We have been given temporary lodging in the form of a simple tent, complete with two pillows and a blanket. I could've sworn Kakashi was smirking as he handed them over and said, 'No chance of infection here, don't worry.'

Now here I am, hugging my knees to my chest, just waiting. Enduring a long awkward silence as Naruto figures out what being an Unnatural would mean.

'I wonder how they do it,' he says aloud, before hastily adding: 'fall in love, I mean.'

I shrug. We don't even know how 'normal' people love.

'Then again, how would we know?' he continues, echoing my unspoken thought. 'Iruka showed me something once, though. I don't know where he got it, but it was a movie someone made way back when love was still legal…and it was beautiful. It made me cry. '

I am aware that I am holding my breath again, the way I tend to around Naruto. He's looking at me now, noting that my chest is slightly puffed out; and that there hasn't been a steady rise and fall for the past few seconds.

He chooses not to speak, and instead offers me a slight smile before lying on his back.

'Doesn't this remind you of that night?' he asks me softly.

I nod, afraid that any noise to come out of my mouth would be unintelligible.

'Somehow, next to you, I felt…safe. The way I used to when I was 7 and nightmares kept me up, and Iruka let me sleep in his bed…' he laughs at this memory, a gentle snort.

I remain quiet, reliving that night once more in my mind. I hadn't spoken to Naruto much before then, and I had no inkling of what love meant – but I had known then that it must have been something like that.

And suddenly I feel it engulfing me, the warmth and the slightly sweaty scent of Naruto. He has pulled me down beside him, and now we're staring into each other's eyes, obsidian to cerulean.

'We don't have to act,' he whispers. 'It could be real.'

Those 4 words – it could be real - start clawing away at me, like hyenas ripping apart their prey. The disease has won, and it is making me feel feverish.

I want so badly to give myself up to it, lose myself in the irrationality of it all, but reason holds me back : there will be no way out of it. I can't experience love and get cured, because forgetting would be even more painful than death. The way things stand, it's still highly likely that I will have to go through the operation – I'm not at all confident about our mission's success.

But he inches slightly closer, unsure of what to do as well, probably following what he had seen in that illegal film (of course, with male and female protagonists). He inches closer, and I can't bring myself to argue. I am shivering, out of fear and anticipation.

'Is this what they do?' he asks me, lips almost touching mine, his breath ticklish on my chapped skin.

'Maybe,' is the cracked word that comes out of my mouth, the first and the last of the night.

He closes the distance between us, and we don't know what we're doing at all, letting our diseased bodies run on automatic.

He has one leg over me, protectively pressing my entire body flush against him, and his hands are around me in an embrace. It makes me breathless, this intimacy, and I bury my shaky hands in his soft golden spikes to steady myself.

We're still kissing, but it's not at all urgent or raw, it's laced with the innocence and natural wonder of two boys who have never truly used their senses of touch beyond courteous shaking of hands and accidental brushes.

I can feel myself reacting to all of this, and instantly feel nauseous. It scares me, but I know that Naruto must be going through the same emotions- he's just using his tried-and-tested trick of acting confident. Inside, he's probably just as nervous as I am.

We pull apart and he's looking at me questioningly, shifting his right hand out from underneath me and moving his left to my chest.

He drags it about slowly, letting his fingers brush against the more sensitive spots, and I flinch. I am close to fainting from a lack of intake of air, and noting this, he stops.

'Sorry,' he mumbles, 'I was curious.'

He sounds so apologetic that it makes me feel guilty. As a way of reassuring him that I'm alright, I take his hands and put them on me once more.

He raises his eyebrows and breaks into that trademark grin, the one that puts all doubts to rest.

'I don't really know what to do,' he admits. We're both aching with need, but in certain places we dare not mention, let alone touch.

I don't want to speak because I'm afraid that I might ruin the moment. Naruto seems to understand this and we reach a silent agreement that it ends here, tonight, as much as we'd like to know more; feel more.

He hugs me a little tighter, and I bury my face in the crook of his neck. Just as I'm about to drift off to sleep, he whispers: 'I think I'm sick.' And in another world, this might have been a turn-off, or a literal statement, but in our world, I know what he means. I smile, even though he can't see me, because if I cry he'll know. And now isn't the time for us to be sad – we don't have much time left until our mission. And if we fail, we'll be Cured straight away.

I'm awoken by the early-morning chatter of the Sanctuary's inhabitants. Naruto's scratchy voice stands out from the rest – or is it just that I'm more aware of it than anything else?

I feel weak after what happened last night, going back and forth between thoughts of: it was a mistake and it was real. I'm so terrified of having, because having means a chance of losing and I lost everything once. I don't want to lose anything precious to me ever again. *

'Sasuke!'

His outstretched palm holds a bowl of soup, and as I walk closer I see it in his smile – genuine affection for me, that forbidden word.

How did we get here, from barely acknowledging the other's existence? No, we'd known each other all along. There had been that exchange of glances when we were kids and both alone, the traded insults, the constant attempts to outdo the other…yet how could all that add up and snowball into something this huge, something so intense?

He sees the worry in my eyes, instead of reciprocation, and I instantly feel guilty.

'I think,' he says, gently pushing the bowl into my hands, 'I've been showing symptoms for a long time but I just didn't know what they meant.'

He always knows what I'm thinking. I lift the bowl up as a thank-you. I don't know if I have the courage to face up to my feelings, but I want to try for Naruto.

That determination burns even fiercer when Kakashi calmly informs us later that we leave for The Labs tomorrow. Naruto smiles at me, so hopeful that we'll make it through, that I know I'll fight for him, I'll fight for this – whatever we have. The disease won, but it was a battle I was glad to lose. This new battle won't be so easy- and defeat would mean the end of everything.

'Are you ready?' Kakashi asks, looking straight at me.

I close the distance between Naruto and I, surprising him, Kakashi, and even myself.

As ready as I'll ever be, I think, as Naruto kisses me back.

'I think you are,' laughs Kakashi, clearly enjoying what he thinks is meant for show. But Naruto and I know it's not an act – we just have to make the rest of the world see it and believe that there's nothing wrong.

Sorry for the slow update, guys! Couldn't figure out how to continue. Hope the next one will come quickly (:

*: You SHOULD find this line familiar because Sasuke said it in one of the season 1 episodes while protecting Naruto. Translations may vary, but I think the essence is there, and I choose to take it as a SasuNaru hint.