Because... It's My Birthday


"Why didn't you tell us it was your birthday?" Naruto looked at them. Once warm and bright blue eyes, now emotionless, distant, cold and his answer... just as much. "I thought you wouldn't care."

Age Rating:

Because... It's My Birthday


They're supposed to be one of the best days for a person.

The feeling of joy of being born on that certain day and bringing happiness and elation to their loved ones. As well as it being one of the special days of that person's life that nobody else can claim.

Getting gifts, celebrating with loved ones - whose love and happiness increases with every passing day, showing that they are happy that this was the day you first entered the world.

This is the day you were accepted by the world, accepted by your village and most importantly accepted by your family.


There is one individual who doesn't have any of that.

It's not the best day of his life; his birth is not celebrated by anyone. For his presents he gets beatings and glares, his day is tainted with the deaths of countless people, his day is both mourned and celebrated, but not for him. They all wish he was never born, never existed, for every passing day they all leaved him alone and all he ever wanted was to be accepted.

Uzumaki Naruto was lying on his bed, his usually bright, expressive sky blue eyes were dimmed to a much darker, duller blue. His gaze was upon his bedroom ceiling, contemplating if he should or shouldn't go outside today.

Today was October the tenth.

The day he was born.

The day the fourth Hokage, the Yondaime died.

The day countless shinobis lost their lives.

The day many families were torn apart.

The day several children became orphans.

The day the most feared and powerful Nine-Tailed demon fox - Kyuubi, known more commonly by Naruto as Kurama, was sealed away within him.

The day everyone started to despise and blame him, seeing him as the demon fox and wanting nothing but death for him.

Today was his birthday

Naruto sighed, placing one tanned arm over his eyes. Oh how he hated this day. The villagers were preparing for the festival to celebrate the death of the Nine-tails, but no one was going to celebrate his birthday.

Not even his friends.

Why? Because they didn't know it was his birthday. Of course he hadn't told them and he was never going to. They never even asked him and he was okay with that. Why? Because he feared if they found out they might make the connection and hate him too and he didn't want that.

Naruto sighed again, removing his arm from his face and looked over at the clock that sat on his bedside cabinet. It was nearly time to meet up with his teammates – Kakashi, Sakura and Sasuke at their usual meeting place.

Not having any other choice but to go and not feeling like having Sakura yelling and biting his head off for being late, he dragged himself out of bed and stretched his stiff limbs.

He sighed in content as a few bones popped into place and grabbed his orange jacket from the end of the bed. He put it on over his black shirt and adjusted his headband on his forehead.

He made his way to the front door, got out and locked it securely. "Pfft like that's going to stop them," he thought bitterly and started making his way towards the bridge.

He walked calmly through the streets, ignoring the stares, glares and whispers surrounding him. He was used to it, especially on this day. He had no choice but to accept it.

"Happy Birthday, Kit," said a deep voice, Naruto gave a small smile and kept on walking.

"Thanks, Kurama," he replied.

"So far your day is going well," said the demon fox as he sat curled up behind the sealed bars deep within Naruto's subconscious.

"Don't jinx it," he growled. He and Kurama both hoped that the day would continue like it is, completely boring, completely uneventful. But alas they both knew it wasn't going to happen.

It'll start soon and all he could do was wait and take it.

Naruto had exited the streets and was now walking through the various training fields and after a few minutes, he finally sensed them.

They were watching him through the trees and bushes.

He let out a resigned sigh (he was doing a lot of sighing recently), and contemplated if he should face them and fight back. Either resulting in more ninjas and villagers joining in and becoming hated even more or just taking it. Sure it'll hurt, the pain will not go away, but the less he'll retaliate the quicker it'll be over with and they'll leave him alone.

"Fight back, Kit," growled out Kurama, he could sense them too and knew more were joining them, "show them how powerful you really are."

"So they'll fear me more," Naruto scoffed, "I don't think so Kurama. I rather take the beating than have them exclude me even more."

He could hear them following him as he walked through the spacious fields, his keen ears picking up their movements. They were already preparing.

Kurama could tell too and he tried to reason with his jailer, "Naruto–"

Naruto cut him off, "I'm sorry, but I can't take this anymore," he walked with his head down, he hating how his ears picked up their approaching footsteps. "I'm so fed-up; I've gotten tired of this, Kurama, its time I accepted that they're right. I am a freak, a loser, there's nothing I can do right. The whole village hates me, I'm nothing but a bad reminder for them, they'll be happier when I'm gone."

Kurama growled angrily and sat up, his tails curling around him elegantly. What he despised more than this village was the way his Kit would talk and act like this. It always got worse this time of the year and he could feel Naruto slowly giving up. He used countless reasons to reassure the brat in the past and they worked, but circumstances never changed, they got worse and Naruto quickly started to ignore him.

He knew trying to reassure his Kit now that he was still wanted was not going to work anymore, but he could still try.

"What about your friends? Surely they would disagree with you."

Naruto shook his head, he could hear them whispering now and his body couldn't help but tense as he continued walked, faking oblivion.

"They don't know anything about me, other than I am the dead-last and number one knuckle-headed, unpredictable ninja and if-if they found out..." he swallowed thickly, he couldn't bear thinking about the prospect of his friends finding out, "they'll...they'll hate me too, you know it."

The Kit's depression was at an all-time low noticed Kurama. He could understand why Naruto thought like that. He never had that much patients with the walking time bomb Uchiha and the screaming unnatural haired Haruno. There were so many signs that could clearly describe his Kit's condition, but both teammates seem to be blind to them or completely incompetent to their blonde teammate.

But he knew beside their obvious canopy, they accepted Naruto as their friend as he accepted them. He didn't know to what extent like Naruto who would die for them, but he knew they would care and he tried to convince his jailer of that.

"They won't you know, they—"

The demon was cut off again, and Naruto somberly replied, noticing the hurrying footsteps and the sound of metal rubbing against metal that they were all nearly ready, "yes they will."

His tone was final, defeated, "Sakura-chan hates me, she said so when we first became Team Seven. Sasuke-teme thinks I'm a dead-last dobe and Kakashi-sensei... he only thinks about his precious Sasuke and training him to use his Sharingan; he never has time to train me." Tears welled in his dull eyes, but he refused to let them fall.

"Face it, Kurama, they all don't care. They never once asked me to join them when they go out and when they do, they don't even talk to me. It's as if I'm not even there, all three of them don't take any interest to get to know me and why would they, I'm a freak, a loser after all, I might as well accept that."

Kurama let out a long aggravated sigh, hating his teammates a little more. "Gaki—," but he was cut off once again –it was getting really annoying– the villagers and ninjas jumped out of their hiding places and charged at Naruto.

They were shouting and yelling in anger as they approached him. Kurama shifted into a defensive position and growled protectively, but he knew he wouldn't be able to do anything, trapped as he was, "Gaki, do something... please," he pleaded.

Naruto gave a small smile, his back turned to the rushing crowd, "what's the point," he said aloud and closed his eyes, waiting for the all too knowing pain to come.

Sasuke and Sakura were waiting for the rest of their team on the bridge, their patience slowly indwelling . They were late, both of them. They would expect it from their sensei, he was always late, but not Naruto. It had already been two hours but there was still no sign of their blonde haired teammate.

As usual Sasuke was leaning against the edge of the bridge in his usual brooding mood and Sakura was standing not too far from him, watching the river flow from under the bridge after unsuccessfully trying to make Sasuke talk to her, instead of the one worded 'hn' sounds he was always find of making.

Sasuke had sighed in relief when she had moved away. He liked her, he did, but he hated when she would go into her irritating fan-girl mode.

"Where are they?" Sakura moaned as she moved away from the edge of the bridge and looked around, hoping to spot her energetic teammate; the stoic teammate with her was getting too boring and annoying for her liking, not that she would say that out loud.

Sasuke looked around as well, "it's not like the Dobe to come late," he murmured. Sakura heard him and nodded, her green eyes now tinted with concern as she continued to look over the hills hoping to see her friend appear and come running towards them.

Both Sakura and Sasuke have been worried about their third team member, he had been acting really strange and completely unlike himself for the past few days.

He had stopped picking fights with Sasuke whenever they met up and wouldn't put that much effort into their sparring or training. He hadn't asked Sakura out on a date for days and has frequently stopped calling her without putting the 'chan' at the end of her name or calling Sasuke a 'teme'.

Naruto would have a glazed and haunted look in his eyes, which left his teammates confused and disturbed as it hasn't been often they would see such a look on their cheerful friend's face. They would often find him in quiet and secluded areas, sitting silently, a complete contrast to how he usually was and when asked if he was alright, he would put on a grin and answer with a "I'm fine." Before jumping up and bounding around them.

They had a feeling that their blond teammate was withdrawing from them, more than usual and it both scared and worried them. Not that they'll admit it out loud of course, but nevertheless they had a feeling something was wrong, but had no idea how to approach their teammate about it.

Suddenly both brooding teammates looked up, their thoughts interrupted as a crowd of villagers and a few ninjas came out from a bunch of trees and bushes cheering, shouting and laughing, a look of complete glee on their faces.

They watched as they walked away from the training fields and back onto the different paths leading into the village.

"What was that all about?" asked Sakura. Sasuke shrugged, he didn't have the answer.

A few more minutes passed and the silence stretched on as both teammates continued on watching the river flow beneath them as they waited.

"Yo," called a cheerful voice, they both quickly turned to see their sensei standing behind them, "sorry I'm late. I got lost while trying to help an old lady get a cat out of a tree."

Sasuke raised an eyebrow at that odd excuse and then glared at him as Sakura shouted, "LIAR."

Kakashi looked around and noticed one person missing, "ah, it seems I'm not the only one late today."

Sakura and Sasuke sobered at that and nodded, "yes, Naruto hasn't arrived yet," said Sakura.

"He's been acting really weird lately," said Sasuke as he looked at the Copy-cat Nin. He wanted to know if Kakashi knew anything about it.

"Has he?" asked Kakashi casually, looking at his students closely. His visible eye wasn't giving anything away, but he too had noticed how withdrawn Naruto was becoming and it concerned him.

Sakura nodded agreeing with her teammate and casted worried eyes at her teacher. Kakashi watched them, his mind was racing. He knew what today meant for Naruto and knew how important it was for him to stay safe and hidden. So he wouldn't be surprised if Naruto decided to stay home instead of meeting up with his team and train.

But he also knew Naruto was not the kind of person to just sit in one place for too long. Although today was one of the days Naruto felt the most depressed and a depressed Naruto was never good and that worried Kakashi. He planned to go and see his young student, to check up on him.

He was disappointed when he found out that Naruto had yet to tell his friends about his birthday, but he understood why he was being so wary to tell them. But what disappointed him most was that neither Sakura nor Sasuke took the effort to find out that information for themselves.

Oblivious to what their sensei was thinking, Sasuke spoke, "what's even weirder was the group of people we saw walking away from one of the training grounds. Most of them were villagers and I know they don't often come here."

"Yes that's right, and they were all shouting and laughing about something, it was quite odd," added Sakura. That pulled Kakashi out of his thoughts and his body became tense.

"That is odd isn't it," whispered Kakashi, looking towards the forest lining the grounds.

Sasuke watched his sensei curiously, noticing the stiffness in his posture, something was clearly wrong.

Kakashi too saw the group heading back to the village, the looks of satisfaction on their happy faces made him instantly wary. A horrid thought cropped up into his mind and he inwardly cringed.

Surely not, he couldn't have let them get to him could he? Usually he would either stay home all day, locked up or come out before the sun rose to avoid confrontation with anyone wanting to finish off the fourth job.

He hoped he was wrong.

"I managed to hear some of them saying something about killing a fox I think," said Sakura looking dubious, "I didn't know animal hunting was allowed on the training fields Kakashi sensei."

His hope was crushed and his visible eye widened as his gaze turned to the village. They wouldn't have, not to him, not to his student. Both his other students watched as their sensei's body went rigid and his gaze tightened upon them causing Sasuke and Sakura to become instantly suspicious.

"Quickly, which way did they come from?" Kakashi snapped, making his students jump with his suddenly urgent tone.

"Um...that way," pointed out Sakura toward the edge of trees, then she looked at Kakashi apprehensively, "what is it, sensei?"

"This has something to do with Naruto doesn't it," said Sasuke quietly, his eyes sharply scrutinizing his sensei, "he's never this late."

Kakashi reluctantly nodded, if this had something to do with the demon fox he didn't want Sakura and Sasuke to find out until Naruto was ready to tell them and really it wasn't his secret to tell.

"Come on you two," and with that he jumped over the bridge and headed towards the trees. Sasuke and Sakura looked at each other before jumping and running after the silver-haired ninja.

They moved quickly along the trees, the two students following their increasingly anxious sensei in silence as he tried to sense his third student's chakra signature. Sasuke and Sakura hoped that wherever they were going will lead them to the reason of their teammate's unexpected change in behaviour.

As they ventured on, the atmosphere around them became tense. Slowly the feeling of dread started to grip onto the three members of Team Seven and a small part in their minds knew that whatever they'd find will take a toll on them.

Sasuke and Sakura were suddenly startled when Kakashi came to an abrupt halt making them whizz past him. They quickly stopped and twisted to face their sensei to find him crouching on the branch he was balanced on and looking down at the ground. They looked questioningly at him before he jumped down and seemed to have picked something up.

Sasuke and Sakura were a little disturbed by the quietness of their teacher and jumped down to join him.

"Kakashi sensei?" asked Sakura nervously as they neared their sensei.

"We need to hurry," he stated as he showed them what he found. Sakura gasped and Sasuke eye widened. What Kakashi had found was...

Naruto's Hitai-ate.

Kakashi turned it over and the writing on the back confirmed that it was Naruto's hitai-ate, as his name was etched on the back below Iruka's name.

"What is it doing here?" asked Sakura, the feeling of dread and concern growing.

"He never takes it off," said Sasuke solemnly as his mind started to link all the events together, "something happened hasn't it, Sensei? Those people and Naruto being—"

"Yes. Something is wrong and we need to find our friend," said Kakashi briskly, making no room for arguments and looked at his students.

They nodded understandingly and Kakashi sighed at that, before dashing off again, this time with Sasuke and Sakura following close behind him. If only they understood it all.

Making it to the edge of the forest, they all came to an abrupt halt and stood completely still. Shock over-rid their whole bodies at what they saw before them.

Naruto's clothes were torn, blood running through cuts and gashes littered all over his body. Bruises could be clearly seen from where they stood. His breathing was harsh and short, as if the very air was running away from him. His blond hair limb and dull, covered in dirt and blood.

"Naruto…" said Sakura in a faint whisper, barely heard by the two shocked ninjas beside her.

Within a second all three of them were at their injured friend side and Kakashi bent down beside him, "Naruto?" he called, placing a hand gently on the boy's shoulder.

Naruto flinched at the contact and hissed in pain, eyes slowly opening. He saw three blurry figures hovering over him.

"Ka'shi sen'ei?" asked Naruto brokenly as he recognized the silver hair. He coughed a little and blood started to trickle down his lips.

"Yeah, it's me, kid. Just hold on."

Naruto closed his eyes and shook his head just a fraction, "to late."

"Naruto," Sakura dropped down beside him, tears leaking down her cheeks.

Sasuke stood over them; anger coursing through his body as he looked down at Naruto's battered body. How dare they do this to his friend. No one hurts his teammate and got away with it.

"Who did this?" he asked, his voice thick with anger. Naruto flinched at the harsh tone and Sasuke's face softened. He tried to reign in his anger.

"Naruto, what happened?" asked Sakura when Sasuke stayed silent.

Naruto groaned trying to speak, but that only lead to more blood leaking out his mouth and moaned in pain. Kakashi took mercy on his student and answered for him, "it seems those villagers we saw early found Naruto when he was coming to meet us and brutally hurt him."

Naruto shifted his half lidded eyes to his sensei and coughed again, groaning.

Sasuke and Sakura looked at their sensei in disbelief and then at Naruto. What could have happened that lead the villagers to act so aggressively towards their team mate. This had never happened before, but judging from the anger and remorse they could see in their sensei's one eye this didn't seem to be the case.

"But…but why?" Sakura choked out. Naruto whimpered as the pain racked through his body and she couldn't bare seeing him like this.

Naruto turned his head in the direction of his team mates, his eyes distant and dull. His body ached all over, he could feel every cut, bruise and gash on his body and it killed. His chest hurt, his breathing came out in short gasps, and he just couldn't seem to get enough air into his lungs.

Darkness was slowly started to seep in from the edge of his blurred vision, but he forced his mouth to open, "C-cause…it's my…my birthday," he said quietly, his voice quivering.

If they thought they were shocked before, they were definitely shocked now. Kakashi sighed and focused back on his fallen student. "We need to get—"

Sakura interrupted him, "it's your birthday?" She and Sasuke looked at their teammate numbly, why didn't he ever tell them? Did he think they wouldn't want to know?

Naruto had a grim smile on his face now, his eyes starting to inch close, but he fought to stay awake, just for another minute. Pain washed over him again and he whimpered.

Kakashi gently squeezed his shoulder and watched on with silent guilt at how much he had failed his sensei's son. He wasn't able to protect him; he let him down and did nothing. Letting his student get beaten for something that was completely out of his control. Minato would probably be looking down at him in disappointment and shame.

"Why didn't you tell us?" asked Sasuke quietly. He had seen the turmoil on his sensei face, but didn't think it was wise to say anything…yet. He was more distracted as to why Naruto had never told them about his birthday.

Come to think of it did anyone know that today was his birthday. Had he told anyone? Naruto practically knew all of his comrades' birthdays, had made an effort to ask them and date them on his calendar like he claimed he did.

But had anyone asked him?

Another wave of pain shot through Naruto and he gasped, causing a few tear to escape down his cheeks. He didn't think he'd be able to stay awake any longer, darkness covered most of his vision and it was becoming increasingly difficult to stay awake.

"Didn't t-think you'll…you'll care," groaned Naruto before he finally succumbed to unconsciousness, his eyes falling shut.

"NARUTO," two alarmed voices rang out in panic.

"Alright that's enough," snapped Kakashi, making his two students look at him anxiously. "Naruto needs medical attention; we have to get him to the Hokage."

Kakashi moved closer to Naruto and picked him up gently. The young blond was completely limp and lifeless in his arms and if he wasn't breathing, Kakashi would have thought he was carrying a corpse.

Sasuke and Sakura quickly fell in step with their sensei and they all sped off to the hospital.

Upon reaching the hospital, Kakashi quickly called a nurse and was given a room to place Naruto in to await treatment. Naruto stayed unconscious throughout the whole trip to the hospital, which concerned Kakashi. Normally Naruto would start healing straight away, but that had yet to happen.

Both Sasuke and Sakura didn't miss the scowls and glares directed at them from the villagers as they watched Naruto being taken away, this behaviour only added to their confusion. Why were they acting so mean towards Naruto? Did he do something to get himself into trouble?

Well it wouldn't be the first time, but judging by the stares it didn't seem it was the first time Naruto received this type of treatment by the villagers. Why hadn't they noticed this before?

Placing his blond haired student on the bed, Kakashi turned towards the nurse and spoke with an urgent tone, "call the Hokage immediately."

The nurse nodded and hurried out of the room. Silence fell in the room as no one spoke; each team member was deep in thought as they watched Naruto breath irregularly. He was so still and silent, something that was very uncommon for the blond haired ninja.

After minutes of waiting, a blond haired woman came rushing into the room. She had a scowl on her face, obviously annoyed at being disturbed during her nap. The three shinobis turned to face her, blocking her view of the bed, "thank you for coming, Tsunade-sama," said Kakashi.

Tsunade waved the comment off and asked grumpily, "Kakashi, what is so important that I had to rush all the way here during my —" she was cut off from finishing her rant as Kakashi, Sasuke and Sakura moved out of the way, revealing the beaten body of Naruto lying on the bed, struggling for breath.

Tsunade gasped and rushed to his side, immediately having glowing green hands hovering over him as she quickly preformed her diagnostic exam on him. Team seven moved to the side, pressing their backs against the wall, given the Hokage plenty of room to work as they watched anxiously, waiting.

Tsunade growled in anger each time she found something she didn't like. There was too much damage; it was a miracle that the young ninja was still alive.

This had gone too far.

Finishing with her diagnosis, she quickly ran through all the potions, herbs, medication and jutsus that could help Naruto's wounds heal and started developing a schedule to initiate a care plan. She turned around and was surprised to find Team Seven still standing behind her, watching vigilantly.

Sasuke was standing stiffly, his eyes looking intently at her; Sakura was fidgeting, her eyes shifting from Naruto to her, waiting for her verdict and Kakashi, like Sasuke, stood stiffly, there was no expression or emotion on the Jounin's face, but his one eye expressed the anxiety he was feeling.

Tsunade sighed; she knew they wouldn't react well to their teammate's condition and the anger she felt towards the people who did this to her precious person was growing by the minute.

"Hokage-sama?" asked Kakashi.

She looked at him for a moment, then back at Naruto. "He's in a bad way, worse than the last time this happened. His arms and legs are broken in multiple places and so are his ribs. His right shoulder is dislocated and one of his ribs seemed to have scratched his lungs; he has multiple bruises and cuts around his body and a bad concussion to the head. Those sick bastards had no mercy; they completely broke him… literally."

The two young members of Team Seven were completely shocked; they were staring at her in disbelief. Sasuke's eyes were wide open, his hands clenched in a tight fist as his eyes were pinned to Naruto's beaten form. Sakura had one hand on her mouth and tears streaming down her face as tremors racked her body.

How did… why would anyone… how could anyone do that to someone. Naruto had done nothing to harm anyone, then why would they cause so much harm to him?

The two young Genin were so deep in their thoughts, so when they sensed the killer intent suddenly rise within the room, it startled them back to reality. They turned to look at their sensei, they could not see any sort of reaction on the outside, but as the killer intent continued to rise, they knew that Kakashi felt deeply about this as much they did.

Naruto let out a whimper as he too felt the intense killer intent and tried to get away from it. Noticing this Tsunade quickly tried to sooth him.

"Kakashi," she snapped. Kakashi stiffened further and clenched his fist before trying to calm himself down. Sasuke and Sakura both relaxed as they felt the killer intent fade away.

"Go find Iruka and Jiraiya. Tell them to come here immediately and don't be late," she instructed sternly.

Naruto whimpered again at the angry voice and tried to move away. Tsunade eyes softened and she made to run her hand through his hair, hoping it would comfort the young boy, but all Naruto did was flinch away from her, preventing her from having any physical contact with him. Tsunade frowned and curled up her hand into a fist. She was going to make them pay for what they did to the person she saw as her little brother, as her son.

Turning around, Kakashi was already gone and she hoped would be back soon with the other two ninjas. She was surprised to see the two Genins standing together watching the injured boy with concern. Tsunade smiled inwardly, "maybe there's some hope for them yet," she thought.

Clearing her throat, Sakura and Sasuke looked up at her, she gave them a small smile, "can both of you go outside and wait for your sensei."

They didn't move, "but why did they do this to Naruto, Hokage-sama? Why would anyone do this to him?" asked Sakura tearfully.

Sasuke turned his gaze back on Naruto and his fist clenched tightly as he heard his teammate moan quietly in pain, trying to get some air into his lungs with his gasping breath.

"That's for Naruto to tell you, now I want both of you out so I can start healing him."

Sasuke was gearing up to protest, but Tsunade glared at them and Sakura –being smart as she was— grabbed his arm and started pulling him out of the room. She didn't want to leave Naruto alone either, but knew that the Hokage had the power to heal him and the faster she did the better.

Tsunade smiled and turned to Naruto, "you got good friends, kid," she thought and set to work.

Outside, Sasuke and Sakura waited anxiously, questions running through their heads. They wanted to know what was going on and why Kakashi-sensei and the Hokage were acting so strange.

Minutes later Kakashi returned with Iruka and Jiraiya. Iruka practically ran to them, worry and sadness evident in his eyes.

"How is he?" he asked. Kakashi and Jiraiya came to stand behind him, both men having the same look on their faces, but it's as if they knew something like this was going to happen. Sasuke gazed at them suspiciously.

Sakura shrugged, worried, "Hokage-sama is still working on him, Iruka-sensei."

Iruka sighed and nodded, Kakashi placed a hand on his shoulder in a comforting manner. "All we can do is wait until she's finished," he said, calmly.

Iruka looked at him for a moment as if to argue, but then nodded in resignation and moved to lean against the wall. Kakashi and Jiraiya did the same and the two young Genin followed suit.

The adults obviously knew something they didn't and by the seriousness of their looks, Sasuke and Sakura didn't know if they wanted to know or not.

"Kakashi sensei?" said Sakura quietly after a half an hour ticked by in silence.

The masked man looked at her. "Yes Sakura?"

She fidgeted with her hands, not looking up, "why didn't Naruto tell us it's his birthday today?"

Kakashi looked at her and Sasuke. He knew that they would start asking questions, but he couldn't tell them why. It wasn't his place nor was it his secret. He gazed critically at his two students and couldn't help the bout of disappointment to course through him.

Team Seven had come a long way since their academy days, but it was sad to say that they still didn't know Naruto as much as they should have. Being on the same team, studying in the academy together, going on mission together, it was a shame they didn't try to get to know Naruto better, but only treated him more as a loser than a teammate. It was really disappointing indeed.

"Have you ever asked him?"

Sakura looked up at him in surprise; surely she had asked him when his birthday was. She couldn't remember at the moment, not when she was fretting and worrying about him, but surely she had… hadn't she? She racked her memories, went back to all the times they hanged out together and went on missions.

No… she hadn't. She never did. He had asked her, but she never asked him in return. Why?

"N-no I haven't," she looked down guiltily; it was such a simple question, why hadn't she asked him?

"Then that's why he probably didn't tell you."

"But we're his friends. Why wouldn't he tell us?" asked Sakura quietly. Sasuke was thinking the same thing. Why hadn't he just told them?

Kakashi raised his visible eyebrow, "friends? I wouldn't think he accepts you as friends."

At that both their heads snapped up to look at their teacher in surprise. Naruto didn't think of them as his friends?

"But we are. Why would he think we weren't? We spend time together, train—" Sakura pressed on.

Kakashi interrupted her, "yes, you spend time together, but what do you do exactly? Have you ever tried talking to him for more than five minutes? Do you listen to what he says?"

Sasuke and Sakura thought about it, thinking about all the times they spent together as a team. They invited him along, but most of their get-togethers were arrange by Naruto. He would always ask them to train, to eat Ramen or to generally hang out together… as friends, but had they ever paid enough attention to him to realise how left out they made him feel?

Sadly, their sensei was right. They had never given Naruto the time and attention he deserved.

Kakashi looked at them critically, his voice laced with disappointment, "you, Sakura never truly got to know him, even when it was your attention he always craved. All you would talk about was Sasuke and your problems and interests whenever you were around him. Have you ever thought to include him in anything? You wouldn't spare Naruto even a few minutes, always calling him annoying whenever he did or said something you didn't like. You never took the time to know his problems and his interest, so why would he tell you anything."

Her sensei's words drilled into her and she realised that all he said was true. She never made the effort with Naruto; it was always Sasuke or herself. She looked down guiltily, letting the feeling engulf her.

Kakashi eyes shifted to Sasuke and he sighed, "I don't know why it's so hard for you to get along with Naruto, Sasuke. You two are the same," Sasuke looked at his sensei with raised eyebrows. They really weren't alike, him and Naruto, but that wasn't a bad thing, but how were they the same. Naruto was too cheerful, too happy, while Sasuke… wasn't.

"You're both alone, both without a family. Both of you know the pain and sadness of going back to an empty home. Naruto knows what happened to your clan, be it told by you, Sakura, the other rookie teams or the villagers and yet you know nothing of his," Kakashi tilted his head to the side, while Iruka and Jiraiya looked on solemnly. "You of all people should understand the feeling of being alone, but instead of getting to know him, you disregard him as the weakest in your team. You think he's beneath you just because of the way he is. Why would he tell you anything either."

Sasuke looked at his sensei for a few more seconds before looking away. He didn't want to admit it but he did feel ashamed of his action. He could not deny the truth of his sensei words. Naruto was his teammate, he was starting to see the blond haired boy as his best friend and he thought Naruto felt the same…but now…he wasn't sure.

"To sum it all up, both of you suck as friends and are selfish brats," said Jiraiya with a smirk. The two young ninjas bristled at the comment, but he merely shrugged at them. He knew Naruto trusted his two teammates and they were his precious people. But at this rate, he didn't know how long that trust would last.

"Nothing has really changed since the academy days have they," said Iruka solemnly as he looked at his two ex-students with disappointment. Even though the words spoken to them were harsh, he knew the older ninjas were both right.

Sasuke and Sakura shrunk back at the disapproving and disappointing stares they were receiving from the three adults. Had they really been that bad of friends to Naruto?

Sasuke sighed. Yes they have.

"You are all right," he said quietly, "we haven't been good friends to Naruto."

Sakura nodded at his side and then Sasuke looked at them with determination in his eyes "but we are going to change that. We'll show Naruto that we are his friends."

"We'll see," said Iruka and looked away from them.



Drip, drip.

Water dripped from the pipes and a low growl echoed throughout the seemingly endless halls.

Deep within his subconscious, Naruto lied half submerged in the water, staring up at the ceiling with dull blue eyes fixed on nothing.

Kurama watched his jailer in dismay, growling lowly at the cuts and bruises littering his container's body. They went too far, they completely broke him. All Kurama wanted to do now was destroy everyone who hurt his kit, ripping them apart limp from limp.

The fox might not show it but he, the greatest of all the demons, cared for the demon container. He admired how Naruto went on each day. He continued to prove to everyone that he was someone, someone who wanted to protect his village, doing all he could to be accepted by them. Kurama growled angrily, they didn't deserve him; he protected them, by keeping him at bay. If he had his way, this whole village would have been nothing but a waste land.

"Kurama?" a small voice brought him out from his thoughts and he centered on the young blond boy still lying near his cage.


"Why is it so hard? Why do they make it so hard?" his voice strained, laced with pain.

"Make what hard, Kit?"

"For what I want. You know what I want don't you."

Kurama stared sadly at Naruto; he had a fair guess on what the young boy was talking about, "to be accepted."

"Why can't I have that?" his eyes welled with tears and he let a few escape down his cheeks, his eyes portraying nothing but sadness, loneliness and pain.

"You have it, Kit. I know it is hard to realise this, but you do have people who love and accept you," he said softly. Even though those people didn't show it as much as they should and were greatly irritating him.

"How do you know?"

"Believe it or not, Gaki, but I can see it in their eyes and the way they talk and look at you."

Naruto turned his heads to look at the demon fox, "why can't I see it? What...what does it look like?" he sounded so much like a child, his young voice wrapped in pain and vulnerability. He was so desperate to find out how love felt, how to see it in another person and how to know it was there.

To a lot of people he noticed it was easy for them to find it, they could recognise it straight away, but he couldn't. No one in his life looked at him like that and it hurt.

Kurama was saddened by that. To be deprived of the one thing that everyone had. He knew Naruto didn't know, he was never shown it, except for the scarred man called Iruka, but even he wasn't around for so long for Naruto to completely understand it.

He could show it, but Kurama wasn't one for showing his affection, even to those he liked and Naruto knew that…thank, Kami. He wasn't preparing to start acting like a vixen to his kit. Not yet. But he knew that the people around him would and they were prepared to.

"Open your eyes, Kit and see," before Naruto could say anything, he found himself waking up.

The first thing he noticed was that his body wasn't aching as much as it was before. He could feel bandages wrapped around his arms, legs, chest and head, restricting his movements. He was lying on something warm and soft and he quickly realised he was on a bed.

He could hear someone moving near him and a voice calling his name. Groaning, he slowly opened his eyes and found a blurry image of another pair of eyes looking at him with blond hair –not his own- obscuring his vision.

"Obaa-'an?" his voice was dry and harsh. He started coughing, making him aware of the dull ache in his throat. A glass was pressed to his lips, prying his mouth open and cold, delicious water poured into his mouth and he gladly drank the whole glass down.

"Yes, Naruto, it's me," a soft voice reached his ears as the glass was taken away and set on the small cupboard next to the bed.

Naruto's eyesight finally cleared and he saw worried warm brown eyes gazing at him. He took a moment to study them closely and he saw relief, happiness, fear and…and something else. He couldn't tell what it was.

"What is that?" he thought. For some reason it made his chest constrict and warmth to flow through him. This unreadable emotion was foreign to him, something –he realised— that he didn't see a lot "is that…?"

"Yes, Kit," Kyuubi's voice penetrated his thoughts, "she cares."

His throat tightened and he felt the unpleasant prickle behind his eyes. That's what it looked like?

He could finally see it.

Tsunade watched Naruto; he was looking at her so closely as if he was searching for something and by the sudden look of childish wonder and surprise, it seemed he found it.

She smiled at him, realising just how young and innocent he looked, her little otouto. He was like a little brother and a son to her and she cared and loved everything about him. From his kind and considerate nature to his out-right and boisterous behaviour. It was thanks to him that she was back in her own village. He had given her the courage to stop running away, the courage to protect what was important to her and he was at the top of that list.

Tsunade smile slipped away and worry clouded her features when Naruto eyes started to well up with tears. "Naruto? Are you ok–" Tsunade was cut off as Naruto suddenly sprang up and circled his arms around her neck, bringing her into a hug.

"You care. You really do care," he choked out as he clutched onto her for dear life.

Surprised by his statement, Tsunade circled her arms around his shaking frame and hugged him back, gently rubbing his back as he started to cry.

"Of course I do, why would you even say that, Naruto."

The only response she got was Naruto crying and shaking as he buried his head deeper into her shoulder. Her eyes softened and she hugged him tighter, wanting nothing more than to take his pain away.

"Ssh, Naruto, it's okay. You're going to be okay," she said in a comforting tone, she felt him shake his head and tuck it into the crook of her neck.

"N-no its not, nobody…nobody else cares," sobbed out Naruto, "why do you?"

She smiled sadly at him, nothing but compassion and love radiated off her as she ran her hand through his blond hair in a soothing manner, "why wouldn't I, Naruto. You're very important to me; you're one of my precious people. When we first met I knew you were going to be someone special to me," she smiled at him as he let out a sob. "Naruto, I care about you and I'm not the only one who does, but you're like my little otouto, like my son and I love you."

Naruto's whole body froze at those last words, his eyes widened and his hold became tighter. He turned his head to look up at her and he saw it in her eyes, but could he believe that? They were exactly the words he always wanted to hear.

"You love me?"

She nodded her head and smiled at him. He spoke with such a timid and child-like voice that it was hard to believe it was the same loud and bold boy she saw every day. Her eyes started to well up with tears and she kissed his forehead, "of course I do, Naruto."

He squeezed her gently this time and gazed at her for a few minutes, before a look of awe appeared on his face, "really?"

Tsunade replied without hesitation, "Really. There is no doubt in my mind about that, Naruto."

A bright smile spread across his face, blue eyes sparkled with new happiness and he buried his face back into her neck and hugged her tightly again.

They stayed like that for a while, Naruto taking comfort from the warm and loving embrace and Tsunade taking relief and joy that Naruto would be okay.

The warm moment ended when Tsunade started to remember who was still waiting for them outside.

She sighed and decided to get this quickly out of the way as soon as possible – for the benefit of Naruto – and gently pushed Naruto away from her, but still kept him within her embrace. He looked to at her, his blue eyes red and puffed up, his small nose bright pink and his cheeks flushed, but a smile still gracing his young face.

Tsunade wanted nothing more than to hug him again, but schooled her features. Upon seeing her serious expression, Naruto smile slowly slipped away and he looked at her questionably.

"What's wrong, Obaa-chan?" he couldn't suppress the hint of fear to show in his voice as he asked. Scared that what she had said before might have been a joke and she didn't mean it.

She smiled reassuringly at him, "don't worry, Otouto. I love you and that is no lie," he let out a sigh of relief and smiled sheepishly at her. She grinned at him, but still held her serious gaze.

"Naruto… when you were attacked, do you remember who found you?"

Naruto nodded slowly, vaguely remembering his sensei standing over him, the rest was filled with too much pain and blurry visions. "Yeah, it was Kakashi-sensei."

Tsunade nodded her head, "Yes it was, but Sakura and Sasuke were there as well."

Naruto froze and fear gripped him again, "they…they saw me?" she nodded again. His eyes widened, his memory of the event starting to clear up slightly. He remembered two more fuzzy faces, blue and pink and he winced.

Placing a hand on his shoulder, Tsunade looked straight at him, honey brown meeting cerulean blue, "I think it's time you told them, Naruto."

Naruto immediately started to shake his head vigorously. He couldn't believe she actually wanted them to know, they would hate him, maybe even more so than now. "I can't. I can't do that. They'll…they'll hate me."

"Naruto, they won't. Trust me when I say they will not hate you. They really do care about you, even if they do have their odd ways of showing it. But they do accept you as a friend, maybe you should start trusting in that," she said, willing him to believe her.

Naruto looked at the Hokage for a while before he looked away. "I-I don't know Obaa-chan," he said quietly, "what if they don't…"

Tsunade smiled, letting go of him and stood up. Naruto turned to look at her and was surprised to see the smile twist into a menacing grin. "If they don't, then I'll pound them into the ground until they see sense. My strength got to be good for something, ne."

Naruto smiled a little as she showed off her muscles emphasizing her words. Smiling, Tsunade reassured him again, "believe me, Naruto. They were pretty damn worried about you when they brought you here."

Naruto blinked up at her in surprise, "really?"

"Yes, they wouldn't leave either, not until I forced them to," Naruto's surprised look stayed and he could see the blond women was telling the truth, and then a small smile crept onto his face.

"Should I?"

"You should and beside Iruka, Kakashi and the old pervert, Jiraiya and I will be by your side when you tell them. You won't be alone."

He nodded slowly and in an uncertain voice said, "o-okay, I'll…I'll tell them." He looked at her for reassurance, "they won't hate me?"

Tsunade shook her head, "no."


Tsunade gave him an encouraging smile, before walking to the door. She walked out into the hallway and quickly found five heads turning her way.

The two youngest quickly straightened up and watched her intently as she came to a stop near them.

"How is he, Tsunade?" asked Jiraiya, he came to stand next to the Genins as did Kakashi and Iruka.

"Better. He should be able to recover fully now. I have healed most of his serious injuries and the rest are well on their way. He'll probably feel sore and tired for a while, but some rest will do him some good. He'll be back to his usually self sooner than you know it," she smiled and Jiraiya chuckled. Iruka gave a sigh of relief and Kakashi gave a one eyed smile.

"Can we see him?" asked Sakura.

Tsunade nodded, but blocked their path as they started to make their way to Naruto's room. Sakura and Sasuke looked up at her in question.

"I know you two have a lot of questions and Naruto, though reluctant, has agreed to answer them," at that the other three Shinobis straightened up, looking at the blonde woman apprehensively. She nodded at them discreetly, confirming their suspicions.

"It took me a while to convince him of this, so if you do or say anything wrong, he won't ever trust you again and I won't hesitate to chuck you out. Just remember Uzumaki Naruto IS Uzumaki Naruto, the number one unpredictable ninja of Konoha. Understood."

They stared up at her oddly for a few seconds, before nodding. Tsunade stared at them strictly for another minute before turning and heading to Naruto's room. Jiraiya, Kakashi and Iruka following closely behind her.

Sakura looked at Sasuke uncertainly and he shrugged, they were going to get their answers soon enough, no point prolonging it and with that they followed them in.

Entering, they saw the two Sannin standing on the right side of Naruto's bed and both of their senseis were standing on his left. All the adults had a protective and worried expression on their faces, it was something they never saw before and were surprised by the intensity.

The toad sage ruffled the blond's hair, laughing at whatever he had said. Naruto smiled up at him, but looking closely, they could see it did not reach his eyes. Sakura and Sasuke walked in completely and came to stand at the foot of the bed.

"How are you, Naruto?" asked Sakura. She and the blue clad ninja next to her quickly took in his state. He was covered in bandages, his arms wrapped up as well his shoulders and they could see them disappear down his chest from under his black shirt.

The blanket was pulled up to his hips, but they knew his legs would be covered with bandages too and one was wrapped around his forehead, making his messy blond hair stick out in odd angles. Sakura would have giggled at that if the situation wasn't so serious.

Naruto smiled at them; again it did not reach his eyes. They stayed dull and empty. "I'm fine. Thanks to Tsunade baa-chan."

The blond haired Hokage growled playfully at the name, but didn't rebuke him. Sakura gave a small giggle at that, only Naruto would get away with calling their leader an old lady and grandma. Sasuke watched them, his lips quirking up a little.

"They'll ask, Kit. Are you going to tell them?" Kurama's voice rang through his head.

"I don't know… I told baa-chan I'll try. They deserve to know…I guess," said Naruto hesitantly. He watched as his teammates squirmed under his gaze and wondered when and how they'll ask.

"Maybe I should start. At this rate we'll be here all day." The minutes ticked by as both of them still said nothing. The four adults stood silently watching them.

"Very wise, Kit," grunted out Kurama. He could feel the fox roll his eyes, a small trace of sarcasm in his voice. Naruto smiled inwardly at that.

"Listen—" Naruto started, but was cut off by Sasuke.

"Why didn't you tell us it was your birthday?"

"The Uchiha is blunt," snorted the demon.

Naruto looked at him, blue eyes emotionless, "I thought you wouldn't care."

They knew this was going to be the answer, but they still couldn't believe Naruto would believe that.

"Of course we care, Naruto. You're our teammate and friend," said Sakura.

Naruto tilted his head a little, his usually warm, bright blue eyes, now cold and icy. It was a look they didn't usually see, especially not directed at them and he spoke in a cold demanding voice. "If you really did care then why haven't you asked me before? You say you're my friends, my teammates, but how much do you really know about me to prove that?"

Sasuke and Sakura didn't know how to answer that, their excuses were weak, really weak. They just never thought to ask him, expecting the blond to pronounce it himself. But they realised now, how could he when he thought they didn't want to know.

The adults looked at the three youngest solemnly. Iruka placed a comforting hand on the blond's shoulder. Naruto tensed at the contact, but soon relaxed, still keeping his cold gaze.

"You both knew me since the academy; there were plenty of times you could have asked me then. Then we got put into the same team, we trained and went on missions together. There was every chance you could have asked me, you could have tried to get to know me, understand why I'm treated so badly, but you didn't." His words cut through them like daggers, "Why ask now? Why ask when I'm nearly beaten to death? Why care now?"

Sasuke and Sakura felt the guilt overwhelm them, Naruto was right; they couldn't believe they've been so blind to their friend. They were supposed to be loyal and trustworthy comrades, but they haven't been so to Naruto.

All the other rookie teams knew everything they could to know about each other, they've even been over to each other's houses. Everyone knew where Sasuke lived, yet he never thought to invite his teammates, especially Naruto who was lonely as he was.

People knew where Sakura lived, she invited friends over, tried many times to have Sasuke walk her home or have him over. But she realised she never asked Naruto once to come over. Come to think of it no one knew where Naruto lived. They really didn't know a lot about him, but they were going to change that.

"Dob– Naruto," Sasuke quickly amended, "you're right. We never tried, we never asked, we never thought why we didn't and I know that's where we went wrong. But believe it or not we do care about you. We want to know now, even if it has been a long time or if it's too late, we still want our teammate and we still want to know you. Isn't it worth meeting us half way than not at all?"

Naruto looked at him, searching if what he said wasn't true. But all he could see was concern, remorse and guilt.

"We haven't been the best of teammates…or the best of friends, it took us to see you hurt like this to realise how unfair we've been to you. But, Naruto," Sakura looked at him, her green eyes shining with tears, expressing her guilt and concern. But her voice turning strong and firm as she looked at her friend, "we really want to change that."

Naruto stared at his teammates for a few minutes, watching them as they watched him. He could see they were being honest and he could feel their guilt from where he sat. Should he tell them? Could he trust them? They were still his teammates, two of the few precious people he had. Even though they have been real jerks towards him, they had always been by his side and they needed to know the truth about him.

The older shinobis waited, lingering their gazes on Naruto as he mulled over what decision he wanted to make and they all looked relieved when he turned to look at them and they could clearly see he was going to tell them and was seeking out their permission. They all nodded their approval and smiled encouragingly –well in Kakashi case, he gave his one eyed smile– and silently gave him their support.

Naruto looked down and sighed. He didn't know if this was a good idea, but it'll prove to him if Sasuke and Sakura were still willing to be his friends after this. He hoped with all his heart that they would.

"You both know about the Nine-tailed fox, Kyuubi who attacked Konoha twelve years ago right?"

Startled at the abrupt change of subject, Sasuke and Sakura nonetheless nodded, knowing the story about the demon attack.

"Yes the Fourth Hokage killed the Kyuubi after it nearly destroyed the whole village, sacrificing himself," said Sakura, remembering her parents telling her the story as well as learning it in the Academy.

"What does the Kyuubi attack got to do with—" Sasuke started to ask, but was cut off by Naruto.

"I'm getting to that…what you know is only half true, the Yondaime did sacrifice himself, but he didn't kill the Nine-tailed fox."

Sakura opened her mouth to argue, but Naruto growled out, "you can't kill a demon, baka. Not someone like Kur- the Kyuubi who is basically made out of chakra." He felt Kurama's smugness and suppressed the urged to roll his eyes. "He is immortal; the best thing that could be done was to seal him. The Fourth sacrificed himself by using a dangerous sealing jutsu that needed a new born baby to work."

"But why a baby?" asked Sakura, not being able to keep her curiosity at bay. Naruto glared at her, really, was she trying to make this harder for him. Jiraiya and Iruka each placed a hand on Naruto's shoulder, silently encouraging and supporting him to continue.

Naruto sighed, "a new born baby has undeveloped chakra coils. This makes it a lot easier for the demon chakra to merge with the baby's and that's what the Fourth did. He sealed the greatest of all the Tailed beasts into a child."

Sakura and Sasuke were still confused, what does that have to do with Naruto? They stared at the scene in front of them. Naruto's blue crystal eyes hadn't faltered away from them; they were fixed on their faces, taking in every detail, as if he wasn't ever going to see them again.

Their two senseis had not once spared them a glance, keeping their gaze only on the injured boy beside them. They stood close to him, Iruka-sensei's hand resting securely on their teammate's shoulder, nothing but affection, concern and pride showing. Kakashi visible eye held remorse, concern and protectiveness; the emotions were so profound and clear. It was hard to believe that a man, who felt so indifferent about everything, could hold so much emotion behind it.

The toad sage stood tensely next to Naruto, but the grip on the young boy's shoulder was relaxed and comforting. Jiraiya stared at them with such ferocity, daring them to do or say anything that could hurt the boy. There was a hint of sadness there that was hard to miss if they weren't looking closely.

The boy reminded him so much of his previous student, Minato, who was like a son to him and he thought of Naruto as his grandson, his magomusuko and he wasn't going to allow anyone to hurt him anymore.

Tsunade critically kept her eyes on Naruto, watching every wince, grimace, sign of pain and twitch. He wouldn't let it show, but her experiences and skill didn't allow him to hide it from the Slug Princess. She wanted to take all his pain away, to wipe out every pain and hurt he every felt and to hold him in her arm and keep him safe.

If the Stoic idiot and bubble-gum head dared turn away from him now, she wouldn't hesitate to drive them into the ground for breaking her little otouto.

The two genin watched the emotion strike through the adults' faces. They had never seem them show this much emotion before. It confirmed their suspicion that whatever Naruto was going to say was important and the adults were gearing up for it.

"What does this have to do with you, Naruto?" asked Sasuke again, he couldn't help the hesitation in his voice from showing.

Naruto stared at them a little longer, "unfortunately it has a lot to do with me. The reason why the villagers treat me like trash, the reason why no one of our age knows my birthday is because… is because…" the hands on his shoulder tightened and the four strong chakras around him intensified, comforting him, encouraging him, supporting him.

He kept his gaze on his teammates, "I am the child that the Kyuubi was sealed in to."

What they were expecting to hear wasn't that. Sasuke and Sakura both stiffened and looked at Naruto with wide eyes, shock clearly itched onto both of their faces.

Jiraiya, Tsunade, Kakashi and Iruka closed in around the blond boy, standing protectively over him, waiting for their reaction.

"The Kyuubi is sealed…inside you?" Sakura's voice was thick and unsteady.

Naruto nodded, he would have showed them his seal, but his abdomen was covered in bandages and he didn't want Baa-chan to get mad or fuss over him. He could see the shock evident on their faces, but what would they do now? Would they fear him too? Hate him? A shiver went through him and he resisted the urge to let his tears fall as he watched them, waiting.

It all started to make sense, the large amount of chakra he had, the unlimited amount of Kage Bunshin he could create, all the cruel stares, glares and whispers. The villager's treatment to their friend. How could they have been so blind? How could they have not seen it? How many time had Sasuke and Sakura walked with him in the village and not once had they noticed the silence and stiffness of their teammate, how he walked just a few paces behind them, how he had looked straight ahead and nowhere else.

All those bruises, all those cuts, all those injuries he couldn't hide, they had always thought he had gotten them while training. They did not question it…why didn't they? Why didn't they question it?

Both of them were known for being smart, observant and Sasuke, keen to his surroundings, but they had missed this, how could they have missed this?

Suddenly they were disgusted with themselves, what kind of comrades were they? Naruto had yearned for their friendship, for their support and they had turned a blind eye on him, not intentionally, but still it was enough to make them feel guilty and disgusted with themselves that they had. He was there for them, but they weren't for him.

But that would change. That will change. Determination and anger set on to both of their features, they will show Naruto that he was wrong and they did care. The Kyuubi may be sealed in him, but Naruto was nowhere near a demon.

"Just remember Uzumaki Naruto IS Uzumaki Naruto, the number one unpredictable ninja of Konoha."

Their Hokage's words reverted in their minds. She was right and they took those words to heart. Naruto will always be their friend and comrade, a loyal ninja to Konoha and a sealed demon was not going to change that. But Kami help anyone who would dare touch and hurt their friend again now.

Naruto saw the emotion run through his teammates' eyes, from confused and shocked to disgust and anger. His shoulder shagged a little and his eyes darkened with sadness. Those expressions only meant one thing, they did not accept him. Like everyone else who looked at him with anger and disgust they did not accept him and neither did his teammates. That…hurt.

"Don't be quick to judge, Kit," advised Kurama.

But Naruto ignored him, only tightening his hold on the bed sheets and finally looked down again. He didn't want to see their anger, it would only hurt more.

"I understand if you don't want to be near me anymore or have me as a teammate. I will understand and bear your hatred for me. I've…I've gotten used to it. But please don't tell the other Rookie Nine and Gai's team."

He expected them to leave, to shout at him, to disown him as a teammate, but only silence met him and he did not dare look up.

But when two shadows spread across in front of him, he recognised whose they were and that they were standing on either side of him. The hands on his shoulders vanished and he tensed, were they going to attack him? Just like the villagers.

Naruto shuffled back, trying to get away from them, but his back hit the headboard behind him and stopped his movements.

He was trapped. He hated that.

Sasuke and Sakura both inched closer to him and they saw him flinch away from them. They both looked up at their senseis and Kakashi and Iruka nodded at them with relieved smiles, a hint of sadness still in their eyes as they watched their youngest student.

The look on Narutos face made their heart ache. How many times had he been rejected before? Did this happen so often that Naruto expected them to reject him too?

Naruto started to tremble as he tried to get away from them. Not being able to stand anymore of this, Sakura lunged at Naruto and embraced him tightly followed closely by Sasuke.

Naruto gave out a startled cry and stiffened like a board in their hold. It only made them hug him more securely and tightly, willing him to calm down.

"Naruto, you Dob-" flashes of Naruto passed through his mind, the hurt and angry looks on his face whenever he called him names. His face scrunched up in guilt and he buried it into Naruto's shoulder. "I'm so sorry."

"Why?" came the timid and bewildered question, Naruto's body still stiff within his comrades' arms.

"For not seeing it sooner, for ignoring you and thinking you were not worth my time. You are my teammate, my comrade and most importantly you are my best friend, Naruto. I know there is no excuse to the way I treated you, I never realised just how alike we are and I was too blind to see it. I'm sorry, Naruto for everything."

"I'm sorry too, Naruto," cried Sakura earnestly, "I've been so mean and ungrateful to you, always pushing you aside and ignoring you. I'm sorry for always calling you a baka when clearly I am the biggest baka here." Her voice was thick with emotion and she rubbed her hand behind the blonde's stiff back, trying to help him relax. "You might not believe this, but we don't care about the Kyuubi, Naruto. It doesn't change who you really are."

"You are Uzumaki Naruto, Konoha number one unpredictable ninja. A demon jailer, you protect this village everyday by keeping the Kyuubi sealed within you and they are too blind to see that," added Sasuke, his voice rang strong and clear. He wanted his blond haired friend to believe what they were saying. "You're Naruto Uzumaki, the person I look to as a brother."

"Yes, our little otouto," concluded Sakura, a teary smile on her face as her hand came up to run her hand through his spikey hair.

Naruto sat within their embrace, completely still and silence as he listened to them, letting their words sink into him. He felt the concern, guilt, happiness and affection radiate around them and he daren't believe it. It felt the same when Baa-chan embraced him and he could feel the love flow from her, but did he dare believe his friends felt the same.

Tears fell down his cheeks as he bit his lower lip. Naruto squeezed them tightly and returned Sasuke and Sakura's hug.

He buried his head into their shoulders, did he dare believe them and should he trust them enough to truly open his heart to them. Will they turn their backs on him sooner or later? His mind ran wild with these thoughts, and he dug himself further into their embrace, shaking uncontrollably.

Sensing something wrong with their friend, Sasuke and Sakura pulled away a little to look at him, but Naruto gripped them tightly, refusing to let them go.

"Please don't," a broken whimper came out from between them and the two concerned Genins looked at each other over their teammate head.


Naruto only shook his head again, "please don't do this to me. Please don't say you lo— say that word to me and then turn away," he sobbed, clutching them tighter. "Please don't leave me."

Both older Genins felt saddened and hugged him closer. What made him think they'll leave him? Why was he so scared of having someone love him?

"We will never leave you, Naruto. We're a team, I know we never acted like one, but we always were and I promise, Naruto from henceforth we will always stay together," said Sasuke with determination in his voice, this time rubbing circles behind Naruto's back in a comforting manner as Sakura continued to run her hand through his hair.

"Like a family. We will forever be by your side, either helping you, eating ramen with you or keeping you out of trouble," Naruto snorted at that and a small smile crept onto his face.

This made them chuckle and the adults to grin, "And being there for you whenever you need us. We're all a family and I'm sorry we never realised that sooner," said Sakura softly.

"We're family?" with red puffy eyes Naruto released them and looked at them. His expression like a child asking for reassurance, blue eyes shining with tears still running down his cheeks. Sakura and Sasuke both nodded with bright smiles on their faces, nothing but the truth shining in their eyes.

The older Shinobis smiled down at the three children, glad they had finally opened their hearts and shown the affection each other deserved and needed.

Tsunade let a few silent tears run down her cheeks before quickly whipping them away as Jiraiya, Iruka and Kakashi held fond and proud smiles on their faces.

"Finally," thought Kakashi as he walked up to them and placed a hand on the blonde's head. "We are one big happy family," he gave them his one eyed smile and Naruto smiled widely up at him, feeling suddenly warm inside.

"One big happy family," a mischief grin spread across his face and he happily exclaimed, "Then that makes you our uncle, Kakashi-sensei," Sakura giggled and Sasuke smirked at Kakashi surprised expression, "and Iruka-sensei is our auntie," continued Naruto.

Iruka, who was resisting the urge to laugh at Kakashi, blushed tenfold upon hearing what Naruto said and scowled at the blond boy playfully.

"What? No, I want to be the uncle too."

"But, Iruka-sensei you act to motherly to be an uncle," said Naruto innocently, his eyes glimmering brightly, that dullness finally fading. Iruka huffed and crossed his arms with a pout, Naruto laughed, "okay, fine you're our uncle too."

"Thank you," Iruka sighed in relief and grinned.

The two Sannins were laughing and grinning at the ninja's antics, but both quickly became silent when Naruto turned to them.

"And you two are the grandparents."

"WHAT?" both Sannin yelled.

"Well you're both old," said Naruto, flashing a grin as his team tried to stifle their laughter.

"What did you say, you little punk," growled Tsunade as she tried to cuff him on the head, but Jiraiya held her back with a grin.

"Down girl, we're part of the family and beside you're married to this handsome hunk and you're a hot grandma." Tsunade eyes twitched at being called old again and she redirected her wrath to her teammate, punching him and sending him flying into the wall.

"Ero-baka," she shouted at him.

Naruto was laughing hard, his arms wrapped around his stomach, it hurt to laugh, but it felt so good. The relief was so great it was making it hard for him to breathe, but he embraced the feeling. He hadn't felt this content in such a long time. He wrapped his arms around his teammates' shoulders and smirked mischievously.

"And Sakura's the mummy and Sasuke is the daddy, which makes me the cute kid," Sakura blushed and laughed. Sasuke hit Naruto over the head lightly, a faint blush appearing on his cheeks too, his lips curving up a little.

"We'll stick to brothers," insisted Sasuke and Naruto grinned at him.

"And I'll stick to sister," said Sakura and she ruffled his blond hair, smiling at him.

"My family," the blond thought happily. He felt warm and safe around his precious people.

Both his senseis looked at them with warm and proud smiles and the two Sannins were teasing each other mercilessly, frequently looking at him with grins. He could feel Kurama smugness at being right and his warmth radiate throughout his body, like having his many fluffy tails wrapped around him and it all felt right.

Yes, definitely safe and warm... finally.

It didn't take too long for Naruto to be back on his feet and practically running out of the hospital in the mid afternoon. Tsunade made some final checks, leaving the bandages on his chest and arms to protect the wounds still there. But she suspected help from the Kyuubi would quickly heal them and he would be completely recovered by tomorrow.

"Naruto, slow down," called Sakura as he ran widely around ahead of them, breathing in the fresh air.

"I can't help it, Sakura. I hate hospitals," Naruto shouted back happily, twisting around to look at them before speeding off again.

Sakura giggled and Sasuke walking beside her, a small frown on his lips, "I would too if I had been in there as much as he has."

Sakura quietened down and looked at him solemnly, nodding, before turning her gaze back to her blond friend. Naruto had disappeared from their sights, obviously heading towards the training fields where they always met up.

Tsunade-sama had told him to rest and not to use any chakra for the day, afraid he would open up his wounds before they could properly heal. Naruto had nodded absentmindedly and spread off at the first chance he got. He really wanted to start training again, being in the hospital nearly all day made him feel too lazy.

They decided to spend some time at the training field before heading to Ichiraku for ramen. Sasuke and Sakura were both going to hold to their word and spend every bit of time they had together as a team, like they should have.

Sasuke and Sakura walked calmly, enjoying the warm weather and watching as people finished up for the festival.

A thought crossed Sakura's mind and she couldn't help giggle inwardly about it. Their current situation made an interesting picture pop up in her mind and she blushed as she thought about it.

Quite a silly thought, but enjoyable nonetheless. She pictured a young child running ahead happily under the watchful eyes of a mother and father, who were enjoying their leisured walk, hand in hand. But she pictures herself as the mother and Sasuke as the father with their child and the blushed blossomed again.

Sasuke watched her from the corner of his eyes and grinned as she blushed to whatever she was daydreaming about this time. If he had to guess it would probably be about them, undoubtedly. But he had to admit the blush looked cute on her.

"Come on, Sakura. Let's hurry up before the Dobe gets into any more trouble." Sakura snapped out of her thoughts and nodded with a smile. Both of them broke into a run to catch up to their third teammate.

Nearing the training ground, Naruto slowed down into a walk. His chest started to ache a little and he brought his hand up to touch the bandages wrapped around him and smiled. He felt the warmth take over him again and he leaned against a tree, closing his eyes and relishing in the feeling.

"This feel nice," he thought.

"Glad you're doing better kit, but you have company," growled out Kurama.

Naruto eyes snapped open and he straightened up as he saw a few of the villagers who attacked him. One pointed in his direction, and then all of the men looked his way. The same glares, the same haunting grins and sneers.

Cold fear quickly took over the warmth in him as he watched them make their way towards him. He wanted to run, but his legs wouldn't move. His fear stuck his legs to the ground and flashbacks of their attack circulated in his mind mercilessly.

"Look here," sneered one of the men as they surround him, "the demon returned for more."

Naruto tried to get a hold of himself, he would not show weakness, not in front of these men. He didn't then and he wouldn't now. "I am not a demon," said Naruto steadily, showing no fear in his voice, "I am Uzumaki Naruto."

"You're a no good scum, nothing but a filthy freak," shouted another man. Naruto glared at him, his words stung and similar words reverberated through his mind. They started to crowd him and he knew what was coming.

"You are all alone, beast. No one wants to be around you, nobody cares about you and nobody will ever want you, demon."

Naruto held his tears back, they welled up in his eyes but he wouldn't let them fall. He remembered the taunting and the beating and it was getting too much.

"No one loves you, you monster," and they all jeered.

That was not true. He was loved. He knew that now. They could say whatever they wanted and he will always know that his precious people loved him.

He remembered Baa-chan teary smile, Kakashi and Iruka encouraging grins, Jiraiya ruffling his hair affectionately and the joy and happiness that shone in Sakura and Sasuke eyes when everything was finally out in the open. It ruled over his fears and pushed it away. The warmth he so enjoyed replaced the fear and once again engulfed him.

He suddenly looked back at them with renewed strength and determination. He wasn't going to let them play around with him anymore. "I am NOT alone. I have a family that loves and cares about me and nothing you'll say or do will ever change that. You are all the monsters and you are all the beasts" He said in a strong voice. He glared at each and every one of them angrily.

This apparently didn't sit well with the group of men and one swiftly landed a punch to his stomach. Pain burst around his abdomen and traveled to his chest as he doubled over and clutched his stomach.

Paralyzed in one place and trapped against the tree, Naruto could do nothing when one of them grabbed him by the front of his collar and slammed him up against the tree, holding him in place.

"Don't know who spouted such nonsense to you, demon. You're not worth much to anyone here. The only thing you're good for is being lied to and used." The fist holding him tightened, causing his collar to close in around his neck and constricted his airway.

Naruto's eyes watered and he coughed trying to say something. He cursed them mentally when a few tears escaped down his cheeks. He wanted to use his chakra and put them in their place, but he remembered Baa-chan telling him not to and he didn't really want his wounds to reopen.

"You have no family here, brat."

"Yes he does," said a voice from behind them. Two killer intents –one larger than the other– radiated throughout the field. They all turned their heads to see Sasuke and Sakura glaring murderously at them.

Seeing Naruto held up against the tree, his arms wrapped around his chest, pain in his blue eyes and more tears threatening to leak down his cheeks did nothing, absolutely zilch to stop their chakra from flowing widely out and killer intent from creeping up the men's spine, causing them to shiver in fear.

Sasuke's black eyes glistened and sparked with fury as he directed a murderous glare at them all. His chakra spiked dangerously as he spoke in a strong threatening tone, "put him down."

The man grimaced fretfully; he couldn't say anything to the Uchiha, not when the boy's glare and chakra held him in place with such fear. He dropped Naruto, letting him fall heavily onto the ground.

A gasp escaped his lips, but that was all he was willing to let out. The man smirked nastily down at him as he moved away, which didn't go unnoticed by the two now protective teammates.

"Why are you helping this freak? He's nothing but a waste of space," said the man angrily as the villagers concurred with him.

Naruto flinched slightly and Sasuke's chakra spiked dangerously as he let out a growl.

Sakura did not look any better, she wanted to both run to Naruto to make sure he was okay and to cut those idiots' throats out.

"The only waste of space I see here are all of you," Sasuke said coldly, "Naruto has done nothing to you. He's a much better person then the lot of you put together and if he wanted to, he could beat you into a pulp any time."

"Don't you ever touch him or come near him again," shouted Sakura threateningly as she took out a kunai from her pouch.

"You watch, we'll tell the Hokage about this," one of the villagers shouted.

"Oh please do, I'd like to see that," came a lazy voice from above them. Kakashi jumped down from another tree nearby and closed his one eye in a pleasant manner, though his posture was anything but welcoming.

"Kakashi-sensei," said his three students with relief. Naruto really didn't want his friends getting into trouble.

"Hey don't forget about me," Jiraiya poofed in from a burst of clouds next to Kakashi, sitting on one of his summoned toad friends and grinned at them all.

"Ero-sennin," smiled Naruto as he slowly tried to get up, but doubled over when the pain shot through his chest, "Ow."

Two more killer intent joined Sasuke and Sakura's as they glared at the villagers. Half of them were snickering at the blond boy as they watched him try to straighten up. But they stopped when hearing a growl and grinding of steel from the two older ninjas. Kakashi had taken out his own kunais.

"Be my guest, why don't we tell the Hokage that you beat up one of her priced ninjas and broke the Third's law," glared Jiraiya.

Most of them gulped in nervousness as the others looked uncertainly at each other. The kids they could deal with they thought, but looking at the two older, more experienced, completely famous and well known for their skills shinobis they definitely did not stand a chance.

Being glared at by four ninjas who could easily kill them, they had no other choice and flied from the training ground and back into the streets of the village.

When the villagers were out of sight and there were no more threats, Sasuke and Sakura made a mad dash to Naruto who was standing silently, a hand rubbing his bandaged chest.

"Are you okay, Naruto? Here let me see," said Sakura, her voice brimming with concern. She made to check his bandages, but Naruto stopped her.

"It's okay, Sakura-chan. I'm fine," Naruto looked at her with a smile, nothing but happiness and gratitude showing on his face.

"Come on, Dobe, let us have a look, your fine is anything but," stated Sasuke sternly, but his voice was light and easy. Not at all like his snide or rude remark of the word Dobe he usually used.

Kakashi and Jiraiya came to stand by them, the toad disappearing after a nod from his summoner and they looked at their student in concern.

"You sure you're okay, Gaki?" asked Jiraiya.

Naruto smiled at all of them and nodded, "yeah I am now." He grinned at Jiraiya, "so I'm one of Baa-chan's priced ninjas."

The Toad Sannin laughed, he brought his hand up to ruffle the blonde's hair affectionately, "you wish, Kid," and he winked at him.

"What should we do about those temes?" asked Sasuke, referring to the villagers.

"Oh don't worry about them," said Kakashi-sensei pleasantly, "I'll make sure they'll get what's coming to them."

Sasuke and Sakura nodded, trusting their sensei as Jiraiya gave a wicked grin of his own. Naruto smiled at all of them. Glad to have people who were finally looking out for him, it was a new and welcoming feeling.

"Hey, Naruto, lets skip training for today and go get some ramen. I haven't eaten anything since breakfast," said Sakura with a smile.

"Aww but, Sakura-chan, I wanted to do some training. I haven't done anything productive all day."

Sakura looked at him sternly, "we can all train tomorrow together, for now you need to eat something. I doubt you had anything to eat either."

Naruto smiled a little sheepishly at her, but he still looked ready to resist.

Sasuke opened his mouth to agree with Naruto, but Sakura, being Sakura already knew what the love of her life was going to say and for the first time directed a deadly glare at him.

"Don't you start, Sasuke-kun. It's past lunch time and none of us have had anything to eat, so were going to Ichiraku," Sakura said firmly, holding her kunai threateningly at the blue clad ninja.

Sasuke didn't flinch but wisely agreed with her with a half-hearted 'hn'.

Naruto and Jiraiya were grinning at the two of them, while Kakashi just shook his head. "Come on then. Ramen's on me."

"Yeah sure, I'm still bringing my wallet," said Naruto instantly, not trusting his sensei to actually pay for their meal, especially as he knew how much Naruto ate.

They all laughed at the face the Copy-cat Nin made, "no need for that. It is your birthday, Naruto; it'll be my gift to you, an all paid ramen meal… for a day," he added quickly.

Naruto's eyes brightened up immediately, "really?"

Kakashi nodded and Naruto gave a whoop of joy.

"Oh we have to go to the bakery. We need to get a birthday cake for you Naruto," said Sakura excitedly, "what flavour would you like?"

Naruto looked at her apprehensively, "um I don't know. I never had a cake before on my birthday. What flavour do you usually get?"

Sakura looked at him slightly shocked and Sasuke had an angry look on his face.

"You never had a birthday cake before?" asked Sasuke.

Naruto shrugged, "No, but it's not a big deal. I always save something sweet to have a day or two before the festival. I have a piece of chocolate or candy that I managed to save," he admitted bashfully.

Kakashi, Sasuke, Sakura and Jiraiya were saddened by that piece of information. Naruto never had a birthday cake before? Birthday cakes were one of the best things about celebrating a birthday and Naruto missed out on every one of his. Well that was going to change today.

"Well before going to Ichiraku, we'll stop by the Bakery and you can choose any cake you want Naruto," said Jiraiya, smiling down at his student who smiled excitedly at the prospect of eating a cake for his birthday. "My gift to you."

"Really Ero-sennin? Any cake I want?" asked Naruto, bouncing on his feet.

"Sure, why not," the Toad Sannin grinned.

"Yosh, let's go," he pulled on Sasuke and Kakashi arm and started dragging them towards the village, "can we take it to Ichiraku and have it there. We can give some to the old man and Ayumi-nee-chan. Oh and we need to invite Baa-chan, Shizune-nee-chan and Iruka-sensei too."

They all smiled and nodded and with that they all headed to the Bakery. As they walked into the village, bantering and talking together, Naruto who walked between them all with Sakura holding onto this arm protectively and Jiraiya doing the same by draping his arm over his shoulders, finally felt safe and content and loved as they made their way through the village.

This was the best birthday he ever had.

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