Her tiny fingernails began to ache from all the dirt getting under them. It didn't help matters that the dirt had scratched her face when she tried to wipe her eyes. She kept digging with her bare hands, regardless. Hunched over on her knees, her whole body was trembling. The cold and the darkness of the approaching night hampered her efforts, yet Anko was determined to dig the hole all the way down and as quickly as possible. There was at least one person behind her already, but she didn't care. It had to be done.
"You can't bring them back. I'm sorry, but that's the way it is. We have to accept that everybody dies, especially when it comes to shinobi. It's a fact of life. When you get older, you'll understand this better," said a gruff man's voice. He sounded more annoyed by Anko than concerned for her feelings. His platitudes made her want to turn around and kick him, but she couldn't bear the idea of someone seeing her face in its current state. And her legs probably wouldn't cooperate, even if she tried.
Unfortunately, he continued talking. "You can't just dig up your parents. They're dead and gone forever. They can't come back." Merely hearing his words made her skull feel like it was being crushed between two massive hands.
Without looking up, she made a horrible screech, which was followed by heavy sobbing. "You're the one who doesn't understand! I'm not trying to dig them up... I'm trying to bury myself!"
"But you can't-" The inane person speaking was suddenly interrupted during his futile, condescending speech.
"Let me talk to her alone," said another masculine, yet much gentler voice. "Remember, I know what she's going through."
"Oh, of course. I didn't realise you were here, Master Orochimaru." These words were followed by the sound of footsteps going off in the other direction, quickly fading from earshot.
As grateful as she felt for his getting rid of whoever else was there, she didn't want to be bothered by this Orochimaru, either. There was no amount of insight or caring phrases that could possibly dispel her grief.
Anko stopped digging, though her fists still grasped the loose soil. She could feel a hand stroking her hair. It was infuriating. Why wouldn't they all just leave her alone? She didn't care if some stranger had experienced the same loss. She was beyond hope -- as good as dead. There was no point in his even trying to help her. Nothing was left for her in this world.
"My poor, innocent girl," was all he said. He knelt down beside her without ceasing to caress her hair.
Whoever it was, he was too close, too inviting. His touch seemed to dare her to accept being comforted by him. What a horrid, manipulative trick! She didn't want someone trying to change her mind like that. It would only make things worse with time. She had to do this. The risk of attachment was too great. Death was the only thing for her.
"Go away," she groaned. "I want to die now. There's no point in living or speaking or anything! We're all going to die, so we should just let it happen now and get it over with. I don't want new people to care about. They're all dying sooner or later and I don't want to lose someone else and have to hurt like this more." Her tears kept falling, some visibly splattering on the dust beneath her.
He moved closer to whisper in her ear something that made her freeze. "I won't die."
"How?" Her voice cracked in disbelief.
"Because there are forbidden ways to cheat death and I will perform them. My purpose in life is to know everything and I won't give up that quest. I cannot allow myself to die while there is still so much to learn. You could come with me and then you would never have to feel this way again. I can make you strong and you'll make me stronger. Death will be powerless to touch you. We'll conquer it, you and I, my dear child."
Her heart jumped in her throat. "Really?"
"I promise." The sincerity of his voice hit her with the force of a powerful punch. She knew he was deadly serious. Still, his tone made her feel cared for.
Anko turned her head. Through her welled up eyes, she could barely make out a ghostly face. It frightened her at first. She blinked out the tears until she could see him better. His skin remained colourless, but he was very much alive, smiling softly. Something about the way he was looking at her melted all the ice that had filled her soul. Her jaw began to quiver and finally she let herself fall into his arms, sobbing against his chest.
He simply held her and kissed her temple. Nothing more needed to be said between them. He understood. He had given her something eternal; himself. That was the one thing that could rescue her.
Some time later, he lifted her up and was carrying her away with him. It didn't matter to her where he was taking her. Wherever it was, it would be home. He had saved her and she belonged with him.