I was sure he could feel my heart racing as he pushed me back gently but firmly until he was hovering over me, pinning me down.
'So fragile...' He whispered softly, still right next to my ear.
I froze as he breathed out slowly, his hot breath tickling the loose hairs by my ear. I could feel his smirk as his lips moved to brush over mine in an almost playful, feather-light gesture. I didn't respond, but for some reason, I didn't push him away either. I stared up into his hazel irises, his lids half shut lazily as he stared right back, as though trying to gage my reaction.
'Do I frighten you, Emiko?' I shivered as he drew out my name teasingly, his lips still touching mine as he murmured quietly against them.
I thought for a moment. I was frightened, damn right I was. But of him? I knew he wouldn't physically hurt me, after everything that's happened there'd be no point. After all, he had just killed two men in order to… In order to what though? Save me? Unlikely. From what I knew of him he was far too selfish to go out of his way like that just to protect me from some rogue squad members.
My eyebrows twitched ever-so-slightly at the realisation that, no, I was not scared of him. So why was my heart pounding this hard against my ribcage?!
I shook my head, the movement painfully slow as I debated even as I answered. His eyes flashed with something closely related to amusement as he tilted his face down to lean his forehead against mine. It irritated me to think that he was enjoying this, whereas from where I was lying, confused was not the word.
He chuckled softly at the half scowl I was giving him. 'Take that as a no…'
Finally finding my voice, I prayed the shaking was not as apparent in my voice as it was throughout my body. 'W-why are you doing this?'
His lips moved to brush against the curve of my neck, but I could still feel his confident smirk across my skin. 'Why does anyone do anything?' He mused, almost to himself rather than me.
I frowned at his riddling statement, but my expression was immediately replaced with surprise at the sensation of his fingers running gently down my braid. He had shifted backwards slightly so he could watch my terribly embarrassing reactions, and I cursed inwardly for being so damn entertaining.
'W-we should get back… If they come looking for us, they might find…' I didn't dare move my eyes to the cold, unseeing glass expression frozen in place not two meters away from where Sasori had me pinned.
His lips twitched slightly in an actual smile that was so rare it seemed foreign on his face. He bent his head smoothly to meet my lips again, a swift silent movement that I barely registered before he had withdrawn again. I met his gaze curiously, his hazel eyes soft, almost apologetic. I just didn't understand him.
He let out a soft defeated sigh, shuffling backwards to rock on his heels as he offered me an outstretched hand. I'm not quite sure why I took it so eagerly, but I could tell even he was surprised when my fingers – of their own accord – curled around his as I allowed him to pull me up.
I released his hand instantly, and the gravity of our situation came crashing down on me as I trailed after him into the trees. I glowered at his back, hating how he could act so cool and casual while I was eating myself up inside. He had said the punishment was death – no exceptions! How did he plan to get around that one?
Swallowing my pride, I forced myself to match his leisurely pace and stared up at him worriedly. 'What about those two?' I flicked my head to nod behind us.
He regarded me for a second with one almost amused eye, before looking back in the direction of the camp where we were headed. 'What about them?'
I stared at him incredulous. 'What do you mean 'what about them'?'
He rolled his eyes, lifting one hand to pinch the bridge of his nose in a somewhat irritated manner.
'Sasori! This is serious, what are we going to do when we get back? You said the punishment is–'
'Yes, yes I know.' His hand fell to his side again as he turned his head to face me calmly. 'It's not like anyone will miss them. Just do what you always do.'
'What I always do?' I frowned, confused. What was he planning?
He stopped walking and turned to face me fully, clearly irritated that he was going to have to spell it out for me.
'Emiko. Just act normal. No one saw anything, so as far as you're aware, nothing happened.'
My confusion fizzled out gradually as realisation dawned on me. 'So, we're not going to tell them… Then they'll think it was an enemy attack!'
He shrugged, nonchalant. 'Let them.'
I gaped at him. 'How can you act so casually about this?!'
He repeated his indifferent shrug, calmly stating 'I've killed people before,' before turning to stroll back through the trees.
I didn't follow him, instead I headed back to the stream where I had originally started off. I needed to be alone, to calm myself down and get my head straight before everything kicked off.
In truth, his words surprised me. I knew he had been trained in fighting long before this war was declared, that much was obvious from his fighting skill and style. But the thought that people had actually died by his hand before unnerved me.
Sasori was just so… blasé! Even when he was angry his expression always had a certain element of boredom to it, and I found myself having a hard time trying to picture him being particularly passionate about anything. Several unwanted images span through my mind of his face inches from mine, the feeling of his breath against my lips as I trembled involuntarily under his touch.
'Gah!' I made a noise of distaste and shook my head, clutching my two spikey buns of hair and pulling them tightly, as though trying to tear the memories out of my brain. 'What is wrong with me?'
I scowled into the trickling water, jealous of how simply peaceful its life was. I missed home. I missed Mina. I missed everything that wasn't here.
I don't know how long I sat there, staring into nothingness as my mind reeled over the past few weeks, the past few days, the past few hours…
A voice floating on the wind caught my attention and my instant reaction was to panic. Smoothing out the stray hairs that had escaped from my braid, a vague attempt to look casual, I turned to face the direction of the voice.
'Emiko, where are you?'
'Kichiro?' I recognised the voice and relaxed slightly, rocking onto my heels into a half crouch half kneel position as I waited for him to arrive. 'I'm by the stream!'
A few moments later, he emerged through the fast descending fog that I had carelessly failed to notice.
The air was moist and cold, and I shivered as he approached, a strange, nervous expression written across his features. 'Emiko, you need to come back to camp with me immediately.'
'W-why? Is everything alright?'
'I don't think so. No one will tell me anything, they just sent me to find you as soon as possible.'
I gulped, forcing a confused frown as I stood up and stretched. 'Okay, let's go.'
The atmosphere in the camp was chaos. A large group of shouting and squabbling warriors congregating in the centre noisily until their leader, Tsuyoi, stepped up and all but roared into the midst of them, silencing everyone instantly.
'Thank you.' He breathed, rubbing his temples tenderly as he glared at his squad. 'Now, I must insist that everyone just takes five minutes to kindly shut up, sit down, and listen to how it's going to go.'
Glancing around the troops, I noticed that Sasori was absent. Should I worry? No, I need to stay calm, like Sasori said. Act the way I always do.
I shifted my weight onto one leg and tried to remember to breathe as the squad captain continued.
'Now, for those that have not yet heard, or are wondering if the rumour is true, then I must unfortunately confirm that yes, two members of our squad were found not twenty minutes ago in the forest not far from here…' My hearted thudded ridiculously in my chest as my hands balled into clenched, sweaty fists by my sides. 'One has been confirmed dead, the other is in a critical condition.'
My jaw hit the floor and my heart came to a sudden abrupt stand still. One of them survived…
Kichiro must have noticed my reaction – it was hard not to, I was acting about a subtle as a gun – because he nudged my shoulder lightly with his, offering me a small reassuring smile, apparently mistaking my frozen state as fear.
'No one, I repeat, no one is to leave this camp unless I order them to. That is a direct order. We have a very serious situation on our hands here.' Tsuyoi glanced around briefly. 'Has Emiko Kiitana been located?'
My mouth was bone dry and arid, and though it opened and closed several times, no words came out.
'She's here, sir!' Kichiro called to the searching male, whose eyes snapped to mine.
'Come here, girl.' The leader's gruff, commanding voice addressed me, and I stepped forward reluctantly. 'Faster, girl, we don't have much time.'
I quickened my pace, stumbling twice on the uneven surface and gaining a few weird looks from the troops. I came to a standstill before the giant man, his incredible height only apparent when up close.
'Follow me.' I did so without question, he didn't seem like the type to be open to compromise or hesitation.
He led the way through the parting warriors to a small black tent. He opened the tent flap quickly and gestured for me to enter. It was only just large enough for me to stand, so poor Tsuyoi was practically bent double, though I didn't really feel all that sorry for him.
Inside was dark and damp, but surprisingly warm. The leader moved behind me, and after a moment the tent was flooded with a dim flickering light, which I identified as a swinging lantern hanging from the ceiling that I almost knocked my head on.
My eyes landed instantly on the thin bedroll laid out in the corner. My breath hitched in my throat at the sight of the hauntingly familiar man lying unconscious beneath the sheets. Shige.
'Emiko.' My attention snapped back to the giant behind me. 'I would like you to heal him.'
'What?!' I half screeched, unable to keep the obvious terror out of my tone. 'Why m-me?'
'Because from what I heard from your villagers, you're one of the best medics they have ever seen in the land of Wind. We need him to make a full, successful recovery in order to get to the bottom of the situation. You understand the seriousness of his condition, I assume.'
There was nothing I could say that wouldn't sound suspicious. I had to fight to stop my face from contorting guiltily as the thought of Sasori crossed my mind again. Where was he? My eyes trailed to the 'patient', closing my eyes in defeat and nodding slowly.
'Okay. I'll do my best.'
'Very good. I will have Mari come to you immediately for any supplies you may need.' With that, he turned somewhat awkwardly in the small space and left.
I stared at nothing as I waited for Mari, not even bothering to check Shige's condition. I didn't want to go anywhere near him, let alone heal him. She arrived quickly, babbling something about an extensive equipment list that they may need. I nodded along, though I was barely listening. It was only when she began to scrabble out of the tent that I came crashing back down to Earth.
If I healed him, and he remembered, Sasori would be killed, no exception. But if I didn't save his life… I shook my head harshly, making myself slightly dizzy at the force. There's no telling how he'd twist the story if he gained full access to his memory, and while I was more than adept at healing wounds, I lacked the ability to erase one's memory.
I felt awful. It shouldn't be like this, me deciding someone else's fate while they lay there before me on their death bed. This man's life was in my hands.
But then again, so was Sasori's…