We danced in the summer, she doesn't remember what I said;
You can stay if you want to, there's no one to stop you;
Decide, decide, decide…
Decide, decide, decide…
She worked on the rope until morning. It was slow progress and it left her tired down to her bones the next morning, but it would be worth it. If she could keep from being discovered until tonight she would be able to finish breaking the bonds and get away while he slept. Of course, that would be two sleepless nights. She could only hope that he did not wake until she was a good distance away. Otherwise she would be caught again.
It had not been a fluke that he had managed to capture her in the first place. Once he had locked onto her, he had been impossible to shake. It had taken nearly a day of chasing and capture and escaping for him to finally wear her out. Before she could even think of trying again her hands were tied and the run was over.
She had just dropped the rope and lay down when she saw him stir. Rather than pretend she had been sleeping, she acted as though she had just awoken. With a yawn and a bit of a stretch, both of which were entirely sincere, she stood. While he gathered up the supplies and cleaned up the fire she tried to figure out how to hide her progress. Although she had worked only on the bottom half, there were frayed bits that would catch his eye.
By the time he came back around to untie her from the root she had given enough lax to the rope to keep the tear from being obvious. Unless he immediately searched for it, it would be well hidden. She would just have to keep close.
He started to walk away. Scurrying, she stayed right behind him. He gave her a confused look but continued to walk on. Holding in her sigh of relief she tried to think of things to fill the time.
"So where exactly are we going?"
"You'll know when we get there."
"Just an innocent inquiry. So why have you taken me?" This question seemed to falter his steps, but only slightly.
"I am not sure explaining that would be beneficial."
"Try me." Pouting her lip and furrowing her eyes, she tried to put on her most stubborn expression. For a moment he just stared at her, and then he sighed.
"At one point there was a woman in my village. She was a great warrior with many friends. Everyone at home depended on her. Many legends are told from battles she fought. She's been missing for years now. We believe you may know something about this woman." Sincerity rang through his voice, but she was unsure whether to believe him. Something was missing in his story.
"What did she look like?" She glanced at his face, watching for the tell tale signs of a lie.
"Her eyes are green, colored like the foam of the sea. At the time she had short hair, and a petite frame. Her skin is pale and features are hard from years of fighting and work. She wore red often, and smiled more than that." This personal, longing description was unexpected. How much had this woman meant to him?
"That is a very interesting description. I assume you two were close?"
There was a hesitancy in his response. "She is my wife." More telling than the description he gave was the way he said everything about her in present tense, as if he was sure she still lived. He still loved this woman very much, and had great hope that she would be found. The thought of this man in love prickled in the back of her brain like an aggravating buzz.
"Have you considered that she may be dead? You did say she's been missing for a while." Even to her own ears there was an unnecessary harshness to the words.
"I know she's alive. I have known it on some level since the day she left." Those last two words seemed to have flown under his radar and right out of his lips without any thought.
For several minutes they continued in silence. Irritation broke like waves on her skin. This was the most she had learned about him since he started chasing her. The things he told her were close to the heart. Despite this, she felt irrationally angry and hurt. Even knowing that there was no reason for her displeasure did not seem to dissipate it. With no real explanation, she chalked it up to his lack of response to her final question.
To her surprise, he broke the silence on his own. "I do not really know for sure if she left me or if she was stolen. One of our mutual friends said that he saw her taken by shadows. He is known to be theatrical and…" The rest seemed unforthcoming.
"You don't know if you can trust him? Doesn't seem like much of a friend." Her flippant assumption gained her a glare.
"He is honest to a fault. However, he also wants to believe the very best of her. This has always been true, and sometimes it has made him oblivious to things she has done." It appeared no matter what he said, there was some distrust lurking in the mechanisms of his thoughts. He apparently just shifted from person to person.
"So then you don't want to think the best of her?"
"I never said that."
"But you don't believe your friend, who wants to think the best of her. You could just as easily believe him."
"It's none of your business."
"I bloody well think it is my business if you're going to kidnap me to help find this woman! Why is it you want to think your wife left you?" She saw him close his eyes and breath in a silent, deep breath. Her ears could almost hear him counting down his frustration.
"I did not kidnap you." His jaw stiffened and his eyes turned away from her. Apparently, that was all he had to say on the subject.
Of course that made absolutely no sense. There was never anything more obvious to her than the fact that this man had kidnapped her. They continued their walk with occasional light conversation but most often silence.
He set up camp again that night, like any other night. Today had seemed so much quicker and farther than any of their previous days. She could not help the nagging feeling that he was onto her plot, and was trying to tire her out. More than once her feet stumbled where they would have been nimble and hesitated where they would have flown. Regardless, she managed to stay awake long after he had slept. When she was sure of his even breathing and quiet snores, she sat up from her stiff bed on the ground and resumed her tearing.
She was at it for a few hours at the very least before the thin strand holding the fabricated binds together finally ripped apart. For a moment her tired eyes merely stared at her freed hands in lazy wonder. Once it finally dawned on her that she was in the first phase of her escape her mind suddenly spasmed into action. With a rush of adrenaline she sprung forward on her shaking legs and retrieved his supply pack. She paused for a moment before scrambling up a tree and going as quietly as she could to the next one. The risk of him hearing her rustling around in the branches for the next few trees was outweighed by the lack of a ground trail. She could be nearly invisible in the trees.
She had gone only a few miles when she heard heavy breathing below her. This was a woman's breath, shallow and tried. The steps were light, but burdened. This person had seen her and was struggling to catch up.
Climbing to higher branches, she tried to concentrate on the person below her. They were not yet in sight, but it was apparent they were not far behind. Heavy breathing proved they were not as skilled as she, nor her captor, at stealth. If she did not deal with whoever this was, they were sure to lead him to her. She could not afford that until after she had caught up on sleep and could outwit or outrun him.
Having made up her mind, she waited. She crouched on a low hanging branch and watched for the woman to show her face. Before long she saw blue eyes appear from the green of the trees. They were wide like the eyes of a doe as they face down the hunter. Set into pale skin and surrounded by fire breathing hair, the appearance was that of a very distinctive Sister. Dropping in front of the familiar face, she enveloped the panicked woman in a hug.
"Sister! How are you?" She kept her voice low, but the delight at seeing her friend was apparent.
"Not well. Since you have disappeared, the People have walked on. They left me behind to search for you so I could tell you where they are going. They did not want to move until they had found you but there was not enough food in the area to support a large group like us. You must come with me. Few of us are well. There is an illness going around. A pain in the mind, like a cut from the inside. There are some that are laying in cots screaming without relief."
Bad news is not what she expected or needed. Closing her eyes, she breathed in a deep calming breath and let it out her nose. "Is there anything that can be done?"
"Not that we can find. This is bigger than us. This… This can not be dealt with by the People."
"There have been sicknesses before. Surely this-"
"No. Nothing like this has ever happened to us. I mean no disrespect, but we can not handle this on our own." The fear was tangible in those blue eyes. Her companions bottom lip quivered and her hands rung. Whatever was happening was really serious. How had she missed it? Why was she not sick?
"I will do my best. Do not follow me. I will have to pretend to be a prisoner. There will be help. Find them, and tell them not to worry." Something her captor had said echoed in her mind. 'We'll have to talk to my leader…' Maybe this town will have something to help them. This leader would have to tell her.
She headed back to the camp where the silver haired man slept. All the while she thought of what her comrade had told her. Worry distracted her from her tired mind and exhausted body, leading her to the camp on autopilot. She was so concerned that she did not notice at first the upright, taut back, the dark circled eyes, the grimaced lips, the silently fuming expression.
"So, you didn't think I noticed you left?" The voice was the same venomous cool from when he first found her. It was like getting dowsed with ice water, shoving reality down her throat with uncaring roughness.
"If so, why did you not catch me again?" Exhaustion robbed her of her ability to be defensive.
"I wanted to see where you would go. You are not a prisoner." Even that suggestion made her chuckle.
"What else do you call a person that is bound and being taken to a place they do not want to go?"
"I can not explain it to you yet, but you are not a prisoner. The leader I mentioned, she can help. She is a healer, although do not think that makes her any less than a fighter. Only the strongest of the ninja in my town get to lead."
"That seems a ridiculous way to get a job; but if she can help I will not argue with you. Have you ever heard of an illness that does this?"
"Not something in a prolonged state. It could be merely one major symptom among many smaller ones, or it may be the illness itself. It could be any number of things. A headache isn't exactly uncommon."
"Do you think we've never had headaches before? She would not be so worried over a headache." Her brow furrowed and her lips pouted in defiance. Her entire people could be suffering horribly and here he was claiming it was just a headache. It did not help that he smiled so crooked a smile, like he had just played a joke on her. The incorrigible man probably found himself amusing or witty.
"Don't get your panties in a bunch, little girl. I was not insinuating that she was over reacting." Her face turned red and she continued scowling as he finished up cleaning camp.
The rest of their walk that day was quiet, though the uncomfortable silence had subsided. Now that there were equal benefits to be gained the playing field was leveled. He apparently no longer felt the need to tie her up, so the tension that comes from being imprisoned dissipated like smoke. Along with this new easiness was a strange coiling in her chest. Every step seemed to be familiar and yet new. It almost seemed as though her body already knew the steps and expected her to know them too. Despite her sleepless nights she breezed through the rough terrain.
As stressed minds are wont to do, she found her thoughts drifting aimlessly. Things like his expression and seriousness crossed her mind. In the next instant she might be thinking of how hungry she was, or about where the People were going to go. She had just begun to concentrate on the strange image that had invaded her mind the first time she had seen him when she suddenly collided with a strong, sturdy back. The force pushed her back onto her bum and sent her arms flailing through the air with frantic urgency. Without direction she grabbed a fistful of shirt and pulled, surprising herself with a man dragged down with her.
He did not miss a beat. Once he began falling he immediately twisted his torso and jutted out his towering arms. Somehow, with meager inches between them, he had managed to hold himself above her thin body. Still gripped in her hand was a piece of his shirt that had torn off in the chaos. Trembling, she wondered if he was angry. There was certainly a brightness to his eyes that had not been present before. Something akin to fire lit his clashing eyes as he scowled down at her.
"Watch it." Even though she had only known him a few days, she was already accustomed to the cold, mechanic tone to his voice. Therefore the rough aggravation she detected there seemed wildly misplaced. It was only an accident after all.
"Just a bump. You didn't even hit the ground." He did not respond. As a matter of fact, he refused to respond for the rest of the day. It seemed irrational, but she could not help but feel defensive and agitated that he had so easily become annoyed at her.
That night when they lay down to camp, she lay down and fell immediately into sleep. She did not even dream, just slept deeply.
Through her slumber she felt a slithering warmth curl itself around her person.