'How's he doing?' Tsuyoi asked, crouching in the open entrance of the tent and practically blocking the light entirely.
'He's… stabilised for now. We just have to wait to see if he makes it through the night.' I wiped the back of my hand over my brow, yawning lightly as I started to feel the effects of my depleted chakra. 'Umm, Tsuyoi, sir?'
'Hm?' The gruff response was muffled as he turned to leave.
Hesitating, I bit my lip. The words were on the tip of my tongue, but something held me back. 'Is everyone else okay?' I sighed, annoyed that I was still no closer to finding the illusive redhead.
'I think they're all a little on edge, understandably. They've been arranging a new set of shifts for the look-outs, in case the deaths were an enemy attack.' He glanced back over his shoulder, finding a strange compulsion to confide in me. 'But in all honesty, I'm not fully convinced it was an enemy at all…'
My eyes widened as his voice trailed off. 'W-what do you mean?' I squeaked.
The leader chuckled at my startled expression, thankfully mistaking it for innocent fear. 'Don't worry, little duck. I'm probably just being overly cautious.'
The strange pet name drew my attention enough to recompose myself as I replied. 'You don't suppose they were killed by civilians?'
'No, no. Definitely not. Shige and Satoshi were two of my best. There's no way…' His eyes darkened as he shifted to lean into the tent, lowering his voice so only I could hear. '…I suspect we may have a traitor in our midst.'
Unable to contain my gasp, I stared into Tsuyoi's serious expression and whimpered. 'B-but… Surely not…'
'Emiko.' He turned his body to square off his shoulders, facing me fully. I felt trapped in his intense gaze as his intimidating size gave me chills, even in the small tent doorway. 'Those two were strong. Really strong. Not just any old warrior could have taken the pair of them down, especially not together. Now, I'm no fool, I know they managed to make a few enemies within the squad and that they weren't the most… decent of men. However,' his eyes narrowed. 'There is no evidence of enemy tracks. Either we have a traitor, or a very strange coincidence on our hands.'
Tenacious. That's what he was. Annoyingly, infuriatingly and exasperatingly tenacious. I was glaring daggers at the bumbling fool blocking my exit, once again, from this God-forsaken claustrophobic tent. This was the fourth time I had attempted to leave, and equally the fourth time he had been in the way to stop me.
'We're all under strict orders not to leave our tents! There could be an enemy ambush at any moment! We must be prepared!' Kichiro pleaded, his arms outstretched to either side of him as he stood between me and my escape route.
'I'm always prepared.' I snapped sharply. 'Now get out of my way.'
'But Tsuyoi said–'
The boy moved. Very quickly. I sighed and pinched the bridge of my nose as I stepped into the cool evening air. Inhaling slowly, I released my nose and tried to ignore the niggling migraine at the back of my eyes. My feet moved of their own accord and, though I knew where they were taking me, I made no move to stop them.
Coming to a swift halt outside a dark, blacked-out tent in the centre of the camp, I hovered undecidedly. The tent entrance flap was suddenly flipped open, a small figure stumbling out and almost crashing headfirst straight into me. I smirked, knowing who it was before she even stood up. There's no one else quite that clumsy.
She gaped at me, fumbling with her hands as she rebalanced 'S-Sasori! Where have… I was just…'
I rolled my eyes as she stuttered. 'Everyone's been confined to tent prison. I'm surprised they haven't told you that.'
Her cheeks flushed bright red as I stared at her. What the hell is that all about? Embarrassment? Guilt? With Emiko, it could be anything.
'Sasori… I erm, Tsuyoi told me that…' She winced as I huffed impatiently and changed her method. 'I was assigned to heal Shige. He was in critical condition, but I managed to stabilise him and so told Tsuyoi that we'd just have to wait till morning to see if he pulls through…'
I had suspected as much, but her posture was nervous, her eyes flitting around the camp as she shifted her weight from one leg to the other. The way she was acting made me think there was something she wasn't telling me. Something important.
Before I could ask, she spoke again softly. 'Tsuyoi told me that he thinks someone from the squad did this…'
She watched my expression expectantly, foolishly waiting for me to either break down and panic or smile and reassure her that everything would be okay. But I was no fool. Everything was not okay, but neither was I worried. What will happen, will happen.
When I didn't reply, she shuffled uncomfortably. 'I have to tell you something else though…'
Her voice was barely audible, but the next words she whispered rang loud and clear in my ears. I blinked and stared at her curiously, deciding on whether or not she was actually capable of something like that. She returned my stare with a hard look of her own, her mouth tightening into a thin line as she tried in vain to read me.
Finally, I let out a soft breath and beckoned for her to follow me. I led her to the tent she had slept in the night before when Mina had stayed the night. It was unoccupied, as I had thought it would be.
She followed me in surprisingly calmly, her orchid eyes allowing an uncharacteristic display of trust seep into her expression as I fastened the flap behind her.
She shifted herself onto the sleeping roll that had been left in the tent, sitting on her bum with her legs folded out on either side. I turned to face her, careful to keep my expression blank.
'Right, now say that again.'
She dipped her head, her hands gripping her knees as she mumbled beneath her breath, 'he's not going to wake up…'
I ran a hand through my hair and sighed. Well this was an unexpected turn of events. 'What did you do?'
'Well, it's more of what I didn't do…' Her eyes avoided mine expertly, obviously ashamed of what she was admitting. 'He was… bleeding internally, it was putting pressure on his brain and therefore keeping him in a comatose state… He won't last much longer though like that. I stopped the bleeding but there's still excess blood on his brain.'
I watched her silently for a moment. When her gaze finally lifted to meet mine, I expected to see guilt, fear, regret. But what I got was very different.
She was… smiling?
When I finally plucked up the courage to look him in the eyes, I couldn't hold back the smile that was tugging on my lips. It was ridiculous, I must have seemed like a crazy grinning fool, but I didn't care. I had made my choice, and amazingly, I felt no regret.
My expression faltered slightly as I recalled the way the pair of bastards had trapped me and terrified me, outnumbered me and claimed me as their 'tool'. They both deserved to die, and while I knew damn well that it was far from my place to decide on whether they lived or died, I simply didn't care.
Sasori's eyebrows had knitted together in a vague expression of concern, and my heart thumped at the thought that he might actually be worried for me. I hadn't realised how closely we were sat, but when his hand reached out to stroke the back of his fingers down the side of my cheek, I found myself leaning into his touch.
His hazel eyes were hypnotisingly soft as he slid one arm around my waist to slide me closer, seeming mildly surprised when I didn't protest.
Our faces now inches apart, I shuddered as his free hand moved around the side of my neck to twist lightly in my hair. He moved his head closer still, but when his mouth was a mere hair's breadth from mine, he paused abruptly and hovered, as though waiting for permission.
I was confused at first, being used to having such a severe lack of choice in the matter, so his hesitation threw me. His eyes bore into mine, intense and penetrating, until my eyelids caved under his dominating stare and I surrendered, my lips colliding with his in a locked, heated kiss.
I was surprised by how easily I was coping with the whole, peculiar situation. In fact, I wasn't entirely sure any of this was actually happening, half expecting to wake up suddenly and find Mina sleeping soundly in the other room while our mother boiled the kettle in the kitchen.
I was heavily reminded that I was not, in fact, dreaming as my heart fluttered when the redhead broke away to nibble his way down my jawline to my ear.
I supressed a gasp as his teeth sank into my neck and I inwardly cursed at the idea of the inevitable line of love bites he was working particularly hard on. When his face came back up to meet mine, his eyes were dark and intense, though I only caught a brief glimpse before they snapped shut as he leaned into me again, his arm tugging me closer so I was practically sat straddling his waist.
My hands flew to grip his arms, more for balance and initial shock at the proximity, but I soon found them wandering of their own accord across his shoulders and around the back of his neck. Gently at first, I ran my fingers through his unruly red hair, surprised at its softness as I experimented with my newfound confidence.
His tongue danced across my mouth and, when I was unable to hold back another intake of breath, took advantage of my parted lips and twisted skilfully with mine. He leaned forward again, holding me against him as he continued to move, his kisses never ceasing once. I shifted slightly in my new position as I lay on my back, my cheeks reddening as he pulled back to stare at me cautiously. Our foreheads touching, his deep brown eyes were clouded and wary, but there was something about the way his lips were curled slightly that made my heart race.
I'd never seen this side of him before. It was almost… insecure?
'Are you sure?' He murmured quietly, and his breath blew softly across my face as I nodded slowly.
Before I knew what was happening, our lips moulded together again and a small moan had escaped my throat at the action. The noise only seemed to spur him on further, as our tongues locked once more, his clearly dominating my weaker, inexperienced one. His hand trailed up from my waist to rest against the side of my face, his thumb tracing small circles against my lower cheek.
His other hand repeated the same action against my waist, sending uncontrollable shivers up my spine as I subconsciously arched into him, though I barely spared a thought for my traitorous body.
When he broke away to nuzzle his face into my neck, his hands slid to my legs, hitching them over his hips as he lay pinning my down. I surprised myself when I responded willingly by curling my legs around him, earning a smirk which I felt against my ear.
'Someone's eager…' He teased. His voice was low and husky, which made my arms tighten around his neck, one hand clutching a fistful of red hair.
'Shut up…' I mumbled against his lips as they met mine again, my eyelids fluttering shut as I allowed him to take the lead.
I wasn't really thinking about the aftermath, neither was I think about Shige, or what I had done. My mind lacked focus on anything other than this moment, the here and now. Tomorrow was another day, another problem. But for now, I was here with him, and no one and nothing else mattered to me. I felt free.