“Parker,” I whisper, shaking his shoulder in an attempt to wake him up. “C’mon, we have to go now.”
“Huh...?” He mumbles, rolling over and blearily opening his eyes.
“C’mon,” I repeat, this time more urgent. “We have to go. Now.”
“But my...” Parker jerks suddenly awake. He takes a look at his leg and frowns. “My leg... it was...”
I shake my head, “Yeah, I know. I attempted to heal it as much as I could, but I bandaged it just in case. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
He attempts to sit up, but then winces and says, “Ouch, did I hit my head, too?” He reaches up and touches the back of his scalp. His hand comes away bloody. “I think I may have a concussion,” he announces to no one in particular.
I sigh loudly, “Yes, I’m sure you do. You hit the ground pretty hard. Now get up so we can get out of here before anyone finds us.”
I help him up to his feet. He still looks a little bit out of it, but he should be fine. The gunshot wound wasn’t too deep, and I healed the worst of it. His concussion might prove to be a point of concern at a later date, but I don’t have the time to fix it at this moment.
“Do I... still have my weapons?” He asks, patting down his clothing to see if he’s somehow misplaced his various guns and knives.
“Well, they didn’t get stolen,” I say, rolling my eyes at him. “I took the liberty of using your favorite, though. Hope you don’t mind.”
He narrows his eyes at me, “I thought you said you didn’t like that one?”
I shrug, “It’s kind of cool.”
That comment brings the ghost of a smile to his face. “Oh? Maybe my tastes are starting to rub off on you after all.”
I scowl at him. “Let’s not go that far. You know I’ll always prefer my baby.”
Parker rolls his eyes at me, “It’s so impractical and inefficient, though.”
“I could say the same about you,” I retort, smirking at him.
“And to think that we might’ve just been getting somewhere—“
“Oh, don’t start thinking that this is anything more than a job, Parker. I was just unfortunate enough to be paired up with you,” I say, interrupting him.
“Uh-huh, right. And those wistful glances you’re always giving me are just… what? Friendly?”
“I have never—“ I cut myself off and shake my head, slightly embarrassed. “Tease me all you want,” I say instead. “It’s not gonna change anything.”
“Say whatever helps you sleep better at night, my dearest Sunshine. I think both of us know the truth, though.”
I frown, but realize that arguing the point any further would just incriminate me even more. He clearly already has suspicions about my possible feelings for him, and anything I say that might be remotely taken to confirm as much is something I can’t afford to deal with right now.
He might not see the big deal in it, but that’s because he doesn’t care about the rules. I, on the other hand, am not taking any chances. We have a job to do, and that’s the end of it. When the mission’s over, it’s over. That’ll be the end of it.
That’s the only way it can end.
Even so, I can’t help but think back to the first time we met. Before I realized what we’d end up becoming. He looked... sad. But I also saw a certain kind of spark in his eyes. Something like potential. I don’t know why, exactly, but even then I knew there was a kind of uniqueness to him.
“You’re limping a bit,” I note, as we walk back towards camp.
“Yeah, well, I did get shot, Sunshine,” he responds, sounding a little annoyed. “Don’t you suppose that might cause one to limp a little?”
“Yeah, I guess so... but I thought I’d healed you enough to not have to worry about that—”
“Well, maybe you didn’t do as good of a job as you thought,” Parker remarks sharply.
I cross my arms, “Geez, sorry. I tried my best, okay? I didn’t want to waste time. Next time I’ll let you deal with it yourself.”
I know my comment is probably a bit petty, but Parker’s sudden switch of attitude is a little irritating. I could’ve just left him there. He probably would’ve been fine without me. I was trying to be nice, though.
Before he can reply, I pick up my pace so that I’m significantly ahead of him. The campsite shouldn’t be too far away from here. If I jog the rest of the way, I might be able to make it back before sunset.
Then again, I probably shouldn’t leave Parker to go the rest of the way on his own... While I’m sure he’d be just fine, we aren’t really supposed to split up from our pairings.
The buddy-system, or something like that.
It doesn’t help that we’re two of the youngest people on the team. With me being nineteen, and him being eighteen, the rest of our group was quite hesitant to let us join at all. Recruiting age used to be twenty-two, but then the city fell and the fighting started and they needed more soldiers.
Soldiers. Right. That’s what we are. That’s... all we are, really.
I brush that thought away, not ready to face that fact quite yet.
Anyways. We joined six months ago. Six months of training later and... here we are. Going on shitty missions and not being compensated nearly enough for our contributions. They promised us that we’d get paid.
That was the biggest freaking lie I’ve ever been told.
We’re lucky if they don’t run out of food. At this point, we’re only staying because life inside the city is considerably worse. We might be severely malnourished and sustaining significant injuries, but at least we aren’t being tortured or burned at the stake.
Things are bad, there’s no doubting that, but they could be much, much worse.
I debate for several minutes about whether I should wait for Parker to catch up to me or not. I’m really not in the mood to deal with whatever his problem is right now, but I’m also not going to risk getting in trouble for irresponsibility.
Yes, exactly. That’s why I’m waiting for him. Because I don’t want to be reprimanded for being irresponsible.
It’s certainly not because I care about him or anything like that.
“If you keep walking at that rate, we’ll be lucky if we get back by tomorrow morning,” I say as I see Parker approach.
His limping looks like it’s gotten significantly worse in the past fifteen minutes since I last saw him.
“Ah, yes. Maybe I’ll just camp in the woods for tonight and hope to not get eaten by wild animals,” Parker says, glaring at me.
“Well, if you insist...” I turn around and start walking again.
“Ha, ha. So funny. So hilarious, in fact, that I’m sure you wouldn’t mind it at all if I just took my fancy gun that you hate and aim it at my—“
“Don’t you dare start with that,” I say, cutting him off sharply. “We are not having this conversation again, Parker.”
“Why not, Sunshine? Why can’t we have this conversation again? I think it would be quite beneficial for me to know where you stand in all of this, don’t you?”
I stop dead in my tracks. “You know where I stand,” I say, my voice low.
“Do I, though? Because the past couple of weeks it’s been very hard for me to tell.”
There’s an angry undercurrent in Parker’s tone that I’ve never heard before. I turn around to face him and see that he’s glaring daggers at me.
“What do you want me to say, Parker?” I throw up my hands, exasperated. “What the hell do you want me to say? This is a job. A mission. I’m here with you because I have to be.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it.”
I stare him down and scowl, “We’re just friends, Parker. That’s all. And it doesn’t matter, anyways. You know what the rules are.”
Parker gives me a hard look. “Really? The best excuse you can come up with are the rules? The made-up rules that no one follows anyways?”
“It’s common knowledge that soldiers don’t have relationships with anyone, let alone their own teammates—“
“Dammit, Sunshine! Don’t bring that soldier bullshit into this again. We aren’t soldiers. At the most, we’re shitty assassins.” Parker looks away from me briefly and then says, a bit more calmly, “There’s no point in denying this, anymore. Just admit how you feel.”
“What’s the point in admitting to something you know you can never have?” I challenge.
It's quiet for a few minutes. We just kind of stare at each other, neither of us knowing how to respond to what I just said.
“The sun’s almost setting, we should keep moving,” Parker eventually says, averting his gaze and staring pointedly at the ground instead.
I nod without replying, and then resume my walk, slightly slower than before. Despite wearing a snug leather jacket, I suddenly feel cold. I subconsciously wrap my arms around myself in an attempt to retain some sort of warmth. Nighttime in these parts tend to get colder than the rest of the area. I probably should’ve dressed more warmly this morning.
Parker and I walk in silence for quite some time. The only sounds I hear are our footsteps against the loose gravel pathway and the rustling of tree leaves. The stillness should be calming. Somehow, though, it’s not.
The sun goes down within the hour, and soon enough the moon becomes visible. Its light casts strange shadows through the trees, making the forest look a little eerie. A little otherworldly.
“Are you okay?” I ask Parker, after having not said a word to him for over two hours.
“I’m fine,” he says, though his voice seems a bit strained.
I glance back at him and see that the bullet wound—though it should be mostly healed—has started to bleed through its bandaging. He doesn’t look “fine” at all.
“Maybe we should stop to rest for a while,” I say, slowing my pace. “We’ve still got quite a ways to go, so I’m not sure if you’ll be able to...” I trail off, noticing how pale Parker looks. “Um, yeah. You should probably sit down for a few minutes.”
“I’m fine... really,” he says, waving a dismissive hand at me. “I’ve dealt with much worse injuries anyways.”
I’m not too sure about that, but then again I only met him six months ago. In any case, though, he looks like he might pass out.
“How about you sit down for a few minutes while I see if I can find something to deal with that concussion,” I say, giving him a mildly concerned look.
“That’s really not necessary. I just feel a little...” He stops walking and begins to sway on his feet slightly. “I feel a little...”
I wrap an arm around his shoulders to keep him from falling over. I don’t know a whole lot about concussions, but I think you’re supposed to try and keep the concussed person conscious if possible.
“Okay, let’s try to stay awake, all right?” I say, trying to keep my tone lighthearted. “Staying awake is fun, right?”
Parker mumbles something I can’t quite make out and starts to lean very heavily against me. His head injury doesn’t look too bad, but another quick glance at his leg tells me that we may have some other issues to deal with.
“Parker?” I say, trying to keep him conscious. “Parker, are you listening to me?”
He looks at me dazedly, his brown eyes unfocused.
“I have to go get something, okay? It’ll only take a couple minutes. Can you stay awake for that long?”
He mutters something incoherent and his eyes start to slowly shut.
“No, no,” I say. “No, you have to stay awake.”
“But...” he mumbles, his head falling forward a bit. “I feel... really... lightheaded...”
“Yes, of course. Um, how about we sit down, then.” I usher him over off of the path and prop him up against a tree trunk. “Five minutes tops, okay? You’ll be fine for five minutes, right?”
“Uh... yeah. Yeah, I’ll be okay,” he responds, his voice sounding far-off.
He slumps down a bit against the tree trunk, and I reconsider leaving him alone. I mean, it’s only a few minutes. He should be fine, but...
“I’ll be right back,” I say, turning around. “Just a few minutes.”
“Mhmmmm... a few minutes...” Parker agrees.
I take one last look at him before I sprint back down the gravel path from the way we came. God, I hope this works.
I’m not sure how long it’s been since Sunshine left. Maybe only a minute or two. Maybe an hour. But it’s becoming increasingly more difficult for me to stay conscious. I’m not sure if it’s from the concussion or from the gunshot wound, but something feels very, very wrong.
I force my eyes open and look down at my leg. Dark red is seeping through the bandages. I reach down and fumble with the pieces of flimsy material wrapped around my upper leg. I tear them off and see that the wound has indeed ripped back open. It doesn’t look too deep, but I can tell that I’ve lost a significant amount of blood.
Fighting off a thick fog coating my thoughts, I attempt to stand up. White hot pain shoots down my injured leg and I suppress a scream. Shifting my weight so that it’s on my good leg, I lean up against the tree and peer into the darkness.
Black spots dance in my line of vision, and the world spins sideways for a moment. I can make out a dense forest of trees, as well as the gravel path. The moonlight doesn’t do much to show anything else, though, so I can’t tell if Sunshine’s on her way back yet or not.
Should I wait here for her? I mean, what other options do I have? I can’t exactly go after her, since I have no idea where she went. And anyways, I don’t think I could get very far on my injured leg.
I tried my hand at healing once, but it didn’t end well. Over the generations, people lost their hold on magic. Ever since the initial war broke out, they resorted to more modern weapons, leaving an ancient art to be forgotten.
As a result, I suppose, most of the population today can barely manage a simple summoning spell. It’s unclear whether the magic has been slowly going extinct, or if it’s just been unused for so long that we’ve lost our connection with it.
Anyone who has any kind of affinity for magic is automatically seen as some kind of asset. That’s part of the reason why Sunshine and I were recruited earlier this year. While I do prefer my firearms over spells, I’ve been trying to channel enough magic for practical things—like healing.
Turns out that healing is significantly more difficult than I first thought. There’s no specific spell for it. It’s more of... a feeling, I guess. It’s the kind of magic you feel, deep down. It’s something you really have to look for within yourself.
It’s something I don’t have the time or patience for.
Even so, I wish I could heal my leg. With the threat of unconsciousness weighing over me, though, I doubt I’d be able to manage even trying it right now. I suppose the best thing I can do is to try and go on to the campsite by myself.
I know I should probably stay here, but that seems like kind of a bad idea. I have no idea what could be lurking in these woods, and I only have so many guns and knives. If I’m lucky, I’ll make it back by dawn.