The Warrior's Disappear
I was surprised at how fast everything moved after that one short letter. The Land of Fire was as vast as an ocean, and within three days, our tiny makeshift camp had already expanded to over four times its original size. These warriors weren’t playing around either, they were here to end a war, and they wasted no time in setting about to prepare.
The camp was bustling, even though it was late in the evening and quite a few of the warriors had resigned to their tents to rest. Training sessions had been going on as new squad teams were formed and they all got used to each other’s fighting styles. There were rumours that Tsunade of the Leaf Village was somewhere amongst the crowds, though I had yet to catch a glimpse of her. Mina and I had been rushed off our feet, being the only two medics in the original section of the camp where most of the minor injuries were brought, almost like a walk-in clinic for smaller medical problems.
But, we were only human, and we all needed our sleep. With Mina finishing up in the ‘clinic’ for the night, I trudged along behind a row of darkened tents, my thoughts only focusing on how soon I could reach my sleeping bag. Fortunately, I had been placed right at the foot of the hill behind the campsite, which was much quieter and less occupied.
I breathed a sigh of relief when my head finally reached its lumpy destination, though the lack of comfort in my pillow was hardly something I was willing to concern myself with tonight. Sleep first. I closed my eyes, and was out in seconds.
A Few Hours Later
It’s one thing to be woken early after an incredibly long day of hard-work, but it’s just plain rude to do so by pressing your hand over a sleeping person’s mouth and using your other to shake their shoulder roughly. Then again, nothing should surprise me anymore.
‘Mmm!’ I half-growled, unable to use actual words of insult due to the hand clamping down harder over my mouth. My eyes flew open, glowing with irritation that quickly dissipated into horror.
The culprit watched the colour drain from my face as recognition dawned. I registered his rust red locks instantly, not missing how he hesitated before speaking as though debating if it was worth his life.
‘Don’t scream… I’ll move my hand, but don’t. Scream.’
My furious eyes were wide and bulging, and I threw him a silent warning that, unless he removed his hand right this instant, I would bite it off. He seemed to get the message.
However, the second his hand lifted from my face, I open my mouth to shout. Unfortunately for me he was far too quick and, before I had even gathered enough breath to attempt it, the hand returned to silence my cries.
‘What did I just tell you?’ He gave me a very condescending frown, like an adult talking down to a misbehaving child.
I scowled my best I’ll-do-whatever-I-want-thank-you-very-much scowl, only making him smirk slightly at my rage.
‘Last chance…’ He promised, as he loosened his grip experimentally. I hated to comply, but this was getting us nowhere.
‘You are proving awfully difficult to shake off, you know that, right?’ I hissed, ignoring the look of mock innocence he threw me. ‘Sasori, what are you doing here? How did you find me? …And where the hell are we?’
I fired my questions at the redhead, pushing up from where I’d been lying so I was now leaning back on my elbows. We were definitely somewhere outdoors, still in the forest I guessed by the surrounding foliage, and it was dark. How had he got here and snuck me out without someone noticing?
‘We’re not far from your tent.’ He motioned behind him in what I assumed was the direction of the campsite. ‘It wasn’t easy I’ll admit, and I had to be quick, you’ve barely been alone for 5 minutes since you got here…’
‘Yeah, well, there’s been a lot going on… Wait, how long have you been here for?!’
He rolled his eyes at my late reaction, but quickly passed over my question. ‘I don’t like to keep people waiting, so I’ll get right to the point. I’m here to warn you.’
‘Warn me? Or threaten me?’
‘Warn you. We received orders from the leader of Chitani the morning after you…’ He pursed his lips as though debating the correct word. He settled with, ‘left.’
Orchid eyes narrowing, I visibly tensing when he leaned forward and I was suddenly very aware of what could be a very compromising position, should we be discovered.
‘Look, whether you believe me or not, the warriors should retreat immediately, unless you all want to die.’
‘You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Our retreat. A nice easy victory for Chitani, huh. Was this Pein’s idea? Or do some Akatsuki members actually think for themselves?’ I scoffed, trying to look disgusted, but with his face now hovering extremely close to mine, it was hard to react accordingly without the faint blush that now dusted my cheeks.
From up close, I could see the surprise in his eyes at the mention of Akatsuki. He’d obviously kept that one quiet very purposefully.
‘Emiko…’ My pulse quickened as his breath washed over me, my eyes finding his marginally parted mouth, while my body subconsciously leaned into him. Damn it, why was I still having these reactions? After everything he’s done, I should be repulsed by him. And yet…
‘About Kichiro…’ My eyes snapped back up to his at the sudden change of topic, but he was gazing somewhere off to my left. I frowned as he continued to avoid eye contact, not used to the uncharacteristic notion.
Finally, he let out a soft sigh. ‘I didn’t realise you cared about him so much. Even though his life wasn’t worth much, I could have prevented his death.’
I blinked, confused by the strange apology, if you could call it that. His gaze had still yet to meet mine, but I could clearly read his strained expression. He was evidently not used to apologising.
‘What brought that on?’
His eyebrows twitched together, but not quite enough to frown. ‘I needed you to know that I regret not doing more.’
Not wanted, needed. What did that mean?
I debated my options. On the one hand, this was Sasori. He was manipulative and selfish and dangerous. He wasn’t stupid, everything he did had a reason behind it that more often than not was of some benefit to him. But then, why did I feel this incessant need to trust him? It made sense that this was all another trick to get us to back down, and it was very conveniently timed with the arrival of our allies. But what if he was telling the truth, and I ignored him. Would I be sentencing us all to death? I needed more convincing.
‘…Suppose I do believe you, and by some miraculous twist of fate, we manage to convince the troops to retreat. What then? What happens to you?’
His hazel irises chose this moment to lift and reconnect with mine, and I faltered at the sheer look of vulnerability they held. It almost made me want to comfort him.
‘I guess that’s up to you.’ He stated. He seemed so sincere, so honest. I scanned his face for any traces of deception, but I came up blank.
‘Why? For all you know, I could agree to this plan and then hand you over to the army for torture and imprisonment!’
‘You could.’ He agreed, not making this any easier for me to get my head around.
‘So why leave it up to me?’ I was beyond confused, shaking my head and forcing him to move backwards as I sat upright, speaking again before he could. ‘Sasori. Tell me why you’re here. Tell me honestly. Please.’
‘…Because I trust you. Akatsuki have orders to detonate this entire forest, burn it all to the ground in less than twenty-four hours from now… And I don’t want you to die, Emiko.’ He paused, chewing on the inside of his cheek as though deciding on whether or not to expand on his reason. Apparently, my unconvinced expression decided for him, because he finally whispered, so lowly that, had I been any farther away, I would have missed it, ‘I’d miss you if you were gone…’
In Sasori terms, I guess that was as close to admitting he cared about someone that I was ever going to get. If it was any other person, I would have been stunned when he suddenly closed the gap between us, and our lips moulded together in perfect harmonisation. I was also unsurprised when I found myself responding to his touch, my hands finding their way to his unruly red hair like a natural reaction. It wasn’t a tender kiss, it was almost desperate, and promising.
There’s a saying that goes ‘Actions speak louder than words’. I couldn’t think of a better way to describe this man than that. Honestly, he’d never given me any reason to believe that he actually wanted me dead. If anything, his previous actions only proved time and time again that he did, in fact, want to keep me alive. Was this his reason all along? Did he actually care about me?
When he eventually, albeit reluctantly, broke the connection, we stared each other down, equally analysing the other’s meaningful expression.
‘So…’ I began slowly after a painstakingly long few minutes. ‘What do I tell the warriors?’
His hazel eyes filled with surprise and, before he could hide it, a tiny smile had crept over his features. But it was short-lived, as his usual calm, composed façade quickly replaced the reaction. ‘You don’t tell them anything. I will.’
Now it was my turn to be surprised. ‘What makes you think they’ll believe you?’
‘They might not. But don’t you think they’d question your sources if you suddenly decided they needed to retreat because the enemy was about to launch an attack that would inevitably kill them all?’
I shuddered at the thought. ‘Good point. So, we go together then?’
The small smile returned, tugging innocently at the corners of his mouth. He stood up and offered me his hand. I took it cautiously, allowing him to pull me up beside him. When we started to move, he kept hold of my hand, our fingers locking together like reunited pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
As we reached the line of trees separating us from the warrior campsite, Sasori paused momentarily, allowing me one final chance to change my mind.
I only nodded, and he squeezed my hand lightly in reassurance. I couldn’t help but wonder how he could be so calm about this when I, personally, felt like my head was about to implode.
I took a final deep breath for good measure, before taking the lead and entering the campsite nervously.
Out of everything I could have possibly imagined to happen in the next few moments, this was definitely not one of them. Emiko was apparently just as confused as I was.
‘W-where is everyone?’ She stammered, taking an unconscious step towards the eerily quiet camp. Not just quiet, empty. Completely lifeless, not a soul in sight.
‘Mina?’ Taking a few hesitant steps forward, she froze. It didn’t take me long to realise she was searching for their presences with her chakra, sending it out like an invisible fishing net, only to come back emptyhanded.
‘Where are they?’ She asked again, sounding rather like a small, lost child. Lifting her arms, her hands stretched out as though reaching for some invisible source of support, confusion and a hint of fear blatantly evident on her face. ‘S-sasori… Did you do this?’
I could only shake my head as I tried to get my head around it myself. I couldn’t even find the motive to frown at her attempt at blaming me. What is going on?
The idea that the warriors had sensed my presence and were about to ambush me crossed my mind, even though I had been excruciatingly thorough in remaining undetected when entering the camp. But something about that explanation didn’t make sense. Why would a whole army waste their time in ambushing one warrior? As much as I hated to admit it, even I couldn’t fight them all off on my own…
I watched Emiko briefly as she stumbled towards one of the tents, ripping open the flap to reveal its empty contents. Backing away slightly, she turned to stare blankly at me from where she was stood, mystified.
Moving further into the site suspiciously, I paused when I reached a freshly cut tree stump that appeared to have been used as a table. I touched my hand to a one of the pots on it, containing a thick, unidentifiable substance, though I guessed it was what the Warriors dared to call soup. It was still warm, as though freshly made and placed, ready to be eaten.
It was as if they had all just vanished off the face of the Earth. How could an entire army just disappear? And what, more importantly, would we do now?
I turned back to where my only companion had been standing just seconds ago. But she was nowhere to be seen.
‘Emiko?’ My voice was quiet and testing, as though not quite believing my own eyes.
When there was no response, I tried her name again, more forcefully this time and stretching out my senses in search of her familiar, comforting chakra. But just as she had with the warriors, I drew a blank.
Emiko was gone too.
She was gone, and I was now completely, totally and utterly alone.
To Be Continued…
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