probably not. As much as I hate to admit it, we’re not worth it. But all the same, don’t let your guard down.’
‘Do we have a plan?’
I blinked at the younger girl beside me. ‘In case they come after us?’
She nodded, and I had to smile at her incredible ability to remain strategical after everything we’d gone through. ‘I doubt they will, but we’ll keep to the forests and unmarked trails all the same.’
‘…For how long?’
‘Until we reach our destination I guess.’
‘Which is what?’
I turned my gaze skywards, as though staring longingly at the clouds would somehow grant us the power to lift off the ground and magically float to the ideal location. ‘Home.’
Two Hours Later
A soft rustling of leaves was all it took to awaken me from the involuntary slumber I had accidentally slipped into. I guess even in my sleep I was on edge, though a quick scan of our surroundings told me that Mina was the same, as my orchid irises locked with hers, also recently opened.
‘We fell asleep…’ She muttered almost incoherently. It didn’t surprise me. An entire night of running would do that to the average human, not to mention that one possible side effect of the Fukashi pill was drowsiness.
The wind had picked up, and another wave of air swept through the trees overhead, the noise making me nervous.
‘Come on, Mina. We should get moving…’ I trailed off into silence as a flicker of foreign chakra suddenly shifted on the breeze. I lifted one finger to my lips quickly, indicating for Mina to be quiet. She complied instantly, freezing on the spot as her eyes flitted around the area suspiciously.
I momentarily debated whether or not to conceal my chakra or to stretch it out in search of whoever else was out there, but decided quickly that I would rather know where to be wary of them approaching from than remain in the dark, so to speak.
It took me a few moments until I finally latched onto its source. I gulped audibly as I assessed the chakra signature. It was male, and approaching quickly. It was strong, too, which was unnerving. I inched towards Mina, positioning myself so we were back to back.
Then, to my dismay, the power I had been tracking with my senses completely dissipated into the atmosphere without a trace. This was bad. Whoever it was had suddenly decided to mask their chakra, which could only mean that we had been detected. The next few seconds ticked by in utter silence, neither of us daring to breathe as we waited like criminals on death row. Was this it? Was this how it all ended?
A twig snapped to my left and I started violently, earning a small yelp of surprise from my sister.
I didn’t even have a chance to mumbled words of reassurance to her as something or someone darted out of the thick foliage in a blur of black and green. A hand shoved my backwards forcefully by the throat, lifting my off the ground and pinning my back to a tree. My eyes snapped to his, registering the familiarly stoic expression I recognised too well instantly.
I almost wished it was Sasori.
‘Damn it, Sasuke you pathetic, ridiculous bastard, put me down!’ I snarled through gritted teeth, clawing furiously at his wrist.
‘You’re insults are lacking their usually charm, Emiko.’ He smirked as he dropped me – literally – to the ground. ‘You look like you’ve seen better days.’
‘Sasuke? What’re you…’ I vaguely registered Mina’s voice from over his shoulder, but I was too busy glaring bloody daggers into his big stupid face.
He threw me one final smirk before tugging his khaki sleeve that I had been savaging back down to his forearm and turning to reply to her half spoken question. ‘I’m on my way back to our camp. I think the better question would be what are you doing out here?’
I stared incredulously. ‘Is that supposed to be funny? ‘Cause I’m sure as hell not laughing.’
Mina stepped between us and, becoming the only real reason I didn’t launch myself at that damn Uchiha, spoke again softly while I glowered. ‘We managed to get away from the enemy base, but we had no idea where we were so we just kept–’
‘Woah, woah. What are you talking about?’ Sasuke’s eyebrows knitted together, his dark eyes narrowing in confusion.
‘Oh my god… You don’t know, do you?’ I breathed, all traces of anger quickly becoming replaced with understanding.
‘Know what…?’ He clearly didn’t approve of my knowing something that he clearly didn’t.
It made sense, I supposed. Taking in his appearance now with a more level head, I could tell he hadn’t sought out medical attention in at least three weeks. If I had to guess we’d probably been in that place for at least two… Which meant he wouldn’t have visited our old medic and storage camp in order to discover the ambush, which begged the question, did anyone know?
Mina explained it from there, leaving out the details on a certain red-haired traitor much to my relief, while I continued to analyse our ally’s physical condition. His black and green camouflage outfit was torn and dirtied, with two large crimson stains covering most of his left shoulder and lower back. He was leaning his weight to the right, and I realised with disdain that I was going to have to heal all that. Then something else hit me.
He blinked at me, probably surprised to find my voice lacking it’s usually hostility towards him replaced by blatant curiosity. ‘Hm?’
‘Why are you alone?’
He laughed once, humourlessly. ‘Long story short, my squad are all dead and I was doubling back to find the reserve troops when I noticed two familiar chakra signatures…’
I frowned, not appreciating his bluntness, but then, we were at war. What did I expect?
Mina, however, perked up slightly at this. ‘Reserve troops? So, we must be heading in the right direction for safer territory, right?’
The Uchiha nodded once before inclining his head in the direction he’d originally been going in. ‘That’s right. But we aren’t safe here, and we shouldn’t linger in one place for too long. So let’s move.’
With that, he took off into the trees, giving us no option to either accept or decline the unspoken offer to escort us. I rolled my eyes and huffed, but Mina was already falling into step behind him, and I had no intention of leaving her alone with him right now, ally or not.
As I followed, I couldn’t help but notice his broken gait. I was about to comment, but Mina appeared beside me, speaking in hushed tones so only I could hear.
‘You have to let me in on it, Koko. Why do you hate him so much?’ She apparently mistook my anaylising staring as glares of hatred, not that she was wrong.
I let out a sigh, she had waited long enough. ‘Alright… It was high school. He, being the arrogant bastard he is, was pissed that I didn’t swoon over him like the rest of the student body. So this one time, he had me cornered, asking me all these stupid questions and trying to determine if I ‘batted for the other team’, I believe his expression was.’
Mina raised an eyebrow, but didn’t comment.
‘He basically forced me to kiss him.’ Damn, I said it out loud. But I guess it was time I told someone about it, it was my first kiss and I had been holding onto the grudge for way too long.
‘W-what? He…’ Mina looked appalled, then more solemnly added, ‘I never thought he’d go that far…’
I knew she had grown a little attached to the warrior she’d been assigned to heal over time, but at least now she had all the facts to make up her own mind about him properly.
‘Hey Uchiha!’ I called, gaining his attention as I changed the subject before Mina could continue this awkward conversation. ‘Do you need healing?’ I was going to regret asking that, but I guess I couldn’t argue against helping someone I could unfortunately called a comrade.
He slowed to regard me momentarily, some unidentified emotion flashing through his onyx eyes before reluctantly touching a hand to his bloodied shoulder and coming to a complete halt.
Whether it was his pride that refused to allow him to verbally accept, or he simply couldn’t be bothered wasting his breath when it was obvious he was in pain, I don’t know. But pretty soon I could feel the familiar warm glimmer of healing chakra throbbing in my palms as I pressed them lightly against his collarbone. It was a simple enough wound to heal, so it didn’t take me too long. What worried me was the sheer amount of blood loss he’d already suffered.
‘You know, you should probably take it easy for a while…’ I started slowly, studying his unchanging, calm expression as he stared at nothing in particular, waiting for me to continue. ‘Look, you’ve obviously lost a lot of blood, and I’m guessing you’re already experiencing some light-headedness. If you continue to over-exert yourself like this you won’t last much longer.’
‘Wow, Emmy, it almost sounds like you care.’ And the annoying jerk returned, armed with that infuriating nickname and a sideways smirk for good measure. I vaguely noticed Mina adopt the beginnings of a frown. Maybe she was finally seeing him the way I did?
‘Fine. Do whatever you want.’
‘Maybe you should rest, Sasuke…’ Mina piped up, looking about to say more until he shrugged away from my palms and clambered back onto his feet. Or maybe not.
‘I’m stronger than you give me credit for. I’ll be fine. Besides, I can rest when we get back. We aren’t far now, another hour or so if I had to guess.’
I didn’t even bother to argue with him. I guess if he were to collapse, at least he’d be accompanied by two competent medics.
We arrived at the camp just under an hour later, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment that he had been right. Stubborn jackass. I hated him being right.
The reserve camp held a completely different layout to what I had been expecting, and was much smaller than I’d hoped. It was essentially just a circle of six tents, decorated with patchwork sheets in various shades of green, and an unstable-looking wooden hut with only three solid walls. Inside I could see a line of swords, bows and shields stacked along the back, suggesting that was their armoury. It really was quite pathetic.
Reading my unimpressed expression, the Uchiha let out an uncharacteristically nervous sigh and lowered his voice until Mina was unable to hear him. ‘I know what you’re thinking. It doesn’t look good.’
I turned to meet his almost resigned gaze, a frown etching onto my features as I opened my mouth to reply, but a loud, obnoxious voice cut me off.
‘Sasuke! I was wondering where you’d buggered off to. Long time no see!’ The male who had approached was almost feral looking, with his fang-like teeth and crimson war paint covering his cheeks making me stare a little too long. He clearly noticed, pointing his attention to me. ‘Who’s the chick?’
I scowled at the sexist term, but Sasuke ignored my discomfort, not that that was surprising. ‘She’s just a medic, and this is her sister, Mina.’
My fisted clenched in irritation at being passed over so quickly, and had it been anyone other than Mr Selfless here I would have been surprised by their rudeness.
The stranger, Kiba, I learned, suddenly grew serious as he questioned Sasuke again. ‘And your team?’
The Uchiha only shook his head, no explanation needed. His comrade offered a vaguely sympathetic nod.
‘I see. Well, there’s more bad news I’m afraid…’ His eyes flittered to mine and my sisters before back to Sasuke’s, but when the other male made no move to stop him, he continued. ‘We lost contact with the other remaining teams about three days ago. Captain Asuma sent out an urgent response eagle yesterday, but the bird has yet to return…’
‘Wait, what does that mean?’ My eyes widened as I interrupted.
‘It means,’ Kiba paused, throwing one final glance at Sasuke before his black eyes settled back on mine. ‘Unless we receive a response by tomorrow night, we’re more than likely the last team to be left alive. And we are losing this war.’