He is burning up, and there's nothing he can do the stop it. He can't even control it. From the pit of his stomach, something is tugging, pulling, ripping at his navel, and just daring him to fight back. The air is thick and hot, and it's hanging over his shoulders like a heavy, wet blanket. The weight is becoming too much for him to bear, and he drops to his knees. Red sparks are lighting up the space around him and he hears crackling sounds. Suddenly, his skin begins to itch and burn. He goes to scratch at his arm, but his short nails are long, yellow claws. His skin is flaking. Everything is turning red. His whole body is on fire. He wants to scream, but the only sound he can make is a feral roar that rips through his chest painfully and makes his throat raw and dry.

"Naruto." Someone's familiar voice rings through his head and he sniffs the air as they continue to say his name. He picks up a lavender scent- No doubt the smell of feminine perfume.

"Naruto, wake up." The voice continues to speak in a soft tone. He closes his eyes, and when he opens them again, he sees the dark silhouette of trees and a starry night sky. To his left is the source of the voice: Sakura-chan, as he likes to call her. Her hand is on his shoulder and her eyebrows are pulled together, a tiny nub of skin sticking up between them. Her mouth is pulled into a firm, worried line. "You were having a bad dream." She whispers softly, and he has to strain to hear her.

He props himself up on his elbows and looks around. They're in a clearing in a forest, and a small fire is ablaze in the middle. On the other side of the light, he sees the outline of two sleeping figures: Yamato and Sai. On the right side, a few feet away from him, is a bed mat, bunched up like someone hurried to get out of it. It finally hits him and he remembers where he is. His team is on a mission in the Wave Country, and they set up camp in the woods for tonight.

"Oh, jeez, Sakura-chan. Did I wake you up? Sorry about that…" He flashes a wide grin at her and rubs the back of his neck. She smiles back and removes her hand from his shoulder, much to his dismay.

"No, that's alright, Naruto. I couldn't sleep anyway." The pink-haired woman reassures him before frowning. "You really had worried me, though. You were tossing and turning in that little sleeping bag. Then you yelled, so I decided to check on you. You wanna talk about it?"

"Ha, thanks, but I'm alright. Just some stupid nightmare, y'know?" His voice shakes. He wants to tell her all about it, but he's afraid that he'll scare her. His eyes dart to the white scars on her arm and back to her flawless face.

"Alright. Well, good night, Naruto." Sakura stands up and starts to walk away.

"Uh, hey, hold on a sec. Do you wanna… Go for a little walk or something? I don't know if I can fall back asleep right away." The blond flinches as he asks, expecting rejection, but much to his surprise, she smiles down at him and offers her hand with a quick, little nod. He clumsily rushes to get out of his sleeping bag and takes her hand, pulling himself up. His smile falters a little as he reluctantly lets go of her small fingers.

They walk without talking, a sort-of-awkward silence hanging between them. He doesn't hesitate to sneak little glances at her out of the corner of his eyes, though. She's beautiful, and the soft glow of the moonlight on her pale skin adds to her beauty. Her legs are thin and slender; her arms are skinny but toned. She has a small stomach that dips in just a bit, and her curves are perfect. There is always a faint blush the color of her pink hair playing on her snowy cheeks.

It isn't until he walks right into a tree and falls on his butt that he realizes that he was staring at her. She giggles; a cute, happy, high-pitched noise.

"You idiot... Oh, look, Naruto. There's a lake. And look how pretty it is in the moonlight! Let's go sit by it for a little." She runs ahead and he stands up and follows.

When he reaches the edge of the water, she's already sitting down. She's taken her boots off and her legs are dangling in the water. Naruto does the same. Taking a seat next to her, he rolls up his pant legs and takes his sandals off before dipping his feet in the warm water.

"It's pretty, huh?" Sakura looks at him, a small smile pulling up the corners of her mouth.

"Sure is, Sakura-chan." Naruto smiles and leans back on his hands.

They sit there quietly for a while until Sakura breaks the silence.

"I'm sorry."

"Sorry?" He looks at her, one eyebrow raised.


"For what?"

"For not believing in you… For treating you like dirt."

Naruto is silent for a couple minutes. He looks out over the water and watches it ripple calmly.

"You don't have to apologize for that." He speaks again and looks at her.

"Yes, I do. I never appreciated you. I didn't even know you, but I acted horribly towards you."

"It's not your fault."

"Not my fault?"

"Yeah. All the kids' parents told them to stay away from me. No one knew any better."

"Yeah, but-" Naruto cuts her off.

"They were scared. People do dumb things when they're afraid. I don't blame 'em. I mean, this thing inside me-", he digs a thumb into his stomach, "-This thing inside me destroyed our village and killed lots of Shinobi."

"But… That wasn't you who did that."

"I know, I know. But people think that just because it's inside me, it's my fault. Don't worry about it now, though, Sakura-chan. I've got friends. That's all I need right now."

"I'm sorry." She says again.

"Okay." He sighs. "If you really feel that bad about it, there's one thing you can do for me." Blue eyes meet green and they hold each other's gaze.

"What's that?" Her voice is small.

"Never stop being my friend."

"Naruto… I wouldn't ever dream of throwing away our friendship." She breaks away from his stare and turns her head the other way, blushing madly. But, before she knows it, Naruto flings himself at her and wraps his arms around her waist, burying his face in the crook of her neck, and she has to balance herself on her hands for a second to keep from falling backwards. Her face gets hotter as she feels his warm, moist breath crawl down her exposed neck.

"I hope not, Sakura-chan… 'Cause I really… Need you." He whispers and his voice is slightly muffled against her collar bone. Sakura smiles sadly and holds him, allowing her hand to rub up and down his back.

"I need you, too, Naruto." She looks at the black lake, its surface reflecting the silver specks of the many stars that hang in the sky, and lets the sound of Naruto's steady breathing relax her.