Cared For

Megan Pendleton

a.k.a. Jedi Honor Bound Ninja
a.k.a. Tellywrs

Author's Note: Okay I absolutely had to get the friggin' Fluff Bunnies outta my head because they were making it hard to focus on The Strength of the Wolf. I'm glad to say that the rabid plot bunnies have not changed much since my hiatus from and they are as random and annoying as always…. Please enjoy a sick-Naruto, fluffy like moment. I just had to get it outta my system.

There was only a few times that Uzumaki Naruto wished, just for a little while, he had a family. The most usual time it was his birthday. He would normally spend that day ducking through streets and alleys or hiding in his lonely apartment. It would have been nice to have someone to come home to and wish him a happy birthday.

To be glad he had been born.

Then there were the times he accomplished things. Like graduation, preparing for the Chuunin exams, or learning the Rasengan. Every so often he would wistfully think how nice it would be to share those tales of Team 7 or show what he had learned to someone intent on listening to him for once.

To have them be proud of him.

When it was the worst was those few times he got sick. It was a rare occurrence, probably because of the fox, but he could remember a few times when he was younger catching a cold or two and how miserable it was. That craving, that need, was most intense when he was sick.

Still these things were few and far between and Naruto had long since mastered the art of ignoring ones desires. He tricked himself into that goofy role he had played for so long that just having a few days out of the year when he felt like he was adrift was acceptable. It was how he coped.

When it became clear that the Third was really dead, that had set him upon a dark path as well, but it had lasted a whole day merely because Jiraiya had promptly taken him out to find the Fifth. He had been properly occupied enough to not think about it. He hadn't been in Konoha to be reminded, like Konohamaru, about the loss.

Once the pervert and he had brought back Tsunade things began to right themselves. Kakashi and Sasuke had been returned to normal and they had started training again. It was good to be back to the same old routine, even if Sasuke was still acting out of sorts. Both he and Sakura were certain it was because of encountering his exiled brother, Itachi. Sasuke would be fine once he had time to forget the whole thing, Naruto was certain of it.

Everything was as it should be.

Today as they waited on the bridge for Kakashi to puff up with some lame excuse for his tardiness, Naruto felt off. Still he was willing to blame it on the recent trip with Jiraiya. Kabuto did a number on him and despite Tsunade claiming he was mended; it was possible he just wasn't at one hundred percent yet.

Kakashi set them to their training, taking Sakura with himself and pitting Sasuke and Naruto against each other. He hadn't mentioned what had happened to anyone save for who knew about what had happened with Jiraiya. Yet no matter how much Sasuke teased and prodded at him he just couldn't seem to drag out the energy to do better.

"What's gotten into you, dobe?" Sasuke growled at him. His sharingan eyes dug holes into him as the Uchiha dared him to come full out.

He smirked evilly. "Aww come on Sasuke, I gotta go easy on you. You just got out of the hospital remember?"

Sasuke snorted and was flying at him, insulted by the remark. Naruto blocked and dodged but he couldn't seem to catch up to Sasuke enough to land a hit of his own. The soreness flared at the activity, but he pushed it away, happy to be back to training. His muscles would get used to it again.

Jiraiya hadn't been the most physical of teachers as it was. Naruto was just out of shape.

The day ended well enough. Kakashi finally released them all and puffed away with little fanfare. Sakura began to swoon over Sasuke, making sure he didn't overdo himself and the like. Naruto wasn't even that disappointed when she turned him down in his advances. It was a sign that things were back to normal.

The closer he got to home, however, that didn't seem to be the case. That soreness from earlier had intensified and he couldn't stop trying to clear his throat. It was like dust had gotten down there and it didn't want to get out.

He ducked into the ramen stand. He figured that's what he needed was something to eat.

"Hey old man! Two of the usual!" he cried out to Techui and was greeted by his daughter Ayame.

"Are they keeping you busy Naruto? We haven't seen you in a while."

"Oh yah, you bet!" he flashed his grin at her. "Just got back to training to."

"Well don't work too hard Naruto-kun." Ayame smiled at him as she set a bowl in front of him. "Don't want to overdo it."

"Nah it'll be fine." Naruto dug in. "Nothing I can't handle"

He paid and left, after just the two bowls. A ghost of a frown crossed Ayame's face but before she could ask he took off. Naruto couldn't quite shake the sore, achy feeling he had since that afternoon. It actually was getting worse. Food didn't help so there was only one other thing to do.

Go home and go to bed.

He was going to wake up early the next day and get back to his normal routine. All that time gallivanting around with the pervert set him back. A day's training shouldn't have made him sore like it had.

Naruto made it back to his apartment and threw off his shoes and jacket. Something about the dead silence that greeted him was comforting and he flopped himself on his bed. He'd feel better tomorrow.

Sadly that was not the case.

Naruto woke up hazily to the sound of his alarm clock. It sounded distant and fuzzy and it was going off much too soon, he was still exhausted. Hadn't he just fallen asleep a few moments ago?

He stared blankly up at his ceiling tiles and it took him a few blinks to realize that the haze wasn't going to clear. He reached out and punched the alarm clock off. His head was pounding from the sound of it. On top of that he was stiff and achy all over. Training should not have made him this stiff and sore.

"Great, just great" he thought angrily. "Sasuke's really gonna grate me for being slow."

He sat up and rubbed at his eyes a bit more to see if he could get things to look right. His surroundings did get a bit clearer but he still felt off. As he stood, he took notice of the slight imbalance he felt as he did.

"Water" His brain demanded, he wasn't quite sure why. The thought of food made his stomach flop oddly so he decided against that and just dug out the largest glass he had. He filled it and downed it a few times then tried to go about getting ready for the day. He went to the bathroom, changed his clothes but as he did so he realized he wasn't going to get too far....the dizziness intensified the more he moved.

Naruto threw off the jacket he had just put on…it was too warm anyway, took off his headband and proceeded to land rather heavily back in his bed. As he sprawled out he sighed, once more looking at the ceiling tiles feeling worthless and exhausted. Maybe he had just pushed himself too fast. Tsunade had yelled at him quite a long time about how he almost died and he shouldn't have been so reckless after he had woken in the hotel room.

Why do I hurt all over instead of just in my chest? The thought struck him as he pondered his current discomfort and couldn't answer it at any rate.

I should have brought the glass of water with me when I came back over here. And yet his body protested the amount of movement it would take to go back and do such a thing so he refused and instead drifted back to sleep.

"Kill it! Kill the demon!"

"Don't let it get away this time!"

"It will destroy us all if we let it go any longer."

Naruto flew down familiar pathways and streets he knew like the back of his hand. He was trying hard to ignore the calls of the mob chasing him relentlessly with sticks and stones. He felt a few pelts in the head and it throbbed in response.

He darted and ducked where he could and yet for some reason he could not find his way back home. He'd been these ways so many times it was ingrained into his subconscious, but every detour he took that should have ended at the apartment complex he lived in, he found himself in dead ends.

Naruto growled in frustration as he came to another such dead end and moved to back track. As he turned to dart down a side street he found himself face to face with the mob.

"How did they catch up that fast?" Naruto panicked. They had been behind him the last he had looked, way behind him. Now they were breathing right down his neck.

Most of them were villagers; smirking viciously at the prospect of getting their well-earned revenge against the creature that had taken their family members and loved ones. Some were ninja, no longer bound by the rule of the 3rd Hokage; they too wanted to have a little fun with the demon brat they had to baby-sit for years.

Their approach was slow at first. He watched in a kind of slow terror as they inched forward to see how he would react to the threat. He was after all a Genin now, he could, if he really wanted to, hurt them. Once they decided they had Naruto really pinned in the corner, they rushed forward; fists, feet, and weapons swinging. His body cried out at the touch and he struggled to fight through them and get away.

He was absolutely trapped though. He felt tangled and suffocated. He couldn't even defend himself from the onslaught. As much as he struggled he could not get away.

They were really going to kill him this time!

There was no one to stop them so why not? Was this really how he was going to die?

He felt a sharp pain shoot through his arm. He shot up like a rocket in a cold sweat, panting heavily in his darkened apartment. His blanket was tangled all around his legs and his right arm. Naruto shook violently as his dull blue eyes scanned around the darkened apartment looking for the assailants of his dream.

Anxiously, he pulled at the neck of his t-shirt wondering where he had lost his jacket; it was freezing in his room. Where had they all gone? How in the world did he make it here in the first place? Had they left him here to lull him into a sense of security only to jump out at him once he regained consciousness?

"Wait…" his brain began to clear a little as there was little sign anyone else had been here save for himself. "That's right, I went back to sleep. It was a nightmare." Naruto began to calm a little as the realization sunk in. The sun setting outside lit the apartment in a husky light, and told him he had slept most of the day.

As much as he tried he couldn't steady the shaking so Naruto swung his legs over the side of the bed, after he untangled himself, and sat with his head in his hands for a while. The dizziness that had plagued him earlier was still present and he still felt like the villagers were punching and kicking him he ached so much.

Finally he got himself to a standing position and went to his kitchen.

As he turned on his lights, he found the light blue glass he had used earlier still sitting on the counter by the sink. Naruto sighed heavily as he refilled it and began to gulp down the cold liquid. It soothed his throat and helped the dizziness ease slightly. Yet his stomach protested at the pace at which he was drinking and tossed violently.

Naruto slid down the wall beside the sink, glass in hand. "Slower you dobe." He berated himself and he calmly sipped at the remaining water in his glass.

"I hate being sick….hate it, hate it." His mind reiterated time and time again as he stared at the retreating sunlight on his kitchen floor.

Naruto shuddered and the thoughts of his lost jacket came back. He wondered where he had discarded it that morning when he had first woken up and tried to get ready for the day. Looking around the slightly disheveled apartment a flash of orange didn't immediately catch his roving eyes. He ran his shaking free hand through his hair, noting the dampness he felt as he did.

"Shower," he said to no one but himself. "That'll help the ache, make me warm again."

He dragged himself back up and sat the glass right next to the sink where he could find it. Part of his brain thought, perhaps this was not a good idea being as dizzy as he was. His body, however, wanted to feel warmth and this was the fastest way he could think of getting it.

Naruto let the water run for a moment before stripping and getting in. The hot water felt really, really good and he felt his muscles relax a fraction. He let them soak in the water and finally felt the shivering stop. Still his head pounded harshly and he had to get out a few minutes later, the feeling of dizziness intensifying and being accompanied by the sound of blood rushing past his ears in an insistent beat.

He found his discarded sleep clothes and decided that it was probably better to throw those back on; he certainly wasn't going anywhere as it was. Naruto returned to his kitchen and his glass and sat on the floor sipping water staring into nothingness like a zombie.

"I wonder if I could go down to the store and get some aspirin? It might stop this damn pounding in my head. But I'm so dizzy; would I make it there or just get confused?"

Flashes of the nightmare assaulted him again and he decided against that. It was too scary to try to go out, in darkness, and find a store and find his way home feeling like he did.

Still he knew it was just as easy to stay where he was as it would only make him more tired to be getting up and down constantly to refill his glass of water. Naruto covered his mouth and coughed for a few moments. He panted for a bit afterwards and sighed. "Great another problem to deal with." He coughed again and he chased it with a drink of water. "Bad enough my throat is sore, but now it's gonna get worse."

"I wish there was someone here. I could ask them to go get me the aspirin and some other things. No that's stupid, no one is ever here besides me."

Naruto fought the lump in his throat because his line of thinking had taken that depressing turn much sooner than he had predicted. That's why he hated it when he got sick, it made him realize just how alone he really was.

Naruto yawned. Sleep, that's what he had to do, he had to get up and go to bed again. Damn room spinning on him like it was. He wondered idly if there was actually someone he could go to? The 3rd was gone, that was out. Iruka…he was probably busy. He'd taken to keeping a watch over Konohamaru seeing how upset he had been at the funeral for his grandfather Naruto didn't blame him. Kakashi?

Naruto shook his head and laughed for a moment. He hardly saw the Jounin unless they were on missions or training. That was stupid… it was just him as always so he grunted and finally relented to sitting there on the kitchen floor and just relaxing. Technically it was resting right? He wasn't moving or nothing, so he was at rest.

Yeah, that sounded right.


Blood red eyes that peered through golden gates and a dark voice that continued to whisper harsh words in his ears.

Repay them their kindness.

Show them why they call you 'demon'.

Rows and rows of gleaming white teeth spread out in a lupine smile. He heard a deep chuckle that reminded him of rumbling thunder.

Let me free. I can repay you for your servitude.

A lick of red leaked from under the gates and came up to his cheek. He felt the warmth of the chakra lap at his skin and he flinched away. Still it continued to nudge at him. It almost felt like fur touching his skin and for a sad moment he wanted to do as the voice told him.

A whine woke Naruto from the hazy vision of the fox and the cage sealed within him. He started at the touch of fur against his skin and he backed away, scared that he actually had freed the fox and now it was going to eat him.

Instead of a red fox he came face to face with a gray dog wearing a leaf headband. He was covered up to the under part of its muzzle in bandages. It cocked its head to the side and whimpered again and nudged his arm with its nose. Naruto was confused at the sight of it; of course this could be another dream….

"Where did you come from?" he mumbled as he rubbed his head. The dog only stood and wagged its tail at him. Once more it nudged his arm with its muzzle and then licked at his cheek. "Go on get outta here; I don't have anything for you."

The dog barked anxiously at him, then turned away and went out of his field of vision. How the hell had a dog gotten in his apartment? Had he left a window open? Was that why he felt so cold now? He coughed harshly and he shuddered. Had to be a window…but why would a stray dog come into an open window?

…this far up

…with a headband and bandages

The dog was back. He sat happily in front of him his tail wagging back and forth and his eyes intent on watching Naruto watching him. The greyhound now had his jacket in his mouth. "Hey, that's mine." He reached out for it at the last second but the dog dodged away from him. It stood on spindly legs just out of his kitchen wagging its tail.

Naruto stood unsteadily and growled a little in frustration. "I'm not in the mood to play with you, give that back! I'm cold."

He took a few tentative steps towards the dog and it stayed put. A few more steps and the dog sat down. Okay maybe the animal just wanted him out of his kitchen. He reached out slowly to take his jacket and once more the animal evaded him, landing quite daintily on his window sill.

Naruto's mouth dropped open. "You wouldn't…" he whispered and the dog wagged its tail eagerly. "Damn it this has got to be another dream."

He edged around to his hallway and into his bathroom. He changed clothes and came back. The dog was sitting on his window, jacket still hanging in his mouth. He inched towards it and the dog leapt, quite like any ninja would, to a level below his apartment. It looked back at him and once more wagged its tail.

Naruto got dizzy just looking down at the animal. He sat back and wondered why this dog was trying to bait him out of his apartment. Suddenly his nightmare flashed in his memory. The villagers!

They were on to him, they knew he was sick!

He moved away from the window and went right to his windowless room. He shut the door behind him and found a corner. He sat and hugged his knees to his chest, and shuddered in response to both his nerves and the cold chills running down his limbs. They knew, how he didn't know, but that could only mean they'd take advantage of it.

He stayed still, he stayed silent, save for the few hacks he couldn't quite suppress. And for a while he was praying no one had seen him. Silence greeted him and he relaxed for a fraction in the room with no windows. It was the safest place he had after all.

Why send a dog?

How had they gotten it into his apartment without him noticing?

Why not just come themselves and get it over with?

It was quiet for quite a long time, or so it seemed. Naruto was starting to consider going back to his kitchen, now that it seemed the threat had passed. When the door opened he panicked. He pulled his legs closer to him and hid his face and tried to stop the shaking that was now racking his body.

The clicks of toenails on the floor told him the dog was in the room now, which was impossible. Dogs couldn't open doors. But there was also a slower, heavier sounding step with the dog's own. So someone had let it in.

He felt cloth brush past his hands and settle at his feet. As he peered through his legs he could see his jacket now laid there, the dog releasing it gently from its mouth at his feet. The animal whimpered and tentatively put its nose out to sniff at him. He stiffened in response and held on tighter to his legs. Maybe if he played stupid, or that he didn't sense them, they'd go away.

The heavier steps got closer to him and stopped just a few steps from him. He could see boots beside the dog's paws and heard yet another whimper. Those were ninja's shoes…not civilian's.

It was a ninja….


"Naruto, what are you doing?"

Naruto froze. That lazy, half interested tone of voice instantly registered in his brain as Kakashi's. The panic was still very much coursing through is veins, but part of him relaxed. He must have missed a meeting with Team 7. Shit, Sasuke was going to give him hell for that.

"I only sent Uuhei to remind you that you promised to meet us today….remember?" Kakashi's tone was somewhat more inquisitive now. He heard the familiar tell-tale snap of his sensei's perverted book going shut. Naruto cursed in his head and kept his head buried in his arms. This was turning into a nightmare. He couldn't stop the damn shaking, and he could feel the burning in his throat intensifying.

Naruto wouldn't open his mouth to answer him, he was pretty sure it would come out sounding groggy, or not at all the way his throat now burned. Plus, he didn't want anyone to know he was sick…that he was open to anything people could throw at him.

There was a slightly shuffle of movement and he could now see Kakashi's hands hanging in front of his field of vision through his pressed together knees. The Jounin was now balancing on the balls of his feet beside the greyhound he had called Uuhei.

"Well I must say this is something new…" Kakashi was joking lightly. Naruto noticed one of his hands moving forward towards him.

Naruto's mind raced. His sensei's hand was coming towards him and all he could keep thinking was how he didn't want him to touch him…

Don't touch me…please don't touch me. I don't want …I cannot handle this now…please just go away…don't touch me…

Just as he felt his teacher's finger reach out and poke his arm his thoughts became real words. He snapped his arm away harshly and curled even tighter in the corner he had pushed himself into. "Don't touch me!" he snarled angrily and found his voice sounded thick and hoarse.

There was complete silence for a few seconds and Naruto fought hard to control the urge to push forward and run. The feeling of being back in a corner made him think of the nightmare of the night before and he couldn't quite separate the two in his head.

The dog was sniffing at him again, pushing its muzzle underneath his clasped arms and forcing them up so the animal could sniff at his face. He tensed and cringed, shutting his eyes tightly and keeping them that way so he couldn't see the reaction his outburst had cost him.

"I promise," he meekly added. "I'd never hurt anyone."

The dog began to lick at his cheeks in a slow manner as he whined simultaneously. He didn't budge out of fear it would attack him if he made any moves other than to sit extremely still. Still, it seemed to be trying to placate him…to comfort him.

Uuhei raised his head up and licked Naruto's forehead, and Naruto peered up shyly at the dog, now noticing his face was exposed. Kakashi's one eye was watching very closely with a look of confusion muddying the usually dull, bored look the jounin normally had.

"I know that Naruto." He said when he caught Naruto's eye. He reached out more slowly this time and instead of poking him, he let his hand rest on top of Naruto's head. Naruto did flinch and shut his eyes again briefly but his sensei did not remove his hand. As he opened his eyes again he saw the look change from confusion to concern and he could almost make out the frown underneath the black mask known to Hatake.

"You're sick." He muttered and tilted Naruto's head back a bit with his hand so he could look more closely at Naruto's glassy eyes. Naruto wanted him to back off. "Really sick…" he seemed to almost be saying to himself.

"Sorry," Naruto muttered and pushed himself out to the other side out of his sensei's reach. "I missed something today, I didn't mean to." He forced himself to stand, and found his head spinning a lot more intensely than it had before. He'd forgotten to get a glass of water before chasing his intruder and then locking himself in his workroom. The short burst of panic probably hadn't done him any good either and he grabbed at his head with both of his hands and groaned a little. "Too fast..." he muttered to himself.

"Easy," Kakashi told him and he felt the man's hand under one of his elbows, making sure he didn't fall. "Just take it easy a minute, I'm not going to hurt you."

Strangely that relaxed him a bit, his muscles let go of the last little bit of tension he was holding on to. "I didn't mean to yell at you," Naruto apologized more. "I…I kinda thought you were them…"

They were moving now, the older man's hand tugging a bit on his arm and he followed him like an obedient little Genin. "Them who?"

"The villagers." He replied without thinking and he felt his sensei's grip tighten a fraction on his elbow. He tried to force down the panic but his tension must have transferred in some way because just as suddenly Kakashi's grip lessened.

Naruto took the chance to wriggle free and head for his kitchen. He was so damn thirsty it was burning like a hot fire in his throat. He could sense that Kakashi was still behind him, following closely.

"When did this start?" Kakashi queried, sitting himself on his student's counter as Naruto slid down the counter by the sink to his original position.

Naruto only peered up at him and shook his head. He returned to the glass he'd been nursing for what, two days now? He wasn't sure how long his nap on the floor had lasted.


"It's nothing, I just…" he paused a second staring at his shaking hand to his right. Was it really nothing? Two days feeling this god-awful was pushing a cold out the window. He hadn't been this sick before, just head colds and coughs before. This was something different. "I just need to sleep it off some more."

"On the floor?" Kakashi cocked his head to look at him more evenly and Naruto turned his gaze down and fingered the rim of his glass. Why was he still here? He could clearly see that he wasn't going anywhere so why not return to the rest of Team 7 and let them know the blonde was sick?

Sasuke's never gonna let me live this down.

Sakura will get a good laugh I bet to… I probably deserve it…

"Not the most comfortable of places I would think."

Naruto continued to be silent. He was tired from all of this activity. All he wanted to do was sleep again and Kakashi's being there was preventing it. Still… the thought crept into his mind from earlier. Someone was actually there now, not just himself.

"Closer to the sink." He muttered, running one of his fingers over the rim of the glass he held onto like a life line.

"Why not seek medical treatment?"

"Can't…" he ducked his head, once more the confusion of the dreams that were haunting him and the real world still plagued him. What he didn't realize was he was vocalizing those fears.

"If they see me like this they'll…"

He paused and remembered all the times before, on his birthday and other days. There were the taunts, the stones, and the kicks. Broken bones, bruised skin, and damaged confidence.

"They'll make sure it's more than just a cold that keeps me in the hospital." He whispered darkly and kept his chin resting on his chest.

Or they'll kill you…by accident of course.

"I'm too dizzy anyway, sensei." His thoughts switched to overdrive and he was trying to make it sound like a more logical reason kept him holed up in his apartment. "I don't think I would make it there anyway."

Silence, beautiful silence, Naruto greeted it with a welcome sigh thinking that his sensei had accepted the answer and had gone without making a sound. He hadn't looked up to confirm this because his eyes were getting heavier the longer he sat.

So when his sensei sat next to him rather unceremoniously it startled him so badly he nearly loosed his tight grip on his cup.

"I've heard worse excuses," his sensei was laughing. "Most of them my own creations." Kakashi's hand was on his head again, this time ruffling the blonde hair very lightly, as if he was testing to see what the touch would provoke out of Naruto.

The ruffling of his hair switched from ruffling to a slow, steady, petting motion that smoothed the boy's hair away from his hot, sticky forehead. Naruto sat frozen in more shock than anything by the subtle switch of gestures. Still the jounin instructor continued to stroke the blonde's hair in a steady rhythm, regardless of how still Naruto had become.

Slowly the steady rhythm of Kakashi's fingers through his hair began to lull him into that half asleep state he had started to fall into when he thought his teacher had left. It was an odd thing, something he'd not really experienced before, but whatever this illness was it had left him incapable of forcing his eyes open once they dropped shut again.

He didn't even notice his teacher motioning the greyhound back over to them and whispering silent orders in the dog's ear.

When Kakashi had first sent his greyhound Uuhei out to scent for the missing Hyperactive Genin of Team 7, Kakashi merely figured the boy had forgotten that they had planned to meet on an off day than the normal routine expected of him.

That's why he had sent Uuhei. The wiry greyhound was quick on its feet as well as his wit and he'd find a way to 'remind' Naruto of his obligation to his team.

Really he had arranged for it not to be a training day, more of a casual gathering, because he knew that the blonde would never openly admit that he was suffering. It was slight and hard to see but every so often he would see this streak of panic cross Naruto's features and he could assume he knew the reason.

The Sandaime Hokage was one of the main reasons the villagers did not get away with what they would really like to do to the demon container. With that anchor gone now, Kakashi was sure Naruto felt somewhat unsafe. And though Kakashi himself hadn't seen any indication that anyone had even gotten to that conclusion yet, Naruto had no such assurances.

Kakashi was sure that the Godaime would be sure to reinforce the old rule with additions of her own if anything did happen on her watch.

Still it was odd to see the hyperactive blonde act so nervous, so he had made Naruto promise to show up on the odd day. He had planned to just force the boy out into the open with his teammates and himself around, to prove to him that they wouldn't let anything happen to him. Sakura would be pleasantly babbling the whole time and Sasuke would be absolutely pissed that they weren't going to train, but he figured all three needed a little break.

When Uuhei returned, with a bright orange jacket in his mouth, his eyebrow rose a little in question. He looked down the road Uuhei had come from, expecting to hear the loud, angry accusations from Naruto, as he chased the greyhound who had stolen his garment. Instead he heard nothing, and returned his gaze to the dog in front of him, who was now whimpering.

"Hey isn't that Naruto's?" Sakura was pointing now and even Sasuke took notice.

"It would appear that way." He replied as he knelt in front of Uuhei and scratched between his ears. His nin-dogs didn't whimper unless they were hurt or they couldn't complete the mission given to them…for whatever reason.

"Why don't you two go into town for a bit?" He turned suddenly on them and rubbed at the back of his head. "I think Naruto forgot our agreement."

Sasuke muttered "dobe" under his breath and stalked off. Sakura didn't look as convinced at first then trailed after her precious Sasuke into the streets. Any concern she might have voiced was forgotten when she realized Sasuke had taken his suggestion and was actually going to town, not out to train by himself.

Kakashi himself turned back to Uuhei and frowned. "Where is he Uuhei?"

And the dog had sped off, still clutching the jacket gingerly in its mouth. The swift dog led him through the better part of town till they were where Kakashi knew Naruto lived and entered through a nudged open window on the top floor. It was Naruto's apartment.

Kakashi didn't see any sign of the Genin when he first entered but Uuhei trotted to one of the shut doors and scratched at it gently and looked at Kakashi imploringly. Kakashi obliged his nin-dog and opened the door to a windowless room full of scrolls, kunai and other training equipment.

He followed Uuhei quietly to a corner and was surprised to find Naruto, huddled as tightly as he could manage, into the wall of the fortress of his. Uuhei deposited the stolen garment at the boy's feet, which only seemed to make the boy retreat further into his cocoon.

When he didn't get any reactions of any sort from questioning the boy, he knelt and reached out to poke him, just to get some sort of glare or angry retort. He hadn't been at all prepared for the boy to jerk away from him so violently and growl at him to not touch him. It was the strangest scene Kakashi had ever witnessed.

That's when he realized how his dog was acting. The boy wasn't hurt, though he seemed to believe someone was going to hurt him. No Uuhei acted like most of his nin-dogs acted when he himself got a cold, or some other ailment. The dog was insistently sniffing at the boy's face and licking his forehead.

He should have summoned Pakkun for this.

Kakashi felt a guilty pang as he realized that two days ago, during their normal training, he should have noticed something was off. Naruto had moved differently, and though he played it off as giving Sasuke some kind of break, it most likely had been the start of his illness.

An illness that was now a full blown high fever and a dehydrated 12-year-old kid, that was confessing he was too scared to leave the safety of his apartment in fear of retaliation.

Kakashi wondered what had kicked in the self-preservation mode the kid barely exhibited on any other occasion. Was it his uncertainty the unspoken reason behind his staying exclusively secluded when obviously he needed help? Did Naruto trust them so little as to silently suffer instead of seeking someone out?

Instead of pressing Naruto further he removed himself from his perch and sat next to the blonde who tensed instantly at the close quarters. He tried to put him at ease, noting that many others had found worse reasons to escape the med-nins of the hospital. Still, when he reached out to ruffle the unkempt locks of hair, the tensioning was just as apparent and he switched to stroking the blonde's head to reassure him of his earlier promise that he wasn't there to hurt him.

When the blonde's head dropped against his shoulder rather heavily he knew Naruto had lost the battle of staying conscious. He looked down at the pained expression on the boy's tired face and sighed. Leaving him was cruel, as did just depositing him somewhere he wasn't comfortable with. Yet, he had to admit, this was not one of his areas of expertise and the fever was obviously something that needed to be controlled; now.

Actually he was sure if his former sensei were alive he would be accusing him of acting just like the 12-year-old when he also got sick; retreating to his apartment for days with his dogs acting as sentries.

Then the idea struck him. He motioned Uuhei over and began describing Godaime Hokage's assistant, Shizune, to his companion. The dog nodded his head and shot off towards the window, in search of his new target.

Kakashi smiled to himself and patted Naruto's shoulder a little. He had first met the dark-haired medical specialist when Naruto had run into her as he followed Kakashi from the hospital. She greeted the boy with a very wide grin and asked how he was feeling. At first Kakashi believed it was directed at him and had ignored it and walked on; he really did not know the woman. Then he heard Naruto answering the question.

An odd request, but the kunochi seemed appeased with Naruto's answers and walked off smiling happily. That night he sought out this Shizune, and learned what had happened to his student while he was off with Jiraiya-sama. The odd look that had passed through her eyes as she described what Kabuto had done to Naruto, during his own attack, had at first passed Kakashi's notice with little fan-fare and he had tucked it away for later.

Now he recognized the look. The kunochi had been worried about Naruto returning to active duty so soon. Though she was certain in her master's skill she was still worried about the strain coming that close to dying would have on the 12-year-old and his health.

That was good. She was a Medical Nin who Naruto trusted.

"Shizune-san, thank you."

Naruto scrunched up his face in confusion. That was Kakashi's voice but it sounded deeper and amplified, like it was right next to his ear. Warm, wow he was warm, and his head was resting on something that did not feel like the front of his kitchen cabinets.

"It is no problem, Kakashi-san." A familiar female voice said quietly from his left and he felt cautious fingers push through his hair. "Why on earth did you stay on the floor though?"

"Moving seemed a rather unwise idea." Whatever he was laying on shifted a bit and he heard and felt a stiff pop from what he guessed was a spine. "When I first found him he was rather…unsure of my intentions. I figured if I woke him again, I would be met with the same confusion."

"What does that mean?"

"I think he thinks since the Sandaime is gone that people will start harassing him again like they did when he was younger."

There was a small gasp and the fingers that had massaged his scalp stopped abruptly. He wanted to protest, it was a soothing feeling that eased his horrible headache, but he decided against it. He pried his eyes open instead, to see he was still on his kitchen floor; his glass had been removed from his hands and placed to the other side of….

Kakashi-sensei, who was sitting next to him; arm around him letting Naruto use him as an impromptu pillow, and it unsettled him that he had done so. Still his awakening had not gone unnoticed.


His head shot up instantly at the address of his name, which flared up the dizziness and he fought to keep his vision clear. Bad idea, really bad idea, to move his head that fast.

Shizune knelt next to him, her dark eyes looking down at him with a touch of confusion in them. He would have smirked at her but he didn't feel like it. She was out of place here anyway. He heard Tonton's little oink of worry and looked back down to her feet to see the little pig watching him as well.

"You're running a fever." Shizune's quiet voice broke his concentration and he blinked at her. "You have a cough, so I assume your throat hurts to?" Shizune asked as her hand landed on his forehead, running down the side of his face and to his neck, frowning as she did. He nodded a little but continued to focus on what he had to do once she left. Maybe bed would be better.

"Achy?" She drew his eyes to hers and he nodded again. She smiled faintly and brushed his hair back from his forehead. He furrowed his brow and watched her as she continued to stroke his hair. "Sounds like you have the flu Naruto-kun."

"Oh so it has a name." he grunted and rubbed at his eyes. He just wanted to sleep, why did she show up anyway? "What are you doing here?"

Shizune blinked in response, looking down at Tonton worriedly then back up to him. "Kakashi-san sent for me."

Naruto returned his attention to the man still allowing Naruto to rest up against him. He glanced up at the jounin who was smirking down at him for some odd reason.

He felt Shizune tugging on his arm. "Come on Naruto-kun, the floor is an awful place for you. You're shivering, I can see it."

Naruto let her pull him up and he wavered a little on his feet, but he felt Shizune's hand on his elbow steady him a bit. He also felt Kakashi stand and right himself behind him, and then place a guiding hand on his shoulder. "But it's hard to get up and get back for water. I need water to stay...stay hydrated right?"

"Don't worry about that Naruto-kun." Shizune sat him on his bed and motioned for him to lie down already. "If you need something to drink, I'll get it for you. You've probably made yourself sicker trying to keep after yourself."

"No one else was gonna do it." He mumbled as he buried his head in his pillow. He had to admit this was much more comfortable than the kitchen floor, still he had his concerns.

He didn't see Shizune's shocked glance at Kakashi, or the jounin's long drawn out sigh as he perched himself on the windowsill near Naruto's bed. He did feel something lower his mattress behind his back. It was a solid mass that curled up next to his back and let out a low, drawn out oink, as if to voice her concerns.

"Kakashi-san, if I might ask a favor of you as well." He heard Shizune whisper before he slipped into a fitful sleep again.

He sat in a field of green grass staring off into an empty horizon. Nothing moved besides the occasional gust of wind that blew the blades in a wave like motion. Still in front of him, he could see it…the coming storm.

The one thing that would disrupt his peaceful quiet.

The red swirling chakra that turned into a fox as it approached, nine tails flailing angrily as it rushed for him. Naruto could only sit and watch it come for him and wondered, idly, if that meant the fox was tired of being second to a dead last like him.

He collapsed in on himself and felt the hot tears stinging his eyes. If it weren't for the fox, he'd be happy. He'd not have to pretend all the time, he could just be another hapless orphan on which the village would protect instead of shun. If only the fox hadn't been sealed within him, he could've been happy.

He sobbed slightly at the thought that there was nothing, absolutely nothing; he could do to change the village's perception of him as a demon fox in training. He was doomed to a life of looking over his back, waiting for the kunai to fall.

If it makes you feel somewhat more important, kit. If it weren't for you, this village would not exist. I would have leveled it and every pathetic little being in it.

He found himself at the gate again. Staring at the red eyes that peered between the bars at him he felt the wave of honesty in the fox's words. He stepped closer to the gate and felt a brush of the red chakra from the gate's joints. He didn't back away this time. He stood in awe at the Kitsune's words.

Your 4th believed in that pitiful human emotion compassion. He sealed me in the hopes of you being a hero in his wake. As it is, humans are dense things, and the true nature of our "relationship" is lost on most of them.

He closed his eyes and tried hard to block out the logical thinking of the fox. He wasn't going to let the creature talk him into sympathetic thoughts. The fox attacked them; it wasn't by any provocation was it? Still he shook in the realization that the fox was right for once.

"Don't worry, I'm right here. I didn't leave you." It was such a soft voice that he heard echoing in the sweet darkness. It distracted him enough to forget the fox and rise towards consciousness.

He felt so warm and tired but oddly enough not uncomfortable anymore. The ache that woke him and tormented him had ebbed a little and even though he was stiff and he wasn't really moving that much.

Naruto could feel the warmth at his back move away. He almost reached out to it to stop it from going but he was almost afraid it was a figment of his imagination. The feeling was replaced with a hand on his shoulder. It shook him very gently and Naruto turned his head carefully towards the offending shoulder. It was a woman's hand rested there on his skin. He looked up the arm and saw Shizune leaning over him smiling a little as she did.

"Naruto-kun, can you set up?"

He nodded his head and did as he was told. Truth be told he was surprised she was still there. She held out a mug to him and smiled, her eyes closed. He took it carefully, it was warm, and so he sniffed at it. It was tea.

"There's honey in it, it will make your throat feel better." She knelt beside the bed and watched him. Her hand came towards his forehead and rested there.

She took the empty mug from him as he started to let it rest on his leg. He watched her as she took it back to the kitchen. Tonton still sat on the bed with him watching. It was odd. Shizune returned to the bed side, another cup of water in her right hand and something clutched in her left.

"It's something for your headache." She handed it to him and watched him take it. He felt rude but after he took it he lay back down and curled up. He was still too tired to deal with any of this. He still felt bad because she had been nice enough to actually bring him some of the things he actually had been wanting.

He felt his blanket come over his shoulders. Tonton returned to her spot at his back, and he pushed up against her a little bit, the warmth welcome. "Sorry..."

"Don't be sorry Naruto-kun. I know you're tired." Fingers brushed through his hair at a slow comb. It was odd to him but so soothing at the same time. It was almost like something a mother would do.

He found that even though he was tired he didn't want to go back to sleep. The dreams he was having were disturbing and realistic and he did not want to be talking to the fox anytime again soon.

"Naruto, it's alright." Shizune whispered and he felt another weight add to his bed and felt a light touch on his arm. "I'm right here. I won't let anything happen to you."

"You don't have to." He muttered, feeling more and more guilty that he was somehow keeping Shizune there.

"No, I don't." she replied and her hand moved to his back and rubbed in small circles. "But I want to. Anyway, if not me it would be Tsunade-sama, or Iruka-san, or Kakashi-san, probably even Jiraiya-sama if he knew."

Naruto blinked a little and stared at his wall. Part of him wanted to listen to her and the other part was disbelieving. As the slow circles on his back continued his eyes drooped more and he yawned, still a little wary of actually falling back asleep.

Then he felt Shizune lean down near his ear and felt her hair brush lightly on his cheek. He felt the small peck on his forehead and fingers brushing away his hair. Damn her for that, damn her for making it seem like she was…

"You know Naruto-kun; you always put up this front. You go on and on how you would do anything to protect your precious people. Did you ever stop to think you were precious to us?"

He stared back up at her in awe. No he hadn't quite thought of it that way at all. He'd always been alone, that's how it was. That's how he had coped. Yet now that she had mentioned it... he could remember little things.

How Kakashi had wrapped his arm around him in the Chuunin exams. To stop him from going after Gaara after what he had done to Lee. The way he sometimes ruffled his hair, no matter how much it annoyed him.

Baa-chan would constantly check up on him. And she didn't yell at him quite as much anymore when he actually did call her baa-chan. She only smirked at him and waved him off or called him a baka.

Shizune would always smile at him and here she was now keeping an eye out for him.

And Iruka…. All those times he picked him back up or let him hide in his small apartment. The extra tutoring, even though Naruto knew he sometimes frustrated his teacher. The night he stood up for Naruto against Mizuki.

He shifted and turned to face Shizune, his eyes never really meeting hers. Tonton repositioned herself as well at his feet and Shizune sat next to his head and continued to stroke his hair. He tentatively laid his head on her thigh and waited but nothing changed, nothing was said, so he reached out and snuggled closer to the woman's warmth.

"Go to sleep Naruto." Shizune finally whispered as he closed his eyes. "You need it."

When he finally woke up again he felt so much better. The stiffness was still there but he wasn't achy, nor was he hot or cold. His head still felt a little stuffy and he wondered if he moved the dizziness would return or if it too had finally cleared. He was lying flat in his bed, towards the wall again, he wondered if he had done so in his sleep.

So he turned back over and scanned the apartment. It was quiet and Naruto couldn't quite help but wonder if he had just imagined all those things…or dreamed them. He blinked a little at the brightness now streaming through his windows and sat up in his bed to look outside.

"Well look who's finally awake."

He spun to see Tsunade leaning in the entrance of his hallway. Her caramel eyes held an all too familiar gleam in them and Naruto began to rub at his head. She was going to tease him endlessly for this, he could see it now. She smirked now and shook her head slowly side to side.

"You really go all out don't you? Doesn't matter what it is, you have to take it to an extreme." She said after a few moments and walked to stand near the edge of his bed.

Naruto could only grin sheepishly at her and nod his head in response. He saw her raise her hand to smack him upside the head and he shut his eyes to brace for it. Instead she pulled the same trick she did when he and Jiraiya had finally convinced her to return home and to take the position of Hokage; he felt her finger flip him neatly in the center of his forehead and he popped one eye open at her. She was smiling ruefully at him and was close to him as she had been then to.

"You could say something you baka, instead of making us all worry like that." She reprimanded and sat down at his feet. "Of course I must say it was nice to take a day off and relieve Shizune, I guess I should thank you."

"Sorry." He tried to say and found his throat extremely dry and his voice came out sounding like he had swallowed sand.

"You're lucky you can even move." She muttered. "Three days with a 103 degree fever is pretty hard on you. Of course if you hadn't let it get that far."

"I'm sorry." He sighed and looked out the window. He honestly did not know why he was apologizing. Still he felt he had to.

"Gaki, you don't have to be sorry." Tsunade took a sideways glance at him and frowned. "The next time you do it, that's when you have to be sorry."

Naruto grinned wider and laughed a little bit.

"Naruto, you know no one would let anything happen to you right?"

Well that was an odd question. Naruto blinked at her and saw the dead-set determination in the Hokage's caramel eyes.

"Kakashi said you acted like his dog was going to bite you..."

"Shit she was serious about that?"

"I didn't realize it was his." Naruto fidgeted a little bit. "I've only seen him summon Pakkun."

"You purposefully holed yourself up in here instead of seeking someone out…." Tsunade pressed forward and he could see the frown forming.

"Crap she's not going to tease me she's gonna lecture me."

"Really baa-chan it's fine." He flashed his usual grin hoping it would placate the woman; sure he didn't want her to be too upset. Why was she upset anyway, she acted annoyed whenever he called her that and always seemed to be scowling at him and something he had said.

Tsunade sighed, stood up and shook her head side to side. "At any rate, you're staying here at least for another couple of days before you even think about training."

"What!?" Naruto leapt up a bit and protested. "Look see, I'm fine!"

Tsunade smirked knowingly and shook her head. "You may LOOK fine but you're still recovering so no training, lots of rest and liquids."

"Aww come on!" Naruto flopped back down into a cross-legged sitting position on his bed and frowned. That meant Sasuke was really going to catch up fast and he hadn't even gotten to try out his new jutsu yet. Heck even Jiraiya had laughed before leaving him at the village gates and told him secretly to test it out on Kakashi. Jiraiya had guaranteed it would surprise the Jonin into a state of shock.

"Sorry about your luck kid." Tsunade waved as she headed towards his door. "Oh and don't think about trying to just sneak out," she pointed to near his kitchen table and Naruto frowned as he saw a very familiar greyhound sitting there wagging his tail at him. "I've already got a watchdog."

Tsunade left and Naruto snorted in defeat. He wasn't really pouting for long until the greyhound came up, clambered onto his lap and nuzzled his head through Naruto's crossed arms and licked at his cheek. Naruto, without thinking about it, wrapped his arms around the dog and smiled a little.

Maybe it wasn't too bad, she was only looking out for him right? Sure she hadn't been around long enough to know how freakishly fast he bounced back from things. And all in all she hadn't left him alone again; Uuhei happily huffed as he scratched at his ears absentmindedly. Something told him that if he asked the greyhound to, he would find Kakashi for him.

"So I guess it's just you and me huh?" he patted the dog and then lay back down in the warm sun. Instead of just curling up with him, the dog turned his nose to his window and sniffed at it a bit. Naruto glanced out the window to see what the dog was looking at and found himself shocked to see a familiar looking pair of ninja shoes hanging from the roof.

"So wait, Kakashi-sensei is the watchdog?" Naruto frowned and studied the greyhound again. "I guess that would make sense, it is his dog…"

He decided to leave it at that. Kakashi was probably reading that pervy book that the pervy sage wrote. Still it was a nice feeling to feel protected for once.

Naruto fought back a yawn but found himself slipping off to sleep again, the bandaged dog finally curling up at his side.

"I guess a couple more hours wouldn't hurt."